small projects

Winging It

I am usually a meticulous planner.  Projects go through many iterations of drawings (nearly always to scale) before the design is finalized.  I know, down to the 1/16″, what each part should be.  I live my everyday life much the same way.   Then, just like in my everyday life, I throw all of that planning right out the window and have at it completely by memory.

But the two-toned console table project is extreme even for me.  I have no written plans or cut list.  Just two measurements to work from:  (i) it needs to be 33″ tall overall and (ii) the hairpin legs are 18″ tall by themselves.  The width of the table (21″) and its depth (12″) was dictated entirely by what scraps of 5/4″ x 12″ Eastern White Pine were laying around.  The height of the dovetailed carcase (15″) was derived through exceedingly complicated mathematics that I will not bore everyone with by reproducing in print.

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Reverse engineering at its best.

One detail I like about this project is the case back, which is shiplapped mahogany that is rabbeted into the case.  I don’t own a proper plow plane, so I pulled out a restored 7/8″ tongue and groove plane to plow the groove.

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Takes a little getting used to the grip so you don’t cut yourself on the opposite blade.

This project also gave my moving fillister plane a real workout cutting all the rabbets and shiplaps for the case back.  It performed very well, but needed a quick resharpening before the end.  I would be remiss if I didn’t note that I’m not super pleased with the roundovers on the individual back boards, though.  My No. 4 hollow dug in a bit on some swirling grain, and I’m grateful this part of the project will be covered in books or shadow most of the time.

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I like high fantasy, science and woodworking.

All that’s left to do before assembly is to rabbet in the mahogany inlay that will form the groove for the sliding door.  There should be just enough room for a 3/4″ wide inlay (perhaps 3/8″ deep, to accommodate the groove from a 3/4″ tongue and groove plane.  I have not decided on whether the door will be pine, mahogany or something else.  I want it to be light in color, so perhaps some bookmatched quarter-sawn maple with particular hologram figuring.

And, because it’s funny to me, I took a picture of the box with tools in it.  I am sure this will infuriate everyone who thinks all I make is tool chests (and they’d be right, really).  I may one day pull off the hairpin legs and slap on some chest lifts and a lid.  But that day is not today.

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This thing is beefy and large enough to hold a basic set of tools.

The table is destined for my office at work.  Some books and a crystal decanter with a set of single old fashioned glasses, methinks.

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Mixing it Up

I’ve been cutting some very English-style dovetails (i.e., thin pins) lately.  So for a new scrap bin project (i.e., a mid-century modern side table), I decided to mix it up a bit.  This project goes in a decidedly-Eastern European direction, with pins and tails of even size (other than the half pins, which are about 1/2 the pin/tail size at the base.

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I left a little extra width on the mahogany and will plane it down later.

Eastern White Pine and Mahogany are interesting woods when intertwined with dovetails.  One is very soft, the other is just hard enough to take advantage of it.  Hard enough, as well, to let me correct a mistake.  I got my wires crossed when marking the waste on one pin board and my first couple saw strokes were on the wrong side of the line.  I caught myself in time for it not to be fatal, but it would not have been so if I hadn’t gotten into a recent habit.

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Mahogany’s interlocking grain is also helping here.

For most of my time cutting dovetails over these last five+ years, I’ve set the base line at pretty much exactly the thickness of the mating board.  This shortens cleanup time on the finished piece, allowing me to sometimes take a single pass with a smoothing plane on the finished box.  But ever since the carcase glue-up on my English floor chest, though, I’ve changed my technique and intentionally set the baseline with an extra 1/8″ or so.

For whatever reason, my baselines on that English floor chest were too shallow by about 1/16″ all around.  This meant a significant amount of actual stock removal on the assembled carcase just to bring everything flush.  It was no fun whatsoever.  So as a happy byproduct of my new practice, the kerf shown above is not deep enough to show after the pins are flushed.  Or at least it won’t show once the tail board is dressed on both sides before glue-up.

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Here’s a better look at those beefy tail recesses.

I made a slight miscalculation on the design of this piece.  There will be two grooves cut in the pine pieces to accept a single sliding door (half width).  But pine is far too soft for the groove to hold up over time, so I need some way to reinforce it.  Perhaps I can inlay some mahogany and then cut the groove in that.

We’ll see.

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Basic Projects: Wooden Straight Edge

It’s been a very long time since I did a Basic Project.  But on this snowy day in February, I think it’s a good time to pick them up again.  This time, it’s a wooden straight edge that is a long overdue project for me.  I admit I only got inspired to make this because I saw it on the blog of the By Hand and Eye guys.

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Hanging holes for convenient drying.

This one is pretty straightforward (teehee).  It’s a single piece of wood, approximately 33″ long, 3″ wide and 5/8″ thick.  I used a piece of mahogany with particularly straight grain, but any piece of reasonably stable, straight-grained wood of approximately the same size will do.

There is also a very short tool list:

  • Hand plane, the longer the better
  • Combination square, any size
  • Rip cut saw, preferably panel
  • Pencil and a ruler

Start by planing one side of the board straight and out of twist.  This reference face is very important to the overall project.  Clearly mark it with a face mark and a direction arrow, so you can keep track of it in the future.  Then bring the opposite face reasonably into parallel with that reference face.  Exact precision is not essential on the opposite face, however.

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Flattening a board with a try plane is easy mode.

Then bring one edge into square with the reference face, as straight as you can (but we’ll fix it to be perfectly straight later).  It’s not essential for the ends to be squared.  Just measure up 1″ from the straight edge and then cut an angle on each end.  I used 15°.  You could leave it at that, but remember that wood exchanges moisture with the air through its end grain.  That means the more end grain that’s exposed, the more stable the straightedge will be.  So let’s now taper the whole straightedge along its length.

Measure 2″ up from the reference edge on each end and mark it with a pencil.  Find the center point along the length, measure a few inches out from either side, and draw a line between each of those points and the marks on the end.  Saw down each line and clean up the tapers up with a plane.  It is not essential for these tapers to be perfectly square, but do your best.

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This cut exposes additional end grain.

And that’s it for the main shaping.  Break the arrises all around and bore a couple of hanging holes, about 2″ in from each end and 1″ up from the reference edge.  These hanging holes are more my preference than anything.  They make the straightedge easier to grab.  An alternative would be to use a gouge to cut a couple of fingertip grooves.

So all that’s left to do true the bottom edge.  If you’ve got a known straight edge (like a metal straight edge), just use that.  But if you don’t have a straight edge, you can use a trick that I saw on Lee Valley (which is apparently a Christopher Schwarz article).  Lay the square down and trace the edge, then flip it over and see how well you did.  Any undulations will be apparent.  Plane them down and do your best to keep it square to the reference face.

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Without the hanging holes.

That’s it.  Slap on a coat of boiled linseed oil and you’re ready to go.  A 36″-ish square is pretty easy if you have a No. 5 or No. 7.  But if you only have a block plane or a No. 4, perhaps start with an 18″ square.

In any event, check it now and again to see if it’s gone out of square.

 

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Extreme Heresy

In making a little box to hold a Christmas present for a friend, I took the opportunity to experiment on how best to offend all the woodworking purists at once.  So I came up with half tails on the sides and a giant pin on the front and back.

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In 5/8 reclaimed mahogany when the box is only 7 x 7.

The bottom is rabbeted into the sides only, and oriented so the long grain runs front back.  I did this to avoid cutting stopped rabbets on the front and back.  The mahogany in question is very old and very dry (read: prone to chipping).  What looks like a gap on the bottom left shoulder above is actually just some cosmetic chipping.

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There was a little piece of metal somewhere in the wood that nicked my jack plane blade.

I have a bunch more of this reclaimed mahogany.  Most of it has cupped somewhat, and it comes to about 5/8 thickness when re-tried.  It’s good practice on hardwood dovetails and will be the accent wood in my new tool chest.

Merry Christmas, and whatnot.

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Small Improvements

What would be an appropriate inaugural project for the finished moving fillister plane?  How about a hardwood saw till for my dutch tool chest?

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I love the Veritas A2 replacement blade on my vintage Bedrock No. 7.

The prototype, which has performed very well these past months, is pine.  The new version is mahogany, a harder wood that I appreciate more and more and I learn to work it.  There will be a new home for the prototype.  And no, not the burn pile.

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The spacing is perfect so it will, if nothing else, persist as a pattern.

It occurs to me that without a tail vise, I probably need a sticking board for these types of tasks.  I did devise a way to hold down the work to cut the rabbets, involving a scrap of wood, some sandpaper backed plywood and a holdfast.  So, basically, a sticking board.

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That’s a Crucible Tool holdfast, btw.

Doing this project showed me that fine, cross-grain shavings may bind in the throat of the plane.  I’ve looked at other examples, though, and the throat size doesn’t seem to be drastically out of the norm.

It’s just something I’ll learn to live with, I guess.

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What is “Hand Tool Only”?

I spent the weekend at The Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, North Carolina. I met Roy Underhill, used the giant dovetail saw and saw some awesome woodworking obscura (like a restored Barnes mortising machine).

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Proof I was there: A one-of-a-kind dovetail saw with my water bottle in frame.

I also learned to rive green wood and made a little dovetailed box from poplar and walnut. Not the best dovetails I’ve ever cut, but I’m not ashamed. It was a beginner’s class that my buddy wanted to take, so I only learned a couple of things.

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I finished dovetailing so quickly that I got to rive a walnut box lid.

Because it’s the Woodwright’s School, the big theme was “hand tools only”. I have tended lately to call myself a hand tool only woodworker. But I own three large machines for my shop: (i) a double bevel compound miter saw for cutting to rough length, (ii) a 13″ thickness planer for squaring edges and faces once I’ve hand planed two sides true and square, and (iii) a benchtop drill press for repeatable, plumb holes. All three machines are integral to my woodworking. I do not own a table saw or router table.

The only hand-held power tool that gets any regular use in my shop is a cordless drill driver. I also have a circular saw and jigsaw (both used almost exclusively with sheet goods) and a compact router set for quick-and-dirty chamfers and roundovers (or occasionally flush trimming).

So does that mean I’m fibbing when I claim to be a “hand tool only” woodworker? It depends on what I mean by “hand tool only”.

I cut the overwhelming preponderance of my joints with the saw, chisel, brace, and plane. I say overwhelming preponderance because sometimes the drill press or drill driver pulls brace duty. So I draw my own personal line at using machines for joinery when making furniture. That is what makes me, in my mind, a “hand tool only” woodworker.

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Various Miscellany

It’s that time of year again: Autumn in New England.  The most beautiful time of year anywhere in the world.  I’d take New England Fall over any other season in any other location.  It’s also my most productive time of the year for woodworking.  To wit:

The guest room bed frame finally got a coat of paint.  General Finishes Milk Paint is such a joy to apply and I think their Driftwood color goes with anything.  I need to eventually add the chamfer detail on the base of each leg, but it works for now.

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Not bad for home center Douglas Fir.

The entire guest room is actually done now, replacement ceiling fan and all.  If it weren’t on the southwest side of the building, I daresay I’d make this the master bedroom.

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And I finally found a good place for that blanket chest.  

I also upgraded the workbench a smidge by increasing the capacity on the crochet.  1.75″ just wasn’t enough.  Adding a 0.50″ red oak spacer (a species I find similar to ash in many respects) brings the overall capacity to just over 2.25″.

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It’s not a perfect match, but at least the hurricane nut doesn’t bottom out.

Finally, I started work on a couple of bench appliances.  One is a benchtop bench, that starts by laminating some old 3/4″ plywood that I reclaimed from up in Vermont.  Four pieces of 3/4″ plywood makes a 3″ thick slab that is stable and heavy.  This will likely replace my Milkman’s Workbench as my traveling woodworking bench.

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Laminating plywood is not easy, but having a perfectly flat section of workbench helps.

The other benchtop appliance is a David Barron-style shoulder vise that clamps onto the benchtop (like a twin screw Moxon Vise).  This will likely end up as another ash/red oak amalgamation and is made from scraps as they become available.  And I plan to re-purpose the screw and hub from the failed face vise.

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Looks a bit like a crochet at the moment.

There are a few bigger things in the hopper, but for now I’m still clearing projects and making shop furniture.

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To Last Forever

Some of my pieces are utility furniture that could easily be purchased at an IKEA or Bed, Bath & Beyond.  And those store-bought pieces would serve their purpose just fine for a modest price.  But instead, I choose to make these things by hand.  “Why?”, you ask.  Three reasons, really.

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A very simple wall rack for towels, in situ.

The first reason is probably the most obvious: I enjoy the making.  If I didn’t derive extreme satisfaction from the work of my hands, why bother with the sometimes-arduous act of hand tool woodworking?  And I certainly wouldn’t write about.

The second reason is probably also obvious: I can make to exact specifications.  Store-bought items are rarely just the right size.  For example, I needed a wall rack for towels that could fit behind a bathroom door.  It also had to hold all my bath towels and hand towels and allow the door open all the way.  What is the likelihood I would find a 14″ x 30″ x 7.25″ rack at a store?  And in the same color white as the walls?  Possible, but unlikely.

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Some of the towels are in the laundry or on the hooks/racks.

The third and final reason is less obvious: I can make something that will last.  This is the core of the Christopher Schwarz philosophy of Aesthetic Anarchism.  The work of my hands is far more durable than anything I can buy at a store.  Dovetail and housing joints  in pine are stronger than metal screws and dowels in MDF by orders of magnitude.  Barring catastrophe or relocation, I will never again need to make another behind-the-door hanging cabinet for the spare bathroom.

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Thar be dovetails under that paint.

I do not discount the labor required to produce the piece.  But, in my mind, the labor costs are worth the benefits of making it myself.

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In Praise of Dadoes

Sometimes it feels like the only joinery I cut is dovetails.  A distant second to dovetails are dadoes (a/k/a housing joints).  And the mortises and tenons I cut for the ash sitting bench felt like the first I’d done since building my workbench, and the first for furniture in years.  I

n my view, dadoes are the easiest (and most satsifying) joint to get right.  You can even cut the dado overly-tight and later fix the mating piece to fit.  The thunk of a fully-seated housing joint is a beautiful thing.  And it can be a very strong joint, in the presence of glue or nails (or both).  

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An overly-tight joint works quite well in compressible pine.

Whenever possible, though, I will use a stopped dadoes for the show face of a piece.  A through-dado is just fine if it won’t be seen (either on the back of the carcase or covered by a face frame) or the piece isn’t fine furniture.  But on the show face, a through-dado looks too much like a mortise haunch to me.  No matter how perfect it is, I’d rather have the clean shoulder line.

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Isn’t a dado pretty much a shallow mortise with a shoulderless tenon, anyway?

The trickiest part, I find, is the act of fitting the mating piece into the final joint.  Boards can cup between dimensioning and assembly.  Driving a cupped board into a straight dado is a recipe for brusingt the surrounding face grain.  To combat this, I clamp on a caul to flatten the mating piece.  After it’s seated, the dado itself will hold the board flat.

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Dovetails typically do this work without need for a caul.

On an unrelated note, I’m deciding on whether to paint the wall cabinet before I glue it together.  I wouldn’t normally, but I’m using latex (not milk) paint for this one.  So working out the kinks on the underside of the bottom board before assembly is probably a good idea.

Probably.

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Needing Something More

It’s a magic thing.  Starting from 7 linear feet of home center 1×12 eastern white pine. Adding the plane, the saw and the chisel.  Then ending up at the finished piece.  In this case, a 14″ x 30″ x 7.25″ wall cabinet, with through-dovetails at the corners and stopped dadoes for the shelf.  It is as perfect as I am capable of making.

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And perfect for hiding in a bathroom corner behind a door!

But it looks a bit plain to me.  I can only imagine how drab it will be when painted grey to match the vanity in the bathroom.  Rather than shape the sides, though, I may spruce it up with small molded face frame.  Or perhaps just an applied moulding on the shelf.  In any event, something I can do with moulding planes.

It feels like everything I make is square and flat.  Maybe it’s time I learn to cut compound dovetails.

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