small projects

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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A Small Oversight

I’ve been on a shop appliance kick lately, including some necessary upgrades for the workshop itself. In addition to finally hanging some proper lighting, I also added a parallel clamp rack to the side wall. I have two more such racks; I just need some more washers to hang them correctly.

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Much harder to knock down, now.

I also felt it was time for a tool rack on the back side of the workbench, a la Monsieur Roubo. With a scrap of 1/2″ baltic birch and some pine offcuts, I knocked together a rack that gets the spacing right for my chisels and other everyday tools.

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Holes on 1 5/8″ center are just right for Narex chisels (rather than the 1 1/8″ in my tool chest).

I am 100% certain this would have been a 20-minute job if I owned a table saw. Instead, it was about 2 hours of planing, spacing and gluing (not including drying time), but the result was worth it.

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That block plane is a clamp.

There is only one problem: I never squared the back edge of my workbench. Time to debate whether to remove the top from the frame so I can square the back edge, or just attach a wedge to level out the surface.

In the meantime, I think I’ll make a “Basic Project” out of it.

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If it’s Wobbly…

then you should have put a stretcher on it.

 

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A bit more spindly than I expected.

I thought the drawbored mortise and tenon joints would be enough, but the ash sitting bench has turned out to be a bit wobbly.  So paraphrasing Queen Bey, I’ve decided to retrofit a stretcher to back legs.  In my world, “retrofit” is a synonym for “lap joint”.

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It’s times like these when I’m glad my workbench is apron-less.

A friction-fit lap joint can be very strong.  Between the long grain-to-long grain glue surface and the mechanical strength of the intersecting joint, it can be nearly as strong as a proper mortise and tenon joint, even without a metal fastener.

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It’s so pretty.

Because the joint will never be seen, though, I may add a slotted screw to each joint for a little bit more lateral support.  Or perhaps a walnut peg, to mimic the other drawbored joints in the piece.

There was some subtle twist in the entire assembly, so I’ve left the joint clamped for the full 24 hours.  That will give me time to think about whether to screw or peg.

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It’s almost like I meant to do it.  And now it matches the table a bit more.

The only other remaining question is whether this one stretcher will be enough.  I’d prefer not to add a second stretcher to the front legs.  I tend to cross my legs at the ankles when I sit, and that stretcher would get in the way.

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Silly Little Details

I’m at a wedding this weekend and have workbench separation anxiety. So for the next few days, I’ll continue building an ash sitting bench in my mind. As of right now, I’ve got everything planed to proper dimensions and the top mortises cut in the front legs. It’s slow going, given everything else I’ve got going on.

I don’t cut many mortise and tenon joints. Not as many as I do dovetails, anyway. So it may be lack of skill on my part, but my mortises never seem to be completely parallel. To compensate, though, I cut my tenons fat: to tighter than piston-fit. This allows me to ease the mortise walls to bring the joint into parallel while still keeping an overall tight fit on the joint.

After all, what’s the point of making the stock straight and square (tried and true?) if the joint is crooked?

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The Worst Words…

… a handtool woodworker ever hears are “hey, would you make me a cutting board?” from a friend.  In my experience, cutting boards (especially the butcher block variety) are largely a way to turn scraps into revenue.  And more often than not, they tend to be made from hard maple (a P.I.T.A. to work with hand tools).

But this particular friend is a very close friend, and I had some leftover 2×6 hard maple from my old workbench.  And so, a rather utilitarian cutting board is born.

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I’m an adult and I can own a Nerf chaingun if I want.

I had thought about doing a “Basic Project” installment on this project, but there wouldn’t be much to it.  In fact, the hardest part was flattening the kiln-dried 8/4 hard maple.  Step 1: Laminate the board.  Step 2: Glue on four wooden feet.  Step 3: Break the hard edges with a plane, sandpaper or a trim router. Step 4: Apply foodsafe oil.

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It occurs to me that I always take pictures from the right side.

There is plenty left over for a second cutting board, if I so desire.  Which I will not.

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DIY Bench Dogs

The dog holes on my workbench are 1″, to accommodate my Crucible Tool Holdfast, which I love more and more each day.  Well, except the legs, which use 3/4″ dog holes to accommodate my Gramercy Tools Holdfasts.  I love these holdfasts as well, but they have been relegated to deadman duty.  So when it came to time to get 1″ bench dogs, I had two choices: (i) drop $100+ on four metal dogs or (ii) spend $6 on an oak dowel and follow the instructions.  My woodworking budget for the week was already spent on quartersawn 8/4 white oak, so DIY bench dogs won out.  Three only took about half an hour to make, and most of that was sanding to fit.  I’ll add the bullet catches when they arrive this week.

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I used a bevel gauge to ensure the angle is exactly 2 degrees (not really).

Like any good project, I bloodied myself a bit making these.  60 grit sandpaper is basically sharp pebbles glued to a piece of paper, and my left thumb now looks like a miniature Freddy Krueger came after me.

Like I always say, if you don’t bleed for (on?) the project, it’s not real woodworking.

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Getting on with it

Having admitted defeat, it only took me a little while to literally and figuratively pick up the pieces.  After salvaging the wooden peg on the failed face vise for use as another wooden screw, I had a choice: put the jaw aside for a rainy day, or use it right away.  Well, you know what they say: nothing gets the blood flowing like hand-ripping American hard woods of greater than 2″ thickness.

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Or, whatever.

I ended up with a board that is 3.25″ wide, 18.25″ long and 2″ thick.  A single pass through the thicknesser to clean up the saw cut and all that’s left is to cross cut it and glue it up.

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I’ll figure something out for the board with the holes.

What am I making, you ask?  I’m making that crochet, with the wooden screw.  Like I should have the first time before wasting five hours on a face vise that doesn’t hold.

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So far I’m at about 30 minutes, including the ripping.

All that’s left to do (after easing the corners) is drill and tap the hole in the beam and pre-drill for the lag bolts which will mount it to the face of the benchtop.

I’ve got a surprise planned for the hub on the wooden screw.  Much more understated than the last time.

But that will have to wait for now.

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I Guess It Works

If you follow me on Twitter, you know that I made a box.  A simple thing, really.  Four sides, with through dovetails at the corners and a bottom that is glued on.  All out of leftover, bone dry EWP from the home center.  For me, none of that is out of the ordinary.  What is, however, is that it has a lid.  And what a glorious lid!

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Okay, maybe not so glorious from the outside.

Both the bottom and the lid are single boards, rounded over on all four sides on both faces.  The lid, however, is not attached by hinges.  Instead, a batten and some buttons on the underside of the lid it keep it from sliding around.  Each is rounded over at the edges to help the lid slide into place.  It seems to work pretty well.

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All leftover Douglas Fir, which I hear is harder and more rigid than EWP.

I am certain that someone will tell me I did this all wrong, and it’s not a sound way affix a lid.  I’m willing to bet I won’t care, especially if I end up nailing on the buttons.

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