woodworking in an apartment

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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Back on Track

For various reasons, I have resumed work on the large Dutch tool chest.  It was pretty far along when first abandoned, needing only the fall front and the lid (and racks/tills).  I couldn’t justify scrapping it after so much work.  So I spent the day making the fall front.

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Some flushing still to do.

I was unsure how the wooden latch system would work.  It didn’t help using a material I’d never used before: home center poplar for the battens, latches and locks.  It wasn’t so bad (I chose only quarter- or rift-sawn hobby boards) and overall the alignment is pretty good.  I especially enjoyed cutting the shallow dadoes on each of the four latches by hand.

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Screws on the latches, nails on the battens.

Not so much for the shelf, however.  In the PWW article, there is no mention of the notches for the battens.  I should have realized I needed them, but didn’t.  I therefore  glued and screwed the lower lip and face board before I cut the notches for the battens.  There was barely clearance for a dovetail saw, and none for a coping saw.  I made due with chisel and router plane, though, and they came out okay.

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Live and learn, I guess.

Next up (before tills and racks) is making the lid.  But first, I must flush everything to the carcase.  A trim router should make quick work of any overhang on the face board and back boards, and I’ll bring the front and back edges into 30 degree plane with the sides via jointer plane.

But I’m out of daylight and motivation for now.

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Mobile Command Center

I know I promised an inventory, but the first agenda item was making the English tool chest mobile. I wouldn’t dream of attaching casters (despite my willingness to pry off the old raised panel), so I made a low rolling base the chest can sit on.   It’s 3/8″ larger than the chest’s footprint all around and raises the chest to about 25″ overall. A perfect height for a floor chest (I’m exactly 5’10”).

Looks fairly proper from this angle.

The rolling base is rabbeted and nailed, which I felt was fine for it’s application and construction. Not only do the casters hold together the joints, but the plywood top is glued and screwed in place. Net net, this thing is never coming apart.

I love me some beefy rabbets.

The most important takeaway here is that mobility of the floor chest is vital. It’s taking longer than expected to scrape the old adhesive off the lid base.  Which means it’s taking longer than expected to add a new raised panel to the lid (a prerequisite to using the floor chest).   I may or may not have resumed the Dutch tool chest build.

But more on that next time.

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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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To Bleed

Some part of me goes into everything I make

Most days, I pour but a portion of my soul into the work of my hands

But sometimes, an arris or edge takes a literal part of me

A drop of blood to help the glue cure

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Like a horcrux made of Eastern White Pine.

A poem, by The Apartment Woodworker

Almost Too Deep

With the negligible exceptions of squaring the ends and boring a few more holes (for holdfasts or otherwise), my workbench is officially done.

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Maybe one more pass with the jointer plane as well.  

After the new benchtop extension, the workbench is officially 22.5″ deep (plus 1/8″ or so in places along the still-rough back edge).  I know I will eat these words sooner rather than later, but 22.5″ almost feels too deep.

My last workbench, the Stent Panel (i.e., stretcherless) knockoff, was only 19″ deep.  Before that, I worked primarily off a 10″ deep clamp-on slab with two planing stops and holdfast.  And before even that, there was my Milkman’s Workbench.  See here for a size comparison of the two.  I got all the way back to the middle of 2014 for when I last had a workbench deeper than 19″ (it was 23.75″).  That’s a long time ago.  I’m sure I’ll get used to it again

I promised everyone pictures of pegs going into holes, so here you go.

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This one actually broke off in the hole during the glue up.

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Spacers work well after a bit of finessing.  

Are you sick of phallic double entendre yet?  Me neither.

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Real Bench Extension

After a couple months of acclimating, I surfaced the 12/4 ash board which will form the rest of the benchtop. It had almost no twist, but even with a bit of cup, I still ended up with over 3″ of total thickness. But as you’ve probably observed, that’s still about 1″ thinner than the main benchtop. 

What’s worse than a tool tray? A really shallow tool tray.

I have a solution, though.  Some Douglas Fir spacers will raise the back board up to the same height as the rest of the benchtop. A little higher, actually, so I can plane everything into flatness. I used DF because while it will ding and mildly conform to any irregularities, it’s still tough and rigid. Eastern White Pine would compress too much over time, methinks. 

I will probably leave the back edge rough, until I don’t. 

I plan to glue the back board to the main benchtop, so here is the question: do I glue the spacers to the back board, or just screw them on (so I can replace them later)?  In any event, I want to add some alignment dowels into the short stretchers that will keep everything in order.

I have a process for that, which I’ll detail in the next post. 

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What the Hell am I Doing?

It’s no secret that “Mythbusters” is one of my favorite shows. I’ve probably seen each episode, other than the really gross one with the earwax candle, five times. And I’m very fond of ruining party conversations with “Well, actually, the Mythbusters tested that and…”. Damn me and my science.

One of the recurring themes on the show is the “What the Hell are We Doing?” moment, where one of the hosts realizes how absurd a turn the experiment has taken. I had one of those moments yesterday.  Having just finished the saw till for the new chest, I realized, all at once, that it’s stupid to make this a tool chest.

Seems to work pretty well, though.

It’s not the right size for my tools and I already bought lumber for an anarchist’s tool chest clone. But I glued in the saw till anyway, because I couldn’t help myself.

This is dumb and I’m dumb for doing it.

But I came to my senses after two lower runners and a saw till.  Blanket chest, it is.  At least I can skip the frame and panel lid (or at least the dust seal).

Trust your instincts, folks.

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Small Space Woodworking

When I started TheApartmentWoodworker.com over two years ago, I had one goal in mind: chronicle my foray into handtool woodworking in a confined space with a limited set of tools.  For almost two years, that confined space was my high rise apartment in lower Fairfield County, Connecticut.  There were ups and downs to woodworking in that apartment: the ups being mostly proximity-related, and the downs being primarily noise-related.  I’d like to think I was successful in that respect.

I don’t talk about it much, but I no longer live in a high rise apartment.  But I do still woodwork in a confined space.  Instead of a dining nook facing an inside wall, however, my shop is now a 12′ x 13′ ground floor bedroom with a south facing window.  Once you factor in wood storage, the usable space is more like 12′ x 9′.  Quite comparable to the overall space I had in my old apartment.

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Seen here, with the aforementioned blanket chest.

I would go so far as to say the only real difference from my old setup (aside from all the natural light) is having a full size workbench, rather than a series of clamp-on workholding solutions.  And that is something I was working on anyway when I still had my apartment.  I will also note that instead of driving 45 minutes each way to my parents’ house to use my miter saw or my thickness planer, they’re tucked away nearby.

So, all in all, I’m keeping the name of the website.  I hope you will stay with me on this adventure and all the (hopefully) great things to come.

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What am I Ashamed of?

I’ve been building another chest and it’s coming along pretty well.  Overall dimensions are 30.25″ long x 20″ wide x 15.25″ high.  The inside dimensions are 28″ long x 18″ wide x 14.5″ deep.  Sound familiar?

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This one has rabbets and nails, not dovetails.

Several people have asked me what I’ve been building lately and every time I’ve said “a blanket chest”.  But is it?  It could easily be a tool chest.  I’m not sure it’s not a tool chest.

There are rabbets and nails at the corners, and there would be regardless of what the chest will hold.

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Sawn and split by hand, like always.

There are shiplaps for the floorboards, cut with my shop-made fillister plane.

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The toothed texture on the edge of the benchstop is very grippy.

And the chest will be painted, whether or not it holds hand planes or doilies.  So what’s the difference?  I think a tool chest has a proper skirt and dust seal, which isn’t necessary on a blanket chest.  The lids may differ a bit as well.

But maybe, just maybe, there isn’t any real difference other than in my mind.  I think I’m just ashamed that rather than build the furniture I need (like some more plant stands or a cat jungle gym for River), I’m building yet another chest.  But I like building chests and I’ve had these boards for over a year.

And who knows, it might really be a blanket chest this time.

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