woodworking in an apartment

Parallelogram

It occurs to, that even if the case isn’t square, as long as it’s out of square all around, it’s still a parallelogram.  And that means that a tray will still run okay.

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It’s very pretty.

I need to add a skirt and some wheels, but this thing just might work.

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Thanksgiving 2017

I originally wanted to title this post “What’s so ‘Happy’ about it?”.  But my mood is substantially better than a few days ago.

It may be belated, but I am thankful for cows.  Or, more specifically, leftover cow parts that get boiled into hide glue.  Without hide glue, my latest glue-up would not have been possible.

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It’s square to within 1/8″ both top and bottom.  The floorboards can do the rest.

You may have noticed that almost 6 months to the day after finishing my Dutch Tool Chest, I commenced making another tool chest.  An English Floor Chest, this time, based largely on the ubiquitous (dare I say, cosmopolitan?) Anarchist Tool Chest design. Because of the wood available to me, the case is only 23.5″ high, but I made up for that space by making the ends a full 24′ wide.

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I went with a very English ratio of pin to tail.

I am not exaggerating when I say the glue-up would not have been possible without hide glue.  From the time I knocked the first corners together to the time I set the diagonal clamps to bring the case it into square, almost 60 minutes passed.  I’m fortunate the heat was off in the shop, which probably bought me a few more minutes past the typical 45 minute max set time.  PVA would have seized long before I finished.

Because the case is still slightly out of square, I have to nail the bottom boards on first, before I can apply the skirts.  I hope to get both the floor nailed on and the bottom skirt dovetailed and applied before the week is out.  But that feels ambitious.

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Pluses and Minuses

I almost never buy tools off eBay.  Not used ones, anyway.  I usually stick to the “New Old Stock” variety.  So it was particularly out of character for me to take a leap of faith on a random Stanley No. 4.

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I think it came out okay.

The tool in question is almost certainly a Type 17 from 1942-1945.  It has a hardwood knob/tote and a steel depth adjustment knob, plus a heavier casting.  Its heft feels more like a modern Bedrock copy than a vintage Stanley.  I’m willing to bet this plane helped defeat the Nazis.

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You can really see the thickness of the walls in this shot.

The tool was either (i) well-loved and cared for in its former life or (ii) used a little bit and then squirreled away.  My vote is for well-loved and cared for.  There was a hanging hole in the heel of the sole.  All the arrises were carefully broken with a file.  The lateral adjustment lever showed signs of re-peening.  The depth adjustment knob was caked with sawdust. All the signs of a craftsman’s tool.

My only reservation is that the iron seems off.  There is just so much steel left.  It could be a replacement iron.  And the shape of the cutting edge was strange, with a very slight hollow along the width.  Not a hollow grind on the bevel.  The cutting edge itself had the opposite shape of a smoothing plane camber.  If it had been sharp, you could have beaded with the plane when it arrived in the mail.  Perhaps the skilled craftsman was two owners ago.

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Easily fixed in the honing process, though.

Also a surprise: the sole was very flat to begin with.  It took less than 30 seconds with 120 grit on the granite slab to get it as flat as it ever needs to be.  This is not exaggeration.  20 or so passes and it was flatter than most new planes.  And the sides were very square to the sole.  Another 30 seconds on the granite slab with a squaring block and it was good to go for shooting.

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Strange place for a hollow.  But completely harmless on a smoothing plane.

I was pleasantly surprised at every turn.  In fact, tuning was going so well, I developed the intention of making this one of my main worker planes.  But then, after all the scrubbing and sanding and honing, I moved the frog forward and extended the blade to take a thin shaving and what did I see?  Wood.  Lots of it.

It was like looking under the hood of an old car and seeing asphalt.  My heart sank.

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Tearout will always be a problem with this plane.

On a hand plane, the blade, in its cutting motion, lifts under the wood fibers.  As I understand it, the leading edge of the mouth presses down on the fibers while the blade cuts.  The wider the mouth, the more likely the fibers will lift and split ahead of the blade edge.  This is called tearout.

On a smoothing plane, you want the narrowest mouth possible.  The opening between blade and sole should be barely wider than the shaving taken.  A perfectly tuned and set smoothing plane can take a tearout-free shaving in any direction on even the most figured or swirling grain because of this narrow opening.  That is, the leading edge of the mouth applies downward pressure so close to the cutting edge that there is no opportunity for fibers to lift and split as the cut progresses.  No opportunity for tearout.

But with a mouth this size, this particular plane would eat figured food.  Literally tear it up and spit it out.  So, with a heavy heart, I have put this plane in the reserve bin (i.e., my Craftsman Top Chest).  But I will name it James, Jr., for it has a mouth so big that it ruins everything it comes in contact with.

Perhaps it will one day find life as a scrub plane.  It certainly has the mouth for heavy shavings.

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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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Front and Center

None of us are as young as they used to be.  I’m in my mid thirties now and I don’t stoop over the work as well as I used to.  As a mostly hand tool woodworker that dovetails more often than not, I’ve gotten accustomed to a clamp-on, twin screw vise (what many call a “Moxon Vise”) that raises the work slightly above the benchtop.  As my original twin screw vise was starting to wear out, I more and more just relied on my sort-of shoulder vise (it’s actually a crochet with a screw).  But that is not a permanent solution, unless I become a sit down woodworker.  And I’m far too fidgety for that.

So a more permanent solution has been born.

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Fine furniture, it ain’t.

My original inspiration was Jeff Miller’s benchtop bench.  At its heart, though, this is a twin screw vise with some extra work surface.  The work surface is 24″ long, 13″ deep (including the inside jaw) and 3″ thick.  Including the feet, it raises the work over 6″ off the benchtop, which equates to about 40″ from the floor.  That height is comfortable for me at 5’10”.

The vise has just over 24″ between the screws, and it opens to over 5″ wide.  More than enough capacity for things like saw vises and tenoning work.

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Very stable.

I like this form because it is so stable.  Many purist twin screw vises are tippy, both while clamping it to the workbench and when working at max extension.  Suffice to say, this one is not.

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Quite a bit of counterbalance to the vise jaws.

The new benchtop bench is admittedly Frankenstein-esque in its composition.  The work surface is four sheets of 3/4″ plywood.  The vise jaws are both 8/4 red oak (bone dry and lined with adhesive backed cork from the home center), as are the feet (with non-skid ladder tread applied to the bottom).  The wooden screws are 1 1/4″ hard maple, threaded with a Beall Tool Company wood threader.  The vise nuts are 5/4 ash.

The inner jaws are tapped to hold the wooden screws; the threads on the wood screws terminate for a tight lock to the jaws.  The outer jaws have 1 1/4″ clearance holes, drilled with a different drill bit that is slightly larger than the one used for tapping (but not so large that there is risk of wracking).  The vise nuts are also tapped with the Beall Tool Company kit.

You may have noticed how chunky the design is.  The source material has a lighter feel, but this is not a magazine piece.  Two recesses on each leg create trestles which are sufficient for clamping.  Any further aesthetics (including shaping the vise nuts) would have added to the build time.

Before the benchtop bench gets put to work, I’ll secure the feet (which are currently just glued on) with lag screws coming down from the top.  I also have not secured the wooden screws to the back jaw yet, as this is technically a prototype.  Securing the screws would take as little as a 1/4″ dowel through the inner jaw and the screw itself.  I may also add dogging capability.

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I also must chamfer the outer jaw all around.

This project was long overdue.  I have a ton of dovetailing coming up, which was a good excuse to finally get this done.  But more on that later.

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This One Goes to Eleven

No, not really.  It actually only goes to 15/16, but that’s okay.  I finished the moving fillister plane.  I’m super proud of the result.

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I have since added a coat of BLO and some furniture wax.

You may have noticed the black racing stripe.  In addition to texture for a better grip, the blank paint hides some nasty tearout from the grip recess.  Dammit, why do I always reveal my secrets?  At least no one will ever mistake my plane for theirs.

I should note that this version is in every way superior to my first attempt, unless you count a slightly too wide throat.  But with the skewed iron and a more refined escapement, it shouldn’t be a big deal.  After quite a few tests, regular shavings eject consistently, whether across- or with- the grain.  Fine, cross-grain shavings bind a little bit, but it’s nothing that can’t be cleared occasionally with a mechanical pencil.

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The angle is right, but it’s a little wide.

Other than the skew iron, there are a few improvements since the first iteration.  The scoring spur extends a bit further this time.  In fact, both the scoring spur and the iron are ever so slightly proud of the body.  This (I learned from Roy Underhill) is the key to a crisp and plumb shoulder on the rabbet.  The screws for the fence are also flush with the fence itself.

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I will eventually reinforce the slots with brass, like the version I copied.

I do not plan to add a depth stop to this plane.  I’ll just mark the depth and clean everything up with a router plane after.  That’s how I’ve been doing it for a while, and I find the traditional depth stop is not that reliable.  And a full-length depth stop may interfere with the escapement.

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So there you have it!

It’s still TBD whether I caught the planemaking bug.  I do have another 6 feet or so of quartersawn hard maple and I just picked up a bench grinder, so who knows what the future holds?

Rabbets.  The future holds rabbets.

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Traveling Show

About a month ago, I visited a particularly close friend for the first time in a long time. We had a two-fold agenda: (I) develop a metal prototype for a woodworking bench appliance and (II) hang a new door and create a cat door in it. We accomplished both and had a great time. More on the bench appliance later.

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Everything neatly fits in the actual trunk of my car.

I mention it now because finally got to use my casket tool chest for its intended purpose: traveling with a set of woodworking tools. Although the wall rack leaves something to be desired (because of clearance above the rack), the tool chest worked wonderfully. I daresay it held a basic tool kit worth of tools: enough to make real furniture anywhere.

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It’s a bit of a “pile on” approach, but it works.

I was able to fit a No. 5 1/2 jack plane, block plane, rip tenon saw, chisel roll, hand brace, auger bit roll, egg beater drill, mallets and hammers, plus 8″ and 12″ F-clamps, all in the well.  Gauges, dividers and other miscellany fit in the wall rack.  I am especially pleased with how the till worked out.  My diamond plates and other sharpening accoutrements fit beautifully, and there is even room to spare for other marking and measuring tools.

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Almost like I planned it.  The plumb bob was a present for my friend.

I never did a full inventory.  I think the entire operation would have been streamlined by a till for the tenon saw, though.  But that’s a small complaint.

Just goes to show: sometimes the best-laid plans do work out.

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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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Something More Fancy

Rehabbing a moving fillister plane I recently came into hasn’t gone so well.  About halfway through (i.e., trying to figure out how to get the iron back in alignment with the wear edges), I decided just to make another moving fillister plane.  Seeing as I never got around to the matching right hand version of the DIY rebate plane, this is long overdue.

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Here is where I am so far.

I’m sticking pretty close to the traditional design, even re-purposing the iron from the original.  But there are a few changes in my version, which I’d like to talk about.

Materials

The original is made of beech, a very traditional wood for planemaking.  My version, however, is made from quartersawn hard maple.  Also, instead of starting from a single 10/4 billet, mine is laminated from two 5/4 billets.  I rarely work in anything harder than ash, so hopefully, using hard maple will allow me to skip the boxing on the wear edge.

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Compare the two woods.

I also opted for the “use what’s on hand” approach for the wedge.  In this case, a piece of perfectly quartersawn 0.5″ red oak left over from the original shop-made rebate plane.  I think it came out pretty well.  Red oak has the added benefit being softer than the body of the plane, so the wedge will compress a bit for a perfect fit.

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It helps to have a pattern to work from.

Construction

Even had I started from a single 10/4 quatersawn billet, I don’t own all the planemakers floats I’d need.  For example, refining the wedge mortise without a side float would have been a nightmare.  So to get around this, I cut a shallow wedge mortise in the first billet and then transferred those angles to my miter saw.  When those two trapezoidal pieces were PVA glued onto the first billet, I had a full-depth wedge mortise.

But the wedge mortise on a moving fillister plane is closed, so closing it up meant using a dutchman.  A sliding dovetail shape might have been more structural, but the square shape allows me to remove the dutchman if I ever need to modify the wedge mortise.  I used hide glue for this joint (for reversibility).  Despite the sub-optimal color match, I’m pretty pleased with the fit and the results.

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Grain direction on the dutchman should match the body of the plane to avoid tearout.

The glued-in dutchman closes the wedge mortise and locks everything in place.  I was careful to remove any glue squeeze-out from the wedge mortise, but in the future, if I use this technique again, I will mask everything before gluing.  And I may add two screws to reinforce the patch.

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All closed up.

Most of what remains for the main body of the plane is shaping.  I must square the front of the plane, add the thumb rabbet on the escapement side and roundover or chamfer the rest of the hard corners.  Everything will be sealed with boiled linseed oil.  Also, I am 99% certain I will use a wheel marking gauge cutter as the scoring spur, rather than add a traditional wedged nicker.  That approach has worked well on the first incarnation.

After that, I’ll make the fence and depth stop.  Actually, I haven’t decided whether to include a depth stop.  But in any event, it’s time to buy some brass bar stock.

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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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