Saturday, November 23, 2013

A Woodworkers Wood Turning Hanging Tool Chest

I am a woodworker and not a woodturner. I also get the sense that most woodturners are not woodworkers. (There are of course notable exceptions especially when it comes to Shaker furniture.) The reason I've come to this conclusion was because of how difficult it was to find any pictures of cabinets for woodturning tools. Most turners seem to throw their tools in some PVC pipe and call it a day. I only intend to do simple projects and pieces for furniture when I'm turning and I didn't want my turning tools ending up all over the shop. This includes the tools and the lathe accessories.
After some research I worked out the features I felt I needed.
1) Enough room for my starter turning set.
2) A couple shelves for checks etc.
3) Some drawers for bits and pieces.
4) A door. (To keep the woodworking dust out.)
The dimensions came during the design process. The tools had to be spread out enough to get your fingers around them and I wanted at least one spare spot. This meant a width of 20". I figured a 1.5 to 1 ratio was good which left the height at 30". After that it was just a matter of picking inside dimensions that fit the tools.
I purchased a Forrester finger jointing blade and used the 3/8" size for the joinery. The drawers were are pinned lap joints with a hole for a pull. I sized the drawers based on a few accessories I needed to store. The door panel is a terrible piece of shop grade plywood that I cleaned up by filling the holes and using a half can of old spray paint. The door handle is a traditional ring pull. I've done a few turning projects since this was created and it's very nice being able to put all my tools away when I'm done and not have to worry about them. I now realize I need to do the same for my woodworking tools. 

A Pair of Hope Chests

This past September by brother got married and I decided I would make them a hope chest. I wanted something that wasn't too big and there was a plan I'd seen in Fine Woodworking that I thought would work well. The original plan called for cherry which is a joy to work and was the look I was working for. It was also an opportunity to try out shellac for the first time. The picture in the plan looked great with brass hardware however the combination of the design, finish and hardware gives it the appearance of a coffin when closed. (Three people mentioned it to me.)
Although I'd done a hope chest in the past and none of the techniques were new to me I wanted to be very precise in my joinery so I decided I would make two. The first would be in poplar which is much cheaper and with a painted finish it didn't matter if I made minor mistakes. (Or major ones like when I cut a tail in the wrong direction.) I did both pieces at the same time, one machine set up at a time. It probably only added about 25% in time to make the second and now I have a spare to hand out as a gift to someone else. I'll have a separate post on how I finished it.
I tried a few new techniques on this project. The first was using a table saw to do the cuts that would ordinarily be done by a handsaw. After that it was all hand tools. I don't use a hand saw often enough to keep it perfectly straight so it saves time and improves accuracy and this joint is much more prominent then a drawer that remains hidden away. The other technique that I was planning on but never got to was to use a shooting board for the mitres. I didn't get a jack plane in time but I've tried it since and it makes it much easier to sneak up on the final fit.
The final new technique for me was using shellac. I was planning on using boiled linseed as a base coat but I've previously learned my lesson about using oil on the inside of a chest. (11 years later and it still has a distinct smell.) Shellac will apparently cover the smell but I didn't want to chance it and I liked the look of just orange shellac. Application by brush was not too bad but I consistently got lap marks on the corners after each coat that had to be rubbed away with steel wool. Next time I'll spray it.

End Grain Cutting Board

Every woodworking blog has a post about creating an end grain cutting board so I won't bore you with a lot of details on this one. In it's simplest form it's pretty straight forward. Glue a bunch of pieces of wood together on their end, sand and finish. Should be easy and in many ways it is. That doesn't mean there isn't a lesson or two to be learned on your first one.

Lesson #1 - Material Use - I've made quite a few long grain cutting boards. They're popular at Christmas and they make good use of the scrap material. As long as the piece of wood is as long as the cutting board you are creating, glue it to another piece and you're on your way. End grain boards are a bit different. They are typically thicker so there's more volume and you lose a bit since you have to make so many cuts to piece it together. It wasn't quite as bad as I thought though. Once I figured out the thickness of the final board and the thickness of the pieces that were going into it the total length of the starting boards was perhaps twice what I would have done with an end grain board. Not quite as efficient but at least I could still use scrap pieces.

Lesson #2 - Sanding - My main message here is to avoid at all costs. There is a reason end grain boards are more durable and it shows when you start to sand. It would take hours by hand and not much quicker using an orbital sander. There are two good options that I've seen. One is a block plane, that some believe is named for it's ability to plane butcher blocks flat. The other is an thickness sander.I only have the former so it was an easy decision for me.

Lesson #3 - Glue it up flat - In some ways this is a subset of #2. The flatter you glue things up the less sanding/planing you have to do. You also end up with a thicker cutting board in the end and it's a lot easier to keep the whole thing true if  you're careful with your glue up.

The one I did above was maple and walnut with a mineral oil and wax finish. I didn't bother with warming the mineral oil and melting in bees wax but I think I will next time since it will reduce how frequently I have to renew the finish.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Memorial Bench Complete

This project ended up taking a few extra months and now that it's complete I don't think it needed to. I got to about 80% completion in April but then I started on some outdoor projects and it got put in hold. I thought for sure I still had a lot of hours left but when it came down to a deadline of the middle of June I was able to wrap up the remaining woodworking in just a few days. For some reason I was apprehensive about filling all the square holes, however since I was just going to sand them flush it turned out to be a very simple task.
In the end, everything came together nicely. Most of the joints are good and tight. (A couple of exceptions on the arms that I could have mitigated by spending more time practicing with the dry fit.) I also had a bit of an issue with installing the screws on the ends of the seat slats. They were tucked under the arm rails and I had to buy a right-angle drill to get to them. Fortunately for my pocket book the drill was functional enough to get the job done but I didn't like it so it's going back. It didn't have enough finesse for tight quarters and wasn't actually as compact as I was expecting.

For those that don't already know, this was a memorial bench for a former student at the school that my wife Kerry teaches at. She died of cancer soon after finishing high school. I didn't know her personally but Kerry found her to be a very strong individual despite the hardships of the disease. You can read more about her at

Garden Bench Coming Together

Woodworking is by no means a cheap hobby. You can certainly get started doing smaller projects with limited tools and they don't always have to be expensive to be good. However, as your projects get more complex, every new technique and every project brings on the potential need for a new tool. I had an earlier post about the Garden Bench that explained my rational for purchasing a heavy duty mortising machine. Apparently I wasn't done with new purchases for this project as I soon realized that I needed to be able to clamp the project together and my existing pipe clamps were a foot short. My ingenious plan was to simply purchase a few couplings and expand the clamps I had. I don't need six feet of length very often so the minor inconvenience of having to add the couplings on when I needed them wasn't a big deal. Unfortunately, only two of my pipes had threads on both ends. I highly recommend watching for this when you choose to purchase your black pipe. I was able to purchase a 2 foot extension for those and ended up buying a couple of 6 footers with the threads on both ends. This means I now have enough parts for four clamps of at least 10 feet. Plenty for some future dining table or long cabinet.
The plans called for a pair of braces in the front to help keep the legs from bending in. Since this project was going to be in a school I felt this was an important design consideration however I wasn't thrilled with the look. I decided to add a cross brace between the two lower rails instead. After it was glued and wedged it should allow for many years of kids dragging the bench around.
I made one other design change. The plans called for mortises the same width and length as the back slats themselves. I decided I would put proper tenons on them instead. It did mean having to figure out the angles where the lower tenon meets the bottom rail but it was much more satisfying and should mean better protection from the weather should the bench ever end up outside.

Speaking of satisfying, I think the most enjoyable part of this project was shaping the arm rests. No power tools here just me and a rasp. This mean there was more art than science in the execution. Luckily I had a rasp that did the job however it did lead me into drooling over nicer versions including the ones from Auriou made in France. I have left that as a purchase for a future project.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Every Board Gets a Chance

This particular piece of wood was a bit of a surprise. From the outside there was virtually no sign that such an ugly knot lay beneath the surface. I chose this particular piece of wood because it had a gentle curve to it that matched the curve of the seat. As I planed into it from the side you could start see what caused the grain pattern and once I cut the the curve to the seat the full extent of the weakness was revealed.
The easiest thing to do and possibly the smart thing to do would have been to throw the piece out and start over. I was rather sold on the grain though and the wood still seemed to have a lot of strength to it. I decided instead that I would try my hand at a dutchman. The concept is simple. Remove the ugly bits and replace with new wood. Since this was the seat support I needed to make sure I was improving the structure and not weakening it. I put a simple angle on the ends to ensure the piece was trapped and made sure I only went deep enough to replace the bad wood.
After a bit of cleanup with my block plane and my Stanley 20-1/2 on the curve and the patch was complete. It will be on the inside of the bench so the only way you will see it is if you crawl underneath. I should know within a few years whether this was a good idea or not. Luckily the bench will be just across the street so if anything goes wrong I'll get to try my hand on what will be a very complex repair.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

English Garden Bench - The Fine Details

I made some good progress on the bench today despite some setbacks caused by inaccurate plans. I do a mix of projects, some from plans, some from my head. For something traditional like this I like to go with a set of plans because there are decades of knowledge that go into a design like this. There's no need to reinvent the wheel. The  issue with this plan was the height listed for the front post. It was one inch higher that what I've done here. There were two things that clued me into something being wrong. The first was the location of the mortise on the angled seat back. It was too low. The other was the detail on the front leg. It didn't seem to match what was in the finished product photo. Everything seemed to point to the leg being too tall. After doing a bit of assembly and doing a test sit, I decided it had to be an error and dropped the height. This turned out to have the added benefit of allowing me to recut the tenon on the top which I had made a bit to thin.
These plans are quite good but there wasn't much of drawing to go off to create the arm rest shape. The main part is just a mirror of the seat curve but the front of the arm required a bit of artistry. I have a set of French Curves which  provided the basic shape but my test sit with the example to the right felt not quite right. The arm rest invites you to wrap your fingers around the front but the bottom was much to sharp. I'm sure most people wouldn't even notice but I've sat in these benches before and there is a big difference in a good arm rest and a bad one.
My modified attempt involved increasing the curve just slightly on the bottom. I still have to clean these up but it made a world of difference. A few more hours of shaping, sanding and fitting the tenons and I'll be ready to assemble the sides. I plan to take full advantage of my square hole machine and will be using square pegs instead of round ones. I'll likely be using some ebony to create a nice contrast with the white oak.

Drilling Square Holes

Although my shop might indicate otherwise I don't really see myself as a tool junky. If I'm going to purchase a tool it's because I need it for a project I'm working on. For a little while in the middle of my woodworking career I got caught up in 'gadgets'. Seemingly miracle jigs that would do one thing really well but had few other uses. Now I try to only by quality tools and make every effort not to get caught up in those 'miracle tools'. Now to explain my latest purchase. It only really does one thing. Drill square holes. I've had a small bench top one for about 10 years but it recently ran into some trouble with some white oak and part of the casting broke. Too expensive to bother fixing and I desperately needed it for my current project so I decided to shell out for the top-o-the-line model. A hollow-chisel mortising machine with a tilting head and sliding table. Traditional woodworking tends to use a lot of mortise and tenon joinery and I know I'll use this a lot. (The thing ways a ton. Two of us could barely lift it onto the stand)
Now on to what my next project is. Book shelves are on hold again since that was the project I was working on when the old machine broke and it missed it's window for completion. I've got to get an English garden bench finished for my wife's school. It's a memorial bench for a former student of the school who died of cancer before she finished high-school. No set deadline though I'd like to get it done by April.
The most challenging part so far has been the back rest. It involves making an angled cut on some rather thick stock. Not overly complicated but working for BC Hydro, we have safety drilled into our brains and I wasn't comfortable doing a stopped cut in such thick, hard to cut stock. I arrived at the simple solution of a sled that would give me a better grip on the wood and keep my hands well away from the blade. Took longer to create the jig then to make the four cuts I needed but now I'm ready for a production run.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

TV Stand - Final Steps

Before I get into the details of the finish, as promised I've included a better picture of my plans. It started with stealing the TV box back from my daughter, cutting it up and drawing a full size plan in pencil along with a high level overview of the major steps. I write down the steps for a couple of reasons. One is to make my next trip out the shop as efficient as possible. I hate spending the first 30 minutes of shop time trying to catch myself up. The second reason is that some steps are better done before assembly and a pain if forgotten. Once assembly is complete it's fairly straightforward.
From the beginning I knew what I wanted the end product to look like including the colour. In the end though the colour turned out darker that I was expecting but still the colour I wanted. (If that makes sense.) The traditional finish for white oak is to put it in an inclosed space and 'fume' it using ammonia. It takes several days and darkens woods like Oak. I'm sure one day I will try fuming however since I used a mix of plywood and solid wood I knew the colour wouldn't end up consistent so I decided to try aniline dies for the first time instead.
Aniline dies come in a powder or liquid form and you mix them with water or alcohol. Lee Valley just happens to sell a fumed oak colour. This is where the colour issue I mentioned early came. When I tried it on a sample it was darker than I was expecting. I still liked it and after a bit of research realized that fumed oak was darker that I thought. When I went to do the final finish, I threw a bit of extra water in to lighten it slightly and two coats later it came out looking amazing.
I'm not exactly set up to be a furniture finisher and I now understand why pro-woodworkers sub contract it out. It takes a ton of knowledge and a dusty shop is not conducive to an error free finish. A 10 degree Celsius shop is also not great so I'm limited on the types of finish I can apply. I have a nice sprayer and at one point had a temporary spray booth but was a pain to put up and take down so I've gone in a different direction. In the winter I clean out the guest room and do the little pieces in the laundry room and the big pieces in the guest room. It's a hand rubbed poly from Min-wax and it's very forgiving.
The finished product was exactly what I envisioned. The only thing I might add is a false back to the lower shelf so I can hide the power bar but other than that it fits nicely in our living room, isn't over powering and compliments the TV nicely.

TV Stand - Assembly and Review

I really should make myself an assembly table. A table about two feet tall that I can position the piece on while it's being constructed. The problem of course is that I don't really have room for an assembly table. I've considered putting together a couple of saw horses that I could throw a piece of plywood on but my worry is that it would either be left out all the time, contributing the space issue, or get put away and never used. As a result this piece of furniture ended up on my main work bench for about a month. It wasn't too bad except when I needed to use the front vice.
I think what I enjoyed most about this particular piece of furniture is that I really tried to use hand tools where ever possible and the nice thing is that as I get better at using them, it's not at the expense of time. It was much quicker to put a slight chamfer on the bottom of the legs with a hand plane than it would be to chuck up the chamfer bit in the router. In addition, because of the curved leg, the router wouldn't have worked anyways. I should also mention the reason I'm highlighting this particular chamfer. My Dad made us a bed several years ago without putting an edge on the bottom of the legs and one time when we moved it we split a big chunk off the side. Even though you don't really see this detail it's important to the longevity of the furniture as you can drag it around and be less worried about damaging it.
I think I mentioned in a previous post that this was a traditional looking piece of furniture with less traditional construction. I used dowels to assemble the side and the main case and back are all plywood. For the most part I'm confident in the construction however there is one exception. The sides are really just screwed and glued to the main box. I'm sure it will hold for a very long time but if I were to do it again I think I would go through the trouble of a mortise and tenon for the front rail and do a back rail mortise and tenon as well, leaving the plywood box to effectively float in between.
I took no short cuts on the doors however. I've got enough doors in our kitchen that are just stick frame construction with no mortise and tenon that have come a part. These drawers have a haunched tenon that goes 3/4 of the way through the stile and the panels are solid wood. I did book match them but the one on the left ended up a bit plain and the one on the right had a knot going through at an angle so it looks a bit off. I still like it but given an infinite budget and supply of wood I would have spent time trying to get a book match that was the same on both sides and a bit more dramatic.