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.