Monday, February 23, 2015

A Way to Make Curves

I wanted to shape the handle of the toolbox a little bit to make it more comfortable for a small hand After cutting a stick of walnut to length, I marked the center both horizontally and vertically. The vertical center would be the finished thickness and the peak of the arc on the bottom of the handle. I created the curve with a thin strip of wood, bent like a bow to connect the dots. Then I cut a series of vertical kerfs, just shy of the layout line. I should have set up my joinery bench but sometimes you have to live a little loose.

Flip it and make the cuts on the other side.

The cuts allow for very rapid chipping away and act as stops.

Although this walnut peels and pares beatifully, you can get very aggressive and take off almost the whole chunk if you drive the chisel hard enough.

Eventually with just the chisel you can get pretty close.

I did use spokeshaves to clean up a bit.

This is how I made the dowels which will hold the handle in place. Just a tiny stick with corners planed off using my miniature jointer.

The handle is just about done and ready to be installed.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Apprentice's Apprentice's Toolbox

When my daughter turned five, I told her she was ready for a real toolkit. She had already used some of my smaller planes to make "chocolate noodles" (walnut shavings) and she's had a pretty good command of righty-tighty lefty-loosey since the age of 2.5. I'm not quite ready to give her chisels, but it is time for her to have her own measuring tape since she has a habit of making off with mine. When she received the tools, she put them in a metal box, and I promised her we'd make one soon.

I was too busy prepping the panels to take many photos, but it is rather straightforward construction. Loosely based on the Japanese tool box , but with a groove to hold the floor. Material is cheap cedar fence board that I picked the clearest sections from, so it is fairly clear and straight-grained. Cleans up very nicely once planed. The plow plane made a nice crisp groove with just a couple strokes. The bottom is just a panel beveled to enough of a taper to slip right into the groove.

I did some quick curves on the sides while she was playing with a friend. I don't know if I even want her to know the drawknife exists yet. The curve is just a traced metal tin that I had laying around and happened to fit nicely.

She excitedly arranged the contents of the kit (measuring tape, little hammer, stubby screwdrivers, bag of nuts and bolts) and admired the fit. She wants to add a wrench soon. I want to get her onto dividers and Sloyd knife ASAP but all things in time...

 We still need to work on the handle, but the shop was cold and she wanted to go back inside. She surprised me by nailing the sides quite well. I even trusted her as I held the nails and she started them. She sank them nicely using a nail set, the soft cedar made this pretty forgiving work.

She said a couple days ago when we were planning it that she wants to paint it purple, which of course is not what I would do. It is her box, though, so I'm already resigned to seeing it covered with Disney Princess stickers. As we were working, she surprised me by saying "Would it be ok if we just oil it and see what the wood looks like?"

"Of course. We can do that."

That's my kid!

Monday, February 16, 2015


Some more photos and notes of the Shaker-inspired harvest table:

You can see the simple mortise and tenon base assemble, with pivoting supports for the dropleaves. The legs were hewn from a massive slap of 12/4 cherry, the most expensive chunk of wood I have purchased to date. It was amazing, almost completely clear and free of defects. You can also see a small groove running around the inside perimeter,  this is where the buttons which attach the top slip in, allowing them to move as the top does.

The aprons were drawbored into the legs, coaxing a very tight fit. No glue needed. Drawboring means that the holes for the pegs are made ever-so-slightly offset, so that as the pegs snakes through, it is pulling the joint more and more tightly closed. It must be done very carefully to avoid splitting, but results in rock-solid joinery.

I opted against a rule-joint on the top. I actually wanted to try one, but lack the moulding or rule joint planes required, and refused to resort to a power router. I looked at antique stores and found plenty of examples of this plain butt joint, and personally don't mind it's rustic look. In fact, I found many of the rule joints, while mechanically nifty, looked kindof gaudy to me. This table is 7 6" long. It is definitely about the largest thing I would hope to build on my bench in it's current form.

It seats 8 people relatively comfortably. The whole concept came about in order to comfortably seat a wheelchair user at once end while collapsing in to a smaller footprint for daily use. Here's a little writeup about the house it is going into.

The apprentice's apprentice helps with a final buffing of the pure tung-oil finish.

Sunday, October 26, 2014

Harvest Season

Did I mention I've been working on a table? I've been working on a table. Not much, since mostly I have been working on work-- a full-time job which has very little (perhaps you could say nothing) to do with traditional woodworking.

So I rejoin the ranks of the weekend warrior. My shop doesn't have enough light to work in the evenings and frankly I am too spent to safely work after a day of work. If I didn't gouge myself with edge tools, I would certainly make mistakes and damage the workpieces.

Anyway, with Thanksgiving approaching, I've had to hustle to get a harvest table complete. It's coming along pretty well.

Gluing up 3 boards to make the top. That is some crazy photo effect my new phone did. I don't like it, and I know how to turn it off, but I did want to show how the artificial contrast reveals the crazy reversing grain on the boards (note the "cathedrals" running in opposite directions towards each other). Makes the surface planing very tricky. It's possible that it is a really bad idea to use boards like this for a tabletop, since they will move unevenly. I'm using grooves and Rockler fasteners (space-age "buttons") to accommodate this. Time will tell.

Trimming the top, the old-fashioned way. It's not hard and is faster and mellower than using a powersaw.

Edge-jointing the top. This table will have dropleaves along the long sides, so they need to be pretty square. In some cases a rule-joint would be used, and I was thinking about going that route. However I looked around at some old tables that used plain old square joints and really like the simplicity; the rule joints to me look a little too fancy even though they make perfect functional sense.

Here you can see the base dryfit, and perhaps perceive how the dropleaf supports work. Little sections (2 on each long face) swing out by pivoting on a nail in their center. It works pretty well and is about as simple as it can get.

Monday, August 25, 2014

The Broken Chisel and the Shameless Birdhouse

The day started with laying out the mortises for the harvest table. This is somewhat finicky work, since if done with care, all other layout will cascade from the mortises, which themselves depend upon the mortise chisel's dimensions. If the outside edges of the mortises are consistent, the slop can fall to the inside where nobody will see it, but a consistent reveal will be visually apparent from the outside.

The kid came into the shop during this procedure, and I tried showing her what I was doing. Then it was time to do the chopping, which I knew she would not enjoy. Still, she insisted... so I gave her some earmuffs, and it was all going ok, until...

The tip of the mortise chisel suddenly snapped. Ah well, it's just metal. At this point, I did have to get the kid out of the shop since 1) I don't want her breathing metal filings and 2) I don't want my leg grabbed while using the grinder.

Good as new, or maybe better, since I put a new bevel angle on it. I do microbevel my mortise chisels, although there is some debate about it. It provides a steeper angle for one thing, and sharpness really does help in my experience, especially during the early, defining cuts. It does need to be touched up often, sometimes even within a single mortise, but with a good sharpening setup it takes so little time that it is well worth it. I always appreciate myself when I take the time to touch up an edge but can't really think of a time I have ever said "wow, glad I did not take the 45 seconds to sharpen up!"

The width of the mortise is defined by marks made by the chisel itself (seen at either end). Marking gauge is then set to that edge, and the inside mark is made. Good habit to mark waste since I are dumb and have chopped in the wrong area more than once.

Using a technique Robert Wearing discusses in The Essential Woodworker, I like to make a series of shallow scores with the chisel, and then drag the side of the chisel along the mortise. This pops out all the little chips and leaves a well-defined shallow mortise in which to start the chopping in earnest.

You know the rest of the drill. If not, its a lot of hitting with a heavy mallet and prying out chips. Repeat. Repeat more, until complete. Then do the other 7 (2 per each of 4 legs).

Today, I started to lay out the tenons while explaining the process to same kid as above. She was not really feelin' it, so instead we made a birdhouse. Yes, I went there; don't judge. We often use an old-fashioned eggbeater to make pancakes or crepes, so it was pretty cool for her to point out that the drill we used for pilot holes "looks and sounds like an eggbeater".

Thursday, August 7, 2014

Harvest Season

Here is a riddle:

Q. What is eight feet long and has six legs?

A. While it sounds like some horrible prehistoric venomous insect (probably from Australia), it is actually a board of 12/4 (about 3" thick) cherry I picked up to make the legs for a table.

Ok, a table, sure. Eight feet should be plenty long enough, with a little room for grading out the clearest portion (note that pesky li'l knot above), but six legs? Is this some hexagonal thing?

No, it's a pretty straightforward drop-leaf table, vaguely Shaker in form. Here's the concept sketch, though the dimensions have changed:

Simple table with 4 legs, apron around the top. Drop leaves along the long sides. Here's the legs after a session of cutting and planing (yes it is a lot of work shifting to heavy, thick pieces after spending time on much smaller and thinner stock):

So why the extra two legs? Because I take the advice of woodworker and carver Dan Packard... make some extras. Hopefully you won't need them. If you don't make them, you will mess up and wish you had them. I had to purchase the entire board of this 12/4 cherry, which is about the price of a Lie Nielsen low-angle jack plane. I would hate to have to purchase another just to replace a bungled leg.

I'll be traveling soon... giving these legs time to settle. Later this month though, lots of hand-chopped mortising, tenoning the aprons, and figuring out how to work a table top which is larger than my workbench. Good times!