Finished: My Worst Project

I’m not even sure if I want to post this, but here goes. I just finished a breadbox, which qualifies as the worst woodworking project I’ve ever done. Wonder why? There are lots of reasons, but let’s just get a photo out of the way first:

This project has been languishing for years. How long? I don’t even know anymore. There was a reference to it in a post many years back, three moves ago, probably saying that this was taking an embarrassingly long time. That was at least five years ago. (I don’t remember anymore because I haven’t bothered to try to recover my old posts yet.) The reasons for delay? All obnoxiously stupid:

  • Couldn’t decide how to do the door
  • Couldn’t decide how to seal and stop the area around the door
  • Couldn’t be bothered to find decent hinges
  • Couldn’t decide on the handle
  • Couldn’t decide what kind of clasp hardware to use
  • Couldn’t be bothered to order the clasp hardware
  • Didn’t remember that I actually ordered the clasp hardware, then spent a year or two absentmindedly trying to decide on the clasp hardware (again)
  • Didn’t want to finish it
  • Didn’t remember that it needed to be finished
  • Any and all other methods of procrastination

That all sounds bad enough, but there are even more reasons. The best I can say is that I made the box and the door very quickly.

And then there’s the quality of work. It’s not great. It looks OK from a distance. Maybe just don’t look too closely. I don’t want to go into the details, but let’s just say that I wasn’t particularly careful here. I can only conclude that I just wasn’t terribly enthusiastic about this albatross of a project.

Despite all of this, it’s better that it’s done and now in service. This was an incredibly irritating monkey on my back.

Oh, I guess there are technical details: Beech, half-blind dovetails for the carcase, mortise-and-tenons for the door, floating panels on the door and rear of the carcase.

Here it is, open (I didn’t even remember to use the same exposure on both pictures, and nope, I’m not gonna go back and redo it):

Coffee Table: Top Glued

There isn’t a whole lot to say about this, but I finally got the top of the coffee table glued up:

Most things take longer than I would prefer, but this one was slightly more annoying because I was very close a month ago. Looking back, I can deduce that the delay occurred because I was just not satisfied with that one outlier of a board that I showed in the last post. That eventually caused me to go back to the lumberyard and get another board. Then I had to flatten and thickness that, as well as loathe all parts before, during, and after. I also rearranged the board order a few times before jointing. The new board replacement board isn’t a perfect match, but it’s much better than the previous. And the grain does not reverse.

The jointing wasn’t a joy either (it never is), but it’s done. Time to trim that up and do a final planing.

Coffee Table: Midway

So let’s check in on that coffee table project. I have completed the frame joinery:

Aside: Does anyone else have the problem hinted at above? Well, not so much a problem, but an annoyance. As I work through a project, its components start to pile up and I don’t really know where to put them. They always end up in awful places, but those places are chosen because they are the least awful. This gets worse when I have a few things going at once. Maybe I ought to have some dedicated shelves for this.

I’ve also flattened and thicknessed the boards for the top:

Hopefully, that one board in the center won’t look too out of place. I think I have a transition for that. Piecing together a consistent walnut top can be rough. In any case, all that’s left to do with the top is to joint, glue, smooth, and finish.

Then there’s what I’m working on now:

These are the panels for the sides and the drawer fronts. Rather than using a monotonous walnut all around, I decided to go with ash for these parts. Everything is now resawn; I’m just working through the flattening before I get to thicknessing.

That plane in the foreground is a Charles Nurse jack plane that I picked up at the spring PATINA Damascus tool sale. I’d been looking for a wooden plane to help with the more gruntish work like minor flattening, thinking that maybe it would be a little bit easier to shove around than my #5-size cast iron plane, or at least give an auxiliary when its blade is too dull and I’m feeling too lazy to sharpen it. I had to mess around with it a little (trimmed the wedge to prevent shavings from getting jammed, gave it a cursory sharpening), but it seems to be working acceptably now. I have a feeling that there’s more I could do, but I don’t want to spend the time on it right now. Perhaps I’ll feature it a little later if I stick with it.

Let’s Talk About Wood Selection and Orientation

This might seem like an obvious topic, but I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed it. To be clear, I’m not really talking about species selection here. It’s more a matter of the individual boards that you incorporate into a project and where they end up.

Wood selection might not stand out as one of the most compelling reasons to bother to learn woodworking, but it’s at least an implicit reason. If you’ve ever seen one of those kitchens with the cherry cabinets that were popular about 10-15 years ago, you know what I mean. These typically don’t have any rhyme, reason, or consistency to the boards making up the frames and panels; they often look like they were made up of many different species. It’s the same way with a lot of more expensive factory-made furniture as well. Well, if that doesn’t drive you nuts, the pocket joints will.

So this relates especially to my current project, the coffee table, which has a frame made of walnut. Like cherry, walnut has a high degree of variability between trees, boards from a tree, and often even within a single board. To try to get everything as consistent as possible, I always try to group pieces according to location and function, then map those groups to boards. The fewer boards, the better. Then you start working on the puzzle of where everything fits. Here’s where I’m at on the frame:

There are two stretchers per side between the legs, and they are paired (bottom layer) in this photo. Between those stretchers will be two inner frame pieces. The boards on the top layer of the photo will each be cut in two make those pieces. The pair on the top will go with the board on the right, the next down is second from right, and so on.

All of these pieces came from the same board, which made it a little simpler in some respects.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the grain orientation (top side in the photo) of each pair matches, with the rear pair being quartersawn, the next one mostly quartersawn, and the front pairs flatsawn. These are chosen to match the legs. Recall this photo from the last post:

That leg is the trickiest part of the arrangement because it’s riftsawn. But it mostly resembles flatsawn on the left and quartersawn on the right, and the legs on the other ends are definitely in that orientation, so the pairs of stretchers are chosen accordingly. (The other legs are much more straightforward in orientation and have obvious matches.)

In any case, the flatsawn sides oppose each other, as do the quartersawn, making it easier to arrange the legs. And the oddball above is going in the “rear” of the table to keep it mostly out of sight anyway.

Let’s take a closer look at some of those stretcher pairings, starting with the quartersawn:

And now the flatsawn:

If you look even closer at this one (and the pairing in the post’s first photo), you’ll notice that the horizontal stretchers were cut not only from the same board, but right next to each other. This might seem a little crazy because the upper ones won’t even be really all that visible (the top will overhang, obscuring them), but it’s the kind of thing that I like to be in the habit of doing.

So I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of stuff. It might even be worth it.

Coffee Table: Starting Joinery

It seems like it’s taken forever, but I’m finally ready to start a furniture project in my new shop. It will be a coffee table, something that’s been on “the list” for a very long time.

Like many of my designs, it will be based on a frame built with mortise-and-tenon joints, and will include 1/4″ panels. There will also be two drawers. The primary wood will be black walnut (despite its high cost at the moment), with a secondary contrast wood to be announced at a later time.

I have already cut and milled down enough of the wood to make the entire frame, and chosen the orientation and arrangement of the legs and stretchers. And here are the first two joints:

Those are haunched tenons; the ends directly below the top will not be visible when the project is complete. These joints give you a little more resistance to twist and a little more flexibility when making long tenons. I guess they’re also supposed to look cool or something.

As is my custom, I already screwed up. I referenced from the wrong side when marking the mortise on the right, yielding an incorrect offset from the front when I cut the tenon. So I sawed off the tenon, then made a new tenon using a compensating shim when marking. I suppose that I’m lucky that I made this error at this stage, because if I’d done that on a stretcher that already had a tenon on the opposing end, it’d be kind of unfortunate.

Tenon Detritus

I posted the following photo from my happily-neglected Twitter account a while back and forgot about it:

I’d been busy making a stand out of some southern yellow pine and didn’t take too much time to clean off the bench between making each mortise-and-tenon joint. Perhaps there’s some sort of meaning here. But it could also be just a cluttered pile of cutoffs.

That project is essentially complete, but I’m not too sure. I didn’t make a top for it yet, but I might not need to. It’s just a tall stand for workshop-related stuff and is already in use.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write about that little mini-project. It’s pretty sloppy; I didn’t even bother to uniformly thickness or even mill all of the sides of the boards.

Thagomizer 3

An element of frustration in woodworking will always smack you when you’d rather it not do that. Back around the beginning of the year, I broke the head of my “Thagomizer 2” mallet. This was not unexpected. I had not built the thing to last, but rather, did it in a hurry from whatever I had on hand at the time. It was just to get back to work after breaking my original mallet, and it lasted long enough. Still, I was pretty bummed about it at the time, though I’m not sure why. I think I was chopping some mortises and the mallet failure meant that I wouldn’t be getting any work done without a new mallet.

The biggest problem I had when building my first two mallets is that I did not have any appropriate stock in a thickness required for a single-piece head. It turns out that though wood glue is great at tension stress, it’s not quite as hot at the shear stress involved when you laminate a couple of pieces of wood together and smack it really hard. And really, I believe that’s what you want anyway, because a mortise-and-tenon joint would be awful to repair otherwise.

This third time around, however, I realized that I might have something that would work. Back when I was living on the San Francisco peninsula, a friend had a privet removed from their yard, and had the workers leave a sizable chunk of the trunk for me to peruse. Maybe that sounds weird, but hey, free wood. Aside from some slices that we took out of it with a bandsaw, I had a part of it sitting in my garage for years, drying and seasoning. Then I packed it up and had the movers take it when we moved to Maryland. Yeah, I know… that’s kinda weird, too.

And so there it was in my new shop when I was looking around for something, anything that could be used to make a new mallet. Looking it over, it seemed pretty hard, dense, fairly heavy, and just about the right profile for what I needed for a head. Cue the “seems legit” meme.

It was awkward to cut, compounded by its irregular shape. I finally managed to clamp it to the bench and saw off an appropriate length:

Crosscutting wasn’t so bad, but I still needed to get the excess material off the sides. Using the clamp again, I was able to rip it:

This was downright obnoxious to rip. I first went at it with my little rip panel saw (it was such a small piece, how bad could it be?), but it was such slow going that I switched to my big saw almost immediately.

After getting good parallel cuts on the top and bottom, and one on the side, I’d had enough and started to work on the slot for the handle. I used a brace and auger bit to get most of the waste out.

Because I had just destroyed the thing I normally use to beat mortise chisels, I grabbed a deadblow mallet and carefully finished the slot. After sawing the ends to the appropriate angles, I used my favorite brutal shaping tool, the Shinto saw rasp, to put a curve on top.

I reused the beech handle from Thagomizer 2 in the new head, and had what appeared to be a success:

Well, one side of the head still had a waney edge. After looking at it and remembering how horrible it was to rip off the other sides, I decided that maybe I’d just try leaving that side alone:

Normally, I don’t care for any kind of rustic look, but this has grown on me, perhaps because it reminds me of some work that I didn’t have to do.

It’s been a few months now and I’ve cut dozens of mortises with it. So far, it’s performed flawlessly. The weight feels good and the ends have been durable.

If you have some yard wood that you think just very well might have a use, keep this sort of thing in mind. I already have a few ideas for the remaining bits of that privet wood.

Reorganizing

I’m attempting to get the galoototron blog back on track. I’ve been active in my new shop lately, but it’s mostly out of necessity and I haven’t had much time to document anything. We’ll see how this goes.

At least a fair amount of the old content that I had here is out there somewhere, and I’ll try to get that imported, but it will take time (if it’s possible). Sorry about that.

In the meantime, here’s at least something that I worked on (and with) recently:

I will follow up with the build story shortly.