Coffee Table: Drawers Started

A large amount of my time in the shop lately has been dedicated to something related to the coffee table, but hopefully to be used in most future projects. More on that soon, maybe. If I do write it up, it will be different than my usual fare here, for the three people who have been reading this blog fora while.

In the meantime, I have this update: The coffee table drawers are now officially underway. I finished milling all of the wood except the backs and bottoms, and just did the front joints of one drawer:

It’s been quite a long time since I last did some half-blind dovetails. At least it’s measured in years and not tens of years. The little cutoff in the lower right corner is a little test cut, investigating tail width and spacing.

The Veritas router plane is newish; I bought it last year after getting annoyed with the fence that I made for my vintage Millers Falls plane. I could have made another fence for the old one, but it would have cost me even more time, and I was getting irritated with the adjusting mechanism.

I used the router plane to go to the bottom inside of the blind part of the front, between the pins. I think I used a chisel for this in the past, but I think I’ll do it this way in the future (soon, because I have another drawer to make). It makes it a lot easier to keep things straight down there. The only thing to remember is to take fine cuts, and after you extend the blade down, move the adjuster back up to register against the top of the notch on the blade’s shaft to ensure that it does not slip. This sounds complicated, but if you’ve used a router plane before, you know what I mean.

Coffee Table: Base Glue-Up

I started gluing up the base of the coffee table. There are four sides, and I decided to glue up all four separately to make sure that I got all of the pieces in the right spot. Here’s the first:

This is one of those instances where just laying the frame on top of the bench will suffice with the clamps in place. If there were some issue with the frames not being flat enough, I could always weight them to the benchtop (which is flat, of course), but that doesn’t seem to be a problem.

To aid glue-up, I made a little spacer block to jam in the sides to make sure that I get the correct offset for the little vertical stretchers:

This first one went well. The second one has a minor issue with the offset of the top stretcher. It should not really be a problem, but if it does, I’ll figure out some way to correct it. Hopefully the rest of the base will go smoothly. These tenons are very tight fits; it’s somewhat difficult to jam them into the right spots under glue-up time pressure.

So this is getting somewhere. I’m also in the process of varnishing the top.

Workbenches and Workholding

When you hear Schwarz or someone harping about how a workbench is a three-dimensional clamping surface, you might wonder why they’re so religious about it. One of the big “rules” is that you should have the front legs flush with the benchtop.

Although I am fond of the idea of rule-breaking, they’re often around for a reason. And here’s why this one is a decent ruleguideline:

That just wouldn’t have been possible without this configuration. It made a really unwieldy task (trimming off the edges of the coffee table top) to a very manageable one with just a handsaw.

So it’s not so much religion, more of an admonishment to prevent you from shooting yourself in the foot in the name of form over function.

More workbench stuff is coming soon. Maybe.

Done With The Outdoor Work

I finally finished all of the deck and porch work that was monopolizing my shop and shop time. Railings, deck boards, trim, and so on–it just never seemed to end. The last bit was making these balusters for the front porch:

Full disclosure: Electrons were shoved around in the making of these. I should write something about that sometime. However, I did cut each board to length by hand, and I finished off the little concave interior curves with a rasp (It was the fastest tool for the job).

Now I can get back to work on that coffee table.

Too Much 45

It hasn’t been a great month for work on furniture, mostly because I’ve been working on repairing the deck on my house.

Part of this has involved making new tops for railings, which involved beading and cutting grooves. And this is what you end up with at the end of that last process:

Oh, that Stanley #45. Every time I use it, I feel like I want a tool that is lighter and less finicky to set up.

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.