At the end of the last installment, I had the workbench top-milling task to deal with. I’ve never worked with anything this large before, so I didn’t quite know what to do. A little rough experimentation revealed that the grain reversed on the faces of the timbers about two-thirds of the way across, where the face became tangential to the growth rings (a common occurrence in this type of sawcut).
In light of this, I decided to rip the timbers at the point that the grain reversed, so that I could match the grain direction across the entire width of the top (it also didn’t hurt that there were a lot of monster knots on the “thin” side). That would give me two roughly 8″ sections that I’d be able to mill and glue up.
The first thing I needed to do was support the timbers while ripping. I had a choice between making sawbenches or just going out to get a couple of 2x4s to fill in the sawhorse brackets that I had on hand (I’d long since scavenged most of the pieces I used the last time I used the sawhorses). I opted to defer the sawbenches again and got the 2x4s.
Ripping six feet on two of these timbers was a chore, but not quite as bad as I’d expected. It helped that I sharpened my big rip saw before. In the end, I had to make four of those cuts (two at the point where the grain reversed, and two more at the ends to eliminate some excessively bashed-up wood).
So then it was on to milling. Now I really had no clue what to do. The first thing I tried to mill the edges was to fasten some handscrews in an odd arrangement to hook it to the end of my bench:
This was quite a secure arrangement, but it didn’t work for two reasons: First, there was too much junk in the shop to the right of the timber to get a jointer plane over there, and second, the timber was now far too high off the ground for me to reasonably bear down on.
After some fretting and sulking, I reminded myself that Toshio Odate wrote about how Japanese carpenters secure stuff both big and small against a wall (or something). Looking at pages 6-7 of his Japanese Woodworking Tools book, I tried to think of how I might be able to do this with with western tools. The one really important thing, it seemed to me, was to be able to keep some clearance between the end of the timber and whatever you’re securing against.
In the end, I came to this arrangement with the same sawhorses that I used to rip the timbers:
One end of the timber rests on a board with a clamped stop, and that board sits on top of the sawhorse with one end secured against a timber in the house. Here’s a look at the stop:
This is really nothing special, but it surprisingly worked quite well and I was able to mill and joint the timbers with no further ado.
Well, the “ado” would not apply to the task of lugging these timbers all over the place as I ripped, milled, and flipped them around. Ugh.
After I was finished jointing, I put the timbers side-by-side on my bench to see what I now had to deal with. Combined, they were 16 inches, and looking at this surprised me. I’d been thinking that I wanted 20″ across the top of the new bench, but now I wasn’t so sure. I believe that I’m going to trim that down to 18″, so now I need only one more 2″ wide strip to go across what will probably be the front of the bench.
The difficulty: Right now, I don’t have any pieces of douglas-fir in the appropriate size. The offcuts from the big rips are really a bit too knotty for my tastes (big knots in long-seasoned douglas-fir are essentially indestructible). I thought of getting one more timber, but then I had this other idea. I happen to have a piece of well-seasoned 8/4 beech that’s just the right length and width. Would it make sense to use that in the front? It doesn’t dent as easily as douglas-fir (even the excessively old stuff that I have).
Seems to me that it (or some other piece of hardwood) would work. Oh well, I won’t be able to work on this for two weeks now, so I’ll have that time to think about it.
So, what’s been happening with the new workbench? Not much, because I needed more wood, so I’ve instead been dorking around the shop, cleaning things, and rehabbing old tools.
Last Sunday, I got the next installment of wood, and I now have all of the legs and half of the stretchers milled out:
That was the easy part. The task ahead of me is considerably tougher:
Those are two 6.5′ 4x14s that will somehow comprise the top in the end. I really have only the faintest idea on how I’m going to support these things as I’m ripping and sizing them. I suppose I could finally make some sawbenches.
Warning: What I talk about in this post is not considered standard practice in any way, shape, or form, and may be completely wrong.
I’ve been wanting an old wooden western-style smoothing plane for a while, and a couple of months back, I picked up an Ogontz/Sandusky coffin-style smoothing plane at the Alameda flea. It’s nothing special–beech body and a big laminated blade a little more than 2″ wide.
It had been used to a certain extent, and the most annoying thing about it was the way the blade face had been sharpened–it was rounded over. It was the “ruler trick” gone mad, I suppose. It may have been done with a grinder. A lot of old blades turn out this way and they’re not particularly easy to sharpen when in this condition. Because there’s often no set angle you can use on the stone, you can’t register it on anything. In this case, it was especially bad because it was quite convex, both across and up and down the face. Oh yeah, and it was pitted, too. Yuck.
I didn’t have time to deal with it, so it sat on the shelf until recently, when something occurred to me. Because the blade is thick and laminated like that of a Japanese plane, it might be possible to use the technique of “tapping out” to create a new flat for the face edge. I recently had to do this to a couple of blades and it seemed to me that it might be worth a try.
The problem is that I’ve never heard of anyone doing this to a Western blade. It could be just totally wrong.
So I tried it first on a blade from a big jointer that was suffering from a similar situation. To my surprise, it worked. But that was a large, brutish plane that I don’t use for delicate tasks, and I didn’t want to go blabbering about it until I’d tried it on something else, such as the smoother.
I’m not going to describe the process of tapping out because Wilbur Pan has already done that. I used a small ball-peen hammer and the silly anvil on the back of my cheap machinist’s vise (I tried tapping on a block of wood at first, but that didn’t work–I might speculate that the soft steel in an old western blade is harder than the (typically) wrought iron used in the Japanese blades). Because the blade was rounded along the complete width, I had to tap it nearly all of the way to the sides. The result was that the high spots on the face were now the edge (as desired), as well as a spot in the center (we’ll see that later).
Before getting any further, I must give you this warning: If you’re interested in tapping something out, don’t try it on a thin Bailey/Stanley-style blade, or any blade that’s solid hardened tool steel. It will most likely crack or chip, because steel that takes an edge and is designed to cut wood is brittle. I’m going to guess that if you’re really crazy about the idea, you might be able to temper the blade first, then tap it out, then harden it again.
Now it was time to sharpen the blade and see if it worked. The bevel was in terrible shape, and there was a big nick, so I had to take it to my (horrible) grinder first. Then it was off to my Sigma Power #120 stone. First I worked the face to what I thought was a pretty good surface, then I put the thing in a honing guide, reformed the bevel at 25 degrees, and finally worked my way up through the grits on both sides. Thinking that the blade seemed sharp enough, I tested it out.
That first test did not go particularly well. I couldn’t manage to take a thin shaving, shavings kept getting jammed in the throat, and the surface left behind was ridged, not smooth. Much not to my amusement, the edge also seemed to have gotten kind of messed up.
I found the shaving thickness problem pretty quickly; the bottom of the plane wasn’t even remotely flat (it was bumpy). A couple of passes with my Veritas jointer fixed that, and I was able to get a good shaving. I popped out a little crud in the mouth, and that fixed the jams. But the surface on the planed wood was still crummy.
Perhaps my sharpening job wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it was. I took a photo with my macro lens; here is about 3/8″ of the edge:
Basically, the edge wasn’t really sharp to begin with in some spots, and there was still some pitting across the edge.
So I hit the Sigma Power #120 again to remove the pitting, and also to try to get a better bevel shape. I ended up with this after working through my stones:
There was still a very tiny nick-like thing for that one deep pit in there, but would it matter? Well, of course it would sometime, but at this point, I was more interested in seeing if all of this wasn’t a waste of my time, so I put the blade into the plane and tried it out:
Bingo. Translucent shavings, polished surface, yadda yadda. The wood on the left is beech, and the one on the right is some mystery softwood (spruce or fir, most likely). The softwood actually had some figure that the plane brought out:
Yeah, that’s a little birdseye that’s trying to come out. Strangely, I didn’t find the ridge from that little nick in the edge, but I’m sure I will sometime, so I still have to take care of that.
In the end, the face of the blade looks like this:
So in the center, it’s kind of the opposite of a Japanese blade–whereas those have the hollow in the center and are high on the edges, this one has a big annoying high spot in the center. However, that spot still gives you something to register upon when honing the face. It’s as easy to sharpen as a Japanese blade, too, because there’s much less surface area to float on top of the stone.
Well, we’ll see how this works out. As I hinted at the beginning of the post, this could possibly be one of the most idiotic things I’ve done to a tool.
My trusty mallet, Thagomizer, has really been taking a beating in the last year. I think I’ve had to glue it back up about four or five times now. With some extra time on my hands, it was time to build a replacement.
I liked a lot of things about the mallet, but did some silly things when I made it. The handle turns out to be a little too short, and for whatever reason, I put a finish on it. I guess I was on a varnishing kick back then; come to think of it, I really didn’t have anything else to varnish at the time. (I used rottenstone on this? Really?)
However, what interests me most is the question of if I could make a new one last longer. Everything on the original was very durable, except for the top of the head. It picked up a habit of splitting late in life. My first step was to take a good look at what had happened:
Notice that the face has become concave after repeated pounding. The fractures are all mostly in the top 1/3 of the head. I suspect that what’s going on here is that smacking something (like a holdfast) on the upper part of that concavity put a lot of shear force along the top, and that’s why it did what it did. Back in this post (way back when no one ever read this blog), I explained that I wasn’t going to put a bevel on the top because I was being lazy. So perhaps those bevels aren’t there just for show, and I knew one thing that I needed to do in the new one.
Because I didn’t have any really thick stock at the time, I built the old mallet by face-gluing pieces of wood. That turned out to be pretty durable, so I did the same thing this time, using the same trick to get the hole in the middle, except that I was considerably less meticulous about it:
I used a bunch of scrap wood this time (but from the same board as the old Thagomizer!), and decided that I cared only to (sorta) align the pieces on the bottom of the head because I’d just be chopping off massive pieces anyway. This might look a little stupid, but not nearly as stupid as what I did for the new handle:
I had the perfect piece of scrap, but it was just a tad too narrow, so I glued another piece of scrap to the end to get what I needed (and sawed most of it away in the end).
So I had the head and handle parts glued up, and it was time to shape everything. Here again, I was considerably less meticulous than last time. I sawed most of everything on the head, did the final passes on the top of the head with my jack plane with the deep camber, and chamfered the sides with that plane as well. As far as the handle goes, on the last one, I’d been all enthusiastic about using a spokeshave. Well, that spokeshave enthusiasm doesn’t happen nearly as often to a man who has a Shinto saw rasp in his hand. (Save the spokeshave for more delicate tasks.)
When everything was said and done (in a far less amount of time than the original), I had Thagomizer Jr.:
The top of the head is beveled down, the corners at the top are considerably chamfered, and the handle is a couple of inches longer. The head weighs a little less than the original, but the extra handle length probably brings it to about the same weight, but with a different balance.
So I’m ready to start beating on stuff now. Here’s a comparison of the original and new one:
Time and use will tell if the alterations do what they’re supposed to do.
One annoying gap in my tool set has been the panel gauge-sized hole. I’ve gotten really frustrated with normal marking gauges from time to time, because they get significantly more difficult to use after you extend the arm more than a couple of inches. It’s not so much a matter of the length of the stock (especially in the case of my gauges), but more of a problem with registration. Keeping the stock at a steady height when you’re worrying about a long arm is a bother. Proper panel gauges include a rabbet to register on the edge of a board or panel when you need such a thing.
I decided to make my gauge out of scrap, and after scrounging around, I found this cherry offcut from the second nightstand project:
It was already 4/4, which was about the thickness that I desired (I’d originally thought about laminating two contrasting species, but decided not to waste my time jointing faces and waiting for glue to dry). After cutting it to length and approximate height, I jointed the bottom edge and cut the all-important rabbet:
In hindsight, it would have been a better idea to cut that rabbet until after I’d mortised the hole for the arm, but it didn’t end up mattering much.
Next I cut the arm’s profile. After my previous experience with arms flopping side-to-side and fixing them, I decided to take a more radical approach to really locking the arm in place. The Lie-Nielsen panel gauge and a version of the Stanley #65 marking gauge rotate the arm 45 degrees so that there is a triangular profile on the bottom of the arm to really lock it into the stock. It’s the same concept as the ol’ “wedge crowds the arm into a corner” trick, and I thought it was worth a shot because people do seem to rave about the design.
So I marked it out a little on the arm that I’d chosen (another piece of scrap cherry), and roughed it out with my jack plane:
When I got close to the lines, I switched to my Veritas low-angle block plane with the chamfer guide attached:
You can see the profile starting to come through at the end.
Next, I turned to the mortise. I just banged it out with a pigsticker as usual:
Then it was time to test-fit the arm and to see if this profile really did what it was supposed to do. I slipped a couple of wedges in where the thumbscrew would eventually go, then tried to get the arm to wiggle around:
Much to my delight, it worked. Keep in mind also that I wasn’t even being terribly accurate in chopping the mortise (call it “mostly sorta accurate”).
With everything fit, I shaped the top of the gauge (entirely with a coping saw and Shinto saw rasp), then bored the hole for the machine screw insert with a brace and auger bit:
The brass screw inserts have slots for driving them with a screwdriver, but brass is so malleable that the slots are next to useless. Instead, I use a screw with a nut threaded on to drive them in. In this case, I was using a hex-headed furniture connector to ensure that my driver bit wouldn’t slip:
This works well for driving the insert, but cherry being what it is, there was a little bit of spelching near the top. Yeah, I should have probably driven this thing in before shaping, but whatever–I just filed off that layer.
(Here, I must again remark that I would love to use wooden screws and threads for this. It would work wonderfully.)
To finish off the stock, I made a “saddle” for the thumbscrew and arm as described back in this post.
Now it was time to turn to putting the blade in the arm. I used a Millers Falls #5 to drill a couple of holes in a line at the end to make the mortise for the blade:
That miniature square I got in Japan really comes in handy.
To hold the blade in place, I used a smaller screw insert in the end (who knows how well this will hold up) and a stainless steel cap screw to go in the front. I made a saddle for this as well.
The blade itself is yet another small strip of spring steel. I’ll be honest here–I don’t particularly like using spring steel for this because it does not hold an edge as well as tool steel. However, it’s such a pain in the butt to sharpen the blades that I figure I’ll keep using spring steel until I can come up with some sort of honing guide for the marking gauge blades.
And that was pretty much it; the process only took a couple of hours. Here’s the finished product:
And a close-up of the business end, showing the cap screw and various “saddles:”
With all of that said, the important question is, “how well does it work?” I had to admit that I was a little bit doubtful on how much of an improvement the arrangement with that triangular/inverted-house-shaped mortise and arm profile would bring. It turns out, though, that it’s really something. The arm simply does not budge when you tighten the thumbscrew. It’s so impressive that I may do a retrofit on my previous marking gauge.
I’m still unsure about the blade-holding mechanism, though. I just hope that it doesn’t split the end of the arm.
It’s time to get down to that new workbench. Everyone and their uncle is building a Roubo this year. Consequently, I’ll just be another voice in the din of people blogging about their Roubo builds, but hey, I’ll have a new workbench at the end.
I got the first pieces of wood for this project late last year. A fellow BAG has a pretty serious quantity of reclaimed douglas-fir sitting around and was gracious enough to offer it my way (thanks Bill!). This is big stuff–basically 4x12s and 4x14s supposedly taken from a warehouse. Reclaimed douglas-fir has many advantages, but two of the biggest are that it’s quite hard (yet easy to plane), and it’s really, really stable.
The boardstimbers had a layer of cruft on the faces, consisting of oxidization, dirt, and who-knows-what. After cutting roughly to length, I sawed off the crud. That process looked like this:
I’ve decided that I will do this project completely by hand, just so that I can say that I didn’t wimp out with a bandsaw (or something of that sort of masochistic nature). Freakishly-looking disembodied arm aside, I’ve been doing all of the heavy-duty ripping like this, and it’s really not that bad (Remember how I mentioned that reclaimed douglas-fir is really stable? That helps). The timber is held steady by the front vise of my current bench.
Getting rid of the grime this way yields funny cruft veneer:
I could probably sell this stuff to an artist.
So after sawing, I finished sizing up everything with the usual cast of planes. With the wood I had on hand, I got three major components of the base: two legs (front and middle) and a stretcher (rear):
The plan for the legs is 5″x3.5″ and the stretchers will be 6″x3.5″. I won’t be thicknessing the stretchers precisely because there’s no need. You can tell how the scale compares to my current bench from the preceding photo.
And now I’m out of wood, at least for big stuff. Time to get another load!
[edit: It planes easily, but as I learned later, this wood dulls plane blades very quickly.]
When it dawned on me that I needed a workbench, I really didn’t know my requirements. The only thing that I knew for sure is that it had to be really strong, pretty heavy, and be able to resist racking forces. I hadn’t studied workholding all that well, but there is so much conflicting information on this subject that it probably wouldn’t have helped.
Now that I’ve used the bench that I made for about four years (and read about many other kinds of benches), I have a much clearer picture, and, well, it’s time to evaluate how I did. Since this post falls under the “goofs” series, you probably have an idea of how this is going to go.
However, let’s start with something that really worked for me: the base.
It’s a very simple knockdown design secured with bolts and captured nuts out of douglas-fir. In general, bigger is better when building the base. I used lone 2x4s for the legs on my first build, and despite looking a little flimsy in the front-to-back direction, it still worked fine. One of the reasons is that I used big 2x8s as stretchers in the front and back. That created so much surface area that a simple butt joint secured with the bolt meant that it never, ever racked side-to-side.
However, it was still a little on the light side for what I wanted, so when I moved out of the apartment and to my first shop, I replaced the legs with 4x4s and the side stretchers with 2x8s.
That change removed any doubts I had about this design. The Schwarz slightly poo-poos knockdown construction, complaining that you have to tighten up the bolts from time to time. I have not run into this as an actual problem. It’s just not that hard of a thing to do, and it’s not like it happens all of the time, either, especially when your wood is reasonably dry and stable (think douglas-fir), and you have an enormous joint mating area. I may have done it twice during the whole time I’ve used my bench.
With the added mass, I didn’t have a problem with the bench moving around as I used it in the old shop. I do have that problem when using the frame saw in the new shop, however (but not when planing or anything else). It’s primarily because the polished concrete floor is significantly slippery. I need to put down some really grippy rubber feet to fix this (or something of that nature).
I also put an improvised shelf in almost immediately–just a piece of plywood suspended over two boards. I put my larger bench planes there. It’s a great feature to have on a bench.
The top I used was a mixed bag of results. On one hand, it’s thick enough to take a pounding and it’s reasonably heavy. On the other hand, it really didn’t want to stay flat, it still could have been a little thicker, and it’s too deep. Let’s look at these one-by-one.
When I bought the top (an Ikea countertop made from beech), it was quite flat, but it started sagging at some point. I don’t know when that was, but it was pretty severe by the time I decided to flatten it. If I’d been paying attention, I would have flattened it earlier. It seems to be OK now, though. Sure, you have to flatten all workbench tops, but I have a feeling that something a little thicker wouldn’t have moved so much (unless it was a solid hardwood slab).
Yes, thicker would have been better. Being beech, the top was fine for taking a pounding as long as you were working near a leg (and that’s what you’re supposed to do anyway). However, a thickness of not even two inches has two weaknesses. The first is that it’s not as heavy as it could be. That’s not such a big deal, but the second issue is that it was difficult to mount the front vise. The model I have really wants something thick, and if you don’t have that, you have to improvise. I did so in an odd way; I’ll talk about that in a bit. But let’s not forget about the lack of dog holes in the front–I couldn’t put any in at that thickness.
The final problem with the top is that it’s too deep. That wasn’t a problem at my old shop, with the bench flush against the wall, but it’s no longer in that configuration, and I have a lot less room to walk around now. And stuff accumulates at the rear of the bench. Given the shop’s current transitional state of tool storage, there’s not much I can do about that, except that if I didn’t have that space, I’d actually be forced to resolve the tool storage issue and not have this problem in the first place.
Now, let’s talk about the junction between the top and base. Much has been written about the advantages of aligning the top and base along the front of the bench, and they aren’t lies. I should have done this and it’s still an option. Were I to do this, I’d need to bring my front vise chops into alignment as well (see below). One thing I’ll say about the top overhang is that I wonder why I put in an overhang of a half-inch at the rear of the bench.
Yeah, that’s just weird.
The top is attached to the base with flimsy L-bracket-style hardware. Strangely enough, it works. The top is so heavy that even with the most measly of lag screws holding things together, it never moves. It doesn’t vibrate. This still surprises me, given what the benchtop has to endure. Were I doing this over again, I’d probably do mortises just to keep it aligned (it’s a pain to put the top back on when you move from place to place), but I wouldn’t do Schwarz-style through mortises. They just don’t need to be that deep. However, it should be secured in some way just to keep the top from jumping around.
Keep in mind that this particular junction matters a lot more if you’ve got a leg vise. With a leg vise, you’re typically applying (very strong) pressure from the legs to the top, so something flimsy like my current setup wouldn’t work. However, if you’re using a front vise, that’s mounted on the top alone, so it doesn’t matter as much. I have my own ideas for the ideal joint in this situation, but they are just ideas at the moment.
So, speaking of workholding, I learned a lot about it from this bench. Before I even installed the front vise, I used a Veritas Wonder Dog, homemade bench dogs, clamps, and a handscrew to get things done. I still haven’t installed a tail vise-like thing (see below). You don’t need too many dog holes, and I prefer the round ones because they’re just more flexible.
You don’t need an end vise, but they are faster to move into position. If you decide not to do an end vise, you should probably put a couple more intermediate dog holes at the end, and bore a second set of aligned holes so that you have two points of pressure for the double-wedge method. You will use this method eventually, even if you have a wonder dog, because the wonder dog is hard to use with thinner boards.
And then there’s the matter of the front vise and the overhang.
My install of the front vise is, to say the least, one of the stranger features of the bench. Due to the way that the Jorgensen front vises are designed, you secure it through the front and underneath (other manufacturers have you do it all from the bottom). And here’s where the thickness of the bench got to be an issue again. The vise wants a certain thickness that I don’t have, so I ended up shimming the bottom and the front of the vise. The result looks strange, and in use, it’s got some “special” working qualities. If I were doing this again, I would glue a thick strip of hardwood or douglas-fir to the front of the bench as an apron-like thing, inset the vise into that, get everything flush to the front of the bench, and be done with it.
The major issue is the overhang. Much has been written about the advantages of having the top flush with the front legs, so I won’t bother with repeating that here. But another disadvantage is that if you have a front vise sticking out with so much overhang like this, if you put something really heavy in there, the bench gets to be a bit front-heavy. It’s not enough to have it tip over, but it is enough to get the rear legs to very slightly lift up when you’re doing a heavy sawcut (not coincidentally, the most likely thing you’re going to do when clamping something very heavy).
Despite the strangeness, the front vise does a pretty good job, about as well as you can expect for a vise of this design. The quick-release design is polarizing. On one hand, it’s very fast. A half-turn back and it releases. On the other hand, you can’t use the vise for spreading operations, as you would be able to on a model with the little release trigger. One common complaint about these types is that the guide bars make it difficult to secure boards vertically (for dovetailing, for example). The good news is that the guide bars of this model are well-made, so the racking is kept to a minimum. I hardly ever need to use spacers to even things out.
An advantage by accident is that having the vise protrude so much allows you to get behind the cut when you’re sawing tenons.
So that’s the bench evaluation–that’s what I’ve learned from this one. There are lots of things I could do to improve this bench, but I won’t. Why?
Because I’ve got the green light to make a new bench. And I’ve already started.
For the last month, I’ve felt so close to finishing the twin-nightstand project that I thought it could all come together at any moment. The final details proved as time-consuming to complete as the rest of the thing.
I’ve been varnishing for maybe a month. When I’d gotten enough onto the cabinets, I took care of two remaining steps before the final rubout. The first was how to attach the tops. I decided to use figure 8 connectors because they seemed like a pretty neat approach. Placing them into the cabinets was relatively easy. First, I marked out a box (with no particular offset):
Then I chiseled mostly down to the depth of the connector, using my Veritas mini router plane to go to the bottom:
Then I predrilled a screw hole and did a test fit:
Marking and predrilling the corresponding holes in the tops was a fairly simple matter. However, attaching the tops was more difficult due to the limited space between the shelf and the top. I used a stubby screwdriver, a socket wrench with a driver bit, and practically no vision whatsoever.
The other final task not related to finishing was to cut the legs to height. I didn’t cut the legs to length at the start because I knew there would be some adjusting to do at the end. However, I couldn’t use the ol’ “put the legs under shims, put on a level, flat surface, and mark around” method that’s become popular, because I wasn’t doing a single piece–the nightstands were identical and had to be the same height.
It was easy enough, though. I took a long, thin piece of scrap, marked the desired height to that, then flipped the pieces upside-down (without the tops) on the bench, and marked to that:
It’s a little difficult to see the scrap here because it’s also a piece of cherry, but it’s the thin thing sitting up next to the foreground leg. After making the mark, I scribed around from that mark and sawed off the ends. It worked fine.
Varnishing and sanding between coats was the main time-consumer in the final stages. The cabinets and the drawers got four coats and the tops got five coats. As I have done with the last few projects, I rubbed out the finish with a progression of lubricated #000 and #0000 steel wool only. This was a matte finish again, so I didn’t feel the need to use rottenstone. And really, #0000 does leave a very good finish if you follow the grain most of the time.
So here are the two together:
If you look closely, you’ll see that the drawer fronts are carefully arranged for continuity left-to-right as well as a balanced figure. On the left piece, the fronts have “cathedral grain” in the same orientation, and on the right, they have ellipses, also in the same orientation. But it turns out that the board used for these fronts was cut so that the front on the top left was next to the front on the top right, and the same is true for the bottom drawer fronts, so there’s a bit of continuity when you look at them left-to-right. (In the end, this probably doesn’t matter at all because they’re not going to be placed terribly close to one another and no one would notice, so don’t think of this as a sort of profound design choice.)
The handles are “halo” handles from Lee Valley.
A closeup of the right-hand cabinet and drawers:
I need to make a note about what’s going on with the woods here. In the side panel, there is a roughly 6″ wide slice of flatsawn cherry stock in the center to give it the central cathedral figure; each side panel has this. On each side of that, there are narrower strips of birch meant to provide contrast as stripes. Then, the outermost strips from the center of the panels are again cherry.
This didn’t quite work out the way I’d planned. I wanted to birch to be slightly brighter and contrast just a little more so that you could see what was going on. It was supposed to be subtle, but not this subtle. However, the grain selection worked, so I’ll take that one.
And then there’s the drawer side fiasco. I said this before, but I’ll say it again: Use something reasonable for drawer sides, not yellow birch. The sides did turn out to look interesting enough, but these were such a nightmare to thickness, surface, and cut tails into that I really don’t recommend that anyone ever do it. Yellow-poplar is a great secondary wood and I should have used that.
But what’s done is done, and none of this is terribly important in the end. What is important is that they are in use now, and the final placement looks like this:
There’s something very important to note here–These pieces do not incorporate as graceful of a design as my first nightstand. They don’t have the elegant, long legs, they don’t have the simple square footprint, and they don’t have the fancy double-arc decoration. Furthermore, they took longer to build because there are more innards.
So is it a step back from a year and a half ago? It would be if form were everything. But these were designed primarily for function, with the form fitting into a context–they flank a somewhat cheap bed that has no particularly graceful features of its own. They are a tad fancier than the bed itself. Eventually, I will build a replacement for the bed, and at that point, I can make the bed do what the nightstands cannot do on their own.
(The function should speak for itself–I had strict instructions to incorporate a large top surface, plenty of deep drawers, and easily-accessible shelves.)
And there’s one more final step forward with these pieces. I kept them in the same room as the first nightstand while I waited for any remaining solvents to evaporate, so I was able to compare them. The craftsmanship is definitely a step up from back then.
As a postscript, I again need to thank Kirk Eppler, who helped out in a couple of ways when I was building these things.
The second nightstand project is lumbering and stuttering forward, this time with the tops. I glued up the tops a few weeks ago, smoothed them off, and cut the left sides even and square. I’d been debating what to do about the edges for a while, but then I got the order that they ought not to be “so plain.” Emboldened by a somewhat recent episode of The Woodwright’s Shop with St. Roy hosting Bill Anderson, I thought that perhaps I’d be able to do a simple single ellipsoidal curve.
After fooling around a bit on some scrap, I got a profile that I liked, and was satisfied that I sort of had the idea. So I moved to one of the tops. I started by marking the profile into the sides, and then marking the lines for a rabbet to remove a good portion of the waste:
I should note here that I used a surprisingly large number of marking gauges for this–four (two for the rabbet, two for the edges). Because I wanted to use the same profile on six sides, and all six sides were not ready for marking from the very start, I kept the gauges on their settings so that I’d be ready to mark when able and not have to figure out everything again.
Then I started on the cross-grain side and cut the rabbet:
This plane doesn’t have a depth stop and I didn’t need one (as seen on the show). Then, also like the show, I used a chisel to knock off a bit more of the waste from the edges of the rabbet:
Later on, I switched to a narrow rabbet plane; for this small amount, it worked a bit faster than the chisel.
Finally, I hit it with a simple Taiwanese round and completed the shaping:
So there you have it, my first moulding. I followed this with the moulding on the opposite side, doing the same cross-grain cut. Then I did the one on the front. The cuts on that one went with the grain and was consequently much easier.
It’s been so long since I talked about the second nightstand project that I sometimes wonder if I’m making any progress. So I looked back at that last post and realized that since then, I’ve done the following:
Made the rest of the cabinet components.
Glued up the cabinets.
Made all of the drawer sides, fronts, and backs.
Resawed and milled the pieces for the drawer bottoms.
Milled half of the tops and roughed out the other half.
The drawer sides and backs were a pain because for some bizarre reason, I chose birch to be my secondary wood. Don’t do this. Use yellow-poplar, pine, or something that people who should know better would use. The stock I had a ridiculous number of grain reversals, leading to a lot of tearout when planing, so milling this stuff took forever. It also dulled my plane blades quickly, so I was constantly resharpening. But even after I milled it, the dovetails took longer than they should have because it seemed like I needed to sharpen my chisels after every couple of swipes.
So it took forever, but I finished, and that left the drawer bottoms. I haven’t really talked much about how I’ve been making drawer bottoms, though I did one particular post that kind of touched on panels in the tool cabinet. So I figure I could post something on that.
First, I mill the wood to thickness, preferably a little thicker than the grooves that they’ll fit in. I always need to glue them together.
Next, I saw the glued-up panel to rough depth–about a half-inch wider than it will eventually be. In the following photo, I ran out of wood in one board of western redcedar and had to use another very differently-colored board for the last little bit at the end. The rip panel saw that I use is on top.
Now I plane the top of the panel to remove excess glue and get a finished surface. I do this after trimming the depth because I often use the cutoff somewhere else, so I want that cutoff to be as thick as possible to start.
I used a Taiwanese plane for this because it was sharp and the blade is nice and wide.
With the surface planing done, I trim one of the sides square to the front with a plane. I used a Milllers Falls #11 (this is like a Stanley 5 1/4) because it’s easy to control (and its blade happened to be sharp).
Then I take the drawer front and mark off the width:
I mark this side square to the front as well, and after verifying that it is in fact square, I trim it off as well.
As I mentioned earlier, the panels are typically a little thicker than the grooves that will house them. I don’t measure them because I care only about the face side being reasonably flat. Now it’s time to get three of the edges to fit into the grooves.
To do this, I make a rabbet. I was thrilled to be able to use my new Taiwanese rabbet plane so soon:
I start with the sides, going across the grain. Every so often, I check the thickness by seeing if the rabbeted edge fits in the groove that I’ve plowed in the drawer side. When going across the grain, it definitely helps to take out a little bit of the end of the rabbet with a chisel so that you don’t blow out the grain.
I then make an identical rabbet on the other side, and then do it for the front edge, this time checking against the groove in the front drawer.
Now it’s time to trim the panel/bottom to final depth. I assemble the drawer front and sides without the back, and slip the panel in. (This is also a good time to verify that the panel isn’t too long.) I make sure that the panel goes all the way into the groove on the drawer front. Then, I mark off where I think I should cut the panel:
I make marks on both sides, draw a line between them, and then saw and/or plane to that line. Then I test-fit the panel into the 3/4 assembly again, and measure the depth with my double square:
With the square set, I drop this end into the groove on the rear of the drawer to see how close I am to the bottom:
You can see the gap; you want a gap so that the panel has room to expand in the groove. I usually go for somewhere around 1/16″-3/32″, but it’s never exact, just the kind of thing you know when you see it.
With the final depth trimmed with a plane, I rabbet the underside of the rear panel edge like I did earlier for the sides and front.
Then, the final test-fit comes; here’s the view inside showing the face surface:
and here’s the underside that no one sees, with the rabbets and saw marks that I’m too lazy to clean up:
So there are the drawer bottoms. I have two done and I’ll do the other two when I get back from the ski trip I’m on now.
I’m also making some progress with the tops. Here are the pieces that will form the tops. I had to do a lot of sawing around defects to get to this point: