Bookshelf: Modified Housed Joint, Part 1

I finished with all of the stretchers for the bookshelf, meaning it was time to move on to the shelves. My original plan was to use a housed joint. I decided to make a small modification to the joint, though, to ensure that the bookshelf would resist twisting forces. The modification is basically just a small mortise and tenon hidden inside the joint.

The hitch is, of course, that I’ve never made a housed joint before, so I set off on a test on some of the cutoffs from the projects. Surprisingly, that actually went well, so I proceeded to the first of four “production” joints.

I started with the dado housing. First, I squared a knife line, clamped down a guide strip, and sawed a kerf on the inside of the line. Then I marked out the width from the shelf, put down another knife line, and sawed down that side. This is after both kerfs were cut:

Note that this is a stopped joint in the back. It doesn’t matter if I overshoot a little, but I can’t go all the way to the back. If I’d had a stopped joint where overshoot actually matters, I would have clamped a stop in place.

The next step was to remove the waste between the kerfs. I started with a chisel to get most of it out:

Then I went to the bottom with my router plane:

In this photo, I’ve stopped the board against a couple of bench dogs in the back. (I should have done this when I was chiseling, too.)

After the bottom was reasonably smooth, I turned my attention to the shelf section. I marked out the line where the board would protrude from the side first, then the line where the edge would meet the housing. Finally, I marked out a small tenon about an inch and a half into the board and sawed the cheeks:

And that’s all I had time for today. Notice my test joint making a cameo in the background behind the saw.

In the next installment, I’ll cut out the waste, chop the mortise, and clean up. Then I’ll have to do everything three more times.

Bookshelf: Munging Mortises

I cut the other dovetail joint for the top of the bookshelf and was feelin’ pretty good about it, and I thought that it might be a good time to start on some of the stretcher pieces that will provide the rest of the racking resistance. There will be three of them, two in the back, and one at the front at the bottom that will be a plinth (“kickboard”) piece.

The mortise in the back near the bottom was my first target, and I proceeded immediately to chop in the wrong place. I didn’t realize this until I had been away from it for a while, so when I came back, I extended it upward until it was in the right spot. You can see it here with its matching tenon:

Thankfully, it will not be visible when this project is complete, but I really have to make this lesson count for something.

I chopped the mortise on the other side and cut its tenon without a hitch, so I was again feeling pretty good about myself, so I decided to go after the plinth next. And, of course, I went straight out and chopped that one in the wrong place, too. You see, this piece is supposed to be inset a little into the depth of the shelf, not flush with the front. However, I used my already-set cutting gauge to mark where to chop, and I marked it in a position that would have the plinth flush. Argh.

Well, I couldn’t resort to the same old stupid trick to fix this one, because the mortise was the right length, but at the wrong depth. So I thought about it a little, and decided that since I hadn’t cut the tenon yet, I would modify the tenon location instead. And so here’s the hack I came up with:

Yeah, so I just moved the tenon over to one side of the piece. It’s stupid, but it does work, as shown in this fitted view:

I don’t think I’ll be making that mistake again, because I’ll probably do all of them this way from now on. The reason is that I won’t have to change my marking gauge for it. Though I am sort of happy that I discovered a way to deal with this sort of thing, I am not happy that I wasn’t paying better attention in the first place.

But then again, it is called my prototype shelf for a reason. I already have a few modifications in mind when I build larger examples.

I have three more of the mortise-and-tenon joints to make on this project, then some housed joints, and the final (dreaded) part is making and fitting the rear panel.

Bookshelf: The 60-Year Dovetail

I’m slowly making my way through the prototype bookshelf project. After realizing that my widths were all wrong, I had to spend some quality time with my rip saws and jointer plane to fix all of it, and I was able to do that during what little time I had this weekend.

So then I decided to get started on the dovetail joints for the top, and let’s just say that my dovetails are not the famous five-minute variety. I don’t get a lot of uninterrupted time in the shop these days, so I just cut whatever I can, and stop when I need to. On Monday, I laid out the tails and cut them. Yesterday, I only had time to finish cleaning the waste between the tails and mark out the pins. This morning, I had enough time to cut the pins and finish the joint (and mark out the tails for the next joint). So it may not be the 60-year dovetail, but sometimes it seems like that.

However, the story is not a sad one. For one, the joint is perfect; the only thing left to do here is plane off the proud excess at the ends of the tails and pins:

Another bright spot is that it went off without a hitch, even on pain-in-the-butt yellow-poplar sapwood (the lighter bits on the right). Saw, chop, and test-fit. The pins fit right off the saw; no paring was required on the sides of the pins. Thinking back to the first dovetail joints I made, it took much longer to cut joints that did not turn out as well. My speed is improving.

I’m back to using my cheap Crown gent’s saw, still with the same touching up of the teeth that I gave it when I first got it (slight jointing, filing with a needle file, slight stoning on the sides to remove some of the set, and wax). It works fine, though I can’t imagine how bad it would have been if I hadn’t tuned it. I am still plotting out the dream dovetail saw that I will make one day, but I’m too busy with furniture projects right now to get tied up with making another stupid tool, and honestly, it’s just not that important.

Sometimes I think of what could possibly make things move a little faster, and I came to the conclusion that some operations are actually going quickly but some not so quickly.

The fast ones are:

  • Sawing down the tails and pins
  • Removing the bulk of the waste
  • Test-fitting

The stuff that seems to take a little longer:

  • Laying out the joints
  • Paring down the final little bits in the tail and pin troughs

Now, I know that the paring could go a little quicker if I just bothered to make a pair of skew chisels. I really should get on that case some day.

What about laying out the joints, though? I do this mostly by eye now, marking out “what looks good” (to me, at least) for the tail spacing, then using a square and T-bevel to mark the lines. This works and it is St. Roy- (and others) approved. But it’s not fast for me. I can mark the spacing quickly enough, but lining up the T-bevel to the mark on top always seems to take a little extra time. A dovetail template could save some time, because you can register it to your marks at the top quickly.

But then again, we’re talking about a savings of only about two or three minutes here. And I don’t think it’s worth getting yet another tool for that at the moment. Furthermore, I can’t just arbitrarily pick the angle I want, as I do now. I know that’s been said a million times before, but I do think it counts for something.

Frame Saw: Joinery and Hardware

After looking at lots of frame saws that a lot of other galoots have made (not mentioning any names here, Mssr. Isola), I decided to make my own for resawing. Well, I had decided to make my own a long time ago, but never got around to it until now. About a year ago, I ordered the blade (a Wilhelm Putsch blade, about 5 teeth per inch), and set aside a piece of beech. Then I proceeded to do nothing else on the project until last week.

After cutting the pieces out and milling them to size, I cut the joinery. There have been many styles for the frame joints, but most people do mortise-and-tenon joints that aren’t glued (the blade tension keeps the saw together), so I did, too. I decided to make the joints haunched, because in theory, that kind of joint resists twisting better than a plain blind joint. Also, I’ve never made one, so I figure I’d better get down to the business of screwing them up.

And I screw up I did, slightly, on the first two. On the first one, I blew out the side of the mortise when chopping it (it was too close to the end, 1/4″). Nothing a little glue won’t fix. On the next one, I cut the tenon too loose, which doesn’t matter on a joint that I’m not going to glue, but still.

The next two came out perfectly, though:

Then it was time to make the hardware to hold the blade. I didn’t deviate from the way others have done it. I used a 5/16″ carriage bolt for one side (bottom in the picture) and a section of threaded rod (top in the pic) for the other:

The steps I took were as follows:

  1. Filed the threads flat and four-square at the end.
  2. Drilled the hole that will hold the blade-holding pin with a Millers Falls #5 eggbeater.
  3. Cut the blade slot with a Bahco junior hacksaw (slowly, to keep the hacksaw blade from wandering around). The kerf is almost a perfect match for the blade.
  4. Cleaned up the areas around the slot with a small tapered file.
  5. Cleaned up the slot with some folded sandpaper in the kerf.
  6. Cleaned up the tip.
  7. Discovered that the little bolts that I was using to pin the blade were a little too short for the little nut to fit.
  8. Filed recesses around the hole in the big bolt so that the little nut could reach the little bolt.
  9. Cleaned up the tip again.

One little tip when you’re filing any kind of thread: Keep a nut on the inside of the filing area. After each stage of filing, take off the nut and put it back on again. This cleans up the threads, although for this project, it doesn’t really matter for the carriage bolt side.

The saw is functional now (I’ve done a test cut), but I’m not quite finished yet. I’m currently waxing the blade and I also need to shape handles into the ends.

[Edit: I have ditched the wingnut in favor of a regular hex nut tensioned with a wrench. The wingnut does not provide enough tension.]

Saw Till: Finished

After the glue-up, I planed the sides of till flat. The dovetails looked fine, and the through tenons turned out a lot better than I thought they would:

The front stretcher is slightly proud of the edge, but I decided not to bother planing it flush. I had the last significant step ahead of me, one that wasn’t illustrated in the plan.

The saws have to rest in some sort of slots in the back of the till. I didn’t know how I was going to make these, but I knew that I wanted this part to be replaceable. There’s too much potential to want changes in the future, and what if I screwed up on my first shot anyway?

I don’t have any photos of this (and I’m not going to take it apart to take them), but the next step was to put some screw nut inserts into the upper two stretchers so that I could fasten saw rests.

Then I took a couple strips of the worst part of my cheap mystery softwood, screwed them together, and set out cutting the slots where the saws would rest. I clamped the two rests together so that I could saw the slots as a gang. My first attempt was just a simple kerf with my biggest saw. Here it is, on the left:

After a lot of frustration (and work with my keyhole saw), it was finally big enough, but I decided that I would need to do it differently. On the next one (at the right in the preceding image), I laid out an 1/8″ slot that I would take with two separate cuts. Despite the sloppiest sawing I’ve done in a while, this worked really well:

The slots are 1.5″ apart, and 1/8″ wide. The depth depends on the saw (the bigger saws get deeper slots).

Notice that the structure here isn’t very strong because we’re cutting across the fibers. I figured that this was okay, because the rests weren’t supporting anything. Then I saw how Derek Cohen used certain space in his saw till, hanging backsaws instead of propping them up. We’ll get back to that in a bit.

After cutting the second slot, I did a test-fit:

So far, so good. You can see how the rests are attached to the rear stretchers with machine screws.

I cut the rest of the slots, with some extra attention at the right side for backsaws, and prepared for installation. Most people would just screw something into the wall in their shops, but since we rent this place, I was looking for a way that wouldn’t require me to spackle and paint later. Luckily, I had this to work with at the left of my workbench (where my lumberyard is):

My plan was to be daring and hang the saw till from these rods. I bored a couple of holes into the sides of the till at the top, then strung up some twine from the rods, inserting it into the holes. Getting everything level was certainly a bit of a challenge, because the back does not rest on the wall. However, the total weight is an advantage; it doesn’t swing around much when you grab something.

Does the twine make the end result look more rustic? At this point, I’m just happy that it’s done:

I wish I had known about that hang-the-backsaws trick just a little earlier, because I probably would have planned to hang all of my small backsaws. This isn’t bad, though, because I was not originally planning to put any of those little saws in the till. Now they all fit in there, and I can always reconfigure it if I want to.

Saw Till: Glue-up

So I had all of the parts ready for glue-up, the clamps were in reasonable shape, and I had the time this morning. It was time to glue and assemble.

I decided that I’d use my Workmate as an assembly table again, but that I wouldn’t use its jaws as a clamp (because I figured that the till would be too wide. So to start, I cleared it and pulled it to the center of the shop (where I would have access to all sides), and laid out the clamps set to their approximate settings:

I put wooden pads (made from the tenon waste of the shoe rack project) on the big clamp pads and between the pins on the tail side of the dovetails where the other clamps would go. Magic tape was my weapon of choice here, since I figured that the bond only had to last for less than a half-hour.

So far, so good. I laid out all of the parts in order (right side as step one, then the bottom, rear and front stretchers, then finally the left side would be banged into those pieces all at once). I decided that it was time to go.

Applying the glue and putting the pieces together wasn’t so bad, though I almost forgot to put in the front stretcher, I got everything together to a certain degree.

Then I moved it to the Workmate and put on the clamps. It was a little quirky, and of course I felt like I could have used a few more clamps, but it all went fine and everything drew up well.

At this point, it was time to drive in the little wedges on the through tenons. At first, it went just fine–I used the strange plastic-faced hammer that I use as a plane hammer (it has a specific purpose, but I don’t know what it is). It was kind of fun to bang those little things in, and they seemed to be holding up fine despite some of them having checks. Thump, thump, klonk. I had glue all over my fingers, but I was making good progress.

Halfway through this process, I realized that I was in trouble. You see, despite having a math degree, it seems that I still don’t know how to count. Remember how I said I needed ten wedges and made thirteen? From where did I get that number? There were four stretchers, with two tenons each, two wedge kerfs per tenon. 4 x 2 x 2 = 16, not 10. I should have made closer to 20 wedges.

Remember also how it took me a stupidly long time to make those? How could I possibly make three more in the limited amount of time I had? (Remember that I’m using liquid hide glue here!) Well, I still had some wide wedges that were in a reject pile. I decided to grab a chisel and chop straight down on these “rejects” at the proper width and hope that the checks and grain wouldn’t make me pay.

The results weren’t exactly perfect, but in a minute, I had made three wedges that would fit, and that’s what I needed. I banged those in, looked over the joints, checked stuff for square, and then started to take pictures.

It would have been better if I would have had a clamp for that center dovetail, but I don’t have one. Perhaps a really big block as part of the cauls.

I found a check in the upper left corner (in the preceding photo, it’s on the right side at the bottom). Oh, drat it. It was a problem I was fearing somewhat, and I don’t recall it being there before. I may have accidentally banged up that corner when I was attaching the left side. It doesn’t make any difference as far as the functionality is concerned, and in fact, it’s likely that no one will even see it (it’s on the far side of the till), but I wish I’d been a little more careful. Actually, what I wish the most is that I could find out when it happened.

Now the glue is curing, and I’m waiting for the final steps, which will be to level and plane off the joints, insert the blade rests, hang it up, and put some saws in there. I will not apply any finish to the till, at least for the moment. This is one of those projects that needs to be complete.

Saw Till: Makin’ wedge kerfs

This is a relatively simple part of a wedged through tenon joint to make, but I was still wondering one thing about the kerfs where the wedges will be driven: How far from the ends of the tenon should they be? So I looked around to see if Korn had anything to say on the matter. He writes that it should be no more than a quarter-inch from the end, and made with a relatively thick-plated saw. So I decided to go to about 3/16″, and test to see if a wedge will fit into the kerf initially (without banging it in). Seems okay:

I opted not to drill the holes at the bottoms of the kerfs that another book says to do (I think this might be helpful if the wood were harder).

Then I did the other seven tenons, and I now have four stretchers ready to go:

Well, that’s nice. All of the saw till parts are now ready for assembly. In preparation, I also removed the huge layers of rust from a couple of heavy Hartford Clamp bar clamps (estate sale find) so that they won’t “rub off” on me or the saw till during assembly. About the only thing I don’t have are some cauls for the work, but I have plenty of scrap.

Glue-up will probably be tomorrow morning.

Saw Till: Makin’ wedges

I’m almost ready to glue up the saw till, but a few small details remain. Ten of them happen to be the little wedges that I’ll drive into the tenons at the end, so I sawed them out today. I decided to make them out of a little scrap of apple I had lying around in a box. The first step was to saw out the little sliver of the wedge shape:

And then, I had to cut the wedges to width:

For various reasons, this took a lot longer than it really should have. I had a really hard time holding this stuff steady as I was sawing at first, even with the bench hook. The scrap was too small to get a decent grip. The hook wasn’t at a good height (eventually solved with that riser block on the second photo).

There were also many checks in the wood, because this piece came from the end of the board. I convinced myself that this was okay, because the fibers only need to hold together until I insert them into the tenons and bang them home.

These wedges did eventually come out of the process:

The disheartening part was that after all of that work in the morning, I still didn’t have as many as I needed, so when I came home, I went to work until I had enough. I need ten of them, so I decided that I’d stop at thirteen.

In other saw till news, I cut a groove around the inside surfaces of the bottom back (on the sides, the bottom, and the lower stretcher). I also chamfered the edges that the saw handles will rest on.

I may break the edges of the chamfer a little.

Saw Till: Dovetail joints, pieces

While waiting for the first coat of finish on the shoe rack to cure, I milled the pieces for the saw till down to size in preparation for the joinery. So far, I’ve only had time to finish one through dovetail joint, and get part of the way through the tailboard on the second:

The completed dovetail joints are on the bottom right (pinboard on the bottom, tailboard above it), and the new tailboard-in-progress is on the left. The other four pieces on the upper right are for the stretchers.

The pinboard (which will form the lower shelf) presented a small problem before I started out. I hadn’t noticed before, but it wasn’t really flat. So I thought about it, and flattened just one face square to the edges with my jack and jointer planes. In theory, the joint will be fine because the inside face is now flat–that’s the one you need to be square to the sides.

I cleaned off all of the surfaces with my smoother plane as well. I felt that it was probably a good idea to do that work on the inside faces before cutting the dovetail joints. I should have probably waited on the others, because I’ll probably need to do them again after I cut everything, but oh well.

It’s been a little hard to gauge my progress with these dovetail joints. I’m managing to cut them precisely, requiring practically no paring, but I feel that I may be cutting them rather slowly. It’s also been hard to find the time to work; I’ll only get 20-30 minutes at a time to work, then I have to do something else, like go to the unfortunate day job.

This wood, whatever it is, is pleasant to work with. I guess it’s Ponderosa Pine. Working is similar to Yellow-poplar. I’d like to find a good source of it, I think. My recent experiences with softwoods have been positive, which is interesting, because I never imagined myself using them much. They present challenges for your tools, sure, but they also seem to have a lot to offer.

This almost certainly won’t be done by the time I leave for a short trip to Pennsylvania this week. But the good news is that I’m going to Pennsylvania!

Finished Tenon Saw, Tool Rack

Looking through my past posts, it seems that I forgot to post when I finished a couple of smaller projects.

First, remember the tenon saw handle that I’d been working on for nearly a year? Seriously competing for the world record of “longest time taken to get a saw handle done,” I finished it about a month ago and completed the saw:

It’s a 16″ blade, somewhere around 10TPI, if I recall correctly. I used it for the larger tenons on the shoe rack project. It took some getting used to, but I like it a lot. Larger saws such as this seem a little strange to use on tenons such as the 1.5″ x .75″ ones on the shoe rack, but it works fine.

The other little thing I was working on was a small tool rack to hold chisels and similar tools behind the workbench. I agonized over this for no good reason, looking at every tool rack I could find on the web and in books. Finally, I just slapped one together in about a half an hour:

And when I say “slapped together,” I mean it. The preceding photo doesn’t really illustrate how hard I’m trying to get the title of “lamest joinery ever seen in a tool rack,” so let’s get a closer look:

Yep, the rack consists of two long pieces of yellow-poplar/tuliptree not really even lap-jointed onto two small pieces of mystery softwood. I just planed them flat, put on some glue, and clamped tight.

The whole thing is fastened to the windowsill with two c-clamps. That’s partly because I’m being lame, but also partly because we rent this place and I don’t want to go around putting holes in everything in sight.

The important part about this is that it actually works; I finally have most of the junk off the workbench. It works so well that I’m considering making a second equally lame example.

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