This project is finally done and in its intended location:
Here’s the obligatory drawer-open, from-the-side photo:
For those who haven’t been following this project, the dark wood is black walnut, the lighter wood is ash. Drawer bottoms are western redcedar, and a few other parts here and there that you can’t see are tuliptree (“yellow-poplar”). Finish is the usual varnish, and this time, I waxed the top, anticipating heavier wear than usual.
The photos here show how the panels and drawers are arranged so that each side looks like it has a continuous piece of ash, framed in. This wasn’t too bad to execute, even though the drawer fronts are a lot thicker than the panels on the sides. You just have to mark stuff out and remember where everything is. It also helps to remember what your plans were in the first place, which can admittedly be a problem when a project takes as long as this one.
I’ve had a crazy, yet admittedly modest dream for many years: That we would start using napkins instead of paper towels (as napkins, that is), and that I would make a napkin holder for the napkins. Last week, SHMBO made the decree that napkins would now be used in our household.
I was excited. See, I had grand plans for the napkin holder, involving delicate mortise-and-tenon joints and all sorts of other nonsense. These dreams pretty much evaporated the moment I took the 1/8″ mortise chisel into the ash and realized that for what I wanted to do, it would tend to split badly.
So I sat on the sawbench for about 20 minutes and fooled around with the wood that I had milled to size, and realized that I could probably make something halfway decent relatively quickly if I just sandwiched stuff together. I ended up with this:
I was careful to make the protruding napkin width equal on the two sides and the top, for whatever that’s worth. But the thing that I’m most happy about with this project is that it happened very quickly. That’s a true rarity in these parts.
After gluing up almost any dovetails, you normally trim away the excess on the ends to make everything nice and flush. I make my half-blind dovetails especially proud so that I can get a really good kerf started next to my line. In the past, the main tool I used for trimming this stuff was my block plane. However, I picked up an inexpensive flush-cut saw at a home center in (hmm, I guess it was) Koto a year ago, and decided to try it out here:
This worked pretty well. If you’re not familiar with this kind of saw, it’s got no set (some have set on the top end only); the one I have is a little strange because it has teeth on both edges. I liked the way that this worked enough to go look for a better one the next time I’m in Japan. In any case, when you’re done, you can be left with some pretty amusing cutoffs if you’re doing half-blind dovetails:
(The photo above shows my original clamping method before I switched to clamp it down to the corner of the bench.)
After sawing, you still need to give the ends a final planing, but it’s trivial at this point.
So the drawers are ready for finishing now:
In theory, the project is nearly done. The top has all of its coats of varnish and just needs to be rubbed out. The base needs a few more, and of course, these drawers need the most.
Having applied the glue, I just put the second drawer for the coffee table in the clamps:
I did the first one yesterday. As I expected (because I haven’t glued up any kind of carcase construction in quite some time), that one took some wrangling, but it got there. This second one went smoothly.
Part of the trouble yesterday was in clamping. Most of my stronger clamps are also quite long and heavy, making it difficult to clamp smaller gaps at the top of a piece without tipping over or at least having difficulty manipulating them. To help matters a little, I bought a pair of shorter pipes for my pipe clamps today, which I put to use here.
But as it happens, I do find myself somewhat clamp-challenged at the moment. Back in California, I was fortunate to have been able to borrow a number of pipe clamps from a friend when I needed them. The two that I have now came from a yard sale about a year ago. I’d like to pick up a few more this year. I guess the PATINA Damascus sale is in two weeks, though I’m a little skeptical about finding clamps there. I’ve had the best luck with clamps at yard sales; I just haven’t gone to many lately.
Yesterday’s oafishness had a predictable result: One of the panel pieces rode up ever so slightly in the rear, so I’ll need to plane that down a little more than desired. For the second drawer bottom, I came to my senses and did it this way:
This looks somewhat complicated, but it’s not. Instead of the twine that I was originally going to use, I used the ratcheting tie-down straps that I also use for securing lumber to my roof rack. The ratcheting mechanisms are underneath the bench, upside-down. It’s also a decent excuse for keeping weird little cut-offs around.
This method takes a little longer to set up, but is more effective, and is easier to manipulate.
I’ve got all of the pieces for the coffee table drawer bottoms ready. Here are the three components of one of them:
These are western redcedar, resawn from an inexpensive S1S 1×6. These aren’t quite as nice as the quartersawn stock that I used earlier, but are largely defect-free. The knots that you see here won’t be in the bottoms; they’ll be trimmed off.
I glued up one of the bottoms today, and it looks completely ridiculous:
Like some other panel glue-ups, I used dual wedges on one side to apply pressure along the edge joints. But here, I’m using pieces of SYP to press down on the panels so that they don’t accidentally ride up. That big wooden jointer plane is supposed to add weight to that side.
This was an idiotic idea, and probably didn’t really work terribly well, at least in terms of keeping the joint flat (I’m going to do a final planing anyway, but still). The method that I used back when I was gluing up some other panels was far better. The reason I didn’t do it this time was lame: I didn’t feel like searching for the twine that I used before. But I think I will do it for the other drawer bottom.
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.
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.
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.
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.