There are times when I feel like I’ve gotten nothing done, and this past month was one of them. It’s not entirely, true, though, as I have the new bookshelf glued up now:
Getting to the glue-up point was nontrivial. I had all of the joints cut more than a month ago. However, I decided that I would try to stain this thing dark, and because of this, there were some components that I should probably stain and varnish before final assembly. I spent a considerable amount of time doing so.
Staining is a nontrivial process. I read Flexner’s book about a hundred times, tried out many samples, and finally jumped in. Because the shelf is made entirely of yellow-poplar, and blotching is a problem on that wood, I decided to use a gel stain, topcoated with the usual varnish. As Flexner will tell you, gel stain doesn’t penetrate much. If you sand it, you’ll cut through in a flash. I used a full-strength coat of varnish right on top of the gel stain to build the initial coat of protection. Because the stain raised the grain and left a fairly rough surface, I wasn’t worried about adhesion problems, especially because I applied the varnish just one day after the stain. At that point, I was able to sand without worrying so much about cutting through, and a couple more coats went on after.
For me, one of the strangest things about using stain (well, pigment stain, that is) is that it seemingly went against everything I’ve learned so far. Normally, I just plane the wood smooth and apply varnish. However, a very smooth surface makes it difficult for pigment to find the nooks and crannies that it needs to stick in the wood. That might be OK if you don’t want much stain color, but I wanted a lot.
So, with this in mind, I did something that might make you cringe. After I planed the surface smooth, I sanded it with #120 grit sandpaper to rough it up a little (in the direction of the grain, of course). The strangest thing about the whole process was that the planing probably made the sanding faster.
There is another thing that I wanted to write about, but I somehow forgot to take photos. You might recall how the joint for the rear panels went in for the first bookshelf that I made; there were just a bunch of cross-members in the rear of the shelves that housed the tops and bottoms of the panels entirely. That worked, but it left me wanting more, mainly because the cross-member would stick up behind the shelf at the rear:
I came up with a way to keep the cross-member (which I like, for added strength), but hide the top of it and instead slip the panel in directly behind the shelf:
(I guess you can see the famous stain color here. Also, I didn’t bother to make the grain vertical in the panels, since it’s unlikely that anyone will really see them anyway.)
This isn’t complicated, but when put into words, it sounds complicated. There’s one rabbet on the top of the cross-member, with the high side being on the back, and then another rabbet is cut into the rear underside of the shelf, so that rear of the shelf rests on top of the cross-member. This forms a gap between the protruding end of the cross-member and the rear of the shelf, and that’s where the panel slips in.
In any case, now the hard part begins: I have to stain and varnish the rest of the piece. It’s taller than I am and barely fits in the shop.
I decided that the break-in project for my new workbench would be a bookshelf. Because the bench can handle six-foot boards, and I can still reach things that are six feet high, I decided to make the shelves six feet high.
Two workholding problems popped up in the course of the project. One was an oldie, and the other one was new. Let’s start with the old one.
I’ve found it annoying to joint narrow boards because I usually have to make a lot of them. I have a jointer fence for my Veritas jointer, but if a board just isn’t wide enough, something always obstructs the fence because it projects below the opposite edge being planed. For some time, I’ve dreamed of being able to secure a board on the edge of the bench so that I could use my jointer fence on it. I’d been scheming on accessorizing my bench dogs a little more, and yesterday, I finally did it:
This stop is nothing more than a piece of a panel that I’ve bored two 3/4″ holes in, and stuffed two of my bench dogs through and into the holes on the bench. There’s another one with two more holes and two more dogs in the tail vise on the other end of the board. Notice how the board is slightly proud of the edge of the bench.
The whole idea is to keep the stop from rotating around in a hole. I didn’t really expect this to work–I thought that the weight of the jointer would tip the board over. But it did work. I had to ease up the rear hole a little (with a half-round rasp) to keep the front of the stop from lifting off the bench.
What’s kind of funny about this is that Lee Valley released something similar to this for planing panels today, except theirs is supposed to be used perpendicular to the way this one sits on the bench. But I’m happy with my low-profile bench dogs for planing panels.
The other difficult situation I ran into was dealing with a dovetail joint on the end of a six-foot board. To cut the tails, I extended the board off the edge of the bench, marked it, and sawed:
Then I put it in the leg vise (supported on the other side by a holdfast in the other leg) and sawed/pared the tails to completion:
Then I had to mark the pinboard. After a bit of fussing around, I came up with this:
The past few weeks have primarily involved milling, milling, and more milling. Oh, right, there was also a trip to Pennsylvania. But after all of that excitement, I was able to glue the top. I used every medium- and heavy-duty clamp that I had for it:
Then I glued that piece of beech to the front, flattened the top, then flattened the bottom.
I’m not going to talk too much about this flattening and milling process because it was exhausting enough just to do it. The main reason was that the douglas-fir just ate up my plane blades–I constantly had to resharpen them. I’m not sure why this is the case, but it might have something to do with the hardened resin in this old wood. In any case, dull blades are next to useless on this stuff, and sometimes it takes a little while for it to dawn on you that you’re working with dull tools.
In any case, I was finally at the point where I could fit the legs. I’ve been thinking about the joints for the legs for a long, long time. I can’t say that I understand the monster through tenon joint illustrated in Roubo’s book. Schwarz only seems to say that “well, this is how it’s illustrated there, so that’s what I’m gonna use,” and that’s all fine and good, but I still don’t get it. Sure, you want a tenon, but should it really be through? That makes the top more difficult to reflatten. Plus, the through joint creates a weak point in the front left, especially if your wood over there is suspect to begin with. Roy Underhill illustrated what happens to that sort of thing at WIA.
Believe it or not, I like Underhill’s rising dovetail idea better for this kind of joint. Not that it’s any better with the weakness in the wood, but there is one property of it that I haven’t really seen anyone talk about in conjunction with a leg vise. If you think about it, because the top sinks down from the front, when a leg vise clamps something into place against any part of the top, it wedges the top into the leg.
As cool as that joint looks, I still did not want to use a through joint for my legs, so I just used angled mortises and tenons so that the top would still sink down from the front. I used a very slight angle (using the “eh, that looks about right” calculation with the sliding T-bevel), and before I started, I made a couple of guides to help. Here’s one that helped me guide my brace and bit as I wasted most of the mortise.
After boring and chopping out most of the waste, I registered the chisel face against this guide to pare out the sides at the angle necessary.
One advantage of making mortises this large is that you can shove a T-bevel into the mortise to verify that you got the side correct:
Here’s a finished joint (this time for the rear of the bench). It’s only a little more than an inch deep, and I do not plan to use glue, but I figure that the mass of the top will be more than enough to keep it in place:
If I’m wrong, I’ll use fasteners to wedge the joints into place.
It was a fine sight when I completed all four joints for the top:
These joints, however, didn’t really take much time (despite having only my fine-toothed joinery saw available to cut the tenons). Sure, I had to be a little more careful with the angles on the joints, but compared to process of preparing the top that I’d just been through, it was nothing.
Next up: Getting the stretchers in place, and installing the vises.
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.
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:
It’s been five years since I made my first post on this blog. At that time, it was on Livejournal, and I was doing it just because it seemed like a good idea at the time. Apparently, I’m still posting, so because it’s been a nice “even” number of years since I started, I figure I ought to do a review post because I have nothing better to do.
(You won’t see too many of these posts on this blog, so bear with me.)
Before starting, I should mention something about the name of the blog. It doesn’t mean anything. It was just something that rolled off my tongue. It is a dippy name, it’s difficult to remember, and I’ve always been open to changing it. Unfortunately, I couldn’t think of anything better at the time, and that condition persists to this day.
The first post is my introduction, but perhaps there’s a little more that I can add to it. At that point, I had never done anything resembling semi-advanced woodworking. In hindsight, this was a natural time for me to start because I’d finally gotten some measure of stability in my life after years of grad school, moving across the country, working in crazy environments, and living in cramped places. I’d moved into that particular San Francisco apartment not too long before. It was nice and roomy, I lived alone, and I finally had some extra time. Sure, I’d like to have started earlier in life. I didn’t, so there’s no point in thinking about that.
Regarding tools: I don’t know what was going on in my mind, but I must have been researching old tools quite a bit. For example, how did I know that I needed to sharpen my own saws at that time? My initial tool list wasn’t too far-off. I still haven’t bought a shoulder plane unless you want to count the mini Veritas version. And although I have a miter box, I haven’t used it (I haven’t even sharpened the saw). But I had one special tool right-on, and that was the Winchester handsaw I’d picked up (but never used) in 2003, three years before starting. It was a long time before I actually sharpened that thing, but ever since, it’s really been one of my favorite tools.
That a very common style of saw is special to me may provide some insight into the type of woodworking that I like to do now. I feel that I went after too many planes in the beginning, and did not realize the amount of work that saws do. In time, I began to appreciate saws more and more, and even made a few of my own.
I thought that I would be very project-oriented when I first started. I had the idea to make bookshelves–perhaps I believed that I’d make them within a year? I was wrong. I still haven’t made a set of bookshelves (I did make a prototype). What I did instead was learn the process of milling wood and basic joints. The first larger thing that I put together was my workbench, followed by tools such as my mallet and scrub plane.
But about a year and a half into the process, I slowly made a dovetailed box, and that got things rolling. Though I didn’t have much time to work on it, that box went together more smoothly than I expected, and I still use it. By this time, things were changing in my life, and soon enough, I moved from the apartment to a house that actually had room for a shop. I spent the first few months trying to get organized there:
Then I started to build projects in earnest. The first big one was the shoe rack, which took some time but ultimately was a success. That was followed by the prototype bookshelf, the stool, and the first nightstand–I did all three of those projects in less than a year. At the same time, I made some shop improvements such as the saw till.
Incidentally, I switched the blog to the galoototron.com domain about a half-year after I moved to this shop. It was September 2009, and this shoe rack post was the first on the new domain. Before the switch, no one other than some family and friends knew about the blog, but then I started to tell a few more people (such as Luke Townsley at unpluggedshop.com) about it. Suddenly a lot more people than I really ever expected were reading this thing. That’s about as far as I ever went to promote it, though, and I don’t have plans to change that. I do appreciate all of the comments that I get from fellow woodworkers.
In retrospect, the two years I had in that shop were pivotal. I went from dorking around with tools and wood on a somewhat irregular basis to building projects. I gained speed and confidence in my joinery. The shop itself had a lot to do with this. No longer did I have to be completely fastidious about cleaning up after each session–I could leave a small amount of shavings or sawdust on the floor and it didn’t matter. Because I had enough room, I could put down my work at any time and pick it up again whenever I had the chance. This helped me establish a work pattern; I’d come home from work and have fun with a project for as little as 10 minutes or as much as an hour and a half before finishing for the day. I could even do a little in the morning before I went to work.
Of the projects I built in that shop, the nightstand seems like an obvious choice for a favorite, and it is. However, the little stool is a co-favorite:
The nightstand was the last project I completed there. Then, in the span of a few months, life got really busy, and after that, I moved again.
The new place also had room for a shop but it was more “raw”–as part of a garage, I really had to work to define the space. The old shop had room for me to put tools on tables all over the place. It was mostly disorganized, but I sort of knew where everything was, so I managed. There was no room for that in the new shop. To make up for it, I was allowed to hang cabinets, racks, and hooks on the walls and ceiling to my heart’s desire.
Unfortunately, I wasn’t able to get the new shop organized quickly enough for my taste. Part of this was a chicken-and-egg problem; the tool cabinet is an example of this. My first task in the new shop was to get some of the tools on the walls, and I had to finish the cabinet so that I could put tools in there. Unfortunately, my tools were all packed away in boxes (from the move) that surrounded the workbench. I really had no idea where anything in particular was and I didn’t have places to put them temporarily.
At the same time, I also had more furniture to make. The second nightstand project kicked off this year, and it turned out to be far more complicated and time-consuming than I expected. (And I’m still working on it, but I’m almost done.)
Every now and then, I add to the wall storage in the shop. That situation isn’t fully resolved (see below), but it is much better. Things are getting done, and I have to say that I prefer the new shop to the old one.
Also, I’m making a concerted effort to work out some of the annoying little stumbling blocks that I have to deal with from time to time. The two biggest problems I come across are tool and project storage (both temporary and permanent) and workholding. I have plans to solve those soon.
Going forward with projects, I have a long list in front of me. The most pressing, according to those in the know, is an entertainment center. We’re also looking at the rest of the living room–coffee table, bookshelves, who knows what. With the exception of our couch, the living room furniture is crap and it makes sense to concentrate on that room. Whatever I do, I’ve decided that I’m not going to make anything as brutally complicated as the second nightstand project(s) for a while.
But then again, I may just make more complicated things. Here’s how.
The title of this blog is no lie. Everything I do is by hand, and that includes stock preparation. I didn’t go down this road out of principle or some other similarly silly reason. I did it primarily out of interest and necessity–the apartment I once lived in was no place for power tools.
Unfortunately, it turns out that flattening, thicknessing, and resawing by hand is a lot of work. A large majority of my time and effort goes into stock preparation. That’s not even mentioning how much time I spend sharpening plane blades as I go. It’s getting out of hand. I can flatten a board quickly now (and wow am I glad I learned), resawing isn’t so incredibly horrible when you keep your saw blade sharp, but that last step of getting down to final thickness is totally bogus when you have to repeat it dozens of times, even with my scrub plane that can take off 1/16″ at a time.
So I think I’m going to get myself a stupid lunchbox-style thickness planer sometime in the new year. I’ll continue to flatten stuff by hand–it’s a great way to get to know the wood and the board that you’re about to use–but when it comes to getting that other side down to something reasonable, I won’t think twice about feeding it to a machine. I’ve got furniture to build and I do not have the time to lollygag.
However, the blog remains the same. The preceding paragraph (I hope) will be the only mention. I don’t plan to write about it when it happens, and I’ll continue to do all joinery by hand.
At this point, it would be remiss not to mention that I’ve had help. Schwarz says that the modern woodworker works alone and I think he’s wrong. Even if one never meets another woodworker in person, and even if one never takes part on a discussion forum online, the modern woodworker has an incredible resource mass available. It’s sometimes easy to overlook that a person wrote what’s on your screen, and when you learn something from someone, that person is very much with you in spirit as you work.
And wow, have a lot of people been working with me in spirit in my shop. There are just too many to list, but I’d really like to thank anyone who’s written anything that I’ve learned from or even read.
Also, there are the BAGs (Bay Area Galoots). Several of you have really helped me out in more direct ways–lending me tools, giving advice, being generally cool, that sort of thing.
Now, back to the work on the new nightstand projects. Progress has been (inexplicably) made.