Tool Cabinet: Mostly Finished

While gluing up the tool cabinet, I noticed that the joint that wasn’t closing up properly was probably just cut too much. So rather than having to look at a hideous gap in the miter there, I cheated and glued in a little piece of scrap:

After trimming the face, it looked like this, which is probably good enough for me not to notice all of the time:

Hopefully, I’ve got enough practice at this now so that I don’t make this mistake again.

So after the carcase was together, I had to hang the doors. As I noted in my previous post, I’ve never done this before, so I thought it might be a good idea to practice. The Korn book explains how to do it fairly well, so I went through the motions and came up with this:

I’m glad I did a practice joint first, because I didn’t really have a solid picture of how the hinge fit into the mortise relative to the pin and how far the hinge would open. But after doing it, things really became clear. I now also have a better appreciation of the butt hinge and its versatility.

I didn’t take photos of how I made the above test because I felt a little tepid while making it. However, I did photograph the process on the tool cabinet. First, I figured out where the hinges were to go. I decided that I wanted three hinges per door to give it enough strength. Then I looked around at a bunch of doors around the house and looked at the proportions of the hinge placement. I didn’t come up with a formula (next time, maybe), but I determined that two inches from the inside “would not look sucky,” so that’s what I came up with.

To make sure that I didn’t cut a mortise in the wrong place (a favorite habit of mine), I first penciled on a little mark where one would go. Then, after making sure that those marks were actually correct, I scribed in the precise marks:

I used the little Lee Valley miniature marking gauge for the depth and height. The depth was set to the width of the hinge leaf, up to just a little bit shy of the center of the hinge pin–I really should have taken a photo of this. I set the height with the other end of the gauge, to a bit more than the leaf thickness. To get the ends, I scribed the near one first, then scribed the other by placing the hinge in place.

Then I knocked out most of the waste with a chisel. You can do the whole thing with a chisel, but I wasn’t feeling all that precise, so I grabbed my little miniature routing plane to go the bottom:

It seemed to turn out fairly well:

I completed all of the mortises for the inside, then I turned to the door. Again, I carefully penciled in the sides where the hinges were supposed to go. Then I wedged the door in place at a particular spot, and marked the mortise ends from the ones that I’d just made. This is a very similar technique to marking dovetails.

I didn’t have as much registration surface for the router plane on the edge of the door as I had on the carcase frame, so I clamped a couple pieces of scrap to the sides to give me more. This made it an easier job than the frame:

To drill the holes for the hinge screws, I eyed them with an awl. (Nope, I don’t have a center punch yet.)

After drilling the holes, I put in all of the screws, put the cleat on the back, and hung it on the wall. It looked like a cabinet:

There were a few little flubs–for example, I didn’t trust my lines in the mortises enough, and that was a mistake. Fortunately, it didn’t make enough of a difference to matter in the end, and what’s also fortunate is that I hopefully won’t make those errors again.

So it was on the wall, but didn’t have any tools yet. I fixed that yesterday, when I made a little bracket for my Taiwanese planes and added my Veritas low-angle block plane:

So the cabinet is now 1/6th full. I have to make little attachments for the other tools on the inside and the doors.

I’ll do that eventually. I have to get started on other projects now. Between the move and all of the other things that were going on in the past four months (which seemed like an eternity), there were times when I felt like I was trying to nail jelly to a tree. This project felt like it took forever. In reality, it was maybe half that, but I don’t want to have that feeling again.

Tool Cabinet: Door and Panel Assembly

Having fooled around long enough flattening my workbench, I returned to the tool cabinet project. I was close to being done with all of the components, so I decided to get the doors finished. The doors will consist of two frames, each with a long panel inside, and the first order of business was to make the grooves to house the panel. I started with the easy parts–the pieces where the groove goes all the way though, because I was eager to try out the Stanley #45 I posted about a while back.

This is the first time I’ve ever really used it for a project. It’s a heavy beast, but gets the job done far faster than the router plane that I’ve been using, and because I already had it set up as a 1/4″ plow plane, there wasn’t much fooling around with its adjustments. It even helped a lot for the stopped grooves, because it can cut partway, leaving the final work with the router plane and chisel easier because they have somewhere to track.

With the frame grooves made, it was time to cut the panel to size and fit them. I’d sized the panels slightly thicker than the grooves, so I decided to put rabbets around the edges to bring the rim down to thickness:

As usual, I did the bulk of the work with my #78, and finished it off with my Taiwanese rabbet plane.

Then it was time to test-assemble the door:

That seemed okay, so I made the other door, then shifted my attention to cutting the panels for the cabinet rear. They require edge-gluing, so I decided that it was time for a glue-up party for the panels and one of the doors:

It’s definitely starting to look more like a cabinet and less like a pile of pieces. The tasks that remain are gluing the other door and main cabinet, hanging the doors, and making the tool holders for the inside. This latter part will likely take some time to finalize, since I haven’t actually made up my mind about much of it yet, but that won’t stop me from putting what I have into use as soon as I can. Come to think of it, I’ve never really done doors with hinges, so this could be interesting.

Workbench Distraction

I finished the frames for the doors of the tool cabinet project the other day, meaning that the only wooden pieces that I hadn’t made were the panels for the doors and the rear. Panels, of course, mean that I have to use the frame saw, which is never terribly enjoyable, but since this is pine, it at least didn’t take forever to go through the near-11″ wide board that I used (maybe 20 minutes, not sure).

Cleaning up the newly-resawn panels, however, meant that I had to dig up my low-profile bench dogs and try to get things as flat as possible. And that’s how I eventually lost my mind, because panels have still been a bit fiddly for me because my bench is, how shall we say, “not very flat.” The top had been sagging in the center by quite a bit for some time now. Because the panels I needed to plane are very flexible, it was getting hard to position them to get good contact with the plane.

After whacking away at a panel for a while with my deeply-cambered jack plane, I took the panel off, looked at the corner of the bench I was using, looked at the plane again, and started planing again without the panel:

Then I tried planing the panel again:

Ooh–much, much better. The flat bench let the Taiwanese plane really shine when smoothing those panels.

With these panels flattened, I sat back for a while and thought about the bench. I was expecting horrible tearout when I planed the top, because it’s basically a bunch of little blocks finger-jointed together and edged-glued. (I’m sure they don’t take handplanes into consideration when they make these things.) But to my surprise, there was very little, even with that blade taking out thick shavings.

I’d been avoiding flattening the bench because the top isn’t so thick in the first place, anyway. But even though I am considering making a new bench soon, this was just getting ridiculous–the sag was more than 1/8″. I took out the blade of the jack plane, gave it a good fresh sharpening, and set for a really deep cut. Then I cleared all of the crap off the bench and got medieval on the entire benchtop:

When I decided to call it a day, I had a huge pile of shavings, a blade that wasn’t exactly sharp anymore (funny what beech with a lot of glue will do), and a nearly flat workbench. I’d say that it needs a little more work with a fore and/or jointer plane, but after I do that, this should be much less of a headache for the immediate future.

Tool Cabinet: Frame Components

With the tool storage in a somewhat usable state in the new shop, I finally had a chance to restart the tool cabinet project last week. I finished the carcase before the move, so I’m left with the doors and some other odds and ends. I decided to start with the rear, which will have two cross-members to aid with mounting on the wall and internal tool arrangement.

After taking what seemed to be an eternity to size up the pieces, I made the first joint for the members in the back. Then I realized that it was the first joint that I’d made in the new shop, so I took a photo to commemorate the occasion:

That’s the wacky Taiwan-made chisel featured in this post, chosen this time by the ever-reliable “I was actually able to find that one” method. Though this joint was perfect in the end, I can’t say that it went without a hitch–for some reason, when marking out the tenon, I had set my mortise gauge incorrectly and just barely noticed in time. Unlike the saw till, I’ve decided not to use wedged or through joints here.

Okay, so that wasn’t terribly exciting, nor was it difficult. Soon it was time for the cabinet door frames. I made up my mind to use the mitered-face mortise-and-tenon joint for this application. The main reason is that I really would like some practice at this thing, and I’d much rather screw it up on a shop project than something I actually care about. Nevertheless, it seems to be going well so far:

The pile of components for this project is much larger than I anticipated:

I already had to go out to get more wood for it twice. Normally, this would be an incredible miscalculation, but since I can’t say that I’ve actually bothered to calculate, there’s probably another word or two for it that isn’t nearly as nice.

The shop seems to be usable. The intermediate state of the tool wall looks like this now:

The thing at the center top is a sort of shallow shelf-like thing that I made for the french cleats. The scrub plane just happens to fit on top, so I put it there because it seemed like a good idea at the time. The chisel rack is a reincarnation of the lamest tool rack ever built; for some reason, I brought it intact from the old place, and added cleats and screwed stuff into it until it actually fit on the wall. The space to the right is where the tool cabinet will eventually go.

And really, the cabinet can’t come too soon. This is what I’m dealing with on the benchtop right now:

Mind you, this was after cleaning up a bunch of stuff. There are tools in all sorts of weird places around the place and I keep getting nervous that I’m going to knock them over–I don’t have a lot of room to move around.

Oh yeah–thanks to Jasen, who lent me that Narex 3/16″ mortise chisel. For that size, I don’t have any of my own (yet).

[Edit: I didn’t notice at the time, but this is post #200.]

Tool Cabinet: Introduction; Moving

My last post covered the weird joint I experimented with in a new project that I’ve been working on, a tool cabinet. During my last few projects, I’ve really gotten a feel for a set of tools that I use on a fairly regular basis but don’t have a real place for. These tools–marking gauges, measuring tools, some smaller planes, and the like–are always sort of hard to find because they’re lying about on a table next to the bench. So they’re hard to find, and they take up a lot of space. My saw till solved these problems for my saws, and my absurd chisel rack solved them for the chisels. I figured that a medium-sized cabinet would do the trick with these tools.

Going at probably the slowest possible pace for a woodworker, I finished the other three crazy joints in the carcase and test-fit the sides:

They basically fit (the lower right corner needs a little more adjustment), so now it’s time to think about what to do with the insides.

I already had the idea to put my Taiwanese planes inside. I grabbed about 3/4 of them and arranged them like this:

So, in all, they’d take about 1/4 of the space in the rear half of the cabinet. The front half will be sort of empty, because I plan to put on doors that are open most of the time, and these doors will have lighter tools attached (such as marking gauges and squares).

It’s all preliminary, but one idea that I’m going to carry over from my saw till is to have it reconfigurable. In other words, I’ll use screw inserts to hold the tool holders in place, so that if I decide that I don’t like some tools I’ve chosen for the cabinet, I’ll just replace them.

That’s all fine and good, but now I’ve got something else to do before finishing this: I’ve got to pack up the shop, because we’re moving. The next two weeks are going to be hectic. I’ve got more than half of my tools packed already, I believe.

There is, at least, some good news. The new place not only has space for a shop, but I’ll also be able to hang stuff on the walls. So my saw till will have a spot, as well as the chisel rack and this new cabinet (once complete). I’ll also probably be able to hang some eggbeaters and a few other things. Right now, my boring tools are pretty disorganized.

I also might build a new bench. However, that’s looking a little farther into the future.

Half-Blind Dovetail With Mitered Shoulder: What Was I Smoking?

This weekend, I started work on a new project for the shop that will soon be desperately needed. As with nearly all of my other projects, I drew it up and decided on the joint–dovetails for a carcase frame, of course. I recalled that I’d seen a mitered-shouldered through dovetail joint, did a little bit of reading on it, and decided that it would be a neat one to try.

Except that I decided to make it a half-blind version. I clearly did not plan this one out very well, but I was very careful when laying out the tailboard, making sure to put the Xs in the waste parts, and indicating where the shoulder would miter. I thought that this would be a piece of cake, I’d just rough out the miter on both pieces when fitting the pinboard, then fine-tune it later. After all, both miters would be the same angle, right? Right?

What could possibly go wrong?

It should have occurred to me that I’d screwed up somewhere simply based on the fact that as I was sawing down the pinboard the first time, I managed to saw on the wrong side of one of the lines. At the time, I chalked this up to not having taken a break, the anticipation of the big game soon to start, and the fact that a really annoying song was playing on the radio when I made the mistake.

Unfortunately, it was actually fate trying to warn me, and I didn’t listen. Instead, I just sawed off the end of the pinboard, marked it out again, and went upstairs to watch the game.

When I came back the next day, I managed to saw everything correctly, popped out most of the waste, and then, to make sure that the pins and tails fit, sawed off a small amount of the miter on the shoulders.

The tails and pins fit without paring. That was as far as the good times went, though, because that’s when I got out my other T-bevel, set it to 45 degrees, and went to mark out the final miter for the corner.

Something wasn’t right. Why didn’t the miter line up to the corners of the joint? Everything should be the same width and thickness, ri–oh, wait. Duh, on a half-blind dovetail, unless the tailboard is thinner than the pinboard, the joint profile will not be square, and that’s not going to be a 45-degree miter. Furthermore, you can’t cut your miter beyond the half-blind portion if you’ve already done your tailboard, because the tailboard probably doesn’t extend that far.

I don’t know how long I stared at that thing, trying to figure out what to do. I didn’t know if I should try to salvage it, or just hang my head in shame and start anew with something a little more conventional.

Masochist that I am, I chose to try to salvage it because I hadn’t cut beyond the half-blind portion of the shoulder. For another equally long time, I tried to figure out what this was going to look like. I’m not sure I had an idea, but in any case, I started by marking out the miter on the pinboard from the pin base to the half-blind line (or whatever it’s called). Then I measured that angle: 50 degrees. That seemed really fishy to me, but I set my T-bevel to the 40 degrees necessary to complete the full 90 degrees and marked it lightly on the tailboard.

I banged the pieces together a little. Of course, I dented the beautifully-surfaced face that my newly-acquired Taiwanese plane had made because I used a buffer scrap that was too small. At this point, I didn’t care about that anymore, I just wanted those two miter lines to be perpendicular, and to my surprise, they were.

So I pulled the pieces apart and shaved down to the miter lines with my Veritas mini shoulder plane (this worked remarkably well). And then I banged the pieces together to see if they drew tight.

They didn’t, of course. In addition to this unsightly gap, there were also big gaps at the pinboard baseline, and I suspected that they might be related. I put the work down for the night and went off to freak out about something else.

When I dragged myself back the next morning, I tried jamming a piece of paper into the miter gap. It went in only halfway, so I pulled the pieces apart and checked the square of the long edge to the mitered surface. It was slightly out of square–kind of convex on the top. I pared it out (maybe making it a little convex in the process) and tried again.

I almost fainted. There’s no way that this should have drawn tight given the number of errors that I made.

The preceding photo was taken after I pared off the excess of the pinboard on the end–I wanted to see what it looked like. I’m afraid to admit this, but I sort of like it. Only I wish I could say that I’d actually planned it that way.

Now I have to make three more. Guh.

An Antique Eastern Cabinet

On last year’s trip to Taiwan, I encountered a cabinet at the in-laws’ place that I found interesting. This year, I got to take a closer look and some photos.

It’s probably about 90 years old. My grandmother-in-law says that her husband bought it before they were married, and he bought it from a Japanese friend or vendor (at this time, Taiwan was a territory of Japan).

It was likely not the most expensive cabinet that you could buy at the time, but its construction clearly indicates that it was a good quality item and that it was primarily (if not completely) made by hand–I don’t see any machining marks on it, and at this time, machine tools were not in common use in the area.

The design is pleasant and streamlined. It consists of two pieces–the upper part shown in the preceding image, and a base with two more drawers on the bottom. The base has a kickboard that matches the overall design, and is well-moulded:

Last year, what I noticed first about this piece was that the doors had the mitered-face mortise-and-tenon joint that I wrote about (and made) last year:

The tenon (like most of the ones I’ve seen here) is a through tenon. It’s very common in furniture here, and I now know the Chinese name for it–but I’ll save that for later.

The drawer construction would bring mixed reactions to some western joinery enthusiasts–the sides are tacked in. Though our first reaction might be to poo-poo this, remember first, that dovetails are not common in eastern furniture, and second, that this thing is 90 years old, and these drawers are still very solid. The humidity differences it has had to endure have been quite extreme–from very humid and sticky summers to a life in an air-conditioned environment.

It’s all solid wood construction. The face is a good-quality light-colored hardwood that’s been lacquered, the rim around the face is an expensive dark wood (don’t know what, but it has large pores). The rest is a quick-growing softwood of some sort.

The rest of the drawer is also quite solid, in spite of violating “rules” of drawer construction (tacked together from the bottom, bottom panel grain runs along the front-to-back axis rather than side-to-side):

Notice the “rear deck” on the back. It’s not of a consistent width. It serves as a drawer stop–I am speculating that the builder intentionally let this protrude and then simply trimmed the end to get the drawer to stop flush with the front of the cabinet.

Here’s the hardware on the lower drawers. I don’t know if this is the original, but it’s kind of cute:

[Edit: It’s not original; in the picture at the top, you can see where the original hoop handles were. Thanks to Daniel for putting a finger on this.]

Now, with all of this said, there’s a further story with this cabinet. Over the years, the wood has moved in such a way that made the drawers very difficult to close. It was even said that they might have to get rid of it because it was so difficult to use. So I said, hey, this is the best piece of furniture in this house, and I could get the thing in good shape.

I didn’t have any appropriate tools (even after a ritual tool-shopping trip that I’ll talk about later), or any I could borrow, so of course, I decided to go buy something. I went down to the tool shop in search of a chisel and some sandpaper to sharpen it.

The sandpaper was easy enough. But I wanted a Taiwanese-made chisel, and got one. However, it looks like this:

Yeah, it says “Miki Japan” on it, with a name. This is one thing that sometimes drives me up the wall with Taiwanese manufacturers. An example of this is that you’ll often see labels like “Boozoletti Italy” in stores on clothing that’s made in Taiwan, on really decently-made stuff. (Yeah, you can get not-so-well-made stuff too, but that’s another story.) It’s almost a very strange parody of the knockoff concept. Some companies have wised up and created their own unique identities, but that’s another story, too.

In this case, the chisel is made of the laminated (laid) steel that you’d expect from something like this, and it takes and holds an excellent edge. The grinding was excellent–it took only a few minutes to flatten and polish the face. Perhaps it doesn’t hold an edge as well as the famous Japanese chisels (not sure about how to test that), but it’s as good as any mass-produced western manufacturer of the past such as Union or Pexto.

And it cost a grand total of about $7.50. Best of all, it got the old cabinet in great shape in very short order.

Wooden Purse Handles

I got a request a few months ago from my sister-in-law to investigate how one would go about making wooden purse handles, because she’s been in the habit of making purses lately. We talked about a few ideas–some involved bending, some involved joints, and some were not so strong. I was particularly concerned about strength of cross-grain when cut thin, because we all know how well that often turns out for plane totes. And I said that I would get around to making some at some point.

It was one of those projects in the back of my mind, where was I trying to figure out a way to do it where the end result might not totally suck. And so there I was one day, watching some Harry Potter movie on TV, when I thought I saw a glimpse of a purse with wooden handles being used as a prop. Pause and rewind with the DVR confirmed it.

Then I thought, “why don’t I do a Google Image Search on wooden purse handles?” Well, duh, turns out that there are a lot of ideas out there.

So I came up with a drawing that seemed to minimize the danger of cross-grain stress and milled some wood. The wood might be walnut. I’m not really sure. Maybe I should break out the loupe some day:

I cut out part of the drawing to use as a template (I just traced it onto the wood):

Notice the segmented slot in the drawing–I’ll get to explaining this later.

I cut out the rough template with a coping saw (one side at a time, not gang-cut), then taped the two sides together and clamped it into the vise:

Then I shaped them with my ever-trusty Shinto saw rasp and Gramercy sawmaker’s rasp:

I don’t know why this is so, but the more I shape handles, the more I like it. In this case the edge profile of the two handles when put together is similar to one edge of a saw handle.

With each side shaped, I put in the slots for hanging the textile part of the purse (the part that I will not make):

You can see here that the slot is segmented. That’s to keep whatever is wrapped around it from bunching up on one end when the handle is tilted (this is a problem on one prototype that I saw).

Cutting these slots was difficult. I don’t have a 1/8″ mortise chisel, so I had to pare out the slots. If I ever have to do something like this again, I’ll get a mortise chisel and be done with this task in ten minutes instead of the who-knows-how-long this took me.

Next up was to cut recesses for clearance of the textile parts on the inside. This design feature is so that the handles can close flush to each other. This was easy once I got the hang of it. It was the standard procedure of using a chisel to waste out most of it and a mini routing plane to clean the floor of the recesses. I got the plane in a trade a while back (thanks, Darren!):

Then I smoothed everything out and put on the first thin coat of varnish:

They need a few more coats, then they should look quite nice. I have only about a week to complete that task, so I only have time for that much, anyway.

Perhaps one day, I’ll have a photo of the complete project.

Nightstand: Finished

My deadline for the nightstand project is Wednesday. [Ed: This was posted the Friday before that Wednesday.] I had originally planned on having this thing done about a week before then, but stuff happened. I’ve been applying varnish to the frame, top, and drawer over the past few weeks and they were finally ready. I rubbed out the varnish with 320-grit sandpaper followed by #000 and #0000 steel wool, all lubricated with mineral oil. I decided not to use rottenstone on this project for two reasons: first, the #0000 steel wool got it to where I wanted it to be, and second, I was afraid of getting it into some of the parts that don’t have finish in them. The second concern was a little silly.

I started assembling the whole thing by drilling holes and cutting recesses in the top stretchers for the screws to attach the top. This was an ugly job that took forever, and I was very silly not to have done this before glueup. I didn’t realize that I would be attaching the top this way until it was glued–I couldn’t find the hardware I was looking for and I didn’t feel like making it. Oh well, it’s not like anyone is going to see this part anyway (it’s on the inside):

Then it was time to solve an uglier problem. The drawer is slightly out of square because (I think) the bottom panel is a hair trapezoidal (thankfully, the end that’s too big is not subject to wood movement). I’ll be a little more careful of that sort of thing in the future, but for now, I decided to make the drawer fit by trimming the side of one of the runners:

Hey, finally a use for my Stanley #75!

With the kludges out of the way, I put in some simple stops for the drawer:

You can also see in the preceding image how the rear holes for the screws to attach the top are elongated to cope with wood movement (and this being riftsawn beech, that’s pretty much a given).

Then, after trimming the bottoms of the legs a little to get them level, I put everything together, waxed the drawer bottom and runners, and it was done:

Here’s a detail of the open drawer:

Though I made more mistakes than I care to admit, reflecting back on this project, it’s pretty positive. Despite the slight goof, the drawer looks perfect and the dovetails are very crisp–and I’d only done one practice half-blind joint a few months back.

Probably most importantly, this was by far the most complicated project I’ve done so far, and I finished it faster than any of my other projects. And it’s done just in time.

Nightstand: Drawer Tuning and Pulls

All of the dovetail joints for the drawer are now cut, the bottom panel grooves are in, and the panel itself is glued up. That leaves some fine-tuning of the drawer.

I found that the sides were a really tight fit, one that was likely to become too tight with the addition of too much humidity (or finish, for that matter). To fix it, I knocked off 1/32″ from each side with my jack and smoothing planes, and now it’s much more comfortable. I also had to trim a little off the tops, which was not a problem, either.

The matter of the pull remained. I could have bought something, but I decided that since this piece already had one thing that I stole from Krenov, I’d just do it again and make some sort of tongue-like thing. So after one false start, I pulled out a cutoff of the pacific madrone that I’d fooled with earlier and started sawing:

After some cuts and a little bit of planing, I got down to a roughly-rectangular chunk:

Then I put this into the vise, got out my favorite shaping tools and started working:

Before long, I had the basic shape that I was looking for:

Check out all of the rays that madrone has. Working with this little piece has been fun. It planes, cuts, and pares very easily, similar to apple or cherry. I’m a little unsure what to make of the way it feels when you touch it. It has sort of a soft, dry feel, but it’s not a terribly soft wood. It’s almost a “chalky” feeling. I’m looking forward to playing with some larger chunks.

Then I put a mortise in the drawer front and (carefully) cut the tenon in the pull:

A test-fit indicates that it seems to look the way I intended:

I think I might have some final smoothing to do on it, but that can wait until the drawer is glued up, and that step will come in a few days. There isn’t much else left to do on this project other than finish off the top and varnish everything.

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