Let’s Talk About Wood Selection and Orientation

This might seem like an obvious topic, but I don’t know if I’ve ever discussed it. To be clear, I’m not really talking about species selection here. It’s more a matter of the individual boards that you incorporate into a project and where they end up.

Wood selection might not stand out as one of the most compelling reasons to bother to learn woodworking, but it’s at least an implicit reason. If you’ve ever seen one of those kitchens with the cherry cabinets that were popular about 10-15 years ago, you know what I mean. These typically don’t have any rhyme, reason, or consistency to the boards making up the frames and panels; they often look like they were made up of many different species. It’s the same way with a lot of more expensive factory-made furniture as well. Well, if that doesn’t drive you nuts, the pocket joints will.

So this relates especially to my current project, the coffee table, which has a frame made of walnut. Like cherry, walnut has a high degree of variability between trees, boards from a tree, and often even within a single board. To try to get everything as consistent as possible, I always try to group pieces according to location and function, then map those groups to boards. The fewer boards, the better. Then you start working on the puzzle of where everything fits. Here’s where I’m at on the frame:

There are two stretchers per side between the legs, and they are paired (bottom layer) in this photo. Between those stretchers will be two inner frame pieces. The boards on the top layer of the photo will each be cut in two make those pieces. The pair on the top will go with the board on the right, the next down is second from right, and so on.

All of these pieces came from the same board, which made it a little simpler in some respects.

If you look closely, you’ll see that the grain orientation (top side in the photo) of each pair matches, with the rear pair being quartersawn, the next one mostly quartersawn, and the front pairs flatsawn. These are chosen to match the legs. Recall this photo from the last post:

That leg is the trickiest part of the arrangement because it’s riftsawn. But it mostly resembles flatsawn on the left and quartersawn on the right, and the legs on the other ends are definitely in that orientation, so the pairs of stretchers are chosen accordingly. (The other legs are much more straightforward in orientation and have obvious matches.)

In any case, the flatsawn sides oppose each other, as do the quartersawn, making it easier to arrange the legs. And the oddball above is going in the “rear” of the table to keep it mostly out of sight anyway.

Let’s take a closer look at some of those stretcher pairings, starting with the quartersawn:

And now the flatsawn:

If you look even closer at this one (and the pairing in the post’s first photo), you’ll notice that the horizontal stretchers were cut not only from the same board, but right next to each other. This might seem a little crazy because the upper ones won’t even be really all that visible (the top will overhang, obscuring them), but it’s the kind of thing that I like to be in the habit of doing.

So I guess I spend a lot of time thinking about this kind of stuff. It might even be worth it.

Tenon Detritus

I posted the following photo from my happily-neglected Twitter account a while back and forgot about it:

I’d been busy making a stand out of some southern yellow pine and didn’t take too much time to clean off the bench between making each mortise-and-tenon joint. Perhaps there’s some sort of meaning here. But it could also be just a cluttered pile of cutoffs.

That project is essentially complete, but I’m not too sure. I didn’t make a top for it yet, but I might not need to. It’s just a tall stand for workshop-related stuff and is already in use.

I don’t know if I’ll ever write about that little mini-project. It’s pretty sloppy; I didn’t even bother to uniformly thickness or even mill all of the sides of the boards.

Thagomizer 3

An element of frustration in woodworking will always smack you when you’d rather it not do that. Back around the beginning of the year, I broke the head of my “Thagomizer Jr.” mallet. This was not unexpected. I had not built the thing to last, but rather, did it in a hurry from whatever I had on hand at the time. It was just to get back to work after breaking my original mallet, and it lasted long enough. Still, I was pretty bummed about it at the time, though I’m not sure why. I think I was chopping some mortises and the mallet failure meant that I wouldn’t be getting any work done without a new mallet.

The biggest problem I had when building my first two mallets is that I did not have any appropriate stock in a thickness required for a single-piece head. It turns out that though wood glue is great at tension stress, it’s not quite as hot at the shear stress involved when you laminate a couple of pieces of wood together and smack it really hard. And really, I believe that’s what you want anyway, because a mortise-and-tenon joint would be awful to repair otherwise.

This third time around, however, I realized that I might have something that would work. Back when I was living on the San Francisco peninsula, a friend had a privet removed from their yard, and had the workers leave a sizable chunk of the trunk for me to peruse. Maybe that sounds weird, but hey, free wood. Aside from some slices that we took out of it with a bandsaw, I had a part of it sitting in my garage for years, drying and seasoning. Then I packed it up and had the movers take it when we moved to Maryland. Yeah, I know… that’s kinda weird, too.

And so there it was in my new shop when I was looking around for something, anything that could be used to make a new mallet. Looking it over, it seemed pretty hard, dense, fairly heavy, and just about the right profile for what I needed for a head. Cue the “seems legit” meme.

It was awkward to cut, compounded by its irregular shape. I finally managed to clamp it to the bench and saw off an appropriate length:

Crosscutting wasn’t so bad, but I still needed to get the excess material off the sides. Using the clamp again, I was able to rip it:

This was downright obnoxious to rip. I first went at it with my little rip panel saw (it was such a small piece, how bad could it be?), but it was such slow going that I switched to my big saw almost immediately.

After getting good parallel cuts on the top and bottom, and one on the side, I’d had enough and started to work on the slot for the handle. I used a brace and auger bit to get most of the waste out.

Because I had just destroyed the thing I normally use to beat mortise chisels, I grabbed a deadblow mallet and carefully finished the slot. After sawing the ends to the appropriate angles, I used my favorite brutal shaping tool, the Shinto saw rasp, to put a curve on top.

I reused the beech handle from Thagomizer Jr. in the new head, and had what appeared to be a success:

Well, one side of the head still had a waney edge. After looking at it and remembering how horrible it was to rip off the other sides, I decided that maybe I’d just try leaving that side alone:

Normally, I don’t care for any kind of rustic look, but this has grown on me, perhaps because it reminds me of some work that I didn’t have to do.

It’s been a few months now and I’ve cut dozens of mortises with it. So far, it’s performed flawlessly. The weight feels good and the ends have been durable.

If you have some yard wood that you think just very well might have a use, keep this sort of thing in mind. I already have a few ideas for the remaining bits of that privet wood.


I’m attempting to get the galoototron blog back on track. I’ve been active in my new shop lately, but it’s mostly out of necessity and I haven’t had much time to document anything. We’ll see how this goes.

At least a fair amount of the old content that I had here is out there somewhere, and I’ll try to get that imported, but it will take time (if it’s possible). Sorry about that. (The old content is back.)

In the meantime, here’s at least something that I worked on (and with) recently:

I will follow up with the build story shortly.

File Box

Let me introduce you to Joe. He’s a rather talented dude:

At BAGathon 2013, he showed up with this little cabinet that he’d made from a wine box. It’s his “file cabinet,” because it contains files.

Well, there’s almost no idea of Joe’s that I wouldn’t steal, so I decided that this would be a pretty good one for that particular crime spree.

First, let’s take a look at where these wine boxes come from. This is the scene around Greg H’s truck about a minute after he arrived at the same BAGathon:

He’s hiding behind the other Greg. Anyway, it’s always a nice feeding frenzy, as we do enjoy the boxes.

Anyway, so I decided to make my own file box. It took me a few months to get around to it, but I finally decided on this box:

As with all of the wine boxes, they usually aren’t made with terribly good wood, and they’re usually tacked or stapled together. The staples holding the front of this one were a pain in the butt, so I eventually ended up sawing next to them to get the front off:

Then I yanked out the staples and planed the endgrain of the front with some hokey workholding techniques:

With all of that destruction out of the way, I set out to make slots for the drawer runners. After fussing with a number of saws, I realized that I had a monster hanging from the back of the bench, and used that:

Finally, I cut out the runners from pieces of another wine box and glued them in:

So then I made the drawers (out of the second wine box). You’d think that I would have remembered to take some photos of the drawer-making process, but all I have is this shot of me making the rabbets on the drawer bottoms for fitting into the grooves on the sides:

Oh well, you’ve all seen me make dovetails before, so whatever. What is new here is that the bottoms are segmented, and I used shiplaps on them to prevent gaps, rather than gluing everything up.

When all was said and done with the drawers, I had these, complete with some quickie pulls that I shaped (also made from a wine box, of course):

Now, It may sound like I did this in a few sessions, and that’s not far from the truth. However, the absurdity of it was that after the drawers were made, it took me about a month to get back to the shop to saw off and glue the fronts on, another month after that to find time to make the handles, and then, finally, another month to find time to tack some little strips onto the sides and put some stupid bevels on the edges.

When it was all said and done, I had this:

Joe’s is probably nicer, but mine’s got stars on it! Anyway, the only thing left to do was put some files inside:

Mission accomplished. I should mention that the fudge factor was very high in this project–whatever I could do to work around the self-destructing properties of this wood, I did. Also, I used an obscene number of tools on it. Why did I use my #45 with the 1/8″ blade to make grooves for the drawer bottoms when I could have probably just tacked them on? I don’t know.

Now maybe I can concentrate on making a real piece of furniture again.

New Large Tenon Saw

In my previous post, I briefly mentioned that I’d filed the plate of a new saw. I have now completed that saw; it’s a large tenon saw.

This particular project has been lagging for a long time. I’d gotten the plate and back from Mike Wenzloff several years ago, but they sat in a box for years. Finally, I filed the plate back in April. It’s 19″ long, and I filed it at 10TPI rip, with zero degrees of rake. Then it sat for a few more months until an informal gathering with some friends in June.

I decided to get started on the handle then. The wood is allegedly “Peruvian Pepper Tree” (Shinus molle); it comes from a piece that a local brought to a BAGathon several years ago and has been bouncing around several subsequent gatherings. I don’t really know if this is actually the wood here or not, but whatever; here’s a photo of the roughing-out process at my friend’s (awesome) shop:

(Later on in the day, I would get to use his Versa Vise. Very nice!)

This wood isn’t the worst thing I’ve ever worked, but it’s certainly got its quirks, namely wavy, reversing, interlocked grain (much to our amusement, as we initially tried to rive it with a froe). It’s about as hard as beech. I found it easiest to smooth it out with a scraper. Even then, I didn’t take a whole lot of care smoothing out the final surface, figuring that it would get dinged up anyway. (This hypothesis was quickly confirmed when I dropped it on the floor as I was just completing the rubout of the finish.)

I was initially going to use a Kenyon pattern for the handle, but decided on a Disston pattern at the last moment because I’ve been very happy with the comfort of the Disston-based patterns I’ve used in the past. I modernized certain parts (as I always do), but left this one mostly alone.

As usual, the finish is varnish. I used about five coats this time. The wood has some strange inclusions, but you can redefine those as “character.” Here’s a closeup of the completed handle.

The saw hardware is my usual (see here whoops, cross-reference broken for now). Here’s the whole saw:

All of this is fine and good, but does the saw work? I picked up a piece of the wood that I like to hate the most (some really hard birch), and checked to see if it could saw straight and quickly:

Hey, it wasn’t so bad at all. I came to my senses and switched to a bench hook to finish off this test cut:

Then I tried it on some less horrible woods. It slices through yellow-poplar like butter.

So it’s done. It would have been nice to have had this saw for the big tenons on the workbench project last year, but that’s the way it goes.

WIA Pasadena Wrap-Up

I decided to go to WIA West this year to attend some talks and to meet some of the people I’ve chatted with over the last few years. It was great meeting all of you (you know who you are) and I hope to see you again sometime!

One of the first things I had a look at was Michel Auriou hand-stitching rasps at the Lie-Nielsen exhibit:

Watching him do it in person is remarkable. You get mesmerized at the pace he sets when punching the teeth.

One of the highlights for me was one you might not expect from someone who doesn’t do any carving and has no real plans to start–Mary May’s Acanthus leaf-carving demonstration. I’d seen her do this as Roy Underhill’s guest on The Woodwright’s Shop, but seeing it in person was something else altogether.

I can’t really put my finger on why I find this so fascinating.

Of course, speaking of The Woodwright’s Shop, I went to St. Roy’s talks. Now that guy has charisma. For some reason, I didn’t get a photo op with him.

Speaking of wild stuff, here’s a bentwood lamination clamped up in a jig from David Marks‘ talk:

You can never have too many clamps.

And yes, I did two of the events in the Hand Tool Olympics. I did the dovetail faster than I expected I would–something around 10-12 minutes, if I recall. I generally don’t do so well when I’m being watched, but luckily, when I started mine, Wilbur Pan was doing his on the other side, and then Chuck Bender went over there, and so all of the attention happily went over to that side of the bench.

That was just in the nick of time, too, because I accidentally snapped the blade to the Knew Concepts saw I was using and few people noticed (I shouldn’t have been sawing so quickly). I will say this about that saw (the 5″ woodworker’s): it’s fantastic. I’d never used it before. Using it was probably the biggest thing I got out of the whole Hand Tool Olympics thing.

I used three other tools making the dovetails. One was a new Veritas chisel, and I thought that it was really good (too bad I already have too many good chisels). Another was the Cosman dovetail saw. It worked fine–I can’t say much more than that, because nearly all dovetail saws perform the same to me when they’re sharp. I think I still like mine the best because I made it. Finally, there was a “Mongo-style” mallet. I think I like my larger wooden mallet better, but I can’t say that it didn’t work.

Tapping Out a Western Plane Blade

Warning: What I talk about in this post is not considered standard practice in any way, shape, or form, and may be completely wrong.

I’ve been wanting an old wooden western-style smoothing plane for a while, and a couple of months back, I picked up an Ogontz/Sandusky coffin-style smoothing plane at the Alameda flea. It’s nothing special–beech body and a big laminated blade a little more than 2″ wide.

It had been used to a certain extent, and the most annoying thing about it was the way the blade face had been sharpened–it was rounded over. It was the “ruler trick” gone mad, I suppose. It may have been done with a grinder. A lot of old blades turn out this way and they’re not particularly easy to sharpen when in this condition. Because there’s often no set angle you can use on the stone, you can’t register it on anything. In this case, it was especially bad because it was quite convex, both across and up and down the face. Oh yeah, and it was pitted, too. Yuck.

I didn’t have time to deal with it, so it sat on the shelf until recently, when something occurred to me. Because the blade is thick and laminated like that of a Japanese plane, it might be possible to use the technique of “tapping out” to create a new flat for the face edge. I recently had to do this to a couple of blades and it seemed to me that it might be worth a try.

The problem is that I’ve never heard of anyone doing this to a Western blade. It could be just totally wrong.

So I tried it first on a blade from a big jointer that was suffering from a similar situation. To my surprise, it worked. But that was a large, brutish plane that I don’t use for delicate tasks, and I didn’t want to go blabbering about it until I’d tried it on something else, such as the smoother.

I’m not going to describe the process of tapping out because Wilbur Pan has already done that. I used a small ball-peen hammer and the silly anvil on the back of my cheap machinist’s vise (I tried tapping on a block of wood at first, but that didn’t work–I might speculate that the soft steel in an old western blade is harder than the (typically) wrought iron used in the Japanese blades). Because the blade was rounded along the complete width, I had to tap it nearly all of the way to the sides. The result was that the high spots on the face were now the edge (as desired), as well as a spot in the center (we’ll see that later).

Before getting any further, I must give you this warning: If you’re interested in tapping something out, don’t try it on a thin Bailey/Stanley-style blade, or any blade that’s solid hardened tool steel. It will most likely crack or chip, because steel that takes an edge and is designed to cut wood is brittle. I’m going to guess that if you’re really crazy about the idea, you might be able to temper the blade first, then tap it out, then harden it again.

Now it was time to sharpen the blade and see if it worked. The bevel was in terrible shape, and there was a big nick, so I had to take it to my (horrible) grinder first. Then it was off to my Sigma Power #120 stone. First I worked the face to what I thought was a pretty good surface, then I put the thing in a honing guide, reformed the bevel at 25 degrees, and finally worked my way up through the grits on both sides. Thinking that the blade seemed sharp enough, I tested it out.

That first test did not go particularly well. I couldn’t manage to take a thin shaving, shavings kept getting jammed in the throat, and the surface left behind was ridged, not smooth. Much not to my amusement, the edge also seemed to have gotten kind of messed up.

I found the shaving thickness problem pretty quickly; the bottom of the plane wasn’t even remotely flat (it was bumpy). A couple of passes with my Veritas jointer fixed that, and I was able to get a good shaving. I popped out a little crud in the mouth, and that fixed the jams. But the surface on the planed wood was still crummy.

Perhaps my sharpening job wasn’t as good as I’d hoped it was. I took a photo with my macro lens; here is about 3/8″ of the edge:

Basically, the edge wasn’t really sharp to begin with in some spots, and there was still some pitting across the edge.

So I hit the Sigma Power #120 again to remove the pitting, and also to try to get a better bevel shape. I ended up with this after working through my stones:

There was still a very tiny nick-like thing for that one deep pit in there, but would it matter? Well, of course it would sometime, but at this point, I was more interested in seeing if all of this wasn’t a waste of my time, so I put the blade into the plane and tried it out:

Bingo. Translucent shavings, polished surface, yadda yadda. The wood on the left is beech, and the one on the right is some mystery softwood (spruce or fir, most likely). The softwood actually had some figure that the plane brought out:

Yeah, that’s a little birdseye that’s trying to come out. Strangely, I didn’t find the ridge from that little nick in the edge, but I’m sure I will sometime, so I still have to take care of that.

In the end, the face of the blade looks like this:

So in the center, it’s kind of the opposite of a Japanese blade–whereas those have the hollow in the center and are high on the edges, this one has a big annoying high spot in the center. However, that spot still gives you something to register upon when honing the face. It’s as easy to sharpen as a Japanese blade, too, because there’s much less surface area to float on top of the stone.

Well, we’ll see how this works out. As I hinted at the beginning of the post, this could possibly be one of the most idiotic things I’ve done to a tool.

Out With the Old Shop, In With the New Shop

Everyone loves moving, right?

A week and a half ago, I had the old shop all packed up, and I got some help from some friends to move the whole thing to the new place. In two years of working there, I made the shoe rack, the prototype bookshelf, the saw till, the stool, the nightstand, plus a number of tools and odds and ends. It was my first real dedicated shop; I learned a lot there, and I feel that I accomplished a fair amount there, as well. So let’s take a moment to contemplate the now-empty old shop with an odd-looking photo:

All right, that’s enough of that, it’s time to move forward with the new shop. Unfortunately, the new shop looks like this right now:

In other words, it’s not so much of a shop as is it a mostly-assembled workbench with piles and piles of tools all over the place. Those pieces of wood on the top? The case pieces for the tool cabinet that I might finish sometime in the next two centuries. As opposed to the old shop’s location of a basement-like thing, this is in the garage. I don’t really have a window directly behind the bench, but I do have an entire wall there. The landlord has allowed me to hang french cleats there to my heart’s content, and I will.

So, anyone got any cool ideas on what I should do here?

A huge improvement over the old shop is the wood storage:

In the old place, I had to store all of the wood vertically like the stuff in foreground that I haven’t gotten around to stacking. Now I have a whole length of a wall, and I can sticker it as well.

And hey, there just happens to be a place to hang the frame saw as well.

Frankensaw; Saw Sharpening Guides

I’m finally done with sharpening the last saw on my to-do list. This and the one in my previous post were both acquired at an estate sale over in the Sunset district last year. They’re both Disston No. 7s, but both have been rehandled. The first one I worked on had some sort of modernish handle on it. The one I just finished has a No. 12 handle.

Someone must have liked these saws. They were both rust-free and had pretty good visible etches. Unfortunately, the sharpening on them was crap. The No. 7/12 Frankensaw needed serious jointing (and therefore, serious tooth reshaping) before it could be pointed.

But once at the pointing stage, things went pretty quickly in spite of it being a 26″ saw with 8 teeth per inch. I used a 10 degree fleam angle this time, and used a roughly 10 degree slope on the gullets as well. Here’s a shot of the sharpening in progress:

This picture shows one of the issues that often comes up when sharpening crosscut saws that I’ve been talking about recently, and that is, that the shape that the tooth appears to be can be misleading. Look at the teeth on the right side of the saw in the preceding image. See how they look kind of spindly? It’s a trick of the reflected light. Here’s a close-up, where you can see the reflections and the full tooth profile:

Obviously, there are some uneven spots here, too, like the second-to-left gullet, but those were taken care of on a second pass. but the point is that you have to be careful about what you see. Just be consistent with the angles you work at, look at the tops of the teeth to see when you’re done.

Here is the saw in its finished state:

You can see my fleam guide in the photo of the work in progress. I worked a little on the code for this before starting this saw. My previous version required you to use two different cutouts to sharpen each side of the teeth. That was kind of stupid, because you can see only one side of it at a time. So I reworked it.

Update: I now recommend that you use the versions that are on the Plans and Guides page rather than the following, but I’m not going to remove these any time soon.

Here are PDF versions for:

  • 10 degree fleam (fleam10)
  • 15 degree fleam (fleam15)
  • 20 degree fleam (fleam20) (whoops, need to regenerate that sometime)

If you know how to use PostScript, ask me for the source code; you can put in any fleam angle you like. (I haven’t figured out how to trick WordPress into letting me upload a .ps file without doing something stupid like archiving yet, sigh.)

Also, I have a PDF tooth pitch gauge (toothgauge) that you might be able to use at some point.