Making a Panel Gauge

One annoying gap in my tool set has been the panel gauge-sized hole. I’ve gotten really frustrated with normal marking gauges from time to time, because they get significantly more difficult to use after you extend the arm more than a couple of inches. It’s not so much a matter of the length of the stock (especially in the case of my gauges), but more of a problem with registration. Keeping the stock at a steady height when you’re worrying about a long arm is a bother. Proper panel gauges include a rabbet to register on the edge of a board or panel when you need such a thing.

I decided to make my gauge out of scrap, and after scrounging around, I found this cherry offcut from the second nightstand project:

It was already 4/4, which was about the thickness that I desired (I’d originally thought about laminating two contrasting species, but decided not to waste my time jointing faces and waiting for glue to dry). After cutting it to length and approximate height, I jointed the bottom edge and cut the all-important rabbet:

In hindsight, it would have been a better idea to cut that rabbet until after I’d mortised the hole for the arm, but it didn’t end up mattering much.

Next I cut the arm’s profile. After my previous experience with arms flopping side-to-side and fixing them, I decided to take a more radical approach to really locking the arm in place. The Lie-Nielsen panel gauge and a version of the Stanley #65 marking gauge rotate the arm 45 degrees so that there is a triangular profile on the bottom of the arm to really lock it into the stock. It’s the same concept as the ol’ “wedge crowds the arm into a corner” trick, and I thought it was worth a shot because people do seem to rave about the design.

So I marked it out a little on the arm that I’d chosen (another piece of scrap cherry), and roughed it out with my jack plane:

When I got close to the lines, I switched to my Veritas low-angle block plane with the chamfer guide attached:

You can see the profile starting to come through at the end.

Next, I turned to the mortise. I just banged it out with a pigsticker as usual:

Then it was time to test-fit the arm and to see if this profile really did what it was supposed to do. I slipped a couple of wedges in where the thumbscrew would eventually go, then tried to get the arm to wiggle around:

Much to my delight, it worked. Keep in mind also that I wasn’t even being terribly accurate in chopping the mortise (call it “mostly sorta accurate”).

With everything fit, I shaped the top of the gauge (entirely with a coping saw and Shinto saw rasp), then bored the hole for the machine screw insert with a brace and auger bit:

The brass screw inserts have slots for driving them with a screwdriver, but brass is so malleable that the slots are next to useless. Instead, I use a screw with a nut threaded on to drive them in. In this case, I was using a hex-headed furniture connector to ensure that my driver bit wouldn’t slip:

This works well for driving the insert, but cherry being what it is, there was a little bit of spelching near the top. Yeah, I should have probably driven this thing in before shaping, but whatever–I just filed off that layer.

(Here, I must again remark that I would love to use wooden screws and threads for this. It would work wonderfully.)

To finish off the stock, I made a “saddle” for the thumbscrew and arm as described back in this post.

Now it was time to turn to putting the blade in the arm. I used a Millers Falls #5 to drill a couple of holes in a line at the end to make the mortise for the blade:

That miniature square I got in Japan really comes in handy.

To hold the blade in place, I used a smaller screw insert in the end (who knows how well this will hold up) and a stainless steel cap screw to go in the front. I made a saddle for this as well.

The blade itself is yet another small strip of spring steel. I’ll be honest here–I don’t particularly like using spring steel for this because it does not hold an edge as well as tool steel. However, it’s such a pain in the butt to sharpen the blades that I figure I’ll keep using spring steel until I can come up with some sort of honing guide for the marking gauge blades.

And that was pretty much it; the process only took a couple of hours. Here’s the finished product:

And a close-up of the business end, showing the cap screw and various “saddles:”

With all of that said, the important question is, “how well does it work?” I had to admit that I was a little bit doubtful on how much of an improvement the arrangement with that triangular/inverted-house-shaped mortise and arm profile would bring. It turns out, though, that it’s really something. The arm simply does not budge when you tighten the thumbscrew. It’s so impressive that I may do a retrofit on my previous marking gauge.

I’m still unsure about the blade-holding mechanism, though. I just hope that it doesn’t split the end of the arm.

Workbench v2: Getting Started

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.]

Goofs Illustrated: Workbench

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.

Nightstands v2: Finished

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.

Nightstands v2: First Mouldings

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.

Nightstands v2: Making Drawer Bottoms

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:

Yearly Tool Haul 2012: Japan and Taiwan

This year’s annual transpacific trip included Japan as well as Taiwan. Unfortunately, I didn’t get to see too much in the way of wood/woodworking stuff; there was just too much on the agenda.

However, I did get to go to the Meiji Jingu shrine, and the second gate (torii) on the path there is one of the largest wooden ones around, and happens to be made of Taiwan Yellow Cypress:

(The sign says “hinoki from Taiwan”–They consider the wood to be interchangeable.)

I didn’t have enough time to research tool shops in Japan, much less visit them, so I limited tool-buying to the home center-style stuff. To be honest, little odds and ends are all I really need right now. That’s a lucky thing, too, because the tools you get at the home center there are about a million times better than the ones you get in the US. Here’s the first batch:

At the top, a small mallet (wanted to see what it would do as a plane adjuster, plus I break the Thagomizer on a regular basis now–need to make another). Then there’s one of those milled-tooth files, that I’m going to try out as a half-round complement to the Shinto saw rasp that I like so much. Next is a diamond feather-edge file, because it looked like it might come in handy. And on the bottom is a general-purpose knife that I’m going to try out in my seemingly endless search for a marking knife that I like. That knife is nothing special, just the kind that a schoolkid might have used for sharpening pencils as described in Odate’s book.

Next is a couple of small squares:

The 4″ Lee Valley double square is at the top for size comparison. The 10x5cm square seemed like a handy size to me, and the tiny try square (made in Sanjo City) was too cute to resist. Note that even though these tools were not bought from a specialty shop, their accuracy is still guaranteed, and indeed, both are right on. You just can’t get that kind of thing from a home center in the US, and the price of these squares really isn’t excessive. We’re talking about $10 here.

I wish I could have gotten one of those larger framing squares that have the beveled face, but it would have not survived the airport baggage-handling gorillas. I suppose I can get those here, anyway.

Next up is a couple of sharpening implements:

I really have no idea what that thing on the top is, but it was cheap and it’s really coarse, so I figured that if nothing else, it could maybe be used to rough up the surface of my Sigma Power #120. I got the diamond plate on the bottom primarily for conditioning my waterstones.

Oh yeah, I got some shoji paper, too.

After leaving Japan, I went to the now-familiar tool shop in Taipei, and it turned out that I wasn’t quite done with Japan yet. I decided to buy my first Japanese chisel there for the hell of it (and to make Wilbur Pan gloat or something):

And I was looking for a smallish/medium smoothing plane, and got this typical Japanese-blade/Taiwanese body hybrid:

Annoyingly, the face of the blade on this thing was not flat when I got it–it had a very (very) slight convexity on one half of the edge. For those of you familiar with this kind of steel, though, you know that lapping it away is basically an exercise in futility, and it took me an embarrassingly long time to remember this.

So I tapped it out. I’d never done that before, and it was as nerve-wracking as everyone says it is, but I have to say that it worked like a charm.

Finally, the tool I was most looking forward to buying was a plain-jane Taiwanese-made rabbet plane:

Why? Because I’m fed up with my Stanley #78–a torturer of left hands since 1885. The one here doesn’t have a depth stop, though I could make one or clamp one on. And it seems that the convexity demon from the blade on the preceding plane infected this one, too. So I tapped out this one, too, this time with a little more confidence. Yay!

The maybe-not-so-strange thing about this plane is that it’s designed to be used left-to-right. I’m not sure it’s going to make much of a difference, but it might give me an excuse to buy an antique Western rabbet plane to complement it.

Five Years of Galoototron

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 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 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.

Goofs Illustrated: Repairing Grooves

I thought I would be posting about the glue-up on the current twin nightstand project at this point, but there was one remaining thing that was really bugging me.

It turns out that I’d carelessly torn out the sides of a couple of grooves when I was cutting them, and although it wasn’t severe, with the panels fit, the shadow there would stick out like a sore thumb whenever I saw it. Unfortunately, I did it in a prominent area, and at the exact same place on each of the nightstands. So I wouldn’t be able to hide from it, and since I plan to use these things for a long time, I’d have a constant reminder of when I messed that up. Something needed to be done.

I started by marking out the repair area with a cutting gauge. In the following photo, the tearout isn’t easy to spot at first (it’s on the near edge of the groove), but if you look closely, it will be apparent.

Note also that I’m taking all of these photos with a macro lens so that you can see everything a bit better. For reference, that’s a 1/4″ groove.

Then I clamped a flat piece of stock right up against the mark I’d just made and started wasting out the repair area. You have to do this really carefully–use a small chisel diagonally (or a gouge) to avoid tearing out your repair area when you’re starting.

The photo below shows the last part of the wasting step–registering the chisel back against the scrap and paring out the last little bit.

Your chisel has to be very sharp and the back must be flat for this to work properly. For most chisel operations, the back may not need to be flat, but this is an exception.

I also gratuitously used my new Veritas miniature router plane in the repair area. It probably wasn’t necessary.

Now at this point, I was lucky enough to have not made it look any worse than it did at the beginning, so I carefully milled a small piece of wood two-square and pared down the length until it was the length of the repair area. I also made sure that this piece would have the same grain direction as the wood in the original. If I’d been smarter, I would have also matched the vector of the medullary rays, but I wasn’t, so I didn’t.

I glued it in place and banged in a couple of pine wedges to “clamp” it:

After letting it dry overnight, I pulled out the wedges and removed most of the material on the repair that was proud of the surface and groove (again, carefully).

For the final touches, I used planes. This was the very first time I got to use the side rabbet plane that I got from Veritas when they first released it:

It was very handy for this, but as they say, it’s a plane you don’t want to have to use.

After doing the sides, I planed off the top and the repair was complete:

There’s a tiny little nick at the top of this one where I accidentally dented the edge of the repair area, but I can live with that. I’ll only notice it every now and then and it’s something that I should notice occasionally. The important part is how it looks with its panel in place, and that seems to be OK:

The moral of the story? Don’t ever have to do this. I had thought that I was careful enough when I made the grooves; I’d marked the grain with a mortise gauge and worked the area with a chisel beforehand. But I still tore it up with my router plane because I was just too ham-fisted. If I’d spent an extra 30 seconds total being just a bit more careful, this would have never happened and I would have saved the hour that it took to do these repairs.

Nightstands v2: Rear Panels and Alignment Guide

Since my last update, I smoothed and fitted the side panels to the main cabinets, which left just the back panels before I could glue up the cabinets. I’d resawed the western redcedar for these panels, but I hadn’t cut them to size to fit them to the grooves that I also did in the last week or so.

The top section (backing the shelf) was easy–I just sliced the panel to width, cut the rabbets, and test-fit. Then I started on the backing panel for the first drawer. That opening is 5.5″; add about 1/8″ on each side for the housing grooves, and you’ve got about 5.75″. Because the redcedar I resawed was from a 1×6, that’s perfect, right?

Well, no.

I always forget how crazy they go when they surface these softwoods. What I had was a total width of about 5.5″–a quarter-inch short. Oh, so annoying. (Note to lumberyards: I really, really want my softwood unsurfaced, like my hardwood.)

So I jointed an edge from the offcut from the previous panel, jointed an edge on the slightly-too-small 5.5″ piece, glued it up (sprung-joint style), and rather than getting fancy with clamping as in my previous episode, I just slammed it into the front vise on my bench:

That vise sometimes makes some good arguments for why it should stick around.

Then after the glue dried, the most annoying part came: I sawed off all but about 3/8″ of the smaller piece that I had just glued on so that the panel was the right size. It’s a really good-looking, almost seamless joint when planed down, but no one will ever see it because it’s on the back of the piece. That means that, in the future, I get to spin the piece around, point at a practically invisible line, and say, “this here was really annoying.” I’ll also be suspected of having gone off the deep end at some point.

So right now, I have these rear panels finished on one of the cabinets. To help align the cross-members of the piece, I made myself a little guide out of scraps:

And here it is in use on the rear frame of the cabinet:

The main goal of making this guide was for glue-up, because you have a lot less time to go measuring stuff during that process. And hopefully by the next time I post, I should have the cabinets glued up.

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