Thursday, May 29, 2008

Counting My Blessings

I'm blessed with a very full life and a variety of interests. As a result, nothing gets as much attention as I would like and woodworking shares its favored slot with many other pursuits. This week's schedule illustrates what I mean:

Friday, Saturday, Sunday
Drive to upstate New York to camp and engage in some medieval armored combat and socializing with friends.

Work on the dovetailed box, but also mow, weed, and edge the lawn, play kick with my nephews, cook for and clean up after a barbecue, shower the kids, have family movie night, and facilitate bed time (a time consuming endeavor included in every night when I'm at home).

Work followed by Karate training. Home and showered by 10 p.m.

Work followed by medieval armored combat practice. Get sucked into the end of the Red Wings and Celtics games. Home and showered by 2 a.m.

Work followed by Ballet pickup (daughter 1) followed by bed time. Maybe glue up that box at last.

Work followed by family movie night followed by packing for the weekend.

Drive to even further upstate New York for my grandmother's 90th birthday party. Socialize and camp the night.

Socialize, take down camp, and drive the five hours home. Maybe start bevelling the box lid and cutting the thumb notch.

I suppose this explains why my list of completed projects seems so short and my list of planned projects seems so long. I think about woodworking quite a lot, but I can't do much of it: too many other things compete.

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Monday, May 26, 2008

Dovetailed Box - Progress Report

I continued work on the box as much as possible this weekend (amidst a two day camping trip, yard work, and a barbecue):
  • All sides of the bottom, and the insides of the box sides have been finished with two coats of tung oil finish and a coat of lightly buffed wax.
  • My maker's mark has been stamped in the bottom.
  • The profile on the top sections of the box sides has been beveled. One of the bevels is slightly steeper than the other two, but trying to correct this would just cause problems. It looks fine as it is.
  • I cut pine blocks that fit the tail fingers of the ends. These will be used to protect the box from the clamps I will use to set the box square and keep it that way until dry.
  • I set out the clamps and set them to the right size for the project, cut a paper cup (both for a glue dish AND glue spreaders), and laid out the parts: ready to glue (possibly tomorrow night).
In all, I'm happy with the progress, but I'm anxious to finish so I can move on to the bench project. I want the benches for Mid-July for a test run, and I don't have much free time between now and then.

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Thursday, May 22, 2008

First Quality Ash: Surfacing Reveals a Treasure

Back in November I wrote about picking up what I hoped was top quality ash (firsts and seconds). It was rough cut, so even though my first impression was that it was a bargain at 95¢ a board foot, I couldn't be sure. This isn't a great shot, but here's what it looked like then:

A few weekends ago I pulled about 5 boards for a bench project (more on that later). I marked out the lengths I needed for rough cuts and set to work jointing, chopping, ripping, and planing. When the work was done, I was very happy with my purchase. Here's what those 5 boards look like now:

I don't know what I expected, but this is better than I imagined. The wood has been in the shop acclimatizing for a couple weeks. I'll soon start glue up for benches that are real furniture, but break down entirely. These will replace the cheap folding camp chairs we have to replace every other year.

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Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Chuck Bender's New Blog

I just stumbled across a blog by Chuck Bender, who runs the Acanthus Workshop. He has started posting step by step as he builds an Oxbow chest. Already in the two main posts Chuck has introduced a couple of techniques that had not occurred to me, including the modification of router bits to create a custom profile, and erasing part of a profile with a well set straight bit.

The blog is called Parings - A woodworker's journal. Check it out.

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Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Pounce Wheel and Pounce Bag: Another Marking Technique

Christopher Schwartz wrote an article about pouncing a while ago, over at Woodworking Magazine's blog. This is a technique that seems like it could speed the process of transferring dovetails. Probably not significant in a basement shop, but definately relevant to makers who may be laying out and cutting multiple dovetail joints.

In the comments on the article, someone mentioned a pounce wheel:

I've used a pounce (pronounced pöns, I believe) bag before, but never for dovetails.

My usual use for one is to transfer curved patterns from paper to full size templates. The technique is to lay the paper plan onto the template stock, and trace over the line with a pounce wheel. A pounce wheel is a spiked wheel on the end of a stylus. It sort of resembles a Texas cowboy's spur, in miniature. Anyway, the pounce bag is bounced on the row of tiny holes, and a clear dotted line shows up on the template stock, ready to bandsaw to shape.

This is a very cool way to transfer curves from a full-sized paper pattern to a template or workpiece. The pounce wheel is something I've seen when browsing the tools section of the fabric store while my wife improved her stockpile of fabric, so if you want a pounce wheel and don't know where to find it, try calling your local fabric store.

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Thursday, May 8, 2008

A Classic Tool-lover's Novel

I'm travelling this week to attend my grandmother's funeral. At a time like this, when one is away from his home and spending too much time in airports and airplanes, it's good to have a freindly and inspiring novel that doesn't require too much brain power. I chose to reread a tool-user's classic, Trustee from the Toolroom by Neville Shute, and I'm glad I did.

The story's protagonist, Keith Stewart, engages me from the start; he has a heart of gold, and a passion for tools that have me rooting for him immediately. Maybe best of all, he has done what I haven't the courage to do: stopped the well-paying job and lived his passion. He eeks out a living designing, building, and writing about minature machines (that work!). Keith is so like people I know and like, and has such a clear sense of what is important, that I'm thrilled to be his virtual companion on an adventure that would make me proud to have done.

Neville Shute either had or acquired enough of an understanding of machinery to provide detailed descriptions of proceedure (most notably when Keith is turning five metal eggs), and must have had a sense of wonder for the world. His novel brings me in contact with several disciplines—machinist, engineer, pilot, seaman—and in all cases makes detailed and fascinating description of how these trades are exercised. And through it all, I get to follow my talented and unobtrusive friend, Keith, see what's interesting about what he sees, and celebrate the successes of this everyman, this tool user, this ultimate inspiration for what life could be if I were just brave and dedicated and talented enough.

This novel has helped take my mind off the funeral. I'm glad to be visiting an old friend at a time when I've lost one. If you haven't read Trustee from the Toolroom, give it a try. I can't garantee you'll like it, but it is a good bet.

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Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Patching a Poorly Cut Dovetail

I've been practicing by making boxes with half-blind dovetails and frame and panel bottoms. Although I was taught to cut near the line and approach slowly and carefully, I know it is faster to cut perfectly with the saw. So I've been cutting right to the line and dealing with the consequences, knowing I will spend more time now for reduced time in the future.

The first two joints came out quite nicely, but on the third joint my hope for the best didn't work so well. I wrote last week about cutting on the wrong side of the waste line. The good news is that my practice of cutting to the line meant I was only one saw's width too wide instead of more. But there was a saw's width gap.

I didn't think that could be fixed with a simple wedge (as I plan with the bottom side of the same tail), so I decided to patch it with some of the waste generated while cutting the pins.

The first step was to identify a waste piece that would fit, and make sure it fit snugly. I chose to patch the pin rather than the tail, because end grain is less likely to show noticeably. Then I made sure the side and corner of the tail were square and flat.

Even though my chosen waste piece had a flat section, there was a notch where I had started the chop. I needed a safe way to flatten this, and a chisel was definitely not that way. While puzzling over this, I remembered a miniature plane that might work. It looked to be just right for this application, so I tuned gave the blade a quick flattening and sharpening. Then I clamped it in the vice and ran the intended patch over it until it was flat.

Note: Looking at the picture, I realize this probably is not safe for the ends of my fingers. I was lucky and did not make finger shavings. Let me know if you have a safer idea for how to do this in the future.

Then I used a chisel to cut a matching angle for the bottom edge and test fit the patch to the tail.

Glue up was next. I used Tightbond II and a small c-clamp to attach it.
After letting that sit for a day, I trimmed the patch flush with the pin.

Then marked it for a new cut.

And trimmed to the line with a chisel. Actually, I trimmed past the line on one end (insert a favorite string of curses here) but the result is much better than I started with. The remaining gap can be wedged during glue up or hidden by peening the end grain.

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Sunday, May 4, 2008

Picture Problems Solved

After discovering that the pictures for this blog were distributed across several computers, some of which had been since retired, I wrote to my service provider asking their help. They were able to restore all of the pictures to the former location and copy/paste fixed the broken links.

Many thanks to the folks over at They have always been helpful and reasonably priced. But now they've pulled me out of the fire, and I'm especially happy with them.

Saturday, May 3, 2008

An Old Building Gets a New Face - Part 2

In December I noted the progress on a local historic remodel. At that time the siding was partially applied to the tower, and I said:
...much of the siding we see in this picture looks poorly applied because the visible corners aren't flush. But don't worry. When they finish the skin, the corners will be flush-cut and end caps will be installed and perfectly fitted (I hope). The slop we see in the corners will be gone, hidden by the finishing details.
On Thursday I remembered the camera and took a picture that proved the rule. All that "slop" I noted has indeed been covered by a corner end cap. I especially like the cornice details at each corner: these visually become a capital and transform the end cap into a column. The show is on.

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Thursday, May 1, 2008

Thoughts on Dovetails

Since I've been making dovetails, I've thought a lot about why they are made the way they are. The first time I tried a dovetail, I automatically laid out the joint with half tails at the top and bottom. I soon learned that this was not recommended.

Tage Frid, in the first book of his excellent series Tage Frid Teaches Wooodworking stressed that dovetails should start and end with half pins and not half tails. I believe that the reason for pinning top and bottom is to provide a mechanical restriction should either board try to cup away from the joint.

Using half pins at top and bottom theoretically fixes the pinboard and tail board from cupping. The half tail offers no such restriction. Because the angle of the tail runs with the grain rather than across it. there is nothing preventing the edges of either the pinboard or tailboard from cupping away from the joint. The first such restriction will be the first pin. So the rule of starting and ending with half pins is a good one because it improves the chances of the joint staying tight.

Today I discovered that this good-sense rule was not always practiced in the past.
If you look at the section on Antique Dovetails in this Popular Woodworking blog entry, you'll see that only one of these follows Tage Frid's admonition. Instead, most started with a half pin at the top, and ended with a half tail at the bottom. As evidenced by the half pins at the top, these craftsman obviously knew that half pins offered an advantage. But why didn't they pin the bottom? At first I guessed that they wanted the top to stay absolutely flush with the drawer because the user was most likely to notice gaps there. But if they were willing to pin the top, was it so much more work to create a half pin at the bottom?

On further thought, I suspect there was some planned advantage to this layout: there must be a reason why leaving out the bottom half pin was faster and easier. I suspect that reason is the groove holding in the bottom of the drawer. I obviously can't see the interior of any of the drawers Glenn Huey showed us, but I suspect that both the sides and front have a channel for the bottom that runs right through area of the half tail. Laying out with a half tail at the bottom allows the maker to work without fear of accidentally exposing these channels with a misplaced saw cut or chisel (something that can easily happen with a half pin). This advantage probably justifies a gamble on the stability of bottom end of drawer.

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