Sunday, September 28, 2008

Replacing the Front Porch Handrail

Woodworking home improvements continue at my house. Like the riser on the back porch, parts of the front porch are showing their age. The most important fix was a hand rail that was rotted enough that I could poke my finger into it almost 1/4 inch. The only thing holding it together seemed to be paint:

For a project like this, I like to be prepared before doing any demolition. I dug up an old hand rail section left over from the original porch construction and set out to make the replacement ready before touching the old rail. This let me take direct measurements using a sliding bevel, sometimes called a t-bevel:

I transferred this angle to the replacement handrail:

I measured from post to post along the bottom of the existing rail and marked the distance on the new rail, then checked the angle at the top post (the posts might not be on the same plane) and transferred that angle to the handrail at the marked distance.

After cutting the rail to length using my Thor saber saw to cut the angles, I needed to notch the underside of the rail to seat the rungs in the same method our carpenter used originally. As you can see, almost all of those hand screws I purchased a few weeks ago were used to create a router fence and clamping system that allowed this. I really do need to build a router table soon to avoid such contortions:

After testing the fit of the notch on some left over rungs, I test fit it alongside the existing handrail. Some small adjustments with a low angle block plane brought it within the range of satisfaction.

I pre-primed the handrail in the same way I did on the back porch riser. Once the primer was dry, and I had purchased galvanized finishing nails (the stainless nails I used on the riser were inappropriate for this application, and I only found that Lee Valley carries stainless finishing nails after I completed this project), I was ready to start tearing out the old rail. Originally, I thought I would be able to pound the old handrail off, slide the new riser on, and nail it in place. What was I smoking? All the old rungs came off with the handrail, and I was just lucky the bottom rail stayed in place. As a result of my delusions and accompanying poor planning, the front porch was missing a handrail for about 18 hours:

It turned out to be good that the rungs cam out, I was able to scrape off some of the old paint so they fit better into the slot. Once I started, the rail came together fairly quickly:

One error I noticed during all this: I didn't realize that hadn't taken direct measurements on all the required axes: when I installed the handrail, I found that the rails were not parralel and I should have created a trapazoidal profile across the width of the rail. Fortunately, the gaps that resulted from this mistake are unseen unless you climb into the bushes. Lesson learned, but I'm sure to learn this one again.

One of the rungs was rotted like the handrail, so I had to replace it with new material. If I had inspected more closely, I would have aimed to have this cut and primed before the day of the install:

I primed it all on the same day:

Now if it would just stop raining, I could apply a final coat of paint. Maybe next weekend...

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Friday, September 26, 2008

No More Kerosene Tank; More Shop Space

They say a picture is worth a thousand words. So here's two thousand words about what happened at my shop today:

Perhaps I will build a lumber rack here and free up a bunch of floor and wall space currently housing lumber.

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Thursday, September 25, 2008

Becoming Confident in Woodworking

Beginners really don't know what they don't know, and every new thing excites them. That enthusiasm carries them through a rocky road of poor and mediocre results (or in the case of the careful few, excellent if lengthy success). I remember the first shot of that enthusiasm, when moving into a new apartment and knowing I needed bookshelves.

On a plan provided by my prior roommate (who had built a set of shelves for my previous room) I bought a router, a 3/4" router bit, a set of countersinks, a pile of 1x10 pine, adjustable-height feet, a can of stain, and a box of wood screws. I already had a jigsaw, a couple of clamps, and a circular saw that my roommate and I bought at a yardsale. And some how, miraculously, I cut dadoes and rabbets, drilled holes, cut away the base to accommodate floor moldings, and ended up with two new sets of bookshelves that matched the ones I already had.

I didn't know I didn't know what I was doing: I just did it. And my wife and I are still using those bookshelves today:

They are simple, functional, and plenty strong. Many years passed before I was able to dive into a project like that again without worrying, and ultimately poisoning my experience with feelings of inadequacy.

Over the last few weeks, as I've worked to fix some problems with our house—like the rotted riser I wrote about earlier this month—that confidence has come back full force, and I've realized how much of success is just confidence and a willingness to act. It's important to know that you will achieve the results you want. It's good to forget what you don't know and be sure in your woodworking. And you don't have to have a lot of experience for that to be true.


Thursday, September 18, 2008

Inspired by Roman Woodworking

I've been reading a book called Roman Woodworking by Roger B. Ulrich, and I find it fascinating that so many of the forms we're used to are really thousands of years old. Handsaws, rules, plans, axes, adzes, chisels, hammers: all were similar in Roman times to what we use now.

I've spent a bit of time looking at and puzzling over the section on joinery. The Roman joints also mirror our modern joints, including butt joins, mortise and tenon, dovetail, and half lap. The author shows illustrations of them in use, and most of these are on the scale of buildings rather than furniture.

Since I've been working on outdoor wooden structures at my house, one joint caught my eye: a way of using wooden posts to cap the end grain of a fence or retaining wall. It looks like this:

The rebates in each post form a convenient cap for the end grain of the slats. While this is great for fences and composting boxes, I immediately thought of how it would be used in a porch:

Looks pretty good, and solves at least one problem of exterior wood exposure. Here's another view:

Notice that the rebates are cut unevenly. I believe this was in order to avoid having the end section snap off, as it might do if the rebates were closer together and in a position to intersect with one of the same growth rings.

Because they are unevenly cut, I found it is important to have the same sized rebate on each side of the structure. Notice how the posts above are mirror images to allow the same width of post to show. It would look rather odd otherwise.

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Thursday, September 11, 2008

Old Riser Removed, New Riser Installed

Yesterday I removed the rotting eyesore of a top riser and replaced it with the newly cut and primed riser replacement. The hardest part of removing the old riser was removing all the 3" air-driven wire brads that Bryan, our carpenter, put into it from all sides.

There were four nails into the end, eight into each side, four or five in the middle and three into the top edge through the stair lip. Much of the riser crumbled away from the nails, leaving them intact and unmoved.

Hear you can see the porch construction after the riser was removed and the nails pulled. When the old riser was removed, I discovered a good sized fungus growing on the back. Good thing I got to this when I did!

One trick I learned was for pounding out the long, flexible air-driven nails. They tended to bend rather than driving, but after nipping them to about half the original length, I could easily drive out the head to be pulled.

The riser was cut, then primed, then installed. This allowed me to prime all sides, including the cut edges, to protect it from the weather, and hopefully slow the rotting that lead me to this repair.

Notice that both ends were a good fit. I learned the hard way (by not doing it) that I should have shimmed in the riser like I did during the test fit. The gap at the bottom (which you'll notice was also in the original, because that stair step is slightly too tall) is not even all the way across. The good news is that no one but me will notice.

Notice the right side sits perfectly flush with the other board. When I fit the riser in, it fit perfectly flush on both sides. That demonstrated the value of marking directly from the porch. You may remember from my first blog post about replacing the riser, that after shimming it in for a test fit I marked the end from the porch, measured the width of the end board with my compass, and re-marked the line that much shorter.

If I had measured instead of taking a direct measurement, I would have marked the distance, marked and cut it square to the edge, and found angle was not actually 90 degrees. As it was, when I picked up the square to mark the line all the way across I almost marked it square anyway. Thankfully I trusted the line I took from the porch, turned the straight edge to follow the line, and cut at the angle I had scribed. One disaster averted.

You'll notice that I pounded the nails by hand, and I only used three stainless steel nails per support. This should hold just fine, and since they are ribbed and stainless, they shouldn't pull loose or rust through like some of the old ones (which were only galvanized). I hope to paint the riser this weekend and move on to replacing the front porch hand rail and an old wooden storm window.

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Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Interview with Tim McCready

One of the pleasures of having a public blog site comes from relationships developed over the Web. Somehow, people find the blog, and sometimes they comment. Sometimes comments become conversations, and sometimes (read "this time") those conversations lead to something more.

Tim McCready—long-time cabinet maker, author of The Wood Mechanic blog, and president of Bankston & Bailey LLC, a fine woodworking shop in Virginia—commented on one of my entries, and during the resulting off-blog conversation I mentioned wanting to start a series of interviews and shop tours with dedicated woodworkers. Tim agreed to be the first interview. I think when you read the interview you'll be happy he did.


How did you start woodworking?
I started woodworking completely by chance. Through a mutual friend, I came to Harrison (Higgins)'s attention right when his shop needed an extra pair of hands. For the first several months I didn't do much but catch boards coming out of machines. He had a contract job making furniture for one of the hotels at Colonial Williamsburg, and he needed one more grunt laborer.

One aspect of the job was a production run of roughly 100 maple pencil post beds. Rough 8/4 lumber would be sawn and dressed into 8-foot blanks 1 ¾” square in cross section. The blanks would be marked then mortised for headboards and rails as required. The tapers were cut on the bandsaw, and holes were bored for bed bolts.

Once all of this relatively interesting work was done, and a giant pile of pencil posts had materialized on a pair of saw horses in the middle of the shop floor, an apprentice had to remove the machine marks with a hand plane and sand each facet of the post for an eternity.

Guess who got that job! It was extreme drudgery, but I did learn how to use a plane effectively. Eventually I also learned how to carve the lamb's tongue that marked the transition from the tapers to the lower, flat section of the posts.
What is the first project you completed that inspired pride?
The first piece I can remember feeling proud of was a desk I made for myself after hours at Harrison's shop. It's still my main desk, but now all I see are its flaws and its telltale signs of having been made by a not-yet-very-skilled amateur. Luckily, though, I feel a certain sense of satisfaction—if not pride—whenever I make something well.

I know I've made something well when there's a seamlessness that proceeds from the initial daydreaming through the design and fabrication and finally the finish. It's a good feeling. I wish I could say I felt it with every project, but I don't. My mood and mindset seem to have at least as much to do with my work's quality as any objective skill level I may possess.

You mention working with Harrison Higgins, a talented furniture maker who specializes in reproduction work. Can you tell us more about how you came to work for him, and what you remember most about your time in his shop?
A guy named Lewis who worked at Harrison's shop in the early 90's had seen my band play, and he and I had several mutual friends in the Richmond music scene. I ran into him outside the shop once on my way to the post office, and he invited me in to see the place.

Harrison and his partner Alan (the finisher) didn't want anything to do with me. They saw a skinny shaven-headed punk kid, and they didn't figure I'd be a very reliable worker if I was going to be out at all hours doing the band thing. They only hired me because they just really needed that extra pair of hands.

In retrospect I see all of this as having been one of the most fortuitous events of my life. Alan and Harrison are still two of my best friends and have been like additional fathers to me--although maybe big brothers would be more like it.

What I remember most about my time at Harrison's shop is the relationships with the other people. There were between 6 and 9 of us while I worked there ('92-'98), and while not all of the personalities meshed, we did manage to get along reasonably well and to produce some of the finest woodworking I've seen.

Sometimes there was a quasi-monastic aspect to the place, when everyone was at his bench doing handwork and there was no music or machine work. On the other hand, we could act like a bunch of total nitwits at times as well, and I have a slew of funny and extremely fond memories of my time there.

Harrison moved his shop a couple of years ago, and I started mine right around the corner. So I still see everyone there a few times a week. I wish everyone could have some kind of work experience like that, where they're making something tangible with trustworthy, kind people.
When you worked with Harrison, it sounds like you learned a ton. What was it like working with him?
It was a big mix of things. He remains one of my very closest friends, and as my shop is just a few blocks from his, I see him often. As much as anything, he was a kind of second father/big brother to me. Most of what I gained in my time with him was personal, although I don’t mean to down-play the importance of learning my trade.

He’s a weird teacher. He is so much more visual than verbal, so for example, when asked how he carves ball-and-claw feet, he once answered, “Well, I just take away everything that doesn’t look like a ball or a claw.” All of us who know him well enjoy razzing him about this tendency of his.
In one of your blog posts you mentioned having a Festool TS 75. Do you find it was worth the price? What can you tell those of us that cringe at the price of Festool products, but wonder if they might just be worth it?
The Festool TS 75 would be worth twice its price for what I do. I use it constantly for rough sizing sheet goods before I cut them to their final size on the tablesaw. It's so much easier and safer that way. If I didn't work alone, I'm not sure I'd need it since there would be someone around to help me move full sheets around. As it is, it's an incredibly useful tool. I've used it to crosscut 12/4 maple (in two cuts), to crosscut table leaves, and all sorts of other things.

One of the things I find amazing about the TS 75 is that it cuts bevels so accurately. Somehow they engineered it so that when it tilts over, it still cuts exactly along the guide rail's line. Because of that it can be used to cut long mitered parts quite accurately.

I also have the Festool Domino which I find indispensable in my case work. Once I've bored the holes for the domino I find that my cases go together pretty much like legos. The Domino, however, isn't as precisely engineered as it could be. There's something slightly wonky about guidelines indicating center on the cutter; I haven't quite put my finger on it yet. In any event, I use it all the time and it's a big time saver. I had hoped that it would eliminate the need for a mortiser, and so far it has. I think, though, that it would be very hard to do the large mortises necessary for, say a bed without a mortiser.
In general, my philosophy is "Cry once when you buy a tool instead of crying the thousands of times you actually have to use it." This is not an original idea of mine--I read something similar in an online forum somewhere, and I found that it rang true.
You bought an amazing 72" straight edge at an auction, and I know you have an old 12" jointer. What other old "treasures" do you have? Are there any that you can't live without?
There's really only one other treasure, a pattern maker's combination square. We used to consider it the square of reference at Harrison's shop, and for a long time while I was doing work besides cabinetmaking, my friend Reid was in possession of it. He was displeased when I reclaimed it. I suppose it's comparable to a new, top-of-the-line Starrett.

I use my Lie-Nielsen low-angle block plane a lot. It's the only very nice plane I have, and it was well worth the initial investment. I'm considering buying their #4 to replace the #4 Record I've always been lukewarm about.

I wish I had more nice stuff, but that's always a work in progress.
You have worked in a professional woodshop, and in your own "shop" at home. At one time, the home shop was just your back porch with a handful of portable tools. What techniques, if any, carried over from the professional shop to the back porch? And what would you say are the ESSENTIAL tools for the back porch craftsman?
Only the basic ways of thinking about case building transferred to that piece I built on the deck, specifically the marking system I use to keep parts straight. Everything else was improvised. Honestly, that wasn't very enjoyable, and I wasn't very pleased with the results. Plus it was really cold!

If one had no choice but to have a knockdown shop in the back yard, my best advice would be to build a flat reference surface. A solid torsion box does the trick. Fine Woodworking online has articles about how to do it. Without a flat surface, building square cases is nearly impossible.
Did you ever build the incredible gazebo you mocked up, with the fir mantle and built in fireplace? I want one ;)
Heck no!!! Sometimes my wife and I dream big...what can I say? I do want to mock that up in SketchUp now that I'm proficient. We were thinking that if we ever built that it would become our main living room. The best part would be that the cats wouldn't be invited!

In 2006 you described a table you built like this: "The drawer is pulled from the underside, so it appears to just be an apron. I love hidden things like that." What other hidden features have you built? Have you ever hidden something in the architectural moldings you build at work?
I once made a blanket chest for my niece, which has a hidden compartment that houses a key. I kept the lock. I always thought it would be fun to send her on a scavenger hunt later in her life where she’d have to decipher clues. The key’s location would be one of the final clues, and the lock would secure some kind of treasure. Anyhow, that was my intention when I made the chest.

A good friend of mine has a beautiful William and Mary highboy with a hidden map drawer. The crown molding along the front of the piece is actually the drawer face. I love that!
I loved the parquetry you did (or was it inlay?) on the toy chest: you know, the one with the faux finish that looked like jade. I guess that's not a question, but there you have it.
That’s actually a faux finish simulating malachite. A good friend of mine is an expert faux finisher and gilder, and she walked me through that process. It was not difficult although it was fairly involved. One drags a piece of leather through the dark paint to create those swirls. People either love or hate that chest. I admit that it is a bit much.
What is your favorite of all the pieces you've built?

That’d probably be the serpentine top Federal Pembroke table.

In 2006 you built 6 cupolas and said "framing the first cupola base took four hours. The subsequent five only took an hour and a half apiece." Is this typical?
I think that the time savings after the first instance of any multiple is just what comes naturally. Making the first element involves a lot of thinking, checking, double-checking, and correcting. Usually the subsequent parts become second nature to crank out. The cupolas were an extreme example. I’d never made anything like those before, so the first one took a lot longer while I figured out what in the heck I was doing.
You finally opened your own shop last year and stopped working for someone else. Can you tell us a bit about what led you to that decision, and how did you get the courage to finally do it?
I had become very bored at the large architectural millwork shop at which I was working in ’06 and ’07. That business was closely tied to the mortgage market, and the big developers who ordered custom goods from the shop were some of the first to take the sub-prime nosedive.

A lot of those big developers work on very flimsy financing, as it turns out. The net effect for me at that shop was that there was literally no work to do. For a variety of reasons too boring to detail here, the company not only remained in business, but it also didn’t lay anyone off or even reduce hours. Many people I worked with considered it a great arrangement, but I can’t imagine anything worse than clocking in at 7:30, standing around all day, then clocking out at 5:00.

At first I started taking work on the side, and when that went well, I finally jumped ship. I suppose—per your question—that a certain amount of courage was involved, but mostly I am motivated by the avoidance of boredom.
After a year in business for yourself, what can you tell us about owning your own shop? What surprised you most about being the proprietor?
The biggest surprise of owning my own business is the intensity of the psychology of pricing. I’ve been surprised when very wealthy clients have balked at what I consider very fair prices. I’ve bitten my nails thinking I’d bid too high on something, not heard from the client for a month, and then gotten the work after all. It drives me crazy, and I think it probably drives my wife crazy hearing about it all the time. I’ve gotten jobs and later learned that my bid was twice that of the next guy, and I’ve lost bids to lower bidders. It doesn’t seem to make any sense.

Hands down, the hardest part of this is the worry over whether or not new work will be coming along.

There have been many other lessons along the way, most of which boil down to the importance of sitting down and rationally considering problems before taking action. Doing so has been especially helpful in deciding which equipment purchases to make. I’d love to call Lee Valley and tell them to send me one of everything, but obviously if I did that the only business I’d be able to operate is a giant yard sale!
Were there things you should have thought about and didn't?
Not really. But only because I’ve been thinking about doing this for so long! It’s not that there haven’t been challenges, it’s just that I had already had the opportunity to think through the big issues.
You're building your dream shop (I think). What have you done right? What have you done (if anything) that you would have avoided?
I rent a 1,200 sq. ft. space which is about right for a one-man shop, so that was a good decision. I shopped around until I found a good combination of low rent and good location. I only buy tools and machines as I need them for projects, and I do my best to build equipment costs into bids. I have bought a mix of top-of-the-line new equipment (Laguna, Festool) and solid old equipment (a jointer from 1910, a late 80’s Delta table saw). I haven’t sprung for central dust collection yet which has its upside (saved money) and downside (lots of dust)!

So far, so good. There’s nothing I’ve done that feels like a big mistake just yet. Give me some time, and we’ll see what I can goof up!
You just landed a contract for the Virginia state capitol. Can you tell us about what you're doing for them, and how you plan to approach it?
Over the past five years or so, our state capitol has undergone an amazing renovation and expansion. In the new area, which is underground, there are two gallery spaces, each roughly 1,600 square feet. There was a bit of a rush to finish the construction for the big Jamestown 400 year celebration and the visit of Queen Elizabeth.

During that rush, there was little time for curatorial decision making in the gallery spaces. Basically, the decision makers in charge are getting to that now, and I’ve designed—and will soon start fabricating—the museum case pieces which will begin to unify the aesthetic of the galleries. They’re simple, veneered cases with acrylic vitrines and will house art objects and architectural models. There is also one massive piece (roughly 8’ wide and 12’ tall) that will display four flags on flagpoles.

Once I’ve made final drawings in SketchUp, I’ll cut pieces to rough size, edgeband the top edges, veneer the backs with poplar, veneer the fronts with anigre, miter the outside edges, and assemble the cases with band clamps and glue.

Truncated pyramids will sit inside the cases, and vitrines will fit precisely between the inside case edges and the outside edges of the pyramids. Some cases (like the one displaying a large marble bust) will require additional structure inside to accommodate the objects. That’s the basic idea.
In one blog post, you suggested that degree programs for furniture making are impractical at best, and possibly damaging to the graduates (I'm reading a lot into your comment, I know). Assuming I read your meaning correctly, what would you say to graduates of these programs that might help them once they get into the working world?
I'm not sure I've been completely fair about this, but here is the fundamental problem I’ve noticed: Many of these programs teach people how to do top-notch work, but at a snail’s pace. I remember a job applicant who had just finished at North Bennett coming to Harrison’s shop. He showed us a photograph of a gorgeous Federal demilune table with all manner of amazing veneers and stringing. So far, so good. But when Harrison asked him how long it took him to make it, he replied, “Six months.” At $50/hour, six months of shop time is in the $50,000 range, which nobody gets for an occasional table.

In my view, places like North Bennett would be optimal for independently wealthy people or retirees who want to become highly-skilled amateur woodworkers. I’m not sure it’s the place to go if the goal is starting one’s own woodworking business. Once again, I’m not sure this is entirely fair, and I would hope that the people at North Bennett would be prepared to answer this line of questioning candidly.

Sometimes people who go through fine woodworking programs wind up with a smug attitude about the superiority of their craftsmanship. I’ve seen this several times. Here in Richmond we have a highly ranked art school at VCU. I took a woodworking class in the Crafts Department, and the TAs there were just insufferable! I quickly found that I knew more about actually making furniture after my few months working for Harrison than they seemed to have accumulated up to that point in their lives. I sincerely doubt that any of those guys have successfully run their own shops. Successfully running a shop involves much more than meticulous craftsmanship.

I did work with two graduates of a highly regarded woodworking program at Rockingham Community College in North Carolina. Those guys came out of that program knowing how to work in real-world situations, and their level of craftsmanship was very high.

All of that having been said, if I had to advise graduates of woodworking programs as to how to proceed, I’d say "find a successful high-end furniture maker wherever you live or want to live, and if you have a halfway decent feeling about him or her personally, beg for an apprenticeship." If the answer is “no”, offer to work for minimum wage. If the answer is still “no”, offer to cover the workmen’s comp costs he encounters upon hiring you.

Here’s the thing, though: This is what I would advise someone to do BEFORE going to a fancy and expensive woodworking program!

I hope this will be the first in a long series of interviews and shop tours. If you, or someone you know, would be willing to grant an interview or photographic shop tour, please let me know through the comments feature of this entry.

All photographs in this interview copyright and courtesy of Tim McCready and Bankston & Bailey LLC.


Sunday, September 7, 2008

My Ancient Thor Sabre Saw

I have two Sabre Saws: a contemporary Craftsman and an ancient Thor. Until this week I had never used the Thor, but having used it once, I find I like it better.

The motor is bigger and smoother running.

The base is wider and actually set at 90 degrees.

There is a side handle that allows the use of two hands.

The cut angle can be adjusted up to 40 degrees from 90.

And it is just plain cool in a very retro way.

Related but somewhat off topic: I searched for commentary on Thor tools this morning. There doesn't seem to be much out there, but I did discover that the tool manufacturer played a role in changing the way publishing works. The Supreme court ruled against Thor Power Tool in a case brought by the IRS, and inventory accounting was changed forever.

If you're interested in knowing more, there's
a good article about how and why at the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America Web site.

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Friday, September 5, 2008

Replacing a Rotting Stair Riser

The top riser of the back porch is rotting and needs replacing. Tonight I started that process by fitting the replacement riser.

Supplies needed:
6' length of 2x8 Pine
Drafting compass
Saber Saw or Coping Saw
I discovered the hard way that even though Home Depot and Lowe's carry risers that are 48" long, your riser might require something longer. So, after two trips for lumber I was ready to start fitting using the 6-foot length of 2x6 pine I'd procured. I suspect that someday I will wish I had purchased poplar, but pine it will be.

The riser height was not exactly equal to the space (room for movement), so I had to shim it up into place to get a marking. Veritas has a fancy gadget, called a transfer scribe, for marking odd shaped ends, but I just used my standard compass. I set the compass to a width greater than the deepest section of the step against the house and simply dragged the tightener against the house while the pencil scribed the board.

I then cut the shape using a saber saw. I returned to the back porch and inserted the riser to see how well I had done.

The fit was good enough, so I went to the other end of the board and marked it directly from the porch. That measurement was not the correct length, because the end is capped by another board. So, with the direct scribed line, I knew I had to subtract the width of that other board. I Using the compass again, I set the compass arms to exactly the with of the end board, then used this setting to shift the mark to where my cut needed to go on my riser. I took it back to the basement and cut it square at the mark.

After tonight's work, the riser is ready to prime for painting, which I can do in the basement this weekend (even if it does rain outside, with the arrival of Tropical Storm Hannah). If all goes well I will be as happy with the fit of the new riser as I was with the old one (installed by a professional carpenter). So far, so good. Here's the before and after shots:

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Thursday, September 4, 2008

Thoughts on Mitered Corners

I've been thinking about ways to join wood at 90 degree angles. This is in part because I'm starting to think about making storm windows for the basement, and in part because there are picture frames in my near future. So I spent part of this week contemplating joints that have a miter on the show face.

Of course, the simplest way to do this is with a straight miter:

The matched angles of a miter provide some resistance to separation, but the primary benefit lies in the concealment of all the end grain. This is aesthetically pleasing, and can be advantageous in joints that need to endure weather, but nothing can change the fact that end grain to end grain provides a weak glue joint. So even with modern glues I always nail through with wire brads when making a frame.

Another way to strengthen the joint is to add some long grain to long grain contact. We can do this with a mitered half lap:

This has the added advantage of having more edge contact between the boards. You can also put a blind peg in from the back to keep these mated pieces snug. This does reveal some end grain on one side, but provides a much stronger joint. Although this joint looks simple enough, it can be hard to wrap your mind around the geometry: notice that one piece requires two cuts, but the other requires three. When I was drawing this, I kept trying to "cut" the wrong part of the the mating board, so before making any cuts I double check my layout.

You can take the long grain to long grain theme to another level with a mitered bridle joint. This joint starts to get complex.

Even with the increased complexity in the joint, this one is somewhat easier to understand in layout: each piece has one angled joint and one square joint, where the half lap has a more asymmetric structure, with one angled joint on on piece and both an angle and a square on the other.

While I was thinking on variants, I came up with the idea of adding a mechanical joint to the glue joint. I've never seen this done, but it must have been, and it seems that adding a single dovetail on each joint could be elegant and effective:

Properly done, this would be a great way to brag.

Another way to use a mechanical joint is to key the joint: I didn't have time to draw this one, but I hope to add it in the next few days...

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