Sunday, March 21, 2010

Wooden Doll - First Independent Woodworking Project

So today the seed I hoped to plant with a hand-made tool tote and a few woodworking tools  began to sprout. My youngest came to me and said "We should start my first woodworking project." So I asked what she wanted to make: she had in mind building a playhouse for her dolls, which seemed a bit big for a first project. I suggested something else, like a toy horse. And she immediately hit upon making a doll.

I asked if she could draw what she had in mind. She sketched out a simple doll shape:

This seemed the perfect time to talk about wood rings and how that grain can create weakness. I drew a picture of the wood grain and how having it cross the arms could cause it to break under stress:

The lower of the two doll sketches that I drew was to show how dowels for the arms and legs could prevent this weakness. She agreed that would be a good solution and we headed into the basement.

She marked out the size of the body on a piece of poplar and then sawed the body out of the board. She did very well tracking the saw using the two hand method. One side was a little uneven and she asked me to smooth the sides (which I did with a hand plane).

I had purchased a used Workmate thinking it would be the right size for her to work on. It turned out to be true, though the condition of the top made some of the clamping operations difficult. She sawed and drilled on the Workmate, and I taught her to use the vice top.


 We agreed it would be hard to drill into the corners at the bottom for the legs to go in. She proposed cutting flat spots there. She marked them off and I had her use the saw I use for dovetails to make these smaller cuts. Then she drilled the holes.

This was slow going, and I did take a few "turns" in each hole to make it deeper. But she started the holes and at least half of the drilling. She was pretty proud of the work she was doing.

She wanted to round the body and I let her work on that with a four-in-hand rasp / file followed by sandpaper. While she was doing that I made a simple jig with a deep v cut to hold the dowels and a cut with the dovetail saw to guider her cuts. With this jig she was able to mark the lengths and cut them herself. This is how she left it at the end of the day:

I'm pretty  pleased that she did all this without tiring of it. And she is happy to have made something in the wood shop. For the head, I'm going to look at a craft shop for a small wooden knob that will serve as the head. If I'm successful, we'll glue it all together later this week. She plans to paint it white and make clothes for it.

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Friday, March 5, 2010

Building a Tool Tote for My Youngest Daughter

I have a plan to engage my children in woodworking: I think that the process of envisioning and creating an object in three dimensions gives an important understanding of the world. And it's just plain fun.

So I hatched a plan to give them woodworking tools in a tote that I built for them. Step one of this plan was completed today when I gave the box and about 12 tools to my youngest daughter (don't tell the oldest, but she's getting one of these too). The plan was inspired by one that Megan Fitzpatrick built and described in Woodworking Magazine's Autumn 2008 issue. If you're interested, you can get the article for about $2 through Popular Woodworking.

Megan attached the handle of her box with three cut nails on either side of the box, but I wasn't fully happy with that method. I redesigned the box to have a mortise securing the handle to the box, which I'm sure would have worked great. But I've never cut a mortise before, and certainly not at an angle as would be required in the end pieces. When I started the project I was pretty sure I wouldn't finish by the deadline if I stuck with the planned mortise, so I discarded that plan and settled for glue and dowels.

Two other changes from Megan's plan:

First, hers was 30.5" long (and my original tote design was actually 31"). When I started laying it out it just seemed too big for a 7 year old, so I trimmed it down to a more manageable 24.5" long. I didn't redraw the plans, but just cut the lengths of the sides and took all other measurements directly from that.

Second, hers had cleats. I know my original SketchUp plans also had cleats, but apparently I chose to eliminate them. I didn't remember I had made this choice until I reread her article after finishing the box. To provide some support against downward pressure, I glued the handle to the bottom and put two dowels through each side into the bottom. I didn't worry about the ends, since there should be plenty of support there, provided by the angles.

The SketchUp drawings in this article have a mistake I made the very first time I tried to make dovetails. The joints are drawn with half tails instead of half pins. This is not the best plan, since it won't hold the tops and bottoms of the sides to the box as well as with half pins, and the sides may pull away from the joint in those areas. Also the drawn pins are sized more like tails, and visa versa. You'll notice the finished box has the tails done correctly, with half pins at the top and bottom of the end panels and the pins smaller and the tails bigger.

So here's a brief summary of the procedure I followed:

First I found the wood on the lumber rack, digging to find some pine (since the ash and oak and I had would be much too heavy for the girl). I found enough to make all the parts without too much glue up. Then, using the radial arm saw, I cut lengths for sides and ends (only the sides were thin enough to use only one board width, so everything else would have to be glued up). Using a 6" power jointer I jointed one edge and one side. Then using a power planer I planed them all to the same width.

That first day I glued up the panels and called it quits. The ends were glued into a single panel and ripped into two end pieces so I only had to use 3 sections instead of 4. It turns out that I miscalculated on the bottom, and had to glue it up twice (the second time to increase the width with a third section of board). In spite of all my attempts to be organized, something like this usually happens: it was easy enough to fix.

The next day I ripped all the ends of the box sides to a rough width leaving enough overlap to provide a safety margin. These would get planed flush later. I was ready to start the dovetails.


Using a marking gauge set to the thickness of the boards, I marked both sides of each board. Normally I would mark all four sides of the tail boards, but with the angled sides I found it couldn't be done with the same setting. I went back and using a saddle square and marking knife I marked the top and bottom edges of the tail board.

For this operation I decided it would be easier to cut tails first, and I used the method that Rob Cosman demonstrates for laying out consistent tails using dividers (I should have watched this video again before cutting and chopping: I probably could have been much faster...).

The dividers on the left are set to mark the ends, the dividers on the right are set to walk off the location of the pins, starting from the mark made by the other dividers.

I also set two bevel gauges: one to the same angle as the box ends (It would have been wrong to have the top edge of the tails angle up, and  I was concerned that anything less than parallel with the the top and bottom of the box would be too fragile because of the box angle).

The second bevel gauge was set to what I thought was a pleasing angle to look at on the box. It turned out to be almost 90 degrees, and would have looked fine if it had been.

I marked off the ends.

Then walked off the length of the tails, starting from each end mark made with the other dividers.

Using the saddle square, I drew a line square to the edges (it is important that this line and the cut that follows it be square or your dovetails won't work well, if at all).

I then marked the tops of each tail with the bevel gauge set to match the angle of the ends.

And marked the bottom of each tail with the bevel gauge set to almost square.

I cut to the waste side of each line, making sure to follow that line on the top edge as closely as possible. Cutting parallel to the faces is more important than exactly following the angled lines on the sides.

For the first set of tails I used the chopping method I learned at North Bennet Street, when I took their Fundamentals of Fine Woodworking course, working my way down from the line until about half way through, then flipping the board and going the rest of the way.

Then cleaning out the cuts and making sure the tops of each tail were square to the sides (fixing that with a sharp chisel if they weren't). For me there was a bit of this fixing the angle: I'm improving with practice, but it will be a long time before I move directly to marking the tails without having to fix a few angles, and longer still before I stop checking.

For all the remaining tails, I used a coping saw to remove most of the waste between the two cuts and then cleared the waste. I wish I had rewatched the Rob Cosman 3 1/2 minute dovetail video before doing this. I know I could have been much faster if I had used his method of pounding from the backside and then pushing from the front. For each set of tails, I checked that the cuts I had made initially were square to the sides.

Using a jointer plane to support the other side, I lined up the tails and using an Xacto knife marked out the pins directly from the tails.

This time I used the saddle square to mark lines square to the end from the end of the marked tail section to the gauge line I created at the start.

And again I cut on the waste side, this time tracking from the cuts I made from the marking knife. This time through it is important to follow the lines (both marked and drawn) as closely as possible.

Again I coped out the waste.

And chiseled out what remained.

The sides were ready.

I cut a glue spreader out of a discarded file folder and spread glue on the sides of the tails before pounding the box together and clamping it until dry. Honestly: I should have checked for square while I could still influence that with the clamps. I was lucky that it wasn't too far off when I checked later.

I then ripped the bottom panel to the width of the box (of course, this is where I discovered I hadn't made the bottom panel wide enough and had to chop, joint, plane, and glue another board on so it was wide enough to rip to the correct width).

I set a bevel gauge from the sides and set the angle on the radial arm saw from that to cut the angled  end of the bottom. This worked fine for the first angle, and I went back to the box to mark the length directly. I love marking directly from a piece because it is so accurate, but sometimes it requires a little thinking. I didn't realize that because I had marked the top of the panel, I needed to transfer that mark around to the bottom. Sure enough, when I cut the other side I had a parallelogram, rather than the trapazoid I expected. I tried to finesse it so the bottom would be long enough, but when I had cut the angle the other way, even leaving a little of a bevel on the top lip, it just wasn't long enough any more. I ended up fixing this mistake with a shim about 1/4" wide, cut at the correct angle on both sides and then glued and nailed (with small brads) to one side of the box. That closed the gap so that the bottom fit properly. A very obvious mistake, but not fatal on a rugged piece like this.

Here I'm gluing up the panel to be used for the handle. After that, the side angles were cut first so I could fit the panel to the box. That way, even when I cut the length about 1/16" too short, I could just hand plane the bottom of the panel away until the section fit perfectly.

I then marked the height of the ends, using a combination square as a depth gauge in the box and then as a marking gauge on the panel for the handle. I then marked the curved section using two nails pounded in the waste area and a flexible metal ruler pushed up to the curve I wanted.

I ripped the straight sections with a hand saw. For some reason I stopped taking pictures at this point, but I clamped the panel to the bench using holdfasts, then cut the curve using a jigsaw. I marked the handle hole and drilled half-inch holes with a forstner bit in the drill press and finished the cut with the jigsaw (again with the panel held down with holdfasts). the curve was faired and the edges of the handle rounded using rasps and sand paper.

The panel was then glued and clamped into the box. After that dried I pegged the ends in with dowels that I made by splitting out sections of the pine with a fro and then whittling to rough and finishing by driving it through a doweling plate to be 1/4 inch in diameter.

I marked the placement of the handle using blue tape.

And drilled right through the tape. I glued the dowels in with the tap still on the box. This made cleaning up the squeeze out easy, and the blue tape came off easily. I could have left it on to protect the box while I flush cut the dowels, but I didn't think of this at the time.

I cut the dowels close to the box and trimmed them flush with a sharp chisel. Then did the same thing for the sides to provide some support to the bottom of the box.

Above is the finished tote with the tools I gave with it (no the iron was not included). This weekend we'll probably tune up the hand plane so my daughter can make shavings with it (she loves that) and then drill holes with the hand drill.

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Sunday, November 15, 2009

Mr. Bun's Rabbit House

Mr. Bun's House - concept drawing

Today I finished something that has been on the project list since before I started the cold frames—a "playhouse" for Mr. Bun, a friend's rabbit.

Mr. Bun's House - Parts and measurements

The plan, based on the rabbit playhouse that Mr. Bun has outgrown, was fairly easy to build with two exceptions: the circular window and rounded top doorway. These were the perfect opportunity to try a simple circle cutting jig I'd seen in Fine Woodworking, which screws to the center of the circle and uses a guide bushing that rides in holes drilled at the correct distance—1/2 the diameter of the circle or arc.

This worked well, but I did learn a disadvantage to using this simple setup instead of a more complicated jig that incorporates a router base: if you are not careful to keep downward pressure the router can ride up out of the jig and eat a chunk out of the jig and your work piece fairly quickly. Look closely to the right of the door on the photo below and you will see what appears to be a slight ding—this was the result of learning this the hard way. Fortunately the damage is slight and Mr. Bun should never notice.

The other challenge with the routed circles was that the router bit was too short to cut through the entire thickness of the plywood. I hadn't realized this before starting and so planned for clearance above the bench. I used double stick tape to attach two scraps of plywood to the rabbets on the back of the front piece. These scraps screwed to the workbench to hold the piece stationary and above the bench. Since the router didn't cut through from the top, in the end I drilled the guide hole for the jig screw through the plywood and flipped the piece over to cut the rest of the way through from the other side.

Rabbet Joints on the corners

Of course, when building a rabbit playhouse, one must incorporate rabbet joints wherever possible—one on each corner, and one all the way around the top. These appear to have worked well as both a gluing surface and squaring reference.

Mr. Bun's House - completed

Several years ago a graphic designer friend of mine agreed to design a hallmark for me. I've been stamping my work with it and learning how to make the best impression. I'm still experimenting, but the big innovation this time through is the use of a dead-blow mallet, which eliminated the bounce I've been experiencing. I recently started inking the stamp before pounding it, but the ink I'm using is too thin—it looks crisp to start, but starts to seep into the surrounding grain before it dries. I think I need to find a thicker ink, or stop inking the imprints.

Hallmark on the inside of Mr. Bun's roof


Sunday, September 20, 2009

Fettling: Making the Shop More Functional

I think beginning woodworkers (and I still consider myself a beginning woodworker) are challenged by all the setup required for the shop to work well. Many tools are sold looking like they are functional, but with serious flaws. And even those that don't have serious flaws need fettling to perform at their potential. These tasks often seem endless.

The router table pictured above came from an estate, complete with router, for about $25. I knew I needed a router table, and I also knew it would be a while before I make the one I have planned. This seemed like a good solution (still does), but the the stock fence, which was designed to look like would allow straight guided cuts as well as small scale jointing, had challenges.

Ryobi is the manufacturer, and the table and fence are made from aluminum. They look like they were cast and machined to be flat, but the fence itself curves significantly. When I placed a straightedge against it, there was a visible deflection of up to 1/8" at the center. Whether I used it with the plastic guide surfaces or without, the fence caused anything that ran over it to stall when it hit the gap, and the act of correcting this problem would put a wrinkle in the line of the routed groove.

I had to fix the router fence before I could route the slots on the cold frame lights. And to do that I needed to finish setting up the jointer (finally). I spent a night last week setting up the jointer, and about an hour and a half this weekend flattening a fence and setting it up to receive the bolts. Two more fettling tasks done. And the router table performed to the tolerances I required (something it would not have done before adding the new face to the fence).

It turns out that the new surface is not actually flat, and some day I may sink the bolts further in and run it over the jointer while it is attached to the fence. Today is not that day.

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Saturday, September 12, 2009

Exploded views of the Cold Frame

Exploded Frame

Exploded Light

The exploded views above give a good idea for just how simple the Cold Frame design is. The 2 x 2 strips at the bottom of the frame are sacrificial parts that can be replaced when the rot gets too bad.

The hardest part of this project is making the sloped sides and cutting the notches for the central brace. The notches really should have a sloped bottom to match that of the frame sides. I achieved this on my frame by marking 1 1/2" down on the top side and 1 5/8" down on the bottom side of each support. I cut to the lines with a hand saw (so the bottom of the kerf was sloped) and chiseled out the waste between the two. For some reason, on both frames the slot on the front of the frame was perfect, but the slot on the back of the frame had side-to-side slop. I think I still need practice cutting to a line, especially with a cross-cut saw.

This weekend I will start preparing the parts for the lights. This should be fairly simple: I need to route 1/4 inch slots in the sides, create the stops (the little blocks that hold the glass in), and cut the frame parts to length. If I have time left over, I'll also make the notched sticks that allow propping of the lights.

I chose to make the lights with tempered glass, which should deliver next Friday. It is very expensive: $88.62 per pane of tempered glass. When I priced other materials, I found that either Plexiglas or regular glass was 25% less expensive, and Polycarbonate was 25% more expensive: $101.28 per pane. Wow!

I hope this frame will still be working in 20 years: that might make the investment of time and materials worthwhile. The experience of making it? Priceless.

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Tuesday, September 8, 2009

Compost Bins Completed

At the beginning of the summer I designed two possible compost bins based on designs in the book "Let it Rot". Last weekend I finally finished the one I chose to complete (the model with boars on four sides, which won on the merits of hiding the pile from our neighbors).

This is what we had before:

This is what we have now:

There are a lot of nuts and bolts in this beast:

And especially in the middle posts:

The bins look great and are functional, but given the choice to start over I would definitely go with the other design. All the hardware on this design was very expensive, as was the 1 x 6 lumber. The other design would have been easily as functional and because the floor and three sides are made with 2 x materials and cheaper connectors it would have been much less expensive and easier to construct.

But this design taught me quite a bit: I a built a jig for drilling the holes in the posts an equal distance apart, that worked perfectly except that I measured incorrectly and had the holes about 1/8" further apart than on the slats. It wasn't so much of a problem with the outer sides, where the bolts go through one post and one slat, but it was impossible to get through two posts and one slat. I ended up bolting through one hole and drilling out the second hole for each slat once the sides were mostly assembled. Also, did I mention that there are a LOT of nuts, bolts, and washers? And on the center side I was so distracted by the puzzle of getting the bolts in, that I installed the two back posts upside down. So I was able to take out and reinstall those 12 bolts twice. Fun.

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Monday, August 31, 2009

Building a Cold Frame for the Winter

Last winter I read a great book on winter gardens called Four Season Harvest. According to this book, one of the keys to having garden vegetables year round (or at least during an extended season) is the use of a cold frame.

The book describes how to build one of these mini greenhouses in detail, but the width was too great for our garden beds. So after measuring to be sure (3' 3" maximum) I sat down to draw out new plans in Sketchup on Sunday morning. Then I cataloged what I had on the wood rack and what I needed to buy. The whole list looked like this:

  • 2 sides 3' 3" x 11.25" x 1.5" to be tapered to 7.25" at one end
  • 1 back 7' 9" x 11.25" x 1.5"
  • 1 front 7' 9" x 7.25" x 1.5"
  • 2 long sacrificial bottoms 7' 9" x 1.5" x 1.5"
  • 2 short sacrificial bottoms 3'3" x 1.5" x 1.5"
  • 1 cross brace 3' 4" x 1.5" x 1.5"
Light (x4):
  • 2 light sides 3' 3" x 1.5" x 1.5"
  • 2 light ends 21" x 1.5" x 1.0"
  • 2 stops (to hold the glass in) 3" x .75" x .5"
  • 1 piece of tempered glass 1' 10.5" x 3' 1.5"
Notched prop sticks: (to hold the lights up and vent the frame during warmer days)
  • 4 prop sticks 2.0" x 1.5" x 16" (two inch notches with one inch of material in between)
  • 50 Kreg self-tapping 2.5" pocket screws (everything is screwed together)
  • 16 Kreg self-tapping 1" Pocket screws (or some other 1" screw for holding the stops on)
A trip to Home Depot and Lowe's later I had all the supplies, including the 1/4 router bit I needed for milling the grooves the glass will sit in. Sunday afternoon was dedicated to milling most of the parts for what will become two cold frames. Many of the parts were cut down from larger lumber. The 2 x 2 stock, for example all started as 2 x 4 or larger.

To cut the tapered ends, I marked the end points of each side (minus about 4" for clearance and support), screwed a piece of pine from one mark to the other, registered it against the front edge of my Radial Arm Saw table, and set the saw blade even with the longer end. I was ready to make the cut, but first I set two combination squares to the depths of those marks. On each of the other three ends I just marked the length from the combination squares and screwed down the same piece of pine as a straightedge. It worked perfectly.

The only hand work was cutting angled notches in the front and back. Here I learned that crosscut really can make a difference, and since the first notch was started with a rip saw and finished with a crosscut saw the fit of the cross brace was a little sloppy. The second one was nice and tight, just like I would have wanted. In the picture below, the blemish is a knot hole.

I nailed the sacrificial sections to the bottoms of all the sides (these can be removed and replaced when rot starts to become a problem), and took one set of parts out into the yard to screw it together with Anne's help. It came out well. With luck, I'll get the lights done next weekend.

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