Wednesday, October 14, 2009

French Polish Tutorial at Sauer & Steiner

On Saturday, Konrad Sauer posted a short illustrated tutorial on applying French Polish on his blog. It makes the idea of applying this finish, which I've always heard is tedious, almost approachable.

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

More Handsaw Practice

I haven't had much time in the shop. I have been ducking in for 5 minutes at a time to practice cutting to a line, though, using the method described in and earlier post.

I'm getting pretty good.

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Monday, December 22, 2008

Learning to Cut to a Line

My friend Brian says that great woodworking requires cutting to a line accurately. I don't think it matters whether the accuracy is by hand or by machine, but I know that he was talking about hand work.

He suggested an exercise for learning accuracy with a handsaw, one I found similar to playing scales and arpeggios on the piano: deceptively simple, repetitive, but challenging to perfect. I've started doing this exercise whenever I have a few spare moments in the shop:
  1. Mark a shoulder line 1" from one end of a wood scrap
    This length amplifies error enough that you can see even a small divergence from the line).
  2. Using a square, mark lines from the shoulder line to the end of the board
    Make as many as you can fit across the scrap—Brian suggests putting them 1/8" apart, but I've been marking them further apart than that).
  3. Wrap the lines onto the end
    This exercise leaves me wishing for a saddle square: I've found that error creeps into the intersection with almost every set of lines—it isn't obvious until I cut to the line, but then I can see that the two lines tend to be as much as 1/32" off.
  4. Cut to the shoulder following the lines
    Check the resulting kerfs for square both across the top of the board and running down to the shoulder line. Initially I was cutting on the line and realized that this prevented me from judging how accurately I was cutting to the line. Then I tried cutting next to the line, which gave me enough visual feedback, but would require chisel work to complete a joint. So finally I conclude that I should strive to cut the line in half. This leaves enough pencil to judge accuracy, and when I'm accurate removes all of the waste.
  5. Cut off the kerfed part of your and start again with #1
    Rinse and repeat. Brian's teacher was required to do this 200 times before being allowed to cut dovetails. I've only done it twice, and it seems like it might just take 200 times before I am accurate with this.
This exercise develops at least three skills required for cutting good dovetails:
  1. Cutting square to the board end
    Tails need square cuts. And if you cut tails first, this allows you to cut matching tails at once.
  2. Cutting to the shoulder line on both sides
    Cuts past the shoulder will show.
  3. Following a line
    By following the layout lines exactly, you end up with tight joints that didn't require a lot of adjustment with a chisel.
I hope to find that this exercise has improved my dovetails next time I use them. First I'm learning the hard way how to flatten a board with a hand plane: lesson 764 in woodworking - S4S does not mean flat.

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Friday, December 12, 2008

Flattening Oilstones

I sharpened plane irons tonight as I cleaned up from the last few projects, and realized that I needed to flatten my Norton oilstone. A little research reveals that many people flatten both oil and water stones on concrete blocks. Others lap the stone flat with silicon carbide powder on plate glass. I have a cinderblock outside, so I'll likely start with that and see how it goes.

While looking for information on flattening oilstones, I also found a great article at Fine Woodworking that covers waterstones, oilstones, and sandpaper as methods for honing.

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Monday, December 8, 2008

Sandpaper and Smoothing Planes

Who can love sanding? A painstaking repetitive task that kicks up dust and seems to last forever. Since I began using hand planes, I have cherished the hope that someday, somehow, sanding would be a thing of the past and hand planes or scrapers would provide the finished surface for all or nearly all of my work.

This week, David Charlesworth dashed my hopes. In the book "David Charlesworth's Furniture-makeing Techniques: A Guide to Hand Tools and Methods" he states:
"I think the concept of applying finish to a hand-planed surface is somewhat academic and not particularly useful. All applied films require sanding, and unless you can find a clever way of doing this with flexible abrasives, sanding for flatness is going to be necessary."
I found a shred of hope in the words "all applied films." Did that mean oil (like Boiled Linseed Oil) could be applied without sanding? Very preliminary research suggests that answer is "yes".

Until recently I would have said "Great! I'm already applying an oil finish" because I primarily use a product called "Tung Oil". Unfortunately, I recently learned that what Minwax and Formby's call "Tung Oil" is actually wiping varnish: a form of thinned varnish that can be applied with a rag. That means (you guessed it) I'm using a film finish.

So on my latest project (project name withheld in the name of the gifting season) I started testing whether sanding left a discernibly better surface, and sadly on this first test I think it did.

Will I be giving up my hand planes and scrapers? No. Even if I didn't use them for shaping and sizing wood, they would be safe. In the same article, Charlesworth issued another encouraging statement that suggested that planes and scrapers can at least reduce the amount of sanding required:
"It is fatal to assume that flaws in your surfaces will be disguised by a finish. The reverse is actually true. (...) This partially explains my obsession with getting the best possible surface from our hand planes and scraper planes. Tear out can be surprisingly deep and difficult to remove by hand sanding."
So my dreams are dashed, but I'm still looking to increase the number of planes in the shop and make them work as well as I possibly can.
Photo courtesy of Bob Key and Wikimedia Commons

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Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Featherboards for Ripping Window Stock

The Radial Arm Saw (RAS) adjustments are completed—I expect to write about that soon—and it is almost time to start building the storm window to replace the old rotted one I willfully destroyed. This is a project on which I will definitely use machinery, and the RAS will play a key roll.

Research revealed that my prior belief that poplar would be better than pine for outdoor applications was wrong. In fact, consensus amongst online woodworkers and the Wood Handbook from the U.S. Forest Service agreed that pine was usually better, but not by much. So ignore my earlier intimation in the Replacing a Rotting Stair Riser post that poplar is any good for rot resistance: it isn't.

Among the contenders for stable outdoor woods: cherry, walnut, cedar, white oak, and mahogany. What a bummer: the beautiful woods are apparently also the ones to use in painted applications outdoors. There is a small silver lining in this: about two years ago I said "yes" when a friend offered me part of a bargain pile of mahogany offcuts, all 4/4 in random widths and 5 foot lengths. This stock is perfect for building the storm, and I selected window stock from this pile:
The thinnest piece will become a simple triangular molding designed to stop water from flowing easily into the window joints. I plan to post the storm window plans in a future entry. Especially because the molding stock was so thin, I wanted to have it seated firmly against the fence of the RAS (yes, I am going to rip stock on a Radial Arm Saw; and no, I am not any more afraid of this than I would be with a table saw). I wanted feather boards.

To start, I ripped a scrap of pine into thinner sections to make two feather boards:

Then I turned the arm to 45 degrees and cut a fresh kerf in the fence:

Using the newly cut kerf, I could line up precisely with the marked 45 degree cut and know that the cut would be exactly on the line. This kind of precision isn't necessary for the feather boards, but it was good practice for when it would be:

With the angles cut onto the board, I turned the saw back to the rip position and started cutting fingers on the board. I ripped to the marked line, turned off the saw between cuts, and repositioned the rip. Unlike a table saw, where the blade is stationary and the fence moves, on the radial arm saw the fence is stationary and the blade and motor are repositioned:

Many people have cautioned me about the dangers of ripping on a Radial Arm Saw (including my father and a friend who attended the North Bennet Street school), and while I agree that any exposed blade rotating at high speed can be a danger, in practice I believe a well adjusted Radial is as safe or safer for ripping than most table saw settups. Take a look at this:

Notice that the body of the motor blocks access to the side of the blade, and the blade guard, once properly positioned, sits directly between the feeding hand and the blade. Through all of this ripping, I felt perfectly comfortable with the safety precautions on the saw. And because I had adjusted the heal/toe position properly, there was no tendancy to kick. The process went quickly and when I tested the newly cut feather board it worked perfectly:

The only thing I didn't like about the feather board was the long point just waiting to catch me in the hip. So I cut the other side to a 45 degree and rounded the tip before starting in on another. At the end of the night I had two feather boards completed:

With that done, I'll soon be ripping window stock.

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Friday, October 10, 2008

More Radial Arm Saw Adjustments

It has been years since the radial arm saw came into my shop, and I have not used it at all because it was not set up accurately. I've been working on fixing this over the last two weeks, and I'm getting quite familiar with the settings.

The thing that took me longest, was getting the table to be nearly perfect in its alignment with the saw arm. I had spend hours trying to get this right, and I was getting nowhere until I learned the trick from a book called Fine Tuning Your Radial Arm Saw, by Jon Eakes. The secret was to adjust four reference points on the table and use a crescent wrench as a lever for fine positioning. This simple trick was a huge revelation, and once I learned it, adjusting the table was done in under an hour. I'm sure I could do it in under 30 minutes now if I needed to do it again.

I'm now most of the way through testing and adjusting the saw. I hope to finish tomorrow and start ripping stock for the storm windows I need to build. I guess I just needed a big project (ripping and chopping the stock for 5 storms) with a deadline (winter) to motivate me to get this machine working. There was no way I was going to rip all that stock by hand.

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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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Saturday, August 30, 2008

Handscrew Genius

So I recently bought six handscrews (two each of the 8", 10", and "12 jaw length). I put them on the rafter near the workbench and radial arm saw where I can reach them easily if I need them, and I can tell already I'll be using them a lot. They've been here less than a week, and I've already used them for several tasks:

As an impromptu saw stop,

To hold a smaller machinists clamp (that held a modified hook that I had cut and was filing smooth), and also to serve as a third hand to hold up a chair rail (I attached the handscrew to the door frame at the height where the bottom end of the rail went and set that end of the rail on the hand screw. I could then hold the other end with one hand and attach it with the other.).

If I was at all unsure of the purchase of these handscrews, I'm now convinced of their flexability and importance for workholding. In fact, I picked up 4 more of the Rockler 10" hand screws for the bargain price of $20.

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Friday, July 25, 2008

Kreg Pocket Hole Jig / Shop tricks

My new "cool tool" was bought specifically for a project: a Kreg Pocket Hole Jig. I'm not keen on glue and screw construction, because it seems like cheating, but this time I had a temporary table to build for use outdoors. Pocket holes seemed like the right idea.

I had never used one of these before, but after this project I'll feel comfortable using it whenever it is needed. And it was a GREAT purchase: the jig works like they say it will work, and the precision was in all the right places. The drill bit is super sharp (I think you really could cut yourself on it pretty easily) and fits with perfect clearance into the jig. The table legs went together quickly and seem super sturdy. I may comment further after the table has spent two weeks outdoors.

Notice the two silver containers in the front. My wife buys Lush bathroom products, which are super expensive as soaps go, but they do tend to give her these little silver canisters. These fit perfectly into the spaces of the box, and keep some screws with the jig.
First: no, I am not actually ripping this board this way, that would be dangerous. The saw is just perched there while I took the picture. As part of the project, I had to cross cut some boards that were too long for my bench.

Two clever things (I think) are going on in this picture. First, the pink thing under the board: this is some foam insulation left over from siding the house. It gave me a sacrifice table to prevent damage to my bench. Even though the bench is functional, not beautiful, saw cuts in the surface would be a problem. This trick worked beautifully.

Second, notice the baby gate in the background. I don't have an outfeed, saw horse, or any other dedicated table extension, and I knew I needed something. The baby gate became my table extension: it adjusted to the height I needed and had a surface I could clamp to the board I was cutting. This worked great, and until I have another solution I won't allow that to be sold or given away.

I'm off on vacation for the next two weeks, so no posts from me. I'm hoping to catch sight of a spring pole lathe and some coopering while I'm gone. We'll see what happens. I plan to take a picture of the table once it is set up, and if I manage that I'll post when I get home.

Until my return, may your the saws of your enemy be dull.

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Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Tails First or Pins First?

I've cut dovetails using both the tails-first and pins-first methods. When I was taught to do this, it was using the pins-first method, and although I was a beginner, the joints were very tight and accurate. They just required a lot of correction along the way.

Soon afterward, I saw a video by Rob Cosman on making dovetails and he cut the joint tails first. It looked to have many advantages for speeding the process and making it more accurate so I started experimenting. I soon found that a pencil was inadequate for marking the pins, where it worked just fine for marking the tails on a pins-first joint. This caused me a lot of grief as I didn't have a marking knife. I tried a number of solutions, including a sheetrock knife (don't try this at home, kids), but they all compromised the tightness of the joints. Finally, Fine Woodworking did a test on marking knives and included a $3.37 solution: the Xacto Knife. Problem solved, and my tails-first joints got much tighter.

Yesterday, Christopher Schwartz posted a list of reasons why he has adopted the tails-first method, and a couple of them are destined for my shop: gang cuts should be a real time saver, and I'll be trying the rabbetting trick soon after the moving fillester arrives in my shop.

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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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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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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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Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Fixed the Front Door Lock

Sometimes there's just time for life and all woodworking becomes a fix-it project. This morning it was extremely cold and our front door lock wouldn't lock from the outside. I looked at it and decided that the wooden door had contracted enough that the strike plate was plate was no longer positioned properly. Wood movement in action.

Thanks to a short conversation with my brother's neighbor, a professional carpenter, I thought I understood shimming well enough to fix this quickly. I removed the strike plate, cut a thin piece of cardboard (about 1/16" thick, and 1/4" wide), put it into the position under the corner of the strike plate nearest the door. In theory, this would create a fulcrum to force the holes of the plate closer to the door. I screwed the strike plate back in and turned the lock. Turns out I had the mechanics right: the door locks now and I did it all before breakfast.

We'll see if I have the opposite problem when it gets warm out and the door expands.

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Saturday, December 15, 2007

Round Over Edges for the Tensioner

I learned the basics of using Follow Me in Sketchup, and it solves the problem of creating round overs on the tensioner plan I've been struggling with. Now that I know how to use this tool, it's fairly easy. This task that has occupied at least 5 hours of my time can now be completed from scratch in under 5 minutes (with several mistakes). Here's how I do it:
  1. Draw a rectangle 1.5 x 6 inches.
  2. Using the line tool draw a section 1/2 inch long at the tip.
  3. Using the line tool draw a section 1 inch long on the right side.
  4. Draw a line connecting the two sections.
  5. Delete the resulting triangle.
  6. Using the Push tool, extrude the shape to 1.5 inches.
  7. Orient the object so I'm looking right at the square end.
  8. Using the tape tool, drop a reference line 12.25 inches from each side.
  9. In the top left corner, use the arc tool to draw an arc that runs between two intersections and tangent to the sides.
  10. Do the same in the bottom left corner.
  11. Select Camera, Standard Views, Iso.
  12. Orbit slightly if necessary to get a good view of the arc and the area it defines.
  13. Select Tools, Follow Me.
  14. Click on the small section formed by the arc and the corner.
  15. Move the cursor to follow the four edges that want a round over and click when they are all defined.
  16. Select Camera, Standard Views, Bottom.
  17. Select Camera, Standard Views, Iso.
  18. Repeat steps 13 – 15 for the bottom.
  19. Select Tools, Dimensions.
  20. Add dimensions as needed.
Having learned to do it so quickly and easily, I'm almost embarrassed at the amount of time I spent trying to do this with Intersect Selected and other means. But I'm super excited about the Follow Me tool, which will allow the creation of custom moldings and other details that I couldn't do before.

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Friday, December 14, 2007

Quick Victory Celebration: Using Follow Me

You may recall that a few weeks ago I wrote about trying to use Sketchup to draw the tensioner for my inkle loom and again about how I learned a method for visually faking a round over. Well, I think that tonight I figured it out how to make the edges actually rounded. I'll try it tomorrow and if it works, I'll post about how it was done.

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Saturday, December 1, 2007

Milkpaint Mohogany Recipe

Peter Galbert, the chair maker who writes the Chair Notes blog, just posted about how he makes milk paint approximate the look of mahogany.
"I have been trying to come up with a way to paint a chair brown without it looking flat. I have a beautiful mahogany railing in my house that served as my inspiration. I actually had to make some pieces to complete the rail and I didn't have any mahogany so I used poplar and my milk paint to make a solid approximation."
As you can see in his picture above, he has done a credible job. If you're interested, Galbert posted the exact proportions and colors he used.
Photo copyright and courtesy of Peter Galbert

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Thursday, November 29, 2007

Fixing a Warped Desktop

During a recent trip to the North Bennett Street School, I saw a desk made by a student in the 3-month furniture-making intensive. This piece was beautifully made and properly equipped with runners, kickers, and rails. But one detail was pointed out by my friend, Brian, who attends North Bennett Street's 2-year furniture making program: curfs in the underside of the desk.

In the picture above you can see the curfs cut at intervals in the desk top. We can't know for sure, but it is likely that the wood had warped after glue up, resulting in a rolling wave. The curfs were cut strategically to ease the pressures that had warped the wood and allow the desktop to lie flat and save the top from the scrap heap.

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Monday, November 26, 2007

Three Way Miter for Box Trim

I'm in sorting and cataloging hell getting a collection ready for sale on eBay. It doesn't leave much time for other things (like writing blog entries), so nothing original from me today. However, there is a short and excellent how-to on creating three-way miters on the Sandal Woods blog. Enjoy!
Photo courtesy of Al at Sandal Woods Fine Woodworking


Friday, November 23, 2007

Sketching with Wood: Temporary Walls

Today I helped Michael Dowling build part of his Medicine Wheel installation art exhibit. To create the space, we assembled temporary wall sections and stood them where they were needed. I do this almost annually, and find I feel like I'm sketching with wood, because it is so fast and loose. The structure is temporary; it doesn't need to meet building codes; so we make it all out of strapping and hardboard, as shown above. The strapping is screwed together into a rigid frame, and the hardboard is tacked on with wire brads.

Michael uses the hardboard as one type of canvas, painting or otherwise decorating the surface ahead of time in his studio. The frames are assembled on site, and the prepared hardboard sometimes has to be attached in a specific order. Once panels are assembled, we start placing them where they belong, screwing the panel edges together and bracing the tops by attaching strapping braces either to other temporary wall panels, or to the gallery structure.

I'm always amazed at how sturdy this becomes, when the panels are initially such flimsy material. Picture it as a sort of live Sketchup session, with these panels as components. Fun, and a great way to work off the Thanksgiving turkey.

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Sunday, November 18, 2007

Sketchup Construction Plan for a Barn Loft

Yesterday I temporarily abandoned the Inkle Loom project plans and started in on a project that my friend Sean had sent me. We're both learning Sketchup at the same time, but he has been a bit further along. Having learned the Move and Rotate tools though, I felt ready to try the complex joints he was trying to portray in this drawing. After all: there were no roundovers any where in the plan.

Since they say a picture is worth a thousand words, here are several pictures:

This is Bryce (the Sketchup guy) standing next to the loft construction.

This shows all the loft parts in an exploded view.

Finally, this shows the complex interlocking joint that holds the structure together. It's hard to see, but the post has been slotted on both axes. One two-by-four has a notch in the top and sets in the slot first. The next two-by-four has a notch on the bottom and slides into the other slot. The notches inter link to hold the whole structure together.

I'm feeling fairly confident that this project could be built from these plans, and I'm pleased with the precise fit (which was a challenge on earlier attempts).

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Saturday, November 17, 2007

Faking a Roundover in Sketchup

I continue to work on learning Sketchup as a tool for creating my woodworking plans. Last week I posted about the difficulty I'm having creating a roundover on the tensioner of my Inkle Loom plans. I've concluded that "Intersect with selected", while it works in theory, is not the easiest way to do this. Follow Me seems like should be easier, but I haven't learned to use the Follow Me well enough to achieve this.

While browsing Design. Click. Build., I discovered a trick that looks right, even though it isn't: edge softening. For many woodworking plans, this method is good enough for indicating a roundover, as seen in the picture above. Even though the edges on the white tensioner aren't rounded, they appear to be. The lack of rounding is only evident at the corners: notice the rounding of the back corners on the blue tensioner, and the squareness of the same corners on the white tensioner.

Here's how this fake roundover was accomplished:
  1. I drew a new tensioner without the round edges. This was easier than trying to remove the rounded edges on the first tensioner.
  2. On every face I wanted to look rounded I used the offset tool to add an offset 1/8" from the edge. This gave a stopping point for the softening effect I planned to use.
  3. Using the Erase tool, I softened the edges. To do this I positioned the eraser over an edge that needed softening, pressed [Ctrl], and clicked the Eraser on the line. This hides the line and softens the edge
  4. After all the edges were softened, I used the Select tool to select the offset lines, right click, and select Hide.
The results are good enough for my application, but I'm going to keep working on edge rounding until I can apply a real roundover if I ever need it. Many thanks to Dave Richards at Design. Click. Learn.!

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Saturday, November 10, 2007

Sketchup for Woodworking Plans

Until recently I drew all of my woodworking plans in Visio, a process that was often time-consuming and difficult to execute. On the LumberJocks site and in a Taunton community blog, called Design. Click. Build., there was a lot of chatter about using Sketchup instead. So I installed the free version of Sketchup about a month ago and started rendering plans with the new tool.

"Started rendering plans" sounds easy, and Sketchup does make many drawing and dimensioning tasks as easy as hammering a nail. But, as they say, the devil is in the details: the tool has a full and flexible feature set that suggests myriad woodworking design applications, and tempts you to include complex moldings and finicky details (like the brads that hold on a moulding or the threads of a screw). Adding these details becomes as challenging as cutting your first dovetails.

I'm attempting a plan for the inkle loom I built several years ago. With the body of the loom built in Sketchup, I'm working on the arm that adjusts warp tension on the loom. This has proved more challenging, and I've finally given up on rendering it exactly as I want it: the back edges should be curved in the same manner as the front edges, and the full end should be rounded over. Using a combination of the Follow Me tool and Intersect tool I know it should be possible to do this, but I can't seem to do it without losing skin on the curves.

In spite of the challenges, I won't be going back to Visio.
Here's a copy of Tensioner.skp. Feel free to play with it, and if you know how to round those other edges, please post a comment to let me know.

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Wednesday, November 7, 2007

"The Woodwright's Shop" On Demand

Roy Underhill, one of the heros of the early woodworking world, has produced 26 seasons of the PBS program The Woodwright's Shop. If you haven't seen this show, it is amazing even for those who might never use a hand tool.

Until recently, if you were in a market like Greater Boston, where the PBS affiliate doesn't carry "St. Roy", there was little option for watching the show: even purchase of episodes was impossible, since the VHS versions were out of print and DVDs have not been produced for sale.

Today I found that season 26 has been published on the Web. Now even in towns that don't love Roy we can all enjoy the show. Any time. At no cost.

So pull up a computer monitor and enjoy The Woodwright's Shop - Season 26.
Photo courtesy of PBS

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Monday, February 5, 2007

Building the Radial Arm Saw Table

One common reason why woodworkers don't like their radial arm saws is the condition or quality of the table being used for a worksurface. Gauranteed, if the saw has been used more than a few times, the table top has saw kerfs in it that compromise its flatness and functionality. A well-built replacement table eliminates that headache and adds to the usability of the tool.

Construction started yesterday on the table for my radial arm saw. The design comes from Wally Kunkel's book, How to Master the Radial Arm Saw, which can be found at

Here's a summary of the construction: one 3/4" and one 1/2" layer of best quality plywood laminated together with steel supports epoxied into cut slots—this adds rigidity to the table and has the added benefit of keeping the layers lined up. On the front section, where saw kerfs generally become a problem, glue or tack down a replaceable layer of 1/4" MDF.

Properly done, the sub-table should be flat and rigid enough that the table can be used as a reference surface (just like on a table saw), and the MDF skin protects the structure and allows easy repair whenever the surface gets too dicey for accurate work.

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Sunday, January 28, 2007

Milk Paint, Oil, Wax, and Steam: Finishing Challenges

Since nothing happened in my shop this week, I'm posting about a friend's experiences. Brian attends the North Bennet Street School Furniture and Cabinet Making program in the North End of Boston, and I'm envious. That said: He's been working on the Shaker table that is the first big project for students there, and is having finishing challenges.

First, he used a milk paint and wax finish on the base. His plan was to paint the base, apply a coat of oil, and then wax it. One of the second years talked him out of the oil coat, saying it would just add time for no benefit, but in Brian's estimation that was a mistake: He skipped the oil and found that the finish looked somehow cloudy. So he stripped the wax, applied the oil, and then reapplied the wax. The new finish looked right. Moral: beware the experts (or at least make sure they are experts).

The second problem was a dent in the cherry top: while it was in the finishing room, something must have dropped on it. He returned to find a dent in the top, which he knew would show through the finish and make the top. When last we talked, he was planning to steam out the dent. This is not as easy as it sounds, since there were 8 coats of Shellac already on the top when it got dented. He will have to strip the finish, steam the dent (hopng none of the fibers have torn) and then reapply the finish. I encouraged him to stick with the shellac/Waterlox finish instead of taking a shortcut and just Waterloxing. We'll see what he decides.


Monday, January 15, 2007

Finger Pull Failure? Fixing a Double Mistake

During December I built a couple of dove tailed boxes. The second was a bit more adventurous than the first and in many ways more successful. My favorite detail—a sinuous finger pull that echoes the flame-like grain patterns in the box lid—actually resulted from compounded mistakes.

I had managed to plane the wrong angle on one side of the lid, making the lid visibly lopsided: the flat section was not remotely centered. I thought (wrongly) that I might fix this glaring error by placing the finger pull in the center of the flat section, but this turned out to emphasize the error. It seemed likely I would have to start again. Failure.

I stared at it for a while, not wanting to discard so much work and such a lovely piece of wood. Finally the thought came: "Why not try something really different, to move the visual center of that pull back in line with the center of the lid?" It worked beyond what I'd hoped, and I'll bet that if you didn't know the flat of the lid was off center you probably wouldn't notice because the pull draws your eye. In this case failure freed me for success.

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Tuesday, January 2, 2007

Adjusting a Wooden Plane

Beginner's luck has run out. I'm having trouble readjusting my new Knight Toolworks smoother, and I know it is my fault. After a quick search, I found two tutorials on adjusting wooden handplanes. One at Knight Toolworks, and another at Jeff Gorman's site. I think my problem may be solved by the word "tapping". Am I hitting too hard? I'll let you know.

While searching I found an interesting interview with Steve Knight.

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Thursday, December 14, 2006

Dovetail Errors of the Past

In my basement shop I have my first "successful" project in wood. I put that in quotes because the criteria for success were pretty loose: could I make dovetails that actually seemed to stay together by themselves? I did pretty well for such a complex first project, but you can see the single nail in one of the pins that says "not quite"

There were a number of mistakes that preceded the making of the dovetails, (like trying to smooth wood scavenged from a pallet without first checking for nails, not making the boards flat and square, and not actually knowing how to sharpen a plane blade OR a chisel very well, but that's all for another day). But I was making dovetails, and I was not daunted by a lack of knowledge. I had read instructions for making dovetails several times before, so I thought I had the right idea: mark out the pins and cut them, mark the tails from the pins and cut them, put together the box and wonder how you ever became so clever. So I did just that and was very satisfied.

Of course there were a number of execution errors (obvious in these pictures), but there was a major layout error too. One I've seen other woodworkers duplicate (including one whose project was featured in a major woodworking magazine): I'd created half tails instead of half pins. I think anyone layout out dovetails for the first time is likely to do this if they don't have guidance: It just seems logical to put those satisfying visible angles in as many places as possible. But the experts all tell you to use half tails on the ends of a join, and after much puzzling about the joint structure and wood movement, I think I know several reasons why.

  1. If the wood cups,half tails allow it to happen much more easily
  2. There is less distribution of pressure across the grain structure, making it more likely for joint failure at the corners
  3. If you are making a half blind joint to allow a panel bottom, you need to place the panel groove much higher in the frame, losing some of your drawer space to the underside.
There may be other reasons, but these are the three I've encountered so far. Next time you look at a well made dovetail, take a look at those half tails and try to picture the forces on them. You'll begin to see how having these cap the joint makes it much more difficult for cupping to occur in either panel that if it had the straight on angle of a half tail.

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