The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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The Arts and Crafts TV Stand Build Continues..

I decided today, like most days off, would be a good day for some woodworking. So I began the next phase of my Arts and Crafts inspired TV stand, and that meant cutting the legs and case sides. And that meant dadoes, rabbets, and most importantly, stopped dadoes. I began the day by cross cutting the case sides to length using my

Panel sled in action

panel sled. After that I ripped them to final width and began to lay out the dadoes.

The dadoes for the case sides are an easy lay out for this project. The time consuming part is setting up the dado stack to the exact size you need. So that meant a lot of trial cuts on some scrap boards I had laying around. After many adjustments, which mainly consisted of adding and removing shims, I ended up with a perfect fit. It was well worth the time and effort. On my last project I felt that the dadoes on the case side were a hair too wide. These are dead on. The entire set up took about an hour, but you can’t rush precision, especially in woodworking.

After cutting the case side dadoes, I used the same set up and a sacrificial fence to cut the tongue/rabbet for the case side. This tongue mates with stopped dado/groove on each leg of the stand. This was a quick and easy job and my new router plane

made quick work of cleaning up the dadoes and rabbets. I would like to thank a certain ex editor of Popular Woodworking Magazine for always pushing the virtues of this specialty plane. It has already paid for itself during this project alone.

With the dadoes and rabbets cleaned up, and the case sides looking like a road map, I then turned to the legs. I cut the legs to length using my upgraded miter gauge on my table saw. I highly recommend upgrading your miter gauge, by the way. I use an Osborne but there are also several other good options available.

Case sides all cleaned up thanks to my new router plane

Then it came time to lay out the stopped dadoes on the stand’s legs. This was easily the most time consuming portion of todays work. And to top it off, the set up had to be made two times. Because these were stopped dadoes I would have to run two legs through, the front left and the back right, readjust, and then run the front right and the back left legs. I used a piece of tape on the table saw to mark where the dado stack “exited” the table top. This left a little slope at the end of each cut that I chiseled out.

All four legs, the stopped dadoes ready to be chiseled out..

The work went quickly as I had sharpened my 3/8 chisel last night in preparation for today. Then I turned to my new router plane again to do the final clean up. It performed brilliantly, as expected, and each stopped dado was right on the money, ready to receive the case sides. I only had to notch them out at the bottom so they would hide the dado after the case was assembled.

Cleaning up the dadoes with a chisel

Notching the case sides is also a simple affair. I used a combination square set at 1/2″ and marked each side on the bottom of the case. After, I used my carcase saw to cut them off. It was probably the easiest thing I had done all day.When the notches were cut I layed out the mortises for the front top

Cleaning out the router plane, my little girl in the backgroung

stretcher/arch. This was again a fairly easy operation and I used my router table and a 1/4″ straight cutting bit. The only mildly difficult part of the mortise was that it was stopped so I simply used a piece of tape on the router table to mark the blade points and quickly got it cut.

Afterwards, with a little help from my wife, I got the side panels and legs glued up and ready for the shelves. I probably won’t continue the build until next weekend at this point, though I may do some more work on the top, including sanding the top and putting a slight roundover on the edges. But all in all it was a productive day. I made no major mistakes and lost no time. I even broke one of my rules and had the IPOD playing while I worked. Since my wife and little girl were in and out of the garage, and also helping me, and because most of the work today was hand work I figured I may as well have a some music playing….

….

Case sides glued up..

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An Open Letter to Popular Woodworking Magazine

I received an email from Woodworking in America to remind me that the early bird registration for the conference was still open for a limited time. I’ve never been to Woodworking in America but I hear it’s a pretty good time. Many of the bigger names in woodworking attend and give seminars, and you also have access to the woodworking market place featuring just about all of the top names in woodworking tools and equipment. I unfortunately cannot go because of my work schedule, and because of the conference location, just outside of Cincinatti Ohio.
I live on the east coast about 30 minutes outside of Philadelphia( where I grew up ). I did run the numbers to see how much the trip would cost me if I did go and I came up with just around $1100.00 (that is if I didn’t buy anything at the market place) That included $375.00 for the early bird registration, about $150.00 in gas and tolls for the roughly 600 mile drive (flying would have more than doubled the travel cost for myself) About $400.00 for the 3 night stay, and $150.00 for meals. I kept the estimates on the lower side but they are at least within the ball park. If I were to guess I would say any person attending the conference is probably spending roughly the same amount, plus or minus the travel expenses which obviously depend on your location. I would say that the money is well worth it for a conference such as Woodworking in America. But I do have one problem with it:
Popular Woodworking magazine, a magazine that I truly enjoy, is the conference organizer. From what I understand they do a great job. However, for the past year or so they have been heavily campaigning against the so called “Sawstop Legislation” currently being considered in California. Now, when it comes down to it, I don’t care either way if this legislation passes or not. I want to see a safer saw, if not, so be it. I’m experienced enough to where an accident would probably be carelessness on my part. But I do care that PW has been railing against this legislation so heavily because of the apparent added cost to table saws with flesh detection technology. One editor in particular is so quick to dismiss the costs put forth by proponents of the legislation as overly inflated, but also any injury statistics as unfounded scare tactics, yet he has no trouble accepting the cost and injury figures that the table saw manufacturers affected by this legislation put forth as gospel truth. The fact that he is somehow privy to cost numbers that even the shareholders in these companies don’t have is somewhat surprising to me. Or are these just “educated” guesses?
Now to my point: Ask any editor at PW if they think the $1000.00 you spend on the Woodworking in America conference is worth it and you will most likely get a resounding “Heck Yeah”. And I would agree. The conference sounds amazing. But….Ask any editor at PW if they think the added $1000.00 cost of a table saw that can quite possibly save your fingers and hundreds if not thousands of dollars in medical bills is worth it. If I’m reading the editorials rightly, and I am, you will get a resounding “NO!” Something here isn’t adding up…

Woodworking in the Middle of Nowhere

My in-laws have a nice piece of land in upstate Pennsylvania. It’s pretty much secluded too. I’m talking top of the mountain, dirt roads,  nearest neighbor half a mile, old barns and wild animals secluded. In keeping with my woodworking as a solitary hobby idea, I had always planned on bringing some tools and wood up to the old barn one weekend and doing some old fashioned woodworking. Unfortunately this hasn’t happened yet. It’s nearly a four hour drive and with my work schedule I usually only get to go there a few times a year. But I’ll do it one day.

The old barn

Now even though I feel that woodworking is a solitary act, that doesn’t mean I never want to interact with other woodworkers. So I try to take a few classes every year, and whenever I can I try to go to a tool or woodworking show. But there is one little problem with woodworking shows: most of them tend to be in the middle of nowhere.
A few weeks back I received an email from Fine Woodworking Magazine proudly advertising their first ever show. I read the schedule and it all seemed interesting, then I checked the location: New Paltz, New York (where?) Oh, it’s about 30 minutes north of Poughkeepsie (where??) Oh, Poughkeepsie is about a two hour drive northwest from New York City. So you can see my dilema. It’s somewhere around a 6 hour drive from my home in south east PA. Now I’m sure New Paltz is a fine town in a nice setting. According to Wikipedia it was home to ex heavyweight champ Floyd Patterson and activist Sojourner Truth. Nonetheless I’m stil not going.
Popular Woodworking’s Woodworking in America conference is being held in two locations this year: Pasadena, California and Covington, Kentucky(?) I suppose I can understand the Pasadena show. California is a large state with a lot of woodworkers. And Pasadena is located just outside of Los Angeles. So it’s somewhat of a logical choice. The Covington, Kentucky site is a little more vexing to me. Covington is a small city located just across the Ohio River from Cincinatti. I don’t know much about it. I think I had a flight lay over in Cincinatti once but that was about as close as I got. I did some quick research and found that it was about a 10 hour drive, a 10 hour train ride, and an expensive 2 hour flight. I know that Popular Woodworking’s HQ is located in Cincinatti so I guess it’s somewhat of a homecoming event for them. But Fer Cryin Ott Lod (as my PA Dutch friends would say) Can anybody have a woodworking show in the Philly/DC/Baltimore area?
The Delaware Valley region is one of the most populous in the country, loaded with woodworkers, so you think there would be some kind of event here? No! Hell No! Even Lie Nielsen out of Warren Maine (where?) manages to put on a small but fun tool show in the area every year. If they can do it can’t somebody else?  The Woodworking shows come as close as two hours from Philly every winter. But that’s as close as I can get.  Is Philly that bad? Popular Woodworking did have their WIA event just 15 minutes from my house, but that was about five years ago, so before I started woodworking, so it might as well been a thousand years ago. I know this might sound selfish, but if by chance somebody with any influence in the woodworking show world happens to read this…bring your show here, and I’ll be first in line.

Crossroads.

I started playing the piano and guitar when I was fourteen years old, and from my early twenties into my early thirties I was a part-time,semi professional musician.I played in different bands, mainly rock and blues, in different bars and clubs two or three weekends a month,I studied music in college, and I gave lessons on the side. This, along with my day job, kept me busy. I’ve come to find that being a musician is a lot like being a woodworker.It takes dedication, theory, practice, and creativity. And,like woodworking,you need tools.
Over my ten years as a working musician I acquired a fair amount of equipment. Generally, when I was playing often, I would trade instruments and equipment in for newer or different models when I found the need. But, around six years ago, I started my new job, and found that I just didn’t have the time or desire to play in a group anymore. There were a lot of factors, but it came down to work, starting a family, and I honestly just didn’t have the energy being at bars til 5 am anymore. This left me with several high quality instruments and amplifiers that I have no need for, so a few weeks ago I decided to start selling things off. Just last week I found myself at Sam Ash with one of my amplifiers. Knowing what I know about music gear, I knew that I could sell it to the store and with the money I could pay for my new router plane, the wood and material for my latest project, and have a little left over to take the fam out to lunch. It occured to me while at the music store that, at 39, I was one of the older people there, and even more of a shock, I was not excited to be there in the least.
Fifteen years ago I would have tried out many of the guitars, talked shop with a couple of the salesmen, and basically hung out as long as possible. Last week, I couldn’t wait to get out of there. See, while woodworking and music have a lot of similarities, they have one big difference: most woodworkers are not young. Over the past year I’ve taken a few woodworking classes and attended a few shows. I found that much of the time I was one of the younger people there. If I had to guess I would say that the average age was between 49-60. I’m in my late 30s, which unfortunately isn’t young, either. I started woodworking at when I was around 36, which I thought was a late start. But as a hobbyist I’m finding that I may even be starting a little early. I think there are two major reasons why most hobbyist woodworkers don’t get started until a little later in life:

1. Woodworking can be an expensive hobby, and it’s probably a little easier for someone in his or her 50’s to afford the equipment needed. Now I’m sure that’s not always the case, but it’s probably pretty accurate. When I first got married and got a mortgage I couldn’t afford anything. It was a pretty big adjustment period. Luckily things stabilized for us fairly quickly, but it could have just as easily been the other way around.
2. Woodworking is a solitary hobby. This didn’t dawn on me until I attended a hand tool show last October. Ask somebody you know who isn’t a woodworker to attend a tool show and most of the time you will get “no” for an answer, pretty quickly. But even more of a reason is that as I’ve gotten older, I spend much less time with my friends than I used to.

Moving to the suburbs has something to do with it, but getting older is the main reason. I find that after a fifty+ hour work week, the only thing that matters to me is spending time with my wife and little girl, and maybe getting a little time in the shop. When I do get some free time, I want to spend it woodworking, not goofing off with my friends(no offense) Sometimes my little girl will join me and it’s about the most enjoyable time I spend all week. Other times I’m alone and that’s fine with me as well. That’s just the nature of woodworking; that’s part of the reason I like the relative quiet of using hand tools when the project calls for it. I don’t even have a radio in my shop, I don’t want one; I don’t want to be disturbed. That to me is the real comfort of woodworking: it’s just you, a few sharp tools, and some wood to shape.

So next week I may find myself back at Sam Ash. I have a custom Fender Jazz bass in mint condition. I know what I can sell it for, and I know what I can get with the money. Lie Nielsen makes a bench plane, a #7, and I have a lot of glue ups in my future…

Your Next Woodworking Project: How Choosing the Right Build May Save Your Life…

I don’t think that many hobbyist woodworkers necessarily know why they decide to make a particular project. It could be because they need it, or saw it in a woodworking magazine, or it could be just because. Though the title of this post may be a lame attempt at getting somebody to read this, I think that choosing the right projects will not only help you become a better woodworker, it will help you enjoy woodworking more.
The past twelve months have probably been my best and most productive as a woodworker. It’s been hardly perfect. Even during my last project I had a moment of despair and nearly gave up on it. But in the end I’ve completed several projects that have not only been useful, but they also were progressively nicer. I tried to follow a simple guideline for all of my builds:

1. Do I have the skills to build it? I think it’s quite easy to see a Bombay chest of drawers and decide that you would love to attempt it. But the truth is if you try to make something that is beyond your skillset you will not only end up frustrated but probably out of a little cash.
2. Do I have the tools to build it? You’re a woodworker! Let’s face it! You need tools! Now as you get better you will probably find that you can get by with less. But until then you better have the stuff. So before you attempt building a bookcase, make sure you have more than your dad’s old hand saw and that chisel you found in the basement when you moved in to your house.
3. Do you need it? Here is probably the one I follow the most rigidly. Because if you continually build things you don’t need then you really don’t have a reason to build anymore. Everything I make, I want a place for it, and I want a use for it. Other than that, to me, it was just a waste of time and effort.
So I think I will briefly go over some of the projects I completed this past year. And hopefully they will illustrate my point:
Toolbox.
Around the end of last summer I had just read Christopher Schwarz’s The Anarchist Toolchest. Briefly, it is a book about carefully choosing the right hand tools and using them to become a better woodworker, though there is much more to the book than that. Anyway, high with enthusiasm, I decided to build a toolbox using only hand tools. So I picked up some dimensional lumber and began the build ( I did cheat a little and used my table saw to rip the stock to size) I used dovetails for joinery, shiplaps for the bottom, and an oak dowel that I picked up at a lumber yard. I ran a decorative chamfer around the box and even inlaid some oak strips at the bottom. Heck, I bored the holes for the carrying dowel with a hand brace. I was pretty proud of it until I sent a photo of it to Chris Schwarz and Chuck Bender, who both proceeded to tell me that the cross grain dovetail joint would weaken the box. I should have known that if for any other reason than the ridiculous ease in which I chopped out the tails. Still, I learned alot, including accurate sawing, when not to cross grains, and making a ship lap joint by hand. And the box turned out okay and I use it to store some of my tools under my bench.

Coat Rack
This project was dead simple, but I needed it. We didn’t have a rack to hang jackets, coats, and such in the room outside of the garage. And more and more our they would just end up on the floor.

Coat Rack

So I took a rough board I had been saving and planed it flat with my smoothing plane. I didn’t have my jack plane then. After I got it to where I wanted it I chamfered the board with my block plane and screwed on the racks. I used a simple finish of tung oil. All in all it was an easy build but I learned a little about handplaning a board, and about accurately laying out hardware. And most importantly got a place to hang our coats.

Built in Closet

Built in Closet
This was more of a carpentry project than a furniture build…….But I used a few techniques that I found out later were once quite common. In order to make the build in look less like a box I nailed what is more or less a face frame to the case side to give it something of a raised panel look. I later found that this was called boarded furniture in the old days and used to make simple furniture appear more elegant. Not only that, but this project also required me to make a face frame, an adjustable shelf jig, and to measure and fit accurately. And of course most importantly. It works and is in use as I type this.

Medicine Cabinet

I wanted a place in my garage to store my stains, paints,  and other things, but I didn’t want to use just a simple shelf. So I decided to make this “Medicine Cabinet”  to do the job.
I used dado and rabbet joinery and also, more ambitiously, a paneled door that is inset into the case. I topped it off with simple ogee shelf. While not perfect, I successfully inset the door and accurately placed the hinges. It was a good introduction to making a door and it holds my paints and stains right where I need them.

Stickley Magazine Rack
I decided to build this project after seeing it on Popular Woodworking’s website. I had the perfect place for it in our living room and I knew I was ready to attempt it. I ordered the plans from the site and followed them nearly to the letter.

Stickley #72

I don’t usually follow woodworking plans so I learned a good deal about working from a preset “schedule”. Also, I had to glue up a top and get the grain to match as well as carefully cut stopped dados and notch shelves. I had to cut two arches with a jigsaw and smooth them down so they were both indentical. There was a lot of care taken in sanding and finishing the project. This was a piece of furniture that was going into my living room so I wanted it to look nice. It was a great intermediate level project that used contrasting board widths, and basic joinery to turn out a nice looking and useful cabinet.
Though these weren’t all of the projects I did this year, I think they show a nice progression from simple to more complex pieces. My current project is an Arts and Crafts inspired TV cabinet of my own design. I want it to look like Gustav Stickley would set his television on it, that is if he lived 50 years later. The project is just underway and I started by gluing up the top. Already I’ve learned that gluing up a larger top is not simple, and sometimes you have to take what the wood gives you. And I’ve learned that dealing with a demanding, somewhat snobby customer, my wife, can be stressful. But the build is within my skills, I have the tools, and I know it will be useful. So I can’t go wrong.

The Arts and Crafts TV stand build begins today!

Trying to arrange the boards for a nice grain pattern

Today I took one small step towards finishing by latest project: an Arts and Crafts inspired TV stand/cabinet. I started at the top. My last project, the Stickley book/magazine cabinet, I started case first. I guess there is no sure-fire right place to start, but my experience with the Stickley taught me that building the top is probably the most time consuming process when making a case of some kind. So the top it was.
I started with two 8ft long boards, 5 1/2″ wide by 1 1/8″ thick. I cut the boards in half and then planed them down to just over 7/8″ thick with a bench top surface planer. I arranged the boards in the best grain pattern possible(at least to my eye) and marked them with a cabinet makers triangle. And here was the difficult part, I had to joint the edges. This isn’t necessarily a difficult process if you have a jointer table, I have one, but I decided to do it with a jack plane.
I don’t like my jointer table, I’ll admit it. It’s okay for boards 2ft or shorter, but after that it gets a little dicey. So I turned to my trusty Lie Nielsen #5. Conventional woodworking wisdom tells us that generally a bench plane can joint a board around twice it’s length. My jack plane is 14″ long, the boards I was attempting to joint are just under 4 feet. But with care, it’s said, you can do it(or I could try to talk my wife into getting me a $400 jointer plane) I jointed the boards sequentially, meaning I planed the edges I wanted to joint together at the same time. This really works. And though it leaves a mountain of shavings I prefer cleaning those up rather than sawdust.

Equal shaving should equal jointed edges

After I got the edges jointed to my satisfaction I brought the whole deal into my yard so I could glue it up. I hate glue ups more than anything in the woodworking world, but with the help of my wife and some clamps we got it done. I should be able to get a top 20″ wide by 46″ long after everything is trimmed and sanded, which is about what I wanted to get. And that is another reason I made the top first. I have a rough idea about the size of the piece, but until I get the top finished I cannot adjust the case size to it. On a smaller piece this is no big deal because you can make an oversized top and just trim it down. But on this particular build I am dealing with about as large a top as my equipment can handle, so I will have to work backwards a little to get it the build going.

Next week I should be able to get the case sides glued up, the rabbets cut, and the shelves notched, then I will be able to concentrate on the dovetailing of the drawers….

I Got Wood!

My stack of clear pine, stickered and acclimating to the shop.

In the fast paced, action packed world of woodworking it’s always a good feeling to have a project ready to get underway. So today I picked up the rest of the Pine for my “Stickley” television stand. I have everything I need for the carcase, the legs, the shelf, the drawer divider, and the top. I still haven’t picked up the material for the drawers. Being that this is somewhat of an Arts and Crafts inspired piece I want to expose some of the joinery. And what better way to do that than to make the drawers with through dovetails! However, I may want to use something other than Pine for the drawer fronts for some added contrast. I’m planning on finishing this with the Minwax mahogany finish(#234 I believe), the same I used on the magazine cabinet. Being that it’s a dark stain I would like the drawer fronts to be just a bit lighter, mainly to highlight the dovetails. I’m hoping to have the side panels cut and dadoed and the legs cut to length and fitted with their stopped dadoes before the end of the weekend. I should be able to pull it off.
More good woodworking news, my Lie Nielsen closed throat router plane, which I ordered just this past Saturday, arrived yesterday. It is waiting patiently, ready to cut some stopped dadoes in the legs of the new TV stand. I sold my vintage Ampeg bass cabinet to pay for the plane as well as the wood for this project. So I hope it turns out nicely. I will post pictures along the way of the build. If anybody has some suggestions about a nice contrasting wood for the drawer front please let me know. Thanks.

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