The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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I am everything that’s wrong with woodworking.


In a post last week I will admit that I made a few boastful statements. I drew up a rough design for a hall table and made the claim that because I would be using pocket screws for most of the joinery I would have the bulk of the table finished in an afternoon. I will also admit that I only half believed my own wild claims. After all, everybody knows that a build never goes completely as expected, no matter how carefully you plan. I laid out the material in what I believed would be the most pleasing grain patters, I laid out the cuts on the apron because I wanted the grain pattern to flow around the entire table, I even planned the cut order: legs, front/back apron and long cross brace, side apron/drawer front and short leg braces. But, even with my careful planning I never expected to get a table built in just 3 hours. Well, I am here to tell you that I absolutely did get the bulk of a table built in just over 3 hours.

Saturday afternoon, after I returned home from work, I unwound a little and around 2 o’clock I headed into the garage to get set up. After roughly 30 minutes of getting everything in place and getting the material in order I got to work. First thing I did was cross cut the legs on the table saw. I always trim off the ends first and use that as a flat reference which I know sounds like common sense, but some people don’t do it. After the legs were cut I did the front and back apron and the long bottom brace because they would all be the same length, same with the side aprons and side braces. That is the nice thing about planning your cuts and using a table saw for cross cutting. Many times, if I’m cross cutting just one board I will do it with a hand saw. But with a bunch of cuts the same length you just can’t beat a table saw with a good miter fence and stop system, which I very fortunately have. While I had the table saw out I also used it to chamfer the bottoms of the legs. With just a few minutes of lay out and set up time I had the leg bottoms finished quickly and accurately. Again, this is normally an operation I would do with a block plane, but the table saw was there and it did a fine job of it. As I was saying earlier, I even was able to lay out the aprons to produce what I hope will look like one long, flowing grain pattern. The board I selected has a nice, rift sawn look to it, so I decided to take advantage of it with a little lay out magic. Just to be safe I used the jointer plane to joint the edges of the aprons. With everything cut and jointed I started on the pocket holes.

I guess there are some woodworkers who would say that pocket holes are everything that is wrong with modern woodworking. I would point out that pocket hole joinery has been around for centuries but I don’t want to start World War W. I like pocket hole joints, though I don’t love them. They work great when building face frames. You can’t argue that the joint, especially when made with glue, is plenty strong, and as long as your cuts are true the joints are usually dead square. I often use pocket screws by themselves to attach table tops. The pan head does a great job of holding a top to a cleat even with the elongated pilot hole to allown for wood movement. So while I generally don’t advocate making an entire project using pocket screws, I can’t say that I have anything against them. This table had a total of 24 pocket holes: 4 each for the bottom cross braces and 6 each for the aprons. One of the aprons is a drawer front so it will not have pocket screws. With the Kreg clamp on my workbench it was a fairly quick operation; I had them all laid out and drilled in less than 15 minutes. After they were drilled I sanded all of the individual parts, used the little Hock block plane to break the edges, and put everything together. I assembled the bottom cross brace first and then attached it to the legs. This operation went quickly because I was able to clamp everything flush, apply glue, and just screw it off. The aprons were a little more difficult because I wanted them to have a 1/4″ reveal. To do that I flipped the table assembly upside down on my workbench and used a combination square to set the reveal. My workbench top isn’t perfectly flat; I know this, but thankfully it was flat enough to be a reference surface. With the help of my lovely wife, reluctantly but faithfully called into service, I got the aprons attached. For the drawer end, where there technically isn’t an apron, I cut a cleat, by hand!, and attached it with some glue to keep the drawer side square. I then cut some cleats for attaching the table top but I didn’t install them as of yet. With that the body of the table proper was bascially finished, It just needs a light sanding.

Having only spent a few hours in the shop, even with a brief break, I decided to glue up the boards for the top. Firstly, I cut the board, roughly in half, using the table saw. I then brought the two boards over to the workbench, picked the best faces for a good grain match, and bookended them together so I could joint them with the jointer plane. I started in the middle, like you are supposed to, and worked my way out. In about a dozen or so passes I had a beautifully tight joint that when put together was seemless. I do not like jointer tables. I think they are fussy to set up, inaccurate, and dangerous. Maybe it’s because I never really worked on a good one, except the monster at the Acanthus Workshop. But I’ve found that a jointer hand plane, or even a jack plane, does a perfectly fine job of jointing an edge for glue up. Maybe if I were jointing a 10 foot long edge, or if I were a production woodworker, I would feel differently. But so far I haven’t found anything that would make me change my mind.

So with the top jointed I glued it up and set it on the side to dry. I got the shop cleaned up and organized and called it a night. In around 4 hours I had the table nearly complete. I only need to make the drawer and attach the runners, which should take me around 2 hours give or take. I am liking this design so far; It is a bit utilitarian but that is okay. The homogenous look of the pine doesn’t help but with a finish applied I think it will look great. I am also really liking my construction methods. This was a great way to quickly test a new design (at least new to me) and also make a new, working table. If it turns out the way I think it will I believe I will build this design using more traditional methods out of Walnut and Butternut, or perhaps Walnut and Maple. While some woodworkers may not approve what I did here, I think this build is a good example of woodworking by machine and hand. You have a piece of furniture cut at the table saw, assembled with pocket screws, and with hand jointed edges and a hand dovetailed drawer. I used the best tools for each job according to my skill level with them and I got good results. If there is something wrong with that then I don’t want to be right.

****sorry for the lack of photos, the camera wasn’t charged and the iPhone was being used as my radio****

Finshed table body

Finshed table body

(hopefully) flowing grain patterm

(hopefully) flowing grain patterm

Top glued up

Top glued up

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8 Comments

  1. Aewl says:

    Very nice. Nothing wrong at all with your methods. I always say “do what works for you with the tools you have available.”

  2. Jeff Branch says:

    The table looks great, pocket screws and all. I am having trouble with my power jointer – as you say, trouble to set up correctly. So, I have been thinking about buying a jointer plane. Seems to me it would be easier to set up.

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks Jeff. I am not a fan of jointer tables. My jointer plane does a fine job and it’s actually not even set up perfectly. I did a partial tune up and clean up of it when I first got it, but one of these days I’m going to do a full tune up using the Schwarz method. Then I’m going to pick up a new Hock plane Iron for it. I’m hoping that after that I’ll have a life time tool on my hands.

  3. Hi Bill,

    I’v been busy, but I scan most of what your write. This one caught my eye. What you did here is wrong at all…no body with any traditional training or professional design experience would say so, (a guess that troughs down the gauntlet for some ๐Ÿ˜‰ )

    What you did, professional, is called a mock-up. Some like you, make very good ones, (better craftspeople do,) others just glue or nail stuff up to see what the design looks like and if they need to change anything. Some of these are really nice pieces of furniture.

    You have good instincts, and your approaches to projects strike me as very logical.

    keep up the good work…love that table…very Shaker ๐Ÿ™‚

    Regards,

    jay

    • billlattpa says:

      Thanks JC. You are completely right that the table is a cross between a mockup and a prototype. I wanted to try a design and see how it would look without breaking the bank and at the same time I wanted to make an actual piece of furniture. My shop time is very valuable to me and I didn’t want to waste it making something that would just get thrown away or broken apart. So when all is said and done I ended up with a life size model for future builds and an actual working table that will see good use.

  4. Bill,

    Nice material selection. Did you buy 6/4 pine for the legs?

    I’ll bet that it took you longer to write this post than to join the table.

    I do find your project posts lacking in the photograph department. Charge that camera!

    Chris

    • billlattpa says:

      That material is 6/4 pine. It’s got a fairly straight grain and was nice and even. It didn’t need any real dressing. The actual assembly of the table took only around 15 minutes. I had the bulk of the table layed out, cut, and assembled in under 2 hours. I spent about 45 minutes on the top between the cutting, edge jointing, and clamping. The rest of the time was spent on some sanding and odds and ends.
      Today I actually finished the top. I cross cut it to final width, chamfered it with the block plane, couple passes with the smoother, and sanded it. I’m really proud of it actually, the glue joint is just about invisible. I also finished and attached the runner assembly for the drawer. All I need to do now is make the drawer, which should take around an hour, and the table is finished. Probably a total build time of 6 hours. I’m going to post a few more photos tomorrow.
      Speaking of photos, you are absolutely correct. I do need to post some more photos with my builds. I’m getting there. It’s a lot easier when my wife is around because she will usually take a bunch of action shots and what not. Yesterday I was basically on my own and the only camera I had was my iphone. So I’ll do my best to get some more photos in the posts.
      Thanks.
      Bill

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