The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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Dutch Resistance

Like nearly every other woodworker on the planet, I built a “Dutch” tool chest a few years back; in fact, I built two. I enjoyed both projects, and it was a good chance to work on several different skills: dovetail joinery, dado joinery, mortise and tenon joinery, joinery, joinery, joinery.

One of those chests I gave to my dad, the other I kept. For quite a while my chest was in my garage with most of my woodworking tools placed inside it. It sometimes sat on my bench, or under it, or under my feet. I bumped into it quite often, every now and again I would trip over it; I bent over countless times to get stuff out of it. Eventually, I smartened up, hung a cabinet and some tool racks on the walls near my work area, and put my Dutch tool chest in the attic.

Here is the plain truth that nobody wants to hear: working out of that chests sucked. It wasn’t a size issue; the chest was easily large enough to hold the bulk of my woodworking tools. It is a simple matter of logistics, too much bending over, reaching, stretching, dropping, knuckle banging nonsense.

I found the best way to work out of the chest was to put it on my workbench so that everything was at eye level. The problem there was it got in the way too much. Of course, I could put it back on the floor after I got everything out, but then all of that stuff was on the bench too. And who feels like picking up and putting down a 100 pound + tool chest four or five times? Not me.

I’ve seen videos where the woodworker removed all of the tools he/or she needed at the beginning of the project and put them on the bench. I suppose that works, but then all of the stuff is on the bench and in the way (unless you have a recessed tool tray, but they are bad news, right?)

Okay, I’m complaining, so what solution am I offering? The same one that has been around forever: mount your tools on a wall rack and store them in a wall hung cabinet.
Everything is at eye level, out of the way, easy to see and easy to reach. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: since I’ve mounted my tools on the wall I’ve become a more efficient woodworker. AND, my back feels a whole lot better.

So here is my expert advice: If, for some reason, you travel a lot with your woodworking tools, make a tool chest for transportation. And if you are like the overwhelming majority of amateur woodworkers with tools that very rarely leave your work area, mount your stuff on the wall over your bench. Nothing bad is going to happen to your stuff if it’s out in the open. I live in a high humidity area and I’ve had very few rust issues. Keep your tools oiled (as you should be doing anyway) and they’ll be just fine.

So why rehash a topic I know I’ve already covered? Well, a few weeks ago I was getting some things out of the attic and I saw my tool chest sitting on the floor. It still looked pretty good, and it will certainly still hold tools, so I brought it down the stairs, dusted it off, and sold it for a few bucks.

I mentioned a few posts back that I had sold off some tools (mostly duplicates) and how I surprisingly had no sentimental attachment to any of them. But when I sold my Dutch tool chest I very nearly backed out of the deal. My second thoughts didn’t stem from the sell cost, I was just very reluctant to let go of something I had built myself.

I’m hardly a great woodworker, but I put a lot of time and effort into my projects. For whatever it’s worth, and for all of it’s shortcomings, I thought that my tool chest looked great when I finished it. When I brought it down the attic stairs and briefly back into my garage, it seemed to “fit the scene”. But then I remembered why I put it into the attic in the first place, so I put sentimentality aside and did what I know was the right thing to do. And though I pride myself on being a person who makes the right decisions, the right decision in this instance wasn’t an easy one to make.

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Dutch Tool Box

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Weather report.

For the first time in a long, long time I was a “power tool woodworker” on Sunday afternoon. There was nothing momentous about this occasion, it just so happened, to happen.

To set the scene, several years ago (I don’t remember exactly when), I purchased a weather instrument kit from Lee Valley because it was on sale and because they were offering free shipping. I’ve always enjoyed the appearance of vintage weather stations and I thought it would be a nice idea to make one. So like all new project ideas, I planned on starting that one ASAP, and the kit was promptly placed in a cabinet in my garage where it sat untouched for around 24 months give or take.

In the meanwhile, I’ve managed to build up quite a stash of walnut, cherry, and ash, along with the prerequisite pine and poplar, and coincidentally I happened to see one of those weather stations at a museum recently, so I thought it would be a good idea to finally make my own version.

The original plan was simple: a walnut slab cornered and chamfered with a basic finish applied. So I used broke out the table saw to cross-cut and rip the slab to finish size. The news is all good; the saw cut smoothly and there was no hint of bogging or binding, and this on a 1 inch thick x 13 inch wide slab of well-seasoned walnut. I then laid out the corners and cut the first one with a hand saw. Of course I had to clean up that cut with a block plane, and then it dawned on me to use the table saw to cut the other corners. Why not? What was the worst that could happen?

Nothing happened, it took all of 2 minutes for the cuts to be made.

I then needed to plane the board smooth, as it was a true in-the-rough board. I used a jack plane first just to get the bulk of the work done, and I then went to my Stanley #4. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to be producing the results that I wanted, so I decided to turn to my coffin smoother, which is a tool that I painstakingly and lovingly restored myself with many hours of labor (thank you Graham Haydon). The plane performed above and beyond expectations and it should have, considering I spent hours on the sharpening alone.

Lastly, I chamfered the edges with a block plane. Everything went so quickly I had myself a wacky idea: how about adding another panel, inset and raised above the walnut, in a lighter wood such as cherry. I had several nice pieces of cherry that would work, but rather than taking the risk of ruining them (in the sense that it wouldn’t look all that great) I decided to use a piece of scrap pine for a test run. So I went back to the table saw and quickly made the cuts. I then had to cut out the holes for the weather pieces, which required a 2 1/2 inch hole. My largest forstner bit is 2 1/8 inches, so I used a hole saw instead, and in the drill-press it worked just fine.

The most difficult part was accurately drilling two holes for dowels which would align the two boards. I used a combination square to set the reveal, taped the board securely with painters tape, and started the drilling. My plan was to use the scrap pine as a template, so I drilled through that board and around ½ inch into the walnut. Lastly, I quickly planed and chamfered the pine, screwed in two temporary spacers on the walnut, and installed the panel. (once the cherry is installed the dowels will not be seen)

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All in all I like the look, though I do think it will look even better with a cherry panel instead of the scrap pine. When I removed the pine to apply a finish, it split a touch, not that it matters because it was only a temp solution, and I should have no trouble using it as a template for the cherry. The project came in at just about 2 hours, and I’m estimating that replacing the pine with cherry will probably be a 45 minute affair. I would have finished right then and there but the day was already getting long. Truthfully, I think maple would look even better but I don’t have a suitable maple board to use.

Regardless, it was a fun little project, and I think it will look great in the area I have set aside for it. Not to get ahead of myself, but this is the first in hopefully a series of projects to create my own little “dream” office area, complete with old manuscripts, candle holders, writing desks, and quill pens. Yeah, I’m a history geek; I admit it.

A little bit jumpy.

Before I get into the topic of this post, I would like to preface it by saying that I have been working with and around machinery for most of my adult life. That list includes construction equipment, printing presses, pipe benders, wire pulling machines, fork lifts and earth movers. Of course this list also includes power tools for woodworking. All of the equipment I listed could and can seriously injure or even kill.

Lately, while woodworking, I have been exclusively using hand tools. This has not been a philosophical decision. The projects I have been working on are generally small, and because my daughter has been with me ( I will not use a power tool with her in the vicinity), and because I could just as easily crosscut a few boards by hand, I have been avoiding the table saw. But over the past weekend I broke out the table saw for the first time in quite a while, and truth be told it may be a long while before I break it out again.

Last year my father-in-law brought me some hickory and ash logs from his property in upstate Pennsylvania, so I split them into smaller pieces and set them aside to dry. When inspecting them on Saturday I deemed them dry enough to use, so I decided to further prep the wood (namely the hickory) into smaller billets to be used as handle stock for some antique farm and logging tools that I have been attempting to restore. This prep work consisted of a lot of sawing and hatchet work, and I don’t recommend it if you are working under any kind of time frame because it is a long and arduous process despite what anybody will tell you. Regardless. I ended up with four “sticks” roughly 2 ½ feet long and 2 or so inches square. I planed them down mainly to get a flat reference face (this wood will be shaped into contoured handles, so there is no need to start off with a perfectly square board), and rather than spending another hour rip sawing and cross cutting, I decided to use the table saw to get all of the wood to uniform size. That is when things got weird.

The first thing I wanted to do was cross cut the boards to uniform width. I have an Osborne EB-3 miter gauge, which I feel is a top of the line product, and it has never given me any real trouble. It is accurate, and safe, and I feel comfortable using it. The blade on the saw is new and sharp. So I set the blade height, and decided on an off-cut of around 2 inches just to be sure to remove any funky end wood. So I began a process I have completed thousands of times…My first off cut shot across my garage like a rifle shot. I turned off the saw, checked the blade height-which was right where it is supposed to be-and got back to work. The second off cut, which was the other side of the same board, did not shoot across the garage again, but it wanted to. Instead, it seemed to “tug” the board into the blade slightly, and I believe the only thing that kept the board from being pulled laterally any further was the fact that my miter gauge is lined with 60 grit sand paper just for the purpose of keeping the wood from shifting. At this point, I unplug the saw and check the blade-it is tight and sharp; I check the miter gauge and it is 90 degrees to the blade (not that it should have mattered in the least but I checked anyway) I even checked the voltage at the receptacle that the saw is plugged into-121 volts. So I chalked up the missile launches to the dense hickory board and began again.
The next 3 boards yielded generally the same results: flying wood, pulling boards, and overall chaos. After the boards were sawn to length I was planning on ripping them to width as well, but by then I was becoming worried. I have always had a very healthy respect for all machinery and I am always very cautious when using it, because I’ve witnessed several gory incidents as well as surviving a few near-misses myself. But this was the first time that I can ever recall being afraid to use a table saw.

At this point I decided on some more detective work. I went back to the blade, which is a brand new 40t combination blade, a Diablo from the Depot. While I don’t consider the Diablo blades anything special, I have used them in the past many times without incident. Nevertheless I doublechecked it, and found no wobble, the teeth were nice and sharp, and as I said before, the height was set where I always set it, with the gullets approximately 1/8 of an inch above the cut. Hickory is a hard wood, very hard, so I decided to cross cut a piece of scrap pine to see the results, and while it did not shoot across the room or bog, something definitely did not feel quite right. So I re-checked the Hickory; there were no wild grain patterns or large checks, and while the boards likely have more moisture content than a kiln dried board you may find in a lumber yard or home center, they were definitely not openly wet or even damp.

However, one area of concern did crop up, and that was the throat plate on my table saw. The plate is wider than it should be, and perhaps an offcut just a few inches long will dip, even slightly, due to lack of support, causing it to touch the revolving blade, possibly shooting it back? I have always wanted to make or purchase a zero clearance throat plate, but because I use the table saw so little I haven’t considered it much lately. So to test this theory out I cross cut a scrap board so that much of the off-cut would be supported by the table and the results were improved, though I still seemed to feel a slight tug that I had honestly never noticed before until that day.

Here’s the thing, not too long ago I came to the conclusion that I am probably going to sell my table saw. I don’t use it much, but more importantly it takes up a lot of space. At the same time a table saw can be a useful tool to have around. I know that I can work without it, but I also know that there are times it will be greatly missed, in particular on those days when I need to cut a few dozen dados. I’m not sold on the notion of “all handwork, all the time.” Once again, I have nothing against it, I just don’t have the free time for it; I woodwork for fun, not as a crusade. Yet, I haven’t really used the table saw in earnest this entire year, and we are heading into September. Either way, for the first time in my life I did not feel comfortable using a familiar tool. It’s worth the $25 investment to add a zero-clearance throat plate, but that may not be the issue, and that issue may be a problem with the saw that I cannot necessarily identify without a true expert checking it out for me.

If I add a new throat plate and I still don’t notice a difference I can only see two options: sell the saw and put the money toward a band-saw, or sell the saw and put the money towards a Sawstop Saw. For the record, this is not a commercial for Sawstop. I’ve used a Sawstop saw a handful of times and I think highly of them. I don’t know if they do any more to stop kickback on crosscuts than any other saw will, but I do know that if that kick back causes my hand to slip, or jerk, or what have you, and my hand happens to touch the blade in doing so, I have a far better chance of not sustaining a serious injury. Yet, even if I sell my saw and get top dollar for it, the money raised would still be less than half of what I need. I can get a nice bandsaw for half the cost of a Sawstop, and bandsaws, in my opinion, are a far safer option, perhaps the safest option of all when it comes to sawing wood with a motor.

When it comes down to it, I’m not a kid anymore, and I’m not a professional woodworker. Maybe my months long lay-off from the table saw has me somewhat gun shy. Maybe my reflexes aren’t what they used to be, and I have definitely had some issues with my hands and fingers, so maybe that is the problem. Whatever the case may be, I was honestly rattled this past weekend, and that is no way to woodwork, and until I figure it out, the power switch to that table saw is remaining in the “off” position.

A mysterious crate..

For most married men, an age-old question seems to be: ‘What should I get my wife for her birthday?’ Considering that my wife is already the girl who has everything (let’s face it, she hit the proverbial jackpot when she married me!), I usually struggle every year to find a gift clever enough to convince my wife that I actually put some thought into her gift. So this year I went a completely different route, and I’m glad I did.

My wife enjoys to read, though we have drastically different tastes when it comes to reading material ( I wouldn’t be caught dead reading some of the stuff she reads, but oh well). Rather than just purchasing a book for her, I wanted to make the gift of a book more of an experience, and that is why I decided to try the Mysterious Package Co., which specializes in some really out of the ordinary stuff. Without giving away too much information for those who may be receiving a gift, from the MPC in the future-the surprise is a huge part of the experience-you choose a package from the company web page, and the recipient receives a series of mailings featuring packing hay, old newspaper clippings, creepy introduction letters, haunted diaries, beat-up shipping crates, and demon-possessed statues (it all depends on which story line you go with). In any event, the box that contained my wife’s gift was pretty intriguing, and my wife nearly destroyed the lid in her zeal to pry it open. I really loved the vintage Indiana Jones , Ark of the Covenant like appearance (the crate the Ark was stored in, I mean), and since she’s received it I’ve built several different versions of it.

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A mysterious package…

 

box lid repair

The mysterious lid repair; it was in 3 pieces…

 

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The box interior..

As you can see in the photos, the box is of simple construction, so it can easily be made with hand and/or power tools. I used only hand tools because my daughter wanted to participate, and she was responsible for the stencil print, which put her personal touch on the project. And for good measure I used pallet wood from my company warehouse (I refer to this wood as Danish Pine). The pallet wood had me a little concerned, because it’s pretty common to find old nails and stones embedded in the boards. Thankfully, I have several hand planes from my restored “collection” which were given to me, so I wasn’t overly concerned in using them. That being said, I hardly treat these tools like second class citizens, because I spent a great deal of time and effort restoring them. I am just saying that I am not the type of person who would use his $300 LN jack plane on a sketchy piece of pallet wood- in factI should have taken some photos of the unfinished wood, because it was pretty rough.

On that note, I just so happened to set free a fair amount of hand tools over the past month. It was much more quick and painless than I thought it would be, yet I still have a whole cabinet filled with hand planes.

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My version of the mysterious box…

 

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Finished box, one coat of wax, and my daughter’s stenciling added (guess what her favorite TV show is…)

Anyway, the box sizes were determined by the wood I had available, of which I had a decent sized stash. I sawed the boards to rough length and width, used a smooth plane to square the edges, and used a block plane to shoot the ends. I smooth planed a great deal of the roughness from both faces of the wood, though I truly did attempt to leave a few small rough patches to complete the vintage look we were trying to achieve, but considering the boards are all from pallets and were fairly warped/bowed to begin with, simply flattening them enough to be usable removed much of the roughness regardless. I probably could have left the faces of the box rough sawn, but because we were adding stenciling, and I wanted to apply a protective finish, I decided that a smoother surface would work much betters.  To finish off the appearance I glued on some battens to the box sides, which my daughter chamfered with a block plane. Dimensionally the box is approximately 11 in x 5 in x 4 in deep, the wood thickness around ½ inch (I say around because it varies).

The lid for the box featured in the photos was also constructed with pallet wood, which I believe is a hardwood (I’m guessing oak, but that is just a guess). I butt jointed two pretty nasty boards together and left them dry overnight. After they were dry I sawed them to length and then used a scrub plane for the initial flattening, as those boards were by far in the roughest shape of the lot. I then smooth planed the panel, once again attempting to leave the box somewhat “unfinished”. Lastly I used shoulder plane and sanding block to create rabbets so the lid would recess into the box, which really helped to lighten the overall appearance.

The joinery for the boxes is mainly butt joints and cut nails. The only place where I got a little fancy was the for bottom of the first box I made, where I used ship lap joints, and the only reason I did that was because I want to save as many of the wider boards as possible for future boxes, so I pieced it together with smaller cut-offs. Any box with stenciling will receive coat a of shellac and/or some paste wax, more for protection than to enhance the appearance. If you ever plan on adding some type of ink stenciling to a box (we used heavy duty magic markers), I would suggest waiting at least a few days for the ink to dry and really seep into the wood. In fact, I would wait up to a week. Thankfully, I attempted a practice run on a scrap board, and the ink smudged somewhat when I applied BLO, so I knew for future reference to wait at least a few days before applying any type of finish.

This was a fun and relatively easy project, though using all hand tools made it somewhat time consuming (mainly flattening the boards to make them usable). I completed two boxes so far and repaired the original, which as I mentioned was damaged when it was opened. I currently have enough pallet wood left to make at least two more boxes, and I have in inexhaustible supply constantly coming into my company warehouse. And I think making boxes from several different pallets could make them a bit more interesting.

Yet,  not sure if it would be better to purchase pre-surfaced boards and add my own touches to change the appearance (beads, chamfers, different widths etc.) Because while I did enjoy all of the hand plane work, I don’t want to spend the entire summer flattening pallet wood for hours on end, in particular because the hot and humid weather is now in full swing. Still, I’ve already prepped more boards which are generally ready to go, so I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll have a few more of these boxes finished in the next few weeks.

B’s & PT’s

It’s been a bit of a while since I’ve blogged about woodworking, but I’ve decided to take a bit of time to let you all know what I’ve been doing.

To quickly sum up, I’ve been using my pointy things to make boxes from bits of wood. The backstory is a bit long and convoluted, so I will save that bit for another post. In any event, it has all been very therapeutic; I sharpen my pointy things, get some bits of pallet wood, clean up those bits, and make boxes out of them. The nice thing is there is very little measuring involved, if the bits of stock are small, I make itty-bitty boxes, if the bits are larger, the boxes are a bit larger. My pointy things don’t care; it’s all wood to them.

I understand that this post is a bit brief, but I had just a short bit of time to compose it. Hopefully my next bit is a bit longer, and explains my new obsession with boxes a bit better. Until then, I’ll keep my pointy things pointy and my bits of wood bitty.

 

The Purge

I am at the point in my woodworking career where I have too many tools. Did I just say that? The guy who has always said to have as many tools as you like as long as you can afford them and store them…Yeah, I did, but it’s not what you think. I have not been woodworking nearly as much as I would like lately. And, the woodworking I have been doing basically requires a block plane, a spokeshave, a saw, a hammer, and a few chisels.

I have very seriously been considering selling off a good portion of my stuff to create some much needed space in my garage. The workbench already has a home if I go through with this (and I have an unassembled one ready to go if and when I ever start seriously woodworking again). The table saw will be a bit harder to move, both on the market as a for sale item, and physically, as it is large and heavy, but first things first. Some of the tools already have local buyers, some I will sell on eBay, and If I may be so bold, some I may just be posting right here on this blog. I hate to solicit people who just happen to be reading my blog, but rest assured most of my tools are of very good quality, and my prices will be more than fair.

Before I go, I just want to stress that I am not ending my woodworking “career”. I will still woodwork, and I will still restore an old tool or two on the rare occasion, and I will still blog about what I am doing But we all know that woodworking takes a lot of time (at least for a person of my skill level).  I’m pretty sure my family feels somewhat abandoned by me (working six days a week and spending what little free time I have engrossed in hobbies will do that to a family), so I have to do whatever it takes to fix that problem.

I had no problem ending my brief return to music this past week. This will be a little more difficult, but it needs to be done. We need the space, I don’t have the time, and I would feel better if those tools were being used by people who will appreciate them and put them to work.

Keep on keepin’ on.

It is very likely that I could fill three or four blog posts with my comings and goings of the past few months. I’m not going to do that at this time. I will mention, briefly, that as far as woodworking is concerned, I’ve been building quite a few different small boxes, some out of “good wood”, some out of pallet wood, and some out of reclaimed stuff. They are all experiments, mind you, but experiments to an end. I have what I feel is an interesting little story detailing a box I am repairing, as well as a box that I soon hope to be building which I will hopefully detail in an upcoming post, sooner rather than later. Otherwise, I’ve also been experimenting with using wood “from the log” and I also hope to write a few posts on that subject as well.

In the meanwhile, I finally got around to reading the Anarchists Design Book. I’m not going to review it because I am not trying to be critical one way or the other. I liked it, and that is enough said. I found myself gravitating more to the boarded furniture/staked stool areas in the book because to me they were the most useful items. Overall, staked furniture is not my thing. I have nothing against it on any level, I just don’t see a fit for it in my house, and I feel it has its limits. When checking out staked furniture on the internet, in particular staked tables, they all looked pretty much the same, and maybe that is the idea in building staked furniture.  I suppose if you are going for an overall theme, such as making a staked living room set, that is fine, but I am one of those people that likes a slightly haphazard look (just a bit mind you) when it comes to the furniture in my house, and that is probably because nearly all of the furniture in my house I built myself, and the pieces I didn’t came mostly from inheritance or antique stores.

One part of the book I did find interesting was the idea that in the past, ornate, high-end furniture was made for the ultra-rich, and that the average person could not come close to affording it.  In essence that was the overall theme of this blog several years ago. I had always found it rather ironic (and I still do) that the actual furniture makers of the 18th and 19th centuries (not the shop owners but the guys doing the construction), the guys that quite a few amateur woodworkers worship today, were working men in every sense of the word, and in reality, they couldn’t even afford to purchase the very furniture they were making with their own hands. There is even a greater irony in that today furniture making, once very much a working-class profession, is now a hobby dominated by the upper-class. There is something to be said there, and if I haven’t before said it, I’m not going to now.

Otherwise, I will keep doing what I am doing. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting with working straight from the log. It has led to a lot of understanding when it comes to wedges, mauls, and axe sharpening. And, more fittingly, it led to the restoration and new-found usefulness of a tool discovered in an old shed, given to my by my father in law. But, I will save that story for another day.

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