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I haven’t made a real piece of furniture since January. “Real” as in something that I researched, planned, and then proudly displayed in one of the rooms of my house. There are reasons for that, some which came from circumstances beyond my control, and others which were my own doing. January through March I didn’t build any furniture simply because we had a horrible winter and it was freezing in my garage. Later, we had to put out a lot of money for various odds and ends and that put purchasing wood on the back burner. Now, during the hottest (and most humid) part of the summer, I try not to make furniture because of the problems I have with warping (during August my garage is like a rain forest). But all of this doesn’t mean that my hands have been idle.
For the past few months I’ve mainly been doing two things as far as woodworking is concerned, maintaining tools, and trying to make my garage a better place for woodworking. Tool maintenance has actually been the easy part, as nearly every free moment I’ve had to putter around has been spend reorganizing my garage. Though I’ve written about a few of the things I’ve been doing, generally I haven’t blogged much about it, only because it doesn’t necessarily make for interesting reading or writing. But, yesterday I did complete something that I feel is worth mentioning.
Yesterday I built a shelf to hold my hand planes. I have come to the conclusion that I am tired of going in and out of a tool chest every time I want to grab a hand plane. I want to keep them visible and at arm’s length; keeping tools in a tool chest meets neither of my criteria. Before I go on let me just say that the following is hardly my best work. My theory on shop projects is simple: Don’t go overboard on building something that is going to get beat to hell. As I said, this is just a shelf. The only noteworthy aspect of building this shelf was the fact that I made it with nothing but hand tools. So the real question may be: Why go through all the trouble of building a basic shelf using hand tools and real joinery when I could have made it with butt joints and screws? Good question, and the answer is just for practice. Besides, the joinery on this shelf was simple, two fillisters, two dados, a groove, and nails. The sawing, fillisters, and dados were little trouble. The only detail I would really like to discuss is the groove on the back panel in which the shelf sits.
To make the groove and dados, I used a marking knife, a chisel, and a router plane. The dados were easy; they run across the grain and the knife line is generally easy to keep straight. The groove, which runs with the grain, is more difficult to mark because the knife obviously tends to follow the grain. The ironic part of the equation is that the sharper the knife, the more it tends to find minute grain variations. Those variations, as subtle as they may be, will show immediately when chopping out the waste, which leaves a jagged edge that appears to be gapped, especially in knotty pine. Though the dado is a snug fit, there are splinters along the wall at the top that make it look unsightly. On a piece of nice furniture this would be unacceptable, on a shelf that sits in my garage which will be used and abused it will not matter. I learned something while making that groove, which is why I built the project the way I did in the first place.
The rest of the project was easy. I assembled the shelf with cut nails and glue, beforehand planing everything smooth and adding some basic chamfers. Speaking of the smooth plane, knotty pine is the Pyrite of the planing world. Even a plane that is only reasonably sharp will make lovey shavings and make you think that your plane is just perfect; don’t be fooled. If you want to be sure that your smooth plane is sharp and functioning properly, I suggest using red oak, which is relatively inexpensive yet will give you true results.
And speaking of the groove, my ‘B Latt’ tip of the week is this: When making a groove or a dado by hand, the conventional wisdom is to use your chisel to remove the waste almost “to the line” and use the router plane to take of that final wisp of a shaving to make the bottom nice and smooth. I don’t agree with that. Experience has told me to use your chisel to remove the waste down to an 1/8 inch above your line, set the depth stop of your router plane to the finish depth, and remove the rest of the waste in increments. This method is the only way I’ve ever gotten consistent results, because nearly every time I’ve used a chisel and tried to get close to the finish depth, there has been a spot or two that blew out, or is a hair too low. Maybe that is just my inexperience, but nonetheless it happens. While using the router plane to finish the final 1/8 inch rather than the final 1/32 may take longer, the results are guaranteed.
Otherwise, the shelf is basically finished. The two boards I used were not perfectly even, so I need to plane flush anything that is sticking out, give the edges a light sanding, then I can hang it up and put my planes in place. As I said, this was not my best work nor was it meant to be. I’m not of the opinion that every little woodworking project needs to be made “as perfectly as possible”. I made this shelf in such a way that it should last a long, long time. It does not look great; it does not have intricate carving or scroll work, but it will hold my tools right where I want them to be, and that is all that really matters in the end.
Here is a photo of the finished shelf.