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The past eight weeks has been a trying time for my family, and of that I will say no more for the time being. It is times like these that many people question what they believe in, and that includes what we do in our leisure. So for the past months woodworking was rightly put on the back burner, though I did complete a project during that time, there were still many more important matters that had to be dealt with.
Now that we are in the heart of winter, the weather has turned against me. We’ve had little good weather to enjoy here, and it has mostly been rainy or snowy, and always very cold. The temperature rarely stays above freezing this time of year. I’ve vowed to never again make furniture during the winter as long as I am doing it in an unheated work area, and at this time I see no cause to break that vow. Still, there are a few things that can be, and need to be done.
Yesterday afternoon was the first time I had been home in a few days. My Enfield cupboard for all intents and purposes is completed, except for the paint, which will unfortunately have to wait until the weather improves. The only thing I had left to do on the cupboard was to even the gap between the top of the door and the face frame, which thankfully was nearly even to begin with. I simply marked the gap with a set of scribes, wet the endgrain with mineral spirits, and trimmed it off with a block plane. I then lightly sanded it and it was finished. All in all the task took less than 5 minutes.Speaking of block planes. Back during the summer I purchased some maple and bubinga that I hoped to turn into a block plane or two. Now that winter is in full swing, and all furniture projects are on hold, I think I may just do that. I have all of the material I need here already in which I should be able to make two planes, and I could always pick up some more bubinga to build others. I’ve thought about the dimensions and I would like to build a plane a bit larger than other wood blocks I’ve seen. I’m thinking of one 7 inches long X 2 1/2 inches wide, so it will be a bit larger than a regular block but still smaller than a smoother. My idea is a plane that is a bit heavier than normal, but still small enough to grip with one hand. I think it would be a perfect tool for raising panels among other things. It will be a bevel down plane, but I don’t think I will use a chipbreaker. However it turns out, it should be an interesting experiment.
My next furniture project will with out a doubt be a traditional 6-board blanket chest. I am going to start drawing up the plans soon, and I hope to pick up the material some time after Valentine’s Day. I’m not going to plan too far ahead after that, though I do have a few ideas. For now, my furniture building will be restricted to volunteering at Valley Forge Park. I’m thinking that the blacksmith’s cabin needs a new workbench, and if everything goes as planned I may be just the guy to build it.
Whenever I purchase a tool, I try to research its usefulness before I take the plunge. Woodworking tools in general can be a sizable investment, and it really pays to make sure your hard earned money is going towards something that will not only see a lot of use, but last for a long time. On the other hand, nearly every woodworker, both professional and hobbyist, probably has at least one tool that he regrets buying. For me, that tool was the Lie Nielsen #48 tongue and groove plane. Before I continue, let me say that it is an extremely well made tool. I have only one problem with it, and that is the fact that I don’t use it nearly as much as I thought I would. But…
This past weekend I had set aside for two things, finishing my wife’s infamous pantry closet, and finishing and installing the door for my Shaker Enfield cupboard. Thankfully, I managed to get both jobs completed, much in part to the weather, which was cold, rainy, and miserable, which also gave me the excuse I needed to work in and around the house. Saturday morning I finished up the pantry closet, which was a mopping up effort more than anything. I then went straight into the garage to get to work on the door.
The first thing I did was raise the panels for the door. I don’t have a panel raising bit for a router, nor do I have a panel raising plane, and I was frankly too afraid to attempt it on my table saw for fear of ruining the boards, so I improvised.
My improvisation was fairly simple; I just used the dado stack for the table saw. First part was a test cut just to set the depth, then the real deal. I set the fence for a one inch reveal and got to work. The dado stack did a fine job, but left the board a bit rougher than I would like. Then it occurred to me to give my moving fillister plane a try, just to clean up the surface. I had finally got it up and running on Friday night by regrinding the iron on my new DMT diamond stone, which performed beautifully, which also resulted in the fillister plane performing beautifully. Once I had the panels cleaned up I added a slight chamfer to the raised portion of the panel to give it a faux profile. The result turned out pretty nicely, and I was more than satisfied, but then I ran into a bit of a problem.
When I built the door frame, I added the groove to the rails and stiles using the table saw and dado stack, but I made one minor error; I made them too shallow. I didn’t recall making them too shallow, it was only after I was about to do the finally dry assembly that I noticed it. I very nearly got out the dado stack to make the possibly perilous attempt at deepening the groove, but then I had an epiphany: the LN #48!
I pulled the #48 out of the tool chest and inspected it; the iron was still sharp, which was a relief considering I hadn’t used the plane in months. Still, I gave it a quick honing, said a quick prayer, and went to work. Thankfully, the groove was perfectly centered and perfectly ¼ inch wide, which allowed the plane iron to fit right in. Fairly quickly, I had the grooves at the proper depth, and my dry fit went perfectly. The #48 made a hell of a mess of shavings, but I’m really glad that I had it.
To be sure that I the glue up went smoothly, I called in Mrs. Slightly Confused to lend a hand and we got the door glued up in short order. I set it on the side to dry, cleaned up, and called it a night. The whole process took just under two hours, which actually fell right into my original estimate.
This morning I finished the installation. Before I go on, let me say that I’m amazed at how many tools are needed to install both the door and the hinges for it. I started by planing down the door sides, then giving the whole door an overall sanding, 60/150/220 grit, as well as a light hand sanding. I then marked the hinges with a knife, sawed the kerfs, chiseled out the waste, and finished it up with a router plane. Once again I called in Mrs. Confused to help me screw the door to the case. The door was just a hair tight, which I figured it would be, so I removed it, planed it down (as well as back beveling the closing side) and reinstalled. The door closed nicely, and the reveal is pretty much right on the money, with only some minor adjustments needed for the top and bottom, which I will be able to do without removing the door again. I now only need to make a latch, and add a knob, and the cabinet will be ready for paint. Overall I’m happy with the finished result.
I don’t often give advice on this blog, as I’ve mentioned several times before, but I will offer two bits of wisdom here. Firstly, if you are an intermediate woodworker looking to improve your skills (and you like Shaker furniture) I can’t think of a better project to try than the Enfield Cupboard. In this average sized piece of furniture you have: case construction, dados, tongue and groove joinery, mortise and tenon joinery. There is door construction with raised panels and mortise and tenons, shop made mouldings, miters, and curved pieces. In other words, this cupboard really puts your skills to the test.
Secondly, I’ll say once again if you are thinking about getting into hand tools, don’t get overly mesmerized by bench planes; joinery planes are far more valuable in my opinion. A jack plane can do most small to midsized planing tasks and take the place of a smoother and jointer if need be, but there really isn’t a great substitute for planes such as the router and moving fillister, which really earn their money every time you need them. So if you want my advice, start off with a jack plane and a few joinery planes, you will be happy that you did. If you don’t want my advice, don’t listen. What do I know?
Though I had a 4 day mini-vacation over the Christmas Holiday, I knew that I would have little time to actually woodwork during my four days off. I had hoped to get the door completed, and that wish almost came true yesterday morning. I needed to saw the tenons for the rails, and get the stiles mortised, and finally fit the panels.
The tenons came first, and for that task I used the table saw and my homemade tenoning jig. First I defined the tenon cheeks using the jig as a stop block. I then carefully sawed the tenons. My jig does not have a built in clamp, so I use bar clamps to hold the work piece steady. It works, but you have to be careful because the piece likes to rise, as it is technically a non-through cut. Either way, I had the tenons finished in about twenty minutes. I then sawed the haunches for the top and bottom rails, tested them, and cleaned them up with chisels until they fit. Once the tenons were fit I used them to mark the mortises.
To make the mortises I used my router table and a spiral up-cut bit. It is a method I don’t care for all that much, but I don’t have a hollow chisel mortising machine, and I quite frankly didn’t feel like chopping them out by hand. The operation went smoothly, but of course there needed to be an issue of some kind. The last mortise I made was for the bottom left hand stile, and I saved it for last because it was at the end of board that felt somewhat stringy to me, at least more stringy than usual, as Poplar can be stringy to begin with. Just as I was about to lift board to finish the plunge cut I heard a little pop, and there was some tear out on the back wall of the mortise. It is very minor, and will easily be fixed with a little putty. More importantly, it is on the back of the door, at the bottom, and will be painted anyway.
The fitting of the tenons was fairly uneventful. I cleaned out every tenon with a chisel, and squared the round edge left by the router bit with a 1/4 inch mortising chisel. Thankfully the table saw left very smooth tenons, so I only needed to lightly sand them to get a nice fit. I did a test fit by dry clamping the door and at least for now everything looks good to go. I had little time left at that point, but I did get the panels sawn to length and width. I had thought about attempting to raise them using the table saw, but a test try has scared me off of that idea. I had just enough wood left to make the two panels, and if I ruin one I will not only be out more money, I will have to either run to a lumber yard or box store to pick up more wood, and I don’t want to do either. Instead, I plan on making a faux raised panel, and lightly chamfering it as well as the door frame, which should leave a nice look, and be a much safer alternative. Before I called it a morning I test fit the door in the cupboard opening. It was slightly too wide, which I had planned, as it will allow me to plane the door to fit as well as back bevel the edge as soon as I decide which way I want the door to open. The good news is the cupboard should easily be finished next weekend.
In other news…I am unfortunately well past the age of waking up to presents on Christmas morning, but as it were, I did receive an Amazon gift card from an unlikely source, and the day after Christmas I promptly used it to order a DMT duosharp diamond bench stone, which promptly arrived this morning. I still plan on using water stones for final honing, but my days of initial grinding with them are coming to a close. I like the results they give, but water stones require a lot of maintenance, and with my woodworking time already severely limited, the last thing I want to do is spend my time sharpening, as well as maintaining sharpening equipment. The DMT plate should offer good results with a lot less hassle. Like many other things woodworking, now I just need to find the time to try it out.
****once again sorry for the lack of photos, my phone doesn’t take nice pictures, my camera is out of commission, and most importantly, so is my camera woman****
I had little time to woodwork this past weekend, but as it were, I did manage to get a few things accomplished on my cupboard.
First thing I had to do was simple, and that was to saw off the protruding pieces of the top moulding. For that task, I turned to a tool that I rarely use, a Japanese Ryoba saw. I’m not such a fan of Japanese style tools. I have nothing against them, but I’ve failed to discover any of the mystical qualities that some woodworkers claim they have. That being said, my experience with Japanese woodworking tools is very limited, so I could be wrong. My Ryoba saw is a Marples, a cheap one, that was given to me as a gift. It’s definitely sharp, but I don’t find it any more accurate than a backsaw. In fact, I think it is less accurate. I do, however, like it for flush cutting because of its flexible blade and thin kerf. I’ll say this, if the Marples handle was better and more comfortable, as in made from wood rather than the licorice like plastic handle that it does have, I may just think more highly of the tool. In any event, the saw did a nice job and made a clean cut.
As I said, my time was very limited, but I wanted to at least get the door parts started, so I ripped the stiles to width and finish length, and then cut the rails to length, adding 2 inches to each to account for the tenons. For the rail widths I once again followed the measurements from the original cupboard: a 4 inch wide bottom rail, a 5 inch wide middle rail, and a 3 inch wide top. Before I put the table saw away I got out the dado stack and ripped a ¼ inch wide x ¼ inch deep groove down the center of each stile. I would have loved to also finish up the mortises, but I didn’t have the time. Even had I finished the mortises, I’m going to need to pick up the board to make the two panels before I go any farther, and I would actually like to make them first.
With next weekend being my wedding anniversary, as well as being the weekend before Christmas, I’m not sure how much more work I will get done. Thankfully I have a few days off after Christmas, and if I can managed to get the board for the panels between now and then, I should be able to finish the door construction in around 2 hours if I can maintain a good pace. I’m hoping that to get the construction finished by the last weekend of December, and the paint applied the weekend after the New Year. With that, I can start on my next project, which I’ve been mapping out in my spare time, and should be a simple but very useful piece of furniture that I probably should have made a long time ago.
Just about every woodworking project has a defining feature that can either make or break the piece. To my eye, the Enfield Cupboard’s defining feature isn’t the door, or the arches, but the built up cap moulding which runs along three sides at the top of the case. As I’ve discovered with other aspects of this project, the construction and installation of the cap moulding, which looks deceptively easy, is a bit more complex than it first appears.
Before I started this project, I knew that the cap moulding would likely be the most challenging part of the construction. I also knew that the cap moulding would be the feature that transformed this project from a basic cabinet to a more refined piece of furniture. Because the moulding is rabbeted and mitered, I took extra care to assure that the case was square as possible. Of course, every woodworker wants to be sure that his furniture is as square and plumb as humanly possible, but being slightly out of square on a larger case isn’t always the end of the world depending on how it is constructed. In the case of the Enfield Cupboard, the cap moulding is clearly visible because it is less than a foot below eye level to the average sized person, and the miters had better be even or the case will just look like hell.
The first part of the moulding construction involved ripping a piece of poplar from a 4ft long board I had set aside. Theoretically, if I was careful the 4ft piece would have been just enough to complete the moulding all from one board, but rather than take a chance I ripped another piece in order to construct two pieces. I cleaned up the edges with my newly honed Jack plane, and then I used the dado blade on my table saw to essentially create a groove, as in tongue and groove, along the front of the trim pieces, using a scrap board of course to take a test cut. I considered using my #48 plane to make that tongue, but the truth is I haven’t had as much success as I would like with that plane, and though this could have been the perfect time to practice, I also wanted to finish the moulding, and I simply don’t have the time for both practice and furniture construction, so I made the choice to actually get this cabinet built.
After the tongue, or astragal (the proper term), was finished I rabbeted the back of the board, just over ¾” wide and ¼” deep. I wanted the rabbet to be deep enough to cover any of the end grain of the face frame and the case itself. Though the original plans called for a smaller/shorter rabbet, I used my best judgment, and I think it improves the look.
The next step was carefully mitering the pieces. Thankfully, I have an Osbourne Miter Gauge for my table saw, which is highly accurate. I cut the first miter, checked, double checked, and triple checked the placement, added a little glue to the rabbet, and nailed it from the top using cut brad nails. After that, it went fairly quickly, and the miters were nice and tight with just a hint of seam. For the cove moulding I used the router table to make the cove and ripped it to width using the table saw, once again making two pieces of trim to be on the safe side. To attach the cove I used a pneumatic brad nailer, which is a tool I’ve used on only the rarest occasion while woodworking. At first I considered nailing the cove by hand, but rather than be lazy I took the extra fifteen minutes to get out the compressor even though I was only using it for around 20 seconds, as I knew that it would be the best tool for the job. Once all of the pieces were in place I gave it a little drying time and performed the scariest part: nailing the miters. Each miter got one nail, and one nail can easily ruin a miter with a miss hit, etc. I’m happy to report that there was nothing to report, and the miters held fast.
Once that was finished I cleaned up and called it a morning. Before I did anything else to the moulding I wanted to give it several hours of drying time. Last night I gave the “tongue” some rounding over with a block plane, and then I gave the rest of the moulding an overall light hand sanding with some 220 grit paper. Because I made each side piece long, I will have to saw them away from the case, but I will wait until next weekend to do that, as I want it to be fully dry beyond any doubt. I will also fully set the nails at that time. Once the sawing is finished I will finish the shaping and the sanding. I want the tongue to be rounded over, just barely.
The original plan called for a third piece to the moulding, a small bead under the cove. However, I do not have any way to make that bead, at least to make it look nice, so I will leave it off the case. I’m happy with the way it looks, very happy actually, so I have no desire to tempt disaster and mess with what I think is a perfectly good moulding.
Next weekend I will start on the door. The original does not have raised panels, but I’ve considered attempting to make them. I’m not sure yet. I’m also still on the fence about what color to paint the case. I will probably get some input from my wife on that subject, as this cupboard will probably end up in our bedroom. In any event, I hope to have the door finished before Christmas, and the cupboard painted before the New Year.
I’ve mentioned many times that I rarely read “professional” woodworking blogs anymore. I’ve also explained my reasons many times, and none of it really bears repeating. This all isn’t to say that I never read pro blogs, I still read the Popular Woodworking blog from time to time, and the PW blog is probably the only pro blog I where I will leave a comment. Maybe it’s because I’m getting older, but days of being influenced are drawing to a close, in fact, very soon I will not have a subscription to a woodworking magazine for the first time in six years. As far as amateur blogs, I read them religiously, and this post originates indirectly from one of those amateur blogs.
Jonas Jensen’s blog, Mulesaw, is one of my favorite woodworking blogs to read. I’m consistently fascinated by the stuff Jonas makes and his philosophy concerning woodworking, which is basically to make furniture with anything he can find using any tools he happens to have handy. The fascinating part is the fact that Jonas does some incredible work with material that many woodworkers would consider for the scrap pile using tools that most woodworkers would scoff at all while floating out in the Atlantic ocean (or wherever he may be). I’ve found that we have some things in common, and though we’ve never met, I like to consider Jonas a friend. On his blog Jonas has links to some of the woodworking blogs he likes to read, and he is kind enough to add mine to the list. Also on his list is the Lost Art Press blog, which I don’t read often, only from time to time. The other day I was reading one Jonas’ posts when I happened to notice a post from LAP with a title that caught my eye, so I clicked the link and read the blog.
I felt the post was interesting, and while I won’t go into heavy detail, it concerned proportions and furniture, and how the classic proportions make the nicest furniture. It’s not easy to argue with that logic, because good design and proportion have gone hand in hand since antiquity. On the other hand, while I feel that proportion is important, I don’t think it is the most important part of furniture design. For me, furniture is a success for two reasons: it is well made, and it does the job it was intended to do.
I have a hard time calling a well-made piece of furniture ugly. There may be ugly furniture out there, but I would bet that it’s ugly because it is a poorly constructed piece of junk. I’ve never seen a piece of furniture that was well constructed and properly finished that also managed to be hideous. There is furniture made that doesn’t suit my taste, and that includes furniture that many would consider masterpieces. I’ve said before that I like simple furniture such as Arts and Crafts, Shaker, and to a lesser extent, Federal. I’m not a fan of overly ornate furniture, but I certainly wouldn’t consider ornate furniture ugly just because of that virtue.
I have a hard time calling a well-made piece of furniture ugly just because it was constructed with proportions that aren’t consider classic. Once again, I’m not saying that proportion isn’t important; good proportions leads to good design, and good design usually means good construction methods. I am saying that a piece of furniture made to fill a need, or fit a space, can still look great as long as it is well constructed and properly finished, no matter if the proportions are perfect or not. The “proportional” line of thinking has kept me away from most professional blogs. Now before everybody gets their panties in a bunch, that is by no means an attack on the blog post or its author; I enjoyed the post and that is why I am writing about it. I am saying that I don’t let strict proportion define my work, and I don’t think anybody else should, either.
My latest project is the first piece of furniture I’ve built from a plan in almost three years. I don’t follow woodworking plans very often for many reasons, one of the main reasons being that I often can’t afford the costs associated with strictly following a plan. The first thing I did with the plan was alter the dimensions to suit my budget, and to make sure it would fit where I needed it to go. Those alterations changed the proportions of the case slightly. I don’t care, and I never will. Strictly following proportions doesn’t automatically make you a better woodworker. The case will still be well made with solid joinery and (hopefully) a nice finish. The case will fit where I intend it to fit, and it will hold what I intend it to hold. That’s why I am making it. It is made from boards that I purchased. I purchased the best material I could afford and I altered the design of the cupboard to maximize the usefulness of those boards. I took what used to be a tree and made it into a piece of furniture using tools and my hands and my mind. That, is what makes me a woodworker.
Contrary to every instinct I have when it comes to woodworking and a national holiday, I did actually manage to get in a little work on my Enfield Cupboard on Thanksgiving morning. Don’t get me wrong, I didn’t do much. I only added the dados to the back of the case and then glued and clamped it up. Shockingly, the glue-up went easily, too easily in fact because it made me worry that I had nothing to worry about. Then something caught my eye that turned my psychosomatic fears into actual concern.
The face frame of the cupboard is simply two stiles and a rail held together by a mortise and tenon. The whole set-up seemed a bit flimsy to me, but that is the way the original was designed, and I am basically making this cupboard to the original specifications. But on Thanksgiving morning I noticed a bit of sag, and it looked to me that there was a crack causing the joint to fail. I picked up the frame, which was lying on top of my table saw bed, and it at first looked fine, then I noticed not one, but two splits, one at the top of each stile. I’m not exactly sure what caused the splits; I felt that I left plenty of space between the mortise and the top to keep the integrity of the board. Whatever the case, the splits were there, and though they were tiny, I knew it could be a potential problem. My first thought was to reinforce the joint with a pocket screw, but that could easily have turned a hairline split into a full-fledged crack, so I decided to glue a 3 inch wide by 1/4 inch thick backer along the whole top of the rail and across each joint. I set that back on top of the table saw bed to dry and called it a morning.
This morning when I went into the garage the first thing I did was check the face frame and happily everything looked great. The backer strengthened up the frame and everything was still square and true. The cupboard also glued-up nicely. I was worried about warp, mainly because of the sudden drop in temperature we had last week. Luckily, only the bottom shelf warped, and that was very slight so it didn’t hinder the glue-up process or affect the square of the cupboard. So my goal for the day was to get the back of the cupboard added, and then attach the face frame.
I started with the back. Originally, I was going to use three boards tongue and grooved to make up the back panel; the problem was that I only had two boards that would work. Instead, I used a piece of birch plywood I had picked up at Woodcraft a few months back. The tongue and groove boards were certainly more traditional and fitting with the project, but I like to think that the Shakers would have approved of my substitution with material that I had on hand. Besides, the back of the case will rarely be seen. At the least, I attached it with cut nails, no glue however. I then turned my attention to the face frame.
Well, the next step before attaching the face frame was installing some Sawtooth shelf supports that I picked up from Lee Valley. I hadn’t planned on using them in the cupboard, but I ordered three sets to use in my wife’s infamous pantry closet, and the leftover pieces were just enough to use in the cupboard, so I threw them in. As for the face frame, I laid the cupboard on its back, applied some hide glue, and attached the face frame with a handful of brad nails. The face frame had roughly 1/16 of an inch overhang on each side, which I did on purpose, and once it was dry I trimmed it off with my least favorite tool and a flush trim bit. After that operation was complete I decided to use a roundover profile on the arches of the case sides to soften them up, because to my eye they seemed a bit harsh. The last task of the day was sawing off the face frame overhang at the bottom with a carcass saw, and cleaning up the router marks left by the flush trim bit with a block plane.
Next weekend I will hopefully start, and finish, the top mouldings and profile. That would only leave constructing the door between me and a completed cupboard. For finish, I am thinking of painting the cupboard a blue/gray and leaving the interior bare. My wife mentioned leaving off the door and keeping the cupboard open, but I want to see what it looks like with a door before I make any final decision. Otherwise, this project is almost completed.