The Slightly Confused Woodworker

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To make as utilitarian as possible.

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.

A place for hand planes

A place for hand planes

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.

A little light sanding and planing, maybe a few pegs, and it will be ready to hang.

A little light sanding and planing, maybe a few pegs, and it will be ready to hang.

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.

*****UPDATE*****

Here is a photo of the finished shelf.

Shelf is not in place

Shelf is now in place

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Fixing a Hole

Because I had a little bit of free time on Friday night after work, I got a little bit of a jumpstart on my built in cupboard project I started last week. The first task was to place the cupboard in its soon-to-be home and mark out the portion of the wall to be sawn out. I then used a drywall saw to cut out the hole and make a huge mess in the process. The next task was installing the back of the cupboard, which was a simple piece of 1/4″ thick Baltic birch plywood, which I cut on the table saw. I installed the back piece with a little glue and some brad nails. I then installed the semi-finished cupboard in the hole. I possibly could have installed the face-frame before and then installed the cupboard in one shot, but that would have made it more difficult to shim. So I installed the case with some finish nails, added a new 2×4 header to the wall, and called it a night.

Plywood back installed

Plywood back installed

Shimmed and ready to go.

Shimmed and ready to go.

I had work yesterday morning, and things to do in the afternoon, so the face-frame portion of the project had to wait until this morning. For the face frame I once again used Pine, ripped to 3 1/4″ wide, except for the bottom piece which was only 1 3/4″. To take away the tooling marks I used the jack plane set very lightly, as I didn’t want to change the dimensions any more than necessary. I then gave the boards an overall sanding 150/220. When they looked satisfactory I double checked the boards to be sure they were square, because I used pocket holes to assemble the frame, and while pocket hole joinery may be dead simple, if the boards aren’t square then it doesn’t mean a thing. I assembled the frame on my workbench, hung it with just one nail, checked everything to make sure it was even, and then finished the installation using finish nails.

A small pile of shavings. I must not be a real woodworker.

A small pile of shavings. I must not be a real woodworker.

Face frame installed

Face frame installed

It holds stuff

It holds stuff

The last act of the day was filling the cabinet just to see what it can hold. For not being very large it holds a nice amount of stuff. I don’t really have any specific plan for the cupboard, it was really just an experiment. Because I didn’t have enough wood to make the door frame, it will have to wait until next weekend. That will be a bit more challenging, as it will involve mortise and tenon joinery, as well as fitting panels. I would also like to add a small cap to the top of the frame. I can’t be anything that sticks out very far, but I do want to differentiate between the cupboard and the rest of the wall with a border.

Considering that the wall isn’t very even, and covered in bumpy drywall, the cabinet fits nicely. I think it will look even better once the door is in place. One thing I probably should have done differently was leave off the adjustable shelving and just uses dadoes to hold the shelves in place. The cabinet really isn’t tall enough to need adjustable shelving, and it was a bit of a waste of time to put the holes in. Otherwise, I am happy with how it is shaping up. Next weekend I should have little problem getting the door built and installed. I will then be able to call this project finished and move on to making my smoothing plane.

Here Comes the Sun

This coming weekend I am hoping to start a built-in/recessed storage cabinet project I’ve had planned for my garage. I already have the material and the rough dimensions I want to use, but what I don’t really have is an idea for the door. While the cabinet itself is going to be very basic, I do want to put a nice door on it. At the same time, an extremely fancy door on a basic built-in cabinet in a garage would look silly. So my minor dilemma is finding a simple door design that looks a bit more elegant than a slab of plywood, yet at the same time will work in a garage, and to me that equals Shaker.

I’m a big fan of Shaker furniture, though I haven’t made very many pieces. But a Shaker door would work well in my situation because the Shakers were masters of “plain” designs that also happen to look great in just about any setting. So I did a quick internet search of Shaker cabinets and the first one that popped up may be the most popular of all: The Enfield Cabinet.

The Enfield cabinet has probably been built thousands of times, and that is for good reason: it can do a lot. The cabinet works well in a kitchen, a bedroom, a woodshop, or a living room. It is easy to modify yet still maintain the “Enfield” look and shape. It can be stained or painted without loosing it’s appeal. It is fairly easy to build, yet also has a few challenges. I watched an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop where Roy Underhill was working on an Enfield and it is one of my favorite in the series. Hell, even my wife liked it! So in short, I want to build the sucker.

Roy Underhill's Enfield Cabinet

Roy Underhill’s Enfield Cabinet

tear-out-008

Before I go on, I have to add that even though I’m not really a tool hound, in particular for a person that enjoys woodworking, every time I watch Roy Underhill I want to buy one of the tools he is using. The latest woodworking tool on my list is a moving fillister plane. Though I’ve written many times about my love for the table saw, one of the things I hate using it for is making rabbets, but it can do the job. Nearly every episode of the Woodwright’s Shop features Roy using a moving fillister plane, and that is for good reason. E.C. Emmerich offers a model that looks right up my alley, though I will have to come up with the funds to obtain it.

After my research, I’ve decided to pattern my built-in cupboard door after the Shaker Enfield version. Not only do I think it will look nice, but it will be good practice for when I build the real thing. Yet the best part in all of this is the fact that several weeks ago I wrote about finishing my plant stand, and how it finished on a low note, and how I really didn’t want to woodwork during the summer for a myriad of reasons. Now, I’ve found not one, but two projects that I would start tomorrow if I were lucky enough to have that kind of free time. Yet, I don’t think I will break my rule of avoiding woodworking during the two hottest, most humid months of the year, though that doesn’t mean I can’t draw up the plans and get the materials all ready.

Anyway, my spring of woodworking despair has led into a summer of new hope. I have several projects on the horizon that I would love to make, and I actually have a little free money to purchase the material with. Suddenly, I pumped up for some woodworking! The only thing that could top it off is convincing my lovely wife that a moving fillister plane would make a very nice birthday gift for her hard-working husband.

Oh Hell.

With summer fast approaching, I’ve made the decision to hold off on any major furniture projects until the fall. I don’t want to contend with the environment because that’s a fight I cannot win. My garage doesn’t have any real means of climate control, and in the past when I’ve tried to woodwork during the summer months I had to deal with uncontrollable wood movement that nearly ruined the projects I was building, and definitely ruined my good time. But even though I won’t be making furniture I do still have quite a bit of woodworking planned.

The first project I have planned is an easy one. Last fall I started a remodel of our bedroom. We are finally in the closing stages (the harsh winter put a hold on a lot of projects). My wife came to the conclusion that I should put in crown moulding as a finishing touch, and I agree. Rather than purchase the crown, I will duplicate the moulding I installed several years ago in my daughter’s bedroom, which is just a very basic cove and flat trim that I made using a router. It’s easy to install on an uneven plaster wall, and there is no complex sawing involved to get a tight fit, and most importantly, I think it looks nice.

Poor man's crown.

Poor man’s crown.

The next projects will be the workshop/garage projects I had mentioned in a previous post. I will start with a recessed wall cabinet that I am hoping will hold any and all of my miscellaneous tools, stains, etc. that I want within reach, but not necessarily in the way. I will then hopefully move on to a low profile wall-hung tool cabinet to hang over the right side of my workbench area. And speaking of workbenches…

I think I may just take the plunge and finally make my new workbench. I’ve been thinking about, and talking about it, and writing about it for the past three months, so it’s probably about time to put up or shut up. I’ve been watching Paul Sellers videos on making a Nicholson style joiners bench for the past few weeks, and they’ve been my inspiration to finally get started. While I like Sellers bench, my design will be closer to the bench of soon-to-be legendary English Woodworker, Graham Haydon. Sellers bench is a little high for my taste, which really isn’t an issue, but his also utilizes an apron that is not flush to the bench legs. While a bench with a wide apron doesn’t really need to have its legs flush to the top to work properly, I would like to use a leg vice, which needs a flush leg in order for it to work. At the same time, I could always use Sellers design and make only the vice leg flush, but I’m not at that point in the design phase as of yet.

Before I go on, I have to say, yet again, that Paul Sellers is clearly the best of the lot in the world of woodworking instruction, and I say that with apologies to several people. The man is a “real” woodworker, and that I don’t say lightly. I’m not going to get into all that much detail on why I formed this opinion, but if you are reading this blog and you’ve never really checked out a Paul Sellers video do yourself a big favor and watch one; there are many free offerings on YouTube. If you enjoy woodworking I think you will be extremely impressed with Sellers’ videos. I like him simply because his bench throws the whole “French” workbench theory on its ear. I have nothing against the French bench (and am I the only woodworker tired of saying ‘French bench’?) But the idea that you need a massive workbench in order to woodwork is completely ridiculous. Does it work? Sure, it’s 400lbs of wood, of course it won’t move. There is nothing special about the design-4 enormous legs with a thick slab of wood sitting on them. The bench that Sellers builds is far better engineered, yet uses less wood and is easier to make. According to Sellers, the bench has been in use in professional English shops for well over fifty years! That’s enough for me.

If I do make the bench, I will make the base first, and that base may just sit for a month or so until I get around to building the bench top. That’s the nice thing about already having a functional bench; I don’t have to rush. I know I’ve said before that building a workbench can be cost both a lot of time and money, and it may be easier in many cases to just purchase a good one and get to making actual furniture. I still feel that is good advice, as long as you can actually afford to purchase a new workbench; I, however, cannot.

So the real question is: Why build another bench when I already have a perfectly good one? Well, I don’t have a good answer for that if you want me to be honest. The stupid answer is that I’ve wanted to make the Nicholson bench for almost four years, and I think that a summer when I don’t plan on making any furniture is a good time to do it. I think it will be the perfect project to either keep me occupied during the summer, or the perfect project to piss me off, or in all likelihood both. Either way, nothing that happens while I’m woodworking surprises me anymore.

On making my garage a slightly less painful place to woodwork in…

Though I woodwork in my garage, it is not a woodworking shop; not hardly. My wife parks her car in there, we keep some gardening tools in there, my daughter’s bike, and baseballs, and soccer ball are in there. There are cleaners, and motor oil, and break fluid, and knocker loose, and car wax, and other tools to go along with my woodworking stuff. It is definitely a multi-purpose space. In the eleven years that we lived in this house, I’ve managed to convert the garage from a poorly organized, dimly lit dungeon to a fairly organized, decent place to work and park a car. That being said, there are still plenty of things I would like to do in there, and the next thing I have planned I have been thinking about since the day we first moved in.

My garage roughly measures 13ft wide by 25ft long; in that space there is little more I can now do to improve it without spending a lot of money. But, our garage also has two “bump outs”, one in the center and one in the back. The center one is raised and contains the furnace and hot water heater and is framed out in dry wall with a wide doorway to allow access for maintenance. On the right side of that doorway is a patch of drywall around 2ft wide. I had always wanted to put a recessed cabinet in that space, something around 14 inches wide and 5ft tall, I’m not exactly sure yet exactly which dimensions. In any case, I want this thing to look nice, yet I don’t want it to look like Queen Anne bookshelf, this is a garage after all.

I can probably have the basic frame/shelves built and installed in a morning; the door will take longer. What this space will do is allow me to have a place to keep items like WD40 and Armor All out of sight and out of the way, yet be right where I need them. More importantly, it will allow me to remove the cabinet hanging above the right side of my workbench that contains all of that stuff I want hidden. Most importantly, it will not alter the footprint of the garage one inch.

With the recessed cabinet built, and with the cabinet currently hanging at the back of my garage removed, it will give me the space to finally build a nice, low-profile wall cabinet specifically for holding woodworking tools. The best part about both of these projects is that I can build them for a bare minimum of cost, meaning almost nothing; I have much of the material already. It’s not that I have something against spending money to improve my garage, but we are looking to move sometime in the not too distant future, and I feel it’s foolish to spend hundreds of dollars to make my garage a nicer place to woodwork only to sell the house to a homeowner that likely couldn’t care less about such things.

Before I move onto anything else, however, I have to finish my plant stand. The good news there is the bottom shelf should be finished shortly, and I will only need to do a light, overall hand-sanding to then apply the first coat of finish. I’m hoping to have that done this coming Saturday, and if all goes well I will start the demo/frame out of my new cabinet. I’m hoping that I can get a lot done in a few short days, because next weekend is a holiday weekend, and I have a feeling that my family has a lot of plans for me that don’t involve a garage, demolition, and woodworking tools.

Patriot’s Toolchest Design Ideas

The rare and even more unwanted combination of a sore back, a poor nights sleep, a pulled muscle in my shoulder, not feeling all that well, a hot and humid afternoon, and a long day at work did not leave me in the mood to woodwork this fine evening. In fact, it didn’t leave me in the mood to do much of anything. So when I finally did get home from work I promptly went into my garage and sharpened a few chisels just for the hell of it. I wasn’t being a glutton for punishment, or trying to prove my undying love of hobby woodworking, it was just to blow off a little steam, and also to get myself reacquainted with being at the workbench again, something I’ve found myself missing for about a week now.

Actually, my bad day did have a few bright spots, and one of them came during my break at work. I had planned on sitting comatose in our air conditioned break room for thirty minutes or so sipping iced tea and turning off my brain; instead my mind turned to my tool chest project that will hopefully begin this coming Sunday. I’ve had the basic idea/design in my head for some time actually, but it wasn’t until a few days ago that I actually did some drawings and came up with some measurements. Originally I had decided on a chest roughly 31″x31″x12″ deep. I think I will stick with the 12″ deep part, but I will make the height 32″ and the width 36″. Two things brought me to this conclusion, firstly I have decided to make the case body and shelves from birch plywood. Two 2×4 sheets will give me the sides, and the top and bottom shelves, and maybe most importantly, make the case much more stable in terms of warp. Secondly, the added height will give me just that much more room in the case, and since I have an area roughly three feet wide on the floor where the chest will go I think it would be foolish not to take advantage of it. As far as the trim, the back panels, and the lid are concerned, I’m leaning towards Poplar, but if Pine is more readily available (in as far as the quality of the boards) I will use it instead.

The joinery on the case will most likely be very simple. The shelves will be rabbeted and the back panels dadoed. I think I will use cut nails for the trim and also to help strengthen the shelving joints (and any other exposed area) while the back panels will be tongue and grooved together and simply screwed to the case. I had considered running the boards for the back of the case vertically but I believe that horizontal boards will not only look much nicer, they will also add to the stability of the case. For the lid I considered making a traditional raised panel and frame, but when I thought about it for a while it sounded less and less like a good idea, for no other reason than I don’t think it will look as nice as a single battened cover.

Besides a saw till, I’m really not sure what kind of tool holding I’m going to incorporate into the chest. Spacers for the hand planes will probably be a must, and a small rack for screw drivers and measuring tools. I’m still not sure if I will install a chisel rack or just leave them in the roll. I will cross that bridge when I get to it. Last thing is paint color. Everybody seems to like black, and for good reason. Black will probably take the most punishment and still look decent, but I can also see myself going with a dark green or red. Again, those are details that can thankfully wait.

So the good news is I have my measurements down, the material chosen, and the stock amounts all ready to go. I will start by picking up the case material and the trim for the front on Thursday, and hopefully on Sunday have a finished case. Until the case is constructed I don’t want to do much else. A lot can change between the theory phase of a project and the practical phase; that is why I don’t really like following woodworking plans. Woodworking plans look great on paper, but they cannot and do not account for everything. I’m going to estimate the build time at roughly twenty hours, though that can also change very quickly. Build time isn’t very important to me, but I like to know how long something takes. Maybe it’s a character flaw I have. Maybe I should just enjoy the process…No, enjoying the process is for other things, I woodwork to make stuff.

Father’s Day Saw Rack

I spent much of most of last Saturday afternoon rough wiring my Father-in-Law’s kitchen. For that job I brought most of my electric hand tools and several parachute bags of fittings and small parts. For a job like that I would generally bring my open tote, my shoulder pouch, my tool box, and the fittings bags. I also usually bring the tote with my carpentry tools. It’s a nice, Stanley FatMax tote which is large enough for a good amount of tools and also has straps for levels and saws, and also includes a saw pouch mounted on the side. I didn’t bring that particular tote with me because I know that my Father-in-Law has a large set of tools already. So when it came time to use a saw and a chisel it took us quite a while to find them. While my Father-in-Law keeps his basement clean and neat, the area where he keeps his tools is not very well organized. I also noticed, for the first time in more than thirteen years, that there are some very good tools floating around in that basement.

Among the tools I saw were Stanley Sweetheart chisels, Buck Brothers screwdrivers (all wooden handles), a Stanley brace and a full set of Jennings augers still in the box, and to my horror, four Disston handsaws, along with several other high quality saws, laying across some pipes. My Father-in-Law explained to me that many of the tools had belonged to his grandfather, who had passed them down to his son, and so on. I didn’t want to insult him by saying that he wasn’t taking good enough care of them, but I did mention to him that the tools were some good ones. So for the past week I’ve been thinking about those tools and how they could and should be stored better. So with Father’s day approaching I decided to make a simple saw/chisel/screwdriver rack for my Father-in-Law’s tools.

Because it was still hot and humid today, and because I didn’t want to open the garage door unless I had to do it, I decided to make the bulk of this project with hand tools. I started with a 1×6 piece of pine I had left over. First thing I did was saw off one end. To do that by hand I did the same thing I would do when sawing dovetails: I used a marking gauge to scribe a cut line and used a chisel to define the cut wall. After that it was quite easy to saw cleanly through. For that job I used a bench hook, a holdfast, and a carcass saw. I then turned to sawing the board in half. Since I don’t have a traditional striking knife, I used my electrician’s cable splicing knife and a speed square to define my cut wall. With the board sawn roughly in half I sawed four dividers using scrap 1/2″ thick Poplar stock. I pre-drilled some holes, but before doing any nailing and glue up I ran the smooth plane over the front board just to clean it up. I then glued the dividers to the back board, spaced evenly (by eye) and attached the top. The top was glued to the dividers as well and everything was held in place with cut nails, which also added a decorative touch.

While everything was drying I did a little cleaning up and layed out the holes for the Shaker pegs to be installed on the front of the rack. I had four left from a prior saw rack build, and coincidentally there were four dividers, so the holes were layed out over the dividers. In keeping with the spirit of the day, I used a brace and bit to make the holes. It had been the first time I had used one in a little while so of course I went a hair too deep on the first hole. Still, I had every thing drilled and installed rather quickly. I then sawed off each end to clean them up and used my Hock Block plane to add a slight chamfer to the rack. Last thing I did involved the table saw. I ripped the piece to final width, taking about 3/8 of an inch off the bottom of the rack. I probably could have done that with the jointer plane but the table saw did just fine. I thought about a few coats of linseed oil but like I was saying, I didn’t want to open the garage door, so I may wait until next week to do that, or I may just leave it natural.

Overall it felt good to get back into the garage and do a little woodworking. The whole build time was less than two hours including clean up, but it was a good two hours. I plan on giving the rack to my Father-in-Law as a Father’s Day gift. Hopefully he uses it as a place to keep his nice saws, screwdrivers, and chisels. I also hope it keeps me in his good graces, afterall, I did steal his daughter.

Sawing the ends off

Sawing the ends off

"striking knife"

“striking knife”

Stanley keeping it smooth

Stanley keeping it smooth

Cut nails ready to be hammered

Cut nails ready to be hammered

Bits for brace

Bits for brace

Hock Block makes chamfering fun!

Hock Block makes chamfering fun!

Finished rack

Finished rack

New car payment

New car payment

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