So Close I Can Almost Taste It!!

85+ Hours and a few to go!

85+ Hours and a few to go!

You wouldn’t believe how happy I am to be at this stage.  The top is completely roughed out and now that I see it laying on the rest of the cabinet my vision and sketches have come to life — great!

I knew going into this project that there would be challenges.  Working with these particular boards of Sapele proved to be one of the biggest.  In my opinion, the ribbon grain and coloration are beautiful and the platinum shellac shows it to its best advantage. Planing the interlocked grain and cutting dovetails in it was tough.  The top consists of two boards and there was a considerable amount of winding after they were glued up.  Flattening began with the scrub plane and progressed to jack and jointer. I did some work with the smooth plane just to see what I’d be up against but wanted to get it to the stage you see in the picture before final work was done.

Once the board was prepared it was time to cut it to size.  The width is 15 3/4″ and the length is 50 1/2″ which allows for a 3″ overhang on each side.

That’s done so it’s time to taper the ends.  After placing some green tape on it I began to draw in different angles.  My neighbors stopped by to see what I was up to and she really admired the pulls calling them “bow-ties”.  I mentioned that they were supposed to mimic the 14 degree angle of the dovetails so she suggested tapering the ends at that same angle — problem solved; thanks Ann!  Now to figure out how to go about accomplishing that.

Being a hand tool aficionado  my first thought was to hand plance them completely.  After some experimentation on the cut off piece I realized that the grain would fight me every step of the way.  Too large to try beveling or tapering it on the bandsaw so after experimenting on the cut off I came up with this method using a router and a 1/2″ straight bit.  After drawing the bevel on the edge plus the starting and ending point of the taper, successive cuts of about 3/16″ were taken from each end.  To simplify holding the board it was clamped to the tablesaw rip fence.  Now I could get to it from both sides.  After the initial roughing out work with the router I needed to see what I was working to and that’s the purpose of the green tape.  I found that it easier and more controllable to plane across the grain.  Once it was close to the lines, the jack plane finished it off nicely.

Next week will find me doing the final smooth work and finishing —-

Happy Easter to All of  You — John

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Psst, wanna see a topless cabinet?

Topless HDTV Cabinet

Topless HDTV Cabinet

The excitement continues as the cabinet is really starting to take shape and I must admit I’m very pleased with the outcome.  This has been quite a challenge and I continue to learn from this project.  To me, the motivation and interest in building things is as much about the process as it is with the final results.  I’ve kept track of my time on this project since that’s something that usually comes up when someone sees work like this.  Not counting the design time and “mental pondering” there are somewhere around 75 hours of actual work time on this so far.

Time required to make furniture (or anything for that matter) is hard to explain to those not familiar with the process.  For example, my wife is an outstanding seamstress and artist.  If I thought of making something like a skirt, I’d think just take two pieces of material, sew them together, add a waistband and a button and you’re done — right!!  The steps needed to create things from scratch are numerous.  With the mindset of consumers keyed in to Ikea, Macy’s or Target level of goods what we do as custom makers is hard to comprehend.

Top Mounting Blocks

Top Mounting Blocks

To illustrate that, here are the pieces needed to attach the top to the cabinet.  The top will be anchored to the front to maintain that reveal but since it’s solid wood a way for it to move seasonally is needed to prevent it from splitting.  Although this photo is kind of distorted I think you can see what I’m talking about.  The mounting blocks are attached with screws to the cabinets sides and back. Note the slot in each one, they run from front to back since any wood movement will be across the the face of the top.  I suppose a kerf could have been made in the sides to use metal clips similar to those in this LINK but I decided to stay more traditional.

Top Mounting Blocks

Top Mounting Blocks

Here are the blocks, they take a good amount of time to fabricate.  First of all a recess is drilled to accommodate the head of the attaching screw.  I’m using drawer front screws which have a large, washer style head.  Then, an oversized slot needed to be centered in that recess so the screw can move freely.  Next up is drilling the hole for mounting — actually two holes; the pilot and the counterbore to recess the screw into the block.  Finally, all surfaces were block planed smooth before attaching them to the cabinet.  Time consuming — yes; but so worthwhile in my opinion!

WoodworksbyJohn-HDTVStand-Dovetails-relationship-1The design concept of this piece was the use of dovetails through-out.  That’s the unifying detail.  The pulls were based on that design element and here you can see how it all works together.  Obviously the pull is shaped like a dovetail, then the drawer dividers is dovetailed into the shelf and bottom stretcher.  That stretcher is joined to the side with twin dovetails.  I think one of the more challenging aspects was hand cutting these joints into the Sapele!  It’s beautiful in my opinion but the interlocked grain was difficult to work with chisels but that’s okay, just adds to the challenge.

WoodworksbyJohn-HDTVStand-TopAttachmentBlocks-3

 

The entire case and drawers are finished with shellac which was padded on;  somewhere in the neighborhood of 6-8 coats.  Once that was cured, mineral oil and 800 grit wet/dry paper was used to rub everything out and a final coat of Liberon Black Bison wax was applied with a white abrasive pad.  My wife keeps wanting to know when this can be brought in and put to use, soon as I finish the top.  This promises to be a good arm and shoulder work out!  As luck would have it, it has twisted ever so slightly so will require a bit of work with the scrub plane followed with jointer and smooth.  At 17″ wide it won’t fit in my 15″ planer so I’ll be doing the entire piece by hand.  Guess I better quit pushing keys on the laptop and go to planing!

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Hardware = Jewelry for the Cabinet

A few posts ago (here’s a LINK), I allowed myself to get off track and worked on what I thought would be a good pull for this project.  Well, the pull was good but just didn’t fit into the over-all character and design I wanted for this piece.  At the suggestion of my wife I began playing around with a design that would incorporate the dovetail joinery and here’s what developed:

Dovetail inspired, Birdseye Maple Drawer Pulls

Dovetail inspired, Birdseye Maple Drawer Pulls

I thought I’d taken a picture of the beginning stages but if I did they’re floating somewhere out in the electronic world!  I think it’s easy enough to understand if I explain the process.  The pull will be mortised into the drawer front so the over-all thickness needed to be about an inch to begin with.  I had a 1/4″ thick piece of Birdseye Maple that was about an inch wide and 10″ long.  This was first laminated onto a piece of Sapele to give a total thickness of an inch.  Once that was thoroughly dry a dado head was used on the tablesaw to remove most of the Sapele leaving a 1/4″+ wide section centered in the Maple — this is a T-shape.  You can see that piece in the upper left-hand corner of this picture:

Template for Pulls

Template for Pulls

The template is a piece of 1/4″ MDF and the pulls were cut out on the bandsaw, then filed and sanded to final shape.  Here are the four, I know there’s only 3 drawers but just in case!  Ever notice when you make an extra piece for a project you seldom need it but if you don’t have it you will?

Four pulls, One coat of Shellac

Four pulls, One coat of Shellac

Final fitting of Pull

Final fitting of Pull

I chose three of them for the project and fitted them to the drawer front.  A slight dilemma here was the finishing process.  It would be difficult to finish with the pull in place as I’m doing combination brush and padding with the shellac.  My concern was getting shellac in the mortise and on the tenon.  To solve that dilemma I will wait until the shellacking process is done, then trim the mortise/tenon to fit and glue them together before the finish is rubbed out.  After fitting the pull it was marked for the drawer and an arrow to show which direction faces down.  Here I’m using setting the distance from the top of the drawer to the top of the pull (2″).

The tenon was wrapped with tape to keep the shellac off and they are now being finished. Right now they look like the top photo and I’m liking it!

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Fitting Drawers and Such

In my last post you noticed I took a break from the cabinet and played around with carving an egg!  That was a fun break but I knew the drawers weren’t going to assemble and install themselves so that is now almost complete.  It’s really no wonder that most contemporary furniture pieces have metal slides for the drawer systems.  By comparison, they’re a snap to install with their slotted screw holes for easy adjustment.  Make it a box with a separate face to adjust your reveal and you can understand why wooden drawers and guides are so much more expensive unless, of course, it’s found at places like Cost Plus where the drawers barely open!

Drawer Assembly

After the struggle I had with flattening out the drawer sides I knew I needed to pay careful attention to how these go together.  The middle drawer is about 1/4″ wider than the two on the side so that was assembled first.  A piece of 1/4″ plywood was temporarily slid into the drawer during assembly to maintain squareness.  The front corners were mitered off and a cut out at the junction of the sides and back prevented any glue from permanently attaching that plywood piece.  After assembling the middle drawer, that plywood piece was cut to fit the two outer ones.  Once assembled they were planed to size.

Fitting Drawers

Aligning drawer guide

Aligning drawer guide

This was made a bit more difficult due to the nature of the sides, I’ve lamented about them enough so I have to leave it at “it is what it is”!  This was my first attempt at these large sized drawers.  In the past the traditional drawers I’ve done were single ones in a table and much smaller than these 6″ tall by 13″ wide ones.  Rather than using separate runners and kickers for them, this cabinet has a drawer web that is dadoed into the sides. To separate the inner drawers I screwed a piece of Alder to it.  This turned out to be a good decision as I was able to loosen the screws and tap them perfectly square.

Smoothing out the drawer web

Smoothing out the drawer web

Where the panel and frame pieces had a little bit of a discrepancy, a rabbet block plane smoothed out that transition.  Just a side note here, many times my students will ask for tool recommendations and my usual response is to wait until you have the need for a specific tool and then buy the very best quality you can afford.  A quality tool won’t necessarily make you a better woodworker but they do make your work more enjoyable and a bit easier to attain.

Installing drawer stop

Installing drawer stop

It’s been quite a process getting the drawers to what I considered being acceptable.  Are they perfect? —  not quite but I know I’ve given it all that I can to get them as close as possible.  Seasonal changes will affect their look too.  The final step to the installation was making a drawer stop.  What I came up with was a plywood strip, attached with screws through oversized holes.  The drawer was installed and the strip aligned with the back of it.  After marking the holes with a gimlet the holes were pre-drilled.  Sometimes an “old fashioned” method is the best!  The strip was then screwed down snug but loose enough to put the drawer in and move to the desired position.  Once there, the screws were tightened.  Love the gleam on the wood and the backs of the Big Leaf Maple doors!

Drawer fitting complete

Drawer fitting complete

Here’s a shot of all the drawer stops in place.  The back of the cabinet is panel and frame and will be attached with screws.  That way, if needed it can be removed for access to the drawers.  Never know, once the piece is in the house humidity changes may make that something I’ll need to do but I hope not!  Plan to begin the finishing process on the drawers and mortising in the pulls.  Using platinum shellac, rubbed out with mineral oil, then waxed.

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Not Quite Easter but here’s my Egg!

EggCarving-WoodworksbyJohn-LasVegas-FurnitureMaker-10

So, pretty sure you can tell which is mine and which is China’s finest!

A new woodworking group has started that will meet the fourth Saturday of every month at Woodworkers Emporium here in Las Vegas.  It’s the same place where I teach one day seminars on usage and set up of hand planes and also dovetails.  This group, as if you can’t tell by the picture, will deal with wood carving.  I’ve done some relief carving in the past but this is my first attempt at “in the round” work since my Boy Scout days!  I still recall Mr. Hinkle telling us to just cut away everything that doesn’t look like a fish.  We were using bars of soap then.

This group met on the 22nd. of March and there were 12-15 people there so we’re off to a good start.  Some were very experienced and a few, like myself, were rank beginners.  The group is headed by two friends of mine from the Sin City Woodworkers group (Dennis & Randy) and Randy especially urged me to try it out.  Well, he may have to become my mentor whether he wants to or not but I must give him credit for egging me on to come to this meeting.  Some of the guys with more experience showed off their work and we discussed several different styles of carving.  Dennis had brought his sharpening set up to demonstrate that so there was something for everyone.   The two of them had prepared some blocks of Basswood prior to the meeting.  The challenge was to take one of them and turn it into an egg for the next meeting.  NO sandpaper can be used to accomplish it either.  I took two pieces not knowing what I was getting myself into!

Actually, I let them sit on my workbench while working on the TV cabinet as if they’d magically turn into eggs on their own.  After a few days, I called Randy to see if he had a pattern I was interested.  He did so I asked if I could get it from him and secretly hoped he’d give me a few one on one pointers for getting this square chunk of wood to look like an egg.  Thankfully not only did I get a good cup of coffee, he also gave me quite a few pointers.  He has quite an impressive  collection of things he’s carved so he knows what he’s talking about for sure.  Here’s a little montage of how the square block of wood became the egg (more of less) that you see in the top picture.

Lower half complete

Lower half complete

Using the knife in the fulcrum method took some getting used to but once I got the hang of it there was more control.  Even though I use my hands all day this used muscles I wasn’t aware I had that were sore the next couple of days.  Using a plastic Easter egg as my model it seemed that the lower, fatter part of the egg takes up about one third so a line was drawn there.  The lower half was completed first.

Not having any hard directions to completing the egg what worked for me was to draw a circle on the end to use as a guide to carve to.  A bench hook was used to hold the egg at first so I could hog off the bulk of the material without too much risk of cutting myself.

By using a template from my drafting tools it was easier to draw the circle guide on the end of the egg.  Probably drew 3-4 circles of diminishing diameters and used them as guides to carve down to.  The hard part is knowing when to stop, it’d be real easy to turn this into a Robin’s egg by trying to smooth out all of the facets — remember: NO SANDPAPER!

I have my friend and neighbor, Richard, almost talked into giving the other block of wood a try and joining the carving group.  He painted an unflattering picture of the two of us sitting on the porch in rocking chairs making chips and spitting into the wind!

I don’t think so !!Screen Shot 2014-04-03 at 8.43.40 PM

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Lesson Learned —- Drawer Woes!

WoodworksbyJohn-LessonLearned-DovetailedDrawers-1

See the light?

I’m willing to bet that I’m not the only woodworker that re-saws 6/4 or 5/4  stock to get materials for making 1/2″ thick drawer sides —- am I right?  I’ve done it in the past and had good results but now that I’m working on my challenge project the results are dismal!

When I was in Arizona I was able to find a 6/4 piece of Maple that was almost 7″ wide.  Great, or so I thought; I would be able to resaw it and get all of the drawer sides and backs from it.  The same goes for the drawer bottoms.  I had some 5/4 Alder that I used in a planing seminar at Woodworkers Emporium.  I cut these long enough so that I could use them for the bottoms after my students used them for practicing their plane set up and use on.  Seemed like such a good plan, that is until the wood did what it wanted to do and cupped like you see in that picture.

Surfacing with my bronze smoother

Surfacing with my bronze smoother

So, you know what that means?  If this was a project for a paying client I’m pretty sure I would have scrapped these pieces and started anew.  But, since I’m living on a retired teacher’s pension decided to do the best work I possibly can with them.  That means lots of planing to try and flatten them which, by no means, guarantees they’ll remain flat once glued up.  For my insurance I’m using liquid hide glue  which is my preferred glue for dovetails and box joints anyway.  Should worse come to worse at least it’s reversible so I’ll be able to save the drawer fronts.  I assembled the middle drawer this evening so we’ll see how things look in the morning.

RR = right side of right drawer

RR = right side of right drawer

There are numerous ways to mark the parts of a piece of furniture during construction.  I’ve done chalk and pencil but find that the best markings are made with a set of machinists stamps.  I’ll put them on either the bottom of parts like this drawer or else directly on a tenon and them mark the corresponding mortise in such a way that the assembled joint covers over it.  That takes care of the drawer sides.

As for the bottoms, as I mentioned they were made from a piece of resawn Alder.  I had a 1/4″ blade in my bandsaw so rather than changing to a wider blade these pieces were initially cut on the tablesaw, about 1/2″ deep to make it easier for the narrow blade to track through the full, 7″+ width of the board.

So what’s the lesson learned from all of this?  I think that it may be false economy to resaw my own lumber for drawer sides, especially ones this large that are 6+” x 15″.  I know that quarter sawn lumber is preferred for drawer sides but it’s darn near impossible to find.  Resawing to make sides for smaller drawers or boxes should be just fine but next time I have drawers of this size I’ll buy 4/4 stock and it through the planer, alternating sides for each pass.  Then, after they sit in the shop for a week or more they should be stabilized.  I honestly didn’t think I’d have this much trouble with the Maple.  Figured it came from Phoenix which is almost as dry as Las Vegas so the differences wouldn’t be big deal, guess I was wrong!

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Half-Blind Dovetails in Sapele: The Challenge Continues!

Not being one to complain too much but these dovetails in this paticular chunk of Sapele are proving to be quite the challenge!  The hall table I made last year was of Sapele as well and the dovetailing on those drawers went much easier.

Does not cut Cleanly

Does not cut Cleanly

After doing one drawer side the chisels had a very noticeable burr on the backs of them.  These are Lie-Nielsen bench chisels which I sharpen at a 30 degree angle — I mean there’s only 4 sockets to cut.  I have a fine waterstone and water ready to remove that burr after several cuts.  As you can see in the picture above, the grain doesn’t cut cleanly at all.  I tried the method of cutting down to the bottom of the web with a smaller chisel but the grain seems to be somewhat brittle and will split beyond the line.  This seems to be the best way to remove the socket material other than a router bit and borrowing  someone’s Leigh jig!  I’ll cut the back side with a wide chisel then remove the material with a smaller one that’s angled.  Keeping the cuts shallow without trying to hog out too much wood a t a time is helpful too.  When cleaning the socket out, the grain doesn’t cut cleanly so it’s very difficult getting a smooth surface.  Glad this is a personal project because I’m not satisfied with the quality so far but am committed to it.

A technique that helps is the one I use to locate the bottom of the web.  It begins by setting the marking gauge to the thickness of 1/4″ piece of polyethylene I use for glue ups.  This is then used to guide the chisel when paring to the line.  Even with this as an aid, the grain of the wood will allow the wood to split below the scribed line.

WoodworksbyJohn-lasVegas-furniture-halfblinddovetails-Tail layout-6Speaking of techniques, unfortunately the Maple I resawed for the drawer sides cupped on a few of the pieces.  I cut dovetails first and clamp them together.  By placing them on the tablesaw they are even.  I had an auxiliary fence which kept them square as well.  At this point the pieces were still identified with green tape but I have a set of machinists metal stamps that are used to permanently mark each piece.  Too easy to get them confused!

 

 

Ready to cut the tails

Ready to cut the tails

I will keep the clamp on the two drawer sides and put them into the vise on my carving bench to lay out and cut the tails. This has been slow going to say the least. At times I wish I had a shop that had racks of lumber just waiting to be used.  Sort of like the pictures of James Krenov’s shop.  That way if I have a difficult board I can just go and find another!  Well, my Dad used to say that you can wish in one hand and spit (or something else) in the other and see which one fills up first — better be satisfied with what I have and make it work the best I can.

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