More Handwork: Dovetail Box

As I mentioned in my last post, it’s been a long time since I’ve done much in the way of hand woodworking and joinery.  Didn’t realize how much I’ve missed it and how relaxing it is to be in the shop doing it!  I heard someone say recently that the less electricity he uses while working the better he feels about it — something I can relate to.  Now that the box has been assembled it’s time to tackle the lid.  The tricky part will be angling it to fit into the box.  I’m decided to do it somewhat backwards by cutting the rabbets and angles first and then follow up with the planer to achieve the approximate thickness required.

After planing the piece to width the rabbets were cut with a #78, Stanley Rabbet plane.  I’d forgotten how rewarding it is to use this and thought maybe I should make a video for the blog, whoops; one of those senior moments — I’d already done it so here they are.  Pretty short so it won’t take up a lot of your time!  The technique is to make a pass or two drawing the plane backwards so that the knicker scores the wood.

Smooth Plane the top

Smooth Plane the top

I did use a chop saw to cut the lid to length since they needed to be angled at 15 degrees to drop down into the box.  The lid was too thick, it was brought down to almost size with my power planer followed by hand planing to fine tune the fit.  I’ve always heard the term “striking light” as one you should have to see the results of your smooth planing.  First time I’ve ever had it and now I see what it means!  The workbench is placed under west facing windows and it’s now apparent what still needs smoothing.  Hard to see in this picture but it’s the bottom and middle left that haven’t been surfaced yet.  If you look real close, that part of the wood is a bit darker — nothing like a hand planed surface!

I forgot to mention that after using the rabbet plane it was necessary to fine tune and smooth the rabbets out with a block plane (rabbet) to get a good fit.

Last step of the day was cutting a mortise for the lid handle.  I have a box of random box handles made over the years, I’ll make a foot or two of an interesting shape when I’m in the mood!  Found a nice piece of Australian Lacewood that has about the same coloration as the Mahogany so think it’ll work well.  Here’s a pictorial collage of the technique:

The day was finished off by gluing the handle into the mortise.  Making boxes is a great way to utilize left over wood and maintain my skills.  It’s also a lot of fun especially when you sell these things, I heard that wonderful “cha-ching” sound of an Etsy sale this morning and found that one person bought both of these boxes!

The sides were from a piece of Brazilian Satinwood while the box on the left has a Black Limba lid, the other box is Monkeypod wood.  It’s all about the wood!!

Posted in Etsy Store, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Slanted Dovetail Box, Tutorial, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

First Hand-cut Dovetails in Over a Year!

Hard to believe isn’t it?  It sure was for me when I calculated the time.  The last big dovetailed project was my Armoire, then Diane and I did our 6 month Scottsdale adventure where my focus was carving and gilding of picture frames.  Then came selling the Las Vegas house, moving to Phoenix, and then setting up the shop plus all of the other projects associated with re-locating.  All that being said, I decided it was time to see if my muscle memory was better than my brain memory!

I found a piece of big box lumber that the former owner of our house left, it was proudly labeled to be Premium Pine.  Then, I had some Mahogany so decided to make up a box of some kind or another.  If you’re familiar with my boxes, I enjoy playing around with dovetails and angles.  They seem to do pretty well on my Etsy store so it makes my passion and experimentation almost “self-funded”.

Assembled Box

Assembled Box

Since there are a number of ways to cut dovetails I’ll give a brief tutorial in my tails first approach.  The box design has the edges of the end pieces cut at 15 degrees.  The Mahogany is roughly 7/8″ thick and the Pine sides are 3″ wide and 1/2″ thick.  It’ll be easier to explain if I show this picture of it assembled first.  I always like the play of angles on this exposed joinery, part of the tail is a standard 1:6 angle but the other side is 110 degrees.  Once I figured out the angles the shoulder lines were scribed in and I was ready to go.  I’ve seen a couple of articles or references to “shouldered dovetail” in Fine Woodworking magazine.  This is nothing more than the old Stanley 140 trick that has been used by furniture makers forever!  Kind of annoying to me that someone is trying to say it’s their idea.  For background info, Stanley made a set of skewed rabbet block planes — the 140.  They were perfect for cutting a rabbet on the inner side of drawer pieces to hide any imperfections of the joint and also to aid the layout process.  Matter of fact, Lie-Nielsen makes a pair of skewed rabbet block planes for this very purpose.  At $225.00 a piece it’s a bit rich for my pocketbook but I’ve been using the tablesaw to perform this step for years, a shoulder plane or in my case, rabbet block plane will true up the shoulder.

Removing the Waste

Removing the Waste

Once the shoulders were true it was time to lay things out.  After scribing the shoulder line and cut the tail, the next step is to remove a small chip which minimizes the tendency of the bevel on the chisel moving that shoulder line back.  After the chip is removed it’s a matter of chopping that chip deeper from both sides.  In my experience this gives a better shoulder line then trying to remove the entire waste from the end of the tail.  Sometimes when you do that, the grain in the waste piece will tear the shoulder.  This is especially true when the dovetail is long and angled like this one is, I’m sure you notice the large chip that’s been removed here.

Next step is to transfer to the pin board.  Here’s where the shoulder created on the tablesaw is really handy as it will lock onto the pin board.  Marked with a knife then cut using the same method as cutting the tails, removing that chip shaped piece, the rest will take care of itself.

Things were progressing along nicely, my muscle memory seemed to be holding up fine and I was really trying to concentrate on the job at hand.  Well, if you can imagine the angles and trying to keep it all straight as to which is up or down, left or right, and then factor in my self imposed stress it was a prime time for an error!  Well, in keeping with the HillBillyDaiku blog written by Greg Merritt I too will confess my mistake!  On the last set of dovetails I somehow got the piece upside down so that one set of tails was on the top while the other was on the bottom.  Only fix was to shorten the sides by 1/2″ and recut both ends of the board — very carefully laid out, checked, and double checked!

Maybe since it’s been a while I managed to make one other mishap!  The first bottom for the box was undersized (simple math error on my part); not a big deal.  Just made a new one but when I was doing the glue up grabbed the wrong piece.  Learned that Old Brown Glue grabs pretty fast when the joint is tight but was able to separate the pieces by carefully prying apart with a screwdriver.  As I used to tell my students; sometimes the only difference between a good woodworker and a mediocre one is the good one has learned how to correct or hide mistakes!  One last picture to leave you with is the effect of a smooth plane on wood.  Whenever possible I avoid using sandpaper in favor of leaving a clean, crisp, hand-planed surface!

Smooth Plane Effect

Smooth Plane Effect

Posted in Etsy Store, Hand Cut Dovetails, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Check off Another Home Project!

 Units in Place

Units in Place

In my last post my comments were geared towards why I love this woodworking stuff and even though I’d much rather be doing finer aspects like carving or hand joinery, being able to do these things is rewarding as well.  Finished and installed the units for the bathroom vanity and pleased with how they came out.  Diane is even more pleased so you know that’s a good thing!  Sorry about the quality of the picture, not much light in there.  Diane has already found some small, divided trays so she can organize her earrings, make-up, etc.  The drawer fronts are made of common Alder and seem to match the existing vanity nicely.  Finish is EnduroVar from General Finishes.

Parts is Parts!

Parts is Parts!

The problems that needed to be solved was how to get as much use out od a very small area.  After taking the hinges and plumbing into consideration there is an area about 10″ square by 20″ tall.  The drawer boxes are made of 1/2″ Baltic Birch and the 1/4″ MDF bottom also functions as drawer slides.  Using mechanical slides would have really reduced the usable size of the drawers.  As I mentioned before, I thought I’d try making a large rabbet on both ends of the drawer fronts to hide the Baltic Birch sides.  You can see everything ready to go in this picture.

Assembly was another challenge.  Glue and #18 brads were the solution, the drawers were assembled in several stages.  After first joining a side and back the next step was to join a front and side.  Then, those 2 L-shaped pieces were joined.  Since handles of any kind would take up room, a hole was drilled in each front then radiused.

The sequence for final assemble was pretty straight forward.  It just happened that using a spacer of 1/2″ ply centered the drawer on the bottom.  Lines drawn on the bottom guided the brad gun and happy to report only had 3 brads blow out — my drawers of course!

The next project is going to be putting up a lumber rack in the small garage.  Finished the Monkeypod picture frame and waiting for the finish to cure before putting the print in it.  Really anxious to see if I remember how to cut dovetails and use my finer skills.  If nothing else I plan to create some boxes to replenish my Etsy store which has had a couple of sales lately — good thing too; that helps keep my woodworking passion “self-funded”!

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Why I Love Working Wood!

You can do the math but my earliest recollections of working with wood go all the way back to elementary school in the 50’s  when I made a tug boat out of a piece of balsa wood. Also remember my parents when we still lived in Holland doing some types of craft projects.  Even now, after all these years there’s something that fascinates me about wood. My experiences run the gamut from stacking and selling it in a lumber yard, building houses out of it, crafting fine furniture, and teaching kids about it for my life’s career and the saga continues to this day!  You may wonder what the focus may be of my blog today but I’m feeling quite blessed to have something that I can get myself engrossed in during these turbulent times we’re finding our country in.

By limiting the times spent on social media and watching news and making sawdust instead I’m maintaining some sense of sanity!  Yep, I’d love to be crafting some fine piece of furniture right now but that’s not always possible so let me tell you what’s happening here in our new, Phoenix home.  Well, Diane and I did do quite a bit of landscaping and are having 500 square feet of sod delivered Monday.  And there’s that load of rocks in the back of the truck that needs to be put into the walkway area but that’s another story.

There is a Monkeypod picture frame I’ve been commissioned to make.  It’s for a Hawaiian themed print and measures about 28″ x 37″.  When I met with the client for the first time I threw out Monkeypod when she mentioned what she needed the frame for.  She was surprised that I even knew what the wood was so that may have clinched the deal!  Woodworkers Source here in Phoenix had a limited supply but I was able to pick out a few pieces.  Forgotten how gnarly the grain can be but heres the profile I came up with.  It’s just under 3″ wide.  After planing it to a uniform thickness the rabbet was cut at the tablesaw and the beaded edge was routed.

At this point the miters have been cut, slotted for biscuits, and glued/clamped overnight.  It’ll be an oil finish with my hand sanded top coat, the Danish oil was applied this morning which means the frame will be completed by mid-week.

The other shop happening is making a couple of small, utilitarian storage units to go underneath the sinks of the bathroom vanity.  The vanity is higher than the standard 30″ and there are three, rather deep drawers in the center of it.  Not a good design for a bathroom in our opinion, especially for those small items Diane has.  We (mostly Diane, my design expert) decided that a storage unit behind one of the doors with small drawers would be the solution.  Of course, you know there is plumbing to contend with so that was an issue.

Cabinet with Rabbeted Drawer Front

Cabinet with Rabbeted Drawer Front

With a width of 10 3/4″ and a height of 20″ I hope to solve this problem with units made of 3/4″ Baltic Birch that is left over from the shop storage area.  Needless to say this won’t be one of those fine furniture projects I’m looking forward to!  Once again I’ll use dadoed sides which will have the drawer mounted to 1/4″ MDF that does double duty as the bottom of the drawer and the sliding mechanism.  To save room and not have a face frame I’m trying a new technique.  The drawer fronts have rabbeted edges that are wide enough to cover the plywood side and the drawer side piece.  Never seen this done before but like the title of the blog says; this is why I love working wood.  Your challenges are limitless.

It was pretty much an assembly line process to make the eight drawer fronts and I used the occasion to use my hand skills to smooth the rabbets, chamfer the edges (10 strokes with a block plane on each) and also plane the faces.  This will be finished with General Finishes EnduroVar when completed.  Sorry about these pictures, sun is great to see your smooth plane results but not so good for photos!

First time I’ve been able to use the rabbet block plane and my bronze smoother.  So there you have it; why I love this stuff.

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Another First for the Phoenix Shop

It’s said you can only do things once for the first time and now I can chalk off another for my woodworking here in Phoenix.  The recently completed Ocean Waves frame was the first commissioned carving piece here and now work is commencing on the first Etsy custom order!

Custom Etsy Order

Custom Etsy Order

Just like the frame, this client contacted me before the shop was up and running but was willing to wait for this project.  It is a good sized, finger jointed, Oak box that she will use  to store hand made books.  In our conversations she asked for a dark finish but, if you know me, as a general rule my work features natural oil finishes to highlight the wood rather than stained ones.  That turned out to be no problem as she will do the stain work herself.  After going to Woodworkers Source here in Phoenix to pick up the material work began by cutting and planing the material to size.  It was more difficult than I thought it would getting the Oak in the 8″ width required but after much digging through the piles the required material was found!

It has been a while since I’ve used the finger joint jig made to fit the SawStop sliding table. Truth be told, I forgot how nice it is!  Through my 50+ years of working with wood many different styles of finger joint jigs have been made and used, from the simple board screwed onto the miter jig to fairly complex units that straddled both miter slots on the tablesaw.  By far, this one is the most secure and easy to set up.  You can see how it is made and functions through this blog link.  At the time I made a YouTube video  showing the jig in action.  If you’ve ever cut finger joints I think you’ll see how nicely this one works.

Once the jig is attached to the arm, gauge blocks are used for the initial adjustments.  It took 3 trial cuts to get everything dialed in.  To cut them, I use Freud’s box cutter set.  To insure against a lot of tear out on the back side of the piece I always replace the backer board and make sure to hold the piece being cut tightly to the jig.  As usual, the boards are marked as they’re cut to get continuous grain patterns around the corners of the box as much as possible.  One of those seemingly minor details that can make a big difference.


Ready for Glue-Up

The box was clamped up to size the bottom piece which is 1/2″ Oak plywood inserted into a dado for strength.  The top is a straight forward lift off one also made of the Oak plywood and then banded with a mitered piece of solid Oak.  Next up is sanding the interior and gluing the pieces together and it should be ready to ship out by the middle of next week. It’s been some time since I last worked with Red Oak — forgot what a nice smell it puts into the shop while it’s being worked!

Posted in Etsy custom order, Finger Joint Box, SawStop Sliding Table, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment

Sliding Barn Doors; My Way and Completed!

Alder, corrugated roofing, and heavy duty sliding barn door track — I’m liking this a lot!  Not built the way any directions said it should be done but modified to meet the vision I had for the shop storage area.  Two, concealed sets of shelving for boxes, paints, tools, etc. and then a center area with drawers for all of those sundry items we need to do our work.  The top of that drawer area is the right height for use as a stand up desk.  As promised in my last blog I’ll explain how this all came about.

The first problem, if you will, is that this type of track is designed so that you can attach the hardware to the door, slide it onto the track, and then install stops to prevent it from leaving the track.  As you can tell in these pictures, my plan has the track between two walls so no way to slide the doors on after the fact.  I had thought of trying to lift the track (very heavy) plus the doors into place at one time but with an almost 8′ span decided that wouldn’t work too well.  The plan I devised was to pre-drill the mounting holes for the brackets, attach them and the track to the cabinets, and finally put each door in place.

Before the doors were assembled a chamfer was needed to allow the bracket to sit squarely on top.  You’ll notice the ridicules set of instructions that came with the hardware.  Two pages that covered a bunch of different style brackets.  One thing that really stuck out and irked me to no end was that the brackets have square holes which would anchor the carriage bolts provided.  However; the directions showed inserting the carriage bolt from the back side which would give you a visible nut on the front.  This made no sense to me and even after calling Stanley to speak to their tech guys couldn’t get a straight answer. I can see the problem was that if the bolt is too long it would probably hit the wall.

Can you hack it?

Can you hack it?

The solution, although not quick; is easy.  After drilling a counterbored hole to accommodate the nut and washer on the back side of the door each bolt was cut to length.   In my opinion; that’s a much more elegant solution and method then having an ugly nut showing on the outside.  Last of all, was to cut a slot for the adjustment bolt.  Here’s some pictures illustrating that.  The one showing the track with a hanger on one side and the bolt on the other shows the need for the slot.  For a typical installation the directions had you drill an oversized hole for that adjustment bolt to fit into.

The next problem was cutting the tin to fit the rabbet of the doors.  This wasn’t quite the challenge I thought it would be.  Looking on line and at YouTube you’d think it would be darn near impossible.  Even tried calling a few, local sheet metal firms to see if they would be able to cut the tin for me but they all declined!  I found that an offset pair of Wiss tin snips from Home Depot did the trick.  Then it was time to attach it which was accomplished with a four pieces of plumbers tape, stretched tight, and screwed down.  I didn’t care for the finish on the tin, just too garish and bright but didn’t want to create a rusted finish either.  Check out the picture below, there is a subtle difference created by using a couple of pads of coarse steel wool to mellow out the luster of the tin.

The purpose of the handle is obvious but it also stabilizes the door stiles at the center.  My thought is that by screwing the handle to span across the middle of the door that should counter any seasonal changes.  The handle was cut on the bandsaw then cleaned up with hand tools.

Now the doors are ready to be hung.  After attaching the hangers to the track and cabinet it was a matter of setting one at a time in place.  At the right of the cabinet there is some extra space so the plan was to attach the right side door first, slide it as far to the right as possible and then attach the left door.  Once both are in place the stops (inside the track) are positioned to set the outer limit of the door travel.

So, there you have it.  Now it’s time to go on to the next challenge.  All through this project I kept hearing what Diane had told me years ago when it comes to her painting.  She told me she has a vision and starts on it until she reaches a problem.  Then, she’ll solve that problem and continue work until the next problem comes up — woodworking is much the same but I’d rather face those problems and challenges then follow a set of prescribed plans or, heaven forbid; have a computerized machine do it all for me!

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Sliding Barn Doors — My Way

I say “my way” and as of now, not 100% sure they’ll turn out right but do have a good feeling about my thought process.  I’m using Stanley Hardware, heavy duty galvanized for actual doors on a barn!  Lowest cost and they had the one piece, 8 foot long track that is needed for my application.  The doors are made of Alder (6/4) and the plan is to have corrugated tin roofing for inserts.  Let me say this too, it’s been well over a year since I’ve done this type of work.  Remember that during our six month Scottsdale Adventure the focus was carving and gilding and then when we returned to Las Vegas it was time to move.  Now the shop is built here in Phoenix and I’m back in my happy place.

After surfacing the Alder to uniform thickness it was allowed to acclimate to the shop before ripping to width and beginning the joinery.  Classic mortise and tenon for something like this and since it really is “utilitarian” my hybrid method of machines for grunt work and hand tools to fit them properly.  I must admit that on this project the tenons were almost exact right off the tablesaw!  Half inch mortises were cut first in the exact center of each piece, this way either face could be presented to the fence but center must be right on — I use a dial caliper to check both sides:

It’s wise to clamp all of your pieces together and do the layout at one time to ensure each location is the same.  For smaller work you can layout on one piece and then set stops on the mortiser for repetitive cuts.  The mortise is haunched and is 1 1/4″ deep.  To set the haunch depth check the right hand picture, I use a 3/4″ set up block between the depth stop to obtain a 1/2″ deep haunch — just a little trick to pass on.

After cleaning these up it’s time to cut the tenons on the crosspieces.  Layout begins with the marking gauge and cutting is accomplished on the table saw and also a tenoning jig.

I use dovetail saws to trim the tenons as needed and lay out for the haunch.  This can be problematic, I mean am I the only one whose cut the haunch wrong because of a measuring or visualization error which leads to cutting the haunch wrong?  What works for me is to first set a small adjustable square to the depth of the haunch and then hold it like shown in the right hand picture to establish the correct cut.

Glue up was straight forward, what was a bit of a challenge though was to cut the 1/2″ x 1/2″ rabbet on the inside to set the corrugated tin into.  Hated the thought of using a router with all of its noise and mess so made plunge and stop cuts on the tablesaw.  After the doors were assembled the rabbets were connected by cutting them out with chisel, mallet, and a router plane.

That’s enough information and pictures for one blog so I’ll call it complete.  Since I’m going at it my own way and not the way Stanley suggested getting the hangers on the doors was a head scratcher — next blog will reveal the secrets!

Posted in Phoenix Woodshop, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 7 Comments