Nightstand: Legs Milled, Bench Scraped, Etc.

Today, I thought I would have the opportunity to get a lot of stuff done on the nightstand. It turns out that I didn’t get quite so much accomplished, at least in terms of the project. The legs are now milled to profile, which is great, because they’re the longest pieces in the project:

Further evidence that I should really make a saw bench sometime is that I managed to scrape up part of the bench while ripping the board:

Yeah, oops. It’s cosmetic, of course, but it begs the question of how I managed to do that in the first place. Well, I had the board held down over the edge of the bench while I started the cut. On cuts like this, I tend to do the first 1/3 of the cut over on the left side of the vise, and then move the board over to the right of the vise when finishing the cut.

This would be a lot easier on a sawbench, especially without a stupid vise in the way. Unfortunately, this is one of those things that I just don’t feel that I have the time for at the moment because I have to concentrate on the current project. On the list of other things that I should do sometime is really redo my bench top–move it flush to the legs according to the Gospel of Schwarz, get the rear vise jaw flush with the front, and maybe thicken up the top. Maybe I’ll have time for the sawbench at least when I’m finished with the nightstand.

But after the legs were milled, it occurred to me that there was one little thing that I really did need to address at the moment, and that was my jointer plane. The one I’ve been working with up until now is a frankenplane of sorts–an unknown early-type Stanley with a type 6-8 frog, a kidney-holed lever cap, and a Hock blade. Well, that’s all fine and good, except that the tote is broken and the lateral adjuster is kind of woogie. It works, but it’s annoying and sometimes makes the hand ache.

So I could have made a new tote (I had previously glued it back together but that didn’t last) and tried to bang out the kinks in the lateral adjuster, but it turns out that I had a Millers Falls #22 (type 2, postwar) right next to it that I had wanted to use at some point. In fact, back when I had my handle-varnishing jamboree about a year ago, the tote and knob from this plane were happy to attend. But mostly, it’s been sitting in pieces at the bottom of the bench, looking kind of stupid.

I pulled it out and spent an hour or so scraping and sanding off the rust, got most of the surfaces clean (primarily by wiping it with camellia oil), oiled the threads, and put everything back together. Then, for the final touch, I stole the Hock blade from my old jointer and put it in. Bingo, a “brand new” jointer:

Nope, no sole-flattening or anything. Mostly, it was all about cleaning out the dead spiders from the inside of the frog and making sure that it works. Really, that’s all I seem to care about in these metal planes now, quite a difference from when I first started out.

Nightstand: Resawing Legs With The Frame Saw

Even though I have not yet completed the cutting list for the nightstand, I do know that I will need four 24″ long legs that are 1.25″ square. I had meant to get the stock milled for this sooner, but it’s been a busy week. I finally completed the flattening of the 7″ wide 8/4 board segment that I plan to use today, and then faced the task of resawing this thing into the piece for the legs and a panel for one of the sides.

It’s been a few months since I last did any resawing, and I wasn’t particularly looking forward to it, given how much work it’s been the last few times. But this time was a little different (otherwise I wouldn’t even be writing about it).

I wanted to try out the techniques shown in a few videos of those magnificent Japanese sawyer’s saws. They use them mostly perpendicular to the grain, letting the huge area of the saw register a very smooth cut through the wood. I can’t do this completely with my frame saw because its blade is not deep enough to register so well, but I could at least try to do it partway.

I started by the diagonal cuts along marked lines that are necessary in order to get a square cut started. Further cutting along each side at a very slight diagonal established a somewhat shallow kerf on side. Then, to connect the two kerfs, I clamped the board upright in my front vise and went at it almost perpendicular to the grain (I’m pushing it here):

As noted before (by several folks), it is really important to tighten up the blade to a very high tension in order to keep the blade from binding up and cutting a curve. From time to time, I would reach the end of the kerfs I’d cut on each side and I’d have to extend them. I think that this actually took more time than doing the bulk of the sawing. In fact, most of this went very quickly because the saw followed the kerfs better than before.

I sawed all the way down to a spot about an inch away from the end, and then wondered if there was any better way to finish off the cut with the vise. I then did a very silly thing: I clamped the board in upside down, with the saw upside down, and pushed the saw up from underneath to finish it off. Don’t do this; it’s ridiculous. Afterwards, I realized that it would have been a lot easier to clamp the board flat to the bench with the uncut end hanging off the end, and just work the saw sideways for that last little bit. There are other setups that I’ve seen that do a better job still, but I don’t have the resources for that yet.

So I was finished with this bit:

Not bad, not perfect, though. There’s one saw mark on the top center-left, but it’s very shallow (one pass of the fore plane will remove that).

I’m starting to figure out that my frame saw is pretty good for boards that aren’t so wide. This was a 7″ wide piece of beech, and that’s probably about the maximum that’s comfortable with this saw. If I ever build another frame saw, it will have the following changes:

  • Longer frame and blade to handle wider boards better.
  • Wider blade for better registration.
  • Much larger teeth.
  • Improved hardware for attaching the blade. I’m not sure how to go about that just yet, but I do think that it ought to be bigger than the stuff I currently use.
  • Yeah, a saw bench would help a lot, too.

That said, what I have is workable for what I do now, and I do have to finish this project in a reasonable amount of time. (I think it’s supposed to be done by the end of August.)

Nightstand: Plan

After a lot of agonizing, it appears that I finally have a plan drawn up for my next project, a nightstand. When researching designs (otherwise known as “typing nightstand into Google Image Search and bracing for the worst”), I found two basic types. The first is a box with an open front. The second is more like a table with a shelf at the bottom. Both have a drawer at the top. After conferring with the “client,” I chose the latter.

Here is the front view. I stole the idea for the arched decoration in the front from Krenov.

The top view cutaway into the shelf follows. On the left of the center line, the stretcher for the area above the drawer is shown. It’s a little bit wider then the one at the bottom of the drawer (shown at right), but there is an extra stretcher front-to-back on the bottom to support the drawer:

The front view cutaway perhaps shows it with a little more clarity. On the left of the center line in the drawing, the front stretchers are cut away, showing the side stretchers and the drawer support.

I could, in theory, integrate the lower drawer supports into the lower side stretchers, but I worry about wood movement between the legs and the front stretcher because a single piece would need to connect to both (I’m not worried about the ones at the top because they will not provide support most of the time.). I’m looking out for wood movement in particular because I’ll be building this out of beech, which is not known as the most stable wood in the world. So I won’t be mortising in the top of this piece, either.

The drawing isn’t quite yet complete. I haven’t added all of the measurements that I need (and hopefully I won’t mess them up this time), and I haven’t broken out the components to come up with a cutting list. I didn’t draw in the drawer. (Do I need to? Maybe.) And perhaps I will come up with a different scheme to support the drawer.

[Update: The mostly-complete plan is now available on the Plans and Guides page.]

One thing is pretty clear: This project looks like the most complicated piece I’ve attempted so far. There are fewer components than the shoe rack, but this is far less repetitive, and they assemble in a much more complex way. However, I have attempted to standardize several of the component thicknesses, which should speed the milling process by minimizing the number of cuts I need to make with the frame saw.

For what it’s worth, a significant part of the agony in coming up with this drawing was trying to find a suitable 3-D modeling system for Linux so that I didn’t have to use Inkscape again. That didn’t work out, so I’ll just stick to what I know for now.

Stool: Finished

This morning, I decided that the latest coat of varnish on the stool was dry enough, and that it should be the final coat. So I rubbed it out with #000 steel wool and mineral oil. I didn’t want to use rottenstone because I didn’t want it to be too smooth.

The result looks like a stool to me:

There are some glitches that I’ve described in previous posts. There’s a not-so-pretty spot on the inside of one of the stretchers that I could have leveled out, but didn’t bother to work on because it’s practically impossible to see.

The most important part is, of course, whether the thing actually works. Is it solid enough to stand on? It’s an interesting question for me, because this is my first project meant to bear someone’s weight.

Yeah, it works. It seems really solid. I jumped on it, too, but not too hard. I probably need a little more time to come to terms with the way it is constructed and how the stretchers distribute the load among four to eight joints that are already extremely strong. Yes, this is the way that it’s supposed to be, but going from theory to practice can sometimes be daunting.

This is not to mention that this also marks the finish of a project that I really wanted to build, a piece of furniture that I’ve wanted for a very long time. Aside from the utilitarian aspect (I’m not terribly tall, so sometimes I need a little help in reaching things), it seems that I grew up with the notion that everyone had to have one of these things.

However, this unfortunately wraps up my only project that was really active. My next project is a nightstand that I haven’t finished drawing yet–I’ve been having a particularly hard time with that. In the meantime, I’ve been doing minor work on the shop. I did some cleanup work on some shelves down there. I worked on sharpening a drawknife (but didn’t finish). I cleaned the last of the rust off of my #78 and made some ovolo trim with it in conjunction with the rounding plane I got in Taiwan (thanks for the tip, St. Roy). I picked about 25 plastic bags off the floor (how does that get that way?).

I’m at the point, though, where I can’t lollygag my way around the new project any longer. I suppose it starts this week.

A First Half-Blind Dovetail Joint

Wouldn’t you know it, as soon as I’m ready to post something on dovetails, Leif over at Norse Woodsmith has already done one today. That’s deja-vu in more than one way.

Well, in any case, the story goes something like this: I’ve got some projects on the horizon that use half-blind dovetails, and it turns out that I haven’t gotten around to making one yet. Being the “cautious” guy that I am, I decided it would be good to try out a practice joint to find new and exciting ways to screw up.

So I grabbed a practice through dovetail joint that I’d made in some yellow-poplar long ago, sawed out that joint, and used the shooting board to get the ends smooth. The first step was to get the pinboard marked. I picked a depth for the tails to extend into the pinboard, and marked that on the edge of the board, from the front. Then I set another gauge (well, the other end of the Lee Valley mini wheel gauge) to slightly more than the width of the tailboard, and marked it on one side (only one side is necessary because you don’t cut into the other side). The marks are barely visible in this photo, but you get the idea.

Then I worked on the tailboard, marking the tail length from the gauge setting used for the depth into the pinboard (the line on the top near the back in the preceding photo). There’s nothing special about the tailboard, and it took about as long as tailboards usually take me these days.

With the tailboard in hand, I marked the pin profile into the pinboard:

I sawed the diagonal between the two initial lines in the first photo in this post. So far, I’d been pretty much following the instructions in Korn’s book, down to putting the Xs on the waste parts. However, for the next part, I decided that I didn’t want to try to drill out most of the waste. First I tried paring across the grain (you can see the diagonal sawcuts in the front of this photo, too):

It didn’t take long for me to realize that this was sort of a stupid idea, so I switched tactics. In other words, I just grabbed the trusty pigsticker and started whacking and prying away:

This was highly effective, and got most of the job done quickly. At a certain point, though, you have to switch to paring so that you get smooth, clean lines. It seems that the trick to doing this joint quickly is to be good enough with the big chisel to get as close as possible to the paring step. I was okay at this, but not great. So there’s something to practice.

But before long, I’d finished paring (even without a skew chisel or a special dovetail chisel), and I had a finished pinboard:

OK, I guess it’s good that this looks like a pinboard, but does it fit? Surprisingly, yes, and with no additional tweaking. I banged the joint together and planed the pinboard flush, and here’s what I got:

I’m a little uneasy about the way this turned out, because it doesn’t seem like I made any mistakes. My fear is that I’ll make a mistake when doing a project because I didn’t know about it earlier. But then again, I did realize something about half-blind dovetails that I didn’t think about before: You can actually make a lot of mistakes on this joint and still have it turn out fine, because it shows a little more than half of the junctions that a through dovetail does. Be careful in paring down the thin edge near the face, and that’s about it.

Bookshelf Prototype: Finished

After about four coats of varnish, I felt it was time to rub out the finish and call this project complete. There were many reasons, not the least of which was that we’ve run out of places on our other shelves and need to put something in service immediately. For rubout, I used the steel wool/rottenstone sequence, both lubricated with mineral oil. I’ve always been happy with the way that turns out.

Here’s the view from the left side:

Viewed from this side, it’s got “flames” (the cathedral patterns on the sides) and “racing stripes” (the sapwood strips in the back panel). However, viewed from the left side, the flames aren’t visible, other than a tiny little sliver on the inside right:

This is about all I could do with the yellow-poplar that I had on hand. I struggled for a while to figure out an arrangement that didn’t look totally horrible, and it turned out to a certain degree. I wouldn’t say that it’s something I would repeat. Actually, there are lots of things I wouldn’t repeat, so let’s start with the top:

Aside from the fact that I should have taken a couple of swipes with the smoothing plane on the top before glueup, I’d say that the dovetail contrast here tries, but does nothing. The very top should be a clean rectangle. Next time, I’ll use half-blind dovetails or even fully-blind mitered dovetails. Half-blind dovetails will mean giving up the mechanical strength advantage in this application, because I’ll have to put the tails on the sides, but with this much glue surface, it won’t pull apart any time soon.

The other thing that I will change in my next bookshelf project is the stretcher along the back shelves. I wanted to put the stretchers entirely below the shelves in this project and rabbet the shelves to the stretchers, but I didn’t have enough width in my shelf boards to do so. I am, however, very happy with the strength that the stretchers provide.

Then there is a question of the wood. In this project, I was trying to get rid of some of the stock that I had on hand, but next time, I’ll pick lumber specifically for this project. But which kind? Shelves can be big, and big shelves are heavy, so I don’t want to use something like oak, maple, or that beech that I have on hand, because they’re just too much. Cherry is a good choice because it is both durable and somewhat light, but I’m wary of using too much of it (not to mention that it costs a bazillion dollars a board-foot around here). I actually liked yellow-poplar for this, and while we’re talking about woods that are more prone to dents, I may as well mention the various pines and douglas-fir. And there’s stuff like paper birch, butternut, and sweetgum. Who knows? The only thing I know is that I’m trying to avoid darker woods.

For the moment, though, I have other projects to do, and so, here’s the prototype being taken for a test run:

And you can see that form follows function here, as the “racing stripes” won’t even be visible when the shelf is full. Hee.

Making a Mitered-Face Mortise-and-Tenon Joint

On my visit to Taiwan in December, I had a chance to look at a family cabinet that was probably made in the 20s or 30s on the island. No one could tell me a lot about it, but the thing that fascinated me the most was that it had a joint that I did not recall ever seeing in the wild. Then on the trip to Sanyi, I saw a new cabinet with the same joint. When I got home, I looked for it in my books, but I did not find it. The only thing I saw that was similar was in a book on Japanese construction joinery (whaa..? why so expensive now?).

For lack of a better name (or research, at least for the moment), I’m going to call this a mortise-and-tenon joint with a mitered face, because that’s what it is:

The ones I saw have through tenons, as opposed to this one, which does not, but it’s basically all the same idea.

I was really eager to make one when I got back from Taiwan, but I didn’t have the chance because I was too busy making other stuff. But right now, I’m varnishing both the bookshelf and the stool, and I don’t have the next project designed yet, so I thought I’d try some new joints. I made my first one yesterday, but I wasn’t entirely successful, so I tried again today.

The first thing I did was mark out the miters on the mortise and tenon pieces. I accidentally marked a shoulder on the face of the tenon piece here. The shoulder should be marked all the way around except for on the face with the miter. Somehow I will forgive myself for this:

Then I marked the face thickness around the edges of the mortise and tenon pieces (don’t mark on the bottom of the mortise, though). Notice the use of the mini wheel marking gauge that Lee Valley “made” everyone buy last year:

With this done, I set aside the tenon piece and chopped the mortise. A very important note here: For the distance between the inside of the face and the mortise, make sure that it’s at least a little bit bigger than the width of your smallest chisel! My smallest chisel is 1/8″. I made this mistake on my first attempt.

Chopping the mortise was easy as usual with a pigsticker, especially on yellow-poplar. On my first attempt at the joint, I blew out the sides of the mortise, but I managed to avoid that today:

(I felt that it was pretty important to mark the waste sections of the mortise and tenon with an “x,” because the miter makes things a little complicated.)

With the mortise chopped, I set my mortise gauge from the mortise, then set the mortise piece aside and turned to the tenon. After marking the tenon width, I sawed the cheek of the miter, then the inside cheek of the tenon, then finally, the outside (back) cheek of the tenon. I did not saw any shoulders yet.

All three cheek cuts go down to the shoulder line. Again, the shoulder line on the face above is an error. It should appear on the other three sides, but not this one.

Working from the back of the tenon, I sawed the rear shoulder first, then sawed the top of the tenon to the proper height. I continued the tenon-height cut through the waste between the face and the tenon, so I was left with this:

I decided to saw the miter on the tenon next. During my first attempt yesterday, I found it pretty difficult to do freehand, so this time, I clamped a piece of scrap across the knife line and used that as a guide for a crosscut saw:

This worked surprisingly well, and I also used the same technique for the mortise (but I’m not at that point yet).

Next was to finish the tenon. I had to remove all of the waste between the face and the tenon. I did this by first chopping down along the grain, then paring the pieces out (notice the 1/8″ chisel here–remember how I said that the width of your smallest chisel is important?):

I also needed to remove the ends of the tenon to make the length fit the mortise. I used the same technique, but I was also able to make partial sawcuts, which helped a lot.

With the tenon finished, I turned back to the mortise. I first sawed down the cheek of the miter, where the tenon piece’s face fits. I cut only down to the knife line that marked the miter, and then I used the miter-sawing technique above to remove the piece. A little paring and cleanup was necessary with a chisel and my rabbet plane, but this time, it all fit together perfectly:

Yeah, oops about that shoulder line again. The end of the mortise piece sits a little proud of the end. You can plane this off. I suppose that for a full frame, you’d want to cut the pieces with the mortises slightly longer than you need, so that you can measure your overall width from the inside and plane off the excess. Or maybe not, I’m not sure.

It’s unlikely that I will use this joint in a project soon, but it’s nice to have around. But other than the lack of a suitable application, I really should get a smaller mortise chisel if I’m going to be working in thin frames like this. I really pushed the limits of what I was able to do with my W. Butcher 9/32″ chisel. If it were any wider, I would not have been able to fit the mortise and tenon inside the space available with the face and its buffer area factored in. So maybe I’ll be on the hunt for yet another pigsticker now, a 3/16″ or similar. (Sigh.)