Nightstand: Frame Joinery Complete

The nightstand project requires 24 mortise-and-tenon joints for the external frame, four for the drawer runner supports, and four more for the decoration on the front. I’ve cut all of these except the ones for the decoration. Here’s a shot of a test-fit of the external frame (without the runners):

My speed improved significantly while making all of these joints. When I started the first one, it was taking me as long as 45 minutes to make one. Most of the time was spent paring off little bits of the tenons, most annoyingly, on the shoulders. By the time I did the drawer runner pieces, I was doing them in under 30 minutes. (Yeah, the pros do them six times faster, but I’m not a pro.) What’s more important to me than speed is accuracy, and that improved tremendously, too. All of my tenons now seem to fit right off the saw. The only paring I need to do is still that little bit on the shoulders, but it’s going faster now. I’m using the mystery chisel for that because a 1.5″ chisel has a lot of registration area. It really seems to be holding its edge well.

I also managed to cut myself with my dovetail saw. Ouch, I didn’t realize it was that sharp.

This project’s joints are a motley bunch. I’m using different offsets at different locations to try to maximize contact based on constraints of panel and corner placement. Some have haunches to improve alignment. Here’s a shot of the middle frame layer, the one that the drawers will rest upon, showing the drawer support runners that I just finished up today:

The runners, back, and right side are depicted in their intended final configuration, and the front and left sides are not attached. When finished, the sides will have rabbets with grooves for where the side panels will rest, and the rear will have a groove for the rear panel.

This is a shot of the current state of the parts and parts-to-be:

The mostly-complete parts (18 of them) are in the front, and the number of pieces in the back indicate that I still have a fair amount of work to do here:

  • join the top
  • join and rabbet the shelf
  • mill the pieces for the drawer and make the drawer
  • mill the panels
  • groove the frame for the panels and shelf
  • make the drawer pull (wood for drawer pull not shown here)
  • glue up everything
  • varnish

What to do next? Well, I’d better pick something. I do have a deadline for this piece. It’ll be either the decoration or joining the shelves, I think.

Nightstand: Joinery Started

Yesterday, I finished milling all of the nightstand pieces except the drawer and panels. Looking back, it looks like it took me two and a half weeks to do all of it. It might have gone a little faster if the wood hadn’t moved so much after resawing. I had to go to another board to get enough consistent material for the top and shelf. The shelf was especially bad; I had originally intended that segment to be the top, but I introduced so much twist into the board when milling that I had to thin it out.

I wonder how much faster this would have gone with a bandsaw. When I think about it, probably not too much, because it would still require planing and more flattening, and if I get faster at that stuff, then that eliminates a big chunk of the time I spent on this. (The resawing, that’s a different story.)

But that’s mostly behind me now, so I arranged the pieces I had into the orientations that I’ll use for the frame layout:

It was a little tricky to get everything oriented so that none of the grain will stick out like a sore thumb. Some of the faces have ray fleck because they’re cut on the radial plane (as if they were from a quartersawn board), and although this pattern looks great in beech, I didn’t want to make it stand out on this piece. In addition, due to the various cuts on the board, the visible ray thicknesses vary slightly from piece to piece, so I matched them up on each side of the nightstand as much as possible.

With that done, I labeled each piece, made a map of the joints, and was able to do the top rear joints today–two little haunched mortise-and-tenon joints!

It’s such a relief to be at this stage now. My worries now are essentially how I should go about cutting these things. I started with the rear top because no one is ever going to see those, so if I mess them up, it’s okay. I guess I’ll finish off the rest of the joints around the top and work my way down to the next level, so that I can mark off the distances from existing joints as I go.

The joints will be a mixed bag of mortise-and-tenon joints. I’m using haunched ones at the top because I want more registration surface and I want to avoid blowing out mortises at the end (I was very careful this time). In the middle and the bottom, there will be more basic mortise-and-tenons, but the tenon lengths will vary. I have this in the drawing, or at least I pretend I do.

Making a map of the joints helps a lot. I had a mental one for the stool project, but because there are three times as many joints in this one, I decided to scribble it down on paper. And what an incredibly professional scribble it is.

You can see how I first drew it in 3D with circles and arrows (and a paragraph on the back of each one, har), but gave up on that and just broke it into top, middle, and bottom levels. I give each joint a number and when I cut a joint, I put the number on each piece. Here, the numbers go counter-clockwise around the frame from top to bottom. At first, I was numbering consecutively when moving from level to level, but then I decided it might be easier to just add ten to the starting number for the previous level and go about it that way. At the very least, it makes it easy to identify the level to which the joint belongs.

Nightstand: Frame Pieces Milled

After a lot of resawing, scrubbing, and milling, I finally have all of the frame components milled to size:

It was a moderate amount of work–less than I thought, but still non-trivial. One of the biggest problems that I’m having is that the board I’m using has quite a bit of tension built up inside. Flatsawn 8/4 beech will do that to you. In any case, whenever I resaw (and sometimes when I rip), the board moves and I end up with some cupping. My reference face would be flat before the resaw, then afterwards, it would get cupped again–sometimes almost as much as 1/32″. By the third time this was about to happen to me, I wised up and took a slightly different approach so that I minimized the amount of waste and work that I had to do:

  1. Use the scrub plane to get the reference face flat.
  2. Use the jack plane with the heavily cambered blade to even out the scrub marks. A fore plane set up the same way would work fine, too. After this, the board should be pretty flat. Don’t break out the jointer yet.
  3. Scribe a line around the edges of the board from your reference face. Set the gauge 1/8″ thicker than the thickness that you’re ultimately aiming for. The line probably won’t be super-straight, but it will be straight enough.
  4. Resaw along that line. If you’re using a hand-powered saw instead of a bandsaw, do not forget to grunt and/or growl occasionally. The least you can do is scowl.
  5. Your reference face is no longer flat because some of the board’s tension was released; sigh if necessary.
  6. Reflatten your reference face, using the scrub first if necessary. This time, use your jointer, winding sticks, and all that jazz to get it totally flat.
  7. Scribe a line around the edges from the reference face, this time to the intended thickness, and mill down the opposite face as you normally would.

So in theory, I’m ready to cut some joinery. However, before I go crazy and start chopping mortises in the wrong place again, I have the the drawer, panel, top, and shelf components to mill. I’m using the wood left over from the resawing for the drawers and panels so that they match the frame:

There’s enough wood here for all of the drawer and panel parts.  Unfortunately, I have to do a lot of hogging and flattening on these pieces, too. The good news is that I don’t have to resaw any of these.

With these pieces all earmarked, that means I have (practically) nothing left from this board for making the top and the shelf. I’m a little surprised; I thought that one 6′ 7-inch-wide 8/4 board would be enough, judging from its weight and what I was visualizing. What I didn’t count on was how much all of the cupping and re-cupping from resawing would use up so much wood. This is fine, though; I grabbed another board from my stash and cut off a piece today. Perhaps it’s even better this way, because now I know that the top will be have consistent-looking wood, because its components will all come from the same part of one board.

Diversion: Wood Extraction Attempt

There I was, milling away for the nightstand project, when I felt like I’d really like to take a break. I remembered a recent thread over at Dan’s Shop where I mused that I really ought to do something with that madrone that I had gotten back at Bagathon. My idea has been to make a handle for my “dream dovetail saw” that I’ve had in mind for a while, so I picked up a chunk, looked at it, and then fastened it to the workbench:

Now, this piece hadn’t really been properly cut or dried or anything. It’s just a piece of a log that Larry had sitting out, and by the time we got to it, it was plenty dry. Tom Holloway and I split it up and several people took pieces home. I have two of them. The other one is thinner than this one but it might be a little more straight-grained.

And so there it was, sitting on my bench, and I was wondering if its checks were too many and deep to get a piece unbroken enough for a saw handle. To find out, I started sawing. The first cut I took wasn’t too promising (pieces kept falling away), so I went in deeper:

It looked better, so I went in even deeper and got this far:

As it turns out, sawing this stuff is a pain in the butt. And I’ve been sawing beech for the last several months, and let me assure you that beech is not particularly pleasant in that respect, either.

I was far enough that I thought, hmm, maybe I have a shot at this. Maybe if it fails I can just get two smaller pieces and glue them together. But first, I wanted to split off some sections that I definitely knew were not going to be of much use to the handle but might be useful for something else. I marked them with a pencil:

Then I went outside with the wedge and small sledge (I can’t remember now, where did I get a wedge? Or the hammer?) and took a few swings. Then it occurred to me that the sound was propagating (loudly) all over the neighborhood and that it wasn’t really the time of day that I should be doing that kind of thing, so I went back inside to finish the job. I managed to find a spot that has even worse lighting than the shop, resulting in this bizarre 8-second exposure:

Hey, it worked though. I should warn you, though, that my foot is not transparent in real life.

Then I sawed away some more and now still wonder if I have enough wood in there for what I want. I know that it’s close. And I also wonder why it is that I’m doing this, exactly. After all, I have pieces of apple, cherry, as well as a near-infinite supply of beech, and I supposedly don’t care too much about the way my tools look, anyway. I think I probably just want to reduce my wood supply.