The Embellished Story of a Simple Box

There I was, working on the latest project, when SWMBO approached and asked for some sort of container to put in the cabinet for some spices. She drew something that suspiciously resembled a box, so I inquired, “would a box work for this?”

Affirmative was the reply, and in the words of Topato Potato and Sheriff Pony, it was time to “spring into action!” The valiant woodworker never misses an opportunity to trot off to Mount Carcase to face off with the Dovetail Dragon, no?

I selected a target and started milling. Then I realized that the chunk I had chosen didn’t have enough wood to make the piece, so I looked around for another piece, which turned out to be this:

It was a measly offcut from some much larger board that I’m saving for a rainy day. Making the second call to “spring into action,” I was successful at milling the necessary pieces.

At about this time, I realized that I had no idea what this wood was. I still do not. Here is a cross-section of this ring-porous angiosperm for the sole purpose of an excuse to use the macro lens again, and on the off-chance that one of you crack wood identifiers knows:

At this point, I just made the box. I think most of everyone who reads this knows about through dovetails, so I’ll digress on that. The sole excitement was getting to use the 1/8″ blade on the Stanley #45 for the groove on the bottom, and since that doesn’t reach high enough on the excite-o-meter, let’s just skip to the end.

Box.

 

New Joinery Saw

In my last post, I was cutting the teeth on a new saw. This one’s got a plate that’s 10″x3″, .020″ thick, and has a milled brass back that has a 1/4″x3/4″ profile. These parts came from Mike Wenzloff, to whom I owe a lot of thanks for not only accommodating what turned out to be kind of a crazy order, but also for providing tips on how to attach the back and other matters.

I’m not sure what to call this saw because it’s somewhere between a dovetail saw and a carcase/small tenon saw. As I mentioned before, it’s got 16 teeth per inch, which is in the range of most dovetail saws, as is the sawplate thickness, but its plate depth is a bit more than more of those.

My goal was to replace the trusty Crown gents saw that I’ve been making most of my joints with. I’ve been happy with the way that saw cuts, and indeed, I’ve made most of my furniture with it, but I wanted more weight and a “nicer” handle. So since I want to cut most of my joinery with this saw, I’m calling it a joinery saw, I guess.

So with the teeth cut, the back shaped and attached, and the blade waxed up, I grabbed the cherry handle from this saw from before, put holes in the right spots, and it was done:

Then I tested it out by slicing the end of a piece of something-or-other to ribbons:

I have to admit, that was a lot of fun.

But projects awaited this saw, so I had to get going on them. The first one I worked on was this box:

It’s a small box meant to hold cards the size of index cards. The walls are made from a block of Arizona Cypress (thanks to Roger Van Maren for bringing this in to Bagathon!), about 3/8″ thick. The bottom is redwood, about 3/32″ thick, sawed out with the frame saw.

I’m not sure what in the world I was thinking, because this wood kind of “crumbles out” rather than tears out. The grain reverses like crazy. I had to make a scratch stock-like tool to scrape out the groove for the bottom. But I guess once you get the hang of it, the end result is nice. And the new saw worked really well for those teeny dovetails.

Nightstand: Finished

My deadline for the nightstand project is Wednesday. I had originally planned on having this thing done about a week before then, but stuff happened. I’ve been applying varnish to the frame, top, and drawer over the past few weeks and they were finally ready. I rubbed out the varnish with 320-grit sandpaper followed by #000 and #0000 steel wool, all lubricated with mineral oil. I decided not to use rottenstone on this project for two reasons: first, the #0000 steel wool got it to where I wanted it to be, and second, I was afraid of getting it into some of the parts that don’t have finish in them. The second concern was a little silly.

I started assembling the whole thing by drilling holes and cutting recesses in the top stretchers for the screws to attach the top. This was an ugly job that took forever, and I was very silly not to have done this before glueup. I didn’t realize that I would be attaching the top this way until it was glued–I couldn’t find the hardware I was looking for and I didn’t feel like making it. Oh well, it’s not like anyone is going to see this part anyway (it’s on the inside):

Then it was time to solve an uglier problem. The drawer is slightly out of square because (I think) the bottom panel is a hair trapezoidal (thankfully, the end that’s too big is not subject to wood movement). I’ll be a little more careful of that sort of thing in the future, but for now, I decided to make the drawer fit by trimming the side of one of the runners:

Hey, finally a use for my Stanley #75!

With the kludges out of the way, I put in some simple stops for the drawer:

You can also see in the preceding image how the rear holes for the screws to attach the top are elongated to cope with wood movement (and this being riftsawn beech, that’s pretty much a given).

Then, after trimming the bottoms of the legs a little to get them level, I put everything together, waxed the drawer bottom and runners, and it was done:

Here’s a detail of the open drawer:

Though I made more mistakes than I care to admit, reflecting back on this project, it’s pretty positive. Despite the slight goof, the drawer looks perfect and the dovetails are very crisp–and I’d only done one practice half-blind joint a few months back.

Probably most importantly, this was by far the most complicated project I’ve done so far, and I finished it faster than any of my other projects. And it’s done just in time.

Nightstand: Frame Glueup, Drawer Started

With the shelf made, the front and back frames glued and set for a few days, there was nothing left to do but to glue up the whole frame.

I never have many pictures of the glueup process, because it’s really the only time when time matters a lot. When you’re under pressure to get all of the parts into the right places and into the frame before the glue starts to set, there really isn’t any chance to take photos. In addition, all of my shots are done on a tripod and involve long exposures because the lighting is really bad in the shop, and I can’t hold the camera steady anyway. Finally, my hands tend to get a little sticky with the liquid hide glue, so I don’t want to get any of that on my camera.

I can, however, take pictures of the piece when I’m finished and it’s in the clamps. Thanks to Jasen for lending me the pipe clamps and K-clamp:

This will be ready for varnish in a few days.

The two other remaining components of the project are the top and the drawer. I’ve got the boards for the drawer down to size and cut the half-blind dovetails for the front:

I’m a little concerned about the clearance in the front, it’s possible that this may be too tight of a fit. Depending on how it works out, I may knock off 1/32″ or less off of the faces of each side, because I don’t want this thing getting stuck inside the frame if the boards expand a little.

Though half of the joints are made for the drawer, I’m almost done, because the rear joints will be through dovetails, which are much faster to make. In addition, it’s likely that I will cut only two tails back there to keep it simple. Then there’s fitting the drawer bottom and finally, the drawer pull.

I may be finished cutting wood on the project this weekend.

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.

Bookshelf: The 60-Year Dovetail

I’m slowly making my way through the prototype bookshelf project. After realizing that my widths were all wrong, I had to spend some quality time with my rip saws and jointer plane to fix all of it, and I was able to do that during what little time I had this weekend.

So then I decided to get started on the dovetail joints for the top, and let’s just say that my dovetails are not the famous five-minute variety. I don’t get a lot of uninterrupted time in the shop these days, so I just cut whatever I can, and stop when I need to. On Monday, I laid out the tails and cut them. Yesterday, I only had time to finish cleaning the waste between the tails and mark out the pins. This morning, I had enough time to cut the pins and finish the joint (and mark out the tails for the next joint). So it may not be the 60-year dovetail, but sometimes it seems like that.

However, the story is not a sad one. For one, the joint is perfect; the only thing left to do here is plane off the proud excess at the ends of the tails and pins:

Another bright spot is that it went off without a hitch, even on pain-in-the-butt yellow-poplar sapwood (the lighter bits on the right). Saw, chop, and test-fit. The pins fit right off the saw; no paring was required on the sides of the pins. Thinking back to the first dovetail joints I made, it took much longer to cut joints that did not turn out as well. My speed is improving.

I’m back to using my cheap Crown gent’s saw, still with the same touching up of the teeth that I gave it when I first got it (slight jointing, filing with a needle file, slight stoning on the sides to remove some of the set, and wax). It works fine, though I can’t imagine how bad it would have been if I hadn’t tuned it. I am still plotting out the dream dovetail saw that I will make one day, but I’m too busy with furniture projects right now to get tied up with making another stupid tool, and honestly, it’s just not that important.

Sometimes I think of what could possibly make things move a little faster, and I came to the conclusion that some operations are actually going quickly but some not so quickly.

The fast ones are:

  • Sawing down the tails and pins
  • Removing the bulk of the waste
  • Test-fitting

The stuff that seems to take a little longer:

  • Laying out the joints
  • Paring down the final little bits in the tail and pin troughs

Now, I know that the paring could go a little quicker if I just bothered to make a pair of skew chisels. I really should get on that case some day.

What about laying out the joints, though? I do this mostly by eye now, marking out “what looks good” (to me, at least) for the tail spacing, then using a square and T-bevel to mark the lines. This works and it is St. Roy- (and others) approved. But it’s not fast for me. I can mark the spacing quickly enough, but lining up the T-bevel to the mark on top always seems to take a little extra time. A dovetail template could save some time, because you can register it to your marks at the top quickly.

But then again, we’re talking about a savings of only about two or three minutes here. And I don’t think it’s worth getting yet another tool for that at the moment. Furthermore, I can’t just arbitrarily pick the angle I want, as I do now. I know that’s been said a million times before, but I do think it counts for something.

Saw Till: Dovetail joints, pieces

While waiting for the first coat of finish on the shoe rack to cure, I milled the pieces for the saw till down to size in preparation for the joinery. So far, I’ve only had time to finish one through dovetail joint, and get part of the way through the tailboard on the second:

saw_till_dovetail_pieces

The completed dovetail joints are on the bottom right (pinboard on the bottom, tailboard above it), and the new tailboard-in-progress is on the left. The other four pieces on the upper right are for the stretchers.

The pinboard (which will form the lower shelf) presented a small problem before I started out. I hadn’t noticed before, but it wasn’t really flat. So I thought about it, and flattened just one face square to the edges with my jack and jointer planes. In theory, the joint will be fine because the inside face is now flat–that’s the one you need to be square to the sides.

I cleaned off all of the surfaces with my smoother plane as well. I felt that it was probably a good idea to do that work on the inside faces before cutting the dovetail joints. I should have probably waited on the others, because I’ll probably need to do them again after I cut everything, but oh well.

It’s been a little hard to gauge my progress with these dovetail joints. I’m managing to cut them precisely, requiring practically no paring, but I feel that I may be cutting them rather slowly. It’s also been hard to find the time to work; I’ll only get 20-30 minutes at a time to work, then I have to do something else, like go to the unfortunate day job.

This wood, whatever it is, is pleasant to work with. I guess it’s Ponderosa Pine. Working is similar to Yellow-poplar. I’d like to find a good source of it, I think. My recent experiences with softwoods have been positive, which is interesting, because I never imagined myself using them much. They present challenges for your tools, sure, but they also seem to have a lot to offer.

This almost certainly won’t be done by the time I leave for a short trip to Pennsylvania this week. But the good news is that I’m going to Pennsylvania!

Saw Till: Plan

Eventually, everyone seems to build their own saw till, and I’m no exception, because that’s what I’ve been thinking about as I finish up the shoe rack. So after the requisite internet research (think Dan and company), and taking a million measurements of my saws, I have a plan for my own. It’s nothing fancy, but it is at least less silly than my tool rack:

saw_till_plan

These are the side and front views here, I suppose. The rest of the drawing, not shown, contains labeled component parts. I must apologize for how little this looks like a three-dimensional piece; I know how it’s supposed to look because I drew it, but that doesn’t help you much. Unfortunately, Google SketchUp isn’t available for Linux, so I’m using Inkscape. Oh well.

[Update: A PDF file of the plan is on the Plans and Guides page. Here is the SVG file for the plans. You can download it; Illustrator, Inkscape, and other programs will edit it. You can view it in Firefox.]

Some of the features here include:

  • Open top, in case I get a 38″ King-Kong-sized saw or something.
  • Shelf on the bottom, for saw sets or dust.
  • Dovetailed bottom.
  • Wedged through tenons. I was on the fence about this, until I realized that I’d never done through tenons before, and that this would be a great project to screw them up on.
  • Optional small panel for the shelf.
  • Design requires just seven components.
  • Possible use of hardware for interchangeable slots.

I’ve got the side sections to width and length already.

First dovetail joint

Last week I did some milling in preparation for a dovetail attempt. Having fooled around with various things for a few days, I decided to finally give it a shot today. I followed the instructions in Korn’s book pretty much to the letter, and wouldn’t you know, I ended up with two pieces that looked like a tailboard and pinboard.

The most interesting part is that the pieces fit on the first shot. I sawed and trimmed the pinboard just up to the lines, and after the cleanup:

I decided that I wanted to glue and clamp it up, so let’s see how it looks once I plane off the ends (maybe tomorrow).