Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Saw Till Moving Forward

I have almost pulled off the Saw Till I have been building. First let me take a moment and share why I so desperately needed one.
This has been my solution up until now. The smaller saws separated on the pegs worked OK, but the 5 saws lined up on one pin sucked. I think I should repeat that. . . . it suuuuuccccckkkked. With a capitol "S" Take away the time I put into sharpening those teeth only to have them bang off each other all the time and the threat of them falling off the peg and you still have the fact that every time I needed to use one of the guys, the one I was looking for was never in the front. So I juggle and shuffle like a deck of cards until I get the right one. Every time swearing to build that saw till.

Now I had set a initial goal of building this in a day. That just never panned out but I didn't take for granted some of the details that went into putting this together. I think if I were to build another one of these, then a day, a long day, is do-able. This time it's going to work out to about 2 and 1/2 days, but it's what the piece calls for and I don't want to shortchange the work simply because I put up some arbitrary time goal.

The other day I built the carcass with dovetailed corners and prepped the dados, I also built and dovetailed a two boards together to make the small saw till. The I got the main carcass glued up. Today I came back and started with a little sanding and then glued the small till into place.
I tried locating a dado for the leg several times, in the end it seemed like I was blowing a lot of time for something that wasn't that important. So out came the Kreg Jr. and I drilled some pocket holes. Normally I hate putting something like that somewhere visible, but it is a shop cabinet and I eventually used a pair of the hole plugs that came with the jig when I bought it to fill the holes and make it a little less obvious. I do like the scrolling design and the chasing bead I carved in to the leg. It's a nice detail and details make a piece.
I then cut a notch in the top till piece to hold my saw vise. I am so glad to have a home for this too, I hate that it's had to rattle around in cabinets and on the bottom shelf of my workbench. I was always worried that it would fall and the cast would crack and then it would be shot. Here it is protected, I dished and shaped the slot to it's shape and the vice stays in place even if I tip the cabinet forward 45 to 50 degrees.
Then I had to plan, measure, and cut the slots for the saws to nestle into. This was less measuring and more of a trial and error process. I placed the first saw in, marked where the blade sat, cut the slot, put that saw into place and measured where the next saw should sit. Once I had three done I could take a measurement and space out the rest of the slots.
After making the marks, I would make a kerf cut with my small open handle pull saw. This one would be my favorite saw.
After I made the cut I had to think to decide how to effectively widen the kerf so it wasn't binding around the future blade. Eventually I settled on using my rotary tool and an small spiral upcutting bit. The space it produced was near perfect.
After trialing the saw a bit I decided to contour the bottom rest. When I was looking at pictures of saw tills online I noticed a lot of them had been built so the teeth of the saws fit into the spaces. On one hand I can understand facing the teeth away from yourself, but having the saw continually lean on the teeth in the till still just didn't sit right with me, the pressure, small as it is, should be on the back. The way the saw handles sat on the front rail just wasn't perfectly happiness to me. So I started a little contouring first with a woodwright's rasp.
Then I smoothed up the rasping and further set a chamfer with the belt sander. I'm carefully using the tip of the sander and a very light touch. Makes me think a little of the way you see chain saw carvers wielding their weapon of choice. It takes some practice to get good at free handing something like this though, with a belt sander it's easy to make a big mistake fast.
Everything cut and set it was time to go for a test drive. This felt good but not as good as the later test drive.
To build the back I needed to resaw some of the 1x pine down to around 3/8" thick. Here's where my shop feels inadequate, because to resaw it's best to use a band saw, and my band saw looks like this.
Don't look now it's the mighty mini! Ya well we can all dream big but we still have to start somewhere. The widest this resaws is 3". So I ripped a couple three inch wide boards and cut them the length to fit the back.
Then I fed them into the mighty mini and split the down. Ta Da, doubled in width.
A little sizing and cutting, some sanding, and ladies and gentlemen we have a paneled back for the till.
Now standing it up and looking at it was a cool feeling, but nothing like placing the saws back in to have a real look see.
The back is only temporarily tacked in place here, I've number the pieces and I'm going to pull them off and pre finish them before I do a dab of glue and nail them in place. So what's left, some sanding, some finishing, and building the drawer. Can you say hand cut half blind dovetails for the first time. . .  next time I hit the shop I will.



Saturday, August 28, 2010

The Woodshop is a Playground

An excellent day in the shop today, I had a goal of building a saw till in a day. Why make that goal? No reason other than to challenge myself a little. I did fall short of the goal by half. If I can put another full day in tomorrow I will most likely be finished. Do I feel like I failed? No, I got a lot accomplished and I probably could have gotten farther but I took quite a bit of time to work with my "apprentice."

Infinity just turned eight and she's been coming to the shop with me more and more often. Unfortunately there are good stretches of time where I am doing something repetitious, like cutting dovetails, and there are no tools to hand to me or additional questions to ask, and boredom takes over. I've gotten her started with a small piece of pine and working at a saw bench to "practice her saw cuts"

I had her mark out 1 inch increments with a ruler, pencil, and speed square, and practice cutting on the line. I showed her how to hold the saw, I made one cut to demonstrate, and I let her go at it. Over the last two trips to the shop she's made a couple over a dozen practice cuts, each time comparing her cut with my first one. By half way through today she was consistently cutting reasonably square cuts. I had to take my pull saw back to cut some dovetails so I traded her for a cheep Stanley short construction saw I keep for remodeling/home repair jobs, and after I showed her the difference in how a push saw cuts and to use a shallower entry angle. Within a few minutes she had it rocking. Kids are frickin amazing man, just a little bit of work and the muscle memory is there.

I did make some progress on the saw till as well, but I'm feeling a bit worn out this evening and I think I'll just let some pictures tell the rest of the story of today in the shop.



Friday, August 27, 2010

Perfecting the Twin Screw Vise

About a month ago I put up a couple posts here on my building of a detachable twin screw vise based on Chris Schwarz's take off on the vise pictured in 17th century period woodworking books. To read up on the back ground and the previous parts of the build you can go to this link HERE.

Here's a pic of what I had called a job well done.

It works great, holds work tight and solidly connected to the workbench thanks to a pair of "F" clamps. Well I guess I had a problem with using the "F" clamps. Don't get me wrong, the work and work well, but they are like two spikes sticking up on either side of the vise, Their silvery bars hanging out in my peripheral sight and leering over my shoulder while I work, like they're trying to steal my sawdust secrets. (OK maybe I have my paaroid moments)

No matter what it was I just wasn't a huge fan of the clamps. Chris mentioned in his blog about the work that he could use either the clamps or a pair of long hold fasts. I liked the idea of hold fasts but I didn't have any that were anywhere near the foot long behemoths they would have to be. First I looked for some bigger ones, but quickly gave up on that. I had to come up with a way to use the shorter hold fasts I own.

I thought if I could add or create a ledge on the backside of the vise that I could hold down from my front row of dog holes, then that might be the ticket. I then spent a few weeks thinking about the joinery, there would be a lot of natural rocking type stress put on the joint between the boards and I wasn't 100% sure how to handle those forces. The joint screamed for a dovetails but the grain of the two boards would be weaker with the bottom cuts running along the grain.

I decided that I should really just go for it and stop over thinking it, I could make decisions and fix things on the fly or I could hold off and paralytically contemplate the issue forever. Action is always better. So I found a nice red oak 1x4 (I built the rest of the vise from hickory but I had run out) to serve for the ledge board and I started to cut the tails into the back board of the vise.
I then marked and cut the pins in the side grain of the red oak, I pared them to a good fit, (doing this is where I slipped with the chisel and the vise and I became blood brothers from here on out, you can read about that experience HERE)

Now here's the problem, I usually only dry fit my dovetail joints about halfway because I don't want to leaver them too much during the process, If the first half fits well then I can usually get the joint all the way together for glue up. The side grain is a different animal and I guess I knew that but routines are what they are sometimes. during glue up the joints wedged at halfway and wouldn't go farther. . . I decided to go for broke and go caveman. Mallet in hand I banged on the oak, trying to merge it with the hickory, and the oak split, right at the bottom of the pin cuts.

In retrospect, I wasn't really surprised and I'm glad it happened at glue up and not a week into using the vise. It gave me a chance to sit back and think about how I could fix my side to side grain problem.

The answer I decided on was to take what was to take what remained of the 1x4 and cut it into sections 3 1/2" long. Then I could turn the pieces and edge glue them back together. There was nothing I could do about the side grain of the vise, but this gave me the same size, and length board but with grain running the better way for dovetails. It was a funny glue up though, it took some weight to keep the pieces from bowing under the clamp pressure.
That glue up done I recut the pins in to the new board, pared and shaped them, and went into glue up mode again, (This time without the obligatory trauma, to my fingers or the 1x4)
A little plane work to clean up the joint and I had just what I had pictured. But now would it work?
I put the vise together and set it in place with the hold fasts . . . moment of truth time and I found I could move the weight of the whole bench around using the vise as the handle. Now if that's not solid enough for dovetailing and other cutting then I give up. This was every bit as strong as the "F" clamps solution, a little more elegant, (imho) and a little more versatile for use on different benches like my joinery bench which has a front apron on it that would require me to go bar clamp at least to hold the vise otherwise.
Finally I was done with the vise and happy with the design and the function. I sealed her up with a couple quick coats of Danish Oil. Let that dry and rubbed some wax into the threads of the wooden screws.
Then I took it for another test drive. Just some sloppy dovetails cut freehand to give it a go. I have always wanted on of these vises but I could never abide by the space it would have taken up on the bench. I always thought they looked kind of . . . in the way I guess. Now this one is there when I want it and out of the way when I don't. Once again I want to thank Chris Schwarz for bringing this idea out and into the light.
I start the next project for the shop today, a saw till, and I'm setting a challenge for myself to see if I can build it in one day. You gotta keep challenging yourself, or everything starts to look the same, like you're headed down a strange tunnel. . . .


Friday, August 20, 2010

The Gratuitous Finish and Plans for the Future.

This is the last entry directly about the Medieval Hutch Chest build. If you haven't caught the other posts you can certainly catch up by clicking on the link HERE.

I will admit my Achilles Heel in woodworking is the finishing process. I have devoted a lot of time and study to joinery techniques, to working with power and hand tools, to proportions and design and the flow of grain in a piece. The area of my knowledge that is the most lacking is finishing. I just don't feel sophisticated enough in my approach to it. Maybe I'm comparing myself to other woodworkers who's blogs I read or who I follow in the magazines, but lately I've been realizing that if I want to move forward and get better then I have to learn more finishing techniques than the two or three standbys I have.

The biggest problem is that I have learned most of what I know woodworking by either reading or doing. I have yet to find a really good book on finishing out there, (I have heard really good things about "Understanding Wood Finishing" by Bob Flexner and I will probably be checking that out soon) I think the biggest hindrance for me is two fold.

1. For a long time I really just decided that I hated the finishing process, I really have started to revise that thought in my head over the last few years or so, but for a long time I really thought of it as something I "had" to do, not something I should want to do. It slowed down my shop, it took a large amount of extra planing and time management, it meant my shop work had to stop for a while so dust wouldn't interfere with the polyurethane. If I could have built a piece and sent it off to a professional finisher, I would have.

2. I have never taken the time to experiment with finishes, to learn on my own what looks good and what works well. When I started I was slave to the simple idea that you slap on a stain, put on some polyurethane, and call it a day, I followed directions on cans, the pitiful and short things they are, and was never happy with results. Circumstances have lead me to be cheep, I cannot over buy a lot of stock, infact I almost never have extra wood on hand, I try to buy just enough for a project. yes there are some cut offs and I suppose that is probably another lame excuse.

Either way what I have come to is a couple of options in my limited bag of tricks, The first thing I do is if I use a stain, I use a very light stain, less to color the wood than to just bring out the finish a little, I do like to use a stain conditioner first but I have been reading things about whether that is worthwhile or not lately to. Over a stain I use a satin polyurethane, I like to use the variety packaged in the aerosol cans, more expensive, yes, better results, I guess, right or wrong, I've fooled myself into thinking so. but my latest trick, the simplest thing I have ever found, has been Danish Oil, Watco brand to be exact. A couple of coats a half hour apart, and there you go. couldn't be simpler.

I have one more trick, torching the wood, but I will come back to this one in future posts. The real point is
I feel like I'm in a rut when it comes to this stuff and I'll be expanding my horizon's in the future, but I didn't have a whole lot of time leading up to the delivery deadline on the Hutch Chest so I went with a tried and true - two coats of Danish Oil rubbed in with a finishing pad.
 I'm not even sure if this is the right thing, but after the finish is dry I give it a hand buff with some 0000 steel wool to rub out any dust flecks that have been trapped in the finish and I think this probably evens out the look a little. I could be treating the doctor instead of treating the pathology though.

I need to find a good finishing class and make a point of getting my butt there.

So a few more gratuitous pics of the finished product.
I guess I wish I was a better photographer too. There's a lot of shortcomings in this post. Maybe a photography class too. . . now that's not a bad thought either.

Now the big question at the end of every project. What would I have done differently?

1. Well we've nailed down I would have liked to have used a different finish. I'm not unhappy with how this finish turned out, I always seem to get great looking results with Danish Oil. I guess I'm just in a space where I need to expand my horizons.

2. I think it may be the tanin in the oak, (the chemical that makes it possible to ebonize oak) but I made my own wood putty to fill the few finishing nail holes there were. I used a mixture of fine sawdust from the random orbit sander and some of my Gorilla brand wood glue, but I think the tanin in the oak reacted with the moisture in the glue and it looked good to start but after it dried it turned dark, dark, dark. Ugly dark.
After it was dried I couldn't think of any decent way to dig out the black to fix it without causing greater damage, they are small spots and maybe most people miss them, but to me they stand out like the popcorn lights on top of a police car. I pondered my options and decided the enemy of good is perfect, I left it alone, but had I known I would have gone out and bought a commercial filler instead. Just wish I fully understood what happened here, If you know, or even have a guess, please leave a comment. I'd appreciate any input I can get on this.

3. The only other big thing is making the mistake of trying to measuring to mount the hinges on the front panel of the case instead of the back panel, I caught myself before I made a cut with a saw, but not before I struck the line with a chisel, leaving a mark a little too deep to be sanded out, again the enemy of good is perfect, I left the lines and I think they only stand out horribly to me.

4. It would have been very interesting to try and build this piece with riven, green oak. I understand it is much easier to work and infact the build would have been even more period accurate if I'd had that option. Maybe at some point in the future the opportunity will arise and I will have the chance to take advantage.

What's next on my plate? Well I'm going to knock around the shop a bit, I have a turning project a friend of mine has requested that should be fun once we settle on a design. I do have someone who has enquired about building an Arts & Crafts style sideboard, we looked at some options but I'm thinking the upcoming cover project for Popular Woodworking may be just what she's looking for. If so that will be the first time I've built a piece directly from a magazine plan and I think that will be an interesting experience, look forward to plenty of posts about that journey if the plan goes forward. Other than that I have a few things I want to build for the shop. A modification to my Moxon Twin Screw Vise and a Saw Till are at the top of my list, but I'd really also like to come up with a good way to organize my sand paper. We'll see what I can come up with there.



Thursday, August 19, 2010

Conspiracy Theory

Before I start I want to add a little disclaimer, If you easily get squeamish or sick at the sight of a wound or blood, then you should skip this post. I don't think there is nothing over the top here, it's a story about a small wound suffered tonight, I'll be 100% in 10 days at the most but I don't want to ambush anyone who can't take it.

I have to laugh, just the other day I posted a article on this blog inspired by Adam Cherubini's Global War on Table Saws, Not agreeing and not in opposition, just in parallel. If you want to read it you can find it HERE.

Well tonight it seems my hand tools have risen up against me in response to my reassembly of the table saw. I'm sure they quietly huddled in the corners of the shop, holding secret meetings when I wasn't looking or wasn't there. It makes me think of those old WWII POW camp movies, but instead of digging a hole to get outta there, they were plotting revenge.

I'm sure there was one final meeting to select the one who would make the strike. The hammers were ruled out, to be taken serious they would probably cause too much damage. The hand saws felt they would be too obvious the culprits. The others all lined up and drew lots. My 1" wide Irwin chisel drew the black lot. He waited until I was comfortable, until he had been newly sharpened, until late in the day. He had already done a lot of work for me today, but he wasn't done. I was cutting a row of dovetails for a upgrade to my Moxon twin screw vise, I'm sure I'll get the pics up here about the idea soon, I ate some supper and returned to the shop to pare the joints to a tight fit. I made a heavy push to pare away some wood and the chisel struck, jumped off the board and bit into the meat on the fingertip pad of my left ring finger. I knew it was not good instantly. I grabbed a bottle of water and dumped it over the wound as the blood began to flow. Yup I didn't have to work had to figure it out, This was gonna need stitches.

The funny thing is, and it fits into this conspiracy theory, I just bought a small first aid kit for the shop two days ago and actually brought it out to the shop yesterday. Now I have to buy another one.

I wrapped it up and called my wife, I picked her up on the way to the ER, They numbed it up, washed it out and put a few stitches in it. I now have a big bandage around my finger that I can take off tomorrow night. I got the day off work tomorrow, and now all I have to do is convince my wife to let me into the shop tomorrow.

I would say lesson learned but I cannot think of anything I did wrong, sometimes it's jsut on e of those things.Thank God it wasn't into anything vital or a more troublesome wound. a clean cut that will heal quick. So here is the final warning I'm going to put up a couple pics I took with my phone while in the ER. Last chance to click away now.
Turn that frown upside down.
All Better.

Cheers and Be Safe


Wednesday, August 18, 2010

Assembly and the Lid

If you have been following along with this build then awesome, thank you. If you have missed out or are coming in on the tail end of things here you can catch up with the rest of the build by clicking on the link HERE.

I started this day by doing the main assembly for the chest,I started by installing the side pieces first. because of the tongue and groove joint of the front panel into the legs, this was forced to be a butt joint. It would be reinforced by a 3 pairs of 3/8" pins but I still made some changes to the original design, The article on medieval chests that I took a lot of instruction from suggested the grain of the side panels should run horizontal, matching the front panel, but as I thought about that and this butt joint I also started to think about wood movement over time and how if I were to run the side panels with the same grain orientation as the legs I wouldn't have any movement issues fighting each other or the joint. (If you haven't, you can check out that article from greydragon.org HERE)

I added some glue to the sides and the legs and positioned the panel. I held pressure with an F Clamp while I predrilled and placed four 6 penny finishing nails, near the top and bottom in the front and back. I gave all these nails a slight angle to add mechanical strength and I countersunk them all below the surface with a nail set. Using these nails gave me the chance to continue working with the piece clamp free while the glue set up.
I took no pictures and have spent no time on the panel for the bottom, There is nothing special about it to warrant that. It's made of a single width of board that was flattened, smoothed, and cut to fit inside the opening. As it was placed it was also nailed with four 6d finishing nails in pre-drilled holes and countersunk with a nail set.

Glue was used along the matching grain to the front and back panels, not along the cross grain to the sides.

All the nail holes were later filled with homemade wood putty mixing glue and sawdust from the oak.
With the sides and bottom secured I drilled some 25/64" holes into the wood, just a step bigger than the 3/8" dowels I made the day before. I drilled the holes to a 2" depth as the prepared dowels were 2 1/2"
A little wood glue in the holes, a careful selection of the best dowels for the front, second best for the sides, and following up with acceptable dowels for the back. Then comes the driving of the pins into the wood. I try to orient the grain of the pins to follow the grain of the wood they're driving through, I think this is important for aesthetics and keeping a consistency in the flow of the grain. Occasionally the pin will twist of its own account in the driving but I don't waste time fighting with it to reorient it. It's a picky thing to start with. I drive the pins home by sound, use your ears and listen to the tone of the pin and wood when you drive it, there is a definite change in pitch when you've bottomed out and should stop pounding.
Occasionally the pin will pressurize the glue ahead of it in the hole and drive it through the grain of the wood on the side of the panel, I go ahead and clean this up with a moist rag like the rest of my squeeze out, but I make a mark with a pencil to make sure to pay a little more attention to it when I'm final sanding a piece, just to make sure I remove enough to not interfere with any finishing products.

With all the pins set on one side I wipe up as much of the squeeze out as possible and cut the pins flush with a flexible flush trimming hand saw. Then I repeat the process on the sides in and the back. Over all on the front and back there are three pins from each side going through into the bottom panel and two into the side panels. From each side there are an additional two pins going through into the bottom panel.
I set the workpiece aside and then devoted my attention to flattening and smoothing the boards I joined for the lid. The grain was a little wild and my metal jack planes were having issues so I switched to my wooden body jacks  and they took off like wildfire. I like to have options like that, it's amazing how often if I'm stymied with one thing how just changing which tool I'm working with will make a difference.

With the panel set and smoothed I turned the body of the chest back over on top of it and lined it up with the back edge and scribed a line around it to set the orientation of the lid. Through all my measurements and work I felt I had the chest square, heck my trisquare confirmed it, but wood is a tricky bastard that way sometimes and I've had it fool me before. I never take that "square" for granted anymore. The slight variations will destroy you over time. If it looks right then it is right and so I measure my lids for my chest using the chest itself and skipping the tape measure all together. Since I've started to do that, my error rate has dropped to zero. That's a good thing.

After I had the outside edges of the chest scribed down I took a dividers and set it to 5/8" wide and scribed a second outter line that would give space for the lip around the chest.
A little rip saw work, using the workbench and an overhand grip on the saw took the panel to depth. Because of the thin amount of waste on the width cuts I did those with the band saw. Once the cuts were made the saw marks were smooth planed away.
Using the piece I cut off I cut a strip for the lip as 5/8" square. This was done on the table saw. Some glue was laid down and clamps were applied.
The side lip was made from 5/8" square pieces cross cut so they would show end grain like the lid. The width of the board was only about 4" so I cut several pieces, squared them up on the shooting board, and lined them up end to end.
While the glue dried on the lid's lip I took some time to measure and cut notches for the hinges. Here I finally made my first real mistake. Not thinking or paying attention I scribed the lines to be notched on the front panel of the chest, for those playing at home, hinges attach on the back panel. . . Oops, I didn't catch it until after I had scored the lines with a chisel and notched the first for a "first class" saw cut. I'm not sure how I caught it then, but I'm glad I did before the notches had gone any further. I'm not sure how I would have fixed that and made it look decent. As it stands I left the lines and the notch alone deciding that anything I would try to do to disguise them would make them stand out even more. Sometimes the enemy of good is better.

This pic is actually of me lining up the hinges on the front panel after I had bent the hinges to what I needed. I have to say I really am a big fan of these strap hinges from Lee Valley, I think they look awesome in these applications.
As the lid dried I used a belt sander to clean up the edges (I didn't want to plane into any reversing grain at this point) and I generally cleaned up the lip and made it look presentable. As I went getting hinges lined up on the lid I noticed that my inset bottom panel had left a few small gaps between it and the front, back and side panels. No problems structurally but looks wise it left an unfinished taste to the bottom of the inside.

I ripped off a couple small strips on the table saw, 3/8" by 5'8" and I used a small finger plane and spokeshave to chamfer an angle on them. I mitered the corners and fit them into the bottom. I used some CA glue to secure them in place. I have to admit I am pretty new to the CA glue concept in woodworking, I've used super glue for lots of other things, but for this application it was perfect. An impossible place to fit a clamp and super difficult to drive a brad. Those things only end in tears and swearing (I've been there) that CA glue almost made it too easy.
I decided to leave things to dry there overnight, I would come back the next day to do the final sanding and apply the finish.