Saturday, July 21, 2012

A Little Band Saw Love

I know I spend a lot of time on my soapbox running my loud mouth about hand tools and woodworking powered by last nights pizza. Its something I feel passionate about and I am proud of the skills I've developed in that realm. However. . . .however, if you've been following my blog for a while you've seen pictures around my shop and you'll know that I have the standard array of power tools surrounding me as well. I don't fire them up often, but I like having them around to lift the workload at the right times.

A year and a half ago I added a new electric apprentice to the shop, a 14" bandsaw. It took us a little while to learn how to get along, the old boy is a little more maintenance than my tablesaw ever was and I still feel like I need four hands, a trained monkey, and a perfect full moon when it comes to changing the blade.

Our relationship has been improving since the start and there are things this guy can do that has changed my woodworking like no other tool I have ever held in my hot little hands. I can describe that change with one word. Resawing.

On his great blog Heartwood, Rob Porcaro has recently been writing about band saws vs. table saws. In the midst of balancing the pros and cons of both machines he sums up my feelings about the band saw with one line. "Resawing is a gateway technique that can change how you think about wood." You can resaw with a table saw, and I have done it before but it is not anywhere nearly as smooth or satisfying of a process as it is on the band saw.

It comes down to use and in the process of my Arts and Crafts Spice Chest build I have need of a significant amount of resawn stock. First there's the shelves which support the small apothecary drawers inside the chest. They needed to be brought down to a 1/4" thick. Then there's the drawers themselves with 1/2" thick drawer fronts and 3/8" thick sides and backs, not to mention more 1/4" stock for the bottoms. All in all that's a good pile of resawing.

I started by ripping my stock to width. Cherry for the drawer fronts and pine for the rest.

I use a very simple, shop made fence on my band saw for resawing. Two pine boards glued and screwed at a right angle. The hole you see drilled in it is a hang hole. I clamp it in place with a couple "F" clamps and often I use a chisel to gauge the thickness of cut. If I want to resaw down to 1/2", I space a 1/2" chisel blade between the fence and the saw blade.

I don't make the space tight to the chisel's width. I leave around 1/16th of an inch space to account for the set of the saws teeth and to plane away the saw marks. I'm not worried about achieving micrometer perfect thicknesses when I'm done. I don't believe that's what woodworking is about.

Then its a matter of feeding the stock through. You can see under my right hand the scrap of wood I used as a sacrificial push block to finish the cut safely.

In the end it really doesn't take long to run a bunch of white pine through this way. The cherry on the right was run through as well. The drawer stock is prepped to thickness. After this comes smoothing the saw marks away, sizing it to dimension, and more dovetails.

The stock that was resawn to 1/4" was smoothed, sized, and set into the stopped dados of the spice chest cabinet.

Putting together the drawers would have to wait for another day. Before I moved forward I had to answer the design questions that had bothered me since the first rough drawings made an appearance in my sketch book. The base.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Spicy Stopped Dados By Hand

Dados are interesting joinery. Such a simple thing, a groove a board edge fits into. But with all simple things. there are so many ways to prove your humanity by completely screwing it up. Accurate dados are a challenge  no matter which method you choose to use.

In a spice chest the drawers are basically supported on a series of shelves. One of my first worries was getting the dados laid out correctly on both boards so the shelves would be even across the carcass. I spent a lot of time getting the shelf spacing measurements laid out on the first board and then cutting the lines in good and deep with a marking knife. The problem came in transferring those lines to the next board accurately.

I thought about the problem for a while. I didn't want to repeat measuring with a ruler, adding numbers to the issue would have only complicated the problem. I pondered using a dividers to transfer things but then fell back on that old workshop friend, blue painters tape.

I lined up and taped both sides together.

Then once I flipped them over I could easily reference one to the other.

You put the point of the marking knife in the existing line, bring the framing square over to meet the knife blade, and transfer your line across.

 With the lines marked I drill out the stopped ends of the dados.

Most of the time I like to use a specialized saw called a stair saw to cut the side walls. I made this one myself after seeing a version online. I have since picked up an antique Disston stair saw that sits in my tool chest too, still awaiting a little rehab.

It works well for bigger dados. It works really well. This is my sales pitch for what its worth, you should add this little oddity to your tool chest.

That being said, the 1/4" dados for this build are not the place to use this saw. They need a gentler touch, an i decided to fall back on my crosscut carcass saw to cut the shoulders.

The next thing I like to do is chip out the waste with a chisel. In the past I've used a bench chisel to do this but I was watching some of "mortise under glass" video a while back and it occurred to me how efficient a mortise chisel is at chunking out waste and how well one could work for this job.

This was the first time I had the chance to use the mortise chisel to try this out but I was pretty sure how well it would work. In fact I was so certain I recently ordered a massive 1/2" mortise chisel from Josh Clark at  not so I could make huge mortises for the ever popular Roubo workbench, but mostly to chunk out larger dados for full size shelves.

I was tickled with how well it worked. I have a new trick.

After chunking out the waste I hit it with a router plane. working it down to a smooth, square, even dado.

 After I was done with both carcass sides it was time for the moment of truth. You take a deep breath and back them up together and see how your dados line up. because in the end it's the execution that counts.

In the end I did OK and the dados lined up very close. I'm happy with the way this one turned out. I did shoot some video of making the dados on one side. I'll be honest and say I'm not happy with the camera angle but it does illustrate the process. All told it took me around a half hour to do a carcass side, not kicking ass, just taking my time and doing the work and the video boils that time down to around five minutes.

 The next step in the build involves smashing some electrons. Power tool woodworking on in the Oldwolf Workshop. Will wonders ever cease.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, July 9, 2012

A Start To A Spice Chest

Woodworking is decision making. Even if you are working off a plan with full sized measured drawings you will have decisions to make through the process. But this isn't cookie cutter territory here pilgrim, this is one off, custom furniture country round here so get off the fence, tighten your belt, and sharpen your spurs John Wayne.

The first decisions come before you even cut a board, probably before you even pick out your stock. These are your sizing and dimensions. But beyond that it's time to start thinking about your joinery styles and techniques. Dovetails are pretty traditional for a piece like this though recently I became a little intrigued by Krenov's use of dowel joints in certain applications. Sometimes my decisions are less of a certainty and more about a gut feeling.

I decided to use half blind dovetails for the top corners for a couple reasons. I was tempted to use full blinds after reading Chris Schwarz's campaign furniture article in the most recent Popular Woodworking Magazine, but I decided to break up the run of the grain by a little. The confession is that the stock cut to build the outer carcass comes from the same board but it is not perfectly continuous. It's very close, but I'm trying to use the line of the half blinds to make a little visual break to fool the eyes into following the lines.

I did want the sides to look complete, solid to the top so I buried the top into them. We'll see if this is the right decision eventually, I made it though, it's done, and I'm sticking to it.

It had been a good while since I'd last cut anything different than through DTs for my boxes. It was kind of a cool and challenging refresher that went pretty well.

I like to extend my saw cuts well past the layout line when I'm cutting this style.

Some small gaping but nothing that will be noticeable by the time I'm done.

And a little dry fit to satisfy the curiosity.

 After finishing the dovetails I ran some rabbets along the back and gave it a rest for the night.

Not bad for a first real day back in the shop. The following day I was able to knock out the stopped dados to support the drawers, but that is another post.

Ratione et Passionis

A Good Weekend For A Comeback

Seven weeks after surgery on my knee, I have finally been able to step into my workshop this weekend and do more than fondle the tool handles and sniff leftover sawdust up a shortened straw directly into my nostrils. That type of behavior gets me kicked out of most establishments but in my shop only the self righteous spoke-shaves look down their blades at my behavior.

It certainly felt wonderful to strike a knife line against the blade of my tri-square and then divide the fibers of the a cherry board with the biting teeth of a saw. It felt good and natural to be at the bench again.

The question I had pondered for weeks was what to start working on when I returned from my workshop sabbatical. For a time before the break I spent a lot of time on 17th century carving and boxes. An exploration I am not nearly done with by any means, but I wanted to stretch my wings a bit. I've become enamored of certain furniture forms over the years, nearly obsessed with some. Boxes and chests for certain, but an extension of that is a fascination with spice chests or spice cabinets.

A scale drawing of a spice chest design I started working on  this past December. 
I'm not sure if its the diminutive size, the apothecary of drawers held safe behind the door or the possibilities of hidden drawers, compartments and secrets that give me such a mixed bag of rapture, envy, and desire, but spice chests have always done it for me. Until recent years I thought such a project was above my pay grade, and it probably was.

I spent many years thirsting after a nuclear powered New Yankee workshop where "biscuits" would always be the magic word of the day. I shoved boards through my table saw and over my router table like a madman and I never really accomplished anything I can say I'm proud of today. I can appreciate some of the things I made for what they were, and where I was at the time, but they're nothing special. It wasn't until I was forced to slow down and found myself with a very small shop space that would only let me work with hand tools that I started to understand some things about woodworking that were epiphanies to me.

I came to a different understanding of woodworking and what I was trying to accomplish. Erroneously power tools lead me to a production mentality, this in turn lead my poor weak mind down the path of believing in quantity over quality. There was less THOUGHT involved in my output and more DO. Some might not see this as a vice, and I really don't either, but it was for sure a crutch and an excuse.

"Ah I can only get away with what the machines will let me do. If I could afford all the router bits I NEED, then I could really turn out some good stuff!"

Somewhere in my mind, even then, I knew I wanted to make a spice chest, but I'm glad I didn't go for it. I would have mangled the concept something fierce. (Why do they always print these cut lists wrong?) I possibly would have ruined it for myself and I would now have a spice chest shaped object gathering dust somewhere in my home and waiting for the day it could return the Island of Misfit Toys.

Late December this last year I started thinking it might be time to tackle the my spice chest demons. I was inspired reading about Megan Fitzpatrick's hurried end of the year build of her own spice chest. (Quite the story you should give it a read.) I pulled out all the plans I could find in old magazines and in project books I'd collected and opened them all up to try and boil down the different ideas into one tasty soup.

I came up with a design that was different than all the parts. Everything was looking 18th century and traditional until I started playing with what I wanted the door of the cabinet to look like. Most pieces I had pictures for had either inlays, marquetry, or highly figured walnut burl veneer. I don't want people to throw stones but to me veneering has always had a hint of used car salesman to it. Yes, on a intellectual level I get it and I totally buy in, but on a soulful level, I guess I'm just not there yet. Maybe someday. Inlay and marquetry do feel less dirty to me, but I am not ready to jump into that pool yet either.

The door I sketched that I liked best looked very Arts and Crafts style, and this turned the whole design on it's head for me. I sketched it up and then drew it out to scale on graph paper and there were lots of things I liked about it, and several things I didn't care for. I struggled with the base and feet of the piece, Truth be told I'm still struggling with them today. There were several other aesthetics that just didn't feel right. I put the drawings to the side and focused on other things.

Then came the sabbatical. and though I couldn't do any woodworking, I could read about it, and boy did I ever read. I checked my favorite bloggers sites a couple times a day for updates and I bought almost a dozen used books online. a couple of which were James Krenov's "A Cabinet Maker's Notebook" and "The Fine Art of Cabinet Making." As I read Mr. Krenov's words and studied the pictures of his work I started to again think about this spice chest I wanted to build. I don't think Krenov fits directly into an Arts and Crafts style, but there is a handshake and a wink that passes between him and Stickley. (maybe you could make the same argument for a hundred different furniture styles)

As the time ticked down to my return, I decided I needed a challenge to get me up and going again. I started to sketch the lines of the spice cabinet again, refining some ideas, adding some and subtracting some. In the end I came away with two things.

1: I have a nearly clear picture of the project in my mind and mostly represented on paper. The details of the design will flush out as I move forward and make the decisions as the piece demands them. The only thing that bothers my mind is those damned feet.

and 2: Now that I have a sense of the spirit of the piece I have managed to put down all my anxiety about the piece. I am confident in my technical skills to pull it off and I know the devil will come in the details but as long as I keep moving forward and make the best decisions I can then in the end, even if I'm not happy with the whole piece, I will be happy with parts of it and maybe that's just enough for a comeback.

Late Friday night I stole into the shop and laid a nice wide cherry board I had been saving down on my sawhorses. I measured and struck a line and cut off three lengths of board to make the outer carcass of the cabinet. Then I went to bed smiling. It was cooking up to be a good weekend.

Ratione et Passionis

Check out Megan Fitzpatrick's record of her harried rush to finish an impressive piece as the Christmas Rush descended on her over at the Popular Woodworking Blogs HERE.