Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Rescue Mission Part One

I'm not sure how it happened, it's not my business. Somehow her husband had broken her grandmother's antique table during the past weekend. We were working together on a Monday morning at the hospital when she told me. 

"Want me to take a look and see if I can do something?" I asked

"No, I'm sure it's junk now." She said.

I checked to make sure she was confident and let the subject drop for a while, but I kept thinking about it. It was gnawing on me. So I found her later to ask another question. 

"What if I was to take the parts and use them to make something new?" I asked, "That way you could still have your grandma's table around, just in a different form." 

She thought about it a bit and said that sounded like a nice idea. 

We met a few days later and I moved the table and one of the matching chairs from her truck bed to mine. Then I drove it back to the shop and started looking it over. 

Here's the parts of the table as they ended up on my bench:

 The leg on the left had been ripped off it's mounting bolt.

And the other leg had one of it's feet torn off.

The hardware to work the drop leaves was interesting, I hadn't really seen anything like this before.

Unfortunately the cleat had broken off on the other side.

The chair was still standing on it's own power, but no one should have sat in it. 

The dowel joints at one corner were broken completely.

After stressing the rest of the joints, I was able to pull the chair apart into three pieces.

All in all, as I began to assess the situation, the diagnosis wasn't as bad as the owner originally thought. I'd have to replace a few pieces, I'd have to use a little hide glue, I'd have to do some serious clamping, but I was fairly sure I could resurrect Grandma's table back to fighting form. 

I gave the owner a call and gave her the option, I could either try to fix the table and chair, or I could go with the original idea and use the parts to make something new. 

She was tickled with the idea that I could fix the table. 

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, April 28, 2013

A Finish To A Final Box

I just finished up a dovetailed chest of knotty white pine for a buddy of mine. The final intent of the box is a coffin for their dog Valen, who has lived a long, long life, and the chances are that some day soon he will be passing into the next one.

It's an odd thing to build something that will be buried in the earth before too long. It's an honor, but a strange honor. To compound on top of that strangeness, I decided to experiment with my shop time management.

Setting up and taking photos can be a huge time sink for me. Don't get me wrong, most of the time the documentation is well worth it, but I wasn't really building anything new. It's mostly a smaller rebuild of a traditional tool chest. There were somethings I did new. Beckets for rope handles on the ends, but that wasn't earth shattering enough to break out the camera.

I really wanted to find out how fast I could work if I buttoned my lip and got to it. Turns out I can go pretty fast (at least in my estimation) By rough figures I estimate about twenty hours into this box from boards to finished box. Pretty decent, but I have to remind myself I only hit the essentials here and nothing more. If I were making this for someone's bedroom I would have been a whole lot more meticulous with the surface preparations. That can be a big time consumer too.

I did take final pictures though.

I did put a finish on the chest. One good coat of what I've come to call The Maloof Finish. It's one part each  tung oil, wipe on poly, and boiled linseed oil. I read an article written by Sam Maloof where he listed this. It's a good oil finish that has a great "touch" to it. Over the top of this I buffed on a coat of paste wax. I didn't finish the inside, no one wants to show up at the pearly gates smelling like finishing products. Sawdust maybe, but not oil.

I did for a while desperately want to paint this box black. In the end I got over that and decided the oil would be fine enough.

This was the first project I was able to push through the shop this summer, I got started just as the weather was barely starting to break for the better. It's very satisfying to have one down before the season has gone too far.

But enough of all this thinking and dwelling on the end of things. I'm off to go play a Sunday night board game with my kids.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, April 26, 2013

Saw Bed Down

Continuing down the path of the rehabing a Stanley Miter Saw, I had the saw clean and rehandled, I had the miter box itself cleaned, oiled, and repainted. It was time to put down a replacement wooden bed for the stock to ride on.

I had a piece of 1/2" thick red oak rolling around the shop and that seemed like it would do the job nicely. I took the old saw bed and used it to get the proper width.

A few seconds with a rip handsaw and a little plane to the edge and I was down. I then laid out the bed on the miter box to get the correct length and cut that with a carcass saw and a bench hook.

I don't think the originals had dressed up corners, but one of the other restorations I saw out there had them and I liked them, so why not?

I sawed out the space and hit the edges with a rasp until I had refined the shape I was looking for.

I guess you couldn't tell I've recently finished reading "Greene & Greene Furniture: Poems of Wood and Light" by David Mathias. The corners look a little cloud liftish to me. I kind of like them.

One of the missing parts I have to fabricate is a pair of "L" brackets that ride in a couple grooves in the saw bed. They help hold the stock you're sawing in place against the back and forth of the saw's motion. I hadn't made the pieces yet but I knew they would be 1/2" wide and the bed section would be 1/8" thick. I marked their placement out and cut down the sidewalls with my carcass saw.

 Then I cleaned up the groove with a chisel and a router plane.

 All that was left was to place a little finish on the board and screw it back into place

I'm pretty happy with the end result. Soon I'll have the other parts finished and the miter saw will be good as new and pulling it's weight in my shop.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Ultimate Furniture of Necessity.

"but in the world, nothing can said to be certain except death and taxes." - Ben Franklin

With all the money spent every year on elliptical machines, fad diets, face lifts, and wrinkle cream, none of us can escape it. Unfortunately that includes man's best friend. My best friend Thom and his wife have an Australian Shepard named Valen. He's been around this world a long time. Since my oldest daughter was just learning to walk, and she just got her drivers licence. 

This past fall his age really started to catch up with him. When Thom started to notice the inevitable was coming he called me up and asked me for a favor. He wanted to know if I would make a box for Valen. As we talked bout it, we kept calling it a box, for whatever reasons there are, saying coffin just doesn't seem right. 

Of course I said yes. 

A few weeks ago Thom called me again. Valen had a particularly difficult day and he was thinking it would be any day the box would be needed. I told him as soon as the shop was warm enough for glue-ups I would get started. Valen has rebounded from a rough couple days, but you can't escape reality. I had to get moving. 

Usually when I'm building something I take a lot of pictures. Much more than what shows up here. I made a conscious decision to document less this time around and really see how efficiently I can get things done without my usual time sink. I did take some time to teach my oldest daughter how to do some sawing and she cut and chiseled one corner of the dovetails for me. I don't get to trick her out into the shop too often so it was a bit of a guilty pleasure.

I'm not doing anything that's groundbreaking, or that I haven't documented a dozen times here already. In fact, as I was telling my wife the other night, it almost feels like I completely know what I'm doing this time around. I haven't had any mystery or problem solving. I started with some rough measurements given to me by Thom and I just started building. No sketches, no sketch-up, no printed plans, or even a reference picture. I knew what I needed to build and I'm just doing it. Trusting my eye and my abilities. That's scary enough by itself.

I'm not shooting for anything fancy. I will probably do some carving in the lid. but beyond that I'm just looking for simple, straightforward, strong and classic. In the end it's a smaller version of my tool chest, with a variation on the lid. People may ask why I've gone to the bother of dovetailing the corners and ship-lapping the bottom. If I'm in a hurry, then nailed joints should be enough right?

In the end I'm a victim of my own compunctions. I'm doing things the right way according to my definition of right. To do anything less would be shorting the project and shorting myself. Valen would never know the difference, and his master probably wouldn't either. In a short amount of time no one will know because the box will be buried under several feet of earth. I always fall back on a line "The things I make might be for others, how I make them is for me" from Tony Konavaloff's book "Chisel, Mallet, Plane, and Saw."

As I've been building I've been doing a lot of thinking about WWSD or "What Would Setles Do." Setles is my wife's grandfather who passed away several years ago, I inherited the start of my hand tool collection from him. I use his No 5 Stanley and hand saws on every project I work on and I think of him often. He was not a woodworker, he was just a man from a different age. One where you grew up on a farm and knew a little bit about doing almost anything. You could build a chicken coop and fix your car. You could even do a little blacksmithing if called upon.

The things he made from wood have a workman's character to them. It's often obvious they're built from salvaged wood and there's small mistakes here and there. But he knew what he was up to and was able to bring things from scratch parts into the world. If he had to cut a dovetail he would hardly mark out a specific 1:6 ratio angle. He would grab a saw and cut it, what difference would a specific angle make. The idea was to get it done and get it done right.

After a grand total of about ten hours in the shop I've completed the base of the chest. There's a little sanding to do on the skirt and it's done. The lid panel is already glued up as well. Tomorrow I can start planing that flat, cut it to size, and probably get the carving done.

Only today I decided I should probably fit some handles on the ends to help with carrying it. I haven't decided if I will go an buy some steel ones or just fashion them from some 2x6 I have around. Setles could have done either and he probably wouldn't have agonized over the decision. I'm leaning towards making my own, the ground doesn't need more steel buried in it anyway. 

I do wonder though, just how long the chest will last in the ground, and in a couple hundred years what someone will think if they happen to dig it up. 

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, April 8, 2013

Pursuit Of Perfection

"One minute was enough. Tyler said a person had to work hard for it, but a minute of perfection was worth the effort. A moment was the most you could ever expect from perfection." - Fight Club by Chuck Palahnuik

Woodworking for me is akin to the pursuit of perfection. I thought about this today as I started breaking down some pine stock to build the next project. (More on the Stanley Miter Box rehab soon) 

For me there is no more true moment than when you drive a handsaw into the fibers of a board. If you over-think it there are a hundred factors that go into every cut you make, and the more perfect you make your cut, the less work you have to do on the other end. 

A square, vertical saw cut is much easier to clean up on a shooting board. 

So I try to practice perfection every time I make a saw cut. Most of the time I succeed to varying degrees, and sometimes I fail. Sometimes I fail miserably. Perfection comes closer with practice and dedication. Perfection comes closer with every step towards mastery, with every hour closer to my 10,000. It's the satisfaction I get with hand tool woodworking that I never quite achieved in years of plugging in my tools. 

Don't get me wrong. If your path is a powered path, that is fine with me. I don't expect you to take my judgement and use it instead of your own. I have my share of power tools and I use them on occasions when I think they're the right tool for the job, and sometimes they are. They certainly excel at repetition and drudgery. 

The only thing that every bugs me is when I hear a primarily power tool woodworker wonder why anyone would care to rip a board by hand with excuses like "It''s so much slower," and "It takes so much effort" and the mentality that it's a tough thing to do. When I get the occasion to do public woodworking demos and I'm working with hand tools, people react like it's a magic trick. Like I'm David Blaine levitating before their eyes. Kids love it and enjoy the work at face value, adults are cynical and keep looking to see if I'm tricking them somehow. 

There is no trick to working wood by hand. There is skill, dedication, and practice, but there are no wires, hidden switches, sleight of hand, or misdirection. 

I was ripping some of the pine stock I broke down in half to glue up into panels and I got the notion to shoot a video with my phone to see just how long it takes me. This was standard grade home center pine 1x12, the section is three feet long. The rip saw is about six TPI and was sharpened a few months ago, last fall I think, it's not quite due again but it's getting close. I've always sharpened this saw myself so it's not supercharged by a professional. I'm not what you would call a particularly "in shape" individual so there's no special conditioning or diet involved. Double bacon cheeseburgers do help.

I'm trying to make sure no one thinks I'm tricking them when they watch this. If there's any other questions go ahead and ask and I'll be happy to answer them. I'm just pleased to know I can make this cut myself in roughly the same amount of time and speed if I'd taken the time to set up and use my table saw. 

When I want to move faster on a project in my shop, I don't back down and start plugging in "tailed apprentices." I stop taking so many documentation photographs and get to work. Power equals faster is not necessarily an irrefutable truth.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, April 7, 2013

Getting A Handle On The Situation.

I've been restoring a Stanley Miter Box for a little while now. It's been my "get me through the winter" project. I picked it up from an local Antique and Thrift Store, an odd combination I know, it's a thrift store with some area set aside for individual antique sales booths. We stop in every couple months and wade around. I'd seen the miter box sitting there for the better part of a year but I didn't look too close at it until the booth was having a 25% off sale.

It wasn't the price that made me walk past it for so long, I almost felt guilty buying it at 25% off, it was the saw handle someone had cobbed on to it that caused my snobbish smirk. So now that I'm hip deep in the restoration process,  there's no doubt the old handle must go. It seems serendipity that days after I found the right handle pattern, the cold weather broke enough to get me back into my shop.

After reclaiming the shop and doing a little clean up and put away, I got to work on the new handle. I found a nice piece of cherry off-cut, a full inch thick and I got the handle pattern to fit perfectly over it. A little spray adhesive and I was ready to rock.

First thing was to drill out the marked holes. Bring on the Forstner bits and the drill press.

Then I took the block over to the bandsaw and removed a ton of the waste around the handle. I thought I was done so I took the tension off the saw blade and covered it back up. I used a coping saw to cut out the finger hole. I started taking some progress pictures and realized I had missed cutting out a section with the bandsaw.

I hate putting something away just to drag it out again so I opted for a different style of stock removal. I made a quick series of crosscuts with my carcass saw . . .

 . . . and knocked the waste out of there with some chisel work. Now no one will ever be the wiser to my bonehead move, unless I write something about it online.

The I broke out my rasps and cleaned up all the saw cuts and chisel marks.

I made a point of turning the piece over regularly. I didn't want to get too fixated on the paint-by-number paper. I'm glad I had it as a guide, but I wanted to make sure I paid attention to the wood and the handle itself and make something that would be comfortable and fit me well over something that followed all the exact lines of the mark up.

Then it was time for more rasp work. A heavy cut rasp to remove most of the stock followed by a finer smoothing rasp to bring it down to that touchable feel.

I worked my way around the outside and then hit the inner curves of the grip. Every few minutes I would pull the tote from the vise and test the feel in my hand. Then reclamp it and refine the curves until I was happy.

The paper template was marked with four holes for the saw nuts. I knew there was no way my saw plate would line up perfectly with those marks. They were close but not right. I had to be careful here because I knew from listening to my buddy Mark Harrell the "hang angle" of the handle is very important a saw's function and usability. (It's saw-ability??).

Hang Angle is the relation between a saw's toothline and the handle. Different saw geeks (like me) have different feelings about this relationship. It can be like rating beer with your buddies. I prefer a Cream Ale while John likes a Stout and Cindy likes Bocks. You get the idea. Matt Cianci at "The Saw Blog" has a great article that describes a saw's hang better than I can, You can read it HERE.

Careful, you might find yourself falling down the same saw geek rabbit hole I have.

For my money I have always loved my Bad Axe Saws so I used my 12" carcass to help set the hang angle for the miter saw. I blocked it up so the plate rested on the handle and adjusted things until I was happy.

I marked out the location of the saw nut holes with a sharpie.

Then I set to drilling them both the through holes and the countersinks. The saw only came to me with one medallion saw nut and one regular one. A few years ago I picked up a couple of saw handles at a rummage sale. There was no saw plate attached, who knows what they did with that, but the nuts were there. One of those handles had three matching nuts that were brass like the medallion.

I had forgotten some of my reference material in the house and I couldn't remember which hole to use for the medallion. Instead of going in to get it, I used my iPhone for a quick image search of Disston miter saws and the first one I saw had the medallion in the lower back position. After I finished and came in the house I found my reference pictures had the medallion in the upper back position. So the saw is a little custom and a little different than standard. I guess I'm OK with that.

I know you might say, "Why don't you just switch them?" but the back has the holes countersunk for the screw heads and the medallion head is bigger than the other three. Functionally I could re-drill the upper one and put the smaller nut in the over-drilled lower hole and things would be fine. But the smaller nut with the oversize countersink would mess with my Feng Shui. I couldn't deal with that, so I'm happy to leave it as is. 

All the saw nuts have the same patina, tough decision to leave them alone or shine them up.

OK, who am I fooling, of course I'm going to shine them up.

The next step was to cut the kerf the saw plate would nestle into. I clamped the handle into my big wooden clamp and secured that to the benchtop.

I used a marking gauge from both sides to help make sure I set my saw line in the center of the handle.

Then it was just time to go to it with my small tenon saw.

Followed by some chisel and rasp work to clean a slot for the saw's back.

After test fitting the saw plate and refining the fit of the kerf and the back notch I used a bit of sandpaper and a random orbit sander to take off the remnants of the paper template, spray adhesive, and other grime, oil spots, and crap the handle picked up in the process.

I sanded 120 grit and followed with a 220. I also hit the curves with some 220 by hand.

I applied a simple oil finish I like to use on shop pieces, I've considered it for real pieces but it just seems like cheating to me.

After seeing the way the finish treated this cherry I might change my mind and "cheat" a little more often. Are you ready?

It's WD-40.

I spray it down heavy, (it's still wet in the pictures) wait a minute or two, then wipe off the excess. I wait a few more minutes then I spray the piece down with a aerosolized, bee's wax furniture polish and wipe that down.

Both products dry super fast and things are ready to handle almost right away. I've found the treatment to be very durable and it has a great "feel" to it.

I joined together the handle and the saw plate, shiny saw nuts in place, and I was a happy puppy.

I have to spend some time with the toothline now, jointing and sharpening like you would expect, but that is no big deal to accomplish.

What's left to finish this piece? Two big things. First remaking the wooden bed the stock "to be saw" rides on. That won't be a big deal. But the second thing is more challenging to me. There were several parts missing and instead of trying to buy them, or buy more older miter saws to get those parts, I've decided to fabricate them myself. I can bend wood to my will, and I've done some steel work before, but I always seem to run into some problem or frustration . We will see how it works out this time.

Until that time.

Ratione et Passionis