Confidence from Minimal Experience

I’ll get a bigger blog post out about the progress I’ve made on the Roubo, but first I wanted to share about my shop session last night.  I consider myself a hybrid woodworker, but my hand sawing experience is fairly limited. Beyond a few sets of practice dovetails, I haven’t done much sawing by hand, let alone joinery by hand.

Given that back story, what on earth would give me the impression that I should cut the tenons for my bench legs by hand? The answer – Two short sessions cutting a tenon at the Hand Tool Olympics at Woodworking in America. Not just the fact that I cut two tenons, but I got feedback and instruction after cutting them. This is the often overlooked portion of the Hand Tool Olympics, the ability to get people like Adam Cherubini and Bob Rozaieski to give you tips to improve your skills.

Special shout-out to Mike Siemsen, who makes the Olympics, as well as this picture below, possible:


Gottshall Block 2: Electric Boogaloo

If you follow the Popular Woodworking Editors’ Blog, you might remember Bob Lang writing a series of posts about a hand tool exercise called the Gottshall Block. The block is an exercise in layout and handwork, the idea being to take a rough sawn board and create this object, that has specific dimensions and contains most types of joinery, by hand.

When first reading the series of posts, I thought that this was an interesting project for refining a woodworker’s skills. I consider myself a hybrid woodworker, but right now I definitely lean to the power tool side of center. I’m also a bit of a smartass, so I thought to myself “Why not try to make one of these with just power tools?” Here is the result:

I was true to the “power tool only” constraints I placed on myself for this exercise. Here’s how I cut each part:

  • Front Edge & Bottom Face – Jointer
  • Top Face/Thickness – Planer
  • Back Edge, Rabbet – Table Saw
  • Mortise, Dados, Gain – Hollow Chisel Mortiser
  • Concave Curve – Forstner Bit
  • Convex Curve – Spindle Sander
  • Miter – Miter Saw

I have to thank Matt Gradwohl of UpperCut Woodworks. I don’t own a hollow chisel mortiser and he was kind enough to let me use his when I was visiting Seattle back in late July. We also  jointed and planed the board in his shop.

I have a couple of thoughts on my choices of tools. I cut the rabbet with my normal blade on the table saw, a la Norm Abram, chipping away at the wood. If my shop wasn’t in complete disarray (and I wasn’t butted up against my self imposed deadline of finishing this before Woodworking In America) I would have used my stacked dado set to cut the rabbet.  That would have likely left a smoother cut. The convex curve would have been cut on the bandsaw if it were larger, but the amount of wood that needed to be removed was so small that the sander was enough for the whole cut, not just the finishing.

The one place that I wasn’t able to get great results with just power tools was the inside corners of the gain:

The way I approached this cut was to plunge with the mortiser down into the face of the board at the inner most shoulder of the gain. Then I flipped the board on edge and plunged down the “length” of the gain. This gave me crisp lines on the face of the board, but the inner corners are a mess. I tried to clean some of it up with the smallest router bit I had, but that didn’t go very well. Perhaps if I had the world’s smallest router bit with a bearing, it could have worked. As it is, this is easily the most sloppy part of the block.

I’ll be bringing this with me to Woodworking in America this weekend – hoping to get Bob to sign it for me!  If you want to check it out, find me milling about during the conference and come say hi!

Serving Up a -BANG-

When I was putting together my initial plans for this crate, I knew that I wanted to have a couple of trays that stacked one upon the other – even though I wasn’t sure how I would accomplish that. I knew I had to embed the handles of the lower trays into the upper trays, otherwise the crate would be too tall. I also wanted to make the handles easily accessible, which pretty much ruled out putting them on the sides of the trays.  That left a handle on the center divider.

I felt that a slowly sloping curve would be a good balance between how much of the handle would need to be embedded in the tray above and the strength of the handle. To layout the handle, I went to my set of French curve templates:

With the outline of the handle, I needed to draw the cut-out to actually grab. I traced two 7/8″ diameter circles from a drawing template, then used the French curves to connect them:

I cut out the divider for the bottom tray (that doesn’t need cut-outs for a lower tray) on my band saw, then used it to layout both the upper and lower curves on the other two dividers. I rough cut both of those as well:

While I was making the curved cuts on the band saw, I had a bit of a revelation. On almost every other cutting tool, you mark the cut line then take the blade to the line.  But when cutting curves on the band saw, I find the reverse to be true. When I bent my head around the idea of taking the line to the blade, I had better results getting those curves cut, especially near the points of inflection on the curve [/math nerd].

In order to get them to the same shape, I chucked a sanding spindle into my oscillating spindle sander drill press to sneak my way up to the line. I clamped all three handles together to make sure they all took the same shape:

Which turned out nicely:

On one of the handles, I drilled through the cut-out areas to clear most of the waste away. I did the rest of the shaping with a couple of files:

Once I had the handle cut-out in the shape I wanted, I set about making the other two handles match. I clamped the formed handle back on top of the other two and put a pattern bit in my router.  Using the formed handle as my pattern, I cut through the other two pieces.

With the top of the handles cut, shaped, and matching – it was time to turn my attention to the box that I wanted to use to form the tray sides. As seen below, I clamped up all of the center handles and long tray sides together to cut the fingers on my table saw:

I chose to gang up all of the long pieces and cut them the same basically because there are more long pieces that will get box joints.  The long tray dividers get box joints that will be fit into through mortises on the short sides, to help distribute the weight when you pick up the handle.  The short tray dividers have a straight end because they will only slip into a dado. After gang cutting all of the long pieces, I custom cut each short tray side to mate with specific long pieces. After some fiddling with each mating joint, paring to make small adjustments, I got some decently fitting box joints:

After all the finger joints were cut, I turned my focus to cutting the grooves for the tray bottoms. When it comes to cutting a groove, I trust my table saw slightly more than my router table for sneaking up on a groove/dado – especially when the width is not a standard dimension. Yes, I know, I need to get plywood width router bits. They are on the Christmas list ;-)

I set the table saw blade height to 3/16″ (approximately half of the plywood’s thickness) and set the rip fence to establish the bottom edge of the groove with this first cut.  After running all 12 box sides over the blade, I moved the rip fence slightly to increase the size of the groove. After the third pass I started testing the fit of a bottom in my test piece, adjusting the rip fence subtly until I had a good fit, which you can see below:

That picture also confirms another reason I’ve been excited about this project – the plywood I’m using for these trays is reused from the crates that crated my new jointer and planer when they were delivered. As you can imagine, there was a lot of it. I’m just glad I’ve found a use for some of it.

Once I had the grooves for the tray bottoms cut, the rest of the joinery would be quite custom to each piece. I cut a long dado in each tray bottom to give me another strong glue surface for the lone center divider that is also the handle. Another dado was cut in each long tray side to hold the short dividers.  The interesting cuts that remained were the mortises for the through box joints on the handles.  I marked the fingers on each short side and drilled through the center of those squares with a slightly undersized drill bit. After the hoels were drilled, I squared the corners with a chisel and adjusted the mortises until I got a good fit for each side.  I wasn’t sure how they would finally turn out, but I’m happy with the look:

Last weekend I got the first tray glued up and into clamps. The next day, I noticed a terrible error with my assembly:

D’OH! I hadn’t allowed clearance for the lower handle in my short divider. I made the correction in the other tray before I assembled it, but I was left to determine a fix for this first tray. I don’t have a coping saw with a wide enough to use on this already glued tray, so I went rumaging through my tools. I came across the gardening equivalent of a hack saw:

I couldn’t use the the whole saw, but the blade presented an opportunity. It is large enough to hold easily, but has a thin set. I was able to saw a kerf on each side of the wood I needed to remove, using the bottom and the long divider as guides:


With the kerfs cut, I chopped out the waste with a chisel, similar to chopping out the waste of a dovetail joint. Because of how I created the lap joints that connected the dividers I wasn’t going to have much material left on the short divider, so I had to be careful once I got to the top of the waste. After a bit of fiddling with the chisel, I had the waste removed. This left me my three stacklable trays:

This was not the end of my fiddling though. Apparently I did not properly measure the height of the handle curves, so I need to perform some more paring. The depth at the top of the handles was pretty close, but futher out from the center of the handle was preventing the trays from seating firmly upon one another. A few more minutes with my chisel and I was finally able to stack them solidly:

Overall, I’m happy with how the trays came out. I only had two big mistakes. In addition to the short divider issue chronicled above, I also cut the groove for the drawer bottom on the wrong side of one of the long sides. Fortunately I had milled an extra of each side and divider, in case this had happened. After some light sanding, I’ll be ready to get back to the crate itself. I’d like to get the crate finished this week, so I can devote all my shop time to the Build Challenge put on by The Sawdust Chronicles, which starts September 1st.

The Day in Shavings – 31 March 2010

I haven’t been able to get much time in the garage lately, so I’ve only made a little progress on those candle holders.

Yesterday I put the chamfer on the tops of all the sides of the holders using a bit in my router table. I have a 45′ chamfer bit, but only one.  I came to realize why a woodworker needs so many sizes/variants of the same tool. The candle holders call for a chamfer on the inside of the top edge, which gives the top a nice reveal. The plans have that chamfer extending half the thickness of the side – but mine won’t quite be that “deep” because my chamfer bit isn’t that big.  I realize I could go to my hand planes to finish the chamfer, but my desire to adhere to the plans isn’t great enough for me to figure out the proper work holding to do so [/benchless guy].

These candle holders have a shelf that supports the candle inside them, about half way up the stand. I made up for the lack of a stacked dado set by using a simple stop block and my normal table saw blade to make the dado. I set the saw fence at the proper distance so the blade would cut a kerf at the bottom of the dado. I then lined up the top of the dado and clamped a stop block in place on the auxiliary fence I made for my mitre gauge. I cut those two reference kerfs, then make several passes to chip away the rest, in a similar fashion to how Norm Abram makes his tenon shoulder cuts.

I also cut the mitres for assembling the holders on both edges of each side. This is significant in that previously I had never made an angled cut on my tablesaw; the blade had always been perpendicular to the table top. Happily the “preset” on the angle adjuster was pretty good, so I didn’t have to do fiddle much to get a 45′ cut.  The fence took a little more time to adjust, as I was getting used to figuring out the distance between where the fence was and where the blade would exit the top of the piece.

The most difficult part of the setup was safety. As I was cutting one of the test pieces, I noticed the wood wanted to ride up the blade, off the table.  After immediately stopping the blade, I went to work affixing a couple of homemade featherboards to the fence to hold the piece flat. Because my finished dimensions are only 4″ wide, the featherboards now presented a pushing problem. I was very nervous using a push stick because now there wasn’t any room to the right (the featherboards) and putting my hands to the left would put them closer to the blade.  I eventually (albeit slowly) pushed the pieces through with a skinny push stick, with only the featherboards providing downward force. There was some burning, but nothing the card scraper won’t be able to handle.

I know I’ve been behind on posting new designs/drawings. Rest assured, I have several ideas I want to sketch up, I just haven’t gotten around to spending time with the paper and pencil.  What little I’ve done is to start thinking about the layout of a low entertainment center I need to build for my basement. That design will definitely get built.

Wow – I didn’t expect to write all that. Maybe it should have been a “full” post with some pictures…

Laziness and Hand Tools?

A couple of nights ago I was out in the garage to work on the trim that would top the rails and footboard of Briana’s crib. One of the lessons (out of many) I’ve learned during the process of building this crib is not to cut everything ahead of time. The pieces I had cut a while ago were a few sixteenths of an inch short – all three pieces. So I ripped two new pieces for the long pieces and used one of the old long pieces to shorten for the cross piece.

Once I had the pieces ripped and cut to proper length, I realized that these would be pieces that Briana would be grabbing eventually.  I decided to I wanted to round over the edges, but had no desire to setup my router table. As seen before, my router table is one of those 15″x30″ prefab tables from Craftsman. When not it use, it gets piled up in a corner in the garage; this is especially the case when I have a huge project (such as this crib) taking up space.  I really didn’t feel like getting it out, clamping it to my bench table saw, and setting up the roundover bit.  As it turns out, I’m not the only one who feels this way. Instead I clamped each piece of trim in my quad screw vise and grabbed my block plane:

This isn’t one of the pieces from my recent purchase, but a block plane I’ve had for some time. I just wanted a simple roundover, nothing too dramatic or deep, something to keep a sharp edge away from the baby.  I ran several passes across each edge, varying my angle slightly to keep a smooth surface. Even though it was stringy shavings, instead of wispy ones:

…there was still a simple peace in working the wood this way. A little sanding and this trim was ready for glue-up. With pieces that were covering such a long and wide space, I setup my clamps before applying any glue:

Turns out that was a great idea, because I would have been scrmabling quite a bit to get all these clamps in place:

Here’s a couple of close ups of the corner of these assemblies:

You can almost see the roundover detail on the trim in those shots.  Next step, I have similar trim pieces that wrap around the cabinet, rails, and footboard – holding those pieces to the base.  After that all that is left to make the crib habitable is a couple of coats of shellac. I should probably get back into the garage right now…

Quad Screw Vice?!?

As I’m dressing up the last few boards before assembling the crib, I decided to try planing off a few burn marks, rather than scraping them off. Holding the workpieces is my big problem. I don’t have a workbench (its on the list of projects) and honestly, I don’t have room for one right now. So when I want to do work that involves taking a hand tool to the work piece, I have to get creative. That’s how I came up with this “quad screw vise”


Just a couple of wooden handscrew clamps that I clamped to my workbench table saw.  Actually, I set the workpiece in both handscrew clamps, then clamped those the table top. With such a thin edge to work on (the side of a piece of 3/4″ oak) I had to be careful not to run my plane into the head of the bar clamp, but otherwise it held the piece well.


The downside of this exercise is that I discovered I need to work on my hand plane skills, specifically setting one up. The shavings I took were a little too thick for what I was trying to accomplish. So now I get to cut a new piece from stock and try again!

An Ugly “Holy Grail”

Many woodworkers consider hand-cut dovetails to be the end-all, be-all, holy grail of joinery.  It is easy to understand why; they are simply beautiful, while being highly functional and strong. Matt Kenney of Fine Woodworking shared a fine example earlier today.

I’ve  never cut a dovetail joint before.  The closest I’ve come was a plan to use sliding dovetails for this bookshelf, but that ended up not coming to fruition. I haven’t put a whole lot of time into the study of the art of this joint (yet), but I’ve read several forum posts/blog entries and I’ve watched this video a couple of times. So here was my first shot:


Not the prettiest joint in the world, but to get anything beyond “Yep, it looks like dovetail” would be a coup in my book. Here you can see a nice gouge I created trying to clean up the tail:


Thankfully it looks a lot better from the “interesting” side of the joint:


Overall I’m happy with how things went.  You can’t get better without practice and you can’t be practicing without the first practice.  I know there are places for me to improve in my technique and tonight was the first step towards being able to actually use this joint in a real piece.