About One Half of an Inch

I’ve been avoiding writing this blog post for about five months. It hasn’t been an active avoidance, but rather something unconscious about not writing down what happened. I knew I had a bit of a deadline for getting this out and now that Safety Week is upon us, I have to put this all together.

I’m sure some people have noticed that I haven’t blogged much since last Thanksgiving, and that is directly correlated to a reduced amount of time in the shop. What many of you might not know is that the reduced amount of time in the shop is the result of a serious accident I had the Sunday after Thanksgiving. I’m hoping that this post will be a catharsis for me and give you both a warning and possibly a new way to look at things.

First, the Story:
That Sunday I was working on a Christmas gift. I had some long grain miters that I had cut (a long time ago) on the table saw that just weren’t coming together tight enough for my liking. I decided I would kick the fence of my jointer out to 45 degrees and make a light pass to clean up (and hopefully fix) the joint. As I was pushing one piece through the cut, I felt a tug on my left hand and that arm was thrown back across my body. Before sensing anything else, I had enough time to think to myself “Wow, I just had the closest call ever.” Unfortunately, that wasn’t the case, as I came to realize upon looking at my left hand and seeing blood oozing out of what used to be the tip of my pinky finger. The details of the next couple of hours aren’t important except to say that the jointer had taken the fingernail and distal phalanx of my left pinky finger. Thankfully (as odd as it may seem to say that at this point) the pad of my finger survived mostly intact, so the hand surgeon was able to fold that up to close the wound, saving some of the finger’s length. Don’t worry – I don’t have any gory pictures to show you; I didn’t even look at it until the stitches had been in for over a week. After a bunch of healing and physical therapy, I’m left with this:

Things really aren’t that bad. In the grand scheme of things, if you were forced to lose part of one of your hands – you would choose to lose the tip of your pinky finger on your off hand. My biggest issues came not from having a shorter pinky, but rather from unlearning the work-arounds I had adapted while I was bandaged up.

Now, the Moral:
It would be easy to simply state “Use push sticks or pads at the jointer.” While this is true, it something we’ve all heard a million times and consciously ignore from time to time. Instead I want to bring your attention to the mindset that put me in this situation. When working with the jointer, I’ve always used push pads when jointing the faces of a board. While some have suggested that might not be necessary, I’ve yet to see anyone suggest it isn’t safe.  When jointing the edges of boards, I tend to use just my hands to hold & guide the piece over the tool, which I think is also common practice.

This is where the world got a little gray (before it got really red): If you are working on a 45 degree bevel, are you working on the face or the edge? In my mind, I was working on the edge of a board, which lead to my relaxed workholding, which lead to my accident. I really think that is the lesson to be learned from my ordeal – when you are working out of square, whether it be on curves or non-orthogonal angles, take a moment to think about how that change in orientation could affect the safety of your task.

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 – 23 August 2010

This is the first tray out of the clamps and I have two others in clamps (I need more clamps) as we speak.  Once those are out, I can come close to considering the stackable trays complete. However, I noticed a huge problem with the first tray I put together that I was thankfully able to correct on the other trays before glue-up.  Here’s a photo that actually shows the problem:

Anyone see the problem? Once I figure out how to fix it without destroying the tray, I’ll put all of this into a post describing the whole tray-making process – along with a couple of mistakes I had to fix along the way.

My First Close Call

If you looked close enough at my router table setup from my last post, you might a see a “mistake” I made while constructing my bookcase:


A closer looks reveals this was quite the gouge through the surface of my router table:


You might look at the location of the gouge and wonder “How on Earth did that gash end up there, given where the router is attached to the table?”
– Yes, this was made with a router bit.
– No, it wasn’t from the router mounted to the table.

I had decided to route the dados to hold the shelves in the sides of the bookcase because the sides were large (about six feet tall) and I don’t own a dado blade set for my table saw – so it was easier to take the tool to the workpieces than vice versa. I had a 3/4″ straight bit in my plunge router and had clamped a piece of scrap wood to my router table to test the depth I had set on the router.  I started to work the router through the scrap piece and things didn’t feel right at all (Signal #1).  As I kept pulling the router towards me (Mistake #2), I started to see sawdust that looked nothing like the plywood I was cutting (Signal #2) and everything was shaking more than it should have (Signal #3). After all this I switched the router off, but then lifted the router off the work piece to see what was wrong (Mistake #3).  I was instantly greeted by a loose router bit flying past me, as it came completely detached from the router. As it turned out, Mistake #1 was not properly tightening the collet.

You can see from the picture above I routed a pretty deep gouge almost all the way through the table surface.  I managed to knick the mitre gauge slot in the process, which in turn chipped one of the blades on the straight bit.  I’ve keep the broken bit as a safety reminder to myself and I’ll post a picture of it once I find it in the mess I call a garage shop. Thankfully through all of this, no one was hurt. But you bet I triple check the collet each time I use my router…