What Happened to the Fall?

Had everything gone according to Hoyle, you would have seen several posts over the past few weeks walking you through the steps as my Build Challenge entry was progressing. I did make some progress, such as roughing out the legs on the bandsaw:

but I just didn’t make enough time for the shop over the past two months to complete the project.  One major distraction in October was the arrival of this little guy:


It would be unfair to blame it all on little Michael. Really it comes down to me not woodworking to deadlines.  If you’ve been following my blog for a while, you’d remember that I finished my daughter’s crib in time for her 9 month birthday (yikes). Given that I’ve blown the challenge deadline, I’m going to readjust my priorities in the garage.  A big reason for this is that the garage is a complete mess. Beyond the normal “tools are strewn because I’m working,” I’m completely out of space. I need to fix that before any large scale projects can really be attacked.

For the next couple of months, here are my priorities in the garage:

  • A small Christmas gift – I’d already started working on this project some time ago, but now it gets repurposed for the holidays. I can’t get into any more details, because the recipient has been known to read the blog ;-)
  • The design challenge – The other thing that has slipped over the past 60 days was my effort to post one design a week in 2010. Barring a manic effort over the next few weeks while I’m on paternity leave (see the above picture), I won’t get to 52 designs. I’m already up to 25 ideas, so I’ll surpass a design every other week for the year. Let’s see how many I can actually get posted.
  • Resawing local cherry – Back in August, I picked up some cherry logs from a friend who cut down a few trees in his yard. Some of logs are quite wider, so I can’t run them all through the bandsaw. I recently won an auction for a lot of several hand saws, including a couple of very coarse rip saws. Once I have the widest of the logs cut, I can try out the resaw blade the BC Saw & Tool sent me a few weeks back.
  • Build challenge table – There has been a ton of great feedback and support for the design I put together for the build challenge, so I do plan on finishing the table. I”m just putting in on a slight back burner for the time being.
  • Tool clean up – In addition to the saws I mentioned above (need some sharpening), I have a ton of planes that need varying degrees of tuning. Some will be keepers, some to resell, all in need of some love. I should add shop clean up here. I need to rearrange some of my larger tools. I need to get some better storage arrangements as well. It also wouldn’t hurt to run some more circuits off my new sub-panel.
  • Ammo crate – Lost in the last few weeks was the project I was working on before the build challenge started, my ammo crate.  The stackable trays are complete, but I need to still make the outer crate.

You’ll notice that list involves a lot of things that don’t necessarily have to be done in the shop. That is highly intentional; my shop is my non-climate controlled garage, which gets fairly cold during these up coming winter months. I have a small space heater that can make it bearable to work in the garage, but only for spurts. These are also just a list of short term projects.  I still have a large pile of southern yellow pine 2x6sthat are aching to become a Roubo bench. There are also a few unique boards that are still searching for a project. My summer project was going to be an entertainment center for my basement, which is still a huge need. On top of all that, there are several ideas from my design challenge that I definitely want to bring to life.

Thanks for sticking around this long. This post has been cathartic, after failing to meet the deadline for the build challenge. I’ve found that lists seem to make it easier for me to be productive, so here’s to hoping for quite the working winter. Lots to do, so I need to get to it…

Layout and Dimensions

This has been a highly productive week, where I got shop time Monday (took the day off to recover from WIA), Friday afternoon, and today. Those shop sessions gave me enough time to prep and dimension almost all of the stock for this project. I started on Monday with the 8/4 purpleheart for the outer legs of the table:

I was so excited that I had fit all four legs on the width of the board, I went right to cutting the board in half, so I could fit each part on the jointer:

It was only after making a few passes on the jointer that I realized my mistake. First, if I wanted to double-up the cuts and make two legs from one blank, the layouts would need to be aligned in both height and orientation.  Second, either the blank would have to ride on the curved surface I just created or I would have to layout the template on that curved surface. I was not convinced  with my ability to do either safely or repeatably, so I needed to readjust. Thankfully I over-bought stock for this project and I could still use these two blanks to make one leg each.

Friday afternoon/evening was spent mostly at the jointer and table saw. Right now, I only have one 220V outlet in my garage, so there’s some plug swapping between the jointer and the planer. For this reason, I made a concerted effort to do all the dimensioning up to the point of needing the planer. So by the end of Friday night, I had a lot of hard maple and purpleheart that was S3S. In addition to that stock, I had a lot of confusion; I wasn’t sure how to proceed.  This led me to spending a decent amount of time creating a checklist for each part that I was going to work on today. This was hugely beneficial, not just for the direction I was giving myself, but also for the mental exercise of thinking about each piece without standing over a tool.

With a clear plan for this afternoon, I was able to crank through my steps and complete a ton of the prep work for my challenge entry.  I got my head on straight and created the blanks for the table legs:

I also dimensioned most of the hard maple that will make up the sides and the shelves for the outer drawer assemblies:

Here’s the glue-up for the sides of the inner drawer assemblies.  The plan is to make the curves out of this 8/4 walnut:

but I’m still undecided on whether I’ll make those cuts at the bandsaw or nibble away at the tablesaw, changing the height of the  to create the curve shape. I’ll cross that bridge later; if anyone has a strong opinion about it, leave a comment.

I also glued-up the three panels that will comprise the top. First, the two wings made of curly maple:

And some more walnut for the center:

Tomorrow I foresee a lot of work at the bandsaw cutting the curves in this design.  After the Bears game, of course ;-)

Tick Marks to Templates

Design sketches – checks. Materials – check.  Now it was time for some serious shop time.

For the complex curves that I had in several places on this piece, I knew I would need a few steps between my initial sketches and putting a blade to the wood.  My first step was to make some larger scale drawings of individual parts of the piece. From there, I wanted to create some plywood templates to ensure consistency in the repeated forms. I don’t know of anywhere that sells 1/4″ plywood with gridlines printed on it, so I had to make my own.

The grid lines provide two things: 1) a measure of distance – I spaced the lines 1/2″ apart, and 2) a way to transfer my previous drawings, one grid square at a time. My scale on the larger sketches I did was the same as these grid lines, so transferring the shapes to the plywood was a snap:

Some quick work at the band saw and I had several templates cut and ready for primetime:

In addition to getting these templates created, I started doing some layout work on the 4/4 maple board I have. It will be used for the outer drawer assemblies, so the primary shape I wanted to orient was the side pieces (lower left, above). I noticed on the maple that there were a few spots with some interesting cathedral grain near the center of the board. I’ve marked those areas for the outer sides, so the rising grain follows the sloping curves. It’s hard explain, so I’ll make sure to get some pictures as soon as I get the boards planed.

I did some shopping this weekend as well, picking up some SealCoat shellac and Transtint dye, so I can get the grain on the curly maple I’m using for the top to pop. One thing I still need to pick up is a white pencil, so I can mark up the walnut and purpleheart and still see the lines!

Hopefully, I’ll get some of the real wood cut before Woodworking in America next week.

Build Challenge Materials

Last weekend I went to my favorite hardwood dealer and purchased the majority of my lumber for the Build Challenge:

In this picture we have:

  • 4/4 & 8/4 Walnut: The 8/4 walnut will be used for the center of the top and the curved sides of the center drawer assembly. The 4/4 walnut will be used for the center drawer front and shelf
  • 4/4 Maple: This maple will be used for the outer drawer assemblies
  • 4/4 Poplar: This poplar will be used for the drawer boxes and supports
  • 8/4 Purpleheart: This is easily my favorite board I bought that Saturday. I just love purpleheart, especially an 8/4 slab such as this. This board will become the leg assemblies.

Unfortunately, Vienna Hardwoods didn’t have much in the way of curly maple and not a whole lot of 8/4 maple in general. This led me to what is becoming my second favorite hardwood dealer, Northland Forest Products. The only thing keeping them from being my favorite is their lack of exotic species (did you see that slab of purpleheart?!?).

In their stack of “8/4 Curly Soft Maple” I was able to find this beauty:

Check out the curl on this baby:

I only really needed about half of the board for this project, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to cut it in half.  I’ll just have to think of some other project to make from that beauty!

Design a Week – 25/52 – Build Challenge Idea

This entry is officially subtitled “Biting Off More Than I Can Chew” given it will easily be the most complex project I have attempted to date. I guess that’s why it is called a challenge!

This piece is a design for a hall table. The piece I build for the challenge has size constraints, so this will be a to-scale version that can fit inside a 32-inch cube. On to the sketches:

If you have followed the previous two design entries, then you’ll likely notice a few elements of this piece that did arise from those designs. Up first, the table top:

The curves on the ends of the table top came from what I thought was a superfluous surface on the first Entry That Wasn’t. I think the subtle curves on the ends are a simple way to dress-up an otherwise square table top. I’ve been reading a lot of George Walker’s work, both on his blog and in Popular Woodworking Magazine. A big theme of his lately has been echoes within a piece. This top is the first place that you’ll see me echo a design feature in this piece.

The radius on both the inner and outer curves in each half of the top are the same. Those inner edges are sloped out from the center, similar to the business end of the blades on a cigar cutter. For these outer wings of the top, I’m thinking of using tiger maple. If I can’t find tiger maple specifically, I want to use some type of figured or spalted maple. These parts of the top will be the focal surface of the table and key in drawing attention to the piece.

The center of the table top will be slightly smaller than the wings, both in its depth and its thickness. The bottom of the center section will be flush with the bottom of the wings. With the difference in thicknesses between the center and the wings, there will be a slight relief from the top of the wings to the top of the center. Right now I’m leaning towards using walnut for the center section.  Part of me thinks it could be cool to find a really gnarly burl to center in the top; the other part of me worries that might be too much activity for the top. Maybe I’ll consider it if I can’t find tiger maple for the wings.

On to the drawers hung beneath the table top:

The center drawer is another element from my first Entry That Wasn’t. While the drawer itself will be square, it will be bracketed by curved sides. Those sides will sit beneath and echo the curve on the inner edges of the table top wings. At the bottom of the curved side supports there will be a horizontal shelf. The space between the drawer and that bottom will be empty. To keep continuity with the center of the top, the drawer front and side supports will also be made of walnut. I’m currently undecided on what species I’ll use for that bottom shelf. I’ll probably stay with walnut for the whole center, but might use hard maple here.

The outer shelves show the one design element I have incorporated from the second Entry That Wasn’t. While it is slightly compressed, the curves on the drawer supports mimic the curves on that unused design’s vertical spine. I like how these outer drawer supports feel square, but still have curves that soften the shape. Like the negative space beneath the center drawer, the space above these outer drawers will also be empty. I will construct the outer drawers and their supports from hard maple.

Now to what will likely be the most difficult parts to construct on this design, the legs:

The front-most and rear-most legs curve towards the center of the piece, stretching from the table top to the floor. The middle leg, wider than the outer legs, runs from the cross brace down to the floor – curving away from the center. That cross brace not only connects all of the legs, but it also will provide support beneath the outer drawers. The outer most drawer support will sit in a rabbet on the inside edge of these cross braces. It’s not evident in my perspective drawing here, but the curves on the Y-axis of the legs is meant to echo the curve in the outer drawer supports above. I want to make these legs out of purpleheart. If I end up with a spalted maple table top instead of tiger maple, the purpleheart could really tie things together nicely.

So that’s what I’m going to create for this year’s build challenge. I applaud and thank you for making it to the end of what is easily my longest post in this design exercise. What do you think? Leave your impressions in the comments.

Christmas Gifts – Potato Masher

My wife and I live in the Washington DC area, which contains a lot of people transplanted from all across the rest of the country. Because of this, we were able to have a lot of friends over for Thanksgiving a few years ago, on account of not many people with family in the area.  As we were prepping the feast for that day, it came time to make the mashed potatos, but Michelle couldn’t find the potato masher, which I swore we had.

Despite my best effort scouring the cupboards and drawers, I conceded that we did not have a potato masher. As penance for being wrong, I offered to buy my wife a potato masher for Christmas.  Each time a gift giving event would come around (Christmas, birthday, anniversary), I would repeat the now-running joke of buying her a potato masher. This Christmas, I turned the joke into reality.

I first got the inspiration for this utensil reading a post on Larry Marshall’s blog, Wood’n Bits Workshop, where he took a cheap, dollar store strainer and made it into a beautiful kitchen utensil. He chose three layers of redheart formed around the metal handle of the strainer; I went with two layers of purpleheart for this potato masher:

After gluing two pieces of purpleheart together for my blank, I squared the ends before taking it over to the bandsaw:

Here I have to apologize to the reader. I was working on this at the same time as the dominos and their box, during the rush to finish these Christmas presents. As a result, I don’t have nearly as many pictures as I would like and missed a few key steps in the process.

One of those steps was my work at the bandsaw.  I drew up a paper template in the shape of a perfecto cigar, then transferred that shape to one face of the blank. After trimming the two sides on the bandsaw, I used the template on one of the freshly cut sides and repeated the cuts – leaving me with the blank shaped on all four sides:

From the bandsaw, I move on to hand tool work to ease and round what were still some pretty sharp edges:

I don’t have a spokeshave (yet), but I do have a simple 4-in-1 rasp I used to work those edges. Between the four “grits” on the rasp and a few grits of sandpaper, I worked the handle into a smooth piece of wood begging to be held. Next was on to the finishing.  I decided to go with General Finishes’ Salad Bowl finish, wiping it on.

The nice thing about the potato masher is that it provided a perfect stand to hold the handle while the finish was drying:

After several coats (with some light sanding between each), I had to affix the masher to its handle. It was an irregular shape, but my strap clamp was ready for the job.  A nice slathering of glue in the hole drilled in the end, some pressure, and we’re almost finished:

All that was left was a simple bow to create that happy-wife effect:

Merry Christmas, sweetheart!

Santa’s Supply Shop

Thanks in part to some of exhortation from Tom, this week I paid a quick visit to my local hardwood dealer, Vienna Hardwoods, to pick up a few new species for the garage.

Up to this point, I’ve only worked with red oak hardwood, red oak plywood, and birch plywood.  Time to add some natural color and interesting grain to my repertoire.

First – the big board of the trip, a nice piece of birdseye maple:

birdseye1  birdseye2

Some 8/4 and 4/4 walnut pieces:


A nice wide piece of purpleheart:


And finally a very orange board of paduak:


All of these pieces will contribute in some way, shape, or form to various Christmas gifts.  Unfortunately, these gifts will be heading to some of the readers of this blog, so I can’t go into further detail at this time.  But fret not – I’ll make sure to take pictures for future posts.  I expect a flurry of posts to appear during that last week of December.