Cleaning, Space, and Dovetails

I didn’t really build anything today, but it was a productive day in the shop.

I did a lot of cleaning and rearranging in the garage. I got all of our house paint cans off the floor, on to a shelf – which allowed me to sort and neatly stack all of my larger scraps of wood. Getting those pieces stacked opened up a space in the front corner of the garage for my new jointer. This in turn gave me enough room to walk around the garage easily, something I haven’t had since the jointer and planer arrived.

Speaking of the planer – now that I had room to maneuver I could attach the infeed and outfeed tables to it. For anyone who has to level cast iron tables, try this method:

1) Joint one side of a 2×4 sized board flat, then cut it in half
2) Clamp the jointed sides to the fixed table
3) Clamp the wing you are attaching to those boards
4) Apply the bolts and set screws

With enough clamping pressure and a flat/jointer surface, you should get the wings perfectly lined up.

With all this free space, I was able to actually vacuum up the floor and provide my aunt with another bag of sawdust for her compost heap. There’s something a little zen about a clean and organized shop – I just need to work on doing this often, instead of a whole lot of work every couple of months.

I didn’t want to leave the shop without creating some sawdust, so on my organization bent I decided to create a simple rack to hold all my recent router bit purchases. I had a piece of 1.5″x1.5″ pine that was part of the crate that housed my planer. I drew a crude center line down the length of one side and set to marking the hole locations.  I was going to use a forstner bit to drill the holes, so I used it to lay them out as well.  Because I have a varied/piecemeal set of bits, I couldn’t just drill evenly spaced goals if I wanted to maximize the space on the board. I think the results turned out nicely and it was nice to use some of the scrap I had lying around:

After the router bit rack, I wasn’t quite ready to leave the shop, but I didn’t want to work on the candlesticks, because I knew my remaining time in the garage was short. I decided I needed more practice cutting dovetails.  I wanted to cut more than one, so I grabed a short piece of 3/4″ plywood that was about 4 inches wide.  My previous practice dovetailing was only a single tail, two half-pins and I wanted to cut a couple of tails.

I’ve done a few of these “practice” dovetails and the biggest thing I’ve learned is that I need to take them seriously if I ever plan on improving. Nonetheless, practice is better than no practice. I’ll get there eventually!

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…

Christmas Gifts – Domino Box

While I was working on the set of dominos for my parents, I was also working on a box to hold the set.  I liked the idea of box joints, but really liked  the joints Marc Spagnolo created for the case of his Gagdet Station.

Based on the size and number of dominos I was creating, I had some basic dimensions to work with and settled on this sketch for my box design:

After several iterations (seen above), I decided on three fingers for the sides – each 3/4″ wide, with two fingers for the ends – each 9/8″ wide.  I liked not just the varied width of the fingers, but having an even number of fingers on one face and an odd number on the adjacent face.

I really wanted to go two-tone with the sides of this box and had previously purchased paduak and birdseye maple for the job. To create the extended box joints,  I created a jig for the mitre gauge on my table saw:

I don’t yet have a stacked dado blade set, so cutting the fingers involved several passes over the blade.  I used a stop block on both ends of the jig to set boundaries for how far to each side I could cut, then made passes over the blade, slowly moving the piece from one stop block to the other. I clamped opposing sides of the box together, both to decrease the number of cuts I was making and to create matching sides to make the fitting easier.

After several dozen passes of the mitre gauge, I was left with four close to fitting box sides:

On the table saw, I made a concerted effort to cut on the waste side of my markout lines – so I could custom work the fit of each set of fingers with a rasp. After fitting the fingers, I used the rasp to roundover the ends of each finger. I didn’t fully pillow the finger tips, but just broke the sharp edges enough to soften the profile.

With the sides fitted and shaped, I took my focus to the top and bottom of the box. For the bottom I used a piece of 1/2″ birch plywood. With my router table, I cut a groove on the inside of each side of the box.  On the maple ends, the groove went completely through end-to-end. On the paduak sides, a through groove would show on the outside of the box, so for the first time I [slowly] dropped a piece of wood onto an already spinning router bit. I was surprised by how smoothly that went – hopefully my over-anxiousness was the key to the safety of the operation.

For the top, I used another piece of the birdseye maple.  Again on the router table, I cut a rabbet on all for edges – allowing the top to rest within the opening of the box itself. For the pull on the top, I used a scrap of paduak.  I first routed a groove with a 3/8″ core box bit on both sides of the paduak, about 1″ from the end. Then I chucked a 1/2″ roundover bit and profile the edge on both sides as well. A couple of countersunk screws from beneath the top, some Titebond II, and my assembly was complete!

After I wrestled the box away from its clamp-monster, it only took a few brushed on coats of amber shellac to complete the box:

Designs on Becoming a Maker

After creating a place to put my newly acquired router bits, I have some left over parts:


I have two of these cases; one housed a three piece straight bit set and the other housed a three piece flush-trim bit set. They are nice cases, with some intesting parts inside:


Those are sliding dovetail “joints” to hold things in place inside each case.  I don’t imagine that there is a shop jig of any sort that I could fashion, but these days – who knows? I know there’s got to be something interesting I can make out of these, but it hasn’t hit me just yet. I’m sure Bre Pettis or Kip Kay could think of ten this off the top of their heads, but I think I’m going to have to head over to MAKE Magazine to fill through back issues. Maybe Evil Mad Scientist Laboratories will have some ideas…

The New Addition

The Taylor Garage is happy to announce the newest addition to the tool family, a brand new (to me) Craftsman 15 1/2″ drill press:


I found this drill press for sale on Craigslist up near Olney, MD.  That’s a bit of a haul, especially in the gas guzzling truck I use to haul large tools and wood about town.  But it was sooooo worth it. For only $125 used, I got what would have cost me over $400 new.  Sure it doesn’t have laser sighting or lighting that was made this century, but from my first tests it seems to work just fine.

To put it to the test, I decided to drill some holes in a block of birch I had sitting around.  A recent purchase from Rockler’s clearance section landed me some router bits that needed a home of sorts.  Added bonus: I got to put to use my set of forstner bits:


The drill press performed well and it was nice to put it to immediate use, even if “shop furniture” was the use.  I’m also thrilled that this press will help immensely with drilling holes for the wooden dowel joinery on the crib I’m putting together.


Anyone have any good tips for my newest sawdust maker?

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…