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!

My Pseudo-Decision to Become a Galoot

(Editor’s Note: A recent change has conspired to keep me here in DC instead of moving. Thank you everyone for the input nonetheless! – SJT)

For someone whose first major woodworking tool was a Craftsman table saw,

the decision to become a galoot is not made lightly. I haven’t come to this place in my woodworking because of some zen connection with a plane or dovetail saw, nor am I doing so to pimp Shannon‘s Hand Tool School. Actually, I’ve come to this decision simply because I’m moving. I’m not just moving across town for more shop space, but my real job has me hopping the pond over to Germany for the next couple of years. As much as I love my table saw, bandsaw, 8″ jointer, and 15″ planer, I just don’t think I’m going to have the floor space (or the shipping weight allowance) to bring those toys tools back and forth across the Atlantic.

If there is one place where hand tools completely dominate their powered bretheren, it is in size. In a box that would hold my bandsaw, I could fit every plane, saw, chisel, etc that I own a few times over – so this first decision is pretty much a no brainer. (Sidebar: It would seem perfect timing to take Chris Schwarz’s tool chest class in Germany in June, except I would still have to get my hand tools over there first!) I plan on bringing most of my hand tools with me, but that leads me to one big question:

What should I do with my large power tools? I see 3 possible options:

  1. Sell all of them and buy new ones when I get back to the states
  2. Store them for the ~3 years I’ll be overseas
  3. Some combination of 1 & 2

Right now I’m leaning heavily towards #1, with a speck of #3 sneaking in every couple of times I debate this with myself. What are your thoughts? If you had to “let go” of your power tools for a few years, would you sell them or store them? Let me know in the comments!

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 ;-)

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.

A Crate Full of Bang!

After a long time of drawing and working on the garage, I finally got to work in the garage – a chance to put steel to wood again!

When my wife was pregnant with our first child, I joked that if it was a girl, I would get to buy a gun (behind, the door, her daddy kept a shotgun).  This past Father’s Day, my wife made good on that joke, buying me a Mossberg 500 12-gauge shotgun:

So I decided I needed to build this project to accompany the shotgun – an ammo crate. I bought ~10 board feet of white ash for this crate, but it was rough cut, so I needed to get my planer and jointer setup to prep the stock:

Despite having the tools set up, I still had a big problem – no 220V outlets in my garage. This lead to my first major upgrade to the garage – a subpanel:

After paying an electrician to install the subpanel, I felt confident enough in my DIY ability to run the branch circuit myself:

Now with somewhere to plug the machine, I could get to prepping the stock. for this project. The plan for the crate calls for it to be almost 14 inches tall. That 10 board feet of ash I bought came in the form of two ~7.5 inch wide boards, because I couldn’t find any extremely wide boards at my lumber supplier. This will require me to edge join the two boards in order get box sides of the proper height. 

I crosscut the boards for the crate sides on my miter saw, slightly oversized, making sure to keep the pieces in order so the grain will wrap around the box continuously. Cutting the boards to rough length will also help in dimensioning the stock, as it should be easier to flatten 8 shorter board than 2 very long boards. The next step was to go throught the process of prepping the four sides of the stock: 1) Joint the edge, 2) Joint an adjacent face, 3) Plane to thickness, and 4) Rip to width. After 8 boards going through that process, I was left with two things – 1) Several nice, smooth panels:

And 2) a whole lot of shavings/chips/dust:

The next step in prepping the sides of the crate was to edge glue the matching boards. As I previously alluded to, I wanted to try several new techniques with this project. The first new idea is to use Gorilla Glue for gluing these panels:

I have never used a moisture cured glue before, so the process was quite foreign to me.  With my standard Titebond glues, you just apply the glue to both surfaces and clamp up the piece as soon as possible.  With this type of glue, you apply the glue to one surface and let it sit for 5-10 minutes. You then dampen the mating surface, and then apply the clamps. I might need to get a clock or timer in the Garage, because I had to resort to singing to myself to approximate the open time for the glue. So after 20 minutes of “Losing My Religion” and “Flagpole Sitta” left me with a break in the action:

After giving those glue joints 24 hours to dry, I squared up one of the ends with an auxilliary fence on the miter gauge of my table saw:

Because of the height of the fence, I can’t pass it completely through the table with the blade gaurd and splitter still attached.  I decided to deal with that and keep the safety devices attached:

I used this setup to take just a schosh off of one end of each board and ensure the two glued board have that common, square edge.  This was one of the reasons I intentionally cut the boards long, so I could make these fine adjustments.

That’s all I’ve worked on the crate sides  to this point. I don’t want to cut them to final length just yet, because I want to wrap them tightly around the trays that will rest inside the crate. Tune in next time for the beginning of the construction of those trays!

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: