Thursday, February 9, 2012

Making Ebony Dowels

     In yesterdays blog, I showed how I went about making the holder for the dowel plate.  Here it is in use to illustrate why I designed it this way.  Remember there are two legs, the Mahogany in the center, and these are clamped into the vise.  Now, the entire plate is supported by the side pieces and they're firm on the bench.  It takes quite a bit of force to drive the dowels through and this gives a very solid platform.

Lie-Nielsen Dowel Plate in Use

     Through the wonder of the internet I got an email a few days ago from a jewelry artist who found one of my previous posts on making Ebony dowels.  Those were for a Greene & Greene inspired stool I made last March.  In any case, I had some of the Ebony left so told her no problem.  Isn't it great that life has a learning curve and the longer we do something the wider the curve becomes?  Generally for pegging joints, as used on the stool, the dowel may be an inch long or so.  Even though you make them a bit longer you do that because there will tend to be some inconsistencies.  She needed them to be 2-3 inches long so I went for 6"+ to start.
Here's what I accomplished in a couple of hours (remember that learning curve!):

Ebony Dowels
     The first step of the process was to figure out the proper width to cut the initial blanks in.  They need to be 1/4" in diameter so with something that small the bandsaw was the logical choice.  Using a piece of plywood, I created a zero clearance table so the thin piece wouldn't fall through.  My goal was to get as close to 9/32 as possible:

Initial Sizing of Ebony
    If you've ever used a dowel plate you know that, unfortunately, you can't just take a square piece of wood and begin banging it through the hole!  You need to create an octagon shape first and my first thought was to use a spokeshave:

Spokeshave, Notice the end - that's the goal
     That had mixed success since the thin piece would flex a bit.  Another obstacle is that with Ebony it's really difficult to see which way the grain is running so with trial and error the piece sometimes chipped out.  The next thought I had was to use a block plane, clamped into the bench vise:

Block Plane
     This worked much better because you can hear when you're going against the grain and go the opposite way.  Also a good way to trim your fingernails and get cramped up!  The ends of the piece needed to be tapered a bit to start in the hole, this was done with a chisel.  What seemed to work the best was to start it in the hole so it looked like this:

The Goal

Now that you have a visual as to what you need to work to it can be used as a guide on the block plane. Once the pieces were hammered through the dowel plate they needed some sanding to eliminate any imperfections and they're ready to ship to the jewelry artist.  I plan to ask her to send me a picture of her finished work and I'll show them in the blog if she does.


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  2. Hi John,
    Why didn't you rive the ebony to get your blanks? Wouldn't that give you your grain direction?

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