Thursday, February 28, 2013

Trolling on Ebay & A Top Waiting For A Bottom!

Top & Shelf Ready
     Things are moving along, albeit slowly, on completing the Star Jasmine table.  This is my own design and falls under the category of either a hall table or a sofa table.  Part of the design that I feel makes it unique are the drawers at either end plus the elliptical shape of the top.  It's completely finished now along with the shelf.  Here they are, leaning against the bannister waiting for the rest to be completed.  I really like how the grain of the Sapele runs through the center of it; actually it's made of three pieces of Sapele with breadboard ends pinned with Ebony.  The shelf section will sit on the stretchers mortised into the legs.  The delay now is due to the finish process on the drawer fronts.  You can't rush a 24 hour drying period and the temperature in the shop slows it down even more.
     Okay, so trolling on Ebay, what's that all about?  As part of my simplifying process I tend to sell anything I haven't used for a few years on Ebay and that was the case recently with a Marples mortise chisel.  I rarely use it, the hollow chisel mortiser takes care of the grunt work for that operation!  In spite of that, I really do prefer quiet hand work to noisy tool operation whenever possible.
     That's the case with fitting the drawer bottoms for this table.  Sure, a router and a rabbet bit would have accomplished this task quicker but I wanted to use my Stanley #78 Rabbet plane.  Only problem is that I've never had a fence to do that operation properly --- enter this:   Ebay sale from Briar Collectables.
     The fence is what allows you to cut an accurate rabbet, before I found it I would clamp a straight edge to the board to guide the plane.  That was a cumbersome, crappy solution at best.  Here's the old tool, outfitted with the fence:

Stanley #78 with Fence and Completed Bottom
     The fence consists of the rod and bracket on the right side of the plane.  This is one of the drawers for the table with it's completed bottom.  As far as the plane itself goes, Stanley manufactured these from around 1885-1973.  The lever you see next to the handle dates it to post 1925 and the sweetheart logo on the blade confirms that my plane is probably from the late 20's to early 30's.  You can change the position of the blade to the front and have a bullnose plane.  In any case, I like this old tool.
     The first cuts are always made across the grain.  I found that by pulling it backwards at an angle, the nicker would score the wood first:

Scoring with Nicker
     I'm using a piece of clear pine for the bottoms and although it's growth rings make it a dubious candidate for it will see if it will hold up since it's wide enough without having to laminate pieces together.  Pine, being soft is actually harder to chisel cleanly than a hardwood.

End Grain First

     After scoring the top it was just a matter of repeated passes to bring it to the required size.  I find that by wrapping my hand around the fence and bottom of the board it's pretty easy to control.  After both sides were completely rabbeted it was time to finish off with the front of the piece which is edge grain.  Notice that now it's making shavings rather than end grain chunks!
Edge Grain to Finish
     The one thing I need to do to make the plane look a little more it's age is to get rid of that zinc plated thumb screw!  Need an old brass, knurled knob with enough patina to match the rest of the tool.  There will probably be one more post on this table and that's when it's complete.  Currently taking a carving class from Dennis Patchett at WoodItIs school/studio here in Las Vegas so my focus will be there for a while.

Saturday, February 23, 2013

Designing the Pull

     The nice thing about designing your own hardware is that it will be unique to your piece.  Not something that you may find anywhere else.  The design process can be carefully planned out or kind of a spur of the moment, here's what looks good to me now, kind of process.  The one element I knew I wanted for the drawer pulls was that it incorporated some of the beading that is on the long apron of the table.  Here's what I came up with, at this point the drawer is unfinished and the pull is on with some double back tape.

Drawer Pull, Notice the Difference in Finished vs. Unfinished Sapele?
     When I initially beaded the apron I also beaded a few pieces of 8/4 Sapele with the plan of eventually turning them into the pulls.  Since the entire apron has the triple bead I knew that design wise it should also be on the narrow ends.  The process started with a very rough sketch:

Preliminary Sketch
     Since there are only two of these and they're on opposite ends of the table I didn't feel the need to make a template or pattern.  The question mark on the drawing is because I didn't know how deep to make the pull.  Two things I considered is that first of all there was ample space to get a finger or two under it and also that it stayed in scale to the rest of the table.  Step one was to use a forstner bit to hollow out the recess:

Roughed Out Finger Area
     I know, you're probably thinking why make three?  Well you know that old adage, if you make an extra you won't have any problems, make just enough and one will probably break!  Anyway, after drilling the holes the sides were chiseled to even up the overlapping cuts made by the forstner bit.  Next step was to cut the angle on the top.  I wanted it to match the angle under the table top so used the bandsaw with the table tilted as shown to make that cut.

Cutting Angle
     A block plane made the sawn surfaces smooth and they were then  ripped to what seemed like a proper depth.  Finally they were cut to length and formed.  Planes, spokeshave, and sandpaper was the next thing to make them feel like something you'd want to grab on to.  Here they are, almost ready for finish.

Ready to Go to Work
     Several little items were done today as well.  The shelf got it's last coat of finish, the drawer stops are made, and the remaining things are the clips I need to make that will secure the shelf to the legs and the top to the apron.  Just had to mock it up and put it in the house, besides it's cold out there and the finish will cure better inside.

Friday, February 22, 2013

Nothing Like a Well-Hung Drawer!

Almost One Down
     The drawers for the Star Jasmine table are hung using traditional, shop made runners.  These would consist of the side pieces, the bottom runner, and the top kicker designed to keep the drawer from tilting downward when it's pulled out.  I made everything but the runners out of soft Maple including the drawer itself.  The runners are made of Sapele since they're close to the bottom of the apron and I didn't want to have a light colored piece of wood there.  As you can see in the picture, it was easy to place the table on top of the table saw to bring it up to an easier height to work at.

As planned, the drawer runner rests on top of the cross piece.  It was planed to give me an even reveal along the top edge of the drawer.  The drawer guides are screwed to the apron sides through 4, over-sized and counter bored holes.

Positioning the Guide
     The first step was to clamp both guides to the apron and adjust it so the drawer front was flush and square to the opening.  Once I was satisfied with that a hole was pre-drilled for a round head wood screw.  One side needed to be shimmed out at the rear so a shim was sized to fit, you can see that in the top picture.  To make sure it wouldn't ever fall out, it too was drilled so the screws pass through it.

Securely in Place
    In the above picture you can see how the runner sits on top of the crosspiece.  The drawer front extends to just below the crosspiece.  When I do something like this my habit is to put in one screw at a time, tighten it, and then check the drawer alignment.  Since the holes are oversized a slight tap of a small hammer can be used to tweak it as needed.
     One side needed to be shimmed out a little bit and the opposite side needed to be taken the other way.  This was quickly done with a jointer plane.

Adjusting the Drawer Guide
Just had to take a close up of this shaving, the Sapele drawer runner is glued to the Maple and the shavings stayed together!

Nice Shaving!
  Last step was to glue and tack the kickers to the top of the guides.  My next challenge is to design drawer pulls that will be functional but fade into the piece.  Having drawers on the ends of a sofa table isn't that common; guess that's why I chose to incorporate it into my design!  Here's a picture of the completed runners:

Guides, Runners, & Kickers

     Wanted to share this final photo of trimming the ends of the radio weave.  After allowing the glue to dry completely I prefer to use a sharp, utility chisel.  That's my preference over a razor blade because the razor can slip and slice the wood or spline around it.

Trimming the Cane
At this time I've given it one more of the top coats -- we're getting there!

Sunday, February 17, 2013

Radio Weave Cane, a Brief How-To

     Well, once again a project I'm working on has a manufactured, woven cane element.  I really like to use this for doors and shelves.  I know if I did it often enough I could get closer to that all elusive perfection but will stand by the saying that goes something like this: "the beauty of an item crafted by hand are its inconsistencies and variations."  Here's what I ended up with at the end of the day.

Trimming on Schedule for Tomorrow
     I love the look of this weave.  I buy this and other chair caning supplies from Franks Cane and Rush who's located in Huntington Beach, CA.  His website gives lots of information and he'll personally answer questions either by phone or email.  This particular weave is actually made out of paper!  Just as so many projects we take on, one slip up here can negate many hours of work.
     If you've been following the progress of this table you may recall that the shelf had to be oiled and finished first and then the groove for the spline is cut.  This is so there is raw wood for the glue to adhere the spline to.  The spline groove is about 3/4" from the opening so using a pattern, router with a guide collar, plus the 3/16" bit was the way to go.  The question was how to hold the pattern in place?  Here's my solution:

Spline Pattern, Bottom View
     To guide the router I used a 1/4" piece of MDF.  Then I cut a piece of 3/4" MDF and screwed it together being careful to line it up square and maintain equal spacing all around.  To hold it securely a scrap piece of wood was screwed to the bottom and the tension holds everything in place.  All that remained was to be very careful as I guided the router around to maintain contact with the pattern.  This was especially tricky going around the corners but doable as you can see here:

Right Side Done, Left One to Go!
     Boy, routers sure throw out a lot of dust and mess but that was by far the easiest way to accomplish this procedure.  After squaring up the corners with a chisel the spline needed to be cut to fit.  That threw out another challenge.  The spline is pretty small and tapered.  That makes it kind of tricky to hold square as you cut the mitered ends.  Again, necessity being the mother of invention I came up with this little jig that helped immensely.  It's nothing more than the scrap of wood I used to set the router to its 5/16" depth.  After cutting a 45 on each side to guide the cut it was simple to use.

Impromptu Spline Miter Jig
      By putting it against a bench stop it was quick to cut with a Japanese razor saw.  Marking the inner and outer corners in the frame was easier than trying to measure and draw mitered lines on the rounded tops of the spline.

Marking Corners
     Finally ready to start the caning process.  This being a paper based cane, all that was needed is about 5 minutes of soaking.  The directions say to use wedges to secure the cane in the grooves as you install it but I've added another little trick.  By taking a piece of MDF and planing a rounded taper on one side of it I'm able to push a wider section of cane into the groove at a time.  I'll use a small piece of the actual spline to hold it in position as needed after forcing the wet cane material part way into the groove.  When I used a small wedge I found it too easy to distort the weave.

MDF Installer Tool
     The MDF piece was a scrap about 5" long, you can see it in my hand.  At the left of the cane you may notice a small piece of spline used to secure the cane.  By the way, you should always use a water soluble glue for this process and I prefer using Old Brown Glue which is  a liquid hide product.  That's what you see in my coffee mug!  Liquid hide needs to be heated to around 120-140 degrees so filling the mug with hot tap water does the trick and the insulation keeps the temperature at the right level.
     Next up is filling the groove with the glue and pounding in the spline:

Spline Installation
     Since I'm pretty much self taught I can only tell you what works for me.  Once I've figured out where the spline will go I remove any excess cane beyond that.  You can see it's done on the side and top.  The longest sides are done first followed by the short ones.  Seems like it's inevitable but sometimes you'll need to trim the spline in the corners.  Don't know if that's because the moisture changes the length but if you undercut the miter it'll go together neater.  As I said at the beginning of this blog, If I did this a lot I'd definitely get closer to that elusive perfection.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Tutorial: Half-Blind Dovetails

     The goal of doing any joinery on a project is to find the best way to assemble the pieces so that they are both strong and functional.  In all of  the years spent woodworking, dovetail joints seem to be the "holy grail" for many woodworkers.  Well let's face it, they are proven from as far back as Egyptian times and their form is such that even if the glue fails, the wood piece still holds together.  That's been true whether it's an Egyptian king's coffin or an American cabinetmaker chest of drawers from the 1800's.  What we're after here is something that will look like this:

One Drawer Side, Sapele & Maple
     The darker wood (Sapele) is the drawer front while the side is the Maple.  The way the joint functions is that by its design, the side won't separate from the front due to the tails shape.  Think about how a drawer is used, you're constantly pulling it open which stresses that side connection. Pretty much impossible to pull apart unless the wood fails which may be caused by the angle being too steep.
     Jamie, of WooditIs here in Las Vegas has said that if you ask 10 woodworkers the same question you'll likely get 10, or maybe 12; different answers!  Keep that in mind as I create a pictorial of how I go about creating this joint.  When I teach I always encourage my students to investigate all of the different ways there are to accomplish a technique, experiment with them all, and then develop what works for you.
     I'll start off by saying that I'm a tails first kind of guy.  There's a huge controversy among woodworkers as to what you cut first. Google it online and you'll see what I mean and then re-read the paragraph above!
     The first step is to make sure your ends are square.  You can leave this up to your tablesaw or chop saw but I like to go one step further and true them up with a shooting board and a block plane as shown here.

     Not to get off track too much but I found that one of my drawer openings was about 88 degrees rather than 90.  I made my shooting board so that  I can adjust it to compensate for that.  It was set with a sliding bevel to match the angle of the opening.  Now, even though the drawer front won't measure square, the revel around it will be consistent.  Here you can see the cut as I "un-square" the front.

Dark Area is being Cut

     Okay, back to the drawers and the half blind tails.  I mentioned this as an experimental way to use the Stanley #140 trick in a previous blog.  It's pretty quick and easy on the table saw but be safe.  Use a back up piece to help support the wood as you create a slight tenon for the tail to lay on.

Pseudo Stanley #140 Trick
     Like I said, I do tails first and I like to lay out and cut both of the drawer sides at the same time.

Lay-Out Tails

         Clamp both of the pieces securely with a parallel clamp for this operation.

Cutting Tails
     Next up is to cut the outside shoulders with your dovetail saw (crosscut if you have one).  My preference is to notch it first with a chisel.

Notch Shoulder
     This gives the saw a flat area to guide against, I've found that for me it's an easier way to get a straight shoulder cut.  Usually a little bit of paring is required.  For these drawers there are two tails so the area for the center pin needed to be removed.

Tails Done
     This is followed by transferring the tails to the drawer front.  It's a pretty straight forward process but if you can find a way to clamp things together it'll improve your accuracy.

Transferring Tail Board to Drawer Front
     Here's where my old eyes can give me troubles!  I rig up a light, open the door, and do whatever else is needed to see the lines.  For wood like Sapele pencil or chalk should be used to outline your scribed lines.  First step is to cut the outer boundaries of the tail, keep in mind that you want to cut on the inside/waste side of the line.

Initial Cuts in Drawer Front
     This will be followed by careful chiseling to remove the waste.  Again, being able to securely hold the piece while you work on it is critical and will make a huge difference in how your joint will turn out.  I love my little bench on bench for this type of work.  It brings the work up to a comfortable level and saves me lots of back stiffness!

Removing the Waste
     I get the bulk of the wood removed in this position, drawer front flat on the bench.  Notice those pencil lines to help see what I'm working to.  Once most of it is done in this postion I'll put the board upright in the vise.

Working to the Line
     Then it become a matter of trial and error to get the joint together.  I start at one edge, usually the top  and slowly work it in until things fit as they should.  This is an area where patience is required.  Saying that though, I've had students just make their cuts and the tail drops right into place! This picture is somewhat blurry but I tend to cut a small portion at the top to the scribed line, then try, then trim, then try, then………. you get the idea.

Paring to the Scribed Line
     I've worked with these joints for quite a while and must admit they do get easier.  Like everything else in life, some days are better than others so don't be discouraged if the fitting gets tough and don't get too cocky if they drop right into place!
     Unless you're striving to make a living and pay the bills, try to do this work and just enjoy the process.  You'll be surprised at the enjoyment you'll get from this, to me it's all about the process and those quiet hours spent creating your work.  Hope this gives you some more insight into making these joints.  As always, I welcome any comments or questions you may have.

Friday, February 8, 2013

Finally Looking Like My Sketches

Ready for Finish (almost)
     This is the first time I've put the top and shelf together on this table.  As I suspected, fitting the shelf in between the tapered legs was not a straight forward operation.  Problem being that the legs get smaller as they reach the floor and the only way to put the shelf in is to tilt it and then lower it down to the stretchers.  I wanted it to bracket the legs to give more weight and structure to it.  If it only fit between them it would have been easy enough to simply slide it through but -- oh no, I wanted to be tricky!  I did what I mentioned in the last post and made a mock-up of the shelf out of some 3/4" MDF the exact size of the actual shelf.  Then it was just a matter of nibbling off a sliver at a time and seeing if it would slip into place.  Once it did the measurements were transferred to the shelf and we were good to go.
     The top of the table has the oil and about 3 of the final top coats sanded into it.  This morning I oiled the apron and the shelf.  What I need to do with the shelf is have the finish almost complete and then cut the grooves for the caning that will go in those open spaces.  I can't cut the grooves yet because the finish would seal the wood and the glue used to install the cane wouldn't be able to adhere to it.  I may be over-thinking that but that's my thoughts on that.  Maybe I'll find out different but that's my strategy.

Scraping the Shelf

    The Sapele proved to be a difficult wood to tame.  Thank goodness for the old stand-by, a Stanley # 80 Cabinet Scraper.
The grain is really interlocked so my initial work with a #7 Jointer plane had a tendency to tear the grain.  A card scraper wasn't aggressive enough but the cabinet scraper did the trick.  After that was complete I honed the blade on my smooth plane and went over the entire surface to bring it up to par.

     The very thing that makes the wood so beautiful is the same thing that causes you grieve!  Look at the grain patterns on the edge of the shelf:

Marble Like Edge Grain
     It looks good now that the initial coat of oil has been applied.  Now that this portion is complete all that remains is the drawers.  There's one on either end that will be about 10" long.  The runners and kickers need to be sized and cut and then the drawer can be made.  Everything will continue to be made in a traditional manner.  Half blind dovetails and solid wood bottom fit into a groove.  At this point I'd like to design the drawer pulls to mimic the apron with some beaded details.  As you've probably picked up on, this project is evolving as the construction process goes on but that's the plus of building a spec piece, only need to please yourself and build what you feel looks right.

Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Miscellaneous Going's On in the Shop

     Haven't been concentrating on too much work in the shop so things feel somewhat sporadic and disconnected!  I've had an inquiry about some lessons but so far no follow through on that one.  Another potential client has expressed interest in me designing a table with a built in chess board as well as drawers to hold the pieces when they're not in use.  Kind of ironic since I just completed the case for chess pieces from the Etsy store!  Speaking of the Etsy store, part of my shop time has been devoted to making a series of four, Valentine presentation boxes but no sales yet.  If you missed it, here's what they look like.

Box Series for Valentine's Day on the Etsy Store

Scraping the Leg

     As for the work on the table the entire apron is now complete.  I used some Ebony pegs on the legs and then tried out the card scraper my daughter and her husband gave me for Christmas.  It did a great job as you can see.  I've read that Sapele is a wonderful wood to work with but based on my experience with this particular bunch I'm not so sure.  You can see that even scraping doesn't completely tame the interlocked grain.  I'm sure it'll be fine when the finish is on but I was expecting it to work better.

Leg Chamfer Lay-Out

Next little detail to take care of was chamfering the bottom of the legs.  This will prevent the wood from chipping if the table is slid on the floor.  Best way I like to accomplish that is with a block plane.  First step is to pencil in some guidelines using a small combination square.

     On a square leg such as this is sometimes difficult to tell which is the end grain. It needs to be chamfered first so that any tear out can be removed when planing the long grain edge.

Three Down,  One to Go
And Done


      I find that the pencil lines are really just a rough guide, especially when it comes to the bottom of legs.  It's more a matter of that technical term "eye-balling".  The goal is to plane until you have a line that goes exactly to the corner, here's what you're after.

     Now that the apron is assembled I wanted to get a visual of how this will all look.  It's been an experience designing this table.  It's somewhat "on the fly" which can cause problems.  It's also a project I'm working on sporadically between paying commissions, Etsy projects, and students.  I like what I'm seeing even though I put the top on cock-eyed!

Top in Place, Preparing the Shelf

     The shelf could be another problem.  Why? -- I want it to extend past the legs so that means putting it in place can be a trick due to the tapers cut on the insides of the legs.  The first step was to make the end pieces that lay across the stretchers.  I clamped them in position to measure the length of the shelf.

Shelf End Piece, Mortise Done
     As usual, a combination of power and hand tools is used to cut these joints.  The tenon is roughed out on the tablesaw while the mortises are cut on a hollow chisel mortiser.  Each piece was then marked to avoid any mistakes.

Shelf Marked and Roughed Out Joint

 With a rabbet block plane carefully set up, trimming the tenons to fit is a pretty straight forward job.  I watch the shaving to make sure I'm taking a square cut.  I have a tendency to angle the plane down and create a taper.

Sizing Tenons
     The day ended with the shelf being completed and glued up.  To play it safe a piece of MDF will be sized and used as a guide to determine how much allowance I'll need to leave to fit it between the tapers.  The legs get smaller as they go down but I need to leave an allowance so it can be tilted in position and then lowered onto the stretchers.