Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Enjoying the Process vs. Power Tools --- Worth It?

Hand Crafted Lid Pull of Leopardwood
     The inspiration for the custom box I'm making for a client in Toronto came from a box on my Etsy store that had a pull made from a knot that came from the Pine the box was made from.  Since this box is made out of a clear grade of Alder, aka "poor man's Cherry" there aren't any knots.  My client granted me artistic license and here's the result.  The Leopardwood is from a scrap I've held on to for a long time, I believe it's from my TV Tray Redux tables.  Interestingly enough, a friend of mine came by to run a piece of Curly Maple through my planer and commented on the process I was going through.  He asked me why I didn't just use the table saw to form the joinery for this and it did get me thinking.  I'm afraid we're going to get philosophical here but before that, here's another picture showing both lids and their pulls:

Both Lids with Pull
     Regular readers of my blog know that I enjoy the process of woodworking as much or maybe more than the final results.  Hand tools are a large part of the craft, after all; I teach hand tool classes and give one on one instruction in my shop.  I look at every project as a skill building exercise to continue to hone and improve my work.  That's part of the decision to do this primarily with hand tools.  The other is safety, you need to exercise extra care when using power tools with small pieces of wood.  Add the quietness factor to the equation and hand tools become much more attractive.
     To start the process, each end of the piece of Leopardwood was rounded over with a file and sandpaper.  Figured it would be easier that way, keeping the piece long for the preliminary work.  Next the thickness of the lid was scribed onto it with the marking gauge.

Lid Thickness (lines darkened with pencil)

To mark the thickness of this lap joint I could have used the marking gauge but decided that since the router plane was adjusted for that, why not use it to mark that dimension as well?

Router Plane used as Marking Gauge
     Now it was a matter of cutting on those lines to the marked depth with a cross cut saw.

Lines Set for Thickness
     I suppose I could have used the tablesaw here to make a series of cuts.  Instead, let's keep it quiet and chisel to each line from the center out.  Good practice, quiet, and easy enough.

Chiseling To Saw Kerfs
     The middle was left slightly higher so to avoid going to deep.  The Leopardwood chiseled quite well, I had some concern about it wanting to split as it is rather grainy.  To bring it to the required depth I used a small router plane and supported the work with a bench hook.

Working to Depth
     After reaching the depth, lines were drawn and the pull was cut from both ends of the board.

Ready to be Cut Loose!
     When I cut mortises for hinges and, in this case the pull; I'll generally use a trim router and template to rough it out.  This is one area where I prefer to guarantee a flat mortise for the pull or hinge to sit against.  Maybe it's the chicken way out but ruining a box at this stage negates a lot of work!

1" Hinge Template for Pull Mortise
The pull was carefully trimmed to fit and then Gorilla glued securely in place.

     I'm using a new hinge (to me) that is available from Rockler.  It's a reasonably priced brass hinge that has built in stops to allow the hinge to stay open 105 degrees.  So far they seem to be suitable and a far cry from the $30.00 or so Brusso offerings.  I'll use them on fine jewelry boxes or a custom instrument case but the average client would not want to pay for that added cost.  They are wonderful to work with though.  Thick brass castings, extremely close tolerances on the knuckles, tight pins, and a beautiful finish.

Installing the hinges begins with the trim router and a bearing guided bit.  After locating the template it's an easy process to carefully route them out.  Note that the template is maybe a sixteenth of an inch smaller than the hinge length.  This gives me a little bit of room for final chiseling of the mortise.

Final Fitting

      There are a couple of things I do when I fit hinges.  Since there could be a little bit of variation when using the template I'll set the small combination square for the distance from the outside of the box/lid to the hinge.  Since the router bit leaves a radiused corner the square is used to guide the chisel and square that side of the mortise.  Remember that the template is undersized for the hinge so by squaring each mortise the same distance from the outside of the box, installation should by correct.

     So now there are two questions.  First of all, will the client like the lid pull and secondly, is the hand process of making it worth it?  I'll let you answer that on your own but for me it's a resounding YES.  Very little I enjoy more than the hours spent in the shop creating what I hope will be a nice project.


  1. I agree John!

    Less power tools-more hand tools!

  2. Thanks Jay, the client answered the first part of the question and sent me this in an email:

    "Thank you once again for the update on the box. Such fun to read your blog. The handle looks great and makes the box look even more unique. I had no idea that I could get so excited about a wooden box but because this is not "just" a box but a "special" box for me to give as a gift plus your obvious enthusiasm for your craft, I feel very positive about this experience."

    This underscores the discussion we had at our Sin City Woodworkers meeting last night about our creative process. The satisfaction of a job well done is often the best reward.