Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas Gifts for the Workshop

    I hope everyone had a wonderful Christmas. I had a great one this year blessed with lots of gifts, parties, family and food. Judging by the gifts I must have been a good boy this year.
     I got two books. The Workshop by Scott Gibson is a very inspiring book full of pictures of woodworking shops and studios. The other book is the one which was probably on most hand-tool user's wish list -The Joiner and Cabinet Maker by Schwarz and Moskowitz as well as the original anonymous author.

     The Joiner and the Cabinetmaker is a story about a young apprentice in a rural English woodworking shop in he early 1800's. Within this story he builds three different projects using the tools and techniques of his time, all of which is explained and detailed by Christopher Schwarz and Joel Moskowitz. The book includes a CD with narrated slide show by Schwarz (excellent from what I've been able to see so far) as well as SketchUp files of each project so that you can use Google SketchUp (a free downloadable application) to look at them in 3-D or take them apart as you wish. The readers are encouraged to build along with the instructions which is what I'm thinking about doing. I've still got my dresser project on my plate, but I may have to squeeze-in another.
     The other workshop-related items I got as gifts were the two mini-sized offerings from Lee Valley tools. I came upon the pocket marking gauge and the miniature shoulder plane the day they were announced and just had to have them.

    The pocket gauge is pretty cool. It has an adjustable marking head on both ends which gives you the ability to keep two different measurements set during a project. It's fairly easy to set one-handed and the cutting wheel will recess into the fence to keep it safe after use.
    The Veritas miniature shoulder plane is just neat. It's really small but well made. I actually works pretty well but even if it didn't it would serve just fine as a conversation piece on a shelf, displayed as decoration or jewelry on a chain. I honed the blade and then used it to make a 1/4" dado in some scrap poplar. Not too bad...

I scored the width of the dado with a square and a marking knife, then clamped a straight-edge to one side to guide the shoulder plane. After every third pass or so I scored the sides again with the knife.

    Ultimately, I'm not sure this would be used often but it's nice to know that it could be used. It came in a nice black case which is where I'll keep it until that time comes.
    My favorite gift, of course, was the new sign for the Cottage Workshop. Here it is...

     I hope you all had a merry Christmas and, if I don't blog until then,


Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Mortising by hand: not as hard as I thought...

    Moving onward, I come to yet another opportunity to connect with the Luddites of the past. I need to create twelve mortises in the drawer dividers to house the drawer supports. It's December in Indiana and it's cold. Sure, it could be in the 60's tomorrow followed by a blizzard but for now, I'm not going to spend any time working in the barn if I don't have to. I have all I need in the warm cottage: a mallet, marking gauge, clamps and a 1/4" mortise chisel.
    As usual, I've scoured the internet to learn what I could about mortising by hand. Of all that I found I found these videos the most helpful. Both are of Frank Klausz, a master cabinetmaker originally from Hungary. He really seems to be a great teacher so I must plan on obtaining some of his videos.

This one is from It even shows how he allows for a haunched tenon...

This one is from a Woodworking in America demonstration and is just cool. You can see everything that happens under the surface when you chop a mortise. You can even hear Roy Underhill talking in the background! The fact the Mr. Klausz completes the mortise without breaking the glass makes this not only a woodworking demo but a pretty good magic trick.

I did read a post from Tom Fidgen about mortising just recently. He's working on a sharpening station for his workshop.

Well, here's how I did...

     First, I set my mortising gauge to the width of my chisel.

     After centering the gauge on the back of the drawer divider I marked the areas for the mortises including their lengths. I'm sure there are many ways to clamp a piece like this but this is how I did it...

Using a hand screw with a holdfast was very adequate and I was able to clamp pieces into position very quickly.
     The chisel is positioned between the lines and held square to the sides of the piece. This is easier to do when you position yourself like I am here. I followed the same chopping sequence performed by Frank Klausz in the video and took care to make a shallow initial pass first to define the mortise. Be sure to leave the ends alone until you're almost done. After that I whacked the heck out of it until I reached my depth of 3/4" to 1". I finished by defining the ends of the mortise, making sure they were square to the edge.

     Making one mortise took about 3 to 5 minutes. This is just a bit longer than it would have taken using my mortiser. Not too bad. My experience with this is consistent with my other findings. With sharp tools and the right techniques working by hand is much easier and faster than you think. It's definitely warmer.


Friday, December 4, 2009

What Mistake?


So here I am, on a roll and ready to breeze through some more stopped sliding dovetails. I've got the process down pat and looking forward to the challenge of hand cut mortises. I finish two of them rather quickly and sit back feeling good about what I've done. Wait... that doesn't look right. I laid out one of the dovetails in the wrong place. Yup, the ones for the front of the case. I'm an idiot.
     After cursing under my breath (Ryan was playing trains in the cottage next to me) I try to figure out how I was going to recover from such a stupid mistake. My first thought was to leave it and move the rear drawer divider up to match. Doing that wouldn't require a patch that may be seen, even if I would be the only one who would notice. It would, however, change the drawer sizes which would be kinda lame since I made an effort to design them to be graduated in size.
       In the end I decided to stay with my design and  patch it. I was skeptical at first, but I decided I could find a reasonable match to make it happen. As a result, I think it works and I have something new to blog about. Here is what I did...

     I used the same cutting guide to make a few pieces to fit in the errant dovetail socket. I'm getting better at being creative with the clamps.

     I glued all three in the socket, leaving the best fitting piece for last. The result looked a bit rough but I was optimistic.

     A little work with the block plane...

     ...and a scraper...

     ...crisis avoided. Now,  I just have to find some way to keep from cutting another dovetail socket in the same place!

     So there you go. I screwed something up, but instead of changing the design I decided to fix it and move on. Design proportions taking a priority? Maybe George Wilson is getting to me after all.


Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Stopped, sliding dovetails... by hand.

     While there is a virtual smorgasbord of information on through dovetails by hand, there isn't much on sliding or stopped sliding dovetails by hand. I did find an excellent tutorial on sliding dovetails by Derek Cohen, a woodworker in Australia. There's also one by Kari Hultman (is it my imagination or do I seem to mention her in almost every post?).  Actually, I'm not even sure of the correct name for this joint. I've read about people calling it a housed dovetail, half blind dovetail, a dovetail dado, and a grooved dovetail dado just to name a few. For now I'll just refer to it as a stopped sliding dovetail, kinda like a stopped dado. Anyways, while similar to the sliding dovetail, it seems to be a different animal when you think about creating one. You can't just saw an angled kerf through to the other side. It's stopped to the width of the piece being housed in it. Most sensible woodworkers just use a router with a dovetail bit and a jig. Some woodworkers prefer to rout out most of the waste with a straight bit and then finish up with the dovetail bit. It's routed out to length and then squared up with a chisel if you wish. Since I didn't find exactly what I was looking for, and since I've never been fond of electric  routers, I decided to accept a challenge to figuring out my own way. After a lot of daydreaming and tinkering in the cottage, I came up with a process that works for me.
     The first thing I did was to make 2 guide blocks for sawing, beveled to the angle of my dovetails. I made two because I wanted to put a fence on them to make for a quicker setup. Not only could they be placed without a square, since the fence was a continuation of the angle I could easily see where the guided cut would end which takes out a lot of guesswork and layout time. I also made another guide block with the same bevel to serve as a paring guide for the drawer support pieces.

     Since the guide blocks take care of my angles I only need to layout and mark the location and thickness of the drawer supports, and the depth of the dovetail socket. I cut two measuring sticks. One to the height of the bottom drawer and the other to the height of the top drawer. I used these to mark the location of the drawer supports on either side to make everything consistent. As with my carcass dovetails, I used masking tape to make everything more visible. I marked the thickness of the drawer support using an offcut (offcuts are great to keep during a project for times like these, just be sure to label them). Then I used a marking gauge to mark the depth of the socket. 

     At this point I have all the info I need to make my cuts. I place the sawing guide block over the layout marks so that the fence registers with the bottom corner of the layout. I start the cut with my crosscut back saw, keeping the saw pressed against the guide block. I try to be careful to saw down to the depth mark on the edge. On the face I saw past the mark because it will make for less work chiseling out the waste, besides it will be covered by part of the drawer frame.  For me the key about using a guide block for this has been to not depend on the guide so much that I forget good sawing techniques. Keep a relaxed grip and your arm in alignment. Wax on the saw blade doesn't hurt either. 

     The rest of the kerf will be cut to depth using a Japanese dovetail saw. This works well because it has teeth at the tip enabling it to cut all the way to the end of the dovetail socket,  and it cuts on the pull stroke which keeps the sawdust from clogging things up. I put a piece of tape on the blade to mark my target depth. 

     After both sides of the dovetail socket are cut I use the chisels and a mallet to knock out the majority of the waste. I pay careful attention to the show side of the joint removing just a little section first. After this I can knock out the rest pretty easily. 

     Two things I found helpful are to take only a quarter-inch at a time and to twist the chisel after splitting each section to try to turn the waste chunk making it easier to remove without getting it wedged-in. If there's still a lot of waste left after the chopping you can run the chisel parallel with the depth to clean it out a bit.

     If you're really good I suppose you could finish it all up with the chisel but I am fortunate to have a router plane. This is neither as loud or obnoxious as its tailed equivalent. I set the depth and rout the bottom to a finished depth. Skewing the blade help to get into the corners. Having a perfect bottom is not important. As long as the angle of the walls are right and the drawer supports are cut right I should have a tight fit.

     Cutting the dovetail tenons are much easier and faster as I had thought. I've seen this done easily with a dovetail plane. I don't have a dovetail plane so that means I'll be using a chisel. After coming up with this next part I don't think I'll be wanting a dovetail plane anyway.
     The nice part about cutting this joint is that the angles are all the same. I made a guide block to use as a paring guide with the same bevel angle as the other guide blocks. The way I use it is about as simple as it gets. I position it at the end of my drawer support on the bench and secure them between the wagon vise and a bench dog. I put a clamp near the middle of the stock to keep it from bowing up from the pressure.

     I make sure the top edge of the stock meets the edge of the beveled guide block. Here I use playing cards as shims to make it even. 

     I've marked the shoulder to the depth of the dovetail socket, made a deep cut with a marking knife and square and then cut a fence for the saw with a chisel. Making a fence, or trough, for your saw to ride in is a great technique. Clean, accurate cuts every time. Using a wide chisel, you can find the depth of your shoulder. I'll cut down to this line with  my crosscut saw.

     To pare away the waste I've found it easiest to cut across the grain with a wide chisel, working down to the angle of the  guide block when half of the chisel is riding on the block and the other half is cutting the dovetail tenon flush. The amount of waste is small so this all goes surprisingly fast.

    At this point you can fit the pieces together and adjust as necessary. The few I've done so far have not needed to be adjusted much at all. Lucky, I guess. What has resulted is a strong joint ready for glue. This may not be picture perfect but it's the drawer support in the back. I need to watch my layout lines better for the ones in the front.

     Well, that's what I've come up with. I'm sure there are other ways to skin this cat. If you have any other techniques please feel free to share. Until then, I have to finish up the rest of these stopped sliding dovetails and move on to mortise and tenons (by hand of course), moulding, the dresser base and eventually  drawers. We're getting there, a little bit at a time. Oh, and if anyone knows what the official name of this joint is please, let me know!


Thursday, November 26, 2009

Carcass dovetails...

    I found a few hours in the past couple of days to finish the carcass dovetails. I've been using common techniques with mixed results in the past and have picked up a few tips from poking around the net. I even came up with something on my own. Probably not new but I've not seen it yet.
    Laying out dovetails in walnut can be difficult for me because it's hard to see a pencil line or a knife line. I tried a white charcoal pencil but the line wasn't fine enough for me. I had an idea to use masking tape which I think was a good idea. Here's what I did. I laid the tape down where my marking line would be, then I marked my line with a marking gauge cutting the tape. I removed the tape to reveal a nice distinct reference line. Have any of you used tape for layout lines before?

     It is much easier to follow a line when you can see it. I finally got around to using a spotlight and I was glad I did. I do need to pick up a florescent bulb some time because the regular ones get quite hot when they're 12-inches away!

     It seems almost unnecessary to mark the waste portions but it really reminds you which side of the line you need to be on. Definitely a few seconds well spent.

     Cutting out the waste with the coping saw has been my least favorite part. These dovetails are about an inch thick so cutting between pins with a 5-inch blade hasn't been fun to me. I'm hoping the dovetails for the drawers will be easier by comparison. I'm thinking about trying out a fret saw like that Cosman guy.

     Chopping out the waste with chisels can be a pretty tedious job but I kinda like it. It tends to be a repetitive, rhythmic task best done while listening to good music. I've started to use a chopping guide for this part to help me keep the lines straight. Before I always seemed to have at least a couple stray chops which ruined what was otherwise decent dovetails. I picked this up from The Village Carpenter, Kari Hultman who picked it up from David Finck. The face of the block that guides the chisel is beveled a couple degrees so that the chisel cuts a slight hollow toward the middle of the board's thickness. This prevents leaving humps in the middle which results in gaps after assembly. I use a smaller chisel first to get rid of most of the waste, chopping down about half-way. To me this is easier than a broad chisel at this point.

     When I chop away all but 1/32 of an inch I switch to a broad chisel and take a clean finish cut. After one side is done I turn it all over and finish the other side. By the way, holdfasts are great. The ones from Gramercy at  seem to be the standard anymore, and for good reason.

     I'm still not quite there with dovetails but I am getting better and much more confident. There's always a lot of talk about hand-cut dovetails; they are the Holy Grail of joinery. It seems many woodworkers are constantly searching for tricks or tips or magic spells for success. In my short experience I have found a few tips which have helped but the one thing which has helped me the most and which virtually guarantees success in the future is PRACTICE. Just like the time when I tried to break-in my new dovetail saw by cutting a couple hundred kerfs in scrap. Not only did I break-in my saw, I got better at sawing. You can't make or buy a jig for practice.

      I finally did glue up the carcass. It was rather... stressful. Even though I was convinced I had everything adjusted to go together, it was a pain in the butt to pull everything together. I ended-up using clamps, a mallet and a lot of cussing to coax it all into place. Even though it was a tight fit I ended up with a few visible gaps. Fortunately, that's nothing a few small wedges and glue can't hide.
     I'm really looking forward to the next round of joinery, hand-cut housed dovetails. This will be used to join the drawer dividers to the carcass sides. I've been trying different techniques to cut this by hand and I think I've got a process that will work for me. Unfortunately there's not a lot about this hand-cut joint on the net. Maybe we can change that. Check back in the next week or two and I'll have something to show you.

Happy Thanksgiving!


Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Cottage Studio

     When I fixed up the cottage to be used as a workshop I really wanted it to be more of a studio. A place where all of us could go to make things and be creative away from the distractions of the house; e.g., U-verse, Wii and (I dare you). Today it happened and I was happy. Justin and I were working on a science project and Shawn and Ryan were painting birdhouses we picked up at Hobby Lobby over a month ago. This was a moment to savor because winter is coming quick and the holidays are upon us. The world as we know it accelerates into a frenzy until the ball drops New Year's Eve. As a bonus, I even finished a row of dovetails for the dresser project -and had a beer.

Tuesday, November 10, 2009

More milling and flattening...

    Today I was back in the barn to mill up the rest of the walnut for the top and bottom of the dresser. I got everything laid out and glued up and went to the cottage to finish flattening the other two panels which will be the sides of the dresser. I had to take out some slight bowing in both panels so I got to use my jack planes and smoother to get them close enough to flat. This was a good opportunity to make a time-lapse video of my day. I used a program called Gawker that I downloaded for free and I thought it was a lot of fun to make. The song is Faster, Sooner, Now by David Gray. Enjoy!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Graduated Drawers

This post contains arithmetic in the form of whole numbers, fractions and decimals
some resulting from addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.
*Proceed at your own risk*

    When I was laying out the plans for the dresser on SketchUp I needed to determine the sizes of the drawers. I knew I wanted six drawers in three rows. The width would be the same for all six but I wanted the height to be graduated, that is, each drawer would be larger than the one above. I'm not much in the know about traditional furniture design but I did know that drawers were often graduated to give weight to the design and to lead the eye upward. I suppose with three rows of drawers I could figure it out on my own, eventually, but I came upon an article by Christian Becksvoort (Designing Furniture, Taunton Press 2004) which was very helpful and I thought I would share it with you. If you're like me you learn better with visual explanations so I made some examples on SketchUp so I could attempt to do the article justice.

    To find the dimensions of graduated drawers we need to know the following measurements:
    The Total height of the dresser
The thickness of the top, base and dividers within the carcase
The number of drawers
There is a slight variation in this method depending on wether you want an odd or even number of drawers.

       So let's begin with a dresser carcase with a dimension of 24" wide by 48" high constructed of 3/4" stock. We would like this dresser to have six drawers but in graduated heights.

Step 1. Determine the Usable Drawer Height
            Take the total height of the dresser, 48" and subtract the thickness of the top (3/4"), base (3/4")  and dividers (5 dividers x 3/4" = 3-3/4"). In this example the usable drawer height is 48" minus 5-1/4", or 42-3/4"

Step 2. Determine the Average Drawer Height
             Take the usable drawer height and divide that by the number of drawers you want to find the average height of each drawer. In this case it would be 42-3/4" divided by 6 which equals 7-1/8"

Step 3. Decide how much you want to graduate each drawer. I think traditionally drawers were graduated by the thickness of the dividers. Becksvoort uses 1-inch graduations which is what I'll use here.

Step 4. Find the height of each graduated drawer

Even number of drawers.
            For dressers with an even number of drawers the height of the drawer just below the middle divider would be the same as the average drawer height plus half of the graduation increment. In this case it will be 7-5/8" high. The dresser just below this would be 1-inch taller or 8-5/8". Add an additional inch to each drawer below. For each drawer above you would subtract an inch from the height of the drawer below it. The result in our example would look like this...

For a set with an
Odd Number of Drawers
             For dressers with an odd number of drawers it's a little simpler. The height of the middle drawer is the same as the average drawer height. Simply subtract the graduation increment for the smaller drawers above and add the graduated increment for the larger drawers below.
             Let's say we wanted our dresser to have five drawers instead of six. With four drawer dividers (4x3/4"=3") plus the top and bottom (2x3/4"=1-1/2") subtracted from the total height of 48" we have a usable drawer height of 43-1/2". If we divide this by 5 drawers we get and average drawer height of 8.7" or just under 8-3/4". If we use this to layout our drawers our middle drawer would be 8-3/4". We would add an inch to the larger drawers below and subtract an inch from the smaller ones above. It would look something like this...

          Of course the top drawer ends up being 6-1/2" but if it bothers you then you can make your average drawer exactly 8.7" or 8-45/64" if that's what you're into.
          If you just think about the concept it's not too confusing. This is just one way to layout graduated drawers that I thought was pretty simple as long as you don't get caught up in being exact. It's a good place to start I think but if you know of any other methods I'd like to hear about it.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Back in the Workshop

    After a nice vacation in the Florida Keys and a couple days in Chicago for the David Gray show I am back in the workshop. Yesterday I spent some time cleaning up the workshop in the barn, sweeping up and putting away tools. It's hard for me to feel focused on a project unless I have some semblance of order in my space. I'm no clean freak by any means but I do find it easier and safer if I don't have to worry about stepping over piles of scrap lumber and cut-offs and searching for clear bench space. When you have to squeeze-in time for woodworking I work until the last minute which leaves clean up for another day.
    After things were tidy I made some sawdust milling up parts for the dresser sides. I met my goal of gluing-up both sides leaving the top and bottom for today. After all sides are done I'll probably have to re-flatten them a bit and cut them to length. Then the real fun begins: dovetails. Through dovetails, half-blinds, and sliding. I'm definitely planning on hand cutting the through and half-blind dovetails, but I'm leaning toward using a router for the sliding dovetails with the drawer supports. I'm sure I could make it happen by hand, but I've got a busy schedule and I'd like to get this done sooner than later.
    I've finished some plans in SketchUp to show what I'm planning. I wanted to make a Shaker-inspired dresser with six drawers to fit in Ryan's room which has a wall which angles in about four feet up. I wanted to design it so it was obviously made by hand so the joinery includes visible dovetails in the top as well as the drawers. I'm thinking about turning the drawer handles from walnut and then staining them black.

    The part of the design I'm most concerned about is the base and how it connects to the case while at the same time allowing the case to expand and contract throughout the seasons. After researching other designs I decided to construct the base moulding around a frame and then attach it to the bottom of the base by glue along the front only, and then screws in oversized holes toward the middle and back.

    The moulding for the top will be attached using Christian Becksvoort's method shown in an article I read. He suggests using a sliding dovetail in the moulding which slides on to dovetailed keys screwed to the top 's end-grain. It's glued only to the front inch or so allowing the top to expand and retract without being held by the moulding. This will definitely be done with a router. If this sounds confusing I'll go into more detail when I get to that point.
    This may be my most involved project to date so I'm both excited and intimidated by it all. This could be either a big encouragement for me or could prove to be very discouraging. I know, one step at a time right?