Sunday, November 3, 2013

This Project Seems to be Taking Forever!

OK, it IS taking forever.

Short version:  I am working on a small box that I started years ago.  It should be done soon.


Let me go through this from the beginning:

I need a couple of gifts coming up, and I thought it would be great to make something. It would be even better if I could actually finish these projects before they are late.

To help speed things up, why not pull out an old project that has been sitting unfinished? Why, what a great idea! I have just the thing.

Around the turn of the millenium, way back when I was hard core into machines and thought handtools were for weirdos, I discovered that you could buy lumber from eBay. Shipping was cheap in those days, and fancy exotics are available.

I got some nice little bits of claro walnut, figured maple, a pile of exotic offcuts, some cocobolo, and some stunning figured curly ebony. I thought it would be fun to make a bunch of humidors.

The ebony arrived, and was so gorgeous, I called the guy and ordered all of the ebony he had left. I wound up with six or seven nice one inch boards that are between three and six inches wide and about two feet long.

Those were expensive.

I figured I would get a plain piece of ebony, too. That way, I could practice up and when I got good enough, I would attempt something with that fancy ebony.

So there it still sits.

In the meantime, my career and my personal life made woodworking less practical, and here I am more than ten years later with a bunch of fancy, expensive scrap.

I guess that these are the last exotics I ever will purchase. It is too much like working concrete.

In the meantime, I have some gifts to get finished and in the mail. I chose to revisit two old projects:

A couple of very old projects.
The top one is a small ebony box, the plain one. It looks like I started some dovetails, with the intention of cutting the box open once it is done to make a lid. Back in those days, I didn't know you could fit dovetails right from the saw, so there is a lot of fiddling before the one joint will fit. Then, I will have to dovetail the rest. No telling what this will look like when it is done, but it is started, I might as well finish it.

The bottom one is cocobolo, with mitered edges for a small box. It looks like I have a bottom fitted out of walnut. My guess is when I worked on it last I had some walnut that would work, and anything is better than the plywood that I originally intended. Hopefully I meant to try my hand at veneering, because cocobolo with plywood accents is just crazy.

There was only a groove in the bottom, and rather than mess with hinges, I decided to convert this project into a box with a sliding lid. Since the bottom is walnut, I picked a piece of walnut for the top, plowed a groove for it and glued everything up.

Glued up, with the lid fitted.
I pre-finished the inside with Dick wax and a polissoir.

I was thrilled to be able to use my rehabbed rabbet plane to cut the rabbets for the lid. I also used it to cut the chamfers. Using a fenceless rabbet plane really frees up time otherwise spent with fiddling with fences and depth stops. This lid was done in five minutes. I bet it would have taken me two hours doing it with a table saw.

I think that it needs a little more strength than glued miter joints, so I decided to use keys to strengthen things. I chose maple, thinking it might match the sapwood on the top near the lid. We'll see. To do these, I just cut diagonals using my biggest crosscut saw (for a wider kerf, and because cocobolo isn't any fun with a ripsaw), and inserted the keys.

Here is where we are with this project now:

Keys freshly glued.
Hopefully tomorrow I can get the keys sawed flush and do some shaping to this box before the wax goes on.

I would love to find out I am not the only one who has unfinished projects older than 10 years hiding somewhere in the shop. Please let me know when you plan to finish yours.


  1. Hi Brian,
    I have an anniversary present, a shaker sewing table, that I haven't finished. I got the legs turned and then nothing for 20+ years and still counting.

    1. That's pretty good! I haven't been woodworking 20 years yet, or I'd be right there with you. You didn't tell her which anniversary it was for, did you?

  2. I have a small set of dominos that I started on the in 1988 when I was in eighth grade. They are made out of bog oak with aluminium dots.
    But I am not sure they count liek a real woodworking project.
    Apart from that I have a modular marble machine that I started a couple of years back. That one actually deserves to be finished before Christmas.

    By the way, I think that your boxes look really great.

    1. Hi Jonas,

      It warms my heart to know there are people out there with unfinished projects older than mine. Good luck in finishing them. Bog oak would make fine dominos, I'm sure. I can see why that project might not have captivated your interest, though. Maybe it's a project your kids could help with.

      Thanks for the compliment.