Tuesday, March 26, 2019

American Trestle Table - Part VI - The Rough Trestle

This part makes my arms hurt just remembering it. I've had a big hunk of cherry rolling around for years intended for a project that I never really started. I still want to make that project someday, but today I need that piece of cherry for this project.

Unfortunately, this board is just at the limit of how thick I think it should be. The mortises in the legs are 19mm wide, and this board rough is just a hair over 30mm. After planing it down by hand, it should be just the minimum thickness to keep my mind at ease.
Let's start by crosscutting it to length.
Ripping in my shop is a bit of an acrobatic endeavor. I only have one saw bench, because there's not room for two. My compromise is ripping with the board standing up in the vise.
Ripping gymnastics.
After ripping it to width I noticed that the trestle board was wobbling on my bench top, so I got out my trusty winding sticks to see how bad.
It's bad.
By the time I plane this board square, It will be thinner than the tenons should be. I need a new board.

Luckily, American cherry wood is pretty easy to get from my local lumberyard. Un-luckily, I don't have any wheels in Munich anymore, and workdays are always bad to try to arrange a ride out there at short notice.

Enter Public Transportation.
Waiting at the subway stop with my new wood.
That's right, I took the subway out to the lumberyard. Strangely, it was faster than driving. The big problem is the board I chose was 40mm thick and 3.5 meters long.

I did take my crosscut saw with me, which made it possible to get these boards on and off the train and two buses I needed to take to get home. The worst part was schlepping it 900 meters to the subway stop.

Back in the shop, it's time to do some more ripping.
A lot like work. Work you have to do over again needlessly.
Public transport actually took me past the Dictum workshop, which has machines. Sadly, it wasn't available for me to use that day. I just got on with it and did the best I could.
Cleaning up a sawn edge.
This board was cupped, but thankfully not twisted very much.
Cupped a bit.
I pulled out my monster Swedish jack plane to bring the high spots down in no time.
Thick shavings with my Swedish jack plane.
A good bit of work doing this by hand, but it can be done.
The bench planes I am using need some fettling
The planes I have in Spain are fettled and tuned to very high tolerances. The ones I have in Munich, not so much. I haven't gotten around to getting them perfect yet. However, they do seem to work as long as the blades are hyper sharp.
Sorta close.
This all cost me one entire day in the shop. I suppose it could have been worse. The next day I called Peter at Dictum again, and the shop was available for me to use the machines. Yay! It was a lot easier taking this board that was mostly done there on the bus, and I actually walked home with it.

It didn't need much, but I felt a little better about knowing that it now has two faces parallel to each other. It's not necessary, but it didn't take long. 

The machines did create some tearout in one spot where there is the beginnings of a knot.
This tearout was pretty bad.
Luckily I was able to adjust the leg so this spot was burried in the mortise. That means I don't have to mess with making this spot look better.
Lucky me!
Just a couple swipes with a smoothing plane and this board is ready for finish.

Next up, I'll cut the tenons.

Here are links to the previous articles about this table:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV
Part V

Monday, March 25, 2019

American Trestle Table - Part V - The Legs

I spent a week or so back in Germany and was able to get a lot of work done on the table. I was hoping to finish it while I was there, but I was also realistic enough that I shouldn't count on it.

I'm back in Spain now, and I am pleased with the amount of work I completed on the table. One more trip back and I'll have it.


I didn't have the energy to blog about the build last week, so I'll do it now. I'll stretch this out to about for a few posts so you don't have to scroll through a hundred pictures.

Here is what was waiting for me on my bench when I got back.
Nope, the wood fairy didn't advance my project any since January.
The basic joinery was done on them, and I had tapered one of the upper rails. Let's knock out the other three tapers.

I did this by sawing close to the line, then planing the rest of the way. I made sure to mark where the upright beam met the foot so I wouldn't wreck the joint. In fact, I stayed about 1/2" away from it, intending to come back later and finish it off. I think I may not do any more, as it looks fine as it is.
I sawed the wedge off, then planed to my line using a jointer, then a smoother.
I was very careful when I glued up these laminations in order that the grain would look about right, but I am surprised it came out this well. My guess is that once the wood darkens up, it will be difficult to see there are two boards glued together.
Two boards glued together and finish planed.
After tapering each part, I sawed the end off at a pleasing angle. I checked to make sure the upper supports and the feet would be the same length to each other while I was at it. The upper support doesn't need to be the same length as the foot, but the feet should be the exact same length.
Sawing the angle on the end of this support.

This looks much more refined.
In January I upgraded my shop lighting. I got rid of the insufficient lighting I had and added four LED shop lights. This was an amazing difference, but it still could use a bit more. The directions said this light could handle being wired in series with up to six lights, so I ordered two more. The first one I put next to the one right behind my head that gives a little lateral light, and the other I mounted above my tool chest which gives me some direct horizontal light at my bench, right behind me when I am at my face vise.

Holy cow! What a difference!

The light coming in from the side is essential for seeing all of what is needed. It feels like a real shop now.
I'll admit it does look a little ridiculous with six shop lights in my 100 square foot shop.
I still might get some kind of moveable spotlight someday for close work, but for the meantime it is nice to be able to see what I'm doing for a change.

Back to work:
I was careful to make sure the parts were the same length after cutting the angle.
The feet were a little different, as I wanted to add a little cutout just like The Schwarz did in his article. I measured in about four inches from the end, and started a cut at the same angle as the foot.
Starting the removal of the center cutout to define the table's feet.
Then I made a series of relief cuts here and there to aid in chopping out the waste.
Saw down to the line...

Then bash out the waste.
When doing this, I usually start with the chisel about halfway to my depth mark, and go down halfway or so. Then, halfway again, this time the cut will be a little thinner and a little smoother. Eventually you get down to your line, flip the piece over and do the other side. This avoids blowing out something which can be seen when the foot is standing up.

I smoothed it the best I could with a plane, and didn't worry too much about it being perfect since it isn't a visible surface. However, the tenon now is sticking out, so I marked a pencil line around that and sawed it off.
Don't forget to saw off a little of the tenon, too!
The effect is a little bit more refined, and will hopefully sit sturdy on a floor that may not be perfect.
Finished feet.
Now that I got all that done, I realized I still had some more face planing to do to bring the surfaces of all the beams flush to each other. With these pointy ends, workholding isn't easy.

Or is it?

I just cut a notch in a piece of scrap and used it as a block between my work piece and my planing stop. It worked perfectly.
The 30-second solution.

That is, it took me 30 seconds to make this jig.
If you missed the previous posts on this build, check them out:

Part I
Part II
Part III
Part IV

And come back tomorrow for Part VI.

Wednesday, March 13, 2019

Japanese Toolbox-Style Humidor

The finished humidor.

I've recently found myself with a box of fine cigars. The great thing about cigars is that it's a great thing to do socially. I.e., you sit around with good friends who also smoke cigars, and contemplate how good life is. That's really all you can do while smoking a cigar.
A fine cigar with a great friend in a good beer garden. What could be better?

I've never smoked cigarettes. I'm sorry, but that seems to be a filthy habit. I shake my head when I see smokers outside in the snow getting their nicotine fix. That doesn't look like any fun at all. I have no problem going all winter without a cigar. In fact, I enjoy smoking only once or twice a year these days.

Rant over.

I tried to just put a humidifier in the box my cigars came in, but it turned out to be hard on the box. Those boxes are for presenting cigars, and the joinery isn't up to the demands of the differences in humidity. Plus, I was having a hard time keeping the humidity up to 55%. Good cigars need it a bit more humid, around 70% is ideal.

I looked around and had enough left over laminated pine to make a small Japanese toolbox style container, so that's what I did.
Drilling pilot holes for the nails.
I built a Japanese toolbox once before, and I borrowed heavily from Greg Merritt's fine tutorial. I did this one nearly the same, only to a smaller scale.

Measurements of this box were determined according to how much wood I had available, with the stipulation that it was big enough to put the cigar box I have inside.
I used Roman nails, except on the bottom where I used regular cut nails.
Really, I should have cut dadoes in the wood to house the joints, but I didn't do that on the last one of these I made, and it is holding up fine with heavy loads. This box is just meant to sit and hold dead leaves.

One thing that I changed was the handles. The handles should be solid blocks that go from the outside of the end wall to the very outside edge. I didn't happen to have anything appropriate, so I used 18mm stock and just bumped it out to be flush with the end.
I changed the handle to get away with thinner stock.
I think that this will be no problem for this small box, but if you make a bigger box for heavier loads, it could be worth it to laminate something together to make a solid block for the handle.

I was so proud of my nailing skill up to this point, as I hadn't marred the surface of the box yet. Well, that ended when trying to attach the end caps.
This is the Frenchiest of all French marks. So far, I've left it. Perhaps someday I'll saw it out and attempt a repair. For now, it's just a sign that says, "Hand Made."
Marking where to drill pilot holes.
I think last time I left the cross battens on the lid a little over-length, then trimmed them to perfection after they were nailed on. This time I cut them to length first, and struggled getting everything lined up. Eventually I got there.

Since this is not a work box, but something that will sit on furniture, I needed a way to keep the nails on the bottom from scratching whatever it is sitting on. I happened to have a thin piece of scrap sycamore, so I ripped it in half and glued the strips to the bottom. These will keep the nails away from the surface of whatever it sits on without looking like I added feet.
My clever feet.
It turned out kind of cute, I think. The Frau thinks the lid looks like the letter "N," which is the initial of her last name. Don't be surprised if this humidor eventually turns into a jewelry box.
The little one next to it's older brother.
These two boxes are made of the same wood. The older one has about nine months worth of sunshine which darkened it considerably. Neither of them has any finish at all, other than planed surfaces and a bit of polissoiring. After chamfering off all of the sharp edges, it is done.
Cigars go in there.
I have no Spanish cedar here to line it with, but I do in Munich. Someday it will get a proper lining to make the cigars happy. For now, I'll just leave the whole box in the bottom and hope the humidity doesn't cause the lid to swell shut.

Tonight I leave for a short trip to Munich. That means more work on the trestle table. This was a good warm-up. Stay tuned!

Sunday, January 20, 2019

Different Linseed Oils Tested - Surprising Results!

I love boiled linseed oil (BLO) as a finish. Also paste wax. For me, I finish 90% of all my projects with one or the other, or both.

Over the years, I've tried several different kinds, with the exception being raw linseed oil. I've never used it as a regular finish. It's time to put them to a head to head test.
The contenders.
For this test I used four different batches of oil:
  1. raw linseed oil 
  2. Off-the-shelf BLO
  3. Home-refined linseed oil - batch 1
  4. Home-refined linseed oil - batch 2 (from the previous post)
Test material is some brown oak scrap.
To test these finishes I used some scrap brown oak I had laying around. Brown oak reacts very well with BLO, so I knew the finish would be dramatic as opposed to using something like maple, which doesn't darken as much with BLO.

I took a single stick of brown oak and cut it into four pieces, so they all should be very similar. After cutting it and thinking some more, I decided I needed one more piece as a control. I got another piece from a second stick of brown oak originating from the same tree, only this one is a bit more quarter sawn than the others. I don't think this affected the results much.

First, I should explain how I apply a BLO finish, which may or may not be how you do it. I see some people really take care in applying it, using many coats and sanding between coats.

Not me.

Normally all I do is slather a bunch of oil on the wood with a rag or a paintbrush, or whatever is handy. I wait ten or fifteen minutes, then I wipe off the excess and buff it out with a clean rag.

It's not often I use more than one coat this way, unless there are obvious dry spots. Usually, after several months, the oil finish starts to get a bit dingy looking, and a fresh coat of oil applied the same way freshens it up.

For this test, I decided to apply one kind of oil on each of four different scraps, front and back. I then waited a day or two and applied another coat, just to make sure everything was applied nice and even.
The first coat of oil absorbing into the wood.
Here is what I expected to happen with this test:
  1. All of the test pieces would eventually look very similar.
  2. The raw linseed oil would take much longer to dry.
  3. The store-bought BLO would look like an inferior finish.
  4. My home-made versions would be clearly superior in every way.
Let's see if my expectations are reality.
I honestly can't see the difference after the first coat.
I expected all of the finishes to look about the same. What I didn't expect was that all four of them were dry enough to move onto the next step at about the same time. I've always accepted what I've read about raw linseed oil taking up to 30 days to cure. My experience here is that while the store-bought BLO was dry to the touch after buffing the fastest, the others were dry to the touch only a matter of a few minutes later.

This I didn't expect at all.
My home-made paste wax.
I also made some paste wax. I used one part beeswax and three parts of my original home-refined linseed oil, less 10% which I replaced with orange oil to make it smell nice.

My plan with the wax was to leave one side of the test pieces finished with only the linseed oil, except for test piece #5, which is left in the white.

The other side of all five sticks would get three applications of my paste wax. I apply a light coat of wax, wait about 15 minutes, then buff it off with a clean cloth.
The sticks with the unwaxed sides up.

Closer view of the BLO-only sides. They all look the same, except the unfinished one.
The wax went on beautifully. My only complaint about the wax is that it got a bit too runny for my taste as I was applying it. For the last application, I added 1% carnauba wax to my recipe which firmed it up nicely. Next time I might try 2%.

I applied the three coats of wax and left a day or two for the wax to cure between coats. I was a bit surprised that the wax darkened the un-BLO-ed piece nearly as dark as the others. Giving it some thought, it makes sense because most of the paste wax is my home-refined linseed oil.
All five pieces with the oiled and waxed sides showing.
The finish with the wax looks great, and feels very smooth, and has a beautiful soft matte sheen. The oiled-only side looks great, too, but feels a bit more like bare wood.
Close-up of the oiled and waxed sides.
To most clearly see the differences, I took some close-ups.
Home-refined oil #2 and wax on the left, wax only on the right.

Home-refined oil #2 without wax on the left, unfinished wood on the right.
What did I get out of this test?

I spent a lot of time and effort making my home-refined oil, and raw linseed oil doesn't take significantly longer to dry on wood.


Clearly, I'll have to use raw linseed oil a lot more in the future to see if it really is this easy.

I  used a high-quality raw linseed oil with no additives. It is the same thing as flax-seed oil, if you'd rather get it at the health food store.

All of the finishes look pretty close to the same. If this is the only concern of yours, I'd go for the big-box BLO. The other oils are much nicer to apply and use, because they don't smell of artificial chemical dryers that make BLO stink. After a few days of air, the finish will completely cure and be odorless.

If you are worried about a food-safe finish, the natural oils probably all will be safe. However, Bob Flexner says that any finish is food-safe once it's cured. I have no problem using BLO on a cutting board, but you might be more picky than me.

Another bit of information I've found out since my last post, is that one woodworker used a refining process similar to mine for his raw linseed oil, but only left it to cure in the sun for one day, rather than all the months that I did. A super clear version of linseed oil might be desireable for painting, but perhaps it isn't as valuable of a quality for a wood finish. My next batch of home-refined oil will reflect this.

But first, I'm going to find out if raw linseed oil will work for me. That way, I can get all the benefits right out of the jug it came in.

If you have experience with BLO, sun-bleached linseed oil, raw linseed oil, stand oil, or something like that, I'd love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Sunday, January 6, 2019

Making My Own Cold Bleached Linseed Oil: Part II

About two years ago I wrote on this blog about an experiment refining my own raw linseed oil. This post generated more feedback than any other I've done. It's weird that I haven't written about this stuff since.
Today I bottled up what I made in my second batch that I started about a year ago.
Take your pick: a Maß or a caña.
I was able to get about two and a half liters of the finest BLO type finish I've ever used. I love this stuff because it doesn't smell like chemicals (but it does smell like the Mediterranean Sea), It covers wood nicely, and it dries quickly (and then is odorless).

I think a better name for this stuff should be: Refined Linseed Oil. It's great that it can be done at home.

This time I did things only a little differently. I started by buying a five liter jug of raw linseed oil (good stuff from a boutique shop). I couldn't find the lid to the big jar I used last time, so I went and bought three more.

I bought plastic ones because they were cheaper. This was a mistake. It worked out alright, but I was continually worried that they would come apart while shaking, and there was indeed some leaking. Next time I'll make sure to use glass jars.
Plastic jugs for refining the oil this time. Do yourself a favor and use glass jugs.
Just so you can see the difference, here is a picture of the stuff I made last time next to the jug of raw linseed oil.
Refined vs. raw.
Last time I went to collect sea water and sand from the beach when it was a bit stormy. This time I got some water and sand that was much cleaner to start with. These materials are easier to clean before starting the refining process, and the final product smells only a little like the Med, as opposed to smelling like sludge water from the harbor.
These raw materials were far superior to what I used last time.
A bit of sand in the bottom of each jug, a liter of seawater and a liter of linseed oil in each jar. Shake like crazy and wait. Plus, I still have about two liters of raw linseed oil to make some more.
Freshly shaken mixture.
After a while you can see the oil floating to the top, above a layer of fat that we are refining out of the oil. The clear stuff is seawater and there is sand on the bottom.
After an hour or two.
This time I left each iteration to rest a day or two. You can clearly see the layers in this photo.
A day or two later.
Here's an interesting photo: It shows how quickly things start to work. The one on the right I haven't shaken yet, the one on the left was shaken and rested about five minutes, and the one in the middle I have just finished shaking. I think this was after the first shaking, I racked off the oil on top and mixed it with plain seawater - no sand.
Different stages.
After doing this for a few weeks (and couldn't be bothered doing it any more), I put the resulting oil in glass jars and put them in a sunny room where they wouldn't be bothered. They stayed here for about ten months. I left the lids off completely for a few weeks, then just rested them on top to help keep debris out.
Let's wait for the sun to do it's part.
The idea is sunlight does the last part of the process, which is to make the oil lighter in color. I think if all the fat is rendered out of the oil, the sun will eventually turn the oil colorless. The color I am at is just fine for woodworking, artists making oil paints might want it a bit clearer.

It could also be that the area I put the jars didn't get quite enough direct sunlight. The sun shines in that window only a few hours every morning.

Once I collected the jars from their resting space, I filtered out any debris that was in the jars. I just ran the liquid through a clean shop towel, and in about ten minutes it was all done.
Straining debris from the jars of oil.
Much of the debris in the oil already collected on the bottom of the glass jars, and since I poured the oil out as gently as I could, it stayed there.
It looks like Weinstein - the debris that is sometimes at the end of a bottle of wine..
I decided to keep the oil in plastic jars that I bought especially for this purpose, because they do better on the bounce test with the tile floors in our apartment. I'll keep an eye on them and if the plastic starts to degrade I'll switch them over to metal or glass containers.

It was an accident that they now look like the urinalysis cups that we used when I was in the Army.
New batch on the left, old batch on the right.
I have enough raw linseed oil left over for one more batch.

I really like this stuff. It has no harmful chemical driers, and only smells like seawater for a day or two after it is applied to a wood project. So far, it works just like BLO, without the toxic smell. With the exception that I haven't come across the need to apply more than one coat.

One might find it a bit thick, but you can mix it with turpentine to thin it out a bit, something I've done with BLO before on first coats. Usually, however, I just slather it on my project, wait a few minutes, then buff it out with a dry cloth.

The first batch I have been using by itself, and I plan to experiment with this batch mixing it with some other things to try some other finish recipes that usually include BLO. I'll report how it works.

I would certainly recommend this to anyone who wishes to try something a bit different. I think the resulting oil is of higher quality, and a lot safer and pleasant to use. The process is simple and easy, but it does take some time and patience.

If you have no access to sea water, I'm pretty sure a heaping tablespoon or two of table salt in tapwater would work just fine. I've also been told an alternative to clean sand is kitty litter. Perhaps I'll try it this way someday when I get back to Munich.

Check out my original post for more info on the process.

Finally, some of the comments on the last post suggested a much simpler alternative to this process is just to buy plain old stand oil. I'm told it is a similar product. I promise I'll get some and do a comparison one of these days. I've also been told that it is a bit different than regular stand oil, and is instead comparable to this oil (the German translates literally to "sun-thickened linseed oil), which is 234 Euros per liter at the time of this writing. For obvious reasons, I'll not be comparing my oil to this stuff.

Give this a go if you'd like to try it. I'm sure you'll be happy with the results. If you do, please let me know your experiences with it.