Saturday, March 30, 2013

DVD Review: Shaker Side Table with Christopher Schwarz

In short, this is perhaps the most important woodworking DVD I have seen.

This is more than just a project DVD.  If you have no intention of making this table, you still should watch it.


Because in this DVD CS discusses and demonstrates hand joinery techniques for nearly any kind of carcass furniture.

I think one should build this table if for no other reason than it is a perfect exercise for building your first piece of furniture entirely with hand tools.

Let's look a little closer at this DVD:

The price from Lie Neilsen is $40.  This seems like a lot for a DVD, as you can get the latest Harry Potter movie on Amazon for $6.49.  If you want a good afternoon of entertainment for cheap, go with Harry Potter.  If you want to learn to build furniture by hand, CS's DVD is a fantastic bargain.

This DVD is 269 minutes in length.  That is almost four and a half hours!  Plus, the DVD contains some other information you can access on your computer such as Sketch Up plans.

I found I couldn't absorb this whole thing at once.  It took me two days to get through it.

Here is the important bit:  I have been to a few of CS's classes, and the information he shares here is exactly the same.  It is delivered in the same easy to absorb language.  There are not a lot of teachers who can make the transition to teaching on a video without boring you to death or skipping all the important parts.

In this DVD, the shaker side table isn't the most important part.  It is the delivery of the techniques used on all of the different processes.  This small project is full of them.  You'll get to see CS show you how to do the following:
  • Choose lumber and orient it for this project for beauty and ease of hand tooling
  • process stock by hand including gluing up a panel and flattening a wide piece for the top
  • taper table legs with a hand plane
  • mortise and tenon joinery
  • dovetails, both through and half blind
  • drawer construction and fitting
  • chamfers
  • layout of all joints and cuts
  • finish the piece
  • a lot more that doesn't come instantly to mind
What's more, you get to see all of this in real time.  Nearly every operation and joint is executed live, with his commentary just like you would get in a class.

Chris does make everything look easy.  However, he explains it in his way which I know he does to give woodworkers the best likelihood of achieving success.  In other words, there are many different ways to cut a joint, but he chooses methods designed for ease of learning.

I would also like to give credit to Tom Lie-Nielsen for producing this video.  As the head dude in charge of his tool company, it is obvious he gave Chris free reign to do everything his own way.  Chris uses the Lie-Neilsen tools in this video from his own working kit, but there are some other companies whose tools make an appearance in this video.  For example, Chris spends a good bit of time demonstrating and discussing the Veritas Skew Rabbet Plane.  How many other CEOs would produce a video where the star advocated the use of the product of a competitor?  The answer, of course, is that what is good for woodworking in general is good for Lie-Nielsen, as well as all fine tool makers.

If you truly are a hand tool newbie, then this DVD is a great place to start.  The only prerequisite is that  you know how to sharpen your tools.  Chris has two DVDs that cover this really well:  The Last Word on Sharpening, or Handplane Basics.  Either one of these DVDs will show a beginner how to sharpen planes and chisels to the kind of edges that are required for this project.

If you have more projects under your belt than that, I guarantee you that there is something in this DVD that you are ready to hear.

The positives for this DVD in my opinion far outweigh the negatives.  However, in the pursuit of providing full disclosure, there are a few things that might be considered minor drawbacks.  This will seem like nitpicking, which of course it is.

I am not so sure maple was the best choice for this DVD.  Not because it isn't a good wood for this project, but because it doesn't photograph very well.  The beauty of the grain was lost on my TV.  I think perhaps if the cover photo showed the table in cherry or walnut, the spousal unit might be a bit more interested in seeing this project built.  What we as woodworkers can get from this, though, is that maple is not known for being an easy wood for hand tools.  If I can see Chris do it in maple, even I should be able to find success with cherry.

The other bit of nitpicking is Chris uses tools that are his own tool chest.  Since this is a great project for a beginner, some alternate methods with a more basic tool kit might be discussed.  For example, in his book the ATC, a jointer and a smooth plane are on his nice-to-have list.  He doesn't distinguish this in the video, nor demonstrate how one might approach this project without them.  On the other hand, it is nice to see these tools demonstrated being used how they are meant to be used. 

In conclusion, I think every woodworker would benefit from this project video.  Even if you are a power-tool only woodworker, making this table entirely by hand might show you some methods you might choose to add to your bag of tricks.  If you don't want to build this particular table, you can use the same methods and joints for practically any other project that is on your to-do list.

Me, I'll be building this table as soon as I am done with the project I am currently working on.

Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Ode to Canadians

I have to say that I love it when a discussion goes on about something that I post.

A rather lively discussion is going on now about my recent panel experiment over at the Canadian Woodworking Forum.  Check out their site!  It looks like a lively group of woodworkers.

Being that I'm not Canadian, I thought I would take a little bit of time to respond on my blog, rather than on their forum.  This way, y'all (that is, all of you non-Canadians) can benefit from the discussion.

One forum member is thinking of building a coffee table, followed by a dining table, and became concerned when he saw what happened to the panels I glued up.

Here are a few points about my experiment, and why I think what happened, happened.

I glued two panels up using materials and techniques that supposedly gave this project very little chance to avoid failure.  The reason I did two, was so I could show the difference in a cross grain batten with glue, and one without.

Don't focus so much on the one that failed, but look at the other.  It did not.  In fact, it remained plenty flat for a table top while the glued one turned into a banana.  That cross grain batten turned out to be plenty strong enough to keep the panel in it's intended position.  Using home center lumber, I wasn't sure this panel would not also fail.

The other thing of note is the panel that failed cupped in a direction opposite what it "should" have.  Flat sawn boards typically cup towards the bark side of the tree.  This panel cupped toward the heart side.  Why?  Because the batten is trying to keep that side of the panel longer than it wants to be.  While the panel dries out, it shrinks in width, but the glued batten is keeping one side of the panel the original lenght.  The panel has no other option.  I was hoping for it to split and crack, but I think it did not because the batten was attached to the outside of the panel, as opposed to be on the inside like a sliding dovetail.

Another method you could use to keep a panel flat is to use quarter sawn lumber.  Most of the movement on a panel glued this way would be in the thickness of the panel, so cupping and stretching are less likely (but not eliminated).

I did not finish these pieces.  I completed them in one day.  I subscribe to the theory that finish of any kind will not stop wood movement, only slow it down a bit.  I did not test this, so one might look at this claim with more scepticism.

At the end of the day, there is a lot of mis-information out there regarding woodworking.  One should occasionally test things to find out if they are true.

Me, I'll always glue up panels with the rings going the same direction, as a simple batten is strong enough to prevent warping.

Original post
Final post

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Let's Blow Up a Panel - Part III: Conclusion

It has only been three weeks since I constructed these two panels, and I have successfully screwed one of them up so bad that it could never possibly be used in a furniture project.

Let me back up a bit, just in case you haven't been following this series.

An aspiring woodworker posted a photo on wondering why the top on the table he constructed cracked and split.  I had a similar experience with one of my first projects, too.  There were a broad spectrum of comments with well meaning woodworkers giving advice.  I disagreed with most of them, as I thought the only thing he did wrong was to glue his cross-batten that was intended to keep the table top flat.

I decided to prove the point that I would construct two identical panels.  One was a control, the other is my attempt to recreate the failure.

I decided to go all out to try to prove this point.  I used fresh construction lumber straight from the home center.  Lumber from the home center is notorious for not being as dry as it should be.  Using this stuff without letting it acclimate is a recipe for a lot of wood movement.

These boards were 1" x 6" pieces of some mystery wood - probably spruce or fir.  I endeavored to pick boards that were straight along their length, but I purposely picked flat sawn stock rather than the much more stable quarter sawn variety. 

I oriented the boards so the center of the tree was facing up on all of the boards.  It is frequently stated (and indeed one of the commenters of the reddit post) that alternating growth rings can result in a more stable panel.  A flat sawn board will cup toward the bark side of the tree.  The thought is that alternating growth rings can cancel out the overall effect.

Instead of using a sliding dovetail for the batten like the reddit poster, I only screwed each batten in with three wood screws.  I drilled pilot holes, and I elongated the holes on the outside of the battens to help allow for wood movement.  I used screws because I have used this technique with success on several projects that I have in my home.  Plus, since this isn't a project that will turn into a real piece of furniture, I wanted something quick that wouldn't take too much time away from other projects.

One of the panels got a healthy amount of PVA wood glue on the battens.

So, here is the result after only three weeks.

The bottom panel is the one that received no glue.  As you can see, it is still as flat as the day I constructed it. 

The top panel looks like a banana.  I was hoping for cracks, splits, and general mayhem, but this failure is good enough.  I think it is clear that no one would want to use this as a table top, a door, or a lid to a chest.  If you hold the edges of the two panels together, the gap on the other side is almost an inch and a half (3.7 cm).

In a way, the real gem of information in this experiment is with the panel that stayed flat.  I found the fact that this panel turned out fine to be revealing.  After using every supposed technique to ruin this panel, it is fine.  I think in the future I won't stress about potential glue up failures as long as there is a good cross batten attached with thought to wood movement included.

All of the boards were joined with the inside of the tree facing up.
There are many ways to stabilize a panel besides using the screwed on batten like I did.  This method is probably the weakest of all, yet it worked perfectly on an obviously difficult piece.  I am sure results would be similar with sliding dovetails, breadboard ends, or any other traditional method.

One other thing I wanted to test was how a panel with no battens would hold up.  Alas, as I processed this lumber with a hand plane, I couldn't bear to plane up a third panel for this test.  If I had, I would suspect that this panel would have warped, too, but toward the bark side of the tree.

It is interesting to look at the warped panel for some information.  The curve of the warp actually goes toward the heart side of the tree.  Why did it warp this way, do you ask?  The answer is because wood is incredibly strong along it's length.  When I glued the batten on, it locked that side of the panel to a fixed width.  Since wood moves no matter what, something has to give.

In this particular case, when the wood in the panel dried out as it acclimated to my shop, the panel actually got narrower across it's width.  Since the batten was forcing that side of the panel to remain it's original width, the panel had no choice but to curve away from the batten.  This force is much stronger than what is needed to keep the panel from warping.  In fact, as we can see from the other panel, the flimsy offcut used as a batten is all that is required.

I'll keep these panels around for a while to see what they do over the long term.  I might get lucky and get an even more spectacular failure.  For now, I'll call this experiment a success, as the failure obtained is more than enough to ruin any project.

What I have learned is:
  • Wood will do what it is going to do.  Expansion/contraction can not be stopped.
  • A small strip of wood the same thickness of the panel is plenty strong to prevent warping.
  • Alternating growth rings is not necessary when using a cross batten.
  • Processing stock by hand for a project intended to fail makes your arms tired.
I'd love to hear your experiences with gluing up panels.  Please leave a comment!

The first two posts in this series are here:

Part I
Part II

Monday, March 18, 2013

Money Can't Buy You Skill

Woopst!  I forgot my camera in Garmisch yesterday.  That means my ability to use the written word to paint a picture in your head is going to have to be good enough for now.

I thought I would do another experiment today.  As if I haven't beaten the dead horse to death until it was dead regarding my lap-joint try square, I decided to make four more today.

An old photo, as my camera is not here today.

Now that I think I am getting pretty good at making these lap joints using only a Ryoba saw and a pair of chisels, I figure I can show you what having the use of the tool porn in my chest can do.

I first squared up all of the stock for these four squares using some rift-sawn oak for the blades and some not-ideal-but-pretty-with-knots-in-it walnut for the stocks.  I noticed after I completed this step that I did everything up to this point with my Basic Tool Kit (BTK, a jack plane, ryoba saw, pair of chisels, and some marking tools).


I guess since I have been using these tools almost exclusively lately, I am really getting to know them and like them.

I laid out all of the joints, and then set the timer.

With my BTK, two squares took 49 minutes to cut the two lap joints.

For the other pair, I used a Spear & Jackson dovetail saw, a BadAxe crosscut sash saw, a Lie-Nielsen router plane and a Lie-Nielsen large shoulder plane.  These two squares took 45 minutes to cut the joinery.

I'm also not sure that they look any better.

At first glance, adding $700-$800 worth of tools to the mix gained me a whopping four minutes.

I think, however, that this really wasn't a fair test.

I noticed that while I was perfectly comfortable cutting the joints with my BTK (having made several of these exact same try squares over the last few weeks), that this is the first time I have used my 'regular' tool kit to make this square.  Every time there was something to fix, I wanted to go back to my chisel.  Trimming the shoulders of the joint was cumbersome, because I wasn't used to doing it that way.  I could get the shoulder nice and flat, but when I test fit the joint, it was way off square and took quite a bit of fiddling with before everything was nice and square.

Today, I found out that lots of nice tools, even "essential" ones, take some practice to master.  My guess is that in the hands of someone accustomed to using these same tools I have, these two joints probably could be cut and fit in about ten minutes.  That will be my goal.

Pictures of these try squares will be forthcoming, once I get the clamps off and finish them up.  You will be able to see my joinery and the differences between them.

On a related note, I have plenty of try squares for sale!

Thursday, March 14, 2013

I Am a Tool Snob, and You Can Be One, Too!

Some Tool Porn from my chest.
Perhaps we should define this term.

It is often seen on blogs, websites, even woodworking magazines, to refer to someone, in a pejorative manner, who has nice tools.

There was even a recent episode of the Woodwright's Shop where St. Roy jokingly accused The Schwarz of being a tool snob because he had a Spofford brace in his tool chest.

I am not sure where this curious attitude comes from, because most woodworkers would rather use a premium new handplane rather than one of the cheap, Asian knock-offs.

Don't get me wrong, I am 100% in favor of making your dollar go farther, especially in today's economy.

But, I am 200% in favor of passing up buying crappy tools.  To me, crappy tools are those tools which get in the way of pleasant woodworking.  I think many beginners think that it isn't the tool, it is their lack of skill and quit woodworking due to lack of decent tools.

I have an extremely small woodshop.  It is about 10 feet by 12, and contains a lot of household storage.  I simply don't have room for tools that don't earn their keep.

Am I a gazzillionaire that has no where else to blow money than at Lie-Nielsen?  No.  I am a humble public servant with a modest income.

Then how do I have such awesome tools?

I'm glad you asked!

The main trick, is to know what you need.  I operated for a long time buying what I wanted, and wound up with a lot of tools I never used.  Once I read "The Anarchist's Tool Chest" a whole new world was opened up to me.  There are certain tools that are vital and more important than others.

Once I learned this, I was able to begin thinning out the dreck (although I am still working on it).  Also, I came to the realization that a tool that you use every day for the next 40 years becomes fairly inexpensive, even at full retail.  Paul Sellers calls them "Lifetime Tools."  $300 is a lot of money for a brand new plane compared to five bucks for a rusted junker you found at your neighbor's garage sale.  That is, until you try to use them.

If it really is a tool you use often, it works out to pennies a day.

The trap is the double ended side rabbet gizmo you think you couldn't possibly cut sliding dovetails without.  I have a tool like this that i have never used.  That one is expensive.  I want to use tools, not find room to store a collection.

Here are a couple tips on getting some fantastic tools in your tool chest:

1)  Don't compromise.  Don't get an Anant plane because the catalog shows it being 1/5 the price of the Lee Valley that you really want.  You will upgrade at some point.  Save money by doing it from the start.  Worst comes to worst, you can sell a good plane on eBay for nearly the price you paid for it.

2)  Stick to a budget.  Many of the tools I have I purchased with my "tool fund."  This is a small amount of money (agreed upon by SWMBO) set aside every month for the purchase of new tools.  I might have to save up for a year for a new plane, but that is OK.  Once I have it, it will likely stay in my chest forever.

3)  Old, used tools are OK.  In fact, many old tools are better than what is offered today.  I dare you to find a new brace and a set of bits that can touch mine, which only cost a few bucks from a used tool dealer.  A reputable dealer will even help you weed out the good stuff.  You might need to learn a bit to rehab an old tool, but for the most part it is worth it.  There is a lot of great advice on the internet regarding this.

4)  Make your own tools.  You are a woodworker, after all.  Marking and measuring tools, planes, jigs, workholding (including a proper workbench).  All these are things that can be bought, but can be made often just as well.

5)  Learn how to cut joints with the tools you already have.  Perhaps this is one of the more important of all.  Don't think that you need a mortise chisel and a router plane to cut a mortise and tenon.  Many oldtimers made fine furniture with only a chisel and a saw.  You can, too.  You might find that you make these joints so seldom you might not need those tools.  Or, you might make so many that you can justify the expense.  Your choice, but the basic skill is important for you to learn. 

In fact, this all goes really well with what I call the Basic Tool Kit.  Click on the label at the end of this post if you are intrigued.  There are a few tools that you need to get started.  From there, you might be able to better determine the next tool you need.

Whatever you do, make sure you get a tool you won't have to replace.  It is cheaper in the long run that way, and you will have the benefit of those nice tools not getting in the way of enjoyment from your woodwork.

Whether you spend lots of money on your tools or not, be a Tool Snob and make sure the tools you buy will stay in your chest forever.

Monday, March 11, 2013

Let's Blow Up a Panel - Part II: 7 Days Progress

Still waiting for the good stuff.
It's only been seven days since I built the two panels for my experiment.  You can read the original post here.

To summarize, I made two nearly identical panels out of home-center construction lumber for demonstration purposes.  They were about the same size, and used cross battens screwed with three screws each for stability.

The only difference was on one of the panels I also applied glue to the cross-grain battens.

OK, there were a couple other differences, too.  I got lazy after planing all of the rough stock for the first panel by hand.  The second panel didn't wind up quite as flat due to my lack of diligence.  I glued the first panel, the good one.  The cross battens actually flattened the second panel a bit.  I do not expect this to have much of an effect on the results.

So, here is some photographic evidence after only seven days:

The glued and screwed panel.  Notice the daylight under either end.
Glued panel on the left.
The non-glued panel still looks pretty straight.
While the panel without glue seems pretty stable for the moment, the other panel is starting to go crazy.  If I were using this panel on a project, I would have to throw it away and start over.  It is already starting to get a fairly pronounced cup across the width of the panel.  This cup is visible without holding a straightedge up to it.

Interestingly enough, the cup goes the opposite direction it should:  i.e. it is cupping toward the center of the tree.  Normally, lumber left on it's own will cup the other way.  This panel is showing the stunning strength of the long-grain battens.  They are staying the same length, while the panel is shrinking and drying out along the width.  Because it is glued on, the panel can not cup the normal way.  But, it also can not shrink in width where it is in contact with the battens.  Therefore, the battens are forcing the panel to cup to the other side.

Notice the non-glued panel.  This batten with only three screws is plenty strong to keep everything where it should be.  While the panel shrinks, the screws give a little due to the elongated pilot holes that were drilled in the battens, preventing the kind of stresses seen on the other panel.  Also of note, the battens are made of the same 7/8" spruce that the panels are.  Not known for being the world's strongest wood, it nevertheless is plenty strong to keep this panel mostly flat.

Amazing, considering that this is crappy construction lumber from the home center.

I'll keep posting the results of this test until something spectacular happens.  I would think over the course of a month or two that I should get some interesting splits or other wood breakage.  I can't wait.

I would expect the non-glued panel to remain looking exactly as it does now.  In fact, I have some examples from previous builds that should prove this point.

First, is the underside of the panel on a coffee table I built about five years ago.  This panel was constructed exactly in the same manner as the panels in this experiment.
Maple and glass coffee table.

The second shows the lid of a blanket chest that is more than ten years old.

Walnut blanket chest.
Both of these examples from my earlier work have remained as flat as the day I put them together.  They both also are constructed with only three screws in each cross-batten and no glue.

The moral of the story?  Don't be afraid of wide panels for table tops or the like.  Keeping them flat is easy.  There are many ways to join battens to the panel, such as with sliding dovetails, breadboard ends,  etc.  If this panel can stay flat with only three screws, any other method should also work.

As long as it isn't glued.

Friday, March 8, 2013

The sea chest is signing off

I have been contributing to this blog for about a month or so, and I have decided that I might as well start my own blog.

So the adventurous build of a canted sea chest will continue on my own blog:

I hope that some of you will pay the blog a visit and follow the build.

I can't promise as good a blog as Brians, but I'll try to the best of my abilities.

Thanks a lot Brian, for letting me use you blog, and for getting me started on this 21st century media.

Best regards

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Processing Stock By Hand: Reference Surfaces

Last weekend I had the opportunity to play with my local big band, the oTunes.  This gig was fantastic!  It was the culmination of years of rehearsals, recruiting musicians, and... well, ok, some adult beverages have been consumed as well.

I love playing trombone because it another way for me to express my creativity.  Funny enough, that is the exact same reason I do woodworking.

In fact, one could look at a lot of similarities between musicianship and woodworking.  They both take some practice, and they both take mastery of the fundamentals before you can make something worth listening to/looking at.

If a big band concert is like putting the last coat of finish on your latest work, then processing stock is like taking the trombone out of the case and putting it together.

Gig, from my point of view.
I mentioned in yesterday's post that there were a few steps to processing lumber by hand.
  1. First plane one face flat.  This is your reference face.
  2. Plane one edge square to the reference face.  This is your reference edge.  All other measurements are gauged off of these two references.
  3. Cut to length
  4. Rip board to width.
  5. Plane to thickness.
You can change up the order a bit, as long as you first do a reference surface, and  make your measurements from that reference.

Perhaps I should talk a little bit of what I mean by a reference surface.  Ideally, a reference surface should be a face or an edge of a board that is perfectly flat, free from bow, cup, or twist, and as smooth as you can make it.  In reality, it should be as perfect as you can make it.  Or, at least as perfect as is needed for your project.

It might seem like I am lowering standards a bit, but think about it, do you really need to work to the same standards if you are making a chipendale highboy as you would for a shop cabinet?  There comes a point when overkill is way too much done over again and again.

Let's do an example.  If you haven't done this before, I would recommend doing it on a small board first.  A good project could be a try square.  There are only two parts, and they are both small.

Take your rough stock that is somewhere around the size you need, and plane one face flat.  Once you get the saw marks off of it and the surface looks finished, it is time to check it.  If it is a small piece, I check it against the sole of my plane, which is flat.  If it is any larger than that, I'll check it with a straightedge.  If there is daylight under the middle, I know I need to keep planing.  Chances are better that there is daylight on the ends.  This means that I have to remove a hump.

To remove a hump, I start my plane with the handle lifted up, so the blade doesn't engage the wood.  As I push forward, I lower the plane until I start to cut, and before I get to the end of the board I lift the back of the plane up again.  All while making a smooth forward motion.

This takes wood out of the middle without also removing wood from the ends.  After a couple of these, I will clean up the surface with a few full length strokes.

Check again with your straight edge.  Repeat the above step if you need to, until the board is flat on it's length.

Next, I turn the straight edge to check the width.  If there is daylight here, do some targeted planing until it is flat in this direction, too.  The edge of my jackplane makes a fine straightedge for this job.

Once your board is flat on it's length and width, it is good, right?


Neither of these tests will detect twist.  Twist happens when the board is twisted along it's length.  This is easy to see with winding sticks.  Winding sticks are just a pair of sticks that have parallel edges.  You lay them across the grain of the board you are planing, one at each end.  Sight from a few feet away, and you will be able to see clearly if there is any twist.

If there is, plane from high corner to high corner a few swipes.  Then clean the board up, and check again.  Once your twist is out, check along the length and width again to ensure you didn't mess anything up.  If you did, fix it now, or you'll be sorry later.  A great project starts with some attention here.

Now, you can draw a swirly mark on like we did yesterday.

Once your reference face is done, you can start on your reference edge.  Do all of the same steps here as you did on the face, and you'll be good.   Of course, you also need to check that it is perfectly 90 degrees to the face.

If it is not square, use your fingers as a fence and take a shaving half of the width of the edge all the way down.  Follow this by a regular, full width edge shaving.  Repeat until your edge is perfect.

Reference face and edge.
This is a process that overwhelmed me at first, because I was used to being able to flatten a face and an edge on the machine jointer, followed by running through the planer.  While this process is slower, you do wind up with surfaces practically ready for finish.  Boards processed this way also give a certain something to a piece that one can't identify when looking at the completed piece.

The good news is that this is a skill that gets easier and easier the more you do it.

Next up, what to do with the other surfaces.

ps:  by the way, this is much easier if you have stock that is relatively straight and flat to start with.  So, if you weren't too picky at the lumber yard before, you will be next time!

Sea chest build part 3

Once the panels were flat, I cut them to size using the handheld circular saw.
I eventually opted for the canted design, also known as a "tumblehome chest". I was afraid, that I I made a square design, I would just make a small version of the ATC.

I found a random orbit sander in the deck workshop, so I borrowed it, and sanded the inside of the panels lightly. The grain pattern on some of the boards is too wild for me to plane without a really sharp plane.

I started dovetailing, and the hacksaw works really well as a dovetail saw, especially since the wood is very hard.
I sawed the pins on both the endboards, and started remowing the waste with a chisel. with a little patience and some grinding to keep the edge OK, I manged to remove the waste from one complete set of pins before it was time to call it a day.

Making nails.
We do have some ordinary nails onboard, but after researching, I found out that some sea chests were made using copper nails, since they wouldn't rust.
We don't have any copper nails onboard. We don't have any solid core copper wire either.
But I found some old high temperature resistant single core wires that looks like it is a brass alloy.
They were in the "claims" box i.e. on the way to the garbage bin.
I rescued those and set out making my own nails for the project.

From left to right:
  • The high temperature cable (it was originally used for electric connection below the cooking range in the galley)
  • The disassembled cable, with small porcelain beads on the side.
  • A small piece that has been straigtened out and lightly sanded to clean the surface.
  • A 3.2 cm piece of wire before processing.
  • A nail with the head fabricated, the head is formed using the ball end of the hammer.
  • A nail that has been pressed between the jaws of the vise to give some structure.
  • The nail machine (a piece of ironbar with a 2 mm hole drilled to the depth of 3 cm), note there is a nail which is inserted in the hole.
The reason I give the nail some structure is because the wood is so hard, that the pilot hole has to be the same size as the nail, and for the entire length. So the structure will provide the nails with a lot more holding power. But we will see how it works once we get to attaching the bottom.

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Processing Stock by Hand: Marking References

Processing stock by hand is a lot like visiting the dentist:  It's no fun, but every once in a while you have to suck it up and do it because there is no alternative.

I started a new project today (rather than finish one of the dozens of projects it seems I have started), and needed to square up a piece of maple that was rolling around in my scrap bin.

An old maple off-cut.

Close up of the rough stock.

I have noticed one thing that is different than processing stock with machines.  The smaller the piece, the easier it is.  Most wouldn't think of running a six inch long piece through a planer, but doing it by hand is pretty easy.

Today I would like to cover a small part of this process, marking references.  Remember the steps for processing a board:
  1. First plane one face flat.  This is your reference face.
  2. plane one edge square to the reference face.  This is your reference edge.  All other measurements are gauged off of these two references.
  3. Cut to length
  4. Rip board to width.
  5. Plane to thickness.
 Easier said than done.

Actually, it is really pretty easy.  Depending on the size and species of the wood, you may or may not break out a sweat.

The order of the last three steps isn't all that important, as long as you do the first two steps before the last three.  I usually cross cut before ripping because it makes less wood to rip.  I then thickness after cross cutting and ripping, becuase I will have to plane the smallest amount that way.  However, sometimes there are situations in which you may want to do it different.

One of the most important things in this process is to mark your references.  If you lose track of where your reference face is, you may wind up with gaps in your work that could have otherwise been avoided.  The accuracy of all other cuts might not have to be too accurate.  For example, if you are making a decorative box, you want your reference faces on the inside so the joinery fits the way you want.  The outsides do not have to be all that square at all.  If you are making a drawer, the outsides must be nearly as accurate as the inside faces so it will ride in the drawer guides smoothly.  In this case, your secondary faces need to be extremely accurate.

So, how did the old-timers do it?  Here is a way that I first found in Ian Kirby's book, The Complete Dovetail.  Mark your reference face with the following squiggly line, ensuring your mark finishes with your pencil going off of the edge:

First planed face marked.
Then, choose your reference edge and plane it flat.  Here, you must be careful to measure this edge at exactly 90 degrees to the face.  I really like my Starrett 6" combination square for this, but any square will do.  Assuming, of course, that it is truly 90 degrees.

Once your edge is planed up and perfectly square to the face, mark it with a little "v" that meets the mark on the reference face like this:

Reference edge on top, reference face toward the camera.
I used a marker today to make it easy to photograph.  Normally I do this with a pencil.  If the reference surfaces also happen to be show surfaces, I make sure they are nice and smooth before marking them, and mark them lightly as I hope not to need to plane or sand this surface again before applying finish.

Trust me, this will save your bacon.  One gets so used to marking lumber this way, it becomes second nature.  Seeing those surfaces marked so clearly ensures that mistakes with reference surfaces just don't happen.

When we process lumber with machines, the tolerances are good enough that we do not have to pay too much attention to reference surfaces.

Hand tools, are another story.  Perfection in hand work starts with approaching perfection in making secondary surfaces parallel to your reference face and edge.  There is absolutely no way to approach this perfection if you forget which face you started with.

Monday, March 4, 2013

Experiment: Let's Blow Up a Panel!

Today, I made something that I fully intend to fail.  In fact, if it works, the failure is a success!

It would be amusing to someday say that at work.

The last couple weeks I have been hanging out at  There is an enourmous woodworking clan there.  Just go to the site and search for "woodworking."

There are a lot of folks out there excited about woodworking, and it seems that hand tool woodworkers are still in the minority.  At least at reddit.

One post really got me thinking, though.  One woodworker built a table, and posted pictures, asking why reddit readers thought that the main panel cracked and split.

You can read the original post here.

Looking at the photos, I immediately recognized the problem, because I learned the exact same lesson the hard way.  During the build, this reader made a panel out of home-center wood, and glued in a sliding dovetail cross-batten.

Wood will move.  If there is something glued cross-grain to a panel, something will break so the wood can move.

I was surprised, however, that there were a plethora of different answers.  There were suggestions from ripping the lumber into narrower pieces before laminating them together, alternating the growth rings up and down, using different species of wood, etc.

So, after putting in my two cents, I decided I would put my money where my mouth is, and attempt to recreate the failure.

I went to the local home center today, and bought some (probably) spruce 1" x 8"s, from the front of the stack.  Construction lumber from the home center is notorious for being high in moisture content, so there should be a pretty dramatic effect.  I bought enough lumber to make two test table tops.  Oh, and on the way to the cashier, I decided to have them cut it all to length on the store's panel saw.  Hey, it's free, and there is no point in doing any more work than necessary for this.

The first panel turned out really nice.  I was careful to plane each board four square, and the glue up went off without a hitch.  But, processing that much lumber by hand is a bit on the tedious side, so I thought I would skip a step for the second panel.  I just jointed the edges and glued it up.

I was right, this was a lot faster, but while it was sitting there in the clamps it dawned on me that every joint was off a degree or two due to the reference faces being rough.  The panel already had a dramatic curve.

I broke it apart, and started again.  This time I tried the best I could to compensate, but it still wasn't as flat as the first one.  But, I think it will still work, so I cleaned it up the best I could.

I didn't want to go through the trouble of cutting sliding dovetails for this useless project, so I decided to screw on the battens.  I have used this technique many times before, and I know it works.

The first panel (the nice one), I glued the battens on and drove three screws.  The second panel, I elongated the screw holes on the outside of the battens, and only screwed them with three screws each.

Each panel has four 15 cm wide boards.  I picked stock that was as evenly flat-sawn as I could find, and I oriented the growth rings so that the show face of both panels shows the interior side of the tree.

My prediction is that over the course of the next few weeks, the panel that I glued the battens on will split, crack, and generally fail.  Hopefully in the most spectacular way possible.  The other panel is my control, and I think it should stay fairly flat.  It might warp some, or it could cup, if the battens aren't strong enough, but there should be minimal cracking.

For this to be a true scientific test, we should do about a dozen of each of these to see if the results are consistent.  Wood, after all, can be unpredictable.  Also, it would be interesting to try some other configurations, i.e. alternating growth rings, bark side up, etc. just to see what these techniques do.  Any takers?  My arms are tired.

Since I used spruce from the home center, I would guess that properly dried wood of quality from a reputable lumber yard would have less dramatic results.  On the other hand, I had a walnut chest lid twist up like a pringle over night when I glued the battens.

Now, we wait.  I'll post the results of this test as soon as something happens.

Sea chest build part 2

The building of the sea chest continues with some stock preparation.

I took the bulk of the thickness of the glued up panels by using an electric plane.
This tool is OK for removing a lot of material, but it is not very good at making a panel flat. So I traversed the panels afterwards using the handplane.
Following a tip from a reader, I tried to put a dab of lapping pase onto a piece of paper, and polished the plane iron with that. That seems to work pretty OK.

In order to keep the panels steady, I use the rubber floor mat, and some planing stops (scrap pieces of wood) that touches the wall.
The wood doesn't plane too well, so I think that I'll end up sanding the chest.

But now the two case sides and one of the ends are finished. The finished thickness of the case sides is 5/8" in one end and 9/16" in the other end. That is OK for me.
The case ends are approximately 5/8" in both ends.

The electric plane really makes a mess, by blowing chips and fine dust all over the workshop. There is a really effective smoke extractor fan in the workshop that could remove the chips. The problem is, it would eject the chips on the deck outside the accomodation. So it is not really an option. So I'll just continue to use a broom.

Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sea chest build part 1

We received stores onboard the other day.
There is nothing unusual in that. It was repacked at the company base and placed on two pallets. A Euro pallet and a single use pallet.
What was a bit unusual, at least for someone like me from Scandinavia, was the fact that the pallet was made out of tropical hardwood.
I forgot to take some pictures before disassembling the pallet, but here is what it is looking like right now. The width varies between 5" to 6.5". The thickness between 3/4" to 5/4".

I am by no means an expert in categorizing exotic woods, so actually I haven't got a clue as to what it is. But maybe I can give a better guess, once the wood is cleaned up a little. I couldn't smell it while I was sawing the pieces to length either.

There are some cracks in the wood, and it differs a lot in thickness and width. But when it is free wood from a pallet you really can't be picky.

My plan is to make a small sea chest, I am not quite sure of the final design yet, but it could either be with canting sides, or like a scaled down version of the Anarchist tool chest. I am limited by the materials, since the length between the holes from nails is approximately 50 cm (20").
I have researched the matter a little bit, and it seems, that the European way is with square sides, and the American way is canted. But both types can be found on both sides af the Atlantic.

I would like to ask for your opinion: Would you prefer to see me build a canted sea chest, or a square one?

The first thing that I have to do, is to glue up some wood, and then process the rough stock into something a bit more useable.

At home this wouldn't present a problem, but out here there are some difficulties that need to be overcome.
Here is a list of the tools that I have:
Saw (Bahco multi use).
Hacksaw (for dovetails).
Stanley No3 smoothing plane (a little rusty).
Set of chisels (Irwin/Marples).
Portable circular saw.
Portable electric plane.
Measuring and marking tools for a machine shop.

I haven't got any proper sharpening media for woodworking tools, so I'll have to think of something. yesterday I tried using some valve lapping paste for a chisel, and it seems as if is working OK.

The glue I have is actually a little too old, but I hope that it will work anyway. If not, then I'll try to use either contact glue or some 2 component glue.

One of the few benefits of woodworking in the engine room is that there is a always a nice warm spot for the glue ups. (Here it is on top of our boiler)