Thursday, May 29, 2014

Fine Toolmaking at It's Highest Level

I ended my last shop session with a bit of extra time, so I decided to make a new tool.  I'm officially naming it a "Froe Whacker."

Let the whacking commence!
Over the winter I picked up a new froe from Lee Valley.  The price was right at  $40, so I had to pull the trigger.  It appears to be a fine example:  the bevel is shaped just right, and the ash handle is perfectly straight grained for strength.

Lee Valley also offers what they call a Froe Mallet.  But I just couldn't bring myself to pay $26 for something intended to beat the snot out of a froe with, so I took the high road.

During my last walk in the woods with The Frau, I grabbed this fallen tree branch, and tossed it in my shop where it has been lying for the last couple months.  It happens to be beech, and if for some reason it doesn't work out, I'll have to find another one.

I cut the ends off to make it pretty and give it a length of exactly "that feels about right." I then used a hatchet to begin the shaping of the handle.  After all the bark was off where I wanted it, I finished it up with a spoke shave.  I figure the rest of the bark will come off on it's own soon enough.

This seems to work to hold this piece.

After making sure it felt good in my hand, and chamfering the ends with the spoke shave, I declared it done.

Proudly showing it to The Frau, she took it in her hand, and with a big smile and an evil look in her eye, she said, "Is this for me?"

Perhaps I should go buy some flowers.

Sunday, May 25, 2014

New Lumber

I have a couple projects that need some attention before I start a new one, but...

... I had to buy some new lumber.
I know what my next new project is going to be:  the Lady's Desk from Furniture in the Southern Style.

Photo courtesy Popular Woodworking.
Ever since I got this book, I have been itching to do this build.  So, the other day I went out to the lumber yard and picked up more than enough lumber.

As you can see from the first photo, I was lucky to find some real nice 4/4 cherry that varies in width up to about 15" or so.  I wanted lumber that was wide enough that I wouldn't have to do a bunch of unsightly laminations.

I still plan on finishing a project or two before I get started on this, but I wanted to get the lumber early to give it plenty of opportunity to acclimate before I start cutting it and watch it all go haywire.  For example, the drop-front is one board, and there are no cross-battens on the one in the book to keep it flat.  That might be unsightly if on the outside of the desk, and if they were on the inside, it might interfere with the operation of the desk.  If I want this cherry not to bow, it should be nice and dry when it is flattened to give it a chance to stay that way.

I think the best way to allow rough lumber to acclimate is to cut the parts to length, giving some of the wood that is in the center of the board a chance to breath and settle down before I do any real work.

This means layout is in order.  Layout means lots of careful thinking.

Not one of my strong suits.

I decided that the order of this build is opposite what I originally thought I should do.  I thought I should build the base, and make the top desk fit the base.

However I want to use this lumber to it's best potential.  It would be cool if I could get the widest pieces (which happen to be the sides of the desk at 15", according to the plan in the book) out of one board without gluing anything up. 

This could mean that if I can't quite get fifteen inches of width from this board, that the desk would look nice if the depth of the desk were shortened, front to back.  I think the desk would look just fine if it were only fourteen inches deep, depending on the wood I have to use.

The other little tidbit of joyfullness I decided to impose upon myself, is that I think it would be a nice detail if the carcass of the desk had the grain go right around.  That is, the two side pieces and the top all come in order from one board.

Having laid it out, I think this will work.  It could be a little sapwood might prevent the side pieces from being quite deep enough.  I'll see how it looks, and if I need to I'll carefully match grain and glue some extensions on the front.

One tool I find extremely useful when laying out parts is a 48" aluminum ruler I have laying around.   

This 48" ruler has become indispensable to me for layout of rough lumber.
 It in fact is not a woodworking tool, but a tool I used to use when I built golf clubs.
Not a purpose-built woodworking tool, but it should have been.
48" is a real nice length for a ruler graduated in 1/8" increments.
If you are interested, you can get one from Golfworks for $10.99, a real bargain.  It might not be certified to a tolerance of +/- .0001 inches over the length, but I have never needed it to be any straighter than it is for layout work.

A Ryobi saw works great for this.
After laying out the top carcass, I cut the board to length using my trusty Ryobi.  My Diston D-8 would have worked just fine, but in my tiny shop I find this kind of work easier to do clamped up on my bench.  The Dick Saw just happened to be closer at hand.
Rough stock clamped up with spacers for airflow.
If there is much moisture in this wood that needs to come out, these wide boards could look like potato chips by the time they equalize.  In an effort to try to remind them that they should stay flat, I clamped them up with spacers for air flow.
Resting space.
I'm not sure if you can see the cherry behind my bench in the above photo, but this is where this wood will live for the next few weeks while I finish up a couple other projects and otherwise procrastinate. 

I think I have plenty of extra lumber, and I want the look of the final piece to show some attention to detail at the lumber-choosing and layout stage.

I am looking forward to this build, as the desk looks like it could be a lot of fun to build with only hand tools.  None of the parts are really large, so it should be an ideal choice for building in a small hand tool shop like mine.  I suspect the only machining I will do will be resawing the lumber with a bandsaw in order to get appropriate stock for all of the little bits in the guts of the piece.

Keep an eye out, as one of these days I might actually get to start this build.  Please leave a comment if you know any voodoo or witchcraft that might help this wood behave.

Thursday, May 1, 2014

Brand New Mitre Box

Well, practically brand new.

I lurk on the Old Tools List.  The other day, someone said they ran across this mitre box in practically new condition, and put it up to the first "I want it!"

I was lucky.  Due to the cost of shipping, I can't gloat over a low-low price, but I can gloat over the condition this thing is in.

I bet someone put the saw in it and pushed it back and forth a couple times.

It is a Stanley No. 2246.

I have wanted a mitre box for a long time.  I bought one off of eBay a couple years back, and the dummy who sent it to me just dropped it in a cardboard box and mailed it to me in Germany.  Needless to say, the casting was broken in a couple of spots, and there was nothing for it but to go in the trash.

This made me a bit hesitant, but the deal looked too good to pass up.  When it arrived, I was alarmed that the seller had sent it in it's original box.

I am not a collector, so I really hate to get user tools with original boxes.  The reason is because I feel I can't throw away the original box to a vintage tool.  What if I want to sell it to a collector one day?

Happily, the seller filled the box full of shipping popcorn which kept the casting in one piece.

I needed some practice making videos, as I haven't done one in a while.  Enjoy.

Oral Hygienist (Uke Stanza) / CC BY-NC-ND 3.0

Now, all I need is to figure out where to store my new mitre box in my teeny shop space!

How to Make a Crappy Cutting Board

We have had several store-bought wooden cutting boards floating around the kitchen for a few years.  I can't really say where this one came from, but I am happy to say I did not make it myself.

I have been annoyed with it for some time, as it is ugly and looks like it is about to fall apart.  Not to mention that there are lots of little openings on it that are great places for bacteria to hide.

Heading out to the shop to make a cutting board on purpose seems to me like I should really be spending my efforts doing something more productive, so there this thing sits, mocking me every time I walk in the kitchen.

Enough, crappy cutting board!  You will mock me no longer.  It's my turn to mock you!

At least, perhaps make a point about how to glue up panels and choose lumber for a project.

Pretty much all we use this for is for cutting bread.
At first glance of the above photo, I see cracks between the laminations at either end of the board where the glue has begun to fail.  I think what is happening here is the board is sucking up water at the ends when it is washed in the sink.  The ends swell a bit, crushing some of the fibers, and when it dries out, shrinks a little smaller.  Eventually, these laminations open up.  Perhaps it is combined with the glue disolving a little.

Closer view of the delaminating.
The second thing I notice is the crazy direction the grain in the individual pieces goes.  It's as if whoever put this together paid no attention whatsoever to how this board would look when complete.

Actually, I am absolutely sure they didn't.

I'm not sure what kind of wood this is, but the grain is fairly clear and distinctive.  Some of the pieces are quartersawn, some flatsawn, some of them have relatively straight grain, and the big piece in the middle has the grain going at a significant angle (called run-out).

Note to self:  don't do that.

When I glue up a panel, nowadays I normally try to line up the grain at the glue  lines so it is not so obvious there really is a glue line there.  Spending the time to match nice even grain and color from one stick to the next really pays off in the looks of a project.

But, there's more:  Not only is this a no-no from a design perspective - It also can affect the strength and stability of a project.

"Come on, Brian, It's just a stupid cutting board!"

I hear you, but bear with me.  This thing hardly will sit flat on the countertop.  Check out this photo along the end:

Not so straight any more.
Because each piece of the laminated board has grain going different directions, each board shrinks and expands in different ways.  This creates a lot of internal stress on the completed cutting board, and it is no wonder that this thing isn't even close to flat anymore. 

Probably a 1/8" lip here at the end.
Bad things can happen when boards want to bend and twist in different directions.  Looking at the above photo, you can see that not only are these two boards headed in different directions after starting to delaminate, but one of them has developed a large crack because there is still too much internal stress on that piece, being pulled in different directions as it is.

Run-out on the edge, too.
Looking at the edges of this cutting board, one side has nice straight grain on the edge, and the other has some severe run-out.  I've noticed that this can be hard to avoid at the lumber yard if the bark is still on the lumber.  If you can, try to get lumber with the least run-out from the start.  It will save some headaches in the end.

With this in mind, I am determined to get rid of this old eyesore.  Next time I'm in the shop, I will take the extra few minutes to make a new cutting board.  No matter what I come up with, it has to be better than this one.