Woodworking Blog

This is the collection area of all of the writings I've made that pertain to woodworking in its various forms.

Drawer Construction: Drawer #4 & #5

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February 14-16, 2014 -It just takes a long time to complete a project when you're a perfectionist and you're not that good. :-)

Drawer #5 dry fit in the middle of sizing it to fit the caseThis past weekend, I completed the dovetails on drawers #4 and #5 of the jewelry armoire project. I dry fit them, installed the drawer bottoms, and fit them to the case. That's the state in which I'm leaving each of the drawers for the moment. Working from the top of the case to the bottom, each set of dovetails gets to be a bigger job. Drawer #5 is the first with three tails on each corner.

Quality-wise, Drawer #4 was a disaster. One of the half blind corners was a fairly good job, initially, but then to get the final fit without blowing out the front, I ended up butchering one of the two tails. Driving the tails in when they're just a bit too tight ends up cracking the front of the drawer face, since I've only left about an eighth of an inch in front of these half-blinds; it can be a risky operation. Sanding down the ends of the tails slightly just prior to driving them into the drawer fronts has turned out to be a prudent step.

Drawer #5, on the other hand, turned out pretty good. Four solid corners without any major gaps in the joints. Practice does help.   --- Latest photos

Cabinet with four drawers fitted

More dovetail work - Drawers 1 and 2

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Although I've been fairly quiet on my website, I've actually been kind of busy around the shop. I'll talk about the other projects I've taken on elsewhere, but I wanted to post an update about my work on Adriana's jewelry cabinet.

Tools laid out on the outfeed table to work on dovetailsWhen last we met, I had dimensioned the pieces for the ten case drawers, and roughed out the tails of the drawer dovetails. That was in late November. Now I'm not moving any faster, but I am making slow and steady progress. I have to. We've been told by our landlords that we have to move out of our rental house at the end of June. And as I told my wife.  . . there is no way I'm going to move her cabinet as an unfinished thing. I *have* to be done with it by then.

After cleaning up most of the tails so they were ready to lay out the pins ( I thought I had done them all, but I found out last night that I missed some), I started right after Christmas putting together drawers. Again, it's a down side of combining parenting with a full time job and an intensive hobby like hand-tool woodworking. I put together my first dovetailed drawer in almost a year. I started with drawer 1. I'm going from the top to the bottom of the case, from the smallest drawer to the largest.

Chopping out a half blind dovetail in the drawerfront

Cutting the tails for jewelry cabinet drawers

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I decided to do dovetailed drawers rather than the simple rabbeted sides I had originally planned, mostly because of how well the sides and feet of this project turned out. Basically, if I had completed things in my normal crappy manner, I would have said 'screw it' by this point and opted for the simple solution.

My setup to cut dovetails on the outfeed tableThat said, I have not truly cut dovetails for almost a year. That's the key down side of being an amateur woodworker. The real skills for handwork take practice, and a hobbyist often doesn't get much. However, even given that fact, I've done enough of them over the past 3 years that I'm hoping these won't turn out horribly. (I set a high bar for myself, no?)

So I've gotten the extra poplar to make the drawer sides and backs, and the 1/4" plywood to make the bottoms, and I've thicknessed all of the drawer parts. And I opted to cut the slots for the drawer bottoms now, rather than after the side joinery is cut. I'm building these sort of the same way I've done simple boxes, and I dont' see a reason not to do that now.

Now it's time to cut the dovetails. I use what I think of as the Gochnour method, only because watching his videos on the FineWoodworking website is how I learned it.  I could just as well call it the Klaus method or the Becksvoort method. I start by laying the tails out on the drawer sides using a combination square and a bevel. I tried out a dedicated dovetail angle marker from Veritas a couple years ago and liked them so much that I ended up getting all three, the saddle square, the 1:6 ratio, and the 1:8 ratio ones. For these, I'm using the less agressive 1:6 angles.

Clearing between dovetails with a coping saw

Cut parts for drawers

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Trusty Table saw and my maple push blockNow that the case is together, I"ve taken about the last week to get the parts for the drawers thicknessed and cut. The secondary wood for the case was always a 'find it when I need it' part of this project rather than something I got up-front. So I bought 4 6" poplar boards from Home Depot. Then I thinned them to 1/2" thick. This was all chop saw and table saw work. Originally, when planning the project, i was just going to put the sides into rabbets in the front and back boards, but since I've spent so much time and quality materials on the rest of the project, I decided that I have to do dovetails on the drawers. So I sized the side pieces to support that.  

Here, all of the 10 drawer parts are lined up. I won't cut the plywood drawer bottoms until I get the dovetails cut and the drawers dry fit. 

Drawer fronts, backs, and sides cut for the 10 cabinet drawers

Paying for Sustainable is Good, but Expanding What's Acceptable is Better

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Bob Taylor and Alton Brown on the Alton Browncast, episode #18.There was an interesting crossover to woodworking in the latest Alton Brown podcast.  Yes, I like Alton Brown; he cooks, he's funny, and he's a geek. Don't give me any shit about it. I get enough on the topic from my wife. She can't stand him, for some reason.  So the Alton Browncast is normally about cooking and food related items, but in the last couple of weeks, he's branched out to talk about other topics that interest him. Episode 18 has him doing a 90 minute long interview with the founder of Taylor Guitars, Bob Taylor. It's a fascinating and wide-ranging discussion; they talk about the start of the business, ways to market your work, the production process, and food and diet, among other things. (Bob has just recently become a vegan, for health reaons.)  

Taylor Guitars emphasize the wood. This is from their promotional materialsBut from my perspective, the most interesting aspect of the interview came in the first half, from about the 20 minute to the 45 minute mark. Due to the recent legal difficulty at Gibson Guitars over improperly sourced exotic woods, it's clear that the entire industry has had to take a new look at their wood supplies. And it sounds as if Bob Taylor has done more than anyone to come up with a new way of suppling their factories with the woods they need.  If anyone is doing yeoman's work at pointing us all in a new sustainability direction in this area, it sounds like Mr Taylor is at the forefront. It's an interesting listen to hear him talk, with passion and thoughtfulness, about travelling around the world to find the finest woods for his production; to Alaska for Sitka spruce, to three small mountain villages in Honduras for rosewood, and to Camaroon for ebony.  It's the latter tale that has the most intrugue, and raised the biggest questions for me.

Jewelry Armoire Case glue-up

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About a week ago (it takes me a while to get these updates posted sometimes), I finally took a deep breath, and took the plunge. I started gluing together the case of the jewelry cabinet. I've posted photos here of the dry fitted case, but I took it apart last month and started sanding everything. I got all of the parts into a state that satisfied me, or at least I realized I was never going to get this done if I kept dawdling.  

Case after the glue up was complete. This is the back of the cabinetThe glue-up went mostly as planned, with one hiccup. I had thought of pinning the top of each leg to the case wall using through cherry pins, but I realized that I needed more strength than that in the joint. So switched to drilling screw holes and screwing the tops of each leg to the case. In the front, the front legs only overlap the case by about 3/4", so the alignment needs to be pretty good. I missed.  One of the screws I thought i was screwing into the case, actually stuck out a bit on the front of the case. And unfortunately, I didn't see this until after the glue was dry.  So that one corner has no screw. The glue will need to hold instead.  The hole from the screw is very small and shouldn't be hard to repair. And it will also eventually be covered by the front doors of the cabinet.

Case front after the glue up

Taking on a new project, my first since May. A built-in office cabinet

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I've resisted adding any actual, working projects to my woodworking portfolio for the past four months, as I worked on clearing my backlog and finishing things up. But I've now opted to create a built-in cabinet for my sister.  Design after client's first revisionShe and her husband are remodelling a room to be an office space for their growing business, and this was a perfect opportunity for me to try a built-in cabinet design. I guess this isn't really a designed-piece as much as it is an adaptation of someone else's design. I've wanted to build something fairly traditionally Shaker in style, so I used a design by Christian Becksvoort as the basis for this piece.  The office is a converted milk house, with a tile wall on one side, and regular sheet rock on the other three. 

I've spent about 10 hours coming up with a Sketchup design of how I would build it. I started with a basic block shape of where it might go, but then I went into virtual building mode. The model includes the anchor frames for the floor, wall, and ceiling to which the unit will be attached. And the joinery of the piece is largely finalized in the Sketchup design, half based on Mr. Becksvoort's choices, but also based on the uniqueness of the install location.

Workbench update: Finally got last leg glued up

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After flattening the top in August of 2012, I thought I was home free. I glued up three of the four leg laminations in another couple weeks . . .and then I tried the fourth leg.  That damned thing blocked me from progress for over a year. (Well . . . I also put this project on the back, back burner as I tried to finish up about 10 other projects I had started and half finished at that point.)  I've since cleared my backlog and am down to only three projects to work on . . .each large. So I'm working the jewelry armoire, the workbench, and the tool brackets for my wallmounted tool cabinet. I finished the first of the four large outstanding projects last month when I put the finishing touches on my chopsaw station. 

So I'm making progress on both the jewelry cabinet and finally, this past weekend, the workbench. It took me spending about an hour tweaking the hardware setup on my Jet 6" jointer, which hadn't been working right for over two years. But finally, after really reading the manual and taking the time to make sure everything was set up correctly, it suddenly started doing what it was supposed to . . . .flatten the faces of 5 1/2" wide bench leg boards.  Within a couple more hours, I had the final leg glued and in clamps.

Four legs for the workbench glued up, along with the purchased hardware

Jewelry Armoire - Finally took the plunge, glue-up

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Jewelry case assembly glued and in clamps (the final clamp arrangement changed slightly from this photo)On the jewelry cabinet project, I've been staring out a pile of parts for about a month now, trying to get the sanding done before I take the big step of gluing the case assembly. I finally finished sanding the case parts to my satisfaction this past Sunday, and glued the case up Sunday night. I opted to sand rather than trying to finish plane my case for two reasons.

  1. I'm still not very confident in my final planing proficiency to trust a good piece to it
  2. The quarter sawn sycamore is VERY prone to tear out, as I've discovered. So sanding seems like the safer choice.

That said, I've sanded all the case parts to 220, and then glued the case together. This presented a certain stress halfway through, when I realized that I do not, in fact, own enough long clamps to clamp all four corners of a case assembly. I ended up clamping the two sides in the middle using my two long pipe clamps, and used shorter clamps across the assembly to reinforce the side-to-side structure, although little force was needed here, since the top and bottom case pieces are attached with through tenons which do tend to prevent outward motion of the sides. :-) I did manage to verify the squareness of the assembly before the glue set, although only barely before it set.

Book Review: Timber Frame Construction by Jack Sobon and Roger Schroeder

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Review of "Timber Frame Construction: All About Post-and-Beam Building" by Jack Sobon and Roger Schroeder. Reviewed on October 15th, 2013. 

Timber Frame Construction cover artMost of the woodworking projects I've taken on over the years have been small projects or pieces of furniture, but I've also had a habit of building in a pseudo-beam construction manner.  Growing up on an Ohio farm, we always had a few extra beams or pieces of construction lumber around, and I would sometimes build little contraptions using screws and nails and other found hardware.  Aside from a grandfather clock I built at 17 from a kit, my first real piece of self-designed 'furniture' was a loft for my bedroom, built the summer before I left for college. And it was not a thing of beauty. I wanted a way to put my bed up high with a desk underneath to increase the usable space in my bedroom. Such things are common these days, but in the 1980s, they were still fairly rare.   Anyway, I built it simply by buying Home Depot lumber, some constuction grade, other pressure-treated landscaping timbers. I didn't really know the difference then.   And I built what could be charitably described as a post and beam loft. It even had little notches cut out of the 4x4 posts to accept the bed frame. I didn't know a lick about joints, so I didn't realize I was making half laps. But . . . it worked.  

While I was working on it in the garage, and had the thing roughly put together with bolts and a few screws, my Dad's construction handyman saw it and said, ' You know, not bad.'  He was being kind. It was strong enough for me to sleep on it, but it had a tendency to rack.  I used it for a few months before leaving for college, and when I came home for holidays for the next couple years. Eventually, it got broken up and used in other projects . . . mostly landscaping stuff around the farm.

The point of this little tale? I have a hankerin' for some traditional timber frame structures. 

Design Influence - Patterns of Home

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Cover of Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials  of Enduring DesignI've started reading "By Hand & Eye", the new book on furniture design by George Walker and Jim Tolpin, but I've not gotten more than a quarter of the way through it so far. When I finish it, I'll write up my reactions. But for now, my reaction is "Yes, I get it, proportions are important and you don't need a ruler."

I've been thinking about the multi-faceted aspects of design lately, particularly as it pertains to architecture and object creation (i.e. furniture or small woodworking projects.) I've realized more and more in recent months that most of my perspective on what is good design and what isn't is related to a book that I bought and read about 10 years ago. It's called "Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design" and it's terrific. The ideas in that book have completely stuck with me and have deeply influenced many areas of creativity in my life.

So what is this book? "Patterns of Home: The Ten Essentials of Enduring Design" is by Max Jacobson, Murray Silverstein and Barbara Winslow, and is a condensed version of a much larger work from the 70s, a gigantic book called "A Pattern Language: Towns, Buildings, Construction". That earlier book, first published in 1977, is over a thousand pages in length and is legendary in the architecture world. I've never read the older book. I've only been exposed to the ideas through this later, more graphical Patterns of Home book. 

Blue Spruce has learned the Woodcraft Rule

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Blue Spruce Toolworks, One of the Best Custom Tool Creators in the U.S.At around 3pm Pacific time on Thursday, August 15th, Blue Spruce toolworks sent out an email telling its customers of a special summer sale it was holding on remainders and products with minor blemishes. I suspect that very soon after that message went out, Dave Jeske, the very nice owner of Blue Spruce learned the Woodcraft Rule. What is the Woodcraft Rule, you ask?  It has to do with marketing anything to woodworkers.  And to be clear, I have no knowledge that Woodcraft ever stated this rule explicitly, or even hinted that it's their official stance . . . they just epitomize it in stark relief with everything they do. The rule deals with three traits of the woodworking community:

Built doors for the chopsaw station case

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Over the past 3 or 4 days, I've managed to build doors to fit over the openings in the front of the case. These are only intended to keep dust out of the inside of the case. The doors are made up of scraps I had around the shop. The stiles are 3/4" poplar. The rails are 5/8" clear pine. (Yep, I didn't even bother thicknessing them to match.) The panel is just 1/4" baltic birch plywood. 

Case doors, glued up and sanded, waiting for hinges