Saturday, December 29, 2007

York Ag & Industrial Museum

Today, my partner and I toured the York Agricultural & Industrial Museum. The museum houses vast antique collections of various industries including farming, pottery, woodworking, machinery, dentistry, weight lifting, wire mesh, grist mills, as well as antique cars, a conestoga wagon, a trolley car, an early 2-passenger airplane, WWII items, and many other

Here are a few shots of the woodworking section. Notice anything odd about these exhibits? In most cases, you can walk right up and touch things. The displays that were cordoned off had chains that were so close to the display items, you could still touch them if you wanted to. I of course did not, out of respect for these well-cared-for artifacts.

And what was my partner doing while I was keeping my hands off the precious collections?

(Hint: look inside the red truck's driver's seat.)

Friday, December 28, 2007

Cupboard Progress

Spent some more time in the shop tonight and worked on the Ephrata Cloister cupboard. Handplaned the boards, chopped the half lap joints and cut all the boards to size except for the rails (the pieces above and below the door) and the door itself. What a great way to spend a Friday evening!

Ephrata Cloister Cupboard

Work has been stressful lately, so I did myself a favor and went out to my shop last night to start a new project. I chose something simple, something that I can pick away at as I find a spare 30 minutes, and something which requires a lot of handtools. Using handtools is instant therapy.

I have visited the Ephrata Cloister 3 times, and each time, I can't take my eyes off this hanging cupboard*. I find it very charming with its rough joinery, wooden hinges, and unfinished wood. It looks a bit like something you might find in Bilbo Baggins' house. You aren't allowed to take pictures at the Cloister so I found an image of it, along with outside dimensions, in a book.

I've been saving some pieces of wormy chestnut for just the right project and this seemed like a perfect match. I milled all the lumber and started on rough dimensions for the door, which required the use of handplanes, spokeshave and pocket knife. I'm trying to be as authentic as possible to try to make it look like the original. What a fun project! I can feel the knots in my neck subsiding already.

*Hanging cupboard built c. 1750-1760.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Rosehead Dowel

You can easily replicate the look of a rosehead nail using a wood dowel, thereby adding another visual element to your project. Rosehead nail photo is top left.

Tap your dowel into a predrilled hole of matching diameter and leave about 1/8" protruding. Put a piece of paper next to the dowel (the paper serves to protect your work surface) and hold your chisel bevel down while starting at the base and chiseling upwards. It's sort of a scraping technique. Work your way around and don't try to remove an entire side with one swipe so you can make subtle changes in the size of each facet. The rosehead nails I've seen all have 3 facets but maybe you've seen others. At any rate, it's an easy technique and instantly gives an aged look to your piece.

Tuesday, December 25, 2007

Woodworking Carol

A friend emailed this to me:

(Sung to the tune of Joy to the World)

Joy in the shop
The dovetails fit
Was it luck
or this new saw?
Let every tool prepare some room
and I'll get on the net and I'll get on the net
and order and order some more new tools!

Sunday, December 23, 2007

Merry Christmas!

May you find a new set of Lie Nielsen chisels in your stocking
and lots of time in the new year to use them!

Saturday, December 22, 2007

3 Ways to Make Dowels

You can buy wood dowels in common species like walnut, cherry, and pine, but if you need a dowel in an uncommon species, or if you're making authentic reproductions, or you just like to try different techniques, here are three ways to make them.

One: Use a beading plane to round over both sides of a board, then snap off the dowel. Shave the rough, snapped-off edge with a block plane or chisel. Match the thickness of wood with the diameter of the bead so the dowel is perfectly round.

Two: Use a block plane to round over a square blank and eyeball it as you go. This works great if you like that imperfect, handmade look, like you find in PA German furniture. (If you take your time, though, you can make very precise dowels with this technique.)

Use a dowel plate (mine is from Lie-Nielsen). Make sure you cut your blank very close in size to the final dowel diameter, otherwise, it's likely to split as you tap it through. Use a chisel to taper the leading end. Dowel plates work best with short pieces of wood.

Friday, December 21, 2007

Two Turtle Dogs

Daisy and Rosie in their Christmas frocks.

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Shellac Gone Bad

Shellac is an excellent finish, not necessarily for table tops (because it's not very protective), but for other projects that won't see too much traffic. A couple of things that make shellac so great are its ease of application and the speed at which it dries. However, shellac does have a relatively short shelf life. If you mix your own, you have at most 6 months until it goes bad. If you use premixed shellac, like Zinsser, you have about one year to use it once you open the lid.

I found out the hard way not to push my luck.

I was asked to build some decorative boxes for my church that needed to be ready in time for a very important day. Knowing I was going to use shellac for the finish, I allowed only one day to apply the finish—the day before the important event. After applying 3 coats, I wondered where all the blotchy, shiny spots were coming from. They would rub out momentarily with steel wool, only to reappear a short time later.

Ugh. All that careful construction and the finish made the boxes look horrible. I took them to the Woodcraft Store to consult my buddy, Dan the Finishing Guru, who immediately deduced that I had used old shellac. Friends, old shellac will never, ever, ever dry. It will always have blotchy, shiny spots and will completely undermine your meticulous craftsmanship.

Fortunately, there's another great thing about shellac—it's easy to remove! A little denatured alcohol dissolved all of it. So I mixed a fresh batch, applied several coats, rubbed out the finish the next morning, and had a whole 15 minutes to spare before the big event. Whew!

So how do you determine if your shellac has crossed over to the dark side? Brush some on a piece of wood. If, after 15 minutes, it's not completely dry and looks blotchy....throw-it-out!*

Do you see all of the tell-tale shiny spots at the top of my tool cabinet door?

Yeah, I'll fix that someday.

*Dan, the finishing guru, says to put a dollup of shellac on a piece of glass, let it sit overnight, and if you can press your fingernail into it the next day, mix up a fresh batch.

Workbench Book

If you're planning to build a workbench, I highly suggest reading Workbenches: from Design & Theory to Construction & Use, by Christopher Schwarz.

The title says it all. Chris includes plans to build both English and French workbenches, but more importantly helps you decide what style, wood, size and vises will work best for your type of woodworking. I can't say enough good things about this book; it's bound to be a classic.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Splined Miter Jig

If you want to build boxes with splined miters, using a jig like this along with your table saw makes the job easy.

The cradle is made of two boards attached at 45 degrees to two outer boards. Your box sits in the jig which rides along the table saw fence while the blade cuts a perfect kerf in each corner. Move the fence to make a second kerf in each corner if you like.

If you use a flat tooth blade, the bottom of the kerf will be flat and your miter key will fit right in. If you use an ATB (alternate top bevel) blade, you'll have a little clean up to do with a chisel in order to flatten the bottom of the kerf so the key fits snugly.

(I had trouble getting clear shots of the blades and yes, I know they desperately need to be cleaned. : )

Saturday, December 15, 2007

Sometimes it's enough

I read an article this morning about a recently deceased local man who was a passionate woodcarver his entire life. He was born in 1922, served in WWII by parachuting behind enemy lines and blowing up bridges, witnessed the attack on Pearl Harbor, and of this event, wrote these words in his Bible: Hell is moving. We have all missed death 100 times this day. Amen.

His workshop was a converted chicken coop behind his house where he would sit for hours whittling whimsical characters and animals, often so engrossed in his project, he would work through dinner.

In the article, this is the sentence that really resonated with me and to which, I think, most woodworkers can relate: Arthritis stopped him from carving and whittling about four years ago, but he still shuffled to the wood shop with the help of a walker and sat among the pieces of wood and sawdust.

As I'm entering my busy season at work, I know that I probably won't be able to do any woodworkng until mid-March. But, during the busy months, I always seem to find a little time to at least sit in my shop or tidy up or open my tool cabinet and take out my handplanes. Sometimes it's enough to just be out there sitting among the wood.

Sun or Shade

This Piet Mondrian in wood shows several species in their natural hue; no stain or finish has been applied. With colors like these, you pretty much can't go wrong if you're making decorative boxes. Just let the wood do the talking.

One thing to consider, however, in choosing wood for its color is the long term effect of sun or shade on the color's intensity. These pencil boxes I made a few years ago were very colorful upon completion but over time, the saturation has changed.

Sun can either brighten or darken wood, depending on the species, so the lid of the middle box now looks dark and dull. The underside of the lid, however, still resembles the box when it was first made. Why? Because bloodwood and padauk, woods used in this particular box, darken in sunlight.

The second to last photo is a padauk board that was partially covered by another board in my shop. The part that was getting some sunlight turned dark maroon, while the portion in shade remains orange/brown.

Now, with some wood, it's preferable to keep them in the light. Purpleheart and cherry, for instance. The piece of purpleheart sitting on top in the last photo has been getting plenty of sunlight in my shop while the board below it has been buried in a lumber pile (it's actually brighter than I expected). Purpleheart turns bright purple in sunlight but turns brown in shade. Cherry, as most people know, starts out as a light pink when first milled, but darkens to a rich brown over a relatively short period of time.

So, if you're planning to rely on wood color in your next project, you might want to consider what will happen to its color over time.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

My Favorite Jig

Probably most woodworkers have little pieces of exotic wood that they just can't bear to throw away. But how do you secure a tiny piece of wood to your bench so you can work with it? Here's a simple jig that allows you to do just that.

The base of this jig is .75" plywood 19.75" x 10" (these are arbitrary measurements, so use whatever works for you). Screw to the bottom of the base a little cleat, or keel, that clamps into your vise. Screw a straight piece of wood .375" thick and 1.5" wide to the top & front of the jig. Cut a triangular shaped piece of wood .375" thick that functions as a wedge, and then screw another piece of straight .375" x 1.5" piece of wood to the top & rear of the jig at the same angle as the triangular piece.

The triangular piece of wood wedges the workpiece in between the two thin pieces of wood. Tap the wedge in place with a hammer or mallet and that little piece of exotic wood is ready to be planed, mortised, carved, or chiseled.

Dog survives bone-crushing Grandma-hug

Fortunately, Rosie did live to see another day. Grandma can be a little "too loving" with our pets.

Although this post has nothing to do with woodworking, I did make the little rustic table sitting behind my mom.

(Mom will likely want to kill me for posting her photo on my site, but I can run faster than she can....)

Monday, December 10, 2007

The Woodwright's Shop

Episodes of the Woodwright's Shop can be viewed online. Roy Underhill works only with handtools and his folksy sense of humor adds a personable touch to his program.

Sunday, December 9, 2007

Drawer Planing Jig

I built this jig when I was making drawers for my tool cabinet and needed a way to secure them to my workbench while handplaning them. It's just a piece of 3/4" plywood with slots that are spaced apart to match the width and length of each of the two sizes of drawers. The width of the slots equals the thickness of the drawer boards. That way, the drawers don't shift at all when you plane them. This jig also enables you to plane from both directions so you don't tear out the corners.

If you're making drawers that have a bottom that slides in after the sides have been glued together, then it's even easier to plane the sides. Because without the bottom, you can slide the drawer further in from the outer edge of the jig, providing even more support. (see last photo)

By the way, these drawers have walnut sides and cherry fronts and backs. That's one of the backs in the last photo. Notice how much lighter in color that cherry is compared to the fronts, since the backs never see sunlight. The fronts have naturally darkened that much (I only used blonde shellac) over two years.