Thursday, April 14, 2011

First Furniture Making Power Tool

It's true that I have a circular saw and a battery powered impact driver, but this is the first power tool that I can use for the kind of woodworking I do in my spare time, which tends toward more intricate stuff than framing walls.  

Last week I got my grimy mitts on a bandsaw.  It's a 1940's Craftsman bandsaw, with what appears to be the original 1/2 HP motor that was bought with the unit.  It comes with a custom made (cobbled together) wood base.  It works really well. 

I had to replace the tires, so I went with Urethane because I've read that they're good.  Mine are bright orange.  They cost $45, bringing my total investment in this saw to $45.  Yes, that's correct.  I met someone, and a few hours later they gave me this saw.  He said he never used it, and I looked interested.  Did I mention that it came with several brand new, never used wood and metal cutting blades?  Oh yes, this is the jackpot.  The upper guide is broken on one side, but I ran the saw anyways and it seems to cut flawlessly. 

It only has a 1/2 HP motor, but it didn't seem to struggle at all resawing some semi-green Maple (on the right in the picture below) at full cut capacity.  I think I can thank the sharp blade for that.

There is one bummer, and that's that this saw doesn't appear to accept a riser block, because the top and bottom halves are attached via a big pipe.  No big deal, I guess, because a 6" cutting height is more than I had before!  Oh, and spare parts don't seem to exist for this saw anymore, but with the way it's running, I think I'll be long gone before it needs any major repairs.

Some test cuts above.  Making some Krenov style veneer (or parts for a small box) from Curly Maple on the left, a whimsical curvy cut in the middle, and some more serious resawing on the right.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Dovetail Transfer Trick

I learned this trick from one of Roy Underhill's books and I think it deserves to be spread around a bit.  This is the first time I've used it, because I usually forget until it's too late. 

You cut the tails first, then don't remove the waste.  Line up your boards and slip your saw into the kerfs, taking a couple of light strokes in each.  This is the most accurate (and foolproof) way that I know of to transfer dovetails.

In the photo I'm using a small modelmaker's saw, because the blade is thinner than my carcass saw, so there is no friction in the kerf (which can cause small movements in the top board).  You can just as easily do it with the saw you made the original cuts with, though, if you are careful to clamp the board down solidly. 

Monday, April 11, 2011

Outdoor Workshop 2.0

Today my mom came up with an idea for a nice outdoor workshop for me, since I had mentioned moving my workshop back outside soon.  Today I got off early from work, so we decided to go ahead and get started right away.  This is the back of the house, right next to the corner where it meets the side.  We are putting in a brick pad and retaining wall (on the right where the bank is cut in) for a nice clean workspace, no mud and no ruining the grass like in the Fall when I came home. 

The pad is being built to serve as a floor for a nice high quality 10x10 foot tent that we have.  Not one of those sissy easy-up tents.  This thing is all aluminum pipe and heavy rubberized canvas top.  My preliminary thought was to bring up my bench and tools, and set up my full shop out here.  Now I'm reconsidering a bit, having thought of the effects that frequently fluctuating humidity could do to all my stuff, including kiln dried or even air dried furniture lumber.  It would all be covered, and I'm planning on tarping the sides when it rains, but I'm not sure what could happen.  Maybe some experimentation is in order.  My new thought is that I might just leave my finer shop downstairs and use the outdoor shop for coarser stuff; greenwood working, spoon carving, and maybe some timberframing if I get brave.  I'll see what happens.

The nice thing about landscaping is that it's big work.  All gross motor, throwing-rocks-and-logs-around kind of work.  There's something particularly satisfying about this sort of thing.

Fun with chainsaw:

This is what happens when my mom comes up with a project and wants me to help:

Potentially the least safe clothing option for chainsaw use?  (I am wearing hearing and eye protection, so I'm not completely senseless).  On a more serious note, you can see that my right leg is thrown back, and that I have almost my entire body out of line with the saw bar.  Even though I have to use my eye to line up the bar with my marks, I move my head  out of the way soon as I know that I'm tracking straight.  The basic premise here is the same as with any tool: stay out the way in case you miss.  Predict where the tool is likely to go, where it could go if something surprising happened, and then throw in an extra margin when you can.  With a knife, that means keep your hands out of the way of the cutting edge.  With an axe, this extends to your whole body (particularly legs in the case of a glancing blow).  You get the point.  Also keep in mind what can happen in the wood.  It's a dynamic material (think of bundles of cord, and what would happen if you cut into one under compression and tension). 

Today was also the warmest day of the year so far, a balmy 75 and sunny. 

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Working on Wide Boards

The way I cut my boards to final length may be unusual, or it may be very common.  I really don't know because I don't remember ever reading about how anyone else does it (though I haven't read very many of the classic woodworking texts).  Anyways, this is how I go about it:

I typically rough cut an inch or two oversize, depending on how my material works out and whatever other factors are in play.  Then (if not already done) I will joint one edge and shoot one end of the board off of that.  I pull my measure from the shot end, mark for square and saw about 1/16" over.  This allows for a little slop in case my saw has had a few too many to drink.  I then shoot to a hair shy of my line, being sure to reference off of the same edge.  This makes sure that my two ends are parallel, and square to the face edge.  Once I have all the pieces that are to match through this process, I carefully line them up to see how they compare.  I adjust their length with a few more passes of the plane until they match perfectly.

In the photo above you can see that the 14" wide panel for the bottom of the DVD cabinet I'm building takes up just about my whole shooting board.  Luckily I didn't have to make a new shooting board for this project, but if it were any larger I would have.  With longer planks like this, you can see that I have a couple of boards propped under the end to keep the board flat on my shooting board.  This takes a lot of strain out of the left hand, and lets me focus on shooting.

Below, you can see the trouble in flattening and smoothing a 14" wide panel on an 11" wide bench.  Luckily it's not that much overhang, so it's manageable.  I opened up my vise some to provide support, and used my Veritas Wonder Dog to secure the panel against my planing stop.  This allowed me to use my #5 Jack diagonally across the grain to bring down the hump, and then I had no problem using my block plane to smooth things up.

Where I did run into trouble was on the other side of this panel, where I had to plane out a dish.  I ended up getting rid of the Wonder Dog, and planing straight on each edge of the panel into the stop.  I simply shifted the board back and forth to support wherever I was planing.

If I were working something much wider (but still not wide enough to reach across to the back of my tool well), I could clamp a 2x4, 4x4, or whatever else would be necessary into my leg vise, and if needed secure it against the other leg with a holdfast or bar clamp, depending on the thickness of the piece.  This would effectively  give my a wider solid benchtop to work on.  I think for my next bench I might for a wider bench top, but I'm not sure yet.  I suppose it will mostly depend on what I end up doing more of when it's time for a new bench.  In an ideal world I could have a couple of benches, like Tom Fidgen, one like this, and then one with a really wide solid top for working panels and for assembly.  In an ideal world I would also win the lottery...I suppose I should stop complaining.  Haha!

I also decided that smoothing this big panel would be a good job for a cardscraper, so I made a couple real quick from a dull impulse hardened Japanese saw blade I had laying around.  I cut the blade into two pieces, ground most of the teeth off, more-or-less jointed the edge, ground a roughly 45 degree bevel on one side, polished the flat side on my sandpaper setup to 1200 grit, polished the bevel to the same (bringing it closer-to-but-still-not-quite-90 degrees), and put them to work.  They worked pretty well, but I still feel like the finish isn't quite as gleaming as I get off a sharp plane.  I need to make myself a nice comfortable wood bodied smoother.  This block plane is simply difficult to hang on to.

Once I had the parts for the primary carcass cut, I stood them up to get an idea for how the thing would look.  It should be pretty nice when it's all said and done.  The boards are all three feet long, to give you some scale.  This nice thing about having a low ceiling is that I can brace the thing together by applying a spreading clamp against the ceiling joist (difficult to see in the photo).  So I think that brings the tally to one benefit of low ceilings, five thousand reasons to still hate them.

Wednesday, April 06, 2011

Using Biscuits Without a Biscuit Joiner

As I was preparing to glue the two boards together for the bottom of the DVD shelf, I got a little nervous about such a wide board with only glue to hold it together in the middle (even though I know the glue joint is usually stronger than the wood itself, bla bla bla), so I decided to reinforce it with some biscuits.  I considered making some biscuits (or would they be splines if I made them myself?), but decided I wanted the expansion properties of commercial biscuits.  I bought a bag at Ace, measured the thickness, and chose a 3/16 slot would be close enough to the standard 4mm of a biscuit cutter.  After jointing up the two mating edges (with the boards clamped together in my vise), I set my plow to cut a groove down the center of the boards, and referenced off of the face edges to make sure everything was consistent.  I made sure to stay a couple inches in from the finished length of the board.

Because I wasn't cutting all the way from end to end of the board, my plane cut an arc-like groove, and couldn't reach the full depth even in the center of the groove.  I took my 3/16 mortise chisel and deepened the groove appropriately, checking to be sure my biscuits would sit approximately halfway in the groove.  

After a test fit, I loosely filled the groove with a handful of biscuits and plenty of glue, and clamped up with the two clamps I have that are long enough.  Hope it's enough!  I'm not really too worried.  Once the glue is set overnight, I'll crosscut, shoot, and start laying out for dovetails.
If I used biscuits more often (and I might, now that I have some), it might be worth investing in a biscuit joiner.  It would make this whole process (which took probably 15 or 20 minutes) a 60 second procedure, after plugging in.  As it is, though, for the occasional use this method works well enough, and it means one less tool to buy, store, and maintain.  Also, I like to avoid the noise and dust of power tools when I can, in my small shop.

Tuesday, April 05, 2011

New Vise Chop

 Today I took a little time to replace the chop on my vise.  Now it's a full 3 1/8" thick (slightly more than twice as thick as before), and I decided to leave it just shy of 8" wide all the way to the floor.  This chop is made from some species of Maple, probably "soft Maple" as I've heard it called.  It has an ever-so-slightly sprung inner face, almost not detectable.  The wood is still semi-green, so I glued the wood up to fight itself if it moves, the goal of which is to keep it stable dimensionally.  Hopefully the Gorilla Glue won't let go! 

You can also see the full length planing stop that I made from some Yellow Pine.  My other planing stop is about 2 feet long, and scrub-planing anything longer was nearly impossible.  My new stop limits the width of my bench top to 8 inches, but I rarely-if-ever need to plane anything wider, and of course it's removable (secured in place with 3/4 inch dowels).

You can see my old sissy vise chop below, made from a 2x6 Doug Fir.  I had to set the parallel guide a full inch more than the stock thickness, so that when the wood bowed to give full contact, I would have sufficient pressure.  There shouldn't be any such issues with the new chop.  For a quick test, I clamped up a piece of 6/4" Curly Maple about 3 feet long in the vise and jointed one edge, no signs of slipping at all.

Tool Cabinet Update

I finished up my tool cabinet last week, but forgot to post anything about it.  I cut some 1/4" Luan plywood for the front panel, which works well enough.  The door tends to sag a bit, because I only have one dovetail at each corner.  I put a little glue in each of the joints, but it doesn't seem to be helping.  No big deal, really, the door just rubs a bit when I close it.  Outside of the glue I put in the door joints, there is no glue in the carcass of this cabinet.

I stuck the wood bits to the door using some contact cement, and realized too late that the bottom block for holding my adjustable square is too high to allow the stock clearance below the wood square.  I guess I'll just have to make a small wood square to take it's place.  I put some small screw-in hooks on the lower block that hold my sliding bevel and my marking gauge.  The block for my carcass saw was cut out of a chunk of 2x Doug Fir with my 12" bowsaw, and trimmed to fit with a chisel and knife.  I'm thinking I'll eventually move the chisel rack up about 8 inches and put a few drawers under them.  I'll also be adding a second chisel rack in front of the mortise chisels for my couple of bevel edge chisels.  The plane tray is attached with hinges, allowing me to easily access the void behind it (currently storing my plow plane).

Reaching for my plow plane: