Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Dr. Powertool, or, how I stopped worrying and learned to love handtools

Hi, I'm Brad and I'm a Normite.... that's right, like all of you I am a powertool driven, bought a biscuit joiner, have a dedicated mortiser, have 4 routers Normite. But I'm recovering, over the last few years I've been converted to quality hand tools.
I've been watching The New Yankee Workshop every Saturday morning for years. I guess you could say that its replaced my Saturday morning cartoons. Over time I grew to have serious shop envy. I wanted a big shop with a huge tablesaw, a stationary tool for every operation and a brad nailer, oh how I wanted a brad nailer. But, alas, I had a house in Downtown Charleston with no garage and no space for one. I worked out in the driveway and used all portable tools, but they were power tools. Don't get me wrong, I had chisels, Stanley Chisels that had never seen a wetstone. I had a block plane that I got from the local True Value, it was a Stanley, but by this time, all Stanley made that was any good would be garage door openers.
I found a nice house on the island with room for a shop... a shop.... oh how happy I was. I built my shop, after lots of drawings and using the shop planner tool on the Grizzly tools site at least once a week. The shop turned out great, just what I wanted. I filled it with all the power tools that I'd been planning over those long years of shop lust. I ran a dust collection system, lots of power outlets, I built some ugly cabinets and made a big assembly table. I even sharpened my chisels.
Well, oddly enough, the Internet brought me to hand tools, well that and the magazines. I saw people using hand tools and read about techniques. I even got some decent chisels free from Dewalt with a combo router kit, they were actually Marples but in black with the Dewalt logo. I started getting saws, a Japanese saw, a flush saw, a gent's saw. But the true conversion came when I got my first Lie-Nielsen plane, it was a low angle shoulder plane that I picked up at Woodcraft to clean up the junk that the tablesaw left on my tenon's shoulders. It was like that scene in The Holy Grail when the clouds open up to Arthur and the voice of God talks to him. That plane, right out of the box, cut shavings that you could see through. It felt so good in my hand, heavy, solid, SHARP!! That was it, I had seen the light, my eyes were opened.
This winter I got a sharpening system, now all my irons and chisels are razor sharp, even that crappy old Stanley Block plane cut ok. I think I turned a corner this summer when I made my first wooden plane. I really can feel this plane move through the wood. I decided to replace that POS block plane that never holds a setting with a Lie-Nielsen low angle block plane. I love the heavy blade and the solid brass parts. I ground a microbevel on the blade and stropped it on a leather wheel, rubbed little wax on the bottom and zzzzzzooooommmmmmm.

I finally treated myself to a nice set of chisels, I ordered these Two Cherries babies through The WoodWhisperer's Amazon site. They are sharp and shiny and in a nice box. I could feel a burr on each bevel so I hit them with a very fine grit at 25 degrees and a microbevel at 30 degrees, and on the flat. I then stropped both sides on the leather wheel with some green compound.

Now, all that said and done don't come asking me to sell you my Powermatic Mortiser or my Leigh Dovetail jig, I still need my power tools, but there are times when its easier and FASTER, to use a hand tool to do something then to set up and run a power tool. If I have a dresser full of drawers I'll take the time to set up the Leigh Jig and Router, but if I have one drawer in a wall cabinet, it time to hand cut. I'll still cut my tenons on the tablesaw, but I'll trim them to that perfect fit with a shoulder plane. I'll still cut my mortises on the mortiser, but cleaning them up is now a breeze, and the through mortises are cut on the outside with the chisels. If I just have one or two mortises, its the drill press and the chisels.
Thank you to everyone that has helped me overcome my addiction and move along the road to being a better craftsman. I end with this simple prayer.
God grant me the serenity to accept the time I have to use powertools;
courage to use hand tools when I should;
and wisdom to know the difference.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Islands coffee table

This project is quite a departure for me, as most of you know, I usually make arts and crafts reproductions, this is a very modern design and its made entirely from MDF. Dan brought me the picture to the left and asked if I could make something like it. We went into the shop and started playing around and discovered that I could but not out of solid wood.

What I decided I would have to do is to start with a posterboard pattern with inside curves no tighter than 1/2 inch. This is the limit because I wanted to use a 1/2 inch flush trim bit in my router table.

To start I make a pattern out of 1/2 inch MDF on the band saw, I used the oscillating spindle sander to clean up the sawmarks and to smooth out the curves. Once the final pattern is complete I transfer it to 3/4 inch MDF 20 times, and once more to 1/2 inch MDF, this will give me a total height of 16 inches when complete. I rough cut the outlines on the band saw staying at least 1/8th inch off the line. It seems like a lot of work but cutting each one took less than a minute.
I glued the rough cut to the pattern and held it in place with a few Brad nails.... I know I know... I feel kind of dirty...
Since I have a 2 inch long flush trim bit I was able to glue and nail 2 of the rough pieces to the pattern, this makes the whole process go twice as fast . Here you see the bearing of the flush trim bit running on the pattern while the entire thickness of the rough pieces will contact the router blades.

I repeat the process of glueing and nailing two more rough blanks to the routed piece, the pattern bit bearing now will ride on the bottom of the area that was just routed.

As you can see the stack gets rather high rather quickly, it also gets rather heavy. I considered hollowing out the center pieces to reduce the weight but decided that the weight would add stability to the tall narrow "islands".

Here they are, the two islands ready to send off to Dan. They are pretty smooth after the routing but the bearing on the bit tends to indent the edges of the MDF, he'll need to hand sand the edges, prior to priming and painting them. These were the easy parts, now comes the tabletop with its own "shoreline" that will be made using the same process. I'll be able to make the legs, top and sides partially buy building "boxes" out of MDF", this should save some weight and some time, but it still needs to be strong enough to support the "shoreline", there is still some engineering before I start that build.

"A little thought and a little kindness are often worth more than a great deal of money."
John Ruskin

Sunday, July 20, 2008

Stickley Coat Rack, Part 3, the end.

Today I completed the Stickley Coat Rack and took it over to my neighbor so that she could take it to her office. It turned out very nice and it was fun to make.

I installed some nice large antiqued bronze coat hooks, three on each side just like the original.

I used my favorite finishing recipe for arts and crafts furniture.

Sand piece to 150 grit and clean with tack rag or vacuum.
Wipe a good coat of dye on, be sure to cover all sides and keep dye from puddling in corners and at base. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours.
Lightly sand to remove raised grain with 220 grit, avoid oversanding especially at corners and edges.
Pad on a 1LB cut of amber shellac or sanding sealer.
Using a 320 grit sanding pad gently rub surface, clean with tack cloth or vacuum.
Apply Brown Mahogany Gel stain being careful to not cover too large of an area because once dry its very hard to wipe off. Once the gel starts to haze rub it off with a clean lint free cloth, I prefer old T-shirts. This gives you a warm rubbed in look. Let dry overnight.
Pad on 2-3 2LB cut coats of amber shellac, I tightly fold a square of T-shirt material, then soak it in the shellac and squeeze out excess, rub it in until it starts to drag then let dry. The coat of shellac should dry in 30 minutes or less. Repeat until you get the build you want.
Again, using 320 grit sanding pad gently rub surface, clean with a tack cloth or vacuum.
Take a few minutes to go over the whole piece with your clean hand, checking the surface for any rough areas or holidays.
Using a clean square of T-shirt rub in a thick coat of Watco Dark Liquid wax. Avoid plain or light colored waxes as these may leave white residue in the pores of the oak. When the wax is dry buff it out with a clean square of T-shirt.

I posted this in February but I wanted to revisit it because its been a while and people in the Woodwhisperer chat room have been asking me about it recently. As a reward for myself I picked up a L-N low angle block plane when I visited Woodcraft today, I've been wanting one for a while now.

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Stickley Coat Rack, Part 2

This weekend's post starts with a little therapeutic planing Friday afternoon. I didn't have a lot of time but I really wanted to get in the shop and do something. I don't have any pictures but I planed the tapers on the uprights. The neat thing is that the best plane for this ended up being a wooden plane that I've been working on. My block plane is a little too narrow and my Stanley No. 4 wasn't holding a setting for some reason, so I pulled out my wooden smoothing plane, set the blade with a few taps on the wedge and went too it, next thing I know I'm ankle deep in shavings and the tapers are done. I'm really excited about this as this is the very first plane that I've tried to make. I've been playing with it, trying to decide the best shape for my hands. This was a great test and showed me some places on the plane where I want to adjust the shape.

Today I started with shaping the ends of the tenons, I mark a line around the tenon where it pokes out of the through mortise. I hold the pencil up a little about 1/16th of an inch and mark the line all the way around. After disassembly I mark a line down the center of the end of the tenon and a line on each end 1/2 the width of the tenon.

I use these lines as guides as I block plane the pyramid shape on the end of the tenon. I cut the ends first to avoid blowout. I then ran the block plane set a very thin shaving over the sides several times until I reached both lines. I turned the piece around in the vise and repeated the procedure. Repeating this for both sides of both cross pieces.

The next step is the joinery to attach the feet to the uprights of the coatrack. This operation is done on the routertable, I used a 1/2 inch mortising bit to remove the bulk of the material, testing the setting of the fence and checking using a scrap piece. The router bit is trapped inside the stock so stock control is very important. I used a stop block screwed to the fence of the router table to stop at proper spot and a feather board to hold the stock against the fence.
I then switched to a 14 degree 3/4 inch wide dovetail bit. After setting the depth and the fence and reinstalling the featherboard I ran the uprights past the bit easily. Here you have to remember that you can't lift the stock off the bit, you have to pull the stock back along the route it traveled.

Leaving the bit in place and at the same depth I pull the fence back and attack a sacrificial piece of 1/2 inch MDF to be used as a zero clearance fence. I then sneak up on the correct setting buy eye, run a scrap piece through cutting both sides and checking it, making the adjustment I need, again by eye, and re-running the scrap. Using this method I can usually get dead on in two or three adjustments, and its much easier then trying to measure and subtrack then adjusting the fence while measuring off the bit.

After the sliding dovetails are cut on the stock I cut the pattern that I had marked on the feet last weekend on the bandsaw. I then cut the excess dovetail from the top of the foot with a handsaw then shape the end to match the round end of the socket.

First I round the end with a sharp chisel, usually I just have to pare the endgrain off and remove the waste.

Next I undercut the end to match the angle of the dovetail while keeping the round shape of the socket

When you are done you should be able to slide the tenon into the socket and run it home with a few blows of a deadblow hammer. If you can't get the sliding dovetail at least half way in by hand its too tight and you need to trim the tenon some. If you slide it all the way in by hand its too loose and you can either start over, or you can fix it by gluing a strip of veneer to each side. I check and double check the tenon fit before I cut the final stock so I won't run into these problems at this step.
What you should end up with is a tight joint and a snug fit with no slop or play in the joint. Once you coat the sliding dovetail in glue it will slide in much easier.

After a final dryfit everyting was pulled apart and sanded at 100-120-150 grit. The feet were cleaned up on the oscillating spindle sander to remove the saw marks from the bandsaw and sanded with the rest of the parts. After a much needed break, its hot in Charleston in July, I glued the cross pieces to the uprights, then the feet to the uprights. The only clamps that were needed were to hold the uprights tight to the cross members.

The final assembly, sanded and glued. Tommorow I'll handsand the whole piece and start the finishing process. Or maybe I'll go to the beach, who knows.

"The early bird gets the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese." -Steven Wright

Monday, July 7, 2008

Stickley Coat Rack, Part 1

This weekend began the Stickley Coat Rack from the previous post. I spent a lot of time milling the lumber, the 8/4 Quartersawn White Oak that I had on hand was a little twisted and cupped so it began with a lot of work on the Joiner and with a Jack plane. Once it was close I ripped the stock down to just over 2 inches wide then let it sit flat on my workbench over night. The next day started with more passes on the joiner and to my surprise I ended up with two true square boards 1 3/4 x 1 3/4 x 72 inches.
I also milled some stock 1 1/2 inches thick for the feet and two pieces of 5/4 for the stretchers.

I made templates for the feet and the taper at the top of the posts out of some 1/2 MDF. I transferred the shapes onto the stock so that after the joinery I can cut out the shapes on the bandsaw.

The stretchers are through tenons so after cutting mortises through the uprights I cut long tenons on the crosspieces.

Here you can see how I cut the the shoulders off the tenons using the bandsaw.

After a little clean up using a shoulder plane for the tenons and a wide chisel for the mortises I did a dry fit of the stretchers.

Here are the through tenons in place, I marked each one so that I can trim the ends once I take it aparts and sand down the cross pieces.

Here is the dry fit of the of the uprights all done and waiting for me to come back next weekend. I need to decide how I'm going to join the feet to the uprights, shape and sand the feet and the cross stretchers.
"It's not what you look at that matters, it's what you see"
Henry David Thoreau

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

New Project!!!!!

Slow to get back into the shop after my vacation I was looking around for something that I really wanted to build, my neighbor Michelle is an Audiologist and came to me asking if I could make her a coat rack for her office. She said that she didn't have much wall space and wanted something that would hold a few coats.
I did some looking through my Stickley catalogs and found this. Its called a costumer and may have been originally intended to go in a bed room instead of the hall way but I think it will work great and looks really cool. I like the double tree design and it fits her requirement or not being too wide at 14 inches. The base is 22 inches across so it will only sit out 10 inches from the wall.

I only had to small pictures from my books and no plans so I searched around on the internet and found these pictures and more that show details such as the through tenons for the stretchers. I've also found some hardware that was close to these. What I have to figure out is how the base and the uprights are attached, I could either cut a deep bridle joint on the uprights or use a mortise and tenon joint on each foot. The rest is pretty straight forward. Any thoughts on the joinery for the bottom would be greatly appreciated.

"Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed - there's so little competition."

Elbert Hubbard