Sunday, January 9, 2022

Wow . . . .just Wow . . ..

The end of 2021 turned into quite a frenzy here at the World Headquarters of the Slow Woodworker. Definitely had a very productive couple of months, and it has spilled over into 2022.

The table? Finished! 

 Put three coats of shellac on the base pieces, then glued it up. Put four coats of James Krenov's polish on the table top, the attached it to the base. Voila! Just in time to go under the tree at Christmas - Merry Christmas to me!


Then while I was basking in the glow of completing that project I was casting about for something quick to do. I had a bookmatched piece of spalted maple that has been kicking around the shop literally for years looking for a home. I decided, since I got my training in a cabinetmaking school, that a cabinet would be a good way to deal with it! So I resawed some arbutus for the body, made a small panel of some oak, finished everything with a few coats of shellac and glued it together. Then I made some brass hangers for it, a shelf and called it done. Very satisfying to get this done in about a week instead of my usual three+ years!!


Also nice that all the woods were harvested and dried by me. The air dried oak was like working with butter, it planed so beautifully. I will definitely come back to that wood again in the future.

Well not being satisfied with two projects done I embarked on a third! I had always wanted to make a veneered jewellery box and even had some koa wood set aside many years ago (cough cough) for it. However I thought I should do a 'test' box first before using up my precious koa. 

After much consideration and examining various options for wood using what I had in my shop, I decided to go with arbutus for the outside and maple for the inside.


I had some beautiful English oak which I bought years ago that I really wanted to use but it was an absolute bear to plane without tearout so I gave up on it. For now! It is obviously kiln dried, very brittle and has lots of reversing grain which I struggled to tame.

Rather than using plywood I decided to make my own ply, it will be three layers, poplar in the centre with a layer of alder on either side with the grains running at 90 degrees. The maple and arbutus veneers will glue to this, so five layers in total, about 9/16 thick.

So I resawed all the poplar and alder for my ply, then resawed all the maple and arbutus for the veneers. I glued up all the poplar and alder to make the 6 ply sections that a box requires, then trimmed each one to slightly oversized. 


I put a piece of arbutus on the bottom edge of each of the four side pieces, this way the bands of the ply will not be visible if someone looks at the underside of the box.

Once the box is all glued up I will cut it on the bandsaw to separate the lid from the base. Since I don't want the edge of the ply visible on the cut, I actually first cut the ply and inserted a 3/8" thick piece of arbutus. So when I do the cut to separate the lid and base it will be cut along the arbutus strip!

Last night I glued up the arbutus and maple veneers to the front piece of ply. The back piece is in the clamps and the remaining four pieces will be done over the next couple of days.

Monday, August 23, 2021

Keyed in!

Well my new smaller router hand plane arrived. It does the job, although due to its high quality construction the blade tends to slip. Anyways it works to make the bottom 'flat enough'.

I was quite nervous about gluing in the first key, I got it dry fitted about halfway in, I was afraid if I worked it in any further it would get stuck! At that point I put on a small back bevel for the remaining depth, glued the opening, and drove it home. I was amazed that it went all the way home with a single blow, no glue spilled out, and the fit was more than satisfactory! 

So at this point I have 3 (almost 4) of the 6 butterfly keys installed. It has turned out to be extremely tedious cutting by hand the patterns in the tabletop. I think it would have been faster to have made up a couple of templates for a router to do the cutting, Live and learn. I hate using the router though. 


Meanwhile, I also came to the conclusion that I was not happy with the proportions of the 'arms' on the base, the two pieces that hold up the top. They were too chunky for my taste, I wanted to trim them down. Unfortunately I had made a tenon near full width on their tops, and this tenon went into a mortise on  the underside of the 'hands' on which the slab sits. So I could trim the arms to the size I wanted but would have to redo the hands with smaller mortises. 

To help me with redoing the mortises, and with the elongated holes I plan to use for the bolts which will secure the slab to these arms, I have ordered a sliding table to fit on my horizontal mortiser. I should have ordered it twenty years ago! Anyways, it'll be here any day.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

Cherry Detour

My Forstner drill and hand chisel technique was working pretty well for the butterfly key openings, but not so well for making the bottom of the openings flat and a consistent depth. My router plane was too big for this job, so I asked a couple local woodworkers about borrowing theirs, but no one had one small enough so I wound up buying one and am awaiting its delivery at present. 

Meanwhile I reconsidered the end cuts I had carefully made on the slab using a circular saw a few weeks ago. There was more tear out than I wanted - I wanted zero. I thought I could get rid of it by rounding the edges a bit, but some of the tear out was just too much. So I decided to recut the ends, this time using my bandsaw. 

 Since I had already rough cut the butterfly key opening on one end I did not have a lot of material to work with, I decided to take 1/4" off each end.

Although the bandsaw table is small and the slab is large, with a support roller it actually worked very well - no tear out at all!

After the cutting I cleaned up the edges with a range of sandpapers. I know that using a spokeshave or other cutting tool would yield a much better finish, but I use my slab of 1" plate steel as a sanding block and it makes short work of the task, and keeps the edge super even. I'll run the papers up to 400 grit to make it gleam!

This piece of steel is one of my favourite 'tools', its substantial weight and perfect flatness make it super handy for many tasks. I attended a steel scraping class some years ago and this was a little project we did there. I personally scraped this thing flat to within less than 0.001". 

 I also took the opportunity to trim some of the pieces on the base to their final length. I was concerned that the base looked a bit small under this large slab. I still need to put tapers on several of the pieces as well as make an arrangement for mounting the slab to the base. 
Plenty of work left still!

Friday, May 14, 2021

Not a Cherry on Top!

 As mentioned in my last post I plan to use this slab as my top.


Although sold to me as rosewood I am not entirely sure what it really is. In any case I think it'll make a fine top for the cherry base. It does have cracks coming in from each end. These are too long to be entirely cut out, so butterfly keys it is.

Naturally my first instinct was to do a mock up. I used some locust and beech to practice with. I was pleased with my double-clamp method I devised to make up the keys, although the fit was average at best.

Next was to choose what wood to use for the final butterflies. I wanted something a bit darker than the top. It was fun to dig up and look through all these exotic woods. 

I decided on three keys at each end. My fancy double-clamp key cutting method that worked great on the beech did not work here, so cutting these out was a bit more tedious. 

The perilous task of cutting the keys in the slab was next. I first did a test on some of the end that would be cut off anyways. 

I quickly realized that freehand routing was NOT the way to go! Can't see what I am doing. I even ordered some clear plexiglass and made up a new base but that did not really help. Forstner bit and chisel it shall be.

It was too stressful so I spent some time cutting off the ends of the slab and then cleaning up the end grain. Getting that spokeshave sharpened just right, wow what a difference!


There was no way to avoid cutting the keys, so I forged ahead. The workmanship of risk.

Along the way I decided it was well past time to replace my Forstner bits that I paid $2 each for. I bought some nice German made ones and they are superb. Chip clearance is key!

Hopefully the next post I will have the keys in the slab.

Friday, April 9, 2021

Cherry Table Progess!

 It has been an astonishing month here at the Slow Woodworker. For no apparent reason there has been a real burst of activity and good progress to show for it!

 Spine/feet/arms were completed as of our last update. I know I'm a bit loose with the terminology.


OK  skeptics here are both feet in place.

After all this it was time for the last bit of joinery work, the mortice and tenons between the arms and hands. I think of them as wrists! 

I started with the mortices on the bottom of the hands, using a 3/4" Forstner bit on my horizontal morticer, then tidying them up.

First I used 'the sport of freehand morticing' with an end mill on the horizontal morticer. But I hate that so much I clean ed up as much as I could with a chisel, then just did a final pass with the end mill.

At some point I discovered that I had used the 5/8" bit instead of the 3/4" bit. Whaaat? How does that happen? Well at least it was not a bigger bit. My punishment was more effort on the cleanup. Lesson learned, again. Must stay 100% focussed!

Next step was the tenons on the arms, cutting on the Hammond Glider with a freshly sharpened blade. Sharpening makes such a difference!

I am so grateful to Robert at the IPSFC for teaching me how to make mortice and tenon joints quickly and properly.Once the tenons are rough cut to size on the first the tablesaw then the bandsaw, I dialed them in using my shaper to pare the cheeks down to a perfect fit. Using the dial gauge with the magnetic base I can dial in the fit to within a thousandth of an inch!

OK of course it was not that easy, the other arm still had some twist in it so I had to tape on a feeler gauge to make the cheeks parallel on  it. 

It's amazing how things kind of stumble along during a project then suddenly it all fits together, and BOOM!



I have decided to use this slab as the top. I will probably have to use some dovetail keys on it, but I think it will work nicely. Plus my daughter likes it. So what else matters! 

Next up will be to trim the slab and make up the keys. I have never made keys before so it will be a journey. Plus there is still plenty of fussy fitting on the base to go through still. I will save final trimming of the hands and feet to near the end. 

I should also mention that I screwed up the height somehow, despite massive deployment of trigonometry. 


I wanted the finished height to be 16.5", but it is 16.5" now, and need to trim the hands still. It's probably going to wind up at a hair under 16". C'est la vie.


Sunday, April 4, 2021

Cherry Table in the Thick of it

 Progress on the cherry table! 

 I did all the rough cutting with a flat top bevel blade on the table saw. It worked pretty well, I trimmed joints to the correct width using a chisel guided by this straightedge. 


Getting these long skinny bridle joints fitted was a challenge! Had to cut them on the bandsaw initially, then the rest by hand.


This router plane was super helpful for cleaning up the bottoms of these joints. I bought it specifically for this project from Lee Valley after I saw Ryan using it a while ago and giving it the thumbs up! I would use it again, a good acquisition.


The bridle joints going together.


Finally the bridle joints are home! The 'arms' are in position. One of the arms had developed a bit of a twist to it, which complicated things a bit. I managed to plane it out in the area of the bridle joint, so the final fit was OK. Tight but a bit of a gap.


I trimmed the arms to length, then got the two 'feet' fitted. That turned out to be easy as I accidentally cut them both a bit oversize so they are looser than I would like! But minimal fitting time was required.  May glue in some shims, or run a couple screws up from underneath. Probably both!

 In retrospect I should have used a different joint here, the gluing is all end grain. I also had a bit of tearout on the edges of the joint which I am going to struggle to hide. 

Only one foot showing in this photo below. I need to trim the feet to length and to put a slope on the tops and ends of them. But the fitting of the major components of the base is now complete. 

Next up will be a piece that sit on tops of the arms which the tabletop will actually rest on. I'm calling these the 'hands'. I'm planning on putting a tenon on the end of each arm that will fit into a mortise on the bottom of each hand. The tops of the hands will be cut parallel to the ground for the top to rest on.

I feel like the end of this project is within my grasp.

Tuesday, March 9, 2021

The Cherry Coffee Table Rises Again!!

 I wrote about this back in 2016. There has been quite a gap (5 years) and a few twists and turns along the way. But here I am, back at it! Thanks Covid for giving me all this shop time.

March 21 2013. It started on a beautiful sunny early spring morning. A couple of local cherry street trees had been cut down and found their way down to the city log dump where a friendly city worker set them up for me to slab with my Alaska mill. 

After a few years of being stacked at the side of my house to dry, in 2016 they went through my little home made dehumidifier kiln to squeeze out the last few percent of moisture.

Then it was time to run the slabs through my large planer. I glued each slab to a torsion box, supported the high spots with wedges that were also glued, then cleaned up the slabs.

A lot of chips were generated, my cyclone was great but the chip container was way too small! 

The slabs were pretty nice, I was happy with them. My planer had a ton of snipe though.

I cut the slabs up into sticks, let them dry, then cleaned them up further. I wound up with about ten. Some grain straightening was required. 

My plan was to use them for the base of a coffee table, similar to this George Nakashima table.

The piece on the bottom, what I call the "spine", I did not have anything long enough. I decided to join two pieces together end to end using a rabbeted oblique scarf splice joint, AKA "okkake doisen tsugi".

I thought it would be wise to do a test of this joint. Good thing I did, I wound up with a bad gap.And also a crack.

So then I marked up my real pieces and I made the cuts. But I made a terrible mistake. Can you see it? 

I would have needed to cut the entire joint off and start again. But the pieces were not long enough to allow that. So this project was dead dead dead. After that disaster I decided to give the wood a detention so I took it into a spare room in my house and let it sit there for five years. 

By then I had commiserated with some woodworking buddies and received a very excellent suggestion (thank you Jaime and Kenji!!) on how to fix it. I glued and screwed on a couple pieces of dark wood to
make up for my mistake! The screws will not be visible when the joint is closed.

I used a piece of holly to close up the joint. The gap in this joint was also pretty bad unfortunately. Apparently any lessons from five years ago had been forgotten. Meh. I got on with it. 

Once the spine was built, I thought I should do a mock up of some of the cuts that would be needed in it. I did one "leg" and one "arm" and "hand". After looking at it I decided to make the arm angle a
smidge steeper.

Arm and Hand

So I took the real spine to my tablesaw and after about two weeks of careful contemplation, made the necessary cuts. It seems I was mistake-free this time. So far at least. 

My saw cuts at 90 degrees only, so I had to make up a little jig with some MDF in order to cut the angles for the bridal joints for the arms. 

I use a flat-top saw blade so I get a nice even depth groove. But I noticed that one side of the saw blade cuts much more smoothly than the other. Time for a resharpening! But it doesn't matter in this case as I will be sneaking up on the final fit by hand so the rough cut will be trimmed off anyways.

Once I cut some grooves on the tablesaw I use a chisel to cut out the bulk of the waste, then I went back to the tablesaw to clean up the bottom. Next will be the fitting of the legs and arms to this spine piece. 


In parallel with this flurry of activity I have also been trying to decide on what to use for the top. Once I get everything fitted to the spine I will not be able to put the top decision off any further. The dimensions of the top will to some extent dictate the dimensions of the legs and hands. But I have narrowed the top down to two choices so it should not be that hard to decide.

This is my goal.


So that is an update on where I am now. Hopefully I will continue to make progress in the coming weeks.