Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The completed windmill. Yet another tangent

With the propeller finished, I made a very basic windmill to attach it to and accommodate a vane to point it into the wind.  It felt like something was missing but the moving scenes of whirligigs don't appeal to me, so I cast about for something different.  Yes, another dubious brainstorm.  Walking up the sidewalk one night I noticed the solar powered lights along it.  Aha.  I cut off the stem and attached it to the middle of the windmill (at the balance point so the weight wouldn't matter).  I really like it.  The light shines through the blades and looks like a beacon.  People seem to believe that it is powered by the windmill, an illusion I like.

It is 7' in the air at the front of my driveway so it really stands out.  I am hoping that white oak with several coats of spar varnish will hold up to all the rain we have here.

So, how does it perform?  Pretty well, could be better.  The bronze bearings and thrust washers work very well, offering minimal resistance.  The blades are rectangular and a more aerodynamic shape would be better.  The main thing though is that I made the blades quite narrow for aesthetic reasons.  Compare them to the blades on the lawn ornament I have that turns so well:

They have much more surface area, looks like about double.  I think this is the major issue.  I like the looks of the narrow blades so well that I am willing to put up with it.

Tuesday, December 4, 2018

Windmills v. 2

Dissatisfied with my first effort to create a wooden windmill propeller because it took a strong wind to get it turning and was clunky, I decided to do some research and I learned two things.  For a windmill, apparently, the shape of the blade isn't all that critical because the main benefit of an efficient airfoil is reduced drag for a given amount of lift (long story).  Drag increases with the square of velocity and the propeller won't turn very fast.  Second, the pitch of the blades should apparently be quite low.   It appears something around 10 degrees is about right.

I needn't have bothered with the research because I could have just walked into the front yard:

This little thing made of plastic and nylon fabric spins like crazy in barely perceptible winds.  The blades are very thin and they are affixed at about an 8 degree angle.

At this point I had a brainstorm.  The angled slots that whirligig makers use don't seem like a great idea to me, more something that takes advantage of a dado blade and a tablesaw jig.  They aren't suitable for an eight-bladed propeller.  I dimly recalled a windmill I made as a small child with Tinkertoys.  Why not just drill holes in the hub and use a short dowel to attach the blades?  I cut out a round hub with a holesaw then drilled eight evenly spaced 3/8" holes around the perimeter.  Then I created a flat on a part of some short 3/8" dowels that I would use to affix the blades.  Doing it this way allows you to easily attach the blades at any pitch angle you want.

This one minute video shows it turning up with a fan set on low about 6' away. Since my camera records at 30 fps and the blades appear stationary at speed, I think it is turning about 225 rpm. The main thing that appears to hold it back is that the bronze bushings are .252" and the stainless steel shaft is .242" so it starts to shimmy a bit. This is fast enough anyway.

I'm satisfied with this so I'm going to move on to the next step.  If I were going to experiment further, I would try different pitches to determine experimentally what angle works best.  I would also use my spokeshave to shape the blades into a better airfoil, which would produce modest improvement via reduced drag.

I think this method works pretty well with hand tools.  It's definitely a challenge to drill the holes accurately and I might try to come up with some sort of fixture if I make more hubs.  A hole saw works with a brace or an electric drill.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Holiday gifts 2018

Each year, we try to give friends and family a small handmade item along with an Oregon product.  This year we decided on hazelnuts, or filberts.  The US is the third largest producer of filberts after Turkey and Italy and virtually all of the US crop is grown in Oregon.  I wanted to help the local farmers out because hazelnuts are caught up in the trade war.

That meant that some sort of small dish or box would be a nice item to accompany the hazelnuts, but I have grown tired of making and giving dovetailed boxes.  One day I got one of my infamous brainstorms.  I went out to the firewood pile and selected nice looking douglas-fir pieces with a wide live edge.  Then I split them out with an ax so they would be approximately 3" deep and 6-8" wide.  Cut about 12" long, this would form the outside of a box. I jointed the bottoms flat but left the split edges and long sides as is.

To create the bowl, I hogged out a lot of the waste with a large forstner bit, which gave me nice rounded corners.  Then I used a chisel and gouge to remove the rest of the waste.  With a wiped-on finish, they're done:

These obviously don't suit everyone's taste but I like them.  They are quick, easy and fun to make, so a dozen isn't a big deal.  I have come to dislike the commercialism of holiday gift giving and think a handmade item better reflects the spirit of the season.  However modest, "I made this for you" is special.

Wednesday, November 21, 2018

Videos from some interesting craftsmen

This post is going to be a little different because I want to share some videos from some other craftsman, one of which is woodworking and one isn't.

The first is the Engels Coach Shop in Montana.  He restores or reproduces heavy horse-drawn wagons, makes wooden wheels etc.  Right now he is making very heavy wheels for some spanish cannons from Puerto Rico.  They shipped him a large pallet of mahogany and he is making every piece of them from scratch using hand tools and machines, many of which he designed and made himself.  It is absolutely fascinating to see how he does it.  Here is one of the videos in the series about installing the felloes:

He is a very straightforward guy who shows you how he does his work step by step.  The accuracy he achieves with basic tools and machines is amazing to me.

The next one isn't woodworking but instead is by a retired guy in upstate New York near where I grew up whose retirement hobby is to recreate a  line-powered machine shop driven by steam.  Here is a video in a series about restoring a vintage steam engine.

This is a subject about which I know almost nothing but it is fascinating to me and I really look forward to his videos.

I hope you enjoy these as much as I do.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018


I have seen a number of videos about whirligigs recently and they got me interested in creating something similar.  I'm especially interested in the windmill portion of them.

From what I have seen, whirligig makers start by making a hub with slots cut in it to hold the blades.  Some say that 35 degrees is the best angle so that is what I used.   I wanted 8 blades, so the slots are narrowly spaced.  To make it, I cut out an octagon, used my bandsaw to define the slots and then chiseled out the waste.

I chose long thin blades, thin for looks and long for more surface area presented to the wind.  Here's what the propeller looks like:

It is 22" in diameter and way overbuilt (the blades are 5/16" thick), which makes it heavy and therefore difficult to start because of inertia.  I'm going for a traditional windmill look rather than a whirligig so that's why it is much larger than normal.  Because of the weight I needed a stout shaft, so I cut off the head of a 1/4" stainless steel bolt and epoxied it into the back of the windmill.  The propeller shaft rides in some little bronze bearings I found.

Before someone else says it, this isn't an efficient windmill; it's primarily decorative and designed to look good to my eye.  This was confirmed when I tested it with a fan.  The blades are quite thin.  Because of it's mass, the propeller takes a while to spool up but this inertia also keeps it running at a fairly constant speed in a variable wind.  It runs surprisingly true and doesn't seem to be grossly out of balance.  The bearings are new and I don't want to lubricate them until after I apply finish so I suspect it will turn more freely in use.

This windmill would be great if I lived on the coast but I'd like to come up with one that would turn in a light wind.  It needs to be lighter and the blades can be thinner by half.  Wider blades would be better because they have more "lift" but I like the look of the thin blades.  I did some research and it appears that the 35 degree pitch isn't right because the blades "stall" in light wind.  Surprising to me at least is that scientific research shows an angle more like 5 degrees to be optimal.  The latter presents a whopping 22% more frontal area to the wind.    This creates a construction issue because the adjacent slots won't clear, so some new way of making the hub is necessary.  A 4-bladed windmill wouldn't have this problem but I like the look of 8 blades.  I have an idea, although this is starting to feel like my stool saga.  In my defense, I did end up with a unique design that works very well.  :-(

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

Stickley sideboard, part 5

When I put the Stickley sideboard aside last spring, the carcase was done and I only had the drawers left to make; with the arrival of fall, it was time to get back at it.  As I wrote in the last post, the drawers went well and it was time for finish.

I made this for my son and his wife and they prefer dark stains.  They're not my cup of tea but the original was dark so I didn't object.  Dark stains are tough because they show every imperfection and tend not to absorb evenly; at least that's my experience.  Pre-stain conditioner is recommended but I like the color differences that result from not using it, so I didn't.

Here's the result:

Building this piece only increased my respect for Stickley and Ellis.  There are many small details that I didn't appreciate until I realized how they contribute to both form and function.

Friday, November 2, 2018

Trombones and dovetails

When I was in high school, I was a very good trombonist but not a great one.  I had plenty of talent and a good instrument, but I didn't practice consistently.  Take the summer off and it feels like starting all over in the fall.

I have this same problem with dovetails.  I don't cut dovetails often enough that I retain muscle memory and top-of-mind feel for what I am doing and I find it very annoying to spend time practicing every time I want to.  I was facing exactly that issue as I prepared to make the drawers for the Stickley sideboard.

By coincidence, YouTube recommended a video to me about a new dovetail guide.  It looked intriguing and is only $35, so I decided to give it a try.  When it arrived, I decided to cut a quick practice joint to get a feel for it and, to my surprise, it came out great. This is straight off the saw and as close to a 5 minute dovetail as I'll ever get.

The guide is made from urethane (like skateboard wheels etc.) and has two embedded magnets on each side.  There is one side for tails, two for pins and one for right angle cuts.

It is extremely fast to cut dovetails this way because all you do is mark the baseline and add some tick marks on the top for the layout.  As you can see, it is translucent and that helps to position it accurately.

The cuts for the half-pins were dead on with no trimming at all.  One thing that is a bit unusual is that, unless you are ambidextrous, you end up cutting tails from both sides of the board but that didn't end up being a problem.

I tried it with both western and Japanese saws and found the former much better.  The magnets are strong enough that my Japanese saw wouldn't work without applying downward pressure on the handle.

So, is it a good idea to use a guide?  Certainly if you are a beginner it is.  I'm not but I still found it very useful for two reasons.  It's very fast for those of us who would otherwise mark out the pins and tails.  Second, if you haven't cut dovetails in a while it is a very good way to re-establish muscle memory and remember those little things that make a difference.  I found myself sawing with a very light touch.  If you are cutting a lot of dovetails I think you could use this for awhile and then cut the rest by hand.  I am not bothered by using a guide and I think I will keep using it.

The guide doesn't work for half-blind pins but I still found it useful for making the drawers because you can cut out the tails very quickly and precisely and, of course, you can use it for the dovetails on the rear of the drawer.  They came out well:

I know that using guides is frowned upon by some and I respect their position but I don't feel that way.   A plane is a guided blade, a shooting board is a guide...

Monday, October 22, 2018

Portable workbench, v. 2.0

After we finished building out the cargo trailer as a camping trailer, I had one day before we were to leave on our field trial and I knew I wanted to do some woodworking.  Dissatisfied with the portable workbench I made last year, I wanted to come up with an improved version.

For a larger portable bench, there is no doubt in my mind that the Moravian workbench is the way to go.  My failed attempt of last year helped me to better appreciate what a truly great design it is.  Watch this brief video of Will Myers assembling it in 60 seconds.  Very stable too.  Amazing.  Not something I could make in a day, though, and somewhat larger than I had in mind.

I had just one day to build something compact that could be clamped to a picnic table.  This isn't as farfetched as it may sound; you may remember Chris Schwarz's "milkman's workbench" from a few years ago, although it isn't tall enough and I didn't want any vises on mine.  Most picnic tables are 30" high, I like to work at 36", so I had in mind something about 6" tall and around 16"x36".  Standing at my Nicholson workbench thinking about this, it struck me that a scaled-down version of it without legs would fill the bill nicely.  I had some dry 2x6s on hand, so that's what I made.  As you can see, it fastens to the picnic table with c-clamps, although there a variety of ways to clamp it down:

With the clock ticking, I wondered what to do about a vise.  I knew that I wanted a Moxon to sit on top, just as I use at home, but I wanted a considerably smaller version.  I had an old one that used F-clamps sitting on the shelf, so the first thing I did was cut it down to 16".  I didn't want to use F-clamps, but looking around the shop I had a brainstorm (possibly because I had seen it somewhere before but I can't remember).  I picked up a wooden handscrew, sawed the screws in half in the middle where the threads change direction, then cut the jaw on either side of the barrel nuts.  These became the twin screws for my vise:

Using the barrel nuts allows the jaws to skew and it was very fast to construct:

It works much better than I expected, though it does only accommodate workpieces up to 6/4 and it is 12" between the screws, but that's enough for a portable vise in my opinion.  Of course it can be used directly on the picnic table if I choose but I generally like to use it on top of the bench so I can stand straight when I saw.

I didn't have a lot of time left and I still had to figure out what to do about tool storage, so  I salvaged the "drawer" from the previous version of the portable workbench and used some scrap pieces of plywood from the trailer project to make a case for it:

The three pieces stow away for travel in a compact space.  All in all, it works quite well and I'm not sure I could have done a lot better in one day.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Fall is in the air

My summer hiatus was longer than usual this year for a variety of reasons.  The primary reason is that I took on a major woodworking project that I didn't think would be of interest here.  Specifically, we purchased a cargo trailer and built it out as a camping trailer, complete with a queen-size bed, a throne room and lots of storage.  Surprisingly,  it turned out better than expected (I was making it up as I went along) and has attracted a lot of interest.  There are a fair number of baby boomers who, like us, camped in tents for years but are ready to expend a little less effort and be a little more comfortable without going into a full-fledged RV.

I have been reading the blogs from the Unplugged website regularly and commenting sometimes.  To me, it appears that woodworking blogs are in decline as there are many fewer posts than I used to read.  Many of those that remain are commercial.  That's too bad, as I really enjoy reading about what other amateur woodworkers are doing.  Of course, I am in no position to complain as I haven't been posting either.  My pageviews had been trending down and I wasn't getting a lot of comments which, along with being preoccupied with other pursuits, were factors.  Finally, I just didn't feel like I had a lot to share that would be of interest.  I'm ready to get back at it.

During our camping trips, I watched a lot of woodworking videos on YouTube and noticed that a video attracts astronomically more views than a blog of comparable quality does.  It's probably a sign of the times; people get their information these days from watching video rather than reading.  In some cases, I think there is a good reason for that.  I have picked up valuable tips from watching these videos that the author doesn't even mention; I just notice something they do and think it's a good idea.  Most times, though, it just seems like there is a much bigger audience for video than written material.  Dunno.

I don't want to make videos so I am going to stick with blogging and I hope you do too.  I think we can encourage each other by commenting but there is one issue I'd like to highlight.  My personal information has been compromised so many times by large corporations that I just won't give it out unless I absolutely have to.  Some blogs require you to share personal information like email addresses in order to make a comment and I just won't do that.  I have no idea if other people feel as I do.  I don't ask for any personal information in order to comment on my blog; comments are moderated so I can read them before they are published, mainly to filter out all the crude advertisements that bots post.

Once I finished the trailer, I turned my attention to woodworking while camping.  It is so pleasant to sit along the ocean or up in the mountains and work away that it is one of the main things I look forward to.  The portable workbench I made turned out to be unsuitable, a cumbersome attempt to combine a workbench and tool storage.  I am totally convinced by OK Guy that a Moravian portable workbench is the best solution (it is a fantastic design) but I just don't have the space for it in a small cargo trailer, so I went back to the drawing board.  Small size is possible because I will always have a stout picnic table available when I use it, so it doesn't have to have legs and can get necessary mass from the picnic table.  Standing in my workshop pondering this, the answer was right in front of my eyes:  I wanted to build a Nicholson portable workbench.  I'll show it to you in my next post.

Monday, April 30, 2018

Stickley Sideboard, Part 4

With spring weather finally having arrived, work on the sideboard has slowed to a snail's pace.  There are just too many things to do outside.  I have however made some progress.

The drawer's are supported by what Chris Schwarz calls a "web frame:"

It's made of a secondary wood, poplar in my case, pine in his.  It is glued to the front stretcher and rests on cleats along the sides.  There is a gap along the back to allow for seasonal wood movement (recall that the grain on the sides is vertical).  An unusual drawer divider is fastened to the front of the frame and the bottom of the top front stretcher (removed in this picture).  It is also fastened to the rear stretcher.

The grain is vertical so it will move with the sides.  This is new to me and I will be interested to see how it turns out but, in principle, it seems like a good idea.

The carcase is just about done.  All I have to do is put in the bottom shelf and attach the top.  While I was working on this, the offcut from the curved front stretcher caught my eye:

The original has a rectangular backsplash but this just looks so good to me I am seriously considering it.  The rectangle is just boring:

I'm torn because I really want to stick close to the original Stickley design.  I wonder what Harvey Ellis would say.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Stickley sideboard, carcase glued-up.

The carcase is glued-up so you can now see some of the construction details that are interesting:

The only major hiccup was that I cut the curve in the front stretcher upside down.  The reason is quite complex:  when a board has an arrow on it pointing up and you turn it over, it points down.  :-(   In this case I got lucky and it still fit.

I deviated from the plans in a major respect.  They call for the legs to be 2 1/4" by 1 3/4", the wider dimension to the sides.  This is because the outside of the legs are supposed to taper to 2" at the top and to 1 5/8" at the bottom.  I don't like the idea of a 1/4" taper on the top at all and I decided not to do it.  I also don't see why the bottom has to be that wide.  Therefore, I decided to make my legs 2" square and taper the bottom to 1 1/4", a slightly more pronounced taper on the bottom.  This is a matter of taste and I like my choice.
As I mentioned previously, the sides are somewhat unusual in that the grain is vertical, therefore parallel to the legs and flush to their insides.  Simply glued in place, they are flush to the inside so the drawers can slide against them.  This has a lot of advantages as the top and sides will move together.  As I wrote before, I am not that concerned that the stretcher is perpendicular because, as you can see, there is plenty of room between the sides and stretcher for the legs to flex.

Before the top can be put in place, the support structure for the drawers has to be put in place.  The plans call for a "web frame," something new to me.  Basically a rectangular figure eight attached to the carcase, the drawers run on it and it supports a center divider.  The center divider is screwed to the top stretcher as well.  To make things easier, the top, dovetailed stretcher isn't installed until the web frame and the divider are in place.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Stickley sideboard, part 2: carcase joinery

There are 12 mortises in the carcase of this sideboard (the rear stretcher has twin mortises and the top front stretcher is dovetailed):


The sides are missing for a reason.  The Stickley design was to glue the sides onto the legs with the grain parallel to the legs and top.  This means the grain on the sides is perpendicular to the lower stretcher but Schwarz observes in his article that he has never seen an original where this is a problem.  I think this is because there is enough distance between the sides and the stretcher that the leg can flex enough to absorb the seasonal movement.  Good enough for Stickley, good enough for me.

As is my custom, I drilled out the waste and then used a wide chisel to pare them smooth.  Since these mortises are narrow (1/4") and deep (1 1/4") they were a little more difficult than usual but things still moved along nicely.  In this case, I opened up the hole with a 1/8" chisel and then pared the sides with my thin, wide Wm. Butcher chisel, which was ideal for this purpose.  The holes provide precise guidance and it goes quickly.

Some frown on this method and I did make an attempt to move away from it at Christmas time but, alas, both the Lee Valley PM-V11 mortise chisel and the Ray Iles chisel were out of stock.  Fate I guess.  I experimented with the Paul Sellers method of mortising with a bench chisel and it went fairly well but I found that I was invariably a degree or two off.  That's too much so I would have had to pare the mortises anyway and Sellers' recommended method of using a guide doesn't appeal to me.  I'm not sure but I doubt my method is much slower than using a mortise chisel unless you can reliably get them dead on with no adjustment.  In any case it is extremely accurate.  The dovetailed mortises in the top of the front leg were made by hand in the usual way.

The tenons were all made with hand tools, sawing the shoulders, chiseling off the waste and refining them with a shoulder plane and a router plane.  Because the mortises are so accurate and uniform, it goes quickly.

I think a lot about what I view as a minimum set of power tools that I could be happy with.  I'm down to three:  a drill press, a bandsaw and a lunchbox planer.  One of the nice aspects of my choices is that they can all be on mobile bases and require very little space--maybe 6 sq ft. when not in use.

Now it's on to fitting the sides, putting the curve in the front stretcher and tapering the legs.    

Monday, April 2, 2018

Stickley sideboard

I have always been an admirer of Stickley furniture, in part because of the style and in part because it was made near Syracuse, NY, close to where I grew up and went to college.  In case you are not familiar with him, he was a leading proponent of American craftsman furniture, an offshoot of the British arts and crafts movement.  Inspired by Harvey Ellis, his later efforts evolved into very graceful, lighter designs incorporating curves and tapers.  There is a copy of the Stickley 1909 catalog online that contains hundreds of his pieces.  They are timeless classics of American design.

I have wanted to make one of his pieces for some time and, although I like many of them, have been particularly attracted to his sideboards.  I especially admire the #802, which you can see on page 67 of the 1909 catalog.  Arts and crafts furniture can be somewhat severe but the graceful curve on the lower stretcher and the taper in the legs makes it much more attractive in my opinion.  This style is what I like.  Nothing is extraneous, it is free of embellishment, it celebrates functionality.

Chris Schwarz made one for a Popular Woodworking article some years ago and the magazine has made free plans available.  Although he made his in cherry, I decided to make mine from white oak, which is traditional.

I don't often work closely to plans but this will be an exception and I am going about it differently than I usually do.  The first thing I did was glue up and cut all the pieces in the cutlist to near final dimensions and do all but final smoothing.  Cutting every component to near final dimensions upfront goes against the idea of measuring as little as possible and getting dimensions wherever possible from the workpiece itself, although not entirely.  I tried to make up for it by ensuring that all of the pieces that need to be the same length or width are.  If this works, it will definitely be a lot more efficient.

This is all rift-sawn white oak, which results in a particularly nice appearance for the legs.

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Nightstands done

I finished the pair of sapele nightstands and gave them to my son for his birthday.  They came out better than I had reason to expect since they were learning exercises built with no plan at all.  Basically I built the stands around the drawers I made, the dimensions of which were based on scrap pieces on hand.

There are a couple of things worth noting about them.  First, I created a uniform shadow line around the drawers with a chamfer and I really like the way it looks.  The chamfer is slightly larger on the bottom to produce the uniform look.

Second, this sapele looks really nice to my eye.  I like the wavy grain and the color is distinctive.

With no plan there was bound to be a surprise along the way.  There wasn't room to attach the top in the usual way as there was only 1/2" between the drawer and the side.  I handled this by attaching the back with a cleat and epoxying a series of 1" long pieces to the sides and top.  This can be done because the grain on the sides and top run in the same direction.  I am nervous about this but I did test them and they appear to be very secure.  Time will tell I guess.  I'm not sure how to avoid this with this design except to use thicker legs, which I don't like.

You either like simple, clean designs like this or you don't.  They are my favorite.  They let the wood do the talking and celebrate function.  To my eye, any embellishment would take away from their appearance.  I am even somewhat ambivalent about the brass knobs.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

Nightstands, part 2

With the the sliding dovetails connecting the front stretchers to the legs made, I turned my attention to the sides.  One thing that concerned me was how well Titebond III would work on sapele.  Because it is oily, I wiped it down with alcohol (I don't use mineral spirits in my shop) and glued it immediately.  I banged on it fairly hard and the joints seem sound.

I really wanted the sides to be precisely square so I shot all four sides.  The never-ending debate about bevel-up vs. bevel-down planes will never end but I do think that a low angle bevel-up plane has a distinctive advantage for use on a shooting board when planing end grain on a wood like sapele.  I was concerned that the low angle would lift the grain on the other sides, but it didn't.

To my hand, this plane is much more comfortable to use on its side than a bevel-down plane because the frog and blade assembly gets in my way.

The glue-up was uneventful:

Here's what the two cabinets look like, ready for runners and drawer fitting:

Sapele is really starting to grow on me.

Wednesday, February 28, 2018


The four practice drawers that I made in an effort to improve my half-blind dovetails turned out well enough that I decided to make something they would go in.  The fronts were sapele because the last time I went to my hardwood supplier they had a few boards at clearance prices and I bought one out of curiosity.  I returned to buy some more for this project and was surprised to see very high quality boards available at an attractive price.

I knew little about sapele other than that it supposedly tears out due to interlocked grain, so I was expecting the worst.  So far, the opposite is true.  I don't know if I got lucky or if this issue is overstated.  There is some tearout but it is very shallow and easily removed.  Since it is as hard as white oak, I was expecting it to be as difficult to plane, but it isn't.  If you look in the comments on my last post you will learn why; it is hard but only about as dense as walnut.  The wood has a pleasant hue and a wavy ribbon grain pattern.  It's in the same family as mahogany and is from tropical Africa.

I decided to make two bedside stands to hold the drawers, relying on sliding dovetails on the fronts.  I hadn't made these before and didn't know what to expect but it isn't real difficult.  Part of the reason is that I cheated.  I took a wide board and created tails on my router table.  Then I ripped out the individual pieces.  Lazy, shame on me.  :(   Next time I will saw the shoulders and create them with a chisel, a technique I saw in an online video.  If the joint is not wider than your wide chisel it seems very straightforward to me.

I made the sockets [?] on the legs by hand with saw and chisel.  The problem I have with seeing marking knife lines didn't happen because if you mark over the lines with chalk and rub it off you are left with a very distinct mark that is easy to follow.  It worked so well that I am going to look for a color that will show up on lighter wood.

I judge the results to be very good but not excellent.  Some prominent woodworkers wax ecstatic over their results, using words like "pristine" and "perfect."  Mine aren't and I wouldn't say that anyway even if they were but I am pleased with how they look.  I think a sliding dovetail on the front of a piece looks really nice.

The cross pieces have yet to be planed, the reason for their rough appearance.  Sliding dovetails make a structure that is extremely strong and rigid.  The drawer depths were determined by the scraps I had for sides but I think the proportions look quite nice.

By the way, the best video on making sliding dovetails I found online is this one.  His have a really exaggerated taper.  I didn't see a need to taper mine as they are only 1 3/8" deep but they are very tight going together and a slight taper would have been nice.  Any deeper and a taper would be mandatory.  This is a real advantage of using hand tools instead of cutting the tails on the router table like I did.

I design and build projects like this in my head with no plan on paper at all because I think it's fun, weird as that may seem.  I have no explanation for this depravity and, of course, I know it makes no sense.  There is a sort of thrill in taking the risk that I can figure my way out of seeming dead ends.  Oh well.

Now I have to make another one.

Thursday, February 22, 2018

More on working white oak

Bob Rozaieski has now followed up on his podcast response to my question with a detailed written post on techniques for working white oak with hand tools that I find very informative and useful.  Highly recommended.

I don't have a lot to add to his suggestions.  In addition to keeping your planes very sharp, I have found a cabinet scraper to be particularly useful on white oak as a way of avoiding tearout.  I find that even a sharp plane will tear white oak out sometimes.

One of the points he makes is absolutely true.  Quartersawn white oak is much much easier to work than flatsawn white oak, to the point that I consider the latter unworkable with hand tools.

Another reaction I had to his post is if I ever run across one of those machines he pictures I am going to buy it.  Not sure what I will do with them, but I would definitely like to have one of each.  I think I recall Roy Underhill using something like this on one of his shows and it looked fun.

Given all of the challenges in working with white oak, why bother?  It really is a very nice species with many desirable qualities.  It's strong and durable, finishes well and looks really nice.

As I'll describe later, I am currently working with sapele for the first time.  It has approximately the same hardness as white oak and yet it is much easier to work.  I don't understand this so, if you do, please explain in the comments.

Thursday, February 15, 2018

A small tweak to my Moxon vise

I've written why I regard having a Moxon vise as indispensable even though I view a bench vise as optional.  Mine lives on the end of my 8' bench.  It stays there most of the time but I do sometimes need to take it off and want to be able to do so quickly.

Traditionally, Moxons were held in place with holdfasts and that is what I have been doing, though that hasn't been entirely satisfactory to me.  Besides tying up two holdfasts, the vise does rock slightly and the less steel I have around my saw teeth the better I like it.  It suddenly struck me that I have a split top on my bench that I could take advantage of.  I found a large carriage bolt, drilled a hole in my vise and, voila:

I have two bench dogs in place that keep the vise from twisting.  Those and the bolt keep the vise rock solid.  To remove it, you loosen the bolt and slide the vise off.  Although I need a wrench to remove it, that doesn't bother me and I could buy a large wing nut if I wanted to.  A wooden screw would be nice.

I am still bothered by the fact that I am using the version I made with bar clamps as opposed to my "nice one" with acme screws that sits on the shelf.

Wednesday, February 7, 2018

Bob is right

On a recent podcast, Bob Rozaieski talked about efficiency with hand tools and one of the subjects he covered was choice of wood species.  He advises staying away from white oak and hard maple.  I know he's right.  It was brought home to me recently as I was doing some learning exercises so I could cut better half-blind dovetails.  I used scraps, sapele for the fronts and douglas-fir for the sides and back.  I have been working with white oak a lot recently and this was so much easier and more pleasurable I could hardly believe it.  The fact is that woods like mahogany, cherry, walnut, pine, poplar and even soft maple are much easier to work with hand tools.

The problem is that there are sometimes good reasons to work with white oak.  I really like arts and crafts furniture, much of which is best in white oak.  In addition, white oak has properties that make it very desirable, like for the outside table I made recently.  It rains a great deal here in the northwest and white oak's rot resistance is important.  I like the way white oak looks too; it seemed just right for the kitchen work table I made recently.

I did ask Bob about it and he responded at some length on a subsequent podcast (beginning at about 10:30) with a number of good ideas that are worth your while.  Nevertheless, there is just no getting around the fact that white oak is difficult to work with hand tools.

I have been thinking about how to reconcile the difficulty of working white oak with the fact that it is very desirable for some projects.  For starters, there are projects I have used white oak for that would be as good in a species easier to work.  My days of making small oak boxes are mostly over.

I am going to increase my use hybrid techniques for some operations when I am working white oak.  I will still use hand tools for many operations.  Sawing, making mortise and tenon joints, jointing are examples of things that hand tools work just fine for, though I do drill out the waste in my mortises.  The things that I have found most difficult when working white oak are making grooves, dadoes and rabbets.  It would be one thing if I had pairs of plow and rabbet planes so I could always work with the grain, but that's not going to happen.  Working against the grain in white oak with these planes is sometimes too difficult and/or time consuming and it's not very enjoyable.  It can be done, I've done it, but it's laborious.

This is only speculation, but I wonder if this last issue is one reason arts and crafts furniture is traditionally made with quartersawn white oak.  My experience is that it is a lot easier to work with than flatsawn material.

I like Greene and Greene style box joints a lot and that keeps you from using secondary woods for drawer sides.  Recently, I used vertical grain douglas-fir for half-blind dovetails, which I like a lot, but it splits very easily.  I dislike poplar because of the greenish cast in what I see at my supplier.  Alder is plentiful and inexpensive here and I think that will become my secondary wood.  It's hardness is comparable to poplar.

One of the things that puzzles me is why white oak was preferred in the arts and crafts era.  Was it because power tools were becoming more available?  Was it because it was affordable?  Was it an aesthetic choice?  Bob points out that most of the mortises in arts and crafts furniture were made with machines.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Half-blind dovetails, part 2

My test joints turned out well enough that I decided to go ahead and finish the drawer, which I will find a use for at some point.  I did find that very careful fine-tuning made a difference but some small gaps remained.  I used a filler of glue and sawdust to fill the gaps and this is what I ended up with:

Pretty good, could be better. The best way I have found to fill small gaps in dovetails is sawdust and shellac and that's what I will go back to in the future.

Here's how I think I can improve:
  1. I need to make further progress on precise, crisp marking out of the pin board but in a way that produces a line I can follow;
  2. Although I have made significant strides, there is always room for further improvement in sawing technique.  
I decided that I would try to use a marking knife but then find some way to highlight the knife line so I can see it.  After a number of unsuccessful experiments, I settled on putting a chisel in the knife line and drawing a line with a .5 mm mechanical pencil along the back of it.  Here's what it looks like under magnification:

After all of the fumbling around marking out dovetail pins that I have done, this simple and obvious solution seems like it is going to work. I think it is better than the masking tape trick or any other method I know of. Quicker too.

Here's the result:

This is dry fit off the saw and chisel and is a significant improvement. Further improvement depends on sawing accuracy, so this is what I am focused on.

I ran out of wide scraps, so I had to start making shallower drawers:

If I could make them this well on a consistent basis, I'd be satisfied.

Now I have two wide drawers and two shallow drawers and nothing to put them in.  May have to think of a project.