Sunday, August 26, 2012

Building a Step Stool

A confluence of events led to one of my recent projects.  I saw my wife had stacked up a couple of short stools in the closet that she could use for steps to reach the top of the closet.  And, at almost the same time, Charles Neil did a build of a step stool on his web program, Mastering Woodworking.  So, putting together the need with the opportunity, I decided I would build my wife a step stool.

I chose walnut for my material, partly because I had some in supply and partly because I plan to build her a dressing table for the bathroom, also out of walnut.  I followed Charles Neil's plans somewhat loosely.  I sized the height of the steps to match the height of the stools my wife was using, knowing that the height would work for her.  And I omitted putting molding around the edge of the steps.  Other than that, the plans were quite similar.

I made the steps six inches high, a foot wide and six inches deep.  There are two steps, so after cutting the sides to final dimensions, I cut through dovetails to join the sides with the tops but waited to glue them until later.  I used my Festool Domino to join the side pieces for a glue-up into single side panels.  I then made aprons for under the steps and at the top and bottom of the rear of the stair steps.  I cut arches in the aprons and in the sides of the steps, mainly for decoration though the arches on the sides help to level the feet for stability.  I Dominoed the aprons to the side pieces and glued up the dovetails, completing the assembly, and put the whole thing in clamps to dry.

Meanwhile, I made a handle with a four-foot length of walnut, which I tapered on the jointer and with hand planes, and turned a knob, which I attached to the handle with mortise and tenon.

I finished it using two trace coats of General Finishes Medium Brown water-based dye, flooding the surface with dye, wiping it back evenly, letting it dry, then sanding the first trace coat with 120 grit sandpaper and the second with 180 grit paper.  I followed with a final coat of the same dye.  This dye gives the walnut a uniform dark walnut color and eliminates any whitish streaks from sapwood.  When it was dry, I brushed on a coat of General Finishes Seal-A-Cell and followed that with three coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal, to give it a hard top coat.

I'm pleased with the way the step stool looks and my wife is pleased with how it works.  It is much safer to use because she can hold on to the handle while she is mounting the steps.


Wednesday, June 20, 2012

Jointer Push Block

Since I got my jointer, oh, I don't know how many years ago, I've been using those orange push blocks to guide my stock across those spinning blades.  But lately, those push blocks have been slipping on the stock, creating an inconvenient if not dangerous situation.  I could have glued on some rubber padding left over from our carpets or even a piece of sandpaper.  But at just the right time I saw a blog entry by Steve Shanesy of Popular Woodworking Magazine describing a wooden pusher he made for his own use.  I liked the looks of it and decided to make one for myself.  The blog has full dimensions and also includes patterns for cutting the parts.

My pusher was made of poplar.  I cut a dado in the base to receive the tenon on the handle, which is oriented cross-grain to the base.  I had intended to cut a tenon on the handle that would fit the dado, but in my zeal to cut dados, I cut one in the handle where the tenon was supposed to go.  Whoops!

I recovered by cutting a piece of white oak to fit into the resulting dado grooves and glued it in place.  I rounded over all the exposed edges with a 1/8 inch roundover bit.  I added a 1/4 inch deep cleat at the rear of the base.  I finished the whole piece with several coats of shellac just to give it a better appearance.  I did not finish the base as I did not want it to be slick.

I've had a number of chances to use it since I made it and I can happily report that it performs very well.  The length of the base holds the wood firmly to the infeed table and gives me positive control over the stock as it moves across the table.

Shanesy also wrote a blog on making a table saw pusher and I plan to build that as well, when I can find time in between other projects.


Tuesday, June 12, 2012

A Home for My Handplanes

Over the years, I've built up a fair-sized collection of handplanes.  I've got a block plane, nos. 3, 4, 4-1/2, 5-1/4, 6, 7-1/2, a chisel plane, a shoulder plane, a bevel-up smoother, a low-angle jack plane, a scrub plane, a router plane, an edge plane, and a skew rabbet plane, not to mention a couple of fix-up candidates.  Of course, since I teach using handplanes at Woodcraft, I can justify having them since I need to demonstrate them and let my students try them out.  And, I really enjoy using them in my various woodworking projects.
My handplane cabinet

But storing them has always been a bit of a problem.  For the last several years, I've kept them in plane socks and stored them in a cardboard box.  But the downsides of this are the inconvenience of pulling them out to use them and the weight of the box when carrying it to class.  Frankly, I began to fear the bottom of the box would tear out, putting my valuable collection at significant risk of damage.

That's when I decided I needed a better home for my planes, one where I could grab them easily when needed in my work.  And, frankly, where I could see and enjoy them.  So I decided to build myself a cabinet to house my collection.

The shelf you see in the photo is the result.  I built it out of poplar that I jointed and planed by machine.  I cut through dovetails for the corner joints and joined the shelves to the sides with sliding dovetail joints.  I added small slips of wood to the shelves to lift the plane blades off the shelves.  I finished the shelf with Watco dark walnut Danish oil and coated that with two coats of shellac.  I rabbeted the back (by hand, of course) to house a 1/4 inch plywood back.  The cabinet is hung with a French cleat screwed into the concrete blocks of my basement woodshop wall.

I'm happy with the result.  And, I'm glad to have the project finished.  It stayed on my workbench for far too long.  Now that my bench is clear, I have room to move on to other projects.  And, I've gotten my planes out of that box and out where I can see and use them.


Sunday, February 12, 2012

A Visit to Lie-Nielsen’s Plant

The Lie-Nielsen factory and store in Warren, Maine
My friend Jeff Fleisher and I, along with our wives, had an opportunity to visit the Lie-Nielsen plant last summer. Their shop and factory are located near the Maine seacoast in the little town of Warren. This was a trip we always wanted to make, and it was fascinating to both witness the production of the famous Lie-Nielsen tools and complete line of their tools in the company store.

A box of cap irons, ready for assembly.
There were two attractions—the store and the manufacturing plant. As soon as we got there, we ask for, and got, a brief tour of the plant. As we walked through the facility, workers were busy at such tasks as lapping the soles of planes, operating the CNC machines that make the bodies of the planes and other tools, and inserting plane blades in the large tanks where they are cryogenically treated. We also passed many trays of partly and fully assembled tools of all types, the area where the tools are assembled, and where they are reviewed for quality control and packaged. The plant encompasses several buildings, including a wood shop which we were unable to visit, and employs about 90 staff.

Scraper plane bodies.
We also spent time in the store, where Lie-Nielsen displays their products, plus others' tools, such as Auriou rasps. We took particular delight in examining all the specialty planes, with which we were least familiar. Each of us already has a pretty good selection of standard bench planes, but they too were fascinating, particularly because of their high quality.

Lie-Nielsen saws.
Of course, we couldn't get away without making some purchases. I bought a 1/4 inch mortise chisel and a sock for one of my bench planes and managed not to spend a lot on this trip. Truthfully I already own about all the planes I need, many of them manufactured here in Warren. It was a fun trip and even our wives, who have much less interest in woodworking that we do, enjoyed it.


Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Building a Sugar Chest

A sugar chest is a southern piece of furniture, a small cabinet that was used in the eighteenth century to hold sugar and keep it locked up from servants and children who might partake of this valuable commodity.  In the north, they might have been called cellarettes and used to store liquor where it could be locked up.  Charles Neil periodically offers a class to build a sugar chest of his own design and last year I decided to take it and build one of my own. 

Charles Neil explains the construction process.
It was a three-day class (pictures here).  Charles and his helpers had prepared some of the pieces ahead of time and had pre-cut and dimensioned the tiger maple to nearly finished size in order to save building time.  But most of the work of cutting and assembling the piece was ours to do. 

We started by building the base, which incorporated tapered legs and openings for a drawer and pull-out shelf.  Then, using Charles' signature dovetail template, which uses special Whiteside bits with narrow necks to simulate hand-cut dovetails, we dovetailed the case.

Cutting the dovetails in the case.
The finished pieces, ready to finish.
 By the end of the three days, we each had an assembled base, a glued-up case body, a drawer, a shelf and a lid to take home and finish.

Finishing involved laying down a trace coat of brown dye, sanding to 120 grit with a random orbit sander, trace coating a second time and sanding to 180 grit, then staining the piece with a New England mixture of water based dye.  The trace coats let you see what needs to be sanded and, by soaking into the soft grain, it helps "pop" the curl in the maple.  

Finally, using a new Apollo spray gun I sprayed five coats of General Finishes High Performance satin water-based finish, scuffing lightly between coats and applying the last two coats in quick succession so they would bond together and create a tough top coat.  Finally, I buffed the piece with a slightly soapy solution using a random orbit sander and Abralon sanding pads, 2000 and 3000 grit, which left a buttery smooth satin finish on the piece.

The finished sugar chest.
The final step was to assemble the parts into a whole.  The result was spectacular.  I learned a lot in the process of building this piece and am proud to have it on display in my dining room.

Charles periodically offers this class.  If you are interested in taking the class, which is held at his New Market, Virginia, workshop, check his web site or contact him to let him know you are interested.  Charles also produced a DVD on building the sugar chest, but I believe it is now out of production.  However, it would be worth contacting him to see if he has any remaining copies.
Whatever you are building, have fun doing it!


Monday, January 23, 2012

Learning the Leigh Dovetail Jig

Last summer, I purchased the Leigh D4R Pro dovetail jig.  This is the 24-inch model with moveable fingers that will allow me to set any configuration I desire and approximate as closely as possible the spacing and appearance of hand cut dovetails.  I decided on the larger model so I could build large chests if I decide to do so.

The first step is to learn how to cut through dovetails.  This isn't hard--I cut my first one soon after assembling the jig.  I quickly learned several things,  First, tighten the screws on all unused fingers to secure them tightly to the jig.  I didn't the first time I used it.  The vibration from routing caused the loose screws to fall out, and I found myself hunting for them in a pile of sawdust on the floor beneath the jig.  Not fun.  The second lesson is that the router depth for the tail board must be set to exactly the thickness of the pin board.  Otherwise, the tails are likely to stand proud once they're cut.  This has been difficult for me.  The instructions call for marking the tail board with a pencil by holding the pin board to the tail board, then setting the router bit to the center of the pencil line.  I have not yet succeeded in getting the depth set correctly this way.  A friend suggested using a marking gauge to mark the depth, and I think this is a better procedure.  I'll try it next time.

My first project with the dovetail jig is to build a shelf for my hand planes.  It will feature through dovetails on the corners and sliding dovetails for the shelves and upright dividers.  All of this can be cut with the Leigh jig. 

I've decided to buy a second router, identical to the first, so I can leave them set up with the proper bits for cutting pins and tails.  The router I'm using, shown in the photo, is a Porter Cable 691, a D-handled router.  I find it easy to handle on the jig, better than a larger router.

While the jig is going to get a lot of use on various projects, the main thing is I'm having fun with it.  And that's what it's all about, isn't it?


Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Face-Planing Stop

I saw in Jim Tolpin's new book, The New Traditional Woodworker, p. 26, a picture of a face-planing stop I liked.  It featured a thin board about 4-5 inches wide and perhaps 1/4 inch thick with a hook attached to one end.  The hook he showed was held in a vise.  So I decided to make one.

I used a scrap piece of thin walnut I had laying around and screwed a piece of poplar to one end.  I made it long enough to reach two bench dogs for stability.  I can hang it over the end of the bench and hold it in place with a couple of bench dogs, as shown here, a bench hook, or hold it in a vise.  In any case, it offers good stability as a face- planing stop.  The thin profile lets me plane thin pieces.  Since it can be positioned anywhere on my bench (that is, if I ever cleaned it off!), it will accommodate boards of any length,

This only took a few minutes to build and already I have used it a number of times.  If you use hand planes, and I hope you do, this is a simple appliance that will pay dividends.