Wednesday, February 12, 2014

It’s the Little Things…

In woodworking and life, it’s the little things that can make or break an outcome.  For example:

You’re working on a jewelry box for your significant other.Throughout the project you’ve made measurements with a couple different tape measures and a metal ruler.  At assembly time, you find that things just aren’t square, and have to re-measure and trim accordingly to make it fit together properly.  You end up making the box smaller than planned, wasting time and wood in the process.  While a great learning experience, here are some suggestions to start right and end right:

One is an accurate number…  If you use only one measuring device throughout the entire projectyou have a better chance of consistent measurements (parallax notwithstanding).  If I need to measure something use an 18” Incra rule with its precise measurement marks or a 12” Incra corner rule.  However, I prefer to make a story stick marked with specific measurements, which is used to replicate layout marks faster, easier and more accurately.  I also make notes on the stick as reminders, like “need ¼” dado here,” so I can quickly and easily transfer that information to the wood.

Always be on edge… For accurate, consistent measurements, be sure the edge of your rule or story stick is always flush to the edge of the board you’re marking.  I use a flat, square piece of wood scrap perpendicular to the board edge then place the rule/story stick against it to ensure I’m starting my measurements right on the edge.

En Masse  Make all of your repeatable cuts at the same time, while the tool is set to the proper dimensions, to ensure uniformity. This also makes a project more time efficient as well, since you are not running back and forth cutting individual pieces as needed.

Plan your work then work your plan…  While a plan (or “measured drawrings” per Norm) is handy, even a sketch with dimensions is helpful.  It acts as a road map, guiding you along the way.
A process list can also be helpful to move you though the various phases of a project from milling to finishing.

Practice makes perfect…  After you set up your tool for a specific process, make a test cut and check your measurements before you tear into that pricey project wood.  This is especially important with angled joinery. If time and budget permits make a prototype out of a cheaper material and use the successful pieces as set up blocks for the real thing.

Make your mark…  Before you cut up your pile of wood, be sure to mark the sides, cut lines and orientation marks on each piece to keep you on the right track during milling and assembly.  It’s a real bummer to make an angle cut and find out you didn’t cut it the right direction – or cut a dado on the wrong side of the board – during assembly.  There are a lot of great articles on marking your projects pieces on the internet.  Check them out and use what works for you.

Time out… While rushing might get you done faster, it could impact your quality.  Allow enough time to complete your project – with a little extra time built in. If you find yourself getting tired, frustrated or just making dumb mistakes – STOP. Take a break, relax and sort things out.  You’ll come back relaxed, refreshed and re-focused.

Don’t worry, be happy…  For most people woodworking is a form of mental floss – a physical/mental release from the daily grind.  Keep it that way.  Enjoy the process, don’t sweat the small stuff (but learn from them) and have fun.

Hopefully these suggestions will make your projects more accurate and enjoyable, because shop time should be for making sawdust and memories…

Thursday, January 30, 2014

#SSBO – My Variation on the Theme

Late last year, Chris Wong of Flair Woodworks proposed an idea to have a project contest where participants would build a shop stool in one or two days.  The plan was to start at the same time on Saturday, January 25, 2014 (8am PST, 10am CST, 4pm in London, etc.) and chronicle your efforts periodically on social media (Twitter, Google + or Facebook).
Other than that, it was fairly free-form.  You could build your own design or copy another and pre-build prep was allowed.  A total of 46 participants were fully committed to the build, with another 38 who would try to make the event.  When the sawdust settled, as of 1/30/14, there were 42 participants who entered their stool for judging – a myriad of styles and builds.

I decided to go with my own design, inspired from viewing photos of stool designs on the internet.  My wife needed a taller stool for her new scroll saw, so I sized it to fit her needs, making it 2-1/2” taller than her current metal stool.  

After experimenting with a couple of different angles for the legs, I decided to use a five-degree angle.  This seemed to give a bit more support without being too wide.  I planned to use mortise and tenon joinery to ensure a strong joint, but needed to prepare some items to help me create a consistent approach to facilitate the milling process. 

I saw where Fine Woodworking magazine’s Matt Kinney created a jig to drill angled mortises and the process he went through to make angled mortises easier and more consistent.  I followed his advice - which definitely helped me in the long run.

Now that I had my stool leg design figured out, I turned to the seat.  Wanting to make a bit of a style statement, I decided to use a light/blond wood for the legs with a contrasting seat of darker woods.  Adding to the contrast, I decided to laminate several contrasting wood species together and then contour them to reveal the layers underneath.  

The weekend before I built a prototype leg frame to check my calculations – and provide cutting references.  I also created a story stick to facilitate measuring and the process in general.

A ’la Norm, I went to my “local hardwood dealer” to purchase the materials.  Undergoing a “senior moment,” I decided to use 8/4 maple for the legs – a decision I would question on Saturday afternoon…  

For the seat, I ended up with a 12” wide piece of 3/4 birch to give stability since I could not find anything wider than 9” in ½” stock. For contrast, I purchased walnut, spalted maple and quarter-sawn white oak.  While I decided on ½” thick wood for each layer, in hindsight, I should have used ¼” thick wood to make more of a striated effect.

As part of my “prep work” I laminated the layers together the night before and allowed them to cure.  This was a time saver and eliminated at least one of my 17 steps in the build. 

On Saturday morning I ripped the 8/4 maple to width for the legs, then waited for 10am CST to begin.  At 10am I tweeted the start of my project and proceeded to cut the maple to length, at a five-degree angle on each end. I marked the mortises with knife and pencil.  

Here's where the fun began…  

Building a stool is such "boring" work...
There are five mortises on each leg – three on the sides for the top, bottom and middle rails – that needed to be cut at a five degree angle (using Matt’s jig idea) and 90-degree mortises at the top and for foot rests.  Did I mention I decided to use 8/4 maple for the legs??  I might as well have used stainless steel.  In addition, since there were mortises on all four sides at the top, I cut haunched tenons on opposing sides so they would overlap in the corners.

Unlike Norm, I don’t have a power tool showroom for a shop, so I created the mortises by drilling them out with a 1” Forstner bit on my drill press, then turned them into the appropriate rectangular shape with a ¼” mortise chisel and a ¾” bench chisel.  While my wife did not assist on the milling or build, I showed her how to use my Waterstones and strop to sharpen the quickly-dulled-by-maple chisels.

Since I have two ¾” bench chisels, I was able to keep going as they were touched up after a short period of time.  This was a life saver, since I’d probably still be trimming mortises without her help.  As it was it took over six hours to create the 20 mortises.  My Saturday work ended at 6:10pm CST when my neck, shoulders and back felt like they would explode.  But it was a good 7 hours of work (allowing for lunch and bio breaks).

Let's see.. "A" goes into "B"...
Tenons anyone?
I awoke Sunday morning to find 4” of snow on the driveway and sidewalks, which I cleared before heading into the shop at 10am. With the “Bataan Mortise Walk” behind me, it was time to cut the tenons. Compared to the mortises, these were a piece of cake – especially with my pre-cut pieces from the prototype.  I decided that the front and rear rungs would be milled after the side frames and seat were complete, so I could determine the proper length.  After a little tenon trimming, I glued up the side frames and moved on to the laminated seat block.

"Luke, I am your father..."
Rather than scraping off the excess glue, I trimmed the sides on the table saw and then clamped it to my bench with my side vise and bench dogs.  I pulled out my 4” angle grinder with a 30-grit flapped sandpaper wheel and began to wail on the wood as my wife held the shop vac hose nearby.  

As a further precaution, we used our P100 dust masks and I set my filtered box fan on high to capture the excess dust.  Cutting 
through the spalted maple, I came to the walnut and began to shape and contour it, until I reached a small tip of birch on each side at the front of the seat.  I progressed to a 60-grit flapped wheel for the angle grinder then to my 5” random orbit sander with 80, 120 and 220 grits to reach the final contour.

With the side frames and seat complete, I positioned the pieces, marked and cut the front and rear rungs and glued them to the side frames.  Before attaching the top pieces to the front and rear, I created the opposing haunched tenon to join the frame tenon.  I also drilled three counter-sunk holes into each top front and rear rail – the center one as a standard hole, but the left and right elongated to allow for wood movement.  

After assembling the frame, I turned it upside down and placed it on the seat bottom.  After aligning it I screwed the six screws into the seat bottom, leaving the ones in the elongated holes slightly loose to allow for movement.  For added impact, I took out my hand-held router and ¾” round over bit and ran it over the frame to round it for a more sleek appearance.

At this point, I looked at the clock and saw it was 9:45pm.  Finis!  And not a moment too soon.  I had nine hours of shop time on Sunday, for a total of 16 hours on the project - but it was DONE in the allotted time frame!

I sat on the stool to test it.  No creaks, groans or splits and I wasn’t on the ground – so it works just fine.  I took several pictures and posted them to Twitter signaling the end of my build.  

It was entered with the other participants for judging, but in my mind I am already a winner.  I was able to successfully complete the project in the requisite time, and was able to do a fairly decent job of joinery with a really hard wood to work with.  Sure there are things that could have been different, but it was a great sense of accomplishment to see what was envisioned in my pea brain come to fruition.  It’s not only somewhat stylish but quite functional and practical.  It also gives my wife a better seat for her scroll saw.  Winner, Winner, Chicken Dinner!

Want to see and possibly vote on your top three?  Check out Chris' site and enjoy...

This was a great mental and physical skill builder and I thank Chris for the idea and opportunity to participate.  Who would have thought a “lowly shop stool” would spawn so many great designs and builds.

Somehow, I have a feeling Chris knew all along…

Friday, December 27, 2013

A New Year – Woodworking Resolutions?

As 2013 comes to a close it’s time for a new year – and the resolutions that follow…  More this, less that, etc...  But what about making some resolutions to enhance your woodworking?
They might be easier to keep – and a lot more fun in the long run!

There is always something you can learn or improve upon in the wood shop.  Want to learn to hand-cut a dovetail? Put it on the list.  Want to learn about or master the table or band saw? Ditto. I’m sure you can come up with things that will improve your skills and enrich your experience.

Maybe your shop could use a makeover or reorganization.  That’s a great resolution that will pay dividends in time savings – not having to hunt for things, because they have a place that’s easy to find.  The trick is to put them right back in that place so you can find them again.

I have several woodworking resolutions for 2014:

  • Organize the wood shop to make room for my new Laguna LT 14 x 14 SUV bandsaw as well as a 2.5 hp dust collector.  As my shop is vertically challenged for storage space, I plan to remove some of my built-in shelving – which means clearing the shelves and more efficiently organize what’s left, to make it not only less cluttered but easier to find.  DONE!
  • Install the dust collector and duct work and make the shop an even cleaner place to be with cleaner air too!  WORKING ON
  • Become more familiar with my new Laguna bandsaw.  WORKING ON
  • Continue to hone my hand tool skills – especially joinery techniques.
  • Continue to hone my router and router table skills.
  • Improve my handsaw sharpening technique – especially with crosscut saws.  I hope to attend one of Mark Harrell’s (Bad Axe Tool Works) sharpening classes in 2014 to get some hand-on training and improve my skills.
As you can see, I have quite a list to work on.  The great thing is that, ultimately, they will (hopefully) make me a better woodworker.

What are your 2014 woodworking resolutions?  Share them below…

Wishing you and yours a safe, happy and prosperous 2014!

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Rollin’, Rollin’, Rollin’ – Keep That Table Rollin’…

I’ve noted before that my shop doubles as a garage for my vehicle as well as my toys.  As a result, I’ve put casters on most all of my larger power tools and workbench.  It makes it easier to put them where I need themthen put them away at the end of the day.

I’ve used a folding table as an auxiliary work surface for years to help with assembly, finishing etc. At the end of the day, I’d either slide it back out of the way or get my wife to help me move it with a load of drying projects on top.

Recently, I decided to put that table on rollers to make it easier to move it out of the way.  Using some scrap wood planks from my home’s previous owner I found in the garage attic and some spare locking casters, I cobbled together the cart you see in the picture.  I drilled out the leg holes on the drill press using a ¾”forstner bit which securely holds them in place.
I attached the casters with 1” lag bolts and then fasten a scrap strip of ¾” plywood between the platforms to stabilize them.  The whole project took less than a half hour.

Now I can roll the table where I need it, when I need it – then stow it out of the way of my vehicle.  If I need even more space, I can remove the table and fold it up and store it and the caster cart on end in a corner of the shop.

Looking for a portable auxiliary work surface?  Give my idea a try and get rollin’…

Wednesday, December 11, 2013

Expanding Your Horizons

The English Biologist, Thomas Henry Huxley said “Try to learn something about everything and everything about something.”  These words can be applied to everyone’s life, particularly woodworkers.

Many of us are entering the winter months weather-wise.  It’s a great time to refine your woodworking skills or learn new ones.  Many woodworking skills (particularly hand tool skills) become “muscle memory” and second nature through repetition. 

Just like a musician or athlete, repetitive training and practice helps to refine and improve out skillsets – as our mind processes the sequence of activities required to accomplish tasks… be it playing Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony, consistently hitting a baseball or making a straight rip or crosscut on a board.  Practice can make perfect, but it will definitely improve your skill and performance.

Always wanted to learn to hand-cut a dovetail (or keep trying to perfect that skill)? Why not embark on a “Dovetail a Day” program.  Gary Rogowski has a great article in the MONTH, YEAR issue of Fine Woodworking Magazine about cutting a single dovetail as a warm up for shop time.  

Want to cut straight with a handsaw?  Pull some scraps out of the wood bin, mark equally-spaced lines on the board and start cutting.  After each one, examine your work, adjust your mechanics (position, dominant eye, etc.) if needed and make another cut.

Want to learn a new skill, check out You Tube for training videos or sign up for of the online courses from Marc Spagnolo(The WoodWhisperer), Shannon Rogers (Hand Tool School) and others. Those are great, cost and time effective ways to learn, as many of their archived lessons/projects can be done at your pace.  

Need a little more hands on, direct instruction?  Check out your local woodworking store or look for a woodworking group or club in your area.  Those are great ways to not only learn with direct feedback but you also have the ability to meet andnetwork with others with similar interests.

There are also resources to learn about tool maintenance and sharpening.  For handsaws, Mark Harrell (Bad Axe Toolworks) and Ron Herman (Antiquity Builders) offer hands-on courses at their facilitys (in La Crosse, Wisconsin and Columbus, Ohio, respectively).  In addition Ron has made several videos about hand saws (as well as others on joinery) for Popular Woodworking magazine, which are great resources.

Another great knowledge and networking source are the multi-day programs from the major woodworking publications – like “Weekend with WOOD,” Fine Woodworking” and PopularWoodworking’s “Woodworking in America.”  Handworks 2013, a show specifically for hand tool woodworking debuted in Amana, Iowa over Memorial Day weekend.  I have not heard about a 2014 date as yet.  Overall the show was well received by most in attendance, although there was discussion of an every-other-year event.  As they say on TV, stay tuned…

Of course there are always projects that you can build – from plans or of your own design.  By incorporating new techniques/processes in the build, you can expand your knowledge and skill set.  Of course, sometimes you have “oops”moments that can be great learning experiences to correct the situation, hopefully with no one else being the wiser.

So take advantage of the winter months to brush up on your woodworking skills and try some new ones – striving to “learn something about everything and everything about something!”

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Deck The Halls – Or At Least The Tree

If you’re handy with a scroll saw (or possibly small band saw) and looking for a fast, fun, easy and cost-effective way to decorate your tree or give as gifts, consider making two and three dimensional holiday ornaments.

There are a number of great patterns on the Internet for holiday ornament.  Just find some you like, make copies and
put them on pieces of ¼” to 3/8” wood from your scrap pile.  Then cut them out on the scroll or small band saw and voilĂ ! Instant gift or decoration!
For a good challenge and skill-builder, take a block of wood and create a three-dimensional ornament on your scroll saw.  There are a number of those patterns available on the Internet as well.  They require an easy to build clamp jig and a bit more patience and talent to cut them out, but the results are worth the effort.

Looking for a great “Last Minute Elf” decoration or gift, consider holiday ornaments and start decking your halls!

WOODWORKERS FIGHTING CANCER 2013 – The Young Artist’s Easel – Let’s Build Two!

Marc and Nicole Spagnuolo started Woodworkers Fighting Cancer (WFCin 2010 as a tribute to Duane Moore, an Ohio woodworker who sadly lost his battle with pancreatic cancer. It is a way to rally the woodworking community around an important, common cause that unfortunately affects everyone in some way.  

Besides donations, participants can assemble the designated project, which receive donations from great companies like WOOD Magazine.
My wife and I were happy to participate in the 2011 rocking horse project, building one of the 120 completed projects.  Even though I was only a month out of hip replacement surgery, we were able to get that project completed by deadline – obtaining the WFC donations as well as receiving an additional $26 donation for our animal rescue group at their holiday raffle.

This year’s project is The Young Artist’s Easel, which will make a great holiday gift for a budding Picasso. This year’s goal is to raise $10,000 for CancerCare, a national non-profit organization that provides free, professional support to anyone afflicted with cancer –  caregivers, children, loved ones and the bereaved. 
For each completed easel, Mark and Nicole will donate $5, as will the great folks from FESTOOL, Ron Hock and Linda at Hock Tools, Bell Forest Products, Micro Jig, WOOD Magazine and Steve Ramsey of Woodworking for Mere Mortals fame.
According to my math, that’s $35 per completed easel!  Steve auctioned off his completed easel for $255 to a fine gentleman named Rob Casey for his 6-year old grandson! A real win-win as a young man can express his artistic talents while CancerCare will benefit from the $255 winning bid!

WOOD Magazine graciously donated the free plan which is straight forward and a fun build and Marc did a great video on the project build to assist your endeavors. 

Your table saw definitely gets a workout, but if you plan and group your cuts, it becomes fairly straight forward and faster to mill the pieces to dimension.  While we used prefinished handi-panels for the dry erase and chalk boards, we decided to give the chalk boards a coat of Rustoleum green chalk board paint for a more durable and colorful surface.
I modified the plan a bit using a 3/16” x ¼” dado, since thehandi-panels were thinner than plan specs.  I also decided to cut dadoes on the table saw to hold the panels within the frames, rather than cutting rabbets with my router.  This sped up the process a bit, since I already had the dado blade set in my table saw from cutting the tray dadoes – not having to set up the router for the task.

After the milling operation, we sanded the red oak pieces and applied a coat of Minwax Early American stain, followed by two coats of Minwax satin polyurethane before assembly. This made it easier, less messy and ultimately faster since we didn’t have to tape off the chalk and dry erase boards to finish the piece.  To ensure a strong glue bond, we covered all surfaces that receive glue with masking tape to keep the stain and varnish off.
After the finish dried, we glued and clamped the pieces and allowed them to cure. We also used brass screws for a bit of bling. As you can see they turned out great.

Besides this great cause, these will become holiday gifts for our grandchildren to nurture their artistic sides.

When the sawdust settled, 210 easel had been built for the cause.  Between that, donations and merchandise sales we are over $12,000!!  Of course you can always visit the website and make a tax-deductible donation to a beneficial cause – so hopefully we can help thwart a terrible disease that affects so many people every year.

As we enter the 2013 season of giving, your contribution of a completed project and/or a donation is greatly appreciated.  All the best to you and yours this holiday season!