A place for me to display some of the varied projects that come out of my shop, as well as to "talk" about some of my experiences working with wood.

Sunday, 22 November 2015

Christmas Turning

An annual exercise for us is to determine what I am going to make for my wife to give her staff as Christmas presents. They have made it quite clear that something hand made by me is the "preferred" way to go. The challenge every year is to try to one up the previous years, and this year was no different.

Bowls! I could turn bowls for them - yea, "let's" do it...

I needed six bowls more or less similar to avoid the jealously factor, they did not have to be identical but "similar". I chose a couple of pieces of wood I thought I could get six small bowls out of and drew them out.

I rarely map out exactly how a piece will be turned, and this was no exception. The blank was mounted and once it was round I made a plan to finish it. In many cases I am working around voids or inclusions which I want to feature in the turned piece. Start to finish this project took two hours - off the hook for another year!

Just cut away the parts that don't look like bowls.
Turning a foot so I can reverse it into the chuck, here the piece is mounted on a small faceplate.
Cleaning out the interior. I keep the tailstock engaged as long as possible. Just in case...

Cleaning up the foot on the Longworth, a bit of sanding and...

Six bowls, all similar but quite different.

Tuesday, 17 November 2015

Honey, I shrunk the Tommy Mac!!!!

I decided I wanted to build a smaller scale version of my Tommy Mac Tool Chest that I built 3 years ago.

I have a few miniature versions of some tools from various sources.  Once Veritas settled on one-third scale for their miniature tools, I have acquired most of these, some as gifts, some as "must-buys". I also made a reproduction of my original-design plane hammer, which was very cool.

I have purchased a few Paul Hamler reproductions over the last while as well and felt I wanted to house them in the style they deserve. My Tommy Mac Tool Chest was a seminal project for me which ties many of the skills I have developed over the years into a single project; and providing a benchmark to strive toward for future projects.

Lumber Stack
The miniature version was to stay true to the original, from the dovetailed case, to the cherry sapwood feature on the exterior,right down to the green leather drawer liners. And yes, as I have been reminded by friends and family - I do have a problem.

Like all projects, I started out with my lumber stack. All materials were milled to exactly one-third of nominal thickness of the original materials - mostly 3/4" (.250") & 1/2" (.166").

This provided a chance to use up some strips i had left from the previous projects, while still leaving at least a cord of tongue depressor sized strips behind. These will be for the next project - or the stove!

Cleaning out the tails in the top.

Since I was doing dovetails and it was to remain true to the full-scale version, I used my David Barron dovetail jig to cut them. While making dovetails 1/3 the size in 1/4" material is no different, errors are magnified so absolute precision was paramount.

test fit of dovetails...
Gluing up the carcase, staying square was critical.

Cleaning out the dadoes and rabbets with the Veritas Mini Shoulder.
When adjusting a mini plane, one needs a mini hammer...

The web frames installed providing more structure and runners for the drawers.
These are maple with cherry strips on the front.

The first drawer being test fit and trimmed for a piston fit.

Beauty shot of the original plane hammer and its baby brothers.
All parts turned by me on  the lathe.

With the drawers fitted, time to clean up the dovetails with my Bill Carter mini plane.
Drawer layout with green leather bottoms and knobs installed.

The Tool Chest completed, finished, and its a new home for some small tools

Now back to projects on the to-do list, this was a nice distraction.

Saturday, 14 November 2015

KUBISK Dresser complete

Bedroom set complete!

The completed dresser! Yea!
Last week was a busy one in the shop as I finished and delivered the last major piece for the bedroom set I am building for my youngest son.

The set includes the cantilevered night stands, the king size bed, tall chest of drawers and this longer dresser. This piece is substantial at 67" long and will provide plenty of storage with 30" wide drawers.

The skeleton of this beast.

The build started out the same as the other case pieces in this set with end frames domino'd together and an inset plywood panel, bottom rails and a web frame for the top.

Next the top is fitted, wood choice was key here and nice piece with gum and good figure was used for the front piece. The request was to use the interesting figure of the cherry to paint a picture. That's why you will see some sapwood in places. Some details were important to me and not likely noticed by the users, such as using the most interesting part of the plywood in the end panel that had some nice curl. Also wrapping the grain around the front and top of the side panels took some time to get right.

Fitting the top, this is challenging as the top is captured between the two frames and has to be exact.

The internal structure of the piece is provided by web frames, this simple form built with dominos (of course) ties the two ends together and provides the support to carry the weight of the drawers. The centre vertical rail carries the load down to a centre beam where a hidden fifth leg delivers the load to the floor. Since this part of the carcase carries over half the load, i wanted to ensure this did not sag in the next hundred years.

The outside surfaces with a coat of danish oil to avoid soiling from handling. The full-extension
black slides have also been installed.

Of course all the drawers were dovetailed.
Not by hand though!!
 The drawer fronts are all single pieces of cherry as in the chest, the horizontal grain alignment is another one of those details I insisted on. The drawer sides are 1/2" ash which is my favourite wood for this purpose. Mostly because the grain of the ash is so interesting and adds something I like. I saw this approach at the Thomas Moser factory and it was a nice detail I chose to adopt as a bit of a signature - thanks Tom!

The drawers are dry-fitted for spacing and rough alignment

Before the back goes on to tie all the structure together.
Making sure all the drawers fit and align properly, this is way easier with the back off.

Drawer detail, shows lip created to capture and hide the slides, inset
half dovetails and that lovely ash figure.

Close up detail of front.
And what's a dresser without a proper mirror. I threw this together with left over material
Nice sapwood eh? (In case you did not notice, this is a mirror frame, not an actual mirror!!)

Saturday, 19 September 2015

It happened in a barn built 800 years ago...

Getting ready to open for the day
One of my objectives for the past few years has been to attend the biannual European Woodworking Show (EWS) in Essex, UK.  Essex is the land of thatched roof cottages and Knights Templar lore. The biggest event on the woodworking calendar took place last week in one such location. This event was the model for Handworks in the U.S. which is also housed in a somewhat newer (220+ yrs old) collection of barns in the Iowa countryside.

These hand-hewn rafters have held
up this roof since 1225

The EWS takes place in a collection of barns built by the Knights Templar in the early 1200’s and attracts exhibitors from the world over. The fun Chris Vesper from Vesper Tools in Melbourne, my good friend David Barron from Southampton, Vic from Lee Valley/Veritas, Ron & Linda from Hock Tools, and Dave Jeske and his wife from Blue Spruce Toolworks to name a few.
The Main Barn at Cressing Temple (c.1225)

Picture from the barn rafters of the hand tool group

Philly Plane
This was also an opportunity to meet some folks from Europe I have come to know online over the years. I had a wonderful chat with Bill& Sarah Carter (Carter Planes), who has made a couple of very nice tenon saw-back planes for me in the past; at 76 years Bill is able to draw (and hold) a crowd with his storytelling. Phil Edwards from Philly Planes is a fun guy I met at Handworks and asked him to make me a small wooden plane from some special material. He did not disappoint! He had a lovely little smoother made from curly, spalted boxwood.

Michel Auriou

I even had a personal demo on hand-stitching a rasp by the man himself Michel Auriou.

In addition to the stalwarts in the business there were some new entries making hand saws and infill planes; trying to make a go of it in the hand tool world. I spent quite a bit of time talking to a fine young man in the booth next to Chris Vesper; Oliver Sparks started out as a cabinet maker and is making the transition to a plane maker and had a few of his planes there for all to see. I can see he is developing his own design language and an evolving signature look, which I think is important to have. Oh yeah, and the planes were very well executed and function perfectly; as an owner of a couple of planes from some of the finest contemporary makers in the world, I think I know how quality should feel.
Oliver Sparks Collection

While the main barn was filled with some of the best hand tool makers on the planet, this was a very large event. Another barn was setup with Woodturning demonstrations of a skill level I have not seen before; some very unique pieces and lots of tools and equipment designed to turn logs into long wispy curls of wood.
Wait! What?

Another barn was home to carvers and a carving competition which made it very difficult to choose who to vote for.

Outside tents had lots of tool sellers, many of which relieved me of a few pounds (the spendy kind, not the jiggly kind), and various crafts from a few luthiers to wood carvers to a traditional Japanese woodworker working in sock feet to make a small table.

Watanabe making a small table for eating on.

There were lots of interpretive displays with period costumes demonstrating the techniques of very early woodworkers. One well-built gentleman was turning rough logs into beams all by hand, with only axes and captivating story-telling to boot – I spent too long watching chips fly from a very large chestnut tree.

Another period display involved a passionate bow maker dressed in 14th century attire and demonstrating the many subtleties of material and construction in the tactical weapon of choice in antiquity. He had a display of arrows he has researched and built using techniques from the Stone Age to the 18th century. Yes very interesting, but his wife warned me not to wind him up or I would be there for the day!

All you would ever want to know about arrows!

Very passionate medieval bowmaker. 

This trip was one I am glad I had made, it was all I expected and a bag of chips (and a Diet Coke). Getting on the train back to London to work was a rude awakening from a simpler time and place I wish I had experienced first-hand – with indoor plumbing of course…

Tuesday, 7 July 2015

Bed Time

KUBISK Night Stand
Been a busy time in the shop with lots of travel, I have been rushing to get the next piece of my son's bedroom set complete. The bed is finally finished, it is consistent in design elements to the KUBISK night stands I finished a few weeks back. The square lines and clean joinery are characteristics of our design.

The bed had to be consistent with this design so I made a simple frame for the headboard, while the footboard and side boards are more of less just boards joined together with hardware.As with the night stands I made extensive use of dominos to put the frame together. This helped tremendously with holding this very large piece together during glue-up; not normally a one-person job to get this done.

The side rails are joined to the head and foot with Lee Valley bed rail fasteners, which worked very well. For the 9" high rails I bought the largest size they had. This makes a very solid frame. A few cross rails are installed to support the 3/4" plywood support panels to create the platform for the mattress.

KUBISK King Size Platform Bed

Building a piece this size in my shop was a challenge as it consumed all of my assembly area and then some; which pretty much meant I was unable to do much else at the same time. here's a few assembly shots from the iPhone:

The footboard and side rails darkening in the sun.

Glue-up of headboard - a big piece and lots of clamps.

The finished headboard frame ready for the insert

The panel for the headboard pre-finished before install

Headboard and footboard in all their glory.
Cross Rails provide support for 3/4" plywood platform.

And now for something completely different...

While the shop was full making a bed, I did manage to get a couple other things finished. After the bench project I decided that the drawer fronts on my old bench did not cut the mustard anymore, so time for an upgrade. I used a couple pieces of cherry that had limited use elsewhere, with lots of sap and quite badly cupped. Attaching them to the front of the drawer boxes would remedy that, same handles as new bench and now up to standard...

The previous drawer fronts had seen better days


Now back to building some drawers for the bedroom set, lots of travel in the next few weeks so will need to be patient.

Tuesday, 26 May 2015

Building for Engineers 101

KUBISK Night Stand
After finishing the dining room set for the eldest, it was time to start on the bedroom suite for the youngest. I threw out the question and the design discussion started with a trip to the local furniture stores. They had some general ideas of what they were after, but it was not clear enough for me to sketch anything out. Coming back from the furniture store gave me an idea and it was refined by sifting through hundreds of Google images and emailing ones I thought were close. We finally had a design theme and I had settled in my mind on construction techniques. Then a small casual question came out of nowhere - "Can you cantilever the top?" Wait, what?

This really should have been no surprise, as we all know, engineers are put together a little different than the rest of us. Being one to never walk away from a challenge I set about designing a cantilevered pair of night stands in the cubic design theme we had chosen.

Metal brackets to support the top, with
slotted holes for top wood movement.

The key challenge obviously was how to support the top and make it as invisible as possible, joining end grain, even with dominos would not be strong enough to support even a short 5/4 cherry top. Enter my friend Joey - the machinist. I went to him with my idea and we designed a bracket that would sit under the top and inset into the side. They showed up a week later and as usual they were perfect, I cleaned them up and painted them black to match the hardware and installed them in the base.

Festool Domino Changes woodworking in small Bedford shop...

A test fit-up with Dominos.
Another test fit-up for the top,
 looks pretty level!

To me this entire bedroom suite project was going to be a big one and I have been thinking about the Festool Domino Tool for a while; this project with its rectilinear joinery suited the domino perfectly so I picked one up.

What do I think of it?

In short, why did I not do this years ago? While traditional mortise & tenon has its place, this type of joinery has no peer. It has clearly picked up where biscuit joiners have left off.

As the first pieces of the set, the night stands were for me a chance to work out the joinery on the rest of the pieces, and as such it was a design-build project. The dominoes made test assembly and rework a breeze. Compounding with the top design and making most of this up as I went along, this was a very challenging project - my favorite kind!

Time too valuable to spend it dovetailing twenty large drawers...

First drawer side

Another tool/jig I have been eyeing since it came out last year was the Leigh RTJ400 Router Table Dovetail Jig. Unlike router dovetail jigs of the past  which require the piece to be held in the jig and the router moved over it to create the dovetails, this jig uses a table mounted router. In my view this reduces the chance for driver error tremendously and is much easier to setup and use. I made one of the old style jigs 20 years ago and used it a couple of times, found it too finicky and relegated it to the shelf. I toyed with using it for the drawers for this project but abandoned it in favor of buying the Leigh jig. With only a few hours of fussing I was making drawers like a pro...
Drawers for two nightstands
Of course the drawer design I chose was not straightforward, and this jig is designed to do full height drawer sides and I wanted to have drawer side shorter than the front, allowing clearance for my joinery behind the face of the cabinet. In the picture above you can see on the cherry front the dovetails do not go all the way along the edge. This took a while to figure out, but worked perfectly. I will transfer this technique to the 12 drawers in the chest and dresser.

Building these two stands has allowed me to test out my approach for joinery, drawer construction and design cues, I feel very prepared to build the remaining pieces to complete this set. I think that these two little stands will be as much work as the dresser - with all the sketches and test cuts it took.

In acknowledgement of the square-ish shape, design and joinery combined with the elegant simplicity it brings, we are naming this set KUBISK, which is Scandinavian for cubic - appropriate don't you think??

The Requisite Beauty Shots - after letting the cherry bake out on the deck for a week or so.

KUBISK Night Stands with black edge pulls and change caddy in top drawer.

Another look at a fine set of KUBISK Night Stands