Monday, November 14, 2011

Web frames and Dividers

What a great weekend of woodworking I just had!  We had Friday off for Remeberance day and my wife went off to Halifax to visit some friends.  So I had three fun filled days of wood working. awesome!  So what did I get done?  Well I was able to build and install all of the web frames and dividers for one of the two dressers.
I made each of the web frames out of ash and oak.  The front drawer blade is primary wood - red oak and the drawer runners and back blade are secondary wood, in this case ash.  The drawer blades are installed into the case sides in 1/4 deep sliding dovetails.  The runners set into 1/8" deep rabbets in the case sides. When I built the nightstands to match this piece, I decided to make the drawer blades stand 1/4" proud of the drawer faces.  This is an idea I picked up from some of Sam Maloof's dresser projects and I thought it would help to enhance the horizontality of the nightstands since these are next to our very wide king sized bed which has all the vertical pickets.  This made the build a bit more complex however.  For the front drawer blades all I did was to glue on a 1/4" wide strip of oak on the front.  This allowed me to cut the male part of the dovetail on the router table.  It also had the added benefit of hiding any tear out my router made when cutting the slots in the case sides.  Darn oak is tough to work with,  It's very stringy and fibrous.  The tough part came when I was trying to decide how to install the two vertical drawer dividers in the top drawer spaces.   In my furniture making I try very hard to include traditional joinery methods and shy away from using screws or nails etc. in my work as much as I can.  For me, cutting the joinery is one of the most fun parts of the project.  So I had a bit of a tough time getting the top divider in.  The lower vertical deivider was pretty straight forward. All I did was to use sliding dovetails and these were covered up with the 1/4" thick banding.  The low end of the upper divider was done the same way.  The top end of the top divider was the more complicated part.  The problem is that I couldn't cut a dovetail slot in the top of the cascase since it stands proud of the face of the case. Plus I needed to install the divider after the upper web frame was installed because of the presence of the center drawer runner.  So my solution was to (begrudgingly) install a biscuit in the case top and then cut a open ended slot in the top and back face of the divider using the biscuit jointer.  That sounded like a great plan until I realized late saturday night that I loaned by biscuit jointer to a friend.  Drats!  So what I finally ended up doing (and happy I did) was to make a slip tenon in lieu of a biscuit.   I chopped a mortise into the case top with a mortise chisel and then I handsawed a slot into the top of the divider kind of like sawing a half-blind dovetail socket.  I made a slip tenon on the table saw and slid the divider right in.  Worked great and I'm satisfied I still have all wood joinery.  The only trouble now is that I have to do it all over again for the second chest.   

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Dresser Carcases complete

Here an update to where I am with the double dresser I'm building for our master bedroom.  This project has taken me a lot longer than I had planned.  (Typical)  I don't remember when I started this thing but it was probably back in January or February of this year.  I started by milling up the wood and glueing up the panels.  I typically use biscuits for alignment and these proved to work very well as there was minimal handplaning to flatten the panels ....  initially. A big reason for the long time delay on this project was that over the course of the summer I fenced in my back yard with a custom build cedar fence.

The purpose for putting in the fence was so we could put in an above ground pool in the yard and comply with our municipal by-laws.  I had only planned on putting in the pool next summer but come fall there were some great deals on used pools online so I couldn't resist. We ended up purchasing a 27 foot above ground pool and I installed it all myself with a lot of help from my friend Trevor.

Well now that we're well into the fall and what I consider as prime woodworking season, I'm back in the shop and I've finally finished hand cutting all of the dovetails at the corners of each carcase.  This took a lot of time to do in red oak but I'm really happy with the results.

I started doevetailing these cacases back in May before I started building the fence.  When I brought all of the cedar in my shop I put these red oak panels away and stood them on end on the concrete floor.  I remember telling myself that they'd only be there on the floor for a day until I stickered them flat with a weight on them.  Well that day turned into months and when I finally got back to the panels they were seriously cupped.  Red oak is a notorious wood for moving around and I learned my lesson the hard way on this project.  Since I had already begun cutting the dovetails in the boards I didn't really have the option of ripping them down and jointing them flat again so instead I stickered them and sprayed water on the concave side.  This worked pretty well and I was able to put a strong back across them to transfer my tails to my pin board.  Once the dovetails were mated, the joinery held everything flat.

Once mistake I made was to mis-set my marking gauge too shallow when marking the depth of the pins.  I'm not sure how this happened but once the joint went together I had to hand plane about 1/16" off each of the case sides to get everything flat.  Now on an easy to work wood like cherry, hand planing a 1/16" off is easy peasy,  but on dry red oak it's a real pain.  I put alot of effort into making sure the grain direction was the same in each board before I glued up each panel but inevitable you're going to get some grain change in the middle of the board which leads to huge tear out.  I've gotten a lot better at dealing with this and managed to minimize the tear out by being vigilant at reading the grain and planeing from different directions as well as by by using a high plane angle.  I'll finish cleaning the sides up with a card scraper and sand paper before I move on to making the web frames.  That's my project for this weekend.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Antique Joiner's Tool Chest

Last summer while on one of my many work road trips to Prince Edward Island I stopped at a small antique shop in Cornwall to see if they had any old wooden molding planes.  I was in luck as they had a whole bathtub full and I spent a good hour looking through them to see which one might suit my fledgling molding plane collection.  What really caught my eye though was this old joiner's chest.

After chatting with the store owner a bit she informed me that all of the molding planes, there must have been fifty of them or so, had been stored inside this chest.  She purchased the chest at auction for an undisclosed amount.  Man, what a find that would be!  The store owner graciously allowed me to take all of the chest drawers out and photograph it.

I am by no means an expert on antiques but what I did notice is that the carcase of the chest was all made with a single width of board.  I'm guessing it was pine and about 18" tall.  I'd say the chest was likely about 36 " wide and maybe 20-24" inches deep.  When I first looked at the outside of the chest the coarse grain made me think it was oak or ash but upon closer inspection, you'll notice that there is face grain on the ends of the dovetail pins.  So the lighter colored part of the chest has been grain painted which is not something you see every day.  I seem to recall reading somewhere that this was a trend some time ago.

The craftsmanship that went into this chest is remarkable. I love how the lid is all pegged mortise and tenon joints and the wrapped in a edge frame that is dovetailed with a nice broad single dovetail.  The skirt boards around the top and lower part of the chest are all dovetailed and they have these heavy screws in a raised metal ferrule all around them that would aid in the durability of the chest.  It looks as though they've served this function well as the chest was in excellent condition.

Inside the chest there is a till along the front and three sliding drawers of slightly different widths that run on a stepped board at each side of the chest.  I didn't get a photo of this, but I beleive there was also a board under the till with holes in it that appeared to be for storage of chisels etc.

I probaly drooled over this chest for about 45 minutes when I realized I had to head back home.  I inquired as to what the price was and at $1300 was way too much for me.  Besides, if I bought one, it would mean I'd have no reason to build one and where's the fun in that? 
I drove by the same antique store a couple of weeks ago and intended to stop and see if the chest was sold and to add once again to my molding plane collection but lo and behold the store had either gone out of business or relocated.  I'm heading back to the island next week, perhaps I'll find another treasure!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

New dresser for our master bedroom

Front View of Dresser

Rear View

I was having a hard time coming up with a new design for a dresser for our master bedroom.  I wanted it to match well with the arts and crafts bed and matching nightstands that I made a couple of years ago but I didn't want to do a straight copy of a plan.  Finally inspiration struck while visiting the Thos. Moser showroom in Freeport, Maine.  I stumbled across their American Bungalow tall dresser and immediately fell in love with it.  That one has a very traditional shaker style rectangular cherry cabinet suspended inside a very arts and crafts looking structure. Very Niiiice (in Borat speak). As much as I admire Mr. Moser's designs I have no intention of copying it outright and unfortunately I cannot afford any of his furniture. So as with most furniture, I borrowed a little inspiration from Mr. Moser as well as from an exhaustive search on google images and came up with the basic parameters for my own design.

I was looking for a large dresser that would stand on the wall opposite the foot of our bed than I can put our TV on top of.  I also wanted lots of drawers and for it to be a double dresser so my wife and I would each have a side.  (in theory at least, in practice she might let me have a drawer or two!) and of course it had to draw from some of the stylistic elements of our bed and nightstands.

In the photos above, you can see where I'm at with the design.  There will be two identical flatsawn red oak cases dovetailed together at the corners.  The drawer web frames will be dovetailed in at the sides and back with the drawer runners mortised and tenoned into the front and back "blades" Only the front will be glued and the back will be loose to allow for expansion of the case sides.  I'll likely make the runners and rear blade out of ash since it's relatively inexpensive in these parts.  The two cases will bear on front and back stretchers that will be tenoned into an outer frame that has the same vertical spindles as our bed.  I've extended the rear posts up through the top and added a crest rail across the top.  The holes through the crest rail are decorative but they also allow you to pass plugs through for the electronics that will inevitably be placed on top of this dressser.

The back of the cases will likely be tongue and groove pine boards. The drawers will have half blind dovetails in the front and through dovetails in the back and have a solid ash bottom.  I may consider putting in a center runner in the larger bottom drawers to cut down the span of the drawer bottoms.  

I love using skecthup for this stuff but I'm still a bit worried about the proportions.  In particular I'm wondering if the 2" square legs are big enough.  I should really do a full scale mock up of this thing but I'm not sure what material to use for the mock up.  Perhaps rigid insulation? Another issue with the legs is that I know I can buy riftsawn 8/4 stock from my local supplier which will likely only yield a 1 3/4" square leg.  To get the 2" square I'll likely glue up the leg pieces face to face and be diligent in ensuring that the exposed edges are riftsawn so the seams don't show as much.  I could try the Gustav Stickley Quadrilinear post method but those lock miter bits scare me in the sense that I've heard they are tough to set up properly to get good results.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Sofa table finally completed! Woohoo!

The last post I wrote regarding my sofa table project was about my original sketchup model and was, sadly,posted on Sept. 28, 2009. That's about a year and a half of working on this project from conception to completion. To be honest I almost had it beat about 4 months ago when I placed it in my living room to finally see what it would look like in the space. That was a big mistake! At the time all I had left to do was to turn the door and drawer pulls and brush some varnish over the two coats of danish I had put onto the tabletop. Well sure enough, one of the kids spilled something on the top and ruined the finish completely. I mean within a week of having it in my living room there were 2 or 3 major water spots. Lessons learned: 1. Don't put the furniture in place until it's well and truly done and 2. I finally learned how to finish a tabletop with a really nice durable finish. More on that later..

A quick description of the piece is in order: The primary wood is cherry with the drawer fronts made out of one piece of curly birch for grain continuity. The drawer sides and bottoms are eastern white pine and some of the secondary wood in the case (drawer runnners etc.) are made out of yellow birch. There are several different finishes on this piece depending on the level of durability required etc. The tabletop is easily the most laborious finish I've ever done. One coat of sealcoat using a 1lb cut to control blotching in the cherry. Two coats of Danish Oil to enhance the chatoyance of the wood. Three coats of brushed on varnish followed by two coats of gel varnish and finally a coat of paste wax for a total of 9 coats of finish with all of the sanding and rubbing out between successive coats. The remainder of the exterior of the case is simply a coat of sealcoat followed with 3 coats of wet sanded danish oil using 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. The inside of the drawers etc were finished with a 2lb cut of sealcoat. I had a tough time deciding on how to finish the curly birch thinking that a water based poly might be the way to go to get better contrast between the two different species but the water based didn't bring out the figure of the wood so I ended up deciding on the smae Danish Oil finsih as the rest of the case.
I am very proud of this case piece and found it to be a great skill builder. In particular I'm very happy with the joinery for the drawer blades and dividers into the case sides since these are all dovetailed. This is a detail I picked up watching Tommy MacDonald's Bombe series and I did it using a paring block the samy way Tommy did it and it worked out great.
I deliberated quite a bit on how to build the back of the case. From what I've seen, it appears that many period furniture pieces were done using shiplapped pine boards which is fine if the back is hidden from view against a wall. In this case however, since the center "cubby" is open I wanted to keep the back in cherry. So I ended making a frame and panel back with bookmatched cherry panels.
As you can see in the opening photo, all of the drawer fronts were dovetailed by hand using an uneven tail size and spacing. The drawer backs are done using through dovetails and the drawer bottoms are 1/2" thick solid pine tapered to 1/4" thick around three sides to fit into the grooves in the drawer front and sides.
This was my first attempt at installing knife hinges as well. I purchased some nice Brusso hinges from Lee Valley and followed the process that Timothy Rousseau shows in his small cabinet project in the Fine Woodworking Project Video series. Mr. Rousseau's instructions were invaluable to this process. As for the drawer pulls I looked at an awful lot of pulls on the Lee Valley website but it was when I visited the Thomas Moser showroom in Freeport Maine when I decided to try my hand at turning my own pulls. One of Mr. Moser's display cabinets had the most beautiful tear drop shaped pulls. I tried to commit the shape to memory but ended up making something similar on the lathe in cocobolo.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

Hailey's Christmas bookcase

We'll I'm frantically trying to finish a bookcase for my God-daughter, Hailey's Christmas present. her brother, Reid, has a nice big built-in bookshelf in his room and I think Hailey's a bit jealous. These kids are wonderful readers and just love books so they have quite a collection and not a whole lot of place to put them. That's the inspiration for this piece. I did some online searching on google images for a bookcase suitable for a little girl's room and came across a photo I liked. The case had to be both challenging to increase my skill level and be simple enough that I'd be able to finish it by Christmas. I started it with lots of time to spare and had most of the case put together over a weekend. but, of course, life steps in. My wife wanted me to finish a basement bedroom and that took precendence for a few weeks and worked got hectic. Same old story. So here I am, 8 days from Christmas eve and I've yet to start putting any paint on the thing. I turned the feet last night and tonight I plan on attaching the feet to the case bottom plinth, attach the plinth and the top to the case and then start the drawers. of course, the drawer fronts are curved and I'd like to dovetail the drawers at least at the front, which will add some complication but I think that by the end of this weekend I'll be able to put my first coat of primer on the case and then spend the evenings next week applying 2-3 coats of white paint. Wish me luck and Merry Christmas

Monday, September 28, 2009

Cherry Sofa Table

Well anyone who has been following my blog (including me, that's likely a whole 1 person) has seen that I had previously posted a screen capture of a walnut sofa table. For some reason, that version of the table just wasn't doing it for me. I had cross-grain issues, build issues, etc. I just plain couldn't get inspired by it. Then one day, while at work, I catch out of the corner of my eye one of the many furniture pictures I have for inspiration scrolling by on my screen saver. I don't even remember downloading, or having ever seen that photo before, but I fell in love with it immediately. So I went back to the drawing board and came up with the model in the image.

The table is made of solid american black cherry with the only exception being the the bird's eye maple drawer fronts. It is essentially all frame and panel construction and is comprised of about 110 individual parts with over 50 mortise and tenon joints. From a design point of view, I think one of the reasons I didn't like the old model was that I tried to include too many strong visual elements. Too much exposed joinery etc. One this table there are only three featured design elements: the first is the contrasting wood drawer fronts. the second is the through dovetails on the drawers and the third more subtle is just the cherry wood grain. If I had to categorize this piece in a certain style I guess it would have to be shaker with some craftsman influence.

In the original photo of the piece, there was also a Harvey Ellis style craftsman inlay in each of the two doors. Though I'm keen on learning how to create these inlays, I think it would be too much for this piece. I'd much rather incorporate the contrasting wood tones.

To date I've purchased about 50 bd ft of cherry and have milled the parts for the two side frames and I've just started laying out the joinery in the legs. Stay tuned for some photos of the work in progress.