Thursday, March 13, 2008

Completed nightstand

Hi guys, well I'm sorry it's been awhile since I last posted. Once I get close to the finish line on a project I guess I go all out to try and get it done. I've finally completed my nightstand (or should I say my wife's nightstand). I'm very happy with how it turned out and am quite proud of it. My wife loves it. Here are a couple of pictures:

I really struggled with the finish on this project. It's funny how the more you learn about woodworking and finishing in particular the more you're willing to get outside your comfort zone and try something new. At the same time trying something new can lead you into trouble.

Though I couldn't stray too far from the finish I used on the bed right next to it, I still wanted to try a couple of things I've read recently on finishing and finishing prep work:

The first was to do alot more scraping than sanding. Like most woodworkers I hate sanding. So after having read countless articles on the subject that say you can almost totally do away with sanding by using a card scraper I decided I'd take this path. The key word above however is the "almost". Because the sides and back of this case are frame and panel construction, I had to be very careful to get away from making cross grain scratches with my card scraper. So after having scraped the thing prior to assembly and then spot scraped after assembly to make sure all the joints are flush etc, I spent about another 3 hours hand sanding with 180 grit and suing steam to get rid of any dings etc that tend to show up during assembly. Of course the second I put a stain on the thing, I find all kinds of cross grain scratches, dents etc. It's enough to drive you crazy. So after sanding off the trouble spots and restaining all went well.

The second thing I read decided to try was to use a glossy sheen for the first two coats of polyurethane and then apply the satin sheen for my last coat. The logic behind this is that this type of finish is naturally glossy. Silica is added to the glossy to turn it into a satin. If you can imagine tiny little grains of sand inside the finish reflecting the light in different directions you can see how this would work. If you apply satin finish for all coats, you are hiding a little bit of the wood on each coat. So by doing it the way I did it you theoretically get the best of both worlds. This seems to work quite well but as you can probably tell in the photo the nightstand is a bit shinier than the bed. In retrospect, I should have placed a second coat of satin on it to dull it down a bit to match the bed. I think I'll do that as soon as my wife isn't looking!

This project gave me my first experience hand cutting dovetail joinery for the drawers. As you can see from the picture, they turned out pretty good. There are tons of online articles on this subject but I'd like to make a couple of comments regarding my experience in the hopes of helping along other first time dovetailers.
1. Every article I've ever read about drawer construction says "make your drawer front 3/4" thick and use 1/2" thick material for the sides and back. This is a big pill to swallow when you're planing 1" thick material down to 1/2". It's natural to think " hey if 1/2" is strong. then 3/4" is even stronger!" However, when you cut your drawer sides the extra thickness amplifies and error you make with the saw. I cut my tails first and then transfer the outline of the tails onto the pin board using an Xacto knife. When you do this you're marking on the hidden side of the board not on the show side so you have make sure your cuts are square.
2. Because I wanted to match the colour of the bed, I had to stain this project. I put alot of thought into how to treat the pins on the drawer front so that I had a nice contrast with the drawer sides. Finally I read an article by Jeff Jewitt in Fine Woodworking that explained what to do. First stain the drawer front and use a #2 or #4 artists brush to stain the pins. I used an oil based stain and had to be very careful not to put too much stain on the brush so that the oil didn't wick into the tail board. It's painstaking but it can be done. Then I applied one 2lb cut coat of dewaxed shellac to the whole drawer. This is the final finish for the inside of the drawer and I chose it because dewaxed shellac has the nice property of having no smell after about 1 hr of curing and is compatible with the polyurthane topcoat. The final step is to apply the wiping poly to the drawer front.

Monday, January 28, 2008

Nightstand drawers 2 and closet organizer

Well, I've been pretty productive in my woodworking since my last blog. Let's get started by discussing the nightstand project.

So since my last post, I've finished the half blind dovetails and through dovetails for my first drawer. I've subscribed to the Fine Woodworking website and I've read a few articles on cutting dovetails. So I feel I'm buch better prepared to cut the joinery for the next two drawers. So here a couple of pictures of the finished drawer joints all glued up and clened up with a low angle block plane:
In the photo at left I decided to try to do unevenly spaced dovetails. This may have been foolhardy to attempt for my first try but what the heck. I like this because it distinguishes the joinery from most machine cut dovetails which are normally evenly spaced. In reality, these are no more difficult to cut than even spacing and I prefer them aesthetically. I must say that I was surprised at how the glue helped to hide some of the minor gaps in the joinery. I'm using Pro-Bond stainable PVA glue which is not normally a gap filling glue but for thin gaps I guess it works quite well. I screwed up the other side of this drawer quite royally and have some huge gaps. That's why there's no picture! Suffice to say that don't be stupid and always chisel to your base line, never beyond!

I added this picture as a straight comparison to the picture from my previous blog to show how the glue helps to close up the joints. I'm very pleased at how this joint in particular turned out.

So after having had this experience and having read through a couple of FW articles I picked up the following tip:
Cut the tails on both sides first. By laying out and cutting both sides first you extend the endgrain layout lines across two boards which makes them longer and and is a better guide for your saw. This helps to make the tails the size across their depth which I feel is one of the biggest problems to overcome in this type of joinery.

Now over the weekend, my wife got frustrated that it was taking me so long to finish the nightstand that some of her wish list items weren't getting done. Specifically some shelves for my 15 year old son's bedroom and a closet organizer for our master bedroom. After much deliberation (actually she just decided and told me) we bought some cheap pine shelves and painted them to match our son's room. My wife even volunteered to paint them which was great and had them all painted wehn I got home on Saturday from helping a friend split some firewood. Unfortunately she painted the shelves on my workbench without covering the bench which was not so great. Anyway my bench is nothing too special so I can scrape the paint off without too much consternation.

For the closet organizer we bought 2 sheets of 5/8" MDF. I spent probably 8-10 hours woodworking, painting and installing and I'm pretty happy with the results.
Here are the before and after pics. I intend to install 4 drawers in the space where the hamper is. I'll use full extension drawer slides and baltic birch plywood for the boxes. For the front of the drawers I think I'll do a small frame out of alder with a beadboard panel.
Well that's it for this post. I was going to keep going on the drawers this week but It turns out than my hardwood supplier is out of 5/4 ash so I bought a nice big piece of red oak for the nightstand top. I'll try and get some pictures of laying out the panle glue up for you guys (and gals).

Monday, January 21, 2008

Nightstand drawers

So this weekend I made my first attempt and handcut dovetails. I milled out the front of the drawer from red oak and the sides and back out of ash. I started by laying out the through dovetails that attached the back of the drawer to the sides. I handcut the tails first using my LV folding dozuki saw (which I love) and all went pretty well. Then I traced the tails onto the pin board using an exacto knife and cut my first half pin on the drawer back. It was at this point that I realized that I had forgotten to cut the drawer back shorter to allow the solid wood bottom to slide in from the back. So after much deliberation on whether or not I should just forget about the solid wood bottom and use plywood, I decided to stay on course and challenge myself. So I cut 3/4" off of the drawer back. This left a half pin missing on the drawer side but so be it. Live and learn. Here's what my very first handcut dovetail joint looks like:
It's no too bad and frankly I'm amazed at how strong this joint is. Even without any glue it's very difficult to pull apart.
Now for the opposite side I need to decide how to layout the tails while taking into consideration the shorter drawer back. I decided to essentially mimic the other side with the only difference being that I'm not going to cut out the bottom half pin.
After doing a bit of research online, I think the next time I'll layout the pins first on the drawer back and then cut the tails to match. I'll end up with a half pin partway up the drawer side but I think that'll look okay.
So here's the opposite side. Already a bit of improvement in the accuracy of the joint. I tightened up the joint by:
1. hogging out most of the material between the pins on the bandsaw.
2. Instead of putting my chisel right in the marking gauge line and starting there I started 1/16" away from the line, cleaned up the sides etc. and the pared to the line.
For my next drawer I'm going to make the following changes:
1. I've used 3/4" material for all of my drawer parts. I think that for the next drawers, I'll buy some 5/4 ash and resaw it down to 1/2" thick material. I figure that if there's less depth, there's less magnification of error within the joint.
2. The marking gauge I'm using is a cheap footprint one I bought at Home Depot and it makes a pretty wide line. I've read that a wheel cutting gauge is much more accurate. So I've added a graduated wheel marking gauge to my Lee Valley wish list and hopefully I'll get down to Halifax soon to pick one up. I figured I was getting one for Christmas from my wife but instead she got me a transfer punch set and a japanese chamfer plane. Let this be a lesson to you guys: when sending your wife an email wish list, narrow the list down to the stuff you really need!
On Sunday afternoon I started the half blind dovetails for the drawer front. This time I started by laying out the pins first and scribing the tails to see if this is any easier. I only got as far as chopping out one end of the pin board and then my wife called. Darn, I'll have to continue later.

Friday, January 18, 2008


Well I'm going to shoot right off the cuff here and try and get some content on this blog. I've been working on a nightstand for a couple of months now. It's a match to the bed I made for my wife and I. Here's a photo of the completed bed and the Sketchup model for the nightstand.

I purchased the plans for the bed from Wood magazine and modified the stock plan somewhat to make the bed into a King sized. It turned out great and I great a great sense of pride every time I see it. The only thing that bugs me a bit is that though it's a Craftsman style bed, I used plainsawn red oak as a material. The reason for this is economics. I'd love to have used the traditional quarter sawn white oak but in this part of the world, (Atlantic Canada) White Oak is pretty hard to come by. I spoke to one sawmill who specializes in custom hardwood orders who told me that in the 7 years he's been in business, he's only ever seen 6 white oak logs. The other option I guess would have been to order some online but I haven't had the courage yet to spend my hard earned cash on wood sight unseen. That being said, shipping the necessary boards from the southern US would have been prohibitively expensive.

Now If you look at the picture of the bed you can see that we're using some pretty dinky little nightstands my wife bought at the grocery store for $10 a piece. So among the seemingly unending list of furniture projects I have, the nightstands jumped out as a priority. The matching nightstand plan from wood magazine was nice but I wasn't keen on the single drawer and open bottom. So I decided to use Google sketchup to modify the stock plan to include three drawers, modify the "backsplash", use all solid wood and add some exposed joinery for the project. I'm trying to make sure that every one of my projects increases in difficulty level and though the bed is physically bigger it was much simpler to make than the nightstand.

So to match the bed, I'm using plainsawn red oak and intend to finish the project using Varathane's mission oak stain and topped with Minwax Wipe-on satin Polyurethane. The drawer insides will be finished using shellac to make sure that my clothes don't smell of poly. So I'm going to jump ahead here and show you the pics of where I'm at with the nightstand project right now.

So as you can see I've got the side and back frames made with the panels pre-stained. The front stretcher is installed and three of the four drawer support frames have been fit and glued in. The corbels are just clamped on temporarily for the photo. I'm waiting for the top to be installed beforwe adding the corbels. that way I can ensure a nice tight fit. The drawer support frames are made using half lap joints and are dadoed into the side frames. The front part of the drawer support frames overlap the sides by 1/2" inch just to give some visul depth. As you can see from the next photo, I used a wedged through tenon for the front stretcher. I had some spare jatoba lying around and used that for the wedges. It's the first time I ever tried this joint and am pretty pleased by how it turned out.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Introductory Blog

Well since this is my first attempt at creating a blog, please bear with me. I'm inspired to start this blog by podcasts such as The Wood Whisperer, Matt's basement Workshop and The Rough Cut show which have taught me a great deal about woodworking and are a never ending source of design inspiration.

A little info about me: I am a structural engineer by day and an amateur self-taught woodworker by night. I take most of my inspiration from Craftsman furniture of Gustav Stickley. I started woodworking about three years ago after having renovated my first house. Since then, I've amassed a fairly extensive tool collection and I'm pretty much obsessed with working wood.