Posts Tagged With: DIY

Reclaimed Chestnut Box

chestnut-box01

Chestnut Box, approx 7″ x 7″ x 5″

I have had a small piece of reclaimed wormy chestnut set aside for awhile, waiting for the right project to come along. My idea was to use it to make something for some friends of ours. They have been making things out of found and reclaimed stuff, and this old barn board seemed to fit right in with that.

chestnut-box03I was able to keep quite a bit of the character of the old surface while still getting the board straight and flat enough to use. The oil finish brought out that texture and the deep, weathered colors of the wood.

The box actually has two compartments – the lid lifts off to reveal the main one, and the bottom “secret” compartment is held together with magnets. The box therefore has 2 bottom panels, each made of reclaimed spruce salvaged from a discarded piano. The knob on top is walnut, and is the only part not made of reclaimed wood.chestnut-box02

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Stuff that Works

“Stuff that works, stuff that holds up
The kind of stuff you don’t hang on the wall
Stuff that’s real, stuff you feel
The kind of stuff you reach for when you fall”    — Lyrics by the late Guy Clark

This is not a forum for advocating anything in particular, including any brands, types, or manufacturers of tools. But when I find something that works unexpectedly well for me, it makes sense to put it out here. I spent quite a long time pounding away with a chisel and mallet, cleaning out and squaring up the rounded corners on the Shoji Style sliding doors.

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Before

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After

Each of the two doors has 12 square acrylic panes, with four corners each. That’s 96 corners to clean up, in some pretty tough white oak.

I tried several different chisels, trying to find one that would work quickly and do several corners before it needed to be sharpened. A couple of no name chisels failed very quickly. My old Stanleys and newer Lie Nielsens did relatively well. Finally, I settled on a Lie Nielsen mortise chisel to chop out the majority of the waste , then clean it up by paring with a Stanley bench chisel. This combination worked great. After pounding on the Lie Nielsen mortise chisel for over half of the corners, its edge is still in great shape – it’s going right back into the drawer with no need for sharpening. And that Lie Nielsen mortise chisel is a wonderful tool. But this post isn’t about the chisel. It’s about the mallet.

“I’d rather be a hammer than a nail.”   — Song lyrics by Paul Thorn

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Blue Spruce Toolworks Mallet

I have to admit that I bought the Blue Spruce Toolworks mallet because it looks great. A classmate at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship had one and raved about how wonderful it was. When you hold it, it weighs WAY more than you can believe. Like its filled with lead or something. The Blue Spruce website says it is, “totally infused with acrylic resin to fill every cell.” I don’t have any idea how they would have done that to a gorgeous piece of tiger maple. But it looks great, with the African blackwood handle, and feels balanced and ergonomically perfect in the hand.

img_0934But here’s the amazing part: after beating on chisels, not only on this project but many others, there is not so much as a scratch on the mallet. Blue Spruce Toolworks claims that the acrylic infusion “helps prevent crushing of the face grain.” I can vouch for that. How does a mallet not get dented and scratched with use?

The Blue Spruce Toolworks mallet is a tool that works. I won’t ever have to buy or make another mallet. It feels great to use, works perfectly, and, yes, it still looks great!

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Sliding “Shoji-Style” Doors, a Work in Progress

Kitchens never seem to have enough space. A pantry with double doors swinging outward require room to open, and must be accounted for when arranging other items. In our case, the kitchen table and chairs must be placed to give sufficient room for the doors to swing open.

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A work in progress.

As an improvement, I am building a pair of sliding by-pass doors. Most everything in the pantry is small enough to access with only one door open anyway. So, there is limited down-side to this modification. Eliminating the need for the doors to swing open is a significant up-side.

I wanted a door that was strong, and light-weight, and would not look too out of place in our kitchen. After building the cabinetry from quarter-sawn white oak, the natural choice for the doors would be to continue with the same material. But to keep the weight down and to add a lighter tone, I have gone with a door that has acrylic panels which I have covered with a rice paper style film.

The doors are about 25 1/2″ wide and 78″ tall. The outer frame and center cross piece are 7/8″ quarter-sawn white oak. The interior muntins are 1 1/2″ x 3/4″and are placed 1/8″ back from the styles and rails. The corners are joined with some major mortise and tenon joints, and the muntins are also mortised into the outer frame.

 

Where the muntins meet is a modified bridle joint. I am sure it is something that has been done before, but I haven’t found a photo of a joint done quite like this. I began by cutting  an “X” on the front of the vertical muntin about 1/4″ deep (with a Japanese Dotsuki Takebiki saw.)

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Mock up of modified Bridle Joint

On the back side, I also cut 1/4″ deep and the full 1 1/2″ width of the muntin. I then made mitered cuts on the front and grooved the center to fit the vertical piece. I hope the photo of my initial mock-up offers a better explanation.

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The finished modified Bridle Joint.

The doors will hang from a vertical track made by Grant. I set up the arrangement in my shop, hanging the track and attaching the rolling trucks to the doors, and they slide with the slightest touch.

The rice paper window film uses no adhesive — I guess it is just the static charge that holds it in place. In the photo, the acrylic sheets are held in with only tape. I will finish the door first, then permanently install the panels with small quarter-round pieces tacked in on the back side of the doors.

So, its a work in progress. I will finish the doors then modify the opening to remove traces of the existing hinges, etc. With a week off at the holidays, perhaps I can make some quick progress on this project.

 

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Tiger Maple Box

round-top-box-01

While taking a box making class in Maine at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship this Fall, I saw a box one of the instructors had made. It was a long, narrow box with a curved lid, constructed out of teak, and the shape kept grabbing my attention. The overall size was about 12″ long x 4″ wide x 3.5″ tall. I tried to make something similar from oak during class, but it the open grain of the oak just didn’t have the look I wanted.

I ran across a really pretty flitch of tiger maple a month or so ago, and purchased it with mandolin necks in mind. But after getting the wood home, it started to look like a box instead of a musical instrument neck. Figured woods look so fantastic, but all that figure means the grain of the wood is reversing itself. If not done carefully, there can be a lot of  grain tear-out.

round-top-box-02Most of the work was done by hand. I did re-saw the stock on the bandsaw to get close to the final thickness of about 1/2″. The box jointed corners were done with a router. The rest was done using hand planes and chisels. The box itself was constructed first, and the lid was made to fit. With blades being sharpened often, I was able to tame the wood’s grain.

In order to really emphasize the tiger maple grain, I used two colors of wood dye. The first coat was lemon yellow, which was applied and wiped off quickly. Next, I used a beechwood dye that really brought out the contrast in the grain. A few coats of shellac, and a bit of wax are the finish coat.

This just might be one of the prettiest pieces of wood I have ever run across. There isn’t much of it left, so I will have to come up with a way to make the best use of what I do have remaining.

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Jewelry Box

It has been a long time between posts here. There have been several woodworking projects undertaken during the past few months, including completing kitchen cabinets and designing and building an oak and stained glass light fixture for the kitchen.

Jewelry Box 01

Oak Jewelry Box

One of the projects I completed back in February was a jewelry box – a late Christmas present for my wife. It is made of quarter sawn oak with brass hardware, including a really nice piece of “quilted” oak that is most visible on the inside of the box lid. The piece is 13″ x 9″ x 6″ high.

There is a tray inside that raises with the lid. I made the hardware for its operation from some brass stock. I had to make several models to get the geometry right, so that the tray stays level as it opens and closes.

Jewelry Box 02

Jewelry Box, with quilted oak inside top.

 

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When the Material Dictates the Project Design: A Box from a Walnut Scrap

Box from Walnut Scrap

Box from Walnut Scrap

While rummaging through some small pieces of wood at a lumberyard in Raleigh a few weeks ago, I came across a piece of walnut with a neat grain pattern. The piece was about 7/8″ x 8″ x 7″ — not very big. I had no idea what I might make with it, but I figured something would come out of it. I started out resawing it into two pieces and book-matched them together into one piece about 3/8″ x 8″ x 13″. I thought it would make a nice top for a box, but the size was strange, and I could not come up with a good design for it. I set it to the side for a few weeks, and spent a lot of time trying to figure out what to do with it.

Finally, I picked it back up and started trying to come up with something — it was too neat of a piece not to build something out of. So, I cut it back apart where I had book-matched it, and decided to use one half for drawer fronts and the other half for the top of a little box. I cut the top piece and mitered it, continuing the pattern down the front into the drawers. The sides are quartersawn white oak, with a slight taper. Here’s what it looks like with the first coat of finish on it:

Box with Pulls at the Bottom

Box with Pulls at the Bottom

The problem with drawers is that you need something to grab onto to pull them open. And, this gets in the way of a neat piece of wood. I just could not bring myself to drill a hole and mount a pull on each drawer. So, here is what I came up with. I embedded a magnet behind each drawer front, and made some little pulls with a magnet glued into the bottom. At the bottom is a row of mortised parking places for the knobs. So, if you aren’t using the box too often, you can leave the pulls down there. Here is the box with the pulls “parked” at the bottom.

It kinda looks like an old fashioned radio with the dials at the bottom. The finished box is about 8″ wide at the bottom, 7″ wide at the top, 7″ deep and 11″ tall. I am using Tried and True Varnish and Oil finish.

Dovetailed Drawer

Dovetailed Drawer

On a side note, I usually use my router table with the Jointech positioner and a dovetail bit to mechanically do the dovetails when making drawers. This was my first real attempt at hand-cutting the dovetails. I won’t say it was easy, but they didn’t turn out terrible.

Here is a look at one of the little drawer pulls which has a magnet inside it:

Magnetic Pull

Magnetic Pull

After applying the finish, I plan to use flocking inside the drawers. The drawers have grooves cut into the sides which engage with  maple rails. After applying shellac to the outside of the drawers, they slide easily, and a bit of wax will be the final touch.

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Steamer Trunk from Reclaimed Chestnut

When I started milling the lumber for this steamer trunk, I got side-tracked by a little table that seemed to jump out of the wood and demand to be built. (Read about the table here.) So, with the table done, I have been working on this trunk. I originally went in search of the chestnut specifically to build a trunk and a quilt rack (which can be seen here.)

Inside of the Trunk Top

Inside of the Trunk Top

The construction of the “curved” top is mostly an illusion — the grooved rails and panels sit on a set of curved ribs, but they are basically flat and join at a slight angle, which makes them appear to be curved. The end pieces are trimmed to a curved shape matching the rails, and the final shaping is done with a hand plane. The rails are attached to the ribs with screws which are countersunk and will get a contrasting plug. The ribs are tenoned into the side rails.

All of the stock for the trunk is resawn from reclaimed 2 x 6 and 2 x 8 lumber. The surfaces closer to the original surface have a bit darker color than the pieces cut from closer to the center. There are also holes, knots, cracks, etc. which have to be addressed. Some get filled or glued, but the idea is to preserve much of the patina the wood already possesses.

Trunk in Progress

Trunk in Progress

I will probably finish the inside with shellac and the outside with Tried and True varnish, which I have found looks really good on chestnut.

The bottom of the chest will be oak plywood, as will the bottom of the tray (which is still to be constructed.) I would guess it would be impossible to find chestnut plywood, since it is not easy to even find a little bit of chestnut lumber. The overall size of the trunk is about 17″ x 30″ x 16″ tall.

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Reclaimed Chestnut Table (with a little Reclaimed Teak)

Reclaimed Wormy Chestnut Table

Reclaimed Wormy Chestnut Table

I have had a number of reclaimed wormy chestnut beams stored away for several months now. They were salvaged in southwest Virginia from a structure being demolished. My intention had been to make a steamer trunk from the wood. The beams appeared to have lots of character, with the typical nail holes, worm holes, gouges, discoloration, rough sawmill marks, etc. When I began to re-saw the beams into thinner lumber, I was able to get pieces nearly an inch thick from a couple of the beams. I had no intention of making a table, but these pieces of chestnut talked me into making a small table top from a portion of the lumber. The finished piece measures about 14 1/2″ x 24″ x 28″ tall. The legs are made from part of the chestnut timber as well, and have a slight taper.

The top begins with 3 pieces of chestnut which are glued up with tongue and groove joinery. The two “breadboard” ends are also attached with a tongue and groove joint,but I was reluctant to glue these pieces at a 90 degree angle, fearing that the joint could pull apart with expansion and contraction over the years. My solution was to add a “butterfly” to the configuration, and only the butterfly is glued in. This allows movement during expansion and contraction, but the butterfly and the tongue and groove should hold it tight.

Since I was using reclaimed, old lumber for the table, I decided to make the butterfly from some reclaimed, old lumber as well. The history of the chestnut and the pieces of teak used  for the butterfly could not be more different. The chestnut likely came from a tree which grew in southeast Virginia. It was milled there and used in construction of a building, which probably was part of a rural farming operation. The teak most likely came from a tree in southeast Asia. From there, it was cut, milled and transported to a shipyard where it became part of a ship’s deck. That ship, the USS North Carolina, saw action in every major naval operation in the South Pacific during World War II. When a new deck was installed on the battleship recently, I was able to buy a small piece of the original deck.

Both pieces of wood have had long, full lives in very different circumstances. I hope they will have equally long and full lives in their new role together as a top to this table.

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A Home for Hand Tools

After becoming the proud owner of a 26″ long wooden plane, I quickly realized that I had no place to store it. In truth, a lot of my hand tools have been stored in drawers underneath my workbench. This works fine for the most part, but only a few tools actually had individual locations that were specifically made for them. The rest had their general spots in a drawer. The idea of building a hanging tool cabinet has been in the back of my mind for quite sometime. The old plane provided the impetus to get busy building something.

I have constructed the cabinet from birch plywood. I am thinking of this as a working prototype which will be modified over time until it feels right. I have already moved some things around to make them more accessible. There are also multiple ways of holding/securing a tool, and I am trying different solutions.

The overall cabinet measures about 30″ tall by 26″ wide by about 14″ deep. i did begin by creating a space for the jointer plane, and then moved on to many other tools. Here is a look at what I have right now. There is still some room for other items, and I am working to prioritize them.

Tool Cabinet

Tool Cabinet

I have tried to organize different types of tools in some sensible system, but the organizational aspect has to be weighed against the space available.

Once the doors are opened, there is a panel on the right which both pulls out on drawer slides and pivots on a piano hinge, which reveals another panel before reaching the back wall of the cabinet.

With panel pulled out and pivoted

With panel pulled out and pivoted

As I said, this will be a prototype, which allows me to tweak things and make some improvements. At least I have a significant number of hand tools which now have a specific place to reside.

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Reclaimed Chestnut Quilt Rack

First Quilt Rack

First Quilt Rack

I built a quilt rack for my sister-in-law not too long ago. I designed it to be built from reclaimed wormy chestnut which I had gotten in Southwest Virginia. The design incorporated an inlay piece featuring a quilt square of maple and padouk woods. The overall look was a nod to the Arts and Crafts style. I was happy with that original piece, and have just put the finishing touches on a second quilt rack, which carries forward most of the design elements. This piece, too, is made from reclaimed wormy chestnut from the same supplier.

Second Quilt Rack

Second Quilt Rack

The primary difference between the two is the treatment of the end panels. The most recent piece has side panels that mimic the “cloud-lift” curves at the top. The top and bottom rails now feature a through-mortise, and have a bit of texture on the horizontal pieces holding the panels. I again used the quilt square inlay, and octagonal top cross pieces through-mortised and rotated 45 degrees.

I am not sure which one I like better. They are both lightweight and sturdy, characteristics of the chestnut. I used a coat of garnet shellac on the first one, and the second one has a bit of color from an initial coat of Danish Oil. Final finish coats on both are General Finishes Oil and Urethane.

Working with chestnut lumber is a real joy. I did have to get a little device to detect any nails and other metal in the wood. But once it is clean, it is a very easy wood to work with hand tools. It isn’t something I can find locally, but I think it is worth the time and effort to find a source.

(click on the images to get a more detailed view.)

 

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New Project: Kitchen Cabinets

I had been thinking that kitchen cabinets would be a good project to tackle when I retire in a few years. The cabinets in our kitchen are the original ones, and are terrible, as in (cheap) particle board and staples. The fronts were finished poorly, they used cheap hardware, and there is a significant amount of unused space that could have been  claimed by constructing custom cabinets.

The refrigerator was also original, and nearly 30 years old, so we decided to replace it when the local Sears store was closing. None of the models that would fit in our original opening were very well made. Drawers did not slide easily, lighting was poor, and it was easy to see that these refrigerators were built to be inexpensive. So, we decided to to upgrade a bit to a model that had much better hardware, LED lighting, and well-designed interior spaces. Only problem, it was about 2 inches too tall for the existing space.

First cabinets in place

First cabinets in place

Prior to taking delivery, I removed the cabinets above the refrigerator, and used this as a good excuse to begin building new ones. We immediately gained a significant amount of storage space by making the new cabinets taller, and by taking advantage of some previously wasted space where the walls meet at a 45 degree angle.

The new cabinets are made with quarter sawn oak face frames and doors on birch plywood cases. The face frames are dadoed and rabbeted to accept the cases, and pocket screws are used in blind locations to hold it together. I am using a simple Shaker rail and style bit set for the doors, which operate with Euro-style hinges. The knobs and handles are from Lee Valley’s cast bronze Arts and Crafts style suite.

So far, there are two cabinets hanging above and beside the refrigerator, with some matching shelves above the sink. Two more top cabinets are in the works, and will be done in due time. (Of course, if I were retired now, this work would go much faster!!)

Cabinet in Construction

Cabinet in Construction

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Cutting Board Fun

Cutting Boards Nearing Completion

Cutting Boards Nearing Completion

There have been a few projects taking shape in the workshop lately, including the start of a new mandolin, a couple of cabinets for the kitchen, (with several more to follow) and a mountain dulcimer.

But the fun project lately has been constructing some cutting boards. Since seeing these designs on YouTube, I have been wanting to try my hand at the “Chaotic Pattern” and “3-D” cutting boards. With some maple, walnut and cherry in hand, I began by working on a “Chaotic Pattern” board. Primarily, this design involves cutting the board apart several times at a slight angle, flipping and rearranging the pieces a little bit, and gluing the pieces back together. It quickly gets very chaotic looking. This design takes a LOT of glue. I use a plastic spreader into which I cut very small notches to spread the glue evenly and quickly on the pieces. After trimming to size and sanding very smooth, the cutting boards get flooded with food grade mineral oil as the initial finish. This is followed by a combination of mineral oil and wax (both also food grade.)

Chaotic Pattern Cutting Board

Chaotic Pattern Cutting Board

The fellow who has made the videos of building these boards has several designs that are gorgeous. My favorite, though, is the “3-D” Cutting Board. The cuts on this board are very precise, and there is a significant amount of waste generated on the way to completion. The combination of woods creates the illusion of a three dimensional surface.

Will any of these become Christmas presents? Possibly, but I wasn’t making them for anyone specific. I would almost hate to cut on these boards for fear of marring them!

"3-D" Cutting Board

“3-D” Cutting Board

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A New Steamer Trunk

Steamer Trunk

Steamer Trunk

I really like the look of a steamer trunk — or sometimes I have heard it called a camel back trunk because of the rounded top. I built one for a friend’s beach house, and have just completed this second one. The dimensions of this new trunk are slightly smaller than the first one I built, and I think I like this size better. Overall, the piece is 30 in. x 17 in. x 16 in. tall. It is built of quartersawn white oak, with bright brass plated hardware. The dark wood accents are walnut.

Open View

Open View

The trunk is finished inside with shellac. On the outside, I started with a coat of Danish Oil, followed with several coats of an oil and urethane mixture.

Recently, I purchased some reclaimed wormy chestnut taken from an old barn. I am thinking of duplicating this piece from some of that chestnut, perhaps with antique brass hardware.

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Quilt Stand

I recently traveled to Galax, VA to visit with some old friends. While there, I had the chance to go by a little place that takes old barns, etc. that are about to be torn down and salvages the wood. They had the reclaimed wood sorted by species, and had pine, walnut, oak, cedar and chestnut. Most everyone has heard about “wormy chestnut” wood – they make flooring and paneling that has the look of wormy chestnut. The chestnut at this little place was the real deal. Very wormy. Very distressed. And it had a ton of character.

Reclaimed Chestnut Lumber

Reclaimed Chestnut Lumber

Chestnut is essentially no longer available, since almost no trees have survived the blight. It is hard to tell how the wood will come out when it is as rough as this lumber was. But I had a project in mind, and was thinking that this reclaimed chestnut might be the perfect material.

I didn’t have a lot of room to transport lumber, so I only bought about 20 board feet, some about 1 inch thick, and a couple of short sections of 2 x 6. Most of the nails had been removed, though I found a few more when I got it home. My planer blades also found one that I hadn’t, but those blades were due for replacement anyway. The photo to the left shows one board planed down, with the rest of the stock as it was. (Click the photo to see a larger image.)

My sister-in-law is a quilt maker, and she has talked about making us a quilt. She does beautiful work, and we spent some time on a recent visit with her looking at fabrics and patterns. She had mentioned wanting a quilt stand, so this seemed like the stock which would make a nice, rustic one.

Quilt Stand Design

Quilt Stand Design

I really like the Mission/Arts and Crafts/ Greene and Greene styles of furniture, and draw from some of their elements in my work. So, with that as a starting point, I evaluated the wood I had bought once it was planed and trimmed of unusable sections. My design had to be constructed from the wood available. I put pencil to paper early one morning and came up with a concept — even in the age of Sketch-up, I still like the feel of a pencil on a piece of graph paper. I can use Sketch-up, but it seems that I take more time on the technicalities of the program than I do on the design. With a pencil, an eraser, and a sheet of graph paper, my thoughts stay on the design, not how to portray it on a screen. After I have a concept on paper, I can refine it in Sketch-up and put together some more readable detail drawings.

I wanted to incorporate some of the “cloud” curves of Greene and Greene, and also the simple straight lines of Stickley, into a simple, straight-forward design. I also had one idea for making a “quilt square” from wood as a decorative element. I used only reclaimed wood with the exception of the quilt square. In addition to the chestnut, the little wedges in the ends of the through tenons are made from black walnut salvaged from an old piano.

When the sawdust had cleared, here’s what was on the workbench:

Quilt Stand

Quilt Stand

 

Chestnut is a very easy wood to work. It is very light, cuts and planes easily, and takes a nice finish. I used a garnet shellac for the first coat, and will continue the finish process with an oil finish.

I normally use Titebond III glue for most everything I build. This piece is held together with Hide Glue, the kind that can be bought already as a liquid in a bottle. It has a much longer open time, and with all the little tenons to be glued, that was important. With the intense heat only serving to shorten the drying time of Titebond III, I was afraid that the glue would be dry before I could get it all assembled and clamped.

The worm holes, nail holes and other distressed features give the piece a rustic look. The overall dimensions turned out to be about 35″ tall, 34″ wide, and 13″ deep.

Detail

Detail

To make the wooden quilt square, I cut and glued up maple and padouk woods into a block, and then sliced it into thin sheets on the band saw. This was my first attempt at creating an inlay like this, and I am happy with the results. The design itself is a traditional quilt pattern called a diamond star.

 

The through tenons ended up rotated 45 degrees, and the wedge was placed vertically to mimic the triangles in the quilt design. The cross pieces were trimmed to a hexagonal shape, with the last inch or so remaining square where the tenon formed.

A couple of years ago I built a steamer trunk from quartersawn white oak. (Click HERE to see the trunk) I may try to build a similar truck from reclaimed chestnut as a future project.

 

 

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Finished Workbench!

I have basically completed my new workbench, save for a few cosmetic details. Since it seems that someone somewhere is almost always building a workbench, I thought I would review some of the design and construction options and decisions I went through in building my “Big Ash Workbench.” This will probably be the proverbial “too much information” for many folks, but perhaps someone will get something out of it.
In planning my bench, I read a number of writings by Christopher Schwartz, looked at lots of other people’s benches on line, and got a copy of Lon Schleining’s book, “The Workbench, A Complete Guide to Creating Your Perfect Bench.” I also looked at the information that Benchcrafted has on their website.

bench 06

The Big Ash Workbench

 

Some of the basic dimensions:
Overall: 95” long x 29” wide x 34 5/8” tall. (the height makes the bench just a hair lower than my table saw, allowing oversize lumber to the left of the blade to rest on the workbench.)
Top is 2 pieces 13 ¼” wide each, with a 2 ½” gap between. (a “gap stop” fills the space.)
The legs are about 4 ¾” x 4 ½”. The top rests on 3 ½” x 3 ¾” cross pieces mortised into the legs.

The bench must weigh something in the neighborhood of 500 pounds. I began with about 165 board feet of rough ash lumber, and about 15 board feet of walnut. Wood for the leg vise and the twin screw end vise are walnut and red oak, respectively.

 

roubo drawing

Roubo’s Workbench Drawing

There are some amazing workbenches out there. Every time I saw a great looking bench I would want to pattern mine after it. I finally made the decision to build kind of a hybrid split-top Roubo style bench.

After checking out every type of vise available, I ended up with a Veritas twin screw end vise, which is the full width of the bench, and a leg vise with a Lake Erie Toolworks wooden screw. The leg vise was one element that took a bit of rethinking in construction – more on that later. I still have an Acme screw which was supposed to have been for a shoulder vise. That was another changed decision during construction.

One of the intriguing details about Roubo’s bench is the double through-tenon attaching the leg to the top. One tenon appears to be rectangular, and the other is dovetailed.

 

 

I liked the dovetail tenon as a decorative detail, and designed my bench with the legs made up of 4 boards, each an inch and an eighth thick. The corresponding part of the top is also made up of inch and an eighth stock. So, the outermost board in the leg and the top are made with the dovetail. The next course has the top sitting on top of the leg. The next course would have been where Roubo had a through dovetail, and one final course of inch and an eighth stock again has the top sitting directly on the leg.

Leg Tenon Construction

Leg Tenon Construction

 

 

Instead of a regular through tenon, I wanted to do something different. So, messing with a little model I mocked up, I came up with something I am calling a “double-splined dovetail through tenon.” The narrow bottom of the “Vee” in the top is the same width as the wide part of the “Vee” on the leg’s tenon. The leg has a ¼” tall portion of the tenon which allows the pieces to register properly. The two splines are driven down into the openings, and the top is not coming off anymore. It locks the pieces together very tightly. I am sure this joint has a name and has been used before, but I haven’t seen it anywhere. This is the mock-up I was playing with when I came up with this design.

"Double Splined Through Dovetail Tenon"

“Double Splined Dovetail ThroughTenon”

 

 

 

 

 

With the different tenons and mortises, there were a lot of interesting cuts.

Legs and Undercarriage Components

Legs and Undercarriage Components

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Leg Through Tenon Detail

Leg Through Tenon Detail

 

The rest of the top was made of 8/4 stock. I basically built the undercarriage first, then constructed the top in place, a piece or two at a time. In addition to the through tenons, I put 4 bolts up from the cross-pieces into the top. These go through oversize holes, allowing the top to expand and contract. The entire top began as plane sawn stock which has been cut to the width of the top’s thickness, and placed on edge, resulting in most of the lumber being rift or quarter-sawn, in effect.

 

The bench was built around the little cabinet underneath, a piece that I had used under my previous bench. It provides very handy storage.

 

 

 

Twin screw Vise by Veritas

Twin screw Vise by Veritas

Installing the twin screw tail vise was pretty straight-forward. I used 8/4 red oak and constructed the jaws to be 29” x 9”.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Fitting the Leg Vise Screw and Wooden Nut

Fitting the Leg Vise Screw and Wooden Nut

The leg vise was a bit more eventful. First, the Lake Erie Toolworks screw is a work of art. It is 2 ½” in diameter, and the entire piece is about 24 inches long, including the hub. It is BIG! The wooden nut is also impressive, and getting the nut attached the leg was made easier by my laminated legs. I was able to “mortise” the nut into the legs by cutting the laminated pieces before gluing them up. I also was able to insert “Tee nuts” between the laminations, so the nut is held on with screws, and can be removed should it ever need to be.

 

 

 

Steel Rod and Linear Bearing

Steel Rod and Linear Bearing

 

 

My original intention was to use a 35mm steel rod with a linear bearing at the bottom of the leg vise. I had read about a fellow who had used a linear bearing at the bottom with an Acme screw at the top. He had advised installing the rod and bearing at about a 1 degree angle. Trouble is, the wooden screw has very little play in it, and even a 1 degree angle on the steel rod caused the wooden screw to bind. I did not find that the linear bearing helped much in keeping the vise chop parallel with the leg. The bottom of the chop still came in too far, and required blocking to get good clamp pressure.

 

 

criss cross 01

Lake Erie Toolworks Screw and Benchcrafted Criss-Cross

 

So, after looking at several alternatives, I removed the linear bearing and installed Benchcrafted’s “Criss-Cross” Retro. It is a very heavy cast iron cross,which pivots in the middle. At the top of of each of the metal cross arms are brackets which attach the cross to the leg and the chop, (or jaw.) The bottom of each cross arm rides in a mortised channel in the leg and chop respectively, and keeps the bottom and the top of the chop aligned at the same distance from the leg. This ingenious device works absolutely perfectly. The cross actually supports the chop throughout its entire range of motion, keeping the wooden threads aligned perfectly. The bottom of the vise has just a hint of “toe-out,” which keeps the jaw surface dead flat when tightened.

 

 

 

 

 

Cutting the Bench Dog Holes

Cutting the Bench Dog Holes

 

After some debate with myself, I decided to use square dog holes instead of round ones, building them into the top as it was being built. There are two rows of holes, each with a resident dog. The holes are set at a 2 degree angle toward the end vise on both sides of the bench, in about 2 ½” in from the edge. I felt the advantage of the square holes was being able to construct it without there being any holes, since the dogs fill the holes and have a positive stop, which keeps them from going below the surface. Each dog has a thin angled “spring” that holds it in place when deployed. Here is a photo of cutting the dog holes:

 

And here is one of the dogs:bench dog 01

 

 

 

 

 

 

One of the more unconventional decisions I made was to locate both the end vise and the leg vise on the same end of the bench. That is based on the way I have used my previous bench, and my shop layout. I am not sure I would recommend that to anyone else, but it works for me.
I built a little sliding deadman to go with the leg vise, but I am not sure how often I will use it. When I put in the long stretcher piece on the front side, I built an angled top into the piece, so the deadman could slide along easily.
Flattening the top took a bit of work. I had a couple of aluminum extrusions that are very accurate, and I used them to help find the high and low spots. I then worked it with a jack plane. And when it was pretty close, I broke out the belt sander. The final surface was achieved with a card scraper. (Actually, several scrapers. Those things get very hot working that much surface, and I would let one cool and move to another.)

Bench Top with Gap Stop

Bench Top with Gap Stop

The gap-stop is a removable piece that fits in the slot between the top pieces. It can either be level with the top surface, or can be turned over to extend about half an inch above the work surface, to act as a stop with short pieces of stock. The gap-stop can also be removed completely to allow a clamp to be secured in the center of the top.
I put a coat of boiled linseed oil on everything. I wasn’t going to put it on the top, but it looked so good everywhere else, that I couldn’t help myself. I am sure it will get worn off the top before long.
So far, I am very happy with the bench. My main complaint with my old bench was that it would move and “walk” during some operations. This bench doesn’t move, its rock solid.
The next question I will ponder is, what would I do different next time? There isn’t anything I would change at this point. I am happy with the material, the size, the hardware, and even how it looks. I hope to get a lot of years of use out of it.

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The Big Ash Workbench: A Work in Progress

The top has been made flat with lots of hand planing and some sanding. The leg vise and Veritas Twin Screw end vise have been installed, and here’s a photo of my progress to this point. The cabinet underneath used to be below my old workbench, and I have built this bench around the cabinet. Though it still has its wheels, there isn’t anywhere for it to go. I plan to build a permanent base for it later. There are several other items remaining to be done, including making the square bench dogs, tweaking the vises to perfect adjustment, and finishing the piece, probably with linseed oil.

In Progress

In Progress

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Completed Roll Top Cabinet

The Completed Roll Top Cabinet

The Completed Roll Top Cabinet

 

The roll top cabinet is finally finished!

Antique Dentist's Desk

Antique Dentist’s Desk

As I described in an earlier post, this piece was inspired by a “Dentist’s Desk” I had seen at a friend’s house. I liked the unusual look of the roll top, with its quick vertical drop after a tight-radius curve. Most roll tops seem to drop at a much more gentle angle. I also liked the beveled fronts on the shallow drawers, and while not copied, I incorporated a similar style to this piece.

I built this cabinet from quarter-sawn white oak, which remains my favorite wood to use for furniture. It is very stable with little movement, provides a tough surface, takes a finish well, and looks great, too.

This was my first attempt at making a roll top. The concept always seemed pretty straight-forward, but I wasn’t sure how to go about making something that would actually slide up and down freely. So many roll top desks seem to be very difficult to operate. When it was nearing completion, I waxed the track the tambor rides in, and waxed the tambor itself. I was very pleased with the way it moves — it works better than I had hoped.

The piece is finished to match the kitchen table and chairs I made a few years back. (with two more chairs currently in the works.) Once sanded and assembled, I covered the cabinet with a large piece of plastic, and set a bowl of ammonia in the enclosure. The fumes from the ammonia darken the wood. The longer the exposure, the darker the piece will get. I fumed this piece for about 4 hours. When removed from the ammonia tent, (and when the smell goes away) the white oak takes on a bit of a gray tint. To bring a bit of warmer tones to the finish, I then apply a coat of garnet shellac. I used a 1.5 lb. cut of shellac, and applied it as a hand-rubbed finish. I then applied 5 coats of General Finishes Oil and Urethane, also hand-rubbed, with very light sanding between coats. The final coat was not sanded, but was followed by a coat of Renaissance Wax.

The piece appears to have doors at the bottom. This is actually a drawer front, designed to hold a recycling container. I am not sure what inspired this little design detail, but it works well.

Door Front Drawer for Recycling.

Door Front Drawer for Recycling.

Completed Cabinet with Roll Top Open

Completed Cabinet with Roll Top Open

Roll Top Cabinet with Top Closed

Roll Top Cabinet with Top Closed

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I am pleased with the way the cabinet turned out. One other little feature which I have not photographed yet is a “charging station” which goes inside the roll top to the left of the dividers. This  has USB and 110v plug-ins for charging phones, tablets, cameras etc. I will try to get a picture of that soon.

This was a fun project to take on, from design through completion. I got my first experience making tambor for the roll top, I got to use my 18″ band saw to resaw the wood for the side panels, I made a jig to cut the bevels on the drawer fronts, got a lot of use from my recently-acquired smoothing plane, and managed to match the finish on other pieces. With a little modification, this design could easily become a desk (like the piece that inspired it) or even a stand up desk. The basic dimensions for this piece are: 53″ tall (38″ to the inside top surface) x 34″ wide x 18″ deep.

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Computer Stand

A friend asked me to build him a stand to use for his desktop PC with some room underneath for a small subwoofer.  Here is the stand ready for delivery:

Computer Stand

Computer Stand

The stand is built from red oak. The size was specified by my friend, with the finished piece standing about 17 inches tall, and with a top measuring about  27 x 16. The finish began with a sanding sealer, followed by a walnut stain and completed with about 5 coats of General Finishes Oil and Urethane. A couple coats of Renaissance Wax brought up a nice, deep shine.

I softened the edges on much of the piece by chamfering the edges and corners.

Chamfered corner and edges

Chamfered corner and edges

And, I used some fun joinery to construct the piece. The bottom shelf is notched at each leg, and the legs are mortised to accept the shelf.  The very bottom of the legs are tenoned to fit a square mortise in the base. The top of each leg has a bridle joint to accept a top crosspiece.

I have used bridle joints now on several projects, including a dining room table and even on my current workbench. It is a very effective way of joining a vertical piece to a horizontal one in a very strong and stable manner.

This project was built with both power and hand tools. It was a fun project to design and build, since it incorporated a variety of processes. One of my original design criteria was to construct it with no mechanical fasteners — and I nearly succeeded with that. In the end, I used screws and metal clips to fasten the top to the undercarriage. This arrangement allows the top to expand and shrink in various environmental conditions without cracking or buckling. After looking at many other methods of attaching the top, I thought this way was best.

 

 

Here are some photos showing various components in construction:

pc stand 04

Mortise on leg to accept the bottom shelf

 

Legs fit into mortises

Legs fit into mortises

 Bridle joint at top of leg


Bridle joint at top of leg

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Coffee and Tea Storage

A Place to Store Keurig Coffee K Cups

A Place to Store Keurig Coffee K Cups

I got the wife a Keurig Coffee maker for her birthday, and thought that she would need a place to put the little K-Cups that the machine requires. I had a bit of Katata lumber that I picked up from Steve Wall Lumber on a recent trip, so I put together this little storage box to go under the coffee maker. The drawer fronts are Padouk and the rest of the piece is of Katata. I was told at the lumber yard that Katata is also called Mexican Ebony, and it had a very nice dark, dark color. When I resawed the lumber, the new faces were not nearly as dark. It took several days for the newly exposed wood to darken. For some applications, Katata might do as an Ebony substitute, but certainly not for a fretboard on a mandolin.

The drawers are constructed with 1/4 inch box joints, and have a little cleat on the bottom that slides in a groove cut in the bottom.

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An Inspiration: An Antique Dentist’s Desk

Antique Dentist's Desk

Antique Dentist’s Desk

I came across this desk recently at the home of a friend I was visiting. It is a beautiful piece of furniture, and I really liked the proportions and the unusual manner in which the roll top is constructed. There are numerous drawers , all quite shallow, and a small door at the bottom. The piece is made of quarter sawn white oak, which always seems to catch my eye.

Our kitchen does not have room for a desk like this, but I am going to use this piece as an inspiration to create something to fit in a small corner space. I will only have about 17″ x 33″ of floor space, so my design will not have room for a chair, but will be more of a cabinet. I hope to incorporate the shallow drawers, the little door at the bottom, and the high angle roll top in my design.

I have purchased some quarter sawn white oak lumber, and have studied methods for making the tambor for the roll top. I will mill the little slats individually, then use contact cement to attach them to canvas. I plan to make the roll top a separate piece from the main cabinet.

With the roll top open

With the roll top open

Too bad we don’t have room for a replica of this desk. I hope my creation will have some of the character this piece has.

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