Posts Tagged With: workshop

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

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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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Lie Nielsen Toolworks Tour

While in Maine taking a class at the Center for Furniture Craftsmanship, our instructors arranged for the class to tour the Lie Nielsen manufacturing facility, which is just down the road from the school near Rockport.

Lie Nielsen Toolworks makes some of the finest hand tools you can buy today. I only have a few of their tools, but they are among my most favorite, and get lots of use. The quality is obvious to both the eye and the hand. They have a feel and balance in their hand planes, chisels, saws, etc. that elevate them above most the competition.

It was a highlight of the trip to see how a chunk of metal becomes a Lie Nielsen hand plane.

The foundry work is done by a small family owned foundry not far away. The designs and molds are done in house. Much of the machining is done on old Bridgeport milling machines. They have also incorporated CNC milling machines into the process, but handwork is still a fundamental part of the process. They work in small batches, with the goal being that today’s manufacturing will be sold within a month.

Here are some photos.

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The castings arrive in a web and are cut apart

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Initial Milling of the blanks

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After initial milling and powder coating

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CNC milling area

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Final milling on the old Bridgeports

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Squaring the side to the bottom

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Blades blanks

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Caps and parts in process

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They have a wood shop for handles, etc

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Saws are finished with hand filing

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Blades ready to go

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Final assembly by hand

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Finished, boxed and ready to go

It was a great tour. Unfortunately, no free samples were given out. But you do get a 10% discount when you buy in person in the showroom. And, yes, I did purchase a few items. Some chisels, a small router plane, and their low angle smoothing plane that was too nice to pass up.

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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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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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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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Gavel and Block

It has been years since I have turned anything on a lathe, but when I got a request to make a gavel I thought I would give it a try. I borrowed a friend’s mini-lathe, with the understanding that I would sharpen his set of turning tools in exchange. I glued up some stuff from my scrap box —  an assortment of white oak, padouk, katata and ash.

I found out something about the block, or “sound block,” as it is sometimes called. By hollowing out underneath, you can make the sound much louder.

The finish is just a light Danish oil treatment, followed by a couple coats of Renaissance Wax.

Here is the result:

Gavel and Block

Gavel and Block

 

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More Cabinet Progress

This is my first opportunity to see how the whole cabinet will look. Much of it is dry fit, some is held together with clamps and such. I wanted to get a feel for the overall design by doing this quick assembly. One issue I will need to address is: where does the roll top go when it is open? The way I have it laid out, it will need to fall behind the top slab by a couple of inches. That little design challenge will be fun to address. Here is a quick photo of how this thing will look.

Progress!

Progress!

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Cabinet Details

I have had a little time to work on the cabinet that will go in a corner of our kitchen, despite the bitter cold weather here. The problem is that glues don’t set properly when the temperature is this low, and it has been a challenge getting the temperature up — even with a propane heater and sunny days. The weather should be getting warmer over the next few days, but I will be back at work for the next week.

Anyway, back to the cabinet. I have beveled the drawer fronts, a detail I took from the Dentist’s Desk I am using as an inspiration for this piece. The drawers are in and have been rough-fit into their openings. I dovetailed the drawers, making a very strong joint, and a decorative one, as well.

And, I have accomplished what I wanted with the bottom portion. We need a place to put newspapers, etc for recycling, and I wanted a way to pull out a large “drawer” which would contain a recycling bin. I designed this to look like two doors, but when opened, it slides out like a drawer.

Finally, I have made some progress on the top section with the roll top. The part that will be seen inside of the top section has been connected to the ends with mortise and tenon joinery.

Here are a couple of photos:

Beveled fronts, and the pull out bottom section.

Beveled fronts, and the pull out bottom section.

The cabinet comes together.

The cabinet comes together.

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Cabinet Progress

The weather has been so cold! Hard to do much work in an unheated garage workshop. I did break down and get a little propane heater that helps bring the temperature up a bit. But between the temperature and overtime at work, progress has been slow on the cabinet I am basing on the Dentist’s Desk. One of the more difficult activities in the cold weather is applying glue, which must be done at certain minimum temperatures. Springtime be welcome when it arrives.

Cabinet Progress

Cabinet Progress

Here is a picture of the progress on the piece.  It is beginning to take shape. The drawers have not yet been made; the fronts are merely sitting in the openings. There is still much to be done on the roll top. The top is rough cut to approximate size.  I still need to get the wood to build the drawers themselves — probably poplar with plywood bottoms. I hope to make some more progress this weekend.

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A New Plane for Christmas.

 

Lie Nielsen 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane

Lie Nielsen 4 1/2 Smoothing Plane

No, not an airplane. But a very nice plane just the same. With gift cards from Christmas (and also saved from my birthday) I got a Lie Nielsen 4 1/2 smoothing plane. This is a very heavy, well-made tool. Right out of the box it was ready to go to work. I removed the blade and using my Japanese waterstones, lapped the back of the iron to a smooth, flat finish. With the help of my Veritas honing guide, I refined the surface on the blade face, finishing up with a 5 degree micro bevel at the cutting edge. Front and back were polished with an 8000 waterstone to a near mirror finish.

Once it was all set up and adjusted, I took some shavings from a block of cherry. The shavings came off thinner than paper, and the surface of the wood was like glass.

This plane is beautifully made and a pleasure to use. I look forward to getting some practice with it on upcoming projects.

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A Couple of Craigslist Finds.

One of the best places to find tools at a good price is Craigslist. I confess to checking the website regularly, and have found some great deals. Here are two of my recent finds.

Grizzly 8 in. Jointer

Grizzly 8 in. Jointer

 

I got this jointer from a local gentleman who will be moving to a retirement community where he will not have room for a workshop. He had a huge basement shop, and was selling most everything. I got this jointer for about 15% of what a new one costs, and this one looks and performs like new. I am finding that it is indeed handy to have a jointer in the shop. I had devised several work-arounds to true up the edges of boards, but this is definitely several steps up from there.

I have added another 220v circuit and another run of ductwork for dust collection at the jointer, and have done a little bit of tuning up, and it is a welcome addition to my little workshop.

 

 

Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane

Veritas Medium Shoulder Plane

 

The other Craigslist find is something I have wanted to get for quite awhile as well. It is a very specialized tool, and though there are several manufacturers and several sizes, this is the exact shoulder plane that I had researched and decided to buy. This is a much needed tool when building anything with mortise and tenon joints. Unlike most other hand planes, the shoulder plane’s blade is the full width of the body, which means you can get all the way into a corner. This is my second plane by Veritas, and I am impressed with their overall quality. Without a shoulder plane, I was using a chisel to clean up the faces, cheeks and shoulders of the tenons. This plane makes that job much more accurate.

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Installing the Binding Around the Mandolin

Installing the binding material around the body and the headstock took quite a bit of time, and also required some specialized tools. Most of the photos in my blog have been of the instrument itself. This post contains a few pictures of tools and materials used in the process of installing the binding material.

Binding Material

Binding Material

In order to strengthen the instrument, protect the edges and enhance the look, many instrument builders use a strip of material around the joints where the sides and faces meet. Often this is decorative, and I chose to use strips of binding material that have white/black/white layers. For the body, I used plastic. For the binding around the head stock, I chose wood. These strips are very tiny: they are measured in thousandths of an inch thickness and require some precision to install.

Before it can be installed, it has to be bent to conform with the shape of the edge. The plastic can be placed in a pot of hot water and will soften pretty quickly to allow it to be bent. Once it cools, it holds its shape pretty well. The trick, of course, is to get the bend to correctly match the profile of the edge. This took some practice.

 

Before the binding material can be installed, a small groove, or rabbet must be cut into the edge of the instrument. I can tell you that this step in the construction process required a leap of faith in the tools I had chosen and in my ability to use those tools. I had had visions of a completely destroyed instrument, the victim of an errant Dremel tool cutting too deeply in the wrong place. Fortunately, though it isn’t completely perfect, I am happy with the overall results.

To cut the rabbet around the body, I used a tool designed and produced by Roger Simonoff, a builder of mandolins who also teaches the craft. I am using his book as my guide. He developed a device to fit the end of a Dremel tool which will cut a groove to match the profile of binding material that is .090 inches thick. Here is the Simonoff binding cutter:

Guide for Cutting the Rabbet for the Binding

Guide for Cutting the Rabbet for the Binding

 

As the sharp little blade spins, you hold the end against the side of the instrument and the cutter cuts a channel. I don’t usually like to have my fingers that close to a sharp, spinning cutter, but I still have all ten fingers after completing the cuts.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

StewMac Dremel Guide with Spacer Attached

StewMac Dremel Guide with Spacer Attached

 

For cutting around the head stock, a different device was needed. I have gotten several of my tools and materials from Stewart MacDonald Company, a supplier to luthiers around the world. I got a very handy attachment from StewMac for the Dremel tool, which provides a very precise surface exactly perpendicular to the Dremel bit.  I made a little wooden guide to work with the Dremel attachment, so I can adjust the depth of cut to the smaller binding strips used around the head stock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Assorted Cutting Tools

Assorted Cutting Tools

 

 

 

While these tools could assist with much of the work, all the curves and angles provided ample opportunity to cut and carve in the tiny little places that the Dremel would not go. This required an assortment of chisels, gouges, knives, etc. to delicately cut the rabbet in the tight areas around the scroll, and on much of the curvy head stock.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Once the rabbet is cut and the binding material is bent to shape, it gets glued in place. While it dries, it is held in place with tape, wedges, clamps, and whatever else will help keep it there. When it is all dry, everything gets scraped down to a nice (ideally) smooth, even surface.

Binding Installed along the edge of the Back

Binding Installed along the edge of the Back

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Fretting

Fretting, as in working to install the frets into the fretboard. The tolerances are so close it can become something to fret about.

Fretwire

Fretwire

The slot must be the right width to hold the fret wire tang securely, but not so tight that driving the frets into the slots causes the fretboard to bow. The fret slots must be cut at a precise 90 degree angle to the centerline of the fretboard. And, the distances between frets must also be precise: measured to the thousandth of an inch. You can’t really mark these with a pencil – the line would be several thousandths of an inch thick. So, I am using an x-acto knife to mark the locations of the fret slots.

 

 

 

 

 

 

But, I am getting ahead of myself. First, the fretboard gets cut to size. It is narrower at the top and widens as it goes toward the body. I built a jig to cut each side of the fretboard to the proper angle.

Jig to cut the fretboard to size

Jig to cut the fretboard to size

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Next, I measure the 29 fret positions with a digital caliper, which has an accuracy down to thousandths of an inch.

Measuring and marking fret slots

Finally, the slots must be cut precisely. I made a box with a sliding piece that holds the tapered fretboard in the proper position, centered in the box. The saw has a “stop” affixed to the side to blade that controls the depth of cut. And I embedded two rare-earth magnets into the box to hold the saw in a vertical position as I cut the fret slots.

Setup to cut fret slots in fretboard

Setup to cut fret slots in fretboard

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Depth stop on side of saw blade

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Magnets hold saw blade vertical during cuts

As soon as the board is marked with 29 little cuts, I will start the process of cutting the slots.

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Mandolin Progress – Attaching the Neck

I am using a book and drawings as the basis for building this mandolin. The book has pictures of an elaborate jig used to cut the opening in the top of the body to accept the neck. Since the neck attaches at a 6 degree angle, and the “V” is cut at 13.5 degrees off vertical along each leg of the “V” it does take some precision to accomplish. I spent the better part of an afternoon building the recommended jig. As I was building it directly from the drawings, I kept thinking, this will never work. There was no way to adjust the overall width of the “V” cuts to match the width of the neck. When I had completed the jig, sure enough, it did not allow enough movement to cut a wide enough “V.” So, I came up  with a jig of my own to accomplish the task. Mine was a bit simpler – I created a platform to hold the body of the mandolin within an outline and used precisely cut wedges to tilt the platform at 6 degrees. I then built a second platform tilted at 13.5 degrees which goes under the 6 degree platform and sits perpendicular. This platform can be reversed from side to side so that the left and right side angles of the “V” can be cut in separate steps.

Mandolin on top of jig used to cut “V” for neck.

 

 

The “V” Groove for the neck

After cutting the groove slightly undersize, the final sizing was done the old fashioned way with a chisel.

The neck was then attached and the 6 degree angle was double checked with some basic geometry – at the location of the bridge, the body should be 7/16 of an inch away from the plane of the neck extended (without the fretboard attached) After gluing in the neck, two holes are drilled from the back straight down through the edges of the “V” effectively locking the the two pieces mechanically. This should make for a good strong joint.

Here’s the progress to this point:

Neck attached to Soundboard and Rim

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A New Project – A Mandolin

Long. long ago, I tried my hand at building some musical instruments. Way back toward the first posts in this blog, I included some photos of a dulcimer and a banjo I built back in the 70’s. At the time, I also built a couple of prototype mandolins. That was for a school project, exploring different materials and shapes and how the sound would be affected. I built a mandolin with a gourd for the back, there was one with the body of a cigar box, and an unfinished one that was a teardrop shape.

The urge to build a mandolin has resurfaced in 2013. This time, I am using some plans and books, and the advice of fellow woodworkers to build what is knows as  an F5  mandolin, an instrument originally designed by Lloyd Loar in the 1920’s and built by Gibson.

There are a lot of steps and processes necessary to building a musical instrument. This is the first time I have attempted to carve a top and back, creating an arched shape. The wood bending for the sides is much more complex than required for a dulcimer, with tighter curves and close tolerances. Even the headstock is very detailed. And this will be my first attempt at binding the edges.

I used a process called “hot pipe bending” to bend the wood sides. I soaked the wood in water for several hours, then used a short piece of 2 inch diameter steel pipe with a propane torch flame as a heating element inside the pipe. Gradually, the heat softens the wood and allows it to bend. I used walnut for the sides, or “rim.” The soundboard is carved from a piece of spruce I bought several years ago and which I intended to experiment with as a material for building a kayak. The blocks in the rim design – the headblock, tailblock, and points – are made from mahogany, as is the back. The neck is maple, with a rosewood veneer on the headstock, and it will get a rosewood fretboard as well.

So, here are some photos of my progress so far.

 

The frame that holds the rim in place after bending.

The frame that holds the rim in place after bending.

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The mandolin sides, or “rim.”

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The soundboard, partially carved and attached to the rim.

 

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