Archive | December, 2014

Small Kitchen Cabinet

30 Dec

I have resolved to make furniture that is distinctive.  That is, not like what you can get in the furniture store.  This is the first piece I’ve made in a while that fulfills that requirement.

It was built for a corner of our kitchen counter, here it is in plan view:


Opposing Drawers

The counter adjoins the family room as well as the kitchen.  I decided it’d be fun to create drawers that appear to contradict the Pauli Exclusion Principal.


The front drawers are only a quarter size and the side drawers are three quarters, like so:


The quarter size drawers face onto our kitchen countertop, where a lot of real life happens, so it’s just as well that they only come out 8 inches or so, because that’s about as far as you want to push junk out of the way anyway.

These run on simple dovetailed maple drawer runners.  I’ve lost all interest in metal drawer slides.  I haven’t found anything that works as well as hardwood on hardwood.

It’s not that these runners are just as good as expensive bearing slides – it’s that they’re better.  Far better, and they look better  too.

Secret Compartment

I didn’t know I was making a secret compartment until my wife looked at it.  I was puzzling about how to make a pull for it, then she came and fiddled with it and bubbled about it being a secret compartment.  So it is!  It’s a spot for pens and pencils.  Secret pencils.  Invisible ink.  Spy stuff even.  Sure.


It’s a carved block of the red elm, hacked out bandsaw-box style and swiveling on dowels.


Drawer Pulls

I like making drawer pulls so much I made a whole post about them.  I made them out of walnut, where I tried to catch a little bit of sapwood in each pull.  I didn’t manage to carry that off.  The walnut that I made this out of was from a tree in a residential neighborhood that was cut down because it was dying.  The sapwood in the pieces I was working with was eaten up by worms, so there wasn’t much.  You can see in the top small drawer pull a worm trail in the sapwood.



This is a small piece, so I didn’t want it burdened by some whacking thick board on top of it.  The piece is wide enough that I couldn’t just use a solid piece either, and I certainly didn’t want plywood.

What I did was a bit off-beat.  I built up a frame, cut a rabbet, and then cut out some wacky curvy bits and glued them in the center, but they’re not glued to each other, and they’ve got a little expansion room between them.

I had originally planned to screw into the top from the bottom, but that would have been more than a little tricky to get screws into all those places.  Plus the screws would have very little bite to them.  I decided as long as I was at it, I might as well go full on crazy, so I just routed out more daffy shapes to hide the screws under.  Now I can have easy access to drive the screws and can use some screws with real holding power.  With thin wood, you have to worry about things bowing over time more than with thicker wood.  Or maybe it’s just more apparent.  Whatever, I’ve got screws that say that won’t happen here.

So this is what it ended up like.  Again, I tried to get some sap wood in the mix.  I ended up using one piece that was really eaten up by the worms, but what the heck…


The Back

I’ve never worked with Red Elm before.  I heard some good words about it, but that’s all I had to go on.  Most of my stack of elm is quarter-sawn – probably not on purpose, but that’s how it arrived.  I only had a little plain-sawn stock, and it sort of selected itself for the back.  I’m now a bit bummed that I didn’t have enough for the rest of the piece, as I think it’s just stunning.  The back is just resawn red elm, again, cut down to about 3/8” thickness.  Beautiful grain, for sure.


In All

This was a fun project to build.  It did all the things I wanted it to do – it’s got curves all over the place, dovetails, well fit drawers, just the right amount of weight to the pieces, and it was cheap to build.

There are some regrets too – I could stand to re-do the secret compartment – there’s a glue line that just won’t disappear.  And wow do I wish the grain that’s on the back was on the drawer fronts.

But so it goes.  The family really likes it and guests do boggle at its funky drawer design.  On to next year’s project, whatever it is.


Here’s a link to the sketchup – it’s not a terribly accurate rendition of what finally got built, but it’s a start.

Here’s the full bank of pictures.


So class, what have we learned?

28 Dec

Every Winter I pack up the shop and shove all my tools into a useless heap in the back of the garage so I can pull my car in.  Until I get much more serious about insulating the place (and bumping up my heating bill a few notches), it’s the best use I can make of the space.

I really enjoy the hobby, but I wonder if packing it up for 4 or 5 months out of the year isn’t actually a boon to my enjoyment and possibly even my skill.  I’ve picked up a lot of new moves in the past few years.  A huge portion of that has to be attributed to YouTube, and another big batch to a few folks that I’ve met in the hobby these past few years.

But the fact that it’s unavailable for a few months out of the year might actually be an advantage – an opportunity to really think through what I want to do the next year.  Not that I actually do that when the time comes, but the ideas come through nonetheless.  Last winter, I sketched up this sideboard:


But I never built it.  The intention of it was to feature a lot of curved cuts, and generally mix the colors of the walnut and red elm that I have.

When push came to shove, though, we don’t really have a place to put a piece like that in our house right now.  Our dining room table is always covered in spattered watercolors, scraps of paper, rubber bands, glitter, popsicle sticks, glue, spirograph…  What would we really do with a formal sideboard right now?  We’re also thinking of remodeling the space, so who knows whether it’d even fit right in the final space?

But I got a bur in my bonnet to build my own band saw, and then I did a couple of little things, did our usual array of summer camping trips to enjoy the perfection of the Washington summer.  I felt like the next thing should be smaller, so I got to building a small chest of drawers.

I spent a lot of time building it.  In fact, one of my lessons learned is that size has very little to do with how much time it’s going to take to create a project.  E.g. the cabinet above has 6 drawers to do, which means it probably nets out to fewer dovetails to cut than the little cabinet I made.


I’ve really learned a lot about woodworking, but more than that, I think I’ve discovered a number of things about how I want to woodwork.  I want to use more hand tools.  I want to work with smaller pieces more often.  I want to find a way to be in the shop with my kids.  I learned with hand tools, and I made my share of crappy bird-houses and CD cases with hand-tools before I was allowed to work with the table saw.  When I think about my shop right now – particularly the near complete lack of functioning hand-saws, I truly wonder if I can actually pass on my skills to my kids before they’re too cool to care about me and my fuddly old ways.

There’s gotta be something better than what I can do now, which is little better than lectures on why they shouldn’t touch anything.  This is just not where I want to be.


In terms of the practical, I bought this cheap HPLV spray gun and tried it out with some Shellac.  The reviews are all along the lines of “omg this is awesome for the money!”  I think they’re spot on.  I used it and got good results.  Without a paint booth or a properly sized compressor, there’s only so much spraying I can really do.  But it’s there for when I want to put some finish on some intricate stuff.

That said, I think I want to find an oil-based finish that I like.  While there are times when a hard shell really matters, I really want to make stuff that actually feels like wood.  I don’t really think I can get that out of any finish that builds a shine.


But probably the biggest improvement to my woodworking over the past few years is in sharpening.  I’ve got a couple of diamond stones and the Very Super Cool Tools “Ultimate Sharpening Jig”.  I set up a little station for it this year, and I’m reasonably happy with it.

But the big improvement isn’t so much from the tools, but rather in my attitude towards.  I still seem to be  convinced that sharpening tools is hard.  In fact, I was sure I didn’t have the means to sharpen planer blades myself and was just going to take the set down to Eastside Saw and have them do the work.  Happily my children torpedoed my plan for the morning and by the time I could actually head down there, they were closed, so I had to man up and figure it out for myself.

Sharpening doesn’t have to be so scary or difficult.  Check out these two videos I found on planer blade sharpening.  Here’s a guy who has a finely crafted jig, an expensive granite stone, and wet-dry sandpaper for sharpening his blades, one at a time.  Here’s another guy who’s got a 2×4 scrap, a random piece of sandpaper from his collection, and the bed of his jointer.  His technique can do two at once.

Happily, I saw that scrap 2×4 one first (my fear still lingers); that 2×4 maneuver works a treat.  I got a nice edge on both of my blades with hardly any effort at all.  I kept the jig; it’s now clipped to the stand that holds my planer.  Next time I want to sharpen the planer blades I know it’s really easy to do; no need to fear.

In each of the past two years I’ve made an order-of-magnitude improvement in my sharpening.  The first one was just getting some basic techniques.  This year was about extending those techniques and getting a system that I could conveniently follow.  There’s always more improvement to be made, but I think the gains will be harder to come by now.

I’m not saying I’m fully over fear of sharpening, exactly; I now can confidently say that I can make my stuff somewhat sharp.  When my lay friends come over and touch my chisel’s edge they pull away from it like it was a loaded Luger, but when I watch the wise-eggs on YouTube, I’m convinced their stuff is sharper.

Maybe it is.  But there’s one other thing I’ve learned while watching YouTube:  I know more about woodworking than a lot of those folks.  But I watch their channel and they don’t read my blog.  Who’s more clever?

I think the winners are the ones having fun.

Hand-Made Drawer Pulls

17 Dec

I’ve got a thing for hand-made drawer pulls.  I really enjoy working with small fiddly things I guess.  Or maybe it’s because when I wholly wreck one it’s only a little scrap of wood that’s up in smoke.  Hard to say.

I like to think I’ve acquired a certain amount of wisdom on the matter, but lest I forget it, I want write down the process so that you and me both can remember to do it right next time.

The Project


It’s hard to see from the picture, but the drawer fronts are concave on the left and convex on the right.  I decided to make drawer pulls to match.


I think when it comes to construction, drilling the holes is far and away the most critical step.  You want to make sure to include the holes in your sketchup plans for both the drawers and the pulls (if you take your Sketchup that far).

Making smooth, 3d curving shapes in Sketchup is hard work, and I don’t know that it’s worth the effort to make full-fidelity drawer pulls in Sketchup.  This is the plan I used for my pulls – just a block shape with a sketch on it:


I made a printout of the visible faces here, and that was good enough.  One more thing – make your plan such that it’s actually about 1/8” of an inch or so taller than you actually intend.  As you’re carving, there’s just no avoiding nicking a corner of the stands, so just build in the idea of sanding off that bad 1/8” after you’re all done with final sanding.

Before you start, make sure you’ve got the screws you’re going to use in the final piece, so you know exactly how big to make your screw holes.  If you’re using brass screws, be sure and have steel copies of the exact same size as well – brass is soft, and stripping a screw would be a tragedy here.  (The idea is to drive in the steel screws to ease the way for the softer brass screws.)


So, getting back to the plan, the next thing to do is to cut out some blanks.  While you’re at it, cut an extra scrap to the same base dimensions (though maybe not as thick) and precisely drill the holes at the drill press.  (Use a punch or something to help your drill bit start dead on your hole.)

Next you want to drill the holes in the blanks – before you do any kind of shaping.  Clamp the template to each blank and drill to depth with a hand-drill or with the drill press.  Just make sure that the holes are a dead match for the template.

Next you want to use that template to drill the holes in your drawer fronts.  You want to place the template on the outside of the drawer, just in case the bit wanders a bit inside.  You really cannot count on a drill bit tracking straight through wood.

Carefully measure out the position of the template on the drawer front, clamp it down tightly, and measure one more time.  Then drill just little starter holes on both sides and then drill on through – again, to counter any wandering in the bit.

It’s a really good idea at this point to double check that you can screw through the drawer front into the blanks at this point.  At this point, a lot of work has gone into ensuring that everything will go together neatly, but if they don’t, you want to find out now, before you sink even more work into it.

It’s also a good idea to go ahead and drive the screws into the blank to the correct depth now (while they still have plenty of wood around them to keep it from splitting).

Roughing It Out

I took my SketchUp model and printed it out – in several copies, and then glued them on to my blanks.  Printing in Sketchup is tricky.  Here’s my tips on the matter:

  1. Make sure the thing you’re printing is square to the axis of the model – e.g. it needs to be right on the plane formed by the colored lines.  That’s pretty easy to achieve.
  2. Set the camera to a “Standard View” with “Parallel Projection” clicked on.
  3. The size of your on-screen viewpoint determines how much paper it’s going to try to use, so try to get your window sized down just enough to see the thing you’re trying to print.  (If you have your view at full screen and the thing you’re trying to print is a tiny pinprick, Sketchup will attempt to print a sheaf of blank paper.)
  4. File->Print Preview…   NEVER go for File-Print.  That’s a recipe for pain.
  5. Clear the “fit to page” and “use model extents” checkboxes.
  6. Make sure the boxes say “In the print out 1 inches / In SketchUp 1 inches”  If they don’t, jack with it until they do.

Phase 2 is sticking the paper onto your blank and whacking it out.  I use spray adhesive, because it’s what I’ve got handy.  Izzy Swan has some strong arguments for using Glue Stick.  And a lot of good ideas on carving too.

I chopped this out with the band saw:


Next I whacked some more off with a coping saw:


(Here’s where we lament not having a better vice.)

Then I got after it with a rasp:


as you can see, I broke it a bit.  That’s because I failed to rasp in the direction of the grain on one stroke.  Bad.  That’s what that extra 1/8” is for.

I also made a sketchup of the oval shape of the top, I tacked that on and hacked it off with a coping saw:



I rounded it out through a combination of stationary sander, hand-held sander, and hand-sanding.  I’m sure there’s a better set of tools, but in real life, the best tools are the ones you’ve actually got.  Some are faster than others, but some of those fast ones might also be great at chewing away wood that you would rather have kept.  Whatever gets it done.

Here’s this one after an encounter with the belt sander:


and after progressing through the grits to 150:


Again I don’t need to be concerned about the rounded tips because I’m going to belt-sand that off anyway.

I think the biggest deal when making one of these is the “Sand the sequence” mantra.  You need to make sure that each tool has removed all the scratches from the previous tool before you move on.

In Summation

I guess it took me about an hour per pull.  I enjoyed it too.  I guess the only regret I have is not using some nicer wood for this.  Like I said in the beginning, one of the charms is that if you completely wreck a piece, you’ve blown around 4/100ths of a board foot of lumber.  It’s a good excuse to pick up a few gems out of Woodcraft’s scrap bucket.

Perfect Results, Every Time!

16 Dec

I’m pretty sure I’ve seen every episode of The New Yankee Workshop.  When I was younger, that was as good as you could get for Woodworking knowhow.  If you’re just starting out in Woodworking, you can do much much worse than watch those old shows.  But I got a beef with one part of it.  Whenever Norm had to cut a dovetail, he’d whip out a router jig, and show about 12 seconds of setup, 30 seconds of the router whirring back and forth, and 5 seconds of fitting together accompanied by “Perfect results, every time!”

Screw you, Norm!

I don’t get perfect results, ever….  Well, maybe on the practice boards, but usually I’m happy if I can just get it close.  If you look at any of my projects, you’ll never find two drawers of identical length – that’s because I wrecked one or the other and had to try again.  This was after cutting lots of practice pieces…

Then one day I saw a used Leigh D4R for sale – a top-quality Dovetail jig.  I thought maybe I could get that thing to replace the old Craftsman my Dad gave me.  Surely a quality tool would fix it.

Nope.  Not really.


This last project I did has 7 little drawers to do:


I dovetailed them all, front and back.  I did some of them with the jig and the router, and the rest by hand.  I couldn’t tell you which was done with what method right now.  I don’t think you can either.  If you look close, you’ll find I’ve had to touch most of them up to one extent or the other.


Who knows how many videos are out there on YouTube with guys telling you their method for cutting dovetails.  There’s guys out there with clever bandsaw setups, table saw blades with beveled grinds, and I don’t know what all.  That’s not to mention the hand-tool crowd.

I never was much of one for the hand-tool guys.  I started out on the wrong foot with Roy Underhill.  Sure, the guy’s a master and all that, but I never felt like his work was approachable.  When Norm built a lowboy, I felt like I could get out there and make one too; but how many of us would go and boil a dead horse for some of Roy’s hide glue?

I saw Rob Cosman with his 3 1/2 minute dovetail and Frank Klausz with his 3 minute job and I felt like it was more of the same.  I mean, that’s good for Rob and Frank and the rest that they can do this.  I’m not surprised they can – they do this all day long.  I get maybe an hour a day.  When exactly am I going to find the time to build that level of skill?  I got a job, yaknow…

But Marc Spagnuolo, he understands me.  I watched his video and, I don’t know, for whatever reason, I sharpened my chisels and gave it a go.  It took me more than 3 minutes, but if it’s okay with Marc that it takes longer and needs a share of touching up at the end, then who’s to say I’m doin’ wrong?  (On the touching up front, Charles Niel has some good tips for fixing dovetails, around the 30 minute mark).


I should say that I’ve also been heavily influenced by Paul Sellers lately.  I find that kind of strange because I saw some of his work a few years ago, and I felt he was yet another of these pompous hand-tool apostles who thought anything made by machine tools was somehow a lesser form of art just because of the machine touching the wood.  I don’t know that it’s his attitude or mine that changed, but watching his excellent Wall Clock series really got me thinking.

Paul makes a lot of good points, and it’s the same as a lot of other fellows – that hand tools make less dust and are just plain more pleasant and more satisfying to work with than power tools.  Sure, if I was going to batch out 16 of these little cabinets, I probably should have taken the time to work out the kinks in my dovetail jig.  I mean, I get it, it’s a skill thing – the jig’s just a hunk of metal, it isn’t the problem here.

I can tell you, though, I felt nervous, pissed off and angry with the jig.  Not so with the chisels and the gauges.  I felt like that was something I could master and understand; moreover, I can enjoy the process.


All that said, I was also taking stock of the piece and observed that almost every board saw a cut from my newly built band saw.  (Umm, err…  including the tails on the dovetails.)  I’m not giving up power tools.  I can enjoy working with them too.  But I think it’s time to consider getting myself a good #4 plane, a dovetail saw, and some files to keep it sharp.