Frankenstein’s Dust Port

Dust Collector 4

Stop laughing, it works.

I mentioned last time that I would cover the dust collection for my planer as a separate item, and now you understand why.

First, the reason for this madness.  If you look closely (and are old enough to remember), this is one of the original Ryobi 10″ lunchbox planers – one of the first portable planers ever made.  I have been using it for around 25 years, and it’s still going strong.  Made with reusable blades, and a unique set of fixtures for installing and aligning them, it was revolutionary.

The problem is that dust collection was truly an afterthought with this thing.  It came with a dust chute that ejected the shavings back on top of the board, and a vacuum adapter.  This “adapter”, however, had to be sized UP to fit a standard shop vac – not a paragon of efficiency.  When I added my new dust collector, I started searching for a solution.  My inspiration came when I was browsing through the local box store’s HVAC section, looking for something that would fit the bill.  When I saw a 10″ floor duct, the light bulb went on.

The port is a simple box, with 1/4″ plywood top and bottom sandwiching spacers the same height as the ejection port of the planer.  The long, extended top matches the area normally covered by the stock dust chute, and is secured by two rather flimsy little screws.  This is the source of the sag you see, since this was never intended to hold something that has the weight on the outside of the planer.  I’m playing with adding some sort of hose support, but haven’t settled on a design yet.

There is a hole the shape of the floor duct in the top surface, and 1×1 cleats are used to secure the duct to the body.  The beauty of the floor duct is that it allows a more efficient “funneling” of the airflow to the hose, rather than the abrupt transition of a simple 4″ connector.  Connecting this to the hose was a chore, requiring creative crimping of the duct outlet to allow the hose to slip into place.  This was further complicated by the fact that this is the “boa constrictor” hose of the previous post.  As you can see from the photo above, it has no desire to expand, preferring to stay in its contracted state, and vigorously resisting any attempts to persuade it otherwise.  I’m thinking of using that to my advantage when I rig a support, letting that pull hold the collector in position as I raise and lower the cutterhead.

How does it work?  Beautifully!  The only chips lost are the ones that blow back out the infeed side from time to time – less than a cupful after a typical thicknessing session.  Total cost?  Under $10.

Not bad.

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Dust (not) In the Wind

Dust collection has never been a high-priority subject for me.  It’s not that I wasn’t a believer in shop safety.   Indeed, I always wore a dust mask when sanding, running a router, etc.  However, most of my tools were a low enough output that the shop vacuum could take care of extraction.  For the really messy stuff, I have a 3′ gable fan near the roof that exhausts a prodigious amount of air, taking the suspended dust along with it.  With it on one end, and a roll-up door on the other,  I could generate a veritable hurricane while planing or routing.

Hand tools, of course, are a different animal entirely.  Dust collection there primarily involves a broom and dust pan.  Simple.

However, a couple of factors have emerged that changed my approach to these things.

First was the purchase of a SawStop contractor’s table saw.  This machine has an excellent dust shroud around the blade that efficiently traps the majority of the sawdust and sends it towards the dust port.  The problem arises if you don’t have some sort of vacuum source attached to pull said dust out of the shroud.  In this case, the sawdust tends to pack up around the jack screw that raises and lowers the blade assembly, making operation very difficult until all is made clean again.

The other is shop kittens.  When they’re young, they see every soft pile of absorbent material as a litter box.

Yes.  Eeww.

These things caused me to rethink the subject of dust collection.  Obviously, I needed to do something, but what?  The shop vacuum was clearly inadequate for bigger things like tablesaws and planers.  Like many woodworkers, I originally envisioned a magnificent 5hp cyclone system with metal ductwork running all over the shop.  Of course, I also envisioned myself retired at 50 and supplementing my magnificent retirement income with the odd shop project.  Once I stopped laughing, I started looking for something more realistic.

Dust Collector 1

I decided on the Shop Fox 1.5hp single-stage collector.  My original choice had been a similar model by Grizzly, but the Shop Fox was available locally.  Though the Grizzly list price was less, shipping pushed it higher, and the specifications were practically identical.  The 1280 CFM pull of the Shop Fox (1300 for the Grizzly) was more than adequate for any single machine I would run, so we threw it in the truck and off I went.

Dust Collector 2

Single-stage units have their drawbacks, such as difficulty of emptying and wear on the impeller from debris.  To help alleviate these, I added Woodcraft’s Trash-Can Cyclone Lid and a 31-gallon galvanized trash can as a pre-collector.  People tend to blow hot or cold on these, but I’ve found this approach very effective.  It traps the majority of shavings and larger dust, reducing the load on the collector itself.  The results are most dramatic when performing an operation like surface planing, which produces large volumes of coarse shavings.  Emptying is easy for me – just lift the lid and dump the trash can on the burn  pile.

Dust Collector 3

Why am I showing a picture of the hose?  Because I want to sing the praises of Rockler’s Dust-Right system.  I have three different 4″ flexible hoses.  One “collapsible” one is more akin to fighting with a boa constricter, and subsequently has earned a place permanently attached to my planer.  The other, which runs from the cyclone to the dust collector, is just a hose – nothing special.  But this Rockler Dust-Right hose, which extends to 28 feet, is another matter entirely.  While it’s easy to pull out to its full length, it will also smoothly retract into a contracted position without making you feel like you’ve been in a tug-of-war.  I recommend it highly.

Dust Right Port

Their Dust Right Quick Release System uses a slip-fit connector that let you attach the hose quickly to any tool with a 4″ port.  With this, you can change the hose from one tool to another in seconds without the need for any sort of tool.  For other tools, Rockler sells a series of adapters that will convert something like a 2 1/2″ port to a 4″ port for use with the Dust Right connecter.  The only problem with this system is if the port is in a location that won’t allow the 4″ adapter to connect – my old Craftsman 6″ belt sander is a good example.  For these, I’m going to have to rig up some sort of extension.  If any of you have done this, leave a comment and let me know your solution.

So far, I’ve set up dust collection on the tablesaw, bandsaw, and planer.  I’ll be adding the belt sander when I figure out an adapter, and will be modifying my router table to accept connections as well.  The planer deserves a post all to itself, and that will be coming in the near future.

I have to say that the difference has been beyond dramatic.  Besides things simply being cleaner, my cleanup time during and after a project has been slashed to a fraction of its former self, giving more time for the fun stuff.

As for the shop kittens, it’s back to the litter box.

Stay tuned!

Back in the Saddle Again!

The murderous heat and humidity of late Mississippi summer have finally given way to the first cool days of pre-autumn, and I can once more burst forth from the shelter of the air-conditioning.  No, I haven’t given up on either woodworking or blogging, but sometimes even a lifelong Mississippi boy finds it too hot for woodworking to be fun.  Now that I can work without dripping sweat on my good steel and iron, I can concentrate on projects once more.

Some things have happened in the interim.  The biggest of these has been the addition of a dust collector, and associated accessories, which will be the subject of my next post.  The hurricane blew down a small white oak that may make good splits for chair seats.  And, of course, there are new projects on the way, starting with a storage cabinet for table saw accessories.  Most of all, I’ve had time to plan shop-related activities while waiting for cooler weather.

So stay tuned!  The Little Good Pieces shop is back in the game!

Blanket Chest – The Wrap-Up

Did you think I had run away?  No such luck.  The Mississippi summer heat rendered wood finishing nearly impossible in a non-climate-controlled shop.  Sweat dripping on freshly-applied dye or shellac almost invariably results in a re-do of that step, so I had to find periods of cool to get this project (literally) finished.  However, the end has finally come.

When we left off last time, the top had been routed, and everything was ready to be finished.  Like most woodworkers, I’d rather be building than finishing, and painting ranks at the bottom of my list, somewhere behind a root canal.  Nevertheless, the body of the blanket chest received a coat of primer, followed by two coats of Porter gloss white, which matches our interior house trim.  You’ll recall that I pre-primed the panel bevels prior to assembly to prevent bare wood peep-out when (not if) the panels shrink.  If the paint had been a different color, I would have applied a coat of that as well.  Of course, you have the same problem later if you re-paint in a different color, but I digress.

Now it was time for the top, the only part that would really look like wood.  Since the rest of our bedroom furniture is some variant of Golden Oak (I know, I know), I had decided to use the same color on the red oak top.  For jobs like this, when the piece will be shaded from the sun, aniline dye is my hands-down coloring agent of choice.  I used Trans-Tint’s Golden Brown, mixing 1/2 tablespoon to a cup of water.  After two coats, the results didn’t seem very impressive:

Blanket Chest 45

Don’t worry, it gets better.  Dyes, and wood in general, always look a bit drab prior to the addition of the topcoat.  That’s when the magic happens.  In this case, I applied five thin coats of Zinsser Bulls-Eye Shellac, and followed that with a rub-down with paste wax and steel wool to smooth things and remove a bit of the gloss.  I generally prefer a more subdued sheen for most projects, and find that it stands up to wear a bit better.

Blanket Chest 46

Here’s the same wood with the shellac applied.  Neat, eh?  Like I said, Golden Oak isn’t my favorite, but it matches the rest of the furniture that my wife picked out.  Need I say more?

One of the beauties of shellac is that it can be easily renewed by a light sanding and re-application of another coat over the top of the old.  The alcohol allows the two layers to dissolve together, becoming homogeneous.  This prevents the flaking that can occur when top-coating polyurethane.  Of course, don’t spill your alcoholic drinks on it, or you’ve got a problem.

Blanket Chest 47

And now, the moment of truth.  Here is the finished product in it’s intended home, at the foot of the master bed.

What do you think?  It’s a little taller than my wife expected, being a bit high for her to sit on, and I reminded her that the height was to her specifications.  Talk about an argument-settler!  Besides, it’ll hold more. However, I think a slightly shorter design would have looked better in this location.  The width and depth worked out well, leaving a good path between it and the dresser directly across the gap.

However, to my eye, the overall color scheme misses the mark – reminds me of a church pew.  Of course, the paint can be easily changed if an alternative color scheme suggests itself.  As for the top, while the color doesn’t match the bed very well, it’s a near-perfect match for the rest of the furniture.  Also, it can be easily changed out at a later date to give the piece a different look – breadboard, frame-and-panel, stained, painted, you name it.  The chest itself should be good for a century or two – I hope.

I also hope you’ve enjoyed this project.  Blanket chests designs are a dime a dozen, but the point of this exercise was to design and build the piece from scratch to perfectly fit a particular application.  If you have been encouraged to try your hand at your own designs, this project will have done its job.

More projects are in the wings, and things will speed back up as the weather cools down, so stay tuned!

Blanket Chest – Topping It Off

As I mentioned previously, the top of the blanket chest will be made from red oak, to match the rest of the furniture in the bedrooom.  Red oak is not one of my favorite woods – far from it.  In fact, it would be near the bottom of the list of woods I like to use.  Its open grain and proneness to tear-out make it frustrating to work.  Unfortunately, it’s one of the more common woods in our area, so I often have to just set my jaw and plow ahead.

Due to surface flaws, I ended up having to plane my stock closer to 3/4″ than the 7/8″ that I wanted.  This wasn’t a problem, though.  The lid stands alone as a design element, and edge shaping makes the thickness harder to discern anyway.  I won’t bore you with the details of gluing up the panel from the individual boards – there are plenty of tutorials out there on that.  I planned on a 5/8″ overhang on all sides, making it slightly smaller than the size of the base.  It has been my experience that this generally gives a more balanced proportion than making top and bottom the same size, which tends to look a bit top-heavy.

Blanket Chest 41

The overall panel width was just a bit too wide for my crosscut sled, so I had to find an alternative means to crosscut to final length.  While some would use a jig with a circular saw or something similar, I chose a more direct approach.  I drew a line, and cut to it with a 12pt. panel saw.  A quick cut, followed by clean-up with a jack plane, and I was through by the time most people could have found wood for the jig.  Even if you’re not a serious hand-tool woodworker, the ability to accurately cross-cut to a line with a handsaw is a skill that should be in everyone’s repertoire.

Blanket Chest 43

There are lots of different router bits on the market, many with exorbitant price tabs, but following Matthew Bickford’s blog has gotten me to thinking of complex molding shapes in terms of combinations of hollows and rounds.  Even if you can’t afford a set of matching hollow and round planes, you can apply a lot of the principles with a few simple router bits and an edge guide. Not only can you duplicate many existing bits’ profiles, but you can customize things to get the exact profile you want.

My wife wanted a molded edge treatment on the lid, so I played with some options till I came up with something she liked.  Her favorite was a combination of a small cove with a larger roundover.  I started by cutting a sample, then she would take a pencil and sketch in modifications on the end of the board until she was pleased with the outcome.  In the photo above, I started with a cove and roundover combination on the edge, and she suggested changes.  She finally settled on the innermost style.  The roundover has been brought up and in to make it a larger part of the overall profile, while the cove was made a bit smaller to act as more of an accent.  To achieve this, I switched from a 3/8″ to a 1/2″ roundover bit, and cut with it low enough that the guide bearing actually hung off below the edge of the wood to yield only a part of the curved shape.

Blanket Chest 44

I’ve used this D-handled Porter Cable for years, and it’s a favorite of mine.  The addition of a good-quality edge guide allows you to place individual design elements exactly where you want them, instead of being limited by a bit profile.  In the photo above, the basic roundover cut is being “lowered” into place, and then the cove will be cut with a small core box bit  where you see the large shoulder above the roundover.  As mentioned above, the fence of the edge guide lets me run the bit without registering the bearing on the surface, and lets me use partial arcs as part of my design.

Notice also in the photo above the presence of an offset base.  I cannot recommend one of these highly enough.  One of the biggest concerns when doing edge treatments with a handheld router is tipping.  I don’t care how good you are, the darn things seem to want to tip and ruin your work.  Adding a heavy edge guide like the one I have increases the odds of that past the point of acceptability.  The offset base lets you hold the router firmly to the work, so you concentrate on other things like keeping the fence snug to the wood, and proper entry and exit from the cut.  Buy one or make one, but by all means, get one.

Blanket Chest 44

After the edge was routed, I put the lid in place on the body for a look.  All in all, not bad!  All that remains is to paint the body and stain and finish the top.  It won’t be long now!  Stay tuned!

Wraparound Dovetails – How I Fit Them

Most of us are familiar with the techniques for fitting dovetails during construction.  You cut the pieces to size, mark your dovetails, and cut away.  Even if you machine-cut, the process is basically the same.  Everything is measured from the end of the board.  However, there are times when this approach doesn’t work.

This blanket chest is a perfect example of this.  Christopher Schwarz’s Anarchist’s Tool Chest is another.  In both cases, a base or dust seal wraps around the basic structure of the chest, and is dovetailed into place.  The problems start to arise when you realize that the pieces cannot be precut to length, but must be fitted to the existing structure to ensure a good fit.  No, measuring with rule is not a substitute for a good direct measurement.  Of course, your measurement doesn’t tell you how far past the end of the casework the board should extend for the overlap that will give a good, snug dovetail.  This is how I do it:

Dovetail Tuning 1

Start by dovetailing one corner to act as a reference, leaving the board overlong.  Then, with the assembled dovetail snugged into place, mark the corner of the casework on the other end.  A marking knife will work, but I find that a pencil will angle into the corner more easily without wandering.

Dovetail Tuning 2

Next, stand the opposing board (or an offcut of the same) on edge on this board, with the inside edge flush with your pencil line, and mark the location of the outside face.  This measurement isn’t really critical – you just don’t want to be too short.  Next, crosscut the board to just outside this last line to establish the rough length.

Dovetail Tuning 3

Now comes the trick.  Take your marking gauge, which you already set while cutting the first dovetail, and place it against the sawn end of the board.  There will probably be, as shown above, a gap between the knife/pin and the pencil line.  Simply plane away the excess with your shooting board (you do have a shooting board, don’t you?) until the marker touches the far edge of the pencil line.  If your marking gauge was set correctly in the first place, you should now have the correct amount of overlap to yield a dovetail that wraps snugly around the casework.

With a little thought and modification, this technique will also work with dovetailing jigs.  Simply set your marking gauge to the base of the first dovetails, and proceed as above.  Since all you’re doing is effectively cutting a board to length, the dovetailing method is really irrelevant.  Give it a try!

Blanket Chest – A Firm Foundation

The base of the chest was intended from the start to be simple.  My wife didn’t want any feet, openings, or anything of the kind.  She just wanted a simple base or skirt of the type you’d find on a tool chest.  And what mama wants, mama gets.  Besides, what could be easier?

Having read Christopher Schwarz’s The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, I chose to dovetail the base, rather than using miter joints.  This chest would sit on carpet at the foot of the bed, and be dragged back and forth when vacuuming.  Due to this, I felt the extra strength of dovetails would be worth the trouble.  There’s no point in going into the details of cutting through-dovetails – that has been covered by others ad nauseum.  I will, however, cover my technique for getting tight-fitting wrap-arounds with dovetails in my next article.

Blanket Chest 36

I decided on cutting my base 3 1/2″ wide.  This was done by the scientific approach of laying different widths of wood up against the bottom of the chest and, with my wife’s input, deciding which one looked best.  Once the dovetails were cut, the same approach was used to determine how far the base should overlap the bottom of the chest.  We settled on a 2 7/8″ reveal before applying the cove molding.  Yes, that’s almost the entire width of the frame.  However, there are still the bottom boards that project below the frame to be taken into consideration.

Blanket Chest 37

I cut internal supports for the chest from whatever plywood was handy around the shop, and believe me, my pile is as bad as anyone’s.  After ripping to width, they were glued and brad-nailed into place.  As you can see, there’s still an adequate amount of recess to make everything secure.

Blanket Chest 38

Then, the dovetails were glued together around the chest, and the base was attached to the bottom boards with pocket screws.  As we know, in cabinet construction, there’s primary wood, and secondary wood.  But, as the above picture shows, there’s also tertiary wood.  This is one case where your ugliest plywood is perfectly acceptable.

Blanket Chest 39

Here you can see the base fully assembled with the dovetails planed down.  The construction, as it stands, is perfectly acceptable.  However, there’s a certain starkness to it, as though something is missing.

Blanket Chest 40

That’s where the molding comes in.  It adds that needed transition, and harmonizes with the smaller cove molding around the panels.  If I had been using a clear finish, I would have used 23 gauge pins.  However, a painted finish allowed the use of spackling compound, so I stuck with the bigger brad nails and glue.

That finishes the body of the blanket chest!  Now, it’s time to turn my attention back to the lid.  Stay tuned!

Blanket Chest – Fitting the Floor

Blanket Chest 34

Adding the floor was one of the simpler parts of the process.  All of the boards had already been cut to length, so it was just a matter of layout.

I started by finding the center of the blanket chest, and placing the edge of one board adjacent to it.  Then, with the board square across the opening and the bead facing down (remember, down is up here), the board was secured in place with one screw on each end.  If the screws were the sole means of support for the bottom, I would have used two.  However, the entire chest will be resting on a lip on the inside of the base which will provide the actual support, making one screw sufficient.

The most important thing was even spacing of the boards.  Not only do the boards require a small gap for expansion and contraction, but the width of the space should give the appearance that the bead is centered between two equally-spaced gaps.  After playing with various items, I found that 18-gauge brad nails were just about perfect.  On reflection, I should have planned ahead when I made my scratch stock, and made sure the gap it created matched up perfectly with a spacer ahead of time.

Blanket Chest 35

In the end, when the chest was turned over, the spacing was fine.  However, the groove didn’t provide the same shadow as the gap, giving a less-than-equal appearance.  This surprised me, since they had looked much more equal when laid out on the table.  I can only attribute this to the different way that light plays off the inside of the chest.  It’s not a bad look, but not what I intended.  The only consolation is that the bottom will be covered with blankets.  That’s not much consolation to a woodworker, but it’s not worth doing over, so I’ll take what I can get.

Blanket Chest – Molding Fitting

At last, the time had come to fit the cove molding to the frame-and-panels.  Most conventional wisdom says to cut the trim to precise length, and then miter the ends.  While this works up to a point, I’ve found that a modified version is easier for me.  This is how I do it:

Blanket Chest 27

I start by cutting a piece of molding to just slightly oversize, and then saw to this length.  As you may recall from a couple of posts back, I marked one face of the molding to keep any asymmetry coordinated, and reduce any irregularities between pieces.  I now take care to keep this mark oriented against the frame, not the panel.  The white on the panel is primer, applied to reduce any chance of bare wood peeping if the panel shrinks.

Blanket Chest 28

Rather than trim square to precise length, I go ahead and cut a miter on one end using the miter shooting board, continuing until the piece fits in place in the frame.  The next step is to miter the other end just to a point, keeping that good fit.

Blanket Chest 29

The photo above shows how the mark on the back helps keep the pieces oriented during the various manipulations.

Once the first piece is in place, I repeated the process with its neighbor, starting with the end that butts into the first piece.  Then, I shot the miter on the other end to fit.  I’ve found that, even if you cut all the pieces to precise lengths, their interactions with each other inevitably require a bit of further shooting to get everything to play nicely together.  For me, it’s easier to fit as a single operation rather than two distinct steps.  The pieces are small enough that shooting requires very little effort.  Just don’t forget your wax!

Blanket Chest 32

Once all the parts are settled into their respective places, I applied glue to just the side facing the frame, not the panel (remember the black mark?), and then held it in place with 23 gauge pins until the glue dried.  (Haven’t I heard that somewhere before?)  That way, the panels can expand and contract freely without trying to take the molding with it.

Blanket Chest 33

With all the molding in place, the time had finally arrived.  The joints were glued, and the assembly went into the clamps.  Suddenly, the group of flat panels was starting to look like a blanket chest.

Next time, I’ll add the bottom.  Stay tuned!

What I Screwed Up This Week – Molding Miscalculation

Welcome back for another educational issue of What I Screwed Up This Week!  This time, we take a look at a molding miscalculation from the current blanket chest project.

The Problem:

Panel Molding 2

My plan was to have the panels of the blanket chest set in 3/8″ from the front of the frame.  This would allow a 1/8″ shoulder at the top to provide a visual break between the molding and the frame.  However, there was one problem.  The above drawing reflected my thinking.  I visualized the panel as a flat surface, rather than having a raised bevel.

Panel Molding 3

The reality was far different.  The sloping bevel of the panel raised the molding upwards.  While the drawing above is exaggerated, the oversight is clear.  The shoulder at the top of the molding becomes too small, giving no real definition to the transition.

The Solution:

Panel Molding 4

I played with several ways to rectify the problem.  However, the simplest turned out to be the best, and easiest to implement.  I simply trimmed down the upper edge of the molding to recreate the shoulder.  Surprisingly, it had very little effect on the appearance of the cove – much less than I had anticipated.

Blanket Chest 30

To remove this wood, I took a page from Matthew Bickford’s blog, Musings from Big Pink, and made a small sticking board.  This allowed the small piece of molding to be held in place simply by the friction of planing it.  The taper of the side support reduced the area of contact for the plane, and acted as a sort of depth stop (or at least reference) once the first piece had been planed to the desired thickness.

Blanket Chest 31

A few strokes with the plane were all that were necessary to reduce the height of the molding enough to create a viable shoulder at the top.  Here, you see a piece coming to final thickness.

Lesson Learned:

Angles can change everything.  Even a small slope or curve can drastically affect how pieces interact with each other.  Be sure to do mock-ups of any such areas, and determine if you need to make any modifications to your design before you paint yourself into the proverbial corner.