Blanket Chest – Creating the Coves

Now that the side assemblies were glued up, it was time to apply the cove molding trim to the edges of the panels.  I chose a cove because, well, out of the four prototypes, it was my wife’s favorite.

Blanket Chest 24

The actual molding would have a cross-section of 1/4″ x 1/4″, to allow a 1/8″ rabbet where it joined the frame (as shown in the above linked post).  The first step was to rout a cove of the desired size in the corner of a board.  The rest was simply a matter of cutting off the molding with two intersecting cuts.  Normally, this would be a job for the table saw.  However, I needed to use it to rip the edge smooth again after cutting the molding free.  That would mean resetting the saw after each cut, and trying to keep all the individual moldings cut that way the same size.  Was there a better way?

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I decided to use a variant of the technique used on the feet of my sawbench.  By setting the plow plane for 1/4″ and making intersecting cuts as shown above, the strips of molding could be cut off with only a bit more effort.  You’ll notice in the above photo that one leg is a bit thicker than the other.  This was a result of having the core-box bit set a bit lower than I thought, and rendered the molding asymmetrical.  This is almost inevitable to some degree, and must be allowd for.  More on that in a minute.

The stock in the photo above was fairly thin, and I could only get one molding per edge.  However, I later used thicker stock that allowed cutting two moldings at once, which reduced waste considerably.  In either case, once the molding was cut away, I went to the aforementioned table saw to rip the edges smooth for the next evolution.

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Eventually, I was left with a pile of moldings in two lengths, which would fit the two different panel dimensions with a bit of room to spare.  You will notice black marks on some of the molding.  In fact, all of the pieces have that mark.  This designates the side where the freeing cut was made into the face of the board.  By placing the side with this mark against the rail or stile instead of the panel, I can keep any asymmetry in the molding coordinated, so that the corner joints will line up as they should.  As long as you get that correct, the rest will go unnoticed.

Next time, I’ll fit these pieces to the frame-and-panel assemblies.  Stay tuned!

Fine Woodworking Magazine – Apology Accepted.

I suppose that my readers would have to be blind or three days dead (as the old saying goes) not to know about the recent uproar over comments made in a Fine Woodworking Magazine podcast. I won’t belabor you with all the details, but a quick overview may help if any of you are indeed unfamiliar with the situation.  Podcast host Asa Christiana had made comments that appeared to say that the woodworking blogging community was, as a whole, unqualified to put out material of an instructional nature, and that vetting by experienced professionals was necessary to ensure quality.

As you can imagine, this set off an enormous backlash from the blogosphere.  Cries of “elitism!” were rampant, and the responses and commentaries bore a striking resemblance to a firestorm.

Well, never let it be said that Fine Woodworking is insensitive to its readership.  First, episode 6 of their podcast had a clarification, that still seemed a little lackluster, but was obviously quickly inserted as a form of quick damage control.  This was followed by a blog post by Asa entitled, “What I’ve Learned About the Online Community“.  This post was obviously more carefully crafted, and was truly a gracious apology.  This gladdened me.  I truly don’t think they had ever thought about the blogosphere in quite this way before.  I was more than willing to give them a chance to improve.

Imagine my surprise when I arrived home and found a comment on this blog’s previous post from Asa, again apologizing for the misunderstanding.  It was certainly a sort of mass mailing, but I was impressed.  I’m one of the little guys – my readership wouldn’t even be a blip on the radar of the more successful blogs.  Yet, they took the trouble to post an apology here.  To me, this demonstrates true concern, and a willingness to really try to mend fences.  That is definitely, in my book at least, one of the things that defines a class act.

Apology accepted, Asa.

A Perfect Storm – of Dissent!

Last week, Fine Woodworking’s Shop Talk Live included a section of what many have construed as anti-blogger comments.  Tom Iovino has written a wonderful rebuttal at his Tom’s Workbench blog.  If you haven’t already, drop by, check it out, and leave a comment.  This one’s worth weighing in on.

Review – Lee Valley Dowel and Tenon Cutter

Dowels have always frustrated me.  They always seemed to come in two sizes:  too big and too small.  Even ordered online, species selection is often limited, and don’t even try to guess what species that “hardwood” at the box store really is.  Without a doubt, making your own would be superior, but how?

I know many are fans of the classic doweling plate.  This is essentially a steel plate with holes of varying sizes bored through it.  Slightly oversized pieces of wood are driven through the holes to make dowels of the desired diameter.  The problem for me is that the hole sizes are fixed, and fine-tuning is difficult.  When I drawbore or peg a joint, I generally use an auger bit in a brace, and the size of mine is just a hair over a stock 3/8″.  I suppose you could make a plate yourself with the requisite holes using machinist’s bits, but then you’re often left with a rough finish on the dowel.

Dowel Cutter

Since I use primarily 3/8″ dowels, I chose a different approach.  Veritas’ Dowel and Tenon Cutter was just the ticket for me.  This tool’s sole purpose in life is to take a piece of 7/16-1/2″ square stock and convert it into a 3/8″ dowel, and it does it well.

The overall design is strongly reminiscent of a handheld pencil sharpener, and works in much the same way.  The square stock is fed in one end using a square socket in a drill or brace, and a round dowel emerges from the other.  Simple.  The real beauty, though, is that it’s adjustable.  Loosening the screws holding the curved blade with the supplied allen wrench allows you to alter the dowel size by gently tweaking the position and angle of the cutter.  I can’t give you a hard and fast formula for doing this – you just have to fiddle with it.  However, once you get the knack, you can perfectly adapt the size of the dowel to your particular bored hole.

It comes in three sizes – 3/8″, 7/16″ and 1/2″.  The 3/8″ has met all my needs so far, though I could see adding a 1/2″ for larger projects.  With a price of under $30 each, that certainly wouldn’t be a big expense.

Besides, where else can you get such cool shavings?

What I Screwed Up Back Then – Carving Injury

It’s Shop Safety Week again, when we focus on a subject that should be near and dear to our hearts all the time.  Nevertheless, a few timely reminders are never out of place.  This cautionary tale, drawn from my own experience, shows how even a small shop-related injury can have a big impact.

The Problem:

Some years back, I was making a small carving of a mule in ponderosa pine.  By small, I mean about 3″ long – small enough to be held comfortably in the non-tool hand (experienced carvers, don’t spoil the drama for everyone else).  I was working slowly, cutting with a standard drop-point carving knife with a 1 1/2″ blade that I had just stropped.  I had the knife under (I thought) good control, using opposing pressure from the thumb to keep it from flying off into space as I refined one of the mule’s legs.

Carving Injury 1

Suddenly, the soft pine leg snapped, allowing the freshly-stropped knife point to plunge downward and into my hand.  The photo above shows the approximate hand positions and arc of the blade.  (The hound dog graciously agreed to stand in for the mule, and was not harmed in the filming of this article.)  There was no pain and little blood – the cut wasn’t that deep.  However, I immediately knew something was wrong – my fingers weren’t moving right.

Carving Injury 3

Suspecting what was wrong, I was careful with the hand until I could see a plastic surgeon the next day.  This, by the way, was the same plastic surgeon that fixed my previous screw-up. My fears were confirmed – I had severed two tendons in my palm.  This required surgery, and eight weeks in a brace that held my hand flexed inwards at a 90 degree angle.  Even after healing and physical therapy, the hand has some issues.  For example, as you can see above, extending three fingers doesn’t go quite as it should.

The Solution:

Hands are fragile.  There are a lot of operating parts crammed into a small amount of space.  Grip the palm of one hand between the thumb and fingers of the other and wiggle its fingers.  Feel all that movement?  Those are the tendons that control your fingers, right below the surface of the skin.  It doesn’t take a lot for a sharp tool to go through the skin and effortlessly slice one or two.  Even if you don’t cut something off, the long-term effects can be life-altering.

The solution is deceptively simple:  Always wear a cut-resistant glove whenever the situation requires that you hold the item being carved in your hand.  I say “deceptively” because “cut-resistant” covers a lot of very confusing ground.  Products range from simple woven fabric “cut gloves” all the way up to chain mail, with proportional ranges in price.  While mail probably offers the best protection, I have worn mail gloves in the past, and the weight and discomfort disqualify them for me.  Kevlar is popular but, while bulletproof, isn’t overly resistant to puncture.

National Safety Inc. has a pamphlet that will help you make sense of the different types of glove materials, so that you can make your own informed decision about the level of protection you need.  It’s a bit technical, but has a good chart on fabric types.

Carving Injury 2

For me, the choice was a glove made of a fiber-stainless steel blend fabric.  True, it’s a bit stiff and scratchy, but the cut-resistance is outstanding, while not being too heavy or restrictive.

Whatever your choice, the important thing is to chose something.  ANY time you’re forced to perform an operation where your hand might have to be in front of a blade, hand protection is a MUST.

Learn from my mistake, rather than making your own.

Blanket Chest – Drawing a Bead With a Scratch Stock

In the midst of finishing up the four chest frames, I decided to take a detour to the bottom.  I started with 3″ wide boards 3/4″ thick, and did a simple shiplap using the dado blade on the tablesaw.  However, I didn’t like the overly plain look, even if it was the bottom, and would rarely be seen.  What I really wanted was a beaded edge detail to dress things up just a bit.  However, I didn’t own a beading bit for the router.  What to do?

I had recently seen a Fine Woodworking video of Garrett Hack making and using a scratch stock, and decided to give it a try.  My first stop was at the box store for a long thumbscrew and a thread tap and drill bit set to match.  Then, I got to work.

Scratch Stock Holder 1

I cut a small piece of white oak to a size that was comfortable in the hand.  I laid the thumbscrew on top, and marked a line around the block just up from the end of the screw.

Scratch Stock Holder 2

I used the tap’s pilot bit to drill a hole into the end of the block stopping after I passed the line.  This would allow the tap to cut threads all the way to the slot-to-be.  I then took the tap, and carefully cut threads all the way to the end of the hole.  This long column of threads gives the screw more support, with less chance of the metal screw stripping out the wooden threads.  Marc Spagnuolo has a great video of this process available on The Wood Whisperer’s website.

Scratch Stock Holder 3

After tapping the screw hole, a saw kerf provides a slot for the scratch stock blade.

Scratch Stock Holder 4

I rounded the edges and corners slightly for comfort, waxed the screw, and ran it into the hole.  With that, the blade holder was finished.

Scratch Stock Blade 1

To make the blade, I took a small square of old saw blade and dressed the edges smooth and square.  Then, using the appropriate size of file, I cut a semicircular profile into the blade, and then smoothed the concave surface with sharpening slip.

Scratch Stock Blade 2

Actual sharpening is done by honing the surfaces of the blade to a mirror finish, much like flattening the back of a chisel or plane iron.  I’m a diamond hone fan, but any sharpening system will work.  Repeating this process will usually restore the blade to cutting shape without having to touch the profile itself.

Scratch Stock Adjustment

I mounted the blade in the holder so that the inside curve ends just at the surface of the wood.  If you were to move it outwards a bit, you would have a flat step on the outside edge – certainly an option if that is what you want.  A twist of the thumbscrew locks it in place.  I apologize for the blurry pictures, but it took five tries to get one this good.  You get the idea.

Scratch Stock Use

To use the stock, simply move it back and forth along the edge of the board being shaped.  Often, it will cut better in one direction than another.  In the picture above, the cut is being made towards me (away from you).  Notice that I’ve got the scratch stock angled slightly – it’s important that the cutting edge trails somewhat until the last gentle pass or two.  Think about the way you use a card scraper, and you’ll get the general idea.  The rest is a matter of feel and patience – don’t try to cut too fast.

Beaded Bottom Boards

These are the completed bottom boards, and you can see how the beads really dress up the otherwise plain shiplapped edges.  When I attach them to the bottom of the blanket chest, I’ll use a couple of finish nails or brads to space them so that the actual gap is the same as the groove beside the beads.  Not only will this give a good look, but will allow for expansion and contraction.

The scratch stock is an amazingly simple tool, and cost me all of $1.40 for the thumbscrew.  The thread tap and drill bit were about $4.00, and will surely come in handy adding screw threads to other projects.  The saw blade was just laying around in the way.  While it’s certainly not as fast as a router, it allows you to duplicate existing profiles easily, especially for smaller projects or restorations.
And, it won’t break the bank like a collection of router bits.  For the price, it can’t be beat.  Give it a try.

Frame Tuning Tip

Any time you make a frame-and-panel assembly, and especially with hand tools joinery, some of your joints will be a bit out of line.  It’s nothing to be embarrassed about – it happens to all of us.  The trick is to be able to make corrections for the irregularities with a minimum of effort.  The best time to do this is before your final glue-up, and this is the technique I use:

Frame Tuning Tip 1

Dry assemble the frame, and look for any places where the joint is out of line.  When you find one, use a pencil to mark along the edge of the adjoining piece.

Frame Tuning Tip 2

This will give you a guide line to show you the material that needs to be removed.   Take a hand plane and plane down to the bottom of the pencil line, feathering the cut in from what is the left-hand edge in the above photo for a smooth transition.  As you get close, stop and make at least one test fit to double check – it’s easy to overshoot.  Once you’ve planed to the bottom of the line, the joint should be a near-perfect fit.

Give it a try!

Blanket Chest – Raising Panels

Blanket Chest 13

A frame isn’t much good without panels to put in it (frame-AND-panel, right?), and this project needs eight of them.  In this case, I decided to make them 5/8″ thick.  This allowed the raised surface to be flush with the outside face of the frame, while the flat back simplified construction and reduced overall weight.  With this in mind, I had previously planed selected boards to thickness, stickered them, and let them relax.  Now, parallel to fitting up the frame, I had glued up the boards into oversize panels, ready for trimming to size.

Blanket Chest 14

I love Old Brown Glue liquid hide glue for this sort of work.  To me, once it has fully cured, it’s easier to remove to remove the squeeze-out than with yellow glues.  Also, it seems to form less gummy residue on my scrapers, and is transparent to stain and finishes.  Yes, I know my scraper’s getting dull, there’s a sharp one laying to the side, and they were swapped right after the photo.

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Once the panels were cut to final size, it was time to cut the raised panel profile.  In a previous post, I went into my process for designing the panels, and this was where I put that design to work.  I dropped my panel-raising jig onto my tablesaw fence and used my prototype raised panel to set the height and bevel of my saw blade.  Then, after tweaking the fence position to yield the desired edge thickness, I cut all the bevels.  Note the quick clamp on the front edge of the panel.  This helped to counteract any tendency to cup or lift as I cut.

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No matter how hard I tried, some of the corners were off a bit.  This is one place where accuracy counts because, if the line doesn’t hit the corner of the panel, it won’t hit the corner of the frame.  While there are many places where little variances won’t be noted, this isn’t one of them.

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For me, the easiest way to correct this is with a sanding block.  This is simply a matter of working toward the end until the ridge creeps into the corner.  This only takes a few minutes, and makes a big difference in the overall appearance.

Blanket Chest 21

With the panels finished, you can now see how all the pieces will go together.  Now, it’s just a matter of final fitting everything and gluing up the subassemblies.

Stay tuned!

Blanket Chest – Framed

Blanket Chest 11

Once all of the mortises were chopped, it was time to start final fitting of the joints.  The first step is to decide which rails and stiles will go together to make a subassembly.  As I had selected stock for the various pieces, I kept in mind that the back side of the chest would be up against the end of the bed (or later a wall, perhaps), and parts with “issues” could go there.  Even though this chest will be painted, it’s a good habit to develop, since some blemishes can still show through.  My outfeed table was the perfect place for the selection process, as I could lay out a whole assembly for inspection, while keeping the other parts neatly stacked and organized to one side.

Blanket Chest 12

As I’ve said before, staying organized is of paramount importance on a complex project such as this.  Since all the joints are hand-cut, the matching components are hand-fitted to each other, making each pair unique.  To keep confusion at bay, I clearly number each joint pair, so that they stay oriented to each other all the way to glue-up.  Also, note the “X” on the bottom of the rail.  This denotes the edge where the haunch will be cut – more insurance.

This is also a good place to point out the answer to a question from a reader regarding how I cut my tenons.  The bottom face of the tenon in the above phto has the spacing I strive for – cutting just on the outside of the penciled groove, rather than splitting it.  The upper face is actually a bit on the “fat” side, and will require more work to bring it into line.  This task is accomplished with my router plane, as explained in a previous article.

Corner Detail

With all the rails and stiles fitted, it was time to address the corner joints.  As I mentioned previously, I decided on tongue-and-groove joinery to join the side frames to the end ones.  On reflection, reversing the joint so that the tongue on the face, and the groove is on the end wound have resulted in a stronger joint.  However, orienting the joint as shown will give less chance of a seam showing on the face.  Like most things in life, it’s a trade-off.

Blanket Chest 15

The first step was to cut the grooves.  Why?  Because I’m using a plow plane that has a fixed-width blade.  This is a good basic principle of hand tool work.  Whenever possible, perform the operation that utilizes a fixed tool first, then fit the other part to it.  When mortising, chop the mortise, then fit the tenon.  When making framed panels, cut the groove, then fit the panel to it.  You get the idea.

By the way, make sure you cut the grooves on the inside face of the stile.  Just sayin’.

Blanket Chest 16

With the grooves cut, I turned my attention to the tongues.  Fortunately, they were to be centered on the end of the stile, with a 1/4″ shoulder on each side (1/4″+1/4″+3/8″=7/8″).  I set the depth stop on the rabbet plane to leave the tenon just a bit fat, and did the final trim with a shoulder plane.  Rabbet and plow plane depth stops tend to slip, and should not be overly trusted.  Recheck the settings frequently as you work.  The astute among you will notice that I have sloped my tenon slightly from shoulder to edge.  I noticed this myself, and quickly corrected, paying more attention as I went forward to avoid a repetition.

Blanket Chest 17

Once all of the tongue-and-grooves had been cut, it was time for the first dry-up.  This is the time to walk around and take note of the things that need fine tuning, trying to get everything lined up before actual assembly.

Rabbet Plane Curlies

Now it’s time to turn our attention to other aspects of the project.  The panels have to be made, and I’ve got a couple of jigs to build.  But, in the meantime, it’s time to sweep up, and get rid of all the skew plane shavings left behind.

Stay tuned!

Blanket Chest – In the Groove

Since this blanket chest has frame-and-panel construction, the next step was to make the grooves to hold the panels.  As I mentioned in the post on cutting the tenons they, and their corresponding grooves are not centered, but offset to the inside face of the chest.  This means that the old tablesaw trick of running a board through, then flipping it end-for-end and running it through again to get a centered groove won’t work.  However, there’s an excellent way to get a groove without having to dig out the dado set.

Blanket Chest 8

A plow plane is an excellent alternative for grooves.  While not as fast as a dado, it can be set once and left on the shelf (much like a marking gauge), to be picked up as needed.  This leaves the tablesaw with its combination blade in place for such other jobs as may arise as the project progresses.  And, once set up and adjusted, the plow plane isn’t as slow as you might think.

With the 1/4″ blade installed, I set the plow plane’s fence to plow a groove in line with the tenons, and 1/4″ deep.  Notice in the photo above, the letter “I” near the tenon shoulder.  This stands for “inside”, and marks the face with the 1/4″ shoulder.  On the opposite side of the shoulder is an “O”, which stands for (you guesssed it) “outside”.  Placing these marks on every joint affords me a much better chance of staying oriented with all this asymmetrical joinery.

Another trick, as shown above, is the use of a cabinetmaker’s handscrew to keep the board vertically oriented.  I use this same configuration later when boring mortise starter holes.  Handscrews are generally underutilized by modern woodworkers, but this is just one of many uses they have in anyone’s workshop.

Blanket Chest 9

Once the grooves were plowed, it was time to layout for the mortises.  By gang-clamping matching pieces together and marking all of them at once, I was able to cut down on error.

The pieces shown above are four of the corner stiles, and the markings require a bit of explanation.  On the right, you see two lines.  The one on the outside marks the edge of the mating rail, while the inside one marks the end of the mortise.  On the left, there is a single line that marks the start of the mortise, but no line for the edge of the rail.  This edge is flush with the end of the stile, and the long gap indicates the haunch that will fill the groove to the edge.  It’s wider than usual due to the fact that these mortises will be hand-chopped, and I allowed extra wood on the outside of the mortise to help prevent any blow-outs of the end grain.

Blanket Chest 10

One of the beauties of grooved rails is that all of your mortising guides are already in place.  Just place your auger bit or mortising chisel in the groove, and you’re ready to go.  Of course, you still have to stay vertical.  As usual, I bored multiple clearance holes for each mortise to make the chisel work easier.  This step is especially important on mortises near the end of the board, as this helps to reduce the dreaded blow-out of the unsupported endgrain.

The next step will be to start bringing these various chunks of wood together.  Stay tuned!