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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.

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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!

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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 – 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.

Blanket Chest 18

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.

Blanket Chest 19

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!

Krenov Sawhorses – Through Tenons

With the mortises cut to shape, it was time to turn my attention to the tenons.  As I mentioned in the last article, I planned on 1/4″ shoulders on the ends of the tenons, but only 1/8″ shoulders on the sides.  With a softer wood, I might have needed a wider shoulder, but I wanted to see how a wider tenon would look, and hickory was perfect for this.  The question is, how to cut it?  1/8″ was barely a saw kerf, and handsaws track very badly when the wood on one side of the cut is thin to nonexistent.

Krenov Sawhorse 23

This was the place to try my new Veritas skew rabbet plane.  Since only a small amount of material had to be removed, planing would be relatively efficient, and the tool’s 1 1/2″ width would handle my 1 inch-long tenon with ease.  This approach was not without its risks, however.  While the plane is almost 10″ long, the stretcher is only 3″ wide.   The resultant small registration area meant that the risk of mis-shaping the tenon was very real.  Being aware of this, I left the tenons slightly oversize for final fitting.

Krenov Sawhorse 24

As you can see, the tenon shoulder is quite narrow.  I honestly don’t think you could do it with a saw.  If you look carefully, you’ll see the number “3” at the shoulder line.  This indicates that this is the bottom face of the stretcher for mortise number 3.  You’ve always been told to mark your pieces – this is especially true for hand joinery, where each joint can (and usually does) have its own unique character.  In this case, tenon 1 would probably not be a good match for mortise 3.

Krenov Sawhorse 25

For final fitting, I again turned to my router plane.  This technique, which I recommend highly, allows me to correct for any tilt that might have crept in from using a long plane on a short surface.  It also lets me fit each tenon precisely to its matching hand-cut mortise.  Remember what I said about marking your joints?

For the photographically-minded among you, the unique lighting in the above picture comes from a kerosene lantern.  You can see the edge of its base in the lower-left corner of the frame.  I often use a lantern for spot-lighting on gloomy days.  It also provides a wonderful soft raking light for checking a surface for flaws.

Krenov Sawhorse 26

Once the tenons were fit to the mortises, I sawed the end-shoulders on the tenons and sawed the grooves for the wedges.  I’m of the school that bores relief holes at the end of the wedge kerf to minimize splitting.  I realize that this debate is right up there with pins-first, tails first dovetails, but in this camp I come down firmly on the side of the relief holes.  It’s true that the ends of the mortise support the wedged wood, but the very fact that you’ve put a wedge in the wood means that you’ve stressed the fibers beyond the the end of the kerf, giving the potential for the split to run.  Besides, as far as I know, there’s no downside to boring the holes.  If any readers want to weigh in on this, I’d love to hear your views.

Next time, we’ll put the whole thing together.  Stay tuned!

Fabric Push Stick – Brownie Points!

One of the high points of woodworking for me occurs when my wife comes up to me and asks, “When you get time, can you make me a …”.  That happened to me this week.  When I came into the house from the shop, my wife asked me if I could make a “fabric pusher” for her to use at the sewing machine.  We guys love it when this happens.  After a few minutes conceptualizing an item I had never seen, I sprang into action.  Dashing to the shop, I quickly ripped a few 7/8″ turning squares from hickory offcuts from the Krenov sawbents.  Then, I headed to the lathe, dragging her along with me.  This was a no-brainer project for a turner, but I needed her input on shaping.  After a few minutes of collaboration, the object was finished.

Fabric Pusher

“That’s it?” you ask.  Yep.  It’s a simple teardrop-shaped piece of wood that she uses to guide fabric through the sewing machine, as shown below.  It’s especially handy for ruffles and other complicated folded fabric.  It has a simple rounded tip, but she says she may want more later with different tip shapes.  No problem!

Fabric Pusher 2

I believe these are available through some of the specialty sewing supplies, but when your husband’s a woodturner, why bother?  Besides, a hickory offcut plus a few minutes at the lathe nets a pile of brownie points for me!

After using it for a bit, my wife thinks that the shaft may be a bit thick, and she may want something with more of a teardrop taper.  That’s OK, I left a stack of 7/8″ square hickory by the lathe, just in case.

You can never have too many brownie points.

Krenov Sawhorses – Getting Started

One shop helper I’ve been planning to make for a while is a pair of Krenov-style sawhorses, also known as sawbents.  These little work supports, based on a Fine Woodworking plan, are one of the best designs I’ve seen.  Bearing a more-than-passing resemblance to a coat valet stand, they are lightweight, have a small footprint, and are versatile additions to any shop.

I said they’re “based on” a plan.  That’s because these babies are a perfect candidate for customization.  In fact, they require it for maximum utility.  Most of us already have sawhorses of the usual type – I’ve got 10 or 12.  However, their height doesn’t really match up with anything else in the shop.  Heck, the different sets don’t even match each other.  These sawhorses are a chance to change that.  Basically an “H” shape, they have two stretchers – middle and top.  The ultimate utility comes from making the top coincide with the top of your workbench, and placing the middle stretcher at the same height as the top of your sawbench (you have made a sawbench, haven’t you?).  This way, you can support long items at either of your two most common working heights.  Everything else is just a matter of joinery.

Joinery is indeed the centerpiece here.  With properly done joints, it is theoretically possible for each and every piece of wood in this project to be of different cross-sectional dimensions and still arrive at a workable sawbent.  If you’re really adventurous, you might want to give that a try just for the fun of it.

Renaissance Woodworker Sawbent

If you’re interested in more detailed information on making this type of sawhorse with hand tools, along with other great projects, Shannon Rogers, the Renaissance Woodworker, covers the construction of the one pictured above in the first semester of his Hand Tool School.  This online subscription video course in hand tool techniques is the only one of its type that I’m aware of, and is a great way to get started with hand tools, or improve your existing techniques.

I decided to use hickory for my version.  It has a high strength to weight ratio, and is relatively inexpensive here in the South.  It is also fairly hard, which complicated my other decision – to do most of the work with hand tools.  I’m fairly proficient in this discipline, but cured hickory will make anyone think hard about this approach.  Feel free to use the tablesaw if you choose.

Krenov Sawhorse 1

A trip to the lumberyard procured a pair of hickory boards.  They were flatsawn stock, and not absolutely ideal for this purpose.  However, ask for quartersawn hickory and you’ll get laughed at.  They were twelve-footers so, after a quick mental calculation, I had them pre-cut to five and seven-foot lengths so they wouldn’t hang too far out of my truck.  Yes, I could have taken my handsaw, but they’ve got this HUGE radial-arm saw, and the cuts were free.

After skip-planing the 4/4 boards to expose fresh surface, I set them aside for a few days to acclimate.  Did I use my electric planer for this operation?  Absolutely!  As I mentioned earlier, this stuff is hard, and I’m a woodworker, not a masochist.  I’ll plane to final thickness after rough-dimensioning the stock, which is where we’ll pick up next time.  Stay tuned!

Herman-Style Sawbench – Stretcher Joinery

After I finished the dovetails, and was satisfied (reasonably), I cut the ends to a final length of 19″.  Yes, I know that I said the bench would be 20 1/8″ tall.  However, like Ron Herman’s bench, mine will have feet added to the bottom.  This provides a replaceable bearing surface so that the end of the sides don’t get torn up, and provides a ledge to support the ends of boards clamped vertically.  I made it a point to do this after the dovetails were cut to my reasonable satisfaction.  By not cutting to length any sooner than necessary, I had the option to redo a dovetail that went bad.

Ron used a screwed haunched tenon for the upper stretcher, and a screwed butt joint for the lower.  Both are perfectly serviceable and quick to make.  However, I’m always concerned about screwed joints in components that will get a lot of “wiggle” and, while Ron’s stool has stood up quite well, I decided (as usual) to try something different.

Sawbench 5

I opted for a lap dovetail for the lower stretcher, and a lap half-dovetail for the upper.  I’m not sure why I opted for the half-dovetail for the upper joints.  It doesn’t have any real advantages over the full dovetail.  It just seemed like a good idea at the time.  A close inspection of the above photo will show that the shoulders still need a bit of cleaning up prior to assembly.  Not to worry – I didn’t forget.

Sawbench 6

After all the tails were cut,  I cut the matching sockets (the term pins doesn’t really apply here) in the edges of the end boards.  The basic cuts were similar to dovetail pins.  I sawed to the line, and then removed the bulk of the waste, leaving a small amount to be removed to the baseline, as shown below.  However, this was not the time to grab the chisels and start paring.

Sawbench 7

Lap Dovetail Diagram

While lap dovetails resemble conventional dovetails, they are structurally quite different.  On a regular dovetail, the matching sides of the pins and tails are the primary glue surfaces, and provide the strength.  The baselines where the parts butt together are all endgrain, and have no glue joint strength.  As a result,  we usually undercut the baselines a bit when chopping out the waste without weakening the joint.  On a lap dovetail, the matching surfaces are edge grain on the tail, and end grain on the socket.  The baseline of the socket is actually side grain, which mates with the face grain of the tail.  This is the part that provides the greatest glue strength, while the dovetail shape provides racking resistance.  As a result, the baseline can’t be chopped as in a dovetail, but must be smooth and flat to provide the best glue surface with the underside of the tail.    The question is, what’s the best way to do this?

My tool of choice for this was the router plane.  This modern take on an ancient tool allows you to trim smoothly to a precise depth.  Yes, the power router can also do this, but the router plane has one tremendous advantage:  A slip of the hand won’t ruin the entire piece.  Yes, you can make a jig for the router, but that’s an extra step, and requires electricity.  Aside from this, the setup for either tool is remarkably similar.

Sawbench 8

The first step was to clamp a block of wood level with the edge of the workpiece.  This will provide an additional bearing surface for the router plane’s base to ensure that it remains level throughout the cut.

Sawbench 9

My Veritas router plane has an excellent depth stop.  This allows me to set the maximum depth of cut to the finished depth of the socket.  Then, I can back off and slowly work down to that point.  Believe me, the last thing you want to do is try to cut too deep with a router plane!  As you can see above, a good sawing job on stock removal doesn’t leave a lot for the router plane to remove.  If you’ve got a bit more, you could of course use a chisel to get close to the baseline before switching to the router plane.  The result is a glass-smooth bottom on the dovetail socket in a very short period of time.

Sawbench 10

After a good dose of Old Brown Glue, the whole lot goes into the clamps.  Hmm, you know, it’s actually starting to look like something!  Next time, we’ll make the feet and attach them.  Stay tuned!

Herman-Style Sawbench – Panel Prep

Sawbench Crosscutting

Once the panels were out of the clamps, cleaned up, and planed flat, it was time to start building.  The first step was to cut the panels to final length.  This was the perfect job for my Disston No. 7 12ppi crosscut panel saw.  This is not a common filing, but it’s perfect for this sort of cut, where you want as smooth a finish as possible.  The next stop would be the shooting board, and the better the finish here, the less work there.  As you can see, there was a considerable amount of overhang on my existing sawbench, which was one of the reasons for wanting a new one.

Sawbench Shooting

As usual, I cut just outside the line for final length, and used my shooting board and Veritas jack plane to trim things up.  This plane, coupled with a 25 degree iron, is ideal for shooting board work.  It has plenty of mass, is easy to adjust, and leaves a beautiful finish on the end grain.

The two end pieces were a little bit wider than the top, so I ripped them to rough width, again on the sawbench.  My ripsaw kept bumping into the splayed legs of the bench, causing me aggravation and giving yet another reminder of why I was doing this.

Sawbench Planing to Width

Once I had the boards to rough width, I clamped them together and planed them simultaneously to the same width as the top.  A careful examination of the above photo will show a slight difference in width remaining as the planing progresses.  I probably should have clamped the pair lower down to give me a better planing angle, but dropping them in the top of the face vise was convenient, and the angle wasn’t too bad.  In any event, I didn’t have any trouble with it, so all’s well that ends well.

Sawbench Dovetailing

The last task for the day was to cut the dovetail joints connecting the top and sides.  This was a treat, as it was my first chance to use my new Bad Axe Wyatt Earp hybrid dovetail/small tenon saw on a real project.  I won’t bore you with the details of cutting dovetails, since this subject has been (more than) adequately covered by other writers.  Suffice it to say that the Wyatt Earp did a fantastic job on the thicker stock, providing a perfect balance of speed and control.  Dovetailing pine is a mixed blessing.  It’s easier to get a good fit between pins and tails due to the compressibility.  On the other hand, I tent to overrun my baselines when chiseling out the waste due to the same softness.  It’s not the pine’s fault, I just need more practice.

By the way, the presence of the Bad Axe coffee cup was not contrived.  I just happened to be using that cup and, as usual, set it down by my work spot.  No, really!

We’ll get to the rest of the joinery next time.  Stay tuned!

Blanket Chest Design – Mix and Match Moldings

Well, I’ve gotten side-tracked by life, and have yet to make it to the lumber yard.  Not to worry, there are still things to think about in the meantime.  One of the biggest design elements left to work out is the molding on the edge of the panel frames.  One of the most widely-accepted ways of doing this is with a matched set of door-making bits for the router table.  However, I’m not personally inclined to this approach.  It locks you into one molding style for each set of bits purchased (and they ain’t cheap!), and setup can be very tedious.  That’s fine if you have a commercial shop, but it just doesn’t suit my temperament and penchant for hybrid woodworking.  Besides, I believe a traditional mortise-and-tenon joint is much stronger overall.

Applied Molding Detail

My plan is to use applied moldings.  I mentioned in a previous post that I hope to be able to wind up with finished stock that is 7/8″ thick, rather than the standard 3/4″.  This will allow me to place a 1/4″ groove 1/4″ from the back face, and have 3/8″ thickness on the front face.  This will give me plenty of room to use custom made applied moldings, and even have a small rabbet shoulder at the top edge for effect if I desire.  The mortise-and-tenon joints will be centered in the grooves.

Panel Trim 2

Applied moldings have several advantages over rail-and-stile bit sets.  First, you can custom-craft your edge effect on the fly.  In the picture above, you can see four test pieces that I made just using bits laying around the router table.  The combinations are limited only by your imagination and budget for bits.  Router bits of this size, are far cheaper than their larger cousins.  This means more bang for the same buck.  Secondly, the applied pieces can, if used carefully, cover any gaps in your casework, and make for a smoother look.  Last, but certainly not least, a mistake in joinery won’t cost you nearly as much here.  If you mess up a molding, simply make another to fit.  You should, by the way, cut extras – it’s not hard.

Cutting Molding

The important thing to remember is that small moldings are cut from big stock.  Use your router bit to cut the desired profile in the corner of a larger piece of wood.  Then, make cuts with your tablesaw to release the molding from the stock.  I’ve found that I get better results with stock that is slightly longer than the finished pieces.  This seems to yield better results than by using long stock and cutting to length, probably due to the fact that the shorter pieces are easier to hold against the fence consistently.

The problem is, getting my wife to pick a molding!  I’ve shown her the four samples, and told her that I can get bits for other profiles if she prefers.  Well, I’ve still got to get the wood and let it acclimate, so the need for a decision is some distance off.  Until then, the samples sit in the dining room, waiting for her to pick a winner.  When will that be?  The world may never know!

Panel Trim 1