Thursday, April 30, 2009

Hand Plane Class, Part Two...

I wasn't really sure what to expect when I signed up for the Hand Plane class at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking. I knew quite a bit of it would be lecture and discussion, and I was fine with that, but I also wanted to actually use the hand planes I'd brought and get any advice or tips I could from Chris Schwarz or Tom Lie-Nielsen.

I wasn't disappointed; in fact, it was more hands-on than I thought it would be. We started off with a discussion on sharpening and then went back to our benches to sharpen our plane blades. Then we had a discussion on setting up our planes and went back to our benches to set them up. Chris pointed to two stacks of wood. He said the stack on the left was for practice but not to take any wood from the other pile as that would be used for a contest on the second day. I grabbed a piece from the first stack and started planing.

Towards the end of the first day, I'd already sharpened my blades and was tired of planing wood, so I pulled out the Record 043 Plough Plane I'd also brought along and worked on its 1/4" blade. Using our new sharpening techniques (flatten the face to 1000 grit and then use the ruler trick to take the very edge of the face to 8000 grit; honing the secondary bevel of 30 degrees on a primary bevel of 25 degrees), it didn't take me long at all to get a nice sharp edge on it. I then grabbed the board Alex and I had been practicing with and spent less than two minutes ploughing a groove.

A little later, I brought it up to Chris to see what he thought of the plane. He promptly ploughed another groove into a piece of oak and gave it a passing stamp. The only suggestion he offered was to add a wooden fence to it that would make it longer and help it glide along the edge of the board better. I have several pieces of lignum vitae set aside for just that purpose.

On the morning of the second day, we had a discussion on putting a camber on plane blades and then we once again went back to our benches to actually camber the blades of our planes. Using my Mark II, without the camber roller, I couldn't get a good one on my blade, so I had to borrow Alex's blade guide. Fortunately for both of us, Alex apparently cambered his blades the day before, so he didn't need to use the guide. Since I already have the Mark II, I'll probably contact Lee Valley within the next week or so to order the camber roller.

Before lunch on day two, Chris announced the "Flattest Board Contest of 2009" would take place after a brief discussion right after lunch. I left my bench to go to lunch, thinking I would be lucky if I could get one face flat, much less all four faces flat and square. Winning the contest never occurred to me as a possibility.

Something else that never occurred to me was to go back to the classroom early and pick through the pile of boards to find one that would be easier to plane. I think a few others might have had this idea, however, as a third of the pile of boards was relocated to various benches in the classroom by the time lunch was over.

While Chris spoke to us about using the camber when planing edges, Jeff (one of the staff members at MASW) passed out the contest wood to the people who didn't already have it. At first glance, my board didn't look too bad. I turned it over to find a fairly nasty knot and knew my chances of winning just got smaller. But I checked for cup and grabbed my #5 and started at the high spots.

After less than a minute, the high spots were pretty much gone! I checked it with a square and it was about as flat as I thought I was going to get it. I switched over to the #604 1/2 and started smoothing the first face. And that was when the magic of a cambered blade hit me! I could take off a pencil line with just a swipe of the plane! After the first face was done, I worked on the first edge. It was even easier. I checked for square and found one side just a little high. I adjusted the position of my plane to put the biggest part of the camber on the high spot. Two passes later, it was dead flat and square to the first face. I repeated those steps on the second edge and then flipped the board to the second face - the one with the knot.

It really wasn't that bad. After a few minutes, I took the board up to Chris to check. He marked one edge with a smiley face (meaning it was good), made a few minor pencil marks on the other edge and on both faces. Mostly it was just the removal of a minor ridge - really, just taking off the pencil line. He said if he was going to use the board for a project that it would have been good enough at that point, but this was a contest about perfection, so he wanted me to work on it a little more.

I took off the lines with just a few passes, squared up the second edge at one point that had a ridge and brought it back up for another check. The other edge and one of the faces got OK'd. I looked around and saw everyone else feverishly planing away, many on the first face or edge. That was when it hit me that I might actually have a good chance of winning the contest!

I quickly walked back to my bench and clamped the board back down to work on two small lines on the knotty face. I then popped the board back off the bench and ran up front. After a minute of careful scruteny, I got my fourth smiley face!

The board in the picture here might not look like much to most people, but it means a whole lot to me. So much, in fact, that I took the board home (how could I leave it?). I'd like to do something with it rather than just toss it in the trash or a burn pile. I was thinking about making a box for my Record 043 plough plane and using resawn pieces of this board for panels in the lid and bottom.

Another cool thing - if you hold the board up at the right angle, you can see a reflection in it. That is what you can do with a hand-planed surface. Try doing that with a board after 180 grit or fresh off the jointer!

Later that afternoon, Thomas Lie-Nielsen talked us through a video tour of Lie-Nielsen Toolworks. He fielded questions and discussed the creation process a plane goes through. He also talked about the quality assurance they apply to each piece. Did I mention he gave everyone a free plane? It was small and made of balsa wood and flies around the room...

Key things I took from the class:
  • The flat side of a plane blade is called the face (by Chris) and the back (by Tom).
  • All the sharpening systems work. Pick a system and stick with it for a year or two until you are proficient with it. You will notice your sharpening skills improve greatly over time.
  • Don't use a fine grit diamond stone to flatten water stones! The water stone will weaken the bond of the diamonds to the plate, destroying your stone. 220 grit diamond stones use a different bonding agent and are safe to use.
  • Camber all your plane blades. The plane you use for roughing gets an 8 degree camber; the joining plane gets a camber of about .007 to .005 of an inch; the smoothing plane gets a camber of about .002 of an inch.
  • It is a good idea to even camber your block plane blades.
  • You can plane an edge square with a cambered blade!
  • You can determine grain direction by either looking at the edge or by using the face and the endgrain (looking for peaks and whether you were on the bark side or the heart side).
  • Sharpening a scraper is similar to sharpening a plane blade in that you have to polish the faces and the edges first.
  • Keep your planes clean; wipe it down after every planing session.
  • Most importantly, and kind of as a summation of the whole class, I learned how to flatten and square a board!

New vocabulary I learned from Chris:
  • Bockity - Irish for "bad"
  • Sticktion - when two surfaces stick together (as in the thin ruler sticking to the sharpening stone)
  • Sneck - the tab on the end of a plow plane blade, used to adjust the blade by tapping it.
This was a most enjoyable class and certainly worth the price of admission. If you've never used hand planes before and are tired of the ear protection and dust left behind by your planer, jointer, and sanders, you might want to consider signing up the next time it is offered. Even if you think you know a bit about planes, this class might still be able to teach you a few things.

And if things go well, and luck shines on you, maybe you, too, can get the nod of approval from one of the great active woodworkers in the business. It's a feeling that doesn't quickly fade.

Sunday, April 26, 2009

Hand Plane Class, Part One...

On Friday afternoon, my friend, Alex, and I left the greater St. Charles area for a weekend visit to the Marc Adams school of Woodworking in Franklin, Ind. I'm afraid I'm too tired to go into very much detail at the moment, but I did want to tempt you with the following photo...

It is a picture taken of the inside cover of my new book, Hand Tool Essentials, with a special note by Chris Schwarz. The book was my prize for, I'll so humbly say, a job well done in the contest our class had on the last day. The goal was to take a small board and make it as perfectly square and flat on four sides as we possibly could (the two ends were excluded as we only had one shooting board for the entire class to use) using only hand planes.

I must offer the most sincere thanks to my #604 1/2, a wonderful user plane I picked up for a mere $45, and my trusty #5, the first hand plane I ever purchased. Oh, and thanks again to Alex for driving!

It felt sooo good to leave that class knowing I'd picked up enough tips and knowledge and skill to do such a thing all by my very lonesome! On the way home, my little brain was taking a mental inventory of all the small boards I've collected over the years that are just too small to pass through a planer but would certainly make a good panel for a box or some such thing.

And then I also thought how wonderful it was to work on a huge immobile Lie-Nielsen workbench and know I will have to put "making a solid workbench" at the top of my project list once my shop is up and running.

Oh, and I did sneak out of class with my perfectly flat and square board, so I'll be sure to post a picture or two of it in the next day or so. I thought maybe I would try to put the board to some sort of good use by using it to make a box I can use to store one of my hand planes (maybe one of my friendly little Record 043 plough planes?).

I'll also write up a more detailed description of the class, for your reading pleasure, full of the little bits of information I picked up while in attendance and some of the new vocabulary I learned from Chris. Hopefully I can also entice you and encourage you to try attending such a class as may be offered in the future!

(For anyone wondering about the #8 to the right of the note, that was a bit of a joke between me and Chris. When he announced the contest on the first day, he said, "The winner of the contest would receive..." and then glanced over at the "table of treasures" by Thomas Lie-Nielsen, full of books and shirts and a wonderful assortment of hand planes and chisels and such. I piped in with, "A number eight?" He smiled and said, "Well, probably not a number eight, but something." So, of course, when I won, he had to give me a "number eight".)

Friday, April 24, 2009

The Rusling Box, Critical Evaluation...

One thing I loved about my studio art classes in college was that we learned really good peer- and self-evaluation skills. Having a critical review of my work is something I really miss, so I'm going to try and perform them on myself after each project.

Lessons Learned:
  • Carefully consider accepting a job when it involves a short time frame and your shop is completely dismantled.
  • Use the steel roller to press the fabric to the double-stick tape when making the lining.
  • Cheap locks are cheap for a reason - with a more expensive lock, you get easier installation.
  • Cut the lock mortise before gluing up the box.
  • Finish the inside of the box before gluing it up (I usually do this, but I was so rushed this time I forgot about it. I paid for it trying to get a good finish on the inside after it was assembled).
  • Mortise the hinges with a mortising pattern bit and my new hinge jig!
  • See if I can find some #1 screws so I don't have to use the round-headed pins to attach the catch on the lock.

Opportunities for Improvement:
  • I'm still not quite happy with my miter joints. I need to figure out how I can get them a little bit tighter.
  • Allow more time for the finishing process; I would have liked to give it a day or two to fully cure before rubbing it out, but I was under severe time constraints with this box.
  • Sharpen your damn chisels and plane blades, Ethan! I was ashamed at how poorly some of them were cutting. I need to develop the habit of sharpening my tools immediately after a project is done so they are ready for the next project.
  • As you can see in the picture below, the divider is not equally spaced. It wasn't meant to be. I laid out the space based on the average size of a sgian dubh. What I didn't count on was that it is close enough to the center of the box that it might look like I was trying to center it and failed. I'll keep that in mind for next time.

Final Statement:

I'm quite pleased with how this box turned out, all things said and done. I didn't like rushing through it; since woodworking is a hobby for me, I like to take my time and enjoy the process of creation and I wasn't able to feel that in every part of the process. I like the combination of the green suede cloth and the oak. I also like the bog oak escutcheon. I will probably use both of those ideas in future boxes. And I'll make sure my divider sections aren't too close to center of the box.

While it felt good to carry a camera around with me most of the time I was building this box, I think I spent an awfully long time writing every little step down. In the future, I'll try to take a good number of pictures but do a bit less typing when I talk about the project.

By the way... I'm always open to receiving constructive criticism on my projects and techniques. Honestly, I'll even politely listen if you have non-constructive criticism, but the constructive kind is more helpful.

Thanks to everyone who read through my sometimes extensive writing as I worked my way through this project! I promise future projects won't have as much "content". And thanks much to Jim Malcolm, former lead singer for Old Blind Dogs, whose music kept me company while I was writing my entries. If you're at all interested in hearing some really good traditional Scottish Folk music, please check him out.

Thursday, April 23, 2009

The Rusling Box, Part Seven...

I had a bit of a rough day today, and it didn't have anything to do with the box. Occasionally I have migraines. Most of the time, I wake up with them. This morning was one of those times. It was bad enough that I stayed home from work to try and get rid of it - after two of my uber-expensive migraine pills, I finally got it under control.

So this afternoon, even though I still wasn't 100% after this morning, with just a disc to inlay, the finish to apply and the inside to complete, I was able to finish up the box.

The inlay is a brass disc made by Rab Gordon, proprietor of Rainnea Ltd and the maker of the dirk and sgian dubh going into this presentation box. It is a copy of the disc used for the pommel of the dirk and is Mr. Rusling's clan motto and shield/coat of arms. I received it in the mail just yesterday and immediately started fretting about how I was going to install it (cutting a perfect circle is not exactly what one would call "easy"). Fortune shined on me, though. The disc was just one millimeter under 2" in diameter. So I pulled out a 2" forstner bit, marked the center point of the diagonals on the bog oak in the lid, and drilled a shallow circle into the lid of the box. There was just the smallest amount of wiggle to it, but it won't move at all once I glue it in.

I enjoy the way wood looks when it is more natural. Although I do own stains and dyes and have something of a fondness for fuming with ammonia, I'm a much bigger fan of a few coats of a light shellac rubbed out with Renaissance wax. So I started that process with the first coat of the beige shellac I'd mixed up the other day.

While that was drying, I started on the internal divider. I usually make the divider out of the contrasting wood, but because this box is so long, I didn't have a piece of bog oak long enough, so I made it out of some slightly thinner white oak. Playing around a bit, I did a slight pillowing of the small tenon of the short piece. I rather like it; it makes me want to work on a Greene & Greene style box in the near future...

While the glue was drying on the divider and the shellac was drying on the box, I started on the inside liner. First I cut a piece of thick card stock to just a hair smaller than the inside of the box. Then I cut an over-sized piece of green (per Mr. Rusling's request) suede cloth and ironed it to smooth out the wrinkles. (Fabric Tip: Don't put the iron directly on suede cloth; it will melt. Place something over it, like a pillow case.) I sprayed one face of the card stock with 3M Adhesive Spray and pressed it onto the non-show side of the fabric, keeping a fairly even border on all sides. Then I took a ruler and a fabric cutting wheel and cut off the corners as shown.

Have you ever bought something without knowing just quite what you were going to use it for? Well, today I figured out a use for something I picked up at a garage sale last year. I'm not sure what made me grab it off the table, but as I was looking through some old Acme-thread C-clamps, I spied a small metal roller (probably from the printing industry, per the black ink residue on it). It had great heft to it because the roller is solid steel. Since I was buying four clamps, the guy threw the roller in for free. I brought it home and it found a place in the unorganized pseudo-shop.

I initially sprayed 3M Adhesive onto the back of the card stock to folded the fabric back up on it, but it was really messy and I quickly thought out a different method. I now use double-stick tape, instead. I can put it exactly where I want and it holds just fine. After I peeled off the first piece of tape backing, I was about ready to pull the fabric tight and press it down when I thought it would be useful if I had something to just roll it onto the tape. Then I remembered my steel printing roller and grabbed it. It worked like a charm!

At some point, I was able to get a second coat of shellac on the box. I've lost track of exactly when, though, per the multi-tasking and the migraine pills. After the shellac had dried for several hours, I rubbed the box and the divider out with some 320-grit stearated (non-load) sandpaper. Then I pulled out my can of Renaissance paste wax and started methodically rubbing out the finish. It's best to develop a routine for this so you don't miss any spots. I started with the inside of the base and worked my way around to the sides and then the bottom. Then I did the same thing with the lid and the divider.

Finally, I set the lining into the bottom. It slowly fell on a cushion of air, which tells me I had it cut perfectly to size. I don't ever attach the bottom with tape or glue. I figure if the owner wants to change it out for something else, they can easily pull it out and do so. It is held in place by the divider, which is a tight friction fit.

All that was left at that point was to put the hinges back on, screw in the lock, and attach the lock catch. I did find out the selvedge was mortised just a tad too deep, but I have a small bag of 5/16" diameter brass shims and one of those around each screw hole brought it up to the exact height I needed.

And then I pulled out the last items left in the bag the lock came in. Oh, boy. I'm actually supposed to hold this tack and hammer it at the same time? Thank God for a dad who is a doctor with a predilection for hemostats! I snagged a couple when I was at my parents' house last year, thinking they might come in handy. I put one of them to good use today!

Then I ran into another problem. The pins had rounded heads on them and when they were hammered in, I couldn't close the lid enough for the catch to engage the lock! So I tapped them in nice and tight with a nail set and a hammer and then filed them flush with a mill file. Issue resolved. Before I build another box with one of these locks, I'm going to go try and find some #1 screws. I didn't like the fact that one of the last things I was doing to this box involved hitting it with a hammer.

I had just a few more things left to do before I was done. I glued the brass disc into the lid (that took all of 20 seconds, and most of that was messing with getting the super glue gel out of the bottle). I then signed the bottom of the box and indicated what kinds of wood I used (Reclaimed Am. White Oak and Irish Bog Oak) in its construction.

As a final step, I went through our storge shelves until I found a box of stuff from my own wedding two years ago. I cut a small piece of Campbell tartan ribbon, trimmed the ends with a nice little "V" cut and tied it to the key. It didn't look quite as good as a bit of silk ribbon might have, but it doesn't look bad.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The Rusling Box, Part Six...

I spent several hours yesterday evening working on the box, but by the time I was done it was terribly late, so I didn't get a chance to write about it. It included a bit of frustration, anyway, so maybe it was better I didn't make a blog entry at that time.

With the hinges in, my next task was to mortise the lock. This was the first time I've mortised a lock, so I wanted it to be as simple a task as possible. To this end, I decided to pick up a new lock with an easier mortise. It cost a little more, but it also made me feel more comfortable and, at this point, that was more important for me. I'll still use the other lock, only I'll probably use it when I'm building a box without a deadline and I can take my time.

At some point, I'll figure out a good way to mortise the lock (probably taking care of this before I glue the box up would make it easier). For now, I have this Frankenstein's Monster-like setup. It had been so long since I'd set up my plunge router I was afraid I'd forgotten how! But it all came back to me quite quickly and I set the stops easily enough. In this picture, you can see one of my stops is the test piece I used to make sure my setup was good.

After I made the mortise for the hinge, I did the mortise for the selvdge, as well. Really, it was just a matter of going to a larger bit (5/16") and moving my stop blocks out a little. When I was done, I had a very well-fit full mortise lock for my box.

The next step was to cut the key hole for the lock. At first, I wanted to inlay a bog oak escutcheon into the front of the box, but after thinking about the time crunch, I decided to go with the included brass escutcheon. I measured once, twice, and three times before I drilled the first hole. Then I worked at the hole with small files to create the key shape. And after I got about this far in the process, I held the lock up to front of the box and just about spit nails! The hole I'd drilled was way too low! Not only that, but there was no way to cover the hole with the escutcheon.

So as late as it was, and as frustrated as I was, I decided to try and fix it before I went to bed. Turns out I got to try my idea of inlaying a bog oak escutcheon after all! I won't go into all of the inlay details as it was similar to the rectangle in the lid of the box. Here is the end result, before I cut the key hole. I think it looks rather smart and, seeing the end result, I'm glad I needed to do it.

(Editor's Note: Again with the pixilation issues! My camera doesn't like the grain in the white oak at certain angles, I guess.)

At this point, I decided to call it a night.

This evening, I picked up right where I'd left off. To start the key hole and drill the screw holes for the lock, I pulled out my Goodell-Pratt eggbeater drill and chucked in an appropriately-sized drill bit. This time I measured about seven times before I started my first hole. After filing and test fittings over and over, I had a bog oak escutcheon in the front of my box.

In order to easily place the lock catch in the right position, I fixed it into the lock, put the lock into the mortise, placed a piece of double-sided tape in the general position on the lid, and closed it tightly. When I opened the lid, the catch was stuck to it in the proper position. I used my Blue Spruce marking knife to mark its position and then chiseled out a shallow mortise.

I finished up the night by applying a coat of shellac to the inside of the box.

Monday, April 20, 2009

The Rusling Box, Part Five...

I had a doctor appointment right after work today, and then had to do the usual cooking and eating of supper, so I didn't get a chance to do some work on the box until later this evening. I honestly didn't get that much more done on it, unfortunately, as I finished up one thing and then ran into a problem.

I started off this evening by fitting the hinges to the mortises. In general, I find it easier to mark these by eye than to use a centering bit or some such method. The tool I use is an awl I picked up off of eBay a few years ago. The handle is Osage Orange or hedge apple. I mostly picked this wood to match the carving mallet I'd turned a few months before in that same year. It is comfortable to hold and does its job (marking screw holes) well.

After that was done, I took them over to my drill press and bored the holes. I'm always sure to err on the side of caution and I drill my pilot holes just a hair deeper to the inside of the box than I should. This pulls the hinge tight into the mortise. Aside from the fact that my drill press is a great old 1950's Rockwell I bought from the original owner, I didn't see much need in taking pictures of that part of the process. I can talk about my drill press later, if you really want to hear more about it. There is something puzzling about it, as the ID plate says the model number is 15-000 and when I called Delta/Rockwell to find out the manufacture information, they told me they had no such record of a 15-000 model number drill press. So I don't know if their records for this time period are incomplete or what, but I did find that interesting.

With the holes drilled (to pretty much the size of the screw and its threads), I inserted the screws without the hinges in to cut the threads in the holes and make sure inserting them later would be easier. A small chunk of paraffin wax helps to ease the screws into the holes. I usually like to drive the holes with a steel screw and then back it out and insert the brass one, but I couldn't seem to find my #6 steel screws this evening, so I had to skip that part.

After I ran the screws through the holes, I attached the hinges for a test fit. I was very pleased with the end result of using my new jig! That should make this part of the process go a lot faster in the future.

(Ed. Note: Looks like there is a slight pixilation issue with the image to the right; the line between lid and bottom is not at all jagged.)

Finally, I turned my attention to the lock. That is where I hit a snag. The description of the lock said it was 1/4" thick with a selvedge that was 5/16" wide.

They were right on both accounts. But what they failed to mention is that the top and bottom strike plates are NOT 5/16" wide; they are 3/8" wide!

So I didn't have a router bit that was the right size and couldn't get started on that part like I wanted to. I decided to mix up a batch of garnet shellac (which I'm periodically swirling as I write up my blogs) before I headed up for the night.

Dana is going out of town tomorrow, so I'll have much of the evening free for trying to make as much headway on the box as I can. Of course, before I go home tomorrow afternoon, I'll have to make a trip to Woodcraft to pick up another router bit.

The Rusling Box, Part Four...

After the miter keys had dried, I used a Japanese flush-cut saw to bring them to level with the sides of the box. I never realized how much I missed having a solid workbench to work off of as when I was trying to cut these keys with that saw. I can't wait to have everything back in order so I can start working on my new bench.

When the keys were all trimmed, my next step was to cut the lid free from the base of the box. I did this with the table saw and a small amount of painter's tape. First I cut the long edges, making sure the blade was raised higher than the thickness of the box. I used painter's tape on the cut line to minimize tear out. After the long edges are cut, I use shims to wedge the lid open and then tape up the sides around the shims. This prevents the edge from binding when I make the cuts to free the ends. At this point, I'll admit, the box does look something like a large turtle...

But after the tape and the shims were removed, I was left with a box that had a not-so-bad looking cut line. Of course, I still needed to use a block plane to clean up some of the saw marks, but that, followed by a little bit of sanding with the ROS 125, left a very clean cut line with just the right spacing between miter keys.

Over the years, I've tried a few other methods of cutting the lid free from the bottom, but this seems to work the best and leaves me with the least amount of clean-up work to do.

I was going to end the evening cutting the hinges and trying to mortise the lock, but, as previously mentioned, I got somewhat distracted with making a jig. Here is the culprit. It is simple in concept - a piece of MDF with a notch cut in it that exactly fits the part of the hinge I want to inlay and then two more smaller pieces of MDF acting as stops. The notch starts at 3 1/2" from the end, which is an appropriate distance for this size box. I wasn't quite as precise as I wanted to be with the opening, so I tightened it up with blue painter's tape. Then I ran packing tape across both faces of the board to make sure the router didn't get caught on anything as I was routing out the hinges. Next, I glued and screwed a small piece of MDF to the end of the face for the side of the box to reference. Finally, I glued and screwed another small piece to the edges of both boards for the front/back of the box to reference.

Now I had a jig to cut all four hinge mortises and was able to do so in just a matter of 20 minutes or so (including cleaning up the cuts with a sharp chisel). Because the jig is referencing the side and front of the box, and not a measurement from the center, I can use this on other boxes with similar dimensions. If I wanted to place the hinge closer to the edge of the box, I could always place spacers between the box and the side of the jig, but I'll probably end up making a jig for smaller boxes. I marked the brand and model number of hinge this jig uses so I'll know which jig to use with which hinge if I do get around to making more.

I ran out of time at this point and didn't have time to work on the lock. But, as luck would have it, I didn't have the right tools for that job yet, anyway...

Slight delay in Rusling box update...

Sorry, I promised I would have a "Part Four..." of the Rusling box posted last night and I just didn't get around to it.

I cut the lid from the box and instead of marking and chopping the mortises for the hinges by hand, like I usually do, I decided to try a method suggested by someone at Woodcraft when I bought my last batch of Brusso hinges. He said to pick up a flush-bearing mortising bit (it's a 1/4" shank Whiteside bit with a 1/2" cutting diameter and a 1/2" bearing), make a template out of hardboard or MDF that fits the hinges exactly, and then set the bit to the proper depth and clamp it to the board.

He talked about basically making a jig for a one-time use. After a little bit of thought, I was more inclined to spend the time making a jig I could use on future boxes, as well. It did take longer, but I'm happy with the end result. I'll be even more happy when I next make a box and can mortise my hinges to an exact fit in 15 minutes instead of an hour and a half!

So I did get the lid cut off, cleaned up those edges with a block plane and some sandpaper, started breaking edges on the lid (as long as I had the sandpaper out) and mortised the hinges, but I did not get to work on the lock at all. Hopefully tonight I will get a chance to write my blog about last night and then work on the lock. Without the time (and proper weather) to fume with amonia, I need to decide upon a different finish. I'll make up some sample pieces tonight to see what I like. Oh, and I need to mix up a fresh batch of shellac as I checked my bottle last night and I don't have but a 1/4" of shellac left in my current batch.

Again, sorry for the delay. I will have a real update with photos tonight.

Saturday, April 18, 2009

The Rusling Box, Part Three...

Previously, on Lost...

Sorry, wrong beginning.

When we last left the latest dirk box, I'd just finished the glue-up and checked for square. I let it sit overnight and half of today before doing anything else with it.

In the mean time, Dana and I went on our birdwatching hike at Babler State Park this morning. We almost canceled per the rain, but I suggested we tough it out and see if the rain lets up. Sure enough, about 20 minutes into the hike the rain let up and we could put our umbrellas away and concentrate on birds. Won't go into minute detail here, but we did see some cool things, including a barred owl (who-who-who-cooks-for-you-all is the call they make; I hear one almost every afternoon and night here in St. Peters).

Fast-forward to this afternoon, when we finally got back home from birdwatching and running errands...

After the glue-up, the next step is to cut the slots for the miter keys. They are best cut with a rip blade on the table saw, which has a flat tooth and thus leaves a flat bottom. That makes for little or no gap after the key has been glued it and trimmed flush.

I usually leave my blue painter's tape on the corners when I'm cutting the miter key slots. It reduces tear-out and it also provides a place for me to figure out where I want to put my miter keys via test marks. I decided on trying to evenly space them out, with the top key being a half inch from the top edge, the middle key being one inch down (after calculating waste for cutting the top off the box), and then the bottom key being one more inch down and ending up just a half inch from the bottom of the box. I'm very OCD like that with some things...

Here is my jig for cutting the slots for the miter keys. It is just a piece of 1/8" hardboard, a piece of 2x4 I cut at 45 degrees and then laid out flat, and a piece of oak to ride along the tablesaw fence. I'm probably going to rethink this jig in the near future and create one that rides in the miter slots on my table saw. That way, it will always cut in the same spot and I can adjust the position of the slots with stop blocks to cut the grooves in the different locations. For now, this jig works just fine, but I did notice today that I'm starting to really tear into the right side of it.

When I was resawing my lid inlay piece at Vic's, I also took the time (seriously, like a whole three more minutes) to resaw some more bog oak into 1/8" thick strips for my miter keys. They are actually more like 3/16" thick, but I'll have to sand them a bit to remove the bandsaw marks. After throwing a 60 grit disc on my Festool ROS 125, it didn't take but a few seconds on each side to get them flat and at just about the proper thickness.

To make sure each key sits tight against the back of the slot, I have to joint the edges of the bog oak strips. I found out several boxes ago that the easiest way to do this is to turn my #5 upside down on the bench and run the strip of wood over the sole of the plane, sort of like a mini-jointer. Here you can see the small shavings starting to gather under the plane. It doesn't take very long with a sharp edge and a steady hand.

Bog oak is not cheap, so I'm quite frugal with it. I joint both long edges of the strips because of the method I use for cutting my keys. I fit a part of the strip into a slot, mark a triangle a little larger than what I'll need, cut the triangle out, then flip the strip over for the next slot.

I've found that even though I cut all of the miter key slots at the same time and with the same blade at the same setting that they aren't always exactly the same thickness. So I individually fit, cut, and mark a key for each slot. If I end up with some wood that is too thin, I set it aside for a future box. If the strip is just a hair too thick, I'll pound it a bit with my warrington hammer (on the right in this photo) to get the right fit. Marks on the bog oak are made with the white artist's pencil.

After all of the keys are cut, I'll grab a plastic lid from the recycle bin, put a bit of glue on it, tape up an acid brush, and start applying glue to both faces and the back edge of each miter key and press it into place. This generally goes quite smoothly, although I occasionally end up with a miter key that is a little too thick after it starts swelling from the glue. If it sticks while I'm trying to put it in, a few taps of the warrington is usually enough to coax it into place. When I'm done, the lid goes back into the recycle bin (that, my friends, is called "reuse"and "recycle").

I'll let these miter keys set up over-night and trim them flush tomorrow after church. Then I'll sand the outside of the box, cut the lid free from the top, and start working on hinges and the lock. I originally wanted to try a brass push-button lock from Lee Valley, but after looking at the required wood thickness, I now know I'm not going to be able to make that work. I need to use at least 3/4" thick wood for that mechanism and my box sides are only 1/2".

Fortunately, I usually plan for things like this and ordered a mortised lock set from Lee Valley last week. It shouldn't be too difficult to install. It comes with a brass escuschion, but I'm thinking about making my own out of bog oak. If I have the time, that's what I'd like to do, anyway...

Look for more tomorrow night!

Friday, April 17, 2009

The Rusling Box, Part Two...

I had a little less time that I would have liked to work on the box this evening. Unfortunately, several weekends of rain meant I had yet to cut the lawn this year and it was starting to look bad. So after three nice sunny days, and rain scheduled for tomorrow, I had to spend several hours mowing the lawn after work. Fortunately for me, I was smart enough to "winterize" my mower last fall, so I didn't have to do anything but put new gas in the tank and start it up (on the first pull, thank you Mr. Toro!)

After that was done, and supper was made and eaten, I was able to get back into the... oh, let's just call it the shop... and work on the box again.

By this time, the glue had dried and I was ready to level the inlay. I pulled out my 60 1/2 block plane and went to work on it. I do enjoy planing... I did have a little bit of tearout in one or two places, but I got rid of most of it and there will be additional inlay put into the bog oak, so I'm not too worried about it.

After planing the inlay to almost level, I finished off with the ROS 125. I also sanded the insides of each piece and both sides of the bottom and top before assembly. I didn't take any pictures of that; I figured you would know what sanding looks like... but the end result is a nicely fit, flush piece of bog oak inlay.

Again, I'm quite pleased with how this is turning out.

The glue-up used to be a hectic time for me. Now, I take my time with it, lay out the sides end-for-end and tape them all up with painter's tape before I start, so it really is pretty simple anymore. It seems less stressful every time, anyway, so maybe some of that can be chalked up to experience, too.

After the glue dries, I'll be reinforcing the mitered joints with bog oak keys, so I'm not too worried about applying more clamping pressure at this point. I've found I just start pushing things out of square, anyway.

By the way... sometimes it is good to be square.

I'm at another glue-drying-point, so time to call it a night. My wife is a twitcher (bird watcher), so tomorrow morning we're going out to a state park to see what we can see. It is a good time of year for bird watching; different species are starting to migrate through right now and there are still very few leaves on the trees (easier to see the birds) and bugs in the air (I hate mosquitoes).

I'll be back at it tomorrow afternoon, though, and I'll have the camera handy...

The Rusling Box, Part One...

So I was able to get started on the latest presentation box this past week. This box is a new size for me, designed to hold both a dirk and a sgian dubh. The buyer decided upon a reclaimed white oak box with bog oak accents and inlay. Working with reclaimed lumber created a little more of a challenge to try and find a board in my stock that was long enough and wide enough for the lid. I have plenty of boards that fit the bill, but for this one, I wanted very little "character" to detract from the focal point (to be discussed later).

After some minor delays and one or two setbacks, I started to see progress. That is always motivating! And yes, I did remember to bring my camera (er... Dana's camera?) into the garage/basement/wherever I happened to call "shop" at the time.

I started off by cutting the sides to length and mitering the corners. It's a pretty simple process... in theory. Really, it's a pain in the butt to make sure you have your angles right. I still don't always get them exactly right, which means I need to work on my jig-making skills. But I do put the fullest of efforts into doing them the best I can, and that's really all I can ask of myself.

In this first picture, you can see some of the character you get working with recycled wood. There is a nail hole in one of the side pieces and some old worm trails in a few of the pieces. I'll do nothing to hide any of these details in the finished box.

After the miters are cut, I ran grooves for lid and bottom. I really wanted to try out my new/old Record 043 plough plane (that I've yet to write a blog entry on), but with the shop in a state of, well, non-existance, and the plane still in as-purchased condition (i.e. not sharpened), I felt it most wise to just cut the joinery on the tablesaw and call it done.

Once the grooves were cut, I measured and cut the lid and bottom (room for seasonal movement with the lid, very little extra room for the plywood bottom).

Before I glued it all up, I wanted to do as much of the inlay in the lid as I could (I have the bog oak, but one part is still en route from Scotland). That way, if I mess it up too badly I can just start the lid over instead of starting the whole box over.

After cutting the bog oak to proper dimensions (thanks to my friend, Vic, for letting me use his bandsaw to resaw the bog oak to its 1/8" thickness), I took measurements to properly place it in the center of the board and lightly scored the edges with a marking knife. I then carefully deepened the lines after removing the piece of inlay. This is one of the tricky parts because white oak is so grainy that the knive can take a path of its own if you're not careful.

Once I have it marked up enough, I darken an 1/8" section of the wood just inside the border. That is a guide so I know where to stop routing. I don't ever try to route all the way to the edge; that's what chisels are for! After routing out most of the area, I finish up with chisels (sorry, I got a little anxious at this point and forgot to shoot a picture).

I don't know if you can tell in this picture, but the white oak I'm working with looks and acts a little different from white oak you might buy from a lumber yard today. The biggest difference is that the grain is less-pronounced. Anyway, that was just an aside...

After champhering the back of the inlay for an easier fit (I found a microplane works well for this job), I test fit the inlay. Satisfied with the fit, I spread glue in the recess and clamped the inlay in place.

For an inlay in white oak, I'm pleased with this result.

It was late by that point, and I had glue to dry, so I decided to call it a night.

More in a bit!

Monday, April 13, 2009

Woodworking as a math equation...

No shop + Short Deadline = Intense Pressure

As luck would have it, just about the same time I totally dismantled my temporary shop setup in order to start working on building the more permanent one, I received an email from someone who wanted me to make a box for them. I didn't have a whole lot of information other than what the box needed to hold (a dirk and a sgian dubh) and the deadline wouldn't be far off.

Aside from the fact that I could certainly use the extra money for shop construction, I was drawn to the idea of making my first dirk and sgian dubh combination presentation box. So with less than one month to completion date, I accepted the job.

Fortunately for me, I do some of my best work under intense pressure.

After a few days of e-mails back and forth, the buyer and I finally agreed upon some specifics (reclaimed white oak box with Irish bog oak accents, bog oak and brass inlay, and a closure method I've yet to determine - either a full-mortise lock or a push-button lock). I worked out most of the design ideas, milled my lumber to approximate dimensions, and am now ready to start turning wood into something functional.

I have a dentist appointment tomorrow morning and an eye doctor appointment tomorrow afternoon, so I'm just going to take the whole day off from work. That will give me a few undisturbed hours in the middle of the day where I can knock out the first five or six steps to making the box in one go. I've found that once I get the initial construction started, the rest seems to fall in place.

As much as I'd rather use as few power tools and as many hand tools as possible, with the mess I have in the basement, I'm afraid most of my hand tools are not conveniently accessible so many of my cuts will be on the table saw. I will be doing some block planing on a 2:1 champher I'm putting on the lid and there's always a fair amount of tablesaw cleanup I can still do with my bullnose plane and scrapers and chisels and whatever else it needs.

I have received several requests for step-by-steps on one of my boxes, so my goal with this one is to document it as best I can. I have the camera batteries charged and ready to go, so we'll see how well I do at photo documentation...

Oh, and I'm also excited about making this box because I've solved an issue I had with fuming my boxes with anhydrous ammonia (it had to do with the lining and whether or not I could fume a box with the lining in place), so I'm going to fume this one as part of the finishing process. It's a technique I take severe precautions with, but I enjoy the end results.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Disston in Training...

Last night my Disston backsaw came home after a long hard week in Bad Axe Boot Camp. At first, I was skeptical this method of therapy would work, but I quickly realized he was a changed saw! Sharp as a tack (more like 104 of them), amped up and ready to get back to work in the shop, he practically jumped out of the box.

Before his "vacation", it was hard to get him up and working. His teeth were so dull he couldn't bite into a Twinkie! And when I finally did get his lazy butt into a kerf, he zigged and zagged all over the place like an AK on full auto.

Now, after his TechnoPrimitive Tune-Up, when I say, "saw," he says, "how fast?" He jumps into that kerf like it's a fox hole and rips perfectly straight lines through wood fiber and lignin as if it were punked!

Thanks, Mark, for getting my back saw back into tip top shape and making it all it can be!