Lidded boxes with maple bodies and sapele tops.
I looked at my queue of posts to write today and realized that I’ve been slacking since March. That is about the long and short of the year so far. With the pandemic shutting things down in March, followed by what has to be one of the hottest summers I can recall, I haven’t had a chance to do much woodworking this year.
But Mousie, thou art no thy-lane,To a Mouse – Robert Burns
In proving foresight may be vain:
The best laid schemes o’ Mice an’ Men
Gang aft agley,
An’ lea’e us nought but grief an’ pain,
For promis’d joy!
To say that this is a disappointment is an understatement. I had arranged to teach a class on kalimba making this summer. Unfortunately, that was cancelled due to the pandemic. The plan for the year was also to do at least one show. It appears most craft shows have been cancelled or are severely cut down. Add to that some of the other goings on since March and there is just no way I’ll have enough stock to do a show this year. That, of course, is no excuse for not getting what items I do have in stock photographed and up on the website for sale.
While I was able to travel to The Woodwright’s School in June for classes with Roy Underhill and Cara O’Connell, the whole experience was a bit surreal. Roy and Cara did a great job given the circumstances. Ed Lebetkin’s tool store, located above the school, was open to those of us in classes. This place is like a candy store for woodworking tools. I ended up leaving with a new rip panel saw, a 6 inch Starrett combination square, and a small incannel gouge. On the way down to Pittsboro, I stopped in Thurmond, WV, a ghost town in the bottom of the New River Gorge. The thing is, most of the places I drove through felt a bit like Thurmond – eery and abandoned. I stayed at the Celebrity Dairy, bed & breakfast and working goat farm, located between Siler City and Pittsboro. Fleming and Brit were wonderful hosts.
As if the heat this summer weren’t enough to keep me out of the workshop, we also embarked on Operation Kitten Fixin’ in May/June. The feral colony in our back yard produced four kittens this year. The process of trapping them, getting them fixed, and in the case of three of the kittens, socializing them, took a lot of time (and I wasn’t even the person who was doing most of the work!). I’m happy to report that three of the four kittens are now in their forever homes. One of them was captured a bit too late for socialization. The adult cats (minus one who has an appointment coming up) in the colony have also been trapped and fixed. With luck, no more kittens for at least a few years.
I have been able to build a few small projects on the lathe, including some coasters, a ring box, and a small vase. I haven’t taken photos of the coasters as I never applied finish to them. They are doing duty right now, but they really should have received a coat some sort of finish. I have some ideas for doing sets of these, including adding colored resin, but that’ll wait for another day.
The ring box was made during a period of shop cleaning and organizing. I’d started on the box at some point at least a year ago and never completed it. I’m still in the process of figuring out the best way to handle the interior foam/ring holding.
The vase was a bit of an experiment. I had a free day where the temperature in the shop wasn’t atrocious. I also had a scrap offcut of some ash that I had glued up (I can’t recall the original piece). It was a nice enough first go at the form. I painted the base with an oil paint mixed with boiled linseed oil. Danish oil was used for the top finish. The phrase “watching paint dry” clearly refers to oil, not modern latex, paint. Either way, it turned out well and is currently living on our front porch.
After my return from Pittsboro, and having taken a class on Slyod and green woodworking, I was inspired to build a shaving horse. This based on plans I found from Peter Follansbee, though I used only three legs instead of four.
In addition, I designed and build a seiza bench. The bench is about 7 inches off the ground and angled forward slightly. The bench is made from beech with sapele wedges, finished with black wax and danish oil. The seat is an oblong octagon, with an underbevel to reduce its visual weight. The legs are set into shallow mortises that house the full width of the leg. Each leg is further secured with double-wedged double tenons. The shaping of the seat, as well as adjustments to the angle of the legs was a fun exercise. I have some beech left over and may make a small table to match.
So that’s about the long and short of Wave I of the 2020 pandemic. With luck, the fall and winter will be much more productive and much less devastating for the world.
I recently took on a project involving the building of a dining table insert. The fabrication part of this table was fairly straight forward. The client provided me with their current table insert for reference during the build. The original insert is about 18 inches wide and 42 inches long. The ends had 40 degree bevels and cross-grain braces were screwed to the underside to prevent cupping.
After letting some 6/4 cherry acclimate to the shop, I started the process of milling it down to the 13/16 final thickness. I performed this milling over the course of about a week, re-flattening a face each day and taking a bit more material in an effort to allow the wood to full stabilize.
From there, it was just a matter of gluing up the strips of wood, taking extra care to ensure a good alignment of boards. (Patience is a virtue at this step. I went to fast on the first try and ended up with a center glue line that needed to be sawn apart and redone). Once the glue was hardened, I took the top back to the workbench and scraped off excess glue lines. The top was then trimmed to final width.
Trimming to final length was a bit more involved. If you haven’t seen or used a dining table that can extend, it’s worth understanding how the pieces all fit together. The most common mechanism for these tables is a gear-based slide. The slides are attached to the table base, and the two halves of the top are attached to the slides. When pulling the table from both ends, the top will pull apart allowing space for inserts to be added. How is everything aligned? With holes and pegs.
To make sure that everything would match up, I wanted to drill the locating holes in the edges before trimming the top to final length. I don’t usually write about woodworking products, but this one deserves mention. Milescraft makes a product called the JointMate.
The JointMate is a doweling jig that has a number of unique features. Like most doweling jigs, it has metal guide bushings to ensure a 90 degree hole. However, it can self-center on a board edge using four pins and rotating the jig, rather than having to use a screw-based system like other self-centering jigs. I didn’t need a self-centering mechanism for these holes. Instead, I needed to be able to use pre-existing holes to set the location on this new piece. To do that, the JointMate has both an adjustable fence and a pin alignment guide. You know you’re drilling in the right place because you’ve set the fence based on the original hole. You know you’re in line with the old holes because you slide the jig up to the old holes with the old and new piece clamped together. It’s an 11 dollar tool and is just brilliant to use.
With the peg holes drilled, I was able to put the tops together and mark the exact cuts for the length. Following trimmer, I then started the process of sanding the top to 320 grit. Slow passes up and down the boards ensured a nearly glass-like surface. The cross-braces were also sanded at this time. I also took the time to fabricate a piece of moulding that adorns the edges of the cross-braces.
The hardest part of making a piece to match someone’s existing furniture is the nature of wood and color. Unless you were the person who made the original piece, and saved documentation of your finishing and coloring regimen, it’s a trial and error process. Even if you can perfectly match a color today, the wood (particularly cherry) will darken over time, altering the color further.
I decided to attempt to match the current color as closely as possible. Rather than using a stain, which sits on top of the wood and hides the grain, I prefer to use water-based wood dye made by TransFast. I started by using a cherry dye that I had mixed awhile ago to give me some reference on the color. The existing top was much, much darker in color, necessitating mixing 5 additional samples of various coloring and darkness using the Dark Red Mahogany and Java dye powders. When colors appeared close, it was then necessary to start applying a topcoat to the sample boards to see how they would be affected by the wiping varnish. In the end, the color ended up being a near-dead match.
When I first saw the Roorkee Chair in an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop, I knew it was a project that would go on the build list. I later bought Chris Schwarz’ book Campaign Furniture and read through it several times. I really can’t recommend the book enough. It explores a forgotten style whose influence can be found throughout contemporary furniture. I have plans to build several pieces in the style, including a campaign chest/secretary.
I decided to make the chair the first project to build out of the book. I enjoy working at the lathe. The piece requires minimal lumber. The joinery of the chair, conical mortise and tenon, would be easy to execute. The piece is also very practical. It would also give me a chance to work with leather for the first time. The only hold up was that my lathe could turn only 18 inches between centers.
In January of this year, I purchased a bed extension for the lathe. The bed extension added about 20 inches of distance between centers, easily enough for this chair.
I thought about a number of different wood species for the chair. I ended up settling on using ash. The species is strong and easy to work. Finding good lumber sources is always an adventure. As this work required working with 8/4 (2 inch thick) material, I wanted to be careful on the source of the wood. I haven’t had the best luck in the past with material that thick. Watching a piece of soft maple turn into a pretzel when cut in the past has turned me off of one lumber yard. For this project, I reached out to a local sawyer, Jones Saw Mill. The selection at the saw mill was fantastic. After working with the material, including having it sit and remain stable for several months after initially milling it, proved that this will be a good source in the future.
I brought the material home and proceeded to the band saw to rip it to rough size. The importance of this step can’t be overstated. First, this allowed me to help speed process of acclimating the wood to my workshop by exposing more surfaces to air. Second, the parts in this chair, specifically the four stretchers, need to be made out of dead-straight grain. If these aren’t made from straight grain, there is a larger chance that they will break under the weight of a person sitting in the chair.
After the parts were cut down to rough length, width, and thickness, they were placed on stickers (strips of wood) and stacked to allow them to further dry and acclimate to the shop.
Turning the Parts
The first step was to turn down the legs. I started by making a story stick for the legs and stretchers. This allowed me to mark out the locations of elements (feet, handles) and transitions. It should allow for identical parts. However, you can see that I had some variation in the location of transitions. I can’t speak to whether this sort of variation was present on period campaign pieces.
However, a recent article in Popular Woodworking from George Walker looks at the same sort of variation in turnings. You can see that the same elements were present in each foot. However, the execution of those elements differed significantly from part to part. These aren’t made by a duplicating lathe. Rather, they are made by a person holding a tool.
After completing the legs, the stretchers are then turned down, with rough turning of the conical tenons. Those tenons are further refined by hand with a tapered tenon cutter.
Cutting (Drilling?) the Joinery
The joinery for this chair is all loose. After roughing down the shape of the tenons on the ends of the stretchers, they are finished off with a tapered tenon cutter (think large pencil sharpener). The mortises are first drilled out. They are them reamed out to get a shape that matches the tapered tenons. It was in the reaming step that I ended up hitting a bit of a block.
I have been using a cheap bench-top drill press from Lowes for several years. The drill press has been nothing but trouble. The table on the drill press refused to be square to the bit. While the table could be adjusted side to side to account for tilting, the machine could not be adjusted front to back, where the problem was. This meant adding a sub-table to the drill press along with shims to get it level. This was a constant battle resulting in more wasted time checking for square than I care to admit. In the end, it wasn’t the issues with the table that led me to upgrade my tooling, but rather the lack of power from the drill press. It was simply unable to ream out the mortises, constantly stalling in the wood.
As a result, the chair sat in the lumber rack for a few months while I debated a solution (researched other drill presses). I settled on the 13 inch bench-top drill press from Shop Fox. It had more than enough power and is substantially beefier than the old tool. Once the new drill press arrived and was assembled, it made short work of all of the mortises.
A Brief Detour
The chair sat in it’s partly-finished state from July until late October. During that time, a number of other projects took precedence over it, including instruments, our dining room table, and the plant stand. Additionally, I didn’t want to dive right into the leather work for this chair without a warm-up project. Looking to the book, Campaign Furniture, I decided to make a camp stool for an introduction to working with leather.
The stool is straight forward. It’s three straight-grained turned legs. The legs are joined together using a tri-bolt that allows the legs to pivot around a central point. A leather seat is then added to the top. The stool is light, portable, and durable. It also gave me the chance to cut, join, dye, and finish leather on a much smaller scale than the chair would require.
Finishing The Chair
The final work on the chair included finish-planing the legs, making the tapered pieces for the back, applying garnet shellac and wax, and attaching the hardware. I also decided to dye my own leather.
After starting the chair in June, I made a final push to complete the chair in November, just in time for the annual Western PA Woodworkers November Meeting and Show-and-Tell. The chair turned out well. While it was in parts from June to November, the actual time spent building the chair was less than a full day. The turnings are simple, the joinery is straight forward, and the leather work is fairly easy. I look forward to making more of these in the future.
After nearly six months of work, most of which was spent with roughed out lumber stacked in the basement while it finished drying, the trestle table was completed in time to host Thanksgiving dinner. You can read earlier entries in the build process here and here. Additionally, I suggest taking a look at this article from Woodworking Magazine. This table follows the design from that article fairly closely, with only a few changes to top and the feet.
Painting the Base
After assembling, gluing up, and truing up the base of the table, I applied three coats of Soldier Blue milk paint from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company. I find that milk paint adds color as well as texture and depth to a piece. Here, the paint was applied over the yellow pine base. While I don’t object to the stripey-ness of yellow pine finished with only a clear coat, there were several knots that were present in the table feet and stretcher. The paint did a good job covering those up.
Rather than applying paste wax as I had originally planed, I applied a few coats of danish oil over the base. This significantly deepened the blue color of the paint. It fits well with the colors in the dining room. In comparing the blue color from the photo above with the blue of the photo in the post, you can see just how much darker the blue becomes with the danish oil.
Finishing the Top
While the paint was drying on the base, I applied Tried and True Varnish Oil to the top. This was my first time working with a Tried and True product. The varnish oil has the consistency of honey. I applied it by wiping on a light coat and allowing it to penetrate the wood for about an hour. After an hour, the excess oil is wiped off and the table is buffed with a clean lint free cloth. The oil is then allowed to cure for twenty-four hours before applying each subsequent coat. A total of three coats were added here. In the future, I’ll plan on allowing more time for the final coat to cure.
Buttoning it Up
The top and base were then flipped over and placed on a workbench. After getting equal reveals around the base, the buttons were placed into the previously cut slots in the base and used to drill pilot holes into the table top. The buttons were then screwed in. These will allow the table top to expand and contract throughout the year while remaining firmly attached to the base. A total of six buttons, one on each side of each brace, were used.
The buttons were unscrewed to allow me to bring the top and base upstairs where they were then reattached. The table ended up over six and a half feet long and about 30 inches wide. Eight people can easily sit around the table with serving dishes in the middle.
All in all, this was a good build. I found working with the width and length of the table top to be a larger challenge than any of the joinery or shaping on the base. Jointing nearly seven foot boards with only a short-bed jointer required building jointing sleds for the planer. Even then, without a seven or eight foot workbench, sag in the sleds when leveling the boards with shims proved to be a constant battle. While biscuits were a great help for alignment, I expect that I’ll likely slow down and do one glue joint at a time in the the future to help the accuracy of the glue up. Similarly, for any future large table top, I expect I’ll take a different approach to finally flattening and try to rent time on a large drum sander rather than attacking it with a No. 7 plane and belt sander.
Even with all of the challenges in this build, I think the table came out well and we look forward to using it for decades to come. Now I just need build chairs to match to the table.