Shop Notes

Processing Stock for the Chess Table

I spent today getting a bicep and tricep workout in the garage.  I had seven cherry boards to flatten, each about 7 inches wide and 36 inches long.  Several of the boards had substantial twist to them and all of them had some cupping and bowing.

Making this process even harder is the lack of a good workholding solution on my bench for working faces.  I settled on a 3-point plan of holding boards.  Two screws at the lefthand side of the bench and a notched batten at the back.  This seemed to work alright, though I broke the heads off of two screws over the course of my seven boards.

Next I need to sort the boards to decide what parts come from each board and run them through my thickness planer (!) to get to appropriate final sizes.

Learning Digital Woodworking with SketchUp

I’ve been down with a cold all week which limited my shop time. There is nothing worse than breathing sawdust in when you’re sinuses are already clogged. Instead, I was inspired to learn some new design tools by Tim Celeski’s blog posts over at Popular Woodworking on what he calls digital woodworking.

I decided to sit down and spend some quality time with SketchUp. For anyone unfamiliar with this, it is a piece of software that allows 3D modeling and design.  There is a free, very featured, version available for download for Windows or Mac. Prior to this week, my experience with the software was limited to using it for 2D room layout.

Just like anything with woodworking, I think the best way to approach learning something new is to use it as part of a project. With that in mind, I looked at some photographs of Enfield seed cupboards and decided to try “building” one digitally.

To make the end product more useful than just using a pencil and paper, I set out a few rules for going through learning the software:

1. Everything must be appropriately scaled/measured.

Using this software allows you to design something with exactly the right measurements that you will want to use in your final product.  When you are done in SketchUp, you will be able to see if something looks off, needs to be changed, or looks just right.

2. I will include all of the joinery.

This meant learning to do more than just draw lines butting up against one another. With this project, joinery included dovetails, mortise and tenon joints, grooved panels, dadoed shelves, and drawbored pins. Adding these details let me learn to play with angles, fitting pieces together, and manipulating objects in the software.

3. I would have to learn to use curves.

The moulding on the underside of the top meant that I would need to learn to make curved objects in the software. Again, a perfect opportunity to learn to eyeball appropriate moulding and learn the limits of the software.

The most interesting part about this exercise was that it does more than just let you design an object and see it modeled.  If you go through and make all of your pieces to the proper size, create all of the joinery, and fit everything together, you have done a test run of actually building the object.  After this creating this project in SketchUp (which I will actually be building in the future), I better understand the building process, including the order of operations for everything involved.

One last benefit I noted with the software.  There is an extensive 3D warehouse where people have uploaded their own designs.  This means that you can do things like go out and get a set of hinges to install (yes you will need to add your hinge mortises to fit them), and put the entire product together.  Also, there is a large extension warehouse.  I added one that generates a cut list from the design.  This should help when I buy the lumber for the build.

After completing this, I decided to learn a bit more about working with curves. A good place to start was trying to lay out the design for the post in the shaker chess table that I’m building. The “Follow Me” too allows you to pull a face around a path. It can be used for mouldings (which I did not know when I create the Enfield cupboard, or for creating turned objects.  The object can then have a section plane added to print out a template and make a story stick for the turning.

Staying Sharp

It’s never fun, but sometimes you need to take a time out and sharpen all of your tools. I’d rather be making stuff.

Sharpened three plane irons, seven bench chisels, and three turning tools today.  I noticed that I had been sharpening my bench chisels with a slight skew despite using a side clamp guide.  I need to trouble shoot that as it’s a recurring issue.


Monastery Roubo

I recently watched Into Great Silence, a documentary about the lives of Carthusian monks at the Grande Chartreuse monastery in France.  Each monk lives as a hermit in their own cell within the monastery.  Each cell includes their living area as well as a small work room.

This workbench appeared for only a few seconds in the film.  Unfortunately, the quality of the video I was watching was not great and this was the best that I could do for a screen capture.  The bench top appears to be only about two inches thick.  The leg vice is missing but you can clearly see both the tap for the screw and the lower mortise for the guide.  There is a hanging drawer to the right on runners.  In addition, there appears to be a wooden planing stop hanging down from the left side. I wasn’t able to identify the machinery sitting on top of the bench, but it appears wholly unrelated to woodworking.

I’ve searched a bit online and haven’t been able to find much in the way of additional photographs inside the workroom of a cell.  A few photographs appeared to depict staged spaces in old monasteries that are open to the public as museums.  However no one appeared to be interested in the workroom as photographs showed just the living quarters.

The drawing here appears to depict not only a workbench in the workroom on the first floor, but also a treadle lathe. These lathes appear to be standard issue for the monks.

In this photograph from the Order’s website (apparently even hermit monks have a website), you can see a lathe in the background.

Skew your View

I’ve been turning the post for the chess table inefficiently.  I’ve generally done one step at a time on the post: bringing to round, turning the tenon, cutting down the area that will receive the sliding dovetails, etc.  Unfortunately, I bungled the layout and won’t be able to use it in the final table.

Since all wood is good wood (so far), I decided to use this piece as a chance to practice skew work.  Long planing cuts were the first place I practiced, cleaning up the long sweep from the widest part to the neck before the tenon. There are a few knots in the piece that give off a great Christmas tree smell every time I hit them. What is most amazing is that even those knots feel perfectly smooth after planing cuts with the skew. This is a very versatile tool.

The initial surface left by this was great, even in the fir.  Next, I wanted to be able to turn some coves and beads.  As this is an area that I’m not particularly comfortable with (skew catches are no far), I decided to see about getting some instruction on the tool.

Luckily, I have an on-call turning instructor called YouTube that is always happy to provide some one-on-one-million teaching assistance.  I found this excellent video from CraftSuppliesUSA: The Skew Chisel with Allan Batty.

After watching the video, I had a go at a few beads, v-cuts, and more planing cuts. I couldn’t quite get the feel for beading with the skew, achieving both catches and tear out. That means only one thing: time for more practice is needed.