Monday, December 31

Rack ‘Em Up

Being Monday I spent the morning doing bookkeeping chores, being month end AND year end, I came in at 5:00 this morning to get some extra time to work on these things.

After lunch I got going again on Jim’s Wall Hung Stopper Rack. I still needed to make and sand the side pieces, fit the shelves I made earlier into them and make the apron.

Once all that was done I took the parts into the assembly room and assembled them. They are there now, hidden under a collection of clamps that will remain in place overnight.

Once they come off I’ll sand the rack again to remove and clamp marks, install the hangers and ship it off. Jim want’s to paint his rack to match their room d├ęcor so it’s going out unfinished.

Tomorrow is New Years Day and the Smoky Mountain Woodworks workshop will be closed. The web site will be open to serve you.

Thanks for stopping in, see you next year!


Thursday, December 27


I checked Cheryl’s tray tables this morning and found that the oil had cured out quite nicely; a very even color and tone. So there is no need to apply another coat and risk creating a not-so-matte sheen.

So I set about packing them up into one of our custom made boxes and processing the shipment and final payment. Our UPS man picked them up this afternoon, so they are on their way to Texas.

It is a warm sunny day this afternoon, so I decided to use the opportunity to get caught up a little out in the lumber shed. I have about 1000 board feet of oak out there that arrived over the past couple of weeks and needs to be sealed, sorted and sticker-stacked. It has been drizzly and cold lately so I’ve been putting this task off for a while. Beside, I was busy trying to get those two sets of tray tables built and out.

We decided that in the future we will close the workshop on Christmas eve day and not reopen it until after New Years day. We will use the time in between to take inventory, clean things up and attend to the chores that always pile up after the hectic Christmas season. We made a few other decisions as well, but you wouldn’t be interested in those.

Tomorrow I will be at Treasures for one last time, so I’ll see you again on Monday.

Have a great weekend!.


Wednesday, December 26


This entire day has been spent finish sanding and applying hand rubbed oil to Cheryl’s tray table set.

They’re looking good – at least for now. The oil requires 24 hours to cure before I will be able to tell if they need a second coat. This set is to have a matte finish: flat, no shine at all, so I’m hesitant to put another coat on if I can avoid it, for additional coats will start to build a surface film and create a shine, and she was explicit about wanting a dead flat finish.

Scotts tables were completed, packed and shipped out over the past few days. His had a satin lacquer finish. They turned out well too. We got some *very* interesting patterns in the ribbon panels; very pretty.

I am now done with my assigned tasks for today, so I’m going to go home.

See you tomorrow.


Friday, December 21

Haste Makes Waste

As the old adage warns, rushing through things creates problems that will either take more time to fix than doing it right the first time would have or diminish the quality of your work. It is an adage I frequently quote to others, but today I find I need someone to remind me.

Over the past few days I’ve been rushing to get these tray tables completed and out the door in time for Christmas delivery. But in my haste I’ve made a few errors – nothing damaging yet, just missed steps that when done in the proper order take only moments to complete but when done later in the process take considerably more time. Therefore I have been seeing that goal slipping farther and farther away. Today is the last day for meeting that goal, and it’s not looking good.

Today I’ve been finish sanding and shooting lacquer on Scott’s tables. I always do the finish sanding by hand for several reasons. One is that I can be better assured that I will not end up with swirls or cross grain scratches that show up only after a stain or finish have been applied. Another is that I use the intimate contact with the piece to conduct a detailed inspection, looking closely at and feeling the wood with my other hand. I often catch small things; a rough spot or ding that would have gotten overlooked otherwise. A little extra sanding now prevents time consuming patches to the finish later.

It’s quite humid today, so the lacquer is drying more slowly than normal; another wrench in the works. But at least in our new workshop we (finally!) have a finishing room that is separate and closed off from the rest of the shop. I can shoot finish in there and while it’s drying go back and sand or build and not have to worry about the wood dust ruining the wet finish. Until recently finishing day meant thoroughly vacuuming the entire shop, putting away all tools, draping drop cloths over everything and doing NO woodworking at all until the finishing was done and dry.

I’m very grateful for our finishing room, even if it’s not quite complete yet. Completing it and several other chores yet do be accomplished means taking time away from the woodworking and working on the workshop. There are several fixtures in there that need to be removed to create more space for finishing large pieces. But I have plenty of room for tray tables on our finishing spinner. So while waiting for the lacquer on Scotts tables to dry I can be finish sanding Cheryl’s tables, thus making some headway there too.

Our standard lacquer finish means shooting one full coat, letting it dry and shooting a second coat. When that one is dry I scuff sand the piece with a very fine sanding sponge. Again, while I’m sanding with one hand the other trails along behind to check for missed spots. Scuffing lacquer produces a wonderfully smooth finish but without a lot of gloss. Then I tack it off and it goes back into the booth for a third and final coat of lacquer.

This is my last workday before Smoky Mountain Woodworks closes for the Christmas holiday. I’ll be back next Wednesday (God willing) and hopefully I’ll be all rested up and ready to get back to working efficiently.

Merry Christmas!


Wednesday, December 19

Home Stretch

Today we round third and head for home plate.

I started the day by surfacing and jointing the two half panels I made last night, then gluing them up into a full panel. I came in at 6:00 am to do this so that full panel will be ready to use when I get started after breakfast.

Because there is no tension in this last joint, I was able to remove the clamps after the glue set up for a couple of hours, sand the joint smooth, trim the panel to finished size and attach the backer board. Now it has caught up with it’s cousins.

Back on track, round over the upper inside corner of the rails on the router then set up the table saw for mitering the rails. I’ll round over the outside corners after the trays are assembled so they match up exactly, but because the trays are too shallow to accommodate the pilot bearing on the router bit this edge must be done now.

Setting up the cuts for the rails is tricky and takes a bit of time, but once I get it dead on, I cut all the rails for all four tables and stack them on a parts cart so they will move easily to the assembly room.

Now it’s time attach the rails to the panels. Before I commit the parts to this I dry fit them to be sure no irregularities have crept in that would throw things out of whack. It’s much easier to fix something before glue is involved. Once I’m sure it will fit properly I very carefully apply glue to the inside, lower edge of the rail grooves with a small artists brush. The glue can not be allowed to get on the ribbon panel, for that must be free to expand and contract, only the backer panel gets glued to the rails. This is precise work and it takes some time; can’t just slop some glue in the slot and slap it together.

I hold the rails in position with a band clamp, then attach the latch block and leg mount blocks with glue and clamps. This assembly then gets set aside to set up while I repeat the process on another table.

Later I remove the clamps and install screw hole plugs (wooden ones) with glue and check the joints to be sure everything went well.

And that completes construction of 8 Walnut TV Tray tables. I have parts for 4 cherry tables and 4 oak tables made also, and will assemble them in the same manner once the walnut tables are out the door.

Tomorrow I’ll begin finish sanding. One set gets a lacquer finish, so it may be ready to ship tomorrow. The other gets a hand rubbed oil finish, so it won’t be ready to ship until Monday (UPS doesn’t pick up on Saturday).

I’ll post again once there is something worth showing, sanding isn’t much fun to watch.


Tuesday, December 18


The day started off well; a couple of new orders to process, and a couple of deliveries accomplished safely.

Then I got back to gluing up full panels. While each of these was setting up I worked on stand parts. I started by shaping the handles with a router to give them a nice well-rounded feel. Then I bored the countersunk screw holes in the stand sides and the pilot holes in the ends of the spreaders and handles.

Next I milled out the tabs for the support arms and glued them to the arms. Then I start sanding. As I get the parts sanded, I assemble the stands.

Then I start trimming and sanding the ribbon panels and sanding the backer panels. This is when I found the mistake. I need 8 ribbon panels to build two sets of walnut tray tables… I only have seven. I have no idea how that happened, I was sure I made enough of them. Marie and I searched the shop to be sure I hadn’t set one aside somewhere, found nothing. So we ripped out more strips and I glued them into two half panels. These have to sit overnight because of the tensions within them; the glue must be good and hard before I remove the clamps.

So I went ahead and assembled the 7 that I have the parts for and made up some walnut screw hole plugs. That’s about as far as I can go for tonight. I’ll get an early start on it again tomorrow.

See you then,

Making Stand Parts

It is Monday, so I again spend the morning attending to bookkeping chores. The rest of the day was spent completing the stand parts; laying out and shaping the curvy handles, the feet and the tops of the side posts. Then I assemblied the side posts to the feet using dowel pins. All the while I was working on gluing up more full panels. I forgot and left the camera at home, sorry. See you tomorrow, Doug P.S. The Internet seems to be overloaded today; I have not been able to retrieve e-mail or log onto any web since this afternoon. I will try posting this message tomorrow morning before the traffic picks up again.

Thursday, December 13

Two Down, Two to Go

I was in at 6:00 again this morning to get the two wall hung stopper racks finish sanded and the first coat of lacquer on before breakfast. Kathy’s rack is our standard two tone configuration with walnut sides and poplar or maple shelves, Karen elected to go all cherry with hers.

After breakfast I shot another coat on both racks, scuff sanded and shot the final coat. When the lacquer hardened up well I boxed them both up, ran shipping labels for them
and gave Willis, our UPS man, a call. He will pick them up this afternoon.

While all this was going on, I unclamped the last of the walnut half-panels and prepared them for surface planning. Timing is good here because the knives in my surface planer are in need of changing, so I can use the old set to strip off the glue pips because this can chip the blades, then change the blades before I get into smoothing the wood. This will yield a much better finish in these ribbon panels.

I also roughed out the stand parts for all 4 table sets. Here the stand parts are foreground left, the half-panels are right and have been smoothed in the planer. Next I will need to change the blades and run them all several more times. The tricky part here is marking them so that I can pair them back up in the proper orientation again – I keep cutting off the alignment marks as I plane the faces and trim or joint the edges.

But now I have to go home and get cleaned up and ready to go to a special program at church.

See you tomorrow,

Wednesday, December 12


Among today’s accomplishments was to get the final half-panels glued up for Scotts tables and Cheryl’s tables. Over the next few days I will continue to glue up panels for the oak tables and the cherry tables.

Today I also sliced up a couple of sheets of 1/8” Baltic Birch plywood for use as the backer panels in the Tray Tables. These panels are the backbone of these tables, so they need to be exactly the right size and perfectly square. I broke out the big crosscut sled, my best tape measure and kept the pencil sharp. All went well, only one of the dozen panels came out askew and that only by 1/32 of an inch; but I trashed it anyway. We’ll use that piece for something else.

I also built Kathy’s stopper rack and Karen’s stopper rack, and finished a pair of bag handles for Sandra. Later in the day I packaged the handles up and shipped them out.

And that consumed yet another long day. These 5:00 am to 9:00 pm days are beginning to wear on me. I’ll be glad when we get past the “gotta have it by Christmas” orders and I can go back to a normal workday once again.

See you tomorrow,

Tuesday, December 11

Ribbon Panels

Today I did pretty much the same as what I did yesterday; cut ribbon strips, arranged them into panels, taped them to hold them in position and glued up half panels.

The panels I glued up yesterday were ready to have the masking tape removed and be inspected. I glued up another 3 sets (9 half-panels) today and cut the ribbon strips for the oak and cherry tables, laid them out and taped them together into panels.

See you tomorrow,

Monday, December 10

Rails & Ribbons

Today I made the edge rails and some of the ribbon strips needed to build the tray panels.

The edge rails have a groove in the inside face to house the tray panel, so making these was a matter of lopping rough boards to rough length, cutting them into trips, resawing the strips then surface planning them to the proper thickness. Then I set up the dado head and ran the grooves. When done I have rails for 16 tray tables in three different woods.

Next I set up to make ribbon panels. Making these is very much like making the rails. Here I’m preparing to plane the rough blanks so the large faces are flat and parallel. Once this is done I cut the blanks into 5/16” thick strips and keep them in the same order I cut them off so grain matching will be easier.

These get no groove, but instead will be laid flat and edge glued together to form a solid wood panel which will be the top of the tray. I use a special jig I made to get the glue in between the strips, then take the half-panels to the next room and clamp them together.

I work with half panels because the full panel is 16” wide and my planer will handle only 12½” widths. One day I’ll have a wide belt drum sander and we can make full panels and sand them in one piece. But for now, we do it this way.

I made up as many panels as I have clamps for, then cut some more strips, then cleaned up.

See you next time,

Thursday, December 6

Change of Plans

I was planning to start on the tray panels today, but decided this morning to make the latch mechanism instead, while the router table is set up with the proper round-over bit.

To start, I select pieces of wood in the species I need, cross cut them to rough length and surface plane them to the finished thickness. Then I use the table saw to rip these billets into strips the proper thickness. By using a good blade that doesn’t leave swirls I won’t need to plane them again, just a little sanding.

While the blanks still have square corners I set up to cut the dadoes in the center of the latch block. The sacrificial fence behind the block prevents tear-out as the blade exits the back side of the wood. I nibble away the stock between the two outer cuts to complete the dado.

Then I take the blocks to the router to do the final shaping. I round over all edges except the bottom, which will glue to the underside of the table tray, and leave a turn-out where the latch block will mount to transition between the two parts. This is purely an aesthetic thing; I like the way it looks.

Next I mill out some strips for the latch tabs, shape the tricky curves on one end and glue the tabs into the dadoes. This involves a lot of very close tolerance fitting and precise hand work. That takes time. It took me all day to get the latch mechanisms for 16 tray tables made. But, that’s done now and I’m ready to head for home.

See you next time,

Wednesday, December 5

Assembling Leg Sets

I arrived at the shop at 5:00 this morning to get an early start since I have another meeting to attend this evening. Sanding the spreaders we completed yesterday was the first order of business. I used a power sander hooked up to a dust extractor to sand the flat faces, but the edges and latch holes had to be done by hand.

When that was done I began taking the parts we’ve made over the past few days into the assembly room and putting them together with glue and screws. Each of these sets forms the legs for 1 tray table, I have 16 tables to make. When they’re all done I set them aside and go back to the tool room for the next step.

That would be to make the mounting blocks that will hold the leg sets to the underside of the tables. I start by ripping a couple of strips of wood the proper width and thickness, then set up the band saw to cut these strips into the small blocks I’ll need. I’ll make extras because I like to keep these on hand. It speeds things up if I have the bocks cut and ready to shape. But when I need to make more, I make plenty; it takes only a minute or two more to make 20 instead of 8.

Next I take my blocks to the router table to shape the rough blocks. I don’t mind telling you that this step scares the willies out of me; having my hands so close to the cutter is very uncomfortable. I have tried devising a few devises to hold the blocks, but none have worked well. So I’m just extra careful. That little jug behind the fence will be used to locate the pilot holes in the mounting blocks so I don’t have to lay those out with a ruler & pencil. This is much faster and more precise; just lay the block in the jig, tap it with a mallet and viola!

After drilling the pilot holes and sanding the mounting blocks I pre-finish the inside faces and install them on the leg sets.

And THAT, my friends, completes the legs. Time to go get showered and ready to head into town. Tomorrow we will begin on the trays.

See you then,

Tuesday, December 4

Completing Spreaders

Today I completed making the spreaders for 4 TV Tray Table sets. This started off by setting up a drum sander on the drill press and refining the arches that were cut on the bandsaw yesterday. I cut just a hair outside the lines then, today I sanded the arches down to those lines to remove saw marks and fair the curve to it’s finished shape.

In doing this I had one of those “finger of God” experiences where things just sort of happen. Normally I will sand for a couple of minutes, just long enough for the drum to load up with sanding dust, then I have to lay aside the work piece and use a crepe rubber abrasive cleaning stick (affectionately known as a ‘booger bar” to some of us) to remove the dust before it clogs the abrasive and burns. This cleaning step tends to slow things down, so I try to keep the booger bar close by, but I can’t keep it on the work table because it tends to vibrate off and bounce away under something making me have to stop entirely and crawl around to search it out before I can proceed. But today I forgot about this and accidentally left it laying on the work table while I sanded. This time, instead of “walking” off the edge of the table, it walked over to the drum and lay next to it, held in place by the raised work pad and just riding against the sanding drum. I paid it no mind until it occurred to me that I had gone quite a while between cleanings. When I looked closer, the bar was rubbing just hard enough to clean the drum as I worked, but not so hard as to be getting all chewed up. A self-cleaning drum sander had just invented itself! So I made the most of it and got the work done in record time.

After the arches were all dressed up, I installed a ¼” round over bit in the router table and rounded over all of the long edges and the latch holes. This is entirely an appearance thing… except for the latch hole. I could easily leave the corners square but I think they look and feel much better this way, so I take the added trouble.

When that was all done I set up the drill press with a jig I made to hold the spreaders in just the right position to drill the 4 pilot holes in the ends. Screws coming through the legs will go into these pilot holes, so the pilot holes and the screw holes – which have already been drilled – need to match up well.

And that pretty much does it for today. I cleaned the place up and am skipping out a bit early because I need to pick up our truck from the mechanic (it broke a motor mount) then Marie, Joy, Pat and I will all go out to dinner and attend the Christmas Musical at church. This means I’ll be putting in a late night later in the week to make up the time, but it will be worth it.

See you tomorrow,

Monday, December 3

Making Spreaders

Spreaders are the bow-tie shaped pieces that fit in between the leg sets to hold them in position and keep the rigid. I start the process by chunking up some rough lumber and surface planning it to the proper thickness, then ripping it on the table saw to the proper width.

Then I set up the Incra miter fence and trim the blanks to finished length. I trim a bit off each end so I am certain that they are square on both ends – if they’re not, they’ll tend to pull the legs into odd shapes.

Next I take the completed blanks and trace the shape onto them with my templates. I also mark the locations for the pilot holes in the ends. Each table has an upper spreader and a lower spreader, each is a bit different in shape because the upper one also works with the latch block to hold the table in the open position.

It’s chilly today and my pups decide to hang out with me, even if it is noisy. They spent their time making sure that blanket on the floor of my office doesn’t go anywhere. They’re so helpful!

The next step is to cut the arches into the spreaders with the band saw. Two arches on the lower spreaders, only one on the upper.

Then I set up the drill press with a stop block and drill pad so I can bore the oblong holes in the upper spreader for the latching mechanism.

And that will do it for today. I stack the new parts together with the legs I made last week. Tomorrow we’ll complete the spreaders. But for today, I’ve had enough. I was here at 4:00 this morning to get a head start on the weekly and monthly bookkeeping so I wouldn’t spend half the day on all that. I’ll be back after supper, but will be working on other things this evening.

Have a great night!