Friday, February 1


It took about an hour this morning to handle the e-mail, post some feedback and handle the daily bookkeeping, then it was out to the tool room to start on this day’s woodworking tasks.

I started off by gluing and clamping the left side panel halves. I prepped them yesterday so they were ready to go as soon as the clamps were freed up. I also jointed the right side half panels I glued up yesterday evening. Once the glue tacked up well on today’s half panels I removed the clamps and used them to glue up the right side full panel. I let that set up for a bit and pulled the clamps and glued up the left side full panel. That one is still sitting in the clamps. I’ll leave it there for now. This was all done during short breaks from the rail and stile work I did most of the day.

This piece of furniture uses what is called Frame & Panel construction, meaning that most of the casework uses thin panels of wood framed by thicker rails and stiles instead of using solid thick plates of wood for the entire case. Frame & Panel offers several advantages; it uses less wood, is lighter in weight, doesn’t fall prey to as many expansion issues, and it has a nice, classy look to it.
This piece uses flat panels, but we could do it with raised panels too… like you would find in a kitchen cabinet door… although that would add considerable weight back into the piece. In Frame & Panel, rails are the horizontal parts of the frame (top & bottom), stiles are the vertical parts (sides). I cut the parts so the rails have tenons, or thinner tabs that fit into mortises in the stiles. Mortises are rectangular pockets cut into the edges of the stile, exactly the same size as their matching tenon. A good fit is critical. Properly made mortise and tenon joints are very strong.

The first step is to take the parts blanks I’ve cut and determine which goes where: top, bottom, right side, left side, front, back, and label them as such. I like to use tabs of masking tape for my labeling; it’s easier to see the writing and I don’t have to worry about pencil marks not wanting to sand away.

Lets pause for a note about orientation. How do you determine which is the right side and which is the left? Some people say ‘as you face the piece, the front is toward you, the back is away from you and the right side is on your right. Others say that (like a car – or an easy chair) you place yourself inside the piece, front is in front of you, back is behind you and right is on your right. When building furniture it doesn’t much matter which perspective you use as long as you always use the same method. Forget which you’re using and you’ll end up with some parts being mirror images of what you wanted.

The tape labels I use indicate lots of things to me. I write on them to say which part this is, but also I place all labels on the outside face of the part and toward the panel edge of the part. I can also include a little R & L and an arrow to indicate which direction is right and left or Up to help me visualize the part's placement in the piece of furniture. As you will see, these parts get to be rather complex, cut a rabbet on the wrong edge or space the mortises upside down and you’ve got expensive fire wood – go to jail, do not pass GO and do not collect $200. Start over with more wood.

But, since I use the "as I'm facing the thing" orientation method, and the tape tabs are always on the outside faces, I do have to remember that the right and left sides of the back panel are reversed when I lay it out because I'll be labeling it while looking at the back of the panel, not the front.

Once everything is labeled I cut all the parts to finished size, making sure my saw blade is perfectly square to the table and the miter gauge is set to 90°. When roughing things out we’re cutting them over size – no big deal if you’re a degree off, but now its show time, everything must be just right.

I knock the fuzzies off the ends of the parts with some 100 grit sandpaper and set up a marking gauge to lay out the 1” tenons on the ends of the rails. The gauge has a small knife blade that scores the line onto the wood; much more accurate than a pencil and it helps a little to prevent tear out when I cut across the grain with a saw.

Next I set up the miter fence to cut along the lines I just scored so I can cut the shoulders of the tenons. I do this first to yield nice crisp shoulders with no blow-out as can happen if I just cut the tenon cheeks on the table saw and no over-cut as can happen if I cut them on the band saw. There are many options when it comes to cutting tenons; table saw, band saw, router, even cutting them by hand, of you are so inclined.

Then I set up the mortising gauge to lay out my panel grooves and mortises. This gauge has a couple of pins that can be adjusted separately to lay out the width of the cut as well as the distance from the face of the piece. If you work carefully and the pieces are properly sized, the cut will end up centered in the edge of the work piece. I go ahead and lay out all the grooves and mortises, and get out my mortising set.

But I find that the auger and chisel are a bit worn – they get used a lot – so I take a few minutes to sharpen the auger with a diamond paddle and the four-sided chisel with a special sharpening cone made just for this purpose. Then I install them on my drill press along with the special base attachment I built for mortising. I use a scrap piece I cut off from a rail to tune the set-up. It will be exactly the same thickness as the finished parts are.

Next I install my tenoning jig on the table saw and use the other end of my scrap piece to make some test cuts until I can produce a tenon that is exactly the right width to fit snugly into the test mortise I made.

So, now we are ready to make mortise and tenon joints. But we’re out of time. So I clean up the shop and leave all the tools set just as they are so we will be able to get started on this first thing on Monday.

Marie and I have a standing date on Friday, so I will not be here this evening working on another project, so I won’t need any of these tools for any other use. We will be here tomorrow, but not to do woodworking. Someone donated a desk to us that will work nicely in my office, and gives me incentive to actually get that area straightened out. I’ll need to re-arrange everything, install an overhead cabinet and rip out the last of the carpet so it will be a full day.

Hope you have a great weekend, I’ll see you Monday.


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