Monday, December 14

Spreading the Legs

Before I launch into today’s activities, let me catch you up to date. Most of Friday morning was spent working with Tim to clear away the rest of that fallen tree. Some of it he took to his workshop to use as fuel for his heat stove, the small stuff we burned on-site and the biggest chunks we stacked until the ground dries out enough we can haul them up the hill and toss them into a gully Tim is trying to fill in. Friday afternoon was spent discussing the cutting board design with Dianne and talking with Brian about a coffee table and end-table set he would like to have built to match a console table they already own. More about that as it develops, but we had some discussing to do about details and preferences before I could start working on the estimate. Dianne and I continued to discuss (via e-mail) her cutting board over the weekend. This was not really an on-going discussion since I don’t normally spend time here over the weekends, but on Saturday I needed a tool at home that lives here, so I came in to get it and on Sunday I was working on the weekly radio program for our church, so when I saw her messages arrive, I responded. This was mostly an issue of symmetry and we have settled on a solution. I also brought in some maple for Dianne’s cutting board so it can acclimate to the environment inside my shop before I start cutting it up. That will take a few days. The board I chose has some nice graining in it, but is crooked and has a little twist to it making it unsuited for making long parts, but ideal for cutting up into short pieces for something like a cutting board. This morning I rough cut four blanks for the spreaders on Ann’s tray tables. Some of the blanks are still oversized in width, I’ll deal with that later. First I use the jointer to flatten one wide face and one edge. This also makes the edge square to the wide face. Then I run the blanks through the surface planer – jointed faces down – to make the opposite faces parallel to the jointed face and bring the pieces to the required finished thickness. Next I take them to the table saw and rip them, jointed edge to the fence, to finished width. The final cut is an important one – I need to cut the blanks to finished length, but these end cuts will butt up against the legs to hold the table together and make it stiff. So both end cuts must be square to the centerline of the spreader or it will tend to bow the leg it’s attached to and make it sit weird. I used our miter gauge on the table saw, set the flip stop to the correct length, then slipped the spreader blank under the flip stop to cut the first end while I held the blank firmly against the gauge to keep it from slipping. Then flipped the blank over end for end, set the cut end against the flip stop and cut the other end. Repeat this for all four spreader blanks. Now I’m ready to start shaping the blanks into spreaders. To do this I use a fixture I built – we make a lot of the tables and this gadget is a very handy way to save time and trouble. To start with it lays out the arches; the upper spreader only has an arch on the lower edge, it’s upper edge remains straight and gets marked with a pair of punches to locate where the latch block hole will go. The lower spreader has arches on both edges forming the bow-tie shape. Then I use the band saw to cut the arches, cutting just outside the lines, no need to be especially fastidious about this, we’ll clean it up soon, right now I’m just removing the bulk of the waste wood. Then I go to the drill press and set up a temporary fence to help me hold onto and position the upper spreader blanks while I bore two holes with a Forstner bit. The center spur on the bit slips into the nail-punches I made using the template/fixture, and this results in two holes with their inner edges *just* touching. Then I center the Forstner bit over the point between these holes and drill out the waste wood there – something a Forstner bit excels at and most other types of drilling bits can not do at all. A few nibbles along the length of the oval hole cleans it up nicely. Then it’s over to the router table, chuck up a piloted straight bit and set the depth so the pilot bearing rides on the fixture, the cutting flutes are the same diameter as the bearing so this bit will trim the spreader to exactly the same size and shape and the template/fixture. I flip the lower spreaders over to route the opposite edge. Then I remove the straight bit and chuck up a round-over bit to round off the corners of the long edges and the latch block hole. I use the fixture again to lay-out the location of the pilot holes in the ends of the spreaders, use the first spreader to set up a fixture on the drill press that positions and holds the spreader as I drill the two pilot holes in each end. All that remains in making these parts is to do the sanding. The wide faces can be sanded with a random orbit sander, the rounded edges are sanded by hand. Assembly is done without glue for now: we have one more critical dimension to fit, but can’t fit it until the trays are assembled, so just screws for now. I insert long wood screws through the counter bored holes in the legs and thread them into the pilot holes in the spreaders and use a powered screwdriver to run them in. I use longer screws than normal here because the screws run into end grain, and end grain does not hold screws as well as face grain. Longer screws add extra stength. With assembly completed we have two leg sets ready to be attached to tables once we get the tray part of the tables built. Time for lunch. After lunch I milled out the pieces that will become the rails around the edges of the table tray, which doesn’t look like a difficult task; just four thin pieces of wood, right? Not exactly. One of the things that sets these tables apart from something similar that was mass produced (if you can find such a thing, I have not yet seen a manufacturer that has been willing to try to make knock-offs of our design) is that we grain-match the rails so the pattern and color seem to flow around the table in an unbroken fashion. To do this we borrow a high-end box maker’s trick. How do you make a decorative box with grain that flows around all four corners in a continuous, unbroken pattern? Well, I’ll show you. I start by jointing up a board that will make the rails for both tables. It starts out about 36” long, 3” wide and at least 1” thick when rough. I joint one wide face, then rip the board in two on the table saw. Back to the jointer; run the jointed face along the fence to joint an edge on each strip and use the dead-flat bed of the jointer to be sure it has no bow to it – it’s absolutely straight. Then back to the rip saw to cut the un-jointed edge to finished width. Finally I cut these almost square strips in two; top-to-bottom, mark them for orientation – orientation is critical now – and sand all four strips smooth and to finished thickness on the wide drum sander. Now the tricky part: because each pair of rails were milled from one thickness of a board, the color and grain pattern match up quite well. I will cut each of these strips into two pieces, a long rail and a short rail. It’s easy to see that if I joint the long rail to the short rail at that center cut, the grain will flow around the corner well. But the ends of the boards also match up well because they are part of the same piece of wood. By “unwinding” one solid chunk of wood into the four pieces needed, the grain flows around the resulting rectangle very well. Much better than is possible when parts are made up by the hundred and assembled at random as fast as possible. This very time consuming attention to detail is the major reason our Tray Tables are pricey, but is also what makes them worth the money for those who value quality. This is just one example, there are several such processes in these. I finish out the afternoon by milling out the two latch blocks. This too looks very simple, but care must be taken to insure that the corners are perfectly square or the latching mechanism will be off-kilter. If it’s off even a little, adjusting it for a perfect “click” as the mechanism snaps into place is next to impossible. Time to straighten up, get the blog written and posted, upload the photos and go home to change. Marie has a Christmas-time field trip planned for this evening and I want to be ready on time. Tune in again tomorrow and we’ll make ribbon strips.

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