Friday, June 25
Thursday, June 24
Today I will dismantle the tables I just finished building. I’ll do this so that I can sand everything a few more times and apply the stain. I use my random orbit sander for all but the last round of sanding. It makes quick work of most pieces, especially the large, flat, smooth panels used in these tables. But it can leave small swirls that will show up when the stain is applied. So, the final round is always done by hand. For this job I use mostly a hard rubber sanding block. When the sanding is done on one table I vacuum and tack-rag the parts to remove sanding dust. Then I set up my finishing room; get out the stain and stir it up well, get out the nitrile gloves, painter's pyramids and tear up some rags for use in the staining process. I use nitrile gloves because they don’t melt when they come in contact with some of my finishing products like latex gloves do. Staining involves rubbing on a wet coat of the stain – a brush or even a sprayer can be used if you prefer – wait 5 to 7 minutes for the stain to get a good foot-hold in the wood, then gently wipe away the excess with clean rags. Wipe with the grain and watch for any blotches that might have been missed. Don’t wipe too hard or you’ll end up with a color that is too light. Change the rags often or you’ll end up just moving the liquid stain around and make trouble for yourself. I do the back sides/insides of a panel first, the flip the panel over and lay it on 3 or 4 pyramids to do the front side. When complete I move the two smaller pieces off to a drying rack and do the top panel. That I’ll leave on the spinner while I roll the case in on a roller table and just spin it around to get to all faces. I do the inside first then the outside; less chance of leaving fingerprints on a completed surface that way. While the stain dries I go back out to the work room and begin sanding the other table, but it’s mid afternoon and in the mid 90’s outside. Higher inside. And I’m leaving sweat drops on the panels as I work on them, causing me to have to do them again when the drops dry. So, it’s time to go do something else for the rest of the afternoon – or mummify my upper body; that might work for a while. Nah, I’ll quit for now and pick it up here tomorrow morning when it cool again.
Wednesday, June 23
While making up the panels for the rest of the case, I made up two for the fronts as well, so I grab those, square them up with my big sled in the table saw (leaving them a bit long) then install the rip fence and cut off the top part for use as the drawer front. I very carefully center the drawer front on the drawer box and flush it up with the drawer bottom, then install the top two screws that run from inside the drawer into the front to secure it. The top two holes are drilled oversize and slightly oval to allow for adjusting the drawer front left-right and up-down to position it properly in the case. I don’t leave big wide gaps around parts in my work, so this is a delicate process as I shoot for a fairly even gap of about 1/16” all around. When it’s right, I install the bottom two screws though normal shank holes to lock the front in place. Next I trim the door panel to length and test fit it on its opening along with the hinges I will use. If adjustments are needed, I use a smoothing plane to shave off a little wood just where needed. If a consistent amount needs to be removed the full length, I’ll give it a couple of passes over the jointer. Installing hinges took a lot longer than I expected. Brain rot got in the way. But once I had that all settled and the knobs installed we’re about done. About. Apparently I neglected to order the magnetic catches that will hold the doors closed, so the next time I’m able to get off-property I’ll pick those up at a local hardware store and install them. So now I get to take it all apart again and begin the finish sanding and preparing to stain the oak. But that’s an adventure for another day.
Oh, goodness, where did we leave off? OK, the cases were assembled and I was moving on to drawer parts. I start my pulling some poplar lumber and milling out the parts I need for the sides, fronts and backs of the two drawer boxes. I also make a set of drawer slips for each drawer. More about these in a minute. Most of this milling is the same as always, rough cut the parts, joint one face and one edge, plane the opposite face and rip the rough edge off as I cut the blank to finished width. Then I cut the parts to finished length, making sure both ends are square, Drawer boxes need to be good and square at the corners or they can end up twisted. Then I mill out the pieces needed to glue up the drawer bottoms. Why am I not using plywood? I could. I have. But for drawers of this size, using solid wood is more attractive and just as sturdy, and it keeps the materials cost down. When all the parts are tongue’d or grooved I sand them well and glue them into the drawer frame. On these drawers I’m using drawer slips; and old-world method of holding drawer bottoms. The slips are ¾” x ¾” rails, grooved to hold the bottom, and I bevel the upper edge, which will be inside the drawer. These rails are glued to the sides and front of the box. The bottom, which is rabbeted along the sides and front, allowing a ¼” tongue to fit into the grooves and the rest of the bottom to be 7/16” thick for strength slides in under a shortened back piece. The use of slips allows the drawer sides to be much thinner and more elegant than they would have to be if the bottom were grooved into them. It requires a little extra machining, but I think the results are worth it. Here I’m testing the fit. I won’t nail the bottom in place until after the box has been lacquered. Before doing the finish sanding, I round-over the upper edges of the drawer frame to make them feel nicer under the user’s hand. I leave the outside front edge square, it will lay up against the oak drawer face, and I want a nice snug fit there. Then it’s on to the finish sanding, tacking off the dust and lacquering. Frame and bottom get two good coats, a scuff sanding and one last coat of lacquer. After the last coat dries thoroughly I’ll assemble the drawer and pin the bottom in place by driving two small nails up through the bottom into the back piece. No glue in the grooves: being solid wood, it will need to expand and contract. Besides, should a drawer bottom ever break, leaving it unglued make replacing it much easier. Finally I install the drawer slide parts to the bottom of the drawers and place them onto the cabinet to be sure they fit properly. I want to make them so the drawer frames are as deep as possible, but we still need to be able to get the drawers out. Of course I tested all that before I assembled the drawers, so there should be no surprises here.
Just one last step to do and construction will be complete.
Thursday, June 10
With all the case parts made up, dry fitted and adjustments made where needed, it’s time to dismantle the cases and put them back together again but this time with glue in the joints. While the glue dries, I trim the top plates, route the edges and fill the grain with a water based wood putty thinned 50% with water so it paints on and soaks into the pores of the wood. After that’s dry I sand it and see if it needs another coat. Tim stops in to see what progress has been made and says he does not want the table tops to be too smooth, so I’ll leave them like they are. With the drawer slides installed and the tops attached, they’re starting to look like tables. Getting heavy too - there's alot of lumber in them thar tables!
Friday, June 4
Since I went “off the air” on this blog a few weeks back I’ve received hundreds of comments ( well, okay, maybe dozens… umm… alright it’s been a few) about the lack of any postings since it is known that I *am* working in a project. So; okay, I’ll post some some details on that. What I’m building is a pair of end table for my neighbor, Tim. Nothing fancy, in fact he said he wants them to be as plain as possible. Simple boxes. Well, Tim, I *think* I can do that… The major task of building some thing like this is making all the large flat, solid wood panels. Lots of folks would just use plywood here, much faster that way. I don’t. I start by selecting and bringing inside about 60 board feet of rough sawn red oak lumber that I have air dried – this batch has been drying for about 4 years. Then I sort the pieces according to what parts I want them to go into and start chunking them up into rough-length pieces on the chop saw. As always the next step is to use our big jointer to flatten one face and one edge. There is a right way and a not-so-right way to do this. It all has to do with which face you lay down on the bed of the jointer and how you apply weight to the board as it passes over the cutter head. The board needs to sit as stable as possible, and pressure is applied to the back end of the board first. As about half of the board passes over the cutter head, shift the weight to the leading push pad so the pressure is on the out-feed part of the bed. After 1 pass, you can see how the jointer has removed some of the high spots on this board (the clean, light colored wood) areas that are still low are dark. A couple more passes will flatten the whole board. Then I set the board up on edge, put the just-jointed face to the fence and joint one edge of the board. These are my finished faces, and I mark them in pencil so I can keep track of them later. The next step is to run the boards through the surface planer. By running the boards with the jointed face down on the bed, the cutter head above the board will not only smooth the board, but make both faces parallel to one another. I could joint both faces smooth, but there would be no assurance (small chance of it actually) that the board would be of a consistent thickness from sided to side and along its length. The planer does that. Once that’s done I trim the remaining rough edge away on the table saw and lay the boards out on my work bench. Most wood has patterns in it, that’s called “the grain”. To make panels that don’t look like they were glued up from a bunch of smaller pieces, you have to match the grain patterns and colors so the changes between boards is minimal. This can take a little study and trial; trying different positions and swapping boards in and out. I do not, repeat: not, get fanatical about alternating the annular ring direction to minimize panel warping due to the board cupping. After 4 years of drying the wood should be about as dry as it’s going to get, so movement will be minimal. But it will occur – always will. So what I focus on is a pleasing look and getting the panels finished and installed in the piece of furniture as quickly as possible, the adjoining parts will help hold the panels shape. Leaving panels sitting around the shop for weeks while I do something else results in a struggle getting those panels to fit into their slots. So I glue up the panel using a type III polyurethane wood glue. I use regular wood glue to assemble parts that may, in 50 or 100 years, need to be taken apart for repair. But in panels, which should never need to come apart I use the polyurethane for it’s superior bond and fast tack time. In well made panels, the edges mate up without having to “draw” the boards together with clamps to close gaps. No tension in the joints means that as soon as the glue tacks I can remove the clamps and work with it further while the glue dries hard. Completing the panel begins by choosing one long-grain edge as the base-point, running that edge along the table saw fence to trim the opposite edge to finished width and make both edges parallel. Then I remove the splitter and the big cut-off sled goes onto the table saw. I trim one edge straight on all panels of that set (all the same size) then set up a stop block to get the finished length right and cut the panels again. If all goes well, they will now be just the right size and perfectly square. Finally the panels are sanded smooth and even in the wide drum sander. This requires very light passes (1/64” is generally the max in hardwoods, & 1/128 is better) and the feed speed is slow, so this takes a while. I can feed panels through one right after the other, butting them up against the other and just keep flipping and turning the boards and running them through again until they are smooth on both sides and at finished thickness. I do have to clean the sandpaper belt often though, or sanding dust will clog the grit and burn an ugly and hard to repair streak along the board. This usually ruins the belt too. A crepe rubber abrasive cleaner bar is held against the spinning drum to pull sanding dust out of the grit. I tend to let my “bars” get pretty short before I pull out a new one. When it gets to where the “chunk” of rubber is just too small to hang onto any more I’ll toss it into my box of things I keep on the workbench and use it as an eraser. What can I say; I’m frugal. Now that the panels blanks are done I set up to start cutting the tongues, grooves and dadoes that will be needed to allow the various part to fit together. Tim came up while I was doing this and was a bit amazed. He thought I’d just make up six panels and nail them together like a crate. “Uh… no, Tim, I don’t think so.” Dry fitting the parts comes next. Assembling the parts without glue to see how they fit. I use clamps to hold them in place while I check the fit and measure to be sure everything is coming out square. Then I remove the cross bracing and bore the pocket holes that will be used to joint it all together without having to install nails or screws from the outside. With the cases fitted I make up the tops. I reserved some quarter sawn boards for these because they will display some gorgeous ray-flecking under an oil finish. Should be very pretty.
Once the tops are completed and the edges routed to a pleasingly gentle radius I’ll dismantle the carcasses and reassemble them with glue as well as screws and mount the tops. That will take a while, so I’ll get back to you on that.