Friday, June 4

Okay, Okay…

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.

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