Tuesday, August 31

Tray Tables: Assembling Tables

Today I will make the final pieces needed to complete the tables and assemble all the parts into tray tables.

I start by trimming the screw hole plugs that were glued into the counter bored screw holes in the last step. This flush cut saw has no set to the teeth – the teeth do not bend out to either side -- like most saws, so it can be used to trim plugs flush with the wood and leave no marks. That is unless you do it wrong. The trick is to keep the saw blade laying flat on the wood, if you lift the back of the saw up a bit, the teeth will cut a groove into the wood that must hen be sanded out.

The next step is to make the leg mount blocks. So I mill strips of stock to size through jointing, surface planning and rip sawing. Then I use a jig on the band saw to cut the strips into the little blocks I need.

To shape these blocks I’ll use the router. But, working with these little pieces of wood brings my fingers dangerously close to the router bit, which will if given half a chance strip all the flesh from the ends of a finger or two. In this photo the router IS NOT turned on. I’m just demonstrating how dangerous it would be.

To do this more safely, I use a small hand screw clamp to hold the blocks while I route the edges. It takes a few seconds longer to mount the blocks in the clamp, but should anything go wrong my fingers are safely out of the way, and I have a fair chunk of wood to hang onto and to act as buffer should the router bit decide to get grabby and throw something.

When the leg mount blocks are done I sand them, pre-finish the insides of the joints, mount them to the top of the free pair of legs and then glue and clamp the blocks to the underside of the trays.

While the glue dries on the leg mount blocks, I make the latch blocks. These need to be carefully made because the parts of the latch need to snap together just so if they are to work.

As I glue and clamp the latch blocks in place I set the completed tables out of the way to let the glue set up good and hard before I do anything more. All that remains now is to fussy-fit the latch mechanism for perfect operation and do the final sanding by hand. Then they’ll be ready for finishing.

“Capn’, thar be tables here!”

Saturday, August 28

Tray Tables: Building Bases

It is Saturday and I’m sneaking in some shop time even though Saturday is supposed to be reserved for working around the homestead – although I did stop on my way over here and pick a bowl full of yellow beans, zucchini, tomatoes and carrots.

All the parts I’ll need today have been made, so I start by hand sanding the spreaders. A word about sanding. I’ve taught woodworking to people young and old, and I’ve never met anyone who could honestly say that sanding was their favorite part of woodworking. No one just loved stroking the wood with grit covered paper watching the scratches and nicks disappear as the soft smooth patina of well sanded wood emerged. No, most times teaching people to sand is one of the hardest lessons for people to “get”. Just as getting your hands wet does not mean they’re clean enough to eat with, just having touched the wood with sandpaper does not mean the wood is properly sanded.

This step takes some time and due diligence. Rushing through it will yield poor results later on.

To avoid wearing my triceps out, I sand one pair of spreaders, then apply glue to the ends, and fasten assemble the leg pairs and spreaders into a table base. Then I go sand another pair of spreaders and repeat the process.

By early afternoon I have all four table bases assembled and they join the four trays on the completed assemblies stack. I will need to make and install screw hole plugs over the screws but otherwise the bases are done. I’ll do the screw hole plugs after lunch so they can set up well tomorrow and be ready for trimming Monday.

The late part of the afternoon will be spent mowing our “upper yard” which is not at all like an urban yard, more like a meadow. We’ve got gazelles moving in up there, it really needs mowing before the rain moves in again.

Friday, August 27

Tray Tables: Today I’m a Leg Man

Today I’ll make up the leg pairs for Dianna’s tray tables, and possibly get some done for the extra table. I start by using the wide drum sander to sand the leg pieces smooth (removing planer marks) and to the finished dimension. This takes longer than you might think because I have to take very light passes or the belt clogs with sanding dust and burns deep red marks into the wood. Not good!

Next up is trimming the leg pieces to length. For that I use my miter saw fitted with this oh-so complicated fixture. If you can’t tell, I’m being facetious. It is a simple backer with an end stop attached. But it does a superior job of holding the leg parts so I can cut them all to exactly the same length I could have used my big miter gauge on the table say for this, but the miter saw is just a step away from the workbench, making lay-out, cutting and marking very simple and quick. The table saw is WAYYYY over there. A good 10 feet away!

Now I use my lay-out templates to mark the shapes of the ends of each leg and a punch to mark where counter-bored screw holes will go. My ‘punch’ here is just a blunted nail. It isn’t fancy, but it precisely fits into the holes in the template and works just as well as a fancy punch or nail set would.

At the drill press I used a countersink bit to bore counter bored shank holes for the screws, then it on to the stationary belt sander where I shape the ends of the legs. I keep a booger bar within easy reach for frequent cleaning of the sanding belt to prevent burning the wood and have the dust collector hose strapped in behind the belt so my sinuses won’t hurt so badly tonight. Cherry dust really irritates my nasal passages!

A large part of the afternoon is spent hand sanding each leg pair once I’ve got all the milling done. Then I pre-finish the area that will be inside the pivot joint, install a fender washer to facilitate smooth action and install the pivot screw.

I have tried all manner of fancy pivot hinges and joiners here, but I keep coming back to a simple wood screw because it is the most stable of all the methods I’ve tried. All the pivot hinges I’ve bought to try wre either way too large to use here (made for porch furniture) or had so much slop in them that they were unusable.

I ran each pair of legs through this entire process individually because I took the time to match the two legs up carefully for color and grain. Trying to “batch” them would make it difficult to keep them paired up properly.

The day is at an end now, I’ve gotten done what I set out to do and it is Friday: Date Night with my sweetie. Tomorrow is Saturday, normally that is my yard work day, but I will probably be in tomorrow to work on these some more because I am behind schedule. I could take some shortcuts and work faster, but that reduces quality. I don’t want to do that, so I’ll work the extra hours instead.

Thursday, August 26

TV Trays - Completing Trays

When i came in this morning I removed clamps and dressed the corners of the trays I built yesterday. The I mounted a larger diameter round-over bit in the router table and proceeded to finish shaping the tray rails.
The rest of the morning was spent sanding the completed trays. After lunch, I will begin working on the leg sets, but I'll post this much first - leg sets are a completely different topic of discussion.

Tray Tables: Tray Assembly

My calendar tells me that I’m way behind on these tables and I wondered why – my notes show two days where we lost power for part of the afternoon, several days of high 90’s temperatures, making it over 100° in here, and of course the two heavy rains that washed out the roads. Who was it that said “Life is what happens when you’ve made other plans.” -- Oh yeah, that great philosopher: Charley Brown. So I got in really early this morning to get a head start on the weekly radio broadcast – which I was supposed to have done on Monday morning – then got right into working on Dianna's tray tables. The tray panel assemblies I glued up yesterday are well set, so I remove the clamps and trim them to exact length. I wait till now to do this to insure that ribbon panel and backer panel will end up flush to one another. After trimming I measure across the diagonals to be sure they are square. I used my big cut-off sled, so this is not usually a problem, but it’s good to check it anyway. Then I set up the table saw with a dado head to mill this little rabbet around the bottom edge of each backer panel. This is necessary because of a change made in the design. I used to use 1/8” Baltic Birch plywood for the backers, and that (together with the ribbon panel) slipped right into the 3/8” panel groove in the rails. But when Hurricane Katrina devastated Louisiana, all plywood products suddenly became ultra expensive – if one could find them at all. Baltic Birch, Finnish Birch and Russian Birch are all basically the same stuff; very high quality, solid hardwood (birch) plywood, and I can not see that they would be used in home construction at all; they’re pretty much a furniture specialty item. But, I guess folks were replacing furniture too. In any case, this product was just not available for a long time, so I had to switch to a cabinet grade plywood, but that is available only in ¼” and up sizes. So I modify it to suit my design by milling this rabbet around the edge. Before I go any farther I take a moment to round-over the inner-top edge of the tray rails. This is a small diameter round-over: I don’t want to encourage things to jump off the tray if they bump the rail, but also don’t want hard corners under your hand when you carry the tray. I have to do this round-over now because I won’t be able to after assembly. The rail height above the panel is not sufficient to allow a router bit with pilot bearing and the keeper screw atop that to run inside the rail without chewing into the panel. So the inside edge gets routed now. Now I’m ready to start cutting rails. This is the nerve wracking part because every rail must be absolutely perfect if I am to achieve good joinery. I install a simple jig that acts as a backer-board to prevent tear-out of the rail as I cut it. I cut the first set of rails just a bit long and sneak up on a perfect fit, then use those to lay-out the rest and cut them to size, fitting and testing as I go. I can use the “corner” of the jig to know exactly where the cut will be made and line up my lay-out ticks with that to get the cut where I want it. When all the rails are cut and fitted to the panels I take them all into the assembly room and very, very, carefully apply glue to the inside lower edge of the panel groove in the rails and specific points of the panel itself. It is critical that glue squeeze-out does not get into the corners of the ribbon panel; that would prevent them from expanding and contracting as they need to and causing the corner joints to fail or the panel to split. I have to work slowly with a small artists brush to get just enough glue exactly where it needs to be to create strong joints, but not any more than I need, and yet work quickly enough that the glue does not dry out before the joints are assembled. Then I apply clamps and let them sit overnight to be sure the glue sets up good and hard before I work with them more. It is after 9:00 PM now and Marie has come to fetch me home. I’ve been up since 2:30 AM, not by my choice mind you; these things just happen sometimes, so I am quite ready to go with her. I’ll post these notes in the morning.

Tuesday, August 24

Tray Tables: Tray Parts

I’m back in the shop today, going to skip the radio program again today, may work on that later this evening. I’m feeling the aftermath of yesterday’s extra physical labor (feeling like I’ve been hit by a truck!) so I’m not moving quite as spryly as normal. I start of the morning by cleaning a stripe off the sanding drum of the wide drum sander. I burnt this stripe in Friday while sanding parts – cherry is particularly bad about doing this. But I clean it off and we’re ready to go again. Friday evening I bundled up all the ribbon panels I’d made to help prevent them from curling or twisting from changing humidity over the weekend. So now I unbundled them and get ready to sand the panels smooth. This is done on the aforementioned wide drum sander. I have to take very light passes, just a few thousandths of an inch per pass so it takes many times of running each panel through, turning it end for end and running it again to sand the full width of the panel. When all panels are fully sanded I drop the head down 1/16 of a turn and run them all again. I have to open the lid and use an abrasive cleaner bar to pull the sanding dust out of the belt before running another panel through. Then I trim the ribbon panels to finished width and cut the backer panels to finished width (1/8” wider than the ribbon panels to allow room for expansion) and glue the ribbon panels and backer panels together with a stripe of glue just down the center so the ribbon panels can expand and contract freely. While the glue sets up I mill our the tray edge rails. Each pair of rails was cut from one square of wood which was re-sawn, jointed and planed smooth. The each pair is turned inside out so the most closely matching grain will be to the outside. Then I use the table saw to mill the groove where the tray panel (ribbon panel and backer panel together) will live. I will cut these pairs of rails into the four pieces needed to frame on one tray. By cutting them sequentially; long, short, long, short, I’ll be able to wrap the grain around the tray in a wonderfully flowing manner. Something mass production techniques can not manage. But It is time to quit for the day, so I’ll wrap it up for now and get back at it in the morning.

Monday, August 23

Tray Tables: RAIN DELAY

I let the ribbon panels set up over the weekend and had planned to get to them today, right after doing the weekly radio program that I do every Monday morning. But, we had yet another heavy rain storm Saturday night: a little over 3” of rain in about two hours. This is right on the heels of the 2.6” in an hour we got earlier in the week. Everything was so soft already that this storm did major damage to our driveways, washed out some parts of our property and plugged up drain tiles. Tim and I spent nearly all day patching up the damage. Fortunately our neighbor across the road from us has a tractor with box grader blade and he kindly offered to help. What a help he was too! He scraped the driveways smooth again while Tim and I cleared tiles, scooped rock out of grassy areas where it wasn’t supposed to be, and smoothed out the humpy bumps that the scraper blade left. Much more work is needed, but everything is functional again – as long as we don’t get another heavy rain. I hope the rains remain gentle for a while, because it will take a while for my back and shoulders to stop burning! We moved a LOT of rock today.

Tray Tables: Making Spreaders

While waiting for glue to set up on each ribbon panel I worked on making these bow-tie spreaders. The process starts, like any part does, with jointing one wide face and one edge of each part blank to make them smooth and flat and these two sides perpendicular to one another. Then I run them though a surface planer, with the jointed face down, to smooth the rough face, make it parallel to the jointed face and bring the blank to the proper thickness. Finally I use the table saw to rip off the final edge. This completes the parts blank. Then I use a special made jig to mark, cut and smooth the arched edges in the spreaders. The pieces with double arches are the lower spreaders, one arch and one straight edge are the top spreaders. Boring the oval shaped holes requires another jig mounted to the drill press fitted with a Forstner bit. The final step in making the spreaders is to round over all the edges except the ends; which will mate to the legs and need to be square. With the spreaders completed and the ribbon panels all glued up, I can quit for the day and let the glue in the ribbon panels set up hard before I do any machining on them.

Friday, August 20

Tray Tables: Making Ribbon Panels

The first real parts I’ll make are the ribbon panels. I start with boards that have been jointed, surface planed and drum sanded so that the upper and lower faces are perfectly flat and smooth – these faces will become my glue joints, so they must be perfect. Then I use the table saw to cut these boards into 5/16” thick strips, or ribbons. As I cut them I am very careful to keep the strips in the same order and orientation as they were in the board. When I lay them down for edge gluing, having them in order means the grain patterns will flow across the panel instead of looking like a bunch of random strips of wood. One fellow who watched me make up a series of ribbon panels commented that I go through a lot of trouble to make something that comes out looking like a sheet of plywood – no visible joints or seams. I suppose he’s right, but veneered plywood uses a very thin veneer of hardwood over a core of crappy wood, often MDF these days. These panels are easily damaged and can not be properly repaired. Even a scratch in the wood can not be sanded out because the veneer is so thin. I lay out the ribbon strips and join panels together with three strips of wide masking tape. Then I set up my gluing jig and clamps. The jig (right foreground) keeps the joint I’m gluing open and supported, then as the panel moves across the back side of the jig it supports the strips to keep the joints closed up. I move the glued panel to the clamps (left foreground) and press the strips flat against the pipe clamps, which are positioned under the strips of masking tape to prevent the black globs that occur when the black iron pipe and glue come into contact. Panels waiting to be glued are on the small table behind the gluing jig. Each panel needs 2 or three hours for the glue to tack up, then I’ll glue up another and crape the glue pips off of the freshly glued up panel before they harden completely. I’ll let the glue in these panels set up hard before machining them further.

Tray Tables: Roughing Parts

I’ve spent the past few days selecting boards from the stash I brought in and cutting them up into parts blanks. These are just chunks of rough lumber cut oversize to approximate width and length for the parts I’ll be making. As I work I stack the templates for those parts along with the parts blanks. When I run out of templates, I’ll have all the parts I need.
When I reach that point, both shelves of this parts cart will be full.

Friday, August 13

Tray Tables: Pulling Lumber

Dawn breaks with a grayish pallor, the air is heavy with mist; not quite a fog yet. Later, as the clouds that spent the night resting in the valley below awaken, stretching and yawning, and begin to drift toward their posts in the sky we may see fog, but only for a while as they climb the mountain to leap skyward from it's peak. I dress and walk over to the workshop. We received an order yesterday; a set of cherry tray tables and I want to pull the lumber before it gets hot. It has been unusually warm here lately; mid to high 90 degrees for the past few weeks, heat indices of 100°+. With no air conditioning, the inside of the shop becomes oven-like in the still, humid, hot mid-day air. Unusual weather for our mountains; normally 85° is considered an unusually warm summer day. Upper 70's would be normal. But, very little is normal any more. We are getting low on cherry. I’ve had a request in with Tommy, my lumber broker, for over two years, but no one is selling good cherry trees. Cherry and walnut are both getting quite scarce… and expensive. When what I have on hand is gone, my prices on these woods will at least double as I have to go back to buying dressed and dried lumber from a mill. I pull enough lumber to build two, maybe three sets of tables. I won’t get that many. There will be a large amount of waste in these boards as I cut around defects to use only the choicest bits. This lumber pile has been picked through many times now, pulling the best boards for the project at hand, the rest put back for consideration another time. Kind of like choosing teams for dodge ball when I was in school. Eventually someone would have to choose even the least desirable kids. Tray tables are a good project for using up some of the less desirable boards; the parts are small and reasonably short. They can be cut from less than perfect boards. When I was building Norene’s King Size Cherry Bed, I was searching for long, wide, perfect boards for some of the large pieces it required. I unstacked and restacked most of this pile for that project! Buying log-run lumber means Tommy buys a standing tree that is about to be removed. Tommy fells the tree, strips the log and cuts it into lengths. A portable log mill is brought in to cut the logs into lumber on-site and the fresh sawn lumber is brought to me. I sticker-stack the lumber and allow it to air dry for two years. When Tommy delivers the lumber to me, we cull out the unusable boards as we tally up what I owe him, but the rest is a combination of mostly good boards with a few excellent boards and a few not-so-good boards mixed in. Log run lumber is a mixed bag, take what you get, but it’s a lot cheaper than buying rough, dry lumber from a mill. And I get to dry it myself, making sure it’s done right. If they do it, especially if it’s kiln dried, the end result can be disappointing – and costly. The cherry lumber is now inside where, should the 20% chance of thunderstorms today bear fruit, I can work in the dry. But for now I need some breakfast.