My Favorite Finish

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I think the semi-gloss sheen of cured BLO is just right for natural finish, solid wood furniture.  

My favorite finish hasn’t changed in years and that is probably because I haven’t tried many others.  I’m a low risk maker who prefers to stick with a process that has worked for centuries rather than any product that was mixed from unidentified ingredients.  A steady regiment of Boiled Linseed Oil (BLO) and elbow grease is just the ticket.

I’ve already written on this topic, so read that entry first.  In the time since that entry, I have picked up a few additional tips that have given me more consistent results.

 

fire

Thanks to my father-in-law for battling the blaze.

- Do not throw your oily (wet) rags in a garbage can.  They WILL ignite.  I lost my (plastic) garbage can this way.  It wasn’t even a hot day.  Since that incident, I dispose of my oily rags in a water filled ziplock bag.  

- After applying finish, try to wipe off everything you just applied.  Seriously, use more than one dry cotton rag and try to wipe it all off.  A thick layer of oil will gel and make a tacky surface.  A tacky surface will need to be removed with lots of forceful rubbing of a fine abrasive until the surface is no longer sticky.  Paper grocery bags and abrasive pads work for this salvage procedure but sandpaper is nearly useless because it will clog very quickly.

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- Apply 6 coats of oil or more.  Don’t skimp on this just because the surface looks nice after 2 coats.  It will look much better after 6 coats (or more).

- I wipe the whole surface with a rough cotton towel as the first step of applying a new coat and again as the last step after I have dried the new coat.  This process takes a lot of wiping, but it is not tiring because you do not need to use a lot of force, just a lot of motion.

Do not apply a new coat if you suspect the previous coat is still wet.  If you have the slightest suspicion that the previous coat is uncured, walk away for at least 24 hours.  Coating over a layer that is not fully cured guarantees a tacky finish.

- Expect this process to take a few weeks.  Sure, there are faster finishes that will work for less patient craftsmen, but I built this dresser over the course of a year and I don’t mind if it takes me a month to get the perfect finish.

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The dresser, all finished and ready to be filled with clothes.

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The dresser adds the next piece to the bedroom suite.  All that’s left is to replace the department store night stands, but I’ve other projects higher on my build list.  Think green woodworking.  

I hope you have enjoyed this build along.  Writing it up has been a lot of work, but fun.  Who knows, by the time I get ready to build another case piece I may need to refer to my own instructions.

Bob Jones

Complete this dresser!

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These final bits and pieces will become slips and muntins (centers) for the drawers.

In my last post, I mentioned that my drawer sides are only 3/8 inch thick.  It is a traditional English technique that looks great when the drawers are open and makes the drawer lightweight.  You may think that is way too thin for a full sized drawer side, and I suppose it would be if I didn’t add slips.  The slips double the bearing surface of the drawer slide and house the groove that contains the drawer bottom.

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Slips are easy to produce using a plow plane to make the groove (left) and a jack plane to make it the right size and add the user friendly radius to the top inside edge.

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End gain view of a slip (left) and muntin (right).  The muntin is especially useful for wide drawers because the bottom can be made of two smaller pieces.

Charles H. Hayward said that the parts of a drawer that can come into contact with hands should be rounded as a courtesy to the user.  I planed a radius on the corner of the slips and muntins that will be exposed in the final product.  The radius is not controlled, just made about right by hand and eye.  Making this radius with a jack plane is very fast – be aggressive – no fine shavings here.

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Blurry in the background is a wedge that kept the slip groove in-line with the drawer front groove.  Another approach is to form a tenon on the front of the slip.  Either approach is fine.

The slips are glued and clamped (or cramped for Hayward) to the drawer sides.  I hope you can see (on the left) that the slip is a little proud of the drawer side bottom.  After the glue cures, I plane the slip to be flush with the drawer side.  It only takes a couple of passes with the plane.

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I think a small smoothing plane works well for final fitting of drawers.  Remove enough wood so that the drawer slides easily in the case and then remove no more.  A tight fit looks nice.

With the slips in place, it is time for the final fitting of the drawers.  There should not be much to do since each piece was individually fit to the case already.  Holding drawers while planing can be a challenge.  I clamp boards to my bench that hang over the front edge of the bench.  The drawer then rests on those boards without any required clamping.  It is simple and effective.  To plane the front of the drawer, spread the clamp boards out.  Done.

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The end of this project is now close enough to smell the Boiled Linseed Oil.  It’s all details from here.  

The drawers need a stop so that when they are pushed in they will not go deeper than the front of the case.  In the image above I’m marking the thickness of the drawer front on the bottom of the case.  I’m going to glue a small slip of wood right behind that line.  It’s thin enough that it will not interfere with the drawer bottom, but it will stop the drawer perfectly flush with the case front.  There are other ways to do this, but this method is very simple and easily adjusted with a rabbet plane.

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Like I said before, radius or at least soften the edges that can contact the hands of the user.  A spokeshave works great on the inside and outside edges of the drawer sides.

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With the drawers complete and fitted, I went back to work on the top.  Here I am planing the sub-top because it needed a little flattening.  It didn’t come out as flat as I would have liked, but I made up the difference on the underside of the top.  Remember, when working with hand tools every piece of wood need not be straight/flat/level, they only need to fit nicely and look straight/flat/level.

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Here I’m finally fitting and trimming the real top.  That overhang will be sawn off and cleaned up with a sharp smoothing plane.  I’ve come a long way from the land of 10,000 decisions.  Next stop, finishing.  I’m too excited to sleep.

Bob Jones

I got it one piece at a time

But I sure hope it turns out better than the Pshyco Billy Cadillac. P1-1

Most of the pieces needed for the 6 drawers of my dresser. I’m working on the drawers of my eternal dresser project.  This is the point where I’m either going to finish this or burn it for heat.  The drawers are made up of 9 pieces each x 6 drawers = 54 pieces!  That may not seem like a lot to someone who is feeding pieces of wood through a drum sander and router jig, but when you are working each piece to size with planes and joining them with saws and chisels, it takes a while. The best description that I have read on making drawers was written by the excellent Charles Hayward in Cabinet Making for Beginners.  He covered the topic so well that any further writing is unnecessary.  However, since that book is long out of print, I will hit some of the highlights.

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Get all of the pieces to rough size.  This means making boards 1 inch or more too long and 1/8 inch or more too wide.  Why oversize?  Because every piece needs to be perfectly fit in it’s place in the case.  If you can do this with your tablesaw, feel free.  Here I marked the final size of each piece in it’s place, then continued the mark with my panel gage.

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I final fit each piece with a hand plane and I check the fit often.  Accurately sizing each piece makes fitting the assembled drawers fast and accurate.  During this final fitting I make adjustments for any out-of-squareness of the case (especially drawer openings).  I generally fit the width (height) of each board, then mark the length (on right).

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I fit the drawer fronts following the same steps as with the sides.  Remember, my drawer openings are not perfectly square, so the drawers fit the opening.  If anyone studies my dresser with an engineers square, I’ll kick them out of my house. Drawer sides are best made from quarter sawn materials.  Unless you want to use white oak or cherry, QS material is really not available.  For this dresser and my chest of drawers, I made my own QS stock.  To do this, I bought a really wide cypress board that was cut near the pith (center) of the tree.  I cut it into drawer sides (length and width) and resawed 2 sides.  It worked pretty well since the sides need to be 3/8 inch thick and the original board was 5/4 (1.25 inches) thick. Once all 4 pieces of a drawer are fitted to the case, plow a groove at the bottom (inside) of the front.  Not actually on the bottom, go at least 1/4 inch up.  I made mine 1/2 inch from the bottom because these drawers are really deep and that makes it easier to hide the groove within the (dove)tails on the front.  Speaking of, I will not cover dovetailing the drawer, except two points.

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1 – The back is shorter than the other pieces, to allow the drawer bottom to slide in place.  It is level with the top of the drawer. Remember this when laying out the drawer.

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2 – Before you dovetail these parts that you have milled perfectly, PRACTICE on scrap!  Here is my first practice joint.  See any problems?  I practiced on 2 more to brush up on my technique before sawing my real parts.  

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With the 4 corners dovetailed, it’s time for glue-up.  I clamped my front board to the workbench and that seemed to help the process.  I liked the benefit of the thin sections of the front being supported while I hammered the sides into place.

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Check the glued-up drawer for square.  Check the length of the diagonals (right) and flatness (left).  Apply pressure to perfect the form.  Careful now.  Once it is square and flat, leave it alone for the next +8 hours. Phew! With all the drawers joined together it’s time to make the final bits and pieces, but that will wait for the next chapter.

Bob Jones

Bench Plane Classes – On the kitchen table

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Recent hand plane class / demo taught at the kitchen table.

I’ve posted about the hand plane classes that I teach over at the woodwork shop in Memphis, TN.  I normally teach in their workshop on a sturdy bench that is much too tall for hand plane use.  For the most recent classes I decided to use their “kitchen” type table in their showroom.  I was pleasantly surprised by how well it worked as a workbench.  The top is flat and just the right height (or a little low which is better than a little high).  The only downside is mass.  While using a Jack plane a student had to keep the table from walking across the room.

We actually had 2 classes in about a month.  Both classes went great.  I’m always a little surprised when people come back to take the second class.  I guess they figure they got their money’s worth in the first one.  Thanks to my friends at the woodwork shop for inviting me back.

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Here is the Mr Lucky.  He won the hand plane giveaway.  Maybe that is what keeps people coming back?  Get that Stanley tuned up and ready!

Back to the point of this post.  A good workbench has a flat, solid top that is shorter than waist level.  What, you don’t have a workbench?  Go to your kitchen.  Attach some battens to your table with quick-clamps and get to work.

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Hopefully you can see the battens that were used as stops.  This method works well and is how I built my first couple of projects before my Roubo bench.

Speaking of classes, I’m making my schedule now for next year.  If any woodworking groups in Alaska, Hawaii, or Europe need a hand plane class and are willing to pay for travel, I’m open.  Just sayin’.

Bob Jones

 

 

Bench Plane Class Tomorrow Night (Aug 25, 2014 in Memphis, TN)

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I know this is last minute notice, but if anyone in the Memphis area has 3 hours free tomorrow night, you should come to The Woodwork Shop, in Bartlett, TN.  Get the details on previous classes here.

This is the “intro” class where we talk all about bench planes.  We talk – it’s not a lecture.  I’ll go over what to look for in vintage and new tools, how to grind the blades, and how to hone them.  We will then cover how to use these tools to take lumber from “rough to ready”.

grinder_class

Everyone will have the chance to learn free hand grinding on a meat powered grinder.  It is safe and fun.  From student feedback, this is the most helpful part of the class.

As always, if we have 6 new students or more, I will give away a Stanley bench plane.  It’s a Number 4, Type 11, ready to be tuned.  Don’t miss it!  If you read this and then come to my class, let me know.  I have a small gift for the first person who does.  Oh, and I will bring some chisels and drawknives for sale, too.  The DTC is going to be pretty full.  I hope to see you there.

Bob Jones

Greg_lasers

Building a bench in a weekend

 

Have you ever taken a weekend woodworking class?  I hadn’t before this month.  I made the drive up to Nashville, TN with a friend to build a bench with Greg Pennington.

Greg-teaching Greg-tenon_cutter

Greg was a great instructor and kept no trade secrets.  His unique techniques made the process of joining the legs and the top much easier than I expected.  I had to do very little math, which helps reduce errors.  I was a little surprised that he uses the 5/8 inch Lee Valley tenon cutter that I mentioned in my last post.  Apparently that tool is not just for rookies like me with no lathe.  Greg gave lots of tips on how to use mine more efficiently, which I will share in time.

Greg_lasers

Greg has updated traditional alignment techniques by using lasers in several steps of the process.  He has described it on his blog.  I really liked using the lasers and plan to us them whenever I get done with this monstrous dresser project. No update on the dresser, but I’m making progress on it.

Bob-lathe

I was able to turn for the first time – what a nice lathe that OneWay is!

At the shop

Hanging out at Greg’s shop was a blast for a woodworker (I’m eating a camp style dinner on the shop porch).  

Ok, the highlight of the trip was staying in the shop.  Yep, I slept in the loft on my camping cot.  Greg and his family were gracious hosts and let my friend and I stay in the shop all weekend.  It was a great environment and I was able to play in the shop from the time I woke up until I was too tired to move.  The environment of the shop was perfect for working.  I missed my family, but I was sorry to leave.  If only my family would be willing to uproot and live in the bunk house. Hmm…

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Completed benches and happy students ready for the trip back to Hernando, MS.

What’s the most valuable thing I got from the class? Confidence. Greg took something that I previously thought was really complicated and unpacked it into understandable pieces. This type of joinery is still not simple, but it is now obtainable. Thanks Greg!

Bob Jones

Book

Book Review – Going with the Grain, Making Chairs in the 21st Century

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I haven’t made much progress on my dresser recently, and it is mostly because I’ve been dabbling in some green woodworking, following the instructions in Mike Abbott’s book, Going with the Grain, Building a Chair in the 21st Century.

Book

This is really more than a book review, it’s also a process review.  The author of this book, Mike Abbott teaches green woodworking courses in a magical woodworking Neverland in the UK and has for many years.  In this book, he has documented exactly how he teaches the art of building chairs from green wood.  And I do mean EXACTLY.  This is a picture book that is detailed beyond any other woodworking source (DVD’s included) I’ve ever seen. This book was designed to show anyone precisely what to do in building a chair with green techniques and why they should.  Typically, I’m far too prideful to follow any published plans too closely, but while reading this book I decided that Mike made his process look so easy that I had to try it just like he teaches it.  He lays out the whole process from the perspective of someone who has no tools and no experience building anything. It starts with the tools required (probably obtained for less than $300) then moves in to building a shaving horse with construction grade lumber.  To his credit, he skipped the token 2 pages on sharpening tools.  He covered that in his other book (Living Wood), and there is tons of sharpening instruction freely available online.

 

Reading

One day I expect I will build a pretty, hardwood shaving horse.  In the meantime, this version that took me 2 hours to build is no compromise on functionality (only looks and comfort).  I built it 100% to Mike’s specifications, including a hardwood pin, which is the first thing I made using the shave horse.  I’m not publishing a how-to here because that is well documented in his book (you should buy it).

Club

I then turned to the next page and made a club (in the trustworthy hands of my nephew) with a piece of red oak firewood, again following his step by step process. The dabbling that I have been doing now is learning to use my froe and drawknife to make the first furniture project in the book – a footstool.  I thought this simple little stool was beneath me, but I decided that since these green techniques were new to me, I should start with the stool.

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I haven’t finished the stool yet, but I’m close.  Here’s all the pieces that I have so far.  I’m waiting for the rails/rungs to finish drying out so I can knock them into the legs. I rate this book as excellent for how-to instruction and highly recommend it to anyone considering building chairs.  Even if you think you want to saw chairs out of kiln dried lumber, this book is a great source and may convince you to find a fresh cut log instead.

Enough glowing, there are 2 problems opportunities with the book.  First, it was definitely written for woodworkers who love their Queen.  Almost all sources listed are UK based and all dimensions are given in metric (most have conversions given in Imperial).  If you can’t convert units (1 inch = 25.4mm), try Google.  (Apparently a new 2nd edition corrects this.)

One plus for North Americans is easy access to the only proprietary tool he recommends, the Lee Valley 5/8 inch tenon cutter.  So, living in North America actually makes it easier to follow this distinctive teaching.

The second issue is that he generally goes from the tree in the woods to completed chair in a week or so.  Why is that a problem?  Mike “turns” tenons while the wood is very green and plans for them to shrink into ovals (like a naturally wedged M&T).  This is fine and good if you are working with wood that is still dripping wet, but what about wood that is semi-green, or closer to dry?  I’m currently working with some cherry that I quartered a few months ago, and I’ve tried to keep green.  In my experimenting so far, this wood does not shrink up as much as Mike teaches, but he shows what to do in this case.

FYI – I’m working on a modified technique for semi-green wood.  I’ll post it here if it works (and if it doesn’t). After I finish the foot stool, I hope to build a few bar stools for our kitchen and then a spindle back chair (or 6).  Both of these builds are covered in this book in plenty of detail.  I’m really enjoying the process of green woodworking.  There is just something great about dominating a massive log with a wedge and maul, then finessing firewood with a froe and drawknife to yield the pieces needed that makes you feel like you can make anything.  That’s a powerful feeling.

Bob Jones