Category Archives: Shop tips

Recap errors and how I “fixed” them

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The dresser is complete and finished, but what about the rest of the story?  What happened in the background that caused me problems?  Mistakes.  Lots of mistakes.  With this post I’ll attempt to be transparent with my biggest mistakes and recap how I “fixed” them.  Maybe it will help someone else in their moment of frustration.

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1 – With a previous post I showed how to fit an out of square back.

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2 – In another post I showed how to fit drawer fronts to non-square drawer openings.

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3 – Mortise/tenon malalignment in the vertical divider.  Fix described in a previous post.

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4 – Splits in the vertical divider.  Fix? I planed both sides of the board (inside the case) smooth enough that the drawers did not stick during use.  The splits are still there, but not visible unless the bottom drawers are removed.

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5 – I also fixed a drawer front that was too short.  One word – veneer.  Can you see the thin piece of wood glued to the top of the drawer on the left?  Look closer.  While fitting the drawer front I removed more than planned.

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I found a thin strip of color and grain matched cherry in my scrap pile.

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I glued the “shop made veneer” on top of the drawer front (yay for blue tape and liquid hide glue).  After a little clean up with a plane it was almost invisible when viewed from the top or front.

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6 – One more fix.  On one drawer I plowed the groove for the bottom too high (3/4 inch from the bottom rather than 1/2 inch).  That would have been easily fixed by make those slips 1/4 inch taller and the back of the drawer 1/4 inch shorter, right?  Well, I forgot about the back until after the drawer was glued up.  It’s no problem to fix this with hand planes.  I used a rabbet plane to remove that 1/4 inch.  Thankfully the bottom pin was really big so the joinery was not compromised.  This drawer will not be quite as deep as it’s mate, but I bet it will never be noticed.

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I think I did this 18 inch wide cherry board proper justice (side piece).  It determined the size of the case.

I did get a couple of things right.  The design proportions look good to my eye, the dresser fits in our bedroom, and it holds lots of clothes.  I was also able to make good use of some extra wide, beautiful cherry.  All-in-all, the project turned out great despite the multitude of mistakes.  My wife is happy with the piece and doesn’t know about any of these errors.  Hopefully, I will have the presence of mind to avoid the temptation of pointing out these errors to anyone who compliments the piece.  If you build things, you know how difficult it is to avoid these conversations.

“That is a really nice ____.  Did you make it?”

“Yes. Thanks, but I really messed up the ____.  Can’t you see it there, and here, and there?”

“Oh… yeah, I guess so, but it’s still really nice.  I would love to have one.”

“Thanks, but I really wish I would have taken more care here, and not missed this here…”

Next time, do yourself a favor and stop with “Yes, thanks”.  Your friends really don’t want to hear about these modest mistakes.  They just want to know if you will build them one for free.

Bob Jones

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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.

 

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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

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

 

 

Lessons from Mr Greene

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This plane tells a story from a craftsman who I suppose “retired” a long time ago.  I’ll call him “Mr Greene”.

Mr Greene worked in a shop full of bungling builders who saw no fault in borrowing the tools of the better craftsman.  What hack wants to sharpen his own dilapidated tools, anyway?  Disgusted with their self-serving ways, Mr Greene set out to save his tools from their careless hands of ham.  Engraving his name on his tools wasn’t enough protection – this only helped reclaim his tools upon close inspection.  Mr Greene needed to take a more drastic approach.  With no small amount of reservation Mr Greene disassembled his tools and with care made a mark that would be easily distinguished as his and his alone.  “Now I will be able to spot my tools from across the shop should one of these careless hacks remove it from my workbench.  That will show them.”  Mr Greene inspected his handiwork and rather liked the bold new look.

Mr Greene’s plan worked exactly as intended.  Whenever his tools were in the hands of a hack, he knew it immediately and was able to fetch them before any serious damage was done.  Soon the careless co-workers stopped stealing his tools altogether, knowing it would be folly under his watchful eye.  From that fateful day with paint, Mr Greene’s tools stayed in good order, and no doubt his relationships with his co-laborers were aided by his precaution.

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Underneath the bright green paint lie the bones of a solid plane that was once well tuned.  I’ve inspected 100’s of vintage planes and most are unusable in their “as found” condition and generally show no evidence of ever being tuned or used by a conscientious carpenter.  This plane is different.  As I found it, the frog was actually well seated in the body.  The blade was dull and pitted from years of neglect, but at the last sharpening was properly ground and had evidence that the back was flattened at some point (this is rare).

I acquired this plane from a rust hunter to be my backup smoother in case I drop my user #4.  I have done nothing more than a light cleaning and I expect I never will.  I wouldn’t want to mess with the legacy of Mr Greene.

There are at least 2 lessons to be learned from this plane.

1 – If you are remembered after “retirement”, it will be by what you leave behind.  Will your legacy be a messy life, messy relationships and evidence of lazy living?  Or will your legacy be one of self control, stewardship, and serving others?  I’m speaking of more than tools.

2 – If you work in a shop with others who are less considerate, paint your tools a really obnoxious color.  When one of your shop mates picks up your tools it will be obvious from across the shop and you can rescue it from the clutches of the bungling builder…

Bob Jones

 

Nothing is Free

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On the left is a sample board from the crate lumber.  On the right is a panel made of purchased (inexpensive) lumber.  Which would you rather use?

“Everything costs someone something”.

I don’t know who originated that quote, but they knew what they were talking about.  I had a goal of making this tool chest from 100% recycled materials, but one night of aggravated hand planing ruined that goal.  I was frustrated with 75% of my materials because the boards were too skinny, too short, too knotty, and just too terrible.  I could have made it work, but life is too short to mess with inferior materials.  Backup plan time.  I needed to go to the home center for another project, so I took a detour through the lumber section.  No harm in looking, right?  My expectations were pretty low.  First up, the “premium” pine.  It looked great, but cost way too much.  Next was the “builder’s grade” pine, which was affordable but knotty.  Then came the middle grade material.  The price was good, but the boards on top were as knotty as the “builder’s grade” stock.  After a little digging through the middle grade material, I found 3 really nice, clear, 10-inch wide boards. I bought them.  I’m $30 more invested in this tool chest but I’m working with some decent lumber and having fun planing again.

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Good lumber = more fun at the bench.  This pine is really nice stuff for hand planing!

Word to the wise – don’t waste much time with inferior materials.  Your projects and your time are too valuable.  The crate “recycled” lumber is still being used in this project, just less of it.  The rest can be used in my fire pit.  I really enjoy a good fire.  As an added bonus, I am now able to make the chest a few inches longer than the chest in the PWWM article (full 32 inch).  It should be long enough to hold a full sized hand saw and I’ll still be able to lift it.  Fingers crossed on that one.

Bob Jones

Simple Plane Storage (Free to good home)

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Simple and effective plane rack

Before I built my tool cabinet, I built this storage rack.  I’m posting it here for 2 reasons.  First, someone may be looking for an easy way to store their planes that requires very little time or materials to produce.  Second, someone in the Memphis area can have this one (unloaded) for free.  I don’t need it but I hate to throw it away.  I work in Memphis and live in North MS, so if you are willing to pick it up you can have it for free (sorry, no shipping).  The first person to comment “I’ll take it” on this blog post gets it.

Construction details – it is a 2ft x 4ft piece of 3/4in ply.  I used my table saw (long gone now) to cut groves in it wide enough to hold 1/8 hardboard with a friction fit.  This guarantees the planes stay vertical.  Then I screwed in a cleat on the bottom (3/4in square MDF) to keep the planes from sliding down the wall.  Lastly, I put in eye bolts at the top with shoelace strings to serve as a safety net, “just in case”.  This actually helped once when I was moving a really long board and accidentally hit my Number 4 plane and the string caught it.  Whew!

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Side view – I miscalculated the angle a bit.  The screws at the top pull in so tight that the horizontal supports barley even touch the wall.  Lag screws are pretty strong.

I don’t remember what angle off the wall I used.  I cut the angle in the 2×4 board at the top using my bandsaw.  I just guessed at the angle and it worked out fine.  This thing was way overbuilt.  It was attached to the wall with lag screws at the top.  I literally could (and did) hang from this thing and it did not flex or complain one bit.

There are several nice things about the design.  Easy access, super fast to build, minimal materials required, flexible to store a range of sizes and other tools, too.  Of course, there are also a few drawbacks:  it’s not very space efficient, tools are exposed to dust and open to damage from long pieces of wood carelessly moved around.  And don’t forget that it is not as cool as a cabinet.

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Before and after shots. It worked well at the end of the bench, so that is where I mounted my cabinet.  My walls are a lot cleaner now, too!

Please excuse the poor picture quality.  I took these pictures long before I started this blog.

Bob Jones

Free-cycled sharpening station

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Free-cycling is all the rage now, but us cheapskates have been doing this forever. Here is a “free” option for a nice sharpening station.  This chunk of granite is the cutout from a kitchen sink.  The size just happens to make a nice sharpening station.

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I use this piece as an attachment point for sandpaper for flattening plane bottoms and as a surface to hold my water stones.

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I place the water stones on top of drawer liner material.  For honing a blade or two at a time the liner absorbs the water until it can evaporate away.  This makes very little mess and is a nice solution for the $.  Assuming you are not getting granite countertops installed, see somewhere that sells it and they may sell you a similar piece for cheap.

I was going to make some nice legs for it and make it stand alone, but for the last 4 years it has been setting on a larger tabletop and that works well.  Plus, I’m out of space.

Bob Jones