Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Mitres ,Hook and all...

Bench-top Jigs make quick work for tight corners

I've just started my next project and not too far into it, I find myself having to cut mitres at my bench using hand tools. A quick process that could be a lot harder if it wasn't for a few simple Bench-top appliances.
The first step as is true with all good joinery is starting with straight stock that's been hand planed true. Once you've prepared your pieces, measure and mark with either a knife or pencil. For this project I'm using walnut which I find difficult to see at the best of times so for certain cuts I actually use both. I make my knife cut and follow with led, think old school prison tattoos...Actually, it helps to add some contrast my eye can more readily detect when sawing accurately on Walnut.
I always make a 90 degree first with pencil across the work piece; it helps to keep things 'square' when you mark and cut the mitre. I use a Mitre Hook at my Bench top to cut the 45. It's a quick jig made from 3/4" MDF; it consists of a base with a hook glued and screwed to the front bottom that rests against the bench top apron and a fence across the back. For the fence I used a thick piece of hard maple I had in my off-cut pile. I marked and cut out the kerfs for my back-saw to follow when in use. One 90, centered with a 45 degree on each side. This stock is a little better than an inch in thickness so I opt to use my larger 12" Tenon Saw filed cross cut with 13 tpi. I follow my scribe down down through the fibres careful on the exit not to cut into the MDF. That stuff is nasty for saw blades and everything else I can think of save for the jigs around a wood shop.
Once I have my pieces mitred I change over to my shooting board equipped with a mitre fence. The mitre fence is a simple accessory made from another off-cut; this time some 3/4" Birch plywood I had left over from some un-fulfilling job where I had to use 3/4" Birch plywood!
Just kidding, plywoods are getting better and better, the quality and overall look and performance; although in my perfect world I think that I'd use solid wood for all of my projects and be able to convince all of my clients to do the same. On the shooting board I true up the mitres being careful not to blow-out the fine pointed ends. When I'm happy with the results I try matching up the pieces flat on the work bench. I use a small piece of masking tape to pull the pieces together. Looks good; a little glue and this one is done.
For larger applications in heavier stock, this method can be awkward do to the fact that planing stock thicker than 1" can become difficult on the shooting board. Try using a 'bird-house' or 'donkey's ear' jig in combination with the shooting board, this allows the plane to travel across the grain on the 45 and not with it. There are quite a few different mitering jigs out there, look around and find one you'll enjoy using.

Reflection Method of Schwarz

This is just something I stumbled across yesterday and tried it out this morning while cutting the above mitres.
Christopher Schwarz, Editor of Popular and Woodworking magazines was filmed during a talk at Lie-Nielson recently. He shows how to cross cut a perfect 90 using only the reflection of the stock in the side of your saw blade as a guide.
I thought our dear Mr. Schwarz may have been sitting a little too close to the Linseed Oil but hey...voila!
It works; imagine, a perfect 90 cut by eye, my eye, not his of course, that would just be strange...Anyhow, try it if you can't find a square and you happen to keep a bright shiny saw blade tucked away in yer' till somewhere.

Check it out:

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Not so, Square...

Hand Shaping and Carving can add Interest to a Small Cabinet

My wife, a school teacher who's morning routine consists of a cup of herbal peppermint tea and then again in the evenings a cup of some other herbal tea blend. For Christmas I wanted to build a small tea cabinet she could keep some of her more prized, specialty teas in as well as a few small tea making appliances.
I had some wonderful Maple in my shop that I was hoarding away, waiting for the perfect project to use it on. I found it way in the back of a wood pile at a local saw mill here on Cape Breton. It was locally grown and milled as well as stacked and air dried. Lots of figure, I thought it would be a good choice for this project.
The carcass for the cabinet is built pretty traditionally using mostly hand tools. The corners are dovetailed together with rabbets on the interior for the shelf and drawer dividers. The back panel is floating in a groove at the back. Nothing too complicated just a sturdy box for a practical use.Once the carcass was together I found the piece to be a little...well,...square.? I decided to start shaping the outer carcass with spokeshaves, files and scrapers. I didn't think simply running over to my Router table and rounding over the corners would do justice to really make this piece come to life. I started shaping the edges, following the grain as well as the natural flow of the wood. If you think of the side piece of the cabinet as a rectangle then the flow of the wood grain may meander across it like a tiny river. I followed the movement of the swirling grain pattern taking light passes as I went. Keeping my spokeshave finely tuned and very sharp was imperative for this highly figured Maple. I was actually carving a trench down the side of the piece, gently following the natural patterns occurring in the wood. Nothing to deep but shallow enough for shadows, creeping across the un-square box in front of you, perhaps playing tricks with the eye. From the front bottom corner to the top back side the grain moved and swirled in it's own organic way and I simply followed it into it's natural form.
The top of the piece if you look straight at it is actually more bone shaped, the outer edges are rounded while the centre dips down giving the piece a softer feel.
Again making sure to take very light passes with the spokeshave and followed with a file and card scraper you really have to trust your own judgment and the grain of the wood. The result is quite subtle but definitely worth the extra time to make. To take a simple box and make it not so square really adds visual interest to the piece without really making an extreme difference. Just small shaping here and there makes the eye play tricks on you. Is that side flat or is it symmetrical top to bottom? No, probably not, that's actually the real beauty of this process. Shaping and carving a straight and sort of simple piece, giving it a rounded and softer feel can really add some visual interest to it. The two small drawers I built are made from Quarter sawn Cherry for the faces with Maple for the drawer sides and back and Poplar for the bottom. They feature half-blind dovetails on the front with through dovetails at the back. The bottom is captured on three sides in a groove cut on the bottom of the sides and face with a small brass screw in the back; very traditional method of drawer making. Again I wanted to give these elements a more hand-crafted feel and accomplished this with carving a small drawer pull from a Walnut dowel.
A great way to make these tiny drawer pulls is to use store bought dowels, in this case I actually used a Walnut dowel I had from my Miller Dowel System, a great pre-fab dowel available through most fine woodworking tool shops. The initial shape is done by chucking the small end of the dowel in my drill press. Turning it to it's slowest speed I use small files and shape the dowel. When I reach an appealing shape I take it out of the drill press and carve the small flower detail into the end. A good way to do this is to drill a mating hole into a scrap piece of wood and insert the dowel into it. This will then get clamped in a vise keeping it straight and secure while you carve the end. For the larger drawer at the bottom I simply cut out a half round and shaped it a little more with files.
Making a small cabinet like this is a lot of fun and adding these small details really can bring a simple design and give it a real hand crafted feel.
You can watch some video clips I shot when building this piece. Just click on the three VIDEO CLIPS at the middle of this page.