Monday, July 30, 2012

Tool Chest Completed and Another School Box Begins

I could (and probably will) continue to tweak the tool chest forever. With a bit of black milk paint on the faces of the tills, and the whole thing oiled a few times, I am calling it complete. The joinery saws do need some sort of additional cleats but otherwise it is entirely functional. I am impressed with the overall design and ergonomics; I believe it is much more than adequately robust and is very comfortable to use. It is certainly heavy. It was really a perfect learning experience and I almost want to make another just to implement what lessons were harvested from the copious mistakes made while building this one.

With that project, at least nominally, out of the way, I was able to prepare some panels for the next school box, and join the corners. My dovetailing is certainly getting faster. A tiny bit more accurate, too. I don't have any more fir thin enough for the bottom of this one, so have to think about how I will approach that.

Last but not least, since summer has been blazing here on the NorthWest Coast, reaching well into the low 80s, I have landed a long-overdue fan. This thing looks cute but has some serious torque and really moves the air. I will likely use it more for ventilation while finishing than to actually keep cool, but I do think it is a powered appliance that most hand-tool shops should consider, if any.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

[Tool Chest] Home Stretch

The Tool Chest is in the final stages of fitting and finishing. It still needs a few bits, like another coat of black trim paint (although I sortof like how it already looks 20 years old), an escutcheon plate for the lock, and I am  tempted to paint the front faces of the tills black since I don't fully enjoy how the pine looks.

It is now 100% functional, however!

The space is a bit tighter than I had thought. It came out a tiny bit shorter than I wanted due to the boards I had available, and so the top drawer is a little shallower than I would have liked. I also added a possibly inefficient rack for joinery and bow saws as well as  rasps to the front wall. This eats up a bit of space for the tills to slide so makes the bench planes marginally harder to get to. None of this is that bad.

Its possible I have a few too many tools. Time will tell which earn their keep and which get voted off.

I did want to make a chisel tote because my current bench doesn't have a rack nor a good space for one. I would have loved to have fit a whole rack on the front of the chest but I opted instead to put the bowsaw and joinery saws on the front wall. It's all securely yet temporarily installed so I can reconfigure this without too much hassle.

Here's where it is at now:

You can see the edge is pretty rough with the green poking through. It still needs another coat or two of black and a final oiling. I was impatient to get on with the interior so have saved these final coats for last. The idea that I might also bang it up a bit while finishing the interior was on my mind.

I painted the inside of the lid as well. I wasn't initially planning to do this but the wood was frankly a bit ugly. I might mount some very thin tools to the inside surface, or ???

This shows the joinery saws, bow saw, and a few rasps and a mortise float in a rack on the front. These are the tools I was most nervous about having bang around loose in the tills. This eats up a bit of space (especially the bow saw) so it might not last. I do like how convenient it all is though. The saws need some cleats of some sort to support them better.

The top till is the shallowest and holds bench chisels and marking/measuring stuff. Also a block plane and a couple tiny planes that may or may not stick around. I hardly ever use them but they are so small and could really be useful for some future narrow scrapes. You can also make out some of the bench planes on the floor.

Disobeying the rules of compartmentalizing, I did put the chisels into a little tray of their own. This is because it takes up less space than the roll I had been using, and is easy to carry to the bench. I plan to build a rack for the workbench I will build which might remove the need for this tray, but that is the beauty of how flexible and temporary this all is.

My set of 5 bench chisels + a 1.5" and 2 lock chisels just fits along the width of the till. The support I built needs a little tweaking but is already helping out. It might be more space-efficient to alternate the directions of the chisels but that also seems more likely to stab me. I'll think about it.

The middle till has the striking tools, coping saw, flush cut and keyhole saw, and other oddballs. Not sure how this will ultimately end up. It is a bit more of a jumble than I would like. I probably shouldn't have the Japanese ryoba saw in there as it does not purely fit into my work flow but it is dang handy. It should probably live out in the garage and come in for rescue missions when needed, late at night when no traditional woodworking purists are around to see it.

The bottom till is the deepest and that is where the largest loose tools go. Braces, auger bits, drills, panel gauge, and so on are all in here. I probably don't need 2 sizes of brace or drill, but I am still auditioning and shaking down which I prefer. I might build a box for the auger bits at some point because the roll takes up more space than it seems like it needs to.

I'm looking forward to calling this case closed and getting on with other stuff. That said, it has been a blast to build and is highly suggested for anyone wanting a traditional way to protect and organize their tools. The discipline of only keeping tools which fit into it is going to be tricky, but I love the idea.

Monday, July 16, 2012

Drawboring a Chest Lid?

As I was building the lid for my tool chest, I liked the idea of over-building it to last. Drawboring came to mind as a possible method of improving the lid. Drawboring is a bit of a lost art, although it is regaining popularity. For those who do not study woodworking lore, this is a rather old method of driving a peg through two very slightly offset holes, so that as the peg is driven, the pieces are pulled tightly together and stay that way. This is how I will attach my workbench legs to the top.

I asked Christopher Schwarz what he thought about this, since I was using his overall concepts to build the chest. I figured if it were a good idea, he would have mentioned it. While awaiting his reply, I looked at every image I could dig up of traditional tool chests, and did not see much evidence of drawbored lids. However, I found this photo from Peter Follansbee:

If you view the image full size, and pay attention to the corners, drawbore pegs are visbile. While this chest is only a few months old, I do trust Peter's understanding of traditional joinery and his use of the joint backed up my hunch that it might be a good idea.

Christopher then responded with his ten cents:

Before glues became reliable (think early paste glues) drawboring was very common in furniture, regardless of its position in a project.

As the work became thinner in frame-and-panel constructions and hide glue became the norm, the joinery changed a bit. Instead of pinning the joint, the joiner would make the joint a through-tenon and then wedge it from the outside. This created a good mechanical bond – if not as fantastic as drawboring. But it had the advantage of being able to be easily disassembled and easily reassembled.

Why the switch?

I don't know for sure, but I can guess. I've tried drawboring everything -- even lightweight joints. As the material becomes thinner, the joint is much more likely to self-destruct when you drawbore it. For example, in about 2003 I built a seed cabinet from the Enfield community. I drawbored all the joints in the frame-and-panel door. If the six joints, three exploded. I had to make a new door.

When I make a bench with heavy components, it's almost impossible to destroy it via drawboring. And I have tried.

I wedged my through tenons on my tool chest's lid. If that's not in the book it's an omission on my part.

It's a thoughtful question.

and then this update:  
I took a different approach to wedging the tenons – one that is found in heavy-duty doors. You wedge from the outside of the tenon. Against the edge cheeks. If the primary wood is soft, the oak wedges will compress it, making the mortise a bit trumpet shaped. See the attached photo. This shows an interior panel for the chest that I decided not to use. But it shows the wedging clearly.

You can split the tenon with a chisel if you like. This method has the least risk of all of the options. It's traditional. Reparable. 

He supplied this image:

 It clearly shows the wedges on either side of the tenon. I decided to use this approach, although I was glad to know that at least one studied woodworker had also decided to use drawboring.

In the end, I was just cruising along with the joints and completely neglected to do the wedging step. I guess in 15 or 20 or 50 years I will know if that was a mistake.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

[Tool Chest] Milk Paint: Without a Net

The instructions clearly, and almost sternly, suggest testing colors before applying them. This is certainly even more important while mixing a custom color, as I was.

Since the wood my tool chest is made from is pretty ugly, I am planning to cover it in a series of colored layers which may or may not reveal themselves as interesting, almost marbleized, patterns over time as the layers progressively wear away. I've never really loved faux finishes or shabby-chic furniture but I do like the idea of the chest looking a little different as time goes on and looking at examples of worn away milk paint layers always leaves me wanting to try it.

I also wanted a base of paint involving the "Extra Bond" additive, which promises to allow the paint to adhere to troublesome areas like knots, which I had a handful of. To that end, I decided on a primer layer which would not be directly visible, but would allow the subsequent colors to eventually wear away and show hints of it. For this, I chose a tan-like color which the paint manufacturers suggested I could blend.

Here is what I was after:

This is the color "Driftwood" from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company, combined with 50% white. It is pointed out that the onscreen colors will of course not match the end result, being an understandable and obvious limitation of technology. Nonetheless, I figured this was close enough to the tan I wanted, since I also couldn't be exactly sure of any of these colors and so had to really guess at what 3 I would want together.

The instructions also suggest weighing the paint powder for the most accurate blends. I did not do this, since I really didn't know (and maybe didn't really care) exactly what tone of tan or light brown I would end up with. I figured I could at least have the option of adding more white on the fly if I wanted to lighten it.

So upon mixing it up, I was a bit surprised to have created something akin to Battleship Grey, although with a bit more blue in it. The "Driftwood" color (both on the screen and on the sample card included) did not look very blue to me at all. The white looked very white in its powder form, so I suppose it is some bizarre alchemy between the two colors. The instructions even say that color mixing is unpredictable so always test it on cardboard, popsicle sticks, or a scrap of your project wood.

I don't know if I mind the grey color (it is primer after all) but I would have been pretty annoyed with myself if this had been a particular color I wanted. Perhaps I wanted to match an existing piece or room, or maybe I just really liked a particular color. I said annoyed with myself and not with the paint company because this obviously would be easily preventable by actually testing the mixture first.

It is only to express my surprise that I post this. It is not a complaint. It is also to remind anyone else considering using milk paint to be sure to actually test it first if you care at all about the end results. I knew they would be variable, but not like this!

Here's the chest, in Driftwood + 50% White, aka Battleship Blue-Grey:

It is a fine base color, even if it is not what I envisioned. I have since put on 2 coats of Tavern Green (which exactly match the color sample sent and more or less match the on-screen example). A little more painting to be done, and then onto the tills.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

[Tool Chest] Lid and Hinges

Summer is here in full swing (it has gotten up into the mid 70s outside)! With a kid in the local parade, the attempt to sell our home (and shop, want it?), and other activities, it has been tricky to get as much time in the shop as I would like. Still, the tool chest continues apace.

I did not fully document the construction of the lid, but it is also not very exciting although mortising is always fun. My lid (like the whole shell) is made entirely of Douglas Fir. I wanted to use something a little more special for the panel, such as cherry, but as the whole chest is looking rather "rustic" due to the mildly cantankerous nature of the fir, I decided to just roll with this as a learning experience and not worry too much about beauty. "I'm going to paint it, anyway" I kept telling myself every time a corner or gouge splintered and popped out.

It is pretty heavy. With some trepidation I almost look forward to weighing it. Still, the price was right on the lumber (free) and it is as local as it gets... the donor tree grew across the street. This is also why I am tolerating the slightly wretched nature of the wood. Plenty of knots an reversing grain. "I'm going to paint it, anyway". The Anarchist's Tool Chest implores us to use clear wood, as the knots will pop out over time, but the same book asks us to disobey it, so I did. This is probably not one of the areas it is smart to disobey, but there you have it.

The hinge mortises were not too hard, I am getting better and faster at it. Actually installing the lid, though, was a bit of a dance. And by dance, I mean if I had shot video of it, and played it back at double speed with Yakkity Sax (aka the Benny Hill theme) it probably would have been amusing. It is not really a one-person job, or if it is, I lack the clever tricks to have it go smoothly. I ended up actually standing inside the chest, supporting much of the lid on various body parts while driving in the screws. Eventually it worked.

The lid was only a hair tight. A few sweeps of a shoulder plane on the dust seal had it satisfyingly close. I might take off a few more shavings in a couple days to anticipate movement over time, but for now it is about piston-perfect (probably not ideal in this case) and I want to relish that for a bit.

Interior tills remain, and of course I cannot wait to paint this thing and hide how gnarly the wood is. I am of course also looking forward to actually using it. While building it is fun, and I suppose counts as woodworking, this has really been a detour on my planned path.

Here's where it is today:

You can probably see why I am keen to paint it, including the inside of the lid. However, I do have faith that this thing is Very Strong, and it is so much more satisfying to have built it from scratch than to purchase metal drawers from Sears (can't afford Snap-On). I might want to build another, nicer one some day but I suppose that will be a desire, not a need. I feel like this is going to serve my actual needs for longer than I will have such needs.

Tuesday, July 3, 2012

What classes would you enjoy?

Life has been keeping me out of the shop recently but not my mind. In fact, I've been talking about woodoworking despite not doing a bunch of it. It is likely clear from some of my posts here that teaching, learning, and preserving woodcraft tradition is as important to me as actually doing it or creating the artifacts themselves. To that end, I was discussing curriculum with the folks at the Port Townsend School of Woodworking. We were wondering together what subjects are hard to find instruction in, and would be worth travel. I would love to hear the thoughts any of you have, especially beginners or those who had not otherwise considered taking courses. I have my own ideas, but with more input perhaps the likelihood of these seeds taking root increases.

As far as my tool chest project goes, I've mostly been stymied but the failure of my Veritas Plow Plane. Lee Valley did send me a new depth stop but I have yet to have a chance to complete the lid. Hopefully soon!

In the meantime, I did a tiny bit of work, creating a headstock for a friend who is building a guitar from a kit but lacked the tools to shape it. He enjoys over-the-top rock style but also wanted an all-purpose guitar so I wanted to give it a hint of personality but still remain civil. I just drew a few curves with a compass and french curve and let the rasps do the rest:

More on the tool chest soon!