A Week of Many Projects

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Helping Doug and his wife Sandy create a display for their booth

Last week was a bit shorter than usual. Over the weekend Doug had attended an artisan craft fair where he sold his work at a booth. He asked me to come help him at the booth because he thought his wife had to be somewhere else. It turned out that she was able to stay so there wasn’t much need for me. I stood with them at the booth for a short while anyway. Unfortunately no sales took place during the time I was there; I was really looking forward to seeing a transaction happen. Doug put a lot of work into the fair by preparing the items and spending the entire weekend selling them. He did really well overall and got second place for his beautiful display. So he decided to take Monday off to rest, which meant I got Monday off too. Well, sort of…

For my day off, Doug gave me the task of designing a small table that I will be building. I had an idea of what I wanted the table to look like so I started playing around with sketches. I designed a nightstand.

The next day I brought my design in to show Doug. He gave me a few ideas and standards that would make my table better proportioned and stable. He then showed me how to make a scale drawing with an architects ruler then had me make a scale drawing of my table for homework.

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Scale Drawing of nightstand

I worked on a lot of different projects over the week. I worked a bit more on the trays, I helped build some quick cabinets for Doug to transport and display some of his products, I changed the table saw blade to a dado blade, and I milled the boarders for table runners.

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Quick cabinet for storage and display of products

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Changing the table saw blade

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Putting on a dado blade

The dado grooves I made for the table runner boarders this time didn’t work out so well. I had made them before, the same exact things made the same exact way but this time something really wasn’t working out. The board was lifting up and not cutting as deep as it needed to be and was just awful. Doug thought it might be his blade becoming dull so he decided to give it a try himself. It worked perfectly. So the conclusion was it was something I was doing wrong. However, from watching Doug do it I realized that he was putting pressure on the board right above the blade and he had me keep my hand at a distance. I pointed this out and he said it was better for me to be on the safe side. Doug is an very experienced woodworker and therefore the line between safe and unsafe is quite different from where mine is as a beginner.  This just means I need to find alternative ways to get the job done well and yet maintain that level of safety. I got the done, not the best job but they’ll do. Next time I’ll just have to play around with the process and find something that works for me. I’m still baffled as to how I managed to make them the first time without messing up though.

I did a lot of odd jobs this week but it is always a learning experience especially because I’m starting from the beginning. I have very little experience with woodworking and tools and most of the experience I have is recent so every bit I do is important. No matter how big or small, simple or complicated, brief or repetitive the task, it is training my muscles and my mind for this kind of work.

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From Start to Finish – Part 1

Doug had gotten a request from a previous customer to make some wooden trays. She had purchased some from him a while back and loved them so much she wanted a few more. Doug decided this would be a great start to finish project for me that I would be in charge of and work on by myself. In doing so I would get to make a few extra for myself to keep or give away as gifts. Doug would also have me make extra that he would be selling. We decided on 12 trays in total. The trays will have poplar edges and a plywood panel bottom.

We figured out the dimensions of the trays based on what the customer requested. Then we went on a hunt through Doug’s shop for the materials. Doug liked poplar wood for the trays so we sorted through his large stash. Doug would take out his measuring tape and rapidly spout out numbers easily breaking down the sizes in his head and figuring out how many tray sides we could get out of one board. It was far too fast for me to follow along. He had to stop and break it down slowly for me. I got it just not as fast as he does; he has had many years of practicing. He then went on to explain how important it is to learn how to figure out what you want, what available material you have, and how to make it work.

Once we had all the dimensions figured out and the poplar ready Doug had me set up the table saw and cut all the edges. When setting up the table saw you need to set the width (which is measured from the outside of the blade to the fence) and the blade height to make sure the blade isn’t set too high (which can be dangerous) or too low. The table saw is a serious tool and needs to be respected and used safely. Doug is very adamant about safety and I really appreciate it. If the space between the blade and fence is less than 6” a push stick is to be used. When I am running a board through the table saw I am to be focusing on where my hands are and where they are putting pressure in case they slip; where are they going to go? I also need to focus on the board, make sure it is flush against the fence and flat on the table otherwise I won’t get a straight cut. It takes a bit to get used to and sometimes it was a bit tricky because some of the boards weren’t straight so I couldn’t get them flush against the fence. I did my best though. It also took a bit to get used to where to place my hands and fingers to get the right pressure to keep the board in line, I got little nicks and shallow cuts on my fingers from the sharp corners of the boards rubbing against them.

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Poplar boards cut on table saw for trays

After all the boards were cut to the right width it was time to sand them all smooth. It was so much sanding! It took me an entire morning plus half of an afternoon to sand all the boards. My shoulders and neck were cramping and I had to take several breaks to get feeling back into my arms that would go numb from the vibration of the orbital sander. This was not my favorite part of the process.

Eventually I finished sanding and got to move on to making dado grooves that the plywood panel will fit into. I used the table saw again for this. I am getting tons of good practice and added a few more small cuts on my fingers as well as a nice blister on my pointer finger. To make the dado I made three passes over the normal blade moving the fence just slightly over each time until the desired width of the dado was reached and the 1/4 “ plywood fit nicely.

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Dado grooves

The next step was to round the edges with a router. Doug liked the idea of having all four edges rounded. He showed me how to set up and use the router and jig. He clamped a board down that was centered on the router that would act as a fence to keep my work straight and even and provide some safety. He had me use a push stick for this as well to be extra cautious.

I started out thinking this is pretty easy but soon found it to be strenuous. My body has a way to go before it adapts to the specific ways I need to use it. My hands started cramping badly, like a charley horse, especially the big muscle under my thumb. I needed to put quite a bit of pressure on the board to keep it against the fence so my edge would turn out nice. I must have tried half a dozen different ways of holding my hands, and none of them were comfortable for very long; they all made my hand sore. I suffered through it, kept going, and finished!

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Routered edges

The next morning I hand sanded every board to get any marks the router made. At first this task wasn’t so bad but after a while I was tensing up. I finally discovered that if I relaxed my muscles while I did this it was a lot less strenuous. This meant playing around with different ways of holding the board and sandpaper. I find that with everything I do in woodworking I need to have a firm grip on things yet keep as many muscles relaxed as possible. I also need to make sure I am in a comfortable position otherwise things get uncomfortable real fast. After mentioning to Doug that I was sore from tensing my muscles he said, “Welcome to woodworking!” By this he meant woodworking is a physical job and it takes the body a while to get used to it. I know as I continue I will find comfortable ways to hold tools and position my body, and the specific muscles used for these tasks will get stronger and have more endurance.

That afternoon Doug had me sort the boards into groups of four that would make up the four sides of the tray. He said this was where the design element came in. I got to go through all the boards and pick which ones went together best. I spent a long time deciding which pieces to put together. After a while Doug came over and told me I was probably over thinking it. I probably was but I enjoyed it.

Once I had them grouped together to my satisfaction I started cutting the miter joints on the chop saw. Doug had me make a miter cut on one side of every board first then go back and make the cut on the other side. He showed me how to set up a stopper by clamping a board down a certain distance away from the chop saw that I can push one end of the board against. This makes sure all the boards are cut to the same length. It’s a bit of a process to set it up and it takes a little time but if a lot of boards all need to be cut to the same length this can be very time saving and accurate.

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Using a stopper to cut miter joints

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Miter cuts

On Friday I finished the miter cuts and chose which sets of four I liked the most for my own boxes. Doug chose which ones would be made for the client. The left over ones would be for Doug to sell.  We also decided on what types of handles the boxes would get. Some of them will have routered handles, some of them will have cherry wood handles, and some will have no handles.

I am really enjoying having a start to finish project to work on. The first week I was just plugged into whatever Doug was working on. It was fun in it’s own way but I think having a project to work on is best for learning. I still need to design a small table that I will build for myself; I’m really excited for that!

I didn’t get to finish the trays last week so stay tuned for part 2!

Working with Doug

Monday I started a new, two month long internship with Doug Adams, owner of the Spalted Wood Gallery. I took a class with him at MUM and absolutely loved it. I learned so much in his class and knew I wanted to learn more from him. He is a high-energy, humorous, honest, and kindhearted man who is incredibly conscientious about safety. He is meticulous and efficient. He used to specialize in custom furniture and cabinetry but more recently has migrated into gift items such as trivets, salt and pepper shakers, napkin holders, lazy susans, utensils, etc. as well as mosaic art work. Doug’s work is stunning and he has a wonderful and unique style that incorporates beautiful spalted and exotic woods.

My internship will be split into two categories: the first category is production; I will be learning and helping Doug produce the items he sells, the second category is my own projects; I will be choosing and designing my own projects that will teach and refine a variety of techniques and skills.

The first day at Doug’s was sort of an orientation day; He showed me around his large, two-story shop he recently built next to his house out in the country. He showed me his work and all the different projects he was working on. We spent a little bit of time getting his shop organized, tidied up, and ready for me to work in. Doug went over the different tools and safety rules for all of them. We also talked about the goals and expectations each of us had for the internship and what the structure of it would look like. We came to consensus of a few days a week Doug would teach me techniques on my own projects and the rest of the week I would work on production for him. This gives a nice balance for both of us to get something of value out of this experience.

Doug had invited my family and me over for lunch on the first day and his wife, Sandy, made a wonderful meal. So, after an information-filled morning, my husband and son came out to their house to eat and enjoy. It was a wonderful chance for us to get to know each other better. Doug and his wife are so incredibly kind and this gesture just shows how warm and open they are.

The rest of the week was packed. I got to use the chop saw and table saw a lot which made me progressively more comfortable using them. With the table saw I got to cut both very large things, like a sheet of plywood, and very small things, like small borders for books and lazy susans. I also used the table saw to cut rabbet and dado joints. The wide variety of sizes and shapes I got to cut was valuable for both confidence and skill. With the chop saw I cut 90, 45, and 22.5 degree angles for boarders on lazy susans and table runners. I needed to be very accurate with my measurements and cuts so I got a lot of practice at being very precise with the chop saw. Every time I would use a tool Doug would stress safety and show me how it can be dangerous and what I can do to stay safe. Always safety first. I learned how to mark certain pieces certain ways to make sure my cut was in the right place and the pieces would fit together properly. I also learned a few techniques for gluing these pieces together.

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I got to learn all this and more though helping Doug make his products. I had a lot of fun and am looking forward to next week. Even though I haven’t started any of my own projects I am already learning so many valuable things. I’m getting so much more comfortable in my ability and equipped with the right knowledge and skills. I am one step closer to feeling like I’ll be able to do this on my own some day.

Ittekimasu

Last week was a bit different than usual. Because I had finished my box and only had one week left with Duncan it didn’t make sense to start a new project. Instead, he had me help him with the project he was working on, a tiny house for a client.

On Monday I helped Duncan make a prototype windowsill. We prepped the boards and cut them to size. Then Duncan gave me the task of hand planing them. When I was finished we used a dado blade on the table saw to take out a portion in the center of the back of the board. This is done so the board has the flexibility to twist, if needed, to fit flush against the wall. This is especially important for a tiny house built on a trailer on uneven ground with nothing to square to.

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Windowsill Prototype

Next we went out to the tiny house to nail the boards around the window. There were a few spots Duncan needed to hand plane the wood down to get the boards to fit flush against the wall and the trim. Then he nailed them up. They looked very nice to me but the final judgment had to come from the client.

He gave it the a-okay so Tuesday I spent the day hand planing the rest of the boards. There was a huge stack that Duncan had already cut. I started by sharpening my plane blade. It went pretty well but I had to spend extra time on the polishing stone trying to get one very stubborn spot. Finally I had success and moved on to planing.

I was working away at my slow pace when Duncan came to join me for a bit. He moved so fast! So fast, so precise, and so fluid. I was a snail in comparison. I decided to try it closer to his speed. It didn’t work out so well. So I slowed it down a little, but still faster than I had been going, and found a nice rhythm.

After doing several boards I could tell it was time to sharpen the blade again. It was hard for me to look at the blade to tell but I could feel it and sense it when I ran the plane over a board. It just didn’t feel right, and the boards weren’t getting as smooth as they should be. So I sharpened the blade again. I guess sharpening the blade twice in one day was a bit much for my body. My neck got sore, my fingers on one hand got really stiff and were hyperextending, and my ring finger on the hand that was holding the blade went numb. Duncan told me take a break and said that even he has days where he needs to take a break in the middle of sharpening. So I took a few minutes to rest then got back down on my knees to finish up. It was painful but I pressed on and got the blade nice and sharp and beautifully polished. When I went back to planing Duncan complimented me by saying, “you got the blade really sharp, the boards are really shiny.” My hard work paid off. By the end of the day I was really starting to get the hang of planing. I still wasn’t as fast and fluid as Duncan but I definitely improved. However my finger stayed numb for a week. I guess I will need to experiment and find a different way of holding the blade while sharpening.

After sharpening a plane blade and setting it into the plane you always want to test it. This way you can make sure your taking off the right amount, not too little not too much. Setting the plane blade is troublesome for me; I either have the blade too far out or too far in. When I tap it to get it in or out I end up tapping it too little or too much. I have a hard time finding just the right spot. Or at least I think so; whenever Duncan comes to help he usually says it’s fine. Some day I’ll get it.

For the rest of the week Duncan gave me a task that I would work on and figure out on my own; I was to finish putting plywood on the top of the wall in the bathroom where the shower was going. He briefly explained what I needed to do and gave me a few tips on how to do it and what tools to use. Then he showed me where to find the plywood and set me loose. I got to use the chop saw, the table saw, the jigsaw, and the hand plane. It was fun being responsible for a project and figuring it out mostly on my own.

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Before the Plywood was Finished

The first piece I got in wasn’t perfect; it wasn’t that bad, it just wasn’t perfect. Duncan gave me a few tips on how to make the next ones better and I followed them. Each piece got a little more accurate and I got a little more comfortable. The last one however, was a bit trickier having added elements. I got it most of the way done before the end of the day.

Friday was my last day with Duncan for now; I will be doing another month long internship with him in December though. It was a very nice relaxed day. We talked for a bit at the beginning as we always do, then I finished up the last tiny bit of my small task. It was slow going shaving down a little bit here and a little bit there until finally it fit. Of course it wasn’t as good as Duncan’s but it was pretty darn close.

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After I finished the Plywood

Then I helped Duncan finish and hang the door for the bathroom. It is a simple sliding panel door made out of some of the excess tongue and groove flooring that was used for the loft. I got to use the jigsaw to cut the ends straight and help drill a hole for and screw in the rollers. Then we brought it into the house and hung it up. I think it will work well.

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Sliding Panel Door

When we were done Duncan invited me back to the shop to have tea. He made matcha green tea and set out two kinds of biscuits to go with it. Duncan likes matcha tea best because you get to drink the whole tea leaf which has added health benefits.

We sat and dipped our biscuits in the tea while having nice discussions about everything. Duncan was really nice to talk to and had so many great words of wisdom and insights to share. I am really grateful to have worked with him; not only did I learn a lot in the field of woodworking and fine furniture making but through our discussions I learned a lot about life. I am really looking forward furthering my knowledge of both things when I go back in December.

In Japanese they say, “Ittekimasu” (I’ll go and come back).

For the next two months I will be doing another woodworking/furniture making internship with a man named Doug Adams so stay tuned.

A Box Full of Love – Part 3 – Making the Lid

For my box lid Duncan had me make a frame and panel lid. Frame and panels have a frame around a free-floating panel; it’s decorative and yet it allows for expansion and contraction to happen without tearing apart. It is often used for doors and cabinets, etc.

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Box Lid Plans

Duncan asked me what technique I wanted to use to join the edges and I chose mortise and tenon. He then helped me figure out the dimensions and sketch it up.

Then again I sorted and picked out a nice 2×4 to use as the frame and went through the whole squaring and straightening process using the jointer, planer, table saw, and chop saw. When it was all ready I cut the pieces to size.

Duncan, and his amazing ability with sizes and measurements, quickly figured out a good size for the tenons. Using the table saw and a scrap piece of wood we cut a practice tenon. When we knew it would work we started cutting the actual tenons on the short pieces of wood. To finish them up, I used a Japanese hand saw and made a cut straight down each end to make it the proper size then used a Japanese chisel to clean them up.

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Making Tenons

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Finishing Tenons

When I had the tenons cleaned up I measured and marked the mortises on my long pieces. To make the mortises I used drill press. Duncan showed my how to do this with the first mortise. He found a drill bit the same diameter as the width of the mortise. Then, to start, he made two holes, one on either side of the mortise with the outside of the drill lined up with the inside of my pencil mark. Then he made slightly overlapping holes all the way from one side to the other.  The drill bit went a little lower down than the tenon will be going; he does this because it is very difficult to perfectly clean the bottom of the mortise but if it’s deeper the leftover rough stuff doesn’t get in the way. When this was done he took a wide Japanese chisel to clean up the long edges and a small, thin chisel for cleaning the ends up. He pointed out that it’s important to make sure the chisel is going straight down otherwise you end up chiseling diagonally. He showed me how to position my body so the chisel was centered on me; this makes it easier to see whether or not it’s straight. Duncan also suggested checking how the tenon fits often so as to not make it too loose and take out too much wood. Checking also allows you to find the spots that are too tight and stick. Then he left me to finish the rest. Throughout the process he would check on me and give me tips on how to make the mortise and tenon fit better together and how to make sure the outside edges of the boards lined up.

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Mortise Joint

I would shave a bit off this side then check. It would stick in one spot so I’d take it out and shave a little more off there. I continued to work like this until I had all the tenons fitting as good as I could get them in the mortises. I thought they were pretty good and that I’d be ready to glue them up but when Duncan came to check them they ended up being not as good as I thought. They were all just a little loose due to me chiseling out one side a little unevenly. Oops, I guess I didn’t get that chisel straight up and down like Duncan told me too. Oh well, not so bad, it was a slight mistake which I will try correcting and doing better next time. It was also an easy fix; I just needed to glue a very thin piece of veneer on the inside of the mortise where I had taken too much out. Then I clamped it and let it dry. After it was dry I retested the mortise and tenons and had to repeat the process on two of them that were still a little loose. The reason Duncan had me do this is because the glue doesn’t act like a filler, it needs to have surface-to-surface contact for it to hold strong.

Finally they all fit nice and snug but before gluing them up it was time to make the panel piece for the lid.

Again I found a board, straightened it, and cut it to size. Then Duncan showed me how to use the table saw to make a rabbet on the edge. I did that all the way around the panel. Then, with the frame, he showed me how to make a dado groove that my newly made rabbeted panel would fit into.

We made one cut at a time checking the width of the dado joint on the width of rabbet joint. Again it shouldn’t be too loose. I would saw a little then check it on the panel to see if it fit and make sure it wasn’t too loose. I marked the side that fit together the best so I could make sure to match them up when it was time to put everything together.

Throughout the entire process of making the lid, Duncan would spout out tiny numbered fractions and try to show me on the ruler saying something like, “It’s 3/8 plus 1/32 right?” and I’d just nod. I couldn’t see all the teeny tiny lines and when I did it would take me quite a while to count them and sort it all out. Duncan could just look and know exactly what it was. I will need to sit down with a ruler and study it. So many little lines! However, they are all different sizes, which does make it a little easier to see, but I’ll still need to study a ruler.

Finally I got to hand plane all the sides and edges of of my lid pieces till they were smooth and shiny.  With the hand plane I also beveled the top edge of my panel.

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Beveling the Panel

Now all the pieces were finished and all I had left to do was glue them together. First I did a dry run to make sure everything went together properly. Yay, they did! Duncan walked me through and helped me glue the pieces up. First we took the two long pieces with the mortises and glued one tenon into each making two L shapes. We clamped them firmly and let them dry for a while. After, we unclamped them then fit floating panel in the dado groove and glued to L pieces together. Then again we clamped all the pieces firmly and let dry.

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Lid Glued Together

My box was done and my lid was done. The final step before it was whole was attaching them together. Duncan dug out some brass hinges and picked out two matching ones that were a good size. I figured out where to place them on the top of my box and traced the hinges. I used a knife to score my back line to keep the grain from chipping out.  Then I took tiny Japanese hand saw and cut along the outside edges about 1/16 of an inch down. After, I took a chisel and hammer and gave the chisel a firm hit or two moving over a little all the way across the length of where the hinge would go. This loosens up the wood so I could take the chisel and scrape it out neatly. When I finished, I made sure the hinges were flush. Next I did a similar process on the lid only it was a bit trickier because the hinge would be in the center of the wood instead of on the edge. It took me a bit longer to get it even and smooth so the hinge would fit level but I kept at it and finally accomplished it.

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Chiseling Out for the Hinges

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Attaching the Hinge

I screwed the hinges to the lid then fit it onto the box and screwed it on.  I finished by putting two coats of hard oil finish on it. This would protect it and allow me to clean it more easily.

“The whole is greater than the sum of the parts.” All of the pieces I had worked so hard on and put so much attention on had come together beautifully and I now had a small chest. It was fulfilling to have that sense of achievement after finishing my box. I learned so much with this project and am really happy about it.

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My Finished Box

Sometime during the next week I finally brought my box home. When I came in the door my three year old son comes up to me and says, “Mommy, what a pretty box you made!” It was so sweet. Then he proceeds to bring his toys out of his room and puts them in my new box. I tell him it’s not his; it’s for all of us to share. He got really mad and insisted it was in fact his box. I promised him it would not be the last box I would make and the next one would be an even bigger box for him that could fit a lot of toys. I can’t wait to make it for him.