From Start to Finish – Part 2

Over the past couple weeks I have been working on and off towards finishing the trays. A lot has been done since my part 1 post.

After we had all the sides cut to length and the miters made, the next step was to decide what type of handles the trays would have. Doug wanted some of his to have routed handles and some with cherry handles. I decided I would do the same.


Doug’s routed tray handles

We set up the router and Doug showed me how to make the handles. Instead of having my handles go only half way through the board I wanted them to go all the way through. Doug said that was usually done another way but since we had the router set up we could figure out how to make it happen with the router. Doug set up two boards on either side of the router spaced just wide enough for the tray side to fit. This would keep me safe and keep my board straight giving it a nice even cut. Doug tried it first to see how it would work. Then I did a few practice runs before starting on the real pieces. It worked!


Hand routing the inside of my handles

After that I used a handheld router to round the inside of my handles and then sanded them smooth.


Drilling holes to screw on the tray handles

Doug then designed the shape of the cherry handles and figured out their dimensions. With that information, I marked on the boards where to drill holes that would be used to screw the handles on. Then I used the drill press to drill the holes. I also used the drill press with a plug cutter bit to make plugs that would cover the screw and fill the hole.


Making wood plugs

Once the holes were finished it was time to put finish on the inside of the boards. The outside will get finished later. I really enjoyed this process. It was calming for me and all my attention was on what I was doing. I found that if I held the board up to the light while I as putting the finish on I could see the spots that I missed easily. This allowed me to get nice, even coats.

About halfway through putting on the second coat I went to move the can to a closer spot and it slipped right out of my hand. It landed upside down and half of what was in the can spilled out and rapidly spread into a good sized pool. I walked over to Doug with a very ashamed look and told him. He acted quickly. He grabbed some rags and sawdust. I wiped up as much as I could then Doug sprinkled sawdust around to soak up the rest. I wiped that up and we repeated the process. We got it cleaned up to the point that you could barely see where it spilled. I felt so bad and Doug told me a story to make me feel better of a time he spilled a gallon of finish. It made me feel a bit better but I took down the info of what kind of what type of finish it was and surprised him a few days later with a new can of finish.


Trays glued up using block and string method

When the finish was dry I finally got to glue the trays together. I did a few practice ones before making the three trays requested by Doug’s former customer. First I would put glue in dado joint then on the mitered edges then fit the pieces around the plywood panel making sure that the joints were tight and the inside of the corners lined up. Then I used a block and string method to hold the joints together and apply pressure while drying. I found that doing a dry run before gluing up avoided much difficulty. Every time I would skip the dry run and go right to gluing the pieces would never fit together and I would have to frantically try to manhandle (or should I say womanhandle) and hammer them together before the glue set. Once they were together I would lay the trays on a flat surface to make sure they didn’t rock at all.


Angled table saw blade

The next step was to make the cherry handles. Doug showed me where his cherry wood stash was located and we picked out the boards we would use. Then we ripped it on the table saw to get it the right width. Doug designed the handles to be tapered inward on all four sides. That could be accomplished for the long sides on the table saw. I never knew this but apparently the blade can be rotated in to cut at an angle. Doug explained how this maneuver could be unsafe and what I could do to stay safe. We started with the blade relatively upright and moved it in gradually until the amount of taper was just right.

After that, the outer edge of the board was rounded with a router. Then we moved to the chop saw to cut the remaining handles to the right length at a slight angle. To get a straight downward cut, because the board is tapered, Doug stacked a few pieces of veneer to prop up the low end.


Cherry handles cut to size


Doug’s finished cherry handles

Once the handles were cut to size it was time to sand them. I saw that Doug used the belt sander to sand off the sharp corners and round the side edges of the handles but must have missed what he did after that. I looked at the handles he had finished and went to the belt sander to finish the rest. I tried so hard to make mine look like his but I couldn’t. I tried and I tried but it just didn’t look as smooth and perfect as his. Finally I gave Doug a look of desperation and he came over with a kind of “did you really mess this up” expression on his face. I told him that I was using the belt sander and I just couldn’t get mine to look as good and smooth as his. He laughed and told me he got the handle to that point through a series of three stages. First he used to belt sander to get the basic shape then the orbital sander to smooth it out and round it further, and finally he hand sanded it a little to top it off. Ah ha! That’s how he got it so nice. I felt much more confident about my ability after that.

I quickly finished the rest of the handles on belt sander then moved on to the orbital sander. Doug told me it was a little awkward at first but he had gotten used to sanding rounded edges with the orbital sander so I gave it a try. It took a short bit to get used to but it wasn’t bad. My hand got tired pretty fast so I switched hands and kept going. Woodworking is helping me become ambidextrous; sometimes I need to use my non-dominant hand to do things and now it’s becoming more coordinated. However, it’s interesting that the technique I use is different for each hand. What works for one doesn’t work for the other, they each have a mind of their own (or a different brain hemisphere).I got the handles as close to done as I could with the orbital sander then set them aside to be hand sanded at a later time.


Doug showing me hot to make a slip feather joint

Next, Doug taught me how to make a slip feather joint. This is done by cutting a kerf into a miter joint and gluing a piece of wood into it. This adds extra strength to the joint. Guess which tool we used for this? Yep, the table saw; this is an amazing multipurpose tool. There is a special jig that a piece (in this case a tray) clamps into at a 45 degree angle. It fits into a track on the table saw so all a person needs to do it push it slowly forward and pull it back. I made two cuts on each corner; one near the top of the tray and one near the bottom of the tray. Then I glued the slip feathers that Doug made into the kerf cut.


Kerf cut for slip feathers


Making slip feather joints on the corners of the trays

When they were dry I used the band saw to cut the excess off. The goal is to get as close to the edge of the tray as possible without cutting into the tray. I tried my very best but my cuts were either far from the edge or I would accidentally cut into the tray. Neither was a big deal it just means I would need to sand more.

The last step I completed on the trays was to sand all the outside edges flat and smooth. Making sure the feathers were completely smooth and didn’t stick out.

I still haven’t finished the trays yet; there is just so much other stuff to do in the shop for Doug. I need to finish hand sanding the handles, put them on the trays, and put the finish on.

Stay tuned for more of my adventures in helping Doug, building a table, and finishing the trays.