Never Ending

Last week! This is my very last week of internships for school. I have completed 4 months of fine woodworking and furniture making. It will be nice to have a break but at the same time I will miss woodworking. I’m know this is not the end for me, but I will be going back to regular classes and between them and my family I won’t have that much spare time until after I graduate. I guess there is always summer vacation and weekends.

For the first part of my last week I helped Duncan resize a bed frame. He had made a cherry bed frame 20 years ago for an older couple that he is friends with. Due to the declining health of the wife, they are moving into an assisted living facility. Their new bedroom is a little smaller than their current one so Duncan offered to turn their king sized bed frame into a queen.


Drilled hole then squared one side to bolt mortise and tenon together

I helped Duncan pick the bed frame up from their house. We took out all the bolts and pulled the pieces apart and loaded it into Duncan’s small pickup truck. The next day Duncan cut a bit off each side and I helped knock the glued mortise and tenons apart with a hammer whacking, like a mad woman, one side than the other. Then I cleaned out the excess glue left in the mortises. Duncan redid the tenons then I redrilled the holes that the bolts go in that attach the tenons to the mortises and used a hammer and chisel to square one side. The next time I came in Duncan had everything finished and glued back together. We then brought it to the couples new apartment and reassembled it.


King sized bed frame made into a queen size

With only a few days left Duncan suggested I could make another box. The first time I made a box with Duncan it took me almost a month, now I had less than a week. I had promised my son that I would make him a toy box so I took this opportunity to do so. He dug through his wood and pulled out a long 1×12 of pine. We figured out the max size the box could be; it would be just a little smaller than the first one I made.

I cut the pieces to size then surfaced all the sides. Next, using a router jig, I made box joints. Then I hand planed all the sides and made a dado grooves on the bottom inside of each where the bottom would fit. I cut a piece of thin plywood for the bottom and sanded it. Then I glued everything together. Now I had the carcass of my box. I quickly decided that I wanted a small trim around the bottom. I cut the boards, glued them around the bottom, and clamped them.


Router jig for making box joints


Routed box joints


Basic box glued up

Next it was time to think about what I wanted to do for the top. Duncan suggested I could either make a lid that would lift on and off or I could put a hinge on it like I did before. I though about it for a bit before deciding that a hinge would be better, that way my son wouldn’t take the lid off and drag it around the house. So the next morning before going in I stopped by the local hardware store and picked up some little brass hinges. When I got in I measured and marked where the hinges would go and used a chisel to make a little nook in the box where they would fit. Then I screwed the hinges on and marked and screwed them onto the lid.


First coat of oil drying on my finished box

The last step was to oil it. I put on two coats over two days. And it was done. It went a lot faster the second time around regardless of it being a lot simpler than the first box I made. I knew the steps to follow and how to make a basic box for the most part. I still had to ask Duncan questions now and then and I still made a few mistakes but all in all it went really smoothly. And I must say, I really like making boxes; maybe I will become a box maker.

I had a really wonderful time working with Duncan. The atmosphere is very relaxed and the conversation is very meaningful. I am so lucky to have had the opportunity to work with him and to have an open invitation to come back any time. I know it’s the end for now, but not the end forever. I learned a lot during my time with him by working with my own hands, watching him work, and talking with him. I can’t wait to see what I make of all this knowledge and what I will end up building over the course of my life.


Back at Duncan’s

My two-month internship ended with Doug Adams and I’m now going back to Duncan MacMaster’s for one more month long internship. This will be my last internship while I am in school.

My first day back at Duncan’s was relaxing and short. It was just before Thanksgiving break so we spent the time catching up and discussing the upcoming projects. I told him all the things I had done and learned at Doug’s. Then Duncan showed me the projects he will be doing and the things I will get to help him with. One the biggest project I will be helping with is a console table made out of cherry for a local costumer who wants it before Christmas. Another project is a small Japanese style altar table for another local customer.

The first project Duncan gave me when I came in the next week was to work on the Japanese style alter table. Duncan had already started and mostly finished the little table. The top is a beautiful, old, odd shaped piece of wood the clients had found years ago. They wanted Duncan to make a Japanese alter table out of it for them. Duncan designed a square base to hold the beautiful piece of wood. He cut the top two inches or so off the base so an inner box could be attached allowing the top to slide on and off if needed.

The first step was to drill pilot holes in the top of the base where it would eventually be screwed onto the tabletop. I started by measuring and marking where the holes should go and set up a fence on the drill press so the piece would stay in place while drilling. Using a countersink drill bit I drilled the holes.


Drilled pilot holes


Inner box for alter table table base

Next I measured and cut the pieces for the inner box. Before gluing them up I double checked to make sure they all fit properly inside the top of the base. Then I glued the pieces together and one again made sure they fit properly into the base. After that I glued the inner box to the top of the base, clamped them, and set it aside to dry. The box that I glued inside the top of the base will slip into the bottom of the base and eventually be held on with wooden pegs.


Inner box glued and clamped into Japanese alter table base

Meanwhile, Duncan had started the cherry console table. He had the top finished and the pieces for the legs, aprons, and drawer fronts cut. He had also partially cut the mortises in the legs using the table saw. This assured that the mortises would be perfectly straight and clean. But, due to the saw blade being round there was a little wood near the bottom of the mortise that didn’t get cut. My next assigned job was to finish the mortises and get them fully cleaned out. First I used the drill press to clean out as much as possible. This was fairly quick and easy because I only needed to make a few holes before I reached the point where the table saw had already cut. One I got to that point I could pop out the inner pieces of wood.


Mortises cut on table saw and drilled on drill press

Next, Duncan handed me an assortment of Japanese chisels, each one allowing me to more easily work on different aspects of the mortise. I got the mortises cleaned out but detail work would need to be done once the tenons were finished and matched to the proper mortise to ensure as close to a perfect fit as possible.


Mortises cleaned out with Japanese chisels

Duncan got the tenons cut to proper size on the table saw and handed them to me to cut a miter joint on the end of each. I made certain to cut them all the correct way.

Once the mortises were finished Duncan was able to taper the legs and fit the tenons on. Duncan had to hand plane a few areas on the legs to make the apron fit flush against them.

Next we sanded the legs. Duncan had me hand sand the top of the legs in such a way to keep the angle sharp where the legs taper off; if a pad sander were used on that area that angle would have rounded.

The next step I helped Duncan with was gluing the mortise and tenons together. Duncan had cut grooves out of a lip on then underside of the tabletop where the legs would fit. With the tabletop flipped upside down Duncan put all the pieces in their place and we did a dry fit making sure everything fit perfectly.

I still find glue ups to be stressful. First of all when you put the glue on you have to go as fast as possible. I am still very slow at this part for some reason. I had glued only a few surfaces on two mortises in the same time it took Duncan to glue all the tenons and the other two mortises. And secondly, although we had everything fitting perfectly for the dry run once the glue was on and the clock was ticking the pieces suddenly didn’t want to fit together. One of the legs wouldn’t go on all the way so Duncan whacked it several times with a hammer. This produced one of the loudest sounds I had heard up close; my ears were ringing. This wasn’t working so Duncan grabbed a large clamp and cranked it until the leg finally popped into place. Then we took smaller clamps and quickly popped all the joints together putting clamps on and taking them off and readjusting them until all the pieces finally popped together. Once everything fit we took all the clamps off and reclamped it in such a way to pull the mortise joints in tight onto the tenons.


Table base glued up and clamped


The “boxes” I made to go in-between the drawers

Once the joints had dried we unclamped it and I moved onto my next task; I was to make boxes that would fill in the space around the drawers. Duncan had already cut the long pieces so I measured and marked the short pieces that were still needed and cut them to size. I did this slowly cutting a little off at a time to make sure all the pieces came out the same size. Then I measured and marked where the screws should go on the correct boards then I drilled the pilot holes. Next I glued and clamped the pieces making sure to make them flush with each other. Then using the same pilot holes I had already drilled into some of the boards I now used them to drill into the other boards they are now attached to. Then I screwed the pieces together and unclamped them. Then I checked that they fit properly on the underside of the table.

It’s been a really good first week back. It’s been interesting and fascinating to see the way Duncan designs and builds furniture. He thinks about all the aspects of the function of the piece of furniture and incorporates supports where needed. He makes furniture to last and he puts his very best into it.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Making Tenons


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.


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.


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.


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.


Chiseling Out for the Hinges


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.


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.

A Box Full of Love – Part 2

I had my prepped side pieces all set up and I was ready to glue them. Duncan made two pools of glue with little spreaders, one for me and one for himself. Gluing is something that needs to happen fast and the pieces need to be put together with as much accuracy as possible on the first try because the glue sets quickly and once it sets it’s really hard to change anything. You also want to make sure you have a damp cloth on hand to wipe away any excess glue.


After we coated each edge with glue we stuck them together, hammered them firmly to make sure they fit tight, and clamped them. Then I set the box to the side to dry.

I was admiring my box when I realized that I had flipped both of the long boards inside out by accident. Oh no! The sides I had worked so hard to make perfect where hidden on the inside of the box and the sides I meant to be hidden were now on the outside for all to see. Oh well, it was too late to do anything about it. I would just have to replane the outsides and walk away with a lesson to pay attention to the details of what I am doing.

The next step was to glue a piece of plywood onto the bottom of the box. But guess what? That’s right, I glued the bottom to the top of the box. I didn’t realize this until after it had dried and I turned it over only to discover the ugly, pencil marked, unplaned edges that again were supposed to be hiding on the bottom. Oops! Now my box was inside out and upside down. I guess that lesson I was supposed to walk away with didn’t make it very far. But hey, it’s not so bad, all I had to do to fix that was to plane the top edges. It was a bit trickier with them all glued up but I managed. Mistakes happen and it’s a learning process. These mistakes weren’t too bad and maybe next time I will actually remember to pay attention.

Once the body of the box was finished the next step was to make and attach the base trim. I picked out a very textured looking 2×4 and we used the same process as before to make it straight and square. This time we ran one side through the jointer first then used the planer.

On the jointer, if the board is bowed, you want to make sure you put the convex side up otherwise it’s hard to gauge where the center of the curve is and you may not get it flat. You also don’t want to put pressure on the center of the curve when you run it through because you’ll end up taking wood off an area that will bounce back up and remain a high spot.


Using the table saw with the blade set to certain heights we cut out an L shape out of the 2×4. This would become the border and the body of the box would rest in it once the pieces were attached.

I wanted the edge rounded so Duncan showed me how to use the hand plane to achieve that. He said it was possible to use a router to do the work but he wanted me to use the hand plane. I didn’t mind. I watched him demonstrate how; he made swift back and forth motions with the plane up and down the board taking off tiny, thin strips that curled up wildly. He handed me the plane and left me to it. I had so much fun, I felt like I could do that all day. Every now and then Duncan would check in on me and give me a subtle amused look; there was a barely noticeable smile with a slight twinkle in his eyes. I wasn’t quite sure what it meant, but it made me feel like a sheepish novice (not in a bad way though).


I worked for a while completely engaged in the work. It was meditative and I enjoyed it. I took my time and got the edges just how I wanted then with as even a curve as I could get.

Now it was time to measure them out and cut the corners at a 45-degree angle. Duncan suggested working my way around the box and to try to leave a piece long enough that if I messed up on a long side I would have enough to replace it. A long one can always become a short one but not the other way around.

I started by using a chop saw to cut one edge off at a 45-degree angle. I placed that next to one corner and marked it at the edge of the next corner. Then I cut that at a 45-degree angle as well. I went around the box making one piece at a time. The first short piece I cut was a little too short so Duncan had me try it on the other side where it ended up fitting nicely.

Once they were all cut I used a bandsaw to cut a rounded section out of the bottom of the base trim. I used some scrap wood and made several practice cuts before cutting the final pieces. Then I used a plane to smooth the flat side I just cut and I used a file to smooth out and even the rounded sections. I finished by hand planing the front to clean it and smooth it.



Next we glued them up together, wiggling them a little to make sure everything was as flush and snug as we could get. Duncan put so many clamps to hold it in place it reminded me of a pincushion.


I came in for a short time on Saturday to finish up. Duncan and I talked for a bit at first as we usually do then I got started on my work. The base trim was dry and I spent the last bit of the few hours I was there filing down its uneven edges making it look like a real nice decent box.

IMG_9688        IMG_9702

My box is now nearly complete; I just have a lid to go. I certainly had my ups and downs through the process but nothing too catastrophic. Overall I am proud of what I have created so far and the hard work I have put into it. I am excited to make the lid and complete my box. I am also looking forward to learning the joinery techniques required to make the lid. Stay tuned for Part 3; the making of the lid.

A Box Full of Love – Part 1

After a weekend of planning my box I was jumping out of my skin with excitement to learn the process and start building it.

IMG_9632I picked out a straight piece of 1×12 ponderosa pine board. We ran it through one of Duncan’s planers. The planer was a neat looking portable one; I had never seen one like it. Duncan explained to me that usually in order to get a board flat, straight, and square you would need to run it through a jointer first which would completely flatten one side, then you would run it through a planer to make the other side flat and parallel to it. But because my board was wider than the jointer we skipped that step and went straight to the planer.

Once we had a smooth straight surface, Duncan ran one of the edges over the jointer to make that edge perfectly flat and squared to the planed sides. Then he used his table saw to cut the opposite edge off leaving a perfectly straight and squared board.  I asked him why he used the table saw instead of the jointer for the last edge. He said that the jointer would make that edge straight and flat but not necessarily parallel to the other edge.

IMG_9633I took that board and measured out my sides trying to work around as many knots as possible. Knots are harder to plane and can degrade the integrity of a structure. They also don’t always look good. Then I cut the pieces to size and made sure the two long sides and the two short sides matched up perfectly. One of my long sides was off a little and I had to recut just a sliver off. After that they were all good.

Then Duncan sets up a nifty router jig. He put all the cut boards together with a scrap piece on either side and clamped them together. Before clamping them, he made sure they were all square. This took several tries; he would square them but by the time they were all clamped they would be a little off and he would have to take the clamps off and start again. He was so patient and didn’t seem to mind how many times it took. It was more important to get it right than be fast. This quality of calm patience is who he is through and through.IMG_9635

Finally he got it all clamped and square. He turned on the router and proceeded to make the box joints. After doing a few he handed it to me telling me to hold it tight but gently and push it firmly downward and while moving it slowly forward. I did just that. It was fun! After I finished that side it was time to square and clamp the other end. The process went just as it had the first time around.

When it was all done, Duncan’s shop and I were completely covered in dust. I brushed myself off and got the shop vac.

Now it was time to get the hand plane ready, the blade needed to be sharpened again but this time instead of sharpening it evenly all the way across I needed to make it into a crescent shape. This takes the corners off the blade so they don’t dig into the wood.

Duncan showed me how it’s done then handed it over to me to finish. You sharpen it normally twenty to thirty times then you rock it to one side, keeping the bevel of the blade at the proper angle (so not lifting the end up or pushing it down), and sharpen it twenty to thirty times then rock it to the other side and repeat process until a burr forms. The burr should be larger on the outer edges now.

It took me a bit of time to get it but the sharpening process overall was becoming easier. I ended up cutting my knuckle not on the blade but on the sharpening stone. I guess I will have to work on the way I hold it.

Finally it was time to hand plane the pieces. When planing a board you want to check the direction of the grain to make sure you will be planing off the grain. The same is true when you are using the joiner or the electric planer machine. Otherwise it may cause “chip out”.

IMG_9642I picked the nicest looking sides of each board to be on the outside of the box. I spent more time planing these sides than the insides and I really worked to get them perfectly smooth. I also planed the edges of the boards that would be on the top.

When you hand plane something it cleanly slices the wood fibers which leaves a natural shiny finish, as apposed to sanding which rips and mangles the fibers leaving it with a dull look. Hand planing ponderosa pine makes it shimmer; oh my, it looks so beautiful! 

The boards have been prepped and are looking pretty good now. They are ready to be glued up and made into a box. Stay tuned for part 2.


The Cutting Edge

Yesterday I sharpened a Japanese hand plane. I had tried it once a while ago, and honestly, I didn’t do so well. So, I had little faith in my ability and didn’t think I’d make it that far. But, as I’m learning, my inner voice is powerful. Being positive is strengthening and supports growth. Everything takes time to master and I am slowly allowing myself to realize that. I get so caught up in the notion I should be good at things the first time I try that I beat myself up when I’m not. As I grow older I realize that being good at something the first time around doesn’t make someone an automatic master and being bad doesn’t mean improvement can’t happen. Mastery comes with experience; when one becomes so familiar with the task at hand that he knows it, sees it, feels it, and understands it on a most profound level.

First I watched Duncan sharpen his own blade. He took his time explaining to me all the details about how to hold the blade, how to find the proper angle, and how to move the blade across the waterstone while incorporating a bit of history of why the Japanese did it a particular way. There is definitely an art to hand sharpening a blade. If you put too much pressure on one side you round the blade. If you pull the back up or push the back down you round the blade. If you rock it while moving it you round the blade. You get what I mean; your movements have to be precise.


Polishing wet stone

Duncan got on his knees and bent over the waterstone. He had the middle knuckles of his
dominant hand on the back of the blade and the two middle fingers of his other hand pressing firmly on the front of the blade above the bevel. His arms moved briskly back and forth like a pendulum with long even strokes. He maintained a proper, precise 25-degree angle the whole time
. After a while he held the blade up for me to feel the “burr” on the back of it indicating enough grinding was done on the coarser stone. Once the burr formed he moved to the finishing stone to polish it up. He did twenty to thirty strokes on one side then twenty to thirty strokes on the other, back and forth until there was no longer a burr. Then he dried it off and held it up to the light to check it. His trained eyes honed in on the detail of the blade. It was sharp!

My god he made it look easy. He explained the process in detail to me but you could see his body needed no such explanation. This has become natural to him, automatic, something he does so often he no longer thinks about it. He has mastered it. His body takes over knowing exactly how it should feel and effortlessly performs the task.

Then it was my turn. I got on my knees and placedmy hands the way he showed. I rocked the blade back and forth getting a feel for where it laid flat. Then I started making small, slow movements stopping often to make sure I still held the blade at the correct angle. It was awkward and hard and after a short time my knuckles started to hurt and my fingers grew stiff. Duncan told me to relax my muscles (which I didn’t even notice were tense) and find a position that was comfortable to maintain.

I worked for a while then dried the blade to check my progress. Almost no burr at all had formed. So I literally went back to the grindstone.

With a few more suggestions, a lot of time, and some perseverance I finally got it sharpened and polished. My knees were sore, my fingers were stiff, and my knuckle was blistered but I did it. I even suppressed a smile after Duncan tested it and showed another apprentice the shaving that came off a board, saying, “Look at that, she did a pretty good job.” The other apprentice nodded and said, “Impressive!”

Then Duncan explained how to put the blade into the body of the hand plane and had me do it. The body is made out of a block ofwood and you adjust the blade by tapping the block at different spots and angles with a hammer to get it in the position you want, even across and just sticking out a hairline.


Japanese hand planing

For the next while I practiced hand planing a long, skinny piece of pine until I had a large pile of shavings and the afternoon was transitioning to evening. It was time to wrap up and I was pleased with my accomplishments. When I got home I felt like a kid as I told my husband, “I sharpened a blade today and when I used it, it worked!”

Although I eventually got the blade sharpened I have a long way to go before it becomes natural for me. My hands are clumsy at holding and steading the blade, my fingers have a hard time feeling the burr, my eyes are untrained when looking at the blade, and my body is tense. But I am excited to continue and excited to improve. I am ready to give myself time to go through the learning process and not be too hasty to judge myself.

“…even the grandest of trees once had to grow up from the smallest of seeds.” – Elza Wheeler, Miss Maple’s Seeds