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.

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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.

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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.

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Router jig for making box joints

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Routed box joints

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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.

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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.

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.

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.

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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.

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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).

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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Thinking Inside, Outside, and All the Way Around the Box

My first project was finally assigned to me. I was to design a box that I would be building over the next week. Duncan sat me down in his shop and walked me through the design process. It’s not just drawing a pretty picture of what I want or sketching an approximate idea, it’s thinking through all the details. What do you want it to look like? What will it be used for? How much weight will it hold? What materials are you going to use? How will you attach all the pieces together? It’s thinking about form and function, aesthetics and durability. It was fascinating to watch him break it down and I realized how much work goes into the design process.

So over the weekend I sat down with a pencil and paper excited and thinking it would be pretty easy. It ended up being harder than expected. I started by looking up pictures of boxes to get an idea of what I wanted. This took refining my search terms to find what I was looking for; there are just so many wooden boxes out there.

I sketched a few ideas down of what I might like the box to look like.       

                     

Then I needed to choose what size I wanted my box to be. I had a 1” x 12” x 8’ board to work with so the dimensions needed to fit into that.

Man, I went around my house like a lunatic, measuring everything. I had a picture in my head of what I wanted it to look like but it was hard picking the size, I am a visual person and couldn’t wrap my head around it until I could physically see it. Then I thought, maybe if I could figure out what I wanted to put in it, I could figure out what size it needed to be. So, I went around my house like a lunatic again looking at all of my stuff and judging whether or not it was worthy of being put in my first hand made box. Finally I settled on a 24×12 inch box to put near my front door that I can throw scarves and such in. And I’m sure it will end up doubling as a seat for my son while he gets his shoes on.

Finally I made it to the sketching part. Time to think about the details I had gone over with Duncan. I tried to remember all he had told me and did my best. I played around with my sketches then designed the box I was going to build.

Although it was harder than expected, it was fun and I learned a lot. I know that it was slow going for me this time, but the more I do it the better I will get. Eventually I won’t have to measure everything in my house to get an idea of size… I hope.