Back to the Boot Bench… Part 1

Over the past couple of weeks I’ve written a fair bit about the maple component of the Autumn of Maple and Pine, but not much about the pine. Until now.

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Making out dados while in the throws of Vesper Fever

As I mentioned previously, the pine is for a variation on the Policeman’s Boot Bench for our hall. Our shoe storage needs are slightly different to the client I built the original Boot Bench for, and so while I have retained the overall dimensions the interior will have a slightly different configuration. So instead of four full-length shelves, we have three shelves of greater depth which extend for three quarters of the length of the casework, and a vertical partition which leaves a full-height section for wellington boots. At the top of the partition is a drawer for post, house keys, and all of the usual clutter that accumulates beside the front door. The pine will be milk painted, most likely a sage green to compliment the yellow walls of our hall.

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Laying out the dados with my Hamilton Tool Works small marking gauge

This is the first piece of furniture I have built for a communal area of the house, and I’m looking to solving the shoe storage problems which the Policeman discussed when collecting his boot bench. This will be a piece which we use every day, and which will be the first thing we see when we walk in the front door.

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The Bad Axe Bayonet is still my favourite way of cutting dados

The construction methods of our piece will be the same as for the Policeman’s Boot Bench – dovetails, dados and rabbets abound. I will also be using cut nails to further secure the shelves to their dados. I wrote extensively about the process for making the Policeman’s Boot Bench at the time, so I don’t intend to go into the same level of detail this time around. But that is not to say that the blog will be silent on this project, instead I’m going to focus on the differences from the previous build, which I think will be quite interesting.

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Laying out the foot detail with some pre-industrial geometry

So far I’ve been approaching this build in several discreet stages. The top, bottom shelf, and sides, form the main casework into which the partition and internal shelves will fit. I processed the outer components as a set, cut all of the rabbets and then laid out the foot detail. But before cutting the feet, I turned my attention to the dados for the shelves, divider, and drawer.

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The underside of all of the shelves will be textured

 

Laying out the position of the shelves was causing me a headache until I abandoned numbers and used my dividers to step off proportionate locations. The bottom shelf is 3″ from the floor to allow space for the foot detail. I knew that the gap between the bottom and the middle shelf needed to be greater than the shelves in the Policeman’s Boot Bench to accomodate my Dr Marten boots, but laying the shelves out with numbers resulted in a clunky and awkward spacing. Instead, I divided the space between the bottom shelf and the top of the casework (less the thickness of the two higher shelves) into 9 equal units. The middle shelf was positioned four units above the bottom shelf, and the top shelf was positioned 3 units above the middle shelf.

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Cleaning dados with a router plane

I have no idea what the measurement of those 9 units is, but it doesn’t matter. The resulting spacing looks a lot more pleasing than any configuration I could devise using fractions of inches, and will accomodate a wide range of footwear. There is also a single dado in the bottom shelf, and the underside of the top, to take the divider.

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Dados and the foot detail

Once the dados were cut I cut the cyma reversa foot detail with a coping saw, cleaning up the curves with rasps. I fitted the bottom shelf by planing the underside with the scrub plane until the shelf was a snug, but not overtight, fit in the dados. The next task will be to dovetail the top and sides, and then start work on the internal fittings. This project is shaping up quite quickly, and I’m hoping to have it complete before our annual Christmas house party at the begining of December.

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Test fitting the sides and bottom shelf.

The Autumn of Maple and Pine… Part 3

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When the callipers slip over the middle of the tenon, you know you’re done.

The final piece of the puzzle for the Surprise Chair is the leg profile. I want this to add another texture and set of lines to contrast with the seat of the chair. For the Apprentice’s Stick Chair I used irregular facets and a hand-rounded process with the scrub plane and block planes. In the spirit of my last post, for this chair I wanted something different. As the maple takes crisp details really well I decided that a tapered octagon would work very nicely for the child-sized proportions. It’s also been a couple of weeks since I octagonalised anything, which in all honesty is far too long.

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Tapering the square leg blank

As a first step I trimmed the leg blanks to length, allowing 10 1/2″length for the leg, and 2″ for the tenon. Previously when turning tenons at the lathe I’ve used the Easy Rougher tool for the whole job. This approach has been effective as bringing the tenons down to size, but it can take a while to hog off all of the waste and arrive at a completed tenon. I recently picked up the Easy Wood Parting Tool, and thought this would be a good opportunity to put it to use. I used the parting tool to define the shoulder of the tenon, going to final depth. The narrow cutter (1/8″) meant that the tool sank to the finished diameter of the tenon swiftly, but with a lot of control. I then used the shoulder as my guide to shape the rest of the tenon with the Easy Rougher. This also gave me an excuse to use the callipers from my Great-Great Uncle Bill’s Starrett layout kit, setting the callipers to the diameter of the tenon and working the blank down until they just slipped over the middle of the tenon.

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Octagonalising the leg with the No.62

Once the tenon was defined, I tapered the square section of the leg down to 7/8″ at the foot, before laying out the octagonal facets. It was then a simple (and entirely familiar) matter of octagonalising the leg with the No.62 (still on test) until the facets were even all the way round the leg, and tapering smoothly.

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Texture, facets, and chamfers as far as the eye can see

At present the octagon at the taper is a touch fatter than the legs for the Apprentice’s Stick Chair, and I am wondering whether I should thin down the dimensions at the top end a little (while keeping the foot at 7/8″). A test fit of the leg in the mortise will help to judge whether any adjustments are needed to the thicker end of the leg (and then it will be on to the remaining two legs). But otherwise I am pleased with how this leg looks, and the crisp facets of the octagon adds another dimension to the chamfers, and scalloped texture, of the underside of the seat. For the sticks I’m planning a soft, hand-rounded finish, as crisp edges on those would not make for a comfortable chair. This chair is coming on nicely, and I am looking forward to having it legged up soon.

The Autumn of Maple and Pine… part 2

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Scrub plane in a mountain of maple shavings

One of the joys of revisiting a furniture form you have previously built is the opportunity to explore the effect of small changes to either (or both) the process of building the new version, and also the design of the finished piece. This can either be intentional changes in design or process, or prompted by the material at hand. When I broke the maple seat blank for the Surprise Chair out of the clamps I decided to try a slightly different process for the build than I had for the Apprentice’s Stick Chair, and also to take a different approach to some of the design aspects.

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Laying out the leg positions using the pattern for the Apprentice’s Stick Chair

Fundamentally this chair will be to the same design as the Apprentice’s Stick Chair – the same leg and stick angles, dimensions, and seat shape. But what I want to achieve is a different feel for this chair. With the Apprentice’s Stick Chair I deliberately went for softened lines, irregular facets on the legs, and a slightly folk craft feel which leant itself well to the oak I was using. The maple I am using for the Surprise Chair suggests crisper lines, with regular facets and chamfers. This has in large part been an idea prompted by the seat material. The oak I had for the Apprentice’s Stick Chair was 1 1/8″ thick in the rough, and finished out at 1″ thick, which meant that I did not have any depth to play with for chamfers on the seat. The maple stock for the Surprise Chair was 2″ in the rough, which meant that I had plenty of spare material to play with when it came to chamfers.

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Drilling the leg mortises.

 

After cleaning up the top surface of the seat, I thicknessed the seat to 1 5/8″ thick using the Lie-Nielsen Scrub plane before shaping the seat. The scrub is the perfect tool for this sort of operation – it removes material at a rapid (but controlled) rate, and also leaves a delightful scalloped surface texture. With the seat at final dimension and shape, I flipped it face down on the bench and laid out the location of the legs and sight lines using the pattern I made from the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. After clamping the seat to a sheet of sacrificial ply, I drilled the leg mortises using a 1 1/8″ Wood Owl bit in my 1923 North Bros brace. Previously I had drilled the stick mortises for the Apprentice’s Stick Chair once the chair was legged up, but I was in a drilling mood (brace and bit makes for a very addictive method of boring holes) so I turned the seat the right way up and laid out the stick positions using the same pattern before drilling them with a 1/2″ Jennings pattern bit in my brace. I won’t know for sure until I’ve made the sticks and fitted them to the seat, but it did feel like drilling to consistent angles was easier with the seat clamped to the workbench instead of being on it’s own legs. So this is a process change which I may adopt going forwards.

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Chamfering the underside of the seat

Now came the fun bit – chamfering the underside of the seat. The historic chair I have based this build on had a seat of 1 5/8″ thickness in the middle, with edge chamfers down to 1 1/8″ at the edges, so I decided to follow that example. I laid the chamfers out with my Bern Billsberry pencil gauge, and planed the three straight chamfers with the Lie Nielsen No.62 . The curved chamfer on the rear edge of the seat was cut with a Veritas spokeshave. As a final touch, I then chamfered the two front corners of the seat.

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My favourite element of the seat so far – intersecting chamfers and lines

As I mentioned earlier, this is fundamentally the same chair as the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. But already I am seeing how small design changes can have a significant impact on the overall form. Next for this build is making the legs, and while I will be using  the same leg dimension as for my previous chair, I am thinking of tapered octagonal legs instead of the hand-rounded approach I used last time. That should support the deliberate clean lines of this chair, and I am looking forward to seeing how the octagonal legs interface with the chamfers on the underside of the seat.

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The contrast between the smooth chamfers, clean lines, and textured underside of the seat makes for a very tactile seat.

The Autumn of Maple and Pine

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Here you had an “all assembly needed” flat pack book case and stick chair. TIme to turn that stack of maple into something useful.

Since the start of the year I’ve had the stock for my boarded bookcase stickered neatly at the side of my desk, underneath the timber for a Welsh stick chair.  The bookcase design (from The Anarchist’s Design Book) is one I’ve been looking forward to for a long time, as it looks like a fun build and will liberate a lot of my history and woodwork books from the boxed purgatory they have suffered since we moved house. I decided to build the bookcase out of maple to match the Staked Work Table I finished in January.

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Removing a live edge from the maple seat

Unfortunately sourcing wide enough boards in the UK seems to be a challenge, so I’ve committed to gluing up a pair of boards for each of the sides and the three shelves in order to reach the 13″ width needed (a reason, perhaps, to move to Kentucky? I hear that such boards are in plentiful supply). If nothing else, this will give me plenty of practice with long edge joints, which is always good to have. The other project on the to-do list is a variation on the Policeman’s Boot Bench for our hall (in pine), which I promised Dr Moss I would finish before our annual Christmas Tree trimming in early December. I’ll be starting the boot bench in October, so I thought that I would use the remainder of September to build a steam box so that I could finish off the Apprentice’s Stick Chair, and also start gluing up the panels for the book case. . Although I don’t normally move between several simultaneous projects, I will be staggering the bookcase build in between stages of the boot bench and hopefully doing so will be a positive experience.

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A stick chair seat in the clamps

While I was thinking about working on several projects at once, and had the glue warming in a mug of hot water, I decided to joint up the seat blank for another child sized Welsh stick chair (and now I’m thinking that the autumn is looking very busy!). This chair will be all maple, and be a little different to the one I am building for the Apprentice. The 2″ thick maple seat was made up of two boards, and jointed very easily before going in the clamps to cure over night.

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Laying out the mortises for the

While I waited for the glue to cure I finished making the chair pattern I started a few weeks ago. While I’ve made plenty of guitar templates, it is not somthing I’ve done for furniture. For chairs it makes a lot of sense as there is a great deal of construction information to collate if you want to make another version of the same chair (and I do) – mortise positions, resultant angles, sight lines, seat dimensions and curves. I intend to use this pattern as an aide memoire rather than a concrete design to follow slavishly – this way all of the information I need is in one place, but I can still change the details and proportions as the whim takes me. The pattern is on 6mm ply, which means that it was easy to work but should be durable for years of use.

With the pattern complete and the seat blank clamped up, I decided to get a start on jointing the first side of the bookcase. I started off by levelling the rough sawn edges with a No62 plane that I’ve been testing for an article in Furniture & Cabinet Making. The No62 is shorter than I would like for a 48″ long edge joint, so I then moved to my usual No8 jointer. I quite enjoy edge jointing – the Staked Work Table build was good training for long edge joints, and I was looking forward to the practice of jointing five pairs of boards for the book case. Maple can be an unforgiving wood to edge joint – being very light in colour the glue line can be glaringly obvious unless you get a good tight joint off the plane, without relying on clamp pressure. The key (as with many woodwork operations) is patience.

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Jointing the first set of boards for the bookcase

Unfortunately, by the time I had a good clean joint the temperature had started to fall, and while the glue was good and warm in the pot (I warm Old Brown glue to the recommended 120-140F), it started to tack up while I was pulling the top board into position and setting the clamps. It was now 13C in the ‘shop, and I wasn’t confident that I would get a good bond with the temperature dropping so rapidly. Removing the clamps and washing the jellified glue off both halves of the joint wasn’t how I had intended to spend the late afternoon, but you only get one chance to nail a glue-up. With the joint cleaned and dried, I moved the clamps and timber into the house (which was mercifully warmer) and had a much less eventful glue-up in the kitchen. It is definitely getting to the time of year where any ‘shop glue-ups have to take place earlier in the day, or else in the house (another reason to move to Kentucky, perhaps?).

Over the next couple of weeks I’ll move my way through the stack of maple in the music room waiting to be glued up into panels for the bookcase, and will also progress the maple stick chair (as well as building a steam box and finishing the Apprentice’s Stick Chair. There’s a fair amount going on!). Juggling multiple projects will hopefully teach me a few valuable lessons, as well as watching various things take shape.

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The aborted glue-up in the workshop. just before I moved everything into the house to work at a temperature much kinder to hide glue

 

A Welsh Stick Chair for the Apprentice – Part 8

I was hoping this would be the final blog post on the Apprentice’s Stick Chair build, save for some progress photos of painting it. For reasons that will become clear, the chair is not quite finished yet, although there have been some valuable learning experiences.

But that’s for the end of the blog post – first let’s rewind a bit. Once the glue had cured on the bending forms I broke them out of the clamps and cleaned up the curves with a 2″ flush trim bit in the router – while I find it very hard to get excited about router bits, this bit from LMII is wonderful for taking a final pass and cleaning up the edges of electric guitar bodies (the main reason I bought it).

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Preparing the comb with a L-N No.62

I then cleaned up the comb blank with a Lie-Nielsen No62 plane, which I’ve been testing for an article in Furniture & Cabinetmaking. With the comb clean and square on all sides, and the centre line marked on the reference edge and face, it was game time. I’ve not built a steam box yet, although it is very much on the to do list as I get deeper into steam bending. So to steam the comb for this chair I took instructions from The Anarchist’s Design Book and poached the comb in a pan of hot water in the oven. It turns out that our oven isn’t quite wide enough to take a 17 1/2″ long comb, so I had to wedge the comb in at an angle, with one end out of the water. Several layers of tin foil later to seal in the steam, and I left it to poach at 230 degrees for an hour and a half.

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Ready for poaching in the oven.

Once the steaming session had finished, I sprinted (with a very hot piece of oak in my hands, and the BBQ smell of toasting oak in the kitchen) to the ‘shop, and clamped up the comb in the bending form, being sure to align the centre lines on both halves of the form with the centre line on the top edge of the comb. Nothing exploded in a hail of oak shrapnel, and the comb appeared to be well steamed across its length, so I was hopeful that this initial foray had been successful. With everything clamped up firmly and the comb conforming to the shape of the form, I left it for six days to return to equilibrium moisture content and settle into the new shape.

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Clamped up in the bending form – nothing exploded, and the comb conformed to the curve

Which brings us nearly up to date. Yesterday afternoon I removed the comb from the form and was pleased to find an even bend. Yes one end was a little charred, but that would disappear under a couple of coats of milk paint. I gave the surfaces a final clean up, and drilled the mortises for the sticks. The comb slipped onto the sticks nicely for a dry fit, and the Apprentice came to join me in the shop to sit on her chair for the first time, which she thoroughly enjoyed. By this point the comb had been out of the bending form for maybe 40 minutes. And it was then that I noticed – it was startening to straighten out. By the time I had cleaned up and put my tools away, the comb had lost probably 1/4″ of the curve. This would not do.

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40 minutes after coming out of the form, the comb has lost nearly half of the curve. Game over.

Now, having returned to Peter Galbert’s Chairmaker’s Notebook (my go-to resource when it comes to chairmaking)  and spoken to people who build chairs far more regularly than I, there seems to be a couple of possible reasons for this:

  1. The oak was kiln-dried, which can make steaming less successful;
  2. Having one end of the comb out of the water meant that the effect of the steam was inconsistent; or
  3. I offended the steam-bending gods somehow.

Although I would have liked the Apprentice to use her new chair sooner, I’m not feeling too disheartened by this. It seems a right of passage for every aspiring chairmaker to have an unsuccessful steam bending experience (often many), and I want this chair to be right. I’m going to build a proper steam box, and find some air dried oak for a second go at steaming the comb. If that fails, then I will go “full Welsh” and cut a curved comb from solid material, no steaming necessary. So this is a good learning opportunity.

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The dry fit, before the comb straightened out. When finished, this chair will look pretty nice.

The Never-Ending Workshop Shuffle

A workshop, very much like a tool chest, is never complete. I find that any significant reorganisation to the workshop tends to happen at the end of a major project – once I get deep into a project I don’t want to get distracted by other tasks, and a major project is also likely to highlight any ergonomic pinchpoints in my current set up. Post-project reorganisation reflects those learning points. The result is that a workshop reshuffle has become something of an end of project ritual.

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My reorganised workshop, at least until the Roubo bench timber arrived

In the course of the staked work table and the saw cabinet builds the workshop had become rather unruely, and a deep clean and reorganisation were long over due. This became something like a game of solitaire, as large sections of the ‘shop were emptied out onto the driveway and things moved around until I had a clearer and much more ergonomic space. The thin panel jig and solera were moved from above my workbench and hung above the lathe – this keeps them out of the way but still accessible. It also means that the backdrop for any process photos is now just a white painted wall, without any cameo appearances from those jigs. The saw cabinet was then hung on a pair of french cleats to the left hand side of the workbench where it will be within a few steps whenever I need a saw (which is often).

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The lutherie jigs now hand above the lathe

With the saws in the cabinet, I removed the old saw till from my Anarchist’s Tool Chest (prying out the battens really demonstrated just how tenacious cut nails are!) which opened up more useable floor space for the planes. I also moved the Golden Rod to the moulding plane corral. I do plan to fit another saw till to the tool chest at some point in the future, using the lighter weight design Chris wrote about earlier this year. But that will wait until I next need to travel with the tool chest. I also cleared out my lutherie specific tools from the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and placed them in a new Clarke’s machinist’s chest, which sits on my sharpening station – these tools need to be stored safely and within easy reach, but I only need them for specific tasks and so it makes sense to keep them separate from the tools in my Anarchist’s Tool Chest.

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The saw cabinet hangs to the left of my workbench. The Roubo bench will extend to underneath the cabinet.

The major addition to my shop last year was a new drill press. At the time I assembled it just where there was some clear floorspace, but it was far from the ideal location. So to find a proper home for it I collapsed the go-bar station and stowed that away for future use, and reorganised my timber storage corner. The drill press is now snug at the far end of the workshop, within easy reach of the bench but tucked away where I won’t keep backing into it.

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This corner isn’t half as cramped as it looks here. Particularly as a lot of the pine has now been broken down ready for a project.

One of the pinch points I found on the saw till build was the amount of time I was wasting by hunting for my bench hooks and shooting board everytime I needed to cut and shoot stock. I had some fibreboard loft flooring left over from a house job, and I fitted two battens of scrap oak to the stretchers of my workbench, using a pneumatic nail gun. The loft flooring was cut to length and dropped on top of the battens, and now houses my Moxon vise, shooting board, bench hooks and lump hammer. This keeps a number of key appliances within easy reach, and has also added some much needed mass to my Sjoberg bench.

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Not a tool I reach for often. But when it comes to jib building or attaching cleats, this pneumatic nail gun is fast and reliable

Finally, I added a second shelving unit behind the Anarchist’s Tool Chest, to hold power tools, finishing supplies, and the usual odds and ends you end up accumulating.

The shop is a lot more manageable now, with many essential tools and appliances within easy reach. That’s not to say it is finished (it’s never finished, remember?). Unfortunately by collapsing the go-bar station I lost my clamp storage, which means that I need to build a simple clamp-rack at some point soon. And the timber storage corner still needs a proper tidy. But it is a definite step in the right direction, and most importantly is now able to accomodate the Roubo bench. Since that initial re-organisation the timber for the Roubo bench has also arrived, and I’ve moved my bench 6″ away from the wall to accomodate the timber while it acclimatises.

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A second shelving unit provides ample storage for finishing supplies, moving blankets, my lighting rig, and power tools. On the left you can see the machinist’s chest which houses my lutherie tools.

This has also helped to answer a quandry as to where the clamp rack and saw cabinet would go once the Roubo bench is finished, as the Roubo will be twice the length of the existing bench. My current thinking is that the new bench will sit in the current position I have my Sjoberg – roughly 6″ away from the wall. This will allow the saw cabinet to stay where it is without getting in the way when I am working at that end of the bench. A clamp rack can then be mounted to the wall at the other end of the bench, meaning that all of my clamps will be within easy reach but again. I think this should work, as the Roubo will have plenty of mass as it is, so won’t be inclined to dance across the workshop like my Sjoberg does (which is why I have it braced against the wall). No doubt completing the bench will prompt another round of reorganisation.

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A simple shelf holds all of my key workbench appliances, and adds some much needed mass to the bench