In Print and Covered Up

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Issue 284 of Furniture & Cabinetmaking is now in print and features a wealth of interesting content by Mark Harrell (on saw sharpening), Rich Wile (on the Midlands Woodwork Show), and Derek Jones (on box making). Also featured is my article on iterative design process. This article uses the example of how the base design for the Policeman’s Boot Bench evolved into the Back to the Boot Bench, and as well as insight into design process from Danielle Rose-Byrd and Rich Wile (both of whom graciously agreed to be interviewed for the piece, for which I am most grateful).

This article is my 34th piece for F&C, but the first time that I’ve contributed the cover image, which I am very excited about.

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Boot Bench Beauty Pageant

Last week photographer Gareth Partington came by the workshop to take beauty shots of the completed Back to the Boot Bench and the staked worktable I built last year. This is the third time I’ve worked with Gareth, and it is always a real privilege. As well as being an outstanding photographer (you should see some of the landscapes and portraits on his site) he also brings a fresh perspective to projects I’ve become too familiar with, finding ways to highlight the overall form and details of a project with a fresh eye.

The boot bench beauty shots are now up on the Portfolio section of Over the Wireless, and can be found here. The staked worktable photos will follow in the next week or so.

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 7

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Doc Holliday 10″ dovetail saw and Sterling Toolworks 1:4 Saddle Square

The final stage of the Boot Bench was to make the drawer which fits in the compartment at the top right of the case. The drawer is of quite ordinary construction – 1/2” stock dovetailed at the corners, with a 1/4 x 1/4” groove in the sides and front to capture the bottom. The bottom is 1/2” thick, tapering to 1/4” at the edges to fit into the groove, and is orientated with the grain running across the drawer so that any seasonal movement is pushed to the rear edge of the bottom.

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Ploughing grooves for the bottom

As the front of the drawer will be painted to match the rest of the casework, I decided to use through-dovetails rather than half blind, as the end grain of the drawer sides won’t be that noticeable, and a simple square plug will fill the groove ends in the tails. Before dovetailing, I ploughed the groove in the sides and front using a Veritas small plough which I leave permanently set up for this operation.

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The rear corners, showing how the bottom slides in from the back of the drawer

Although dovetailing is the same operation regardless of stock thickness, I definitely find that dovetailing 1/2” stock requires a lighter touch than the 3/4” to 1” range that represents the majority of my work. That lightness of touch involves both a slight change to the tools I reach for, and the way I use them. For the past two years my go-to dovetail saw has been the 14” Bayonet by Bad Axe, but while that is an excellent saw for my usual stock thicknesses, for 1/2” it is a mite too aggressive, so I prefer my 10” Doc Holliday saw (also by Bad Axe), which has a touch more control for thinner stock. I also swap out my usual 8” coping saw for a smaller piercing saw for hogging out the waste, as the finer blades allow me to creep right down to the baseline without fear of any blowout. I find that I also use lighter mallet blows when chiselling.

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Sure, you could taper the edges with a jack plane, but when the panel raiser is this much fun, why would you?

The dovetails are orientated with the tails on the drawer sides and the pins on front and back, which minimises wracking when sliding the drawer in and out. The front had two tails, laid out so that the grooves land well within the tails. The back of the drawer is not as wide as the other components, as it terminates immediately above the groove, with two unequally sized tails capturing the back.

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Raised panel and scalloped surface – a lovely contrast

Once the dovetails were glued up I sized the bottom so that it fit the available space. The interior surface of the bottom was planed smooth, but I left the scalloped texture from the scrub on the underside. The taper to fit the grooves was then cut with the Philly Planes panel raiser. A rough taper could be achieved with a jack plane, but the contrast of a sharp raised panel and scalloped surface was something I wanted to achieve, as a visual (and textural) treat for anyone who takes the drawer out in years to come. I used some hope made soft wax on the edges of the bottom to help ease them into the grooves, and then smoothed the exterior of the drawer with my No3. I also drove a short Roman Nail through small notch at the rear edge of the bottom into the back. The notch allows for seasonal movement in the bottom, while also holding it in place.

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Drilling the mounting hole for the drawer pull – sacrifical stock prevents blowing out the interior of the drawer front

After testing the fit of the drawer in the compartment (relief, it had a snug fit and moved smoothly!) I drilled the mounting hole for the drawer pull. Clamping some sacrificial pine to the inside of the drawer from prevented the drill bit from blowing out the internal surface of the drawer front. I then pared two small plugs to fit the groove ends on the front, and glued them in place. Once the glue has cured I will flush them up and then paint the drawer front. After which, this project will well and truly be completed.

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The completed drawer (upside down to show off that lovely texture). You can see the Roman Nail at the rear of the drawer bottom

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 6

Finishing the Boot Bench was a straight forward process which I was able to attend to between festivities over the Christmas break.

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Sealing knots with shellac

Before applying any milk paint I sealed two knots (one on the top, and one on the right hand side) with a thin coat of shellac. That was followed by five thin coats of Bayberry Green milk paint by Old Fashioned Milk Paint, applied with a foam brush. I tend to mix milk paint using a 2:1 ratio of warm water to powder. This creates a much thinner mixture than the manufacturer’s instructions, which call for a 1:1 ratio. The result is a thin paint which requires more coats to get an even coverage, but which does not obscure the underlying detail or require as much work to remove the chalky texture. As you can see from the gallery below, the paint took a few coats to build up a nice density of colour. Once the fifth coat had dried I burnished all of the paint using a pad of brown paper – this smoothed out the texture and also eased the few remaining variations in colour.

I then removed all of the blue tape and was pleased to see that there had been very little colour bleed on the edges of the shelves. I gently chamfered the leading edge of each shelf with a spokeshave to protect the fragile corners from years of use, and this also removed what little colour bleed there was, resulting in a crisp paint line. At the same time, I flipped the case upside down (using a moving blanket to protect the finished surfaces) and chamfered the feet using a 9 grain Aurio rasp. The Apprentice helped me layout the chamfers with a pencil gauge, and also took some swipes with the rasp. She’s really enjoyed helping out on this project, and so some more father-daughter ‘shop time will hopefully be on the cards soon.

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The Apprentice helped me chamfer the feet

I then padded on two coats of Osmo Polyx to the interior and exterior of the Boot Bench. Osmo is a hardwearing and waterproof oil finish, which makes it perfect for this application. The oil gave a soft lustre to the milk painted surfaces, and deepened the colour a little. It also emphasised the underlying details, such as the end grain texture and lines of the dovetails, which is wonderful as I wanted to be able to see the joinery through the paint.

Once the Osmo had dried the finishing touches were to knock in the nails pinning the dados, and to apply my maker’s mark to the end grain on one of the tails. There really is nothing like introducing a 2lb lumb hammer to a project you’ve finished… And then, on New Year’s Day the Apprentice helped me load shoes onto the shelves. The Boot Bench has been in use for just shy of a week now, and has had a transformative effect on our hall – easily accomodating all of the shoes which used to spill out of the previous rack, and making the space much more welcoming. I need to finish making the drawer, and then this project will be done. More on the drawer next time.

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Back to the Boot Bench… Part 5

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Dressing the front of the boot bench with my No3 smoother

I waited to clean up the dovetails on the boot bench until the very last stage before painting. The main reason for this is that I try to only clean up the exterior of a project once,  so as to avoid removing any more material than I strictly need to. By waiting until the last possible minute I am also able to address any “workshop rash” to the exterior.

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That moment of truth when you clean up a joint. This dado looks ok.

When cleaning up casework I try to approach the job in a methodical fashion, so that I only work on each face once, and to avoid denting or scratching a surface I’ve just cleaned up. This is all the more important given that workholding for a large-ish piece of furniture is different to flat boards. The most involved element of cleaning up the boot bench was the front, where all of the shelves intersect with the carcase, and need to be flushed up. I worked round the shelves in order using a freshly sharpened No3 smoothing plane and a No101 apron plane. Starting with the vertical divider, I flushed the ends up with the block plane, and then dressed the full length of the divider with the smoothing plane. Once the divider was flushed up, I then moved to the bottom shelf, and then each of the shorter shelves in turn, before lightly dressing the edges of the carcase. By moving around the elements in this order I was able to keep track of where I was, and also ensure that the casework is not planed out of true. When planing dados, skewing the plane to 45 degrees with a light cut as you work across the joint helps to avoid spelching or tearout on either component.

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Drilling the pilot holes for more Roman nails. I wonder how many holes this drill has created over the years?

 

Once the front was looking good, I worked each end in turn before turning my attention to the top. The first task for the sides was to layout and drill pilot holes for the Roman nails which will pin the dados. The nails will be hammered in once the boot bench is painted, as I want the nail heads to be a decorative feature and not covered in paint. Five pilot holes per shelf were laid out with dividers, and drilled using a tapered drill bit in my grandfather’s egg beater drill. Next, each side was cleaned up with the No3 smoother taking light cuts until the pine was smoothly finished and the dovetails were flush. To work the ends, I placed the boot bench on top of a thick blanket to protect it from the floor, and braced it against the workbench. Some minor glue staining remains on the end grain of the dovetails – from my initial (highly unscientific) experiences Old Brown Glue seems to penetrate deeper than Titebond. As the boot bench will be painted this does not matter, and the joints were all clean with no glue left on the surface.

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Trimming the dovetails flush

 

I trimmed the tails flush to the top with the block plane, and then smoothed the top until the surface was clear and free of tearout, standing the case on the floor (on top of a blanket) and bracing it against a bench leg. I’m pretty pleased with how these dovetails came out. The final touch was gently chamfering all four edges of the top, to avoid denting those delicate corners in use.

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Clean dovetails, these look ok

I still need to complete the drawer, and apply finish to the whole piece. But the boot bench is almost finished, and should be in use by Christmas. In readiness for painting, I also applied blue tape to the inside edges of the casework and shelves, to avoid paint transfering to the interior. I have further strategies to address any paint that creeps under the tape, but you’ll have to wait until the next post for that.

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Taping up the casework before painting

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 4

Events have been conspiring to keep me out of the ‘shop for the past couple of weeks, although I did manage to steal a couple of hours on Sunday to fit the backboards to the boot bench.

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Preparing the tongue and groove joints

I’m not sure if I approach this method in the same way as everyone else, or whether I’m a bit screwball about it, as I prefer to fit the outer pair of boards, and then work my way in to the middle of the carcase. This ensures that I end up with a symmetrical arrangement of boards, and can adjust the size of the middle board (or pair of boards) to fit the aperture without too much measuring.

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Roman nails and a hammer by CE Hammond of Philadelphia

There are four backboards for the boot bench, and each are 1/2″ thick and pine, just like the rest of the project, and joined together with tongue and groove. The two outer boards are glued along their outermost long edge into the rabbet in the casework, and all four boards are nailed to the rear edge of the shelves with the Roman nails I wrote about last time.  I processed the two outer boards first, shooting the top edge square and planing the tongue and groove joinery into the inner edge with the Lie-Nielsen No.49. To trim the boards to length I dispensed with the shooting board, and instead struck a line across the widh of the board at 26 3/4″ along the length – this will give an overhang of 1/2″ beyond the bottom shelf. I then chiselled a trench to the waste side of the line (as you would for a “first class” cut), and then cut down the line with a Bad Axe 20″ mitre saw. This saw leaves a nice clean edge, and this method offered a very quick way to cut the boards to length keeping a good square end. Once all the boards are fitted I can then clean up the bottom edge with a block plane if necessary, but to be honest as this surface will be only a couple of inches above the floor and at the rear of the casework I’m not sure if it will need any clean up. Reading Mortise & Tenon has had a real impact in how I approach my work, in terms of the decisions between which surfaces must be pristine, and where it is more efficient to leave signs of process.

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The bead adds a nice shadow line for decoration, and also hides any gaps that occur as a result of seasonal movement in the backbords

Once the outer two boards were processed, I held them in place and drilled pilot holes for the nails using an egg beater hand drill. Each board has four nails for each shelf, and I partially inserted four nails per board to hold it in place while I measured up for the inner pair of boards, which turned out to be a little narrower than the outer pair. The final touch was to add a bead to the shoulder of each tongue with my Philly Planes 1/8″ beading plane.

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The Apprentice helping to nail the backboards in place

This stage of the build also offered a significant milestone. The workshop was too cold to use hide glue, so I relocated to the kitchen to glue and fit the outer boards. As I was doing so, the Apprentice was finishing her dinner and I asked if she’d like to help me fit the boards in place. She readily agreed, and was super focused while she knocked in nails (using the vintage CE Hammond hammer she received just after she was born) and cleaning up squeezeout with a toothbrush. This was the Apprentice’s first experience of woodwork, and she seemed to really enjoy it, so hopefully we will have many hours of father-daughter time in the workshop – she’s already talking about “making a chair for mummy” (although we may need to build up to chairmaking).

Back to the Boot Bench… Part 3

One of my favourite elements of any project is choosing the hardware and finish options. These are the finishing details which add character and flair to the piece, but which must be carefully selected so as not to distract from the essential form – no one wants to add chaps to a squirrel. This process often involves looking at the context in which the project will sit, and making decisions based on what would complement that context, and what combination of elements would work together to present a harmonious piece of furniture.

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Planing drawer stock

When we first moved in to our house (nearly) four years ago, the hall felt pretty dingy, in part thanks to the rather drab magnolia paint job we’d inherited, and also because the only natural light comes from a small pane in the front door, which spends much of the year shaded by two large lime trees in the front garden. When it came to decorating the hall (part of the great magnolia-eradication campaign which continues to this day) we wanted a colour scheme that would brighten the hall and make it an inviting space. After painting many test panels on the walls, we settled on a vibrant Mediterranean-style yellow. The yellow was then complemented with copper accents on a mirror frame and lampshade.

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Our sample boards in situ against the hall wall – the Basil Green (second, left) was the winner, closely followed by Persimmon (far right)

I knew from the start that the boot bench would have a milk painted exterior, and oiled interior. I’m not a big fan of unpainted pine, and this combination provides a more pleasing exterior, while allowing the pale yellow of the interior to pop a little, which will add the appearance of a light piece of furniture. But what colour of milk paint? I collected offcuts of the shelves and casework so that I would have material for test painting that was consistent with the boot bench. After scouring the colour charts for General Finishes and Old Fashioned Milk Paint, we identified a number of possible contenders which were duly ordered and sample panels prepared. After the addition of a top coat of Osmo, the sample boards were then lined up in the hall to judge in situ. The winner was Basil Green by Old Fashioned Milk Paint, although we were both tempted by the (very bold) choice of Persimmon by General Finishes.

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“Roman” nails by Rivierre

So, with the finish selected, it was on to the hardware. The shelves will be pinned through the dados, partly to ensure longevity, and also as a means of subtle decoration. I have always used cut nails by Tremont Nail (available from Tools for Woking Wood), and their rosehead nails hold like the dickens, and are very nice to look at. I’ve been interested in using the “Roman” nails by Rivierre (and available from Dictum) since Chris first wrote about them, and this looked like a good opportunity. The gently faceted head of the Rivierre nails is very attractive, and the black finish means that they will be understated but visible against the milk paint.

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Selection of drawer pulls from Horton Brasses

The boot bench has a single drawer in the top right corner, and the final hardware choice was for drawer pull. Any excuse to order hardware from Horton Brasses is welcome, so I browsed their catalogue for suitable pulls and ordered three options, all in the “light antique” finish. After trying the three pieces against the drawer front, we settled in the Mackintosh pull, which adds a nice visual detail without being too showy. The light antique finish works also nicely against the darker milk paint.

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The Mackintosh pull works nicely against the Basil Green milk paint, and is a good size for the drawer

With the details selected, I now need to finish fitting the back and making the drawer before cleaning up the casework. There is still plenty to do on this build, but at this rate it will be finished before Christmas.