The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 10

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Shavings landing on the bottom shelf of the boot bench

Every build for me is an emotional journey as much as a series of physical processes. For the Policeman’s Boot Bench, that journey started with real enthusiasm about the build at hand, and excitement at the opportunity to provide the client with an heirloom piece of furniture. Yet as the project progressesed and I got closer to assembling the casework, a nagging doubt started to grow: that the project would not fit together properly, and that some small but critical detail had been missed. Now, this is in many ways entirely irrational – everything looked good on the full sized plans I had drawn, and I knew that the joinery should fit absolutely fine. Yet over the months of working on the casework I did started to wonder if I had missed something which would prevent everything a good clean fit. And that doubt grew the closer I got to gluing-up the casework. I’m sure other woodworkers have very much the same experience, although it is not something I’ve really talked about before. But who knows, maybe I’m just neurotic? If any readers get the same mid-build worries do let me know! In many ways I am sure it is a manifestation of the responsibility of working on a project for a client rather than for yourself, and also the fact that all of the time spent working on individual components is effectively at risk until such time as the components are safely assembled.

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Needless to say, the boot bench went together absolutely fine, first time, and with no extra fussing needed (as I wrote about in part 9). Which was a huge source of relief, and a certain amount of “I told you so” from Dr Moss. I guess it goes to show that sometimes you have to stop worrying and just trust in your skill set.

And there there the boot bench stood for several weeks – real life intervened as soon as I returned from Handworks, and I’ve had next to no opportunity to get back in the shop until today, when I finally managed to steal myself away for a day in the ‘shop and was pleased to see that all of my doubts about the boot bench were for nothing.

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There’s plenty of work left to do, but I see the sunlight catch on the figure of the shelves, and I think this one will turn out ok.

My first temptation was to clean up the dovetails as soon as I got back in the workshop, to see exactly how they fit and how the joinery will look under a finish of shellac and wax. I managed to resist though, and I shall have to wait a while longer before I plane them up. The reason for this is that I only want to pretty-up the exterior of the casework once, at the very end of the build before I apply finish, as that way I can be sure to catch all of the workshop-rash and minor scratches that occur when working on an assembled piece. I also had to resist the temptation to flush up the front edges of the shelves, for the same reason.

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Waiting to be turned into backboards

The next major stage of construction, and my focus right now, is to process and fit the tongue and groove backboards. As with the rest of the casework, these are oak, although this time the rough boards are 3/4″ rather than 6/4″. I had cut the back boards slightly oversized months ago, and they had been lying in stick to acclimatise. After cutting joinery and assembling casework, there is something quite refreshing about going back to basics and processing stock for the next round of components. The back will take four boards, which started as rough boards each 8″ long by 11″ wide, and brought them down to final dimensions of 26.25″ long, 10.75″ wide and 1/2″ thick. Processing the stock was very much the same as I’ve written about before – flattening the show face (in this instance the side that will face into the casework, and will be seen from the front) and then jointing a reference edge, before planing the other face and edge down to size, and finally shooting the ends square and to length. The same satisfying, predictable process. The main different here is that the boards need to be overwidth to allow for the tongue and groove to be planed along the edges.

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Before and after – transforming rough boards to smooth never gets old

To cut the tongue and groove I’m using a Lie Nielsen No.49 plane, which I bought specifically for the boot bench (although I’m sure it will see plenty of use on future projects, including the bookcase out of The Anarchist’s Design Book for my study), and it is a tremendous amount of fun. There are many ways to cut tongue and groove, including router bits and spindle moulders, but a dedicated plane like this cuts it swiftly, cleanly, and without the need for spinning finger munching machines, so it gets my vote!

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Testing the L-N No.49 on some scrap 1/2″ southern yellow pine, prior to cutting the tongue and groove on two backboards

Two of the boards are now processed and ready for finishing, and these will be fitted at each end of the boot bench, leaving the two inner boards to complete. The two outer boards will be glued to the carcase along their outermost long edge, and all of the boards will be nailed to the shelves. It is really good to be back in the ‘shop after a three week absence, and Handworks has left me feeling energised and inspired, so I am looking forward to taking the positive energy and directing into some good work over the coming months.

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The first backboard fits nicely

The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 9

The Policeman’s Boot Bench is now glued up, which seems like a fitting point at which to put it to one side for a couple of weeks while I fly out to Chicago for a family break followed by Handworks in Iowa. I’ve never had a glue-up that I’ve enjoyed – as soon as the glue bottle comes out I always feel the pressure ratchet upwards. But that aside, assembling the Boot Bench went smoothly and without any real incident. The key I think for any smooth assembly is to have a clear plan of attack, to have all the clamps opened to the right capacity before you reach for the glue, and where possible to break large scale assemblies into more manageable stages.

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Gluing the dovetails, with the bottom shelf fitted to keep the casework square.

Hide glue flows better when it is warm, so I always stand my glue bottle in a mug of hot water for 30-40 minutes before I start applying glue. I keep meaning to invest in a heated glue pot and start mixing up my own hide glue from granules, but until then I’ve found that Titebond liquid hide glue is an effective (and cost efficient) way of using cows as an adhesive. While the glue was warming up I did a final test fit of each of the shelves in their respective dados to make sure that they still fitted and there had been no further wood movement – the middle of a sticky and stressful assembly is definitely not the moment to discover that you need to make adjustments to a component! As the shelves had been well seasoned and then lying in stick, they were all very stable, and 7 of the 8 ends fitted perfectly. The eighth was a little tight in the dado, but a couple of localised passes with a small shoulder plane removed the few shavings necessary for a good fit once again.

As there were a significant number of components to be fitted, and I have only a modest selection of large clamps, I decided to approach this assembly in two stages. The first stage was to glue the dovetails fitting the sides and top to each other. To ensure that the sides were fixed square to the top, I slid the bottom-most shelf in place (without any glue) – this effectively gave me a four-sided carcase to clamp up, and to check for square. The dovetails were hammered home using my 24oz joiner’s mallet by Blue Spruce Toolworks, and then left in the clamps for two hours for the glue to cure.

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Sealing the end grain of the shelves with a thin coat of hide glue

The second stage of assembly was to fit the shelves. The dado joint involves a lot of end grain in the gluing surface, and end grain can have a tendency to wick glue away resulting in a dry joint. To avoid this, I sealed the end grain of the shelves, and the dados, but giving them a thin coat of hide glue five minutes before I started to glue and fit the shelves. This glue was absorbed into the end grain, which prevented the second application of glue (when fitting the shelves) from being absorbed. Hide glue also acts as a lubricant, which meant that the shelves slid most of the way home under finger pressure, and required only a couple of gentle taps from the mallet to get them in the right position. I then clamped up the edges of the sides to establish good even pressure across the dados while the glue cured.

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Cleaning squeeze out from each of the shelves would have been a race against the clock, but pre-finishing the interior of the casework gave me plenty of time to wipe up the excess glue

Pre-finishing the interior of the Boot Bench definitely paid off when assembling the casework, especially as the four shelves resulted in a significant amount of squeeze-out. My usual method for removing squeeze-out during glue-up is a toothbrush dipped in hot water, as well as judicious use of damp paper towels. The hide glue wiped easily off the shellac and wax finish, which meant that I could take my time in cleaning up all of the internal surfaces.

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Once the glue had cured for the second stage of the assembly I removed the clamps. There is still plenty to do on this project – the shelves need to be planed flush to the front of the casework, the backboards need to be processed and fitted, and the external surfaces need to be cleaned up. But the end is now in sight, and it feels good to have the main elements assembled before travel takes me out of the workshop for a couple of weeks. I’ll pick this project up again at the end of May, when I will start work on the backboards.

The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 8

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Thick cross-grain shaving from a traversing cut

When I started planning how I was going to approach the Policeman’s Boot Bench one of the things I was very keen to do was to apply some of the pre-industrial woodwork lessons written about in Mortise & Tenon. Laying out the feet using George Walker and Jim Toplin’s “artisan geometry” was one aspect of this, but the other was challenging ideas of flat and smooth. All the show surfaces – casework, and the tops of each shelf, have been planed smooth and flat as you would expect, but for the underside of the shelves I wanted to give the client something of a textural surprise and have a contrast to the smooth show surfaces. This tied in neatly with my approach to fitting the shelves to the dados, as following each fitting the shelves were left with a hard step between the fitted tongue and the rest of the shelf. I wanted to remove this step and thickness the shelf in a time efficient way, and also leave a different texture.

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The underside of the shelf – the traversing cut has left a gently scalloped surface and slightly woolly texture.

Enter traversing cuts – essentially planing perpendicular to the grain rather than along with this. I’ve written about traversing cuts previously, and this is a very efficient way to remove large amounts of material quickly. It works because wood is strong along the grain, but relatively weak across the grain. Using a cambered iron in a jack plane and planing across the grain therefore allows you to take heavier cuts and remove more material with less effort. Which for this task was perfect. The attraction in stopping after the traversing cut for this task, rather than following up with a jointer or smoothing plane, is that the texture from a traversing cut is very different. Instead of that mirror like sheen that can be achieved straight off the plane when working with the grain, the traversing cut leaves a gently scalloped surface which has a slightly woolly texture. Not only is this an efficient way of working, but also the variation in textures really appeals to me. IKEA furniture is mono-textured, because it is made out of termite-vomit woodchip covered in a wood grain effect foil. Dull, dull, dull. A variation in textures announces that a piece of furniture is handmade, and also encourages the user to explore the furniture with their fingertips. The different textures and surface finishes invite the user to touch the piece, and to appreciate the different characteristics of the wood – as I previously discussed in my guest post on the The Daily Skep. Returning to Mortise & Tenon, leaving hidden surfaces such as the underneath of drawers or tables finished with a traversing cut is a common occurence in pre-industrial furniture.

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Traversing the shelves to bring them down to final thickness

So that’s why I approach thicknessing the shelves in this way. The how is much more straight forward. I set a marking gauge to the thickness of the tongues at the end of each shelf, and scribed a line along the front edge of the shelf. Then working front to back, traversed the board until the steps at the end of the shelves had disappeared, and I hit the marking gauge line. Nice and straight forward.

I also pre-finished the top and underside of the shelves in readiness for gluing up the casework. This is partly because once the shelves are inserted there won’t be much room to apply finish, and also because hide glue will not adhere to the finish, which will make clean up a lot easier. The tops of the shelves received two coats of blonde shellac (a 2lb cut) followed by a coat of Liberon Bison black wax – the same as the end pieces and top. The underside of the shelves were finished with two coats of the same shellac, but no wax. Because the finish prevents glue from sticking to the shelves, it is important to mask off the end of the shelves that fits in the dado. To do this accurately I placed each shelf in the dado and marked off with a fine pencil the top edge of the dado. Low tack blue painter’s tape then masked off the end of the shelf to the pencil line, allowing me to paint shellac up to the edge for a crisp finish line.

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Moving between traversing and applying finish developed a nice rhythm – each planing session lasted for just 30 minutes before applying another coat of shellac or wax to shelves that were fully planed. The staked saw benches have proved to be invaluable recently, including as a finishing table for the shelves while I was planing at my bench. This mixture of tasks also had the effect of keeping the work fresh and focused – another lesson from pre-industrial craftsmen.

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Three shelves finished and ready to be glued in. The shellac and black wax really brings out the figure.

Shellac Sundays

Or: The Policeman’s Boot Bench… Part 7

When it comes to applying a finish to the interior of a furniture project I either don’t bother (my Anarchist’s Tool Chest) or I apply a home brewed soft wax directly to the wood (the School Box). With the Policeman’s Boot Bench I decided to chanel my inner Tom Fidgen and adop a full pre-finish regime for the internal faces of the casework. There were two reasons for this. Well, three, but the third reason is my usual workshop motivation “hey, let’s try something new”, which probably doesn’t count. So there were two serious reasons for applying a pre-finish to the casework. Firstly, glue-up is going to get increasingly cramped as I install the four shelves, and a pre-finish will make cleaning up any squeeze-out much easier. And experience tells me that anything which takes the pressure off during glue-up is well worth doing. Secondly, a shellac and wax internal finish will offer some protection from any moisture or mud that gets tracked in by dirty shoes in the years to come (although I hope the client will only store clean and dry shoes on this piece). As with many processes at the workbench, I guess it comes down to what the specific project requires.

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An end piece, taped up and the knot filled with epoxy. Once the epoxy cures it will be sanded flat.

The first stage of the pre-finishing the top and ends was to remove any small dents and workbench rash. Using a standard household iron and a clean cloth I steamed out a couple of dents and tool marks, and followed this up with a light planing using my Lie-Nielsen No.3 smoothing plane. Using an iron and plenty of steam is a very effective way of restoring a dented or marked surface and reduces the amount of planing needed.

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I use a 1″ Gramercy finishing brush for shellac

Next I had to fill three knots with epoxy. The oak I’ve use for this project was remarkably clear of knots when you consider the size of the boards (15″ wide) and through careful placement and selection I managed to minimise the number and location of knots. However I was not able to avoid knots all together, and each of the end pieces has a knot on the internal face, and the top has a small knot on the underside. These knots were stable, but the centres had crumbled a bit when I was planing the boards back in January, and I wanted a cleaner surface should anyone take a peak inside the boot bench. To fill the knots I used Araldite standard epoxy, which I dyed black using Lampblack (which essentially soot). Lampblack has a very fine grain and as a result it only takes a small pinch to dye epoxy a solid black colour. I keep meaning to try West System 105/205 epoxy for this task as it seems to flow quite easily judging from Youtube videos, but I already had a pack of Araldite to hand and it is perfectly serviceable in this application.

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After two coats of blonde shellac, and before applying the black wax

With the epoxy liberally applied to the knots I taped up the dados and rabbets with blue painter’s tape to keep them clean and free of shellac. I then brushed two coats of a 2lb cut of blonde shellac onto the internal face of both ends and the top, being careful not to brush onto the still curing epoxy. Once the second coat of shellac had dried it was then a simple case of rubbing on a coat of Liberon Black Wax and leaving it to dry before buffing out to a soft sheen.

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The underside of the top – the shellac and black wax combination has emphasised the character of the timber and given a nice sheen

I still need to sand back the epoxy once it has fully hardened and then fill in those localised spots with shellac and wax, after which the casework can be glued up. I could have waited for the epoxy to cure before I applied any shellac or wax, but truth me told I was a little impatient and wanted to see how the oak looked with some finish applied. The beauty of using shellac is that if carefully applied it melts into any pre-existing shellac finish in a very seamless way, so other than the black dyed epoxy no one should be able to see which patches I finished separately.

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The inner face of the left hand end.

The Policeman’s Boot Bench.. Part 6

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Ripping the shelves to width using the staked saw benches I made last year and my 117 year old Disston D8

A lot of woodwork, especially if you are hand tool focused, isn’t cutting fancy joinery or applying esoteric finishes. Instead, much of woodwork comes down to a few fundamental processes – sawing and planing boards to take them from the rough to smooth, square and straight. If your stock is properly dimensioned, and free of twist or cupping, everything that follows will be smoother. The converse is that without properly processed and dimensioned stock a project will fight you every step of the way – joinery will not fit properly, and the various components of the casework will not be coplanar.

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A good tight fit for the first shelf. Oak can be prone to chipping out, so I wanted a good fit that wasn’t overly tight at this stage.

I’ve been processing the stock for the four shelves of The Policeman’s Boot Bench, and I’ve found a quiet sort of joy in practicing those fundamental techniques; ripping the shelves to width, jointing the edges, and smoothing the top surface of each shelf ready for applying the finish. Finding that with each shelf that passes I’m a little more efficient, a little more accurate, and that the core techniques are a little more deeply embeded.

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Normally I only use these callipers for specific lutherie tasks, but they are also very useful for measuring the internal width of dados.

I left the shelves slightly over thickness initially, as I knew that it would be a few weeks between processing them and being ready to glue the casework together. As a consequence I wanted to avoid any wood movement in the shelves once they were at final thickness, as planing out that cupping would result in them not only being under thickness but also risk having unsightly gaps between the shelves and dados. After a few weeks of sitting in stick, the shelves had stabilised and were ready to be fitted. Because I had cut the dados prior to processing the shelves, I decided to fit each shelf to the dados individually rather than just plane them down to 3/4″ thickness. Although I marked the dados out to the same dimensions, cutting the joinery by hand means that there is likely to be small variations between the dados and fitting the shelves individually gave me the opportunity to address these and achieve a good fit. As a health warning, I would add that the following process makes a lot of sense to me, but woodworkers with many more dados under their belts may think the process I’ve adopted is frankly nuts.

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Using a rabbet plane allows the shelf to be brought down to final thickness exactly where it is needed, and in a very controlled manner. The rest of the shelf can be thicknessed once the shelf has been fitted.

First I measured the width of the dado with a pair of Starrett callipers – yes I know we’re not supposed to use these for woodwork, but for reading an internal measurement within an enclosed space they simply can’t be beat. I took several readings along the length of the dados to check for variations in width. With the final width ascertained, I planed a 3/4″ wide rabbet at the end of the shelf using the Veritas Skew Rabbet plane, stopping just shy of the final thickness. This rabbet was planed to the bottom edge of the shelf, and provided a very easy and controlled way to reduce the shelf to final thickness without having to worry (at this stage) about thicknessing the rest of the 42″ long shelf. With the shelf hovering on the limits of final thickness it was then a process of repeated test fittings and making a note of where the shelf would catch on the bottom lip of the dado. Localised adjusgments were made to the shelf with a shoulder plane, until the end of the shelf slid fully home.

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A shoulder plane takes fine shavings from very precise areas of the shelf’s tongue. I’ve not done any workshop macro photography for a while, so this should make up for it.

All four shelves have now been fitted to the left hand end piece, and I now have to repeat the same process for the opposite ends. Once both ends of each shelf have been fitted to their dados I will then finish thicknessing the shelves by planing the underside of each shelf to reduce the thickness until it matches the tongues at each end.

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All four shelves fitted to the first end piece. Now to do the same to the other end.

Rabbet, Rebate (Rabbit)

“Spaced” was one of the finest (and most quintessentially English) comedies of the late ’90s. This is where Shaun of the Dead and Hot Fuzz originated.

All of the recent talk about dovetails skipped an essential stage of building The Policeman’s Boot Bench. When I started to design this piece I wanted to draw on the principles in The Anarchist’s Design Book, and to embrace simple and robust joinery I’d not previously had the opportunity to use in anger. So the shelves are let into the sides by dados, and the tongue and groove backboards fit into rabbets (or rebates, depending on which side of the Atlantic you reside). I use a shallow rabbet on all of my tail boards when dovetailing, but I’ve not used more substantial rabbets as a joinery technique before. The design of the boot bench really lends itself to this approach, and I have enjoyed expanding the armoury of techniques available to me.

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Once the top was flattened and brought down to thickness I was able to cut the through rabbet to take the ends of the back boards. This rabbet is 1/2″ wide and 1/4″ deep, and runs along the back edge of the top. The Veritas Skew Rabbet plane makes short work of this sort of task, and it only took a few minutes before I had a dead square and flat 43″ long rabbet. I’ve found that this plane can be fussy to set up so that it is cutting square and true, but time tuning it is well spent. In use, the most important thing to do is to avoid tilting the plane – I find this is easier if I position my body so that my head is above and slightly  to the right of the plane. The right hand then pushes the plane forwards and my left hand pushes the fence into the workpiece.

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In contrast to the rabbet in the top, the rabbets in the end pieces are stopped at one end. This is because the back boards terminate level with the bottom shelf rather than running to the floor. Before cutting these rabbets I cut the dados for the shelves, and marked off the baselines for my dovetails. This established both end points for the rabbets, and also delineated the waste into sections between each dado. I cut the stopped rabbets with a large router plane, as this does not bottom out when cutting stopped grooves like the skew rabbet plane will, although it is a slower process. Although I initially stopped the rabbet at the dovetail baseline, I did need to extend it a little more when assembling the dovetails to allow a good fit between the haunched tail and the rabbet in the tail board.

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The final rabbet was my customary shallow (1/16″) rabbet along the tail boards. This rabbet assists in accurately transferring dovetails to the pin board when cutting the joinery, and only takes a couple of swipes with the skew rabbet plane.

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A dovetail photo diary

I’ve written about how I cut dovertails previously in some detail, and to be honest my method has not changed in the nearly-three years since I took the Anarchist’s Tool Chest class with Chris. I’m dovetailing the Policeman’s Boot Bench at the moment, so rather than recount a detailed step-by step of how I dovetail (because the internet definitely need another how-to-dovetail blog post) here’s a photo diary of the first corner for the boot bench.

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Laying out the tails with dividers. On the boot bench I started with equally spaced tails and then tweaked the outermost tail at each end for a bit of visual interest and to accomodate the haunch for the rebate on the backboards.

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Marking out the tails. I like a strong 1:4 slope for my tails, and the Sterling Tool Works Saddle Tail is the Rolls Royce of dovetail makers.

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Dovetailing!

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That’s all the cuts for the tail board done

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The cleaned up tail board, with haunch at the left-hand end for the backboard rebate.

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Laying out the pin board from the tails. A heavy plane or weight on the tail board stops things shifting around during this critical step.

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Cutting the pins. I cut one side of each pin, then work my way back across the board for the other side. This helps maintain the correct body position for the angled cuts.

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Hogging out the waste with the Knew Concepts coping saw

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The coping saw has removed most of the waste. Now to chop and pare.

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Chopping the pins. Work back to the baseline on the face of the work, only going halfway through the thickness of the board, then flip the board over and remove the rest of the waste from the back.

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Keep on choppin’. I tend to use me 1/2″ chisel for most of this work.

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With the waste chopped out, I carefully pare any remaining stray fibers using a 3/4″ chisel. I aim for a flat baseline, with just the hint of undercutting in the centre of the socket.

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This skew chisel by Blue Spruce Tool Works is a luxury purchase, but very handy for cleaning up the base of pins and tails. The skewed cutting angle gives a slicing action to difficult fibres while the long edge registers against the side of the tail.

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Checking for a flat and true baseline with the Sterling Tool Works Double Square

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Moment of truth – test fitting the joint with help from a 24oz mallet to knock things together. Normally I wouldn’t fully test fit a joint, but oak can be a cruel mistress with crumbling tails or sudden splitting, so I wanted to be sure this time around.

 

One Saw to Rule Them All?

I have a confession to make. I think I might have a saw problem. By which I mean, I definitely have a saw problem. Specifically a back saw problem – in my tool chest you’ll find only the regulation issue two hand saws (a 1900 era Disston D8 rip, and the majestic Skelton Panel crosscut). But you’ll also find more than the three essential back saws. Now, on the whole I’ve managed to follow the principles in the Anarchist’s Tool Chest and have resisted the lure of buying unneccessary hand planes, or endless sets of chisels. But when it comes to back saws, well, Daddy has a saw problem.

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On the left my 10″ Doc Holliday dovetail saw, and on the right the 14″ Bayonet

The interesting thing about having a healthy collection of any one type of tool is that I find it prompts questions about how necessary each iteration of that tool is, and whether you could live with far fewer. And I spent plenty of time in the workshop before I owned a decent back saw, so it is possible to do so – not that I’d want to relinquish all (or any) of my saws. Each of my back saws sees heavy use, so they are necessary and I’m not about to thin out the herd. But still, the question of what a more compact kit would look like is an interesting one. Recently I think I may have found the answer. For context, my nest of saws contains the following back saws, all made by Bad Axe Tool Works: 10″ dovetail, 12″ carcase, 16″ tenon, 20″ mitre, luthier’s saw, and most recently, the Bayonet. So hardly the stuff of legendary excess. Like I said, a healthy collection.

I’ve been using the Bayonet as my sole back saw on the Policeman’s Boot Bench and the more time I spend with this saw, the more I’m convinced that it is not only the perfect first serious saw for the woodworker building their nest of saws, but also the foundation of a compact yet highly functional set of saws. For the uninitiated, the Bayonet is a 14″ back saw which Bad Axe bill as being a “precision carcase saw“. The 0.18″ gauge saw plate is 2″ deep at the toe, canting to 2 1/2” deep, and comes with a Disston style open tote. I had mine filed with Mark’s “hybrid” filing for cross-cut and rip sawing, and tricked out in a very pretty copper back as a loving tribute to the Apprentice’s flame coloured hair.

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The Bayonet cut all of the dados for the Policeman’s Boot Bench with ease.

The initial reason I ordered the Bayonet was to cut the dados to let the shelves into the Policeman’s Boot Bench. The Bayonet was designed to cut all manner of carcase joinery, and so it shouldn’t have been a surprise that it excelled at this task. And yet, the ease with which it cut 1/2″ deep dados in 14″ wide oak was astounding. Not just because the saw is sharp (although it is – the guys at Bad Axe really know how to sharpen), but also how effortlessly an accurately it did so. This goes beyond simple sharpness, and is a matter of some very clever design. The shallow saw plate, together with a carefully judged hang angle of the tote, puts your hand much closer to the workpiece. The result is a saw that dives into the work aggressively but with real exactitude, for a high precision cut. It sounds simple, but there is something verging on alchemy with the plate depth and hang angle on this saw.

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Whisper thin and arrow straight.

One risk when cutting across wide boards with a lightweight saw is that the saw can jump out of the cut until a kerf has been established. I’ve yet to have this happen with the Bayonet, which I’m sure is due to the lower centre of gravity created by the saw plate depth and hang of the tote. It has become a cliche to say that a saw tracks the line like it is on rails, but in the case of the Bayonet it is absolutely true – the first time I left a whisper thin, arrow straight, kerf across a 14″ wide board I was speechless.

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Dovetailing

Having given the Bayonet extensive testing as a crosscut saw, I started to wonder how it would fare as a dovetail saw. Conventional wisdom is that a hybrid filing will be slower in the cut than a dedicated rip saw. This may be true, but in a head to head test with my 10″ Doc Holliday dovetail saw, the extra 4″ length of the Bayonet mitigated against any loss in speed from the hybrid filing. The extra length also benefits accuracy when splitting those layout lines, as most inaccuracies in sawing originate from the change in direction of the saw. By reducing the number of strokes needed, the potential for a wobble in sawing motion is reduced and the saw stays on line. Cutting dovetails with a 14″ long saw does require some slight adjustment to posture and body position, but with those taken into account I tested the Bayonet by cutting the tails for the Policeman’s Boot Bench. The saw left beautifully crisp kerfs in 1″ thick oak, and the saw was noticeably faster than my dedicated dovetail saw. The extra real estate on the saw plate also acted as a more efficient heat sink, which reduces the risk of overheating when making a number of repeat cuts and so keeps the saw plate free of heat related warping. I did not gang cut my tails as I often do, but I am sure that the Bayonet would have been able to take dovetails in a combined thickness of 2″ in its stride. In fact, the only discernable disadvantage I could find was that I had to be more careful when approaching the baseline as the extra length of the saw did increase the risk of overshooting.

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Crisp tails, right off the saw

Will my existing carcase and dovetail saws be redundant? Not at all – they have other attributes which are beneficial for specific work, and for stock of 3/4″ thick or less the 10″ dovetail saw would be much more appropriate. But if I were looking to buy my first back saw then the Bayonet would be it – being able to cover rip and cross-cut joinery with one saw makes it a very cost efficient purchase, and means that the beginner would be able to handle whatever work they wanted to do without the need to save for a second saw in the a different filing. Similarly, the Bayonet makes for a very compact travelling nest of saws, as only a larger tenon saw would be needed to cover all bases. For classes or shows I’m certain that I will just be packing my Bayonet and 16″ tenon saw from now on. In short, this could well be the one back saw to rule them all.

Mark has also uploaded to the Bad Axe site a comprehensive knowledge bank covering all manner of saw care and maintenance, which can be viewed here. Even if you’re not in the market for a new saw, this page is well worth a view as it represents an invaluable distilation of Mark’s quite considerable knowlede, and a temendous gift to the woodworking community.

Brew Your Own

“…You got the hot wax residues, you never lose with your razor blade shoes, stealing pesos out of my brain, hazard signs down the Alamo lane…”

Hotwax, Beck

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Mixing 2lb cuts of garnet and blonde shellac

Finish can be an incredibly personal element of a piece of furniture or musical instrument. I know people who have been put off furniture instantly due to the type of finish applied, before they have even had an opportunity to look at the lines and form of the piece. Now I’m quite a simple soul when it comes to finishes – I like finishes which are durable, look good, and which are easy to apply. Preferably without too many health warnings. For these reasons, shellac and wax is a combination I rate pretty highly.

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Melting down bees wax and shellac wax

For the Policeman’s Boot Bench I had originally discussed a shellac and wax finish wih the client, which will work nicely in the period hall where the piece will sit. What the client had not settled on was the shellac tone and type of wax top coat, so I decided the best way to bottom this out was to make up a sample board of possible finishes to allow him to make an informed decision on one of the most subjective elements of the build.

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Home brewed hard wax, garnet shellac, and blonde shellac

To make the sample board I mixed up batches of blonde and garnet shellac (both 2lb cuts), using the excellent tiger shellac flakes from Tools for Working Wood. These are my two preferred tones, depending on application, and a 2lb cut is thick enough to give good coverage after only a couple of coats, without being so thick that it becomes overbearing. The shellac went into a couple of mason jars, into which I poured the required volume of meths, and sat on the side with the occasional vigorous shake to keep things dissolving. After  24 hours both jars contained a perfectly dissolved mixture with no sediment or undissolved flakes.

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A quick sample board from the same oak as I used for the top and end pieces of the boot bench

I also wanted to give the client two choices over the type of wax. The first option is Liberon black wax, which I’ve not used before but which Chris has written about in glowing terms a number of times. The second option is a hard wax recipe I got from Derek’s book on French Polishing, which I have wanted to try ever since I used his soft wax recipe to great effect on my Anarchist’s Tool Chest. Home brewed wax is is easy to make and equally easy to apply. In this case a mixture of bees wax (I used Cornish beeswax from Workshop Heaven), shellac wax, turpentine, and white spirit (if you want the proportions then you’ll have to buy Derek’s book, which is well worth reading). The wax was melted in a ban marie, and then mixed with the turps and white spirit before being decanted into a mason jar to set.

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The sample board, shellac but no wax. Blonde shellac on the left, garnet shellac on the right

The sampleboard itself was the end of the oak board from which I had harvested the top and end pieces of the boot bench. I prepared one face with my smoothing plane to give a good finish, and then divided that face into quarters. Two quarters received two coats of the blonde shellac, while the other two quarters were treated to two coats of the garnet shellac. Once the shellac had dried, one quarter of each shellac tone was given a good coat of the hard wax, while the other two quarters were rubbed over in the Liberon black wax. I left the waxes to dry then buffed them out.

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The finished sample board – clockwise from top left: garnet shellac with hard wax, blonde shellac with hard wax, blond shellac with black wax, and garnet shellac with black wax

The result is a sample board giving four very different options. It is striking how changing the wax topcoat can make such a profound difference to the appearance of the shellac. And hopefully this will give the client a good range of options from which to choose. The hard wax has a higher sheen than the black wax, although it is still an antique style sheen rather than a high gloss. Both both top coats work very well, and I definitely have my favourite combinations from the sample board. It will be interesting to see what the client selects.

The Policeman’s Boot Bench… Part 5

I’ve now processed the top for the boot bench and it is waiting to be dovetailed to the end pieces. Every project provides different lessons, and while processing the top I started thinking about the challenges of working on pieces of a different scale to what you’re used to (which also stopped me writing another simple “hey I flattened a board by hand” post, which could get dull quite quickly).

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Traversing cuts to remove the majority of the material, just like on smaller boards.

If you are used to working with small casework, or (in my case) guitar-sized components, the move to larger casework can feel a little daunting.  The Policeman’s Boot Bench is 43″ wide, which makes it my largest piece to date, something I’ve noticed all the more so given that the majority of last year’s projects tended to be in the region of 10-20″ wide. In particular, the top of the bootbench is the largest piece of timber I’ve processed entirely by hand, especially as I cut all my components a little oversized to start with so that any minor shakes can be identified and dealt with as the timber settles. When I first started to work the top it was 47″ long and 15″ wide, and covered the majority of my workbench. I may have had to buy a longer straight edge as a result.

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Jointing the reference edge – the reference face is on the other side of the board. This project necessitated purchasing a 50″ straight edge.

The thing about larger scale work is that it is both the same as smaller scale work, and a little different. Well that sounds wonderfully nonsensical, but when you stop and think about it, processing a 47″ long board requires exactly the same techniques as for a 15″ wide School Box. The difference, I think, is that the fundamental techniques need to be cleaner and more deeply embedded to be effective for larger scale work. Let me explain.

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The only real difference between a 15″ long board and a 47″ long board is the size of the workpiece. So the same techniques will work, the trick is not to be overawed be the extra timber in front of you, and not to panic. That is where deeply embedded core techniques come in – remembering that regardless of the size of the workpiece, the same workflow will equally apply, traversing cuts and all. Cleaner technique becomes relevant because that extra expanse of wood gives a greater opportunity to get in a muddle and create problems through sloppy technique.

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The left hand does all the important work when jointing, the right hand just pushes the plane. The fingers of my left hand act as a fence to keep the plane in a constant orientation to the work piece.

The good news is that expensive gadgets or new ways of working are not necessary – just doubling down on those core techniques. The best example of this I’ve found from working the top of the boot bench is when jointing the edges square. On a long edge there a greater potential for the plane to wander or skew, and consequently for localised areas of the edge to slope out of true, or even worse, in an opposite direction to the rest of the edge. Using the off-hand fingers to keep the same portion of blade cutting along the entire length of the board becomes even more important, as it keeps the angle at which the blade meets the edge constant. The result is an edge which is at a consistent angle, and which can be worked to true even if the plane blade itself is a little off being level. Secondly, good technique with stop cuts becomes more important because it is more likely on a long edge that there wil be localised areas which need addressing.

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Before dimensioning, the top of the boot bench covered most of my work bench

Unsurprisingly, the top took a little longer than usual to process, but the same basic techniques resulted in a board that was flat and square. That was a lesson in reinforcing the core handplane techniques, which I expect will be further embedded as I have four shelves (each 42″ long) still to process.

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This oak has a beautiful finish straight off the plane blade.

The above sounds all very forboding, but it is not meant to. If anything, I think that working on a piece that is of an entirely different scale to your usual work is a very beneficial way of honing the fundamental techniques and developing as a woodworker, whether it is building an 8ft long Roubo bench (on my project list for 2018), or some Marco Terenzi style minatures. Anything which forces us out of our comfort zone and makes us think critically about technique has, to my mind, to be a good thing.