The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 12

The third backboard for the boot bench is now fitted, while the fourth has been partially processed. At the end of last week’s blog post I was intending to fully process and finish the final two backboards before fitting them at the same time. However while working on them I decided that it might be better to fit the third board, and then tweak the fourth to fit the remaining space, as this will give me a further opportunity to fine tune the fit of the final board.

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Flattening the reference face of the oak backboards

Over the past year I’ve written plenty about processing stock from rough, so I won’t describe the steps yet again. But while I was planing the backboards down to final dimensions, I was struck by how much this process has become second nature in the 12 months since I started working through The Joiner & Cabinet Maker. The projects in The Joiner & Cabinet Maker were really my introduction to working from rough stock, as it is not something that happens much in my lutherie work! Processing material in the rough can be an intimidating process for beginners, but with a little practice, and an understanding of why the process works, it is a straight forward matter to flatten and dimension even large boards by hand. Processing stock by hand is also an excellent opportunity to become familiar with the core trio of bench planes, and with working wood. All of which means it is definitely something I would encourage beginners to have a go at, and not be intimidated – just grab a jack plane and start making some shavings.

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Shooting the ends square with the Quangsheng No.22 mitre plane

The one change I made when processing these two boards was when it came to shooting the ends square. Normally I use a Lie-Nielsen No.51 with an Evenfall Studios shooting board. However, I had a Quangsheng No.22 mitre plane sitting on my workbench waiting to be reviewed for Furniture & Cabinet Making. I like to use review tools on real life projects wherever possible, as this gives me the best insight into how they perform. So as a starter for ten I set the Quangsheng up on a smaller shooting board made by Derek Jones, and planed the ends of the backboards square on that set up.

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Using cut nails to space the expansion gap between the boards

Cut nails allow for seasonal expansion by bending slightly as the wood moves, which prevents splitting. To allow the nails to do their job it is necessary to leave some room for expansion in the tongue and groove joint. As we are in the middle of a very hot and dry spell (at least, for England) I left more expansion room than I would if I were assembling the backboards during the dead of winter (when the boards would be at their maximum expansion, and most likely to contract over the coming months). I separated the joint just enough to be able to stand the tip of a cut nail on the exposed tongue, and then lined up several nails along the joint to ensure a consistent gap. The backboard was then nailed to the shelves using two nails per shelf, on 3 1/2″ spacing from each edge of the board.

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To lay out the nails, I used a combination square and brad awl to mark the location, checking the alignment with the nails fixing the outermost backboards using a 50″ straight edge. A tapered drill bit then drilled pilot holes to a depth of 2/3 of the nail’s length. Once the board was secured to the carcase I removed the cut nails I had used as spacers along the expansion gap.

The final backboard will be finished and fixed in place when I’m next in the workshop. After that, I’ll be onto making the exterior pretty and applying the finish.

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Looking inside the casework shows the beading detail on the tongue and groove joint.

The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 11

The first two backboards have now been fitted to the Policeman’s Boot Bench, which means that I have only two more backboards to go before the casework is completely assembled. The end is truly coming into sight now!

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Ignore the front knob and push the fence into the workpiece for a straight cut.

After my test cuts with the Lie-Nielsen No.49 last week, I was ready to cut the tongue and groove on the backboards. The No.49 is very easy to use and produces repeatable tongue and grooves in 1/2″ material, so I expect that it will see heavy use in my tool chest. Although it is a simple tool, there do seem to be a couple of key pointers to get the best out of it, and to my mind it behaves quite like a cross between a plough plane and a rabbet plane. Rather than take full length passes from the first push, I started at the far end of each piece with short passes that increased in length until I was planing the full edge, very much as you would with a plough plane. This helps establish the cut and prevents the plane from wandering off the line. The sole of the plane is not flat, rather it is shaped into a tongue and groove profile. This clever design means that once the cut is established, the sole of the plane will run in the emerging tongue and groove, and stop the plane wandering.

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The sole of the No.49 is profiled to match the tongue and groove it cuts. This pofile keeps the plane cutting straight and true.

Keeping the plane square to the workpiece is critical, and this requires correct body position. Firstly, I ignored the knob at the front of the plane, and instead kept my left hand on the fence, pushing the plane into the workpiece while my right (dominant) hand pushed the plane forwards. Secondly, I kept my head over the workpiece, just to the right hand side of the centre line – the same body position as I use with rabbet planes. I find this pushes the fence into the workpiece and counterbalances any tendency to tilt the plane to the left handside.

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Philly Planes 1/8″ beading plane, and the Sterling Tool Works plane hammer.

Finally, to avoid bruising the tongue and groove with the sole of the plane, I did not lift the plane out of the cut on the return stroke, but simply slid the plane backwards before pushing through another cut. The result was a crisp tongue and groove in only a matter of minutes.

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After so much stock processing and joinery recently, I decided to spend a couple of minutes adding some subtle decoration to the boot bench. To enhance the appearance of the backboards I beaded the edge of the grooved board using my 1/8″ beading plane from Philly Planes. This is one of the most fun tools I own, but more importantly the shadow line from the bead will give the joint between the backboards a nice visual flow, and stop the transitions from one board to the next from being too abrupt.

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The beading profile on the tongue half of the joint.

After beading, I gave the front and back of backboards two coats of blonde shallac, followed by a coat of Libern Black Wax to the front face (which will be visible inside the bootbench).

 

As I mentioned previously, the shelves were over-width when the boot bench was assembled. Fitting the backboards would require placing the bootbench face down, and while the shellac on the backboards was drying I trimmed the front edges of the shelves until they were flush with the sides and top of the carcase. This was a slightly awkward operation as the bootbench is too big for my workbench, and I don’t have enough saw benches to put one under every corner. The result was weilding a No.8 jointer while kneeling on a concrete floor. Not entirely comfortable, but the pay off was removing the excess material and dried glue to reveal tight and well fitting dados.

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Cut nails and my Black Bear Forge hammer – a dream combination. Angling the nails slightly increases their holding power.

Once the shelves were flushed up I was able to maneuver the boot bench face down on a pile of moving blankets, and fit the backboards. The first two backboards were fitted one at each end, as this means I can adjust the size of the remaining backboards to fit the precise space available. Each backboard was glued down their outermost long edge into the corresponding rabbet, and nailed to each of the shelves with decorative wrought head cut nails from Tools for Working Wood. As the backboards are 10 1/2″ wide I used two nails per shelf, on 3 1/2″ centres. Pilot holes were drilled using a tapered drill bit and my Grandfather’s egg beater drill, and the nails were knocked in using my 16oz hammer by Black Bear Forge. This combination of one glued edge and nails gives the carcase further rigidity but still allows for wood movement as the nails will bend under seasonal expansion and contraction. The nails are gorgeous, and even if they won’t be seen once the boot bench is installed it pleases me to know they are there. The inner two backboards will be nailed in, but not glued.

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One backboard fitted – the blue tape reminds me where the top edge of each shelf is.

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.