The Policeman’s Boot Bench – glamour shots

Two weeks ago photographer Gareth Partington spent an evening in the workshop for a photo shoot of the Policeman’s Boot Bench and Esmerelda. I’ve been meaning to build up a portfolio of my work for some time, and Gareth’s photography is fantastic (seriously, check out the portraits on his site), so I was very pleased when he agreed to take photos for Over the Wireless. The photos of Esmerelda will follow in a separate blog post, but for now, here is a beauty pageant for the Policeman’s Boot Bench.

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The Policeman’s Boot Bench.

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Dovetails and dados. For this piece I wanted to emphasise simple but effective joinery as well as clean lines.

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The shelves are orientated so that the most attractive quartersawn grain and medullary rays are at the front edge.

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Tongue and groove backboards with a simple 1/8″ bead. Simple and classy.

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The confluence of several features – dovetails, rose head cut nails, and my maker’s mark.

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The foot detail came out really nicely, and gives a real lift to the piece. And the best thing? It’s all simple pre-industrial geometry.

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Rose head cut nails fastening the backboards to each of the shelves.

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And dressed. Featuring a selection of mine and Dr Moss’ shoes.

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I’m not sure the Policeman will be using shoes quite like these…

The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 15

After seven months hard work, the Boot Bench is finished and safely swaddled in blankets awaiting collection by the client. And while that would make for quite a pithy blog post, it does miss out the final stage of the build process, so let’s rewind a little.

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One finished boot bench – no filter necessary on timber this pretty.

At the end of my last blog post the wide faces of the Boot Bench had been cleaned up and given the first coat of shellac. Next I turned my attention to the front, which is mainly made up of the thin edges of shelves and casework. The process for cleaning up these edges was very much the same as for the main elements of the casework – removing as little material possible with my No.3 smoothing plane to remove the last traces of glue and stray fibres, to reveal clean surfaces and crisp joinery. Because I was working relatively narrow edges (1″ wide for the carcase, and 3/4″ wide for each of the shelves) the cabinet scraper was not appropriate for this work, as there can be a risk of rounding over the corners. Instead, the little L-N No.102 came in handy to clean-up a few areas where my smoothing plane could not reach. For planing the dado joint (where the grain of the sides is running at 90 degrees to the grain of the shelf), skewing the smoothing plane 45 degrees into the cut helped to plane the shelves and sides without any tear-out on either surface.

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Creating a gentle roundover on the top edge of each shelf with the spokeshave

I then gently rounded over the top edge of each shelf using a spokeshave, with three or four passes at 45 degrees to the edge of the shelf, and then three passes either side to blend in the new facet. A gentle round over like this should help to protect the edge from chipping out if the soles of shoes catch when being removed. Originally I had planned to use a scratch stock to bead the front edge of each shelf, but having spent some time looking at the Boot Bench as a whole I decided that four extra beads would (no matter how fun) be too much, particularly as the client prefers understated pieces.

There was a small knot on the front of the bottom most shelf, and instead of filling this with black tinted epoxy (as I had done for the internal knots) which would have drawn the eye to the knot, I mixed up a filler using shellac and oak sawdust, which filled the crack while blending into the timber. Once the filler had dried I brushed on the first coat of shellac to the front of the Boot Bench, and left to dry.

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Introducing a 2lb lump hammer to something you’ve been building for 7 months? Not terrifying at all, why do you ask?

The final touch, before applying the second coat of shellac, was to apply my maker’s mark. The stamp works best in end grain, and I selected the end of a tail, at the back left corner of the top. Although an exciting milestone in any project, it is also a little terrifying to start hammering the product of many months work with a 2lb lump hammer. Fortunately this is one of the instances where a heavier hammer provides more finesse. Instead of pounding away at the stamp to leave a deep mark (which would be necessary with a lighter hammer), the weight of the lump hammer did all of the work, leaving a crisp impression in the hard oak end grain with minimal effort and no risk of damage to the piece. This is a subtle touch – it is there for people to discover, but is still discreet (1″ wide) enough not to dominate the piece.

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The maker’s mark after a coat of shellac and dab of black wax

I then gently wiped down the shellac with 400 grit paper, just to remove the highspots and leave a smooth texture, before brushing on a second coat to all external surfaces. Having left the second coat to dry and harden over several days, I then returned to wax the external surfaces. Black wax is an easy finish to apply, providing you use thin coats – there is a risk of putting too much on which can be hard to buff out, and results in a blotchy finish. I wiped the wax on sparing with a lint free cloth, only adding more once I had worked the wax deep into the open grain – my aim was to enhance the grain not obscure it. Once the wax had dried I then buffed it out thoroughly with a clean cloth.

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When the wax was buffed out, I sat in front of the Boot Bench for 30 minutes or so, in silence, just taking in the form and detail of the piece. Every project is a labour of love, if it wasn’t then there would be precious little reason to build anything. But this build has been a hugely important process – the first piece of furniture I’ve designed from scratch, and my first paying furniture commission. Building something for someone else is always a huge responsibility (not to mention a privilege). I’m proud of this piece, and hope the client will enjoy it.

Pretty Up

Or, The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 14

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Sharpening can be a real bore, but I find it can also help to focus the mind on what comes next

I spent today cleaning up the exterior of the Policeman’s Boot Bench. It is always a big step to start cleaning up a project ready to apply finish, not to mention a critical stage of the work – applying a finish will highlight any imperfections or mistakes, so taking your time to getting everything looking pretty “in the white” is time spent wisely. To get in the right mindset, when I came into the workshop I headed straight to my sharpening station and sharpened the planes and cabinet scrapers I expected to use. Even if I had sharpened them last time I used them, they went back to the sharpening table for a fresh hone. Not only did this ensure that everything was as sharp as I could get it (I don’t want any tearout when finnessing the exterior faces of the casework) but most importantly I found that it helped get me in the right sort of mindset for the work ahead.

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Cleaned tails

I find that for final surfacing and clean-up work it pays to have a plan of attack – the last thing you want to do is brush shellac onto a surface only to realise that you’ve not cleaned up it up fully. This is all the more so for the boot bench, where the open fronted shelves means that there are a lot of different edges and corners to pay attention to. I decided to ignore the front of the carcase for this session, and to focus on the faces of the wide boards, starting at one end before moving onto the top, and finally finishing at the other end. This meant that I could gently roll the boot bench onto one end, and then finish work with it standing on the opposite end. Fortunately, the boot bench has enough weight that when standing on a pile of blankets it does not move across the floor while being planed.

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The No.102 block plane is a new addition to my tool chest, but is already becoming a firm favourite

Because I had left the pins of my dovetails slightly proud, it was important to flush these up without chipping out any end grain, before working the rest of surface of the end pieces. I used the little Lie-Nielsen No.102 block plane for this, which worked in a very controlled manner to slice away the proud end grain prior to smoothing the rest of the board with the No.3 smoothing plane. Although I normally use a 60 1/2 block plane, I really like the 102 for delicate work, as it is perfectly sized and weighted to fit in one hand during use, meaning that you can hold the workpiece steady with the other hand. There were a few difficult patches of grain where I had to resort to some very localised sanding, for which I used Abranet 220 grit on a sponge sanding block. I’ve not used Abranet before, but after reading several glowing reviews I thought I would give it a try, and so far it does seem to be the best abrasive I’ve used. I blended the planed and sanded surfaces together using a cabinet scraper, which gave a consistent finish across the face of the board.

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A well tuned cabinet scraper is perfect for cleaning surfaces prior to applying finish

I then repeated the process for the top, with one significant diffence. With the end pieces I was able to work from the dovetailed corner down towards the feet. However the top is dovetailed at both ends. Planing off a dovetailed corner would chip out the end grain on the tails, resulting in plenty more clean up and patching. Instead, I worked from one corner, stopping an inch or so before the dovetails of the opposite corner. Then it was a matter of working in the opposite direction until both corners were flushed up and clean. A cabinet scraper helped to blend the transition between the two directions of working, and by lifting the scraper off the workpiece before I reached the very end, I was able to avoid any spelching.

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Chamfering the back edge using the little No102 block plane

As a final touch, I lightly chamfered the aris of the rear edge of the carcase, using the No.102 block plane. Oak is tough, but can be prone to splintering on the edges, and so removing the sharp corner helps to protect the edge from breaking.

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The half pin at the left hand side hides the rebate for the backboards

With the three wide faces cleaned up, I decided to apply the first coat of shellac while the wood was freshly planed and scraped, to avoid the fibres darkening through oxidization during any delay to finish. I used the same 2lb cut of blonde shellac as for the interior of the carcase, brushed on with a 1″ Gramercy ox-hair finishing brush. The shellac brought out the grain and added a little pizazz to the dovetails.

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Shellac really makes the dovetails standout

All that remains now is prettying up the front of the carcase, applying the rest of the shellac and wax, and (most importantly) stamping the boot bench with my maker’s mark. More on that next week.

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The first coat of finish on the top is really bringing the grain out

The Policeman’s Boot Bench… part 13

The final back board is now fitted, which means that the casework for the Boot Bench is now complete. This feels like quite a milestone after six months of work.

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The pile of shavings on my workbench tell a story of the day’s work – thick cross-grain shavings from traversing a board, wide jointer plane shavings, fine smoothing plane shavings, end grain shavings from shooting work square, and curly ribbons from edge jointing.

Fitting this board was similar to the others (it is after all just a 1/2″ thick tongue and groove board) with a few additional steps to reflect the fact that is was to go between two boards which were already fixed in place. After processing the board to final thickness I selected the best side to face into the casework, as this will be the side that is viewed when the client puts their shoes on the shelves, and shot square the end that fits into the rebate in the top.  As I’ve written before, I like sizing components off the rest of a project wherever possible, and if I can get away without using numbers to measure then I’m always happy. To bring the back board down to the final width I decided to dispense with my rulers and instead use the hole in the back to determine the width. To do this, I cut the tongue on the left hand side of the board, and laid the board in place with the shoulder of the tongue lying against the edge of the adjacent board. This gave me a good indication as to how much material needed to be removed before I planed in the groove on the opposite edge of the board.

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Using a straight edge and the existing nails to locate the edge of the shelf under the back boards

Once I had brought the board down to that rough width, I planed in the groove and tried a test fitting, which told me that the board was a little too wide to allow for expansion gaps on either side. Tongue and groove joinery is pretty forgiving for this sort of test fitting process, especially when using a dedicated plane like the Lie-Nielsen No.49 where the fence is held in a precise and repeatable position to the cutter and where the plane stops cutting once a predetermined depth is reached. Reducing the overall width of the board was a simple matter of taking a few full length passes from each long edge with my jointer plane, restoring the depth of the tongue and groove with the No.49, and then test fitting the board, repeating until I had a clean fit with even expansion gaps on both sides.

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The lump hammer looks like a brutish tool, but actually it has real finese. Impersonations of Thor are entirely at the user’s discretion.

After finishing the board with shellac and wax I used a 2lb lump hammer to knock it into position. I’d previously not thought of using a hammer of this weight for furniture making, but after Chris wrote about the benefits of wielding the sort of hammer that would make Thor proud, I thought I’d give it a go. The lump hammer crushed the end grain of the board a little, but I had anticipated this and left the board over-length so that any damage could be trimmed off.

When fitting the other back boards a portion of each shelf had been visible, which made locating the pilot holes for the cut nails easy. However with all the boards now in place, the shelves were completely obscured. My nightmares recently have been full of images of missing the edge of a shelf and pounding a cut nail into open air within the casework. To avoid this, I placed a large (50″) straight edge against the cut nails holding the other three bac boards in place, and located the pilot holes for the final board off the straight edge. This approach worked a treat, and I’m pleased to say that all 32 nails in the back fit neatly into a shelf (and breathe a sigh of relief).

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More real world testing for the Quangsheng No.22 – trimming the ends of the back boards flush with the bottom shelf. A full review of this plane will be in F&C later this year.

I want to roll the boot bench around my workshop floor as little as possible. And so while the the carcase was face down, I took the opportunity to clean up the back edge of the sides and top with my No.3 smoothing plane, and to apply two coats of shellac. I then stood the carcase upside down (on top of a pile of moving blankets to protect it from the concrete floor) and trimmed the back board ends flush. As a finishing touch, I cleaned up a small amount of squeeze out from the bottom shelf, and then chamfered the feet to ensure that no fibres blow out when the boot bench is moved into position in the client’s home. I’m sure there are more satisfying things in life than chamfering edges with a block plane, but I’m not sure I’ve experienced any.

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A crisp chamfer on the feet

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