Sunday, May 30, 2010

Birch Windfall

Well okay, not an actual windfall (as it was cut to avoid that) but a windfall of wood nonetheless. Our Alaskan birches don't tend to get very large, at least around here, because they either blow down or get crowded out by the spruce. This big guy was too close to the house of some friends and was making them nervous - which is why I found it on their lawn.

A call to my brother Josh, (who took the smaller stuff for his wood stove) and here was my haul:

My idea was to air dry it (I love the way air dried wood works with hand tools) and use it for all sorts of projects. The challenge is to avoid checking (splits) as the wood dries. If the wood is dried in the round, it will almost certainly check, as the wood shrinks tangentially to the grain much more than radially. In other words, as the outer rings of grain try to shrink into smaller rings, they can't move inwards enough to allow them to stay whole, so they split apart. The easiest way to do this is to split the wood into halves or wedges, which allows the wood to move freely as it dries and shrinks (the angle of the wedges become more acute as they dry).

Here's a photo essay of the splitting process.

Step 1: Start a split with the axe.

Step 2: Use a sledgehammer and a sharp wedge to open the split farther. I scored this old logging wedge down in Oregon and it is perfect for this step.

Step 3: Open the split wider with a larger wedge.

Step 4: Leapfrog the sharper wedge and advance the split again.

Step 5: Add another large wedge. A lot of the time I can leapfrog the large wedge to the new position, but this log was not in the mood to cooperate. The grain from the large branch (cut flush) complicated things and the first large wedge didn't release.

Step 6: Split complete.

Alternate Step A: Make a glut. I think traditionally these are made from some tough wood like dogwood. But seeing as I was at least a couple thousand miles away from the nearest dogwood, but only about ten feet from a scrap lumber pile, I made mine from an old 2x4.

Alternate Step B: Use the glut like a huge wedge (which of course is exactly what it is :) to split logs that are particularly large and/or ornery.

And here is the final result after a few hours of work.

And the tool kit:

I don't have any particular projects in mind for this wood, but I'm sure something will come to me.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Jamestown Joinery

More from our school trip back east. Here are a few pictures of the reproduction furniture at the Jamestown living-history museum in Virginia.

It was fun to see the furniture in its actual setting (or close anyway). I'd like to know more about these. Who made them? How were they made? What were they based on? If I ever get back there I need to dig around a little and see if I can't find someone to answer these questions. Next time...

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Slow Progress on the Candle Rack

Every fall I think the start of the school year has got to be the craziest time of the year. And every spring I change my mind. Hands down, the end of the school year is the craziest time. It seems like every minute has at least an hour's worth of work to get done.

So after spending four hours of a beautiful Sunday in my stuffy classroom (the air circulation is shut off on weekends), I came home and hid in the shop for about an hour. It wasn't much, but I did make some progress on the candle rack.

First, I had to remember what I was working on - finishing the dovetails. Then I had to double check that I was working with the right parts in the right orientation. All stuff that just takes care of itself when you aren't breaking your project up into tiny amounts of time spread over weeks.

I did the layout on the tops of the sides by eye. If you look closely, you can see that I changed my mind a couple of times:

After cutting the tails, I transferred the layout to the pin board, cut it out and what do you know? It went together the first time:

It was fun to see the case for the rack coming together:

Not much progress, but better than nothing. And a nice hour in the shop with something to show for it is never bad. Actually, an hour in the shop is never bad, whether there is something to show for it or not.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Colonial Williamsburg Joiner's Shop

Last week, two other teachers, four parents and I, took forty 7th and 8th graders on a 6 day trip from Alaska to Jamestown, Colonial Williamsburg and Washington DC. It was awesome! And no, I'm not totally crazy - our kids are great.

I didn't have much free time at Williamsburg, as chaperone duties kept me pretty busy, but I did get a few minutes in the joiner's shop. Actually, I thought I was going to the gun smith's shop, but I guess they moved it since the last time I was there.

I'm not sure what the interpreter was working on. I didn't have time to talk to him, but one of the things on the bench in front of him sure looks like part of a bellows to me. Anyway, here are some random photographs from my whirlwind tour.

I'll have to go back someday on my own and really spend some time there. I also took some pictures at Jamestown and a few other places that I will try to get posted soon.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Block Project Finished - For Now

So Teague's blocks are finished - I was aiming for 50 and ended up having time for 46. Not too bad.

They're unit blocks, with the basic block having 1x2x2 dimensions. Making these blocks, and their larger siblings, was pretty straight forward - just dimensioning the stock really (well except for a few of the "special" shaped blocks), but it was fun practice.

The width of the stock is very close to the final width of 2 inches, so after planing off the finish (they are old library chairs) it doesn't take much more work to get there with just a jack plane. The thickness is another matter - too much to remove with the jack, and too little to resaw - well, I suppose if I really wanted some thin oak veneer...

I tried my scrub plane, but wasn't happy with the results. Just too much tear out to get close to the layout line. I switched to a #6 fore plane with a fairly cambered iron. It was the right tool for the job, fast, but clean, stock removal. Here's a shot showing two pieces of oak - the right is the "before" and the left is the "after" example.

After the fore plane got things close, it was quick work with the jack to finish removing stock down to the line. It was a little wasteful, but a definite time saver.

I tried to take a picture of the fore plane iron to show the amount of camber:

Here's a shot of work on one pair of ramp blocks:

I had to leave extra wood at the ends to adjust for the kerf and flattening of the angled plane. After everything was true, I cut the ends square and to length. I experimented with several different saws for cutting the angle and ended up liking the Japanese style rip saw the best.

I had anticipated having to do a lot of work with a plane to clean up the cut, but in the end it came out pretty clean straight from the saw. Just a few minutes with the plane, and it was fine.

Chamfering the edges of the blocks was much easier by pulling them over an upside down plane - once again the jack was pressed into service:

The final test of the set before the birthday boy got his hands on them (what can I say, they're fun!):

In action - I think he liked them, and the chest too:

I'm sure I will be making more to expand the set as time goes by and his construction skills grow.