Wednesday, February 24, 2010

Old Pencil Box

I recently picked up this old pencil box, because I like old things, boxes, pencils (don't get me started on the Dixon Ticonderoga 1388...) and mysteries. This box is a mix of all four. What really struck me was how similar it was to Roy Underhill's grease box.

The sliding dovetail lid reveals a upper storage compartment:

It also unlocks the pivoting mechanism allowing the lower compartment to be reached:

On the underside of the swinging section I found a date - cool!

And it's easy to see where some past owner or owners checked their spelling and arithmetic:

Here's the mystery. The bottom isn't really the bottom. It has a full length dovetail that connected something else to this box. What was it? Another level with more storage? Has anyone seen a more complete version?

For one of my next projects, I'm going to try to make a reproduction of this box, but I'm not sure what to do about the missing section(s). Any ideas?

Saturday, February 20, 2010

Greg's Top

My friend Greg up in Fairbanks gave me this awesome top. This thing really spins forever. Well, it does if my son doesn't grab it - he just can't resist stopping it.

You can read more about it over on Greg's blog. While you're there, check out his gorgeous guitars and ukes.

Thanks Greg!

Sunday, February 14, 2010

A Box for Blocks

For my son's first birthday I made him the Skunk Bench. For his second, I'm making him a set of blocks. Of course, I hadn't been working on the blocks for very long when I realized that they would need a place to live. Bam! New project!

I decide to make a chest. I looked through Lon Schleining's excellent book Treasure Chests and saw several "sea chests" that inspired me. Of course, I had to change things; it's what I do.

Some changes come from my design muse, some from problem solving during the construction process. I like it when the changes provide a certain amount of "funky" or "quirky" character to a piece - it keeps things interesting. I've posted about this before.

I sketched out a rough design and went with a raised panel bottom set in grooves in the sides and ends. On a chest this size, I think it would be more common, and arguably better - as it would have not stolen from the depth of the interior, to just nail on a solid bottom. But I liked the idea and how it makes the box different.

Once I started building, a couple of other changes appeared. First I didn't have wide enough stock to make the top out of one board, and rather than gluing up wider stock, I modified the top design completely. Then, after numerous attempts at modifying the handle hardware, I threw it away keeping only the bails; and replaced the mounting hardware with simple eye screws. All the hardware I blackened with a linseed oil patina that I first experimented with back on the Turning Saw project. After seeing the blackened hardware sitting on the raw wood of the box, I liked it so much I abandoned my original idea of painting the box.

After deciding not to paint the box, I also decided to leave the nails exposed, and to use wrought head nails to attach the hinges. This was the first time I'd used the clench nail technique, and I had mixed results. The nails I had were either too short or too long. As nails that are too short are not clenchable, I went with the too long option - but things got messy. In the end, it worked, but it was not pretty...

One special thing about this project for my son was that I used a tool with family history. It's a hand drill from our hardware store, that my father gave me as a boy. I love the idea that there is a three generation connection in this project.

In the end, I think I created a functional box for the blocks, but one that has just the right amount of unique character to make it extra special for my son.

And finally, the traditional shot of the tool kit used on this project:

Not pictured: shooting board and miter box.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Saw Storage Upgrade - Part II

I gave some thought to making another till for my bench saws, or maybe some kind of cabinet, but in the end I decided to stick with the hanging panel idea. One thing I really like about tool holding panels is how easy it is to see and get at everything. Plus, I like how it looks; a kind of "shop art".

The new panel would hang from the French cleat system I use in my shop. Basically, this works by having two boards, each with 45° angles, that interlock. One board is attached to the wall, and the other is attached to the back of whatever you are hanging. In my shop, I have a continuous cleat running along the walls. This makes it very easy to hang and rearrange all sorts of things: panels, tills, shelving units, miter boxes, postdrills etc.

One thing that needs to be addressed is how to attach the corresponding cleat to the unit being hung. Most things hung in my shop simply have the cleat glued and screwed to the back of the frame at the top. This is long grain to long grain, and therefore wood movement is not an issue. Sometimes the cleat must be attached cross grain, and here wood movement could be a problem. On relatively narrow cross grain joints, such as the single 1x12 panel that holds my braces, I don't worry too much about it. I just screw it on and only glue it in the middle. Larger cross grain joints, such as the one on this new saw panel, are a different story.

To get the width I wanted for the new panel, it would be made from three 1x10 boards. If I used glued butt joints to join the boards into a single 27 inch wide slab, movement could become fairly significant. If I then just screwed the cleat across the back, the board would most likely split as it tried to move. I could have used slotted holes for the screws, but instead I decided to just use unglued T&G (tongue & groove) joints and attach each board to the cleat separately. This way, each board is free to expand and contract independently, while the T&G joints keep everything aligned and looking good - i.e. no wall visible through gaps between the boards.

The first step was to joint the edges so that they would be nice and straight. This picture might be a little confusing. I jointed the boards on edge, and then lay them flat to see how they fit. I wasn't using the #8 jointer to plane the faces (although I could have if I wanted to - "Breaking the law! Breaking the law!").

To make the T&G joints I used my Stanley #49. It has an eccentric swinging fence that allows it to cut both the tongue and the groove. Originally, it would have come with an extra wide iron for use on thicker boards. This would allow it to remove all the wood to the right of the tongue. I don't have that, so the extra "tongue" will have to be removed next. I wanted the tongue offset to the backside of the board thickness to allow room for forming a bead along the edge.

To remove the leftover wood, I used my small rabbet plane. I set it for a thicker shaving to speed things up.

Then it was time to make the side beads:

After that, I cleaned up the show faces with my #3 smoother. It's amazing how much better the wood looks after the scalloped machine planing marks are removed.

As a side note, it was while using those last four planes that I shot the images for the Planes and Shavings post.

This next sequence shows how I make my French cleats. It's funny, but I remember how much of a challenge this was the first time I had to do this after getting rid of all my power tools. I just didn't have my "hand tool brain" going strong yet. Really, it's quite simple and rather easy.

First, with a marking gauge set to the thickness of the board, I scribed a line down one face of the board. I also put pencil marks across the top to make it easier to see the bevel as it develops.

Then I remove the bulk of the waste with a drawknife. You could also do this with a scrub plane, or even a jack plane; but they would both be slower than the drawknife.

Finally, I cleaned things up with a jack plane. The secret is to keep the bevel developing evenly as you go. It's not hard once you get the knack, and you could do any bevel angle you want the same way.

After the bevel was complete, I attached the cleat to the top rear of the panel. I chose to use finish screws near the center of each board. I used a 1/4 inch forstner bit in my hand drill to create the counterbore (which I later plugged).

After boring pilot holes with another hand drill I drove the screws with a 6" swing brace. I love using these small braces for driving screws. They provide plenty of torque, are the original "variable speed" driver, and have a great sense of feedback that beats any cordless drill's clutch feature. The smaller size allows for quicker driving.

One problem I ran into was sinking the screws too deep for the driver bit to reach. I had to get creative. In the end, I filed off the tang on a triangular file until it matched the square driver hole in the screws, and then used a pair of Vise-Grips as a 90° handle. Worked great.

And here's the new panel in place; looking spiffy - but empty:

I spent the next few weeks making various holders for the saws. Nothing tricky, just a lot of finicky work getting the fit just right.

And here's the panel with the saws:

I quite like it - makes me happy every time I look at it. I'm also happy to be finished. It took a lot longer than I was planning.

Well, it's mostly finished anyway. I saved one spot next to the Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw for an old Disston dovetail saw I am going to finish fixing at some point. I started working on it over a year ago, but it turned into a disaster of saw plate flattening: "Just one more tap of the hammer... tap... hmm... maybe... tap... No!... Arrgh!" It's hopeless, and I'll need to completely replace the saw plate - later.