My First Woodworking Project (I think)

The other day I was rummaging around in an old box of scraps, and I pulled out a chunk of wood that I had completely forgotten about.

Doorstop 1996

It doesn’t look like much, but I’m pretty sure it’s my first woodworking project (not counting the tree forts I built with my brothers when I was a kid).  It’s a doorstop cut out of a 2X4.

I vaguely recall making this to prop a door open at a local church fellowship hall.  I used only one tool to make it: a circular saw.  Looking at the uneven surface, I recall that the sawblade was small (or I didn’t know how to adjust the depth), so it didn’t cut all the way through the 2X4.  So I cut part the way through it, flipped the workpiece over, and finished the cut from the other side–very unevenly.  I can’t believe I was happy enough with my work to put my name on it, but I must have been.

Doorstop 1996

The only reason I share it here is that it’s the first project I signed and dated.  I was a teenager back then.  I’m pretty sure I “carved” my initials and the year with a flathead screwdriver and a hammer.

It was not exactly an auspicious beginning to my woodworking avocation, but in one respect it was a telling start.  I represents a moment in my life when I looked at problem and came up with a solution that required only the tools and materials I had on hand.  And while I now have a lot more tools and a lot more materials on hand than I used to, this is still the approach that defines much of my work.  Whether it’s a need for a storage crate or a small table or a wooden spoon, I still delight in making what I need with my own hands.

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Posted in Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

The Best Tire Swing Ever

We have a large oak tree in our front yard, and while we have attempted to put up several different kinds of tree swings for the children over the years, this tire swing has been by far the best.  The children have dubbed it the Best Tire Swing Ever.

Tire Swing Construction

It works best with two or three children, though one child can lay across the middle of the swing, and I have found up to five clinging to it at one time.  It has become something of a magnet for neighborhood children.  Constructing this tire swing was simple, and my only regret is that I didn’t put up something like this sooner.

For this tutorial, I took the pictures as I was replacing some worn-out parts on the original swing, so some of the parts will look old and others will look new.  As with any outdoor play equipment, you should routinely check for wear and damage, and replace worn parts where necessary.

Constructing the Swing: From the Bottom Up

Every tire swing begins with a tire.  I recommend a large tire if you can find one.  A 15″ rim diameter works really well, although a 14″ is acceptable.  If you don’t happen to have an old tire laying around your garage, it’s easy enough to get one.  (If there is a creek nearby, there’s probably a tire or two half-submerged in it–and if your neighbors routinely refer to it as a “crik,” it definitely has tires in it.)

Once you have your tire, decide which side will be the top of the swing.  Drill three 1/4″ equidistant holes in the sidewall of the tire for tie-in points.  You can do some fancy geometry to locate the holes, but I just eyeballed the locations.  Now flip the tire over, and in the opposite sidewall, drill six or more 1/4″ holes so that rainwater won’t collect in the tire.  Spin the drill bit in each hole for a couple seconds while you move the drill up and down, just to make sure the drainage holes don’t close back up.

Now it’s time to get some hardware.  At each of the three tie-in points, you need an assembly like this:

Tire Swing Construction

For each of your three chains, you need:

  • One stainless-steel eye bolt (I used a 1/4″ diameter bolt)
  • Two regular washers
  • One fender washer
  • One stop-nut
  • One quick-link.

If you’re not familiar with these terms, the sales associate at your local hardware store can probably help you.  (But for the record, a stop-nut is a regular steel nut with a nylon insert, which prevents the nut from loosening.  A fender-washer is an extra-wide washer.)  Although the bolt should be stainless steel, the rest of the hardware doesn’t have to be.  The tire protects it from the weather–but you can get all stainless hardware if you prefer.

The eye bolt will insert into the hole in the tire.  There should be one regular washer on the top of the tire.  Underneath, there should be the fender washer, the regular washer, and the stop-nut.  Hold the top of the eye bolt with pliers and tighten the nut with a ratchet equipped with a deep-well socket.

Next, you need the chain.  For chain, we used swing-set chain with plastic coating.  This keeps little fingers from getting pinched and clothes from getting caught.  Each chain is about 4′ long, so you will need 12′ total.  But don’t trust the hardware store’s measurement.  Make sure each chain has exactly the same number of links in it, or the swing will sit crooked.

Tire Swing Construction

The quick-link attaches the eye-bolt to the chain.  When you hang up the swing, be sure to orient the quick-link as you see above.  The bolt on the link should be tightened downward, not upward.  Otherwise, gravity will eventually loosen the nut and open the link.  So to repeat a saying that I learned from some rock climbers, screw down so you don’t screw up.

Up at the other end of the chains, you will need to gather them into a single tie-in point.  I used a device called a shackle:

Tire Swing Construction

Double-check that your chains are not twisted.  It helps to have a helper to hold the three chains in place while you attach the shackle.  Use pliers to tighten down the shackle’s bolt as much as you can.

At this point, you could tie the rope directly to the shackle and skip the next piece of hardware.  However, I find it very helpful to have a quick way to take the swing down if necessary.  (We always take it down when we go on vacation, for example.)  Also, it’s a lot easier to tie a knot in a thick rope without the weight of the whole swing pulling down on it.

Tire Swing Construction

I got the biggest stainless-steel snap-link (like a carabiner) that I could find at the home center.  The shackle can easily slip into the snap-link.  (Or, that’s how I had originally designed the swing.  But with our swing, I found that the rope I had hung was about a foot too short, so I added a short length of chain between the shackle and the snap-link.)  The snap-link hangs from the rope and ties in to the shackle.

Now about the rope.  The rope is probably the part of the swing most vulnerable to damage, so do not skimp on the rope.  We got the thickest braided-nylon rope that our home-center carried.  It think it’s about 7/8″ in diameter.  I repeat, do NOT skimp on rope!  Cheap, coated rope will quickly fray and break.

I can’t tell you how much to get, but I will tell you to get a couple feet more than you think you will need.  Remember that the knot at the bottom could take as much as a foot and a half, and the knot at the top (plus what goes around the tree branch) could take 2′-3′, depending on the size of the branch.  So measure the distance between the top of your swing chains and the branch and add 3′-4′.  The rope may also stretch a bit with use, so err on hanging the swing a little high at first.  I found that hanging the swing 2′ off the ground was about right.

You’ll need to tie knots in each end of the rope.  (If you’re a sailor or a Boy Scout, you can ignore this section about knots.)  There are a number of different knots that are appropriate for this application, but you need a knot that makes a non-tightening loop.  I used a very simple “overhand knot on a bight.”  It’s extremely easy to tie.  YouTube is your friend.  Tie the knot on both ends of the rope.

Tire Swing Construction

Now you need to get the rope around the overhead tree branch.  Unless you have a very tall ladder, getting the rope over the branch can be… um… interesting.  I ended up tying the rope to the end of a long, thin stick and throwing the stick over the branch javelin-style.  It only took me four or five tries!  I will not be competing in the javelin throw in any upcoming track-and-field events anytime soon, I assure you.

The good news is that you don’t have to tie the rope around the tree branch.  Since you have tied your overhand-knot-on-a-bight onto the end, just get the rope up over the branch.  Slip one end of the rope through the loop, and pull the rope until the rope is secure, as you see above.  Not only does this save you the trouble of having to tie a knot way up in a tree, but it also won’t cut off the tree branch’s circulation.

The Right Tree

Now a word about trees and tree branches.  Choosing the right location for your tire swing is important for both maximum fun AND safety.  First, be sure you are hanging your tire swing from a live branch–one that has lots of healthy-looking leaves on it–not from a dead one.  From the ground, it’s not always easy to spot the difference between a live and a dead branch unless you look carefully.

Second, the branch should be thick.  Branches do look thinner from the ground than they actually are, but on balance, choose a very stout-looking branch.  I think our swing is hanging from a branch that is over 8″ in diameter by my estimate.  Finally, be sure your swing is not too close to the tree’s trunk, or to any other obstacles that the swing might hit.  You can hang this kind of swing on a really high branch, so measure out your clearance around the swing.  Hang the swing at least as far from the tree’s trunk (or other obstacles) as the branch is from the ground.  So if the branch you’re hanging the swing from is, say, 12′ in the air, then you should hang the swing at least 12′ away from the trunk.  This will allow you to give your kids monster pushes, which they will love!

In my opinion, the higher the branch from which you are swinging, the more fun you will have–to a point.  If you go really high, say over 25′ in the air, the swing becomes difficult to push.  Ours is hanging from a branch that is about 16′ in the air, which is just about ideal.

Now it’s time to hang up your swing.

Tire Swing Construction

Of course, the children will want to test it out.

IMG_3180

Yes, this tire swing earns the Schuler Kids’ Seal of Approval!

 

**Disclaimer: I have done my best to ensure safety by using appropriate hardware and construction materials in this project.  But because I can’t go to the hardware store with you or help you pick out a tree branch, it is your responsibility to ensure that anything you build according to these instructions is strong and safe.  Test everything with your own weight before letting kids onto new equipment.  Furthermore, be aware that outdoor play equipment such as a tire swing does pose inherent dangers to all users, and your kids may suffer falls, bumps, and bruises (not to mention fights over whose turn it is to ride the swing and whose turn it is to push).  If you cannot accept such risks for your kids, do not put up outdoor play equipment.  Risks can be reduced (though not eliminated) by supervising your kids at play, regularly inspecting the equipment for damage, and using the strongest construction materials available.

 

Posted in Build-Alongs, Home Improvement, Kids, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Easy Wooden Pants Hanger

As a professional teacher, I own a lot of dress slacks.  Until recently, I had them hanging on a variety of different hangers, most of which sagged and left unsightly wrinkles on each leg.  There are a lot of effective ways to hang up a pair of slacks without wrinkling them, but most good hangers are expensive and hog valuable space on the rack.  My new pants hangers each cost approximately 75 cents took under five minutes to make.

Making them requires only a few simple woodworking tools and almost no skill.  Here’s how I did it.

I began with some old wire hangers that came from the dry cleaner.  Such hangers are easy to find.  These are have a cardboard tube that each end of the wire sticks into.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

I had most of my slacks hanging on hangers like these.  They worked for a while, until the cardboard began to sag and finally break in the middle.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

I had a lot of them.

You could use regular wire coat hangers for this project just as easily, but I had these ready to hand.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

The first step is to use wire cutters to snip off the lower wire close to each end.  I cut the wire about 3/4″ from each end, but the exact length isn’t critical.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

I also clipped the wire at an angle so as to leave a sharp point.  That will be very helpful later when it comes time to assemble these.  Be careful, though, as cut wire IS very sharp.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

The next step is to cut the new wooden rod to length.  I used 1/2″ diameter poplar dowels from the home center.  They’re often labeled “hardwood dowels,” and the wood often has a slightly green color.  They should run you less than $2 apiece.  I got mine for $1.69 each.

At the store, take some time selecting the straightest dowels you can find.  To test straightness, just sight down the length of each dowel rod.  If they look straight, they are straight enough.  But if you don’t trust your eye, roll them on the floor.  A bent dowel will wobble a lot.  A straight one will roll pretty evenly.

Cut your dowels to 16 inches long.  If you bought 48-inch dowels, you can get exactly three hangers out of each dowel with no waste!  I cut them with a small hand saw and a bench hook–that’s the handy holding device pictured above.  (See the end of this post for more details on making a bench hook.)

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

Next, drill a small hole into each end of the dowel.  You can eyeball the approximate center.  Go as straight as you can, but don’t sweat a crooked or off-center hole.  The hanger will work fine even if your drilling is off a little bit.

I like to stand my stock up in a bench vise, but if you don’t have a vise, you can brace one end of the dowel on something solid, hold the dowel in your hand, and carefully drill the end.  I braced mine onto my bench hook, and it worked great.  Just don’t slip!

Poplar is a fairly soft wood, so use a smaller diameter drill bit than your hanger wire.  I used a 1/16″ bit, but you could go one size bigger without trouble.  The exact depth of the hole is not crucial.  I just drilled to the depth of the drill bit’s flutes.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

The dowels come from the store sanded smooth–which is great if you want them like that.  However, I don’t like my slacks slipping off the hanger and onto the floor at the slightest touch–as they will if the rod is too slick.  So I used a piece of 80-grit sandpaper to roughen the rods a little.  I just swiped the sandpaper down the length of the rod once, turned it slightly, and did it again, until the whole rod was just a little coarse.  Just remember to clean off any sawdust before you hang your slacks on these things.

While you’ve got the sandpaper in your hand, also sand off any ragged fibers that the saw left at each end.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

Now it’s time to assemble your new hanger.  With your fingers, press each cut end of the wire into the holes in each end of the dowel rod as far as you can.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

If you feel they haven’t gone in far enough, a few taps on each end with a hammer will seat the wire firmly.  If the wire doesn’t seem secure, you can always add a dab of strong glue, such as E6000 glue or even hot glue, to each hole.  But that probably won’t be necessary.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

And that’s all there is to it!  Hang up your slacks on your new hanger.

I didn’t use any kind of stain or finish on the wood because (a) I didn’t want to wait for a finish to cure, and (b) I don’t want any smelly or sticky stuff on my clothes.  These are going in my closet anyway, and I really don’t care what color they are.

Wooden Pants Hanger 2017

I made up a dozen of these in under an hour.  It’s probably the easiest woodworking project I’ve done in years–and I’ll use the hangers I made for years to come.

Bonus: The Bench Hook

I use my bench hook all the time.  I actually have two of them, and for cutting up long stock it’s nice to have a pair.  But for small stock, one works just fine all by itself.

A bench hook is simple to make, and almost as simple to use.  Each one consists of three pieces of wood.  The base is a wide-ish board 3/4″ thick.  Mine is about 8″ wide and 12″ long, but exact dimensions aren’t critical.  You could easily build this with smaller pieces–whatever you have on hand.

 

Bench Hook 2017

The other two pieces are they cleats.  They are narrower bits of wood, almost as long as the base.  They can be screwed, nailed, or glued to the base, as you see above.  Mine are glued on.  If you’re right-handed, the smaller piece should go almost to the right-hand end of the base but not quite.  Leave between 1″ and 1/2″ of the base protruding past the cleats.

To use the bench hook, the lower cleat hooks over the top of a workbench or table.  You hold your stock against the upper cleat with your off-hand, and you saw with your dominant hand.  I have two sawing spots in this bench hook–one on the end and the other in the middle.  The one in the middle is best for very small pieces that need to be supported on both sides of the saw.  I use the spot on the end for everything else.

Bench Hook 2017

When one side of the bench hook gets too chewed up to use–which will take quite a long time–you can flip the whole bench hook over and use the other side.  This essentially doubles the working life if the jig.

The saw I’m using is a cheap dovetail saw made by crown, which I think retails for about $25.  But any normal, sharp saw with relatively small teeth can be used effectively on a bench hook.  With practice, you can hold a workpiece firmly and saw a clean, straight line with ease–no clamping required.

If you do much craft work at all, I highly recommend investing the fifteen minutes it will take you to make one or two bench hooks.

Posted in Wood and Woodwork | 3 Comments

Old Names on Old Tools

Most old tools are anonymous–unless you knew the previous owner personally, there’s no way to tell who owned them before you did.  But there are happy exceptions.  Two of my handplanes have a previous owner’s name on them.  And while the names don’t exactly give me a full history of these tools, they do tell me something about the men who owned them.

Mr. A. Robertson

My wooden jack plane was once owned by Mr. A. Robertson.

Wooden Jack Plane Sandusky

I know Mr. Robertson only by his name stamp on this handplane.  I got the plane from a guy in Alaska, but I have no way of knowing whether Mr. Robertson lived in Alaska, or whether the plane was brought up there by someone else later.

Wooden Jack Plane Name Stamps

Mr. Robertson really liked his name stamp.

Wooden Jack Plane Name Stamps

I mean, he REALLY liked it.

He stamped his name on this plane no fewer than 26 times!

Wooden Jack Plane Name Stamps

There are at least four name stamps on every side except the sole.  On the top, there are six.

Wooden Jack Plane Name Stamps

Mr. Robertson also stamped the wedge, and he punched his initials into the top of the iron.

At first, I thought that this was just a guy who was excited about a new name stamp, and that he got carried away marking his name on his handplane.  But the more I look at the stamps, the more I think differently.   This man was methodical–to the point of being obsessive.

If he had been merely trying out a new stamp, I would expect more irregularity in the depth of the stamps.  But the depth is quite regular.  Plus, he always stamps his name in pairs, and in each pair of stamps, one stamp is inverted.  That suggests a very deliberate method.  I think that Mr. Robertson was determined that nobody would steal his tool and be able to sand off (or otherwise disfigure) all the name stamps.  After all, it would be relatively simple for a thief to do away with one or two stamps, but not 26.  It wouldn’t be worth a thief’s time to erase that much evidence.  The fact that Mr. Robertson had a name stamp at all indicates that he was a professional, probably working alongside other professionals–a situation in which it is all too likely for tools to disappear.

The general condition of the plane confirms Mr. Robertson’s meticulous character.  The tool is quite well cared for, given its probable age.  It was made by the Sandusky Tool Co., which operated from 1869 to 1929.  That would place this wooden plane at over 88 years old at the very least.  The iron has not been ground down very much.  In a plane this old, I would expect more of the iron to be gone due to regrinding.  But if the user is careful–as I think Mr. Robertson was–an iron need not be ground very often.

Wooden Jack Plane Sandusky

Yet the plane does show wear from regular use.  The ends have been tapped regularly with a mallet, which is how these wooden planes are adjusted.  When I acquired the plane, the sole was not quite level.  It had been inexpertly resurfaced after some wear.  I doubt that the sole had been planed down by Mr. Robertson, who was far too conscientious a man to have done a job like that.

I wish I knew more about Mr. Robertson.  I wish I could compliment him on taking such good care of his tools.  I hope that he would be pleased to know that his old jack plane is still in regular use, nearly a hundred years later.  But I really, really want to know why he stamped his name on his plane 26 times.  I’m sure there’s quite a story behind that.

Mr. R. Kendall

The second handplane is about the same age as the wooden jack plane.  I picked up this Stanley #3C smoothing plane at an antique mall in Indiana.  The plane is an early type 9, which means it was made sometime between 1902 and 1907.  (Note for handplane nerds: I know it’s an early type 9 because it has a type-9 frog and body, but the lateral adjustment lever is that of a type 8, which means that the plane was probably one of the first type 9s produced, and the factory was still using the last of some of its type-8 parts.)  The plane was in remarkably good condition for its age–it merely required some cleaning and the gentle removal of a little surface rust.

Stanley #3 Smoother Restoration

This is what the plane looks like after some cleaning.

Stanley #3 Smoother Restoration

And this is what it looked like before the cleaning, but after total disassembly.

When I first bought the plane, I didn’t even noticed it was marked.  But as I was cleaning off the tote with some Murphy Oil Soap, I noticed something on the top.  It seemed to be some initials punched into the wood:

Stanley #3 Smoother Restoration

I could just make out an RK.  Perhaps you can, too.

I was intrigued.  What could RK stand for?  I thought it must be the original owner’s initials.  I didn’t think much more of it until I started cleaning the rest of the parts.

Stanley #3 Smoother Restoration

As I cleaned the lever cap, I found that under a light coating of rust, there was an etch, faint but distinct.  It was difficult to photograph, but in just the right light, you can read the name R. Kendall.

Now I knew what RK stood for!

Like Mr. A Robertson, Mr. R. Kendall is mostly a mystery.  Yet I can deduce a few things about him from this tool.  Like Mr. Robertson, he cared for his tools very much.

I would guess that Mr. Kendall was a small man, or at least that he had small hands.  The #3 is a fairly small smoothing plane, and my average-sized hands are not altogether comfortable on the tote.  It is true that the #3 cost a little less than the #4, so it could be that Mr. Kendall was merely pinching pennies when he bought it.  In Stanley’s 1934 catalog, the #3 with a corrugated sole cost $7.10 and the #4 cost $7.45–not an insubstantial price difference back then.  Yet Mr. Kendall opted for the corrugated sole, an extra expense that a true cheapskate would have avoided.  I think that the #3 fit Mr. Kendall’s hands, or perhaps his usual scale of work.

Stanley #3 Smoother Restoration

I do know that Mr. Kendall was a craftsman.  The plane is expertly cared for.  Despite its age, the wooden parts are in excellent condition, and the Japanning (the black paint on the inside of the body) is almost completely intact.

Also, the neat, cursive etching on the lever cap suggests a solid grammar-school education.  His penmanship is precise.  And the fact that this is a neat etch rather than, say, a shaky engraving indicates that he cared for the general appearance of his tools.

Mr, Kendall also knew how to adjust his plane for maximum performance.  When I got the plane, the frog had been set pretty far forward, making the mouth very tight.  Set that way, the plane will produce a fine shaving with minimal tear-out.  While it is possible that a later owner re-set the frog, I doubt it.  Frogs are not normally repositioned unless there is trouble with the plane’s performance.  If Mr. Kendall was the one who positioned the frog, it is clear that he was knowledgable and experienced with handplanes.

It is highly likely that Mr. Kendall, like Mr. Robertson, was a professional woodworker of some kind–perhaps a furniture maker or a trim carpenter.  An amateur has little need to put his name on his tools.  But on a job site or in a busy shop, tools have a way of “taking legs,” as they say.  Mr. Kendall valued his tools too highly to let them go easily.

Conclusion

One of the biggest changes in woodworking over the last century has been the de-professionalization of the craft.  There are still a lot of professional cabinet shops as well as a few individual artisans carving out a living for themselves (sometimes literally), but I would guess that, today, the vast majority of woodworking tools, and especially high-quality hand tools, are bought by amateurs, not by professionals.

That means that, when we find high-quality, antique tools for sale today, there’s a good chance that they were originally owned and used by professionals.  These were men who knew the value of hard work and good tools, and that’s why we have so many good antique tools available to us today.  Without perhaps realizing it, these bygone professionals have left us a rich inheritance in their tools.

So here’s to you, Mr. Robertson and Mr. Kendall!  I’m much obliged to you.

Posted in History, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

A Long Wall Shelf for Books

Bibliophiles face an ongoing problem: where to store the books?  In our house, we have run out of places to put more full-sized bookshelves, so we have had to get a little more creative by using more of our vertical space.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

Enter the long wall shelf.  I have always admired the ingenuity behind various wall-shelf designs.  The above wall shelf is especially designed to hold books, and to make use of some available space above a window and a dresser (below the mirror) in our bedroom.

(Yes, I know there is an ugly water spot on the ceiling.  Yes, the roof leak is now fixed.  Thanks for pointing that out, though.  It’s not like I look at that stain every single time I get up in the morning or anything.)

This is the second such shelf we have installed in our bedroom, and we love them.  They keep important books within reach while still keeping them out of the way.  There were, however, several challenges in designing and constructing them.  (1) A long shelf that holds a lot of books is going to sag in the middle, and the longer the shelf, the more it will sag, so I had to come up with some sort of support system for the center of the shelf.  (2) The shelf needed to be very strong, yet use simple joinery that could be cut on the ends of a 9-foot board.  You don’t want this thing crashing down on your head while you’re rummaging through your sock drawer.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

Taking my cue from old-fashioned timber-frame construction, I opted for angled braces on each end, attached to upright posts with lapped dovetails.  The posts are notched and screwed into the back corner of the shelf, and the dovetails on the braces prevent the shelf from sagging forward.  The tops of the posts are screwed to the wall studs.

The beauty of this design is that you find your wall studs first, and then you build your shelf to span the distance between the studs.  A couple big, long screws on each side, and the shelf is firmly and permanently anchored to the wall.  I used 3″ long deck screws.

The shelf you see in the photo above uses central bracing only on the back.  They are braces that are attached at an angle between the corner posts and the center of the back with lapped dovetails.  While elegant when the shelf is empty, the braces take up space behind the books, and the big books hang off too far.  For my longer shelf, I needed a different solution to the sag-problem.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

I opted for a third post in the center of the shelf, but instead of the lapped dovetail I used on the sides, I decided on a tusked tenon.  On the left, you see one of the braces for the end.  On the right, you see the middle post and brace with its longer tenon.  Making them required some precise layout and sawing, but cutting the joints was not difficult.  I built the end assemblies first–which was easy–and then used them as a template for the central assembly.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

I chopped the mortise in the post for the brace, then drilled it to drawbore the tenon.  That will keep the brace from coming loose, even if the glue ever fails.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

Laying out and cutting the through-mortise was the most difficult part of the whole process.  It’s not easy to lay out an angled mortise precisely in the middle of a long board.  I set my marking gauge based on the joint I had cut on the end of the board.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

Since the end assemblies use the same angles and placement as the center assembly, everything should work out.  Theoretically.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

I would normally just chop out a mortise in wood this soft.  (The uprights and braces are southern yellow pine, and the shelf itself is juniper.)  But the mortise runs across the grain, not with it, so I bored out most of the waste with a brace and bit.  Since it’s a through-mortise, I bored from each side.  There was a lot of flipping this board over and over again throughout the project.  After boring out the waste, I cut out the rest with some chisels.  Cutting the mortise at an angle required some care.  It’s a good thing that the insides of mortises are never seen, because I left that surface pretty ragged.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

And just to prove that even bloggers screw things up sometimes, here is my first attempt at a dry-fit.  I had cut the brace about 1/4″ too short, and you can see the gap between the shoulder and the upright.  So I discarded that brace and made a second one that fit properly.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

Once I had the mortise in the shelf cut, I put everything together, marked the tenon where it came out of the mortise, and then bored a 3/8″ hole through the tenon, just slightly overlapping the line.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

I shaved down one side of a hardwood dowel and tapped it through the hole, pulling everything up tight.  The dowel–or tusk–will hold up the shelf in the middle and prevent it from sagging.  I rounded over the end of the tenon, just so I didn’t have any sharp corners sticking out.

 

And here is the shelf with everything glued up and assembled:

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

For a finish, I just rubbed some paste wax on it and buffed it off.  There’s no need to do any kind of elaborate finish here.  Once the glue set up, it was time to mount the shelf in its place on the wall.

Long Wall Shelf Summer 2017

Two big screws in each upright holds everything in place.

It will hold almost nine feet of books.  And it won’t take me long to fill it up.

Posted in Wood and Woodwork | 4 Comments

How to Restore a Wooden Cutting Board

Wooden cutting boards are wonderful.  I wouldn’t be without them in my kitchen.  But over time, their surfaces get chewed up–especially if you keep your kitchen knives sharp.  A wooden cutting board can go years and years before its surface needs to be restored, but eventually it will be time to resurface it.

We were thinning out our camping gear a while ago, and we pulled out this sorry looking wooden cutting board.  The surface was just too nasty to put it to use in our kitchen.
“Well,” I thought, “I know what to do with this.”

Cutting Boards 2017

I set to work planing down each surface with my smoothing plane.  About two minutes later, the surface looked very different.

Cutting Boards 2017

The handplane leaves a glassy smooth surface, so no scraping or sanding was required.  The wood appears to be hard maple, which is very common in older wooden cutting boards.  It’s a tough wood–the same stuff they use for bowling alleys and basketball courts.  A handplane needs to be razor sharp to cut this wood effectively.  A closely-set chipbreaker also helps a lot.

Now, I realize that not everyone who has old wooden cutting boards also has a good handplane.  But if you’re the sort of person who does a lot of handyman projects around the house, I think it’s really helpful to have a handplane.  An old #4 or #5 Stanley is not hard to find used, and with a simple sharpening routine, you can keep the blade razor sharp.  (There are many good tutorials on YouTube and elsewhere.)  Just avoid the new-in-the-box handplanes at the big-box home improvement store.  They’re pretty much all junk.

So after I posted the above pictures to social media, I got a message from my mom.  Would I please bring my handplane next time I visit so I can resurface her cutting boards too?

Sure, Mom.  I’d love to.

Cutting Boards 2017

These are her cutting boards before I started work on them.  They had belonged to my grandmother, and I remember them being in our kitchen growing up.  In addition to the marks left from normal kitchen use, there were scoring marks from craft projects, as well some paint splatters and pinprick holes.  I had to remove quite a bit of material from each side, but when I was done, they looked pretty good.

Cutting Boards 2017

I not only resurfaced the working faces of each board, but I also scraped the grime off each end and edge with a card scraper.  When I brought the cutting boards back into the house, my Mom hardly recognized them.  But she was pretty happy with them.

I hadn’t brought any finishing materials with me, but I don’t think it’s really necessary to put any finish on cutting boards anyway.  They will slowly but naturally absorb oils in the kitchen.  I’m not lazy, just efficient.

Oh, and while we’re on the subject of cutting boards, I was in a high-end home-furnishings boutique in a big city last month, and I ran across this fancy cutting board:

Cutting Boards 2017

It’s probably more of a serving platter than a cutting board, but you get the idea.  Zoom in on the price tag if you can, and you’ll see it’s priced at $140.00

It certainly is a nice piece of spalted maple, but I think the price is a little steep.  But I’ll tell you what: if you want a similar cutting board, I will happily make you one out of spalted pecan for half the price of the above cutting board.

Posted in Tutorials, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , | 1 Comment

Hotel Spoon Carving

I travel for work once or twice a year.  This summer it’s a week-long stay in a hotel, and I have evenings pretty much to myself.  In such situations, I never want to be without my spoon carving tools and a few blocks of wood.  Here’s my work-station:

Hotel Spoon Carving 2017

The tools fit into a small bag.  I bring along a couple sloyd knives, a couple other knives, a hook knife, a spokeshave, and card scrapers, along with an Arkansas stone and a strop.  I also bring an old bed sheet to spread on the floor to catch shavings.  It catches most of them.  At the end of the night, I roll up the sheet and either take it outside and shake it (I find an area covered with wood mulch), or I carefully put them into the room’s trash can.

Here are a few I’ve made recently:

Hotel Spoon Carving 2017

Hotel Spoon Carving 2017

I’m using mostly black walnut, which carves pretty easily even when dry.  The lighter wood is the walnut sapwood, which actually is a little tougher than the heartwood.  Softer hardwoods like poplar also carve pretty well while dry.  I do prep my blanks beforehand, cutting them to length and shaping one face with the drawknife or hatchet.  Everything else is knife work.

At some hotels, I’ve been able to carve outside on the deck.  I try to select an out-of-the way place, but people sometimes stop to watch anyway.  If they do, I often have a pleasant conversation about woodwork or handicrafts.  If they don’t, I get spoons made.

Either way, it sure beats watching TV all evening.

Posted in handicraft, Wood and Woodwork, Woodenware | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

From an Old Drawer to New Spatulas

People ask me where I get my wood for the spoons and spatulas I make.  The truth is, I find it.  Most of the time I salvage limbs and logs from downed trees, but sometimes I find wood in more interesting places–and that wood always has a real story.

A few years ago, we discarded an old desk that had completely fallen apart.  But we saved two of the drawers to use as containers.  We gave the big drawer to the kids to use as a small toybox, and the small drawer lived for several years on top of the clothes dryer, where it served as a tray for detergent and dryer sheets.  After being dropped a couple times, the machine-cut dovetails finally gave way, and the drawer collapsed.  I was about to toss the pieces in the firewood pile, but after seeing the straight, clear grain on some of the pieces, I decided to try repurposing the wood for spatulas.

Oak Drawer Spatulas May 2017

The drawer had four sides and a plywood bottom.  I threw out the bottom, as well as one side that had too much run-out in the grain.  Two other sides had straight, clear grain, and while the pieces were pretty thin (just under 1/2″ thick), I thought I could use them.  (That’s the bottom two pieces of wood in the above picture.)  These pieces were obviously oak, probably red oak, a common furniture wood.  Red oak is very porous, so most varieties are not very good for wooden spoons, but it can make pretty good stir-fry spatulas.  After looking carefully at each piece for any splits, I laid out some spatulas from a template.

The final piece (the top one in the above photo) was originally the front of the drawer, which was thicker.  It was also veneered on both sides, so I couldn’t easily tell what kind of wood it might be.  I suspected either maple or poplar, both of which are common substrates for veneer.  I had to do some guesswork on the best layout for this piece, but I also had to avoid the bolt holes in the center.

Oak Drawer Spatulas May 2017

Weathering had turned this wood pretty gray, but I knew there would be a more attractive color underneath.  I took each piece to the bandsaw and carefully cut to my layout lines.  My templates are just a little oversized, in order to allow for the stock removal that follows.

Then I went to work with my drawknife, spookshaves, and card scrapers.  The drawer sides were indeed red oak, which is quite hard when seasoned, and this wood was about as seasoned as wood can get!  But it also cuts cleanly with sharp tools.  I understand why furniture makers like using it.

The thicker, veneered piece was definitely a variety of poplar.  There are several different kinds of poplar, though I haven’t bothered to attempt a more precise identification.  The fact that this spatula was once a drawer front kind of overshadows the exact wood species.

Oak Drawer Spatulas May 2017

The poplar had some small, tight knots in it, but otherwise there were no flaws in this wood at all.  These are the fronts of each spatula.

Oak Drawer Spatulas May 2017

These are the backs. The Danish-oil finish did indeed bring out some nice colors in the end.

Working with salvaged wood, especially from old furniture, is always a risk.  You never know when you’re going to reveal a flaw that renders that piece unusable.  But when you succeed, the risk is worth it.

Posted in Wood and Woodwork, Woodenware | 3 Comments

The Folly of “Prepping”

What is the best way to preserve a seed?  I first came across this question in a gardening book, and it’s a trick question.  The answer, of course, is to plant it.

I have thought about that question a lot since one memorable day last summer, when my wife got a call from our neighbor.  Did we want some dry goods?  She had some to share.  And she wasn’t kidding.  In front of her house was a big U-Haul truck full of preserved dry goods–dozens of buckets and barrels of rice, beans, wheat, corn, pasta, coffee, and other foodstuffs.

Prepper Foodstuffs Dry Goods

It had come from a local prepper who just died.  (If you don’t know what a prepper is, you can look it up on the Internet.  Prepping is a big trend down here in the Deep South–people who are seriously preparing for the end of civilization as we know it by stockpiling food, supplies, guns, and ammunition.)  When this prepper died, he left half a dozen storage units full of about $30,000 worth of supplies.  So what was in that U-Haul was only a fraction of what he had stored up for himself.  We happily took whatever we thought we could reasonably use, and passed on the rest to others.

It was all very well contained.  The owner had spared no expense in keeping out moisture and insects.  Yet we found that upon upon closer inspection, we found use-by dates from over ten years ago!

Prepper Foodstuffs Dry Goods

Still, the food was free, so we decided to try it out anyway.  We cooked the pinto beans, but they came out a nasty gray color, and they took almost twice as long to cook as fresh beans would have.  And they didn’t even taste very good.  Some of the other items, such as the sugar and pasta, were edible.  But the lima beans, the cornmeal, and the wheat were all very stale.  The coffee was undrinkable.  I don’t know what kind of existence this prepper had imagined for himself once civilization collapsed, but had he actually had to live on this food, he would have been far less comfortable than he probably imagined.

This experience got me thinking about this whole trend of prepping.  The assumption behind prepping is that an isolated individual (or a small family) can maintain some semblance of civilization–food, shelter, safety, and comfort–alone and virtually unaided, probably while holding off bandits by using the thousands of rounds of ammo that the prepper has stockpiled alongside the foodstuffs.

It’s not a new fantasy, I suppose.  What, after all, is more American than living by your wits on your own little compound deep in the woods, surrounded by a few loyal family members and a huge stockpile of food and ammunition?  Modern-day prepping is Little House on the Prairie with a vengeance.

Prepper Foodstuffs Dry GoodsIf there is one thing I learned from the contents of that U-Haul, it is the basic folly of prepping–of stockpiling food on the assumption that, someday soon, your stockpile will be all you have to live on.  But even the biggest stockpiles run out, so preppers realize that eventually they will have to be able to grow enough food to support themselves and their families.

An essential component of any serious prepper’s stockpile (alongside dry goods, ammunition, fuel, and camping gear) is vegetable seeds.  In that U-Haul, we found no fewer than five “kits” of seeds.  They were bought mail-order from a company that specializes in supplying preppers, and they came with a manual explaining that one kit of seeds could grow enough food to feed a family of four.

As an experienced gardner, I knew that was a lie.  There were not nearly enough staples, such as corn and beans, to plant even a reasonable garden plot.  There were few easily-grown, hardy plants, such as kale, that really would be helpful during a food shortage.  More importantly, the seed kits had been bought several years ago and then locked up in a storage unit.  Just for fun, we tried to plant a few of these seeds.  None of them came up.

This brings me back to where I started: the best way to preserve seeds is to plant them.  But seeds don’t feed people; agriculture does.  Growing enough food to feed a family is more than just sticking seeds into the ground and hoping for the best.  It requires intimate knowledge of the soil, of your local climate, and of the kinds of plants you wish to grow.  In other words, it requires culture.  And real culture only happens in relatively large communities over time.

As an analogy, let’s say that I was convinced that the world would soon lose all of its knowledge of woodworking, and I was determined to preserve woodworking as a craft.  (Which, incidentally, I am.)  I might be tempted to buy as many tools and as much wood as I could, store it away with a few books about woodworking, and wait with baited breath for the woodworking apocalypse.  But a better approach would be to learn as much as I could about woodworking, to actually practice woodworking regularly, and to teach other people to work wood–to get tools, wood, and skills into the hands of as many people as I could.  And that’s exactly what a few people back in the 1970s and 1980s did when they saw that the old ways of working wood were about to die out forever.  They knew intuitively a principle that preppers do not understand: the only way to keep a way of life alive is to practice it, and to teach others to practice it, too.

Feb 2010 - 23

Prepping, on the other hand, assumes that a total withdraw from culture is necessary for survival, and in a twisted way, I think it may actually contribute to the cultural collapse that it fears.  The more people stop contributing to the wellbeing of their society, the more likely that society is to decline.  If you really want to preserve your way of life, first learn all you can about it.  Then find ways to actively pass on your skills and materials to a new generation.

 

 

Posted in Gardening, Kids, Musings, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 11 Comments

Hardware Storage: Drink More Tea

Today was Workbench-Organization-Day.  It’s amazing how cluttered my workbench can get over a few months.  It took me a couple hours to toss all those forgotten scraps into the firewood pile, organize the pieces of When-I-Get-around-to-It projects, and–of course–collect and putting away stray hardware.

You know how it goes.  Spare nails, screws, nuts, and bolts accumulate at an an alarming rate in the corners of workshops.  Sometimes I think they breed there.  I have a couple small dishes that I keep on my workbench for collecting these bits of hardware when I find them, but when the dishes start to overflow, it’s time to actually put things away.

I’ve tried a few different hardware-storage systems.  Well, “system” might be too strong a word.  Like most “handy” guys, I have nails, hinges, and L-brackets in some random coffee cans and jars, but little by little, I’m converting to a simple modular-storage system.  It’s taken me a while to make the conversion, though, because I need to drink more tea.

IMG_4357.JPG

Yes, I use the leftover tins from Twinings loose-leaf tea for storing hardware.  They come in two convenient sizes, and the lids are made such that boxes of the same size will neatly stack on top of one another.  Unlike mason jars or coffee cans, these rectangular containers can be packed next to each other in a drawer with almost no wasted space between them.  And they’re totally flexible.  Changing the contents is as easy as writing a new label.

The only downside is that, unlike glass or plastic, I can’t see what’s inside each one unless I open it.  But I’ve cracked or broken enough glass jars and plastic containers that I’ll gladly put up with limited visibility.  I usually just dump the entire contents onto my bench, pick out what I need, and then hold the box up to the edge of the bench while I sweep the rest of the hardware back into it.  You can’t do that with a round jar.

I’m normally a coffee drinker, so it’s taken me some time to replace most of my mason jars and coffee cans with tea tins.  I still have several to go.

So pour me a cuppa tea, guv’nor!  I’ve got more hardware to put away.

Posted in Boxes, Wood and Woodwork | Tagged , , , , , , | 3 Comments