Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Book Boxes

I started building a book box for Lara on Saturday. It started off with a 5"x7' plank of rough cut alder that I dressed, jointed, and cut to length. And unfortunately jointed and jointed and jointed the end grain. The joinery I used for this is dovetails, but I got the idea for the box from Roy Underhill who based his book boxes off of Thomas Jefferson's who used these to ship his books around.
I used a Stanley No. 5 corrugated jack plane, a Stanley No. 7 jointer plane, a marking gauge, bevel gauge, 1/2" chisel, and a Crown gent's backsaw to convert the plank into a box.
Lessons learned: start off by making sure all your tools are sharp. I don't know why, but I'm really sensitive to my plane irons being dull. I sharpened my jack and jointer plane which made dressing this board last all of 20 minutes. My block plane was another story. It took me a full thirty minutes of struggling to square up the end grain before I realized the iron was dull. But this was also thirty minutes of jury-rigging for a woodworking vise by just clamping the board upright to the workbench and thirty minutes of bashing my fingers into the bench top and having the board shift back and forth with every stroke of my plane while mumbling to myself that the pain and frustration were all part of the job. My little Crown backsaw is probably meant for cutting dovetails and the like in softwood stock that's less than 2/4 thick. The board was a little over 4/4 and it was a hardwood. Ugh. So that meant hideous dovetails until I took the time to file my saw, stone the sides, flatten the sawplate (it was slightly curved when I got it, probably from the factory sharpening), and tension the blade. It was worth it for the last board's tails, as it cut straight and true. The 1/2" chisel had about 5 different bevels on it in various skewed angles. When I'd gotten the pins and tails cut, I tried chopping away the waste between the pins and the tails which successfully ripped huge chunks of wood from the baseline, which made me whip out the coping saw to remove the waste. But that meant that I had to pare down to the baseline to get a flat surface for the mating board to rest on. And that's when I realized the chisel's bevel was all kinds of screwy. Fortunately I've improved at grinding, and using a light touch with a finger close to the edge to make sure I wasn't burning the steel, I ground a new bevel and sharpened up the chisel with my Spyderco stones so that I could easily pare away the waste. But I obviously need to work on my paring skills considering I pared away waste to create sloping, oblique spaces in between the pins and tails.
I did a dry fit earlier today and glued everything up. It's pretty snug for having large gaps in most of the dovetails which I repaired by cutting 1/32" slivers with the backsaw to hammer into the gaps and make the joint snug. Tomorrow I plan on chiselling off the hardened glue, smoothing the face boards with my No.3 smoothing plane (the iron's sharp; I checked) and applying a few coats of Danish oil to put this project to bed. Though knowing what I know now, I don't think a second book box would take this long to complete...
Oh well. For the positives, it took very little time for me to plane the board down and get rid of the small twist that was present towards the ends of the board. And keep in mind, I didn't cut it to length just yet, but dressed the full length of the board. My sharpening and grinding skills are improving since I turned a chisel that could've doubled as an icepick into a paring chisel that was leaving burnished wood in its wake. And my handsaw skills are improving in terms of sawing, sharpening, and tensioning. The tensioning was really apparent in this saw. I had to tension it twice, but now instead of the blade flexing, it's nicely taut and very easy to start. My only grip is that in the blade towards the handle the saw plate gently bends away from the main toothline, but I suspect this is just left over from it's original filing. Whatevs. I got the rest of the curve out.
For now the one thing I definitely need to get/work on is some sort of vise and a saw vise or saw sharpening horse. The saw sharpening horse should be easy enough to make. The vise I'll have to think about.
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