Thursday, January 30, 2014

Sideboard Case Glued Up

The title says it all. And like I predicted, it's too darn cold in Richmond to use hide glue for the glue up, so I went with yellow PVA. I'll try moving the case inside tomorrow, and flatten the tops and stain everything this weekend.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Sideboard dry fit

Yesterday I cut the mortise and tenons in the front rails for the drawer runners, in addition to the drawer dividers, and today I cut the mortises in the sideboard back and the tenons on the back end of the drawer runners. I made a mistake in marking the right drawer runner; I had the piece inadvertently turned over when I marked it, so there's a gap between the inside leg and the drawer runner. The problem with this is that although it's not wide enough for a drawer to slip through, there's no room for a drawer guide. I'll fix it with a piece of scrap and hot hide glue, or just use a wide piece glued directly to the case side instead of the runner.

Wrangling this thing into place was a real chore. It's not heavy, but it's long, it's rather tall, and fairly deep. And this is complicated by the fact the drawer runners have to be set into their mortises in the bottom front rail and the case back, all while trying to keep the drawer dividers up tight against the top and bottom rail, and then squeezing everything into the case sides. Sheesh.
Right before cutting the joinery for the drawer runners, I had a brief thought about making the mortises in the back the same width as the runners. That way, I could put the front and back together, and then just slide the runners through the mortise in the back, and then seat the front tenons into the mortises in the front rail.

I (perhaps wisely) chickened out from doing this. The only way that could work is if I glued the front tenons and left the back of the drawer runners unglued. But this would mean that there would only be the glue holding the tenon in place, and that every time you pushed the drawers back, you would cause the runners to slightly pull on the tenons. I'm not sure if this would cause the glue to fail in 5 or 50 years, but there's also the fact that a mortise that big in the back (about 1" across and between 2 to 4 inches wide with a 1 inch depth) could potentially cause the back to split off along the mortises, especially if the drawers are loaded down with china and silverware.
So I wisely, if not adventurously, went with 3/8" mortises and side by side double tenons for the two wider drawer runners.

Dry fitting was done by putting the case back into the two sides, sliding the drawer runners into the mortises in the back, and then gently pushing the sides out so I could get enough clearance to slide the top and bottom front rails into the sides. And then a lot of finagling went on trying to get everything nice and flush. As much as I hate to say, I just don't think using hide glue for this glue up is going to be feasible. Even with my heater on full blast, the shop never got warmer than 37 degrees, and temperatures are supposed to be continuing in the lower 30's this week. Plus, there's no way I'll get everything together in time before the 260 gram hide glue sets. I guess I'll use good ol' yellow PVA.

After I get this thing glued up, I'll probably move it into the house (if possible) to give me space to work on flattening the top. Once the top is in order, I'll fit it to the case and then start work on the drawers. After the drawers are fitted, I can then start on the most exciting part: staining and finishing. I ordered a packet of red aniline dye stain from Lee Valley and I have plenty of scraps to test stains on. I'll see what it looks like with different strengths of the stain (two applications, one application, one application and then wiped) underneath two or three coats of 2 pound cut garnet shellac.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Sideboard Coming Together

The sideboard's coming together. It's exciting because this is the biggest case piece I've ever worked on. It's also a bit of a one-shot deal. I've made three different shaker tables with slightly altered proportions, but that's okay. There's plenty of room for them in the home. I can design newer sideboards to get a feel for what I like, but actually building them isn't the best idea. Where the heck would I put it?!

This thing is huge. It's about 20 inches or so in depth and around 5 feet in length. I'm weighing the pros and cons of these dimensions. Serving on the top of the sideboard will be easy because of the length and depth. But having wide, deep drawers will make it harder to get stuff that's at the very back of it. I guess we'll be limited to storing large tablecloths and the like in it. I do like the height (38 inches). It's right at elbow level for me, and though I'd never consciously think of it, it's nice to pick dishes and the like up without bending slightly.
My dad made a smaller sideboard about 20 years ago that's scaled down to about a 4 foot length with an 18 inch depth. I'm still wondering if that would have been a better choice.
The only thing left to do know is to tease the joints together for the front rails. There's a slight gap on the left hand side of the front rail, so today I'll determine if there's junk in the mortise preventing the tenon from fully seating or if the mortise isn't deep enough. After that I'll start work on the joinery for the drawer dividers and the web frames so the drawers don't fall through empty space.

In between that, I picked up some aniline dye from Lee Valley and I'll be testing it out on different scraps of cherry with garnet shellac to see if I can't get a color I love.

Saturday, January 18, 2014

The New Mutt Workbench

I'm finally getting around to posting the pictures, but I completed my workbench towards the end of December 2013. In the beginning of 2012 I purchased a Sjoberg hobby workbench since it was on sale at Woodcraft and it lasted for about 2 years or so. But it was a total piece of junk. The top was laminated maple that was barely over an inch thick, the legs were fir that were fastened with cabinet-type Robertson screws, and the rails were fastened to the legs with nuts and bolts. After about a year, the top warped horribly to the point where flattening boards was akin to playing the lottery (chances of getting the board flat are 1 in 650,000) and because of how thin it was, I was seriously concerned that if I completely flattened it, I would have a half inch thick top that would crack and split during mortising. The Robertson screws became bent and eventually stripped the threads to the point where you could lean on the bench and it would sway. And the rails? Since they were connected to the legs with butt joinery, I had to crank down on the nuts and bolts to prevent them from rotating like a prayer wheel whenever I worked.

Even though this all happened within a year, it was obvious I needed a new workbench within the first few months. Fed up with the thin top, lack of workholding capability, and the short length, I began looking for replacements to purchase. The only problem I had with the benches I found is that the tops were too thin (1 3/4" thick) for mortising by hand, they were way too high (36"), and their legs looked like they were made with eastern white pine from the home center. The others were just too damn expensive (ranging from $2000 to $4000).

It took me another year before I finally got around to building it, but I'm already happy with the results. In another year or two I'll update this post with changes I'd like to make to it.

The trestle base is made up of 3x3 leg blanks for the bottom and top, and the legs are 2x2 red oak. The top portion is through mortised, wedged, and drawbored. The rails are southern yellow pine half-lapped and bolted to the legs. The bottom is mortised about a third of the way through and is also drawbored. The shelf was made by simply cutting up a 2x10 and screwing it to the bottom of the rails.
The top is southern yellow pine laminated face to face. This was far cheaper than purchasing so called "workbench tops" (I suspect they're countertop production overruns) from Woodcraft and other specialty stores for close to $200. Those things are pretty thin (1 1/2") and more expensive than countertops sold by Ikea. You could certainly purchase two countertops from Ikea, but all told it'll cost close to $400 for shipping and the weight surcharge. The boards I purchased cost close to $75 and I still had material left over.

The vise I installed is a quick release Jorgensen. I still haven't gotten around to building a chop for it. For the tail vise, I ordered a face vise hardware from Lee Valley and will eventually get around to installing it along with constructing the chops. For the time being, I'm making do with holdfasts and a Veritas wonder pup.

Lessons learned:

  • I used a 700mm E.C. Emmerich frame saw with a 9 tpi web. Cutting tenons and the half-laps was a breeze. 
  • Mortising was horrible. After completing most of the mortises with a 3/4" bit and 8inch brace and cleaning up with a mortising chisel, I'm convinced the right tools for this job are a 1" bit and a 12 or 14 inch brace. There's no need to go out and purchase Jennings auger bits; 1" auger bits with hexagonal shanks are available at Lowe's for about 1/4 the price of the NOS bits. 
  • The shelf is extremely handy. Right now I'm using it for pieces of the sideboard that I'm building. It adds weight to the bench, it keeps things close at hand, and the weight of all the pieces stacked on top of each other keeps them flat.
  • I think the Jorgensen vise is better suited as a tail vise. The quick release feature doesn't offer any appreciable advantage over conventional face vises.
  • If I had the time, I would have constructed the rails with through joinery and then bolted them to the legs. However, I can't get the bench to rack at all, and it only took about two hours of doing the joinery by hand and massaging all the joints to where they fit perfectly. Deep mortising is a completely different beast. I spent hours fiddling around with the walls trying to find out where it was humped in its 3" depth, carefully paring, and then testing the fit. Absolute misery.
  • The overall bench is a little bit short (69"), but it fits my shop. If I had to, I could build a new top, and make new rails using the same base and stretch it out to 7 feet or whatever would fit.
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