Inner beauty, continued

I decided to make the back and the divider panels from thinner boards rather than going the full 7/8″ that the rest of the top is made from. This was to make better use of the material and also keep the weight down for the table – at 40″ long and 20″ wide, the carcass was already a bear to pick up.

This meant a bunch of extra steps and labour involved in getting the boards down to thickness. I don’t have a bandsaw good enough to resaw reliably, so I had to go with the table saw. After an hour at the saw, replete with the smell of burning walnut and the beep of the smoke alarm that is placed over my table saw, I had enough 1/4″ strips to laminate into the back and divider panels.

For stock this thin the effort put into a glue up really does pay dividends – there just isn’t enough material to plane down unevenness.

It took just a little while with my no 5 1/4w to get the panels in good enough state to go in. I crosscut the panels to length and planed them down to final width, which incidentally is one of the original ways scrub planes were intended to be used. That’s a little tidbit I found very interesting when I found out, so…

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Inner beauty

Inner beauty

When I left off in my series of posts about the walnut mid-century modern coffee table, I had just finished cutting and chopping the dovetails for the main carcase. This was followed by an initially tepid dry fit, which after a little bit of paring went together swimmingly (what a relief!).

Dovetails, walnut, coffee table, mid century modern

With the joinery for the outside of the carcase done, it’s time to shift my focus to the inside.

Walnut, dovetails, lie Nielsen, mid century modern, lie Nielsen

This involves ploughing grooves in all of the panels to accept the back and the sliding door, and cross grain dadoes in the top and bottom to accept the divider panel. The grooves for the door and back will be strategically located to avoid the tails in top and bottom and will be stopped grooves in the sides to avoid an ugly gap in the top that has to be filled. The divider grooves will be stopped as well.

Next post I’ll cover the door, back and divider panels.

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It’s all in the dovetails, continued

It’s all in the dovetails, continued

In the time between marking out the dovetails in the top and bottom of the coffee table and actually getting around to sawing them, the temperature suddenly dropped and so did the humidity. As a result my bottom panel developed a noticeable cup. Now I’m not too worried about the cup and certainly won’t go planing the panel down – by the time I’m done there’ll be nothing left, and the panel will just cup on me straight away anyways.

Benchcrafted, moxon vise, coffee table, dovetails , walnut

The reason I’m not too worried about it is because it will be held flat for the life of the coffee table once the carcase is assembled. For now I just need a way to keep it flat while working on it and using it to mark the pins later. I used this as an excuse to purchase and build a Benchcrafted moxon vise. I’ll leave the vise build for another post but it was quick and the hardware is fantastic. With the panel clamped tight in the vise, it’s held flat and I can saw a lot more accurately.

I generally try to saw as dovetails close to the lines without splitting them as possible. I did end up regretting having so many dovetails on each panel, and must’ve gotten a little tired by the end because there’s a noticeable difference in how close I was to the line at the start vs the end. I used my Lie Nielsen dovetail saw – I absolutely love my two thin plate backsaws from Lie Nielsen. I cut out most of my waste with my Knew Concepts Fretsaw.

A bunch of chiselling from both sides of the panel later, I was ready to clamp the panel in the vise again to mark the pins…and then repeat the process for the pins, hating myself for going with so many tails and pins.

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It’s all in the dovetails…er, details

When I left off I’d just finished cutting and squaring up the panels for the top of the coffee table to size. I mentioned earlier I was after a Mid-century modern aesthetic for this coffee table. I settled on a ‘box style’ top, with the panels joined using dovetail joinery.

Dovetails seem to be loved by woodworkers pretty universally…at least by hand tool woodworkers. While the angles you choose are important in the final aesthetic appeal of the piece, one aspect that is often overlooked by amateur woodworkers is the spacing. Personally I find equally sized pins and tails rather clunky looking. For houndstooth dovetails I find the shorter inner pin length is a crucial determinant for how well the joint ends up looking – 2/3rd the length of the longer pin is perfect, any shorter looks stumpy, and any longer…well that’s too long. Anyways, the point is I’m very particular about the design of dovetail joints, and think it’s as important as the execution of the joints.

For this table I decided on two different sizes of tails, and relatively thin pins. There will be two smaller tails between each pair of wider tails. I use three dividers to mark out the pins, starting 1/2″ in from the ends of the boards. Walking the dividers off is quick work. After marking across the pin pricks left by the dividers, I use my 1:6 dovetail market to mark down the side. With modern glue (and this applies for liquid hide glue too), the angle you choose doesn’t matter, within reason. Just go with what looks best to you.

Clamping the boards together to mark the tails and gang-cut them saves some time and effort. I also like to use painters tape along the baseline of the dovetails- it gives you a very effective visual guide when cutting and chopping out the waste.

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Cut, cut, chop

Now that the top, bottom and sides for my mid century modern coffee table are flat and dimensioned it’s time to cut them to length. The top and bottom boards will be 40″ long, and the sides will be around 10 3/4″ high/tall.

I crosscut the boards to length using a batten clamped across them as a fence. My Disston D8 made pretty short work of it. It always astounds me how well these saws still perform over a century after they were made. Truly high quality vintage tools.

But I digress. With the boards cut to length, I used my low angle jack to shoot the edges smooth and fine tune the ends square to the sides. Getting full length end grain shavings from a sharp and well set plane is just a fantastic feeling.

Next step is to mark out the joinery. The ‘box’ for the coffee table will be dovetailed – I’m going to use through dovetails, and play with spacing a little to add some aesthetic appeal.

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Flattening, flattening and more flattening…

So the boards for the coffee table are glued up, and the joints are looking pretty good – taking the time to carefully joint the edges really pays off big time. There was still quite a bit of unevenness in the panels, so it was time for the long slog of planing the boards out of wind, and down to thickness so we can get to the joinery!

Veritas, Stanley, jack plane, walnut

I started off using my Stanley No. 5 with a heavy camber, set to take heavy shavings – cross crossing across the board diagonally and checking periodically with winding sticks. Winding sticks are an absolutely essential tool for the hand tool woodworker – mine are around 16″ long, made from maple and inlaid with bubinga and walnut. For jobs like these larger panels I do wish I had a pair of longer sticks – something else to add to the never ending list of future projects….

Jack plane, Stanley number 5, scrub plane, walnut, straight edge

With the wind removed from the board I check for high spots using a straight edge. I finished off (for now) with my Veritas No. 6 fore plane. I’m not bothered about getting it perfectly smooth at this point, just to reduce the scalloped texture enough to be able to work the panels for dovetails etc.

With all four panels done, (took ages and made me regret this whole hand tool thing for a bit there), it was time to bring them down to thickness. I just used my marking gauge set at the thickness of the thinnest panel and gauged a line all the way around the rest of the panels.

Planing, walnut, woodworking

Now it’s time for, you guessed it, some more planing, down to the thickness line for all the panels. A few hours, a lot of calories and sweating later, all the panels were almost ready for joinery.

Stanley, jack plane, scrub plane, walnut, woodworking

Next up is cross cutting the boards to length and squaring up all the sides.

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Mid-century modern coffee table build update: edge jointing and glue up

Flattening the boards was a fair bit of work, but I didn’t want to go too crazy with it as I’ll have to plane the boards down once again after glue up. I just needed to get the boards flat enough to be able to joint the edges – this is one operation I don’t want to take any shortcuts with, as a proper glue up is vital.

I used my Veritas bevel up jointer for this – I believe I was using a 25 degree blade, so the effective cutting angle was 37 degrees. I find this a pleasure to use so long as the blade is perfectly sharp. I haven’t run into the gouging issues that seem to put folks off of using these Low angle configurations. A quick check with my trusty little square, and on to the next board.

Glue ups stress me out. Particularly edge joint long boards, as it’s always such a pain in the ass trying to keep all the boards aligned while tightening the clamps.

I tried my best to keep all the boards aligned as I glued them up, but some of that inevitable movement did set in. Ah well, what’s a few extra hours of planing anyways?

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Walnut Coffee Table Build Update

I posted about the walnut mid-century modern coffee table a few months ago. This was going to be an almost entirely hand tool build, a truly handmade piece of furniture. I left it with the wood bought and stickered in my basement to acclimate to its final location. Thankfully in the last month or so I’ve made a fair bit of progress on the build.

I picked a few boards based on grain orientation and went at it with my Stanley No 5 type 11 with a heavily cambered blade and my Veritas 5 1/4 W. this was a bit of a slog, flattening both sides of 6 long boards and 6 shorter boards for the sides. Oh and I should probably explain at this point that in the months since I last posted about this walnut coffee table I changed the design once again – it’s going to be one of those box style coffee tables that were so popular mid-century. The boards will be dovetailed together and sit on a base with angular legs.

Much use of the winding sticks and my trusty straightedge later, I had the boards reasonably flat and ready for edge jointing prior to glue up.

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I know, I didn’t live up to my promises

But that’s going to change this time, for real.

I’ve been unable to do much woodworking for a while, for family reasons and also just personal mental block reasons. That’s changed recently though and I’ve been getting a lot more shop time.

Here’s what I’ve been up to the last couple of weeks:

The coffee table is finally progressing nicely (I know, it was supposed to be done months ago).

Tried my hand at making some photo frames too, and was very pleased with how they turned out.

Dinked around in the shop and changed up my tool storage…again.

I’ll be posting about all of this in the coming days. I’ll keep the posts short and sweet, in the hope that this time, I really will start posting regularly.

Happy new year!

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