Quarantine Woodworking

  • May 15, 2020 8:26 PM
    Message # 8971968
    Blake Johnson (Administrator)

    Hello all,

    Hoping this finds you healthy and keeping busy and sane.  I've had a few projects going on lately and thought I'd start to share a sort of project log.  I'll do my best to take enough good photos during the process, but feel free to ask any questions about any part of what I'm posting here.  Hope it's helpful and maybe entertaining.

    I've been back at work for the past three weeks now, and into a couple of new projects, but I thought I'd start with two good projects I got into over our state-wide quarantine.  I had some good fir scraps from my job at Vermont Timberworks and broke those down to make a pair of little outdoor benches for myself.  And my landlords asked me to make an outdoor table with a sink in it for their patio area.  So here we go.

    I know what I just wrote.  But unfortunately I didn't take photos of the process of making these benches.  But they started as a couple pieces of fir, roughly 3"x12"x40".  I was able to use a circular saw to rip one of them into three pieces, and one rip off another piece, resulting in 4 pieces at around 3"x3"x40".  I had to make a cut from both sides, as my blade wouldn't cut the full 3" thickness.  It was a little tough to keep those cuts exactly aligned, so these involved some hand planing with my long jointer plane to clean up their surfaces.

    Just a note: I own two of these workmates, both of which I've found in the trash and on the side of the road, and even though they feel a little lightweight, I can't recommend them enough.  Having a big vise that's capable of clamping odd shapes as your whole work surface has come in handy for me a number of times.  It definitely isn't a bench from Fine Woodworking, but it has done the trick in every way I've needed, and I can't ask much more from a trusty piece of shop furniture.

    Next, I cut those four 3"x3" in half, and all to the same length, around 18".  Now I had 8 legs.  Perfect.

    I ripped another piece into some 1" thickness pieces, for the rest of the frame.  I cut these so that I had four at about 12" and four at about 24".  After some more hand planing, I had all of the pieces to build the frames.


    I put these together using a bridle joint, which in this case is much like filling a taco.  This might be called an open through-tenon, I've heard variations on that as well.  Basically I marked out an area at the top of each leg that was 1" wide and 3" tall, and cut those out.  I used a good handsaw for the long cuts and a jigsaw to clean out the bottom of the open mortise.  I made sure the fits were fairly tight, but since I'd been a little rough with my planing, I planned to use epoxy to help fill any cavities in the joint, which wood glue doesn't do, and so would create a weaker bond.  Since these benches are going to live outside, I figured epoxy wouldn't hurt.  I also pinned them with some tiny pegs I made by hand by scraping across a block plane held in my workmate vise.  The long stretchers are just butted into the legs and fastened with two dominos and one 2-1/2" long pocket screw into the legs.  I show photos of this method on my second project below.

    The pieces for the tops I ripped at my parent's place, where I have a tablesaw and a few other machines.  I chamfered the edges of everything with a little router, and attached the slats with some decking screws.  Everything is finished with two coats of spar varnish.  They're great spots to sit now and watch the ducks or geese below.  The other night I heard a beaver slap!



    Alright, project #2 was a little trickier, also fun.  My landlords are developing an outdoor patio area and wanted a table with a sink in it.  They already had the sink and a bunch of cedar decking.  After a conversation about the rough size and shape of the table, and the fact that it had to fit around this strange build-out in the side of the house, I got to work sketching and figuring a parts list.  I knew I wanted to make it a little interesting, with some angles and maybe a curve or two.  So I made a template of a leg idea, just to make sure I could cut it out in an efficient way that wasn't too laborious, as I was charging them hourly for this, and that could allow me to make good use of the material.  I could get two of these out of one length of wood, which left just a couple thin strips of scrap, and so I went ahead with it.

    All of the straight cuts I made with a track saw, which is a circular saw that runs on a guide.  You can use any circular saw with any sort of guide rail, clamped to the workpiece.  I find it nice to make each operation as clean and accurate as possible so that I have minimal time spent on cleanup whenever I can avoid it.  Leaves more time for the fun parts, like figuring out how much curve to take out of the boring straight lines I just cut!  Here I clamped two blocks to symmetrical spots on either side of the end-assembly, and used a thin cedar batten to look at what curve I might like on these.  I decided on a certain distance up from the center, and replicated that on the other end.  These I cut with a jigsaw and cleaned up a bit with a spokeshave.  They may paint this, so I wasn't too worried about surface texture, and didn't sand except to get rid of pencil marks and glue residue at the very end.

    Here you can see the selection of parts.  Basically the legs are two of the same shape, attached at the corners.  I didn't worry about the fact that this made one side of the leg look wider than the other.  Not liking such a linear shape, I added the curve in the top piece.  The angles you can see on the front of the table are cut on the ends of the long horizontal pieces.  So the whole end assemblies were glued up one day, and then then joined to each other with the longer angled pieces another day.  I did use Google Sketchup to figure out the lengths and angles of the long pieces, instead of drawing or calculating.  I'm not too well versed with the software, but for simple things like that it is so handy!



    Each joint is made using dominos and pocket screws.  Their locations alternate so that the screw is next to the domino.  On the benches, I used two dominos and one screw, knowing the screw would be enough to pull a clean cut tight, and that more dominos is better than more screws.  In this case, I was lucky to get a bunch of them in there, and felt that was important since this will live outside, and even though I'm using Titebond III, I'd like there to be some mechanical strength in the joint too.  The dominos present a simple and fast method of accurately joining things and provides a lot of strength; the pocket screws provide a very effective and quick clamping system.  As long as their location can or will be hidden, I'm a big fan of this approach.  I don't love waiting for things to dry if I can keep working somehow.  But in this case, I glued up the frame, and let it dry overnight.

    This is my dry fit, but when I glued it up, I used a few clamps to help things come together flush and set at the right spots.  Limiting cleanup, always!

    After this, I remembered the build-out in the house, and had to modify the rear stretcher for that, and figure out some pretty funky leg extensions to keep it level in that area.  After it was leveled and sitting nicely, I cut and installed pieces for the top and backsplash, and for the shelf on the bottom.  There was some funky notching required that tested my spatial awareness a little bit, but it's always satisfying to eventually get the tricky/confusing thing right.  I installed some extra cross pieces in the top of the frame to help support the sink in there, cut a hole for it, and set it in.

    So now, they've got a nice wash area available for dinners, gardening, or whatever else.  I walk by it each day sometimes pause to remember the process of making, or to appreciate the sunny afternoon on it.  It's nice to live amongst my efforts.



    With both of these projects, I explored a couple of new approaches with design and technique, and anywhere I felt like I wasn't too interested in the task required, I tried tackling it in a new way, and that was a learning experience too.  I used only a few tools, and while a domino joiner isn't in most people's toolboxes, you could make mortises and tenons the traditional way with hand or power tools, or loose tenons (the name for what the domino does before we had the domino cutter) using a router and jig, or by drilling and hand chiseling.  And one thing I've learned is that you do the best you can, and if the joint isn't perfect, there's no harm in pinning or pegging it.  Check out The Woodwright's Shop for more on hand tool techniques.  It's a PBS show about traditional hand woodworking and the host Roy Underhill is extremely knowledgeable and a hoot to watch!

    Keep yourselves healthy, happy, and ask anything you want about these or other projects.  I usually make progress each weekend, and have a couple new things going on this weekend that should be interesting, so watch out for that.

    ~happy making

    Last modified: May 15, 2020 8:37 PM | Blake Johnson (Administrator)

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