Saturday, June 18, 2016

A Structural Prototype

  Last week I received a beautiful box after one year of collaborating on a design for the storage of my wood samples collection.  Each species is saved in a standard 6" x 3" x 1/2" size, unless what I had of an exotic was narrower, in which case I used what I had.  I've commissioned friend and local wood artist Autumn Doucet (click on her name to see her work) to make the box. We brainstormed ideas, which changed throughout the year, and she settled on the idea of a carved exterior in Cuban Mahogany.

  In order to work out the construction details, she decided to "throw together" a mock-up prototype of common poplar, to see what could be done within my size parameters of 18" x 12" x 8".   I had had visions of a secret compartment at the back and she envisioned a slanted bottom on it to raise the wood samples at an angle for viewing. Both those ideas went out the window with the prototype. If i had let her increase the size of the overall box, we could have done that, but space limitations on where the box was to sit meant we had to stick with the original sizing.

  When she called to tell me I could come and pick up the prototype, I expected a plain, utilitarian box in unappealing poplar. What I didn't know was, she used the opportunity with the prototype to practice her finishing skills on that secondary wood, and succeeded in making it a lovely resemblance of the Cuban Mahogany she would use later on the real storage box.

  Autumn decided from this learning experience, to make changes for the sake of her carving design, and the lid will open differently than this 'recipe box' style.  For now, I really love this thing to keep my current collection in.  She used full blind, mitered dovetails for the construction, mainly for strength to hold the weight, and a full liner.  It closes with a light 'swish' of air.

  We decided the partitioned dividers can be lowered to show off more of the wood pieces, and can be made thinner so the interior pockets can reach from edge to edge, keeping to the dimensions necessary.   

                                           Photo by Autumn Doucet

   I am so Very pleased, even with this prototype, and am excited about what she has planned for the real box.  When we were hashing out ideas for this project, with me trying to keep costs down and not abuse her good will in sharing her work with me,  she finally looked me in the eye and said, "I've heard what you can afford.  Now, what is it you Really want?"   I blurted out, "What I Want is an Autumn Box!"  And that is what I'm going to receive, apparently, because Autumn can't do anything half-way.  Our collaborative design is now worlds away from what I originally intended, but when you work with an artist, you come to realize that just 'setting them loose' to do what they want is the best route to follow. She's champing at the bit and full of enthusiasm for this project, and I dropped the reins months ago.  This box project is definitely an ongoing bright spot in my day.

Monday, May 23, 2016


Dear Readers  ~  It's been far too long since I updated my blog, and I think that is a common malady among many woodworking bloggers.  I'm going to be 67 this fall, and I've entered the stage of life where I've become a care-giver to one parent and one life partner, so it's been a double-whammy of a few years with life changes keeping me out of the shop, with no end currently in sight. 

  I love woodworking, though, and I love writing, so here is a non-essential update.  

  My big dream of a hand tool cabinet has been put off.  Many days I go out to the shop and dust, clean and de-rust any metal, or sit on my shop stool and ponder exactly how the someday-cabinet will fill my space behind the little work bench. 
And, I've been an 'arm-chair' woodworker, buying a few new tools from catalogs, and the hinges for the upcoming doors of the cabinet.  The Lee Valley Small Plow Plane was my Mothers Day present, and is one sweet little plane that I dearly love. 

  The big news in my woodworking life is that I've commissioned an 'Autumn Box,'  which means my friend, artist Autumn Doucet, has agreed to make a large carved mahogany box to contain my growing collection of wood samples, and is working hard on the design we've collaborated on.  I'm very excited about this project, and it will truly be a treasure box once she's finished it, which may take many months.  This is an older photo of the samples to be stored; I now have over 50 samples of various species waiting for a new home. 

 I'm sorry to those who were waiting on me to build my large cabinet, but my life is overflowing with lemons for these few years.  It's a tough row to hoe, watching those you love descend into dementia. Our way of dying in this country is a long, slow process sometimes, with those going through it just wishing they could lay down on the tracks and be done with it.  We don't always get what we want, so the next best thing is to buck up and deal with it.  I have a new appreciation, though, for those heading into 'the golden years,' I'll tell you that. 

  In the meantime, I'll try to keep up some posting on this blog, and keep taking care of my tools until I can get the time to really put myself into the shop and get back to doing what I love best! 

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Mini Lathe Extended Bed

  I'm still working on shop projects, as well as gifts and retail products. Busy, busy.  Wanting to get back to work on my plan for a tall hand tool cabinet, I was not keen on spending a lot of time fabricating a longer lathe stand for last winter's purchase of a bed extension for my Jet Mini lathe.
I'd purchased wide lumber, 20" maple at 8/4 thick. I wanted an S-curve, girdled looking leg on the outsides, but my bandsaw only has a 16" throat, so-o-o I was going to have to split the 20" width, resaw it and cut the arcs, then joint and dowel the two pieces back together.  The idea put me off a bit. I had drawn up a fine design, but could foresee two weeks working with it to accomplish what I needed. 
  Along the way I discovered  buyer's reviews of the metal-legged Penn State Industries lathe stand. It is the only one I've found that is adjustable in length. Previous buyers' main complaint seemed to be that the directions were incomprehensible....big surprise. They said it is 'rock steady once assembled,' and 'just be sure to align all the square holes on the outside, round holes on the inside,' and it's easy-peasy.  With that guidance, my new lathe stand was assembled in one afternoon. Sixty square carriage bolts later, with wood added, I had a very nice, solid stand for the extension bed, much more room to lay down the gouges I'm currently working with, and storage underneath.  It's a Win Win!
  Here are two pics, one of the the Jet Mini as it is now, and one of the right side of my garage, with the Woodfast Short Bed bowl lathe on the right, the Jet mini on the left, and the grinder within easy reach of both.  Now to find some showy woods for Long French Rolling Pins, comin' up!

  And, in the Fall of 2014, finally, the added storage drawer, side-hung, below the lathe table. This organizes all  my pen bushings and specific drill bits. Lots of room, and everything handy!

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Breaking Down Slabs

  Winter had put the kabosh on my efforts at woodworking, as it had for many people without good shop heating, but now I'm started again, both on the hand tool cabinet and a new mini-lathe stand to accomodate a bed extension. With weight added. With drawers. With storage bins. My designs tend to evolve.
  As for the tool cabinet: first step is to break down all these big slabs into manageable pieces I can run through the band saw or table saw, planer and jointer (which is a only 6".)  I'm using a Black and Decker Skill Saw about 35 years old, but it works fine if I make two depth cuts instead of just one. It's crucial to have this heavy wood well supported on both sides of the cut, so I've jury-rigged two sets of saw horses under the workpiece, and I'm good to go. I wondered today why there is a term for 'man-handling' big heavy things, and no term for 'woman handling?'  I think I do pretty well for a weekend warrior nearly sixty-five years old. I don't know if I'll be able to move such things when I'm seventy, so I'd better get this project done!  Infirmity may sneak up on me when I'm not looking.

  What's done is laying on the back assembly table to acclimate before final milling...rails and stiles for the bottom unit of the cabinet. The upper, small pieces of Elm were coated with BLO to see what the overall color would be. I plan to cut mortises and tenons, then dry-assemble the bottom unit frame work before cutting and gluing the panel pieces to go inside them. That way, I won't have to depend so heavily on my fractional mathematical skills to judge cutting the pieces. The cabinet does not faithfully follow Megan Fitzpatrick's Step-Back Cupboard in PW, (see previous post: Megan's Step-Back) because it will sit behind my small work bench, and space is a bit different than she built for, so I can't use her cutting dimensions from the magazine.  Nothing like making more problems for myself!  But, it will be the way I want it, which is what matters.
  I'm cutting wood for two projects at once here, so I'll try to keep them separated and make clear what I'm working on at the moment.  I consider the lathe stand a necessity to get out of the way, and the floor-standing cabinet a labor of love.  So, for right now, I'm busy working and oh-so-thankful for Spring!

Friday, November 22, 2013

Welcome Home, Used Tools

  I'm busy with Christmas production, both family gifts and website offerings, but the plans
for a new hand tool cabinet are always teasing at my brain.  (See my plan for it here:
Thinking Through a Cabinet Design)

  My hand tool collection has some gaps I am trying to fill, before I have to lay out the
storage plan for the upper cabinet. I have only one narrow mortise chisel, and am lacking
some good screw drivers, since my 'batch bought' foreign series of them broke at the tips
and caused many bad words for doing so. 

  Now I've discovered e-bid, and a seller in the UK with many more resources for 'boot sales'
than I have here in my local area, which is a dry desert for flea markets or hand tool sales.
His older tools are of heavier steel, nothing is stamped into shape, and he cleans and sharpens everything before putting it on the market.

  These arrived by 'Royal Mail,'  flown all the way across the Atlantic Ocean and the
continental United States and right into my hands.  They'll start a new life now:

  It has been quite cold here recently, with lows into the high teens and sunny, daily highs
just at freezing temperatures, so these have had a chance to sit in my living room for a
few days before finding a position out in the garage.  I've had a chance to handle them,
examine them, and think about them. The blades are somewhat pitted, scarred and marked.
The handles are worn and could do with a good sanding, because some of the 'patina'
slips over into 'grime' and comes off on the hand. The hooped end of the mortise chisel is
dug into and decayed like it's been hit with a tack hammer instead of a mallet... what's with
that?  What was someone hitting it with? The wood extends above the metal hoop though,
so it can be sanded down and improved. It's very good, thick steel and I'm pleased with it.
Even with shipping, I paid under $20 for it, and a new 3/4" mortise chisel goes for well
above that.  The little calipers are a treat...weighty in the hand and with a good screw
mechanism that will hold a setting without moving. The veining chisel is 1/8" wide.
I've sold all my carving tools because someone else would get much more use from them
than I had been over the years, and now I'm looking to replace a few of them I've missed.
The Archimedes drill was quite inexpensive, and was purchased just for fun.

  So, Welcome to America, old used tools. I don't know what projects you've been a part
of, or whose hands have held you, but you are now destined for new endeavors in a new
land. You'll gradually, with use and time, become 'mine,' and I won't think much about it
any more. Then someday, when I die and my kids have a big (choke!) yard sale, you'll
move on to someone else's hands, and continue your craft.  I'm not going to mark my
name on you, or brand you with initials, but I am going to ask a lot of you...
Performance, Integrity, Reliance.
I think you'll do just fine here.  Welcome home.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Buying The Wood: Elegant Elm

 This weekend I made the full commitment to doing the large hand tool cabinet.  I had gone back and forth for weeks, trying to decide what to use for wood.  It looked like my budget was only going to handle a hardwood frame inset with plywood panels, but even in figuring that cost (alder faced plywood at $179 per panel, plus shipping) and alder lumber at $4 bf,  it was looking more expensive than the value of the final product, at least for what I wanted.
  Then I contacted a man I'd met through He lives 150 miles away, but has shipped me some very nice maple and walnut in flat rate boxes.  I asked about his walnut stash, and he replied, "Yes, but right now I have all this Elm sitting."  He showed me photos of a desk he'd made from it, in a warm, golden-oiled beautiful finish, and he had lots of it, in 8/4 thickness and everything from 8" wide to 20" wide.

We drove over to his place, and
here's what I brought home.

I need to add a correction here. 
I'd originally blogged this wood 
as Yew but my seller corrected 
me, it is not Yew, but ELM.  I 
knew that, but was so tired after unloading this pickup, I messed 
up on the unmarked wood and 
had Yew on the brain. Sorry for
the confusion.  It has been 
corrected throughout this post.

And here it is unloaded into the garage:

All Elm, 7' long boards, 14"w down to 8" wide.

And several large slabs, all Elm except for the center one, third from the left, which is 8/4 silver maple, six feet long.

Now that I have it unloaded, I spent some time just sitting on my shop stool staring at it all!  It's so beautiful it makes my heart swell. Silly me.

 Now, I'm just hoping I can get the lower base cabinet of the hand tool cabinet completed before the cold sets in and I can't trust any glue-ups. By then I'll have to wait for spring.  In the meantime, I have grandkids' presents to make, Christmas projects to stock for websites, and a min-lathe stand to build so I can DO the Christmas projects.  I'm hoping those duties will go quickly.   This Elm is going to make an amazing large, floor-standing cabinet, and I am quite excited about building it!  

Sunday, August 18, 2013

Thinking Through A Cabinet Design

 Sometimes I think I need to have my own private 'think tank.' It takes many days of cogitation to come up with a plan, and then it is usually altered in a quirky 'light bulb' moment of inspiration that changes everything.
 I revamped my entire garage/shop in order to make room for a large, free standing hand tool cabinet, now in the planning stage.  My internal debate on construction materials is ongoing, but the design is now pretty much decided.  I had looked at hundreds of examples, being very impressed by Andy Rae's tour de force cabinet in The Toolbox Book by Jim Tolpin  (Taunton Press.)  But my heart kept going back to a wonderful piece of furniture made by Megan Fitzpatrick for Popular Woodworking's February issue in 2009:

(Sketch Up model by Bruce Beatty,  PW website)

 This is a Shaker-style, step-back cupboard over seven feet tall, and forty-four inches wide. The upper unit is 12" deep, and the lower cupboard is 16" deep; plenty of room for a wide assortment of tools, if I just reconfigure the inside shelving. It sounds so simple, doesn't it?  I've almost decided on cherry ply for the panels and cherry boards for the casework, but that's not a final decision. American Cherry is extremely expensive here in Eastern WA.  I could also go with walnut.  I'm undecided on this option, because I tend to use free space by hanging things on outside surfaces of my storage units, and defacing a fine piece of furniture like this would seem like a sacrilege. If it was nice plywood, I'd not feel so bad about it.

 In deciding the interior structure, I had to list what I intend to store, and how to allow for extra room for new purchases.  I'm short on good hand saws, so some kind of saw till will be included. I own lots of useful marking and measuring tools, so the doors must display storage, whether that be deep, box-like doors or frame and panel with fitted hooks and holders, I don't yet know. And I have a large  bow saw to hang, with another smaller scrolling bow saw, and a long panel gauge. And a big 'Commander mallet.' 

 A main consideration is having the upper doors high enough off the floor to swing clear of my workbench, which is currently 35" high. If and when I build a nicer one, it will have to be at least 36" high, as I am six feet tall and everything in my shop feels sized for midgets some days. The Shaker Cupboard has a base cabinet at 34", so raising it a little won't alter the proportions too much to look bad.  It is crucial the upper doors swing free of the bench, so I've no choice there. The 44" width puts it squarely over the end of the bench, and I'm going to have to be careful to place the cabinet so the lower doors can swing open to at least 90ยบ without hitting the bench or the newly-added garage storage shelf I've found so useful.  Space constraints.

 I set to work designing the interior of the base cabinet, changing the feet to some form of club foot for strength, and adding cubbies for smaller hand-held power tools like a trim router, an angled screw driver used for sanding pads, and a random orbit sander. The saber saw proved bigger than I'd thought, with the blade sticking out ready to use, so I had to make one space larger than the others. Then I added in a shelf.  Organizing the upper cabinet is going to be an exercise in tool layout, putting cardboard down on a table and actually tracing around tools to see how packed I can get everything in. That's an exercise for later, but as I thought about it, considering an angled, lift-up shelf for planes, etc., it occurred to me I was packing the upper space and leaving no room in this cabinet for one thing I really wanted: a nice presentation box for my growing collection of wood samples.  This photo is an old one; I am now up to fifty 3x6" sample pieces of different species of wood:

 With that realization, the interior space is radically changed. This was my 'light bulb' moment.
When I make the box, it will sit front and center upon opening the top doors. So. That means a bank of small drawers on each side of it, filling out the 40" interior space, with tools arranged above them.
Somehow, I keep cutting into the upper storage space for these large hand tools, but I'll just have to do the best I can. There are priorities, after all, and an artsy burl box of wood samples is just too good an idea to pass up.

 So here is my initial design for the overall cabinet, drawn out on my 'Bucket Boss' graph paper, which is old as the hills, I think. Feel free to let me know what you think of it, and to make any suggestions before I truly get started.  The base cabinet, of course, is first.  Wood selection has me stymied right now, but I just have to make a decision and go with it,  I think. The upper unit will probably take me all winter, as it is much more complicated than the base.  The height will be changed by adding crown molding as Megan did on the Shaker cupboard, but that depends on whether elves come in and lower the height of my garage rafters when it's all done. We'll see.

 All comments are very welcome!