Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
- Open floor plans are the thing these days and for good reason. Taking out the wall between the kitchen and the dining room to create one large space made a dramatic and welcome change to our house. In fact, it is even better than we had hoped it would be;
- Trying to complete a major kitchen remodel in a month is unrealistic. If you aren't removing walls, changing electricity and/or plumbing or getting custom counters, you might be able to get it done in a month. In our case, the lead time for counters and backsplashes alone was three weeks after the cabinets were installed;
- The european cabinet design is outstanding and the way to go, in my opinion, unless you really prefer face frames. It's versatile and much faster to build or assemble;
- Ikea cabinets are a good choice, although I recommend the semi-custom option in which you make the doors and drawer fronts yourself. If you choose to use Ikea doors and drawers like I did, be aware that the doors on a diagonal or next to filler pieces did not fit to my satisfaction. The only hesitation I have is that the boxes are melamine, although they are very sturdy and well-constructed. The hardware is excellent;
- If you want to build your own cabinets instead and like the european style, I recommend the deluxe jig from Lee Valley and the hardware specifically designed for european cabinets that is widely available;
- Don't even think about remodeling a kitchen without a laser level;
- You can save a large sum of money by doing a kitchen remodel yourself, even if you have to hire a plumber and electrician, but it is a major time commitment. When all is said and done, I estimate it will have taken me 200 hours.
I have been thinking along these lines for some time, but the speaker really develops and justifies the idea very well. Perhaps I am one of only a few who doesn't improve as much as I should or could for the reasons he talks about, but I doubt it. Generally speaking, when I go into my shop I want to make something and I want it to be the best work I am capable of. I am in the performance zone. As the speaker explains, that isn't the best way to learn. For that you need to move into the learning zone, where the goal isn't to make something but to learn something, to develop your skills and capability. The end result is not a thing, it's a skill. That's hard for me. When I am asked over dinner what I did in the shop today, I don't really want to say, "I really accomplished a lot by practicing sawing more closely to a line. I don't have anything to show for it because I threw away all the pieces I used." Who wants to read a blog post about that?
I am going to try to motivate myself to spend 20% of my shop time during which I specifically commit to throwing away whatever I produce because I am trying to develop a skill and want to focus solely on that. I don't know if I can do this but I think it is essential if I am to improve much more. I have gotten to the point where I have enough skill that I can make pretty nice pieces that will be used and admired, but I am not getting much better for the clear reason that I am spending most of my time in the performance zone. I tend to fall back on the techniques I know I can execute well. After all, who wants to try something unfamiliar or that you know you aren't really proficient at on a workpiece made from expensive wood which you have already spent hours on? I admit that I do this.
I think most of us know intuitively that what this guy is saying is right. The challenge is to be disciplined enough to act on it. The sad thing is that when I actually do it, it is very satisfying.
I'd be interested to know if I am the only one that suffers from this failing.
The purchase process is based on a CAD program that Ikea uses and makes available to its customers, which then feeds the ordering process. However, I chose to draw my design on graph paper and then go to the store, where one of the kitchen specialists helped me to input it. She was tremendous, tweaking my design in helpful ways and making sure all of the right components were in my order. Very impressive and real value added.
A few days later, a delivery truck showed up at our house with 110 flat packs and packages! It took us about a week to take down the wall, demolish the kitchen and remove ceramic floor tile in the hall. The following two weeks were spent assembling the cabinet boxes, coordinating plumbing and electrical contractors, installing the range vent to the outside, and installing the wall cabinets and microwave. At that point, we were able to get the first round of four inspections out of the way.
I was surprised at how easily the boxes went together and how strong they are. Steel pins are screwed into pre-drilled holes in corner of one side and then cam locks go over them from the other side. Surprisingly the boxes all came out square with no effort.
Ikea has an ingenious and highly effective way of installing wall cabinets. You attach a steel rail to the wall and then hook a steel attachment on the back of the cabinets over the rail. When they are positioned where you want them, there is a fastener that locks them in place.
As we were beginning to install the wall cabinets, my wife made a very important contribution. I told her how difficult it was going to be to get the cabinets level around three sides of the room and, against my judgment, she convinced me to buy a laser level. For $120 I got a self-leveling laser that sits on a tripod and projects a sharp line on three walls at once! You just set it up in the middle of the room and turn it on, then move the tripod up and down until it's at the height you want. OMG! It made it so ridiculously easy to install the steel rails level I couldn't believe it. After that the boxes went up fast. The result is strong and secure. One person can install the cabinets without difficulty.
The next step is to install the doors, again a simple process. You just secure the hinges in a hole in the door, screw a plate into the predrilled holes in the side of the cabinet and snap the hinge onto it. Put on the handle and you're done. The hinges have three adjustments on them that make positioning the door easy.
We were just congratulating ourselves on how well we were doing when boom! Big problem. I held up the drawer for the diagonal corner cabinet and--it didn't fit. There was a gap of almost an inch along the side of the door and, since the doors are gray and the boxes are white, it looked just awful.
A call to the support specialist at Ikea wasn't reassuring. After taking me through a list of things I might have done wrong, she asked for pictures, which I sent her:
She called me back with the bad news that in some installations, including their own model kitchen, this gap does in fact exist. She was previously unaware of this and found out that they had used some specialty gray edge banding to mask the problem in their display kitchen. They don't provide it and don't even sell it, but did refer me to an online supplier where I could purchase it. Perhaps my expectations are unreasonable, but I was not pleased.
Again my wife came to the rescue. At her suggestion, we took one of our doors to the Home Depot paint department and asked if they could match the color. The guy said he could and put an electronic device attached to the paint computer onto the door. It generated the pigment formula to add to the base and, amazingly, it came out exactly correct, a dead ringer. We went home, sanded, primed and painted the offending cabinet edge and now it looks much better:
In my opinion, this is a better solution than the one Ikea suggested and we are satisfied. However, it was this experience that tipped me over the edge into wishing I had made my own fronts from the get go, rather than buying Ikea's. Obviously, I would have made the door wider rather than relying on a standard width. The actually remodeling wouldn't have taken any longer because I could have made the doors and drawer fronts in advance.
We're not finished with the base cabinets yet and I am hoping there are no further instances of problems like this, particularly ones we can't fix so readily. I do think our experience is a cautionary tale.
The bottom cabinets are attached to the walls the same way. In the case of a peninsula, you have to attach them to the floor because you can't use the rail. The lower cabinets come with adjustable feet that make leveling them easy. The toe kicks attach to the legs with clips.
I looked at ready to install cabinets but was put off by the low quality and bland nature of what I saw, and the prices weren't great either. Many are stapled together particleboard but some are higher quality. A second category is ready to assemble cabinets, basically pre-cut and often easily assembled with specialized fastening systems. European style cabinets in particular yield themselves to this approach because of the standard dimensions and use of holes spaced 32 mm apart for everything from box assembly to hinges and drawer slides. You build a series of standard boxes and then put them together before adding shelves, drawers and carousels of your choosing. There was a good article about several options in Fine Homebuilding that made this option appealing to me. Finally, I discovered that architects are using a "semi-custom" approach in which standard ready to assemble boxes, drawers, etc. are combined with custom drawer fronts and doors to yield a custom look at reasonable cost. There are other variants of semi-custom cabinets, but this is the one that was attractive to me.
I have previously written about being influenced by a speech about design by John Economaki of Bridge City Tools here in Portland. At one point, he said we should go to Ikea to study furniture design and, when he was met with guffaws, brought us all up short, saying that Ikea offers world-class design executed cheaply. I did just that and found that he is absolutely right. Not surprisingly, then, I decided to go to Ikea and look at their kitchen designs. They had about a dozen model kitchens on display and many of them were extremely appealing to us. The melamine boxes and painted fronts are particle board but they also have several styles of fronts in solid wood. They use Blum hardware and the online reviews were very positive. I don't like particleboard, but I decided to hold my nose and go with it.
One of the things that attracted me to this option as a hand tool woodworker is that you can buy everything from Ikea except the doors and drawer fronts and then make your own. I almost went this way but instead decided to buy painted fronts we particularly like for now, with the thought that I will replace them with ones I make myself from white oak in a craftsman style. This is a great option, in my opinion, basically what architects are doing except making the fronts yourself. I think this is the right way to go and, if I knew then what I know now, this is what I would have done. You can't begin to buy the jigs, material, finishes and hardware to make your own boxes for the prices Ikea charges and you have the freedom to add very high quality woodworking to them where it matters most. They have so many choices of styles and configurations that little is lost. The only downside I see is that your boxes are melamine, a significant disadvantage but one I decided I can live with.
I read online that woodworkers who do this typically buy one inexpensive door and drawer from Ikea in each of the sizes in their design to use as a template for making their own. That way you can have everything made before you begin demolition of your existing kitchen and be back in business quickly. I wish I had done this.
In the next post, I'll tell you about my experience building the Ikea cabinets, which, among other things, will help you understand why I think the semi-custom option is best.
This is a woodworking blog and much of this is not of interest here, but I do think that there are aspects of it that are worth discussing.
My first instinct was that I would do everything myself, including making the cabinets from scratch, but that idea went out the window pretty fast for these reasons:
- We don't want to be without a kitchen for more than a month or so and it would take me a very long time;
- I haven't made or installed kitchen cabinets before and I don't have space to prefabricate a kitchen. I told my wife that I felt the second set of cabinets I made would be quite good but I wasn't too sure about the first set and that it would take me a long time;
- We decided we wanted european style cabinets and making them requires specialized equipment, at minimum the deluxe version of this;
- Here in Oregon, you are absolutely forced to have rough and final plumbing, mechanical, electrical and structural permits and inspections (at a cost of $700 in my case). Eight inspections for a kitchen remodel seems a little over the top to me, but it is what it is. Electrical and plumbing methods and codes have become so complex and arcane (examples: because I was moving the range a little, the entire circuit had to be brought up to code, necessitating replacing the three wire circuit with a four wire circuit all the way to the service panel) that I didn't feel it was worth the trouble to figure out what was required and how to do it myself;
- There is no way I could replace a 4'x6' window by myself.
I did a lot of research before making my cabinet choice and that is what I am going to post about next time.
- Active stools have basically one leg. It's really three-legged, but the other two are yours. The stool itself needs to have three legs, as close as you can come to a single leg and still have a stool that will stand by itself when you aren't sitting on it. Four legs are bad for an active stool;
- Active stools put you into a position where you are almost standing but with your knees slightly bent, a position of power and agility that you see throughout nature and sports. This position is what lets your legs act as the other two legs of a stool and still take weight off them.
- Active stools will move with you to extend your reach. Tippiness forward and to the sides is good when you are sitting on it and bad when you aren't, because you don't want the stool to fall over when you get up. In practice, this means that one leg points straight forward while the other two point back.
- Active stools have a low center of gravity. This is what promotes a narrow base for tippiness while still allowing the stool to be stable when you get up.
- Active stools have to be either custom fit for a single person, or highly adjustable. There's a reason bicycle seats are so highly adjustable.
Because it should be a three-legged stool and because it has a bicycle seat, I settled on a triangular platform for a low base in order to help keep the center of gravity low:
Yup, that's a dowel with two 5 lb weights on it. I did this so I could figure out how much weight to add. Ten pounds is about right.
Functionally, it was now right, but it was obviously still very much a development mule. I've learned what I can learn and I am done with it. The seat is right but I want an entirely different kind of base. What I have in mind is like an antique, three-legged piano stool with a bicycle seat instead of the traditional round seat. You can buy a great piece of hardware for this, but I am going to figure out something more economical.
Maybe you are thinking, "Why don't you just build a high piano stool and be done with it?" It's because woodworking requires much more power than playing a piano. You have to be in the position I have described and able to use the strength of your legs. The bicycle seat is what allows you to do that.
In a sense, this project was a failure. I spent a lot of time and, in the end, I am cutting off the seat and burning the rest. However, I learned a lot. More important, though, is that when I am trying to be creative, failure is a part of success. In business, I used to say to my clients, "I will give you five ideas, four of which are almost certainly stupid, but one of them may be really good. Problem is, I don't know which is which." This is a darn good record and the effort to explore is worth it. Many people don't succeed because they are unwilling to fail.
In no time it was done:
A couple coats of oil and it was ready to go:
Here it is in use:
- I am interested in getting a workably sharp edge quickly and easily and am willing to forgo ultimate sharpness if it takes time or requires fussy equipment. Actual sharpness experienced in use is more of a function of regular honing.
- I wish all of my tools were O1 steel, but they aren't, so my method has to be able to handle the harder steels.
- I don't mind taking time to sharpen my tools between projects but I resist stopping in the middle of a project to hone a tool, yet regular honing is crucial, so my honing method has to be right at the bench and very very quick.
- Spending time flattening my sharpening and honing media is intolerable.
- I'm done buying machines and gizmos. If I've got it and it works ok, I'll use it, but I'm not buying any new ones.
- Attach the leg to the seat with a tapered tenon and hole. I would have to buy this reamer and this tenon cutter. The seat base would have to be thicker;
- Keep the legs rectangular but move them inboard to the flat portion of the seat and drill the holes with the seat clamped to the completed leg assembly. I've already decided to move the legs inboard anyway for appearance reasons.
Two years ago, I thought I had outsmarted the marketplace. I took my machinist's square to Sears and methodically went through their 6" combination squares until I found one that was exactly square. I paid my $9 and went home, chortling to myself about what I clever fellow I am. My smugness was crushed by experience for two reasons. The blade was hard to read and it had a tendency to slip. You had to be very careful or the measurement you thought you had set would become a different one. This problem became more and more severe until this fall I couldn't secure the blade at all, both problems leading to highly irritating measurement errors. Exasperated, I threw it away.
I decided to ask for a Starrett, choking as I did so. They're $95. For a 6" combination square! Don't tell me to find a used one. Tried that, couldn't. I have no knowledge of what it takes to make a tool like this, but I really can't understand why they cost this much. I think it may be not only that they are made in the US of very high quality materials but that there is a lot of hand work in the final machining of each square to achieve the level of accuracy they guarantee. I definitely don't think this one will slip. Starrett isn't the only manufacturer of high quality combination squares, but it is the one I am familiar with.
As bad as my Sears square was, it definitely taught me that a small combination square is an essential tool, one that would certainly make my short, short list. It's strength is its versatility. It's the kind of tool that you almost want to carry around in your shop apron.
I have several other small squares. I have the Veritas sliding square and it is better for some applications, particularly when you are making an "x" and "y" measurement at once. I also have this Incra T-rule, very accurate but I almost never use it. In the end, nothing beats a small combination square for all-around utility and accuracy. I could easily live without the others.
I have one more small square that I couldn't live without, a 3" Starrett stainless steel machinist's square that I inherited from my father-in-law. This little thing is so darn handy for doing things like checking an edge when I am jointing, checking my dovetails, etc. I just looked and they cost $70 new.
I can't tell you what the angles are because I chose them by eye. As I went along, I made a series of story sticks for the dimensions and angles rather than measuring anything.
You may be wondering how I drilled the holes for the pins. I drilled vertical holes through the seat and sawed the tops of the legs at the compound angle I chose for the leg using two bevel squares for reference. Then I put the seat in my vise and positioned the leg at the proper orientation for drilling. This was the wrong way to do it. As you will see, I could have completed the base then set the seat on top of it to drill the holes. Much easier and more accurate.
This spare, long-legged look appeals to me, and I didn't want to add anything more to it than I absolutely had to. You want at least one stretcher because most people need something to put their feet on when sitting on a 26" high stool. So, I decided I would have lower stretchers on the fronts. I chose to have them 19" below the seat for a comfortable position to rest your feet. The pins joining the seat to the legs are close to the edge of the seat, so I am concerned about breaking out the round mortise as a result of racking sideways. This stretcher will share the load and I wanted to make it as strong as possible, so I oriented it vertically and attached it with a rabbeted dovetail. Here's what they look like:
Look at this old, mass-produced chair I bought at a garage sale:
Most of the pieces of this chair are very thin and you'd think it would be rickety by now, but it isn't. The ankles of the legs are 3/4". Yet the chair is solid. It's strong where it needs to be, at the joints. This is just a mass-produced knock off of a cabriole leg. Real cabriole legs are very strong though extremely delicate because they are so beefy at the joint. Look at this cabriole leg joint I made:
There is nothing here that you didn't already know, but, in my case at least, I don't really think about any of this explicitly. I should.
The racks are nothing special, just made from half-inch white oak put together with rabbets and dadoes. The joints are pegged with those Lee Valley 1/8" dowels I use often. They are designed so that they can sit on the counter or hang on the wall.
I think handmade gifts are very special. The person who gave it to you spent time making something for you, so there a real personal connection.
It's not too late. You've still got two weeks.
That part I think I got right, but another part I got wrong. At the time, I thought the logs needed to be very smooth, and this was before I got into hand tool woodworking, so I used an angle grinder with abrasive disks to smooth the logs. Later on, I achieved much nicer results with a drawknife, deliberately leaving on wide flats and sections of the tree's outer layers beneath the bark. This is rustic furniture and it looks best with a very natural appearance.
We used the sofas for years and then gave them to some friends. They offered them back to us recently and my wife is very nostalgic about anything associated with our kids growing up, so I reluctantly agreed to try to refurbish and improve them for our family room. Here is the stripped down skeleton:
The joinery is still solid and, with some accumulated scratches and dents, the sofas are in good condition. The upper pole is across the back of the posts so the back will be angled to produce a reclined seating position. I wanted to add a nice back to the sofa that would be more reclined, so I used a drawknife and a spokeshave to create a flat on the inside of the top pole. I had some old poles to make the back, most about 4 inches in diameter. To do this, I sliced the poles in half on the bandsaw. It's pretty easy to do this by attaching a 2x4 to the pole with screws that rides along the fence. By slicing all the poles exactly in half you get a nice, quarter-sawn face. Then I just ripped out one inch thick boards. Here's what they look like:
and here's the refinished sofa:
The templates are to to give to the upholsterer. We are going to upholster the seat in a solid color and leave the back exposed. There will be colorful, Pendleton wool pillows placed along it.