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The Slightly Confused Woodworker
For most married men, an age-old question seems to be: ‘What should I get my wife for her birthday?’ Considering that my wife is already the girl who has everything (let’s face it, she hit the proverbial jackpot when she married me!), I usually struggle every year to find a gift clever enough to convince my wife that I actually put some thought into her gift. So this year I went a completely different route, and I’m glad I did.
My wife enjoys to read, though we have drastically different tastes when it comes to reading material ( I wouldn’t be caught dead reading some of the stuff she reads, but oh well). Rather than just purchasing a book for her, I wanted to make the gift of a book more of an experience, and that is why I decided to try the Mysterious Package Co., which specializes in some really out of the ordinary stuff. Without giving away too much information for those who may be receiving a gift, from the MPC in the future-the surprise is a huge part of the experience-you choose a package from the company web page, and the recipient receives a series of mailings featuring packing hay, old newspaper clippings, creepy introduction letters, haunted diaries, beat-up shipping crates, and demon-possessed statues (it all depends on which story line you go with). In any event, the box that contained my wife’s gift was pretty intriguing, and my wife nearly destroyed the lid in her zeal to pry it open. I really loved the vintage Indiana Jones , Ark of the Covenant like appearance (the crate the Ark was stored in, I mean), and since she’s received it I’ve built several different versions of it.
As you can see in the photos, the box is of simple construction, so it can easily be made with hand and/or power tools. I used only hand tools because my daughter wanted to participate, and she was responsible for the stencil print, which put her personal touch on the project. And for good measure I used pallet wood from my company warehouse (I refer to this wood as Danish Pine). The pallet wood had me a little concerned, because it’s pretty common to find old nails and stones embedded in the boards. Thankfully, I have several hand planes from my restored “collection” which were given to me, so I wasn’t overly concerned in using them. That being said, I hardly treat these tools like second class citizens, because I spent a great deal of time and effort restoring them. I am just saying that I am not the type of person who would use his $300 LN jack plane on a sketchy piece of pallet wood- in factI should have taken some photos of the unfinished wood, because it was pretty rough.
On that note, I just so happened to set free a fair amount of hand tools over the past month. It was much more quick and painless than I thought it would be, yet I still have a whole cabinet filled with hand planes.
Anyway, the box sizes were determined by the wood I had available, of which I had a decent sized stash. I sawed the boards to rough length and width, used a smooth plane to square the edges, and used a block plane to shoot the ends. I smooth planed a great deal of the roughness from both faces of the wood, though I truly did attempt to leave a few small rough patches to complete the vintage look we were trying to achieve, but considering the boards are all from pallets and were fairly warped/bowed to begin with, simply flattening them enough to be usable removed much of the roughness regardless. I probably could have left the faces of the box rough sawn, but because we were adding stenciling, and I wanted to apply a protective finish, I decided that a smoother surface would work much betters. To finish off the appearance I glued on some battens to the box sides, which my daughter chamfered with a block plane. Dimensionally the box is approximately 11 in x 5 in x 4 in deep, the wood thickness around ½ inch (I say around because it varies).
The lid for the box featured in the photos was also constructed with pallet wood, which I believe is a hardwood (I’m guessing oak, but that is just a guess). I butt jointed two pretty nasty boards together and left them dry overnight. After they were dry I sawed them to length and then used a scrub plane for the initial flattening, as those boards were by far in the roughest shape of the lot. I then smooth planed the panel, once again attempting to leave the box somewhat “unfinished”. Lastly I used shoulder plane and sanding block to create rabbets so the lid would recess into the box, which really helped to lighten the overall appearance.
The joinery for the boxes is mainly butt joints and cut nails. The only place where I got a little fancy was the for bottom of the first box I made, where I used ship lap joints, and the only reason I did that was because I want to save as many of the wider boards as possible for future boxes, so I pieced it together with smaller cut-offs. Any box with stenciling will receive coat a of shellac and/or some paste wax, more for protection than to enhance the appearance. If you ever plan on adding some type of ink stenciling to a box (we used heavy duty magic markers), I would suggest waiting at least a few days for the ink to dry and really seep into the wood. In fact, I would wait up to a week. Thankfully, I attempted a practice run on a scrap board, and the ink smudged somewhat when I applied BLO, so I knew for future reference to wait at least a few days before applying any type of finish.
This was a fun and relatively easy project, though using all hand tools made it somewhat time consuming (mainly flattening the boards to make them usable). I completed two boxes so far and repaired the original, which as I mentioned was damaged when it was opened. I currently have enough pallet wood left to make at least two more boxes, and I have in inexhaustible supply constantly coming into my company warehouse. And I think making boxes from several different pallets could make them a bit more interesting.
Yet, not sure if it would be better to purchase pre-surfaced boards and add my own touches to change the appearance (beads, chamfers, different widths etc.) Because while I did enjoy all of the hand plane work, I don’t want to spend the entire summer flattening pallet wood for hours on end, in particular because the hot and humid weather is now in full swing. Still, I’ve already prepped more boards which are generally ready to go, so I can pretty much guarantee that I’ll have a few more of these boxes finished in the next few weeks.
It’s been a bit of a while since I’ve blogged about woodworking, but I’ve decided to take a bit of time to let you all know what I’ve been doing.
To quickly sum up, I’ve been using my pointy things to make boxes from bits of wood. The backstory is a bit long and convoluted, so I will save that bit for another post. In any event, it has all been very therapeutic; I sharpen my pointy things, get some bits of pallet wood, clean up those bits, and make boxes out of them. The nice thing is there is very little measuring involved, if the bits of stock are small, I make itty-bitty boxes, if the bits are larger, the boxes are a bit larger. My pointy things don’t care; it’s all wood to them.
I understand that this post is a bit brief, but I had just a short bit of time to compose it. Hopefully my next bit is a bit longer, and explains my new obsession with boxes a bit better. Until then, I’ll keep my pointy things pointy and my bits of wood bitty.
I am at the point in my woodworking career where I have too many tools. Did I just say that? The guy who has always said to have as many tools as you like as long as you can afford them and store them…Yeah, I did, but it’s not what you think. I have not been woodworking nearly as much as I would like lately. And, the woodworking I have been doing basically requires a block plane, a spokeshave, a saw, a hammer, and a few chisels.
I have very seriously been considering selling off a good portion of my stuff to create some much needed space in my garage. The workbench already has a home if I go through with this (and I have an unassembled one ready to go if and when I ever start seriously woodworking again). The table saw will be a bit harder to move, both on the market as a for sale item, and physically, as it is large and heavy, but first things first. Some of the tools already have local buyers, some I will sell on eBay, and If I may be so bold, some I may just be posting right here on this blog. I hate to solicit people who just happen to be reading my blog, but rest assured most of my tools are of very good quality, and my prices will be more than fair.
Before I go, I just want to stress that I am not ending my woodworking “career”. I will still woodwork, and I will still restore an old tool or two on the rare occasion, and I will still blog about what I am doing But we all know that woodworking takes a lot of time (at least for a person of my skill level). I’m pretty sure my family feels somewhat abandoned by me (working six days a week and spending what little free time I have engrossed in hobbies will do that to a family), so I have to do whatever it takes to fix that problem.
I had no problem ending my brief return to music this past week. This will be a little more difficult, but it needs to be done. We need the space, I don’t have the time, and I would feel better if those tools were being used by people who will appreciate them and put them to work.
It is very likely that I could fill three or four blog posts with my comings and goings of the past few months. I’m not going to do that at this time. I will mention, briefly, that as far as woodworking is concerned, I’ve been building quite a few different small boxes, some out of “good wood”, some out of pallet wood, and some out of reclaimed stuff. They are all experiments, mind you, but experiments to an end. I have what I feel is an interesting little story detailing a box I am repairing, as well as a box that I soon hope to be building which I will hopefully detail in an upcoming post, sooner rather than later. Otherwise, I’ve also been experimenting with using wood “from the log” and I also hope to write a few posts on that subject as well.
In the meanwhile, I finally got around to reading the Anarchists Design Book. I’m not going to review it because I am not trying to be critical one way or the other. I liked it, and that is enough said. I found myself gravitating more to the boarded furniture/staked stool areas in the book because to me they were the most useful items. Overall, staked furniture is not my thing. I have nothing against it on any level, I just don’t see a fit for it in my house, and I feel it has its limits. When checking out staked furniture on the internet, in particular staked tables, they all looked pretty much the same, and maybe that is the idea in building staked furniture. I suppose if you are going for an overall theme, such as making a staked living room set, that is fine, but I am one of those people that likes a slightly haphazard look (just a bit mind you) when it comes to the furniture in my house, and that is probably because nearly all of the furniture in my house I built myself, and the pieces I didn’t came mostly from inheritance or antique stores.
One part of the book I did find interesting was the idea that in the past, ornate, high-end furniture was made for the ultra-rich, and that the average person could not come close to affording it. In essence that was the overall theme of this blog several years ago. I had always found it rather ironic (and I still do) that the actual furniture makers of the 18th and 19th centuries (not the shop owners but the guys doing the construction), the guys that quite a few amateur woodworkers worship today, were working men in every sense of the word, and in reality, they couldn’t even afford to purchase the very furniture they were making with their own hands. There is even a greater irony in that today furniture making, once very much a working-class profession, is now a hobby dominated by the upper-class. There is something to be said there, and if I haven’t before said it, I’m not going to now.
Otherwise, I will keep doing what I am doing. As I mentioned earlier, I’ve been doing a bit of experimenting with working straight from the log. It has led to a lot of understanding when it comes to wedges, mauls, and axe sharpening. And, more fittingly, it led to the restoration and new-found usefulness of a tool discovered in an old shed, given to my by my father in law. But, I will save that story for another day.