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Like most things in hand work, no amount of reading or watching of videos can teach you to turn wood on a lathe. At some point you have to start putting tool to wood. Only then can your hand and mind begin to build the connections that are need to actually use a lathe efficiently. I don’t know about you, but there is only so much random turning I can as practice before it becomes boring and thus less conducive to learning. I need to have something at stake. I need to have the risk of failure or the lure of success in order to fully engage in the process.
Knowing that I would be teaching myself to use the lathe I started looking for lathe projects that would help me along the way. Magazine articles and videos are great, but without actual interaction you are still on your own. So I searched for projects that would progressively challenge my burgeoning skills. Abject failure sucks and can be discouraging, especially when your on your own. Therefore, the beginning projects needed low risk of failure and a high probability of success. One other wrinkle is that I wanted projects that would be useful. This brings me to my first project, the Garden Dibber.
The Garden Dibber is essentially a fancy sharpened stick of a known length with additional indicating marks of distance. It can be used to establish the spacing of plantings and also create a hole for planting at the desired depth. According to some sources the history of the dibber traces back to Roman times.
The Garden Dibber is a great beginner project. It requires roughing out, tapering, incising lines at exact locations. The surface needs to be smoothed and the handle portion can made simple or as complex as you want. None of the steps are critical to its function (a graduated pointy stick), so risk of failure is low.
I started by roughly shaping a billet octagonal at the shavehorse with my drawknife. I could also have done the same at the workbench with a plane. You can turn square stock directly on the pole lathe, but the sharp corners are hard on the drive cord.
One of the quirks of this lathe is that the drive cord wants to run at the end of the workpiece only. I can move it slightly over by angling the treadle, but it is much more efficient to simple flip the workpiece end for end to work the entire length. I could also use a longer blank and designate one end to be the pulley. I have done this, but it generates a waste piece. Since I’m frugal, I’ll use a smaller blank and flip it. Anyway, here is the blank roughed round.
Next, a little layout to delineate the overall length, the handle and where to start the taper.
After the taper is turned, I laid out the 1″ graduations.
The lines were cut in with a skew chisel.
Then I flipped the workpiece and shaped the handle.
I used a piece of MIG welding wire with toggle handles installed on it to burn (it’s not a Hillbilly Daiku project without wood burning) in the lines that I had incised with the skew. Pressure and friction does the trick.
The lathe work is done. All that is remains is to saw off the waste and shape the ends with chisel, file and sandpaper.
I wiped on a coat of BLO and called it done. This was my third (middle) attempt at this project. My first try is on the left and the second run is on the right. I can see some improvement and I’m becoming more comfortable with the tools.
I think the Garden Dibber was a good first project on the lathe. Heck, I can see cranking these out every now and again for practice and gift giving. It’s a relaxing way to spend an hour in the shop and there is almost no way to fail.
The pole lathe takes a little getting used too. Even more so since I’m trying to learn to use it and learn to turn simultaneously. It took me a couple of hours to develop a rhythm and feel for the pumping action. It proved to be a much more relaxed rhythm than I had imagined it would be and there is a good bit of feedback from the lathe and the work to guide you. One element of this lathe that has proven quite useful is the adjustable double spring pole configuration. I quickly took to adjusting the tension on the springs to match the type of turning I was trying to do. Heavier tension for roughing out and lighter tension for more detailed work. It takes only seconds to reach down and slide the connecting strap to change the spring tension.
On the subject of spring poles. The plans call for 1″ diameter spring poles, but since I made my lathe a little longer I bumped my spring poles to 1-1/4″ diameter. At first I thought that they were still too slight, but once I developed a feel for the lathe, I find that they are more than adequately sized for the task.
On the movable puppet I opted for a fixed dead center over an adjustable screw configuration. I struggled over this fearing that it would be cumbersome to adjust the pinch between the two centers without the aid of the screw feed. However, I find the puppet quite easy and intuitive to adjust with light taps from a mallet or tool handle. I’m happy that I didn’t go to the extra work of fabricating a screw-fed center point.
Another element that I needlessly worried about during construction was the wire linkage between the pivot arm and the spring pole. The wire is looped at each end and simply slid over the respective member and rests in a shallow groove. I was convinced that it would constantly slide off during use. It doesn’t. It hasn’t even moved from its installed location.
My first couple of pieces through the lathe were just to get a feel for the lathe and the tools.
Practice has its place, but I find that my skills improve much quicker when I’m tackling actual projects. I’ve come up with a couple of projects that seem to be geared for the beginner, a Garden Dibber and Peter Follansbee’s Ratcheting Book Stand. The Garden Dibber is a basic shaping exercise, but can be made as elaborate as you want. The same holds true for the Ratcheting Book Stand with the added wrinkle of needing to duplicate parts. We shall see if my choices for my first projects was wise or not.
Noets-1 Greg Merritt
This will be a first in a series of ongoing post as I learn to use the spring pole lathe. These posts will be mostly for my own journaling purposes, but it may prove useful to others as well.
When I finally made the decision to build a lathe, I agonized over which design to build. I knew that I wanted a human-powered version though. So the first major decision was spring pole or treadle? Ultimately I chose to build Roy Underhill’s version of a German double spring pole lathe due to its portability, simplicity of construction and the fact that it is a self-contained unit. My build process of a modified version of Underhill’s original is covered in a five-part series beginning here. Since Underhill still derives income (books, magazine articles, classes) and, as to my knowledge, has not made these plans free to the public, the series is just an overview of my build experience. In short, I built a lathe.
Now I have to learn to use the thing. Especially daunting since I have never used a lathe of any kind, human or electric powered. Well, there was an attempt at building a lathe about twenty years ago that involved pallet wood, a garage door spring and, very nearly, severe property damage from launching said garage door spring when the cord broke. Anyway, with this design of lathe I had a couple of concerns, the pivot arm and the loose foot board.
In every video I have watched of this style lathe in action the pivot arm looks to swing dangerously close the operators head. It also looked like it may pose as a constant distraction in my peripheral vision. I’m happy to report that neither concern was warranted. When using the lathe I am blissfully unaware of the pivot arm. Nor have I whacked myself in the head with it.
The loose foot/treadle board proved to be somewhat more problematic. My findings don’t seem to be unique in this regard. There are several folks who seem to have had the same experience and many creative solutions can be found on the internet. The majority of which add a good bit of weight and are bulky. Ultimately sacrificing a degree of portability and versatility.
The problem is keeping the thing in place during use. In use you place your stationary foot at the pivoting end of the foot/treadle board and pump away with your other foot. What I found is that the thing tends to walk away during use unless you have the perfect angle of push with your other foot. I found it quite frustrating to chase the thing around. I needed a simple way of keeping it in place. Another issue was that the return was a bit sluggish no matter the tension on the springs. This told me that the foot/treadle board was simply too heavy (see photo above).
Ultimately my solution ended up being quite simple. The treadle/foot board was trimmed to a triangular shape. This made it much lighter, but still stiff enough to do its job. To keep the thing from wandering around in use, I drilled a hole and tied a scrap of leather to the pivot end. In use, I can place my stationary foot on the leather and pin the foot/treadle board in place while still maintaining the ability to swing the end of the foot/treadle board left or right. This allows me to adjust where the drive cord is riding on the workpiece as well as preserve the lathes portability. Now I can concentrate on learning to turn.
There is a lot more to come.
At the conclusion of my last post on the spring pole lathe I had just begun work on the tool rest. The basic structure was complete. All it needed was the finishing touches. So the next day after work I installed a steel wear strip and completed the shaping.
The steel wear strip sits in a shallow rebate and is held in place with screws.
The remainder of the shaping is decorative, save one element. The edge directly opposite the wear strip needs to have a heavy bevel so that the tools can be angled down in use.
Once I had the tool rest complete, I could use it to determine the installation height of the dead centers. The general recommendation seems to be that the top of the tool rest should be at or slightly below the centerline of the dead centers. As I stated before, I’m using 1MT(#1 Morse Taper) dead centers. I don’t have the required tapered reamer to match the Morse tapers, but Roy’s article states that a stepped hole beginning with 7/16″ and finishing with 3/8″ will work just fine. The tricky bit is that the two dead centers must be in exact alignment, or at least as close as you can get them to exact alignment. I don’t mind telling you that I stressed over this operation. After drilling a couple of test holes, I drilled and installed the dead center in the short upright. It came out square and plumb. Whew! Next was the really stressful install in the movable puppet.
The location for the dead center in the puppet is marked directly from the first dead center. So I slid the puppet close to, but not yet touching, the first dead center. I then locked the puppet down with its wedge. I then slowly tapped the puppet over until the first dead center marked the location for the second. Then another stressful round of drilling and checking for plumb and square. Luckily all went well and the dead centers were installed and in pretty decent alignment.
All the remained was to fabricate the linkage between the spring poles and the pivot arm. I also needed to install a drive cord. The linkage I made from a piece of heavy gauge wire. A loop was formed at each end of the wire and secured by twisting the wire back onto itself. I also filed a shallow groove in both the spring pole and pivot arm to help keep the wire loops in place.
The drive cord is the recommended leather sewing machine belting and installs thru a hole bored thru the end of the pivot arm. The other end is attached to the treadle board.
With the drive linkages installed the construction phase was complete. At this point I dismantled the lathe and went over each and every piece and refined anything that I felt needed attention. Then everything received a wiping coat of hardware store BLO. I’m a fan of this BLO, heavy metal driers, ect., but it is cheap and serves the purpose for this utility type application.
Once the BLO was dry, well mostly dry, I reassembled the lathe and finally had my first go at using it.
I’ll talk about my experiences using this lathe in my next post.
Part 4 Greg Merritt
My goal was to have a functioning lathe by the end of this weekend. As progress was made over the past week I became confident that my goal would be met. Alas, the weekend has come to a close and finds me still short of a completed lathe. I’m really, really close though. So close that it was hard to put down the tools and shutdown the shop this evening. But it is better to stretch out the project by a few days than to make some silly mistake because I’m too tired. Anyway…
Most of the progress over the past week has been related to mortising for the wedges and adding “decorative” embellishments to the rail tenons. The mortises are straight forward. Simply chop thru and match the angle of the wedges. The decorative embellishment is completely unnecessary but I like to seize any opportunity to try out something new or to practice something. These are tusk tenons and the area after the wedge needs to be strong to resist the pressure of the seated wedge. So I needed to be careful as to how much material I removed. After several sketches I settled on two options. One for the upper rails and one for the lower rail.
The design I used for the upper rail rounded the two corners with the addition of a scroll. I created a template from card stock so that each layout was easy and quick. To cut the design, I sawed away as much waste as I could and then used a sharp chisel for the rest of the outer work. The scroll I incised with a gouge. Once the shaping was done I broke out the wood burner and went to work.
The lower rail received a simple angle cut. What angle? No idea. The leg of my square is 15mm wide, so 0mm to 15mm is the angle technically.
I will be installing 1MT (#1 Morse Taper) dead centers in this lathe. These are a little over 3″ long. When installed in the 1-1/2″ thick upright, just over half of the dead center will be unsupported. It would probably be fine, but the idea bothers me. To remedy this I laminated another piece of 1-1/2″ pine to the inside face of the upright. To keep this extra piece from looking out of place and clunky, I gave it a little shaping.
The next job I tackled was the puppet. The blank for which has been glued up and waiting patiently since this whole thing started. I shaped it to match the short upright. The lower portion of the puppet fits between the upper rails and hangs below them far enough to install a mortise and wedge. The wedge locks the puppet in the desired position along the rails. With the shaping out of the way, I laid out the mortise. To create the mortise I bored out the bulk of the waste and cleaned up with a chisel.
The next pieces that I fabricated were the spring poles. I have a few bits of white oak and searched thru them to find two pieces with straightest grain I could find. Then I ran them thru my old table saw to bring them to 1-1/4″ square. From there I went to the shaving horse and shaved them to octagonal with my drawknife. Then a little fine tuning with the spokeshave.
I then installed my fancy copper strap, that I made from a bit of pipe, and secured its ends with a rivet.
I began work on the tool rest today but, quite frankly, was to dang tired. Oh well, I’ll hit it hard again this coming week.
Part 3 Greg Merritt
My day in the shop didn’t go as I has planned. It’s not that anything went wrong, but I had gotten the order of operations a little out of order. Originally I was going to cleanup the uprights and chop the mortises for the rail wedges. As I was about to plane off all of my layout lines it dawned on me that I had better cut and fit the pivot arm first.
The pivot arm installs in a slot in the taller upright and rides on a 1/2″ diameter steel axle. I also installed a bronze bushing to protect the soft wood of the pivot arm. I purchased both the steel rod and the bronze bushing from the big box store. Both needed to be cut to length
Since I was in metal working mode I thought I would have a go at fashioning a strap that will eventually connect the, yet to be made, spring poles. In his book, “By Wedge and Edge“, Roy says the strap can be fashioned from a copper pipe that is cut in half along its length. Ideally I would have a metal cutting blade for my turning saw, but I don’t. So I was left to use my hacksaw with a fixed blade. By loosening the blade I was able to twist the blade enough to cut away about a quarter of the 12” long piece of copper pipe. Then I worked the remainder flat. Just like that, I had a copper strap.
The pivot arm is fashioned from a piece of clear pine that I bought specifically for the purpose. When I went to the big box I culled through the pile until I found a piece that had the grain running in the same direction as the taper of the arm. I was really lucky and found an almost perfect match.
The axle partially installed.
The rest of my day in the shop was spent planing the uprights clean and chamfering every exposed edge. I then reassembled what I have so far and manged to actually mark out for the wedge mortises. The chopping of those will have to wait until tomorrow.
Part 2 Greg Merritt
Confession time…if you follow me on Instagram, then you know that I started this lathe project a week ago. I’m little behind on my blogging, but I’ve been running a little time management experiment this week.
It is exactly five minutes between my house and my work. As a result, I come home for my lunch hour most days. Usually I eat something, check the news and catch up on reading blogs (another thing I’m behind on). Anyway, I decided to try getting in twenty minutes of shop time while on my lunch hour. So every day this week I set a 20min timer on my phone and headed for the shop. Its been a nice break in my day to get in a little wood working. More importantly, it has been surprising how much I can get done in that short twenty minutes.
Once I had the mortises in the uprights I turned my attention to the three rails. Two will be the ways and form the bed of the lathe. The third rail serves to stabilize the assembly. Each of these rails will eventually be secured with wedges in a tusk tenon arrangement. The two bed rails have single-shoulder tenons and work in unison when wedged tight to keep them square to the uprights. The lower rail tenons have two shoulders that will keep it square.
Once I had the tenons laid out, I sawed the shoulders. I opted to split off the bulk of the waste. In hindsight, it would have been quicker to saw it off. This SYP is stringy and will not split work a darn! Which will make for a strong assembly, but tedious going for waste removal.
Next I worked on the feet. I made these feet much taller than Roy’s version. Which is part of how I’m gaining a little extra height. The remainder of the extra height is in the uprights themselves. The connection between the upright and the foot is a thru, spit tenon. Which ment that I needed to chop a mortise through 180mm (7″) and keep it square and plumb. Not my best design choice. This depth is the limit for my chisels, but I managed to pull it off in both feet.
The tenon was formed as I described above for the rails.
I’ll be glueing these feet in place, but also opted to add square drawbore pins. These aren’t actually necessary, but a little extra structure never hurts. Plus a little practice never hurts either. To chop the required square holes I fashioned a plug to fit into the mortise. The plug adds backing and keeps the inner wall of the mortise from being splintered out. I should have waited on this step though. I’ll explain why in a minute.
I’m shaping the feet with a Japanese inspired shape. My original plan was to have a shallow arch at the bottom center of the foot. (This is why I should have waited on locating the square pegs). I saw that I had a couple of knots in these pieces, no big deal. What I hadn’t noticed is that one of them was dead and loose. I saw that I could eliminate the knots by changing the shallow arc to a deeper shape. Ideally the drawbore pins would be closer to the shoulder of the tenon than to the end of the tenon. Changing the shape of the cutout will shift my pins about 12mm(1/2″) closer to the end of the tenon. Not a big problem, I’ll just have to lessen the offset so as not to over stress the tenon.
At any rate, I laid out my desired shape with a compass and cut it out with my turning saw. The shape was then refined with a sharp chisel and spokeshave.
Lather, rinse, repeat.
Finally, I ended my day in the shop today by fashioning the required pins and wedges. I made these from white oak.
OK…that brings this blog and you up to date.
Tomorrow I’ll chop the mortices in the rail tenons and fit the wedges. I also hope to clean up the uprights and feet with a plane and assemble them.
Part 1 Greg Merritt
I have always been fascinated by the lathe. There is something mesmerizing about watching the shapes appear from the spinning wood. As much as I like the lathe, I never planned on adding one to my shop. There’s a whole list of excuses why and I had taken the lathe off of my to-do list and penciled it in on my some-day list.
Through a strange series of events however, things have changed. There’s a big long story that explains all of it, but I’ll just cut to the gist. I was recently given several turning tools. How awesome is that? There is a mixed bag of Craftsman, Buck Brothers and Vermont American. I think all of the basic profiles are here. A few gouges, a skew, a parting tool, thumbnail, ect. They are in need of a little love, but should get me more than started.
So now it seems silly not to delve into lathe work. Of course I need a lathe first.
The basic types of human-powered (I have no interest in electric) lathes are spring and treadle. Each has its pros and cons. The spring type lathes are simplest to build, are portable but work with a reciprocating action. Treadle lathes are a little more complex to build, are generally too heavy to be easily portable but have the benefit of constant rotation. So why choose one over the other?
Portability seems to play a big role in the decision process. Even still, there are several examples of historical shops with permanently installed spring pole lathes. So maybe personal preference has always played a part. For me, the combination of simple to build and portability is hard to ignore.
Roy Underhill’s version of a German spring pole lathe is a design that is hard to beat. It’s a self-contained, reasonably light and portable lathe. The only issue I have found with Roy’s version is that it seems a little short. In most of the videos I’ve watched, including The Woodwright’s Shop, Roy and others look stooped over while using this lathe. My suspicion is that the low height is a function of the novelty of building the lathe frame from a single 2″x12″x12′. That’s just my personal guess though. Anyway, I think I’ll have a go at building and using Roy’s version of the spring pole lathe but, I’ll build it a little taller.
Plans for the lathe can be found in a few places. One source is Roy’s book, “By Wedge and Edge“. Most recently, PWW magazine (August 2016) ran an article by Roy on the building of the lathe. Or (if you have the time and money) you could attend a class and learn to build this lathe directly from Roy.
As you may know, I like to work with proportions. Short of that I prefer metric. All of the plans for Roy’s lathe are based on imperial dimensions though. So I did a little CAD work, converted the plans to metric and tweaked a few of the details. My version will raise the work a few inches/centimeters, it will be a bit longer to ensure that I can work with table-length legs and I’m changing the decorative elements as well. No surprise there.
I’m building the lathe out of SYP and purchased a couple of 2x boards and will be utilizing the pieces left over from the recent table builds as well.
Step one was to break that lumber down into the required components and layout the joinery.
I then cut the large mortises that will receive the rails. I used an auger to remove the bulk of the waste and then used a chisel to finish off each mortise. The “spring” part of this lathe design is supplied by two wooden rods. These rods are contained in three holes and one slot. The slot allows the end of one rod to travel up and down creating the spring action. The three holes I simply bored through. To create the slot I bored a hole at the extents of the slot and used my turning saw to cut out the bulk of the waste. Finally cleaning up the walls of the slot with a wide chisel.
It is no secret that I prefer a hand-rubbed oil finish. It is my go-to finish of choice. I don’t think that I am alone in this fondness. Judging by the blog posts and articles that I read, several others feel the same way.
Oil has a lot of things going for it. It is easy to apply, easy to renew and easy to repair. It can also be better for your health, depending on your product of choice. An oil and wax finish does have some shortcomings though. It’s not the most durable finish and if your after a high gloss, forget it, it is not going to happen. Also, an oil and wax finish requires some maintenance. It will need an occasional buffing and reapplication once in a while.
Yes, an oil and wax finish is easy to apply. Your don’t need any special training or skill, but don’t mistake easy application for quick or less work. The finishing process can span several days. Possibly even a week or more, depending on the size of the project and surface quality that you are after. If you want a hand-rubbed finish…yep, your actually going to have to rub it by hand…a lot.
Since I’m just completed two large tables, I thought I would discuss the steps that I go through when applying an oil and wax finish. I’m no expert, so this is not holy writ, just the steps that I have found to work best for me. Please feel free to question or contradict any of all that follows.
Note: time on task in the following is based upon one face of a 30″x77″ table top.
First and foremost I want all surfaces to be from an edge tool. I use sandpaper when I need to, but those areas are given more attention with oooo steel wool or burnished with shavings. Why? I want the surfaces to be burnished and that is what a cut surface from an edge tool is. A burnished surface is basically a head start on an even luster from the finish. I prefer to use Japanese planes, but any well tuned finishing plane will get the job done. Push, pull, iron body, wooden body doesn’t matter. It just needs to be sharp and finely set.
If I can’t get the burnished finish from an edge tool, I’ll use the alternatives that I mentioned earlier. Rubbing a handful of shavings on the surface of the work piece is quite effective. 0000 steel wool will get the job done too. Alternatively, I will use the uzukuri technique to both texture and burnish the surface. This is what I did with the table top.
First using the rough and then the medium uzukuri brush, I went over every square inch of the table top. I also employed a couple of different size gouges for areas that had deep tearout or that I simply wanted to have a more pronounced texture effect. In all it took between seven and eight hours to complete the uzukuri treatment and bring this table top to the point of being ready for the oil.
Step two is an application of linseed oil only, no wax. This is a penetrating coat of oil and for this I use Tried & True brand Danish oil. Which is a polymerised linseed oil and contains no heavy metal driers and is completely food safe. Also I have tinted the oil with “Raw Sienna” artist’s oil paint, which imparts a warm amber tone to light-colored woods such as pine, poplar and oak. To apply this first coat of oil I use a soft cotton cloth and vigorously rub the oil into the wood. The friction induced heat helps to drive the oil into the wood. This application took between thirty to forty-five minutes. I then let the oil “soak” in for five to ten minutes.
Below are side-by-side comparisons. With tinted oil on the left, without on the right.
Once the oil has been allowed to dwell, I begin buffing the surface and removing any oil that remains on the surface. I’ll continue this until the surface has NO remaining wet areas. This step took about fifteen minutes. After a couple of hours I go over the surface once more to remove any oil that seeps back to the surface.
Then I wait for twenty-four hours. Technically the directions on the can say eight hours, but I almost always let it dry for twenty-four hours.
Step three begins with buffing the surface once again with a cotton cloth. I repeat if necessary. What I’m looking for is no color or oil coming up on the cloth. Then I buff the surface yet again. This time with 0000 steel wool. This further burnishes and seals the surface of the wood. All this buffing takes about thirty minutes. Now I’m ready for the second coat of oil.
For the second coat of oil I use Tried & True Original finish. This is a mixture of polymerised linseed oil and beeswax. Again, it is food safe and contains no heavy metal driers. Just like the first coat of oil, this is vigorously applied. This took another half hour to forty-five minutes. The product needs to “soak” in for an hour before buffing off, which took an additional fifteen to twenty minutes.
Then I wait for another twenty-four hours. Buffing once more along the way.
Coat number three follows the same exact steps as the second coat. Buff, burnish with steel wool, apply the oil and wax mixture, wait, buff, wait, buff again and wait.
Generally three coats will do. One coat of the tinted linseed oil and two coats of the linseed oil/beeswax mixture. After the third coat has been allowed to dry, forty-eight hours this time, a final buffing with a cotton cloth completes the finish. I’ll typically add one more coat after a few months have passed. From then on out, a periodic buffing is all that is needed to keep the piece looking fresh.
So there you have it. An oil and wax finish doesn’t require any great skill, but easy is a relative term. This type of finish does require some hard work and time. Sure, you could skip some of the buffing and burnishing steps, but the end result will suffer…trust me on this.
Finally! After days of applying finish and buffing, these two staked dining tables are finally complete! This project started as a simple idea from the “The Anarchist’s Design Book” for two easily moved “knock-down” tables. That simple idea became a wealth of experience and learning. I truly learned a lot while building these trestles and the accompanying tops.
I fashioned a new gauge for laying out tapered, octagonal legs.
A good bit of experience was gained at the shaving horse making the twelve (plus two spare) legs.
I also gained some experience effecting repairs when things didn’t go as planned.
I even “aged” some hardware for the first time.
My finishing techniques also received a workout.
Stamping texture and wood burning.
Surfacing with the uzukuri.
Finally applying the linseed and oil top coat (look for an upcoming post on that).
Anyway, on with the dog & pony.
The spare table will live most of its life as a work/craft table. To enhance that function I drilled a hole and added a Lee Valley lamp bushing at one corner to hold an articulating lamp. I still need to get a desk blotter to round out the look and utility.
Here is a look at the fender washer and wing nut arrangement that secures the tops to the trestles.
The other table will live its life as our main dinning table.
When a large gathering calls for it, the spare will be brought in to give us a little over thirteen feet of dinning surface. I think we can get fourteen people seated in this configuration.
We can also arrange the long edges of table together and easily seat ten people.
Notice anything missing from the above photos? Yep…seating. So my focus will be shifting from tables to seating. I’m thinking a combination of benches, stools and chairs is the way to go. Before diving into the seating though, I’ll have a short detour in lathe making.
Until then, these old folding chairs will get us by.
I doubt that anyone who knows me well would use the adjective “sentimental’ to describe me, but I have to admit that I got a little misty thinking about all of the family gatherings and holidays that will be spent around these tables in the years to come.
Thanks for taking the time to look. I hope you enjoyed it. Even better if I somehow inspired you.
Just a quick update on my progress over the past week. With any luck, the next post will be the last in this series and these two tables will move into the complete column. So, over the past week…
My attention was focused on the second top. I first planed both faces flat.
Once it was flat, I trimmed it for width, length and mitered the corners. Then I planed a wide chamfer on all of the edges. One issue was that a small check had opened up at one end on the bottom face. This occurrence was not unexpected. I’m using construction grade SYP for this top. All of these pieces were cut close to or contain the center of the log. The offending board contained a center portion of the log and the pith that comes with it. No big deal, I had been wanting to try inlaying dutchman patches anyway.
There are lots of ways to make a dutchman key. Templates, careful layout with squares and bevel gauges, but where is the fun in that? I just grabbed a scrap of white oak that was about a half inch thick and started cutting. I produced two asymmetrical, more organic, IMHO, keys.
To install the keys I placed them where I wanted them and scribed around them with a sharp knife. I then used a combination of chisels, auger and small router plane to remove the waste.
Then I added some glue and knocked the key into place. Same for the second key. Once the keys were installed I planed them flush to the surrounding surface.
Top two received the same decorative elements as the first one, uzukuri ect.
With all of the construction complete, my efforts switched to finishing. Linseed oil and beeswax is my preferred finish. I like the way it looks, how it feels and the ease of repair and renewal. The particular products I use (Tried & True brand) contain no heavy metal driers and are food safe. The first coat of oil was my Hillbilly Pine Enhancer. This is just the Tried & True Danish Oil with artists paint mixed in to act as a toner (see here).
Side by side comparison on poplar.
Side by side comparison on pine.
After twenty-four hours I applied the first coat of Tried & True Original (a blend of linseed oil and beeswax). The combination made the poplar quite nice I think.
I’ll add one or two more coats of the linseed oil/beeswax and then call it done. My next post should be the dog and pony show.
Part 7 Greg Merritt
As per my usual, every day after work this week I tried to get in half an hour to an hour of work on the tables. After a nine or ten-hour day at work you would think I would just come home and relax. Well that is exactly what I’m doing. A little wood working is the best way to quiet my mind. Anyway I made some progress.
Most of my attention this week was focused on getting the first tabletop ready for finish. I could have just went with the planed surface. Except for a few troublesome areas, the top was smooth, but a little boring to my eye. Admittedly, I had planned to treat this top with the uzukuri technique. Essentially an abraded and burnished finish treatment created with “brushes” of varying coarseness. The abrading action lowers the less dense (early) wood from the harder (late) wood. Subsequent finer “brushes” further refine, as well as burnish, the surface. I also used a couple of gouges to further deepen the effect here and there. The resulting surface is much like polished driftwood. The technique isn’t difficult, but takes time. Plus you are never really done. At some point you just have to stop.
Here you see one of the trouble areas with some wild grain.
I did a little work on the trestles for this top as well. If you remember, I had a couple splits that needed repaired. The repairs worked out fine, but their visibility was wearing on me. So I broke out my stamping tool and added some texture to the ends of the trestles and followed up with the wood burning tool.
Since I had the wood burner fired up, I had a little fun with the tops of the trestles. Very few people will ever see this, but I think it will be a nice surprise for those who do.
I mounted the top with the carriage bolts and wing nuts that I “aged”. Two bolts per trestle. These are 1/2″ bolts and I needed to allow for any expansion and contraction of the top. To do this I bored 3/4″ holes in the trestles. Hence the need for a fender washer. The tabletop received a countersink for the bolt head and a 1/2″ thru hole. To create the countersink I employed my expansion bit and cleaned up the bottom of the hole with a small router plane.
I used a gouge and, you guessed it, the wood burner to ease the entrance and exit edges of the hole.
So the first table is complete and ready for finish.
Now onto tabletop number two.
It has been a long hard week in the shop. I have the aches and pains to remind me of it.
Almost every evening after work I worked on getting the table tops together. I continued my method of flattening one face and squaring an edge on each board. Then glueing up two boards at a time. I actually got pretty good at it. I could prep two boards, add the alignment biscuits and have them in the clamps in about an hour and a half. That is how my week went. By Friday I was ready to assemble the first top.
Saturday had me assembling top #2.
Since I wanted each top to cure for a full 24hrs, I turned the remainder of my Saturday to working on hardware for attaching the tops to the trestles. In his book, CW used a large wooden screw for attaching his top to the trestles. An elegant solution, but a quality tap and die set, such as the set he used, is spendy. Yes, there are much more inexpensive versions. The reviews for those seem to be less than favorable. Anyway, my solution is to use carriage bolts and wing nuts. I’ll use two per trestle and make sure to allow for any wood movement. Plus I can easily get these from the big box store. The only issue is that they are bright and shiny and this just looks wrong for furniture.
There are several ways of “aging” hardware to be found on the internet. The simplest is to use a gun blue solution. This product is typically used to oxidize the bare metal parts of firearms to protect them from rusting. It also blackens or “blues” them as part of the process. So I picked up a bottle and went to work on my bright and shiny hardware. Following the directions, cleaned each part with denatured alcohol. One extra bit of prep was a little file work on the heads of the carriage bolts. These bolts have grade stamps on their heads. A little file work removes them and give a bit of a faceted look.
No one will mistake these bits as blacksmith made, but they will at least look “right” when installed.
Today I began the final work on the first top. The first thing to tackle was flattening the underside face. During my two-board dance I had ignored the opposite face in favor of getting them glued up. I’m not sure that was the best strategy. The bottom face required a fair amount of work to bring it level and flat. In hindsight, it may have been better to thickness all of these boards up front. Live and learn. It took me about three hours of continuous planing to get the bottom face flat and level. It was a hell of a workout.
Once the top was flat and level, I clipped all four corners at 45deg and added a chamfer to all of the edges. On the clipped corners I added my logo stamp, a little additional texture and finally some wood burning.
I ran out of daylight and energy so I had to stop. Table #1 is starting to look like something though.
I have a bunch of work still in front of me, but the finish line is getting close.
Progress is being made in drips and drabs.
In my last post I reviewed my day of wood butchery. I’m happy to report that my repairs were successful and the split tops are once again solid. The second round of assembly went without incident and all four trestles are together.
Once the glue dried, the next step was to trim the tenon stubs and clean the tops up with a plane.
Then I leveled and trimmed each trestle for final height. The final height of these trestles is dependent upon the thickness of the top. In my design drawing I intentionally made these trestles tall enough to be used as a standing work table or to be trimmed to dinning or writing height. I made a reference drawing and posted it a while back that I use to determine the heights of stools, chairs and tables. These heights are based upon my own body. Specifically my hand span (222mm). The drawing is proportional and will scale to anyone. (Hand span is distance between tip of little finger and tip of thumb when fingers are spread to their widest)
The point being is that I needed the thickness of the table top to accurately trim the height of the trestles. After a lot of back and forth I settled on using 2x SYP for my table tops. These tops should finish out at 36mm(1-7/16″). To mark the legs I tried a method exampled in Peter Galbert’s book, “A Chairmaker’s Notebook“. The method is to tape a pencil to a bevel gauge. This gives a pretty easy of way of adjusting the height and marking the legs. Once I shimmed a trestle level I measured the distance from ground to the top of the trestle. Then added the top thickness to that distance. From that I subtracted my desired finished table height. The remainder being the amount of leg to be trimmed away.
Once I had all of the trestles trimmed, I moved them onto the sun porch so I would have room to work in the shop without fear of damaging them. The trestles are not quite complete at this point, but the remaining work is dependent upon them being mated to the tops.
Which brings me to the tops themselves. As I said earlier, I’m making these tops from 2x SYP construction lumber. I waffled on this decision quite a bit. A 2x top is heavy, but durable. A 1x top would be lighter, but lacking in durability. Either would work for dinning, but I know that these tables will be used for much more than simple dinning. The “extra” table will spend most of its life as a craft/work table out on the sun porch or wherever it may be needed.
I went to the big box store in hopes of purchasing 2×12 lumber. Three 2x12s would be enough for each top. However, the offerings of 2×12 were pretty sad. Boards that were full of knots, cups and twists. The 2×10 offerings yielded a much better material and that is what I loaded into the truck. Four 2x10s will make up each top with plenty of width to trim to final size.
These four will make up the better of the two tops and will be used on our daily dinning table.
The other four pieces are a little more rugged, but not by much.
The first task was to cut all of the boards to rough length. To edge glue these boards together I need to plane one face true being sure to check for any twist. Then square both of the edges to that face. It’s a fair amount of work with hand planes and I decided from the start to tackle these in stages. I’ll surface and joint two boards and glue them together. This will eventually yield four two-board panels. Then I’ll joint and glue two of those panels together to create a table top. Much easier for a one-man shop than trying to tackle them all at once.
The result of working on two boards.
Two boards glued and in the clamps.
I’ll just keep plugging away at the remainder of the boards until I’m done.
My day in the shop, henceforth known as the great wood massacre of February 2017, did not go smoothly. All of my problems were of my own making however. I was working with an unfamiliar material (poplar) as well as an unfamiliar tool. To finish off the perfect recipe for disaster I changed one of my techniques. Stupid, stupid, stupid.
I’ll start at the beginning. The goal today was simply to assemble the trestles. Add glue, knock in the legs and wedge them home. It should have been an easy, relaxing day in the shop. While my hide glue was heating up I cut the wedges for securing the legs. Here is my first error. Typically I cut short, fat wedges, but for some reason I went with a longer, thinner version. I have no idea why.
To drive the legs into their sockets, I typically use my ~16oz Japanese hammer, but my dad recently gave me a 2lb sledge and I wanted to give it a try. So I spread glue in the socket and on the tenon for the single leg of the first trestle. I drove it into place and everything went fine. Then I glued and installed the spindle between the pair of legs. With glue applied to all the surfaces I began driving the leg pair into their sockets. Everything felt good until the second to last hammer blow…it sounded a little off, but I went ahead and hit the other leg. That’s when the pair of legs went loose in their sockets. Uh, oh! (That’s the PG version). Sure enough, the top slab had split from each socket out to the end of the slab.
I felt a little sick, but examined the damage. With nothing to lose, I jumped in with an attempt to repair the slab. I first cut out a slice of wood that contained the split.
Then I cut and fit new pieces of poplar to fill the gaps. Then I glued and clamped them in place.
Trestle number 2 went together without incident
Trestle number 3 almost made it, but I split the slab at the single leg. Son of a b####! The same repair was made as before.
Trestle number 4 almost made it as well, but the last blow on the wedge of the last leg…I heard a horrible cracking sound.
Luckily I had the sense to make a couple of extra legs. So I prepped another leg.
To add insult to injury, I had, in a fit of anger, slammed the hammer into the slab top. Which left a pretty good donkey (jackass, in my case) mark.
So I fired up the iron and steamed almost all of it out.
Then turned off the lights in the shop before I did any more damage.
So what the heck happened? All of my previous staked projects were either laminations of SYP or plywood. A solid slab of poplar reacts differently than either of those. Using a heavier hammer made judging the progress of the tenon advancing into the socket hard to judge. The force of each blow was quite a bit more than those with my lighter hammer. Finally, my changing wedge shapes allowed the wedge to advance too deep into the tenon. Actually, I was lucky with most of them, they were thick enough to tighten before going too deep. The last wedge was slightly thinner and I paid the price.
Anyway, tomorrow is a new day. I’ll venture back into the shop and survey the carnage. Hopefully my repair attempts work out and I’ll be back on track.
With the top slabs thicknessed, cut to size and squared it was time for the layout. This was a simple task of transferring the layout from my design drawing to the slabs.
There are several ways that I can translate my scaled drawing into full-scale. Sometimes I simply pull out a piece of paper and draw the project to size. This is handy because it gives me something to continually check my actual pieces against. Other times I may lay out a story stick. For this project I simply created a full-scale version of the module block that is found on the drawing. No matter the method, most of the work is done with dividers once the initial base measurement is established. In this case that measurement is 180mm.
I first drew a 180mm square on a scrap of ply. Then stepped off all of the required divisions with dividers. Once I had the full-scale module in hand, I then had an instrument that I could use for either direct transfer of distance or I could set my dividers to. At any rate, the layout was completed as per my drawing.
I’ll not bore you with the drilling and reaming operation. I’ve done that in previous posts. ;). After a good bit of work with the brace, all four trestles were legged up.
The next order of business was to make the spindles for each leg pair. I sawed several blanks of white oak so that I could try a couple of different shapes and methods. No matter the shape, each spindle needed a 1/2″ tenon at each end. I struggled as to how best to make these tenons, but it finally dawned on me that I could use the same tapered tenon cutter that I used for the leg tenons. When a piece is passed completely through the cutter the emerging portion is a constant ~9/16″ diameter. So all I needed to do was run the spindles through the tenon cutter so that the required length of tenon was passed through the cutter. Then it was a simple matter of using my knife to trim and fit the tenon to the 1/2″ mortise hole.
The first spindle shape that I tried was cigar-shaped. It was easy to make, but didn’t seem right for the octagonal legs of these trestles.
The next spindle shape that I made was octagonal and I left them intentionally a little rough. I like this shape much better for the octagonal legs.
It has become almost a signature of mine to add some sort of knot work to my projects. Usually this shows up as knotted pulls for drawers, but in this instance I went with a turk’s head knot to add a bit of interest to the spindles. The knot sits in a recessed area centered along the length of the spindle. I made the recess with my carving knife and added a little wood burning to the corners of the octagon.
Next up were the mortise holes in the legs. To mark them I squared a board and on it marked the distance of the mortise holes from the bottom face of the trestle. Then set the board in place on the inverted trestle and marked the mortise holes.
In his book, “The Anarchist’s Design Book”, CS recommends a spade bit with an extension. I had neither and when I went to the Big Box store I found an extra long spade bit and went with that. I was worried that I would have chipout when drilling the holes, but found that the spade bit created a surprisingly clean hole.
I chamfered all of the edges of the top slabs and added a little wood burning embellishments to the tops and legs.
I hope to be able to assemble these trestles this coming weekend. Then I’ll tackle the table tops.
I’m not what I used to be. Desk work at the day job has made me soft and nothing proves it quicker than surfacing and thicknessing rough lumber by hand. I’m sore, but I’m got the job done.
It’s not an exciting process to write a blog post about, so here is the gist of it. I have four slabs of poplar to contend with for my trestles. I have already cut these slabs to rough length and began the process by rigging up a way to hold them on the bench. Nothing fancy. I have a center board on my bench that can be raised to create a stop and one end of the slab can butt up against the planing stop of the bench. To secure the other end of the slab, I simply screwed a block of wood to my bench. That’s one of the nice things about having a simple bench. I have no qualms about screwing or nailing stuff to it if the need arrises.
The actual process is simple. Flatten a side, square an edge to that side. To flatten a side I begin by working across the grain, then diagonally and finally with the grain.
I test for flat with my long straight edge.
Then test for any twist with winding sticks.
Then make corrections as needed and square a long edge to my freshly flattened side.
Then mark for width.
Then gauge for final thickness, trim and tackle the opposite face.
It’s a good bit of work, but a rewarding process. So over the course of several days I managed to complete all four slabs.
Next up is the layout. Then I’ll start drilling holes and fitting legs.
If you are a woodworker with a significant other, than you are well aware of the list. It is that list of things that our significant other wants us to build. Sometimes we make excuses why we don’t build this or that. Other times we use the list to score a new tool or two. Not me of course, but I have heard stories. Luckily, management’s list is typically short. Although she reserves the right to make a last-minute addendum (demand) to it. Anyway, the absolute number one on management’s list is a couple of, easily moved, dining tables. Oh, and seating for said same. So nothing too much. LOL
So a little background. Management and I spent the first 19 years together in a very small home. This smallness made hosting big family dinners (her dream) at our house impossible. So when we moved to a larger home a little over a year ago, she jumped at the chance to host big family dinners any chance she gets. To seat all of these (15-20 people) I cobbled together a 12ft table from 2x and plywood. It gets the job done, but is a PIA to take apart, put together and store. That single use table has now seen two Thanksgivings and at least a half dozen other functions. I’m afraid that if I don’t do something soon, that this piece of crap will reach heirloom status and I will be stuck lugging it around for the rest of my days. So tables it is.
Table design has been on my mind since we moved. (Management has made sure of it…LOL). Once I read “The Anarchist’s Design Book“, I knew what the basic design would be.
Sourcing material was a challenge for me, but just before Thanksgiving this year I found a lumber yard and picked up enough oak and poplar to get me started.
With the material piled up in the garage, I needed to nail down the design. Yes, I could have used CW’s design out of the book, but I just cant help myself. Besides, I work in proportions. After a little work at the drawing board I had a working drawing.
I finally got started by crosscutting the bits that I needed to rough length.
I set the poplar aside and milled the oak into leg stock. I first surfaced and squared two adjoining faces and then ran the oak thru my old portable table saw. I did have sense enough to install a new blade and tune up the old saw before all of this, so the milling went smoothly, messy (no dust collection), but smoothly.
I then laid out the legs using my new purpose built gauge.
I spent the past several days working on the legs. I roughed out all of the tapered octagons and their tenons.
Cleaned them up with a plane and refined the transition from leg to tenon. These are relatively thick legs and I wanted a cove transition from full-width to the base of the tenon. Creating this cove on a lathe would take a matter of seconds, without a lathe it took a little bit longer. I hogged most of the waste away working the drawknife with the bevel down for control. I followed this with some carving knife work and finished with a half-round file.
Next I’ll tackle the poplar tops.
Greg Merritt Part 2
Through a strange sequence of events and serious risk to my health and wellbeing, I was able to work at my shaving horse for several hours yesterday. Sounds great and it was, but the back-of-my-front is pretty dang sore today. I have a good bit of work yet to do at the horse so a remedy for comfort was now top priority.
Let me back up a bit. A while back I built my shaving horse using Jeanie Alexander’s plans that can be found on the Greenwoodworking site. I remember that the plans mentioned something about a sliding seat…I won’t need that. I was waaaay wrong. Way wrong!
Straddling a board, for hours on end, takes a toll on the backside. So I did a little research on my lunch hour today. I wanted to see what the folks who make a living using a shaving horse do for a seat. The general consensus is that you need one, it should be tilted forward slightly and cushy is a good thing.
As soon as I got home this evening I went straight to the shop to see what I could come up with. My plan was to make a seat with two guide rails that would slide along the main beam of the horse. I came up with a piece of plywood and a few bits of pine. I sketched a simple seat shape on the plywood and went to work.
To achieve a slight forward tilt, I planed a piece of pine into a wedge shape.
I sawed the rough shape of the seat and refined the shape with a plane and sandpaper.
Assembly was simple. The wedge was glued and nailed in place. The two 2x guide rails were glued and screwed.
To get the cushy, I used the last bits of my upholstery foam and a piece of black vinyl.
I have to say, it is very comfortable and I cant wait to put it to use. To keep the seat from sliding when in use, I simply cut a small square of shelf liner to put between the seat and rail. It locks the seat down solid.
Anyway, just a quick little project and public service announcement. Saddle your horse, trust me!
Oh yeah, the risk to my health and wellbeing. Yesterday the shop was cold and I was home alone, management was at work. So I took it upon myself to move the whole shaving horse operation into the house on the nice warm sun porch.
I did put down a couple pieces of ply to protect the carpet. Anyway, management took it pretty well and working on the sun porch is now sanctioned. Who woulda’ thunk it?