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Updated: 20 min 44 sec ago

Coffee Table 4: Top & Finishing

Thu, 05/23/2024 - 11:34pm

I made this sassafras top and set it aside a while ago. It’s a wonder it hasn’t been damaged. I was able to saw it close to the line, but now it needs cleaning up.

rough cut edge

I started with it upside down to work on the bottom first. Since I was trying new things I wanted any mistakes on the less visible side.

To clean up the edge I used a spokeshave and a block plane. The spokeshave worked better for long grain and the block plane was better for end grain. First I removed larger bumps and irregularities. Then I switched to chamfering the underside.

chamfer lines, 1″ back and 1/4″ down

The top was made from 5/4 thickness boards, and was now about 1″ thick. I envisioned a wide chamfer, about 3″ wide and 1/2″ thick. But when up close with the wood I balked at removing that much material. So I marked lines 1″ wide and 1/4″ thick. This will make the top appear 3/4″ thick at the edge.

I was able to remove almost all of this material with a #5 plane, and the remaining with a block plane.

smells like root beer

After making the chamfer I further refined the edge. It was easier to work on when 3/4″ wide than 1″ wide. I sprayed denatured alcohol on the edge and shined a light from different angles to look for tool marks and imperfections. After shaving and planing, I rounded over the corner with 3-4 swipes of the block plane. Then I hand sanded before flipping it over to work on the top.

tool marks to be planed
bottom finished

This picture shows a cabinet scraper on the top. It would have been smart to even out the glue lines with a scraper, but I made the impatient mistake of trying a #5 plane. This produced tearout on half of the glue line which I was never able to recover from.

I cleaned up the top as good as I could with the cabinet scraper and card scraper, frequently checking with denatured alcohol and a raking light. When I was satisfied, I rounded over the top corner with 3-4 swipes of the block plane. Then I hand sanded the entire top.

The last bit of woodworking is to make tabletop buttons. I have not done this before. I read an Andy Rawls’ post on Popular Woodworking about making buttons and decided to try it. In the post he gives credit to Paul Sellers. I could not find the info on Paul’s blog, so maybe it is on youtube.

The grain is oriented so that when struck the pieces separate. I was able to make six pieces quickly which needed only a little fine tuning. These will go into slots (domino mortises) in the aprons.

notches cut for tabletop buttons
ready to be smacked
cleave for me
buttons ready

For finishing I planned on the ash legs and aprons to be ebonized with india ink, while the sassafras top would have shellac.

My first time using ink was on my small dresser, where I used india ink on poplar. The poplar took the ink very well, with none of the downsides I had read about. The first coat provided almost full coverage, with the second coat making it appear richer or fuller. Ash did not behave the same way. In some spots the ink did not soak into the grain. And the grain was raised enough to be scratchy and start snagging the foam brush.

you missed a spot
raised, rough grain

So after one coat I will take a break and think about what to do next. I know I will have to sand these, I just don’t know if I will do it now or wait until more ink or topcoats go on.

The sassafras top I had intended to use a light colored shellac on. I tried Zinnser sealcoat on a piece of scrap, comparing it with garnet shellac. I was disappointed that the sealcoat didn’t do much at all, so switched to using garnet shellac for the top. I applied one coat with a cotton cloth. I saw some dry splotches, so applied a second coat immediately. The top is so large that by the time I get to the ending point, the beginning point is dry.

1-2 coats of garnet shellac

Here it is after 1-2 coats. I think it’s a bit orange-y. Now I don’t know if I will continue to apply a full 5+ coats of garnet shellac or switch to the sealcoat. I also don’t know if I switch to sealcoat if it will smear the underlying garnet coats. So more to think about until tomorrow.

Categories: General Woodworking

Coffee Table 3: Leg & Apron Assembly

Thu, 05/23/2024 - 12:49am

At the end of part one we had a rough elliptical top. At the end of part two we had four tapered legs. For this part we will finish the leg and apron assembly.

I had some 4/4 ash about 3.5-4 inches wide to use for aprons. I set a bevel gauge to a 1:8 ratio and used it to mark angles on the ends when cutting them to length.

ash apron stock
1:8 ratio
two short and two long apron pieces

I tried to clean up the ends on a shooting board by including a cutoff to produce the desired angle. The idea is sound but the execution was poor. It would have worked better if the offcut was more precise or if I used some sandpaper to prevent slipping.

shooting an angled end

I thought the aprons were a little too wide, so planed them to about 3″. I used the same 1:8 angle to mark the tops and bottoms. Since the aprons will be tilted, this keeps their tops and bottoms parallel to the floor. This was also the time to pick which face would be the show face.

you’ve got some planing to do

Before joinery I mark the top of the legs. These pieces will be removed later. I don’t want to place the aprons above these lines.

marked top of legs

For joinery I am using dominos, 6mm thick and 40mm long. First they are glued into the aprons and left to sit overnight.

taped to mark domino locations
glued and clamped. a little.

In the meantime I prepare the legs. On my practice table I made a couple mistakes with the drawbore pins. One is that I did not stagger them on the corners, so they hit each other inside the leg. The second is they did not have clearance on the back side, having their exit holes covered by the aprons.

To keep the pins from intersecting, I staggered the dominos. I already had marked the midline of the dominos, so set a divider to mark the hole locations. The holes are 1/4″ diameter, centered 3/8″ from the edge. I bored 1/4″ holes with a brace and bit. A forstner bit gives clean entry and exit holes, but a carpentry augur cuts quickly in between. A brad point bit might be better, but I don’t have any.

dividers mark spots to drill holes 3/8″ from edge
ragged hole from augur, clean holes from forstner

I had one instance of the holes being too close to each other, illustrated below with the punch going through a hole. I had to redrill these holes after the first pins were in place.

most holes are offset, but some are too close

Later I insert the aprons as far as I can and mark the tenons with a 1/8″ punch in the 1/4″ hole. This will center the hole in the tenons 1/16″ closer to the apron.

1/8 pin in 1/4 hole
marked to drill 1/4 holes

To make sure the pins can go all the way through the legs, I marked the back side of the aprons where I needed to remove material for a clear exit path. I removed this material with a v-gouge. This would not have been necessary if I used thinner aprons. These aprons are almost 1″ thick.

mark where the pins will need room to exit
material removed to allow clearance

To make pegs I split smaller and smaller chunks from an offcut of ash. I did not have a wide chisel so first used a 5-in-1 painters tool. Once the pieces were close to size, I hammered them through a series of smaller washers until they were 1/4″ diameter. I mark the back end with a sharpie and I point the leading end in a pencil sharpener.

splitting pins

I put glue on all the mating surfaces and on the pins. I gather that some people don’t glue the pins. I glued up the short sides first and let them sit overnight. The next day I cut the pins with a flush cut saw and plane them with a block plane or cabinet scraper. I clean up the glue with hot water. Then I add the long aprons.

short sides glued
added long aprons to complete assembly
pegs, front
pegs, back

The last steps are to cut off the top ‘horns’ and do similar for the feet. For the horns the aprons help to keep the saw cutting straight across. For the feet, I take it inside, level it, and mark a line, as shown in a previous post. For this table I cut the lines with a fine tooth saw and chamfered the corners with a block plane. I kept holdfasting and cutting and rotating and planing until all sides were finished.

aprons help keep the saw straight. cut halfway from each direction
the four tops
bottom of leg marked for sawing
lots of clamping and unclamping and rotating

Next I will work on the tabletop.

Categories: General Woodworking

Coffee Table 2: Ripping & Tapering Legs

Sat, 05/11/2024 - 6:01am

I am revisiting the coffee table, of which part 1 showed the making of an elliptical top. The legs and aprons will be ash. For now I am trying to make legs that taper along the outer two sides. The legs will be splayed in the same manner as my splay-legged table project.

cherry and ash stock

I had set aside some 6/4 ash for these legs. Since I knew I would be spending time ripping, I gathered pieces for other upcoming projects. There is 7/4 cherry, 2x construction pine, and 6/4 hickory. The pine and hickory I processed the same as the ash. They will be used for small tables or plant stands also. The cherry I will leave rough and deal with later.

When laying out I look at the ends of the boards to check for diagonal or rift grain. Chris Schwarz called this bastard grain at one time, but I’ve never heard/read anyone else use that phrase. For a 1.5″ thick board it’s usually safe to get a 1.5″ strip off of each end, and sometimes I can get two. The cuts are oriented to maximize straight grain.

ash marked for cutting
ash pieces cut
rough cut ends

I thought ripping by hand would take several sessions over a couple days, but I completed it all in one day. If there’s anything good about ripping by hand, it’s that you can take breaks and do a little at a time.

construction pine and hickory
cherry pieces

This makes legs tapered along one edge. Looking at the skinny end, I have to decide which edge to mark for the second taper. Again the goal is to maximize straight grain.

have to taper either the top or bottom edge

I mark which side I will taper, but save this edge for last. First I will make sure the other three faces are smooth and square. Usually 2-3 of the faces are as cut from the mill, so need minimal work. The edge that I ripped needs the most clean up.

I try to joint two edges and have them square to each other. After that, all references will be from one of these faces. This will also be the inner corner for future joinery.

two planed faces with a square corner

I then plane the third side square before tapering the last face. At some point when planing the third or fourth sides I check the top end for square and decide which face needs thinning.

marked for square

For the last face, the tapered one, a square is marked at the bottom end. This is connected to the square at the top end. Material is removed coarsely with a #5 plane. When the line is reached I switch to the #7 jointer set fine. A few spots needed scraping.

small end marked
second taper marked
#5 coarse
#7 fluffy

Workholding takes some thought. The goal is to hold down securely but still be able to pick up and check without having to unclamp it everytime. My latest method is to use wooden pegs where the plane is nearby, and use battens or does-footses to keep the metal holdfasts out of the way. One day I will make a sticking board.

two pegs and two battens
ash, pine, hickory, cherry

The next step is making the legs/apron assembly. The rough cut top has been sitting patiently, waiting to see how I will smooth the edges.

Categories: General Woodworking

Small Dresser 7: Finished

Tue, 04/30/2024 - 10:31pm

front view

Poplar case with sycamore drawer fronts. Basswood and pine secondary wood.

The drawers are joined with dowels/pins. Dominos were used for the dividers and runners. Liquid hide glue was used for most joints with titebond II for the sides and top.

The poplar is finished with two coats of Speedball india ink and 5-6 coats of Deft spray lacquer. The sycamore is finished with 5-6 coats of Deft spray lacquer. The drawer pulls are brass Lee Valley ‘Round Tapered Ring Pulls’ which I tried to darken with gun bluing solution.

The case is 31″ wide, 28″ high, and 18″ deep. The top adds a little to each dimension. I wanted it no more than 29″ high to fit under a window sill. The drawer fronts are graduated from 3 1/2″ to 7″.

It was good practice for dressers or casework.


This was my first time making drawer slips and muntins. Also my first time making rabbeted/nailed drawers and first time using india ink.

drawer inside
drawer bottom

Once this makes an appearance I will probably be asked to make more dressers. Ironic as I stopped using a dresser 20 years ago.

oblique view

I’m happy with it.

Previous posts in this series:

Categories: General Woodworking

Small Dresser 6: Top, Back, Ebonizing Poplar, Blackening Brass

Mon, 04/29/2024 - 9:21pm

The top has been sitting in my house for months and hasn’t cupped. Tempting fate, I ripped it to plane it, then reglued. I did this to thin it down to 3/4″.

top showing available overhang

After putting the top on the base, I saw there wasn’t much room on the front for an overhang. I decided to simply round over the edges with a plane, preserving as much width as practical. I would have like the top edge to be crisper, but there were some dings or defects that disappeared with planing like this.

edge profile for top

I initially thought I would finish the poplar with something warm, like oil, and finish the sycamore with something clear, like lacquer. But when reading about ebonizing for another project, I saw poplar on a list of woods that ebonize well. So I decided to practice ebonizing.

Speedball India Ink

I practiced on the backside of a pine bead board and the underside of the poplar top. If the point of practicing is to do everything the same on your practice pieces as your project, I failed. Sometimes I used a foam brush, sometimes a foam roller, and sometimes a cotton rag. Sometimes I wiped the excess and sometimes I didn’t. Not so consistent.

practice pine and poplar

For the real deal, I applied two coats of ink, wiping any pooled excess before it dried. I mostly used a 2″ foam brush, but sometimes used a 4″ foam roller to spread the bulk out before switching to the brush.

Reading about using india ink, one of the biggest complaints was it being lifted or smudged on subsequent coats, whether that was a second coat of ink or the first topcoat of another finish. To avoid this, I decided I would spray the first top coat. Since I don’t have spray equipment and don’t want to use polyurethane, that leaves off-the-shelf cans of shellac or lacquer. I chose lacquer so that I could use one product for all pieces, and lacquer would be more clear on the light colored sycamore.

I sprayed the case and top separated, and all five drawer fronts. I finished only the visible sides. Two cans of spray lacquer was enough for 5-6 coats. After 1-2 days I rub all over with a brown paper bag, which makes it feel smoother.

wood grain still visible through ink

The back pieces are pine tongue and groove beadboard. Before fastening, I blackened them. I planned on using pneumatic nails to attach them to the three back rails. Worried the rails were too thin, I glued extra pieces to make them thicker and an easier target for the nail gun. Nailing them was harder than I anticipated. I had to clamp each one to the rails to hold it tight before nailing, otherwise they wanted to bend away.

doubling up back rails for nailing
not much contrast in this picture

When I made the drawers I made their sides extra long, thinking I would trim them after the back was in place.

drawer sides overly long

Now with the back in place, I could trim the back of the drawer sides. I shoved the drawer closed and used a marking gauge to determine how much material to remove from the back. In this way the back of the dresser acts as a drawer stop.

measure from the front
remove from the back

I didn’t plan ahead of time how to fasten the top to the case. Since the top is made out of the same type of wood with the same grain direction as the sides, I don’t need to worry about movement. I ended up drilling holes in the top rails for screws. I think pocket holes through the sides would have been better, but I would have had to drill those holes a few steps ago.

no room for a stubby screwdriver

There wasn’t enough room for a screwdriver to fit, so I used screws with a 1/4 hex head which allowed me to use a ratchet and socket. These screw heads interfered with the closing of the drawer, so I had to remove some material from the drawer backs with a file.

drawer couldn’t be inserted with screw heads in the way
brass hardware with gun blue solution

These are Lee Valley ‘Round Tapered Ring Pulls’. I chose them because they were available in four sizes. I wanted black hardware, but since that is hard to find I thought I would try to blacken brass. I found an old post from a firearms forum showing experiments and results and decided to try Oxpho Blue.

The instructions say to wipe on and keep wet for 60 seconds, then dry. I tried this and it had no effect. I submerged the pieces for several minutes, and that only turned them a dull gray. I ended up soaking the pieces for a long time. They did get very dark but some pieces got a little rough or pitted. I’m not sure I should blame the chemical. Maybe this brass wasn’t a good candidate or I should have done something different.

as black as they’re getting

The rings are mounted in the center of the small drawers, and the wide drawers have two rings lining up below those. I tried to mount the ring pulls centered up-down in each drawer, meaning the pilot hole for the mounting screw had to be above the midline. I set dividers to the radius of the ring and marked where to drill a pilot hole.

measure the radius
drill the top hole to have the center of the ring in the center of the drawer
try to keep in line with each other

Not much left. I have to get some 1/4 plywood for the drawer bottoms. I will wax the mating parts of the drawers and runners. I may add some felt pads under the feet, but will probably wait until I find out where it will be residing.

Categories: General Woodworking

Small Dresser 5: Drawers with Slips and Muntins

Thu, 04/25/2024 - 7:14am

I have been building drawers for the dresser for a while now. I thought I would wait until the last one or two to take pictures, after I got into a routine. But the routine never developed. The steps or techniques changed a little each time.

cardboard frame

To start I made this window out of cardboard the same dimensions as the dresser front. I slid and flipped the boards until I was happy with the orientation, and then marked where to cut.

I fit the drawer pieces one at a time, holding them up to the cavities to make sure they fit. The fronts are sycamore, the sides are basswood, and the backs are pine.

fitting one at a time

I decided to rabbet and nail the sides to the front. The sides aren’t all the same thickness, so I have to mark each one individually. I cut the piece with a fine toothed saw and clean up with a shoulder plane.

each rabbet is marked individually

Once the front piece has rabbets, I crosscut the drawer back to the inter-rabbet distance so it will fit between the sides.

four pieces. back made to match front

The nails are actually wooden pins. The first couple I made from sycamore. That got old quick and I started using dowels.

dowels and skewers
pins ready to go

The thicker ones are 3/16″ and used to fasten the sides to the front. The skinny ones are 1/8″ and fasten the sides to the back. I cut them with diagonal pliers and point the leading end with a chisel or pencil sharpener.

The drawer sides are so thin I decided to make slips for the first time. They always sounded a little complicated or too fancy. I am also making central muntins to hold the bottoms in the wide drawers.

The slips are made on the edge of a 4/4 board. First a 1/4 groove is plowed, then the top corner is rounded over. Last I will rip the length and plane the back flat. The bottom will be planed flush after installing in the drawer. This 4/4 board is about 48″ long, so I get three 16″ slips at a time. The muntin is made similar to a slip, but with the profile on both sides.

flatten edge before grooving
plow groove
round over top edge
two profiles ready to rip from stock

The first four drawers I glued up and pinned all at once. This means I had to drill the pilot holes ahead of time and have the pegs ready to go. For the last drawer I glued it up first and later drilled the holes and inserted pins, which was less stressful.

glue and clamps without pins
pins glued through sides into front

After the four pieces of the box are glued, the slips and muntin are applied. Slips are just glued into place, taking care to line up their grooves with the drawer front. Slips also require a little notch to fit under the back. The muntins were dovetailed into the drawer front. Both the front and back of the muntins were also fastened with 1/8″ skewers. I’m not opposed to using screws but the first one I tried looked like it was going to blow out the sides.

muntin made to fit drawer front before gluing
gluing muntin and slips
five drawers rough fitted

I still have to fine tune these into their openings. I will plane the edges trying to get a better reveal. I also need to get some plywood for the drawer bottoms. I plan to glue the drawer bottom all around to hopefully make up for the thinness of the sides and back.

Bigger next steps will be to attach the dresser back and top, finish, and add hardware.

Categories: General Woodworking

Coffee Table 1: Sassafras Top

Sat, 04/13/2024 - 10:29pm

My next big project is a coffee table. The top will be an ellipse made out of sassafras. The legs and aprons will be ash.

sassafras pieces

I had a few 5/4 sassafras boards 8-9 feet long, which when cut in half yielded pieces 48-54″. They went through the planer to remove twist and add snipe. Then I shuffled and flipped them around to finalize their orientation before edge jointing and gluing.

jointed and oriented

Before gluing I thought to rough in the ellipse. I planned to use dominos to line up the edges while gluing and didn’t want to later cut the edge of the ellipse right through a domino.

two foci and string for ellipse

There are many tutorials about how to make an ellipse. I found blocklayer.com helpful. I entered the dimensions I wanted to end up with, and they told me where to put the foci. Since my rough dimensions were 54″ long and 33.5″ wide, I went with 49.5″ x 33″. A wholesome 3:2 ratio which will also cut off the sniped ends. At this point I did not trace the entire ellipse, I only made tick marks to note where not to put dominos.

Glue up was in sections, not all five boards at once.

ellipse drawn with tape, string, and sharpie

After gluing, I drew an ellipse on the underside of the tabletop. When reading about making an ellipse, I thought I would use screws. But this blue painter’s tape worked well enough for practice that I didn’t feel the need to try anything else. The string is cheap ‘mason line’. It kept fraying and getting tangled with a mechanical pencil, but worked well with a generic sharpie.

ready to cut off corners

To cut the edges I used a japanese saw and cut off a series of smaller and smaller triangles. Straddling the bench like this I could work on opposite corners while not having to adjust the holdfasts so often.

rough cut edge

The saw gets me this close. I’m not sure how I will smooth the edge. I frequently use rasps and files, but have never had to do something so large. I have a spokeshave hiding in a drawer somewhere, but I remember it being jumpy and chattery. For now I will take a break.

top side
Categories: General Woodworking

Youtube Logo & Nintendo Switch & Diamond Stand

Fri, 04/12/2024 - 10:36pm

The following are projects I did with my son.

I tried to get him interested in a woodworking project and he proposed a youtube award. Looking it up, I saw that youtube creator awards are metallic plaques.

Mixedmorris, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons

After agreeing that wasn’t a woodworking project per se, we settled on making the youtube logo.

trace through paper onto basswood

The logo was printed out and traced onto basswood. The wood is soft enough that pen will leave impressions. Defining cuts were made around the triangle and the outer edges, and then the background was removed with gouges.

gouging the background

My son did most or all of this work. I told him to point the sharp end away from him, and to keep both hands behind the sharp end. Still it was stressful (for me).

After the carving was done, the piece was cut out from the basswood and the corners were smoothed.

rounding the corners

Then it was painted with craft paint.

wooden nintendo switch

The nintendo switch was a quick project. A blank was cut from maple and the corners smoothed with a file. For the round buttons we made crude dowels and crosscut into discs. It was painted in a few sessions using frog tape to keep crisp edges. The black buttons were ‘painted’ with a sharpie.

This was completed in one day, aside from letting the glue dry overnight.

Most recently we made a diamond shape with feet.

concept art

The shape was drawn freehand on a piece of sycamore, then the lines were straightened up before sawing.

positioning to saw

A japanese saw was used for straight cuts and a coping saw for the curves. My son decided to carve only inside the heart shape and not the entire background.

ready to paint

Now he tells me I need to build a table to keep them on.

Categories: General Woodworking

Estate Sales & Thrift Stores & Sharpening

Thu, 04/04/2024 - 9:31am

I recently moved and the old tools are better up here.

I bid on and won a lot from an estate auction. There were several lots and each included some molding planes or uncommon tools like drawknives. Whoever left this estate did some oldtimey woodworking.

online picture

This was my lot for $10-15. I regret not bidding on the others. At the time I was new to estate auctions and thought there would be sniping or shilling or a runup at the end like there is on ebay.

The plow plane has a mark on the top which looks like a gear or a circular saw with a few indistinct letters. I searched ebay and saw a similar one but no information. If anyone knows the type I’d be happy to hear it. The blade is made out of an old file.

plow plane w blade
plow stamp

The longer plane I thought was a jointer but I guess is not long enough. It is about 21″ long. Maybe it’s a try or fore plane? The blade is very thick and tapered and has a beehive symbol. I can’t find any stamps on the plane.

fore? plane
fore plane blade
thick tapered blade

The smaller plane I assume is a smoother. There is a stanley blade which is almost worn away. The front says SANDUSKY 3.

smoother plane
smoother blade

These are my first wooden planes. I’ve heard good things and have been wanting to try some. For now I only plan on sharpening the blades and seeing if they work.

After that the pickings have been slimmer. I haven’t seen any molding planes or drawknives since. I often see useable old bench planes but don’t get them because I don’t need them and/or the price is too high.

As for thrift stores, my favorite has been the Habitat for Humanity Restore. Each place I’ve lived has had at least one, and they are all different. Until now I’ve rarely seen decent handtools, although I once found a sawset that the lady asked me if it was a dental tool.

hfh handsaws
hfh braces

At my newest stop I was surprised to see not only handsaws, but braces. Most of them were newer and plastic-y, but a couple of the older ones came home with me. I will probably keep a couple set up with my most common bits, like some people change routers rather than change bits.

old braces, $5 each

Some people online act like acquiring an old brace or handplane is no big deal, but I think that’s only true in some locations. Where I’m from “old handtools” for sale means black & decker drills and skilsaws.

The last couple days I have been grinding and sharpening. For a long time I used sandpaper on glass plates, but mostly didn’t sharpen. In the last few years I got diamond plates, Sharpen This by Christopher Schwarz, and am now feeling more comfortable. I’ve considered building holders for the plates but also like the versatility of putting them in different orientations.

diamond plates

I previously turned a couple of old screwdrivers into awls. One of the screwdrivers had a square shank so it was turned into a birdcage awl. This time I touched up those awls, made a new one, and tried to make a fishtail chisel, which doesn’t look very promising. I don’t expect much from screwdriver shanks but they repurpose trash tools and are good practice. If I get happy with a technique or profile I can use better steel.

grinder experiments
birdcage awl and 3/16 hole it makes

This sharpening session I started with the low value items like lawnmower blade, hatchets, and scrap screwdrivers. Then I work up to the high value items like plane blades, chisels, and gouges.

It takes me several days from setting this stuff up to taking it down. I would probably do it more frequently if these sharpening supplies were not in three separate locations under and behind other things. Next I’ll set the ‘portable’ planer on the bench and take a few days to plane a couple pieces of wood.

Categories: General Woodworking

Trip(s) to Lumberyard

Thu, 03/28/2024 - 10:22pm

The goal when starting my small dresser project was to use up some of my scrap and not have to purchase anything. So far I’ve had to purchase some pine at the big box store, and now I’ve taken a trip to the lumberyard. And I still don’t have the plywood for the drawer bottoms.

I remember reading someone’s description on reddit that there’s two kinds of lumberyards. Some sell to professionals and won’t give you the time of day. And some cater to hobbyists and are friendly and helpful. The trick is to find the right one. I have found that to be true. I had only been to this lumberyard once before, but it’s my new favorite.

When I first started buying hardwood, I looked for wood species that had a reputation for being easy to work with handtools. The shortlist was poplar, cherry, walnut, and soft maple. My current lumberyard has those, along with harder woods like oak, elm, and locust.

They keep the boards stacked on end, so you can pivot and shuffle the boards to see their faces.

sassafras bin

I do not worry about calculating board feet, but do try to itemize the pieces I need. For example a tabletop would require enough boards to glue up a top, some narrower aprons, and some thick legs. And if the top is 20″ wide, I’ll have to decide to glue up two 10″ wide boards, vs three or more narrower boards.


My current lumberyard sells ‘shorts’ less than four feet for a discount. There are at least four bins like this. I rarely need pieces longer than four feet, so they are always worth a look.

For this visit I only needed some basswood for drawer sides. But I stocked up for future projects that are far enough along to have an idea of how much wood I’d need. The big purchases are cherry, ash, and sassafras. Other purchases are impulse buys or just to add to the stockpile.

i only needed a piece of basswood

This picture shows the first days haul. From left to right is walnut, butternut, basswood, sassafras, ash, and cherry. Yes I drive a small car. If I fold down the seats I can get nine foot long boards stretching from the passenger dashboard to the trunk. Boards usually fit ok. Sheet goods are a problem.

After a few weeks I made a second trip. I miscalculated or miscut some sassafras pieces so had to go get one or two more.

i only needed a piece of sassafras

Left to right is hickory, catalpa, white oak, ash, sassafras, basswood, and a funky piece of sycamore. The sycamore was free, an odd sized offcut they were giving away. Catalpa has been on my shortlist of woods to try. I figured I might as well buy it since I might never see it again. The wood database says it’s carveable and weather resistant so I might cut off a few ends to try some outdoor carvings.

Hopefully I won’t have to go back soon.

A list of projects in various stages of gestation:

  • Small Dresser – poplar, sycamore
  • Coffee Table – sassafras, ash
  • Printer Stand – walnut, butternut
  • Hall Table – cherry
  • Splay Legged Table – butternut, ash
  • Splay Legged Table 2 – walnut, hickory
  • Splay Legged Table 3 – basswood, southern yellow pine
  • Five Board Bench – white oak

Now to stop planning more projects and actually get to building.

Categories: General Woodworking

Splay Legged Table 4: Finished

Sun, 03/24/2024 - 12:15am

I spent a morning sanding all of the ash pieces from 80 – 120 -180 grit. I’d prefer to sand as little as possible but I think it was the best choice after being glued up.

setup for spraying lacquer

I sprayed minwax satin lacquer, with 5 coats for the visible parts and 2-3 coats for the top overhang. I planned to mask the aprons and only lacquer the ash components, but I was too lazy. So the aprons have two coats of shellac followed by all that lacquer. One can was enough for all coats. I let it air out overnight, rubbed it all over with a brown paper bag, and then screwed the top on.

that’s some top

I think the top is way too big. I thought that I had to make it as big as the footprint, so that the feet would be inside the shadow of the top. I’m not sure if that’s a good rule of thumb or if I made that up. The legs had a 1:6 angle. If the angle were tighter the top could be smaller.

I could remove the top and rip it smaller but will leave it for a while and likely forget about it. If it’s like every other flat surface in my house it will soon be covered in junk.


I plan to make a coffee table with splayed legs, and this project was about working out the details of the angled aprons mating with the splayed legs. An important note is that the legs are tapered all the way on their -outside- edges. This is different from traditional tapered legs which are tapered up to the aprons on the inside.

drawing of leg tapers

I got this insight from Walbert Compendium blog post “Building a Splay-Legged Table with Handtools” where he correctly notes that most information you’ll find is aimed at power tool users. Another helpful article was Fine Woodworking #168 “Splay Legged Table” by Garrett Hack. You can see how searching for “trapezoid table” didn’t get so many helpful hits.

This was also good practice for pinning tenons, which I hope to use in a hall table soon. Also practice for carving, where the most important lesson I learned was to use simple designs. And plane/sand your wood before carving because you won’t be able to after.

Despite being unhappy with one aspect it was a worthwhile project. Halfway through I was already planning the next one. Although simple there are a few components that can be varied: Which types of wood to use, height, angle of splay, shape of top, etc. And if I continue carving the aprons that will be four pieces each time. For now I think the best carving woods I have are basswood and walnut, so will try to find complementary wood species to continue having the legs and top be a different color than the aprons.

not bad
Categories: General Woodworking

Splay Legged Table 3: Glue-up and Top

Fri, 03/22/2024 - 10:34pm

I tried blonde shellac, garnet shellac, and spray lacquer on the butternut aprons. Garnet shellac won. I gave each apron two coats of garnet shellac before gluing-up. The ash legs are unfinished for now, and the plan is to lacquer them.

I made a couple mistakes with the pinning of the tenons. The most obvious is that I drilled the holes on adjacent sides in line with each other, so that the second set of pins could not go through after the first pins were in place.

how are the next pins supposed to go through?

I bored these holes again, removing some of the existing pins. They are still holding the tenon in place, there’s just less engaged on the far side. A less critical error was not providing room for the exit holes on the inside of the legs. Some holes were clear but many were covered up by the aprons.

where are the pins going to exit?

I could still insert the pins, just not pound them all the way through.

I glued up two sections, each having an apron and two legs, then let sit overnight. I didn’t bother clamping, just let the drawbores do their job. The next day I added the remaining two aprons and completed the assembly.

yellow frog tape for glue squeeze out
gap and clamp

This picture shows two things. There is a gap on the right side, which I believe is from the holes in my tenons being out of line. Rather than draw things tighter, they pushed things apart. Also notice the clamp on top. The assembly was not square, so I steamed the joints to soften the glue, then used the clamp to draw it squarer and let it set.

After the assembly was finished, I had to even out the top and bottoms of the legs, and then make a top. Since the legs are kicked out at an angle, the tops and bottoms are angled also. I used a bevel gauge to mark the tops of the legs. This is the same 1:6 ratio which was used for the ends of the aprons.

bevel gauge to mark tops of legs

After doing this once or twice I realized I could skip the bevel gauge and just eyeball it, keeping the saw inline with the tops of the aprons. After all, this part will be tucked up under the table.

saw both outside edges and then through

To mark and cut the bottoms of the legs, I brought the table inside to a level part of the floor. Easier said than done. Then I shimmed the short legs with washers while using a level (not pictured) on the top.

washers as shims
scribe with pencil
bottom of legs ready for sawing

After sawing the bottoms of the legs, it would have been a good time to add a little chamfer with a plane. But I have decided to sand the ash legs and top, so will round over the edges later with the sander.

To make the top, I cut up this nice ash board that was 12-13″ wide and six feet long.

wide ash board for table top

I almost hated to cut it up, but it was the only suitable piece I had. And why did I get it if not to use it? I cut two pieces about 22″ long and glued them together to make a top about 22 x 25.

deciding orientation of top

To square up the top I had to rip a couple inches off of the two long grain ends. Then the short grain ends were uneven and it was easier to saw them than to plane them.

need to strighten up the edges

I wanted to chamfer the bottom of the table top so it didn’t appear so thick. The top was about 7/8″ thick, so I set a marking gauge for half of that and marked around the edges. The top had a 3.5″ overhang so I marked lines a little less than that to begin the chamfer.

marking underside to chamfer

I used a batten along the lines and planed the bulk of the material with a #5 plane, switching to a #7 when approaching the line. The end grain or short grain sides are planed first, so any tear out at the corners will be cleaned up when planing the long grain sides. This is good practice for raised panels, but lower stakes as it’s mostly not seen.

batten for planing chamfer
end grain chamfer

Since the plane blades don’t extend all the way to the edges like a rabbet or shoulder plane, the cuts don’t extend all the way to the batten. I didn’t plan for that but it will be consistent all around.

Later as the long grain is planed, you can see the corners slowly develop into nice angled lines.

already overshot the outside corner
this corner looks better

After completing the top I had to decide on fasteners. I found some in my junk drawers. I’m not even sure if these are tabletop fasteners or if they’re random ikea hardware, but they look like they’ll work. I had to make little mortises by drilling small holes and mortising with a 1/8 chisel. Each side will get one fastener around the middle of the apron. The two on the sides will be tight and the two front and back will be loose to allow for movement.

table top fasteners

So the top and base are ready. The butternut aprons have already been finished with two coats of garnet shellac. The plan is to sand the ash top and legs to 150-180 grit and then spray lacquer.

Categories: General Woodworking

Splay Legged Table 2: Aprons and Pins

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 10:49pm

gluing dominos into aprons

The aprons and the legs were marked for dominos. The leg mortises ended up overlapping, so I cut half of the tenons short. I planned on drawboring them, but not sure if that will work on the short ones.

not enough room. need to trim or miter the tenons.

Since the aprons are tilted outwards, their tops and bottoms are not parallel with the top or floor. I didn’t think to bevel the top edge before mortising. I decided to leave them alone. The angle isn’t extreme and adjusting them after might change how everything lines up. I did bevel the bottom edges.

beveling bottom edge

For carvings I selected four images. They are Japanese kamon, or family crests. These are taken from the book Japanese Motifs in Contemporary Design. It is interesting that one motif, like a cherry flower, can be displayed in different ways. You don’t need the book, I found the Do You Know Japan website which has an exhaustive list of images.

plum blossoms image to trace

I took pictures from the book, adjusted the images to 4″ across and printed them out. The hard part is getting the image onto the wood. Ultimately I taped the paper to the wood, and traced with a ball point pen. This left impressions which I penciled in. In the past I’ve used graphite paper to do it all in one step, but the graphite paper wasn’t cooperating this time. Carving right through the paper is an option, too.

pencil in impressions, nailset for small holes

This was meant to be practice and it was. The simple designs went quickly but the gingko and ipomoea took a lot of time and maybe weren’t good designs for carving in the first place.

plum, cherry
gingko, ipomoea

For attaching the aprons to the legs I will drawbore or pin the domino tenons. I have never done this before. This required making pegs and making test joints. It took 4-5 iterations of drawboring to be comfortable. The holes are 1/4″ with the tenon marked with a 1/8″ center punch, making a 1/16″ offset. Paul Sellers told me I could make pegs by driving stock through washers, and he was right. I tried pins from butternut and ash, and will use ash as it’s stronger and looks better. I will need 16 for the table, and a few extra to be safe.

don’t believe the numbers on the washers
hope nobody’s trying to sleep

Now it feels like I am on the home stretch. I will try shellac and lacquer finishes for the aprons, and decide whether to finish the pieces separately before gluing. Then I can start gluing up in stages, even out the legs, and make a top.

drawbore the long ones, pin the short ones
Categories: General Woodworking

Carving Practice

Mon, 03/04/2024 - 8:28pm

Since I committed to carving some table aprons I figured I should practice. For this I made a piece from Lora Irish’s book Relief Carving Workshop.

Before getting to that, I dug out my older practice pieces and took pictures to share. These are from Mary May Carving online lessons. The first eight or so lessons are free. I recommend them.


Here is the very first carving, a whale. Or zooplankton. Definitely aquatic.


Next we have a donut, a lesson in reading the grain.


A simple flower. Things are starting to look better!


Finally a camellia. This and the others were recommended to be in basswood. I did not have basswood and used pine.

Incised G L
Incised J W

After these beginner lessons I did a few projects with incised lettering. There are many teachers and methods; I used this video lesson from David Reilly. I bought a basswood plaque from Michael’s and cut it in half, making two boards for my two children. Another example of lettering is the sliding door shelf I made for my daughter.

basswood practice board, 2″ squares

That brings us to the present, and Lora Irish’s practice board. She recommended a piece 11 x 14. I had a 5″ board so was able to glue up a board about 10 x 13. The board was then divided into a grid of squares. The first 22 squares were simple carvings, and the remaining three were larger and more complex. As a side note, basswood really is a pleasant wood to work with. If you want a beginner friendly wood for sawing and planing, basswood is it.

in progress

A few of the carvings look similar because the instructions were like “On this square try something with a knife. On the next square try the same thing with a v-gouge.” That is one difference between Mary May and Lora Irish. Mary May uses gouges for everything whereas Lora Irish frequently uses a knife. I do not have a carving knife so used gouges for everything.


In the past I fastened the workpiece to a corner of the bench with a holdfast, having to reposition frequently. For this piece I was able to place it against my shooting board and did not use clamps or holdfasts at all.


I think I do okay when following lessons, but for my project I will be trying something new. I am looking for clipart-type images and adapting them for carving.

Categories: General Woodworking

Splay Legged Table 1: Ash Legs and Butternut Aprons

Thu, 02/29/2024 - 7:56am

“Trapezoid table” is what I’ve been calling it in my mind, but “splay legged table” seems to get more hits when searching. Trapezoid refers to the shape of the aprons, not the table top.

I wanted to build a small table with splayed legs. There are lots of examples of coffee tables with the legs splayed in one direction, but I wanted them splayed in both directions. After thinking about angling the legs I decided to make trapezoid shaped aprons. This would kick the legs out. But I was unsure if I needed to bevel the edge where the apron mated with the leg as well. So rather than making a test joint, I decided to make a test table.

rough idea

I had been thinking of making a few small items like this. They could be in different heights or shapes and made out of different species of wood. They might end up as small tables, plant stands, or stools. Also I could get some carving practice in by carving the aprons. Four aprons are just asking for four complimentary carvings like Mario, Luigi, Princess, and Toad. Although I’m not sure about that Toad guy.

Scavenging what I have available, I decided on butternut aprons and ash legs. I’m not sure on the top yet. Either species would work but the ash I have is thicker than the butternut.

ash end grain

I picked ash for the legs mostly because it’s the only thick wood I have that’s not spoken for. This is 6/4 thickness. Laying out four legs 22″ long, I tried to orient the grain to run full length with no runout. I nested the legs to fit tighter. Two out of the four turned out well, one was acceptable, and one was not ideal.

nested layout
first leg ripped

I ripped the ash with my new saw. This is a bear saw 333. I had been looking for saws longer than the common 270mm and this one was available from multiple vendors for $30-35. It seems to be more of a construction type saw, with a wide sloppy kerf. It came with a curved grip which I didn’t like for two reasons. One is that I sometimes use a two handed grip, and the other is that it gets in the way when tilting the saw low to the face of the wood. But I had an old straight handle in the drawer and was able to swap it. Overall I am happy with the saw, it rips faster than the rip side of a ryoba. The other saw I thought of buying was the Z-Saw 333, but that will have to wait.

four legs ripped, and saw comparison

When ripping the legs out I left some extra room for the kerf wandering and cleaning up. The goal was to have the tops be 1.5″ squares and the bottoms 3/4″ squares, tapered on two sides. One taper was taken care of in the initial ripping.

laying out second taper

The second taper was laid out to optimize the grain. I sawed wide of the line. A drawknife may have worked better. Then I planed to the line, marking which direction to plane to minimize tearout. I had to position the short end at the end of the bench so that the plane wouldn’t hit the bench.

hard to position a narrow piece for sawing
mark to help plane the right direction

I have a veritas 1:6 saddle for dovetails, and used it to set a bevel gauge. I double checked the 1:6 ratio with a square. My goal is to only set this once, and use it for all angles.

trapezoid aprons layout

The trapezoid aprons I laid out on a piece of butternut a bit wider than 9″. These were cut out. At this point the widths and lengths are uneven. I will have to make sure they are the same lengths before joining.

rough cut pieces
rough dimensions

Here is a rough fit after getting the pieces cut out. The width across the bottom is 20-21 inches. To have all the legs fit under the top, the top will have to be at least a 21 inch square. I considered a circular top but don’t want to obscure the aprons.

I evened up the sides and planed the ends with a shooting board. To hold the piece at the right angle, I cut a scrap wedge with a complimentary angle to place behind the apron while shooting the end.

wedge keeps end at correct angle

This table is ending up bigger than I imagined when I was thinking of stools or plant stands. I chose the 1.5″ thick legs first, and then the dimensions for the aprons to compliment that. Picking a couch that lacks a table, I decided 22″ would be a good height, so that’s the plan for now.

time to start keeping track of orientation

If I were cutting tenons that would complicate the cutting out. Either the tenons or mortises would have to be angled. I will domino these so can use butt joints. The next steps are to carefully lay out the domino locations, dry fit everything, glue the dominos into the aprons, and carve the aprons. The aprons will be tilted, so at some point I will have to bevel their top and bottom edges. The legs will also need their tops and bottoms cut parallel to the floor.

The species and size of the top is up in the air, as are the carvings and the finishing.

Categories: General Woodworking

Small Dresser 4: Dividers & Carcase

Sat, 02/17/2024 - 2:39am

At the end of last session I had two squared up sides and eight dividers of equal length. I first thought to pocket screw the dividers to the sides. Long term I would like to try dovetailing dividers into the sides. Dadoing the sides would also be a good idea, but I didn’t feel like chiseling and router planing out all that waste. For now I’m just trying to get things done. Better looking dividers will have to wait for another project.

I decided to domino the dividers in place. I bought a domino a couple months ago and this will be my largest project to date using it. I marked locations for the dividers on the inner sides and glued dominos in place. Then I dry fit the rails, set it upright, and clamped it to keep it from falling apart.

dry fit

In this position I marked and fit the remaining pieces—the drawer runners, the toekick, and the middle dividers for the upper section that would have two drawers side by side.

For the bottom I made a three piece toekick with mitered corners. This caused me a few problems as I don’t have a miter box, a miter shooting board, or any good way to make perfect 45° miters. I tried just carefully laying out and cutting the line. I was unhappy with the gaps on the first miter so I tried to saw through the joint to minimize the gap. It didn’t look much better afterwards.

1st miter

So for the second miter I glued it up straight from the saw cut. It didn’t look any better, I just wasted less time getting there. Luckily this project only had two miters and they’re finished. Also luckily, they’re at floor level.

2nd miter

After gluing the toekick and fitting in place, there were some gaps at the outside edges. So I glued on some thin wedges and planed them to fit the gap.

Gluing on wedge

I saw this mitered three piece toekick in Christian Becksvoort’s Shaker Legacy, and have since seen it in other pictures of Shaker furniture. At first I thought I would curve the toekick since I curved the sides, but I later decided the curve didn’t fit with the squareness of it. So the dresser front will have a square blocky bottom, and the sides will have curves.

fitting into place
Runner, twisted

For the runners, I ripped lengths of 1.25-1.5 inch wide poplar the same thickness as the front dividers or rails. They are dominoed and glued to the front divider to create a U or horseshoe shape. Some of the runners will run all the way to a back rail, and some will be fastened to the case sides.

notches for screws

I cut notches for the runners that will be fastened to the side. This allows using shorter screws.

Before gluing-up I did some minor cleanup of the case sides like planing the glue lines, scraping, and soaking dents and dings.


The titebond genuine hide glue recommends a minimum temperature of 50 degrees, so I had to heat the garage for a while. I could have taken everything indoors but then I would have to run back and forth everytime I forgot something.

Glue-up with clamps

During glue-up I had three incidents. In the picture above you can see the middle of the top back rail has a lonely mortise without a tenon. I had to replace that quickly. And while fastening everything I found one drawer runner that was installed upside down.

runner, flipped

This was less critical to fix quickly, as it was glued only at the front. I waited long enough that I had to soften the glue. I use a clothes steamer for this.


I place it under the joint and lock it into the on position so steam pours out. It takes 30-60 seconds to loosen the joint.

The third incident was I heard a CRACK while tightening a clamp. So far I haven’t found out what made the noise, so I am thinking it was a “good luck” CRACK.

runners, expansion

This picture shows the two types of runners and how they account for movement. At top a runner is screwed to the side, with a slot (domino mortise) to allow for movement. The blurrier runner at the bottom is loose tenoned into the back rail. This tenon is free to move in and out as the side moves. The front and back rails are tenoned and glued to the sides. The runner is glued to the front rail but not the back rail or case side.

clamps off

Glue-up complete, the next big part of the project will be to make and fit drawers.

Categories: General Woodworking

Small Dresser 3: Planing

Thu, 02/08/2024 - 11:42am

It’s been a while since last update. Cold weather minimizes working time and also leads to school closures and altered schedules. I have also been working on other areas of the blog like a list of links and a contact form.

pine secondary wood

I purchased some pine from the big box store. The beaded pieces will be used for the back, while the 1/2″ thick pieces will be drawer backs.

The biggest update since last visit is I have purchased a 12 1/2″ planer. So some of my time has been spent practicing and learning. One way to practice was to plane all of the divider pieces. They started out 3/4″ or thicker.

planed divider pieces

I meant to make them 1/2″ but they came out slightly thinner.

I wanted eight of the pieces to be a matching length. I picked the shortest one and squared up its ends on a shooting board. I used this one piece to mark all the other pieces. They all required trimming followed by shooting. These eight pieces will be the long dividers going side-to-side. Any front-to-back drawer runners or kickers will be cut to fit later.

trimming dividers to length

As for the dresser sides, they cupped more after I set them indoors to acclimate. I decided to rip them, plane them, and try to glue them back straighter.

ripped to fit through planer

The sides were almost an inch thick and I planed them down to 3/4″. After reading a Stan Covington blog post I tried jointing them on their sides rather than upright in a vise. This method assumes some flat surfaces and a straight plane blade, but less fussy than a vise.

edge jointing on side

This worked well and I was able to reglue the sides much straighter.

Next I clamped the two side pieces together to make sure they were the same dimensions, their edges were straight, and the corners were square.

For the bottom I cut out a small curve. Both side pieces will be cut at once. Later I will add a toekick to the front with a similar curve.

layout curved bottom

I cut out the curve with a coping saw. A few cross cuts are made to allow smaller pieces to fall out and to give pauses to reorient the saw.

cutting out curve

To clean up I use rasps and files. Years ago I bought a pack of rasps and files for about $9, maybe from harbor freight. As I learned which ones I used the most I replaced them with better ones. In the picture, the top most file is a cheapy. I use it like metal sandpaper. The bottom rasp is from Lee Valley. The middle one is my favorite, again from Lee Valley, the Japanese Milled Tooth File. It is aggressive like a rasp but leaves a smoother surface. To smooth these curves I would use an aggressive one first to smooth out the bumps and irregular sawcut, then follow up with the fine file.

cleanup with rasps and files

So that brings us to the present. The sides are square and dimensioned. The crossways dividers are ready. The next step(s) will be to mark and join and install all of the dividers and drawer supports.

Categories: General Woodworking