Side Hung Drawer

Drawers have been a common feature on casework for almost as long as casework has been constructed.  The most prevalent style of drawer arrangement used in furniture today is based upon the style developed in the 18th century. Basically, a frame is constructed to divide the casework into sections and the drawers are constructed to fit the opening, and ride on top of the frame.

In the 17th century, however, most drawers were side hung, meaning that the drawers did not sit on top of a frame, but instead they hung by runners attached to the drawer sides. This was done in two different ways. The drawer could have small strips nailed to its side to form a groove, or a groove could be plowed directly into the drawer side. I wanted to add a small drawer to my workbench since I recently move my old standing desk out of the shop. So I decided to use the 17th century style drawer construction to do so.

Drawer runners made from 3/4" wide x 3/8" thick pine.
Drawer runners made from 3/4″ wide x 3/8″ thick pine.

I started with the drawer runners.  I ripped these out of a 3/4″ thick piece of pine.  They are both 3/8″ thick by 3/4″ wide and long enough to support the sides of the drawer for as deep as it will be.

Drawer runner glued and nailed to inside of workbench apron.
Drawer runner glued and nailed to inside of workbench apron.

The drawer runners were attached to the insides of the workbench aprons with glue and cut brads.  They are spaced down from the top of the drawer space so that they will sit approximately centered on the sides of the drawers when the drawer is mounted.

now THAT'S a dovetail.
Now THAT’S a dovetail.

To facilitate the groove on the side of the drawer for the drawer runner, 17th century drawers were often constructed using just a single wide dovetail. Using the wide dovetail allowed the wide groove for the drawer runner to be plowed only through the long grain of the drawer sides and not have to be cut through any end grain pins. I decided to follow that practice with these drawers.

The groove is wide and shallow.
The groove is wide and shallow.

The groove was started with a 1/4″ blade in a plow plane.  However, this didn’t plow the full width necessary.  So instead of resetting the fence and moving the plow plane over, I used a sash saw to saw the other side of the groove, then wasted away the remaining wood with a chisel and smoothed the bottom of the groove with a 1/2″ square rabbet plane.

Test fitting without the false front.
Test fitting without the false front.

With a minimal amount of trimming and planing, the drawer was fit into the opening under the bench top. The runners weren’t exactly centered on the drawer sides but instead ended up centered on the total drawer height.  I miscalculated when positioning the runners because I was using the full height of the false front rather than the reduced height of the drawer sides.  The height of the sides was reduced by 1/2″ because the drawer bottom is attached by nailing it to the sides front and back.  C’est la vie.  It still works fine, even if the drawer runners aren’t centered on the dovetail.

The last thing to do was to attach a false front to cover everything up.

The false front is glued and nailed in place from the inside.
The false front is glued and nailed in place from the inside.
Drawer closed.
Drawer closed.
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Never Say Never Again

Christmas is a time of giving, right? And while my wife and I don’t exchange Christmas gifts with each other, I decided to give myself a gift this year. You could call it a New Years gift, since I didn’t have it for Christmas. But I will get a lot of use out of it in the new year.

You see, in our previous house, I had a much larger shop in the basement. There was plenty of room for a jointer, planer, bandsaw and table saw, plus my workbench, and a big area of kitchen style cabinets and counter top for dirty work and my bench top drill press. Wait, a table saw???? Sounds nothing like my current setup, right?

When we moved into our current house, I was forced to downsize. Well, maybe forced isn’t the right word. I was faced with a decision. I could keep the bigger shop setup with all of the machines and make my new home in the unheated and uncooled garage, or I could get rid of the machines and set up an all hand tool shop in a small office space attached to our family room. Since I had already been working almost totally by hand for several years before we moved anyway, I chose to ditch the machines and keep the climate control 🙂 .

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But I digress. One thing that I had in my old shop that I would have to make a decision on for my new, smaller shop was a dedicated sharpening area. I only had one spot available for such a setup and I really wanted to put a standing desk in that spot for minor odds and ends and for laying drawings while I was building a project. So I decided I would pass on the dedicated sharpening area and keep my sharpening stones on the shelf under my work bench and take them out when I needed to sharpen.

I’ve worked this way for almost a decade now, and you know what? I’ve really missed my dedicated sharpening bench. So I decided that this was the year I would remedy that problem and build a new one. I repurposed the standing desk to my daughters and opened up a spot for a new sharpening bench.

Here’s the thing though. I also wanted a portable workbench for when I do demos at different places. So really what I built was a mini workbench. When it’s in the shop I’ll use it as a sharpening bench. But I designed it in such a way that it can be quickly and easily disassembled and put into the back of my hatchback. It is only 4 parts, has no hardware, and can be disassembled and assembled in less than a minute each.

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However, workbenches need a solid, flat top. In order to have a rigid, heavy top in such a small package, I decided to laminate the top out of doug fir 4 x 4s. It worked, but if you’ve been reading my musings for any length of time, you know how I feel about laminating tops for workbenches. If you’re new to the blog, let’s just say that laminating workbench tops by hand for me is about as fun and probably just as painful as a DIY bikini wax with duct tape would be.

So I spent the afternoon today leveling the laminations and flattening the top. Really it was probably only about an hour to an hour and a half of work, but it was work I’m not fond of doing. Now that it’s done though, I’m glad I did it. After a few coats of varnish to seal the top up to keep it relatively clean, I’ll have a nice new sharpening bench and a second workbench for those times when it would be nice to have two.

And while I’d like to say I’ll never laminate another workbench top again, like the aging Bond, this aging woodworker now knows to never say never.

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Happy 2015 everyone!

Wide Construction Lumber for a Workbench

I get this question a lot ever since building my Nicholson inspired workbench.

workbench02

Has your workbench exploded yet from the twisting and warping that has undoubtedly occurred as a result of your use of those wide construction grade boards?

OK. So maybe the questions aren’t worded exactly like that. But I do get a lot of questions about using wide construction grade lumber for a workbench and how to prevent the resulting bench from self destructing. Personally I think this concern is a bit over hyped, but there are some things you should do when building your bench to make sure you don’t have too many problems down the road.

The #1 trick to using wide 2X construction boards for a workbench is to make sure they are dry before you use them. The construction grade 2X stock that many home centers carry is not kiln dried. This means that the miosture content of that stock is going to be very high. Too high to work with right away. If you can, find a supplier who sells 2X stock that has been kiln dried. I was able to buy kiln dried 2X stock for my workbench. So once I brought the boards into my shop and left them stickered there for a couple of months, I could be sure they wouldn’t move much after building the workbench. Since the boards will stay in the shop after the bench is built, the best place to equilibrate them is in the shop space.

If you are not blessed with a supplier in your area that sells kiln dried 2X material, all is not lost. You will simply need to let the boards sit and dry for much longer than you will with kiln dried stock. Bring them into your shop, stack and sticker the boards, and let them sit for several months. Check the moisture content once every week or so and don’t work with the boards until the moisture content stays relatively constant. After they are dry, you may have to re-flatten them, but if you chose your boards carefully, you may not have to flatten them much, if at all.

That brings me to tip #2 for using wide construction grade timber for a workbench. Choose your stock carefully. Even if your stock is kiln dried, but especially if it is not, you want to choose boards that were sawn as close to the center of the tree as possible. This will give the board the greatest amount of “quarter sawn” grain as possible. Wood moves the most in a direction that is tangential to the growth rings. This causes flat sawn boards that are close to the bark (those with near horizontal growth ring patterns on their ends) to cup severely when they move. However, boards sawn close to the center of the tree will cup much less, even if they were not kiln dried. After the boards have sat in your shop for several months, choose the ones that have cupped the least to use for the aprons and top boards. Those with the most cup should be ripped into narrower boards for use as stretchers and cross bearing braces for underneath the top.

This brings me to tip #3. Use the absolute widest and longest boards you can find. Wide, long boards need to come from wide, tall trees. In addition, the widest boards are sawn from the areas of the log that are closest to the center of the tree. Don’t try to save money by purchasing 2x4s for the stretchers and cross bearing braces. These boards are likely to twist and warp on you. These benches are inexpensive enough to build from wide stuff. Trying to save another $10 by buying 2x4s instead of 2x12s will make you curse construction lumber workbenches. Get all of your parts from 2x12s, and the longest ones you can get at that. If you can find 20 footers, they are likely to be flatter and straighter than 8 footers. The bench will cost you a bit more, but you’ll be happier and have a bench with fewer knots in the end.

With workbenches made from DRY construction grade lumber, once everything is assembled, movement is actually very minimal. Contrary to popular belief, softwoods like pine, fir and spruce are extremely stable, when they are dry. Softwoods get a bad reputation for being unstable because they are usually still wet when they are purchassed. Construction lumber is not typically dried to the same level as hardwoods for fine woodworking (at least not here in the States). So as the wood continues to dry, it will typically move. However, once it has been dried to the same level as the hardwoods typically are, most dry softwoods are actually more stable than most dry hardwoods. So the #1 factor in getting a good, stable and flat workbench out of softwoods is to make sure they are adequately dried before you start building with them.

I built my workbench several years ago and have been working with it regularly ever since. It does not have any kind of finish on it, so it is fully exposed to all the humidity swings that occur during the year. I have needed to re-flatten my workbench top exactly one time since building it, and even then, it had moved so little and was so barely out of flat, that it took me less than 10 minutes to do the job. I have no doubts that constrution grade lumber can make a fantastic workbench. With just a little up front preparation, you can have a workbench that will last you several generations without spending a fortune. Being built of construction grade lumber, I am also not afraid to ding it up, scratch it, spill stain on it, drip glue on it or hurt it in any way. I treat it like a workbench, not a piece of furniture, and I know I can replace the top for $20 if it ever gets too far gone. So don’t fear wide boards. Wide boards are your friends.

Great Expectations

A recent post written on the Arts & Mysteries Blog by Adam Cherubini really got me thinking about how we view our own experiences, specifically related to the woodworking we do and the tools we use to do it. Adam is specifically speaking about his experiences using his version of the Roubo veneer saw and how through his use of it over the last few years, he has come to the conclusion that the saw doesn’t work all that well. This style of saw has received a small amount of publicity in recent months, partially perhaps due to my own experiences with it and partially due to Shannon Roger’s version as well.

I have indeed recommended this style of saw for resawing to several folks who have asked me about it, though I have recommended it be shortened to a 3′ blade for one person use. My own experience with the saw has proven it to be a better option than a regular hand saw FOR ME when I need to resaw stuff wider than about 8″. In addition, while I’ve not made veneer for a project using this saw, I have sawn a few small pieces for practice and demonstration that have finished out at just under 3/32″ thick after planing away the saw marks. So my frame saw retains a prominent position in my shop, patiently waiting until it is needed.

The difference in experiences with the saw that Adam and I have had got me thinking though. How much do my expectations from my tools and my work differ from other folks? Are my positive [in my opinion] results with my version of the frame saw and Adam’s not so positive [in his opinion] results merely a difference in expectations? Or is there something inherrently different in the cuts I’ve made with my saw and the cuts Adam has made with his that would lead a person to have a good experience with one saw and a not so good experience with another (of the same design and configuration)?

I suppose like with any tool, project or process, most of the satisfaction that we do get from our work is very closely related to our own personal expectations and what we deem an acceptable result. For example, I am not averse to leaving a small bit of tearout on a show surface of a project if during smoothing I run into a section of difficult, reversing grain. If I can remove it easily I will, but if it requires me to contort myself in uncomfortable ways or if it just isn’t easily worked with the tools I have, I am perfectly satisfied with just leaving it and moving on. I’ve seen enough period examples with similar “flaws” to know that I am not alone in this kind of thinking. However, I have spoken to many other woodworkers who would never do such a thing and consider leaving any amount of “imperfection” (such as minor tearout, scribe lines, over cuts, etc.) in any surface poor craftsmanship.

I think this must be a real struggle for folks like Adam, Chris Schwarz, the guys at FWW and PWW, and anyone else who writes about this stuff for a wide reaching audience. Based upon my own experiences answering questions about tools, methods, wood, etc., that have been asked as a result of my writing this blog for a very small audience, I’m guessing that those folks are constantly inundated with questions about tool recommendations and techniques. With all of the different expectations people have, however, I think it must be a losing battle for them trying to respond to all of these inquiries. Some folks are going to agree with them and have good experiences as a result of their advice and put them on a pedestal; and some folks are going to cry foul and brand them as liars and heretics.

I don’t know that there is an easy answer to this other than to suggest that folks try as much as they can for themselves. I know that a lot of the folks from the magazines have always suggested just that. I’ve suggested it plenty of times myself. But the more I think about these kinds of opposite experiences like Adam and I have had with our very similar frame saws, the more important I think it is for folks to try things for themselves. Adam says he cannot recommend the saw based upon his experiences and I have said that I like mine based upon my own experiences. For folks who are on the fence about how to accomplish this task by hand, this might be confusing.

Indeed there are plenty of folks who will swear by what one or two people write in a magazine or blog just because of who wrote it. However, with all of the choices we have today in tools and materials and workbenches and working styles and on and on, I think it is more important than ever to draw your own conclusions about these things. My point is, don’t just do what I do or what Adam does, or what Schwarz does or what Asa does, or what anyone else does. I’m sure all of these other guys would agree with me. What we do works for us. If you’d like to try it out, by all means do. But ultimately, get out in your own shop, experiment, and see what works for you!

Get Woodworking with the Classics

So if you’ve decided that you want to pursue learning how to work with wood with hand tools, one of the best recommendations I can make to you is to study the classics. It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the books on the subject put out by contemporary authors. However, even if the book is all about working with hand tools, most of the more modern books (like those written in the last 50 years or so) still have some obvious power tool influence. The problem with this, as I see it, for woodworkers that really want to learn to do things primarily by hand, is that some operations described in the contemporary works on the subject are approached as if the person was using machines, even though they aren’t. This can be very misleading to those who have not studied older texts and older woodwork, and often leads to the assumoption that hand tools are slow and inefficient. This is simply not true when traditional methods and techniques are understood and employed.

This is where studying the classic texts and period furniture and other woodwork really become important for someone wanting to really be able to work efficiently with hand tools. The main difference with the older texts is that those authors didn’t have power tools to work with, so the methods they describe are all based solely on working traditionally with nothing more than a sharp hand tool. Similarly, the classic furniture of the 17th and 18th centuries, being built 100% with hand tools, is very telling of methods and thought processes employed while the maker was building the piece. Even if you have absolutely no interest in building period furniture yourself, studying the forms and the historical texts is a great way to understand the traditional processes. Once the tools and the methods and the joinery are understood in theory, it’s very easy to take those traditional methods and adapt them to a more contemporary furniture form, if that is more your taste. Going the other way, however, trying to take a machine operation or type of joinery designed around a machine, and adapt it to be done with hand tools, usually leads to frustration, confusion, and right back to the assumption that hand tools are slow and inefficient.

So to get you started, here are two great English sources for traditional trade knowledge:

Joseph Moxon, Mechanik Exercises…, published in the late 1600s. The 17th century English can be a little hard to get through if you aren’t used to reading it, but after working through the first dozen or two pages, you get used to it. This is one of the first, if not THE first English language book on the early tools and trades. One thing to pay attention to is how few tools are discussed in the section on joinery. It really gives one an appreciation for how much can be done with very few tools.

Peter Nicholson, The Mechanic’s Companion…, published in the early 1800s. This book has some similarities to Moxon’s book, and in fact it was based upon Moxon’s book. However, Nicholson goes into much more detail in many of the sections than Moxon did, and he also includes more tools and more information than Moxon did. This version is also a little easier to read if you have trouble with Moxon’s 17th century English. Nicholson’s English is much closer in dialect to modern English.

These two texts are free through Google Books and will get you off on the right foot if your goal is to really become effecient working wood with hand tools. If you read these books and then go into your shop and try some of the techniques described within them, you’ll have a great foundation to discovering and understanding the lost arts & mysteries of traditional woodworking.

Get Woodworking, Together

One of the best way to get started in the craft, learn a great deal, and meet other like minded individuals of all skill levels is to take a class or get invloved in a local woodworking club. Classes are great because you get hands on instruction. They can be expensive though. Local clubs on the other hand are an absolute bargain, and often you can attend a meeting or two for free to see if the club is for you. The benefit of local clubs is that you can meet local people who usually are more than eager to help out newcommers and get them started right. Most clubs have lectures and demonstrations fairly regularly, and many have special seminars, group wood buys, and mentor led group builds to help you get your feet wet.

My own club, the Central Jersey Woodworker’s Association, has recently started doing mentor led group builds as a way for us to get together in small groups, work out project details and learn from each other. Participant experience levels run the gamut from rank beginner to seasoned professional, and skill sets are equally as diverse, from CNC to hatchet and drawknife. Group projects like these are a fantastic way to see other woodworker’s shops, learn new skills, build new projects, and make new friendships for nothing more than the cost of a club membership.

So seek out classes, but especially get involved in your local guilds and clubs. The cost of annual membership to one of these organizations typically pays for itself the very first meeting. If you’re around the New Jersey area, feel free to stop in to the CJWA meetings. New members are always welcome. We meet the second Wednesday of the month (except for July and August) and are centrally located to many areas. Click the link above for more information and directions to the meetings.