Logan Cabinet Shoppes?

I just returned from a week long “vacation” at our new home in the mountains of VA. I say vacation but there wasn’t much leisure involved. Just lots of cleaning, and we still haven’t finished. But we did manage to get some time to walk our 24 acres.  

  

I also had a little time to check this out.  

Compared to my current shop, this one is over 3 times larger. It needs work, but it will make a good project once the rest of the house is done. We just got back to NJ but I’m already anxious to get back to VA. 

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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!

A Semi-simple Steam Box

I’m making some chairs from an oak tree that was taken down in our back yard. These chairs require that some of the parts be steam bent. I’m starting with the simplest of the few chairs that I think I’ll be able to get out of this log, a post and rung rocker. The two long back posts need a gentle bend in the design I’m building. So I needed a steam box. I could have gone the simplest route and bought a PVC pipe and some end caps. That’s not my style though. I like wood.

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The materials for the steam box are pretty simple and available at any home center. There are two six foot 1 x 4s and to six foot 1 x 6s. Plus some nails (mine are cut finish nails), a few plumbing parts and some hinges (I ended up using different hinges).
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The parts to be steamed are supportd above the bottom of the box by some dowels so that the steam can circulate around them. These dowels were spaced about 6″ apart and placed about 1″ above the bottom of the box. Apparently either my 3/4″ auger is oversized (not likely) or this dowel was quite undersized (pretty typical of home center dowels).
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The box is just nailed together. There is no joinery at all as there’s really no need. I used cut finish nails. The end cap is rabbeted on all four sides to provide some resistance to racking.
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The end cap is, again, just nailed on with cut finish nails.
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Time to provide an entrance for the steam. I bored a hole about 1-1/4″ or 1-1/2″ (don’t remember which it was) in diameter. This hole is centered on the bottom of the box.
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Ovder the hole, I screwed a floor flange for iron pipe. This one is either a 3/4″ or 1″ floor flange, I don’t remember the exact size. Bigger is better as you want to fill the box with as much steam as possible. I used brass PEX connectors to attach the supply hose to the box.
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I used brass PEX connectors to attach the supply hose to the box and kettle. The hose is standard heater hose, available in most home centers or auto part stores. It’s designed for high temp applications. The hose is just attached to the PEX connectors with hose clamps so it can be easily disassembled.
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The door on the opposite end is made identically to the end cap. The only difference, obviously, is that it’s attached with hinges. I had to buy these hinges and bend them as the other ones I had didn’t work out. I also picked up a cheap pine knob. Looks nicer than the shiny handle in the first pic.
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Time to add some legs to get the box up above the kettle. I had my apprentice cut the leg stock. Look at that perfect grip on the saw and the proper stance and alignment! She makes a dad so proud :). She cut right to the line too.
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We screwed the legs that she cut to a 2 x 2 block of poplar and then attached them to the bottom of the box with the hinges from the first picture so that they could be folded up for storage. The front set of legs (closer to the door) is also 1″ shorter than the rear set so that the condensate inside the box will drain out rather than pool up inside the box.
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The tea kettle is just an old one that we had laying around. The PEX connector was driven into the spout with a mallet and the hose attached with a hose clamp. The electric burner is a $20 version from the big box store. The kettle will steam this box for at least 2 hours on a single fill of water. There was still plenty of water left when I was done, so I’m not sure how long it will actually go for.
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It works! These legs are shaved to about 1-1/2″ in diameter and they bent without any problem. Well, it took some muscle, but the ratchet straps pulled everything smoothly and the wood bent without any cracking. Granted this is a gentle bend, but it’s a good start.

So the next trial of the steam box will be some back bows and arm rails for a sack back Windsor chair (or two). While the stock for those parts is only on the order of 3/4″ thick or so, the bends are much more dramatic, so they’ll be a much better test of the steam box and the wood from this tree. I’m excited though. This is fun stuff!

Wide Construction Lumber for a Workbench

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

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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!