The Dovetail Diaries

The advancement of one man's woodworking skills.

Friday, December 31, 2010


My Mom has a puzzle that she glued together and wanted to display.  She wanted something rustic to complement the subject matter of the puzzle and decided that barnwood would be appropriate.  My parents were able to get some barnwood from a friend's crumbling barn that they thought would be nice.

After getting the dimensions of the puzzle, misplacing them, and asking for them again, I was able to get some shop time to put together what she wanted.  She asked for a simple frame that would be 3" wide.  The puzzle is 20" by 27 1/4", so our dimensions were set.

I had a couple of weeks of leave at Christmas so I had plenty of time.  I also had the urge to test my new Freud stack dado that I received as a gift.  I put my old Oldham blade in my tablesaw to prevent possible damage to my good blade and ripped a couple of pieces to 3".  The dado blade was swapped in and partially buried in a sacrificial fence and set for a 1/4" cut.  I was very happy with the clean rabbet cut.

A few cut with my miter saw and I was ready to assemble.  I've been wanting to try my Kreg jig on a picture frame and this seemed like the perfect time.  A couple of holes at each miter and the frame was secure.  I disassembled each joint separately and applied glue and rescrewed.  A couple of brads at each corner to secure the outer edge of the miter and the job was done.

I delivered it yesterday and she was very happy.  The puzzle looked great and the remnants of red barn paint worked to make some of the red in the puzzle 'pop'.

While I was in the shop, I scraped the front drawer of the Shaker end table to eliminate a glue stain that I discovered.  I also worked the legs to remove some plane marks and recoated the whole table with boiled linseed oil.  The end table was moved into the house so the oil could cure for a few days before the polyurethane is applied.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Update coming

I planed, scraped, and sanded on the table last night and then soaked it down in boiled linseed oil.  Black walnut has such amazing color!

I noticed that I forgot to plane the drawer front, so planer marks are still visible.  I'll hit it with the #4 plane to smooth it out.  The other benefit is that will remove the glue smudge that became visible after the oil was applied.

The epoxy fix blended in pretty well and I'll be sure to post pics of that area.

Thursday, September 30, 2010

Tying up loose ends.

The leg after the initial attempt at filling the split.
In a previous post I documented the process of using epoxy to fill a crack in one of the legs on the Shaker side table.  While the crack was filled on one face, the results on the adjoinging face were less than satisfactory. 

 Living in coastal North Carolina and not having air conditioning in my shop (my garage) meant taking a break from woodworking until the temperature and humidity in the garage dropped to sub-tropical levels.  The only thing to do was head to the Outer Banks and enjoy kayak fishing near Cape Hatteras.

 Now that temperatures are starting to drop I'm able to get in and finish up the table.  Fixing the split leg was the obvious first step to completing the project.  After that comes a light sanding and a magic application of boiled linseed oil.

For my previous patch I added black walnut sawdust from my tablesaw to the epoxy to help color the filler and add some texture.  I wasn't happy with the coarseness of the sawdust and decided to try something else for the second attempt. 

Black Walnut dust from my random-orbit sander.
 In the photo to the left you can see the dust I removed from the collector on my random-orbit sander (ROS).  It's much finer and colored the epoxy more evenly while leaving it somewhat transparent, acting somewhat like a powdered dye.

Sixty minute epoxy mixed with the fine sanding
 dust makes for a nice looking filler.
I prepared a small amount of 60-minute epoxy and poured in some of the dust, stirring it in until the mixture was evenly mixed.  A small piece of wood used as a spatula allowed me to apply a liberal coating of the epoxy mixture to the two faces affected by the split.  After 10 or 15 minutes I applied a little more in a couple of areas that had developed cavities as the epoxy was drawn into the split.

The leg with epoxy applied.  The dark spot is where additional
filler was applied to fill a cavity.

After allowing a day or three for the epoxy to cure, I'll carefully remove the extra filler and see if the patch was successful. 

In the mean time, tomorrow is the first day of rockfish (Striped Bass) season and there is still fishing to be enjoyed.


Wednesday, September 29, 2010

New posts coming soon...

I know I haven't updated this blog in quite a while as I've been spending almost every weekend kayak fishing near Cape Hatteras, NC.  As the beach season slows down I'll have more time to woodwork.  The heat in the garage won't be unbearable in a few more weeks either.

I have to finish the Shaker table, build a couple of picture frames, and start work on some type of workbench to make building all this stuff easier.  If you read my earlier posts you'll see how I had to improvise quite a bit to hold work while using hand tools.  Hopefully a new bench will make it a lot easier.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

BLO your top...

After some research on finishing black walnut, I decided that I would apply boiled linseed oil (BLO) to the walnut Shaker side table.  As I was building the table I kept imagining what the wood was going to look like with the oil and could barely wait to see it.

I haven't used boiled linseed oil much before this project.  I used it on some fir 1x2's that I placed on the edges of my french cleat system and I liked the way it made the wood look and feel.

As the weather warms, I've been pretty busy with my other hobby, kayak fishing, I've hardly spent any time in the shop and knew that I needed to get the side table done and in place in the living room soon. 

I removed the top and applied a very liberal coat of BLO to both sides.  The oil really brought out the reddish tone in the air-dried walnut.  I was impressed with the look and hopefully the picture will do it justice.

I still need to finish the epoxy patch on the leg and scrape or sand the rest of the table before I apply oil.  I'm planning to let the oil cure for several days and then apply several coats of polyurethane varnish using a ScotchBrite pad.  I'll be sure to post some pictures.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Hand Plane 101

My wood plane technique has developed by watching Renaissance Woodworker videos along with the clumsy fumbling that is often referred to as 'experience'.  Those of you who read my earlier posts on the Shaker side table may have realized how surprised I was at the results of my efforts.  I simply did not expect it to work as well as it did.  Even though I was pleasantly surprised, I wasn't quite satisfied with the results.  I'm always looking for a way to do something better, faster or more efficiently and this is no exception.

I figured that I had a couple of choices to help improve my knowledge of plane usage, and since Roy Underhill wouldn't return my calls I decided to purchase one of Christopher Schwarz's videos on hand plane usage.  It was a tossup between "Handplane Basics" , "Building Furniture With Hand Planes", and "Coarse, Medium, and Fine".  After considering the description of each video, I ordered "Handplane Basics: A Better Way to Use Bench Planes".

The video is 71 minutes long and promises that after watching you'll know how to select the proper plane for the job, sharpen the iron appropriately, and use the plane properly to make "perfectly flat and gleaming panels".  In my opinion, it delivers on all three promises.

Different types of bench planes are discussed and viewers are instructed on how both the length and width of a plane affects its usage. Christopher relates the three basic functions of a plane and how a particular plane and iron combination would work better for each function. 

Christopher also demonstrates how to true all six sides of a board.  I don't know why, but it was a surprise to see that the ends of the board were trued using a plane and shooting  board.  It may be obvious to an experienced hand plane user, but I hadn't even considered using the plane for this, instead using my table saw and crosscut sled.  I blame Norm.  (Just kidding!)

I've been trying to decide which plane to purchase next, a long plane for jointing, or a better smoothing plane than the Dunlap 3DBB that I'm currently using.  Thanks to this video I've decided that the next plane will be a long plane or jointer-sized plane, probably a Lie-Neilsen No. 8.

In my opinion this video was very informative and answered many of my questions.  Some things were covered that I hadn't even thought of yet.

In the end it reinforced the need for a good workbench. And a shooting board.  The workbench will have to wait until after my back-ordered copy of  Schwarz's 'Workbenches' arrives, but I'm already scouting scrap material for a shooting board.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Sketch Me If You Can

Google's SketchUp has gained popularity among woodworkers as a great way to not only sketch out their ideas, but also to share them with others by exchanging drawing files.  I've used SketchUp to view others drawings and even used it to model a small side table that I built for my wife.

While I saw the potential, I was frustrated by the apparently clumsy interface that required so many mouse clicks to zoom, pan, and orbit around an object.  I also had problems trying to draw joinery components.  The tutorials at Sketchup For Woodworkers helped, but I still didn't feel that it was as quick as drafting by hand.

Perhaps that was partially due to my background as a trained draftsman.  All my drafting classes in high school and college were 'on the board', or manual drafting..  Each program introduced computer-aided drafting (CAD)  the year after I completed the program, so I have very little experience with CAD.

When Popular Woodworking Magazine announced their ShopClass On Demand course "SketchUp for Woodworkers – Part 1: Getting Started", it caught my attention.  The scheduled release was about the time that the Wood Whisperer Guild build was winding down and it seemed like a logical next step.

Within 7 minutes of starting the course I felt like it had already proven it's worth.  I've only watched the first of the four files, but I've already learned how to easily pan, zoom, and orbit without excessive clicking.  I also learned how to customize my toolbars to access features that I didn't even know existed.

It's beginning to feel a lot more comfortable to me and I'm only a quarter of the way through the course.  I can hardly wait to see what's next.

I wholeheartedly recommend this product for anyone that wants to not only create their own drawings, but learn how to easily move around the many drawings that are available online.

Saturday, April 3, 2010

And to top it all off...

As the Shaker end table project progresses, I find that I'm leaning more towards hand tools than power tools and I really can't explain it.  Throughout this project I assumed that I would cut the bevels on the underside of the top using the table saw.  You'll see that I reconsidered.

When I started thinking through the setup for the bevel cuts and the fact that the front/back bevels are a different angle than the side bevels, I decided that it might be easier and quicker to cut these with the plane.  I figured that even if I used the table saw, I would still need to use a plane to remove the saw marks.  I learned how to cut a bevel with a plane from one of the Renaissance Woodworker's podcasts, "RWW Episode 81, Hand Tool Tips # 1" (Thanks Shannon!), so I had a pretty good idea of the process.

Because I had to bevel all four sides of the top I chose to bevel the end grain first so that any tearout would be removed when the long grain sides were beveled.  I started with my No. 6 that I recently refurbished.  I installed a new chipbreaker and iron in the No. 6 but haven't had a chance to hone the iron yet.  The crossgrain bevel was showing too much tearout, so I switched to the block plane.  It did the job perfectly.

Before beveling the underside,  I used the No. 6 to level the top and bottom of the table top.  I followed it  with my Dunlap 3DBB smoothing plane and then a cabinet scraper.  I decided to sharpen my scraper before starting and I'm very satisfied with that decision.  The surface of the top is silky smooth, even in the many areas where the grain reverses.  I can hardly wait to soak this top in boiled linseed oil.

I'll put up a better picture later, but here's the table sitting in the corner of the dining room.  I still have to install the screws to hold on the top and install the drawer stop and side guides.  The drawer also needs some minor tuning to eliminate a tight spot in the travel.

I'm looking forward to getting this table finished and getting a picture to Marc over at The Wood Whisperer.  If you haven't yet heard, Marc will be donating $5 to the American Cancer Society for each table completed by a Guild member.  Marc also has several sponsors that have committed to matching his donation.  Each table will generate approximately $50 in donations.  At the time this is being written, an additional $4005 has been donated by individual contributors through a link on Marc's site.  It's amazing what can be accomplished when people work together.

Monday, March 29, 2010

Putting some dovetails in the Dovetail Diaries...

The dovetail joint has been around for over 3000 years.  You would think that we would be used to them by now.  But what other joint commands such awe and strikes so much fear in the heart of an aspiring woodworker as the simple dovetail joint?  Heck, some amateur woodworkers even name their weblogs after them.

Now don't take it the wrong way when I call the dovetail joint a simple joint.  I know that it takes great skill to cut a tight dovetail joint.  Believe me, I know.  But when you inspect the joint it is a simple invention.  Cut the parts, pieces called pins and tails, in two pieces of wood so that an attempt to pull them apart makes the joint tighter.  One could cut a fine example of that joint with only a handsaw and a chisel and, of course, practiced skill.

It seems that there is much money to be made 'improving' on the creation of this joint.  Several companies make boutique dovetail saws that give the user every advantage.  In the past I've tried some 'informal' dovetails in pine with a cheap, flimsy saw.  The results were so abysmal that I decided I would probably never be able to master cutting dovetails by hand.  It was only after committing to building a Shaker side table as part of The Wood Whisperer Guild Build that I purchased a Lie-Nielsen dovetail saw and tried my hand at the joint again.

Fortunately the results were much better this time around.  Was it the saw?  While the saw definitely helped the accuracy, I think it was a confidence that I gained by committing to cut the joint properly.  Of course, a good tool can also inspire the user to step up their game.

You may think that a good dovetail saw is expensive, and I'll admit they are not exactly cheap.  I mean, it's just a saw for crying out loud.  But cutting this joint by hand represented not only a hurdle to jump but, believe it or not, a bargain.

You see, my router is an old Craftsman that belonged to my grandfather and it has a 1/4 inch arbor.  I was going to have to buy a new router jig AND a new router as the router jigs I was considering all required a dovetail bit with a 1/2 inch shank.  Several hundred dollars later I would be able to cut identical dovetails as long as the board was not over 24 inches wide.  The saw would allow me to cut dovetails of varying widths on a board as wide as I could find and for considerably less money.

Am I happy with my decision?  You bet.  I jumped in with both feet and cut my first dovetail joint on my project stock.  No practicing for me.  Actually, I cut the dovetails to secure the top rail to the front legs the week before and they're hidden, so we'll consider those practice.  The second joint on the other side of the drawer looked even better, so much so that I decided to cut through-dovetail joints on the rear corners of the drawer.  Each joint looked better than the one before.

On Saturday my wife and I stopped by the Woodcraft store in Virginia Beach, VA.  My wife picked up a dovetailed drawer corner on display and commented on how good the joint looked.  As I flipped it over I saw an illegible signature on the inside. I could make out that the first name started with an 'R' and the second with a 'C'.  The light bulb clicked on.

Maybe there is something to that 'practice' thing after all.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fixing Split Ends (Epoxy update)

Here's the 'during' photo from Saturday's epoxy fill.  I mixed 60 minute epoxy with black walnut sawdust.

One lesson learned was to use sandpaper to get a finer sawdust than from the table saw.  The sawdust in the epoxy looks rather 'chunky'.

A second lesson is to use fresh epoxy.  This epoxy was some I had lying around and it cured very slowly.  I was concerned that it was not going to cure at all.

I purchased some fresh slow-setting epoxy this weekend and will use it to complete the fill, as the area on the leg bottom did not completely fill because the epoxy was too thick.  I'm thinking that West Systems epoxy, as Marc Spagnuolo used in his 'Fixing A Knot' video, is the proper viscosity to fully fill the void.

I'm hoping the Loctite brand that I purchased at Lowe's will also do the trick.  If not, I'll head over to the local marina and plunk down $60 for a West Systems outfit.

Friday, March 19, 2010

Drawer fronts and miscuts...

This week I'm following with the program and making the aprons and rails for my Shaker end table.  I spent some time in the shop on Saturday and was able to cut them all to the proper size and thickness.  Well almost, but I'll cover that in a little bit.

I decided to cut my tenons with the table saw and clean up the faces with a chisel.  I then used my Lie-Neilsen dovetail saw to notch the corners of the tenons on a few, and pared the rest with my chisel.  I was very careful with the saw and didn't do too much damage to the cheeks of the tenon.  All in all, they turned out pretty good.

My tenons were a little too long to allow a good fit in the mortises, so I planed down the end grain a little.  I don't have very good planes yet, so I used my Craftsman low-angle block plane but soon decided I would be better off rubbing the tenon on the concrete floor.

Just for kicks I grabbed my Dunlap 3Dbb, which is basically a No. 4 size bench plane, and proceeded to shave off thin slices of walnut end grain that looked like brown plastic.  What a pleasant surprise.

Now to the issue of parts cut to the wrong size...

Somehow I dimensioned the drawer front in Sketchup at 3 1/8", instead of the proper 3 1/2".  I thought it was peculiar when I was cutting parts and checked the printout again, but it appears that somehow my printout was incorrect.

Fortunately, I cut the drawer front slightly oversize and I can fudge the tenon on the bottom rail to move it up and close the gap around the drawer to about 1/16 on the top and bottom.  By my calculations I'll have to trim 1/8" off of the aprons to make them even with the bottom rail.

If all else fails, I'll pull another walnut board out of the lumber rack and start jointing and surfacing.

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Just Plane Easier Than I Thought It Would Be

I had a problem.  I needed to face joint the 5" side aprons for the Shaker side table, but my small jointer has a capacity of 4 3/8".  Obviously I was going to have to come up with an alternative.  I thought about making a sled from a sheet of 3/4" MDF, shimming the aprons pieces so they didn't rock and then running them through my 12 1/2" portable thickness planer.  The only problem was that I didn't have a piece of MDF large enough and really didn't feel like driving into town and wrestling with a 4' x 8' sheet of 3/4" MDF.

I decided to try my hand at planing one face flat and then running through the thickness planer.  I've never done this before, but I've seen the process done in a podcast from Shannon, The Renaissance Woodworker.  You can watch this in his podcast "RWW 77 A Contemporary Chest of Drawers".  The segment appears near the end of the podcast and he's flattening a panel for the chest of drawers. (Edit: Shannon presents a much more detailed demonstration in "RWW 30 - Thicknessing Stock The Old Fashioned Way", which I just discovered today as I work my way through his podcasts.)

Because I don't have a proper workbench, my biggest challenge was securing the board.  My angled passes were done by holding the board with one hand and pushing the plane with the other.  Obviously not an ideal situation, but effective nonetheless.  My straightedge reference was the table on my tablesaw.

How did it work?  Much better than I thought.    I was extremely nervous about trying this on my first 'fine' woodworking project.

Maybe it was beginner's luck, or maybe handplanes are not as difficult to use as I had imagined.  I know that I won't hesitate to grab one the next time I need to level a board.

Now to find the right workbench and an adequate straightedge...

Update on the epoxy patch:

If you've read the previous posting you'll see that I was planning to use epoxy to patch a crack in one of the table legs.  I ran a test on one of the cutoffs from the leg tapering operation.  As you can see in the photo, even with boiled linseed oil the results were okay, but not great.

I used straight epoxy because I had cleaned up so well that I couldn't find any sawdust to mix with the epoxy.  This evening I remembered to save some from the apron machining so I'll try it again with some sawdust for color.

Wednesday, March 10, 2010

If it was a horse, I'd have to shoot it.

This evening I rushed home from work to taper my table legs before the live Guild session.  I decided that I was going to try to use my metal tapering jig.  I've used it once in the past on a side table that I made for my wife, and I hated every minute of it.  The saw blade was uncomfortably close to my hand near the end of the cut and I was never quite sure how to set it for the proper angle.

After looking at it for a couple of minutes I decided that it wasn't going to work for me.  I built the jig below, which is similar to the tapering jig shown in the last Guild session.

I was able to taper the legs and somehow managed not to taper the wrong side.  Unfortunately, I ended up with a crack in the bottom of one leg.  I laid out the cuts hoping to cut out the crack during the tapering process, but you can't win 'em all.

This will give me an opportunity to try some of the epoxy filling techniques that I've seen demonstrated.  Fortunately this is on the back side of the front left leg, so the repair will not be visible from the front.

I'll have this leg repaired and back in the saddle in no time.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

I'm a walnut man now.

I'm participating in the March Guild Build over on The Wood Whisperer community.  I've decided to build my Shaker side table from black walnut.  It was an complicated decision, based totally on the fact that I had black walnut in the lumber rack and had been waiting for an excuse to build something with it.

I didn't have enough confidence in my woodworking ability to actually pull it down and start sawing.  Well, that and I didn't have a working jointer, and all of the wood was rough sawn.  I'm pretty sure that one particular board was a stave in a barrel at some point.

Anyway, with a small tabletop jointer that I just restored (yes, restored...) I was able to joint the leg stock.  After creating a large pile of the most beautiful shavings you've ever seen, I had them planed down to the proper thickness.

It was finally time to mark and cut my first mortise.  A deep breath. Careful measurement.  Another deep breath, followed by the stroke of the marking gauge down the leg.  Fast-forward a little and we have the mortise as you see in the photo above.

What I really want to know is this...did anybody else know that walnut machines so, so much better than pine?  I had no idea, but I can't bear to think about going back.

I'm a walnut man now.