Sunday, January 23, 2011

Split Decision

It was a balmy 11 degrees here in the Twin Cities today…before wind chill.  Luckily there is no wind ripping through the workshop, so the heater was able to get us up to about 30-35 degrees after a couple hours of run-time.  The electric portion of our utility bill is almost double what it was last year at this time, so quality shop time may be a little harder to come by for the next month or so.  I did brave the cold for a couple of hours though and kept the next batch of boxes moving forward.
The boxes call for a height of two and a quarter inches, so all of the stock was previously ripped to two and half inches wide.
Today’s task was to resaw these slabs in half to produce boards 3/8 of an inch thick.  In the past I’ve relied on my band saw for any resawing, however, I’ve not had time to tune it up or install the new Carter guides, so I tackled these with the table saw.  This was a good exercise as I’ve never resawn on the table saw before.  It’s always been my Dad’s preferred method, and Doug Stowe uses the table saw in his book as well.
I swapped out the blade from the 50 tooth combo to the 90 tooth finish blade.  Both are thin kerf, but the 90 tooth leaves a smoother finished cut.

The two Lacewood slabs were a bit longer than I felt were safe to handle in resawing on the table saw, so I cut them down in size.

Before slicing the slabs down I needed a flat face and square edges to ensure even, consistent cuts.  That’s a job for the jointer.

I ended up spending about 20 minutes doing some fine tuning on the jointer before I could proceed.  I’ve moved it several times over the past few months, so I wasn’t surprised to find it needed some attention.  Once the tables and fence were dialed in, I was in business.  I flattened one face and then squared both edges.

You can see a significant difference in the jointed face and the other rough sawn surface.  That smooth face is what will be referenced against the table saw’s rip fence.

It was then on to the set up of the table saw.  All of the slabs are about two and a half inches wide.  While the table saw is capable of cutting through more than two and a half inches of material, it just felt a lot safer to make the cuts in two passes.  This is the same method that Doug Stowe describes in his book.  I am tempted to try it one pass though…maybe next time.
I started by placing a mark at a little over half the width of each slab and then using that mark to set the blade height on the table saw.

I then set the width between the blade and the fence to a little over 3/8 of an inch.  This will allow for a little extra material that can be removed when truing up the surfaces and thickness.

The first pass will cut through a little more than half of the material, and the second pass will finish the separation completely.

I used a piece of plywood as a backer/push stick.  It’s tall enough to keep the full height of the blade contained as I push each slab through the cuts.
OOOPS!  I must have missed working with one of the Lacewood slabs over on the jointer.  This is what you get if both edges are not squared to the flat face that runs along the rip fence.  You can even see that the bottom edge (where my thumb is) doesn’t look square to either face of the board.

Most of the slabs yielded two boards that were over the targeted 3/8 of an inch thick.

Now that all the slicing and dicing is done I’ve got enough for quite a list of future boxes.  After another shop session with the planner and the jointer we’ll have enough stock for 25 of the Stowe design boxes (eight Lacewood, seven Wenge, one Zircote, six Cherry and three Bird’s Eye Maple.) 

The Bird’s Eye Maple yielded two boards that were slightly under the 3/8 of an inch target, so those two boards (shown in the photo on edge) will be saved for another design.
At this point the excitement of being out in the shop was waning with the dropping temperature.  It was time to call it a day and retreat to thaw my fingers out again.  Yep, all ten are still there.  I think we’ll call this resaw exercise a success.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Boxing - Round 2

Danger Boy and I ventured out to a local lumber yard to pick out the maple stock we need for the hanging wall cabinet…alas, they did not have anything less than 10/4 that was over seven inches wide.  I found that surprising given the amount of inventory they had on hand.  Any fellow Minnesotans out there with a good hardwood supplier recommendation would be greatly appreciated.  It looks like I’ll need to spend time later in the week making some calls.
We did get to log some time out in the shop though.  The stock for the next round of boxes has been sitting on the bench for a few days now.  I’ve set aside some Cherry, Wenge, Birdseye Maple and Australian Lacewood for the next batch.  There should be enough lumber here for 18 to 22 boxes.

One of these pieces of Lacewood has some nasty looking surface checks.  If those turn out to be problematic, we’ll end up with a count of 18 boxes.

I’ve had these pieces of Birdseye Maple on the lumber rack for quite a few years now.  The eyes are really tight and the pattern has some interesting variations. 

Here’s a shot of the Wenge boards (and the Cherry sneaking in for some camera time.)  These little slabs are part of a small collection that I’ve been hanging onto for some time.  It’s all quarter sawn and is really nice to work with. 

As I was laying these pieces out to determine how many boxes they would yield, I decided to throw in a wild card…a little slab of Zircote!  That’s how we roll in the Second Wind Workshop.  You never know what will happen!

I’ve got a stash of little slabs of this very hard, amazing grained wood, and I’ve been waiting for a good opportunity to work with it.  This little piece will only yield one box, but it’s the one I’m most excited about.  The wood itself is incredibly dense and almost completely solid like ebony.
The box sides are two and a quarter inches high, so I ripped these boards to about two and a half inches.  I’ll still need to true them up a bit on the jointer and planer so I’ve given myself a little margin to play with.

Once I’ve squared the boards I’ll resaw most of them in half to get down to a 3/8” thickness.  The Cherry boards were already milled to 3/8” from a previous project.  You can see the difference below.  All of the other boards will be split and should yield two 3/8” thick boards from each slab after cleaning them up on the planer. 

I’ve also started laying out some options for the lids.  I’ve got some left over Zebrawood pieces and some Bubinga slabs that I’m considering.  I’ll have to experiment with various parings to determine what I like best. 

I’ll also incorporate the corner splines on these boxes, so I’ll need to pick accent woods for those as well.  If possible I’ll try to use the same wood used for the box lids.
As I work my way through the various stages of completion I’ll be attempting to work on a couple other boxes.  I’ve got a design in mind for these Padauk panels, and I’d like to experiment with these Marblewood shorts.

Many of the steps along the way will use the same tool set-ups.  Let’s hope that this multi-tasking doesn’t throw off my groove!

Saturday, January 8, 2011

On the Bench – Jan 2011

Time for a little update on the projects sitting on the bench (or on the brain!) 
With the Zebrawood boxes done, box making fever has not passed!  I’ll be picking out some stock to make another batch of the small Doug Stowe boxes pretty soon.  We have an old Oak dresser and chest of drawers that were passed on to us by my wife’s parents when we were married over 16 years ago.  They have both seen better days and have received several repairs over the years.  I’ve been trying to convince my lovely bride that we need some new dressers, that would better match our modern tastes, and that I should salvage this really nice old Oak for a few projects.  We’ll see how well I fare!  This Oak would make some beautiful boxes, especially with some corner spline accents.  I’ll also begin drawing up plans for a larger box made of Padauk.  I have four pair of these book matched boards with a healthy portion of cream colored sapwood.  

I really like the contrast and I’ve got an idea to ensure a clean flow of the grain and the transition line around all four corners.  I’ll need a light colored wood with very little grain definition for the lid panel that won’t compete with the Padauk.  I’m thinking of some clear Holly.  We’ll see what’s available from the local lumber suppliers.
One of the bigger projects coming up is the Guild Build I’ll be participating in with the online community over at  It’s a hanging wall cabinet and I’ll be building ours out of soft Maple for our downstairs bathroom.  As you can see it’s a pretty sparse room.

Our other two bathrooms have linen cabinets, but this downstairs bathroom has no storage at all.  The trim you see around the window and used for baseboards matches what’s used throughout the house…a soft Maple with a clear finish.  I found an unfinished piece in our basement that I’ll use to try and match at the lumber yard.

I also still have an, almost completed, display table in need of some final sanding and finishing that I’d like to get wrapped up.  It’s Ash and Sapelle and was started back in Albuquerque.  
It should actually make for a good cold weather project…one that could be worked on in the basement if our temperatures don’t start come back up some real soon.  Between this table and the “Lego” project ( I should have enough to bring down to the warm basement to work on without making a mess in the house.
A final project I’d like to get started on…or at least start putting down on paper, is a mantle for the family room side of our fireplace. 

We’ll be raising the TV a couple more inches to add a little more clearance and will be building a floating mantle over the fireplace and some accent shelves on that bare wall to the right.  The staircase and columns in our house are made from Douglas Fir timbers that were reclaimed from an old warehouse in Duluth.

I was fortunate that the original homeowners kept the left over timber in the basement.

There should be enough here for the mantle and the shelving…and, of course, maybe some more boxes.
Honestly I’ll be happy to start the Guild Build and get even one of these projects knocked out by the end of the month.  The colder temperatures we see in January don’t make for much comfortable working time out in the shop.  Then there’s that pesky full-time job.  They kinda like it when I show up every day, but it sure cuts into the shop time!  J

Saturday, January 1, 2011

Growing in the New Year

A new year tends to cause one to pause and reflect, even if you’re not a big resolution person.  There is something renewing about the rollover into January 1st that makes us feel like we’re at another starting point…kind of like a chronological Mulligan.  Our problems don’t disappear and we’re not necessarily more skilled or wiser than we were on December 31st.  This little jump we make in the time-line does make us think about all that we’ve experienced over the previous 12 months and maybe even learn (or re-learn) a bit about ourselves and about our world.  Perhaps we do gain a little wisdom, even though we’ll date checks and documents with 2010 for the next week or two.
As I look back over this past year (dipping a bit into Dec 2009) I saw some pretty significant changes for myself and my family.  A big job transfer, new city (and a new climate), selling a house and buying another are the big changes that top the list.  There is so much for me to be thankful for and to have learned from in 2010.  I won’t bore you with all of my reflections here!  As I look back on the things that have impacted my woodworking this past year a few key things come to mind…
Our relocation really forced me to think about the type of work I’d like to do and where I want to focus my efforts.  The cold winter temperatures here in the Land of 10,000 frozen lakes have reduced my workspace to half of what I’ve been used to for around four months of the year.  I’m pushed to consider a level of efficiency and organization that I haven’t had to previously.  Sure it’s something I could complain about however, I’m making better decisions about my shop’s layout and giving strong consideration to what I should keep or how adding something new will disrupt my workflow.  I’d call that growth…even though I do still gripe about it from time to time.  Maybe 2011 will be the year of less whining.

My Dad has always been a main source of woodworking instruction, guidance and a sounding board for design ideas…and still is.  That’s a bond that I enjoy more and more every year.  Over the last few months I’ve also taken the initiative to reach out to a few other woodworkers that I admire for their work and their willingness to teach and share.  This is certainly a piece of advice that I would recommend for anyone pursuing a hobby/passion…find those folks who inspire you and reach out to them for advice and critique.  I’ve been a longtime follower of Marc Spanguolo’s website and podcast, The Wood Whisperer.  A recent e-mail to Marc was well received and he’s always very generous in sharing his knowledge about the craft.  I also had similar experiences with Tommy MacDonald, the host of the new PBS woodworking show,”Rough Cut”, and with Doug Stowe, teacher, author and box maker extraordinaire.  One of the best things about the woodworking community is the willingness of its members to teach and share, to pass on what they know.  I’m sure it’s the same for many things in life.  Get yourself plugged in with those that can teach you and help push you to that next level.
For your browsing pleasure…

A final revelation came from examining my involvement in woodworking over the last several years.  I realized that even though I have a great desire to design and build, I’ve let other things rob me of my passion for the craft.  I recalled that the last time I was heavily engaged and focused I was attending courses at Santa Fe Community College’s Fine Woodworking program.  As I renew my attention and excitement for working with wood I decided that ongoing education and accountability are invaluable.  I haven’t found a program the likes of SFCC here in the Twin Cities however, I’ve found some great alternatives online.  I recently joined “The Guild”, an online educational program led by our buddy Marc, The Wood Whisperer, in which we’ll build several projects as a community (class) throughout the year.  I’m excited to start the next build, a hanging wall cabinet, in just a few weeks.  I’ll keep my eyes peeled for something local that I can engage in as well, but the option of The Guild Build gives me a lot of flexibility around a pretty busy life schedule.   You’ll see some blog posts in the coming months chronicling my build of the hanging wall cabinet.

 I was also considering “The Hand Tool School”, another online program by Shannon Rodgers, The Renaissance Woodworker.  Enter another lesson from my reflection…In my excitement I sometimes take on quite a bit, making for a life too busy to really enjoy, so in the interest of mining some wisdom from last year I think I’ll just work on The Guild program for now. 
So as we move into 2011, I look back on 2010 and, even though there were some tough spots, I can appreciate all of the experiences that it brought, and where they have brought me to.  Many folks will say, “Good riddance”, to the old year, happy to move on to the next Mulligan.  Just be sure to reach back and dig out the diamonds of the past year before you close the book.  There may only be few, but surely there is always at least one worth pulling out.