Sunday, November 25, 2012

A Tool Chest for Hand Saws

A Tool Chest for Hand Saws

This is a long narrow tool chest to house hand saws and other longer items that do not fit well in the traveler's tool chest. It is 31W" x 9"H x 11D". The measurements were based on the largest saw that I wanted to put in the chest. It is a very simple design.  All of the wood is 3/4" thick, except the top panel which is 15/32".  The sides are connected with through dovetails.  The top and bottom panels are set into grooves along the inside perimeter.  The top panel has an inlay pattern on the outside and a carved advertisement for a saw on the inside.

The tails are marked first.

After gang cutting the tails, the waste is removed with a coping saw. Pins are marked and cut.

The Stanley 55 was used again for this project.  The "55" created the following:
  • The bottom of the chest consists of 4 boards assembled together with 1/4" tongue and groove joinery. There are matching tongue and groove cutters on the 55.
  • Side rebates were cut on the bottom panels after installing a nicker blade. This blade  is a bit of a hassle to install because of the very small parts, a set screw and the nicker itself. Once set up properly, the nickers work well across the grain.
  • 1/4" grooves were cut on the sides to create top and bottom grooves. Although half-lapped dovetails can be used, I opted to use a router plane with a 1/4" blade and chisel to cut grooves through the front and rear panels stopping the groove before the end of the dovetail so that the groove does not show externally.

 The box is assembled (but not glued) with the top and bottom panels installed.  To create the lid, the entire assembled box is cut making sure to pass through the middle of the third dovetail from the top. A very straight cut is needed. Use a cutting gauge to mark the location of the cut through the third tail from the top. I used a fine toothed Japanese pull saw around the entire perimeter of the reduce tearing. 


The routing out for inlay for the lid was created with a 1/4" cutter installed into a Veritas router plane with a fence. To prevent tear out, 1/4" chisel cuts were made at the ends of the grooves preemptively.
 Using a cutting gauge and a fine toothed saw, 1/4 " strips of wenge wood (use respirator and dust collector) were fitted into the inlay grooves. Use a shooting board to take off just the correct amount of length for each piece.

Low angle block plane skewed to flatten the inlay to the same level as the panel.

 One layer of tung oil

 Cherry oil-based stain

1906 D-8 Advertisement
 A Disston Saw advertisement carved out using a CNC machine (if you are going to cheat and use power tools, you might as well go all out) for the inside surface of the top panel. Thinned out acrylic black paint was applied for the carved out letters.  Rub-N-Buff gold and silver was applied with a gloved index finger for the high spots.

Handles, mortise lock, +/- casters to follow.

Sunday, October 7, 2012

A Few Upgrades to the Tool Chest

I thought that the traveling tool chest (see prior post) was supposed to be done. I noticed a few glitches. First of all, the lower tills would tilt when placing them in the chest, making it difficult to place the trays on the rails. All that was needed was a pair of 1/4" thick strips of wood placed between the two rail guides. 

Next the lower tills were awkward to remove. For the lighter tray, a handle connected together with through dovetails was added similar to that of a picnic basket.

For the other tray, because it is so heavy, custom made brass hinges were made to secure the flip top lid for the Stanley No. 55 cutters. A brass handle was added. The handle was a bit too tall, so it needed to be recessed. Chisels and a router plane. 

The handle needed to be recessed a bit. The pointed blade on the router plane is great for going against grain and getting into corners.

 Approximate cost of hardware:
Full mortise lock: $25 + shipping from Lee Valley Tools
Lid hinges, chest handles, corner guards, brass hinge for heavy till (from a hobby shop) combined were about $16 combined.

Thursday, October 4, 2012

The Woodwright's School and a Traveling Tool Chest

Ten amateur woodworkers with varied backgrounds gathered together from all parts of the country (NY, PA, TX, CA, OR, NC, GA) in mid-September for a week of traditional woodworking sans power tools.  After much anticipation, I finally made it down to Pittsboro, NC for benchwork week at the Woodright's School. It was better than I anticipated - entertaining and educational.  Roy Underhill, the host of the long running PBS show, runs the school. Bill Anderson assisted.  They are great teachers offering many pearls as we sawed and chiseled away.  Despite 8-9 hour days, we were entertained throughout the week with tidbits of woodworking history and humorous shtick. We each had our own high quality workbench and could use just about any tool in the shop, as well as demo tools from Ed Lebetkin's stockpile of tools in his shop upstairs. Our final goal was to create a traveling tool chest using various joinery techniques including dovetails, mortise and tenon joints and a raised panel. All told, I think we all put in about 25+ hours of work into the tool chest.

We started out the week by spending the very first hour joining two pieces of wood by whatever method we chose. It was a good way to warm up to the tools and to each other. After the hour, we talked about our method and ways of improving our technique.

We then learned details on dovetails and started cutting out dovetails for the main carcass of the chest. This took up most of the remainder of the day, but there were many instructional breaks along the way to hone our technique.
Laying out the tails

After cutting out the tails then pins, we used hide glue to put the box together. This is where teamwork was needed since the glue dries quickly. We had 3 or 4 of us helping to glue and clamp each box . 

Roy demonstrating his custom single stroke dovetail saw.

After the boxes were assembled, the not so famous magicians, Alex and Roy, performed a variation of Howard Thurston's famous trick using the world's longest dovetail saw (affectionatelty called "The One Stroke") and our newly created boxes.

The bottom boards were tongued and grooved together then attached using cut nails around the perimeter. Some of us added beads along the edges for a shadow line effect or to camo the boards as they join. It is also a good way to gather gobs of sawdust.
I added 5 bead lines with the No. 55 plane, two of which were not on the board edges, to provide equally spaced beads. I picked up this moving fillister (fillitster?) plane from Ed's shop upstairs as well as a sweet cutting gauge (in the finished tool chest below).

Of course, in order to graduate for the week we had to hone our skills in the fine art of saw twanging.
With all of the power behind the tools being generated by us, we worked up pretty good appetites. Pittsboro has a fine selection and variety of restaurants given its small population. All ten of the students, Bill and Roy broke for lunch around noon daily.  We dined at a Greek restaurant, the soda shop next door, an old fashioned diner, and a market (similar to Whole-Foods).

Next, we moved on to the bottom skirt. The skirt has a moulded profile on its top edge.  One of Bill's areas of expertise is moulding planes.  I fiddled around with a few of the traditional wooden moudling planes, but I ended up succumbing to my old faithful, the Stanley 55.

Finally, a rail and stile raised panel lid topped off the chest. We learned about haunched tenons and how to position the groove for the panel. Roy also showed us the process of drawboring a tenon to cinch up the joint.

The week was well worth it for me. It provided me with a solid foundation and confidence that should allow me to pursue some more complex designs. Thanks fellow students and teachers. I had a blast. But, Roy said it was time for us to go.

Sunday, May 20, 2012

Thomas Jefferson Bookstand

Many years ago, as a kid, I visited Monticello, Thomas Jefferson's estate near Charlottesville, VA. I was amazed at his creativity and his gadgetry. In the study, there was an awkward machine for creating duplicates of his writings called a polygraph. What impressed me more was a somewhat simpler looking device for perusing up to 5 books or sheets of music at a time. I believe that the stand was placed in the parlor in the 1980's but was later moved to his study.  The five sided rotating bookstand, now referred to as the Thomas Jefferson bookstand, could only make me wonder how curious and studious a man Jefferson must have been. I can envision him furiously spinning this thing to cross-reference Palladio, Voltaire, or whatever sundry topic he was researching. Jefferson was a fan of modern technology; and this was probably state of the art. If he were alive today and still had his bookstand, he probably would have substituted a few books for a couple of iPads.

Thomas Jefferson Book Stand in the Smithsonian
The original Jefferson bookstand is currently on display at the Smithsonian, although I do recall seeing the bookstand about 8 years ago in the basement of the Jefferson Memorial. 

Jefferson's Cabinet with replica bookstand
As I was not into woodworking as a kid, I had pretty much forgotten about this device for many years. I had dabbled in woodworking for the last few years, mostly with power tools. However, it was the discovery of the use of hand tools, particularly hand planes, that piqued my interest in woodworking over the past year. From a safety standpoint, there is probably less risk of a serious injury with hand tools and less concern for dust control. The latter is especially important to me since my shop is only a glorified walk-in closet at 10' x 6' without windows.

I scoured flea markets and antique stores in my area to procure a basic set of hand tools, and purchased a few tools new.  Here's a list of hand tools that I find quite useful and used for this project:

  • Chisels - including mortising and paring chisels
  • Planes - Stanley No. 4 and No. 6, low angle plane, 71 shoulder plane
  • Stanley 55 Combination Plane
  • Veritas Router Plane
  • Marking gauge and striking knife
  • Saws - dovetail, Disston rip and crosscut, japanese pull saws
  • Shooting board - 90 degree, 45 degree and donkey's ear

Veritas Large Router Plane

Stanley 55 
I have to thank Roy Underhill and his show, The Woodwright's Shop, for inspiring me to learn how to better use these tools. The episode that got me hooked was one I found on his website where he explains how to make the Jefferson bookstand. He explained that legend has it that Jefferson likely designed the bookstand.  There is not another of it's kind. According to Bob Self (see video from, the Director of Restoration for Monticello, a provenance from Jefferson's grandson, Thomas Jefferson Randolph, confirms that this piece was owned and used by him. He must have been inspired by AndrĂ© Roubo's tome entitled L'Art du Menuisier, in which there is a description of a folding two-sided music stand with a ratcheting mechanism to allow for angle adjustment. While Jefferson was an amatuer woodworker (Jefferson had his own workshop upstairs at Monticello), many authorities believe that the bookstand was created at Jefferson's joinery shop down the hill and immediately south from Monticello's main house, known as Mulberry Row.

The Dome Room at Monticello. Through the door at the rear of the dome  room lies a  room that  Jefferson used as a workshop. Virginia Jefferson, Thomas' grandaughter wrote in 1823:

"I have never told you of the nice little cuddy that has become my haunt, and from which I am now writing. Do you recollect the place over the parlour's Portico into which the dome room opened? Since the columns to the portico have been completed, Grand-Papa has had the great work bench removed from it, and a floor layed. Corneilia's ingenuity in conjunction with mine formed steps from the dome into this little closet with a pile of boxes, and having furnished this apartment with a sopha to lounge upon, though alas! without cushions, a high and low chair and two small tables, one for my writing desk, the other for my books; and breathing through a broken pane of glass and some wide cracks in the floor; I have taken possession with the dirt daubers, wasps and humble bees; and do not intend to give it up to any thing but the formible rats which have not yet found out this fairy palace."

Thomas Jefferson's personal workshop was hidden away above the rear portico with an entry door via the dome room on the second floor

 It seems most likely that James Dinsmore and/or his apprentice, John Hemings, the latter who was one of Jefferson's slaves and the half-brother of Sally Hemings, built the bookstand around 1810. John was the primary cabinetmaker and woodworker for Monticello from 1809 through the 1820's.

All that remains of John Hemmings joiner shop on Mulberry Row is this chimney.

For years, historians believed that this stand was a music stand since there is a hole at the bottom thought to house a tripod.

Roy's episode focuses mostly on how to make the panel, which consists of 6 through mortise and tenon joints to create a breadboard clamp. The vertically oriented grain of the end "clamps" of the panel stabilize the main panel's horizontal grain from warping. To further stabilize the wood, the tenons are haunched, meaning that a tongue and groove joint accompanies the mortise and tenons.  The vertical ends of each panel are then beveled back to eventually allow the whole contraption to collapse down into a 12" cube. I guess this would allow Jefferson to carry this contraption for travel - the ancestor to the laptop perhaps. Jefferson's bookstand was made of Mahogany. Roy Underhill used walnut in his episode, although it looks like he used cherry for another stand he has displayed in other episodes.

Fortunately, I was able to find the plans for this project on his Woodwright's School website. There is also a piece by David Richards on how to use SketchUp to make the plans which is quite useful.  

I decided to use cherry (I had enough darker woods in my study). My goal was to create this thing without power tools so that I could improve my hand tool skills. This was really my first project created without power tools. It was a good learning experience and broadened my knowledge of the craft.  After making the 32 mortise and tenon joints for this project, my skills definitely improved (although my back and novice hands took a temporary toll). Roy's plans call for 1/2" panels. I opted for 5/8" because I was concerned about tear out when creating the 1/4" wide mortises.

What can you use this bookstand for? Perhaps, I am not quite the researcher that Jefferson was. But, I do use it to clear up desk space and display books. One slight problem of this design for modern day is that most reference books tend to be larger than 9", which is the approximate usable height of each panel. This can be circumvented by placing the larger books on one of the "rear" panels and opening up the top panel. Another point is that books with decent bindings do not tend to stay open on the page that you want. Therefore, you probably will need weighted bookmarks if you are using this for its actual purpose.

If you are interested in making this, first look at The Woodwright's Shop episode on the PBS website. Roy focused primarily on the panel. Then download the plans which you can download from the Woodwright's School website. Some additional tips are below.

Breadboard created by vertical "clamps" of wood

Three tenons seen on the left panel

 The fit of the tenons was quite tight. Apply a dab of glue only to the central tenon to reduce the risk of cracking as the wood expands with summer humidity. I think I may have made a mistake by using wood filler to hide the tiny spaces in some mortise and tenon joints. The "clamps" were back beveled to 45 degrees using a "donkey's ear" shooting board. For details of how to make this type of shooting board, click here

Folded down unit. Ledges created with one of the complex cutters of the Stanley 55 plane by using a  piece of cherry with plenty of room for excess waste. You will waste quite a bit from tear out when going across the grain. Incline the ledge a few degrees from front to back to better grasp the book. 

Notches allow adjustment of panel to different angles. These were simply marked and chiseled out.

Large groove on top panel created by scoring knife, saw cuts and router plane

Haunched tenon seen on top panel

The rotating mechanism of Jefferson's original is still a bit of a mystery to me. I went the anachronistic route by using a store bought low profile lazy susan embedded between the two bottom boards. I tried it first by having it spin on the top of the rod, but there was too much wobble. Perhaps the original used wood and mutton tallow, just a guess. 

Nicely aged cherry, a couple of months after completion. For finishing, sand to 600 grit, then use only tung oil (initially with mineral spirits), then a couple more coats of pure tung oil. 0000 steel wool between later coats. A coat of Briwax gave the wood a beautiful brilliancy or chattoyance.