TO PRE-FINISH OR NOT TO PRE-FINISH?

Yes, but only up to a point.

My three finger-joint boxes/drawers are made using red oak as this is my wife’s favorite, plus matches the cabinet where they will go, and with only a couple of exceptions I finish that wood with Watco (usually followed by a couple coats of paste wax). So after all of my pieces were completed I decided to finish them (sans the wax since these pieces will see some heavy use and am planning on putting on a couple coats of polyurethane) to avoid having to do it later since doing the insides, along with the bottoms, would be a little more difficult after assembly.

Just as an aside I did not realize how tedious getting these pieces ready to finish would be since I needed to tape over all the flat glue surfaces of the finger joints first. Additionally decided to put tape over the portion of the wood below the groove for the bottoms for a really neat tip I had read. Since plywood is almost always thinner than router bit diameters, or dado blades, this leaves the bottom loose. To keep the bottoms tight, glue some small blocks onto that small section below the groove pressed up against the bottom.

So two coats of Watco and some more tape in the inside corners to catch any glue squeeze out and assembly commenced.

With my boxes being assembled today was the day I decided to plane the finger joints flush with the sides. I had left them about 1/32″ proud based on most of the articles I have read about cutting finger joints.

Though before I started doing that I made this jig: http://www.finewoodworking.com/FWNPDFfree/jigs-for-planing.pdf, except I only made the larger part since I do not have a tail vise like shown in the article, cutting slots to fit my two drawer dimensions. I clamped the jig to my workbench and put one of the drawers on it, using a softwood wedge in the slot to keep the drawer from moving, and began planing using my Lee Valley low- angle block plane with their optional knob and tote (this turns that block plane into a small bench plane).

Admittedly I am not the absolute best at using a hand plane, but am trying to improve. I set my plane for as fine a cut as I could while still making decent progress with each cut, but found I also cut into my sides as well when getting down almost even with the sides, though not everywhere – so there went my finish efforts on the outsides.

This was also my first time to use, and appreciate a scraper using it to remove the plane blade gouges. Sanding and two more coats of Watco followed.

Should have stopped to realize that putting finish on the outsides would not be difficult,  I was just trying to “use my time and materials effectively” – lesson learned.

So yes do pre-finish but not on any surfaces which you have to work on, or next to, that might be “in harm’s way”; unless you like to re-do previous work or just want some more practice.

Oh yes, this afternoon my beautiful wife informed me she wants me to make two more of these drawers – good thing I’ve had plenty of experince!

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DRY FIT

DO IT!!

When it has taken me awhile to get to the assembly stage of a project I get very anxious and too often skip this all important step.

I have been working on some finger-jointed letter tray type drawers for my wife, and due to trying new techniques, making new jigs, and having weather not conducive to applying finish or glue these have taken me far too long to get done. Today I finally had the opportunity to do some assembly.

I had previously measured the inside of these drawers, added the depth of the grooves for the size of the bottoms and cut the 1/4″ plywood for the bottoms so I was more than ready. I applied glue to the finger joints of the first drawer and put everything together – it did not go together! Upon inspection it turned out that the plywood bottom was too long.

Now I have glue drying and need to take this drawer apart, determine how much to trim off, cut it off, put it all back together and hope the glue has not dried too much. I managed to get it all back together and clamped up, but have to wait and see if it holds together.

Oh yeah, while trying to get the pieces together initially the back piece cracked along the groove for the bottom thanks to the bottom being too long (that and me tapping on it with a mallet to get it to go together). So along with having all of the above I also had to apply glue to that piece, clamped up separately and put in place along with the rest of the drawer.

So don’t skip the dry assembly step, it can save you a lot of headaches. And hopefully I will have learned this valuable lesson myself for the next project.

FINGER JOINTS (mostly)

First, some professional woodworkers use, and advocate using, chalk for marking your parts (numbering, indicating mortises, reference faces, etc.) so I have been trying that – DON’T DO IT! I have found (and it cost me) that the chalk “rubs off” quite quickly and your marks become barely readable. And today because of that I now have to remake the parts of two of my drawer parts (well that and a poor choice on my part – but more on that).

I have tried to keep the parts of each drawer together so as not to get them mixed up, but today they spilled and in trying to put them back together got some of them mixed up (since I could barely read the markings) with the result being some of those parts are so messed up I have to start over from scratch (cutting them to rough size, re-sawing them to rough thickness, etc.).

Basically even though I tried to plane these parts to the same width they came up slightly different. Initially I tried to gang the four pieces for each drawer together and plane them at the same time, but because oak has so much grain reversal I found that would not work (at least not without tear-out on some of the edges plus it made the planing more difficult). So I set up the finger joints for each based on their width.

As I mentioned earlier I had cut these parts 1/16″ longer and had set my dado blade 1/32″ higher than the thickness of my pieces (or so I thought). And since the fingers originally turned out to be the same length as my stock is thick, I decided I wanted to cut them that 1/32″ deeper; this was my first and “fatal” mistake although leaving them as they were would have resulting in these drawers being slightly bigger than planned and possibly not fitting the openings (another set of problems with more difficult solutions).

I reset my jig based on one of the drawer pieces but having gotten some parts now mixed up, the fingers on at least two of the pieces for each drawer came out quite a bit thinner than the slots (or the slots too wide depending on your perspective), so back to square one!!

One other thing I should have done in the beginning was to have double-checked the length of my fingers (height of my dado blade) and locked it down when it was correct. Though as I mentioned before, some of the slots cut by my dado blade fit differently on the indexing pin – some were tight and some were not; still not sure how that happened.

I guess by the time I finally get through will all these finger joints I should be almost an expert – though I doubt it.

One comment is if you plan on doing fingers joints be sure to prep at least a couple of extra pieces so if anything does go wrong you can pick up a spare and keep going (but then that really applies to any project). And believe me it is VERY easy for things to go wrong.

For one you really have to pay attention to how you are cutting each piece. I started by putting my front piece (finished face out) against the indexing pin to establish the first finger, then moving that slot onto the indexing pin and continue cutting until all the slots are cut. To get the spacing correct on the piece/end that butts up to it, you have to turn that piece (the front piece in my case) 180 degrees with the first slot on the indexing pin (finished face now against the jig) and butt the mating piece against it (with its’ finished face out); that puts the top edges together and the slot in the same place as the first finger. Then remove your first piece and move that new slot against the indexing pin and continue cutting the remainder of those slots. The same process goes for the back piece and its’ mating edges. I hope none of that is confusing.

To add another bit of complexity to all of this, the articles I read about cutting finger joints say that you need to score each piece on the exit side of your dado blade so as to prevent tear-out at the end, and from my test pieces I found that to be completely true. SO you have to now decide which side will be against you jig and score that side with the length of your fingers, and then figure out which side of the mating piece will be against your jig and score that side, and so on. I found this to be quite a challenge, resulting in several pieces being scored on both sides since I had them turned around. One helpful tip here is to put a “V” mark on what will be your top edge with the ‘V’ pointing like an arrow head toward which face is the outside (I got that tip from an e-book I have been reading – but do not do it with chalk).

I realize this is all a bit long (and hopefully not toomuch of a jumble), but I needed to out it all down “for posterity” and maybe help you not make the same mistakes.

CHECKING IT OUT

In my blog post “Cutting the Line”  I talked about the straight line cutter I made like the one Lie-Nielsen makes and today there was one of their Tool Events in my area. So I took MY cutter with me to compare it with “the original” and found that I came extremely close to theirs. Other than using aluminum instead of brass, the only difference was that their head is about 1/8″ longer than mine. So now all I need to do is get the blade sharpened on mine – a chore for another day.

SATISFACTION

I know it is the same with all of you – it is really satisfying to take pieces of wood and turn them into something useful, pleasing or attractive (after, of course, any frustrations, ‘Well shoot”‘s and “oh, man!”)

To me it is also satisfying to take something that looks like this:

And turn it into something that looks like this:

Whenever I refurbish old tools I start by soaking them in EvapoRust, then (after I have rinsed them in water and dried them off) I use a wire brush on my grinder to buff up the metal from the EvapoRust soak, and then I often put a couple coats of paint on them (I use black gloss engine paint as it closely matches the appearance of the original – Japanning in the case of hand planes – and it holds up very well).

So after an hour of two of work I end up with a tool that looks almost new.

Hugh Terry

Cutting the line

I want to try doing some string inlay but know you have to have a way to cut the recess. After looking at a lot of options decided that the Lie-Nielsen Straight Line Cutter is a good choice due to its’ adjustability.

But since I have more time on my hands than money in my wallet, thought I would try my hand at making one. And to keep from having to make a blade I ordered one from Lie-Nielsen.

The first challenge was that I had no idea of the size of the head. It looks to be about 1-1/2″ thick so I went with that, and just happened to have a nice piece of hard maple that was that thickness. The length of the arm appears to be about 6″long, so used that.

I looked on the internet for any other pictures I could find of this, but any website that also sells this has the same picture. But I did find a video on Lie-Nielsen’s YouTube channel done by Steve Latta, the original maker of this cutter plus the other inlay tools, showing how to sharpen the blade. And watching him use it at the end thought that it looked to be about 6″ to 6-1/2″ long, so went with that. And the rabbet looks to be 1/2″ deep by 1″ in height.

Having decided those dimensions I laid out an ellipse that looked to be about the right size and made a copy of that. I use SketchUp a lot so I imported that into the program and made a model based on MY dimensions.

Having that done, the next thing was to find some brass flat stock and fittings but could not find that anywhere in my area. But I did have some aluminum flat stock and a steel knurled nut, so I used that.

Watching that sharpening video it seemed that the piece in front of the the blade (that the screw goes in) is shaped on the backside the prevent the blade from rotating when you are cutting the wood (which makes sense). So for that I used a finish washer and filed off opposing edges an amount equal to just a bit less than the blade thickness.

Here is my finished cutter:

I think I came pretty close, although I think Lie-Nielsen’s is a bit taller. I have not used it yet so cannot say how it performs,  but it should do alright (I hope).

Hugh Terry

Still Cleaning

I am still cleaning my wooden planes (finished almost half of them) and currently working on the hollows and rounds (there is a set of nine) and what amazes me is the accuracy these craftsmen were able to achieve. To be able to take a piece of wood about 1/4″ thick and cut a mouth that is angled is to me quite a feat:

Something I believe most of us would have a hard time doing today.

Hugh Terry