Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fancy Tea Light Holder

Since I earn my keep as a teacher, the end of the spring semester can be quite chaotic; add to that a rapidly growing first child, and (as I've said before) my shop time is often quite spread out.

One of the projects I actually managed to get done this spring was a Mothers Day gift for my mom. In one of those sudden and unexpected dashes of pure inspiration (motivated by the fact that Mothers Day was only 48 hours away), the design popped into my head after my wife casually suggested that I make a candle holder.

I started out by determining a good scale for the project. Tea lights, those tiny little candles many people put in jack-o-lanterns, are about 1 1/2 inches across and about half an inch high, so I figured I'd space them about half an inch apart and add a half inch around the outside. I decided that three candles was all I needed, so this gave me my length and width: 6 1/2" by 2 1/2", give or take.

I grabbed some of my black walnut stock and cut two pieces to a little over size, with the intent of laminating them with a piece of red oak between. I drilled a hole for each candle in the top board using a Forstner bit, stopping the depth to match the candle height. Once I stacked the pieces up, though, I was troubled by the total thickness. I also didn't like the little divots at the bottom left by the brad point on my drill bit.

Ultimatlely, I wound up resawing the top board so that the red oak was visible at the bottom of each candle socket. This created a pleasing look, allowing the two wood species to contrast more (even though the oak bottoms of the sockets will be covered by candles), but just as important, it reduced the blockiness of the piece and created three layers with distinct thicknesses.

The magic of chamfer bits. And hand sanding.
I then hit all the edges with a chamfer bit on my fancy new router table setup. A light chamfer everywhere but the bottom edges, where the chamfer was a full half inch. I sanded everything up to 220, and then I embarked on my first experience with spray lacquer.

I referred to Steve Ramsey's instructions for applying spray lacquer, and I must say, this process produces fast and satisfying results -- despite my apparent efforts to screw it up. A hint: if the lacquer begins to run because you've sprayed too much, try rolling the piece over -- DO NOT try to wipe off the excess, or you might end up having to sand the entire surface again and start over.

The end result was fabulous -- my mother loved it, my sisters are jealous, and my wife asked me to make an even bigger one for our house. Which I did:

...but this one wasn't quite as smooth sailing as the first. More on that later.

Monday, June 2, 2014

Summertime, and the Living is Easy

Summer has unofficially begun, so I at long last have the opportunity to blog once again. I apologize to both of you who have been checking out The Upside-Down Tablesaw since February... My job has a funny way of intervening in my life. Now that I've reached summer vacation (guess what I do for a living), I think I'll be able to stay on top of this thing and perhaps even stockpile some content for the busy months. 

Keep checking back; I plan on new content on a regular basis, starting this week. Thanks for your interest!

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Glorious, Glorious Shop Time

My wife gave me a wonderful gift today: shop time.

Now, don't go thinking that my lovely wife restricts my time in the shop. We have a 6-month-old baby and chores with which to contend, and any of you who have kids know the impact that can have on your time in the shop. Sometimes, it just doesn't happen.

But today, since I'm mostly caught up on old stuff for work, and since my brother-in-law is in town, things worked out nicely. The wife and daughter headed up to visit, and I got to delve into the pit of chaos that is my shop. It seems that, before I got sick, I had made quite a mess out there.

So I spent some time cleaning up, made a little progress on my Workbench, and picked some stock to use for a new cutting board I'm going to make soon. Not the most productive of days, and certainly not the most fun -- the progress to which I referred was an hour or so of sanding -- but it was extremely rewarding. Sure, my back aches, and there is little to show for my time, but actually to have gotten out there to do something was a milestone.

So I'll be updating you soon on the new cutting board; it won't be much different from the ones I made for Christmas, but I'll try to document the process better. And I hope to have the base of my Workbench completed in the next couple of weeks -- depending, of course, on when I get more shop time.

And soon, I hope, I will begin featuring some of my favorite YouTube woodworkers. I've gotten pretty excited about that since I first though of it.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Get Sickworking Week

So I wrote a piece for Get Woodworking Week, in which I urged people to get over whatever fears they have or inadequacies they perceive and make something. I talked about being sick, which I was, and about how I was eager to get back in the shop.

Turned out I was fighting bronchitis. Not fun.

I missed most of a week of work, and then I spent the next several days making up for all the extra chores my wife had to do while I was laid up. Now, I'm buried under a pile of things to catch up on at work.

The long and short of it is that I will not be getting any shop time in the next week or two (at least), let alone very much time to blog about what I'm not building.

In the meantime, I will try to share some interesting woodworking things I've come across. I discovered as I was convalescing that the YouTube woodworking community has exploded with new content -- I think I'm now subscribed to more than two dozen woodworking channels! Everything from pros to hobbyists; every skill level from master to beginner. Until I am able to get back in the shop, I think I'm going to highlight these fine folks, hopefully encouraging them to keep on putting up new content.

In the meantime, folks, please think of me the next time you make some sawdust.

Wednesday, February 5, 2014

It's "Get Woodworking Week"...and I'm sick.

And I have a job. And a baby. And my drill is broken. And I have chores. And I don't know anyone who might be interested in visiting my shop (the customary activity during GWW) that I wouldn't be embarrassed to show my skill level. And I might screw up that batch of nice (insert fancily-named lumber here) if I don't take my time.

And so on.

Since I've started blogging about woodworking, it seemed a good idea to go ahead and write something up about Get Woodworking Week. At first, I thought it'd be cool to share a project I've completed -- or, at least, am working on. But my shop time is so limited that I didn't think there'd be much to share. Then, I thought, maybe I should write about stuff I'm planning to work on.


Finally, I realized that I'm Doing It Again. I'm coming up with excuses not to start; reasons that my contribution won't matter, or -- shudder -- will make things worse. It dawned on me that part of the reason my projects drag on longer than I'd prefer is that I always have to overcome my fear of screwing it up. Once I've made myself start, this fear continues to create inertia whenever I encounter a complex setup or an operation that requires great precision. It's a constant battle for me -- especially when coupled with my short attention span.

I've learned, however, that it's not just me. Other people struggle to get started, too -- and not just in woodworking. It affects jobs and relationships, too (how long did you put off asking that special someone out on a date?).

So, since I have a legit excuse for not woodworking today (cough, cough), I will write about Getting Woodworking. And here's what I have to say about it:


That, to me, is the essence of GWW. While it's wonderful and admirable to bring your friend or child into the shop in the hopes of inspiring someone to learn the craft, we have to engage in the craft ourselves. Surely we didn't dive into what can be an expensive hobby merely to amass tools we'll never use, right?

So what is stopping you? Apart from actual excuses, such as pressing obligations and day-to-day responsibilities, maybe there's some old hang-up that keeps you from putting blade to wood. I wouldn't be surprised to find that many people suffer from the same fear that I confessed, but whatever is holding you back doesn't matter. Resolve to go out into your shop (or garage, or patio, or toolshed, or driveway)this week and MAKE SOMETHING.

If you got into woodworking, chances are it's because you have a creative streak. Stop apologizing for it or diminishing it. The reason most adults draw like children is that they stopped learning how to do it as children, a time when, in our own minds, all of our work is The Most Amazing Thing Ever. It stands to reason, then, that if you learn a new craft as an adult, the learning curve can be frustrating.If you're new to woodworking, don't be ashamed of the first few doorstops -- er, projects -- that you make; they're all learning experiences. You may be too old anymore to appreciate having Mommy hang your first stupid project on the wall, but that's not why you made it in the first place.You had something to say; a desire to add something to the world that bears a piece of you (metaphorically, I hope). The fact that you stepped out and created something new -- even if it's a total rip-off of someone else's design, it didn't exist until you made it -- has brought something wonderful into the world.

So, just do it. Go make a bandsaw box. Don't have a bandsaw? Make a stepstool. No router? Make a simple shelf. No drill? Make a storage box. No wood? Go find a pallet and rip it apart.

I can't begin to describe how envious I am of those who, like me, have a little free time right now, but are also well enough to make some sawdust. Unfortunately, table saws and groggy heads are, shall we say, a recipe for a messy shop. I also am a little worried that my medicine-head has made this post seem a bit more eloquent and less preachy than it really is; if not, forgive me.

But Get Woodworking.

Monday, January 20, 2014

And Now For Something Completely Different

SPAX screws are your friend.
So, my Christmas vacation ended, and I'm now back to the daily grind. Shop time is now at a premium, so when an opportunity arose last weekend to make some sawdust, I jumped at it. The only problem was that I'd only have a couple of hours. What to do?

Should I continue with The Workbench? I'm now at the point of assembling the base, but once I begin that, I can't stop. I didn't relish the idea of starting that process and screwing it up because I was rushing. I decided I needed to do something else with my small amount of shop time.

Naturally, I bit off more than I could chew and settled on installing a lumber rack.

Now this project has been on my to-do list for some time -- even when we lived in our old house, I had wanted to put one up. Now, though, with a significantly larger lumber stash, my shop floor was becoming a mess (not to mention a trip hazard). I felt this was a reasonable choice to make, and I was sure I could knock it out in a few hours.


I have cement block walls in my garage shop, which meant drilling a lot of holes into concrete, not to mention cutting and drilling the studs and building the brackets. And installing them. Oh, and moving all of my lumber out of the shop first. Sheesh...

I started off by mounting a horizontal 2x4 along the wall because the base of the wall sloped away from plumb. This made it impossible to have the studs rest on the floor. I used six SPAX screws, each rated for 750 lbs, to anchor it.

Pilot holes in the studs
I counter-bored the studs through the side at about 1 1/2" in order to allow my 4" SPAX screws to have enough purchase when they reached the pilot holes in the block wall. I used four of these screws in each stud.

One thing I discovered is that one of the studs had a bit more twist than I realized. It didn't show up until I mounted a bracket to it, and I'm not really concerned about it causing an issue other than being an eye sore.

The brackets were lengths of 2x4 sandwiched between pieces of 5/8" plywood. I dispensed with the tapering of the plywood sides because -- as I indicated above -- I have a tendency to cut corners when I am rushing.

Starting to look like a wood shop!

So this took me two weekends. I used the design I'd seen Marc Spagnuolo and Drew Short use in their shops, and so far, it hasn't collapsed. It was awfully nice to get all that lumber off the floor and out of the corner! Next shop plan: using that wall space in the corner to hang my jigs and (hopefully) clamps and getting rid of that stupid shelf I previously used to store my 4' pieces.

And, of course, The Workbench.

Monday, January 13, 2014

The Workbench (Part 3)

As I said last time, I was kicking around the idea of building a tenoning jig to cut the tenons for the long stretchers. As I went out into the shop to start work on the tenons, I suddenly remembered this Fine Woodworking article featuring a "slick tenoning jig" made from phenolic plywood. Just for funsies, I looked up the cost of phenolic plywood and nearly fell out of my chair when I saw the price at Woodcraft. Thankfully, I had a nice big scrap of B/C grade 3/4" plywood and a can of paste wax to make mine just as slick and just as serviceable (and a bit simpler) for the cost of a little shop time.
Here's theirs...

...and here's mine.

Toggle clamps? We don't need no stinking toggle clamps!

A 48" stretcher ready for tenoning.
Truth be told, I had to build a straight-edge router jig in order to cut the dadoes in the tenon jig, so in essence, I built a jig to build a jig -- every woodworker's dream!

The test cuts went quite well, so I ventured to throw my 48" stretchers up onto the jig and cut away. The great thing about this jig is that you can batch out all of your cuts, which allows you to work pretty quickly but with a great deal of precision. In fact, you can even sneak up pretty close to your layout lines if you dare (and if your blade is dead-on vertical). You start by setting the depth of cut along the width of the tenon cheeks. Clamp the workpiece to the jig, run it through the table saw, flip the workpiece, and cut the other cheek. Then, you set the cut for the thickness of the tenon and follow the same procedure. After cutting all the tenons this way, I intend to use my crosscut sled to trim off the waste and reveal my tenons in all their glory. Note that I deliberately left the tenons a touch thick in both directions so that I can fine tune the fit.

My first tenon. I'm so proud.

I will admit that the jig can be a bit tricky with such a large workpiece. It already has a tendency to tip forward if it pinches the rip fence too much at the front. If I make another of these in the future, I might make it longer than the 12" the article recommends. Or I might try a jig I saw consisting of an adjustable plywood fence inside a deep crosscut sled. (Check it out on YouTube; it's pretty cool.) At any rate, though, the resulting tenon was dead-on square and exactly the measurements I need to finesse the fit.

Unfortunately, I ran out of gas pretty early on this particular day, and I can get pretty lazy and sloppy when I'm tired, so I called it a day before crosscutting and paring. I managed to get one tenon cut and ready for some finesse work, though, and I was pretty pleased with the results. Due to my lazy-tired state, though, I realized I was trying to pare with a chisel that needed honing and thus risking a mangled tenon. Not good.

Leg assembly glued up.
Oh, and I glued up the leg assemblies! I only have enough clamps to do one side at a time, and none of them are big enough to clamp the top stretchers down (hence the orange cargo straps), but it worked. Nice and square -- but I have to do a little fine tuning of the feet. I probably should have trimmed the ends after gluing up the legs. Oh well.
Hey, nice legs!

The Workbench (Part 1)
The Workbench (Part 2)

Friday, January 10, 2014

The Workbench (Part 2)

And now, it's time to cut my first mortises and tenons ever!

As I discussed in the previous installment, my Workbench was designed to eliminate the need to cut a dozen mortises and tenons. The short stretchers on the ends would sit in notches that were built -- not cut -- into the laminated legs. Unfortunately, I realized that it would be a pain to recreate that process on the long stretchers.

And, I admit, I wanted to try cutting mortises and tenons...just not 12 of them.

So the plan calls for the end short stretchers to set 6" off the floor, and the long stretchers (front and back) would be mortised into the legs. This presented another problem: should I mortise through the short stretchers, or tenon the long stretchers so that they slip under the short ones?

First drill-and-hand-cut mortise of my life.
Notice the layout lines outside the mortise?
I decided on the latter. So I laid out my first mortise, and in so doing, I realized what a mistake it would be to cut the mortises and tenons to the thickness of the tenon board. I ended up taking another 3/8" off the width. Wisely, I think.

My one-fence mortise jig. Doh!
In order to cut the mortises, I decided to hog out the material using my drill and a spade bit (since I have no drill press or mortiser). This proved to be a pain, since the material left between the drill holes ran three inches thick. It left a ton of chisel work. I decided to stop being lazy and spend an afternoon building a self-centering mortise jig for my router. Well, not really; at first, I decided to build a jig with only one fence; once that was finished, I realized how much more helpful the jig would be with two fences, so I built a second one. That's why it took all afternoon. At any rate, the jig was immensely helpful at cutting the mortises cleanly, but I don't have a bit long enough to cut all the way through the stock, even when cutting from both sides, so I ended up drilling away about 1/2" of material. Needless to say, it was a great deal easier to pair away the material the drill left behind since the router had eaten most of the thickness already.

The second mortise jig. Ooh la lah!
Ultimately, I wound up with four legs with fairly well-matched mortises, even with the roughness of the first one. None of them is perfect, but they're all close enough. I'm planning to draw bore the tenons in place, so a little slop is ok. I'm going to try cutting the tenons as close as possible to a slip fit as I can get, but I'm not going to throw the stretchers away if they are just a tiny bit loose.

Next on the agenda: cutting tenons. My plan at this point is to define the shoulders on the table saw and rough cut them to size by hand. I might try to build a tenoning jig, though; it'll depend how much scrap plywood I have lying around.

Four legs; four mortises.

The Workbench (Part 1)

Monday, January 6, 2014

The Workbench (Part 1)

If I'm going to be a woodworker, I need a Workbench!

That's the impression one gets from many of the online woodworking resources. I mean, it's common sense, to some degree; in order to work wood, one needs a surface on which to work it. Add to that the obvious need for holding work in place and the stability, resistance, and longevity afforded by a beefy workbench -- not to mention the learning experience and the rite of passage the project represents -- and it's a no-brainer: the Woodworker must build a workbench.

Of course, as I began to research workbenches, I quickly started to fret about whether I'd ever be able to build one that wouldn't embarrass me given that I can't afford a huge pile of 8/4 maple. Much to my relief, though, I came to find plenty of skilled woodworkers who had built their workbenches from construction-grade lumber, so I was able to assuage my self consciousness.

Pieces cut to rough length and width
I based the design off of the Roubo style, mainly because I like the stability afforded by four thick legs, but also because the Roubo benches I've seen are very pleasing to the eye. In order to get that classic Roubo heft, I decided to borrow from a design I'd seen in which the legs were made from laminated 2x4s. I had acquired a stack of three- to four-foot cut offs of 2x6, which enabled me to "mill" my parts somewhat. I ripped the leg pieces to just over 4" and cut everything to length, then laminated the parts.

The bench design I mentioned above also cut a crucial corner: instead of cutting mortises for each joint, the second layer of lumber was cut into shorter segments in order to create notches in the legs to accept the stretchers. Rather than cut a dozen mortises, I decided to use that technique. In the picture, you can see what I mean.
Gluing up a leg
After the legs were glued up successfully, I ripped them to final width, making them a substantial 3" x 4". On a side note, I was pleased to see how cleanly my table saw cut these pieces. It's always nice to have a glue line virtually disappear when laminating construction lumber that hasn't been thicknessed or jointed.

Once the legs were completed, I discovered that I had, oddly, neglected to make the final crosscut on the long pieces of two legs (below, marked with blue tape). Good thing I decided to stand them up together!

Next up: the four mortise-and-tenon joints I decided must happen.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Why, Yes - It Does Grow On Trees

When I first began looking into woodworking, I was discouraged by my perception that, in order to make anything interesting, I was going to spend a fortune on lumber. Even domestic hardwoods are far more expensive than the fabrics my wife uses for her hobbies; how could I justify dropping as much money on a load of wood that might cost more than some of my power tools?

In recent months, though, I've been invigorated by how many woodworkers I've seen using everything from construction-grade lumber to pallet wood to stock they ripped out of old furniture. Folks like Jay Bates and Steve Ramsey were among the first I saw who were really into repurposing used lumber, but it's really caught on. Whether you're doing it to save the world or to save a few bucks, there's neither shame nor any real difficulties inherent in working such woods, as long as you are creative, patient, opportunistic, and vigilant (you know...stray nails). This discovery really made me see I was wrong to assume that skilled woodworkers would look down their noses in spite at my work if I didn't use exotic woods with names my wife would mock as borderline vulgar.

So I'm building my Workbench using 2x6 cut-offs from the cull bin at Big Orange and a heavy solid-core door I got from my old employer. I've got a stack of pine boards sitting in the shop waiting to be transformed into a bookcase. And I made my Christmas cutting boards with wood that didn't cost me a dime. 

Maybe if I'm fortunate enough to sell a few projects that didn't cost anything to build, I'll shell out for some of that bubinga. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

What a Great Neighborhood

Flat portions ripped.
We just moved to Largo from St. Petersburg. We had not been here a month when I noticed that my neighbor across the street had a set of wooden shutters sitting out by the curb. As I am a fan of building things out of reclaimed wood, I crossed the street to liberate them from the trash.

What I came home with, however, was a pile of black walnut moulding, the shortest piece of which was around four feet. He even threw in a cedar 2x6 and a handful of white oak trim moulding -- all for free. 

So what on earth was I going to do with intricately profiled moulding? Make cutting boards, of course.

I started by ripping off the flat portions of the moulding on the table saw. I ended up with stock measuring about one to 1 1/2 inches in width. After cutting the strips to more manageable lengths, I threw them onto the crosscut sled and cut a few dozen 11-inch blanks.

Blanks arranged into groups before gluing.
My walnut strips were about 3/4" thick, and the oak were around 3/8". That gave me options for setting up contrasting color patterns, and options are a good thing when you've decided to make a batch of cutting boards as Christmas presents for your relatives.
Not owning a planer, drum sander, jointer, or even a jack plane, I was a little worried that the glue-up was going to leave me with a set of twisted washboards, especially considering the flexible nature of my cheap-o clamps. As it turns out, all but one of the boards came out smooth enough to proceed (note to self: when gang clamping, use decent clamps, and make sure to clamp vertically), so I cut them to final length using a crosscut sled on the table saw.
After glue-up
I was pleased to find that a little work with the block plane and the random-orbit sander (60 grit paper) evened things out nicely. The glue lines disappeared; the hills and valleys blended together.
After rough planing and sanding

I sanded the boards further using 100, 150, and 220 grits, achieving quite a smooth surface, then hit the edges with a 1/2" roundover bit in the router.

After softening all the edges and corners, I slathered all five boards with three coats of mineral oil.

On Christmas Eve. We wrapped them in paper towels the next morning.

All in all, I'm pretty pleased with how they turned out, and I'm planning on turning the rest of that pile of black walnut into even more cutting boards...hopefully in time for next Christmas...