Monthly Archives: May 2012

When Free to Work, Secrets Evolve

I came into the shop this past week with all intentions to finish construction on the secretary I’ve been working on forever. I have developed numerous secret compartments for this piece – I plan to share these via video next week on this blog. I could not, however, pass on the opportunity to include a couple more secrets as I wrapped up the build.

I have never seen secret compartments built into desk lid supports, or lopers as they are called by some. I challenged myself to make it happen. At first I searched for a small something that I could slip into place, but when I came up empty I became creative and borrowed an idea from Roy Underhill’s grease pot (built and posted by The Village Carpenter. See it here.) My idea was simple and it worked.

First, at the rear of the loper, mark the area that will become your lid as shown in the photo. I used my dovetail layout jig to make a slight angle on the top face, then connected the lines to create the 1/4″ lid. A light scribeline helps start and guide your saw.

I used a Japanese small rip Dozuki from Lee Valley & Veritas because it had the thinnest blade of all the saws I have in the shop and a thin cut is less likely to be noticed.

With my top cut free, I drilled a 3/4″-diameter hole into my 1″ wide supports, but any size hole works. My drill press made sure the hole stayed true without peeking out one side or the other. The key here is to drill deep enough to hold whatever you think might be stored in this compartment – I suspect rolls of cash. You do not, however, want to drill completely through the loper – not much of a compartment if your goods fall out the bottom.

All that is left is to reattach the lid. Mark the lid for your screw and make sure there is enough swing in the lid and that your lid clears the compartment when it’s fully open. (My screws were centered at 3/8″ from the ends while the holes were drilled 1 1/4″ from the ends.) The screws I used are perfect for this job because the threads stop before the screw head. This allows the lid to pivot on the screw shaft without catching any threads.

Hold the lid in place as you drill a pilot hole for your screws. Install your screws and the job is done. Tension holds the lid closed until you unveil the secret.

Below is a short video that shows how you access and use these compartments.

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Filed under Design, Secret Compartments, Shop Tips

A Week of Finish

Ever heard of powdered shellac? I hadn’t until Saturday when I presented a day long seminar on finishing for the Michigan Woodworkers’ Guild. As I talked about aniline dye, shellac and lacquer, there were a few questions asked and more than a few great ideas and techniques tossed about. With 90 woodworkers sitting in a group discussing finishes and finishing, you know there is going to be a lot of interesting information discussed.

I’m the guy they asked to speak and I hope attendees picked up something during the day that makes them better woodworkers and finishers. I seldom participate in an event such as this without gaining knowledge or a tip of some kind to make me better at what I do. This seminar was no different.

During our discussion about shellac, Ed Stuckey (see some of his work here), brought up powdered shellac. As he explained (and I intend to discover for myself), you add powdered shellac to your project so the powder settles into the grain. As you add another layer of liquid shellac, the powder is redissolved to help fill pores. This technique would certainly be faster in filling grain than multiple coatings of shellac where you sand the surface back to knock any shellac peaks into the shellac valleys. I am curious if it’s possible to use pulverized shellac flakes in the same way, or is there something altogether different about powdered shellac. I think this is worth a closer look. Thanks, Ed. To see a listing that I found on Ebay, click here.

Before leaving for Michigan, I wrapped up an article for The Finishing Store which is the online store for Apollo Sprayers International Inc. The Finishing Store publishes a monthly newsletter. My piece for this next issue discusses how to finish projects without muting, masking or otherwise destroying inlay. My last article was on glaze. Here is a link to that issue (click here). Be sure to check out other newsletters – finish guru, Bob Flexner, writes for each newsletter – as they are all available on the site.

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I was informed that Don Williams, senior furniture conservator at The Smithsonian’s Museum Conservation Institute, uses and deals in powdered shellac. I contacted him about the shellac and was told that the main reason woodworkers use this product is the speed at which the powder translates to useable shellac. Here is Don’s reply, “What I have is more properly described as #1 Lemon shellac flour, exceedingly finely ground with an analytical mill.  I use it much like standard shellac except that it goes into solution almost immediately.” He also added, “…it can be used as Roubo described by mixing it with beeswax and using it as a grain filler.”

I received a bag of shellac flour – the texture is very similar to baking flour – from Mr. Williams with which to experiment. As I become more enlightened, I will add more to this update. If you would like to pick up some of shellac flour to try in your shop, contact Don Williams at



Filed under Finish Techniques

Woodworking Questions

My email address is not secret. Many of you send questions to me once in a while. Most ask for information or help. Others wonder what the hell I’m doing. I like the questions, so if you need information or have a question about a project I’ve built, please contact me. Below are questions and answers that I thought were good information that should be passed along.

That Tricky Rabbet
I have started on a slant front desk based on the New England Secretary in one of your books. I have one question as I prepare the sides; what is the distance from the top of the writing surface to the start of the slant? It looks to be somewhere between 3/4″ and 1″, but I am not sure and it is not shown in the book.

John S

That’s a question I get a lot. The answer depends on the thickness of your lid – more exactly, on the thickness of its rabbeted edge.

Take a look at the photo. You need to start with your writing surface laid in, then determine the rabbeted area of your lid which would be 1/2″ on a 3/4″-thick lid if you are using a 1/4″ lip. Create a setup similar to the one shown in the photo to determine your length. My longer rule is attached at the edge of the desk top. The two rules are set to form a 90 degree corner with the 6″ rule measuring the thickness of my rabbet. (You can see how this figure could change based on your rabbet, lid and lip dimensions.)

Another method is to figure the distance algebraically using A squared + B squared = C squared where the measurement you’re searching for is C and the rabbet of your lid is both A and B. Using 1/2″ as the rabbet thickness results in a slightly under 3/4″ measurement. (Again,  you can see how the size shifts given the thickness of your rabbet.)

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Tall Clock Dial Size
Hi Glen,

I have a year old copy of your “Building Period Furniture” that now looks like 10 year old copy (well used). I have two block fronts about 90% complete, two secretary bottoms about 50% complete. I like to build two at a time. While I am waiting for some more mahogany I am drawing the bench rod for the Pennsylvania tall case clock.

To keep proportions as perfect as they look, I am wondering what is the dial size you used in this clock and who is the supplier. Looking at suppliers here in the UK the the largest dial seems to be 280mm x 395mm. which seems too small. I bought your “Finishes that Pop” DVD just before Christmas. Great informative DVD.

Thank You,
Northern Ireland

Greetings Alan,

I’m glad to see your book getting such use. You are taking on very nice projects. I enjoyed building them, as well.

You are correct on your assessment of the dial sizes. Your dials are undersized as to what I use and what is a common size here in the States. The dial for my clock was 12.5″ wide (317.5mm, if my conversion is correct) by 17.625″ tall (447.675mm).

The movement  I used for the clock in the book was produced by David Lindow (Click here to visit his web site). You can get more information, movements and dials  from Mike Siemsen’s web site (Click  here).

Best of luck on your projects and …

Build Something Great!
Glen D. Huey

What is That Finish?
Hi Glen,

I am familiar with your aniline dye/shellac finish for a deeper tiger maple finish.  I always seem to get  a finish that is too shiny. I noticed that you recommend a ” dull-rubbed” lacquer. Is that the name of the kind of lacquer, a rubbed out lacquer or what?


Hey Bob,

When using shellac, I generally use either of two options to knock down the sheen. I either rub-out the finish using #0000 steel wool (sometimes I use wool lube to make the work a little easier), or I topcoat my project with a pre-cat lacquer from Sherwin Williams with a dull-rubbed effect sheen. The low sheen finish is made so by adding flattening agents to the lacquer. Sherwin Williams sells this product through its commercial divisions, not in the regular paint stores.

Another option that I am just beginning to explore is to use a water-based urethane in a satin finish, such as General Finishes Enduro-Var Satin. With this product, you apply a single coat, then after it’s dry lightly rub with steel wool.

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Small Diameter Router Bits

I am a home shop woodworker who makes reproductions of American Colonial furniture.  I am having trouble finding a way to make 1/16” vein line for string inlay.  Is there a 1/16″ router bit available or how else does one prepare for a 1/16” string inlay.  I have previously used a 1/8” bit to inlay 1/8” string inlay and that worked very well, but in some pieces a 1/8” string inlay is too thick for the piece at hand.

I bought two of your books and have enjoyed studying them and using some of the demonstrated techniques on the pieces I have reproduced.

Several of the pieces I have made were from Lester Margon’s 1949 book “Construction of American Furniture Treasures”.  It’s a great hobby!!

Montgomery, AL

Hey Henry,

I’m glad that you found a few ideas in my books to make woodworking better for you. I, too, have spent many hours looking through Mr. Margon’s book – it’s a great woodworking book.

There are 1/16″ router bits to be found. If you visit there is a section that has router bits used for inlay work. The site also sells inlay and banding in many different configurations. I especially like the router bits because they are longer than many other 1/16″ bits available – as such, they reach past patterns and get to the workpiece. These bits have an 1/8”-diameter shank, so you would also need to purchase a  sleeve (shown in the middle) unless you have an appropriate collet for your router or are working with a hand-held rotary tool such as a Dremel.

Bosch has 1/16″ bits, too. These bits have shorter cutting lengths which could require that you set-up differently in order to use them for inlay as it is more difficult to reach past patterns.  The Bosch bit has a  1/4”- diameter shank.

I would suggest that you pick up a couple bits when and if you order. Bits this small tend to break more easily than larger diameter bits.

If you have additional questions, please contact me again.

Build Something Great !
Glen Huey


Filed under Design, Finish Techniques, Power Tools, Questions, Routers, Shop Tips

Sometimes Power is the Best Answer

Editor’s note – last week on Sunday as I prepared my blog, my computer crapped out. A new hard drive was installed this week. Of course, all my files were lost. (No, I didn’t have a back up! Lesson learned) My apologies if you stopped by to nothing new.

When you study desk interiors, one of the interesting aspects is the varied shapes. Undulating curves make the interiors more appealing – that and the many compartments and small drawers. Combined, these two attributes bring about curious curves that lead to a dovetailing puzzle.

Take a look at the lower drawer in the opening photo. The end of the drawer front toward the side of the desk is straight up. There is no mystery in these dovetails due to the square end. However, the opposite end of the drawer front is more complex. As shown to the right, curves cause the front to bend off the bench top as the front sits flat. It would be nearly impossible to chop dovetail sockets into this piece without building support under the edge. You would splinter or break the drawer front as you pound out waste. And support is difficult because there is no flat surface at the edge to rest against. What to do.

This is where it’s best to add a little power to your hand work and bring out a trim router. With a small diameter router bit loaded, you nibble away the waste to clear your socket, then it’s back to chisels to clean the socket and true up its sides. The obvious concern is how to balance a router on the drawer front’s edge as you hog out waste.

When routing waste on flat panels simply clamp a scrap along the back of your workpiece just even with the edge. The added thickness provides support for your router as you work. (To see this setup and how it works, check out this video, click here.) Here again the curved front presents a problem because there is no surface to which to clamp. This is where you need to put on a thinking cap.

Cut a bevel into an 8/4 piece of stock – a 4/4 scrap would have worked just as well – so the bevel cut somewhat matches the drawer front bend as the workpiece was clamped into a bench vise. Position the scrap so it extends over the vise, then clamp the scrap to the bench. Use a small square to set the drawer front flush to the top edge of the scrap and level with the scrap as shown in the photo. With this setup, the scrap provides support for a trim router as waste is routed from the sockets.

Before I began any routing I scribed my base line, laid out my socket areas, then cut the sides with my dovetail saw. This defines the sockets and provides a bumper when you route as you do not want to nick the sides of your sockets. Also, remember to set the depth of cut on your router.

Trim away most of the excess as shown in the photo below, then use chisels to pare your sockets to finished shape.

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Filed under Jigs, Power Tools, Routers, Shop Tips