Monthly Archives: May 2014

Karens Inlaid Box (Part II)

IMG_1678When I returned to the shop this week, I took the clamps off the box and checked out the assembly. Things looked good, so I moved on. Step number one was to add a lid. Because I wanted to hide the lid’s appearance, I created a lip that was slightly less in thickness than the planned corner inlay. After sizing a piece of mahogany to that of the box, I used a two-step cut at the tablesaw to rabbet the piece. The lid was ready, so I glued it to the box.

IMG_1668As the glue dried on the lid, I found a scrap of tiger maple and milled the corner inlay material to size. Off the saw, I ran the 3/16″ piece through my spindle sander to bring them to perfectly square (5/32″) and to clean up any nasty burnt areas. The next step was to rabbet the box for all the corner work. Because the box was square, I could simply use a straight bit set up in my router table. (If any of the edges were rounded or curved, I would have needed a bearing-guided bit.) Set-up of the bit height and fence is critical; if I rabbeted too deep the inlay I made was once again scrap. To dial in the exact setting, I used a piece of the inlay as a guide as shown above.

IMG_1670When the glue was dry, it was off to the router table to trim the corners. I rabbeted only the four face corners at this time. The plan was to install the corners, then when the top edges were rabbeted, the installed pieces would be cut and the those inlays would terminate into the top edge inlay. Bring on the glue and blue tape. (I find blue tape invaluable when working with inlay.) I added a bit of glue into the rabbet, slipped in a piece of corner inlay then taped the thing in place as the glue dried.

IMG_1674To separate the top from the box, I used my table saw. Before making any cuts, I sliced a couple filler strips that are equal to the blade’s kerf. At the saw after trimming any extra lengths of corner inlay flush with the box top, I made two passes along the front and back of the box cutting through its walls. The filler strips were slipped into those cuts, I then added a clamp to keep the top and base in place as the next set of cuts freed the two sections. You can see the operation at the right, but you might also notice that I positioned my clamp in the wrong orientation. I could easily make the first end cut, but I had to add a clamp then remove the first clamp in order to make the second cut. (If I had just moved the clamp, the sections would not have moved, but the filler strips could have fell out causing more work.)

IMG_1677Once the top was off, I returned to the router set-up to run the rabbets for the four top edges and fit corner inlay to the cuts. These pieces required miters at the corners. I used my bench hook and my Dozuki saw to make the small miters. Once cut and fit, it’s back to the glue and blue tape. As the glue on the box top dried, I milled and installed bands around the base of the box – these piece were the same thickness as the corner inlay. I also fit and installed a band around the top edge of the box – these pieces were half the thickness of the corner inlay and a second band was applied to the bottom edge of the top. (When the box was joined and closed, the total thickness of the middle banding would equal that of the corner inlay thickness.) Each of these pieces were mitered at the corners. Everything was set aside to fully dry.

What’s left are the three fan inlays and to sand and finish the box. Oh yeah. I need hardware and a handle, too. Got to get creative for that.

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Filed under Hand Tools, Methods of Work, Routers

Karen’s Inlaid Box

Karen_DogsWatching shellac dry is not much fun, so as things progress on the tall clocks I decided to knock out a promised-to-build, small box. It is close in design to the tea caddy I built for a magazine article a couple of years back. This box doesn’t use edge banding, so the work is a bit easier. The artist rendition (actually my drawing from SketchUp) looks too red; I’m building the box out of mahogany and using tiger maple for the trim pieces. I’m writing about this not so much for the value of the project, but more for the techniques I use as I build – there are methods used that can be employed on other projects.

The four horizontal parts of the box were milled to size and thickness. I made the pieces 1/2″ thick; width and length are your call if you’re building along. The first big step is to bevel the ends of each piece, and you know there are many different methods you can use. I choose the table saw for a couple of reasons: IMG_1656It’s easy to use, I can set up the miter gauge to be square and once the blade is set to 45°, I can use the same setup for two operations. The photo (at right) shows the setup used to bevel the ends. A sacrificial fence with a cut ran through it after the blade was beveled, makes it easy to locate the box parts to trim. I also added a stop-block to keep the parts from creeping away from the blade as the cut is made. One additional point you should glean from this image is my hand placement. My first inclination was to grab the gauge with my right hand and hold the part with my left. If that happened, my left arm would – at some point in the cut – completely block the blade from my view. That’s not good.

The next cut to make is for a spline to run up the corners. I learned a long time ago that making a 45° cut into a previously cut 45° bevel results in a cut that’s 90° to the bevel cut. (What did he say?) IMG_1657Using the same table-saw setup but placing the gauge on the opposite side of the saw blade, makes the next step cake. Once again, make a pass over the blade to establish where the cut hits the sacrificial fence to use to align the parts, then position one piece to that kerf. Make sure to dial back the blade height, then clamp a stop-block in position to use as a guide for each cut. Notice how I switched my hand placement for this round of cuts.

IMG_1658I’m going to set the box bottom inside the four horizontal parts, so I need a groove cut along the bottom edge. Many woodworkers would gravitate to a dado stack for this step, but to me, this is a waste of time. A couple of passes with the blade set to the correct height and the fence properly positioned and you’re done with the groove. Easy, peasy. And there’s no need to swap blades.

The action is picking up. Next step is the bottom. This I made from tiger maple. (Yes, I know you’re not going to see the bottom most of the time, but I have so much scrap tiger maple around my shop it’s a crime not to use the smaller cutoffs for something.) IMG_1661To rabbet the edges to fit into the roughly 1/4″-wide grooves, I use a two-step method at my table saw – what can’t you do with this machine? The process is straightforward. After you get the necessary measurements from the box parts – you can measure the width and length right in the grooves of the front and end – cut the bottom to size (you may want to go a bit less in width to accommodate for any seasonal movement if your box is on the wide side. The first pass is with the bottom face down against the table top – set the blade height to leave a 1/4″ of material after the cut. I make a 3/8″-wide rabbet to make sure the edge doesn’t interfere with the box as it goes together. The next step is to readjust the blade height to just tick the top edge of the previous cut (with the part standing on edge at the fence), and to set the fence to leave the tongue thick enough to slide into the groove. While it doesn’t make much of a difference here, it’s good practice to run the end-grain cuts first.

IMG_1662After you cut pieces to fit into the spline cuts, it’s time to assemble the box. Two points to make here: Your splines cannot run from top to bottom – you need to stop them at the groove or your bottom will not fit, and only assemble the box at two of the four corners at the beginning. If you do glue all four corners, make sure you install the bottom as you assemble the parts. I like to glue half the box, then slip in the bottom and finish the assembly later. Working all four corners and the bottom at the same time can get busy. Add a few clamps and set things aside.

After the glue dries, slip in the bottom, add glue to the remaining splines and corners, then put the clamps back in position and let it set.


In a later-to-come post, I’ll add a top to the assembled box, split the lid off the base then add some trim pieces. After that, I’ll make the fan inlays to complete the box.

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Filed under Joinery, Methods of Work, Power Tools

Egerton Clocks & Shellac

IMG_1651 2I’ve learned a great deal  as I progressed through the school of hard knocks to become a professional woodworker. What keeps me involved in writing this blog, magazine articles and teaching, and why you should take advantage of my experience, is the fact that as a professional woodworker, I can help you more easily learn woodworking so you don’t have to pay all of your dues. You get to walk through a few doors instead of having to break them down.

Some of the things I learned are general knowledge, such as a highboy base is not the same as a lowboy even though they appear to be the same – I remember how struck I was when I first discovered that. And some things can be applied to every project; or not. As I began to apply shellac to the tall clock, I was again smacked with the idea that all the parts for your project should come from the same tree, if possible. While that’s not always possible, it is a great concept and should be in your mind as you set about a new build. Why? Mostly due to aesthetics.

TonerOn these two clocks, the mahogany was from many sources, especially the veneered base and door fronts. I found that I needed to adjust the tones and colors. As a result, finishing without using dyes or stains becomes a bit more important. TranstintIn an earlier post about the walnut secretary, I wrote about adjusting the finish using toners. Toners, in aerosol cans, are tinted lacquer. In use the lacquer becomes layered between coats of shellac forming distinct divisions in the finish. This time, I stuck with shellac, but added drops of Transtint dye to introduce color. Shellac melts into shellac, so the finish developed is one harmonious layer. Is this better than toners? On that I’m still trying to decide, but it’s nice to have choices.

SAMSUNGAfter I had adjusted the colors to where I think the tones were even, I applied a layer of amber shellac. Of course, I didn’t have any in the shop, so I shuffled off to the local hardware store to pick up a quart. Surprise. The store had six quarts on the shelf, but of the six quarts, not one was usable. Not only were the quarts outdated, most were from 2007. (sorry for the blurry photo, but I had to show the grouping.) If you’re a regular reader of this blog, you know my thoughts on shellac, and you by now know how to make sure shellac is worthy of a purchase. (If you’re not sure, search this blog for information.)

SAMSUNGThe shocking revelation was that these cans were so old they were marked using the older Zinnser system of dates instead of a code. And the dates was printed on the bottom of the can, which if I remember correctly, was a full generation earlier (prior to the code, dates were marked on the lid.) A word of caution: Check the shellac cans and dates prior to any purchase and choose shellac that is less than three years old.

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Filed under Finish Techniques, Methods of Work, Tall Clock

Different Blade Connection

6-Dr_Chest_Complete-1Wonder what blades are? It’s simple. In furniture speak, blades are another name for drawer dividers. As you probably know, there are many techniques and joinery methods to attach drawer blades to the case. The technique shown here is one that is not all that common, but it is found in antique furniture, namely the Moses Bayley high chest of drawers from Newberryport, Mass. (There is a fascinating bit of history surrounding the highboy; read more about it here.)

In the first issue of American Woodworker magazine under the complete guidance of F+W with me as the content director, I built a chest of drawers (shown above) using this blade connection technique – the issue should be available sometime in early June. (You and 100,000 of your closet friends should pick up a copy!)

B_SlotThe process is easy. While the connection could be done without plowing an 1/8″-deep groove, it’s easier to do so and the groove adds another detail to your work. Step #1 is to rout the groove – align a straightedge to your project, then run a router and 3/4″ top-mount bearing router bit along its length as the bearing rides your straightedge. The width of the groove has to match the thickness of your drawer blades.

Step #2 is to form the dovetail on the ends of your blades. The length of the dovetail – how high you need to raise your router bit – is equal to the thickness of the material remaining after the groove is cut. A_DovetailIf you’re using 3/4″-thick material, after the 1/8″ groove you have 5/8″ of thickness remaining. For me this is a bit of work completed at the router table. Set the height of the bit then adjust the fence so its aligned with the router bit exactly at the table’s top edge. This takes advantage of the entire thickness of your blade – if you’re slightly thinner after your cut, that’s OK, but do not leave a flat on the edge of the dovetail. (Notice the solid push block used to guide the tall drawer divider through the cut.) After you have the dovetail ends created, cut away the back edge leaving a 1″-wide dovetail – trim the dovetail away flush with the square shoulder on your blade.

C_LayoutStep#3 is to transfer the dovetail profile onto your case side. As you can see in the photo, the blade slips into the groove and the trimmed dovetail sits tight to the case side. Using a sharp pencil, transfer the profile. Nothing fancy here. No special details to share. Simply install the blades into position then draw the lines. Bingo.

Step #4 is to square the layout lines down the case side 1″ (matching the dovetail width), then draw a straight line setting the bottom of the socket. D_SawIt’s time to define the socket. This is where your ability to saw comes into play. Cut the two sides of your layout down to the inch mark. Follow both lines as you saw. After you’ve established the socket’s outer edges, make a few additional saw cuts between the lines – the more kerfs you have, the easier the next couple steps become and the cleaner your socket will be to work.

Step#5 is to break out the thin pieces of wood that fill your socket. E_PareYou can jam a chisel into the slots, or if they’re thin enough, you can break the pieces out with your fingers. The neat things is that when they break – due to the grain orientation – the slivers break flush with the bottom edge of the socket. (Sometimes they do break slightly above the line.) With the pieces out of the way, pare the socket bottom so it’s smooth and level. Make sure the socket is level from outside to inside. And it wouldn’t hurt to slope a bit toward the inside – that guarantees you’ll have a tight fit on the exterior of your case.

The last step is to fit the blade’s dovetail into the socket. F_FitIf you’ve sawn to the layout lines and trimmed the socket even at the bottom, your blades should fit easily. Brush glue onto the dovetail and into the socket (the best glue surface is the flat-grain to flat-grain connection at the bottom of the socket), then drive the workpiece home. By the way, don’t forget to repeat these steps twice for each drawer blade or divider. Test-fits are terrible with only one socket cut.

I’m not going to show you a finished shot of the chest of drawers – for that you’re going to have to wait until the issue is sent – but I will show you a photo of the highboy mentioned above. In fact, if you’re so inclined to want to see this process in action, I have a full-length DVD on building the Moses Bayley chest. You can purchase a copy here.

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G_MA High Chest


Filed under Antique Pieces, Hand Tools, Joinery, Methods of Work, Power Tools, Routers