Category Archives: Joinery

Screw Gains

“Their usual solution was a pair of large screws driven forward through the side rail into the front leg to supplement the hidden mortise-and-tenon joint. Each screw fits into a drilled and carved out ‘pocket’ or ‘screw gain’.”

IMG_1248Immediately as I mention pocket screws, many woodworkers’ eyes roll back into the heads as if this method of joinery is totally unacceptable. Of course, there are places where the use of pocket screws is not the best choice. There are also places in woodworking where the joint is the perfect solution. It’s up to us to know the difference and where to draw the line.

But the more you discover about pocket screws, the more fuzzy the line becomes. I’ve been in million-dollar homes, standing in kitchens that easily cost six figures, and the face frames on the cabinets were pocket screwed. Perfectly acceptable? You betcha. But that’s not furniture, right? No it’s not, but the quote above is about furniture. It’s about great furniture. Museum-quality stuff. The quote is taken from the book by Robert D. Mussey Jr. titled, “The Furniture Masterworks of John & Thomas Seymour.” The Father and son team used pocket screws. This method of joinery is not a new concept conjured up by the Kreg company, but it has elevated pocket screws to a whole new level.

The reason I write about pocket screws this morning is that I have a decision to make on the lowboy I’m building based on the piece found at the Connecticut Historical Society.

IMG_0636The lowboy has no front rail at the top of the case – the drawers kick right up against the underside of the top. There is no room for wooden clips, and I hate “figure eight” fasteners. Therefore, to attach the top I need to be creative. Or not. The top on the original was nailed or pegged to the case. I’ve seen a number of antiques that have tops nailed in place, so it’s not out of the ordinary to do so. The problem I have is that at one of the pegs – it looks like a round dowel – the top has cracked. I’m not looking to repeat that problem, but I do need a secure top.

In one of the photos I have of the original, you can see a metal angle used to gain a hold. I don’t think that is how the piece was built, but a later addition. Not what I’m after. As a result, I’m turning to pocket screws. And while I have respect for the Kreg joinery setup, I’m looking for something more traditional.

Yesterday I scanned the above-mentioned book to find ideas. I had it in my head that most pocket screws holes in antique furniture were basically v-shaped cuts, then I re-discovered the Seymour pockets. Their pockets were rounded, tapered and neatly shaped. I had something to work toward.

IMG_1252My first attempt was using a carving gouge. I used a 9/20 fish-tail gouge to carve out a pocket (see the opening photo). It looked good, but was work heavy. As I studied the shape and design, I remembered a simple jig that I had built years and years back for use with my drill press, so I dug it out, dusted it off and made it work with a newer press. (On my older DP, the jig slipped over the table, but now I had to clamp the unit in place.)

The jig is built with its fence tilted back at a 22.5-degree angle. To align the workpiece, I position it at the intersection of the jig’s fence and base as it stands on an edge. The DP head and jig are arranged until the workpiece stands under the 1″-diameter drill bit so the back edge of the bit is even with the back face of the workpiece. Clamp everything secure. I then lay the piece back tight to the fence and add a couple of spring clamps as needed. To cut the rounded, tapered hole, drill as you normally do. (Play with the bit diameter and thickness of your workpiece to find the best results.)

Below is a test piece I made using all three methods. Each of the different pockets are aligned with the tools used to make those pockets. Which am I going to use? Easy. If you read the quote above, it states that the “screw gains” (fancy-speak for pocket holes) were drilled and carved. I plan to drill the bulk of the waste using the jig and drill press, then clean the gains with my carving gouge.

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Which method would you use?

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Jigs, Joinery, Shop Tool

Make This Your First Lowboy

CT LowboyFor the past couple weeks, I’ve been working on SketchUp drawings for a Connecticut Lowboy discovered at the Connecticut Historical Society. The class happens at The Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking in September, immediately following the holiday weekend – the class runs from Tuesday through Saturday. (There are a few class spots left, so now would be a great time to contact Bob Van Dyke at the school to sign up.)

When I built The “Queen Anne Dressing Table” for the June 2010 cover of Popular Woodworking Magazine, I thought I had discovered the easiest-to-build lowboy ever. I was wrong. This project is easier, if you can believe that. And best of all, easy does not translate into ugly. IMG_0634In fact, when I wrote about my 2013 classes in January this year (read it here), I mentioned how this lowboy stopped both Van Dyke and me in our tracks.

What made the dressing table easy was that all the interior parts were nailed in place. What makes this piece easy is that there are few interior parts. Take a look at its inside. There is no top rail on the piece (the case top is the kicker to keep the drawers from tipping when extended), the two interior drawer dividers are solid pieces that run from front to back, drawer guides are nailed between the legs and the only runners are single pieces dovetailed into the front rail and centered in each opening.

Where a piece such as this picks up is pizazz is with details. One feature that makes this lowboy stand out is the cock-bead work at each of the cutouts in the front rail and at the sides. IMG_0623That work takes time to get right. But it adds a real punch to the finished piece. If you click to open the photo above, you can better see this detail. A second interesting detail, and one that makes me scratch my head and search for a connection, is the construction on the drawers. It’s not the fact that the bottoms are applied. That, along with the beaded moulding that wraps the drawer openings, indicates that this piece has an early origin. What I find interesting are the tapered drawer sides. This is nearly identical to the work found on the Shaker counter originally built by Grove Wright that I built for the June 2012 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. Is there a connection, or is this a construction method used in the region. Grove Wright spent time working at the Enfield, CT Shaker village.

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Above is another photo of the interior of the Connecticut lowboy. In this photo you can see a drawer divider. Check out how the divider is angled as it stretches from front to back. Was this a way to save on material? Also notice how oxidation affects the coloration on the divider. What you see is not two pieces of lumber with different colors joined together. It’s the fact that the upper section has, for more than a hundred years, been protected by the drawer with the lower section constantly exposed to the elements.

You really should take the time to join us at CVSW as we build a great looking, simply constructed and high in detail Connecticut Lowboy. Register here.

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Joinery

GDH at WIA

This week, I want to mention Woodworking in America (WIA). With my return as managing editor with Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM), you know that I’ll be and teach at WIA. If you are a woodworker in search of basic skills, you should plan to attend. If you are experienced at woodworking, but are looking to up your game, you should plan to attend. My bet is that if you look at the woodworkers PWM has presenting this year, you’ll want to be there, too. (Registration is open, so now is the time to make the call. Pull the trigger and click here to sign-up.)

This year my classes are all over the map. I open the conference teaching a seminar titled, “Better Woodworking Through Proper Wood Prep.” MIllingThe most basic observation I can give you is that if you begin a project with warped wood, you will fight it throughout the entire project. You need to make sure you know the basics, so of course we’ll cover the basics and you can bet there is way more. I’ve spent 20 years milling wood for projects. I’ve learned a crap-load of tricks and techniques to make the work easier and to mill lumber that is bent, twisted and just plain gnarly. In addition to the basics, I’ll share how to read your stock, what corner to press and when to straighten twisted stock, cup up or cup down and what to do if your board sticks at the jointer. This one class can make your time in the shop better.

Another class I’m teaching is “Precision Joinery: In a Hurry.” In this area alone, you discover why you need to be a blended woodworker. 9The class description from WIA says it best, “No single hand tool, power tool or machine is best to produce all the requisite joints. To make parts as quickly and accurately as possible, you need to know what tool to use when.” I’ve got jigs that make my life in the shop easy and highly productive, but I also know when to turn to my hand tools. During the class we’ll look at a number of furniture joints and I’ll share my best techniques.

On Sunday at WIA, I have a three hour class on inlay based around Federal-style inlay. Be sure to attend “Understanding Inlay: A Key Piece in Connoisseurship & Identification.” InlayIf you study inlay you’ll discover that each major city center had its own distinct inlay designs. One of the most famous (and often miscategorized) banding is the lunette inlay often associated with John and Thomas Seymour in Massachusetts. Every banding, inlay and patera is a clue to where the piece was built. Not only will we learn about different inlay and bandings, but I’ll demonstrate how many of these bandings are assembled. And before the class is over, you’ll be given the opportunity to make a sand-shaded fan that you can inlay into your project. So come ready to learn and ready to work, too.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Inlay, Jigs, Joinery, Routers, Uncategorized

Scroll Pediments: On Clocks Anything Goes

High ChestScroll pediments are the front panels found at the top of some of the most impressive pieces built in the 18th- and early 19th-centuries. Furniture such as  Bonnet-top high chests of drawer or highboys (as shown in the left-hand photo), bonnet-top chest on chests and many period clocks have scroll pediments. It’s on these panels that gooseneck mouldings are applied. Scroll pediments, at least on the highboys and other chests that I have seen in books and museums, have the grain running from side to side. (Most scroll pediments attach to the pediment returns with dovetails.) The same holds true for many clocks. But that is not always the case.

Tall case clocks are different when it comes to how they were built in the late 1700s and early 1800s. On tall case clocks, you can find many construction techniques that leave a 21st-century woodworker scratching heads. Some period clocks – some very expensive period clocks – appear to be held together with little more than chewing gum and grime collected throughout the years.

#5024-03I have pointed out a few of the let’s say questionable construction techniques I’ve found on the Egerton clock that I’m working on. The scroll pediment is just another example. On the original clock, which at one time was for sale at $120,000, the grain of the pediment runs vertically. I know this because I have a photo of the back of the hood.

IMG_1058As I work on my tall clock, I am changing many of the oddities I found with the original, but as always the case, a few of those questionable construction techniques are being repeated. Case in point is the scroll pediment. I decided to keep the grain direction vertical. How this changes the building of my clock is most apparent as you work on the pediment returns. Dovetails, which are found on many of the period clocks that have broken-arch pediments, are not an option because the grain on the returns runs perpendicular to the scroll pediment. As a result, I attached the pediment and the returns with screws. I expect that nails were used on the original, but I went with screws (tightly fitted at the bottom and in over-sized holes at the middle and top for seasonal movement) for a more secure hold.

High_Res ScrollWhat is extremely interesting to me is that if you look at the front of the original Egerton clock you could not know that the scroll pediment grain runs vertically. You would, in fact, guess that the grain runs at a 45-degree angle because that’s the look presented at the front. A veneered face with fancy cutouts fronts the pediment.  The veneer grain is angled. (That’s a detail that I will add to my build.)

Build Something Great!

Glen

 

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Design, Joinery, Tall Clock

When to & When Not to Reproduce Period Techniques

#5024-04One of the areas in which you struggle when building reproduction furniture – and I’m not talking about a full-out reproduction in which you pit-saw the lumber, scrub the surface flat then build the piece – is in trying to determine when to copy the workmanship. I had another decision to make yesterday as I worked on the Egerton tall clock. In the shop, I built the mask for the clock. That’s the piece that surrounds the dial and sits directly behind the door.

The photo above is of the antique clock. What particularly I wrestled with has to do with the joinery, specifically the dovetail, that joins the stiles to the rails. #5024-04_CloseIn the photo you can see how Egerton did the work. And we get to see the results of 200+ years of wear and tear. Should this technique be repeated? I decided to pass, and here’s why.

If you study the joint, there is no glue surface whatsoever. The stile fits perpendicular to the rail. The only flat grain of the dovetail is at the sides. Unfortunately, where that flat grain meets the rail, the rail is end grain. And where the rail is flat grain, it meets the stile which is only end grain. No structural glue surface. IMG_1007Also, a close look at the photo (remember you can enlarge the picture if you click on it) shows a couple of fractures that have been repaired. One last note is that I did try the joint and as you might expect, the rail broke across the grain even with the cut of the tail socket.

Given that, I passed on the dovetail joinery. I built the mask using a half-lap joint. Flat grain glued to flat grain. (Yes it is cross  grain, but it is still a strong, lasting joint.) Above is a look at the lower-rail-to-stile joint. Below are the two completed masks.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Sometimes Full-size Drawings Work Best

A_IMG_0859Since I began working with SketchUp, I have been a huge fan. In fact, I think this tool is one of the most important tools a woodworker can have in his arsenal. It is well worth taking the time to learn this program frontwards and backwards. You can pull apart a drawing to see how it’s assembled. Or if you’re drawing the project, you can discover problem areas and work out the details to keep from wasting time once you get into your shop.

There are, however, times when it’s better to draw out your project full-size. Case in point is the hood for the Egerton tall clock on which I am working. (Yes, I know it’s been a while.) I could have drawn this in SketchUp and printed out the full-scale drawing, but that would require perfect sizing and about 12 sheets of paper to assemble correctly as I taped together the image.

Below are a series of photos – click on the photos to bring them to full size – that show the different parts of the hood. All these parts are now easily identified and I have the exact widths and lengths available as I work. (I have to determine thickness.)

B_Mask

What’s interesting about the mask is that it is joined using dovetails and it is attached to the hood frame using glue blocks. Many masks are joined using half-laps at the bottom and often the top piece is simply butted to the lower frame. And the entire frame is slid into a groove cut in the hood sides.

C_Door

The door frame is slightly wider than the mask – it covers a part of the frame, too.

Here you can see the hood frame. The top is joined to the sides using dovetails. Also, there are small widows on both sides that allow an owner to show off his expensive brass clockworks.

Here you can see the hood frame. The top is joined to the sides using dovetails. Also, there are small widows on both sides that allow owners, back in the day, to show off the expensive brass clockworks.

E_Scroll Board

Here’s a look at the scroll board as well as the returns that wrap back the hood sides. This is a place where full-size drawings really help. I have the exact pattern needed to produce my scroll board.

As you can see, there is a lot going on in this drawing. And tons of information to extract. Without the drawing I would have spent way more time pulling sizes and working out details. Sometimes, drawings are best.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Joinery, Shop Tips, Tall Clock

How Do You Mortise?

IMG_Mortises2WaysThis week I have gotten little time in the shop. During the week that’s understandable because of my return to Popular Woodworking Magazine (PWM). But Saturdays I generally get six to eight straight hours woodworking – except for a lunch break for wings and a beverage at local eatery. However, this weekend I am teaching a class at the Dayton, Oh., area Woodcraft; the class is building a splay-legged end table.

In the class after we discussed how to taper legs at the jointer – no it’s not multiple passes made using a stop block (see the process here in a short video I made while at PWM) – we went over a couple ways to cut mortises. IMG_RouterMethodOf the six guys in the class, three chose to use a benchtop mortise machine and three elected to router-cut their mortises. (It didn’t surprise me that no one attending my class would decide to chop mortises by hand.) I was left wondering how you guys cut your mortises.

I’m partial to my floor-model mortise machine.  I would recommend that machine to woodworkers that plan to use mortise-and-tenon joinery in most of their projects, if that is, you have the funds necessary and are interested in spending a sizable chunk for one machine. But if I had to choose between a benchtop machine and my router, I think it would depend on how many mortises I cut annually.

What do you think? How do you cut mortises for your furniture projects? Leave a comment to let me know.

Build Something Great!

Glen

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Filed under Joinery, Power Tools, Routers