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Montreat Side Table Part 8: Making Panels

I had this odd feeling as I began the next step for bringing my Montreat Side Table design to life. After adding some distinctive design elements to the table (see this post), I returned to some very basic woodworking. I began breaking down and milling stock to make panels. These panels will become the bottom and middle shelf as well as the top of the table. Excitement builds as a project begins to take shape. And that is what has been happening as I added the walnut slats to the sides and back. Now, it seems that forming these needed panels isn’t so exciting. But then that is the challenge: Find an exciting, even creative side to this next step; a step which could be considered among the most mundane of woodworking tasks.

Let’s take a look at the next step in construction…

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I am building the components shown in blue.

As shown above, I will next make the items highlighted in blue the largest of which is the table top measuring 24-1/2″ deep by 28-1/2″ long.

I created a material cutting diagram for these three components and stopped by City Hardwoods in Homewood, Alabama. As you will see in a minute, I use material cutting diagrams and cut lists at this point only to help me get organized for this next step. I am at this point only loosely following this information.

At City Hardwoods I picked up two big, honkin’ white oak boards which were $$$$$$$. When spending considerable money on lumber, the purchase deserves respect. I carefully selected two 9′ long by 10-1/2″ wide 4/4 boards studying each board for color, grain, defects and straightness (is that a word?). I have a little oak on hand which will handle one of the panels. These two oak boards will provide material for the other two.

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Layout for the best grain orientation.

This is where I can begin to be creative with this panel making process. As shown above, I have the ability to choose how I want to best use the grain and figure in these boards. Blue tape indicates one board and note how it aligns with the cathedral grain shown.

This is why material cutting diagrams shouldn’t be strictly followed. They can be a starting point and I knew I would be able to get three or more boards out of this one piece of lumber. But, I did not make a final decision on three boards or their exact placement until I closely studied the lumber for grain and figure.

Next is breaking down these long and heavy boards at my miter saw station.

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My rolling miter saw stand.

I am fortunate to have a mobile miter saw stand (see the construction of this stand here) which can easily handle this nine foot long board. While I didn’t have to, I can roll around and position it to handle even longer boards. This is part of finding the fun in mundane tasks: I get satisfaction from using this miter saw station because I built the stand helping me safely and efficiently cut these boards.

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Next step, using my jointer.

After cutting the boards to rough size, I needed to flatten an edge with my jointer. This old Craftsman jointer is really only good for jointing small pieces of wood. In fact, I had trouble getting a flat face on one board and just couldn’t seem to get two or three of them edge jointed straight.

Before wasting any more of this beautiful oak, I decided to drive over to the Alabama Woodworkers Guild workshop and use their equipment.

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The AWG workshop. Two jointers in the background and two planers in the foreground.

A typical visit to this workshop usually has at least one or two other woodworkers using tools. This time I had the whole place to myself (except for the shop supervisor). Using the guild’s big jointer and wide planer made all the difference in the world. I got straight and flat boards with ease. And this wasn’t mundane since I was using such nice tools and a great workshop.

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Panel glue-up on my assembly table.

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The almost finished panels.

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A lot of work left to do. Note the lumber against the green wall and the lumber in front of the windows in the background.

A side note: I have been pointing out all the unused lumber in my workshop. I need to tackle a small, quick project soon to make use of these boards.

Back at my workshop, I glued together the boards for each panel; three boards per panel. Earlier today, I trimmed them a little and went back to my guild’s workshop and sent the panels through the planer just to do a little touch up. The largest panel in the photos is the top. Due to its width, I had to use the guild’s new Jet drum sander to get it flat and that went well.

So, with a little effort towards making the best of each step in this process, I can get a sense of satisfaction that these panels are all glued up and looking good. The ends are still rough. Each will get a unique end profile to fit around the legs and with the top, there is an angled design I’ll add. Another side note: The three panels as seen above weigh 32 pounds; a reminder that tables made of oak are heavy.

Next, I’ll need to complete several small steps: add the angled detail to the lower stretchers, cut the top to final size and shape, drill holes for the adjustable shelf supports, then plane and sand everything smooth. After that, I’ll pre-finish everything and then glue the table together. Then final assembly will be adding the drawer which will include my first ever hand cut dovetails.

Plenty more exciting steps to come.

The Montreat Side Table: Part 7 Working With Walnut

There are several firsts in this project – the first time I’ve added modern design elements to a table (the legs); the first time I’ve used tongue and groove joinery with a web frame and the first time I’ve used walnut. Walnut; after decades of woodworking, this week was the first time sweeping walnut’s dark brown sawdust from my shop floor. And it is such a gorgeous wood. The dark brown color has hints of pink and purple and the board I sourced from City Hardwoods was wide, mostly clear and flat.

I’m using walnut as an alternate color for the side and back slats as well as the drawer pull. This is the point in the project where it gets really fun because it’s these 17 slats which brings the most distinction to the table…

Montreat Side Table Final

Once I obtained my beautiful piece of walnut, I quickly went to the Alabama Woodworkers Guild workshop where I got help re-sawing it in half. My bandsaw is still out of service. Fortunately I have several options for bandsaws at the guild’s workshop (by the way, this workshop is woodworking hallowed ground since Chris Schwarz, Bob Lang, Jeff Miller and Mike Pekovich have made things there).

Back in my workshop, I ran the boards through my planer taking off only enough material to clean up the side which had been re-sawn. While the SketchUp model has slats which are 7/16″ thick, in reality, I don’t know how thick they actually are. I simply want slats which are as thick as possible. My main goal is to make them thinner than 3/4″ but thicker than the 1/4″ mortise the slat’s tenon will slide into. Also important, as seen in the image of the table above, some of the slats will have holes for shelf supports since the middle shelf will be adjustable. I want the slats to be thick enough to hold a 1/4″ dowel in place and not fall out.

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Slats: left side grouped together, then back and right.

I cut the slats to rough size (above) and began planning my sequence of cuts to fit the slats in the opening between the lower stretchers and the side/back aprons. I want to approximate a production style process for making the tenons; 17 slats x 2 tenons = 34 tenons. For example, once I have determined the final length of the slats, I’ll want to add a stop to my miter saw and cut all the slats to final length without changing the setup. Same for fitting the tenons. Once I have the required table saw setup to achieve the tenon shoulder cuts, I’ll then need to run all the slats across the table saw without changing the stop on my miter gauge.

I used a cut off as a test slat to determine the final length. To do this, I formed a snug tenon on the lower end of the test slat and held it against the side of the table. I then marked the location of the shoulder cut for the upper tenon. I added the needed length for the upper tenon itself, and made the final cut for the overall length. I then cut all the slats to length. This means I didn’t use a cut list to get the final length for the slats. Rather, I used the actual opening in the side of the table to get the length.

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Test slat, perfect fit.

With the final length worked out, I then had to verify the stop on my table saw miter gauge was positioned correctly to make the shoulder cuts. I want to be able to make the first shoulder cut, then simply flip the slat top to bottom and make an identical shoulder cut. Then for shoulder cuts on the opposite end, I’ll want to flip the slat end for end and make the needed shoulder cuts without moving the stop on the miter gauge.

Using the test slat, I was able to find the precise set up needed to form the tenons. It took only a little adjusting before I got the fit I wanted. I then ran all the slats across the table saw and formed the thickness of all 34 tenons. I then turned to cutting the tenons to width left to right.

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Shoulder cuts at the table saw.

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With miter saw stop in place, more shoulder cuts. This time forming the width of the tenons.

The tenons for the slender slats are sized differently than those for the wide slats, so I determine the appropriate blade height for the slender slats and made the cuts. I then raised the blade to cut the tenons for the wide slats.

With all of the tenons formed, I used my block plane, along with a chisel and rasp to do a little final fitting and rounding over making the tenons match the rounded ends of the mortises. The rough surface on each tenon actually makes removing a small amount of material quick and easy.

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Repeat passes at the table saw leaves a rough surface on the tenons.

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I use my chisel and rasp to round the ends of the tenon.

A key point of this post: Careful planning was needed to maintain the proper sequence of cuts. After having the set up confirmed on my table saw, I couldn’t use my table saw for any other operation. Same for my miter saw.

I have stated before that mortises are the hardest to cut when making a mortise and tenon joint. But after fitting 34 tenons to their mating mortises, I’m not sure I still believe that. I will say that tenons are more fun. Sitting at my awesome workbench with a slat in my front vise, chisel, rasp and block plane at hand; all this made me feel like I was truly doing hand work, which I was. Forming these tenons was very satisfying; a feeling I didn’t get from making the 34 mortises. While I wouldn’t change the design of this table, making all these mortise and tenon joints drove home the fact that this design is complex.

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All the slats fitted, no glue.

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Currently.

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View of back slats.

Next for the Mortreat Side Table: I’m not totally sure what is next. I was thinking that glue-up of all the current parts would be next, but I’ll need to pre-finish the table prior to glue-up. And, I’ve always thought I’d add a slight bit of color to the oak parts making them a little darker. To maintain consistent color, I’ll need to form all the oak parts prior to adding color. That means making the bottom and middle shelf as well as the top. I already have the drawer front cut to rough size. So if I pre-finish the table, glue-up could be a month or so away.

I do know this, I need to run my smoothing plane over all the parts and a couple of the aprons need just a little tenon adjustment. So that will definately be next. Beyond that, I’ll have to give it a some thought.

How I Made 34 Precision Mortises in White Oak

If you have been a woodworker even for a short period of time, you’ve no doubt come to realize that building furniture has a lot to do with problem solving. I have been in this craft for more than 35 years and I can still make the most boneheaded mistake (as if I were a drop dead beginner). As mistakes happen, problem solving takes place. Solving problems isn’t simply due to mistakes though. For example, achieving a pleasing design or resolving complicated joinery issues require problem solving. Problems can be disappointing or frustrating, but solving them often leads to a big smile.

One recent problem involved the numerous slats found in the sides and the back of my side table; specifically how to join the slats to the rest of the table. The only real way for me to do this is with mortise and tenon joinery. But I then had to decide how I would make these joints. The material I’m using is white oak and I have 34 mortises to make. Because the slats have tenons on each end which fit into different components, I’ll need to find a way to make a lot of very accurate mortises in some pretty tough wood – quite a task.

What I’ll need is repeatability. Let’s say I picked the left side stretcher to make the needed five mortises. I would then need to repeat this task to make five identical mortises in the right side apron. Next, I’d need to do this same operation all over again for the left side stretcher and apron. Then, there are seven slats for the back.

I decided to make mortises via template routing which requires accurate templates and for this table, two different template configurations. Check out the video below (click the icon in the bottom right of the video player to make it full screen)…


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I began this step by marking the mortise positions on some 1/4″ plywood template material. I then enlarged the mortises 3/16″ to allow for the collar in the base of my plunge router. You can see the offset for the collar in the pencil lines below.

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I notch out one side of the template and then glue the opposite side.

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The side template ready to go.

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Note how the router has a small collar inserted in the base. The bit is protruding through it.

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The collar moves within the cut out in the template and the router bit removes the white oak.

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One side stretcher completed. I’ll repeat this process for the side apron. Then repeat for the opposite side.

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A different template is created for the back stretcher and apron.

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Two templates in back and the various stretchers and aprons.

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Currently.

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Stretchers close-up.

My 34 mortise problem is solved! And yes, I did smile after first removing the template from the left side stretcher. The mortises were evenly spaced and the correct depth and as seen in the photo of the components laying on my workbench, the mortises line up between the left side stretcher and the corresponding apron. Pretty sweet.

Next, I’ll begin work on the slats which will be an exercise in creating tenons. These slats will be made of walnut adding a second color to the table. After completing the slats and adding the angular detail to the stretchers, I’ll finally be ready to glue all these various parts together.

ONE LAST NOTE: I am happy to report I’ve made the decision to remove WordPress advertising from my blog. The monthly advertising money I was earning wasn’t worth the frustration caused by these super annoying ads.