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Hot Summer Days in the Workshop

The pastor at my church once said Alabama seasons run like this: Winter, Early Summer, Summer and then Late Summer. The implication here is Alabama is hot most of the time. This is an exaggeration; it is really hot now, but I would call June (getting hot), July, August, September and October (cooling off) as the hot months of the year.

This summer has not been a scorcher; I think we have been at or over 100 degrees only a day or two at the most, but when adding the effects of humidity, there have been some tough days. And it’s the humidity that affects me the most.

One evening this past week, I thought about getting in a little woodworking after dinner. I opened the door to my basement workshop and the heat and humidity coming from my non air conditioned workshop made it feel worse than what was actually going on outside. So, no woodworking that evening. And that is the way it has been since my last post. I have had to be very motivated to do any woodworking at all. And when I do, I have a box fan blowing on me all the time. But the box fan then blows sawdust all over my workshop.

Other than adding air conditioning to my basement workshop, I don’t know what else to do. And, I am mainly just a weekend woodworker so I can’t justify the cost of adding air conditioning. A box fan will simply have to do the job. Is this an ideal woodworking environment? No, but most of us use workshops which are less than ideal. We just have to make the best of it and enjoy what we are doing. I am very much enjoying building my new side table.

Using a backwoods jig

From the Merriam-Webster website defining “backwoods” – “especially culturally backward or unsophisticated.”


My super simple circular saw cutting jig

I have been using a jig which is very much backwoods. Or you could say it is unsophisticated or rudimentary. I slapped this jig together in a matter of minutes. Made from scrap material (1/4″ beaded pine plywood and 1/4″ MDF), it is extremely crude. When I realized a photo of it should be included in this blog post, I sort of wished it was more presentable. But this basic jig or cutting guide for my circular saw helped me make accurate cuts that were almost effortless. It helped that I had a new circular saw with a sharp blade. The cuts were all crisp and clean.


Jig in use cutting the bottom shelf to length.

I used this jig to cut the unique angular profile for the top as well as precision cuts to fit the lower shelf and middle shelf in place. It isn’t pretty, but it cost no additional money to make and it did the job well.

I also had to add cleats which the lower shelf will mount to. I used a cut-off of the lower shelf as a spacer helping me properly position the cleat.


Adding a mounting cleat for the bottom shelf.


Cleats in place. Note pre-drilled holes in each cleat.


Lower shelf in place.

The pre-drilled holes in each cleat are sized to allow the lower shelf to expand or contract. The goal is to have the lower shelf fixed at the front tight against the front stretcher. The lower shelf will then be allowed to move at the back of the table. Also note the lower shelf is notched to fit around the legs. I did this for the lower shelf and the middle shelf as well.

A special profile for the top

The top of the Montreat Side Table has a very unique profile – an angular shape which helps add a little modern look to the top. See the profile below…

Top with yellow

The highlighted yellow area needs to be cut away.

Using my crude jig, I was able to draw the needed lines and simply position my jig at each line and cut the waste away with my circular saw.


If you look carefully, you can see the slight angular profile at each end.

With all of this completed, I temporarily positioned the top and middle shelf in place and snapped a couple of photos…




A little better view of the side.

The table is still not glued together. Two items not completed: no recesses drilled in four of the slats for adjustable shelf supports and I still don’t have the angular profile on the four lower stretchers. The recesses for the shelf supports will be easy to add and for the stretchers, I’ll need to drive over to the woodworking guild to use one of their band saws to rough cut the angular profile. Then clean the cut with some template routing. Those two steps will be next. I’ll then sand everything, pre-finish and glue the table together. Finally, I’ll add the drawer. Maybe I’ll finish this by Christmas. 🙂

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…


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.


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.


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.


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.


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.


Panel glue-up on my assembly table.


The almost finished panels.


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.


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.


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.


Shoulder cuts at the table saw.


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.


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


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.


All the slats fitted, no glue.




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.