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‘But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not faint.’
One of the things that has always bothered me concerning woodworking forums, magazines, etc. has been an overemphasis on the spiritual/metaphysical aspects of making furniture. If there is one quality that I despise in anybody, it is an overabundance of self-importance. A lot of people, too many people, tend to over-value themselves, and the things they make, in relation to how they think others should perceive it. I had mentioned in an earlier post a trip to Mount Vernon and how that trip was in many ways a spiritual experience for me. Others may visit Mount Vernon just because they enjoy the grounds, and others still may visit and feel nothing at all. So when it comes to the Washington Campaign Desk I recently completed, I am very much in the mindset that it is without a doubt my favorite project, yet I would not doubt that some may look at it and think to themselves: ‘big deal!’
Firstly, as far as woodworking projects go, this desk, for someone at my skill level, would probably be considered an intermediate level project. For a professional woodworker it would likely be considered a relatively simple build. It was not the most technically difficult project I’ve made. In fact, I can say in all honesty that I spent as much time milling the wood and cleaning up the resulting mess as I did on the actual woodworking involved in constructing the desk. One of the most time consuming individual aspects of the project was making and fitting the breadboard ends, and when I carelessly removed a chunk of the desktop with a shoulder plane I wound up removing the ends completely rather than attempt a shoddy repair. If the two plus hours I spent on the breadboard ends are removed from the equation, I probably have more time spent milling than woodworking.
As in all of my projects, I like to think that I become a little better woodworker and learn a little bit more every time I complete one. But I cannot assign any one particular “Eureka” moment when it came to the physical act of working the wood used in making this desk. Probably the most challenging aspect of the construction was sawing and shaping the ogee ends. At that, the job I did was just okay. I certainly learned something, and I certainly gained some experience, but I don’t feel any closer to the woodworking gods in doing so.
After re-reading these few paragraphs you might thing that I sound bitter, or even ungrateful. Rest assured, I am neither. As I said, this project is hands down my favorite, and it is possible that I may never build anything again that I like quite as much. Why? It is simple, really. I went to a museum and caught a brief glimpse of a piece of furniture that was likely used by a person who has very much guided me throughout my life, and I knew enough about woodworking to be able to construct a near-enough reproduction of that piece of furniture using only a memory and a photo. If there is any “spirituality” to be found, this is it. When I saw the desk I knew immediately that I had to make it. I experienced a unique moment of true inspiration. I wasn’t looking for it; it wasn’t forced; it just happened. And in my estimation, that is the essence of spirituality.
There is more of me in that desk than in any other piece of furniture I’ve made. It isn’t in the joinery, which is dadoes, bolts, and a few screws. It isn’t in the desktop, which quite frankly has a bit more “character” than I had hoped, or the drawers, which are made of basic home center poplar held together with some basic half-blind dovetails. It is something that can’t be seen by others, and I’m glad of that fact.
I could write ten more pages trying to explain my reasonings, but I’m not going to do that. Just know that when I look at that desk, I feel connected to something larger than myself. And I believe that when I finally use it, I will be inspired to be my best.
I don’t know if there is a “woodworking god” or not. But if there is, just for a brief moment as this desk was nearing completion, I believe that I saw His face
For all intents and purposes I completed the construction phase of the Washington Campaign Desk over the weekend. On paper there wasn’t much left to do. Basically I had to assemble the drawer compartment parts and attach it to the desk top. But we all know that “on paper” doesn’t mean much.
Assembling the drawer compartment wasn’t overly difficult. I pre-drilled and counter-sunk the screw holes, applied a little glue, and screwed it together. That part was relatively easy. I had one minor issue, and that was the right side drawer divider would, for some reason, not sit perpendicular to the desk top. I double and triple checked the dado fit and no matter what I did I could not get it perfectly straight. Don’t get me wrong, it is not off much, probably 1 mm or so (for all you metric people), so I decided to not let it bother me. To finish it off I used walnut plugs purchased from Rockler; they worked surprisingly well, and I’m very happy with the finished appearance.
In the meanwhile, I also pre-drilled and counter sunk the holes in the desk top to attach it to the leg assemblies (using elongated holes to allow for movement). But before I went any further I disassembled the base and spent a good 90 minutes with a hand plane and sandpaper cleaning the parts up for finish. As far as the sanding was concerned, I used the grit sequence 60/120/220/320. I did not use a random orbit sander, rather, I just used a sanding block because it seemed easier to control, though it was definitely more time consuming. Once the sanding was finished I reassembled the legs, and thankfully I marked all of the parts before I took them apart to assure that I would put them back together correctly. I used a little glue to attach the filler pieces to the leg cleats, but otherwise, the only glue used in the entire project was on the four dadoes on the drawer compartment, and the walnut plugs. (I promise once it is finished, with finish, I will photograph all of the relevant parts). With the leg assemblies ready to go, I attached them to the desktop and reattached the cross cleat, once again plugging the countersunk holes and cleaning them up.
The last part of the assembly for me was the scariest, and that was attaching the drawer unit to the desktop. Before I took everything apart I marked and predrilled holes into the desktop. To attach the drawer unit I decided to use pocket-hole screws. I like using pocket-hole screws in situations like this because of the pan head holds nicely on elongated holes. In any case, I used two combination squares (I highly recommend having two BTW) to align the drawer unit, enlisted my lovely wife to hold the drawer unit in place, and carefully screwed the drawer unit to the desk top. Speaking for myself, it’s always a bit nerve wracking lying on my back and screwing through a tabletop sight unseen. Thankfully, everything went well.
And speaking of pocket screws, I may attach a cleat underneath the desktop to connect the two leg assemblies, just for added strength, because as of right now they are only connected by one cross brace. After doing some research it appears that pocket screws were traditionally used for such a task, believe it or not, but as of right now I still haven’t made up my mind.
The last task of the day was milling up some poplar for making the drawers. The drawer fronts were completed last week, but I didn’t want to plane them to final size until the drawer unit was assembled. I decided to go with half-blind dovetails for the drawers, which is the logical choice. So I gang sawed all four drawer sides at once, tails first obviously. I am holding off on the drawer backs just to make sure there is no settling, or what have you, before I glue the drawers together, but that part should only take a matter of minutes.
As far as the finish is concerned, when I started the project I spent some time searching the forums to find a nice finish for Walnut and kept coming back to a product called Sam Maloof poly/oil. It seemed to get good reviews, so I ordered a can of both the poly/oil and the poly/wax. The instructions call for 3 to 4 coats of the oil and 1 to 2 coats of the wax, with an overnight dry in between each application. I likely won’t start applying the finish until this coming Friday night, when I will have time to take my time.
And on another note, I am not overly concerned with the finish when it comes down to it. I used to worry a great deal about having a perfectly smooth, plastic-like appearance. But considering that the boards used to make this desk likely came from barn walls, I am more than happy with how it looks. I was more concerned with doing the best job I could do, and I believe that I did that. The desk looks like I want it to look, and I believe that it is well constructed and it should last for quite a while. I think that George Washington would have liked it, and more importantly, my daughter loves it, and I have a feeling that she will be the one to use it most, and that is about all I could ask.
It’s always reassuring to see my posts from 3 years ago make an appearance in places unlooked-for…I find it flattering.
This past weekend I began the scary phase of every one of my woodworking projects, and that is the time when there are a lot of almost finished, unassembled parts lying around waiting to be destroyed.
First things first, on Saturday afternoon/evening I spent two hours milling up the final two boards needed to complete the project. Well, it was about an hour milling up and an hour cleaning up. Rather than calling it a night, I wanted to get in a little actual woodworking, so I attached the cross brace to the back legs. I did not want to mortise out the legs because they are thin to begin with, so instead I dadoed the brace, 3/8 of an inch, planed it down, chamfered the edges, and sanded it smooth. I was satisfied with the appearance, so I attached it with some decorative brass screws. Thankfully, it added some much needed stability to the legs. Admittedly it took longer than it should have to lay out the dadoes, but I wanted the fit to be dead accurate, and I really didn’t want to waste a perfectly good board just by being careless.
Overnight Saturday we had a wind storm, so I spent a portion of the morning and early afternoon cleaning up the back yard, which really ate up the prime hours of the day. But I soldiered on and decided to get as much of the drawer unit finished as possible.
I took my sweet time with those dadoes, because I only had one crack at it, and once the kerfs were all sawn I used a chisel and router plane to get to finished depth. The fit was nice, so I moved on to what I believe is the most challenging part of this project, the ogees on the drawer compartment sides.
Considering that nearly all of the furniture I’ve built to date has been in the Arts & Crafts style (as well as some Shaker pieces), laying out and sawing an ogee with a coping saw is not my strong suit, but I decided to give it a try regardless. I used a compass and my limited artistic ability to lay out the ogee on one of the drawer unit ends, clamped both together, and started sawing. The results were mixed; I should have stuck closer to the line, but in the end it was done. Afterwards, I spent a good hour using a spoke shave, chisel, and rasp to get the pieces in shape. In the end, I wound up with more of a sloping cove than a true ogee, but I am not unhappy with it, and once it is sanded down I think it will look pretty good.
The last task of the day was adding rabbets to the side pieces of the drawer unit, which I did with a moving fillister plane. I could have pushed it and fitted the drawer dividers as well, but that part should be simple, and I didn’t want to push it, as it was getting late and I had a lot of clean up to do.
After clean up, I once again brought all of the parts into my family room for safe keeping. I attached the “ogeed” ends to the drawer unit top and placed it on top of the desk. I liked the open appearance, so I think what I may do is leave the space in between the two drawers without a back, just to see how it looks. If I don’t like it, I will simply add the filler piece, but I think that open area may add some lightness to the desk, and I could always bore out a space for an inkwell cup there.
Happily, so far none of the pieces have been damaged in any way. By the end of next week the desk should be ready for finish, as the only thing really left to do is make the drawers along with finishing up some light sanding. I’m hoping that my lovely wife steps in and does the finishing for me, as she is much more patient than I am when it comes to stuff like this. Otherwise, I am in the home stretch. And for those of you who celebrate the holiday, have a Happy Thanksgiving.
My favorite part of any furniture project is the point when a solution has been found to a challenge. It’s a figurative crossing of the “hump” which then signifies hopefully smooth sailing moving forward. This past Saturday I crossed that hump.
The bad news first. The temperatures in the area dropped well below freezing, and though that is not unheard of in my neck of the woods, it is uncommon for this time of year. So after I returned home from work on Saturday the first thing I did was check on the desk top panel. The panel is just fine, but the breadboard end with the issue was not looking so good. The underside developed a split that was instantly noticeable. Maybe the cold exaggerated it, but at that point I didn’t care, so the instant decision was made to saw off both of those bread board ends, which I did using the table saw and a cross-cut sled. I understood it meant losing a few hours of work, but I know the decision was the correct one because I felt no real remorse then or now, and rather than dwelling on it, I moved on to putting together the leg assemblies.
The leg assemblies posed a bit of a challenge, at least to me they did. Firstly, I wanted them to appear as if they could fold up, so I could not ship lap them together, though that in some ways may have been easier. The dilemma was attaching them to the cross cleats, which sounds simple but was a bit complicated.
The issue was the offset of the legs. Because the legs were not ship-lapped, one side of the leg would obviously offset, in this case ¾ of an inch. So my solution was to make a filler board to make up the gap made by the offset. At that, I wanted the board to match the angles and width of the cleat board as closely as possible, so I spent a good deal of time clamping and measuring. Once I was as sure of myself as I was going to get, I made the cuts, planed it to final size and started drilling holes for the quarter inch hardware I purchased for the project. I won’t lie, those first couple of holes were nerve-wracking, because a mistake would cost me several more hours of work, but once I got moving things went relatively smoothly. It took more than two hours, but in the end I had a finished leg assembly.
Sunday morning I started on the second assembly, and using lessons learned from the previous night’s experience, I had it finished and ready to attach in under an hour, so rather than leaving those two assemblies on top of the workbench, I did just that attached them to the desktop using some angle brackets. I hadn’t planned to do an assembly to be honest, but curiosity got the best of me. The good news is that so far it looks pretty good. Admittedly, I was a little disappointed that the breadboard ends needed to be removed, but it doesn’t look bad in my opinion. But the better news is the fact that the legs all sit level with the ground. Generally, when making a table, there is usually a bit of wobble. As of right now the table sits nicely, and when I placed a level on the top I found it dead flat. At that, the table does rock a bit back and forth, but considering it is not permanently attached to the top yet, and considering the leg assemblies haven’t been joined together yet with any cross bracing, that was to be expected.
Lastly, I removed the assembled table from my garage and placed it in the family room, where I think it will be much safer. Over the years, I’ve found out the hard way that leaving unassembled furniture projects in my garage is a recipe for disaster. Maybe it’s gremlins; I don’t know, but whatever it is my projects seem to take a beating if they sit in the garage for too long, so I was taking absolutely no chances. In any event, the cat seems to like it, because as soon as I brought it inside the house she promptly hopped onto it, sprawled out, and took a nap.
Next weekend I will mill down another board to use for the cross bracing as well as the desktop drawer unit. Thankfully, I already have the drawer unit finalized in my mind, so the construction should have no unwanted surprises. So with a little luck I could quite possibly have a desk ready for finish a week from now.
On another note, some of you (or none of you) may be wondering why I did not post last week. Well, I had the very good fortune to go to Washington DC and not only take a tour of the White House, but to visit Mount Vernon as well. The Mount Vernon trip was not planned, it just happened to fall into place, and because I had not been able to go there last time I was in DC, I made it a priority. I will only say of the trip that I was completely blown away. The furniture examples in Mount Vernon alone are beyond description, and I would have taken photos, but they are not allowed inside the house itself. And because I believe that rules are a good thing (they are hardly “for fools” as some in the woodworking world would claim) I did not attempt any, and instead purchased a very nice book with photos that are much better than those I would have taken anyway.
My family, who was skeptical about the Mount Vernon visit in part because the day was cool, cloudy, and damp, was nonetheless blown away. My daughter in particular was completely awestruck. But the highlight, for all of us, was visiting the final resting place of George and Martha Washington and paying our respects. When I say that this trip was beyond inspirational and much more of a spiritual experience, I am understating to the highest degree. Upon leaving Mount Vernon, my admiration of George Washington, which was already immense, grew even greater. And more than ever I am committed to making this desk to the highest level I possibly can.
I started and completed phase 3 of the Washington Campaign Desk project on Sunday afternoon, but I ran into a few problems, one minor, two a bit more concerning.
As I mentioned in prior posts, when I began this project I decided to build the top with a breadboard end detail. The reason for going with breadboard ends was not only for added stability, but also for appearance.
I’ve seen breadboard ends made in several different styles, from one long tenon, to a ‘haunch’ style tenon, to dowels. I decided on the one long tenon (1 ¼”) for no particular reason other than it seemed to fit. The process for creating the joint went smoothly enough, though it was somewhat time consuming. I set up the table saw with a dado stack, made several test cuts to center the groove, and proceeded to make the groove, raising the blade height ¼” on each pass. Once that was finished I did the same for the tenon on the desk top.
The first issue, and to my mind the biggest, came when I was cleaning up the tenon. I used a shoulder plane to do the bulk of the work, and that worked well, but a slip of the hand left a nice little ding on the front left corner, which would not have made a difference had I not decided to go with breadboard ends. Unfortunately, when I was doing a test fit I noticed the gap that the ding made, around 3 inches long and 1/16th of an inch wide, which doesn’t sound like much until you compare it with the rest of the joint, which is pretty much right on the money.
The second issue, and to me almost as troubling as the ding, came when I installed the dowels.
I used 3/8” oak dowels to hold the joint in place, and I decided to drawbore the joint for added security. I’m not overly experienced in the art of drawboring, but I’ve done it enough to not be afraid of it. Drawboring, briefly and in layman’s terms for those of you who may not know how a drawbored joint works, is when you drill out the hole of your tenon slightly closer to the shoulder than the holes bored out on the breadboard ends. This, in theory, will pull the joint closed very snugly and help to eliminate any gaps between the shoulder of the desktop and the breadboard ends. To leave out the dull details, it worked just fine in 5 of the 6 holes. On the last joint (as usual) the dowel pin I used went crooked, which is a sure sign that it needed to be tapered more. So I took a nail set and used it to tap out the pin, and of course it blew out a very small but noticeable chunk of the wood on the breadboard piece. Under other circumstance it wouldn’t have bothered me in the least, but because this piece is right next to the dowel, which is oak and much lighter in color than walnut, that little ding looks huge. I of course glued the blowout back in, but I have no idea how it is going to look until everything is completely sanded down and ready for finish.
The “minor” issue, and the easiest one to fix, is nonetheless the most disappointing to me. After all of the work, I’m not exactly sure that I like how the breadboard ends look. It’s an easy situation to remedy; I can just saw off the ends and in the process I would only be losing around 4 inches of desk top length (along with several hours of work and effort). I can easily chamfer or round over the top for a pleasing appearance. So I trimmed the breadboard ends flush (almost) and gave the top a light sanding and I’m still on the fence. I won’t lie, the dings are bothering me, and one showed up inexplicably near the center of the panel; don’t ask me how as nothing was dropped on it, but stuff like this seems to happen in my garage.
The center ding should easily be fixed with an iron, but that gap is not as simple. One option is to make up a filler with some glue and sawdust, the other is to just hide it with the drawer compartment. A third option, as I said, is removing the breadboard ends completely. I wanted the gappy area to serve as the front of the desk, because I like the grain pattern there and also because the other panel has two knots with some really funky stuff happening.
My plan now is to fix the dings as best I can, and then adding a coat of sanding sealer to see what I am working with. Otherwise, any advice would be much appreciated.
Ever thought about a little home renovation? Considered coffered ceilings? Until recently, it was uncommon to find these in modern homes. As they become more and more common, homeowners are remodeling their homes and including this unique home upgrade. Take a look at the infographic below by Jason Tilton of Fanatic Finish for more info.
This past Sunday afternoon I began day 2 of the Washington Campaign Desk project. The main objective was to get the legs sawn to finish length and width along with the cleats to attach it to the desk top, the secondary objective was to get the desk top planed flat. If everything was working at optimal level I even considered getting the rabbets cut for the breadboard ends. Happily, I at least got the first two items on the list checked off.
To start, on Friday night I got the desktop sawn to final size (minus the breadboards) 40 inches. I then ripped one of the boards I had prepped last week into 4 strips, 2 ¾ inches wide and 6 ft long. Those boards were to be used for the breadboard ends and the 4 legs. So on Sunday afternoon I first chose the nicest board and cut that to the rough lengths needed for the breadboard ends. I then got to work on the legs.
The legs turned into a bit of a challenge. Cutting the angles was not really much of an issue as I simply used the cardboard template I made, but working around some of the knot holes and defects was a bit more difficult, or at the least time consuming. I basically hemmed and hawed for 15 minutes trying to lay out the cuts in such a way as to utilize the best parts of the boards, and then I got to sawing with the table saw.
The table saw work went quickly; after a few test cuts to set the angle of the legs, I had them sawn to length along with the cleats in a matter of minutes. But there was a minor drawback; in choosing the best aspects of the boards, I was forced to shorten the overall height of the desk from 29 inches to just over 28 inches, which I can certainly live with, in particular if that is the worst thing that happens during this project.
After the legs were sawn to length, I ripped them to just over their final width: 2 ¼ inches, as I will use a hand plane to finish them.. I then did a few test layouts using the template and so far everything looks good. Once that was all finished I turned to the desk top, where I discovered a minor issue.
When I glued up the two boards to make the desktop I wanted to remove any of the sapwood that I could, and I thought that I had. But at the seem there is a very fine line of sapwood that I honestly hadn’t noticed. Initially I thought it was just a bit of glue that had seeped through when the boards were clamped, unfortunately I was wrong. But, I am not going to worry about it. These boards are old and have a lot of “character”, so going in I knew that I was not going to end up with a French Polish level of refinement. But I did get the top planed to where I wanted it, using the jack plane and smooth plane. On that note, in cases like this I use the jack plane very much like a smooth plane to take fine shavings. The Walnut planed nicely, and I can live with the results.
Before I called it a day I gave the underside a quick plane as well. As I had mentioned in the prior post, the glue up went smoothly, so the panel was nearly flat to begin with, and really only needed some touch up work. While I had the desktop flipped over I added some epoxy to a knot that had developed a small crack, just in case. Lastly, I got to cleaning up the garage. It wasn’t too late, so I probably could have made an attempt at the breadboard ends, but I didn’t want to push the matter; I’m in no rush.
Next weekend, my goal is to complete the breadboard ends, and quite possibly assemble the base. If I manage to get the breadboard ends finished I will give the entire top a quick once over with a plane and possibly start sanding. Once I do that I can get to work on the base assembly. Initially I was a little worried about the base, but I figured out a very simple method to attach the legs accurately that should allow me to get to the fun part: the desk top cubby.
As far as this desk is concerned, I am trying to make it as close as I can to the original piece using only a photograph. I know there are woodworkers that specialize in reproductions who are experts at working from photos. Unfortunately I am not one of those experts, so this project has required a good bit of guess work.
For instance, I want the desk top to have a height of around 29 inches, and that is because my computer desk at home is 29 inches tall (most desks seem to fall in the 27-31 inch height range) and for me that is a comfortable working height. The length of the top will likely finish off at around 44 inches, which was my original guestimate from the photo using the book and pen as a guide. Why likely? Because I still have to do some trimming, and that trimming may change the finished size, depending. The width of the desktop (front to back) should finish off at around 23 inches, partly because of the stock I am using, and going by the original photo, I believe it is close to the actual width of the desk shown.
The legs are a bit trickier. Most woodworkers will make a “story stick”, which work well for projects like tables and traditional desks with bases, but for this project the ‘X’ pattern of the legs make the story stick a less viable option, because I want to have the ability to see that ‘X’ in full size. So the simple solution was to draw out a side view of the desk on a sheet of corrugated paper. The drawing not only gives me an easy lay-out guide, it also provided the angles needed for the legs. And after looking at the drawing, I came to the conclusion that screwing the legs to the face of the desktop cleats is a better solution than using a mortise and tenon joint, as it will be stronger and allow for the panel to expand and contract.
Maybe most importantly, this drawing helped to eliminate a lot of measuring, and the full sized drawing allowed me to proportion the top drawer compartment to dimensions I found pleasing, and once the desktop base is completed I will use the drawing as a template to saw the curves for the drawer unit.
It’s always nice to find that the simple, low tech solution is usually the easiest and fastest. Some woodworkers prefer to use drafting programs such as Sketch-up to do layout work, but that has never appealed to me, though I do believe that Sketch up is a valuable tool. But as far as this project is concerned, I found it enjoyable to use a basic pencil, T-square, and yard stick to design the desk, and at that, I think GW would have approved.
I woke up on Sunday morning feeling a little under the weather. My back was a little stiff, I had a headache, and I didn’t sleep very well on top of it. I almost put my Washington’s Desk project on hold, but I knew that if I didn’t get started I probably never would. So I cleared out the garage and got to work.
The plan was to mill up enough material for the desk top, the breadboard ends, the legs, as well as cleats for the desktop underside and the cross stretcher. So I chose 3 boards, two 6 footers and one 4 footer (all of the boards were 12 inches wide by 1 inch thick). To mill down those boards I used my Ryobi surface planer. For the record, this isn’t what I consider a great or even good tool. I purchased it almost 14 years ago while doing a kitchen remodel. It does the job, but it is loud and messy. Nonetheless, I had to work with the tools I have, so I checked the blades, and they were reasonably sharp, so I started milling.
What made this such an arduous process was the collection of the shavings. Because I rarely use power tools, I don’t have a dust collector or even a large shop vac. The shop vac I do have is perfectly fine for cleaning out a car or keeping a workbench clear, but it is not made for large scale work. But once again I had to use what was available, and it was not fun. Initially, I was hoping to finish up with two boards just over 7/8” thick for the top and one board just over ¾” thick for the legs. But, I underestimated the amount of material I needed to remove. The boards I was working with were very rough sawn, as in just a shade beyond still having bark. So I had to remove nearly ¼” of material just to get down to usable boards that were flat. And it also meant a lot of starting and stopping to empty out the shop vac. I was actually sore from the constant bending over to pick up the shavings, which I did at the very least fifty times. In the end, I filled up an entire lawn bag with shavings.
After the boards were milled I used the table saw to trim the two boards for the desk top to rough width and length (as well as getting rid of planer snipe). I then aligned the boards for a nice grain pattern (at least to my eye), and trimmed the boards to very near final size. To join the boards I decided to match-plane them.
Match planing works well, especially if your plane is set properly. I used a strange sequence: jointer plane first, a couple of passes with a jack plane set to take gossamer thin shavings, jointer again, and then one final pass with the jack. I’m not sure how other woodworkers match-plane, but when I am able to take a full width, full length shaving from both boards I call it joined. And in a surprisingly short time the boards were ready to be glued. I am very happy with the joint, as it was air tight, and the top is thankfully nice and flat. It will take a good amount of plane work and sanding, and probably some scraping as well (there are a few funky grain spots) to get the top ready for finish, but I should have a top ¾ thick when all is said and done, which is a bit less than I wanted, but hardly the end of the world.
At that point, I decided to call it a day. There was a lot, and I mean a lot, of clean up to do. In fact, I spent nearly as much time setting up and cleaning up as I did woodworking. This coming weekend I am hoping to get the legs sawn to finish length and width, the breadboard ends ready, and with a little luck I may possibly have the entire base and desk top ready for assembly. I was a little worried over laying out the legs, but I figured out a simple solution that I will detail in my next post.
Do we ever reach an age where we become too old for heroes? And I don’t just mean every day heroes such as firemen, policemen, and teachers (not that they aren’t important), but legendary heroes such as King Arthur or Babe Ruth. Maybe you all have, but I haven’t.
Growing up in Philadelphia, stories about the American Revolution was pretty much second nature for me. Some of my earliest memories revolve around Valley Forge Park, the Declaration of Independence, Benjamin Franklin, and the Liberty Bell. The battles of Brandywine and Germantown were fought basically at my back door, so it was just a normal part of growing up, for me, to learn as much as I could about the War for Independence.
However, of all the legendary names from the War for Independence that I can spout off automatically, George Washington stands atop the list.
As a child, Washington was a mythical figure, a larger than life titan, a legendary demi-god who descended from Heaven, led America to a glorious victory, and rode off into immortality in a chariot of fire. As I grew older, my hobby of researching the American Revolution turned more towards the battles and tactics of the time. I loved the political intrigue, the clandestine spy operations with code names and invisible ink, and the sacrifices of the common soldier. Yet, I always found myself coming back the Washington, even if in passing.
Fast forward into married adulthood. Four years ago my family was going through a difficult time. A very close family member had become ill, I was not feeling so hot myself, and it was quite frankly very difficult on all of us, in particular my wife. Living so close to Valley Forge National Park, I found myself there often, taking long walks just to ease my mind. And though I had been to VFP many times, and though I had known the story of the park since before I could read, the park was still to me in many ways a place of legend, in much the same way that George Washington had become a legendary figure. But it was during those walks that began to look around, and not just inwardly. I found myself reading the many marker stones and inscribed monuments to those who served there; I spoke to park rangers and historians, I attended park events, and soon after I found myself once again engrossed in history. It saved me.
I read at least 50 or more books on the Revolution. I volunteered at the park whenever possible (and still do to this day). I took it upon myself to become a steward of history, learning whatever I could whenever I could. And in doing so I came to admire George Washington more and more, not just for his war time exploits, but as the leader of a new nation.
I don’t know how many books I’ve read just on Washington to be honest. I now count 22 on the book shelf right behind me, and at least that many more in my Kindle reader. A few of those books were little more than fluff pieces, but the majority of them are true in-depth studies, and just as I chose those books specifically to de-mystify the legend and learn more about the man, instead his legend grew in my eyes and I now hold him in greater esteem more than ever. He was far from perfect, and I am not implying that he was; he had faults like all of us do; I am only doing my utmost to understand the man in context to the era he lived in, and I found perhaps the greatest leader of men the world saw in the entire millennium.
So this is a woodworking blog, right, and not an ode to historical figure? Why then post a fanboy crush diary entry on George Washington and his ragtag band of rebels? Glad you asked.
A few weeks back I went with my family to the Museum of the American Revolution in Philadelphia. It was a geek-out heaven for me, and among the thousands of artifacts were some of George Washington’s personal belongings. Of course, there were also replicas, and among those was a desk that was believed to be similar to the furniture that would have been used by the officers, and perhaps Washington himself, during the American Revolution. I made the decision right then and there to build it myself.
It just so happens that I have been planning for the past year to dedicate a section of our family room to my love of history. I have collected dozens if not hundreds of historical artifacts on the era: artwork, newspapers, broadsides, books, lamps, and tools. Admittedly, most of those artifacts are replicas, but they are of high quality. As of last month it was my plan to restore a desk which belonged to my father-in-law’s family and use that to house my collection. Though I still plan on restoring that desk, I have decided to make the “Washington” desk my centerpiece.
Even better news is that in doing some more research, I’ve found that most of Washington’s campaign furniture was made from walnut, which I thankfully have plenty to use ( I had planned on using it regardless). I’ve recently consulted with my first and best woodworking mentor, his excellency Chuck Bender, on some of the construction details, and he was, of course, a huge help.
With any luck I am hoping to not only have the final measurements down, but the material milled and the desktop panel glued up this weekend. The top I will make using breadboard ends. The legs may be a bit of a challenge in that I don’t plan on making them foldable because I have no intention of moving this desk throughout the colonies. So I may make those using a ship lap joint, which is a joint I’ve generally only made perpendicular. Otherwise, I plan on staying pretty much true to the photo.
I’m hoping this turns out well, because even though it may not be my most ambitious project, I can already guarantee that it will be my favorite thus far. George Washington has inspired me much of my life, even more so as an adult than as a child, and I cannot think of a better way to adorn my home and continue my research than to create a piece of furniture inspired by the man himself.
Amish furniture has been present in North America since 1737 when the first Amish families arrived from the Netherlands. As more Amish settled in America and applied their gift of wood craftsmanship, they soon made a name for themselves as master furniture makers. It wasn’t until 1774 that the arrival of Shakers from England began to change the way the Amish designed their furniture.
The Shaker brought with them a style of furniture that was simple, unadorned and visually appealing to the way of life the Amish chose to live. Amish furniture makers adopted this new style, aptly named Shaker style, and began to craft this type of furniture. The long history of the Shaker style amongst the Amish communities is reason why this particular design is most often associated as the classic Amish furniture type. However, there is another type to consider.
The second style of Amish furniture is Mission style. Mission furniture was adopted by the Amish in 1898 and appealed to craftsmen that wanted that heavier, dark look in their work. This style was adapted from the furniture commonly found in Spanish missions. Despite being so heavy looking, overall the designs of Mission furniture are very simple, similar to why the Shaker style is so beloved.
While both Shaker and Mission style furniture are made by Amish craftsmen, and they’re both very similar in terms of simplicity, there are some significant differences between the two. If you plan on investing in something like an Amish living room furniture it is important you understand what sets these two styles apart from one another.
Features of Classic Shaker Furniture:
Tapering and Turnings
In effort to keep furniture as light as possible tapering and turning of furniture, especially the legs, was done. Tapering is the graduation of the wood piece to a small size while turning is the removal of excess material, often on the inside part of table and chair legs. When tapering is done it is very gentle and gradual, not ornately or sharply tapered.
Wooden Drawer Pulls and Knobs
Shaker style is most often finished with wooden drawer pulls and knobs. This maintained the overall simple, understated look for the furniture. It also allows the craftsman to use one product for the entire piece of furniture.
Plain Wood Finish
Majority of Shaker furniture is made of light colored woods like pine, maple or cherry. These were sealed and finished but never stained dark. The purpose of this is to allow the quality of the wood to speak for itself without relying on a heavy stain to show the beauty.
The Amish are not prideful and do not do work to appeal to the ego, which is the main reason why their furniture is fairly basic. Joinery requires meticulous skill and is often hidden from sight. For example, a half-blind dovetail will be used on drawers, which could only be seen when open.
If you’re purchasing a dresser, buffet or some other type of Shaker furniture with drawers you’ll notice that, more often than not, the drawers are graduated. This means the drawer at the bottom will be the largest while the drawer on top will be the smallest. This design is practical and also looks appealing.
Features of Classic Mission Furniture:
Thick Wood Stained Dark
Oak is one of the more common types of wood used for Mission furniture, but regardless of wood type Mission work tends to consist of thick pieces. Mission furniture is also stained dark, varying from a rich brown to a deep stain close to black. This really makes the furniture stand out and look even stronger.
Rather than having hidden joints Mission furniture tends to really showcase the joinery. The mortise and tenon joint technique is very common with Mission furniture, and for good reason. This joint is incredibly strong and also very beautiful to look at.
Most Mission furniture relies on straight lines, with very little tapering or curvature present. This is an even more simplistic design than Shaker, though it requires just as much skill to design.
Since Mission furniture is thicker the use of parallel slats on open portions of furniture, such as the back of a couch or chair, to make it lighter. Slats are very popular and highly requested on custom Mission furniture.
While not exceedingly common, some Amish to incorporate the use of leather into their Mission furniture. This was done in the Spanish style and has been carried over in some shops. Most often you will see leather touches on chair seats or perhaps even on a headboard.
Choosing a Style
Shaker furniture is the epitome of Amish craftsmanship. It retains the very original designs of tapers, all-wood construction, and plain wood. In a way Shaker furniture settles more into the room and is more neutral. Mission style furniture is bold and stunning, easily becoming the statement pieces in the room. The use of hardware is more traditional of what most Americans are accustomed to in their furniture.
Both Shaker and Mission style furniture are beautiful as well as equally appealing to anyone that appreciates minimalistic, handcrafted furnishings. Choosing to go with Amish-made furniture is a guarantee of quality, expertise and traditional design.
Over the weekend I finished up the weather station project I’ve been working on as well as made a small “wallet” for some combination plane blades. Though, I’m happy to have finished those projects, I’d like to share with you a very minor (but oh so major) change I made to my sharpening system.
First things first, a few weeks back I made a weather station for the instrument kit I purchased from Lee Valley some time ago. Those of you who read the post may recall that I used walnut for the base and a piece of scrap pine to hold the weather instruments. The scrap pine was just an experiment to test the appearance of the piece; I liked what I saw, so I decided to go ahead and use cherry as the contrasting wood. Because I already had the pine template, cutting the cherry to size and boring out the dowel holes was a matter of minutes. The only time consuming part was planing the board smooth from its rough state, which took around 10 minutes to complete both sides.
Otherwise, it may be worth noting that I attempted to bore out the 2 1/2″ diameter hole with an adjustable boring bit and brace, but it was simply too much material for me to hog out. Instead, I once again used a hole saw, but with an electric drill rather than a drill press, as my drill press has been having issues. I did not want to use the hole saw again because I felt the holes were a touch too large for a snug fit, but in the end it worked out just fine.
To complete the finish I coated it with linseed oil, wiped off the excess and let it dry overnight. I added a second coat in the morning and let it dry for around 4 hours or so, then added two coats of wax. I have to admit that it turned out fairly nice, and my wife actually wants to hang it in the living room, so I’m happy with the end result.
The other project I completed was a basic wallet to hold the smaller blades for a Record combination plane. The project was basically a way to pass the time while the second coat of linseed oil was drying. I used a scrap piece of 1/4 inch plywood and a couple of pine cut offs. It was really a very basic, down and dirty project. I’m happy to report that the fit is nice, and I coated the inside of the wallet with wax to not only smooth it out, but also for added protection.
But the real revelation has been my sharpening “system”.
On paper, my sharpening system may seem complicated. It’s not. I have two water stones, a DMT duosharp diamond stone, a leather strop, sandpaper, a hand cranked grinder, and a low-speed power grinder. For nearly all of my sharpening, the water stones and a leather strop are the only requirements.
If I have to do any heavy grinding I use sand paper and/or the DMT stone. If it’s real bad I will use the power grinder (or if I am trying to reset the bevel). As an added note, I personally don’t believe that power grinders are completely necessary. They certainly save time, but you can work without one. In fact, I admit that the only reason I have one is because it was purchased using a gift card that I received through my work, where our vendors offer those cards as incentives to take their online training modules. As far as the hand cranked grinder is concerned, it was given to me by a friend, but it does work rather well if need be.
The reason I bring up my sharpening method is because I’ve been making an effort to sharpen a few tools every time I woodwork. In this case, I sharpened a 3/8 in chisel, the iron from my block plane, and the 1/4″ plow iron from the combination plane. What has been remarkable lately are my results. For the past few months I’ve been getting beyond razor sharp tools. Perhaps I’ve just become a better sharpener through experience, but I don’t think that is entirely the case.
Going back to the water stones. For many years I’ve used a 1000g and an 8000g Norton. I’ve always had good results with the 8000g stone, but the 1000g stone always seemed to give me trouble. I felt that it was slower than it should have been, and it seemed to wear unevenly no matter how carefully I tried to keep that from happening. So a few months ago I happened to drop the 1000g stone (a Freudian slip?) and it broke in 3 pieces. Rather than try to epoxy it back together, I purchased an 800g King stone.
I can’t tell you exactly why I purchased the King brand, probably because it was inexpensive, but I can tell you that since I’ve been using that stone for the initial honing the sharpness of my tools has improved beyond dramatically. The King stone cuts very quickly, and builds up slurry far faster than the Norton ever did, it has worn evenly and it seems much easier to flatten ( I use the DMT stone to true up my water stones) That all being said, I still use the Norton 8000g stone and it has always worked well.
The first tool I sharpened using the King stone was my marking knife. I’ve never been a great knife sharpener, but I can tell you that after 5 minutes with my regular method (800g, 8000g, strop) I was using that knife to fruit ninja paper out of mid air. When I say I could have shaved my face with it I am not exaggerating.
Since, I’ve been going down the line, sharpening a few chisels and/or plane irons at a time, as well as other tools like my router plane and coffin smoother. In fact, I believe the only I have left to finish using the King stone are the jack plane iron and my 1 1/4 in chisel. That being said, I’ve only sharpened 2 of the combination plane blades thus far, but my 8 chisels and 4 bench planes are basically finished up, and I couldn’t be happier with the results.
So maybe it’s the stone, or maybe I’ve improved and the actual stone has nothing to do with it, but I don’t think that is completely the case. Nonetheless, since I’ve been using the King stone, sharpening has been faster and easier, and the results speak for themselves. Some people treat sharpening as some sort of religious experience; I’ve never felt that way about it. Sharpening has always been a means to an end for me, and for once getting to that end has been far faster and more enjoyable than it ever has been.
****As sort of a post-disclaimer, I was not paid or compensated in any way to write this post. I am just doing it because I’ve found the King stone to be an excellent value****
Like nearly every other woodworker on the planet, I built a “Dutch” tool chest a few years back; in fact, I built two. I enjoyed both projects, and it was a good chance to work on several different skills: dovetail joinery, dado joinery, mortise and tenon joinery, joinery, joinery, joinery.
One of those chests I gave to my dad, the other I kept. For quite a while my chest was in my garage with most of my woodworking tools placed inside it. It sometimes sat on my bench, or under it, or under my feet. I bumped into it quite often, every now and again I would trip over it; I bent over countless times to get stuff out of it. Eventually, I smartened up, hung a cabinet and some tool racks on the walls near my work area, and put my Dutch tool chest in the attic.
Here is the plain truth that nobody wants to hear: working out of that chests sucked. It wasn’t a size issue; the chest was easily large enough to hold the bulk of my woodworking tools. It is a simple matter of logistics, too much bending over, reaching, stretching, dropping, knuckle banging nonsense.
I found the best way to work out of the chest was to put it on my workbench so that everything was at eye level. The problem there was it got in the way too much. Of course, I could put it back on the floor after I got everything out, but then all of that stuff was on the bench too. And who feels like picking up and putting down a 100 pound + tool chest four or five times? Not me.
I’ve seen videos where the woodworker removed all of the tools he/or she needed at the beginning of the project and put them on the bench. I suppose that works, but then all of the stuff is on the bench and in the way (unless you have a recessed tool tray, but they are bad news, right?)
Okay, I’m complaining, so what solution am I offering? The same one that has been around forever: mount your tools on a wall rack and store them in a wall hung cabinet.
Everything is at eye level, out of the way, easy to see and easy to reach. I’ve said this before and I’ll say it again: since I’ve mounted my tools on the wall I’ve become a more efficient woodworker. AND, my back feels a whole lot better.
So here is my expert advice: If, for some reason, you travel a lot with your woodworking tools, make a tool chest for transportation. And if you are like the overwhelming majority of amateur woodworkers with tools that very rarely leave your work area, mount your stuff on the wall over your bench. Nothing bad is going to happen to your stuff if it’s out in the open. I live in a high humidity area and I’ve had very few rust issues. Keep your tools oiled (as you should be doing anyway) and they’ll be just fine.
So why rehash a topic I know I’ve already covered? Well, a few weeks ago I was getting some things out of the attic and I saw my tool chest sitting on the floor. It still looked pretty good, and it will certainly still hold tools, so I brought it down the stairs, dusted it off, and sold it for a few bucks.
I mentioned a few posts back that I had sold off some tools (mostly duplicates) and how I surprisingly had no sentimental attachment to any of them. But when I sold my Dutch tool chest I very nearly backed out of the deal. My second thoughts didn’t stem from the sell cost, I was just very reluctant to let go of something I had built myself.
I’m hardly a great woodworker, but I put a lot of time and effort into my projects. For whatever it’s worth, and for all of it’s shortcomings, I thought that my tool chest looked great when I finished it. When I brought it down the attic stairs and briefly back into my garage, it seemed to “fit the scene”. But then I remembered why I put it into the attic in the first place, so I put sentimentality aside and did what I know was the right thing to do. And though I pride myself on being a person who makes the right decisions, the right decision in this instance wasn’t an easy one to make.
For the first time in a long, long time I was a “power tool woodworker” on Sunday afternoon. There was nothing momentous about this occasion, it just so happened, to happen.
To set the scene, several years ago (I don’t remember exactly when), I purchased a weather instrument kit from Lee Valley because it was on sale and because they were offering free shipping. I’ve always enjoyed the appearance of vintage weather stations and I thought it would be a nice idea to make one. So like all new project ideas, I planned on starting that one ASAP, and the kit was promptly placed in a cabinet in my garage where it sat untouched for around 24 months give or take.
In the meanwhile, I’ve managed to build up quite a stash of walnut, cherry, and ash, along with the prerequisite pine and poplar, and coincidentally I happened to see one of those weather stations at a museum recently, so I thought it would be a good idea to finally make my own version.
The original plan was simple: a walnut slab cornered and chamfered with a basic finish applied. So I used broke out the table saw to cross-cut and rip the slab to finish size. The news is all good; the saw cut smoothly and there was no hint of bogging or binding, and this on a 1 inch thick x 13 inch wide slab of well-seasoned walnut. I then laid out the corners and cut the first one with a hand saw. Of course I had to clean up that cut with a block plane, and then it dawned on me to use the table saw to cut the other corners. Why not? What was the worst that could happen?
Nothing happened, it took all of 2 minutes for the cuts to be made.
I then needed to plane the board smooth, as it was a true in-the-rough board. I used a jack plane first just to get the bulk of the work done, and I then went to my Stanley #4. For whatever reason, it didn’t seem to be producing the results that I wanted, so I decided to turn to my coffin smoother, which is a tool that I painstakingly and lovingly restored myself with many hours of labor (thank you Graham Haydon). The plane performed above and beyond expectations and it should have, considering I spent hours on the sharpening alone.
Lastly, I chamfered the edges with a block plane. Everything went so quickly I had myself a wacky idea: how about adding another panel, inset and raised above the walnut, in a lighter wood such as cherry. I had several nice pieces of cherry that would work, but rather than taking the risk of ruining them (in the sense that it wouldn’t look all that great) I decided to use a piece of scrap pine for a test run. So I went back to the table saw and quickly made the cuts. I then had to cut out the holes for the weather pieces, which required a 2 1/2 inch hole. My largest forstner bit is 2 1/8 inches, so I used a hole saw instead, and in the drill-press it worked just fine.
The most difficult part was accurately drilling two holes for dowels which would align the two boards. I used a combination square to set the reveal, taped the board securely with painters tape, and started the drilling. My plan was to use the scrap pine as a template, so I drilled through that board and around ½ inch into the walnut. Lastly, I quickly planed and chamfered the pine, screwed in two temporary spacers on the walnut, and installed the panel. (once the cherry is installed the dowels will not be seen)
All in all I like the look, though I do think it will look even better with a cherry panel instead of the scrap pine. When I removed the pine to apply a finish, it split a touch, not that it matters because it was only a temp solution, and I should have no trouble using it as a template for the cherry. The project came in at just about 2 hours, and I’m estimating that replacing the pine with cherry will probably be a 45 minute affair. I would have finished right then and there but the day was already getting long. Truthfully, I think maple would look even better but I don’t have a suitable maple board to use.
Regardless, it was a fun little project, and I think it will look great in the area I have set aside for it. Not to get ahead of myself, but this is the first in hopefully a series of projects to create my own little “dream” office area, complete with old manuscripts, candle holders, writing desks, and quill pens. Yeah, I’m a history geek; I admit it.