Wednesday, December 18, 2013

The Hay Rake table round up.

I had a lot of fun with this project. The joinery was challenging. (There will be a post-script on the stretcher joinery soon.) The fact that I built it without a table saw put an interesting twist on the process. Using the drawknife put a goofy grin on my face. I really liked the finished piece. And in the end, the client was happy with the end result, which is what's really important.

The structure of the base is very interconnected. Four pieces come together simultaneously at each end of the stretcher bar, and the resulting geometry determines the position of the legs. (I'll do a post script soon about how the joinery comes together.) The legs each have bridle joints cut into the top that capture the cross bars that support the table top. They also have tenons in the middle of each bridle joint that go through those cross bars, which locks everything together. The corresponding mortises have to be cut accurately, or they'll mess with the leg position, which will keep the stretcher joints from closing fully. Or, if the joints don't close, the legs won't join properly to the cross bars. Everything has the potential to mess up everything else. But when it all comes together properly, the resulting whole is a stout, strong piece of furniture.

Working with reclaimed lumber was interesting, and eye opening. It's pricey, and full of nails. That said, the aesthetics of the spruce caught me off guard. I don't normally go in for the rustic thing, but the boards were beefier than normal, from a pre- home center age. And they felt pretty dense for spruce. All of that, combined with the base, came together as a finished piece that really grabbed me. And I had to admit to the client that I didn't really want to give it to her. (I only admitted this once it was in her dining room... there's no sense in worrying people unnecessarily.)

I'm a big fan of Barnsley furniture to begin with, but the potential that his style represents for the way I want to work is impossible to ignore. The joinery is stout, but straightforward. The chamfering looks great, and is an opportunity to put hand tools efficiently to work in a way that embellishes the piece. I've been meaning to design more furniture anyway, but now I'm feeling a little more inspired to look into old timber framing and other stoutly designed structures for influences...

Working without a table saw: Making the top.

There's no real substitute for a powered jointer and planer when it comes to surfacing stock. But without a table saw, cross-cutting to length had to be done on the MFT, (easy) and cutting to width had to be done with the track saw as well. (Still easy, given the guide rail)

Since I was working with reclaimed lumber, I did the edge jointing and ripping with the track saw. And I'm incredibly grateful for that, too. The nails that I found embedded in the wood would have done no good to the jointer knives. And I'm not 100% that they would have played well with the SawStop, either. I know the saw looks for a drop in electrical charge, as it's absorbed into the human body, and I know that if I was actually touching one of those nails, that it would have set off the saw, for sure. Embedded nails? Not sure. Don't wanna find out, either.


So, really, the lesson of the day was to buy a hand-held metal detector for any future reclaimed wood projects. But also, yes, that you can do a lot with Festool that you'd normally want a table saw to do.

Once the nails were exposed, I was able to use a punch to drive them in, and edge joint the boards more properly. The track saw did a very good job, but a little more work was required to get the edges just so. In any event, getting the top glued up was pretty simple after the edge jointing.

Doing the breadboard ends wasn't too hard. I defined the shoulder of the end tenon with the track saw, set to the right depth of cut, and removed most of the waste with a router. I used the router table to run the groove in the end cap, and did a few other bits and pieces to get everything fitted up that way.

At this point in the project, I was 2 days away from delivery. (I delivered the table on the day before Thanksgiving) So, my emphasis was more on delivery than on documentation, so those details are, unfortunately, going to be left to the imagination.

Wednesday, December 11, 2013


Just fired up the SawStop for the first time in the new shop.

Things just got real.

Oh, wait...

More real?


Dust collector also has power, but needs a drum, and some plumbing.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Taming the savage knife, or, How I learned to stop worrying and love me some Cotswold furniture

The Cotswold school of furniture design, to which hay rake tables belong, was pioneered by Ernest Gimson and Sidney Barnsley. This particular style derives a lot of it's essence from the primitive utility of farm equipment: Wagons, rakes, and other items that are made to be functional, and durable. There's a lot of exposed joinery. Chamfers are used extensively on Cotswold furniture, as they were on farm implements and wagon parts. This was done both to reduce weight, and to keep square edges from getting damaged by the daily indignities of farming life.

William Morris wrote that furniture should be made of timber, not of walking sticks, and this is pretty much the unwritten motto of Sidney Barnsley's work in particular. I wouldn't park my truck on top of one of his tables, but I probably could. One of Barnsley's contemporary critics wrote that his furniture looked like the work of a savage. When you compare it to the work that came before; Queen Anne, Chippendale, Sheraton, etc, it certainly does. And the intellectual side of my brain understands that. But in my eye, whatever this furniture may be lacking in a refined veneer of dignity, it more than makes up for with an enthusiastic display of grounded strength, and competence. It's rustic, not primitive.

The photo up above is the Memorial Library at the Bedales School in Hampshire, England. It was designed by Gimson, built under the supervision of Barnsley, furnished by both men, and is listed as one of the Grade 1 listed buildings in the UK. It's completely unlike anything that was done over here by Frank Lloyd Wright or Charles and Henry Greene, but I think it has the same kind of unity to it that those architect/ designers were known for. And I can't decide, given the choice, if I'd rather visit this building, or one of the Blacker or Gamble houses.

Back to now.


Six years ago I took a class with Brian Boggs. Brian is one of the smartest woodworkers I've ever met, and seeing him go at it with a draw knife was a revelation. At the time, he'd been making chairs for 25 years, and when he worked, it looked like he could shape the wood more easily than some people can tie their shoes.

One of the things he said was that the last stroke of the tool is the most important. A draw knife, spokeshave, or other edge tool, used properly, will leave a burnished surface that you can't get any other way. How you get from raw wood to that last stroke doesn't matter... the surface that remains is what you see. That stuck with me, but it really came to mind when I started working on this table. Machines make neat work of the complicated joinery. But then the real fun begins of making the finished surfaces... including the extensive chamfering on the stretchers.

I went to visit Patrick Leach when the hay rake table was still on the drafting board. A draw knife was on one of his monthly tool lists, with a chamfer guide, and the guide really caught my eye. (I still have to tune up the knife I bought from Patrick. This draw knife was ready to go, so I swapped the chamfer guide over.) The guide has two sides, which is normal, but also has a keeper on top, to hold the setting when it gets moved or removed. I moved it around on the knife a fair amount, so that keeper bar helped a lot.

There was a learning curve. (In part because Patrick had clamped the guide onto the knife upside-down.) A draw knife is a pretty dynamic tool: It gives a lot of feedback, and responds best to adjustments made on the fly. And the guides are designed to function accordingly. They're not designed to turn the knife into a chamfer plane. But they do allow a more controlled introduction of the tool to the material, to make it easier to take thin, chamfer- width shavings with the knife. And they do limit the depth of cut, like a chamfer plane. After a while, I was roughing out with the bare side of the knife, and using the guide to take the last few strokes that would leave a nice, uniformly cut facet.


Once I started to get the hang of how the guide works, I also found that it could steer the knife into and through the stop-chamfers, too. The knife is a visceral tool to begin with, but this particular operation felt more instinctual than I'd've thought. It also made layout a lot easier. Initially, I'd drawn out the edges of each chamfer with pencil lines, and traced the curve of the stop chamfers with a fender washer.  But once I understood that the guide would help to shape the stop chamfers, as well as define the chamfer width, nothing more than a tick mark to indicate each end point was necessary. That was a huge time saver.

The more I read about hand tool methods, the more I'm starting to understand just how efficient they can be... and how much thought and effort had been put into making them more so. North Bennet gave me a solid grounding in the fundamentals of hand tool woodwork. But there's a big difference between cutting fine joinery in school, and doing daily battle with dead trees for a living. This particular setup gave me a good long glimpse into a world where push-button woodworking didn't exist... but neither did the time to reverently commune with the wood, or relish the shavings that spill slowly onto your basement floor. This is not the tool of a hobby woodworker.

I had a fair idea when I started the table that I would want to make more furniture like this. And I was right. I'm very handy when it comes to jiggery and precision machine work, and that's where I'll save a lot of my build time. But the opportunity to spend a few hours working and sweating with a draw knife isn't typical of a lot of the other work that I do, and the hand-hewn, burnished surface left behind by the knife isn't either. It's that last cut with the tool that Brian was talking about.

And, it's enjoyable. If I can build more furniture that's big and visceral, like these tables, I'll be a really happy guy. It's worth two weeks of dust and noise to get to a couple of hours of quiet, sweaty, focused work.

Tuesday, December 3, 2013

Using the French chair maker's vise on the hayrake table.

Using 80-20 for most of my jigs saved me a lot of time, but I still needed a fast way to cut shoulders on the 45 degree tenons. Given that it was only one table, it didn't make sense to me to spend a lot of time engineering a way to treat it like a production run. So, I used the French chair maker's vise that I built back in July of 2012:

It's really simple to use. The top surface is reference-flat. The material is clamped lightly in the vise, and the shoulder line is lined up with a gauge stick that's set to the height of the saw blade in a side-cutting saw that's also part of this arrangement. Once everything's in alignment, the material is clamped, and the saw cuts both shoulders to be in exactly the same plane. Clever, simple, efficient. Gotta love that...


 SO how accurately does it cut? Very accurately, as long as the gauge stick is right on, which is the current problem. As pretty as this picture is, I actually need to make a new gauge stick. The tenon sticks up above the vise, I'm actually cutting on the wrong side of the line. The joints all came together fine, but the tool should be working more accurately than this. (To be fair, the blade was pulled out farther than normal for these shoulders, so there may be some error introduced there, but even still... I need to give this some attention.)

Clean shoulders will make or break the look of a mortise and tenon joint, so they have to be done right. For this particular table, this was the most efficient way to get the job done that I could think of. For multiple tables, I might set up something on the table saw (if it was set up, which it's not, yet) or with router templates. But for one table, (8 angled joints) the chair maker's vise is such a quick and intuitive tool that it just made all the sense in the world to cut the shoulders that way.

Joinery's done... chamfers are next. 

Sunday, December 1, 2013

80-20, jiggery, and my foray into building a hay rake table

As I continue to unpack the shop, daily life and parenthood hurtles on in a mildly controllable fashion. Among other things, I had a commission for a hay rake table, made with reclaimed wood, and the client wanted it for Thanksgiving. That, and I still haven't had time to actually hook up the table saw and dust collector, so no table saw was used on this project. Given the need to work quickly, I decided to skip my normal habit of making 'serious' jigs, and worked with a few pieces of 80-20 aluminum that I'd recently unpacked.

If you're a push-button, store-bought jig woodworker, more T-track won't really help you much. If you've been building jigs for a while, and you need a fast way to make new jigs in a flexible way, this stuff is a game-changer. Yes, you can make any of these jigs with wood, MDF, plywood... but there's a lot more drilling, cutting, installing T-track, etc... and at the end of that exercise, you're the proud owner of a dedicated jig that will need periodic recalibration or rebuilding. That's a big investment in time, and an investment in materials that you won't get back. Building these jigs was fast. And when I was done building the table, the original extrusions were in exactly the same condition, and I can use them again for more jigs. THAT'S a big deal.

Fast, flexible, with minimal waste? And not having to break down sheet goods? Yeah, I'm impressed. And I can tell (gut feeling) that I'm just getting my feet wet right now.

Jigs need to position and hold the material in place, and in some cases guide the material past a cutter. Using nothing more than a few carriage bolts, a couple of Incra clamps, and some blocks of scrap wood, I was able to throw together some pretty decent production jigs in a very short amount of time.

Drill press fence for drilling out mortises in the legs. The fence is simply bolted to the table, (holding the plywood surface down, too) the block is held on with a simple 1/4-20 t-track bolt. (The oval-headed kind, not a hex bolt.)

 Stop fence for the band saw, for cutting tenon cheeks, and stopping at the shoulder line. Held onto the band saw fence with Incra clamps.

 Cross-cut fence, and stop fence, for cutting shoulders. I also used this setup for cutting parts to finish length, since some of them (like the legs) were just too big for the track saw to handle. The black extrusions have larger tracks, and use 5/16" carriage bolts.

 Support and stop for drilling out the 45 degree mortises in the stretcher assembly. Again, just bolted to the table. There were moments when I needed the Incra clamp to be moved back, so that I would have space to clamp the material to the extrusion with an F-clamp. Thankfully, there are 3 tracks in the faces of the aluminum, so moving that clamp was very easy. +1 for an easily modified jig...

Cutting the 45 degree mortises in the long stretcher. I did have to bolt on an extended L-shaped block, but it was a very easy thing to do. (By the way, these are the mortises I was working on when I started using the 3-pound hammer.)

As the deadline loomed larger, I quit stopping to take photos. But I also used the extrusions that hold my router table to mount a positioning block to adjust the router table fence more easily and accurately. More on that some other time...