Joining Panels with Love (and wood glue)

I bought about sixty board foot of White Ash to make a rolling cabinet. Its to fit into a 19″ wide opening underneath the 12/12 pitch incline of roof in the corner closet of a bedroom.

Honestly I was thinking “light and strong” when I was shopping lumber, as well as a certain quality of calm face grain and not too much contrast in the color of the wood itself.  Never having used White Ash before, it surprised me with its weight. Definitely a hard wood, feels comparable to red oak in a lot of respects, but has proven easier to work. Total bill for the lumber was about $275.

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Where did the Ash come from I wonder? Its been planed, but there’s still enough saw mark to tell it was sawn on a circular saw mill. Some of the writing on it marking a batch number tells me it was probably one of the larger dedicated hardwood mills, modern equipment. I struggled to find good grain, they had about 300bf available and I pulled through all of it. Even many dedicated woodworkers don’t like to sift through to the bottom of a heavy pile of hardwood, so that’s where most of the good pieces were left. I’ve also watched professional cabinetmakers  of the modern variety pull boards off a bunk almost indiscriminately, something I don’t understand.

Whatever tree or trees the lumber I bought came from were also not so straight, with most of the eight foot lengths I bought being sections of internode between branches, where you get that heavy reversing/rising rain on both ends of the board.

It involved a regrettable amount of waste for me to saw around defects and drop either edge of most of the boards to get my rough cut lengths.

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The largest panels I’m gluing up will be 18.75″ x 6′. It makes me nervous to do such a long and wide multi board glue up, so I only glued one joint at a time. Besides, it makes a big difference to how much work planing the panel out will be, to get the glue up just right. The boards are all 4/4 (about 15/16″) and need a finished thickness of 3/4″. As anyone who has tried this will find out, its pretty easy to glue a cup or serious twist into your panel if the edge jointing isn’t done well. Thankfully I don’t have to suffer the prevarications of a poorly made jointer or planer, I have hand planes.

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Sometimes with hardwood it feels like you’ve brought a knife to a gun fight, using hand tools. Well, it is a knife wedged in a block of wood. There’s no secret to it, you just need a really consistently sharp cutting edge, set evenly from the sole. Oh, and a properly conditioned dai, with its edge perfectly square to its contact points on the sole. And a planing beam with its face as perfectly flat as you can render it. And an edge runner perfectly parallel to the face of the planing beam. And then I guess you need acceptable technique and stamina.

Damn, I’m making it sound difficult, its not. It just takes concentration and strong hands.

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My planing beam is proving to be a bit short for the task, but I made it work. If I have a lot of material to take off I’ll plane the board on edge so that I can use my body weight and gravity more effectively. It also allows you to use the cutting edge of the plane iron more evenly between sharpening.

The beam is also the reference surface for checking the straightness of the edge. In a way you are checking how flat your planing beam is when you joint a board to its surface. When you compare two boards edge together that have been planed to the same reference any deviation is doubled. Thankfully, even though my planing beam is thin it has had a good year to settle and dry. It still moves enough to cause me headaches, but I know where to look now when I’m checking it.

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This happened to me for the first time with the blade to my sole conditioning kanna. I’ve felt over the past couple of months my sharpening technique improve, but my 60mm blade is apparently just too back heavy and long to stick to the stone. Its nice to have concrete examples of improving technique.

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And way to go homemade clamps! They don’t develop near the pressure of a metal screw clamp, but have proven to get the job done quite well in this case. Now I just need twice as many of them, haha.

If you can make an axe handle

If you can make an axe handle, you don’t have to buy one from the company store. And in the making of it you have a story. And when you pass on the tool, having made something of quality, the story can grow.

I think of how many people have grandpa’s old axe rusting in a corner of the shed. So often we focus on the steel, who made it and to what quality. The end user side of the story is the handle, a little different for every one made by hand, speaking of place and the tools the person had to get the job done.

Back to story for a second. Having considered what I find compelling about a good woodworking text, it comes down to story. Its as simple as that. If you want to write a good woodworking  book, it needs the life told of the people that use the tools! Think of the books Toshio Odate has written. The knowledge is important, yes, but we live in an age where there’s an exponentially increasing body of free knowledge to those who have internet access. My favorite part of Odate’s work is when he relates some little anecdote about his apprenticeship, or of some other story he’s heard. It puts in context how as woodworkers we don’t have some slavish love for the tool a priori. It is the relationship between the tool, the user, and the work that is bonded with love and to which we give our passion.

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When you make something, you make it worth so much more than the steel. In someone else’s hands it becomes your story, writ in the curves of the making and the patina of use. So make something and tell a story.

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This is a cheap and poorly tempered axe. That’s okay, you need one for certain things. Like chopping roots in the ground, chopping a hole in a roof, chopping through a door, you get the picture. Its not great, but you could certainly chop tree’s down too. Hell, even practice a bit of bump hewing and impress the ladies with your axe skill (women care about that, right?).

I’ve never made one of these before and I left it a little fat around the upper neck of the handle. I used the broken fiberglass handle as the pattern for the new one.

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They should teach this in primary education, how to hang a tool on a handle with a proper wooden wedge and good fitting. They could use the knives they would get in the fourth grade for sharpening their pencils!

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I’m taking my tool storage mobile, with a 40″ long tool crate, plenty of room in there. The only joinery I changed was using tongue and groove for the top and bottom boards, because I don’t have anything dry that is wide enough. I love any chance I can get for using my plow plane to cut tongue and groove, love it!

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I had made a smaller tool crate not too long ago, and its small enough to fit inside the new one. The dimensions came straight from Odate’s “Japanese Woodworking Tools”, its really of a size that can house a whole trade’s worth of hand-tools. Its really nice to have it right behind me as I work sitting down. I’m a gonna make me a six foot long version of this one day to be buried in.

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And finally, a bit of joinery. These are the pieces for mitsu-kude (三つ組手), the three way joint for forming a hexagonal kumiko jigumi (wooden lattice work). Some of the coolest and most expensive kumiko-zaiku patterns have hexagonal jigumi, so of course I must try this, even though there are much simpler square patterns I still need to learn.  You don’t learn what you don’t care about. I’m not going to slog through a bunch of patterns I’m not excited about just for the sake of consistency. Learning happens when you say, “That’s stellar! I have to know how that works!”

Des King on cutting mitsu-kude

Two of the three are the same. Its most interesting to note how the layout here revolves around a center line of the mitsuke (thin edge) of the kumiko. That should be obvious for the two outside pieces pictured, but the middle piece has cuts on either side of the edge. When I first looked at it I wasn’t sure what the orientation was of the lap cuts relative to each other.

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The first two pieces go together, leaving space for the third. Cool!

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Finally I can make wooden snowflake ornaments for Christmas with proper Japanese joinery, haha! I’m going to have to make the jigs to cut a proper jigumi and mount it in a frame, this is just really awesome.

Up next I’m working on a custom piece of furniture, a built in rolling closet unit for an unusual space. I’ll be going all out with some new joinery I haven’t tried before in White Ash, its sure to be a bit of a Chris Hall moment.

 

Fuigo Fun Shou Sugi Ban

I’ve been wanting to show the fuigo in operation, but have yet to get a dark enough work space set up to judge metal temperature. How about some shou sugi-ban? Needs to be done outdoors anyway. The mass production way to use this technique is with a large propane torch, but there’s something special about a large hot chunk of metal.  After shooting this video I used the last of the forge fuel in the fire-pot to cook a hot dog. Bon Appétit!

Did I mention that I can’t stand the sound of a shop-vac blower? This fuigo is bliss.