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Techniques & Craftsmanship

The advantage and jy about making your own furniture is the detail and care you choose to put into your project.  In a way, I look at it as a way to exercise my woodworking skills.  There are always a dozen different ways to complete any one project, so it's all the more enjoyable for me to try to employ as many different techniques as I can manage in any one piece of furniture.  Maybe it gives it more character or maybe that's just all in my head.  In any case, I enjoy being able to add little details to my projects and better yet, I like talking about them.

One of the most overlooked aspects/techniques in woodworking is knowing how to choose the right material for your project.  I think what separates regular store bought furniture from custom crafted furniture is one's ability to use what nature has provided to create something unique and pleasing to the eye.  It's important to be able to visualize how a particular board of wood will look once the final finish is rubbed on. 

Take for instance the photo of quilted maple (right), magnificently patterned.  The first time I saw this board I knew it was destined to be showcased as the centerpiece.  At first, I thought about using it for the center panels in an armoire.  But ultimately it worked out well as the centerpiece on a coffeetable.  The great thing about woodworking is being able to showcase what nature has provided. 






One of the biggest challenges of making this bed was building it to be very sturdy and still make it easy to assemble/disassemble.  

The ribs of the bed frame is made of plywood.  Not only does the plywood serve as the support for platform on which the mattress will rest, it also provides something onto which I can attach the drawer slides.  The first step was to make a center "backbone" securing the headboard to the footboard.  

In this closeup you can see that this "backbone" piece slides into a slot created by scraps of wood.  The slot keeps the plywood from sliding around without the need to use bolts or screws.

As and added method of ensuring the plywood doesn't move, I employed the use of a dowel peg to secure the "backbone" piece to the guide blocks of wood.  When I need to disassemble the bed, I simply need to pull out the peg and slide the plywood out of the groove.

The plywood interior crossrails onto which the drawer slides attach are secured the outer bed rail using a similar method as described above.  I had lots of miscellaneous scraps of wood (of all different species) just waiting for a project like this.  This method of joinery works really well.  Taking apart the bed is super easy and there's no need for a wrench or screwdriver.

The only drawback to this bed is that it's big!  I was able to pack all of it onto my truck in one shot.  Thank goodness I have a truck rack!

I bought this slab of figured maple at the annual woodworking show in anticipation of making veneer with my new monster bandsaw.  I figure I'd likely then sand the veneer down with my performax drum sander.  If you look carefully, you'll see that there's wavy (almost ripple-like) grain and fancy burl (various brownish dots) in this board.  This will be great for the top of a box or even a small nightstand/table.  This photo was taken of the raw wood--once I put some type of finish on it, the grain will look even more amazing.  Part of making nice looking furniture/projects is being able to spot and utilize beautiful materials.  I can't wait to get cracking on this slab!








To create this sturdy tabletop, I started with discarded 2" thick assorted hardwoods reincarnated from pallets.  You can't tell from this picture, but the raw wood was extremely dirty, had nail holes, and contained some checks and splits.  After a lot of work jointing and planing off the surface, I started to see the hidden treasure.  Orienting the blocks to assure the best face would be on top and any exposed sides really helped to really show off this lamination.  This tabletop employs no veneer, it's solid 1 3/4" thick hardwood.  This beast of a tabletop tips the scale at about 30 lbs!

I'm not sure about every species of wood contained in this top, but I know for certain this top contains yellowheart, red and white oak, and african mahogany.  With such varying species (and some having pronounced open grain) I had to use Bartley's paste wood filler to fill in the grain and make the surface completely flat.  Before applying the paste wood filler, I could feel small dips in the wood when I ran my fingernail across the surface.  I thought this was a real problem since I did not want any small pockets to collect any flour or dough once the top was used to roll out dough.  After two coats of paste filler and sanding, the surface was completely smooth and free of any grain pockets.  Again, this was a new process/technique I employed for this project and it turned out surprisingly well.  The top was finished off with 5 coats of salad bowl finish.  I also made sure that I framed all four sides of the top with oak to match the rest of the oak baking station.  Attention to detail, baby!!!  It makes all the difference in the world.

By laminating 1 3/4" thick stock to form a 36" wide board with a breadboard end, I had to account for wood movement.  To do this, I made slotted holes in the end cap to allow for seasonal movement.  Here, I wanted to address how the ends of the top would appear.  When using breadboard ends, there inevitably will be times in the year when the breadboard end won't line up flush with the laminated tabletop center.  To disguise this, I glued on this piece of lyptus shaped with a arts and crafts cloud lift design to the laminated board only (horizontal piece of wood in photo).  I routed a matching groove in the breadboard end (vertical piece of wood in photo).  I left the piece of lyptus unglued, free to float in the breadboard end.  Now when the laminated board expands or contracts, the lyptus cap will be free to move within the breadboard end.  This little trick disguises seasonal movement and actually accents it as a design element.  I'd like to take credit for this, but I got the idea from an article in Fine Woodworking Magazine.

I've managed to amass quite a few handplanes-metal bodied, wood bodied, store-bought, shopmade, domestic, imported.  It got to a point that I made myself stop because I realized that I'll never really use all of them.  That said, I figured it was about time to show proof that I actually bust out my handplanes and "do it" neanderthal-style.  Here's my Lie-Nielsen #6 fore-plane flattening out a figured redwood burl slab for my first live edge piece of furniture.  I'm still surprised that despite using storebought metal bodied handplanes for my flattening work, I still revert to my first ever shopmade wood body plane to give it that final smoothing finish.  Look at the amount of shavings just sitting on my workbench! 

Since this slab is oddly shaped and I wanted to created a base that was customized to suit this usual shape, I came up with this design.  I didn't really have any detailed plans before I cut up the lumber with this design.  But then again, I don't usually like using plans.  A lot of paper, chicken scractches, adjustments on-the-fly and just plain old personal sense of what looks good (and what doesn't) served as my set of plans.  I was shooting for a base that was really unique looking, but wouldn't detract from the star of the show, the Redwood slab tabletop. 

I used a No.7 Jointer handplane to joint and plane the redwood slab pictured above.  But for this behemoth slab of maple, I wasn't able to tackle "Extreme Handplaning"!  I decided the best way was to use my router.  People say you can do anything with a router, so why not put this to the test.  I started out making a carriage.  I suppose I could have made it out of wood, but since I had some scrap angle iron lying around and a welding machine, I welded up a carriage.  The plywood base attached to the router glides back and forth in the carriage.  To make rough adjustments to the height, I bolted on scrap lumber to the carriage.  For fine tuning the depth of cut, I relied on the pluge mechanism on the router. 

Of course, you need to rely on a flat surface, I set the slab on the flattest concrete surface I could find.  If you look carefully at the bottom center of the slab you'll notice the high spot on the slab was removed, exposing lighter colored wood.  This method did take a while to rout the surface to a relative flat surface.  But it sure was a lot quicker than using a handplane.  After completing one side, I flipped it over and then used the same method to plane for thickness.   


This was my first try at making raised panel doors.  I bought a raised panel set as a closeout item at last year's woodworking show.  It was a good deal and I knew I'd use it someday--you gotta trust your gut sometimes when it comes to acquiring tools.  

A raised panel door consists of a center panel that is raised with a nice edge pattern, a pair of rails (horizontal parts of the frame), and a pair of stiles (vertical parts of the frame).  I made all of these parts on my router table equipped with a 3 1/4 horsepower router dialed in at the lowest speed.  Once, the final shape is completed, I glued up the rail to the stiles, with the center raised panel slipped into the groove free of glue.  This floating nature of the panel is necessary to prevent wood movement from causing the whole door to crack or split.


This is a nice photo of how a raised panel looks like without the rail and stile frame.  I deliberately left off the rail and stiles because this is to serve as a drawer front for a fairly shallow drawer.  This shows the drawer front finished with three coats of of polyurethane gel.



As part of the baking station project, I needed to use flush ring pulls.  Even securing the pull with brass screws took a little know how.  I used vix bits (special bits that help drill accurately centered pilot holes) to ensure the screws would not distort the placement of the pull. 

Tip:  Be sure to never use a power (corded/cordless) drill to drive brass screws!  Brass is fairly soft and will break easily.  Always use a hand powered screwdriver.  I also recommend rubbing a little candlewax on the threads of brass screws as lubrication.  In the event that you are working with extremely dense and tough hardwood, try using a steel screw of the same size to take the brunt of the heat and pressure of initiating the screw threads into the wood.  Then back out the steel screw and then handscrew in the brass screw replacement.  This way you'll ensure your decorative brass screws won't get damaged.

To make them flush, I needed to cut out a special mortise so the hardware could sit flush with the surface of the drawer front. 


Since I had to install four of these pulls, and because I like the precision of using shopmade jigs, I made this little mortising jig out of scraps of hardwood.  I'm a packrat when it comes to hardwood scraps.  Here's an instance where my habit paid off.  I used 1/2" scraps I had leftover from another project.  I pinned one of the brass ring pulls between four scrap pieces of wood and then glued the scraps togther.  The result was a mortising jig that was the exact size of the ring pull.  From there, I used a pattern cutting bit in my router to cut a mortise that exactly fit the brass hardware. 


This is what the recessed mortise looks like right before installing the brass ring pulls.  Once I routed for the lip of the pull, I then used a forstner bit on drill press to clean out a hole to create the rest of the necessary clearance.  Some final handwork with a chisel will finish up the job.  With homemade jigs and a little double stick tape, I made quick and accurate work of setting these pulls flush with the drawer fronts. 


This photo shows an often overlooked "technique" in woodworking--selecing the best grain/face of lumber and letting it "show off."  In general, oak (red and white varieties) are rather plain looking.  However, by rotating a board to inspect all four sides, you'll often find nice grain patterns (called medullary ray fleck pattern).  In some tree species, especially oak, beech, and sycamore, the trunk of the tree possess medullary rays (much like arteries/veins in animals).  Typically, people understand trees as a collection of adjoining vertical fibers (imagine a bundle of straws) that help transport water, nutrients and food vertically throughout the tree.  However, some trees have these medullary rays that transport nutrients horizontally (think perpendicular to a tree trunk).  When lumber is cut at a tangent (i.e., quartersawn), like cutting a slice of pie from a round pan, you get this neat pattern.

For those of you who are familiar with Arts & Crafts furniture, most pieces in this genre employ quartersawn white oak that is fumed to bring out this figure and make it more visually pronounced.  I opted for a simple clear finish that lets the wood speak for itself.  Besides, if you haven't noticed already, I'm not a big fan of altering the look of wood with stains, dyes, etc.






It seems as though nicely cut dovetails are universally recognized as the sign of fine furniture--look at the logo for Fine Woodworking magazine.  I've always thought that was a bit of a snooty, elitist way of looking at woodworking.  And so feel free to just call me a snooty elitist.    Honestly, finely cut dovetails are pretty nice to look at.  Of course machine cut dovetail jigs are quick (and easy--well, sometimes, depending on the jig), but there really is something really satisfying about giving a joint a non-factory cookie cutter look. 


For this piece, I had two main goals:  (1)  Make the triangular pins as small as possible; (2)  Play with the size and spacing of the actual dovetails.  I really liked how the dovetails are spaced symmetrically, but not evenly.  Plus, the dovetail joint really brings out the beauty of the cherry wood.  In my humble opinion, I think this type of design really gives the joint a more personal, handcrafted appearance. 







Here's the side view of the previous dovetail joint.  I think this picture does a good job showing the difference in appearance between endgrain and facegrain.  Plus, the photo does give you a hint of the glassy smooth surface on the top of this stereo cabinet.  It's been awhile since I finished this project (sorry, it took me so long to get a picture of this uploaded), but I think I sanded all the way up to 600 grit.  The surface of this cabinet really feels silky smooth to the touch. 

About three years ago, I couldn't resist this deal for some scrap pieces of ebony at one of my lumber dealers.  When I say scraps I mean scraps--these pieces are about 1/4" x 1" x 3".  100 pieces for $5!!!!  I didn't really know what I'd use these small pieces for, but I always thought I'd need it someday for inlay or something of that sort.  I have used some pieces sparingly, but now I've finally found a project worthy of using a decent amount of this stuff.  The only downside it I had to process these scraps and make then into a larger single piece.  What do I mean?  Well.....

By edge gluing these smaller pieces up, you can make one large piece.  The strength of the glue bond is along the grain and not in the endgrain (the short ends of the pieces).  By staggering the points where the ends of pieces touch (think brick laying) you can get a strong bond. 

Since this is ebony (an oily wood), I decided to use epoxy instead of the usual yellow glue.  After the epoxy cured, a little hand planing and drum sanding gave me a nice "big" piece of ebony.  Let's see...that's twelve pieces of ebony that I laminated together and at 5 cents a piece...well, I managed to get a small "board" of ebony for 50 cents!!!!  Try to beat that one!  

Oh, you might be thinking that the joints won't look good for my project, right?  Well, I'm planning to sandwich this ebony in between two pieces of cocobolo to create a front knob and a handle for a Norris Plane I'm trying to make.  It should look really nice.  And yes, you heard me right, I'm trying to make a Norris Plane!!!  There will be posts on that as I progress.  For those of you who don't know what's a Norris Plane--it's pretty much the pinnacle of handplanes.  During the late 19th century, a few British plane makers were able to combine steel (sometimes brass and bronze) along with exotic dense hardwoods to create what I like to think are the Rolls Royce of handplanes.  I have yet to try a genuine Norris Plane, but at anywhere from $1,000-$4,000 for an original, I don't think that'll ever happen.  That's why I've decided to try and fabricate my own version. 

I was bookmatching a couple pieces of figured black walnut for a nightstand.  The problem was one of the slices had a huge hole in it it.  I could have tried to convince myself it was one of those "it gives the piece character" qualities, but I came up with a better solution.  I wanted to reinforce the glue-up anyway, so I decided to inlay a piece of macassar ebony right over the hole.  Here you can see that the center of the slab has a hole.  I already milled up a nice piece of macassar ebony in the shape of diamond.  And I got my trusty trim router with a plunge base all ready to go. 


I placed the ebony inlay exactly where I wanted and then I used a sharp marking knife to scribe around the slab.  I then fired up my router and carefully began routing out a recess staying clear of my scribe line.


Then it was a matter of chiseling out the rest of the waste, carefully making sure not to widen the recess.  All that's left is to chamfer the piece to be inlaid for a easy fit-it, add some glue and clamp up the inlay and let it set. 

I wanted the drawer sides of this drawer (from the Baking Station project) to be set low to allow for easy access.  I didn't want any fingers to be pinched against a drawer side when trying to reach for dry good items--which would be a real problem with deep set drawers. 

To do this, I had to deal with the challenge of attaching the raised panel door drawer front to the drawer without causing too much stress on the door.  As you can see, attaching this drawer only to the lower part of the raised panel door wouldn't give much support and would be inviting the door to snap off.  To provide much needed support, I used two oak strips to serve as braces to provide more surface area on to which to secure the drawer to the drawer front.   I used glue along with screws to ensure the connection would plenty strong.  In use, the raised panel door and drawer now feel like one unbreakable unit.  I'll have to see how this holds up over time.  But for now, my guess is it'll be plenty strong.



I had the idea of building a coffee table so I could display some of my woodworking in the house.  After sorting through my collection of lumber, I decided on using this piece of lyptus with curly grain.  I got lucky and found two boards out of a whole stack of lyptus a while back and jumped on buying it.  Now I've got the perfect project--I thought I'd use brazilian cherry to serve as a nice contrast to really accentuate the curly grain of the lyptus.  This too will be headed to see some action on my new MiniMax Bandsaw!









If you look closely at the tabletop, you can see that the underside edge of the tabletop has a 45 degree profile, called a chamfer.  I used a router to rout that profile.  In my humble opinion, it's little details like that that really make a piece of furniture unique.

The joint above is called a half-blind dovetail.  It's half-blind because you can see the dovetails only from the side of the drawer and not from the front of the drawer.  I deliberately used contrasting colored wood to highlight the semi-handcut dovetail.  To make this joint, I tipped the blade on my tablesaw at about 9 1/2 degrees.  I cleaned out the recess on the drawer front using a combination of a router and some chisels.

Update:  I was working on a set of drawers for another project and I thought some photos of the work in progress would be a good idea.  In the photo below, I used quilted maple for the drawer front and and cherry for the sides--the color contrast isn't as striking as the birch/lyptus combination (above), but over time, the cherry wood will darken and the contrast will be more visible.

I first clamped two drawer fronts back to back to give my router more surface area to sit securely.  I routed out most of the waste freehand while avoiding routing too close to the scribed lines.  You can see the roughed out shapes on three of the four dovetail sockets.  The bottom left socket was cleaned out with various chisels.

Here you can see how a chisel is used to clean pare out waste and refine the edges to house the dovetails securely.  This is one of my Ashley Iles chisels.  I didn't want to spend too much extra for a set of right and left skew chisels (for chiseling out the angled corners), so I used my grinding setup to make a set of my own.  For more on my "home-modified/made" skew chisels click here and scroll down to the bottom of the page.

The double dovetails found on the drawer sides fit snugly into the hand-chopped recesses in the drawer front.  Of course, the fit isn't as precise as I would like (I need more practice), but a little glue and some clamps will make this joint last for a long time and I like the way the center pin is very narrow.  Although it tooks extra time to hand chisel/cut this joint, I think the extra time gives this type of furniture a craftsman touch.




In contrast to a half-blind dovetail, I employed through dovetail joints on the backside of the drawer.  This joint is called a through dovetail because you can see the joint from both the sides of the drawer.  I used the Keller Journeyman jig to cut the through dovetail.  I don't think these router made dovetails look as good as the half-blind dovetails seen above, but these were quick and easy to make.  So I reserve this machine made joint for the rear parts of a drawer because they won't be seen as often as the front.  Plus, the simplicity of this joint is handy when you need to make a quick joint and the handcut aesthetic isn't really necessary.  Nevertheless, this joint is still very pleasing to the eye.  I guess once you get into employing different types of dovetails to your work, it's not uncommon to become a dovetail snob.  

To make accurate 90 degree cuts, you really need to make one of these crosscut sleds.  Of course these can be store bought, but like everything else, it's much cheaper to make one yourself.  Plus, I custom designed it to fit the size of most of my cuts and I added a dust collection port to help suck away all that sawdust before it gets to my face.  All you have to do is to set a piece of wood securely against the sled's fence and push the sled through the saw blade.

Take your time in making sure that the fence of your sled sits accurately 90 degrees to the sawblade.  It takes a while to get it just right, but once you've set it up properly, you won't have to worry about it again. 

For more detailed instruction on how to make a crosscut sled and use your tablesaw, check out Kelly Mehler's book and especially his video tape published by Taunton entitled "The Tablesaw Book."

One more tip:  I looked up a local plastics dealer in the yellow pages and found that you can get great deals on left over pieces of UHMW (Ultra High Molecular Weight) plastic that can be used for runners (to slide in the miter slots).  The plastic has a low coefficient of friction (mumbo-jumbo for meaning its slipppery).  I like it because unlike hardwood runners, it won't swell or shrink due to any change in the humidity of your shop.  You can buy this UHMW at a woodworking supplier, but they mark up the cost significantly.

While trying to finish up my drawer, I thought about buying some drawer pulls from a hardware store.  But the more I thought about it, the more I decided that brass, chrome, pewter, or any other storebought drawer pull would not do the trick.  Instead, I went back to the central theme of the piece, using contrasting wood colors, to solve the problem.  I crafted the pulls out of lyptus (the same wood that you see on the frame).  To make the pulls I experimented using my bandsaw, spindle sander, router, and good old sandpaper.  The pull is attached to the drawer by glue and nothing else!  I'm happy with the overall shape of the pulls--I think they echo the rectangular feel of the table.


I made these cabriole legs using 4x4 posts.  I wanted to make attractive legs.  So I read a couple books and watched a how-to video on how to make cabriole legs.  I used my bandsaw to cut up these legs.  The next step is to shape the legs with some rasps and sandpaper to make the curves look more free-flowing.





glued up three solid birch boards (light brown) and wrapped them around with lyptus (red).  The corners show miters (45 degree) joints.  Miters often have a tendency to open up and show a gap, so I used biscuits to ensure they stay tightly glued together.

   In hindsight, I really should have matched the grain of the birch wood better to make the center of the table appear like a single board.  Plus, using veneer glued to a stable substrate like plywood would probably prevent any expansion or contraction found in solid wood panels.  Oh well, you learn from your mistakes.


I also tried to give the legs some visual interest.  First off, I wanted the feet to have that contrasting wood color and so I glued them to the leg blank using dowels--which required precise drilling to avoid having the dowels show through once the taper was cut.  Once that was glued together, I wanted the legs to be tapered to give it a slimmed down, more elegant feel.  I did that using a few scraps of wood for a tapering jig and my table saw. 

When making solid wood tabletops, I've found that its much easier to not put an end-cap (also known as breadboards).  Whenever you try to join two pieces of wood with grain that's perpendicular to each other, there poses a bit of a problem.  It the picture (right), the boards in the center (running horizontally) will swell up or shrink, running top to bottom due to humidity.  However, the wood on the left and right ends, will swell up or shrink from left to right.  The problem:  if you don't account for this wood movement, your tabletop might twist, cup, or even split! 




I learned this technique from finewoodworking magazine and a tip I got from a helpful fellow woodworker at

One solution is to make breadboard ends.  The ends house the center panel of wood with a groove and tenons, thus preventing the wood from twisting or cupping.  (Left) You can see a long tongue along the entire width of the board, three separate tenons and a matching groove and mortise in the breadboard end. 

What's neat about technique is that you account for wood movement making three dowels to help pin the breadboard to the panel.  The center dowel is glued into place to provide a strong and permanent joint.  If you look carefully at the left and right tenons, you'll notice that the holes for the dowels are slightly elonged as compared to the perfectly round hole in the cneter tenon.  This elongated hole, enables the dowels on the left and right tenon to move when the table wants to expand or shrink.  No glue is used on the left and right tenons to allow for wood movement. 

If you think wood movement is overly exaggerated and doesn't occur at least noticeably to the average Joe/Jill, I'll ask the following:  You ever wonder why sometimes during the summer you're wooden doors are a little harder to open than in the winter (or vice versa, depending on your climate)?  Answer:  Humidity in the air causes wood to expand or shrink.


    1. Breadboard ends will help a large panel/tabletop from warping or twisting.
    2. Long grain on the ends sometimes look more aesthetically pleasing to the eye.
    3. Gives you an excuse to challenge your woodworking skills.


    1. Breadboard ends require more work and can be fussy to get just right.
    2. Because of woodmovement, there will be times during the year that your breadboard ends will not be flush with the center panel of the tabletop.

The trestle dining table I made for the twins' house is another example of how to account for wood movement.  I figured that the easiest and quickest way to make slotted holes was to drill recessed holes using a forstner bit.  The picture isn't all that clear here, but the center recessed hole secures the table top with a single screw and it's not slotted. 




The recessed holes on the left and right both have slotted holes.  If you can look past the shadow you'll see the slotted hole.  As the tabletop expands and contracts, the slotted hole will allow the fastener to move accordingly.  We'll have to see how this holds up over time. 




I had an usual, but welcomed commission from one of my best friends.  My buddy is really into martial arts (I think it's Wing-Chun that he particularly enjoys).  I really should take a cue from him because he's got to be the most in shape person I know.  In any case, he came over for a BBQ recently and noticed a long piece of 8/4 jatoba I had lying around.  After lifting it, and deciding it had the right feel for density and weight, he asked me to make him a Dragon Pole out of it. 

My bud tells me that Dragon Poles were originally used to steer rafts on various rivers in China.  When the locals practiced Wing-Chun, they used these poles for exercising and improving internal strength.  These poles are quite lengthy 8-10 ft and normally made of very hard and heavy hardwood.  The one end is tapered and that's supposed to help in maintaining control of the weapon. 

The one on the left is one that my friend purchased.  The one on the right is the jatoba I'm currently sculpting.  To the right of that is my Veritas spokeshave.  So far, I've used a 1/2" rooundover router bit to give the sharp corners of the 8/4 stock a rounded edge.  I don't have a lathe (and I suspect even, if I had one, the nearly 8' pole wouldn't fit).  So from this point on, I'll have to shape the stock to create the tapered end using a combination of this spokeshave, my block plane, and lots of sandpaper. 



This has got to be one of the more interesting projects I've worked on.  That's the great thing about woodworking, I get the chance to make some really different and things and then I get to show them off!  

To hold the pole in place while I shape it, I used the shoulder vise on my bench.  This actually worked out really well, consider the long skinny stick was a bit unwieldy.  I used a spokeshave, but realized that using my smooth and block planes seemed to work a little bit faster in getting to the right shape.  Now I just need my best friend to test it out and see if its well-balanced. 



As part of the Intro to Woodworking course taught at Cerritos College, all students have to complete four different projects--all to be finished with hand-rubbed oil.  I decided this would be a good opportunity to try on different oil finishes and compare them.  From left to right:  Tool Box finished with Tried & True Original Oil Finish; Mallet finished with General Danish Oil Finish; Watco Danish Oil Finish; Olympic Antique Oil Finish.  Each of these projects were sanded up to 400 grit. 

Conclusion:  The antique oil finish seemed to give a glossier look than the other finishes.  But despite final results, I really liked using the Tried & True Finish because it didn't give me a headache (and I mean that literally).  The label claims that this product doesn't use heavy metal driers and is FDA safe.  It's basically boiled linseed oil, but without all the chemicals.  I don't know if its just advertising, but I definitely noticed this stuff was more pleasant to work with.  In fact, I normally wear latex or nitrile gloves whenever I apply a finish, but with this stuff I was totally comfortable getting my hands covered with this oil.  As pleasant byproduct of using this, I noticed my hands weren't as dry (I guess its a woodworker's version of hand lotion).  Tried & True is rather viscous and requires some elbow grease to rub it sufficiently into the wood.  But all in all, I think its a winner.  During this experiment, I used their oil and beeswax blend.  The results came out a little too flat for my tastes.  The Tried & True Varnish Oil blend (oil and resin) has the same benefits as their Original Oil blend, but after 2-3 coats you get a nice semi-gloss sheen.

After I tried Tried & True Varnish Oil (pun intended), I was finally able to say that the adding the finish to a finished project is actually one of the more pleasant stages of furniture making.  I used to worry a lot about runs and drips or have to deal with the residual smell of toxic vapors in my nostrils.  As stated above, this product does take a lot of patience, but I really do enjoy the rubbing on process.  I thought this would be a good time to try and show that satisfying feeling you get when you see your hard work transform into something beautiful.  You can see how the only tool you need is a clean rag and some elbow grease.  This cherry drawer side starts to glow once the oil is rubbed on.  Plus you can see the endgrain of the dovetail pins stand out in contrast to the long grain dovetails. 


I purposely took a photo of some cherry wood with an incomplete coat of oil finish.  This photo shows the dramatic difference once a finish is added.  The bare wood looks a bit cloudy or fuzzy.  But once you rub on the oil, it's as if the wood comes alive.  I personally like the way Varnish Oil gives a sort of warmth to the cherry wood.


I took another photo with wood half finished to show the amazing results once oil is applied.  (Left) Here's the drawer front for some side tables made out of quilted maple.  You can see the left side of the drawer is rather dull and has that "cloudy" look (except for some finger oily finger smudges).  Now to the right, well, look for yourself--absolutely amazing, no?  Again, a simple rag, a pleasant smell, and amazing results make a rub on finish with Tried & True well worth the curing time. 


This is a closeup look at the the dovetail joint found on the tool box.  I was inspired by some coffee tables that were being built by students in the more advanced woodworking courses at Cerritos College.  In particular I liked how the dovetails had a handcrafted pillow/rounded look to them.  I've cut through dovetails before, but this added detail of rounding them really seemed to take woodworking to another level.  Needless to say I was really impressed with the workmanship in the pieces I saw.  So I decided to take a stab at this.  I used a chisel and some sandpaper to create this effect.  It took a lot of work, but I'm pretty happy with the results considering this was my first try at it.  I hope to practice and use this detail in my future pieces.  

To give the sides of the toolbox enough strength to be carried by a handle, the horizontal grain found in the African Mahogany (brown colored wood) needed to be reinforced with a strip of wood with the grain oriented vertically (perpendicular to the African Mahogany).  I could have used some more African Mahogany, but I opted to use Purpleheart to accentuate the contrast. 

For the handle, I laminated (glued up) a piece of African Mahogany sandwiched between two strips of Purpleheart.  This contrast shows up throughout the handle including tenon.  By using mortise and tenon joinery, the handle is securely fastened to the entire toolbox. 



The hose for my shopvac and for my dust collector didn't quite fit the dust port for this sander.  In the past, I used to drive around to different woodworking dealers and even wait around until the next woodworking show (which sometimes is 6 months away) to find the right fitting.  This time, after reading an article online, I decided to custom fit my own fitting from pvc pipe.  Don't do this at home without reading more about it elsewhere (this is not a tutorial).  I cut about a 3" piece of pvc that was roughly the same size as the dust port.  To enlarge the opening, I heated the pvc over an open flame OUTDOORS (the fumes can be toxic).  Then I used a dowel that was about the size of the inner diameter of the pvc pipe to stretch the opening to fit the dust port.  It was really fun and satisfying to one not have to run around trying to find the right fitting, not have to spend $ for it, and to able to custom craft a tool for my tools!!!

Over the Thanksgiving Weekend, I decided on a "project" that would be just for fun.  I didn't really want to make anything, but I wanted to play with my newest toy--the MM16 Bandsaw.  I had tried to saw up some firewood about a year ago on my 14" bandsaw and was completely frustrated with the whole process.  So I decided to give it another try on my new monster machine.  here you can see how unappealing firewood is at first.  The trick is to try and saw up these pieces into flat, usable lumber. 

Here's a closeup of how its done.  The idea is to get some flat surfaces on the log so that you can handle the wood more easily (flat rectangular pieces are easier to handle than round logs).  In order to keep the log from rolling around while the blade is cutting through it, I attached each log onto two pieces of plywood (in an L-shaped configuration).  I secured the log onto the plywood with screws.  I figured that the part of the screw that would be attached to the logs would be cut off anyway.  Once you slice up one flat side of the log, you rotate the log 90 degrees and make an adjoining flat side.  From that point you have a flat edge to rest on the table (without rocking back and forth) and the adjoining side that will ride against the cast iron fence--you can see that step in the photo on the left.

If you look to the right, this is how the logs look like once they're sliced up.  Of course, you have to cut off the bark and make them into usable dimensions.



Once you rip the bark off the sides, you get pieces of lumber like you see to the left.  You don't get a whole lot of lumber out of firelogs, but hey, it's free.  I had to throw a lot of the wood into the firewood pile b/c there was some termite damage--YIKES!  Of course, I keep this stash completely separate from from my good stock (just in case any termites make it out alive after a quick spray with some insecticide).  A key tip is to try and make lumber from fresh cut trees.  If you decide on picking up logs that have been sitting around, be aware of termites and beetle larvae, as that can ruin the wood and make this an exercise in futility.  From here, the wood needs to be air dried for about a year (yes, that's right, A YEAR!)  The general rule for air drying is one year drying time per one inch in thickness.  I'm not sure if the wood was really worth all the time invested in this, but it sure was fun and it is hardwood.  Plus I didn't have to pay anything for the wood--so I guess I just paid for labor, electricity and the wear and tear on my machine and blades. 

After getting a really good deal on a midi lathe, I figured I ought to keep a lookout for any fresh cut trees for bowl blanks.  I saw these stumps just waiting at a construction site (destined for the landfill)--that is until I got a hold of them.  I've never prepared bowl blanks before, but I figured since the cost was FREE and I had an electric chainsaw handy, I got to work.  I cut most of these into more manageable pieces and painted them with a greenwood sealer.  I figure some patience, fresh air, and a bandsaw (later down the line) and I'll have myself some pretty nice bowl blanks that won't cost me a penny!




I wanted to show that not all projects look great all the time.  This is a shot of the drawers of my workbench as I was making it.  You can see the drawers are made of plywood attached with metal ball bearing drawer glides.  To cover up the plywood, I used pieces of chamfered solid beechwood and attached them to the plywood.  Of course, when you're building, things get messy. 



That said, I do try to keep organized because there's nothing more annoying than not being able to find the tool you need when you need it.  I guess I've become rather anal about making customized storage units to organize my tools.  It's funny because I'm usually not that big of an organization freak.  This is a shot of one of the drawers in my workbench.  I made customized recesses for my chisels, planes, and squares (right).  I like to think I'm make a comfy home for my hand tools (I know, this borders on being pathetic)--at the very least, it keeps my tools from moving around in the drawer and protecting my quite hefty monetary investment. 




During my latest project making valances, I had a need to crosscut long pieces of stock.  Before I had a mobile table saw, making this cut would have been problematic because I simply didn't have enough room on the left side of the sawto make the cut.  But as you can see, I was able to roll the cart to the far right of my shop--a good 2 to 3 feet to the right.  If you're wondering why there are two pieces of lumber on the saw--I clamped a long board to the saw fence rail and clamped a stop block so I could make identical length cuts to suit the valance.  The long end of the board is supported by a roller stand.  It's times like this when you mobility really gives your tools extra options and capabilities. 

The table support is also mobile and it doubles as a storage unit for my smaller scrap pieces of hardwood.

Jigs are some shopmade and storebought jigs that help make woodworking a little easier.  The big jig in the middle is a 45 degree miter box sled designed to slide on the miter slots of my tablesaw.  This is great for making dead accurate cuts for things like picture frames.  (Top:  from left to right) is a mortising jig that holds thin pieces of wood in place while a router routs out a mortise (square hole) for joinery; tapering jig used to make a taper on things like table legs; cheap homemade jig out of pegboard accurately locates holes to be drilled in shelf sides that house shelf pins; storebought through dovetail jig; tenoning jig--I spent a long time making this jig, but have yet to use it.  I keep putting off making a set of dining room chairs for my folks.   

I thought it was about time that I posted an update on the various jigs that I've made since I put up a "jigs" photo.  Here are photos of various sleds, zero clearance throat plates, push sticks, clamping fixtures, mortising templates, featherboards, circle cuttng jigs.  It'll take too long to explain each one's use--so email me if you have any questions. 

I do find that I enjoying making and using variations of the common sled.  On the tablesaw, I makes sleds to help me cut dadoes, dovetails and miter cuts. 



I recently made this router table sled.  I needed a way to safely rout for a sliding dovetail joint.  I could have used my router table fence as a point of reference, but I didn't feel would be adequately safe considering I was routing a fairly lengthy piece of wood and the router fence wasn't tall enough to give me the support I needed.  I started with a perfectly square edge piece of 1/2" plywood.  Then I attached a strip of UHMW plastic and ensured that it was square to the plywood base.  By adding a solid wood fence (I used a scrap piece of ipe), I am now able to clamp my stock securely and rout safely.  As an added bonus, I use the sled to square my router fence to the miter sled track.

Tip:  When making runners for sleds, always cut them slightly wider than your miter slot.  That way, you can use a block plane to slowly creep up on a tight fit by taking very light shavings.  Also, I'm convinced that using UHMW or some other slippery plastic stock is better than using hardwood for runners.  I've found that plastic isn't subject to seasonal expansion or contraction found in wood (which of course would compromise the accuracy of your sled).

What's so special about  a couple scraps of hardwood?  Well, I needed an accurate way to align some mortises I'm making on some jewelry boxes.  If the mortises are a little off, the jewelry box top would look crooked.  Plus, I have quite a few jewelry boxes to make, so spending an extra few minutes making this jig was well worth the effort.  The scrap of wood with the small cut-out is sized exactly to fit my brass hinges.  The piece of scrap attached perpendicular to the cut-out piece registers off the side of the box, thus accurately locating where the mortise needs to be. 




Here it is in action.  To locate mortises on the lid or the left side of the jewelry box, all I have to do is flip over my little jig.  Then it's just a matter of busting out the chisels. 

Simple solutions are always worth a big fat !









I suppose there is a bit of a learning curve when you're first starting with woodworking, as is the case with most other things in life.  However, with woodworking, even if you get the basics down, you'll still find yourself being challenged every time you try to figure out ways to use a different board of wood.  In fact, you can always keep yourself interested in a project by changing up different joints, techniques, materials for each project.  

This brings me to my latest challenge--picking the right wood for a coffee table project.  Originally, I thought this board would be great for an armoire.  But as luck would have it, my plans changed and I decided to use this for the top on a coffee table.   

At last year's woodworking show, I ran across some beautifully figured wood.  I probably spent too much money at the show, but I just had to pick up a few pieces of this amazing quilted western big leaf maple. 

This has got to be the most prized board of wood I have right now.  In hindsight, investing in my MM16 bandsaw and Performax drum sander was a wise decision b/c I'll be using those two machines to make something amazing out of this board--seeing something this beautiful just inspires one to make something equal to its beauty. 

This board hasn't given off its full effect yet.  Once you put an oil and wax finish to this board, the grain will look like its "popping" out, giving an almst 3-D effect.  You have to see it in person to appreciate it. 







Well, it's time for an update!  This is how the quilted maple looks like once its finished.  Here's a brief description of how I made the grain appear 3-dimentional:  I flattened the panel with a belt sander using 80 grit.  Then I used a combination of sandpaper on a sanding block and a random orbit sander starting from 100 grit and moving all the way up to 600 grit--using a total of 7 different grits.  Then I applied two coats of Tried and True Danish Oil, sanding in between coats with 0000 steel wool.  Then I applied Tried and three coats of Tried and True Varnish Oil, also rubbing out any nibs with 0000 steel wool.  I then, finally finished the table off with two coats of Renaissance Wax, buffing until I thought I was actually feeling my biceps getting larger. 

For those of you who are interested in Tried and True, here's my take on it.  This stuff does take quite some time to cure.  In really hot summer weather here in my shop (90-100 degrees), it took about three days to fully cure.  During the winter (mid 50-60s) and rainy weather it took about a week or so to cure.  Try to rub in a very, very, very thin coat and rub it in until you don't see any wet edges on your surface.  You have to be patient, otherwise try another finish.  I was at first really annoyed with how slowly it cured.  But the flip side is I didn't get any headaches from breathing in fumes from other types of finishes.  After I got myself to slow down and allow the oil to cure, I did notice a nice sheen on the table.  You really have to put at least three coats.  I was pretty surpised with the nice sheen I got from a rubbed on "oil" finish. 

Also, there's three kinds of Tried and True Finish--Danish Oil (straight polymerized linseed oil), Original Wood Finish (polymerized linseed oil + beeswax), and Varnish Oil (polymerized linseed oil + resin).  I've tried all three and I'd say just stick with the Varnish Oil.  It costs more than the other two, but that's the only one that can produce a satin sheen with more than three coats.  The other two finishes come out rather dull.  I was worried that T&T wouldn't give me that natural sheen.  However, after three coats and polishing with Renaissance Wax, I got a finish that wasn't too glossy (as is the case with a lot of furniture with finishes that look like plastic) and yet not too dull as to look like a poorly oiled piece of wood.  In the end, I felt that the finish looked organic (not plastic) and yet still had semi-glossy sheen just inviting everyone to run their hands on its surface.  All in all, I'd sum up T&T as follows:  If you want to use a finish that doesn't contain harmful chemicals and noxious odors and are willing to be very, very patient, then T&T Varnish Oil will fit the bill.




I picked up a couple other smaller boards for future projects I have yet to dream up.  This is curly maple (aka: tiger or flame maple).  Once its finished with an oil and wax finish, the 3-D effect here will appear as if there are waves in the wood.   






I've found that I really enjoy sculpting on a stationary belt sander.  I first read about the technique in Lois Keener Ventura's book entitled "Building Beautiful Boxes With Your Bandsaw."  Ever since then, I've been hooked on how this tool allows me to make more organic shapes that give things like tool handles and boxes a more handcrafted look and feel. 

I usually set up the belt sander vertically to take advantage of the curved part of the sanding belt.  Of course, read up on the technique first as it can be potentially dangerous if done incorrectly. 


While I was in school in the Bay Area, my mom had paid me a visit in the Bay Area and we happened to run across a guy in Chinatown that knew how to carve a stamp with Chinese characters.  So my mom had him make a stamp with my entire name.  I made a copy of the stamp and sent the image to a guy who uses some sort of laser technology to make special branding irons.  Since I got my custom made branding iron, I try to stamp all my projects with my seal.  Maybe in 150 years, someone will bring one of my pieces to the Antique Roadshow and a furniture expert will recognize this brand and proclaim that because the brand, the piece is worth a gazillion dollars--NOT, but a guy can daydream, right?  If you're interested in where I got my brand, check out Brandnew Branding Irons.