Muppets do woodwork #1: Starting out

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Blog entry by KnickKnack posted 07-09-2011 08:56 PM 1599 reads 0 times favorited 0 comments Add to Favorites Watch
no previous part Part 1 of Muppets do woodwork series Part 2: Recovering from yesterday »


First up – if you’re here looking for woodworking insights, techniques, cool jigs etc etc – well, you’re in the wrong place. The only things you’re likely to learn here are things to avoid. That and something about how my mind works, or mostly, doesn’t work.

Feel free at any moment to leap in with tips, hints, or laughter. I expect quite a bit of laughter – that’s OK.

Still – in the interests of science here I go…

I’ve been making boxes recently. It’s a task I’ve set myself in order to try to improve my skills. And develop new ones. I’ve made quite a bit of “big” furniture, which is very forgiving – a mill here or there isn’t necessarily critical. But on a smallish box it is critical. Also it doesn’t consume a lot of wood – which is a good thing when you’re going to throw it away or consign it to contain (tins of) cat food!

For this exercise I came up with this design…

In my mind this looks great and I can just see it next to the Cartier watches in a posh shop, or at the Prada store. Of course I’m not stupid, and I know it won’t come out that way. And it’s something I’ve been working on, and thinking about – why exactly is it that when the thing’s finished it doesn’t look like it did in my head? Some of it is to do with the size – my things end up too big. Some of it is to do with the finish – my head has things made of perfect and perfectly glossy plastic, rather than wood. Especially for the blacks. Step one is to know why. Overcoming it is proving harder.
Still, that’s the design.

My last box (or one before, can’t remember) had a “wrap around” which I thought came out pretty well and was a neat idea. So I’m going to go with that again here, but wrapping across the other way.
This leads to problem 1 – because of the angled sides, and to keep the wrap around, I’m going to have to cut the angle from the inside of the verticals.
Still – no matter – no wood has yet been hurt, so nothing has gone wrong so I’m feeling good about the whole project.
I spend a while thinking about the sizes and, as usual, come up with something too big. I have no technology to
make wood thinner, so I’m always dealing with wood that’s about 25mm thick. Which would look pretty silly in a box that’s 10cm square! But you have to deal with what you have to deal with so that’s what I do.
I have 4 choices of wood – pine, oak, beech and ash.
Ash is the no-brainer for the sides and top – I have a plank with a pattern that’ll look cool for the wrap around. I’m thinking beech for the smaller faces.

At some point you have to leap in, so I dig out the board, measure several times and – wap – I cut it.
Unusually for me I’ve tried to think it through a bit, so I’ve deliberately cut the verticals a bit too long – I have a plan!

So – how to cut those angles. I’m tempted to, as Mr Kat so beautifully put it, “sand the hell out of it”. But I’m trying to get away from that as a woodworking technique, so I’m going to come up with something to do it on the router table. But what?
Ok. So I’m going to attach pieces of wood to the sides in such a way that the ash is at an angle. Then I’ll run it flat over the router table and it’ll flatten the surface, but at an angle…

This was why I cut the sides a bit long – so I could cut off the pins. And, I figure, if I get the other pins in the right place and 45° angle that’s coming later will cut off the pin holes. All seems like a great plan.

After a lot of cuts (I’m really into small router bites these days) – the bottom is “flat”...

and, well, blow me down – not tooooooo bad for the slab…

Of course, the upper pin holes aren’t quite right and will not be getting cut off with the 45°. But that’s OK – I can make the box a bit thinner. That will also deal with the tearout at the sides.

Next up is to cut the 45°s. For this I use my “magic” jig…

Things going pretty well – go for a trial fit…

Already I’m starting to see that it’s not going to be sitting in a Prada shop or anywhere near a Cartier watch.
But not too shabby.

Works now stops for 7 days while I try to work out what I’m going to do for the box sides.
How is it that when you want a bit of red beech all you have is the pale stuff? And when you want figured wood you have unfigured wood?
Here I’m looking for unfigured, red beech. But all I have is figured red, or unfigured pale.
I consider using fumed oak – that’s been going pretty well, and the oak/ash contrast is good.
Ah – my gap is about 17cm, but the only oak I can get is 8cm wide, so that’s 3 bits together. Or i could go horizontal, but that isn’t right. How I wish I’d thought it through – just 2cm less wide and I could go with oak. Rats!
I spend a while considering whether to make it a drawer. I haven’t, as usual, thought about the handle I’m going to put on the top. Perhaps a hinged lid?
The roll-up butts are starting to pile up by the stool on which I sit staring at the non-Cartier box. I’m not in a hurry, but I’m getting frustrated at making no progress.
I have a brainwave about using a big bit of beech I have, and cutting vertical slots in it. Even embedding some oak strips in the bottom. I’m trying to work out whether that will look good or whether it’s just “clever for clever” sake. i can decide what, if any, decoration to put on later, I decide.
I dig out the beech bit and have a scrape at it to see what it might look like…

It’s a nice colour, but really too figured.
More butts start to pile up.
I should stick to making trays.

I have occasion to be at the wood man – a friend of mine is building a bar, and I’m responsible for the bar bit itself. I’m there buying pine, and hoping to score a nice bit of beech. But I spy, in the corner, some wood that looks like very red beech and I ask what it is. “Jatoba” he says, from Africa. Well, I know very little about this wood – I’ve seen it used in projects here, and I’m fairly sure it’s from South America. Still – perhaps destiny is knocking on my head, so I buy a board of it and take it home.

I read everything, and look at every projects using it on Lumberjocks.
Once more, I’m struck by what an incredible resource this is – comments, thoughts, discussions etc etc by people who’ve actually used the stuff, not just the “rote” hacky stuff elsewhere on the ‘net.
I’m not much liking the sound of it – my sharpening skills are somewhat akin to my skills as a downhill skier – non-existent. And this stuff is going to kill all my edges. And, as if that wasn’t enough, I’m going to have to wait for it to go back to a nice colour! Destiny indeed!
Still – it’s a learning experience, and it’s only a box in which I have about a gazzilion hours of thinking time invested. So I hack off a piece a bit bigger than I’ll need and have a scrape at it…

Looks interesting – some grain but not too much. Simple grain – which was what the doctor ordered. Nice colour if the colour comes back.
I use a similar technique to make one flat surface – this is going nowhere near any planer of mine, and this 10mm router bit is on its last legs anyway…

This gives me a pretty good surface. Didn’t seem that hard to work – what it’s done to the router bit I can’t tell yet. A bit of scraping and I’m starting to think this might work…

I’m trying to cut down on the smoking, so, with barely 5 on the floor i decide to resaw it into 2…

What a stupid idea that was.
An hour and a whole bucket of sweat later I’ve got 2 terrible pieces…

I’m gonna have to come up with some way of getting decent surfaces on those, which is where I am now.

Join me next time on the “Muppets do woodwork” show as we find out how I tried and succeeded (think positive) to do that…

-- "Do not speak – unless it improves on silence." --- "Following the rules and protecting the regulations is binding oneself without rope."

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