Welcome Fellow Lumberjock,
I am writing this blog as a testament to the joy and simplicity of working with handtools. Handtools obviously require manual labor. But I am always up for burning off extra calories. Plus, in a handtool shop, I have no noise issues. I can listen to my favorite podcast or the football games on TV (on Sundays anyway). I also have no dust problems and don’t need a dust collection system. I feel it is also safer. The table saw, router, and such can bite (hard) if even the most minute mistake is made. I am not afraid of those machines, but they command a very high level of respect. As my eyesight continues to diminish, I don’t mind mind taking the less risky approach. And my hearing has taken a beating over the years so less noise is very welcome. Lastly, I enjoy the challenge of doing things by hand. If you are thinking of getting into handtools or want to make a change over from power, I hope this project will provide some inspiration.
I found out about a month and a half ago that I will be a grandfather. My son and his girlfriend are expecting a baby. Like many others on here, I am going to make a cradle for my new grandchild to serve as a bed during his/hers early months. I am making this cradle using only handtools. I am pretty much a handtool user exclusively and am taking the step to make this project without using any machinery. Now, before I go any further, I will add one caveat to this claim: I bought the lumber at a box store which was already 4S4. I know that machines dimensioned this lumber and I am aware that at least a part of the project involved machines. The reason I bought the lumber already dimensioned is because I want this project to be finished relatively sooner than later. I still have a kitchen table that my wife is beating me up on, so in the interest of time, I bought pre-dimensioned lumber. But the machines will not be used in my basement shop. I have everything I need to accomplish this, so I sharpened and tuned a couple of tools and got to work today. This project will be done with Eastern White Pine and a hardwood for the rocker pieces. I haven’t decided yet which wood I will use for that. I have cherry, oak, hickory, and maple to choose from. I figured the rockers should be a hardwood to take the wear and tear.
After searching the internet for a cradle I liked, I found one and printed up the plans. I needed to get measurements to get the size right and cut and glued the panel parts to approximate sizes. I say approximate because I just need to have the dimensions about right. The lumber sizes dictate the finished measurements. For me, I don’t get too hung up on precise measurements, all I do is make sure like pieces are the same and everything else is made to fit its partner piece. For instance, I rough cut the four sides and glued them up using the dimensions supplied with a little extra for trimming and shooting and such. So if the pieces are a quarter or half inch shorter than the plans, it is of no matter as long as the other side is exactly the same size. This saves a lot of time as you don’t get hung up on the measurements; just make the other side the same. To reinforce that logic, I have yet to cut the bottom piece because I will not know the size until I get the four sides done up. When I join the four sides, I will measure off that and fit a piece to it.
The plan I got calls for the sides to be screwed together. I like traditional joinery and have decided I will dovetail the sides to each other. In my opinion, it will look better, fit the traditional look of the cradle itself, and show some craftsmanship in the cradle. After all, this is for my first grandchild, so granddad should make a quality piece for the child to sleep in. The only fasteners I will use on this cradle will be cut nails to hold the bottom in. Also, this falls in line with the traditional work.
Here are some pictures and details of the work done today.
I cut the parts on my saw bench using my LN 24” crosscut panel saw. I bought LN saws and can not say enough about them. Absolutely a pleasure to use. The saw bench is a copy of Chris Schwarz’s from his book on workbenches. I built only one, but will need to get another one done. This saw bench is very useful and I cannot imagine hand sawing without it. It has a hole in it for holdfasts and I use it almost everytime I saw something.
Here you can see the holdfast in action. Because I do not have a second saw bench, I improvised. Thankfully the drawer in my utility bench is just the right height to lend a hand!
When sawing, I try to split the pencil line. This ensures accurate sizing with very little clean up after the cut is made.
A panel glue-up. Here is a tip for those of you who, like me, do not have a lot of clamps: Since PVA glue doesn’t take too much time, I glued up a panel (or two, that’s all I can do at one time) and then took care of some sharpening tasks. By the time I had things sharp, the panels were set and ready to be rotated to anther glue-up. Some day I will get more clamps, but for now, this is a good way to wait out the time. Sharpen the plane blades, scraper blades, and such.
I found that one of the boards I bought was not jointed very well. I had to clean up the edge to get a tight fit. You can see the board is being held on the right side by a deadman. This was a very nice appliance addition to my bench. If you hand plane edges, I highly recommend this tool to help you get the board’s edge down to just above the bench surface to maximize your planing action. Because this piece was only 13” or so, I used my Stanley #5 to joint the edge. I could have used a jointer, I realize this, but I just finished restoring this plane and wanted to use it.
I originally wanted to put a fancy treatment to the footboard, but settled on a simple arc (thanks to my wife). I cut the arc with a coping saw, completely resisting using my bandsaw! The coping saw was for sure slower, but not too bad. And I could still hear the football game on TV.
I used a spokeshave that I made about a year and a half ago to smooth the arc’s surface. You can see the spokeshave on “My Projects”. The surface left by the coping saw was rough to say the least. But the spokeshave made quick work of it leaving a nicely finished surface when I was done. I will finish smooth it when I assemble the cradle.
I rely on my shooting board to true up cuts and get pieces like sized. However, the odd angle and oversize of this piece takes my shooting board out of the equation. However, with a little ingenuity, you can throw a makeshift one together and get the job done. Be sure to put something under the board you are planing to ensure the plane cuts the whole edge of the board.
Lastly for today, I finished up by smoothing all the panels to rid them of their glue lines and the slight shifts in the boards. Here you can see my Stanley Bedrock 4 1/2 smoother which I also just finished a restoration on. I smoothed all four panels on both sides and really worked up a sweat! The 4 1/2, even though it has a corrugated sole, still is a good workout to smooth a panel. Now, I did not finish surface these, I merely got the seams smooth and took out the large dings. It is crucial to get the board smoothed up before laying out dovetails, which is on tap for tomorrow.