First hand-cut mortise and tenon joints

Working with the guidance of the excellent Woodworking Basics: Mastering the Essentials of Craftsmanshipby Peter Korn, I set about to learn how to do mortise and tenon joints by hand. I picked up a traditional style mortise chisel a few months ago and this weekend got to use it for the first time.

This traditional style of chisel really earns its keep with this joint. If you try to use a lighter weight chisel, it twists when trying to lever out the waste. Not so with the “pigsticker” style chisels.

I spent Saturday night learning by trial and error. I tried Korn’s advice on drilling out the waste and then cleaning it up with a chisel. But I just kept splitting out the end of the mortise or rounding over the sides when levering out the waste. My tenons were off too. I needed more practice obviously, but I also felt like I was missing something.

I looked up advice on cutting mortises in Robert Wearing’s book, The Essential Woodworker. He didn’t recommend using a drill at all. Instead he worked the mortise in stages. First you pare it shallow to the knife line. Then you start driving the chisel down on one side. Pull the chisel out, flip the chisel around and drive it down and then lever out the waste. This worked beautifully. You then work yourself down to the other side, but you leave some room at the end. For this 1 1/2″ mortise, I left about 1/4″, which was a little short. This space is solely to keep the chisel from rounding down the corner of the mortise when levering out the waste. To finish up that last 1/4″, you simply take smaller bites, and work back the the wall.

I’ll definitely need some more practice, but it was a successful start.

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My first M-WTCA meet

Right around Christmas, Joel Moskowitz of Tools for Working Wood wrote a blog post suggesting readers should join the Mid-West Tool Collectors Association. Well I did, and today I attended my first meet. I had alot of fun and got to see some rare tools, and even Mike Siemsen’s School of Wood at work.

I ended up buying a few treasures, despite arriving an hour and a half after the tables had opened for selling. My first treasure was a Stanley Bedrock 606 for $50. It needs some cleaning up, but not much. It’s already dissembled while make my plan. I love the heft of this plane, I hadn’t planned on getting this size, but It’s got alot more weight than my Bailey Jack. I checked the sides for square, and the sole for twist and everything looks good. It’s a corrugated sole, but that really doesn’t matter much to me. I’ll post pics as I begin the restoration.

My favorite find however was something I wasn’t aware of until I got home. I wanted a try square or small square and had been checking them out at every table. About an hour before I left I came across a nice brass and wood square, and it had a nice weight to it. It had a Woodsmith logo on it. I paid my $8 and it was mine. It looked like the Bridge City model I dreamed of making on the cover of the October 2011 issue of Popular Woodworking.

I got home and shared my purchases with my wife, and then pulled out the magazine. It wasn’t just like the Bridge City square, it was exactly like it. Every rivet and screw, even down to the rounded edges of the stock. I did a quick search and found an ebay auction for a set of Woodsmith Bridge City squares, so I knew that they had done custom work before. Holy cow, I just bought a Bridge City TS-2 Master Try Square for $8! Sweet!

I snapped this picture before cleaning it up, and it didnt take much. A quick buff with some steel wool and it shines.

A comparison of woodworking calendars

When ordering a few things to get some Christmas presents done, I added a calendar to an order from Lee Valley as well as Lie-Nielsen. I thought I’d put one up at work, and one a home.

First impressions. I love the Lie-Nielsen calendar. It has a clean modern design, with a sans serif font, and a single featured product per month. It’s a larger size than the Lee Valley, and it’s on premium paper with some stiffness to it. Very nice.

The Lee Valley calendar is smaller, and hasn’t much for stiffness to it at all. It reminds me of the calendars you get free at Fleet Farm or from your realtor. But what about the content? Well it’s a mixed bag. They have some nice vintage tool imagery, which is definitely the highlight of this calendar (just like their catalog covers), but the paper is flimsy (similar to the catalog) and the design is just not my style. Again, somewhat like you’d get in a free calendar. Except this one costs $6. They also have a few other tools dispersed throughout the months and featured along the sides and bottom in the calendar. It’s a stark contrast to the almost minimalist style of the Lie-Nielsen.

For only $4 more, I’d definitely go with the Lie-Nielsen on this one. My 2 cents.

Sawbench done

Well I finally completed the Sawbench last night. I made some modifications to the traditional design, including screws instead of cut nails (after trying them initially). It’s not perfect and in some ways an ugly beast, but I ripped a 24″ board and did a few cross cuts and it will definitely do the job. Next up is the packing box from Joiner & Cabinet Maker. I will continue my education in working pine boards with hand tools, and the Sawbench will help make my cuts more square.

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A frustrating night in the shop

Last night, I went downstairs and looked at the four legs I’d finished for the sawbench I’m working on. One of the ends wasn’t square, so I grabbed my jack plane and my shooting board and went to work. Only I made it worse. I couldn’t for the life of me get a square edge on this board. I became very frustrated and cursed my decision to buy vintage planes because they don’t have sides perfectly perpendicular to the sole.

I decided to just saw it later, and move on to making the top. I cut the top out of my pine 2×12 and trued up one face and the long edges with my jack plane. I then marked the notches where the legs will mate with the top. I cut the notches, but I ended up getting a lot of split out using my rip-filed Tenon saw. I removed the waste with a coping saw (now I know why Chris Schwarz doesn’t like new coping saws, he’s right – they twist all over and generally suck) and the proceeded to use my router plane to true up the bottoms. I love this tool, one of my favorite new tools. Although I got more split out, but at this point I was past caring. It’s going to be a shop appliance, and as one of my first hand tool projects, it’s going to be riddled with course rather than fine craftsmanship. I’m learning from my mistakes, but in this project, I think it best to move forward and record some success in completing the project rather than get mired in the details.

The instructions from WKFineTools state you save the cauls (the waste bits from the notches cut in the legs) to use later for clamping. I did this, and tried to clamp the legs down, but had difficulty. Even with tape, as the instructions suggest, the cauls kept slipping. I finally got it clamped up, but it took a lot longer than I expected. I cleaned up the shop and called it a night.

I need a crossciut carcase or sash saw, and I think I’m going to have to move up my plans to build a Roubo workbench. It has been very frustrating trying to do hand tool woodworking with a plywood bench and a Jawhorse. Although the Jawhorse is really handy and I’m sure I’ll use it as an auxiliary vise in the future.

Legs done

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Well I made it through completing the rest of my legs for the sawbench last night. I learned a few valuable lessons and tried some new tools and techniques.

I don’t have a good, sharp rip saw. I have an old Disston 5ppi, but it is badly dull, and gets stuck in the kerf when trying to cut. When ripping my last leg, I only had about 2 inches to remove, so I tried a technique I saw on The Woodwright’s Shop. You can cut kerfs along your edge and then chisel the waste away. Well this tends to work better on straight grained wood, and my leg had a knot, so… one of legs now has a small section where it’s width dips in past my target width where the knot split off. Oh well, it is just a shop appliance, so it will serve.

Another obstacle I had was that I have no bevel gauge. I actually did buy an old one from eBay, but it wouldn’t stay tight and I ended up returning it.

Since the two angles I needed were perpendicular to each other, I just ended up eyeballing one leg and using a square to scribe the mating angle. Works in a pinch. I then used the finished leg as a template for the others.

When truing up the shoulders, I started by locking the leg in a handscrew and clamping this to my workbench. This allows you to pare across the cheek (which is flush with the jaws of the handscrew) with a chisel. For the shoulder, I used my Lie-Nielsen large shoulder plane. An incredibly simple, yet precise tool. I did tear out a side initially, but quickly changed to coming in from both sides, and that eliminated the problem.

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Good reads

It’s been a busy week, and my son has been sick. So the late nights in the shop have been replaced with some reading before bed. I’ve been reading two books intermittently, not something I normally do, but the subject matter is the same.

The first is Handplane Essentialsby Christopher Schwarz. This recently came back into print, and it’s essentially a collection of articles Chris wrote on handplanes while at Woodworking magazine and Popular Woodworking magazine. This makes the book feel almost like a book of short stories, which is great when you don’t have much time to read. I’ve read two other books by Chris, The Anarchist’s Tool Chest, and I’m halfway through Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use (Popular Woodworking). I really enjoy his style of writing, and as a result, I finish his books very quickly. I’d probably be done with this one if it weren’t for the other book I’m also reading….

The Handplane Bookby Garrett Hack. This book immediately makes you want to start buying up vintage planes just from the gorgeous photography, as well as advertisements and catalog imagery.

This book dives in with a more directed approach, and takes you through the history of the tool (dating back to the 4th century!), and the changes its seen over the years. I have already read a quarter of this book as it’s a very immersive story on the evolution of a tool that has shaped construction and furniture making for over 1500 years.

I look forward to reading more of these books, and once I’m done, hopefully Lost Art Press will be done with Peter Follansbee’s new book, “Make a Joint Stool from a Tree”. Ever since I saw Peter on the Woodwright’s Shop this past season, I’ve been anxiously anticipating this book.

Building a Sawbench

My next project is to get started building some shop tools. The first is a saw bench. I had bookmarked Christopher Schwarz’ Build a $5.87 Sawbench, so I started there. Although the problem with Chris’ article is that it expects you to have alot of speciality tools. And a sawbench.

I’ve already started working through Chris’ article, but perhaps a better approach is from Mike Siemsen, who runs the School of Wood here in Minnesota. His approach using easily available items like 5 gallon buckets and duct tape might be less refined, but it’s also more approachable for a beginner than needing shoulder and router planes, etc.

Cutting board

With my glue up not being very level, I had quite a bit of work to do to flatten the cutting board. And as I was using only handplanes, it was a considerable effort. Thank goodness I bought a new Hock blade for my Jack plane!

One of the woods in the kit would emit a yellow dust when I planed and scraped it. I searched and found out this is Ipe, also called Brazilian Walnut. This was a difficult wood to work with hand tools, and I soon found out why! While reading Workbenches: From Design And Theory To Construction And Use by Christopher Schwarz, I see a list of woods and their rating on the Janka scale. To quote the book, This is “a test that reveals the amount of force (in pounds per square inch) required to insert a .444″-diameter steel ball into a species of wood so that half of the pellet is buried in the wood”.

So where does Ipe fall on the list? It takes 3,680 psi!!! Wow…. the next highest on the list was Purpleheart that came in at 1,860, almost half! And Purpleheart is a very tough wood!

I know that these kits are meant for people using power tools, but wow, what a baptism into learning to use a hand plane. I didn’t use one of the pieces in the kit, and compared it to the finished product (even after the example in then photo). I ended up removing .25 inches. Whew.