Blended Woodworking

Woodworking Blog

A large bookshelf for a large number of books

It has been a while since I last posted on my blog, but there has still been woodworking going on in my shop.  My latest project is a large bookshelf for my seemingly ever growing library of books.  As you can see in the photo below, my collection of woodworking books is getting a little out of hand given my current storage capacity.  Yes, the bottom of the cabinet is full of books as well.  I even have another bookshelf upstairs that is full.

In case you are wondering I didn’t make the bookcase above.  It is a modern antique reproduction that my wife picked up off of

Clearly I need another large bookshelf to store all of my books. I better get it done soon too or my wife is going to cut me off from buying any more books. Lately I have had a lot of interest in American Period Furniture.  I wanted a large bookshelf in a classic style, but I didn’t want to spend the time and money making one with glass doors.  Since I was having trouble tracking down a large period bookshelf I decided to design my own.  I ended up settling on the design below.

This bookshelf is approximately 3 1/2 feet wide by 7 feet tall.  The upper and lower cases are built separately to simplify construction and to allow the bookshelf to be easily moved (even separate the cases are heavy!)  The bottom case is 12 inches deep to house some extra large books that I own.  The upper case is about two inches shallower than the bottom case.

I have completed the cases and I am now working on the mouldings and the bracket feet.  I need to get this thing knocked out soon before my second child shows up in another month or two.  I’ll post lots of photos and some more details when I get it finished.



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Lie-Nielsen Event in St. Louis

This weekend my family and I traveled down to St. Louis to attend the Lie-Nielsen event at Kent Adkins wonderful shop.  Kent informed me of this show a few months ago and asked me if I would be able to attend.  Kent’s shop is a pretty impressive place to hang out and the opportunity to visit Kent and his family is a pretty good reason to travel from Cincinnati to St. Louis.  However, when  Kent told me about the impressive lineup of vendors at the show I was more than sold.

I have made friends with quite a few woodworkers over the years at various shows and events and I always look forward to the opportunity to hang out with them and talk woodworking for a few hours.  The presenters included my friends Matt Bickford from M. S. Bickford Hand Planes;  Konrad Sauer from Sauer and Steiner Toolworks; Ron Brese from Brese Plane; Jameel, Father John, and Hunna from Benchcrafted;  Bob Zajicek from Czeck Edge Toolworks; and Emily, Curtis, and Blaine from Lie-Nielsen.  Boris Khechoyan also stopped by to show off some of his amazing carvings.  I also had the opportunity to hang out with some other friends who stopped in for the show such as Jeff Burks and Gerald Yungling.

My wife spent a lot of time at the show trying out Ron and Konrad’s infill planes.  I told her she could have any one she wanted.  I thought she was having trouble making up her mind so I told her that she could have one of each.  She didn’t bite – but I think she is just trying to figure out which infill wood she likes best.  I think she favors the Brazilian Rosewood, but I’m not positive.  I also asked my daughter Aly if she wanted one of Konrad’s smaller smoothing planes.  Her mouth immediately dropped open and she nodded an emphatic yes.  Konrad must have been in one of his stingy moods though since he didn’t feel like giving one to her.  I don’t know how you can turn down a kid as cute as Aly.

The week before the show I had started a new diet.  The reason for the diet was a work trip to Tucson the week before for 8 days where I must have put on at least a pound a day.  The diet quickly went out the window however with all of the great food available.  Some of the highlights included the Schlafly Tap Room, Pappy’s Smokehouse, and probably the most impressive meal of the weekend – Italian food catered directly to Kent’s shop by Charlie Gitto’s.  They have some pretty amazing fried ravioli, but really everything they brought was amazing.  Oh well, I probably continued my pound a day trend.  At least I worked out before writing this blog post.

My family and I also used the trip to check out one of the local St. Louis attractions.  On Saturday morning we went down to the City Museum which is almost beyond description.  If forced to describe it I would say it is a cross between a giant playground and an eclectic art masterpiece made from materials salvaged from St. Louis.  I think that my family and I stumbled around for almost half an hour before we realized the scale of the place.  It is located in an old unassuming 600,000 square foot building in the heart of the city.  You could drive right by it and miss it if you weren’t looking for it, but the inside is mind boggling.  The building houses everything from salvaged architectural carvings and bank vaults, to an aquarium/reptile house/zoo, to a cave wonderland filled with hidden passageways and spiral staircases that lead seemingly forever upwards until you reach a 10 story slide.  I didn’t take many pictures and even if I did it just wouldn’t do the place justice.  If you are ever in the area it is definitely worth a visit.  I know we will be going back when my kids are a little bit older.

Everything was going great until I had to drive back.  I spent almost 8 hours in the car on Sunday between driving from St. Louis to my parent’s house in Lexington to pick up my dogs and then driving from Lexington back to my house in Cincinnati.  The driving would have been more tolerable if it wasn’t for an unfortunate accident about half way through.  I gave my daughter my ipod touch to watch some Sesame Street podcasts.  She dropped the ipod on the floor of the car – which wasn’t a big deal until we opened the automatic door.  The ipod slid out and was crushed in the door.  My wife was annoyed that the door wouldn’t open and tried one or two more times.  When she finally figured out what was going on the ipod was beyond repair.  I had to have a little ipod funeral later that night.  Now I am even more annoyed that the release date of the new iphone seems to be delayed.  Oh well – it is hard to have a perfect weekend.



Finished except for the Finish

Things have been a little hectic around here and I haven’t been able to keep up with the blog as much as I would like.  I am sure that many of you have been wondering what happened to the sawtill project.  I am happy to report that it is just about finished.  The only things left to do are turn a few knobs for the drawers and apply a coat of finish.  While I would like to wait to unveil the sawtill until the finish is applied I know that it may be a while before that happens.  Especially since I may not even start on the finish right away.  This is a shop project after all.  

Under normal circumstances I would probably start on the finish tomorrow, but apparently these are not normal circumstances.  My wife and I recently found out that she is pregnant with our second child.  The baby is due in late September.  This also means that late September now corresponds with a firm deadline for the completion of some furniture commissions from SWMBO.  Luckily, I already have a crib I can reuse.  This time around I need to build a bookcase and a dresser.  The bookcase is so that I can clear all of my books out of the existing office which is soon to be a nursery.  The dresser is for my wife so that we can recommission her old dresser for my daughter Aly.

Anyways – without further ado – here is a picture of my almost finished sawtill.

I plan to do a more thorough write up about the sawtill in the near future.  But since there have been other posts I have meant to write that are still undone I figured this picture is a good start.  If you have specific questions or want more detailed photos of something specific leave me a comment and hopefully this will motivate me to add a more detailed description.

I want to point out several key observations that can be made based on this photo.  First and foremost, yes … I have a saw problem. I know that many of you were probably wondering after I posted my initial plans why I would ever make a sawtill that massive.  Well, as you can see, it is almost full.  My wife has already used this fact as an opportunity to point out that I can’t buy many more saws since I don’t have the space.  Ha, like that could stop me.  In all seriousness, if I do buy any more saws I will probably need to cull the herd a little to make room for them.  I don’t want to end up with the same situation I had back in the pre-sawtill days.  I’m sure you can imagine what my shop looked like with all of these saws strewn about.  However, with that said, there is a large empty area in the top right of my sawtill.  This seems like a very good excuse to buy another dovetail saw.  And to think, before I finished this sawtill I thought I had enough dovetail saws.


Liquid Hide Glue

Over the past few years I have purchased several bottles of liquid hide glue.  There are so many situations in woodworking that benefit, or even require, the reversibility afforded by hide glue.  Plus, the long open time of liquid hide glue - almost 30 minutes in some scenarios - is a huge advantage.  Plus, as I just mentioned, if something terrible goes wrong and things don’t come together in time, the glue is reversible.  

I have stuck with Patrick Edwards’ Old Brown Glue over the years since that was the first liquid hide glue I tried and it has always worked well.  My only complaint with it is the shelf life.  Well … I guess it would also be nice if it smelled more like warm cinnamon rolls rather than wet dog.  I would like to say that I get enough woodworking done in 6 months to use an entire 20 oz. bottle, but unfortunately that is not the case.  The shelf life is especially problematic when I order a bottle of Old Brown Glue with items from other vendors (to save shipping costs) and I receive a bottle that is already several months old.

Recently, I began using hot hide glue as well.   The quick, no clamp rub joint capability of hot hide glue is a huge advantage in some scenarios.  I would also like to try my hand at hammer veneering at some point.  Theoretically a person could use hot hide glue almost exclusively.  However, during the winter in my semi-heated garage shop the shortened open time severely limits the number of scenarios in which it can be used.  This is where liquid hide glue comes into play.  Liquid hide glue is pretty much unfazed by the 50 degree winter temperatures in my shop. 

My last bottle of liquid hide glue recently expired.  I contemplated buying another bottle of liquid hide glue from Patrick Edwards, but at $20 plus shipping costs it is not cheap.  So I thought to myself – Why don’t I just make my own liquid hide glue?  Making my own liquid hide glue would give me the freshest possible glue and I can make it in any quantity I want to avoid spoilage.  Almost all the liquid hide glue recipes I have seen call for only two ingredients.  Patrick Edwards uses regular 192 gram strength hide glue and urea.  However, many other people recommend using plain old table salt in place of urea.  One proponent of table salt is Don Williams (see Woodworking Magazine Winter 2009).  Since Don has an extensive background in furniture restoration, period finishes, and chemistry I trust that he knows what he is talking about.

The biggest variable in the making of liquid hide glue is the ratio of hide glue to urea or salt.  To find the right formula I scoured the Internet as well as resources such as Stephen Shepherd’s book “Hide Glue – Historical and Practical applications”.  I found several formulas for both Urea based and Salt based liquid hide glue. 

Urea Formulas:

Most people recommend adding urea in ratios between 5%-30% by weight relative to dry hide glue.  The most common recommendation is 15% by weight.  If you don’t have a suitable scale a common formula is 5 tablespoons of urea to 1 cup of dry hide glue.  I don’t know how this compares to the weight formulas above since I don’t have any urea on hand at the moment to weigh.  I weighed 1 cup of dry hide glue pearls at approximately 5.5 ounces.  As a point of reference – there are 16 tablespoons in a cup.  So unless Urea weighs significantly less than dry hide glue I would assume this formula is towards the high end (30%) of urea concentration.  This is confusing considering the fact that one of the sources that recommends the 5 tablespoon to 1 cup formula also recommends a ratio of 15% by weight.

Salt Formulas:

Liquid hide glue formulas using salt seem to be a little harder to find than formulas using urea.  In my research I came across a lot of advice that suggested using salt in weight ratios similar to urea.  One formula suggested that the best ratio for either salt or urea was 15% of the weight of the dry hide glue.  However, there were also several formulas that conflicted with the recommended ratios of 5%-30% by weight.  One of the sources that recommended 5 tablespoons of urea to 1 cup of dry hide glue also recommended 3 tablespoons of table salt to 1 cup of dry hide glue.  3 tablespoons of table salt weighs approximately 2.1 ounces.  So this formula uses a ratio of about 38% salt to dry hide glue.  Don William’s formula had the highest ratio of salt to hide glue.  Don William’s recommends using 1 part salt to 2 parts dry hide glue by weight, or a ratio of 50%.

I tried to find some urea locally since it is what Patrick Edward’s uses.  In the past I have seen 5 lb. bags of Espoma brand urea at the big box stores.  However, the gardening section is still a little slow this time of year – I’ll give it a few more months.  In the absence of a local source of urea, I decided to try to make liquid hide glue using one of the table salt formulas.  I decided to split the difference between the high end and low end of the recommended formulas and use a ratio of about 30% salt.  I added the salt to a fresh batch of hide glue I had made the day before and refrigerated over night.  I reheated the hide glue and slowly stirred in the salt a little at a time.  I then allowed the whole thing to cook for an hour or two.  I added a little water part way through to make up for the evaporation caused by the heating. 

I have done a few experiments with this batch of liquid hide glue and it seems to work well.  The glue has plenty of liquidity.  I placed it on a piece of wood in my shop to see if the glue would gel.  After 5 to 10 minutes the glue was still slippery and there were no clumps.  I glued up an edge joint using the liquid hide glue and the next day I hit it with a hammer.  The wood failed before the glue joint failed.  I have been storing the glue in the fridge in a small 8 ounce squeeze bottle that I purchased from Rockler.  The glue is pretty solid when it is removed from the fridge, but it quickly liquefies when placed in warm water for a few minutes.

My biggest concern is how long it will last.  Supposedly the more urea/salt you add the more you will reduce the bonding strength of the glue.  In small amounts this isn’t an issue since the glue is plenty strong to start.  However, the anti-gelling agents in liquid hide glue will continue reduce the strength of the glue over time which is one of the reasons that liquid hide glue expires.  In my next experiment I will probably try only 10-15% salt by weight to see if that is sufficient to provide the desirable characteristics of liquid hide glue.  I assume that the 30% ratio I used in my experiment is a little high.  However, I’m not overly worried about the shelf life of my glue since I only made about a 2 ounce batch.  It is simple enough to make that it is better to make it in small quantities as needed to ensure that you always have the freshest glue – and hence the strongest bond possible.

If anyone else has done some experimentation with liquid hide glue formulas please leave a comment describing your formula and your results.


Saw Till – Grooves, Mortises, and Through Tenons

With the sides completed and the other components cut close to final dimensions I proceed to cut all of the grooves using my tablesaw and a dado stack.  My saw till design requires 1/4″ grooves on several pieces including the inside of the till sides, the top and bottom rails, and all the stiles for the back panel.  If I were only cutting grooves in the stiles and rails I would approximately center the dado head on the stock and then make two passes, one with each face against the fence.  This ensures that the groove is centered and it makes mortising much simpler later on. 

I can’t use that approach on the saw till since I have to cut grooves on the sides.  With the curved profile and the groove offset to the back I obviously can’t flip the sides to center the groove.  Therefore I select and label all of the face sides of my components.  Since I have to route the groove in my sides with the back edge against the fence I make sure to run the grooves on all of the rails and stiles with the back face towards the fence.  This way any discrepancies in the centering of the groove on the stock will all stack to the same side.

With the grooves cut I turn my attention toward cutting the mortises within the groove.  Typically I would cut my mortises using my hollow chisel mortiser.  However on this project the sides were too wide to fit within the clamping area and the top and bottom rail were too wide to fit under the chisel.  This left me with two options to cut the mortises – use a router or a chisel.  Since I dislike balancing top heavy routers on the sides of narrow boards while chips hit me in the face I opted for the chisel approach.  The router probably would have been faster, but the chisel allowed me to listen to a new CD I purchased while doing the work.

Chiseling by hand isn’t too difficult in this project since the mortises are fairly narrow and shallow.  Using a softer wood like poplar also makes chopping the mortises a lot easier.  If I was using hard maple I probably would have gotten out the router.  The grooves that were cut on the table saw can be used as guides for most of the mortising - as long as you have a chisel which matches the width of your groove.

While chiseling the top and bottom rails I clamped the rails together with handscrew clamps and then clamped the handscrews to the bench.  This keeps the rails stable while mortising and prevents tipping.  A dedicated mortise chisel helps immensely with this type of work and I used one of my Ray Iles pigsticker chisels.  The trick with mortising is to make a series of shallow cuts which define the mortise.  Stop short of both ends of the cut so that you can use those edges for levering out the waste.  From there it is just a lot of bashing and prying. Draw a line on the back of your chisel with a sharpie marker to act as a depth gauge.

Chopping the mortises in the case sides is a little bit trickier since I am using through mortise and tenon joinery and the mortise edges will show.  Therefore it must be as clean and precise as possible – this is a little tougher when chiseling by hand.  First mark out the edges of your mortise using a marking gauge.  You can set your marking gauge to the edges of the grooves on the inside faces of the saw till sides.  Try to go as deep as possible with the marking gauge since this will result in a cleaner surface.  Take your time on the first pass of chops and be as accurate as possible.  If you get past this stage cleanly you are almost home free.  Since the inside of the grooves will be hidden I bashed the waste through rather than prying it out in an attempt to keep the show face cleaner.  Just make sure to make cuts at the ends of your mortise within the groove to avoid blowouts in the grooves as you chisel the waste through.

With the mortises cut I went back to the tablesaw to cut the tenons.  Since the top and bottom rails are almost 10 inches wide cutting these tenons by hand is pretty much out of the question.  If you have a dado stack and an accurate miter gauge you can cut very accurate tenons with exceptionally clean shoulders.  Make sure to sneak up on the cut and use a test piece to check your progress – don’t forget that the grooves may not be centered so if you didn’t quite get nail the location then you will need to cut the face cheeks and the back cheeks with separate setups.  I was close enough so I used a single setup and will just plane out any small discrepancies on the panel once it is glued up.

Make sure you cut all of your parts at once.  I lost a stile somewhere along the way and didn’t realize it until I had torn down my setup and put back my dado blade.  I ended up cutting that tenon by hand rather than setting everything back up because it was quicker.

The tenons on the top and bottom rail are split with a shoulder in the middle.  This is necessary due to the difference in grain orientation between the rails and the case sides.  One wide tenon glued into the case side would be likely to split down the road.  It would also significantly weaken the case sides since the tenons are through tenons.  With the cheeks already cut on the tablesaw I finish the tenon cuts using backsaws and a coping saw.  Notice my newly made Moxon twin screw vise.  I still need to get around to writing that post.

With all of the mortises and tenons cut I did a a dry fit.  I had to touch up a few tenon cheeks here or there with a shoulder plane, but everything went together well.  You can see the dry fit of the top and bottom rails into the sides below.  I forgot to take a picture of the dry fit with the stiles in place.

Here is a close up of one of the through tenons without glue.  Not too shabby for a hand cut mortise.


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Saw Till – Shaping the Sides

Happy New Year.

Over the past few days I have been making fairly steady progress on the saw till.  I have milled up all of the lumber, cut the sides to shape, and cut most of the mortise and tenon joinery.   I still have to complete the dovetails, dados, and drawers, but I am off to a good start.  I wanted to share some of the details here on the blog to provide some insight into my methods of work and how I blend hand tools and power tools.

I typically mill my lumber by machine and this project is no different.  Occasionally I will flatten very wide or very small pieces of wood using hand planes.  Since almost all of the material on this project is milled to 3/4″ thickness I mill all of my lumber at once and I make sure that all of my material goes through the final pass of the planer at the same setting.  This is really a critical step that I used to think was common practice.  However, after attending a few classes I saw many students who milled up their lumber at different times and to slightly different thicknesses – although not necessarily intentionally.  If you intend to cut any joinery using machine assistance do not overlook the importance of this step.  If you are going to cut all of your joinery with hand tools then it is probably not as critical due to the difference in layout and fitting of joints, but it surely doesn’t hurt.

This was the first  project where I have printed out templates directly from my sketchup designs.  Typically I attempt to layout shapes by tracing around a french curve or by bending thin uniform thickness pieces of MDF until I get the curve I want.  Bending thin strips of wood (rather than MDF) usually results in a less fair curve due to slight variations in the grain of the wood.  Printing a template from sketchup worked out well, although the saw till side was fairly large and taping 12 pieces of paper with the slightly overlapping printout was somewhat tedious and annoying.  I am sure this method is much more efficient for smaller shapes.

With the case sides laid out I cut out one of the sides on the bandsaw as close to the line as I could manage.  Any cuts which needed to be square or parallel I made on the tablesaw rather than the bandsaw.  With the first side cut out I refined all of the curves down to the line using spokeshaves for the larger curves and rasps and files for the tighter curves.  As you are refining the curves constantly feel the curves for small bumps or valleys – these are much easier detected with your fingers than with your eyes.  The short bed of the spokeshave will tend to follow bumps and valleys rather than correct them.  By skewing the spokeshave in the cut you present a longer bed area to the work and you tend to get a much fairer curve.  I finished using 150 grit sandpaper to smooth any small traces of chatter or any scratches left by the raps or files. 

Once the first side was shaped to my liking I cut out the second side on the bandsaw – this time leaving approximately 1/16 inch of excess material on the waste side of the line.  With the side roughed out I use double stick tape to attach the finished side to the rough side and then pattern route it using my router table.  I typically use a helix laminate trim bit for this operation because I find that the skewed cutter tends to produce less tearout and chipout than a standard flush trim bit.  On mild grained poplar I could have used a standard flush trim bit with no issues, but why risk it.  When you pattern route, always make sure that your pattern is firmly attached and always use some sort of push stick.  You can see my setup below.  

Before I separate the sides I will finish sand the profiles and clean up any issues.  The larger surface of the two sides together makes sanding easier and tends to prevent unintentional rounding caused by hand sanding.

In the next post I will discuss cutting the grooves and mortise and tenon joinery.


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An old Saw Till Article

I was talking with Chris Schwarz this morning and he brought up my saw till post.  Apparently Popular Woodworking published an article on the OldTools saw till back in the August 2000 issue of the magazine.  I wasn’t aware of this since I hadn’t even started in woodworking back then.  I was attending the University of Southern California at the time and I was living in a two bedroom apartment with 5 other guys trying to save money - Los Angeles is expensive.  It is pretty tough to practice woodworking under those types of living conditions – especially with a college budget.

According to Chris he saw the saw till on the OldTools list serve and persuaded Samuel Peterson to write an article for the magazine.  Chris said he had to push pretty hard to get approval for the article since at the time Popular Woodworking and other magazines weren’t publishing much, if any, handtool content.  This was one of the first handtool oriented articles that Chris was able to get published in Popular Woodworking.  Samuel Peterson built the saw till and mailed it to Chris so that it could be photographed for the magazine.  After the piece was photographed and the August 2000 issue was sent to the printer Chris repackaged the saw till and sent it back to Samuel Peterson.  However, the saw till didn’t survive the return trip.  The cross grain dovetails for the top rail were damaged in shipping – some solid evidence justifying some of my joinery changes.

Chris emailed me a copy of the original article and gave me permission to post it here on my blog.  You can download the file here -  Galoot Sawtill.

The article is only 2 pages long – and there is less than one page of text.  Even so, a significant portion of the article is spent describing what a galoot is and attempting to justify the use of handtools.  Popular Woodworking has sure come a long way in the past 10 years.  Hopefully the rest of the woodworking community continues to follow suit.  Thankfully we have people like Chris Schwarz out there helping to bring handtools back to their proper status.


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A Home for Saws

Now that my tall chest is completed I have decided that I need some better shop organization.  Therefore my next project will be something for the shop. 

Last January I was planning to make a tool cabinet to go over my bench.  I still haven’t given up on this idea, but I decided to wait a little longer to let my thoughts and work habits gel.  I still go back and forth quite a bit on how exactly I want to store my tools.  When I was considering a tool cabinet I had all of my planes in a recycled kitchen cabinet in the corner of my shop and I thought they would work much better in a dedicated cabinet over my bench.  Shortly after that post I reorganized and started storing my planes on a shelf under my bench.  I like this arrangement and may design a more dedicated plane storage shelf on my next workbench build.  Therefore I may not need to store my planes in the tool cabinet.  These are the types of things I want to work out before I build the cabinet.

There is however one tool storage issue that I have been struggling with for years now – where to store my saws.  Saws are not as easy to store as  planes, chisels, etc.  There are no saw socks or saw rolls.  They are long and awkward and sharp and they take up a lot of space when they are lying on the floor of the shop.  I have acquired a few more recently and things are starting to get out of hand.  Therefore my next project will be a home for my saws.

For years now I have been admiring the OldTools Saw Till.  I have been admiring it for so long now that the original web page for the saw till no longer exists.  The link I provided is actually an archive of the old web page.  While I like the general concept and form of the OldTools saw till design, there are a few things that I plan to do differently. 

The first and most important change I made was to the size of the saw till.  The original design was 36″ wide.  However, I think I have enough space to accommodate a 42″ wide saw till.  Clearly, when it comes to tool storage (especially saws – it’s a sickness), more capacity is always better.  Therefore, I widened my till by 6″.  This also provides a few more inches of capacity for each of the drawers.  I felt this extra capacity was significant so that I could fit my longest saw files with handles in the saw till drawers.  The drawers are now 13″ wide.  While making these changes I decided to make the saw till slightly taller as well.  The original till was 41.5″ tall.  I added half an inch to the bottom of the till making the drawers 5.5″ deep rather than 5″ deep.  This makes the overall proportions of the till a perfect square (42″ x 42″).  This also makes the lower drawer section (now 7″ tall including bottom and shelf) a 1/6 ratio of the overall height and width of the tool cabinet.  You gotta love nice proportions.

The next big change involved an overhaul of the joinery.  The original OldTools saw till had dovetails on the bottom of the till and on the top rail of the till.  The dovetails on the bottom were fine, but the dovetails on the top rail were somewhat awkward since they ran across the grain leaving weak areas.  I replaced the dovetail joinery on the top rail with wedged through mortise and tenon joinery.  I feel this joinery is more appropriate than the dovetails given the grain orientation.  However, in the spirit of overkill, I also made a few more enhancements.  I added a wider bottom rail that goes all the way to the bottom of the till.  This bottom rail also has wedged through mortise and tenon joinery.  The bottom and top rails are part of one large frame and panel assembly and are attached to the stiles with mortise and tenon joinery.  The outermost stiles have a 1/4″x1/4″ tongue along their edges which is glued into a corresponding 1/4″x1/4″ groove that runs along the length of the till sides.  I left the dovetails on the bottom of the till alone since this is a very strong joint.  I also left the shelf and divider dado joinery alone.  I toyed with the idea of sliding dovetails, but the joinery is already probably overkill on this saw till.

The final change I made was purely aesthetic.  The sides of the OldTools saw till were designed to be cut from a single board with as little waste as possible.  The profile was designed to be an inverted match.  While this profile was okay, I just wasn’t completely happy with it.  I experimented with the side profile and ended up with a sort of elliptical cove and ovolo shape with a fillet.  You can still invert the pattern and cut it out of one long board, but you need an additional 10 inches of length or so to accommodate the additional waste in the pattern.  I wasn’t too concerned with the extra waste since I am making my saw till out of poplar and painting it.  Therefore, the extra waste will cost me about $1.50.  You can make the sides with even less waste if you are willing to do a glue up.  The pattern breaks down nicely on 6 inch wide stock. 

Anyway – enough babbling about joinery, proportions, and profiles.  Below are the pictures of my new and improved saw till design. 

Isometric view:

Front View:

Side View:

As you can see I didn’t bother adding kerfs to the kerf board or adding the shelf for the joinery saws.  These details depend on the saws that you own and since they are likely to be screwed to the frame and panel assembly once everything is in place their exact position isn’t important during the building process.

If you like the design improvements and are interested in building your own saw till I have included my sketchup design as a download.  I took the extra time to show all of the joinery so it should be clear how the saw till is assembled.  I didn’t bother modeling any of the drawer components other than the drawer fronts since I figure most people understand how a basic drawer is assembled.  As an added bonus – when you open the model there is a component called “detailed till side” which was modeled with 100 segments per circle instead of the standard 24 for smoother lines.  You can print out this component in a 1:1 scale and use it as a pattern for the case sides.

You can download the sketchup file here: Saw Till SketchUp File

I will be posting updates on the blog during the saw till build so hopefully you will come back and follow along.


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Chester County Tall Chest – Interior Carcass Details

I posted some pictures of the completed tall chest over on the Woodnet Handtool Forum.  Catharine Kennedy requested some additional pictures showing some of the internal carcass details.  I did my best to take a few photos of the more interesting parts of the internals, but with the top attached the inside of the case is a dark place.  Hopefully you can see the details well enough in the photos.

Here is a picture of the front of the chest with all of the drawers removed.  As you can see the internal construction is not overly complex – with the possible exception of the arched drawer section.  The drawer dividers are all approximately 7/8″ thick by 2″ wide.  Each divider is attached to the sides of the carcass with a sliding dovetail.  Drawer runners are tenoned into the back of each drawer divider and are either nailed to the case sides for the bottom four drawers or are tenoned (no glue) into the rear dividers for the top two rows of drawers.  The rear dividers for the top two rows of drawers are simply attached to the sides of the case with dados.

The picture below illustrates the divider joinery on the top row of drawers.  In the lower left you can see the sliding dovetail joinery.  It is somewhat blurry in the photo but you can probably make out the connection of the drawer runner to the rear divider in back.  One unusual detail which is required due to the frame and panel constuction of the sides is the side runner which is actually glued to the side of the drawer runner.  The side runner fills the gap that is left by the recessed panel and prevents the drawers from floating around or slamming into the rear stile of the side panel.

Behind the vertical dividers for the top row of drawers are I-Beam structures that serve as side runners.  On top of these I beams a piece wider piece of wood is attached to act as the drawer kicker.  The photo below shows the upper portion of this I-beam as well as the kicker. 

But this photo also shows one of the cooler aspects of this piece.  A pair of secret drawers.  Two grooved pieces of wood straddle the I-beams and support a pair of secret drawers with bottoms that extend past the drawer sides to run in the grooves.  With the left or right top drawers removed you can reach your arm into the case and slide out the secret drawers and pull them through the opening for the drawer front.  The photo below shows one of the secret drawers as seen through the right drawer opening.

Hopefully this provides some more details concerning the inner carcass.  If there are any more questions leave a comment or shoot me an email and I will try to address them.


Chester County Tall Chest – Completed!

I am happy to finally declare victory on my Chester County Tall Chest project.  It has been over a year now since I started it and I will be happy to get it out of my shop so that I can start working on some new projects.  Lest you think I am a slouch, this was not a normal year and this was not the only thing that I accomplished in the woodshop this past year. 

I started this project back in August in a class with Glen Huey at Marc Adams’ school.  I finished a large majority of the carcass during the week, but I had a series of small setbacks involving the bottom panel breaking, then making it too small in my haste to catch back up.  Luckily the bottom panel is made of poplar or I would have been even more annoyed at making it three times.  When I got back from the class I was forced to set this project aside and start on a crib for my daughter which you can see here.  I figured that once the crib was done I would get back in the shop and knock out this project.  Ha!  In the first six months after my daughter was born the only thing I did in the workshop was make a pizza peel.

Things eventually got back to normal – okay, not really – but I adapted somehow.  The last few months have actually been fairly productive.  Not only did I finish the tall chest, but I also built a Moxon twin screw vise and I finished a pair of nightstands that have been languishing in my shop far longer than the tall chest.  For the first time in a long time my shop is free of half finished projects taking up space.

I will discuss the twin screw vise and the nightstands in future posts.  But now to show off the finished tall chest.

Here is a front view:

And an angled side view:

And a side/overhead view:

Now for the specifics.  This piece is modeled after the Chester County Tall Chest featured as the cover project in Glen Huey’s book “Fine Furniture for a Lifetime“.  The piece is made out of Curly Cherry and every piece of wood, with the exception of the bracket feet and the secondary wood, came from the same tree.  The secondary wood is Poplar.  The hardware came from Horton Brasses and was obviously ordered in the bright finish.

The piece was finished using Platina dewaxed shellac flakes from  I debated on dying the piece, but I ultimately decided that I was very happy with resulting color of some of my other cherry pieces after they oxidized for a year or two.  As you can see from the photos the color is very rich even with relatively little oxidation.  I also debated on applying a coat of boiled linseed oil as a base coat to “pop” the grain.  After reading numerous posts on the SAPFM forums I decided to leave out the oil undercoat. 

As a quick aside: The camps are sharply divided over on the SAPFM forum – with one camp arguing that BLO will ultimately darken and ruin your furniture and the other camp arguing that it helps to pop the grain and it reveals defects early in the finishing process that are easy to remedy after the first coat of oil.  I do believe that BLO may darken over time, or at a minimum attract dirt and grunge, when used as a primary finish.  I am not sure this is really a concern though if you apply several coats of a finish such as shellac over the BLO.  I also agree that when you first apply a coat of BLO the figured woods tend to “pop” and appear very striking.  Ultimately, however, I sided with folks like Mike Siemsen who argue that the first coat of BLO makes very little visual difference in comparison with several coats of a clear finish such as shellac.  As you can see from the finished piece I don’t think I needed too much help in the “pop” department.  The shellac enhanced the figure of the curly cherry just fine without any help from BLO.  Using only shellac allowed me to skip a step and avoid the mess/hazard of oily rags in the shop.

I applied the shellac using two different means.  The case was sprayed using my HVLP gun a few months ago when the weather was still nice.  I didn’t have the drawers done at this time so I wasn’t able to spray them as well.  Since it seems there has been snow on the ground for at least the last month in Cincinnati I obviously haven’t been able to go outdoors and spray the drawer fronts.  I decided to apply the shellac by hand.  I mixed up a two pound cut and tried to brush on the shellac.  When that didn’t work I tried to pad on the shellac using some cotton T-shirt material.  When that still didn’t work I got discouraged.  With the lipped drawer fronts it is extremely difficult to apply finish without getting sags around the edges of the drawer – and sanding out large sags of shellac is a nightmare.

Ultimately I resorted to french polishing the drawer fronts which exchanges elbow grease and time for a smooth finish.  I applied the shellac as a 1 pound cut to a ball of cheese cloth wrapped in an 8″x8″ piece of linen.  The linen is then rubbed around the surface of the work many times in a random pattern to build up many thin coats of shellac.  The process was not as difficult as I thought, although I still had to sand after my first trial application since I was using the pad a little too wet.  The only down side to the french polishing approach is that the drawer fronts are a little too shiny for my liking.  After rubbing out with steel wool and applying a coat of paste wax I kept worrying about leaving fingerprints or small scratches.  I went back over the drawer fronts with the steel wool again and that helped a little.  I think I will be happier with the finish when I get the tall chest out of the bright fluorescent lights of my shop and into my more dimly lit bedroom.  At least by then my paranoia and OCD will have subsided.

Finally, here is a detail shot of the hand cut dovetails on the drawers.

Admittedly, not all of the dovetails on this piece turned out as nice as this one.  There are an awful lot of dovetails in nine drawers and getting them all perfect just isn’t going to happen – although they are all respectable.  However, since this is my blog I am only going to show a picture of one of the nice sets of dovetails.  :)

I hope you like the finished product.  I will try to post soon about some of the other projects I mentioned earlier in this post.  I will also try to do a better job of posting more frequently about my next project that I plan to try to start this next week during some vacation time away from work.