Sunday, March 23, 2008


It's been an interesting month. Not very good for blogging, clearly.

The desk is still in process, derailed by other projects. I'll have it done in 2 weeks.

No, really.

In the meantime, I've been up to the following:

-In preparation for a class, I decided to design a pair of portable router tables. The class is very heavy on the router table work, and it's just easier to have a few extras for different steps, and leave them set up for the day. The designs worked out well, and the tables performed very well in the class. In addition, they were less expensive than most others, since I was able to get two complete tables out of one solitary sheet of plywood, and add in a few design features that I found to be useful. I'm pretty happy about those.

-I taught a class on building a frame and panel blanket chest. In essence, it was a kit class, the students didn't really build their chests from scratch. I milled up the lumber, and cut the parts for the kit. They got to run molding with the above mentioned router tables, cut joinery, drill holes, and see how it all goes together. We glued everything up, and did a few other things, and they got to go home with fully assembled pieces, that still needed scraping and sanding and finishing. Not bad for a weekend class.

I got a bit of a hard time from one of my friends at the store, who says I should charge more for lumber, and for my time in processing and milling everything up. He has a point, but I think I have a better one. I told him that for me, this was actually serving as boss training. Some classes are basic woodworking fundamentals courses, and they're great for the people who are taking the course. In this case, I got to try my hand at getting two guys with very little experience to actually build a fully assembled piece in two six-hour days. In a production shop environment, I'd need to be able to design pieces that could be built by my employees successfully, in a fairly small amount of time. I think I managed to do that in the class. So, everybody wins. The store (ideally) makes money, and keeps their customers happy. The students learn, and get to bring home a nice piece of almost-done furniture. I get to learn more about teaching people, about designing furniture, and I get paid to do so. Not too shabby.

-I built a similar frame and panel chest for my girlfriend, Ariel.

As I may have said, one o the joys of production work is that it doesn't take too much longer to push more wood through the machines, once everything's been set up. This was no exception. I knew in advance that her birthday was coming up, so when I was milling up wood, I milled up some extra, with a few modifications. The most obvious change is that her chest is five feet long. There were a few other minor modifications, but there's also a great story.

I routed out big recesses to hold lid cleats inside the lid, to help keep it flat. This went more or less ok, but I had to do some fussy fitting to get the cleats in place. Eventually everything is drilled, and screwed into place, and I fit the lid to the top of the chest, and surprise, the lid is too big. Board is too wide, need to rip it down to a new width. That's fine, I think, because part of the edge molding that was done was a bit wonky, so I'll rip off of the front edge, and spin it around, everything will be cool.

Notes on terminology for non-woodworkers: Board width is measured across the grain. This can be confusing in a story like this, because the length of the board is oriented with the width of the chest. The chest is five feet wide. The board is 5 (plus) feet long, but 15 inches wide. Because the board was too wide, it was sticking way out in front, and had an overhang of something like 3 inches or more. So it needed to be ripped down: Ripping is woodworker-talk for cutting a board in the direction of the grain to remove some width from the board... or rip into two boards. Back to the story...

After ripping the board to final with, I noticed that the cleats, which I'd inset into the board, were evenly spaced, but the layout was offset. The one on the let was 2 iches farther in from teh end than the one on the right.

Hm. That sucks. What the hell am I going to do now?

Author's note: There's a simple fact to bear in mind when reading stories like this about work that has gone awry. Pretty much every woodworker's tool chest is equipped with a selection of well used, and well honed vocabulary that we instinctively pull out in times of need. And while this was clearly one of those times, these words failed, as always, to actually repair the damage that had been done. (Despite a virulent effort on my part.)

I pondered, and pondered. As I thought about this, I ran a new molding along the new front edge of the chest. I fit the lid to the box again, and the lid cleats, which had fit so well before, are now hitting the front of the carcase, because the lid is spun around. Turns out I ran the molding along what used to be the back edge, so the lid cleats, which had been perfectly spaced from the back, were now spaced from the front. Well, crap. I shifted it back, because, I just want this thing done. Fine. The lid is a bit farther back than I wanted, but it works.

The only thing I could come up with to help the offset cleats is to use the larger space on one side for something decorative. I was already late on this present, the lid is not going to plan, and really, the only thing I can think of to make light of all of this is to go for sappy points, and carve a big heart with our initials in it. Yes, I lose dignity and manly points for doing so, but I'm hoping that it will make up for the goof with the cleats, and the fact that this thing is, by this point, a week late if it's a birthday present. I take the lid off of the chest, and lay it down to do the carving. I do a quick heart and initials pencil line to follow, grab a carving tool and a wooden mallet, and go to work.

10 minutes later, it's 9PM, the initials and heart are done. The lidless chest is oiled and ready to go, all that's really slowing me down is the lid, which I can now oil and throw on the chest, and have done with it.

Wouldn't you know it? The lid was off the box, and I didn't check the orientation. After all the hassles fitting the cleats into the mortises, ripping the molded lid, and running a new profile, and all the other hassles, I carved the heart, and the initials, upside down.

SO, I had to make a new lid.

That was a week ago. Last week I spent cleaning up the shop, and getting ready to go back to work. I went on vacation on Thursday, and while I tried to make the first half of the week as productive as possible, it really didn't work out that way. The shop is clean, and as a reward for myself, I took half an hour to make a very pretty scrap of figured wood into a handle for a chisel.

This week I'm going to spend some time marketing and trying to shake out some work, and next week I'll get back to the desk. I'm also going to try to schedule blogging as one of my weekly (or more frequent) activities.

Happy Sunday, folks.

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