Saturday, February 14, 2009

Practice what you play, play what you practice.

So, I currently have one active shop project, and a small commission project on deck. (bookcase) But, for whatever reason, I opted to work on the shop project first.

The shop project is a pair of tables for a sliding miter saw. The taller is a general utility table, to hold the other end of a long board as it's being cut to length... regardless of how long it is. This table is also built to be the same height as the table on the Laguna band saw, so it can be used to support the other end of a long piece, say, if I'm cutting something really long, (or really heavy... like a log, or a big 12/4 beam) and I need something to carry the heavy end so I can focus on the cut as it's being made. At just under 2'x'3', this rolling table will be a lot more practical to use in the machine room to carry around piles of parts as they're being made. So far, I've been using the 4'x4' assembly tables we made, and they're really too big to be practical for that sort of thing.

The saw table is sized so that the working surface of the chop saw is on the level with the utility table... which is also the same height as the band saw table. I don't know how this could prove to be useful, having the band saw and chop saw tables at the same height... but weirder things have happened. Either way, it's an integrated system, which makes me happy.

I chose to make the table frames out of ash, because it's strong and cheap, but I took the time to make mortise and tenon joints for the project, and pin them together. It's a pretty good, simple way to join things, but I wanted to see just how strong a joint it would be, so I made a test piece, with a scrap of leg stock, mortised it like I did the legs, and tenoned in two scrap pieces of stretcher stock. I clamped it up, without using glue, drilled it, and pinned the joints together. I took the piece, to see how strong it was, and put it on the floor. I put some weight on it with my foot, and eventually stood on it. (I'm somewhere just south of 300 lbs.) No worries. These joints are much stronger than I realized. No wonder this is how they used to frame large structures.

(Old churches, and large halls were timber framed, which is basically large beams of wood with oversized joinery cut in the ends, and then when assembled, the joints were drilled and pinned with trunnels, or "tree nails." Unlike the stud-framed 'balloon' style of framing, timber framed buildings have stood solidly for centuries.)

Last night I glued everything up and pinned it, and threw on a coat of poly and oil finish, mixed with tung and linseed oil. Tomorrow I'll go in, put the casters and surfaces on the tables, and hopefully have time to figure out how to mount a fence to the chop saw table. I'm expecting that there will be some monkeying around involved, but it will be worth it to have a fence to enable me to make repeatable cuts at a fixed measurement.

I'm pretty glad to finally be able to talk about something other than just setting up the shop, and all the tools. Granted, these tables are for the shop, to hold tools and things, but even still. It's a furniture project of sorts, and it does involve cutting and using joined pieces of wood.

Regarding the title of this particular post, I got a comment from Josh, (Jimmy Callahan's assistant) that "You guys make such nice things... just to hold your stuff." From a carpenter/electrician/contractor standpoint, I think he's right, this is probably a bit much just to hold a chop saw. At the same time, I think it's a worthwhile project to get back into the swing of things, so to speak, and practice my trade. Realistically speaking, it's only taken 2 or 3 days to do, and the wood didn't cost too much, so it was more of a diversion than anything else. But I expect these tables to last for a good long time, be versatile enough to hold a lot of different things, and do a lot of work. Given the demonstrated strength of the joint, I think they'll hold up just fine. But at the end of the day, it was also an excuse to do the very thing I went to school for... build fine furniture, and other quality things.

And in the end, it was good practice, too. For such a simple project, I still made a couple of small mistakes... stupid mistakes, really. (Aren't they all...) So, it's a good project to keep in practice, and get my head back in the game. For months now, most of the work has been with a framing gun, or an impact driver, or cordless drill... not much joinery involved. It's been a while since I've been able to do what I do, and I clearly needed the practice.

It's like they say in the big leagues... practice what you play, and play what you practice. So they're not just shop tables. They're also an opportunity to keep my skill level up, after months of shooting 2x4s together to set up shop surfaces... and show anyone who happens to be visiting just what kind of work I do.

AND, I get a nice set of useful things in the process.

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