Home > Woodworking > Without a safety net …..

Without a safety net …..

There is something liberating about walking into your shop and thinking to yourself, “what do I want to do today?”. Oh I have plenty of projects lined up that I could do, but I wanted to get to a few of those that I just plain wanted to do. Turns out that I had a lot of shop time over the weekend and I really took advantage of it.

First Dovetails!

OK so this is not a big deal to anyone in the world except me, but I cut my first-ever dovetail joints this weekend. It felt great! The simplest of joints (only one tail) I took Chris Schwarz’s advice to quit worrying and just “cut to line”. In a recent post he mentioned that if you never try to cut to the line, then you will never learn to cut to the line. With nothing at stake, cut away I did. And…. I cut a tad too much but what was I to expect on my first try?

First Attempts at Dovetails

I only attempted two of them and they were simple but I was excited about trying them. Believe it or not the first joint (on left above and below)  turned out much tighter then the second although the second one was cut much more quickly than the first. My main error on both was cutting the joint too deeply. I shall factor this in the next time I cut again.

The Better of the Two DTs

I was elated that they worked at all and encouraged to try a joint with 3 or 4 tails. I studied Meagan Fitzpatrick’s  Lay Out Dovetails Using Dividers video several more times and it was helpful but the video I actually found more enlightening was Marking dovetail joints by James Dawson. For me they both worked together to get it through my thick head how to easily lay out through dovetails. Sort of like doing mathematics, confusing at first but once you “get it” you’ve “got it” for good. I think I now “get it” or at least I hope I do.  Of course this now requires buying a couple new dovetail chisels!  Lighten up already, gosh I’m joking and besides, I need a dovetail saw and tenon saw first …. 🙂

Going with the first dovetail theme, I’ve been wanting to try my hand at making some DT markers. Funny huh because I’d yet to cut a single DT. It’s just they look pretty simple and I wanted to try some DT’s so I figured making a marker would help me learn about the process. I’ve seen pictures of many different marker styles so I was marginally confused about what the ideal marker should be like. In fact I didn’t get it exactly right but, I didn’t get it too far off either. Here are my first and second prototype markers a 1:8 and a 1:6 respectively.

DT Marker Prototypes - back DT Marker Prototypes - front

They are made of red oak and inset in poplar, pinned with a ¼” hardwood dowel. On the second attempt I added the straight wall guide but I haven’t yet used them. If I make them again I’ll opt for an L-shaped marker square on the top with the angles hanging down. Having said that, I don’t think the exercise was a waste of time because I learned something along the journey. Besides, I’ll trim the side of these and they will be functional as-is. Soaring without a net has been made possible because my wireless connection in the basement is spotty and painful so I’ve been relying more on my instincts, which have also proven spotty and painful <grinning>.

Shop Sign

One of the projects I wanted to get off my bench and on to the wall was Alex’s sign. Last time you saw my sloppy carving, now I present my sloppy painting. I was in the home center but I refused to buy a bucket of expensive paint for such a small job so I resigned myself to use something already at home. With a dozen cans of old paint around I figured I would find something. But I was surprised to find only one can of black paint and it was spray paint. No problem, I sprayed a squirt in a plastic cup and painted away. Didn’t have a paint brush either so I trimmed the bristles of  an acid brush.

Shop Sign Black Paint

I wouldn’t have opted for flat black paint but that is what was on on-hand and the price was right. Next came the sanding sealer.

Shop Sign with Sanding Sealer

Which tended to darken the wood a bit, so far so good. What isn’t so good was the dang sealer interacted with the black paint, dissolving it and smearing it (above the “t” is the worst area). Who’d a thunk it?

Next came the first coat of lacquer.

Shop Sign with Lacquer

Believe it or not, the lacquer also tended to smear the black paint. Fear not, I have made a resolution to enjoy myself and to not get my panties in a wad every time something goes wrong. Why you ask?  Because things are going wrong constantly in my shop and I want to enjoy life and enjoy the journey. Besides I have heard from several experts in woodworking that we should all be proud to see a few tool marks on our projects and that this distinguishes our desirable hand-made products from awful (perfect) commercial versions. A couple more coats of lacquer and then It’ll be ready to hang it.

Computer Box Foam Packaging

OK, so here is one of those “Aha” moments. I have been bringing home all kinds of things (anything really) that I believe I could one day use in my shop. From Starbucks wooden coffee stirrers to single serving  apple sauce cups my kids use, if I can conceive of a use for it, I’m saving it. Most of the computer packaging at work has gone green so expanded foam is not as common these days but when I come across it, I bring it home.  So the large bag of plastic foam is sitting awkwardly on on my assembly table and my workbench drawers are a total mess and it was a “Lennon meets McCartney” moment. I’ll get organized. An hour or so later, I have engineer’s heaven.

Organized Drawers - 1 Organized Drawers - 2

Wow, the tools are protected, convenient and will now never be misplaced. Notice the card scraper block on the right. I am so pleased at the result and the cost was FREE!

Miter Saw Station

You must now be asking yourself, “How much did this guy do over the weekend?” My answer, “But wait, there’s more!”

I’ve been working on this miter saw setup for a little while now.  A time or two ago I went ahead and bolted the saw to the table and begun to cut up some plywood the beginnings of a dedicated miter saw station. I’ve looked at numerous plans and seen many amazing ideas but I was hoping to keep this project simple. I want to add features yes, but I didn’t want to build a cart or cabinets, etc. and make a production of it. Not for this particular project at this time. So I’ve been a bit hung up, trying to think this design up in my head without any specific plans. Liberating yes, but I am not yet a skilled carpenter/woodworker although I hope to be one someday. So I sputtered a time or two getting underway but decided to just start cutting and figure it out along the way. I do not believe that this is the most efficient method of building something but I do think you use a different part of your brain when you create your own plans on the fly. Think of this as  a practical exam where you are turned loose in the lab without specific instruction. Both planned and unplanned can have merit.

So I pressed on, with each success being followed up with a “learning” experience. So what, you need a cut a second piece of plywood because you made a mistake. The mistake piece can be used for another piece of the project. As long as you actually do learn something it is well worth it. Here’s what I ended up with.

Miter Saw Station Miter Saw Station - detail

Of course I’m not finished yet but it is nice to have the boxes up. I’m going to see about carving out the box so that it can be joined more closely to the saw edge. Temporarily I have them each secured by a single C-clamp.  Once I get a good fit I’ll bolt them to the table top so they don’t go sliding around. Don’t know what else I’ll do but probably a good sanding and maybe some paint? I’d also like to add a rule and of course I’ll make some saw stops for it.

Soaring without a net, I’ve likely made some design errors but who cares, for now I’m just having fun building stuff!

You have been reading an excerpt from the shop journal of the Turtlecovebrewer.

  1. June 3, 2013 at 9:12 pm

    I don’t often give advice but here goes. When you saw your dovetails, use the same angle everytime you do it. It helps build muscle memory. Once I started using a dovetail angle gauge my joints improved dramatically.

    • June 3, 2013 at 9:48 pm

      I appreciate you and all advice Bill. I have a long road ahead for muscle memory to develop but I don’t retire for another 12 yrs. so I yet have some time! So sounds like you are saying 1:6 or 1:8 matters little by cutting consistently to the same angle is the trick???

  2. June 4, 2013 at 7:14 am

    I use a 1:6 guide, though the angle doesn’t really matter as much as the consistency of using the same one over and over again. There are some people who don’t like angle guides, I can’t see why because they don’t help any with sawing, but they do allow for symmetry and consistent lines, which I think are extremely important when learning how to saw dovetails.

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