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This winter was a fairly productive one for me because I completed two major projects:  a doll wardrobe and (drum roll, please) my new workbench.  This workbench has been a long time coming:

  • In 2002, I started planning to build a workbench.  I bought some supplies and began working on a base, but I had to turn my attention to other projects and I never came back to it.  That base was eventually scrapped.
  • In 2004, I built a fully enclosed cabinet base for a Shaker-style workbench.  I then decided I didn’t like that style of bench, so I converted the cabinet into a miter saw stand instead.
  • In 2007, I built the actual base for this bench in fits and starts while I was working on another project.
  • In 2010, I finally completed the overall bench.

Wow… eight years.  That must be a record of some sort.  There just always seemed to be some other project that was higher priority.  For the past eight years, I’ve used a sheet of plywood on some sawhorses and (more recently) my table saw outfeed table as a bench.  Both solutions were less than ideal.

My workbench does not look like a piece of fine furniture.  It’s not made out of expensive lumber, it has no inlays or decorations, and it’s not named after a long-dead Frenchman.  Instead, I built a workhorse:  stout, simple, and spacious.

Both the top and the base are solid douglas fir.  I used a knockdown  base design; the whole thing is bolted together using lag bolts.  Someday I might move; if that happens, I’ll be able to break this monster down and bring it up out of my basement.  In the picture, you can see how the base is constructed and how the top is attached.  The top stretcher sits in a bridle joint at the top of the legs and is secured with lag bolts.  The top is attached with a single lag screw in the center, which allows it to expand and contract freely.

The bench top is 24” deep, 84” long, and 3” thick.  Flattening the top with handplanes was surprisingly easy… even for a newb like me; it only took me about 90 minutes from start to finish.  I used a jack plane to knock down the high spots first.  Then I gave my jointer plane a workout by planing across the grain, then diagonally, and finally with the grain to clean things up.  I ended up with a few areas of tearout, but I didn’t spend too much time worrying about it since this is a benchtop, not a dining room table.

I decided to use 3/4” round dog holes because they are more versatile than square dog holes.  I spaced the holes 3.5” inches apart.  I used Glen Huey’s router jig method for drilling the holes:  a plunge router, a simple alignment jig, and a 3/4” upcut spiral bit are used to drill as deeply as possible. I then finished the holes off with a 3/4” spade bit.

My front vise is a Record 52 1/2ED, and my end vise is a Record 52.  I bought both of these vises back in 2002 when Record was still in business, and they’ve been languishing in their boxes ever since.  It felt great to finally get them bolted to a benchtop.

Even though it was a lot of hard work and heavy lifting, I’m glad I built my own bench.  I enjoy working on it just a little bit more knowing that I built it myself… and I guess that’s something you can’t put a price on.

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It was a lot of work, but I completed the doll wardrobe in the (Saint) nick of time:  I finished applying the final coat of clear coat around 11:00pm on December 22.  Here’s a summary of my finishing process:

  1. Take the doors off the carcase and remove all hardware.
  2. Fill all imperfections and nail holes.  I used a combination of wood filler and light spackle for this job.
  3. Sand down the entire piece until the surface is smooth.
  4. Prime the entire piece.  I used Kilz 2 for this step and it worked great.
  5. Guess what?  More sanding.  Sand down the primed surfaces until they’re smooth again.
  6. Spot prime any areas where you might have sanded through.
  7. Apply two coats of “buttercream” paint to the interior of the carcase and the drawer bins.
  8. Apply two coats “sage green” paint to the exterior of the carcase and doors.
  9. Apply three coats of Minwax Polyacrylic.  You should always use a water-based finish over paint since it dries crystal clear.
  10. Reattach the doors and the hardware.

Painting a piece of furniture is a lot of work, but I think it was worth it in this case because the finish looks great.  This project was a lot of fun to build, and I’m glad to have it out of the shop and in its permanent home.

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I finally finished construction on the doll wardrobe project.  All the woodworking is complete, so now I just have to prime, paint, and clear coat the whole piece.  I am going to paint the interior a cream color and the exterior a sage green.  I have a week and a half left before Christmas to complete the finishing process, so wish me luck… it’s going to be tight.

In my original plan, I had the wardrobe raised up on a base which was supposed to be about four inches high.  I ended up eliminating the base because it made the whole piece too tall.  I want this piece to double as a nightstand next to my daughter’s bed, and raising it another four inches is a bit too tall for that purpose, and I was worried that she would roll over in the middle of the night and hit her head on it.  Without the base, this guy is the perfect height for a nightstand next to her bed, and now it can also be placed up on a dresser or table if she ever decides to repurpose it when she gets older.  So, I guess in this case, function won out over form.

This main carcase is birch plywood and is joined using rabbets and dados.  I used 1/4 inch thick solid poplar to cover all the plywood edges.  I also trimmed out the sides and back using 1/4 inch thick poplar.  The doors are poplar frames joined with stub tenons and 1/4 inch thick birch plywood panels.  If you look real close you can see two empty holes drilled up at the top where the doors meet the case when closed.  I have a couple of rare earth magnets that will go in those holes to hold the doors shut after the carcase is painted.

The interior has two removable rods for hanging doll clothes and three bins for storing other loose items.  The bins are hard maple joined together with rabbets reinforced with a couple of brads.  The bottoms of the bins are 1/4 inch thick birch plywood trapped in dados cut into the four sides.

I’ll have one more post on this project once the finish is on so stay tuned!  Once this project is done, I should have time to record a new episode of the podcast.  🙂

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I’ve been busy lately working on the doll wardrobe project.  As I discussed in Episode 52, this project is a wardrobe designed to hold the clothes and accessories for my daughter’s American Girl doll.  It’s going to be a Christmas present and I’ve still got a lot of work to do.

A quick peek at my sketchbook will give you a frame of reference on what the finished piece will look like.  (Yes, that’s the extent of my artistic abilities… stop laughing.)  The finished piece will be approximately 28 3/4” tall and it will double as a nightstand next to my daughter’s bed.  The three main subassemblies are the top, the main carcass, and the base.  The main carcass will have two frame-and-panel doors.  Inside it will have three cubbies on the left-hand side for removable drawers to store loose items and two rods on the right-hand side for hanging clothes.  The main carcass will be attached to a base with moldings that run around the entire piece, and I’ll attach a top with a slight overhang.  I’m planning to paint this piece: sage green for the exterior and a cream color for the interior.

This afternoon I completed construction of the main carcass.  I’m trying to keep this project inexpensive, so I built the main carcass with some Home Depot birch plywood that was taking up space on my lumber rack.  The box itself is built with 3/4” ply and joined together using rabbets.  The vertical and horizontal dividers are made with 1/2” ply and are joined to the box with stopped dados (they are set back about 3/4” from the front edge).  The back is also 1/2” ply which sits inside a rabbet cut into all four edges of the box.  The back itself isn’t permanently attached yet; I want to remove it to make painting the interior a little easier.  I edged out all the plywood with 1/4” thick poplar.

The glue-up process for this guy was a complete nightmare.  No matter what I did, I could not stop this cheap plywood from warping and twisting.  I broke the glue-up process down into five separate sub-assemblies and I glued them together one step at a time.  In the end I managed to wrestle the plywood into submission.

I spent quite a bit of time thinking about how I wanted to attach the dowel rods in the right-hand side.  In the end, I fabricated some wooden brackets (made from some soft maple in my scrap bin) that are glued to the plywood.  The dowel rods can be easily removed if they get damaged or if my daughter decides to repurpose this piece later.

The next step is to prime, paint, and clear coat the interior while I get started on building the base.  After that, I still need to build three drawers, two doors, a top, trim out the main carcass, and prime, paint, and clear coat the exterior.  Yikes, I better get back to work.

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I rough cut my tenons with power tools, but I fit them to their mortises exclusively with hand tools.  I like the control that hand tools give me during this operation.

I started out with a rough cut tenon.  I cut this tenon on my table saw using the same technique demonstrated in my previous nightstand project post.  When I cut these tenons on the table saw, I ensure that the inside surface of this stretcher will be flush with the surface of the leg.  This is my reference face.  It’s required because I precut all the dados for the side and bottom panels for the nightstands, so using a reference face guarantees that those dados will all line up when I assemble the piece.  I’ll fit the tenon by trimming it’s opposite cheek.

As you can see, a tenon off the table saw is rectangular, while my mortises are all rounded.  Since fitting a square peg in a round hole isn’t feasible in our universe, my first step is to round over the corners of the tenon using a rasp.  When I do this, I’m very careful not to touch the shoulders of the tenon with the rasp.  The teeth on the rasp could cut into the shoulder and result in a joint with some unsightly gaps when all is said and done.  I only need to make a few strokes on each corner since the rasp cuts very quickly.  During the fitting process, if I find that the tenon is a bit too wide, I again use the rasp to take a smidge off each edge.

Keeping the rasp away from the shoulder of the tenon has a drawback:  the corners of the tenon up near the shoulder are still square.  I take care of those with a sharp chisel.  I use the chisel to shave away the excess material, and also to ensure that the tenon is rounded over all the way to the shoulder.

At this point in the process, I can start test fitting the joint.  I know it will be too tight because I purposely cut the tenon overly thick to give myself the opportunity to sneak up on a good fit.  I use my rabbet block plane to shave away material from the cheek of the tenon until the joint fits together perfectly.  You can also use a shoulder plan for this operation, but a standard block plane won’t work because it’s iron does not extend all the way through the side of the plane.  This feature on rabbet block planes and shoulder planes allows you to trim the cheek of the tenon all the way up to the shoulder.

This process is actually fast, easy, and results in a perfect joint.

In the picture above, you can see the tenon extending into the leg through an adjacent mortise.  The two tenons will be mitered together inside the leg.

Well, that’s one done… only 31 more to go!

To view the entire Nightstand Project series, please visit my project page.

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A long time ago in a galaxy far far away, I made a joinery overview post that explained my strategy for the tenons on the top aprons.  Each apron has a 1/2” wide by 1” long offset tenon that fits into an open mortise on the top of the leg.  Adjacent tenons are mitered together inside the leg.  The picture to the right gives you a view of one corner of the nightstand from above.

I like to rough cut my tenons slightly oversize and then fit them to their corresponding mortises using hand tools.  In this post, I’ll show you the process I used to rough cut all of the apron tenons.

The sketch above shows that the outside face of each apron has a 1/4” shoulder, the inside face has a 1/2” shoulder, and the top has no shoulder.  What is not shown is that the bottom of the apron also has a 1/4” shoulder.  So, my first step was to cut a shoulder that’s just a smidge less that 1/4” on three sides of the apron.  I’m undercutting the smaller shoulder just a bit to give myself some wiggle room later to fit the tenon by hand.

I clamped a stop block onto my table saw fence and positioned it to give me a 1” long tenon.  I also installed a saw blade with a flat tooth grind.  This is necessary to give a nice flat surface on the tenon.  If I used a saw blade with an ATB grind, I would end up with a sawtooth-shaped pattern on the tenon cheeks that would significantly reduce the amount of surface area for the glue to bond.  The blade is raised slightly less than 1/4”.  Supporting the work-piece with the miter gauge, I position it against the stop block and make three shoulder cuts.  Remember that the top of the apron will be flush with the top of the leg, so a shoulder cut is not necessary on that surface.  The stop block ensures that the shoulder cuts are all in the same plane on the apron.  Shoulders that don’t match up don’t look very good on a finished piece of furniture.  The two pictures below show the final shoulder cuts from the top and the bottom of the work-piece.

Now that the shoulders are defined, I cut away some of the waste.  Using the same exact table saw setup, I nibbled away the waste on three sides of the apron, which gave me a wide tenon that is centered on the work-piece.

We’re done, right?  Wrong!  Holding the tenon up against it’s mortise shows  you that I still have a little bit of work to do.  The tenon is clearly too wide for the mortise, but this was expected.  You can see that I need to clear away some additional waste on the inside face of the work-piece.  This cut requires some precision.  I purposely undercut the 1/4” shoulder on the outside face of the apron so I can tweak that cheek of the tenon to get a nice fit in the mortise.  It is critical, however, that I cut the inside cheek precisely so that the dados that I cut in the legs and the aprons line up properly to accept the side and back panels of the nightstand.  I used a combination square on the mortise to get the exact depth of the inside shoulder and then used that square to set the height of my table saw blade.  After doing a few test cuts to ensure that the blade was at the correct height, I cut away the remaining waste on the tenon.

And the end result of all this measuring, nibbling, and cutting is a nice clean offset tenon.  Now I just have to repeat this procedure 15 more times.  In my next post, I’ll break out some basic hand tools and show you how I tweak the tenon to get a perfect fit in the mortise.

To view the entire Nightstand Project series, please visit my project page.

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For Christmas this year, my wife and I decided to buy our two daughters (ages 2 and 5) a dollhouse.  This decision immediately presented a problem.  Where could we set up the dollhouse such that it would always be ready for use and be accessible from all four sides?  The answer was a small dedicated table.  A quick search of the internet for dollhouse tables yielded a long list of expensive alternatives ($150 – $200!), all of which were poorly made.

This is the type of situation that all woodworkers live for:  a great excuse to build something.  I was given free reign on the overall design, but I had to meet four requirements:

  1. The dimensions should be 24” x 24” x 24”
  2. There must be a drawer for storing loose items
  3. The project must be completed before Christmas
  4. It must be cheap, cheap cheap!!!

I had no problem meeting the supplied criteria.  Construction took 4.5 days of  shop time from start to finish and another couple of days to apply the finish.  I used a half-sheet of cheap 3/4” birch plywood from Lowe’s, some scrap maple and birch hardwood from my lumber rack, a scrap piece of 1/2” plywood, a set of drawer slides, and a drawer handle.  In total, the materials for this project cost me approximately $30.

This was a fun project because I did no up-front design work.  I just started cutting wood and made things up as I went along.  I suspect that both the dollhouse and the table will end up in my living room (like all the other toys in the house), so I put a lot of energy into building a piece that is both functional and reasonably attractive.

I started with the legs.  I wanted a substantial seamless look to the legs, so I decided to miter two pieces of plywood together at each corner of the table.  The resulting leg looked far too blocky, however, so I tapered the width of the legs down to the floor.  Each leg is 3” wide at the top, and tapers down to 1.5” wide at the floor.  The taper begins 6” down from the top of the table.

Constructing the legs took longer than I expected… a little over a full day in the shop.  Each leg consists of two 3” x 23” plywood blanks.  I mitered one edge of each blank on the table saw and tapered the opposite edges on the bandsaw.  Gluing up the legs was a bit of an adventure.  Creating a 23” long gap-free miter joint with cheap wavy plywood required a lot of tweaking by hand.  I reinforced the miter joints with biscuits and clamped them together using blue painter’s tape.  I was a bit concerned about the strength of the miter joint, so I also added an 18” long triangular glue block made from scrap maple hardwood to the back of each leg.  This was probably overkill, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, I guess.

I purposely left the plywood edges exposed on the legs.  I’ve found that edgebanding often ends up looking like, well, edgebanding.  Instead of trying to hide the edges, I decided showcase them.  I think the exposed plys can add an interesting detail in certain pieces.  Clearly, your mileage may vary depending on what you’re building.

The table aprons are 6” wide and rabbeted on the bottom to accept a piece of 1/2” plywood that encloses the carcase.  To accommodate the drawer, I had to cut a rectangular hole in the front stretcher.  I laid out the opening in pencil and cut it out to rough dimensions using a jigsaw.  I then used a pattern routing bit in my router and a straightedge to clean up the cuts.

The drawer box itself is made from solid maple.  Since this table will probably be subjected to some rough treatment, I dovetailed the box for strength.  The drawer face is a piece of birch hardwood.  I used a simple round-over bit to create a profile around the edge.

Since kids have a tendency to knock things onto the floor, I thought it was important to put a small lip around the table top.  I ripped some 1” wide strips of birch and joined them into a frame.  I admit that I used through dovetails to join the frame together just to give the tabletop a little bit of flair.  Once the frame was glued-up, I cut a rabbet to accept a piece of 3/4” plywood.  The end result is a tabletop with frame that stands 1/4” proud of the surface.

The final step was to apply a finish.  For this project, I used a simple wipe-on varnish.  It’s simple, easy to apply, and provides good protection for the piece.

HO HO HO

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