Thursday, June 30, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Archery, Part I

I'm becoming more and more convinced that it's better to think of the router as a trimming tool than as a machine for hogging away large amounts of wood.  So, whenever possible, I try to somehow cut away as much waste as possible before using the router to do whatever it has to do.  I think this makes the router bits stay sharp longer, and helps to reduce chipping and tearout because the router has less material to remove.

So for each of these arched parts of the Aurora nightstand, I temporarily attached the blank to the template in order to trace an outline of the shape onto the blank.  Then I removed the blank from the template and sawed as close to the outline as I could with the bandsaw.  Then I reattached the blank to the template and routed the final profile in a single pass.

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Cutting Some Tenons

For the tenons on the aprons and the stretchers, I started by defining the shoulders using a regular blade on the table saw. I considered using a dado stack to do the shoulders and the cheeks in one step, but decided against it because I was too lazy to set up the dado blades. Also, I wanted to use my crosscut sled for these cuts, so that meant using a regular blade.

After cutting the tenon shoulders, I removed most of the waste with the bandsaw, then cleaned up the tenon cheeks with a horizontally mounted router.

Since the mortises were cut by hand, I couldn't count on them all being exactly the same width. So I intentionally made the tenons a little big and then trimmed them individually to fit the mortises using a block plane and a chisel. In the end, one of the joints was just a little loose. All the others went together by hand without pounding or clamping, but were tight enough to stay together by friction. I guess that's what you want.

Here's a picture of the dry fit. Suddenly it looks a lot more like a table than a pile of random parts. Gotta start wondering about the big color difference between the legs and the other parts.

Aurora Nightstand - But First #1

You might think that "but first" has something to do with birthin' babies.  But that's spelled differently.  What we're discussin' here is one of those goofy situations where you want to do A, but first you have to do B, where B doesn't really contribute much to what you're trying to accomplish other than allowing you to do A.  God forbid, of course, that B should have its own "but first" (C), and that C should have its own "but first" (D), and that D should have its <stack overflow>


Fortunately, this was only a single-level "but first".  What I wanted to do was cut the mortises for the little square ebony plugs that adorn the legs of the Aurora nightstand.  Eight of them are supposed to be 3/16" on a side, but my smallest chisel was of the 1/4" variety.

A halfhearted search failed to locate a smaller chisel locally, and I didn't want to wait for an internet order.  So I wound up buying a cheapo file at the Harbor Freight store and using a grinder to remove some material at the end that was hiding the chisel within.  I then polished and sharpened it in the finest Scary Sharp tradition.  It worked great for cutting the eight little mortises.  How it would hold up through eighty more, I don't know.

Only one problem:  I don't know whether to hang it up with my files or my chisels.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Making the Legs

The order of construction given in Darrell's article made sense to me, so I started by using one of the jigs I had made earlier to make the waterfall profile on all four legs. As suggested in the article, I first used the jig to mark the profile on each leg so I could remove most of the waste using a bandsaw. Then I used a long flush trim bit to rout the exact profile.

Having never worked with African mahogany before, I wasn't quite sure what to expect when I hit it with the router. It behaved quite nicely, though. The routed surfaces were nice and smooth, and I didn't get any burning or tearout at all.

With the waterfall profiles established, I trimmed the legs to their final length, then began cutting the mortises that will eventually receive tenons on the aprons, drawer rails, and stretchers. I have never cut mortises with a router before, and I didn't want to learn how by making mistakes on this project. So I cut them by hand, using the drill and chisel method. I marked all the mortise locations using a knife (rather than a pencil), both for precision, and also to create a little groove to guide the initial chisel cuts. I then hogged out most of the waste material by drilling a series of closely-spaced holes in each mortise location, and finally cleaned up the mortise walls with bench chisels.

The mortises are all 3/8" wide. I used a 9/32" bit to drill out the waste. Next time I think I will drill slightly smaller holes, since it seemed easier to make the mortise walls vertical in places where there happened to be a little more material left to be removed with the chisel. I adjusted the width of each mortise to make it fit a 3/8" thick surrogate tenon made of mesquite.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Buying and Milling the Lumber

I had big plans to visit a few local hardwood dealers when it came time to buy the wood for the Aurora nightstand.  But as it turned out, only one--Spellman Hardwoods--had any 5/4 African mahogany.

Spellman is probably the biggest hardwood dealer in Phoenix.  I was a little bit worried that they wouldn't be too interested in my tiny little order, but they treated me just fine.  Their yard guy helped me look through their stock, gave me some hints, and very kindly helped me load my boards onto my trailer.

Besides the 5/4 material, I needed a little bit of 8/4 stock for the table legs.  I also bought a 4/4 board to avoid wasting 5/4 material on some of the thinner parts.  Here's what my stash looked like after I had roughly cut the boards needed for the table and put the leftovers away for some future project.

For some reason, that looked to me like an awful lot of wood for such a little table. So I decided to weigh it. Then I can check again when the project is done to see how much of the original material actually makes it into the table and how much ends up as scrap and sawdust. For the record, the pictured pile weighed about 61 pounds according to my bathroom scale.

Here's the same pile of wood after a few hours in close proximity with my jointer, planer, and a couple of hand planes.

These parts are still somewhat oversize in length and width, and about 1/8" thicker than they will be eventually. The idea behind the careful stickering is to expose the freshly milled surfaces to the air for a while and give the wood one last chance to warp and twist and bend before doing the final milling. Of course it also guarantees that whatever part I need next will be on the bottom of the stack.

Aurora Nightstand - Getting Started

For the last few weeks I've been toying around with the idea of building a copy of Darrell Peart's Arched Aurora Nightstand from the plans he published in the Winter, 2010 issue of Woodwork magazine.

Router Jigs

I figured a good first step would be to make the router jigs that are needed to shape the curved parts of the table.  Darrell describes a very clever, multi-step procedure that involves four throw-away templates that are used to establish the curves on two of the jigs, followed by a second step that produces a third jig from one of the first two.

Unfortunately, this procedure requires some router bits and accessories that I didn't have, and one step looked particularly difficult to me.  Apparently it was particularly difficult for Darrell, too, as he notes in the article that "it may take more than one try to get useable results."

So, I decided to try a different approach.  I started by making accurate drawings of the jigs in a CAD program.  Then I printed full-size paper templates and pasted them on some 1/4" MDF.  Finally, I cut as close to the line as I could using a bandsaw, and then finished up with files and sandpaper.  That sounds simple and direct, but in the end it took me two tries to get it right anyway, because the first set of paper templates I printed was too small by just a tiny bit.

Darrell's jigs all have nifty toggle clamps and registration blocks to hold the workpieces in place as they're being shaped.  I made my "top arch jig" (Darrell's terminology) that way, too, because it has to work with some parts that are only 1/4" thick.  But for the others, which only have to work with thicker stock, I plan to just screw the jigs to the workpieces temporarily rather than mess around with the toggle clamps.  I would certainly make jigs more like Darrell's if I was planning to make a bunch of these tables.

Horizontal Router Table

Besides the jigs specifically needed for the table, I thought it would also be handy to have a horizontal router table to help cut the slots for the splines in the top.  So I made one very similar to the one shown here, except mine's not nearly as pretty. Hence, no pictures.