Friday, July 29, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Prefinishing

I applied stain (actually water-based dye) to all the parts last night, and the first few coats of wipe-on polyurethane today. More of the same to follow over the next couple of days. Then it will be time to glue this sucker together. Can't wait!

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Ebony Plugs, Part II

I think today I must have set a new personal record for the most time spent per board foot of lumber processed. That's because I was finishing up the rest of the little ebony plugs that go on the nightstand legs. They're tiny, and making them was kind of tedious.

Instead of pounding them into the mahogany with a mallet like I was doing before, today I tried squeezing them in with a clamp. That worked much better. As long as they were in the hole straight to start with, the clamp made it very easy to push them in and to stop when they were at just the right depth.

Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Ebony Plugs, Part I

Today I finished up the rest of the ebony doodads on the top, then started on the plugs that go on the legs and the front of the drawer. Making the little plugs was easy enough, but I found it tricky to get them tapped into the holes at just the right depth. In fact, a couple of them were bad enough (too deep) that I removed them with a drill and a chisel and started over.

I'm wondering if squeezing the plugs into their mortises with a small clamp might be a more controlled process than trying to pound them in with a hammer. I think I'll try that on the next batch. With a total of 24 plugs in the legs and two more in the drawer front, there's no shortage of opportunity to practice.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - The Ebony Arrives

Hooray! The ebony finally arrived yesterday, and I had some time over the weekend to jump in and make the decorative splines for the nightstand top. The pictures show one of them. As luck would have it, the other three look about the same.

The ebony came in six pieces, each about an inch and a half square and about ten inches long. It was rough cut and covered with wax.

To make the splines, I used the jointer to get two edges on one of the ebony blocks flat and perpendicular to each other. Then I used the bandsaw to slice off a couple of 3/8 x 1-1/2 inch slabs, which I then cut down the middle to make the blanks for the four splines. Next, I routed the profile using the little jig I made the other day. Then I rounded off all the corners with files and sandpaper. I sanded the splines to 600 grit and then polished them up using white rouge (is that an oxymoron?) on a buffing wheel.

The ebony behaved itself with the jointer, the bandsaw, and the router. I got some tearout, though, when I tried to remove the bandsaw marks with a vintage Stanley 60-1/2 block plane. I'm guessing that a higher bevel angle on the plane iron would work better with the ebony. But at the moment I didn't want to get sidetracked into investigating that, so I switched to a disk sander for smoothing out the bandsaw cuts and adjusting the fit of the splines into their respective slots.

I'm starting to see how some people come to own a jillion hand planes.  Not that it could ever happen to me.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Finishing Tests

Still no ebony. But today the shipment finally showed up in the USPS tracking system, so there's hope. I guess the eBay seller I bought it from was just a little poky in getting to the post office.

I really don't want to louse things up when it comes time to apply the finish on this thing, so I sanded up a few test boards for practice. For the stain, I used the mixture of General Finishes water based dyes recommended by Darrell in his article--seven parts orange and four parts medium brown. I put one coat of this dye mixture on half of each test board, and two coats on the other half. Then I wiped on five or six coats of thinned polyurethane according to the recipe in the Wood Whisperer's A Simple Varnish Finish DVD. Here are the results:

It's easy to see that the lightest board (the narrow one) needed the second coat of dye, but that two coats was too much on the darkest board. So the plan at this point is to apply one coat of dye to all the parts, and then put a second coat on the lighter ones only. I think this will give the best color match among the parts without going overbaord and making them all too dark.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Yet Another Router Jig

Still no ebony.

When it finally shows up, I figure I'll want to make the biggest ebony pieces first. That way, if I mess them up, I may be able to make some of the smaller parts out of the ruined material.

So the biggest ebony parts are the decorative splines in the table top. Darrell's article suggests forming these by gluing the blank into the slot in the top, routing the profile in two steps with a flush bit and a couple of oversized bearings, and then rounding the corners over by hand with sandpaper to get the pillowing effect.

Yikes!  I don't like that idea at all, for lots of reasons:
  1. I don't have the necessary oversized bearings.
  2. With the splines glued in the slot in the top, I can't see how I would ever be able to round over their corners without marring the top itself.
  3. There'd be no way to polish the splines on a buffing wheel.
  4. If I messed something up, it might be really difficult to remove the glued-in spline without messing up the top in the process.
So I figured, why not rout the profile on the spline using a jig similar to the ones that were used to make the arched parts?  That way I can do the pillowing and buffing before gluing the spline into the top, and if I mess up a spline, I can just toss it and make another one.

So I tried it. The picture shows the jig, which clamps the part securely against a template with the required profile. After temporarily clamping the blank into the jig, I marked the curve on the blank and then cut away most of the waste using the bandsaw. Then I remounted the blank in the jig and routed the profile in one pass.

The picture also shows the result of the first test. The jig worked perfectly, but I didn't do the best job of getting the pillowing even, especially where the spline makes the little jog between the top and the breadboard end. I think I'll make another little scraper tool to help with that.

For the record, the test spline is made of ebonized mesquite, which means that I smeared some india ink on it, followed by a coat of gloss polyurethane.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Completing the Drawer

Still no ebony.

But the drawer is almost done. About a year ago, Garrett Hack had an article in Fine Woodworking #213 about using solid wood instead of plywood for drawer bottoms. I had a little bit of poplar left over from a previous project, so I decided to try Garrett's ideas on the nightstand drawer. It was a little more work than just cutting out a chunk of plywood, but I really like the result.

I made another big departure from Darrell's plans by using some bamboo chopsticks instead of birch dowels to pin the big finger joints in the front of the drawer. I know, I know. I'm a wild man.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Oops #2

Oops. Yesterday I grabbed the shelf panel that I had carefully flattened a few days ago, and found that it had suddenly developed a really nasty cup. This was kind of a surprise to me. The wood had been stickered since I milled it about a month ago, and hadn't shown any signs of movement during that time.

Here's what I think happened: After flattening the panel, I put it up out of the way, lying flat on top of a sheet of plywood. Soon after that, the ambient humidity took a rather abrupt nosedive. So I'm thinking that the top surface of the panel, which was exposed to the hot, newly-dry air in my garage started to lose moisture. Meanwhile, the bottom surface couldn't dry out as fast because it was against the plywood. The direction of the cup was consistent with this fine theory.

The panel is now undergoing a three-step recovery program. (From what I hear, the twelve-step programs take a long time and involve lots of meetings. Nuts to that.) First, I set the panel up on some sticks so that air can circulate freely all around it. Then I dampened the concave side in the hope that it would reabsorb some of the moisture that it had presumably lost. That actually helped a lot. Finally, I applied some friendly persuasion in order to discourage further movement as the moisture content stabilizes.

I guess time will tell if this plan works or if I need to make a new shelf one of these days.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Archery, Part III

I originally thought that I would apply the finish to the main part of the nightstand, assemble it, and then build the drawer to fit. But I found myself waiting on the material for all the little ebony doodads, so I decided to go ahead with the drawer after all. The only critical step was making the drawer front fit properly within its opening, and I figured I could easily get the actual size of the opening by just dry clamping a few of the parts together.

The goal was to make the drawer front fit within the opening, with a 1/16" gap all the way around. I started by cutting the part about 1/4" too wide, and 1/8" shorter than the width of the opening. Then I cut the "ears" on the ends that mate with notches in the sides to form the giant finger joints in the front of the drawer. Then, using the ears as a reference, I aligned the part with the router jig I had made earlier and cut the bottom curve. Finally, I shimmed the part in the proper position within the opening, marked where the top edge needed to be, and trimmed it to its final width.

The next step was to complete the finger joints by cutting the rabbets and notches in the drawer sides. I did most of this on the table saw, with just a little bit of chisel work to make everything fit right.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Some Loose Ends

With the shelf and top panels all glued up and flat, I figured I'd better take care of a number of pesky details that I had been neglecting. The first was to cut some little notches in the corners of the shelf to clear the legs. Darrell doesn't talk about these in his article, but they're definitely necessary.

Next, I chopped a few more mortises for the decorative plugs in the breadboard ends of the top. Once again, I did these by hand because they're relatively small and they need to have square ends. Besides, all this practice might come in handy someday if I ever need to cut a bunch of mortises by hand.

I did finally drag out my horizontal router table to cut the slots for the splines that align the breadboard ends with the top panel.

After attaching the breadboard ends to the top panel, I also used the horizontal router table to cut the long slots for the decorative spline details on the front and rear edges of the top. The horizontal router table wasn't really big enough to support the top panel, so I set up a temporary outrigger arrangement that made everything nice and stable.

You gotta love them C-clamps.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Aluminum Bandsaw Table Insert

One of the guys over on the WoodTalk Online forum was complaining about the cheap plastic table insert in his bandsaw.  I had the same problem with mine some time ago, and solved it by using my wood lathe to make an aluminum replacement that fits better than the plastic one did, and is a lot less flimsy.

WARNING!!!  This article describes a procedure that might be considered outside the normal use of the tools involved.  If you elect to try this yourself, you are responsible for your own actions.  If anything described here doesn't seem safe to you, don't do it!

To begin, you'll need an aluminum blank that's at least thick enough to sit flush with the bandsaw table when the completed insert is installed.  Thicker is okay, but try to find stock that's as close to the correct thickness as possible.  Cut out a square of the material that's slightly bigger than the hole in the bandsaw table, and carefully mark two perpendicular center lines on it, as shown in the picture.

 Next, lay out the shape of the insert on the blank.  You can do this by scribing lines directly on the aluminum, or you can make a drawing on paper and glue it to the blank, as shown in the picture.  However you do it, be careful that the image of the insert aligns accurately with the centerlines you put on the blank in the previous step.

Find two small screws that you can use to secure the blank to a scrap of wood.  Then select a bit just slightly larger than the screws' diameter, and drill two mounting holes in the blank.  Place these holes in the area that will eventually be cut away to form the slot for the bandsaw blade.

Now mount a scrap of wood on your faceplate.

Install the faceplate onto the lathe, and if necessary, face off the outboard surface of the wood so it is smooth and flat.  With the lathe running, locate the center of rotation and use a pencil to place a small dot there.

Next, draw an arbitrary centerline through the dot.  Then rotate the scrap exactly ninety degrees and draw a second centerline perpendicular to the first one.

Now align the centerlines on the aluminum blank with the centerlines on the faceplate scrap, and attach the blank to the scrap with the two small screws.

You do NOT want to use your wood turning chisels on the aluminum!  Instead, grab an old file and grind a point on it similar to that shown in the picture.  You'll want this to be fairly small; mine is about 1/16" wide.

Now set the lathe to its slowest speed and use the modified file to cut a groove in the blank that's just outside the perimeter of the insert.  Make sure you're wearing eye and face protection, and go at it easy, with very light cuts.

Continue by making the groove deeper and wider until you finally cut completely through the aluminum and into the wood, leaving only the round insert mounted to the faceplate.

Use a normal turning chisel to remove some of the wood from around the outside of the blank, so that you can then use a regular file (with the lathe running) to clean up the edge of the insert.  Be careful at this point that you don't go too deep and hit the screws that are holding the scrap to the faceplate.

If you have an accurate way to measure the diameter of the insert, continue filing until you reach the correct size.  Otherwise, "sneak up" on the fit by repeatedly filing a little bit and then removing the faceplate from the lathe so you can test the size of the insert against the actual hole in the bandsaw table.

When you have the diameter correct, use the modified file to cut a little rabbet around the perimeter of the insert so that it sits flush with the table surface when installed.  Again, you may have to "sneak up" on a good fit by repeatedly removing a small amount of material and then checking the insert against the actual hole in the bandsaw table.

Now you can remove the insert from the face plate, cut out the slot for the bandsaw blade, and clean everything up with a bit of sandpaper.  This is what the top side of mine looks like.

And here's the bottom.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Gluing Up the Shelf and Top

I guess I've always used sheet goods in the past when I needed a wide board, because other than the tongue and groove panels for these rustic cabinets, I don't ever remember edge gluing a bunch of boards together.  Likewise, I can't say I've ever tried to flatten a board that's wider than my planer.  So making the shelf and the top for the nightstand was a bit of a minor adventure for me.

Gluing up the panels was easy enough.  I had a big thick chunk of particle board that provided a good reference surface for the glue up.  I loosely clamped the boards to the particle board to keep them aligned and flat.  then used a few bar clamps to close up the joints.  That worked great.  Just like in the movies.

Flattening the panels turned out to be more of a good news, bad news story.  To wit:

Good News: I had a shiny new Veritas low-angle jack plane in the drawer that I'm sure I heard calling, "Use me, use me!  I can do it.  I know I can."

Bad News: The very first swipe of the shiny new Veritas low-angle jack plane tore a big chunk out of the edge of the shelf panel.  Actually, I sort of expected this.  The blade that came with the plane is ground at 25 degrees, which is supposed to be more suited for end grain work and well behaved wood.  But this mahogany has all kinds of swirly, interlocked grain that's anything but well behaved.  Hence the nasty tear-out.

Good News: Several days earlier, I had ordered the optional high-angle blades for the shiny new Veritas low-angle jack plane, expecting the blade with the 50 degree bevel, as promised by Veritas, "to eliminate tear-out on even the most difficult grain patterns." So rather than completely destroy the shelf panel, I decided to psotpone the second and subsequent swipes until the new blades arrived.

More Good News: Sure enough, the 50 degree blade did the trick.  After a bit of fiddling around, I had it taking the proverbial wispy shavings from the mahogany, without even a hint of tear-out.  I managed to get one side of the shelf smooth and flat.  The other side is also beautifully smooth, but not nearly as flat as the first.  For this reason, the second side will be known forever hereafter as "the bottom".

Monday, July 4, 2011

Aurora Nightstand - Archery, Part II

Here's a shot of another dry fit, after routing the arches on the bottoms of the aprons, rounding over all the exposed edges, and lots of fussing, fiddling, and sanding.

According to Darrell's article, the next step is to glue up the base. It seems to me, though, that it would be a lot easier to apply the finish before assembly, so I'm going to make the rest of the parts, then finish them, and then put everything together.

I radiused the corners on most of the parts using a roundover bit in the router table. But that wouldn't work on the inside corners of the legs where the waterfall profiles intersect, because there's nothing there for the router bit bearing to ride against. So I had to do that part by hand. To help keep everything uniform, I made this little tool out of a scrap of sheet metal, then formed the roundovers by scraping away at the corners of the legs.

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Aurora Nighstand - Oops #1

Oops. I managed to start the bandsaw cut on the wrong side of the line as I was preparing to rout the curve on the bottom of one of the aprons. Fortunately, I recognized my stupidity fairly quickly, and what could have been a big pain in the butt turned out to be just a little setback.

To recover, I used the table saw to trim off the ruined area with a straight cut parallel to the grain. Then I dug through the scrap pile for a matching piece, glued it on, and continued as if nothing had happened.

In the end, crawling insects will point and laugh at the seam (see the green arrow) on the bottom edge of the apron. Those of us with greater stature will not notice the repair.