Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Jewelry Box: Upper Tray Dividers

OK, now that the straight dividers for the lower tray were milled up I needed dividers for the two upper trays. Since these trays are designed for smaller pieces, such as rings; finger and ear; I didn't want something with as much mass as the lower tray dividers, nor did I want boring old straight dividers.

Cue the lathe!

I decided to add yet another wood to the mix and went out to the log pile where I cut a couple blanks out of a Red Heart Cedar that had died last winter. I chucked the first into the lathe,

then turned it down to a cylinder. In the process I made sure to remove all the weak, and frankly boring, sapwood and get right down to the heart of the tree.

This is probably as close as I'll ever get to posting a selfie on line. Turning wood can be a risky business.  chips fly off every which way, dust fills the air, and sometimes things explode sending high velocity wooden missiles everywhere.

I wear a heavy denim apron from neck to knee, heavy leather gloves and face/dust protection. The apron has a knit collar that fits snugly to keep chips from slipping down behind my armor,

I used to have a fancy battery powered face shield. It was similar to a welding shield except the the viewing area was much larger, it sealed around my face and it pumped filtered air in to keep me alive. Over years of nearly daily use that shield slowly failed in one way or another until it was useless. Unfortunately the dang thing is very expensive to replace so now I use a standard face shield backed up by a dust mask. Not near as handy or comfortable, but way more affordable for us retired types.

Turning produces piles and piles of chips. After spending hours picking chips out of my boots and socks, (If you don't get them all out of the socks before they go in the wash with other people's clothes you are going to get an ear-full about stray chips showing up in all the oddest places! Been there done that!!) I picked up a set of snow gaiters. These keep the chips on the floor where they belong rather than down my boots where, in addition to causing laundry disasters, they stick me in my girlishly tender ankles.

Once I had my blank turned down then it was time to produce rings. The process is fairly simple. First I clean up the outside of the future ring,

then cut into the end of the blank to produce the inside of the ring. This takes a steady hand and must be done carefully otherwise the tool will catch in the spinning blank and send bits flying everywhere.

While it's still attached to the blank and easy to handle,  I sand the ring down.

Because I'm also rounding over what will become the top of the ring as I sand, I start with 60 grit to remove the bulk of the corners then work my way down through the grits to a silky smooth 400.

When the sanding is done I wrap the ring in tape from bottom to top when facing the blank so the tape won't unwrap when the blank is spinning, which it does from top to bottom. Without this step the ring is liable to shatter and end up all over the shop. Then I use a parting tool to separate the ring from the blank.

At this point it would be nice if the rings all came off in one piece, but I'm not too upset when they don't, as long as they don't shatter too much since I will be using more segments of rings than I will whole rings anway.

While still taped I cleaned up the bottom of each ring by swirling it around on a full sheet of 100 grit sandpaper laid flat on the bench,

then clean up the inside corner with some 320 grit paper. I don't get too anal about this since my goal is not flawless perfection but handcrafted with care.

Starting from the outside of the blank I turn a set of progressively smaller rings until I get down to about an inch or so. Smaller than that is just not very practical, besides, at that point it's just showing off. Then I clean up the face of the blank and start another series of rings from the outside in.

While I still had a little blank to work with, I turned a couple knobs. These would go right in the center of the small trays so each one can be lifted out with one hand. I made no effort to make these knobs identical. In fact I made sure they each had their own personality.

I used up one and a half blanks before I felt that I had more than enough rings and knobs to work with. Many of the rings I cut were just unusable, either because they shattered into pieces too small to use, most of which are still hiding somewhere in the shop. or I cut them too clunky looking in the first place.

Once I had a supply of rings I was happy with I started experimenting with placement, cutting and fitting and sanding and re-cutting until I had something I liked.

Once I was happy with the ring placement I took photos and made drawings then carefully numbered each piece on the bottom edge so I could put it back where it came from. (When it came time for actual assembly I did manage to alter this layout somewhat, but the gist of it survived.)

Then it was time for finishing. I cut tiny little pieces of double-sided tape and attached each ring, ring segment and knob to a scrap piece of board. I did this for the straight rails also. This would let me apply multiple coats of spray lacquer without blowing the tiny little things all over the shop.

I actually had to tape everything down twice. I find that the first coat of anything I spray ends up slightly rough so I had to lift each piece off and hand sand it back down to smooth with 400 grit then stick them all back on the board again. Fortunately I usually only get the rough finish on the first coat. The followup coats seem to lay down smooth without any problems.

For each pass I lay down a light, but complete coat, little more than evenly dusting the finish onto the pieces. This ensures a nice smooth, run-less surface in the end, but it does take more time to build up a proper finish this way, (I had 6 coats on these before I was happy.) and  I have to watch the clock pretty close since many of these finishes, if not re-coated within two hours, require waiting 72 hours for the next coat. If I miss my two hour window but get impatient and don't wait the 72 hours I risk getting a frosted or hazy finish, and nobody wants that!

Now I have all the major players lined up and next it will be time to start the assembly.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Jewelry Box: Lower Tray Dividers

Unless I had some way to separate all the various bits of - well - jewelry; some dividers of some sort; then the lower tray I had built would not really be anything more than an inverted shoebox top! Little more than a junk drawer. A fancy Teak junk drawer but still, just a junk drawer.

To come up with some dividers to install into the lower tray that were more interesting than - well - a few sticks, I wanted to create a glue-up of alternating Maple and Walnut.

I started by turning my boards, Walnut on the left, Maple on the right, into small strips at my table saw. Unlike when cutting the strips for the tray sides out of the Teak slabs, this time I didn't care if each strip was the same width or not. In fact I went out of my way to make sure the strip widths were more or less random.

With the boards turned into strips I then stacked those strips, alternating a Maple then a Walnut then a Maple and so on, taking care to select stick widths randomly.

If I would have just settled for dividers with perpendicular laminations, then at this point I could have just glued everything together and been done with it, but I wanted the laminations to run at an angle to create more interest.

An admirable thought perhaps, but it created a whole lot of extra steps!!

First I had to turn my long sticks into lots of shorter sticks. There actually was some science to selecting the length of these sticks. It was ultimately dictated by the final angle of laminations and the width of my surface planer but I won't go into the specifics now since it's much easier to see what that's all about later.

Then I divided those stacks of short sticks into even smaller stacks of about 8 sticks each. It was very important to ensure that each small stack consisted of an even number of sticks so that when the the stacks were joined back together again the alternating pattern of Walnut - Maple - Walnut would remain intact.

Glue was then applied to one side of 7 of the sticks. If glue was applied to the eighth stick it would try it's damndest to glue itself to the clamp and - well - having been-there-done-that before, believe me, it's a less than desirable outcome. . .

Some time back one of the wood magazines ran a test on gluing methods. One method, and clearly the simplest, was to just lay a bead of glue down and then let the pressure of clamping the joint spread the glue. A second was to evenly spread the glue across both gluing surfaces then clamp. And the third was to evenly spread glue across one of the surfaces and clamp.

The results clearly showed that the bead and clamp method was not as strong as the spread and clamp. (The test being that the wood fibers break before the glue joint fails.) The tests also showed that spreading glue on one surface then clamping consistently produced a joint at least as strong as spreading it across two surfaces before clamping. The exception would be very porous woods that tend to wick moisture deep into their fibers, such as the well cooked and tortured surfaces of most plywoods or very oily woods where glue needs to be massaged into the fibers of both surfaces before clamping, such as Teak. In those cases spreading glue on both surfaces first produced a better joint. Since I was working with glue-friendly hardwoods the one-surface method was just fine.

There's all kinds of glue applicators out there designed to make this job easier and I've owned several of them at one time or another, but I find the quickest, neatest and most accurate way to spread glue is with my finger. I lay a bead of glue down the surface then evenly spread it with my finger, making sure I get complete coverage.

Once the glue was spread I reassembled the sticks into a stack and then clamped them up. I applied three of my Bessey clamps to each stack which ensured even pressure across the full length of the relatively thin and flexible sticks.

As I added clamps I snugged each up gently then pushed everything tight against the relatively flat surface of my workbench to get as flat a glue-up as possible. (I wasn't going for perfect which is good because I don't care how much effort you put into it, there is no such thing as a perfect stack glue-up!) I also kept an eye on the ends of the sticks to make sure they lined up reasonably well, though that was not terribly critical since the ends would be cut off and discarded later in the process.

Once I had everything generally in place I carefully tightened the clamps bit by bit to their final pressure, which isn't he-man-gorilla tight since that tends to squeeze so much of the glue out you end up with a dry joint, which is a weak joint.

Depending on the type of joint, I shoot for snugging the clamps up firmly then give them another quarter to half turn. The trick here is to get a sufficiently tight fit between the surfaces for a strong glue line then hold everything in place until the glue has a chance to set. You're not trying to squeeze the sap out of the wood like it was a sponge!

I set each of my glued-up stacks aside overnight to make sure they were well cured before the next step.

Because of my limited number of Bessey clamps it took two days to glue up all eight of these small stacks.

At this point there was a lot of glue squeeze-out, which isn't necessarily a bad thing. If you don't see at least some squeeze-out then the joint is potentially dry and could be weak.

The surface of the stack is far from perfectly even, especially the surface that was on top during the clamping phase since my Walnut board was slightly thicker than the Maple to start with, but not to worry, that will be dealt with soon.

The next step is to knock some of that excess glue off with a scraper. I've tried a lot of different ways to do this and for me the one that seems to work best most of the time is using a hand scraper with a replaceable carbide edge.The replacement edges are not that expensive and glue, especially glue blobs, can be hard on sharp tools, so getting rid of what you can before subjecting your expensive blades to it is a good idea.

With the worst of the excess glue removed I moved over to the jointer. I have an 8 inch jointer which was one factor dictating the maximum width of my initial stacks.

A quick pass or two of what was the bottom side of each stack during clamping, the most even side, through the jointer evened everything up and left me with nice predicable surfaces for the next step.

I left the other side of the stacks rough because it will be a couple more steps before I'm ready to worry about them.

I decided to take the easy way out and go for laminations set at 45 degrees. This way I could turn the resulting dividers end for end all I wanted without screwing up the pattern.

I used my speed-square to get me in the ballpark. It was also important at this point to ensure that ultimately I would be dealing with a 12" to 13" wide final glue-up since I have a 13" planer that the whole thing would have to fit through at some point.

Then I marked the 'ends' to make sure I could get everything back where it needed to be, (If you look close you can see the pencil ticks near the left side of the two closest stacks.) as well as give me a guide when I was spreading the glue. It was very important that I keep the smooth side down against the bench at this stage and I also had to guard against flipping any of the stacks end for end or I would have ended up with Maple - Maple or Walnut - Walnut sticks adjacent to each other at the new glue line.

Just like when I glued the sticks into stacks, I then glued the small stacks into larger stacks, but only a maximum of three per glue-up to ensure I could keep control and get good alignment and clamping pressure.

At this point I didn't have to be quite as close with the clamp spacing since the glued up stacks are much stiffer, I mean way stiffer, than the original sticks, so clamping pressure would be distributed over a wider area. (It's the difference between pushing down in the middle of a pillow or the middle of a board. The floppy pillow won't transfer any of the pressure out to the ends but the stiffer board will.)

This turned my 8 initial stacks into 3, 2 of three stacks each and 1 of two stacks. (OK, if you stuck with me on that you're doing well. I had to proof that sentence several times to make sure I got it right!)

Again, I left the glue-ups to cure overnight.

You can also see that by now I was getting better at judging just how much glue these particular joints needed so there was much less squeeze-out. Just enough that I knew the joint wasn't dry.

But I wasn't done yet!  The next morning I took my two new three piece stacks and glued them up into an even larger, 6 piece stack, taking great care to maintain the offset that would result in the 45 degree laminations I wanted.

Because of curing time I had to wait until the next morning to glue on the final stack required to create the ultimate 8 piece stack.

The next step was to turn my jagged 8 piece stack into a nice regular-shaped board I could work with.

I started by striking a reference line down the full length of the final glue-up 45 degrees relative to the base of the glue-up (For my purposes the base is the edge closest to the bottom right of the photo above.)

Using that reference I stuck another line parallel to it that just touched the bottom of the notches along the left edge. This didn't touch each notch-base exactly due to variances during the glue-up, but it was close enough to give me a point to work towards.

Because the protruding points of the original stacks didn't all line up perfectly due to those variances I just mentioned, I began to slowly nibble them away at the table saw by setting the fence about a half inch from the blade and guiding the tips as evenly as I could along it and through the blade. Each pass got me closer to where I needed to be, a nice straight cut, and after a few passes I had a pretty straight cut going down the edge. By checking against my reference lines I could see I was still on track for the 45 degree cut I was after.

I was then confident enough to move the fence over and take a larger cut along my outer reference line. Once that was done I turned the stack end for end, adjusted the fence, and cut the peaks off the other side in one pass. One more flip to trim a final sliver off the initial edge and I had a glued up stack with two clean,  parallel edges to work with.

I was so excited at this point I screwed up and sliced a couple blanks that would ultimately be turned into dividers off the stack before I remembered I still needed to run it through the surface planer to true up the top and bottom. Fortunately I had made my glue-up much larger than actually needed so I didn't have to deal with the painful process of trying to even out those two initial blanks too. Small pieces are a pain to work with so I try to keep everything as large as possible as long as possible.

So anyway, all the calculating and measuring I did to ensure a stack as wide as possible but still able to fit through my planer was for naught, since now my stack was more than narrow enough to fit through the planer.

A couple of light passes on each side and my stack was finally nice a clean and straight all the way around.

Then it was back to the table saw to cut two more 7/16s blanks off the stack. I then cut those long blanks into shorter sections a little longer than the final pieces needed to be.

Two slices off the big stack was way more than needed for the jewelry box but the original Walnut and Maple boards were only about 3/4" thick and I felt that the rails needed to be slightly taller than that. To do that I was going to stack two pieces on top of each other then trim it down to the height I actually wanted. In order to keep the random width laminations lined up when I did this I needed to have the two pieces come from matching sections of the two adjacent blanks.

While I was handling the paired pieces I discovered that if I turned one of them 90 degrees and then glued them together in just the right alignment the resulting divider would be plenty high enough for what I wanted and it put a neat looking kink into the pattern, so I went with that instead of my original plan.

Since the strips were taller than wide this left a little excess overhang on one side that I trimmed off at the bandsaw, guiding the blade freehand down the edge of the vertical part of the assembly.

That narrow cutoff there on the right is what I ended up inlaying into the sides of the upper trays.

After trimming off the bottom to the height I wanted, I knocked the top corners of the dividers off with a hand plane.

Then a little sanding, by machine initially to rough out the shape then by hand down through the grits cleaned and polished the rails yet left each one slightly unique to avoid the whole mass-production look.

Here's an example of how my decision to turn one of the pieces 90 degrees before gluing resulted in two different looks. Standing up in the background of the photo above you can see the side that looks like it has a kink in it where each wood seems to bend around a 45 degree corner. Laying on their sides in the foreground are rails showing the other side where the pattern doesn't flow but appears interrupted. To my eye either way looks pretty interesting, more interesting that just a straight-line pattern.

So now all I needed to do was trim the rails to their final length, which I didn't do until just before installing them.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Jewelry Box: The Trays

The actual work flow didn't go this way, but for the sake of clarity (Of course clarity is a relative term!!) I've broken down constructing the jewelry box for sister L to give to sister G into it's main components.

This post will deal with the trays themselves.

But first, this was the starting point for the actual cutting and fitting part of the project. Over on the left are a couple chunks of Black Walnut. There in the middle are some boards of Tiger Maple. I bought these sight-unseen as Birdseye Maple but actually like the Tiger Maple I ended up with better. And over there on the right is a $200 chunk of 8/4 Teak.

All of the above has been on the rack in my shop for years, being slowly nibbled away at as I build various projects.

Not shown is a bit of left over hardboard (Masonite) that I cut the bottoms of the trays out of and, because it would have been a bit cumbersome to carry into the shop and hoist up onto the table saw, the 50 foot Redheart Cedar tree that gave up a few fire-wood sized blanks that I turned into a whole lot of shavings at the lathe in the process of producing a few rails for the small trays.

The tree had succumbed to beetles after being weakened by our multi-year drought. Then when the rains did return this spring the dead tree didn't have enough hold on the ground to stay up on its feet any longer.

First step to building the trays was to rip a couple slices off the Teak slab that would eventually become the tray sides. That chunk of Teak is heavy and when taking off thin slices like this I prefer to keep them on the free side of the blade rather than risk having them trapped between the blade and the fence. This takes a little more setup in order to get each slice about the same thickness because I have to adjust the fence for each cut and that's more art than science, but I would be running the slices through the planer anyway to clean up saw marks and save myself some sanding, and while I was doing that the planer would also trim them up to the same thickness.

At this point I hadn't yet discovered that I would be building a second small tray so I had to come back later and do this all over again to get one more slice. . . .

Since the stacked trays had to fit within the depths of a 3.5" drawer I couldn't use the entire 2" width of the slices I just produced so I trimmed a little off the slice that would become the bottom tray, (But not enough as it turned out!) and a wider bit off the slice that would become the shallower upper tray.

With the tray sides now the right height I installed a flat-kerf blade in my table saw. As you might have already figured out, this is a blade designed to leave a flat bottomed cut rather than the more usual M shaped bottom normal crosscut and ripping blades would leave. It's a little detail that will never be seen but - well - might as well do it right, or at least try once in a while. . .

After a little bit of careful setup (And a slight detour as I fished one of my brass setup bars from the bowels of the table saw.) I cut the dadoes that would ultimately hold the hardboard tray bottoms.

Next step was to rough-cut the sides of the trays out of the long pieces I had been working with, making absolutely sure to cut them a little long.  Then I tilted the blade to 45 degrees and carefully trimmed them to final length while mitering them at the same time.

In the setup above I've mitered one end of all four pieces that make up the ends the bottom tray and the long sides of the upper tray, all of which are the same length. Using my speed square (With a brass setup bar holding the far end up so the pointy ends of the 45 degree miter cuts would butt flush against the square) up against my highly accurate Osbourn miter gauge, I lined up all four pieces before running them through the saw one last time.

This ensured they all came out square (In a mitered kind of way.) and the same length, both of which are pretty important when you're trying to end up with a square box. In fact having all the same length is more important than their actual length. I did this two more times to get the ends of the small tray and the sides of the lower tray cut to equal lengths as well.

At this point I was still working under the delusion that I was only building one small tray, so later I had to do all of this all over again to produce the second small tray. . .

The photo above shows all four sides of the first small tray, milled, dado-ed, and mitered. Laying on top of them is a thin slice from the glue-up I did to create the rails for the bottom tray. (That's another post yet to come.) And there in the top center of the photo, my dado stack set up so I can inlay the walnut/maple glue-up into the tray sides.

It wasn't until I had this thin piece of the walnut/maple glue-up laying on the table saw, a scrap bit of off-cut at this point, that the 40 watt bulb in my head finally warmed up enough for me to notice. 'Hey! this would make a cool looking inlay around the outside of the small tray!'

Now believe me, this would have been a whole lot simpler if I had just planned on doing the inlay from the start, but my projects often evolve along the way so this wasn't the first time I've ended up doing things backwards.

Once the inlay dado was cut and the strips carefully edge-sanded until they fit snug, I glued everything in place, stacking the glue-ups together with waxed paper keeping parts that weren't supposed to stick together from sticking together. This way I could put clamp pressure on all the glue-joints with just four of my Bessey clamps.

These are great clamps that apply a nice even, parallel pressure across a wide area, but they are expensive so my supply is limited.

I cut the depth of the dado so the the inlay would sit slightly proud of the tray sides when glued in place. That way they could later be sanded down flush and ensure a clean, tight look.

Here I've got one of the tray sides clamped in the bench vice and rough sanded down flush, with another side next to it waiting for the same treatment.

After rough sanding with 100 grit in a small belt sander to quickly remove the bulk of the excess, I hand sanded down through the grits, 150, 220, 320 until I reached 400.  This leaves a velvety smooth surface that will take a clear finish nicely.

But I should point out that I don't get obsessive about the sanding, nor do I fall apart over the occasional less than perfect fit and finish. I think a hand built piece is enhanced by having a few flaws left over from the process. If you must have cookie cutter perfection then go to Walmart and buy mass produced plastic instead.

The biggest problem with doing the inlay backwards like this was that I now needed to go back and trim the inlay flush with the finished miters I had already done. This requires a lot of very careful and painstaking work since the last thing I wanted to do was accidentally cut too much off one end of one of the pieces! That would mean the tray wouldn't fit together square anymore and - well - it's kind of important that they fit square!!

I very carefully lined thing up by eye and cut close while not overcutting, then took advantage of the fact that the carbide teeth on the saw blade stand slightly proud of the steel body of the blade.

By carefully butting the cut face up to the steel of the blade, holding everything tightly in place, then running that setup through the spinning teeth, I could shave very thin slices off the inlay until I got it down flush with the miter cuts. This takes a lot of time since the blade must be stopped and restarted for every pass and the setup must be done carefully, but - well - it was my own fault I was in this fix. . .

This is a closeup of the finished result. And I only had to do it all over again seven more times!!  Note to self, it sure is easier if you do things in the right order in the first place!

Here you can also see the radius I sanded into the top of the tray sides while doing the hand sanding a couple steps ago. A hand built piece should invite handling and nothing disturbs the tactile experience like unnaturally sharp edges.

Speaking of tactile, when building boxes it's important to sand the inside before assembly as it's nearly impossible to try do it once the parts are assembled and you have to work against inside corners.

But once again, I was working ahead of myself.

Once I got the lower tray assembled I decided the whole thing was just a little too deep, so I ended up cutting about 5/16th off the top all the way around. Of course this included the radius I had so painstakingly put on, so I had to hand sand that back in all the way around. . .

Since the tray was already assembled at this point that meant I had to deal with getting a decent looking radius at the inside of the four corners as well as along the edges. I did this by wrapping sand paper around the handle of a small paintbrush and carefully shaping the corners, down through all 5 different grits of sandpaper!

Sanding is rarely the most sought after job in the woodshop, but if there was any bright spot to this at all, it's that the oily Teak produces a heavy sanding dust that simply lays down instead of floating around everywhere.

But still, note to self; stop doing things backwards or I'm going to have to dope-slap you!!!!

In the photo above I'm setting up to glue up one of the trays. The tray bottom, sitting top right, has been cut to size so it fits into the assembled sides with just a little extra room left over to account for wood-movement over time. It won't generally be seen, but I went ahead and pre-painted the underside of the bottom black anyway because you never know.

The sides are laid out there on the lower right and I've already done a dry run to get my strap clamp set up and ready to go.

If you're going to make more than a few small boxes a strap clamp like this sure does make things easier. It's a bit finicky to get all the bits where they need to be, but once that's done it can be gently snugged up to hold everything in place while you make last minute adjustments, then quickly and cleanly applies even pressure all the way around with a couple twists of the red handle that's just barely visible on the left.

 Teak is an oily wood, so before any glue goes on I wipe the gluing surfaces down well with acetone. This temporarily clears some of the oil out of the way and allows the glue to get a decent grip on the wood fibers. The oil will soon migrate back but by then the deed is done.

Once I have the oils cleaned up a little so the tape sticks better, I carefully mask the inside corners before reaching for the glue bottle in case there's any squeeze-out once I clamp things up.

Squeeze-out is easy to clean up on the outside but a real bitch on the inside!

By carefully timing it right, I can remove the tape, and any squeeze-out right along with it, just at the point where the glue is hard enough to stay put but soft enough to remove cleanly. This takes patience because if you do it too soon you end up with a mess anyway, yet if you get distracted and put it off too long the glue has hardened to the point where it will take a lot of careful work with a fresh #11 blade to get it all cleaned up without damaging anything.

I tend to leave glue-ups clamped overnight. This is longer than most modern adhesives need but at this stage I prefer to play it safe.

Once the clamp came off a final round of sanding on the outside cleans things up and eases the sharp corners.

Just because the trays are now assembled doesn't mean I'm done though.

Next time, the process of gluing up the blank from which I then cut the rails for the bottom tray (And the inlay for the small trays.)