Sunday, 2 November 2008

Finally, I cut a piece of wood...

I guess this is where the rubber hits the road, so-to-speak. I have spent some serious time and used up a lot of space explaining where I'm headed so I guess it is time to start to deal with how I am getting there.

As I mentioned before, I chopped up the lengths of walnut at the hardwood yard into 37" pieces as this is the longest material I will need to build the frames and racks. I knew there is going to be some waste, but trying to haul a bunch of 8' long pieces of lumber in the back of a Mini just wasn't going to work. I got all the stock milled up using - ahem - power tools and I was ready to rock.

The first step on the agenda was to cut all the pieces to length for the framework for the left door. For this I used a Stanley 150 miter box and a disgusting 1980's vintage Disston 14" backsaw. 

I know I have spoken quite a bit about my old man in this blog, but when you are working with tools that your father made his living with over his lifetime they take on some serious sentimental value. This old Stanley miter box wasn't his, but there is a connection.

When I was a kid around 10 or 12, I built what we called, hotrods. I built them out of scrap lumber I found, cutting up the pieces and nailing them together. I used lengths of pipe and cold rolled steel as axles held to the cross pieces with bent-over nails. A piece of 2x4 mounted to the so-called body by any bolt I could find served as steering and a rope and my feet served as controls. I used an old lawn mower engine mounted on the back which drove the rear live axle using a belt. Because the thing didn't have brakes, nor could I afford a clutch, I would set it up so the belt would slip if there was any serious resistance to forward motion. Putting my feet to the ground, pulling back on the rope and putting as much pressure on the ground as I could muster seemed to always get the thing stopped - eventually. Usually they didn't last long as they would shake apart in a matter of a day or two.

This type of miter box was exactly the same as what my dad used to cut trim work for the houses he built. Being a fuss-busket, I used it once to get all my cuts square on one of these hotrods I was building at the time. The build day was cut short on the account of rain and while I seemed to have stored everything else away properly, I guess, in an ADHD moment, I forgot to put the miter box away, leaving it out in the rain. I don't remember all of the particulars of the event but I sure do remember my father coming in one night after work holding a very ruined miter box in one hand and waving a fist at me with the other. Man, did I catch it, not only the day he found it with the wood base all twisted and some serious rust going on, but also the day he threw it in the trash, announcing that it was beyond saving. The funny thing is, I don't ever remember him replacing it so I have no idea what he used after that. He must have, but I never saw what he replaced it with. I guess he was afraid I would mess that one up too, so he hid it from me and over the years he forgot where he hid it. 

Anyway, one day I was cruising eBay and came across the exact same miter box. Man, did that bring back memories. Of course I bought it, paying $15.00 for it, and if I remember right, $25.00 to get it shipped, but I didn't care. When it arrived and I unpacked it, I felt good. Not only was it the exact same article, it was in even better shape than I remembered his to be, this one being new/old stock with the hardware store's $15.75 price still marked on the base with a grease pencil. It took me almost 50 years, but I finally made that mistake right.

Back to the cabinet. I am cutting a 1/8" bead around each of the rack frames just to give a shadow line and give some definition. Once I got all the pieces cut to size I then ran the bead with my Ohio Tool beading plane. While I love this tool, I did make a huge mistake with it, but in my defense, it was the first one I ever held in my hands, let alone used.

When it arrived (another purchase from eBay), I took it apart and cleaned it using turpentine, rubbing it down with #0000 steelwool. I can hear the collectors groan as I write this but I will make no apologies. I can't see any craftsman worth his weight letting his tools get in the condition of some I have seen collectors drool over. To me, a tool is only worth anything if it is usable and to be usable it has to be clean, polished and sharp. Anyhow, the mistake I made was once I got it clean I gave it a couple of serious coats of wax, wedge and all. Trust me, I shan't make that mistake again. I have tried cleaning the wedge with solvents a few times but when I wax something, I guess I really wax it. The tool works fine for a while but eventually the wax wins and the wedge looses its grip. Eventually, I hope to get it so it stays but for now, I have to live with my mistake.

With all the pieces that require a bead completed, I then brought the flat down level with the bottom of the bead using a #78 Stanley, another tool from my dad's kit. To ensure that I don't damage the bead I used the plane to cut a rabbet along the length of a piece of scrap poplar the depth of the bead. I then clamp this to the walnut so it hides the bead and can be used as a guide to ensure the shoulder is square. This lightens up the look of the wood considerably and gives a clean line around the tool display, much like a frame.

I guess you have figured out that I'm big on the aesthetics, no matter what I am building. This is one of the reasons I love old tools so much - they truly are pleasing to the eye. I wish I could afford British made tools because they had the look of a tool down to a fine art. In reality, I guess I could afford British tools, but its the shipping to get them over here that would break the bank. I wonder why that is, though - not the expensive shipping but the fact that their tools are so much prettier than ours.

I finished up all of the bead work, gave everything a good sanding with 80 grit, then 120 grit sandpaper, and now I am ready to cut all the dovetails to get this thing together.

I know some of you will look at these photos and think to yourselves, "What the devil is he working on?" Actually, it is some other company's answer to the Black and Decker WorkMate. Its junk, but remember, my shop is on my balcony and with patio furniture, barbecue and your wife's flower pots taking up a lot of room out there, you have to have something that is collapsable and storable so you get to work another day.

One other point before I close off. One of the main reasons for posting this blog is to get feedback from other woodworks. If you see something that I am doing wrong or just know a better way of doing it, I would greatly appreciate the help. It is only criticism if you don't offer up a better way of doing something so I hope you will be free with your comments.