Friday, 2 December 2016

Started Life As A Log, Now It's Flatter...

Yes, I am still working away on my tool bench/cabinet. Yes, it is taking forever. No, I haven't run into any issues to slow things down. No, I haven't always been this slow. Yes, I do expect to finish it by the spring.

This image shows the horrible job I did on the original
millwork. My problem was, the trunks were over
30" across, but the longest chainsaw I
could rent was only 21".
So after a lot of screwing around with floats and sleds, I finally got the Ash slabs thickness and surfaced planed, these slabs came from that 3' section of dead Ash tree trunk that I royally screwed up milling a year ago. It was a bitch of a job and the end boards are a whole lot thinner than I hoped and expected. Its a Ying and Yang thing. The bad part is, the almost 3" slabs ended up having to be surface planed down to 1 1/2". The good part is; my neighbours love me as I ended up with enough chips from the surface planer to cover, not only my own flower gardens with mulch, but half the garden beds on my block as well. You win some as you loose some.

I thought these would take a few years to dry out, but
I didn't take into account that the tree had been
dead for a few years by the time I
got to it.

Did I mention I bought a surface planer? No? Oh. Ok, I bought a surface planer. It is one of those standard 12 1/2" cheap ones that China has been producing since Noah bought the first one to use on the ark's planking. The design has been around forever and just about every tool company has sold them under their brand. I had the same planer when I rebuilt the 40' mahogany cruiser, but it was displaying the Delta brand. I bought this one on sale for $225.00, which is almost half price for one of these up here in the frozen north. It is probably running a 1/4 or a 1/3 horsepower motor and has only two knives instead of three, like the more expensive planers have. If you keep the knives sharp and not try to take more than 1/16" at a pass, it does an acceptable job everywhere but where it snipes, and man, does it snipe.
This particular planer isn't mine. I didn't have one of mine
so I went online and found one that was the same.
This photo belongs to John Heisz at

I ran each slab through the table saw, following a Sharpe line by eye. At this point I didn't need a true and square edge, I just wanted to cut off the sap wood and bring the widths of each piece down to less than 12" wide so they would go through the planer. I then attached a couple of 2x4s to one surface, adding wedges where needed to make the top surface reasonably level for its entire trip through the planer. I then ran them through the planer - about a thousand times for each piece - and reduced the almost 3" thick slabs down to 1 1/2", doing it less than 1/16" at a time. Once I had the thickness, I then attached each piece to a 4' x 2' piece of 3/4" plywood, hitting the Ash with the screws at their very ends. This gave me a straight edge to run against the fence allowing me to cut one edge straight and square. I then dropped the fence down to 1 1/4" and ran each piece through multiple times, ending up with 7 or 8 - 1 1/4" x 1 1/2" strips from each. Once cut, I ran the lot of them through the surface planer on their sides, and brought the final width down to 1".

All these strips were glued up into a butcher block piece that is 58 5/8" long by 12" wide. Once it was glued up, I ran both sides of it through the planer to level them and brought the thickness down to just a hair under 1 1/4". The planer did a fare job, but I put it on the bench and went at it with my #4 Stanley anyway, taking just enough to give the piece a "ready-for-varnish" finish.

I had one full litre and one half-full litre of oil based Varathane left that I have been hoarding for a few years now, so as I was ready to finish the piece, I popped their tops off. Not only was the opened can a solid hunk of plastic, but so was the what I thought was the unopened one, at least I do not remember opening it. So with no oil base finish left, I had to buy a litre of clear, satin finish Varathane that is water based. Up until now I have hated water based finishes. I tried it a few years ago and found it impossible to work with. Hence the oil based stockpile. I was pleasantly surprised to discover the stuff is pretty good now. It is very slow to build up, but I got very good results with a foam brush. On day one I put four coats on, letting it dry for about an hour between each coat. At the start of the second day, I loaded my orbital sander with 220 grit and gave it a sanding within an inch of its life. It then went back in for four more coats, applied the same way as it was done on day one. Day three started with giving it another what-for with the orbital, and then another four coats. On the forth day I went at it with extra fine steel wool loaded with Minwax Finishing Wax. After three coats of wax, all appied in the same way, it was done, and damn pretty it is.

Twelve coats of Varathane Satin, with a strong
sanding with 220 grit after every fourth coat.
Once the brushwork was done, the surface
was brought down with extra fine steel
wool laced with finishing wax.
So what is this piece? The top of the bench is the same type of glue-up, but it is 24" deep. The three new upper cabinets will hold my saws, planes, and miscellaneous interesting-looking tools, but to do so properly, they will have to be 10 1/2" deep (21" deep closed). I want to put the upper cabinets above the bench, but if I mount them to the bench's top, I will end up with a 13 1/2" deep work area. To increase that work area, I built a stand that is 11" deep that stands behind the bench. This piece is the top for that stand and the upper cabinets will mount to it. As it overlaps the bench top by 1", it will allow me to mount the upper cabinets behind the bench and still have a 21" deep workspace. As some may wonder why I didn't mount the main upper cabinet to the wall, it is too tall. The bench has a finished height of 31", while the upper cabinets are 56" tall, giving a total height of 87", or 7' 3". If I hung them on the wall with the tops against the ceiling, I would end up with 9" of work room between the bench top and the bottom of the cabinets. Hence the separate stand for the uppers.

Next up in a few days is a post about some very cool, home-make, heavy duty leg levellers.