April 2008 Archives

Logging

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We had quite a few logs ready for milling back in the fall and had even booked the sawyer. Then the first week of November the snow started. It has been a great winter for snow, not so much for milling logs. Most of the winter the logs were completely buried. So spring is here the snow is gone and Dad and I spent a good portion of the last two days cutting down trees and pulling them out of the bush.

Yesterday we took out a good sized ash tree, including one of the biggest logs that we have ever pulled. Today we dropped a dead butternut tree that fortunately was still solid. It yielded three good logs and one so-so log.

Declan on the logs.

So at this point we have thirty-eight logs ready to be milled, including yellow birch (1), elm (1), ash (23), maple (3), cedar (5), butternut (3) and chestnut (2).

Declan on the logs.

We're planning on dropping some beech, poplar, ironwood, hickory, ash, black cherry, basswood and cedar this spring. We only drop trees that are in decline or dead, we try and get them before rot sets in, but it's tricky, some species rot from within (like poplar) so by the time they look ready to take they're already hollow. Our best guess is that in addition to the logs we'll mill this spring we'll have another thirty to forty to mill in the fall.

Declan stands between ash and cedar logs.

The logs are rolled up onto scrap wood to keep them off the ground, but this is a temporary storage solution. Hopefully we haven't lost any logs to rot over the winter. We're planning long term storage for air drying the lumber. Even with access to a kiln the wood should be air dried for at least six months. Some of the wood (mostly the ash) we'll air dry for a couple of years so that we can use it for steam bending.

Bench Update

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There hasn't been a huge amount of progress on the bench this week. Both side have been planed (relatively) flat. The top will get a final touch up once the bottom has been completed and attached. Unfortunately some of the boards have pretty nasty grain and I've had problems with tear-out. I may splurge and buy a smaller low-angle plane to do the final surfacing.

This weekend I cut then ends of the bench square and started installing the end vise. The end vise is let into the end of the bench. Cutting out the inset involved lots of small kerfs and then chopping out the waste with a mortise chisel. I only have one mortise chisel, it's a 3/8" Lie-Nielsen with an Ironwood handle. Ironwood is the hardest wood that grows in North America (we have a lot of it on the land) and you can tell. After an several hours of bashing on the chisel with a maple faced hammer the hammer is dented and the chisel handle looks brand new.

The end vise, ready for installation.

Now that the inset is cut the vise can be mounted. Hopefully I'll get to that some evening this week. Next weekend I'm hoping to get the twin-screw vise mounted. Once both vises are mounted I'll flip the bench on the saw horses and start building the bottom. I'm planning to build the entire lower structure with hand tools, including sawing the tenons and wasting out the mortises. It'll be hard work but I need the practice and most of these joints are hidden and don't have to be pretty.

Making the Bench Top

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Holy crap I'm tired.

Dad and I started glueing up the bench top very early Thursday morning. The idea was that I could be there first thing in the morning, get one section glued up, then come home work all day, and head back up there right before dinner to glue up the next section. Then after dinner (thanks Mom!) we'd glue up a third section. With the top made up of fourteen pieces of wood we'd have make up four sections of three boards and one section of two boards. Those would then be jointed, planed and then glued to one another to form the bench top.

No, actually we don't have enough clamps.

That worked very well on Thursday. So on Friday I arrived early and we got our first glue up done and clamped. Then we carried the glued up sections from Dad's basement out to the back garage so that we could joint and plane them. Then we took them back to the basement again.

Planing the glue up.

We figured that we would get the top to the point where we had an eight board section and a six board section, when we would transport those to my house for the final glue up. We didn't think that we'd be strong enough to carry the completed table top out of Dad's basement.

We almost weren't strong enough to carry the two halves out of Dad's basement.

And so, we made our first mistake. It was so much trouble getting the halves out of the basement we decided not to carry them to the back garage and plane them. "I'll do them by hand" I said. "It'll be fine!" Oh boy.

Once home we laid out the two halves on what I figured is the flattest section of floor in the house. Right at the front of the house. Joanne and I wrestled the two sections out of the truck and Gil and Declan carried all of the clamps from the back room to the front. By the way, I know that looks like a lot of clamps. It isn't. There is no such thing as 'enough clamps'.

So once we had everything ready Dad and I trial fitted the two pieces and found, to our surprise that they didn't meet properly. Oh well, out comes the jointer plane, and I start taking strips off the edges of the sections. Now bear in mind that I'm fairly new to hand tools. To this point I've 'six-squared' several small boards, but the bench is two feet wide and seven feet long. Most of my planing exeprience has been with a #5 Jack plane but compared to a #7 jointer plane it's practically a toy. The #7 is a significant hunk of metal. Once you get that thing moving it actually creates its own gravitational field. I do not recommend using it hunched over like that, much stretching was required afterwards.

The hunchbacked jointer of Cavan.

So with the edges squared up we applied the glue with Declan's supervision.

You cannot believe how bad Declan wants to get his hands into the glue.

Then we clamped it.

Final clamping.

While the glue was drying Dad and I drove in to the city to go to Lee Valley for the bench vises. I'm using the Veritas Twin screw vise as the face vise, and a large quick release steel vise as the end vise.

But those cannot be installed until the bench top has been flattened. By not carrying the two bench sections out to plane them I have guaranteed that by the time this bench is flat I will no longer be inexperienced with a #7 jointer plane. I have also discovered a wide variety of muscles that are apparently only used when planing. I'm nearly done one side, but I'm done for today. I intend to pour myself a generous portion of Highland Park 18 year-old and emulate Declan.

Two classics of modern design. Actually, one's a knock-off.

Building a Holtzapffel Bench

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I determined some time ago, not long after building the coffee table in fact, that my ability to draw interesting furniture designs exceeded my woodworking skills. I also felt that it would be something of a tragedy to spend all of this time cutting and milling lumber only to wreck the boards due to my incompetence.

In January I took an an introduction to hand tool techniques course at the Rosewood Studio woodworking school. There I learned that:

  1. Most of my hand tools tools were shit
  2. I had a lot to learn
  3. I was going to need a proper wookbench

So I bought a few books about workbenches and started scouring the internet for information. The writer of the best of the workbench books is a fellow by the name of Christopher Schwarz. He's the editor of Popular Woodworking magazine and Woodworking magazine (excellent if you are a hand tools enthusiast) and he knows more about traditional woodworking benches than anybody I know. Of the three bench types that he has written about I decided to build a Holtzapffel Bench. No, I have no idea how to pronounce it either.

The first step was acquiring the wood. We have plenty of 1" ash that's already been through the kiln but I suspected that Joanne might take issue with wood that supposed to be used for the ceiling going towards a workbench. Unfortunately most of our wood has been milled 5/4 (~1") which would require a lot of gluing. So I bought some 8/4 (~2") ash from the fellow who rents us kiln space.

Ash coming out of the kiln

After it came out of the kiln we took it up to dad's place so that we could dimension the lumber. Here's the rough lumber ready to be cut up.

Ready for marking.

The idea here is that by rough cutting your pieces before jointing/planing you can save a fair bit of time and wood (thickness mostly). So as I cut out the rough chunks I carried them into the garage where Dad was running the big machines.

Dad jointing.

It took us a good portion of yesterday and all of today but we've got all of the wood for the whole bench ready to be glued up. I'll pop up there a couple of nights this week and hopefully we can be ready to start building the base next weekend. The picture below shows the boards for the top laid out as they will be glued up. The darker coloured board is piece of Black Cherry from my land that Dad had in his garage and we have a lovely spalted maple board to use on the front of the bench top.

Table top ready for glue-up.

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