Stopped Chamfers by Hand

I’ve been cutting stopped chamfers by hand today on the hay rake stretchers. I’m taking it slow, focusing on process (an approach that serves to keep me out of my head).

stopped chamfers

After an hour or so of experimentation, I settled on this technique:

I start by marking the stops in pencil and the edges of the chamfer with a cutting gauge. I then hog off the bulk of the material with my drawknife, using chamfer guides to limit the depth of cut.

The drawknife is leaving some chatter on the workpiece, so I leave some material at the stops. I use my block plane to clean up the chatter. To define the curves of the stops, I turned to my carving chisels. My 3/4″ No. 6 sweep chisel does a nice job of defining the curve.

stopped chamfers

I settled on the first method I found that gave me repeatable results, but I’m sure there are other methods out there. What methods have you found success with?

Note: I’ve uploaded the full-sized photos for clarity.

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Hay Rake Table: Some Mid-Project Reflection

It’s been nearly two weeks since the end of my sabbatical and my return to part-time woodworking. Even though my project isn’t complete, it seems like a good time to look back.

Over the past six weeks, I’ve learned some great things. I learned that I like the feel of old tee shirts, preferably at least ten years old. I learned that my daughter is old enough to mow the lawn, and she does a good job of it.

I also learned quite a bit about my woodworking practice, and what I can improve for the next project, and that’s what I want to focus on in this post.

I haven’t completed my hay rake table, but I’m pleased with my progress. The table top is glued up; the stretchers and legs are milled, mortised, and tenoned, but not yet assembled. Next up is to chamfer the legs and stretcher pieces. I also need to make the breadboard ends and inlay the splines, and of course apply the finish.

stretcher

I gained a great appreciation for my local lumber dealers. Had I been working with store-bought lumber, I likely would have saved a considerable amount of time spent planing. I didn’t anticipate the amount of twist I would encounter in this wood, or the extra boards I would plane when I encountered defects in other boards.

On the other hand, I discovered some time-saving work methods as I went that will make the next project more efficient. For example, it finally hit home that by ripping a wider board close to final width, the twist in the board becomes easier to manage. (For the ripping operation, it worked well to follow a chalk line on my bandsaw, knowing that I would joint the edge by hand later.) It was helpful that I’d decided on a table top composed of four 10″-wide boards.

Given that decision, I suppose I could have taken my lumber to my dad’s shop and used his 12″ jointer, but I tend to make large, expensive wedges on powered jointers. I’m sure some coaching would sort out that tendency, and as coaches go, I’ve been fortunate to have my dad to learn from. However, the results I achieve by hand and the satisfaction I get from the process are what keep me at it.

Three weeks is the longest stretch in which I’d worked consecutive full time in the workshop. Working full time is much different from the evening and weekend work I was used to. For the three months prior to my sabbatical, I’d been woodworking in the mornings before work, which forced me to think in ninety minute increments.

The ninety minute mark is not an arbitrary measure for me. Ninety minutes turned out to be the amount of time required to accomplish a meaningful unit of work in the shop. Less time and I found that I didn’t have a chance to get into the flow of the work. More time, and I either wasn’t getting enough sleep or I was showing up late for work.

One of those ninety minute tasks I’m looking forward to is applying a coat of finish. For the finish, I’m leaning toward Tried and True Original Wood Finish. On my sample piece, it imparted a warm glow that should contribute nicely to the character of this project.

Drawers are for Furniture

Maybe I should have titled this post “Why I haven’t built a traditional tool chest yet.”

I’ve read The Anarchist’s Tool Chest three times now. I’ve read it with an open mind and I’ve read it with a critical eye. It’s a compelling book, written with passion and conviction. It convinced me to pare down my own tool kit, to sell off duplicates and single-purpose tools whose functions can be performed with other, more versatile tools. It’s been a liberating process, one that has helped me rewire my thinking from that of a consumer to that of a maker. I still find myself looking around for tools to sell.

After three reads, though, I had one reservation that kept me from building a traditional tool chest. Well, make that two reservations.

The first had to do with floor space. I don’t have a lot of it in my one car garage. The space I would dedicate to a traditional tool chest is home to my sharpening station and a rolling cart that holds probably half of my hand tools. The rest are stored in a cabinet on the wall above my workbench.

I would gladly give up the cart in favor of a chest that would protect those tools from dust and swings in humidity. The thing is, though, I kept my great-grandfather’s Kennedy machinist’s chest on top of that cart. And that’s where my other reservation came in.

You see, I love drawers. I love the mystery of them. I remember as a kid I’d go to my grandfather’s house and look in every drawer in every tool chest, just marveling. (Okay, I still sneak a peak every once in a while. Fascinating.)

It’s funny, though: the thing I love about drawers–the mystery–turns out to be the thing that slows me down as a woodworker. I don’t tend to reach for the right drawer the first time. My brain just doesn’t work that way (or that well, if you ask my wife). For example, it took me twelve years to memorize what each of three light switches do at the back door of my house. The neighbors probably thought I was sending Morse code using my back porch lights.

Maybe I love something that’s not good for me, but I found it hard to give up my machinist’s chest. It’s a bit of self-sabotage to have so many drawers in the way of my daily practice. I used it mostly to store sharpening equipment: stones, files, file card, saw sets. There are also dental picks, Yankee screwdrivers and push drills, a Stanley Hurwood awl that looks like it was beat up by a rival gang of awls, mill files with teeth that are rolled over, Chinese steel shaped to resemble rasps, an old square file I might convert to a birdcage awl one day….

Okay, I had some pretty random crap in there that I could easily let go of.

I’ll be honest. This is not the post I started out writing. I started out thinking how useful my machinist’s chest was, how central it was to my woodworking practice, how I kept it organized, and how everything I kept in there had a purpose. And that was true, when it came to the two bottom drawers. When I looked at it with fresh eyes, the rest of the chest turned out to be hiding a hoard of crap (and also some gems that just didn’t have a good home).

I moved most of the sharpening gear to the metal cabinet where I sharpen, and moved the machinist’s chest on top of a mechanic’s chest for now. What remains in it is a collection of files, a few taps, a die, a screw extractor. I could probably store those files in tool rolls to further reduce my need for drawers in the wood shop.

I think I’ve conquered my drawer demons. I concede the clutter argument, but the bigger issue to me is workflow. I want to spend as much time in the flow as possible. To me, that means honing my skills with fewer tools, and keeping them as accessible as possible.

Floor space, on the other hand, is still a challenge. A traditional joiner’s chest would displace my dedicated sharpening station. What’s worse, the metal cabinet I use for my sharpening station is too small for the purpose. (I like the elegance of Tom Fidgin’s dedicated sharpening bench, but it would take up as much space as the tool chest.)

Taking a look around my shop, there is one way to fit in both the tool chest and the sharpening bench: I need to stop hoarding wood (at least in my workshop). Of all the conclusions I’ve reached through this process, this might be the toughest. But if I’m going to create an environment where I can sustain creative flow, I need the room more than I need instant access to wood. Luckily, I have a project coming up that will use a significant amount of the oak I have on hand, oak I harvested nearly five years ago from a friend’s back yard.

I’m sure I’ll build the tool chest before too long. If I have enough oak left, I could make a purpose-built bench for sharpening, one that would support my saw vise (plus the hand-crank grinder I’ve been coveting).

But first, I have some furniture to build.

Virtual Workshop Time

In my fantasy life, I would have long, uninterrupted days to spend in the shop, forgetting to eat lunch, jumping from project to project with no care for what got done or how long it took. Everything would be in soft focus and I’d look up earnestly and wonder aloud “is this heaven?” My Elysium probably won’t be set in a corn field in Iowa; I’m guessing maybe a New England state, given the more ready availability of old tools.

In real life, I’m an amateur woodworker with a day job, a mortgage, and a family, so my workshop time comes at a premium. It’s easy to get stuck, or to spin my wheels trying to figure out what to do next. That’s why, when I step into the workshop, I like to have a plan.

Here’s what works for me.

I keep a notebook with my current projects, plus graph paper and drawing paper. For each project, I’ll make a list of each step I can think of. Order of operation isn’t crucial at this point, but if I realize I need something else in place before I perform the task I just thought of, I’ll make a note. The point here is not to have a perfect, unchanging plan, but simply to gather my thoughts.

my notebook in action

Once I have this done for each project, I’ll go back through and make a short list of any task I could perform immediately in the workshop, regardless of project. Then, when I get my next opportunity in the workshop, I can make the best use of my time. I’ll repeat this process when my short list is complete, when I start a new project, or when life has kept me out of the workshop for a while.

I don’t think the fancy notebook I use has any secret sauce to it. Once upon a time, I was infatuated with it, so I rushed out and bought tons of filler and accessories. I’ll use it as long as I have filler for it. After that, maybe I’ll switch to a bound notebook. It’s a bit like sharpening systems, really. You can be dogmatic about it and thump your chest, or you can just pick something and use it to its fullest.