All posts by Rainford Restorations

Preservation Carpentry, Custom Furniture, Custom Mill work, Instruction, Preservation Masonry,

Behind the Scenes

“Pay no attention to that man behind the curtain.” — Wizard of Oz

Back in May I spent a couple of days in Cincinnati Ohio on my way down to Harrodsburg Kentucky for the EAIA Annual Meeting and a quick stop in Covington Kentucky on my way home to visit with some of my woodworking friends in the area.

My first stop was at the Popular Woodworking offices and studio to see Megan Fitzpatrick and David Thiel who graciously showed me around.

 

Popular Woodworking Sign
Popular Woodworking Sign

The office building while nondescript from the outside contained an interesting space on the inside. A mixture of office space, editing bays, studio/soundstage and a woodworking shop.

Me in one of the locations you've seen in Popular Woodworking videos
Me in one of the locations you’ve seen in Popular Woodworking videos

I visited the shop area with backdrop you may recognize from several woodworking videos. The timber framer in me wants to push up that simulated plate and add some braces.:-)

Furniture from earlier magazine projects
Furniture from earlier magazine projects

In the warehouse space you could see several projects from Popular Woodworking and American Woodworker magazine.  If only we had room in the car to buy one and bring it home.

A live shoot & recording session in the studio
A live shoot & recording session in the studio

In the studio area I was able to see another F+W project video being recorded.

Megan's workbench in the corner of the workshop
Megan’s workbench in the corner of the workshop

Out in the woodworking shop I felt right at home. There was a large machine and bench room. In the corner I could see Megan’s workbench and the windows you may recognize from many an article and post from Popular Woodworking over the years.

I was too busy talking David’s ear off and didn’t take a picture of him to include in the post, but I’ll make sure to take one next time I am in town.

On the way home from our trip I also stopped in Covington KY (right across the Ohio river from Cincinnati OH) to visit Chris Schwarz at the Lost Art Press storefront. The storefront is a nice historic building that used to be a saloon in a part of Covington that reminds me a bit of Brooklyn — lots of history, artists, hipsters, good restaurants etc.

Inside of the Lost Art Press Storefront
Inside of the Lost Art Press Storefront

After watching the build out via many of Chris’ blog posts it was neat to see it in person and to see several of Chris’ recent pieces in person.

Aumbry from the Anarchist's Design Book
Aumbry from the Anarchist’s Design Book

You may recall the Aumbry above from the cover of a Popular Woodworking issue earlier this year and from the Anarchist’s Design Book.

Chris working on a 'Danish Campaign Chest'
Chris working on a ‘Danish Campaign Chest’

The weekend I was there Chris was working on his “Danish Campaign Chest.”

One of Chris' Anarchist's Tool Chests
One of Chris’ Anarchist’s Tool Chests

I had fun talking shop with Chris and Megan and checking out some of the recent bits of hardware he picked up.

Nice swing out adjustable seat attached to the workbench leg
Nice swing out adjustable seat attached to the workbench leg

The adjustable swing out seat he added to his bench was a nice addition I’d love to have on my own bench someday for carving and other detail and design work on the bench.

Megan Fitzpatrick, Bill Rainford and Chris Schwarz
Megan Fitzpatrick, Bill Rainford and Chris Schwarz

This was my first trip to Cincinnati and I had a great time exploring the city. In fact I’ll be in the area again in September for Popular Woodworking in America.

A big thank you to Chris, Megan and David for showing me around and a big thank you to my wife Alyssa for wrangling the babies while I geeked out with fellow woodworkers.

Take care,
-Bill

For more information on the Lost Art Press you can check out their website here.

For more information on Popular Woodworking you can check out the magazine’s website here.

For information on Popular Woodworking in American 2016 you can check out their site here.

Shaker Oval Boxes

I’ve always wanted to make some Shaker Oval Boxes. I love a good challenge and learning a new woodworking skill. Back in May I attended the Early American Industries Association (EAIA) annual meeting which was held at Pleasant Hill Shaker Village in Harrodsburg, KY.

In preparing for the meeting I figured a nice set of Shaker oval boxes would be a solid addition to the EAIA’s silent auction.

Shaker rocker, candle stand and boxes
Shaker rocker, candle stand and boxes

In order to gather up the correct supplies and learn how to make a proper oval box I reached out to John Wilson of Michigan who is a well known expert on making these boxes.

Templates, Guide Book and Band Stock
Templates, Guide Book and Band Stock

From John you can order an instructional DVD, book and templates along with supplies for the boxes and other related projects (baskets, trays etc). In this post I won’t go through all the steps necessary to make these boxes, but I will cover a highlight reel of some of the more interesting steps in the hopes it will whet your appetite for making some boxes yourself. (Links provided at the end of this post)

First off I laid out the templates for all the bands I wanted to bend into boxes and box tops. For this project I used Cherry. Then I pre-drilled the holes for the copper tacks.

Laying out template information on the band stock
Laying out template information on the band stock

Next up was filling the copper steam box with water and heating it up. under the box is a double burner electric hotplate and blocks to keep the tray steady on the burners. When using Cherry you may also want to use distilled water as minerals in your tap water can leave some stains.

Copper steam tray
Copper steam tray

I then steam the ends of the bands, cut the tapers in the end with the tack holes and feathered the other end of the bands on the belt sander.

After letting the bands steam I pulled them out one at a time to wrap around the appropriate sized form and marking the overlap. Then remove it from the form and hold the band tightly in place at that same size marked while you take it over to the heavy round pipe anvil and clinch the tiny copper tacks in place to secure the band. This set of forms is a large block of basswood in the size and shape you want the box to be.

Bench mounted anvil for clinching the copper tacks.
Bench mounted anvil for clinching the copper tacks.

I had never clinched a tiny copper tack before so I grabbed a shim and practiced with a few tacks of each size on the anvil. After a tack or two you’ll get a good feel for it.

Practice strip of copper tacks
Practice strip of copper tacks

I got a rhythm going and could feel/read how the tack was going in and move it on the anvil relative to my hammering to make sure I got the tack head nice and even with the surface and got a nice clean clinch on the inside.

Clinched side of practice copper tacks
Clinched side of practice copper tacks

With the band tacked the next step was to get them over to the second set of forms to dry. These forms are two blocks of wood also in the shape of the box, similar to the first form, but these forms have a tapered edge profile and holes to let air/water in and out and give your fingers a place to pull the forms out from when they are dry.

The bottom band is steamed, tacked and setup on the second set of forms. The top band is wrapped around the bottom band on the form. The goal is to get a nice tight fit and line up the tack holes.

Bands steamed, bent around initial forms, then tacked and held in place to try by a second set of forms
Bands steamed, bent around initial forms, then tacked and held in place to try by a second set of forms

Let the bands dry for a day or two and then it is time to fit the tops and bottoms into the bands. Trace your band onto the top or bottom blank, cut it near the line on the bandsaw and then use a fixed disc sander with the table set at a few degrees under 90 and sand them to shape and test fit as you go. You don’t want any gaps or spaces between the band and the top or bottom.

The tops and bottoms are disc sanded at an angle and to the layout lines so they fit nice and tight
The tops and bottoms are disc sanded at an angle and to the layout lines so they fit nice and tight

I got all the tops and bottoms fitted before moving on to the next step.

Fitted tops and bottoms
Fitted tops and bottoms

Next up was testing out a special drilling jig to make pin holes for attaching the tops and bottoms to the bands. There is no glue in these boxes.

Drilling jig for pins (Foreground). Belt sander and disc sander for cleaning up and fitting box tops and bottoms
Drilling jig for pins (Foreground). Belt sander and disc sander for cleaning up and fitting box tops and bottoms

The pins that will secure the bands to the top and bottom blanks are made from hardwood toothpicks that are cut in half on a band saw.

Box of matches cut in half to be used as pins
Box of matches cut in half to be used as pins

I made pencil dots where I wanted the pins to be, fired up the drill in this jig and made all the pin holes.

Using the drilling jig to make holes for the pins
Using the drilling jig to make holes for the pins

For very tiny boxes with thin tops and bottoms I made a tape loop out of blue painters tape and taped some thin cardboard onto the face of the jig to center the holes in the thickness of the top or bottom of the box.

Fitting square pegs into round holes
Fitting square pegs into round holes

The pins are then tapped into place, clipped off and then sanded on the belt sander to remove any protruding pin left and make sure the bands are level with the tops and bottoms.

More Nesting
More Nesting

The boxes nest inside of each other similar to a Russian Nesting Doll. This made it easier to bring 5 boxes on the very long, and very full car ride from NH to KY with my wife, two babies and me.

Nested box bottoms
Nested box bottoms

At this point the boxes all have a bit of a dull fuzzy look about them.

Fuzzy Boxes waiting for final cleanup
Fuzzy Boxes waiting for final cleanup

I gently hand sanded all the boxes and made sure the top and bottom fit the way I wanted. They should have a nice snug fit, but not too tight nor too loose.

Five boxes cleaned up and ready for finish
Five boxes cleaned up and ready for finish

All the corner edges, and inside and out of the box get a final sanding and cleanup. Then time for the finish. I applied Tung Oil to the boxes to bring out the grain in the Cherry and finished it off with a couple of coats of amber shellac. Each box is also signed, dated and notes that they were part of the 2016 EAIA annual meeting.

Finished set of boxes in sizes 0-4
Finished set of boxes in sizes 0-4

I was very pleased with how well the boxes turned out especially given this was the first time I ever made shaker oval boxes.

I was also glad to hear EAIA members also liked them as my set of boxes in sizes 0-4 turned out to be the second highest grossing item in the EAIA silent auction and I was humbled to receive the plaque below.

EAIA 2016 Annual Meeting Award, Second Place in the Silent Auction
EAIA 2016 Annual Meeting Award, Second Place in the Silent Auction

I know they went to a good home, the home of Judy and Bill McMillen of Eastfield Village and Richmond Hill fame and  good friends of mine. I’m also happy to report I was able to win the auction for some of the items Billy made as well including a Tin-Smithed dustpan my wife and I both had been wanting for a while when we saw one that Billy made at a prior event, but that is a post for another time.

Completed boxes in their natural habitat
Completed boxes in their natural habitat

I had a great time making the boxes and we all had a great time at the annual meeting. I had wanted to visit Pleasant Hill Shaker Village for a long time and I’m glad I finally got to see it and spend the better part of a week living in the village.

If you’d like to make some Shaker Oval Boxes of your own, please check out the link to John Wilson’s website below along with links to more information on Pleasant Hill Shaker Village and the EAIA.

Take care,
-Bill

Related Links:

John Wilson’s Shaker Oval Box Supplies and Education: http://www.shakerovalbox.com

Pleasant Hill Shaker Village, Harrodsburg, Kentucky: http://shakervillageky.org

Early American Industries Association: http://eaiainfo.org

Summer 2016 Classes

The weather is finally starting to warm up and it’s time from some summer workshops at The North Bennet Street School and Historic Eastfield Village.

As always you can find my teaching schedule on the ‘Instruction‘ page at the top of this blog.

First up is the ever popular ‘Drywall for Beginners‘ course at NBSS. There are a couple of seats left and registration closes soon, so if you are interested, please sign up ASAP.   In past offerings of this course I posted about it here and here if you’d like to see what it looks like. It’s an excellent opportunity to learn how to hang drywall, tape, mud and texture it.

Drywall for Beginners @ North Bennet Street School

Saturday-Sunday, June 25-26 (2 Sessions)
8:30am-4:30pm
Instructor: Bill Rainford

Students learn how to hang drywall, tape seams, work with mud, sanding (wet and dry), and how to work with corners. Additional topics covered include light framing overview, repairing holes, working around outlet boxes and fixtures, repairing damage, finishing the surface, painting tips and, if time allows, the basics of texturing. Students assemble and work from full-size model wall sections which include an inside and outside corner and opportunity to work with stud bays. This class is intended for homeowners, DIY enthusiasts and carpenters/contractors. Basic carpentry or handy skills are a plus.

Students are responsible for supplying their own tools. A tool list will be sent at least 2 weeks prior to class start.

Please review our Registration Policies before registering.

Registration closes 7 days prior to workshop start.

Register

 

Next up is a new ‘Introduction to Sharpening‘ at NBSS. This workshop is a great opportunity for students to learn how to tune up their basic tools — bench planes, chisels, marking knives, cutting gauges, block planes and specialty planes. The genesis of this course was the realization that some students coming to weekend workshops at the school only had some, and possibly none of their tools properly sharpened and ready to go. (For other workshops I’d rather see students focused on the course at hand and not trying to hastily tune a chisel or iron rather than paying attention to a new course lessons) If you don’t have the time to commit two weeks to the Fundamentals of Fine Woodworking, or even if you completed that course and need more time and practice at sharpening, need access to a proper grinder or you have a new more complex iron or chisel that needs sharpening this is a great class to get your tool kit tuned up. The course is a mixture of demonstration and hands on time with with an instructor.

Introduction to Sharpening @ North Bennet Street School

Saturday-Sunday, July 23-24
8:30am-4:30pm
Instructor: Bill Rainford

Having sharp, well-tuned tools is perhaps the most important aspect of woodworking; they are requisite for good work. Learn the basics of sharpening a core set of tools used in many woodworking applications. We cover tuning up and sharpening a bench chisel, smoothing plane, and cutting gauge. Additional topics covered include hollow grinding, honing, making a stone holder and tuning up your stones. Additional tools covered as time allows.

Students are responsible for supplying their own tools. A tool list will be sent at least 2 weeks prior to class start.

Please review our Registration Policies before registering.

Registration closes 7 days prior to workshop start.

Register

And last, but certainly not least is an upcoming workshop at Eastfield Village as part of the Early American Industries Association (EAIA) Historic Trades Sampler. The course I will be teaching will be building a domed top box. This will give each students hands on exercises in working wood, assembling a small box, setting butt hinges and an optional lock, and working with cut nails. Once students complete their box we’ll work with Bill McMillen to do grain painting on the box as well. Details below including info on other courses being offered as part of this event:

Eastfield Historic Trades Sampler
Early American Industries Association

Join Us July 28-31,2016!
    The Early American Industries Association Eastfield Historic Trades Sampler, will be held on Thursday, July 28th through Sunday, July 31st, 2016, at Historic Eastfield Village, East Nassau, New York. The program this year will include:
  • Domed wooden box making with Bill Rainford
  • Decorative painting with Bill McMillen
  • Fish decoy making with Joe Brien
  • Iron utensil making in the blacksmith shop with Olof Janssen
  • Tinsmithing with Master Tinsmith Bill McMillen
  • Flint knapping & atlatl making with George Lott
  • Black powder shooting with Bill McMillen

The name name Eastfield Historic Trades Sampler reflects what we actually offer-a sampler of various trades with an opportunity to learn about them while completing a small project related to the craft.

    There are two different workshops each day from which to choose. The classes start at 9 a.m. and there is a lunch provided in Eastfield’s historic tavern from noon until 1 p.m., at which time the afternoon session of the workshops resume. The workshops end around 5 p.m.
Accommodations
    Accommodations in Eastfield’s taverns are available free of charge for those wishing to stay as guests in early 19th century surroundings. The only requirements is that each person supply their own bedding, plus 10 ten inch white candles.
    Students are encouraged to stay here during the Historic TradesSampler. Meals may be cooked or served in the late 18th century kitchens. Accommodations are rope beds with straw and feather ticks. Facilities are located in period out houses. There are evening gatherings in the Briggs Tavern and lively conversations and games of dominoes by candlelight. This immersive experience offers an unforgettable opportunity to be with others-students and teachers-of similar interests, to gain appreciation for the work and daily life of early 19th century America.
Registration
The cost of registration for the workshop is $485.00.
To register, you can contact John Verrill by phone at (703) 967-9399 or email EAIA1933@verizon.net or via mail:

Early American Industries Association PO Box 524
Hebron, MD 21830

If you have any questions about these upcoming workshops, please send me a comment below or contact me directly via the contact form here.

I hope to see you in a future class.

Take care,
-Bill

Digital Calipers

For many hand tool woodworkers, analog and imperial is the only way to go. Sometimes the modern world imposes itself on me and I have to bite the bullet and go digital and even occasionally metric.

I ran into this recently with a custom knife for my Williams & Hussey Molding Machine…

General Digital Calipers in nice fitted case with extra battery and screwdriver.
General Digital Calipers in nice fitted case with extra battery and screwdriver.

When I ran some muntin stock for a window sash the portion of the profile it was slightly narrower than my mortising chisels and hollow chisel mortising bit. I triple checked the setup of the knives and made sure they were aligned. I then took the chisel to the knife and it was slightly wider than the template. The CAD drawing of the knife matched what I expected the knife to look like. When talking to the knife manufacturer he asked that I double check the size of my chisels and I broke out the old, low resolution (1/32″), manual calipers I had and described what I was reading. That is where our two different worlds met. My trusty old General Tools Vernier caliper which worked great for comparing say two tenons — as I don’t have to read the value so much as compare — sort of like using a pair of wooden ‘pants’ on a timber tenon do not give the digital readings he was expecting. Terms like ‘a very tiny bit over 3/8″ ‘ don’t work in this context.

TIP: When taking measurements, especially those wherein you want to compare say two tenons, make sure you secure the lock screw — this way the jaws do not move.

Old and low resolution calipers I inherited and used mainly for comparison testing
Old and low resolution calipers I inherited and used mainly for comparison testing

I wound up having to send in my chisels for him to look at and adjust the knife, which I am grateful he did, but I did not want to repeat this experience.

“I thought the whole point of old woodworking was that you didn’t have to go metric.” –- Roy Underhill ( The Woodwright’s Shop Episode “Who Wrote the Book of Sloyd?” )

Right after the above I had the opportunity to get a digital caliper set from General Tools.

Measuring in fractions of an inch (Goes to 1/64th of an inch)
Measuring in fractions of an inch (Goes to 1/64th of an inch)

I’ve toyed with the idea of getting a real nice dial caliper like a Starrett but $185-$700  was out of my price range (Though I do use a Starrett Dial Indicator for setting up my stationary tools and love it) or high end digital caliper like the Mitutoyo ($150-$500+ depending on model), but for how often I’d use it I could not justify the price.

Enter the General Tools Model 147 Stainless Steel Digital Caliper.  The tool sells for about $25 on Amazon.com and claims and accuracy of  ±0.001 in./0.02mm  and a resolution of 1/64 in./0.0005 in./0.01mm.

Calipers zeroed out.
Calipers zeroed out.

I read all the reviews for this model and similarly priced calipers and wanted to see for myself how good it was or was not.

Top concerns I saw in the reviews for this sort of tool — questions around repeatability of measurements, battery life and accuracy.  As a woodworker my measuring tools usually are only graduated down to 1/128th of an inch at most, anything beyond that is tested by hand, eye and reference straightedge. Anything beyond that I defer to my machinist friends who like to get OCD about ambient temperatures and other fine details of super high resolution measuring.

Testing a 1" Lee Valley Chisel
Testing a 1″ Lee Valley Chisel

The caliper comes in a nice little plastic form fit case, along with a tiny screwdriver for the battery compartment along with a spare battery. (See first photo in post). The caliper seems to be mostly stainless steel with what looks like metallic coated plastic around the display. Overall to tool has a nice weight and finish quality and seems to be machined better than I expected. My only real nitpick is the thumbscrew has a tiny bit of play left and right, not in the direction it drives, so it doesn’t affect performance, but is something I noticed on close inspection.

I took out the tool and tried it on several chisels to see how they measured up. My old set of Lee Valley Japanese steel chisels measured a little bit under their nominal size. (As others have described, such as this article)

Re-testing for accuracy.
Re-testing for accuracy.

After taking a measurement I took a few other measurements, defined a new zero location, either arbitrary or using a reference like a machinists 1-2-3 block and then re-zeroed out the caliper and re-tested the chisels. I was able to get consistent readings each time.

Tip:  Before taking a measurement make sure that he calipers are ‘zeroed’ out — by making sure the jaws are touching (and you can see no light through them) using the zero button.  If starting from a new open position, so you can take a reading relative to a given starting place, you would open or close the jaws on the reference object, press the zero button and then adjust (open or close) and take your next measurement. (You can take negative measurements as well when starting from a zeroed out open position)

Using the upper jaws to measure inside.
Using the upper jaws to measure inside.

I also took some inside measurements (as shown above) and used the depth gauge rod (not shown) and had similarly consistent results.  The fractional mode only displays down to 1/64″ and if you want higher resolution output on the screen you’ll need to use the imperial decimal mode or the metric (mm) mode.  I like the ability to switch modes as it takes out some of the human error in converting from fractions to decimals or to metric measurements.

Tip: When taking measurements such as the chisel above make sure the jaws are firmly up against the item being measured and parallel — don’t be lazy using your finger on the thumb screw (used to open or close the jaws).

Others noted battery life issues, but my inner-engineering OCD likes to shut of the caliper as soon as I am done using it, but a few times I left it on to make sure that it eventually shut off and it seemed to work fine for me. The form fitted case has an instruction sheet in it when you get it and I wonder if for some folks if they didn’t seat the caliper properly in the case or put something on it so heavy that the closed case gets a little crushed/deformed it might press the buttons and prematurely drain the battery. I’ll keep an eye on battery longevity and add comments if things change, but so far so good on that front and I like knowing I have a spare ready to go in the case.

Summary:

For this price range do I expect the tool to replace the high end premium line — no. But do I need a premium high end dial or digital caliper in my woodworking shop, also a no.  This tool is a nice step up from my old caliper, offers and accuracy range above what I expect to work at and seems to be a real good value for the woodworker in need of more accurate measurements and a solid user tool.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. If you are interested in the same model, you can find it here on Amazon.  I do not get anything from sharing that link. If you have this tool or get one for yourself, let me know what you think of it in the comments below.

Flip the Switch

It’s never a good day when a power tool gives up its magic blue smoke. When I was making a recent run of saw horses my jointer’s switch decided it had enough.

It’s a Delta X5 ‘Professional’ 6″ jointer with the 42″ beds. It’s the same one that had the large fence advancement knob break a while back requiring a modern make-do sort of fix.  For what was supposed to be a top of the line ‘professional’ machine for its size I’m disappointed with how many issues it has had related to the manufacturer cutting corners. I used to be a big fan of Delta but in recent years and especially with it being sold off from Pentair and later Black and Decker and the turmoil with it being owned by an overseas company that only seems to own some of the old Delta product lines I’ve been disappointed with the quality and longevity of these machines compared to the old iron 20th century versions of the same model tools.

Fried lead
Fried lead

I knew this switch was going to be trouble the minute I saw it in person as I have a Delta 36-980 Table saw of the same vintage and both purchased new in the late 2000s — that had the switch die — at least in that case of fused into the ‘On’ position so I was able to add a Rockler Router Table Switch  with a nice big crash pad on it and have a safe and reliable way to turn the machine on and off.

For either machine they want $50-65+ for a replacement switch assembly that likely would not last any longer and has an incredibly cheap feel to it. I didn’t want to hack the cable and try and hardwire in a similar Rockler switch on the jointer as the flimsy arm to hold the switch would require even more modifications.

Notice the now much shorter contact
Notice the now much shorter contact

When the switch decided to die it seems to have arced and burned up the contact inside the switch (As seen above and below)

Carbon on the contact (sawdust from leaving the broken part sitting around the shop for a while)
Carbon on the contact (sawdust from leaving the broken part sitting around the shop for a while)

Rather than throwing more good money after bad I figured with some research I could find another switch to insert into the housing that would have the same load ratings and have a much lower price and it took a while to find one I thought would work, but eventually I found the switch below:

Replacement Switch
Replacement Switch

At the time I bought it, they cost me about $10 each and I bought one for my jointer and one for the table saw. You can find this toggle switch here on Amazon.com

Take a photo of your wiring ahead of time
Take a photo of your wiring ahead of time

I opened up the housing, took a picture of the wiring via my phone so I could wire it back up correctly, unplugged the leads and compressed the snap fittings so I could pry the old switch out. The new switch popped in and the contacts fit fine. I neatened up the wires, gave the circuit a quick test and closed up the housing and put it back on the machine.

Delta X5 Jointer Switch Assembly
Delta X5 Jointer Switch Assembly

The replacement switch also has that built in child safety switch/pin that can be removed and seems to work fine with that large over button as seen above.

With a little bit of research I’m happy I was able to save a few bucks and get this machine back into service. Hopefully this new switch from another manufacturer will last longer.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. I know I have been slow about posting lately, but we just had our second baby and things have been very busy. I’ve been amassing more content from time out in the shop so for the next month or two likely posts will be coming out at a slower pace but I’m working to get through the back log.

26 Horses and 2 Ponies

The best saw horses cannot be bought in a store, you have to build them.  I’ve seen plastic saw horses bend and buckle under < 200 pounds of load.  I’ve seen 2×4 saw horses with sheet metal couplers deform and crush.

When I was a student at NBSS one of the first projects we completed was building a pair of solid wood saw horses that could meet the heavy demands of a preservation carpenter. The school would load them up with more material than I ever thought a simple horse could hold. I was so impressed with how well they turned out I built 10 more while I was there and they have served me well over the years.

28 horses out on parade
28 horses out on parade

Right now as I build a 24’x30′ timber framed barn out in the yard I built another 28 horses to hold all the timber off the ground for sorting and working through the piles. The post below covers how I built these heavy duty horses.

For a large run of horses like this it is important to run through each operation like a small assembly line, though at times it can feel like a slog — after cutting 112 legs you become a master at optimizing all of your operations.

Large pile of green eastern white pine ready to go.
Large pile of green eastern white pine ready to go.

The wood of choice is green eastern white pine we buy from a local sawyer/lumber company. (Copeland And Sons Lumber).  The beams (the work surface of a horse) is cut from a 4x4x12′, the legs are made from 1x6x12′ boards and the gussets are made from 1/2″ CDX plywood.  Buying rough green stock like this from a sawyer helps keep the price per horse reasonable and the wood is full size, not nominal, so my 4×4 is 4″x4″ when I get it.  I estimate that they cost me < $10 each in terms of materials.

You can see how much moisture is still in the 4x4s
You can see how much moisture is still in the 4x4s

A note on working with green lumber, for horses or timber frames or similar projects — this wood was a tree possibly only a day or two before I get it, so if you use a power tool you may get some water spray on you. Be warned. Also make sure you wipe down and oil your tools appropriately so they do not rust. In the photo above you can see the outer 1/4″ or so that has dried a bit vs the wet center on this fresh cut off piece.

Stack of cut beams
Stack of cut beams

I start by cutting the beams to 36″ long. I then cut a 12 degree bevel on two sides. If your table saw cannot cut a full 4″ on an angle you can cut as much as you can, snap off most of the waste and then use a jointer or portable power planer (like 3-1/4″ Makita Door planer) to even out the side.

I also stamped my name into the end grain of each beam with my name stamp. It makes it easy to tell my horses apart from say another friend from the school.

Beam and gusset with dimensions. I also used my namespace on the beam end grain.
Beam and gusset with dimensions. I also used my namespace on the beam end grain.

Next up I ripped my 4×8 sheet of 1/2″ CDX plywood into ~4″ wide strips. I then took a second pass on each strip with the blade set to a 5 degree angle. This allows the gussets to nestle up tightly against the beam during final assembly.

Cutting compound angles for the legs. 5 degrees and 12 degrees.
Cutting compound angles for the legs. 5 degrees and 12 degrees.

Next up I cut all the legs. I set the compound miter saw to cut at a left tilt of 5 degrees and a right rotation of 12 degrees. (See image above). The long side of each leg was cut to be 34.75″ long.

Ripping the legs to a consistent width
Ripping the legs to a consistent width

With all the legs cut I ripped the rough edge off of each board, then ripped the other side so all the boards landed at a consistent 5.5″ width.

Stacks of cut legs
Stacks of cut legs

You don’t have to plane the boards to thickness if you don’t want to. Leaving them as thick as possible added to the strength and I am not thrilled about passing green wood though my cast iron tools and into my dust collection system.  My site chop saw and portable table saw both have aluminum tops which deal better with the wet wood.

112 legs ready to go
112 legs ready to go

All the legs are the same, though above I stacked them to make sure I had a correct number for all the horses I planned to build.  I also used a low angle block plane to break all the edges on the boards since they will be handled many times over the years and you don’t want any splinters.

Stacks of cut legs and beams back in the shop
Stacks of cut legs and beams back in the shop

I then brought my wood into the heated shop as we were getting some snow and stacked them as you see above. This was a big mistake as I’ll describe later. I planned to be out there the next day but with snow and a baby in the house they sat out there for a week. If you bring sopping wet/green wood into a heated shop, make sure you sticker them so air can flow around all the edges and the wood can dry evenly.

Layout for the 2" ceramic star drive deck screws.
Layout for the 2″ ceramic star drive deck screws.

With all the legs cut I started to layout for the screws. I grab two combination squares and set one to be 1″ and set the other to 2″. This allows for fast/efficient layout. (see above image). Each of the screws is either 1″ or 2″ from the edge or top of the board. The screws are staggered to help avoid splitting the wood. I used DeckMate 2″ ceramic coated deck screws that have a nice thick shaft and are rated for outdoor structural use and do not rust. Do NOT use drywall screws on this sort of project, they are far too weak and not meant for the outdoors. One 5lb box of #8 2″ screws was enough to attach all the legs. After layout I pre-drill each of the holes and start the screws into the boards — this makes it a lot easier to assemble the horse later on.

Laying out the beam. 5 degree angle is set in 2.5" from the end. The top of the legs should be 1/4" below the top of the beam.
Laying out the beam. 5 degree angle is set in 2.5″ from the end. The top of the legs should be 1/4″ below the top of the beam.

For the beams I make a tick mark 2.5″ in from each end on the top edge of the beam. Using a protractor I make a 5 degree line down the side of the beam — this splays the legs and gives use  nice stable horse. Having two protractors on hand is nice as I have one set for the right and one set for the left. I then set a combination square to 1/4″ and make a line along the top edge of the beam — this allows me to line up the legs during assembly. I also broke all the edges with a block plane.

Another horse ready to be assembled
Another horse ready to be assembled

Early on I made a few pairs of saw horses to work from and did the majority of the horses as a large run.

Attaching the legs — I added one leg at a time, usually only sinking 2 or 3 of the pre-started screws into the beam. I add one leg, then add the second leg on the same side of the beam. This makes it easier to stand the horse on those two legs and add the third leg. When adding the 4th leg you’ll want to make sure all 4 legs are properly resting on the ground. If your horse wobbles this is your chance to adjust the legs. When the horse is standing the way you want you can sink the rest of the screws on the legs. When using an impact gun you don’t want to sink the screws any further into the wood than you absolutely have to. Ideally the screw heads should come to rest in the same plane as the surface of the wood, but green pine can be a bit soft so some of them may go deeper before they have enough grip to pull the leg tight to the beam.

Mass producing gusset plates.
Mass producing gusset plates.

With a beam and set of legs ready to go and standing nicely you can take a plywood gusset blank, bring it over to the partially assembled horse and trace where it meets the legs. Ideally the gussets should not stick out farther than the legs, otherwise they might catch on things. Making them say 1/32″ inside of the surface of the legs is what I shoot for. Using that traced piece I cut it and label it as a the template and use that for laying out each of the subsequent gussets

Important Notes About Gussets:

1.) When cutting the gusset the beveled end is always ‘up’ on the installed gusset — it mates nicely to the underside of the beam.

2.) When installing a gusset make sure the 5 degree bevel is facing the correct way so that it rest tightly up against the beam.

 

Impromptu work table
Impromptu work table

With a few horses pressed into early service I was able to make a makeshift table that allowed me to layout/mark all the of the gussets. Each one is secured with 4 screws. I made a mark for each screw to be 1″ down from the top or the bottom of the gusset and centered on the thickness of the leg, so for most that would be ~3/8″ in from the mitered edge. I turn a horse on its side and place the marked gusset where it is going to go. I then pre-drill the gusset in place and drive the screws. I used #8 1-5/8″ Deckmate Ceramic Star-drive screws and again a 5lb box was enough for this project.

Each horse required 16 2″ screws and 16 1-5/8″ screws.

Saw horse with dimensions.
Saw horse with dimensions.

And now we have a completed horse! The image above has some more dimensional information for quick reference.

Lunchbox planer getting a workout
Lunchbox planer getting a workout

Now back to that mistake I mentioned earlier. By leaving the cut wet boards tightly stacked a mold/fungus quickly bloomed on half of the boards. I have a lot of allergies so I didn’t want to handle those boards any more than I’d have to, and it was unsightly, so I suited up and with my dust mask and fed them through my lunchbox planer. I also didn’t use my dust collector as I don’t want that wet fungus living in my filter. I planed the rough boards smooth and stickered them up to dry in the sun as I worked on other horses.

Letting the legs air dry a bit
Letting the legs air dry a bit

That little mistake accidentally created ‘Denim Pine’ — pine boards with a blue tint that results from that fungus blooming and is desirable to some folks, presumably non-workers that like the look of it. (See above and below). With the mold/spores/fungus/grossness removed and stickered the legs will dry and be fine to use. As I completed each horse it will live out side where it can dry at a steady rate until the barn gets finished.

Some 'Denim Pine' Legs
Some ‘Denim Pine’ Legs

How do you store all of these horses? 

Mass producing gusset plates.
Stacked horses.

The horses stack nicely and even when stacked all the wood can dry nicely.

Wide angle view of the horses
Wide angle view of the horses

This was the largest run of horses I’ve made to date so I set them all up out in the driveway just to see them all in one place.

2 ponies in the foreground 26 horses in the background
2 ponies in the foreground 26 horses in the background

Two of the horses, my ponies,  had a 24″ beam as two of the 4x4s were a little short and I thought it would be nice to have a set that can fit into a tight place.

It looks like a TON of horses, but these 12, plus the 12 I already had will just barely be enough for the barn build.
It looks like a TON of horses, but these 12, plus the 12 I already had will just barely be enough for the barn build.

What do you plan to do with all these horses?

A LOT of shiplap siding on horses. 10-12" wide 16' long pieces
A LOT of shiplap siding on horses. 10-12″ wide 16′ long pieces

Above and below you can see a couple thousand linear feet of 16′  shiplapped pine sheathing held with ease by these horses.

A LOT of shiplap siding on horses
A LOT of shiplap siding on horses

In the photo below are 24 2″ thick 12″ wide green pine planks that will be used in the barn loft. I estimated this wood to weigh 1800lbs and the 4 horses below seem to hold it with ease.

4 horses holding over 1850+lbs of green pine planking
4 horses holding over 1850+lbs of green pine planking

And below are some 6×9 25′ long timbers.

Horses holding 6"x9"x25' timbers
Horses holding 6″x9″x25′ timbers

As you can see these versatile horses are at home in the shop or out on a worksite and I hope that you’ll build a few pairs for yourself. If you do, please let me know in the comments.

Take care,
-Bill

Making a Window Sash Part 1

Building a window sash by hand can sound intimidating, but with some practice it can be an enjoyable experience. Early window sash were built by hand designed to be maintainable — if a component broke or rotted out it could be replaced — something that is not possible with most aluminum and vinyl windows you see on the market today.

Continuing Education Department at the North Bennet Street School, Boston, MA
Continuing Education Department at the North Bennet Street School, Boston, MA

A few weekends ago I taught a two day workshop I developed on building a window sash at the North Bennet Street School. This post and the next are a high level recap of the course with some photos from building the prototype in my workshop and what we did in the classroom

Nice quarter-sawn stock for muntins.
Nice quarter-sawn stock for muntins.

Stock selection is important. My wood of choice is Eastern White Pine, preferably quarter-sawn heart pine which is easy to work, weathers well and historically appropriate in my area — the greater Boston area.

Sticking Knife Profile in the Williams and Hussey
Sticking Knife Profile in the Williams and Hussey

A profile can be run by hand using sash planes or using a router table. For larger runs a custom molding knife can make fast work of this often tedious task using a machine like the ‘Williams and Hussey’ molder. (Shown above and below)

Profiling the stock
Profiling the stock

We make a few passes to get near the finished size wanted and then a final cleanup pass at the end to leave the piece with a nice finish.

Profiled stock coming out of the molding machine
Profiled stock coming out of the molding machine

Rails, stiles and muntin stock are run using the same setup on the machine — this way all the profiles are consistent.

Rails, stiles and muntin stock profiled.
Rails, stiles and muntin stock profiled.

Next up is the use of a story stick — this traditional device is effectively a set of plans laid out on a piece of stock that matches the rest of your milled stock. Key locations like mortises are transferred to the work piece by using a marking knife and a combination square. The knife allows for accurate and consistent transfer of measurements to the work-piece.

Using the story stick to transfer measurements to the work piece
Using the story stick to transfer measurements to the work piece

Shown below are mortises cut either with a hollow chisel mortiser or by hand with a mortising chisel. Also note that the work pieces are deliberately left long. These ‘horns’ allow for more relish to support mortise walls from blowing out and also allow the sash to sit in the shop and not ding or damage the piece as it is worked on and eventually glazed.

Mortises cut
Mortises cut

Once the mortises are cleaned up its on to cutting the tenons. Once the piece is laid out I start by cross-cutting the shoulders. (See below). I then use a chisel to pop off the waste or for larger tenons will make a second saw cut (This time ripping down to the shoulder cut) and clean it up with a chisel.

Cutting in to reveal the tenon
Cutting in to reveal the tenon

With the shoulders in place I can dry fit them (using the square shoulders that are on the exterior side of the sash) to make sure I have a tight fit as seen below.  Note that I am not fitting the tenon yet, just the shoulder to start.

Test fit the central muntin
Test fit the central muntin

Next up was the coping. I make use of a saddle block with a 45 degree ramp and some in-cannel chisels to cope the muntin stock as shown below.  With the cope in place I can now test the fit of each of the tenons into its mortise.

Tenon complete and profile coped
Tenon complete and profile coped

This creates a nice tight joint that allows the pieces to mate together in a pleasing manner that allows to profile to make that 90 degree transition from the horizontal to the vertical.

A nicely coped joint
A nicely coped joint

I use a similar process for fitting the horizontal muntins — starting first with the center joint as this can be fussy at times. I want each horizontal muntin to meet cleanly in the center and have both tenons fill as much of the mortise as possible. I leave the stock long so if something goes wrong with the joint I can cut off that inch or so and try again without wasting a whole piece of stock. With the center joint in place I’ll cut the other shoulder and fit it as we did with the vertical muntin and then cope the joint and test those tenons.

Test fitting the shoulders for the horizontal muntins
Test fitting the shoulders for the horizontal muntins

With all the primary joinery completed its time to dry fit it all together and check for square. All the joints should fit together well and the shoulders and copes should be nice and tight.

Test fitting the primary joinery. Note the horns will remain until we paint the sash.
Test fitting the primary joinery. Note the horns will remain until we paint the sash.

If your joints close up with some mild pressure don’t worry too much as the draw bored pins will help pull the joints together and keep them closed. With each stage in this process the sash becomes more and more rigid.

In the next post we’ll talk about making pins, draw-boring, cutting glass and glazing.

Take care,
-Bill

Upcoming Classes

Things have been busy at home and in the shop. I’m in the process of building a 24’x30′ timber framed garage/barn. Lots of good content coming from that build, and I promise a lot of it will *eventually* make it to the blog, but the pressure is on to get as much of it up and built before baby #2 arrives at the end of March and our lives change even more at home. We have a 17 month old son that keeps us very busy as it is. On my Facebook page I often post some more real time photos of what I’ve been up to.

Last weekend I taught a workshop at the North Bennet Street School on building a Window Sash that sold out and was a lot of fun. (Recap of that class to follow in the next post)

I believe there are still a couple of spots open in my up coming 1 day workshop on February 27th at the North Bennet Street School in Boston on making traditional molding by hand and making a picture frame from that molding. If you are interested, please make sure you sign up soon.

This course will be very similar to a course I taught out at Eastfield Village for the EAIA’s Historic Trades Sampler. You can see a recap of that course and some of the frames students built here.

For a full list of upcoming courses I am teaching, please check out the ‘Instruction’ page at the the menu bar for the blog or you can directly access it here.

Here is a quick recap of the next few workshops that are scheduled:

Molding to Picture Frame Workshop @ The North Bennet Street School

Saturday, February 27
8:30 AM – 4:30 PM
I
nstructor: Bill Rainford
$175 Register

This workshop will focus on creating moldings using traditional hand planes. Each student will have the opportunity to setup and use some hollows and rounds, beading planes, rabbet planes and molders on a sticking board to make a short run of molding that will be mitered to form a small picture frame. Cutting/fitting glass will also be covered.

Beginners are welcome.

If you’d like to learn more about this workshop from a prior running, please check out this post. If you’d like to learn a bit more about this sort of work please check out this earlier post as well as this one.

Please review our Registration Policies before registering.

Registration closes 7 days prior to class start.

Register

 

Summer Courses (More Details to be published soon)

Drywall for Beginners @ North Bennet Street School
Saturday-Sunday, June 25-26
8:30am-4:30pm
Instructor Bill Rainford

Introduction to Sharpening @ North Bennet Street School
Saturday-Sunday, July 23-24
8:30am-4:30pm
Instructor: Bill Rainford

Eastfield Village + EAIA Historic Trades Sampler July 28-31, 2016

 

I hope see you in class.

Take care,
-Bill

How to fix sagging doors

Every family has its own unique holiday traditions. For my wife and I we seem to spend Thanksgiving replacing door hardware and adjusting doors. We did this several years ago in our condo when we lived in Kirkland, WA and again in our home here in New Hampshire. Both times I was swapping out builder grade brass Schlage hardware for nicer Schlage ‘Georgian’ style knobs and hinges with a satin nickel finish.

We’re lucky in that our house is from 1999 and has had a minimal amount of settling — especially compared to the 1910 Craftsman Bungalow we used to rent wherein virtually no door closed properly until I spent a Thanksgiving break adjusting all those doors as well.

With all that door tweaking I’ve refined my method for adjusting the doors and wanted to share a few tips on how I tune up a sagging door.

Evaluate the door:
* Does it close? (and stay closed)
* Do you feel the door rub against the jamb at all? (Are there visible wear marks from rubbing?)
* Is the hardware securely fastened? (Any stripped out or cammed out screws? Lift the door handle a bit and see how the hinges react — do you see slop in their movement? Are some of the screws loose?)
* Has the door been modified? (Anything removed to make room for a crooked or settled door frame? Has the hardware been modified?)

BEFORE: Existing door with brass hardware sagging
BEFORE: Existing door with brass hardware sagging

The above door is door to my upstairs hall closet. It rubs a little bit when you open or close it. Let’s take a look and see why.

Example of lower left side of door rubbing as door sagged.
Example of lower left side of door rubbing as door sagged.

Looking at the lower left side of the door I can see the door is pressing against the jamb. At the bottom you can see the spacing between the door and the frame tapers off into the place where they are touching.

Top right of door rubbing against the frame.
Top right of door rubbing against the frame.

As is no real surprise if we look at the top right of the door we can see where the door is touching and rubbing on the right jamb. If I pull up on the door handle I can see the door go back into the position it should be — looks like the top most hinge is a little loose.

How do we fix this problem?

In my case I want to examine the doors as they were and also swap out the hardware so anything brass is a ‘before’ photo and anything nickel is an ‘after’ photo.

The first thing I like to do is make sure the screws holding the hinges in place are nice and tight. The default screw most hinges come with are short ~3/4″ screws. After years of use or abuse (say something heavy like a shoe tree hanging from the inside of a door) the screws can come loose and/or strip the wood that once held them securely.

Brushed nickel screws. Better hinge sets will include some longer screws that are helpful in correcting/preventing door sag when used.
Brushed nickel screws. Better hinge sets will include some longer screws that are helpful in correcting/preventing door sag when used.

Better hinge sets will often include some longer screws — usually enough for 1 long screw in each hinge. I’ll start by installing 2 screws — one each in the top and bottom of each leaf. As I screw them in firmly — and by hand — I can feel how well the screw is gripping into the wood of the jamb and the wood of the door. If any of the screws just keep spinning then the screw has been stripped out and is now a candidate for one of the longer screws. If the screws are holding then I will use the longer screw in the center hole on the hinge leaf that is on the jamb. This longer screw should go through the jamb and into the heavier framing and provide a strong and longer lasting connection. If the center screw hole was sound but one of the others was stripped out I will put the longer screw into that hole.

Pro-Tip: The hinge leaf with three knuckles should be installed on the door jamb and the leaf with two knuckles should be installed on the door itself.  (This will provide a better bearing surface for the door’s hinge leaf to ride on and make it easier to remove the door and put it back in the future). If the pin is removable you can drive it out with a transfer punch and install it the opposite way for a door that opens in the opposite direction.

What do to if the long screws won’t grip either?

Sounds like the screw hole has been damaged too much. If you don’t want to replace the door and/or jamb a reasonable fix can be made using a small diameter dowel. You’ll want to drill out a bigger hole, say 1/4″ diameter, through the stripped out screw hole. Then glue and hammer in a small length of 1/4″ dowel to fill the new hole. Allow the glue to dry and cut it flush with the hinge mortise. Then mark the hole using the hinge as a template and re-drill the hole with a bit that is narrower than the screw you are using. Ideally the bit should be the size of the shank (the solid core) of the screw, thus allowing the threads to get a nice grip into sound/solid wood.

Use one of the hinges as a template.
Use one of the hinges as a template.

Securely affixing the new hardware fixed the issue on that particular door, but other doors in the house still didn’t line up the way I wanted and/or the hinge was set too deep and needed something more — some shims — to get the door back into proper alignment.

Easy to make shims

I grabbed a manila folder and traced one of the hinge leaves onto the folder. I then cut out what I traced being sure to ‘take the line’ that way I could be sure the template would fit. Also by leaving the folder folded up I could get two shims from each cutting operation.  I would test fit the shim and use one as the template for subsequent operations. Also make sure the shim only fills the area where wood would be under the hinge, you don’t want the shims going all the way out to the knuckle of the hinge where they would be visible. Once I had a small stack of these shims I could take a few test fittings and see how many I needed to pad out the hinge so it would be flush with the door jamb or door surface. I would then scotch tape the shims (if I needed to use more than 1) to each other and into the jamb using a small loop of tape. With the shim(s) in place the I’d use the same screw installation procedure described above.

Completed template.
Completed template.

What about the hinge pin door bumper?

A hinge pin door bumper is the little metal bracket with adjustable rubber pads on it used to stop a door from opening too wide and potentially damaging walls or furniture. Once you have your hinges installed you can use a transfer punch (or in a pinch a nail set, nail or another hinge pin) to drive the pin up and out of your hinge. You then put the pin through the bumper and gently tap it back down into the knuckles of the hinge.  Once installed you’ll want to adjust the bumper so that the door only opens as far as you want — the bumper may have some spring to it so if you have some heavy handed folks in your house you may want to test it so folks are not over powering the bumper and denting your walls. I put the adjustable side of the bumper facing the trim and the fixed side against the door.

Pro-Tip: Oftentimes I see these hinge pin bumpers installed on the top most hinge. In my view the top and bottom most hinges are under the most stress and when the bumper is used its putting even more stress on the hinge and screws. I prefer to put the bumper on the middle hinge as feel that it is in the best position to deal with the additional stresses.

Note that the spacing between the door and the jamb is consistent.
Note that the spacing between the door and the jamb is consistent.

Mind the Gap

As you are making these adjustments to the door you’ll want to watch the gap between the door and the jamb. Ideally you want this to be even all around — see photo above.

What to do if the gaps aren’t perfect?

Your house may have settled a bit causing the jamb to go out of square or it may never have been installed perfectly in the first place. If that is the case, use your judgement to do the best that you can. Ideally you want at least some space around the door on all sides so that it can swing freely, but you don’t need to obsess over it as houses will often continue to settle over time and functionality should be your top objective.

AFTER: Properly adjusted door with new Schlage 'Georgian' style knobs. The knobs and hinges are finished in brushed nickel.
AFTER: Properly adjusted door with new Schlage ‘Georgian’ style knobs. The knobs and hinges are finished in brushed nickel.

What if all the gaps look good, but now the door knob won’t catch on the strike plate?

If the strike plate is now way off, say 1/4″ or more– double check to make sure you haven’t misaligned anything. If you are confident in your work and happy with your gaps you could remove the strike plate, use the doweling repair method above, cut a new mortise and re-install the strike plate. This can take a lot of time and work and gets ugly as you don’t want to chew up a lot of the wood in the door jamb, graft on wood dutchmen or shims to fill gaps left by the old mortise nor do you want a lot of putty to fill the gap left by the old location. If the strike plate is only off by say 1/8″ or so you may want to consider filing the strike plate. You can take the strike plate off, put it in a vise and file the opening a bit so that the  latch now properly catches in the strike plate. Just be careful not to remove so much metal that you weaken the mounting screws’ ability to securely hold the strike plate in place.

Pro-Tip: Files only cut on the push stroke. After each push you should lift the file slightly and then pull back so that you don’t prematurely dull your file(s). Also be mindful that you don’t leave any burs and make sure you are cutting straight up and down in line with the existing opening in the strike plate.

By working through the above steps you should be able to fix most of the common problems you’ll encounter with interior doors. I know I am a lot happier to have all my doors properly closing and staying closed now. And the new hardware color also makes my OCD happy as the older brass hardware always bothered me as I have been slowly replacing/upgrading other hardware around the house to match that more modern design aesthetic and get rid of any remaining brass.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. This post will be the first in an occasional series of Handyman 101 and/or Woodworking 101 posts to help folks new to this sort of work get acclimated to doing common projects.
If you have specific requests for topics you want to see covered, please let me know in the comments or via the form on the contact page.

Black Belt Display Case

Who doesn’t like a nice curve?
I recently had the honor of building an appropriate display case for my friend Lee Lemoine who is a Tae Kwon Do black belt.  We talked a bit about what he was looking for, captured some dimensions for the coiled belt and looked at some sources for inspiration and then it was time to hit the drawing board.

Completed Black Belt Case
Completed Black Belt Case

I spent about a day and a half drafting and revising my design until I could find something that would work. The cabinet is wide but not too deep nor terribly tall so it was going to be a challenge to make the joinery work. I thought about making the back access panel hinged or sliding or secured in some other manner, but I really didn’t want to see any hardware on this piece. I bought some small brass hinges and a clasp and just didn’t like how it would look. After sleeping on it an idea hit me….to hide a magnet catch since this case will rarely be opened. I also had Jim Tolpin and George Walker’s writing (By Hand and By Eye) echoing around in my head as I worked out pleasing proportions for the overhang of the top, size of the curve etc.

Planing the stock to final dimensions
Planing the stock to final dimensions

After completing the plans, I planed all my stock and started working on the joinery.

Quick template to remove material for the magnet catch
Quick template to remove material for the magnet catch

For the magnet catch I made a template on the band saw and used a router with a template bit to cut out the recess.

Test fitting the magnet catch
Test fitting the magnet catch

The catch was captured and would not be seen from the front (shown below)

Preparing the core of the box to accept the top
Preparing the core of the box to accept the top

Next up was constructing the core of the box. The core box needed to capture the glass front in a series of dadoes. I also wanted the box to be serviceable if the glass was ever broken. I needed to keep the joinery simple and decided to go with pocket hole screws since that would allow someone in the future to take the top off of the box and remove the top of the core of the box as well. The overhanging box top is affixed to the core box via screws. The challenge with the screws was the interior of the box was only 2-1/4″ tall so I had to use a square drive bit in a set of vise grips in order to secure the screws through the core box and into the top. (I pre-drilled both to make sure everything lined up where I wanted it)

Cutting a strip of glass
Cutting a strip of glass

Next up was cutting the very long strip of glass for the front of the box. I used a stained glass ‘strip cutter’ which works much like a woodworking panel gauge with a fence.  You score the glass in one even stroke and break it as you would any other piece of glass.

Laying out the curve with a faring stick
Laying out the curve with a faring stick

Next up was laying out the curve using a faring stick — which is a thin strip of even grained wood that you can bend to make the curve you want, then clamp it in place and draw your line with a pencil. If you thin out the strip you can adjust the rate of curvature.

Cutting the curves on the band saw
Cutting the curves on the band saw

I cut out the curves using the band saw and cleaned them up with some spoke shaves.

Rabbet will fit into a dado on the back of the case
Rabbet will fit into a dado on the back of the case

For the back of the case I needed it to fit tightly so it doesn’t let any light in and also created a rabbet to keep the bottom in the correct place. The magnet catch secures the top in place.

Back removed to show how the magnet catch works.
Back removed to show how the magnet catch works.

Shown above you can see the box opened and below you can see it closed.

Rear of the case when closed.
Rear of the case when closed.

A small turned knob allows someone to remove the back and is often hidden in the shadow from the top — so when the case is on a table or similar you generally cannot even see it.

Small pull and clean lines on the back of the case
Small pull and clean lines on the back of the case

The piece is made from a single piece of cherry, finished with a Tung Oil Varnish and wax.

Master Lee describing what the belt means to him and the long road it took to get it
Master Lee describing what the belt means to him and the long road it took to get it

As I was building this case I was reading up on Asian design aesthetics and Tae Kwon Do (TKD) and all that Lee had to go through and master. As he rose through various levels of black belt he had to demonstrate skills and self control and continually work to learn and improve himself.

In my research, a concept that really jumped out at me was Wabi-Sabi — which represents a comprehensive Japanese world view or aesthetic centered on the acceptance of transience and imperfection.  The aesthetic is sometimes described as one of beauty that is “imperfect, impermanent, and incomplete”. TKD comes from Korea, but from what I could find also has a similar concept in that country as well.

Lee presenting his black belt to his parents
Lee presenting his black belt to his parents

With all the clean lines and symmetry on this piece I wanted to incorporate a tiny little something to try and capture a bit more of that Wabi-Sabi aesthetic or at least some of that spirit. So between the top of the core box and the overhanging box top I inlaid a tiny veneer strip of mahogany. It’s almost imperceptible as it hides in the shadows from the overhanging box top. As I worked on the piece I felt it was a reminder of imperfect beauty, self improvement and a reward for anyone really exploring the piece in detail in their hands.

Lee presented the case with his black belt to his parents during a touching speech and I hear it enjoys a sunny place in their living room.

Cherry Black Belt Case
Cherry Black Belt Case

It was great to see Master Lee Lemoine’s ceremony and I have a whole new respect for what Tae Kwon Do offers and what students can achieve through it. If you’d like to learn more about TKD and specifically the Tiger Claw NH school where Lee is now a Master you can visit their website here.

Take care,
-Bill