You say router and I say router

RouterTableWhen I look back on some of my old posts from the joinery shop, I see that we used hand tools to make everything. Now that’s history because Andreu, Michael, Rod, Zac and I spent the last week under the watchful eye of Ian, building tables for our routers.

My dictionary gives the follow definition of the verb to ‘rout’:

cut a groove, or any pattern not extending to the edges, in (a wooden or metal surface)

but this only scratches the surface (sorry) of the capabilities of the router and router table combo; my planes are now gathering dust on the shelf.

The router table went together very quickly, and the router itself was an essential part of its construction. Many grooves not extending to the edges were cut, and even some that did reach the edge (also known as ‘rebates’). When it came to putting the surface on our table tops, there was a bonus: Ian brought out some sheets of walnut Formica that were ordered specially (or was that ‘found in the back of the cupboard’?).

IanWhen we’d built the tables, Ian showed us some of its capabilities; which are quite extensive. You can spend a fortune on router cutters and jigs to cut letter boxes, kitchen work surfaces  dovetail joints, skirting boards, tongue and groove, the list goes on; in fact Axminster have a whole section just on routing (none of their router tables have walnut tops though). While there’s not much that can be done to avoid the cost of cutters, Ian encouraged us to think about making our own jigs as attachments to the table. He showed us a whole range of jigs that he has made over a lifetime in joinery and hinted at some he has made that no one else has thought of yet; but we didn’t get to see them.

My first job after the router table workshop was to shape some more timbers for Naiad. Normally I’d reach for my plane for this job, but I thought I’d see if I could do it on the router table. A fair amount of trial and error was involved, and some of my test pieces got a bit chewed up, but once I’d got it set up, I was churning out shaped timbers at quite a lick (and I still have all my fingers). It got me thinking about my first idea for a jig which would make the setting up quicker; but it’s still on the drawing board; I expect Ian already has one.

Beam me up Scotty

Can dovetail joints get any more complicated?

Can dovetail joints get any more complicated?

Happy New Year. I’m back at my workbench at last. It isn’t the same bench that I left 3 weeks ago; the joinery shop has moved next door in order to make room for more boats that need to be fixed. What hadn’t changed was the beam shelf to which I had been attaching deck beams before I left. It’s quite a complex task; complicated dovetail joints with all sorts of strange angles. We were warned that we would need to take notes while doing the first one in order to be able to do the rest. I had taken notes but somehow they didn’t mean much after 3 weeks. I spent the first morning just looking at what I’d done in mid-December, reading some meaningless sentences and diagrams and scratching my head.

Done at last

Done at last

Deck beams are used to support the boat’s deck, and help to support the sides of the boat. They are attached to the upper edge of the boat’s sides (known as gunwales until the deck beams are attached, at which point they are referred to as beam shelves). They have to be constructed in accordance with Lloyd’s rules for scantlings which are determined by the dimensions of the bits of wood used to build the boat. These dimensions are referred to in the boat building world as ‘siding’ and ‘moulding’; the siding of a beam is its horizontal thickness or width and the moulding is its vertical depth of the beam at any point along its length. Where a beam meets a beam shelf there is a convergence of several angles; as John Leather says in ‘Clinker Boatbuilding’:

Setting out beam end joints requires careful thought as the gunwale  or shelf is usually not vertical but raked outwards, and the sheer further confuses clear appreciation of the approach.

He didn’t even mention the fact that the beam itself is curved! (known as its crop). Our mission was to attach the deck beams to the beam shelf using half dovetail joints. The problem is that you don’t really know whether you’ve done it right until it’s done.

Projecting lines

Projecting line.

At least one extra arm would have been handy. The beam has to be held vertically above the beam shelf while the required angles are projected between the beam and the beam shelf using a straight edge. It’s a leap of faith as you cut a homelet in the beam shelf to support the beam, cut a half dovetail on the beam and project its shape into the shelf. One or both of the dovetails has to then be tapered otherwise the beam won’t go into the beam shelf because of the rake of the shelf. Then its a matter of looking for points where the surfaces rub and easing them so that eventually the beam drops into place. Then it’s on to the next one. After I’d done three beams, Jon asked me if I was now confident about doing them; I think ‘yes’ was the right answer as I didn’t have to do any more.

A new group has started in joinery this week, good luck to them all. There’s lots to learn, but Ian and Jon are there to guide them through as painlessly as possible. I think the ‘how flat is flat?‘ discussion has started again already. I’ve almost finished my joinery projects; so I should be over in the boat shed (aka ‘the Dark Side’) by the end of this week. At last I’ll find out what happens behind the blue door …

Portal to the dark side

Portal to the dark side

Shock and Oar

Broken weld - now redeployed as a handy straight edge

Broken weld – now redeployed as a handy straight edge

The woodworking industry has one of the highest accident rates in manufacturing. Circular saws are very dangerous (30% of accidents), followed by planers (20%), spindle moulders (15%) and bandsaws (10%). They’re all just waiting to have your fingers. We’ve been doing some machinery safety training in preparation for the fact that the reality of boat building isn’t all about spending days and weeks with a hand plane and chisels, however idyllic that might be. Basically you shouldn’t go near a machine without a couple of push-sticks to prod the work through and keeping your hands well out of it. I almost found this out to my cost this week when I used a band saw to cut some waste from my oar. I had it all lined up and ready to go when the weld that joins the ends of the saw blade together failed and the blade spewed out of the machine quite dramatically. Luckily I’d just had my training, and Jon was keeping a close eye on what I was doing, so my hands were well out of the way of the blade. The brake kicked in and stopped the machine quickly, but it was a good lesson learned; a bag of flesh isn’t much of a match for large woodworking machines.

Back in the relative safety (only the occasional plaster) and quiet of the joinery shop, I spent the rest of the week with my spar gauge  planes, spoke shave, draw knife and 3 grades of sandpaper fashioning my Oar1 Oar2 Oar3 Oar4 Oar5 Oar6 Oar7 Oar8 Oar9 Oar10oar out of three pieces of spruce that were glued together. It really does seem miraculous to see the curved shape of the blade and the cylindrical shaft emerge from a block of wood; more like sculpture than joinery. It does take a long time though; but now it’s finished (minus 1 coat of varnish) so at least I’ll be OK next time I’m up the proverbial creek (which isn’t usually a very long wait).

Joiner’s Toys

Catalogue of Chandler and Farquhar, Boston, 1900. Smithsonianphoto 55798.

Catalogue of Chandler and Farquhar, Boston, 1900.

Like many male dominated pursuits, there is a degree of kit fetishism involved with joinery; which in the case of class 111 seems to be centred around planes. There’s a lot of interest in older planes in the group as they can work as well as, or better than new products. Beautiful new planes can be bought from companies such as Lie-Nielsen and Clifton, but the basic principle of operation hasn’t really changed for hundred of years. The earliest known planes date from the 1st century AD, and modern planes would probably be recognisable to a Roman carpenter. The iron bodied Bailey planes shown in the Chandler and Farquhar catalogue on the left were first introduced in the 1870s, and most of them can still be bought as Stanley or Record products with exactly the same design, dimensions and product numbers.

It’s amazing what you can do with a plane. I started off with a cheap no. 3 smoothing plane that occasionally saw the light of day when a door was sticking. Because I never sharpened it, it generally did more harm than good. Now I’ve built up a bit of a collection of old planes; some have been given to me by friends that have found them in sheds, some have been bought for a few pounds at tool sales and some cost a bit more. In the joinery shop we’ve used them in a variety of different ways in the past 12 weeks to create flat surfaces, perpendicular edges, angles, curves, bevelled edges and sometimes just to get rid of waste wood. We’ve used them to make boxes, mallets, bench hooks, oars and even more planes.

The latest addition to my plane collection - a bollow plane

The latest addition to my plane collection – a bollow plane

I’ve just finished making a bollow plane in beech, which will be used to scoop out the blade of a spoon oar, which is my next project. With my bench hook, mallet, dovetail gauge and spar gauge, I’ve now got a small collection of tools I’ve made myself, which provided a feeling of self sufficiency until I remembered that I needed a plane to make the plane and a mallet to make the mallet. So now I’m just wondering how they made the first one.

Zac using Andreu's old wooden jointer plane

Zac using Andreu’s old wooden jointer plane

My plane collection

My plane collection

Edward's Mathieson plane with precision adjustment tool

Edward’s Mathieson plane with precision adjustment tool

Grate Expectations

Rails, stiles, ribs and slats

Rails, stiles, ribs and slats

I always have great expectations of the next joinery project. This time it will be perfect and I will defeat the demons. In order to do good joinery, you need to mark out the lines accurately and then cut along the lines. How hard can it be?

This week I’ve been making a proper boat thing; it’s a mahogany floor grating and is the sort of thing that might be used in a boat’s cockpit, heads, shower or galley to allow water to drain away and keep your feet dry(ish). The grating consists of a frame made up of two stiles and two rails joined together with haunched mortise and tenon joints (the haunch hides the tenon from view on the outside edge). Our gratings have four ribs, which are attached to the rails with stub tenons (i.e. little ones) and four slats which are attached to the stiles with tiny beaked tenons. It was all going well; in fact it’s quite engrossing marking out and cutting all the joints; but I was conscious that it was taking rather a long time. That’s the notion that I need to remind myself always leads to things going wrong. The slats need to be recessed into the ribs; four ribs and four slats require 16 intersections between them. I decided that it would be much quicker to put all the ribs together and cut out all the recesses for the cross halving joints in 8 cuts rather than 32. The problem was that I sacrificed a good deal of precision on the altar of speed as I found out when I put them all together, so now I’ve got big gaps between my ribs and slats. Another lesson learned (again); the application of patience is inversely proportional to that of Brummer.

Class 111

Class 111

People have started to disappear from the joinery shop. Andreu and Edward have gone over to ‘the dark side’ (as the boat shed is generally known). We also said goodbye to Jonny; he’s gone off to start working in a boat yard further up the coast. We saw them off in fine style at the Commodore with a slap-up lunch followed by an afternoon and evening lost in a haze of Adnam’s Broadside and reminiscences of the last 12 weeks; we laughed, we cried, we hid Zac’s shoes …

Little boxes

Small tool box (repaired mitre joint on bottom right)

There’s always a new challenge in joinery; having mastered completed some big, bold dovetails in hardwood (mahogany), the next two projects involved making some much smaller ones in softwood (Canadian pine). It sounds easier, but it isn’t. Cutting a dovetail in softwood is a bit like cutting it in polystyrene. It breaks away, and you end up with something that doesn’t look very precise at all. Like all good carpenters I decided that the best thing to do was to blame the tools, so I switched from my trusty tenon saw to a Japanese dozuki saw with a blade like a razor blade. Unfortunately, like all saws, it only does what its user makes it do. My first indication that the wood demon had struck again was Jon saying “where is the mitre joint?”. On the floor of the joinery shop, that’s where. Time to reach for the cascamite; if you squint you can hardly see the join. I need to tame the dozuki or make friends with my tenon saw again.

Tool tray with handle based on two £1 coins and a bent bit of plywood.

Varnishing Act

The Wood demon menacing Michael courtesy of Jonny

The wood demon can attack any time in the joinery shop; he’s always on my case. After spending days ex-foliating my tool box with block plane, cabinet scraper, 150 grit and 240 grit sandpaper, in a moment of madness I rolled my tool box on it’s back without securing the lid properly. The lid flew open and landed on a plank of wood that was in the vice as a back-stop, and there was a dent in my previously perfectly flat lid; more damage to fix, time to reach for the Brummer yet again.

Brummer covers a multitude of sins

A more subtle way to defeat the wood demon

Fortunately, Jon, Ian and Tim are experts at fixing the damage done by us students. Jon suggested that I soaked the area with water so that the crushed wood in the dent would expand, and sure enough it did. I’m sure they see the reversed mitres, sawn off dovetails, missed saw lines and general messiness time and time again, but it feels like a disaster when it happens. Sometimes we’re not completely to blame; wood twists and warps according to the temperature and humidity, so something that you thought was straight is suddenly warped or has wind in it, you need to work out whether to work with it as it is or force it back into shape. Dealing with the wood demon is a vital skill for boat building, I don’t think he’s going to give up in the near future.

Half a coat of 50:50

Getting my box ready for varnishing went on for days;  I was covered from head to foot in sawdust, fingers dry and split and gasping for the next tea break. “It’s getting there” said Tim at regular intervals. It’s not as if the box is that big; what would it be like to do a whole boat? At last I passed the inspection and was lead upstairs to the varnishing room. It’s warm and there’s no dust; but you have to get the timing right because once you start you’ve got to keep going, so tea breaks come and go as you look on with sticky hands and a precarious state of partial coverage. Across the grain first, then along it, keep moving so that it doesn’t run. Only 2 more coats to go.

Autumn Leaves

What’s inside?

The top came off of my toolbox this week. There was much speculation as to whether there would be a living/dead cat inside that would collapse to one or other state when the lid came off. If the cat wasn’t dead after the long, painstaking process of cutting around the box with a tenon saw, it would certainly have felt quite sick after being rotated through 360 degrees in the vice. I followed the line OK, and didn’t do too much damage. It did remind me of an Dracula film when I opened it to find only sawdust inside, isn’t counting sawdust supposed to be a way to keep vampires occupied?

We got a taste of the joiner’s sense of humour when one of the previous students was searching for his glasses after sealing the box shut. Ian the tutor rather tardily told him that the last place he saw them was inside the box before it was sealed. Sure enough, a day or so later, after waiting for the glue to dry followed by some challenging sawing, there they were.

The paper test

The next stage is to plane off the saw marks and get the top and bottom to meet along a straight line. A useful way to work out where to plane is to apply ‘the paper test’, which involves running a piece of paper round the gap between the top and bottom to find where it sticks, mark it with a pencil, and plane it out. When the paper doesn’t fit anywhere around the gap any more it’s time for ‘the chalk test’ in which chalk applied to the lid should leave an even imprint all the way round the base.

Ascending and Descending; well actually just descending

Unfortunately, my lid found it all a bit of a relief when it was separated from the base and decided to adopt a whole new shape, so this proved to be a bit of a challenge. I found that the application of the paper test was a bit like the descending part of the lithograph ‘Ascending and Descending’ by M. C. Escher; after a few hours of planing and paper testing there was a serious risk of there being no box left, so I dispensed with the chalk test and decided to move on. I hope Ian’s not reading this.

Broken leaf on the moving part (otherwise known as the lid)

The next stage after getting the top and bottom to match is to attach them together again with a couple of hinges. Do you know the anatomy of the hinge? I certainly didn’t. A hinge consists of 2 leaves and a knuckle. The leaf that is not fixed to the outside ends of the knuckle is called the broken leaf, and should be attached to the moving part of the assembly. Check your doors; mine seem to be OK. I put my hinges on, as instructed with one screw in each leaf first of all, and following tutor Tim’s advice to ‘be my own Quality Assurance’, decided that the top and bottom lined up OK and put all the screws in. Unfortunately, it seems that my internal QA is rather inferior to that of tutor Jon’s, so all the screws have come out again and more tweaking with the chisel is required to make it line up properly. That’s my first job for tomorrow.

A day in the life

6 weeks to go …

I’m reading David Copperfield at the moment; it seems quite appropriate with its references to Ham’s boat building and lots of travelling backwards and forwards between London and East Anglia. While the plot thickens, we occasionally get a chapter that is retrospective of the day to day life that Copperfield was living at the time of the action. I’ve just got to one such chapter and it promises to be melancholy in true Dickensian style. Meanwhile, we’ve now completed 6 weeks in the joinery workshop, which means that we’re half way through our joinery training, so a retrospect seems appropriate. Hopefully it won’t be a tear-jerker.

The group are getting to know each other well now. It’s not surprising that we have a lot in common as we’re all here for very similar reasons so we can go on about boats and old tools with some confidence that other people will be genuinely interested. We can cast a critical eye over each other’s work and share in the concern that everyone else’s work is better than one’s own.

When’s the next tea break?

I’ve adapted to life at the workbench. I no longer keep thinking that it would be nice to have a sit down now and again, and my crooked back magically straightened up after a couple of weeks. All day I do things with wood, except when I’m drinking tea. Meetings are a distant memory (except the weekly update on Monday mornings; I haven’t escaped completely) and a computer is something that I only see in the evening.

The plasters on my fingers as I type this testify to the fact that I’m not fully at one with my tools yet, as do the many unique features of my tool box in progress. Twelve weeks in joinery before getting our hands on customer’s boats now makes a lot more sense.

Clocking in

My bench

Doing things with wood

Tea break

The joinery workshop

… and only 6 more weeks to achieve it

Tooling Up

A tool box in kit form

Boat building at IBTC is nothing if not thorough. We’ve built the tools, now we’re building a tool box to put them in. The boats will come in time.

Having been issued with a 3m plank of mahogany, I’ve been converting it into the sides of a tool box. I’ve cut it to size, squared it up, smoothed out the ripples and put some dovetail joints on it. Now it’s ready to be glued together. There are some pictures of the work in progress below. Talking of work in progress; speed and accuracy still fall very much into that category.

In other news, our tutor Ian has gone for a long awaited knee operation. He’s taught us a great deal in the past few weeks; although we’ve only scratched the surface of his knowledge and experience. I’ll certainly miss his catch phrase “We’ll go with that” when we show him the product of our latest efforts. It’s always a relief to hear it; however I’m not sure how often it’s said in exasperation. I hope you’re back up and about soon Ian.

Thanks to Michael for letting me take a picture of his planks nailed together. I was so shocked when I was told to nail them together that I forgot to take one of mine. It’s an effective way of keeping them together while marking up and cutting out the tails, and there’s no lasting damage (from the nails anyway).

Cut to size with a panel saw

Planed and scraped until smooth

Marking up the dovetails with a pick-up stick and handmade dovetail gauge

Nailed together for cutting tails

Tails cut out with tenon and coping saws

Cleaning up the shoulders

Marking up the pins

Cutting out the pins

More shoulder cleaning

All fitted together

Cutting a rebate for the lid with a tool made for the job some time in the last century