What is a good first woodworking project ? A great question and honestly the best project to start out with is
the first one you build. A bird house, a box, or maybe an end table, it really doesn't
matter where you start it only matters that you start. I have never bought into the idea that you have
to build this or do that when you start woodworking because the best teacher has
always been hands on, so your craft will evolve with the projects you build. And in ten years both your knowledge
and skill will be greater then today. But as you go through this progression of projects always try to
push yourself to do something that will test your abilities, a new joinery technique, a different finish, or
maybe a string inlay, it doesn't matter just believe you can. Always believe it and apply it and this is how
you grow as a woodworker.
It's more a matter of guidance when you are first starting out, and in this day and age you can find good free
project plans online, just stay to sites that are reputable like Fine Woodworking, or
Popular woodworking for example. These are all great sources for detailed plans.
Places like Youtube I think are bad for a beginner, and before you get upset hear me out.
While there are creators there who get it right and you should listen to them, there is also a lot of misinformation that is scary at best. And when you are just starting
to learn you really don't know who to listen to, making it easy to be misguided. So I would avoid social media places like this, or any google search that claims to
have an abundance of free woodworking plans with titles like Ted's for example. The best advise I can pass on to anyone who just starting out is one
word, " Patience ". Because without it that's when you make mistakes and or find yourself doing things that are subpar. Don't rush it, so what if it takes you
longer then the other guy. Most master pieces weren't built over night.
Pocket hole or traditional joinery is one of the few subjects in woodworking that can get some of the most mellow mannered woodworkers into serious debates, and it is something I do get asked about now and then. Always looking to avoid the debate that will certainly follow I have become really good at just avoiding the question over the years. But after giving it some thought I felt it was time to share my thoughts on the subject, whatever they might be worth. Now I'm not writing this as some sort of bible all who woodwork must kneel before, it's nothing more than my personal opinion and as such you have the right to disagree with me it is a free world.
The only problem I see with pocket screws really falls on one factor, wood movement. By nature wood expands and contracts due to changes in temperature and humidity created by seasonal changes, a pocket screw being made of metal is not effected by seasonal changes. So initially when a screw is driven in to the wood it is nice and tight, but when the wood expans from seasonal movement the hole that the screw is in expans with it and is now too big for the screw causing a loose connection resulting in a faulty joint. Is there a way to prevent this ? No. Is there a way around this ? Yes, using a plywood because plywoods are not as effected by seasonal changes. For me I build furniture and the choice of material for whatever I'm building is usually at the heart of it's beauty so I would never considering using any type of a plywood product, but it really comes down to what your motivations are with what you build. Are you looking to build something quick that does the job or are you pushing yourself to create something better than anything you have built before. With me it is always the latter never looking back at what I've done, build it once build it right then move on to hopefully build something greater. Just sharing my thoughts but for these reasons I do not use pocket screw joinery, besides it's hard to create joinery like this with pocket screws and plywood.
With the Linen Press done I've started on the next piece of the bedroom set, the bed frame. I really want all these pieces to co exist so in designing each of them I tried to keep the design simple, and instead put the focus on the nature beauty of the wood to give each piece it's character and with the Cherry I bought for this project it's a pretty easy thing to do. About the only real design element is a slight curve in the top of the headboard, and for a curve that spans this much distance I have always found the best way to approach this is with a template and a pattern bit in my router. A pretty straight forward technique, create your template then attach it with some double sided tape and with a pattern bit follow the template. But what if you don't have any double sided tape ? This was the problem I ran into and having been here before I already knew what to do, but it dawned on me that before someone showed me this situation would have left me in a bind. So if you ever find yourself in this situation let me show you another way that was taught to me.
All you need is a couple of common shop items, a roll of blue painters tape and a bottle of super glue ideally the liquid type not gel.
One of the biggest advantages I have found with this technique is that after you have finished routing, the template comes off without much fuss and the tape peels off easy leaving no residue behind. Now I am pretty certain that if I know about this technique you probably do too, but if you don't I hope this helps you out the next time you find yourself out of double sided tape.
At this point I think I was almost three weeks into the finish, but the finish was finally done. Now it was just a matter of reassembling the press and few minor adjustments in the catch for the doors and I did applied some paraffin wax to the drawer runners, other then that everything went back together pretty smoothly. From start to finish it took me three weeks to do the finish for this linen press, and completely worth every second of it. Now on to the next piece of this set, the bed frame another simple design that I will let the material bring to life.
The linen press build is under way, And for this project I choose cherry for the main material with the secondary being maple. The build started with the carcass for the lower half of the cabinet, I assembled this using half blind dovetails to connect the top and bottom with the sides, and for the frame that makes up the top I used maple with cherry for the front stretcher assembling the frame with mortise and tenon joinery. Once the carcass was together I did the drawer dividers installing them to the case with exposed dovetails, and for the runners I attached them to the drawer divider with a tenon at the front using no glue and one nail to the back, the only glue I applied was at the center of the runner to allow for wood movement.
With the lower carcass together I was able to create the base frame for the feet to attach too, the frame is one inch thick by four inches wide and joined with mitered corners and a half inch thick spline to add strength to the joint. I did created a profile to the edge using a scratch stock that I can only describe as sort of ogee in appearance. Once the base frame was attached I moved on to making the footings, using a simple foot design I have been using for a long time now in projects like the hall tree I built and few others.
I could now focus on the drawers and dovetails where the only choice, using maple for the sides and bottoms and of course cherry for the faces. The big issue I had with this build was it is such a simple design I wanted to do something to make it stand out and the only way I could see to do it was in the details, things like the spacing of the dovetails. a small detail really but enough of one to make a big difference with out it being so much it pushed it over the top. I also spent what seemed like hours agonizing over the cherry I had trying to pick the best layout and boards for the faces, and I'm pretty happy with end result of both.
While working on my latest project there have been a few moments when in the middle of doing something I realized how often I have been asked about exactly what I am doing right now, and always meaning to address these questions in better detail then with my typical response of a quick typed answer I never seem to be able to. So moving forward as I work through future projects I will try to cover these sort of questions, now I'm not sure if you would call these tips or tricks but some of this stuff will be common knowledge to some but hopefully it helps someone. Either way helpful or not I'll do my best to share it here as the answers to your questions present themselves.
A while back my wife had asked me about making us a new bed frame and I was all for the idea being quick to admit it's long over do, so after locking myself down with pen and paper I came up with a design that I was pretty excited about and after presented it to her I now find myself building us a whole new bedroom set, yeah I know it's funny how these things happen but I am actually looking forward to this project. The set will include a linen press, two night stands, a blanket chest and of course the bed frame that started it all. We agreed on cherry as the main wood and maple for a secondary which has been a long time favorite combination for me, it always creates such a great contrast as the cherry darkens with age against the maple especially the way it makes joinery like dovetails in drawers pop, it's pretty awesome. So yesterday I took a drive over to see my buddy Jerry at Root River Hardwoods in Preston Minnesota, I have been dealing with this mill for years now and they have never disappointed me, they set me up the stock I need to get things rolling and I headed back to my shop. The first piece I'm going to build is the linen press, measuring 50.5"w x 78.5"t x 24"d the bottom 27" of the cabinet will be drawers with the remaining upper portion of the cabinet being two doors that when opened will reveal a series of slide out shelves. It is a pretty straight forward piece to build but I still did my usual drawing to allow me to work out details like the crest rail in the upper case, the transition molding between the upper and lower cases and ect.
Now sadly they did not have any twenty four inch wide boards so to make it happen I will have to do a few glue ups and that's okay. but for me this is one part of the build that can take forever as I agonize over what boards go together so well they create a surface that visually flows perfectly to me, and honestly I believe this is probably the most important step in building furniture it's the attention to details like this and having the ability to imagine the end result of the material choices you make that can create something beautiful. The plan this week is to get the panels made up for the lower case then I can start cutting my dovetails to assemble the carcass, and if all goes well hopefully start work on the dividers and runners for the drawers before the weekend.
I remember as a teenager my brother challenging our fathers knowledge and my father very calmly informing him " I have forgotten more things then you know " and at the age of 93 I would bet it's more true now then it was when he said it with most people he meets. Recently I found myself in this situation, I was trying to explain to someone how to do something that I have done quite a few times over the years but for whatever reason the answer escaped me, I had no problem in physically showing how it was done though. This grew to be a very common situation for me someone would ask me a question and even though I knew the answer there would be days were I drew a blank, and with this starting to effect my everyday life my wife and I turned to the Mayo Hospital in Rochester Minnesota for answers, and after weeks of testing it was confirmed that I have early on set Dementia, a hard pill for me to swallow for sure but it did answer all the questions of what is going with me. Since this diagnosis I have found balance in my everyday life through acceptance and changing the way I approach different situations and interactions. With this being shared the question now becomes how is this going to effect my content moving forward, and honestly I'm not sure at this point. I am confident with in what I do and still manage to spend as much time as I can in my woodshop where currently I have started building a linen press for my wife as part of a bedroom set that I'm building for us. For now going forward my main focus will be my website, continuing to share things that I've learned and things I have seen that I feel may be of interest to you. I will continue to share my latest articles and blogs in social media to allow you to keep up with it all. Producing on line content like videos though is very mentally demanding and something I have struggled with these last few years, that's not to say I will never return to places like Youtube but I am saying that if I do it will have to be done in a different way and I will work on that as time goes on.
Living in Minnesota the seasonal changes I live with here take me to all ends of the spectrum in both temperature and humidity, creating several challenges for me in the shop that through the years I have come to except as normal. Wood movement is one of those things but it is something I can plan for or at least try to account for it when designing and building furniture, and for whatever reason I really don't seem to get a lot of questions about it. But I do seem to get a lot of questions about rust prevention when it comes to hand tools and the machines that I have in my shop, and honestly this is a concern for me but it is certainly not one that I tend to over think or dwell on very much. Really there are only two things that I do to avoid rust issues, the first is being aware that saw dust and wood shavings cause moister to collect on metal surfaces, so when I'm done using my table saw for example I'll use a rag and wipe off the surface of the table. The second is using my oil rag can, this is nothing more then an old rag that has been tightly rolled up and stuffed into an old soup can then moistened with some three in one oil. Making sure the rag is protruding from the opening as in the picture, I hold the can end in my hand then wipe the surface with the rag end like an applicator. I use this on almost everything, my hand planes, my chisels, the table of my band saw, I even wipe down my lathe with it. Anytime you walk into my shop you'll always see it laying around so that when I'm done with a tool I can give it a quick wipe before I put it away. It's one of those things that I remember my father always using and I often wondered if it was something he had learned from his father ? Maybe. And maybe I'm carrying on some grand family knowledge of much wiser men before me, or maybe not. But all joking aside I do know that rusty tools and equipment have never been an issue in my shop, and for this reason I will continue with what I do.