Sunday, December 29, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - On the Nature of a Thing

The creation of  a thing neither begins nor ends. This desk began when I first wondered how a leg can NOT be attached, and will end some years hence when I last push myself away from its worn and used surface still too aware of the mistakes I made and where my design fell down. It also began when a neolithic man took a sharp stone and formed a hole in a iridescent shell, tied it round with a string which he had crafted of sinew and gave it to his lover. Design, even with something original like this desk, rests upon an long aesthetic of those who came before, some of which were giants. It rests upon philosophy and social constructs. It is a reaction to the world at large and our experience within it. It is the sum of all those things and forms the hand and head to its end.

This carved detail is founded upon the Japanese Philosophy of, it's not hot and you can't eat it. This broad idea manifests itself in the handcrafted by finding beauty in imperfection. Characteristics of the wabi-sabi aesthetic include asymmetry, asperity (roughness or irregularity). This carved section is in purposeful contrast to the ordered squares...round and square. It is also the rough to the smooth of the top.

Again, you will find the round and the square in the ends. The corners begin at the same location, but the top flows around while the bottom is square. 

Here is the unexpected...the leg passing through the desk. Legs simply hold up things. We don't notice them unless they're nice and attached to high heals. The expected usually doesn't even fire in our vision center while the unexpected captures our eye and requires our thought. I imagine a child would like this space between the bottom and the top. Cars and super-heroes would fit always find such in-between spaces.

I spent the last several  days building a shelve/table/ bookcase...I don't know what to call it...which matches the desk. The wood I used is very beautiful. It was put together in much the same way, but of itself is quite simple. But, it is a good companion to the desk. 

Next, the fumming. I need to build a tent and buy some noxious stuff. Then, the simple design will turn in to a crazy beautiful thing.

Monday, December 23, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - Details (Post 8)

I had to:

- Clean up the tenons which are 1/8" proud of the top and have a 45 degree angle around all four sides. They're very evident and the eye will see very small discrepancies, so they have to be right on angle and depth.

- Cut the top of the legs off. I used a spacer with a hole cut into it and a Japanese saw. This left all the legs at the exact same height.

- Hand work the top of  the legs. I used a small gouge and simply worked around the edge.

- And, clean up all the surfaces and soften the hard edges.  Here's the final product, without drawers, but otherwise complete. I couldn't get a very good picture of it.

Sunday, December 22, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - Reaming and Legs (Post 7)

This is  what things look like after the glue up. I need to ream the holes to put a taper into them, cut an inch off both ends of the bottom and turn the legs. Also, I have to clean up the edges planning a small chamfer into the edges so they don't get beat up. But, I'll make the chamfer very small.

First, the reamer. It's petty simple. The reamer is inserted into the holes and turned. It takes about 20 minutes a corner - maybe a little longer. The only thing to pay attention to is that you aim for the small hole as you ream the larger one.

You can see that the reamer is angled about 5 degrees. I have to ream it to the line drawn on the reamer. You have to withdraw and clean the reamer quite a bit as the shavings are drawn to the space between the wood and the blade. Once finished, I tried the one leg I had half turned and it fit nicely. 
You can also see in this picture that my pins through the bottom aren't proud, but flush. It doesn't matter much, but there it is. I have to live with my mistake. If I wanted to sell the desk I don't think I would due to the error.

I shifted to the legs turning each one and trying it in the holes. There was some adjustments, but not too bad. Getting a 5 degree taper and having a tight fit at two fixed locations is a bit of a trick. I spent about 9 hours doing all of this and I got through three legs. I've got one leg left to turn. 

I'm very happy with the design. It may be better than I envisioned. It looks very cool and the legs will look great embonized. It's very nice to see something go from paper to reality.

Saturday, December 21, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - !$*!!$%&!!*! (Post 6)

Disaster that I had all the information for the legs I drilled the holes for the legs. I will have to taper them once the top and bottom are glued up. The holes are 1 3/8" on the bottom and 1" on the top. Now I can glue up the bottom to the sides and front.

The glue up went well. I planned two boards with a 3/16" crown so I could put pressure in the middle where a clamp  couldn't reach. I had cauls on the bottom in which I had milled a trough so the pins could stick though so I didn't immediately see my mistake. The pins didn't stick through. They were flush with the bottom. Somehow, I had cut my tenons too short; 1/8" too short! I was too far with the glue so I left it. It didn't matter that the pins were flush on the bottom, but for the top it was a debacle.

I panicked, cursed, and had that sick feeling until I realized I could fix the top. I'd have to go back and milled 1/8 out of every dado on the top and then make new dovetail pieces. After whacking myself in the head for a while I just started in on it. It wasn't too bad. After a couple of hours I was back to where I was. Dumb, dumb, dumb, dumb stupid rock.

I needed the radius on the top. For that I need another jig. But, I have it! I drew the radius with the trammel and then cut about 1/8" from the line. I then got out the router and cut the line with a giant circle cutter. It looks like this. I can cut a 16' circle with it so it is good for this task. Using an upcutting bit I get a nice, clean edge.

So, here's what the top looks like. Now,  I'm actually really to glue everything up. I won't detail the glue. It will be pretty boring - I hope! Next, I'll have picture of the desk as it will appear, but without the legs.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - legs (post 5)

So, this is where things are now. All of these pieces are ready to be glued in place. But, before I begin any gluing I have to have the holes for the legs drilled. So, I'm going to put this all away so  I have some room to mill up and turn the legs.

I had thought about walnut legs, but the walnut I had just wasn't quite good enough. Also, I do want them black (dyed) and the maple I have will work fine. I have to mill up four blanks that are fairly straight-grained and at least 2" square. Then I will turn them into round blanks.

First, I have to work up the details in the legs. About the only thing is know at this point is the length and largest diameter. The legs will splay 5 degrees in both directions, and there is a 2.5 degree taper to the leg as it passes through the top and bottom of the desk. There is a lot going on and I have to get everything looking great because it all shows. This is what I need to achieve.
Let me explain the taper. The construction is from Windsor chairs. For a bench I recently made I fabricated a reamer.  It produces a 5 degree taper. It took quite a while to make, but now I can just pull it off the shelve. I will drill straight holes through the top and bottom and then use the reamer to make the holes tapered. The legs have a mirrored taper and will fit very tightly. I won't even glue them and they will have to  be pounded out once fit.

What I need to know is the location and size of  each hole as it passes through the desk. I need another jig.

This jig is a mock-up of the desk; 3/4" thick with the exact spacing. By laying out a 5 degree line on the jig I found that the holes will shift 5/8". By measuring along the length of  the reamer at the location spacing  I found the size of the hole at both locations. I used a smaller bit and drilled the holes and then ran the reamer though to achieve the taper.

Now I can lay out the leg. It  looks like this after I enter all of the things I know and got the shape I want.

There are two challenges with these legs - getting them the same and getting the taper to fit tightly in both holes. To have the best chance of getting them the same I began with a template with all the about on it so I could mark each blank.

That looks like this an ensures that I don't make a mistake. Next, I'll bring down the leg to each of those measurements and then join them with long flowing arches. 

Once I turned leg down I got a good fit in the taper. Thinking about it, I decided to now drill the desktop and bottom. I  will need to fit each leg to each set of holes. I will get a better fit and now I know how everything will come together. I just need to decide exactly where the holes will be located. 

Before calling  it a day, I sealed the inside of the bottom. I won't be able to get to it once the desk is glued up and I don't want to leave it raw. The outside won't look like this. I'll put another coat on tomorrow.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - Fitting (post 4)

It took quite a while to square all of the mortices, but before I went from working on the bottom to the top I decided to do things a little differently. Instead of drilling out the holes I used a router and guide with a up-cutting spiral bit. This worked better and I didn't have to worry about tear out. I still had to switch the jig from top to bottom, but that wasn't much of problem anyway. I would recommend this method over drilling. The router set up looks like this. You simply plunge in and run the router around the jig riding on the round surface on the bottom center of the router.

I still have a good bit of fitting to do. The tenons are very tight. This is a difficult joint and this many surfaces are difficult to get exactly right without being loose. There are, after all, 36 surfaces on each side of one board. That's 142 with both sides of both boards. Just the friction is hard to overcome. The good thing is that only the top really matters. That is what shows and it will be very evident. So, I'm generally working from the underside and avoiding the top. Overall, the jig  worked terrifically - it is just  very tight. 

The next things to do are mill the dado for the front piece and put in the dovetails for the drawer dividers. Milling the dado was a quick job. I also noticed I had about 1/16" difference on the width of the top and bottom so I clamped the two together and mated the surfaces with a plane.This is the dado, or groove, for the front piece. The board will fit into this groove and it will hide the mated surfaces and hold the board in place.









The dovetails are a bit harder to set up. I have to make another jig. You make a lot of jigs in woodworking. I need to make a dovetailed groove for the drawer dividers to sit in. Here's the drawing.
This kind of dovetail is called a sliding dovetail. I will first make the slot so I can fit the dovetail to the slot. For the jig I simply need a stop around 3" deep and two sides which will limit the width. My bit is 1/2 wide so if the divider is 3/4" wide I need a jig about 3/8" wider than my router. This is the result.
I made the depth of the cut at 1/2" so I need the length of the divider 1" longer than the inside measurement of my desk, or 6 1/4". A piece is cut so length, but only rough width and then run though the router table using the same bit.
That looks like this. You simply dial in the height and then run the piece through until it fits. In this case, I went a tad to far and had to mill up another. Sliding dovetails are very finicky and go from too tight to too loose at astoundingly small increments. Long sliding dovetails which usually have a taper so you don't have too much friction are all kinds of trouble. 

Here's what these look like when installed. They are pretty simple. I had to trim the dovetail off the inside and cut them to width.
Next, I milled up the front piece which fit in the groove I made earlier. It also fits into a dado on each of the toothed pieces. Being very careful with the layout I marked up both pieces directly off the top and bottom.

Next, some hand work. Sometimes, it's safer and easier to just do some things by hand. It's always more satisfying. I wanted to show how to do a handcut dado. Hand skills are an important part of building anything worthwhile.

First scribe the line with a marking knife and then followup in the cut with a long chisel.
Next, come  inside the line and make a small valley which will act as a guide for the saw.
Next, saw the line to the depth of  the dado.
Now, hog out between the lines. This isn't pretty - just get rid of the wood you don't want.
Next, I use a router plane. These are handy (but expensive) planes that excel at this job.
After about 10 minutes total work the front can be fit in - dead straight and even.
I'm nearly done with all the milling and cutting on the top. After a bit more work I can cut the holes for the legs.  I'm still thinking about that. I will turn the legs first.

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Building a Custom Desk - Mortise & Tenons (post 3)

While the glue was drying I set about making the jig to create the through mortises. Mortises always have to be exactly the right size, but when there are so many you'd never get the sides tenons in the mortices without extremely accurate cuts. The setup has to be absolutely exact. Here's how it was done.

First, I ripped a piece of 3/4" plywood exactly the width of the tenons. I spent some time getting this just right. Then,  I fitted a piece between each tenon like this.
Again, I spent a lot of time getting these tight and well fit. The top and bottom tenons are an exact copy of each other, but there could be very small differences due to the fact that I flipped the board  on the tablesaw. So,  I decided to make a jig for both the bottom and top mortices. I then left the pieces between the tenons and glued plywood to both sides of the small plywood insets. I was left with the jig below. It is an exact copy of the mortices I need to cut in the top and bottom and this spacing will be exact.

The next day, after the top and bottom panels' glue was set I set about laying out the exact lengths of the top and bottom. I ended up a little longer than my drawing, but very close to what I planned. I liked the radius end just as I had planned it. Above is a trammel used to scribe  large radiuses.

I did not  cut the radius. Instead, I cut the top square after adding an inch to each end. This way I have a good square end to work with and I don't have to worry about tearing up the end.

 Upon making the rough "final" cut and establishing a final size of the desk I was ready for the mortices, which were located 4" from each end.

The jig has to be placed exactly and fixed tightly to the top. The first step is to drill holes through each square. This allows you to get a router bit into the jig and also removes material so the routing isn't a problem. The less material the router has to remove, the better. You just get a smoother cut with less possibility for problems.

Once the holes were drilled and the material removed I moved the jig to the underside of the board. You could use a router with either a top or bottom bearing - I have a bottom bearing and would rout from the top.

For those who are reading this and aren't woodworkers,  here is a picture of the router bit that does the work. The idea is that the bearing edge is on the same plane as  the cutter. Thus, the router cuts a shape exactly the size and shape of  the whatever it bears against. In this case, the jig I built.

This is what the bottom looks like once the holes are finished with the router and pattern bit. As you can see, the holes have radiused corners which I will have to square off by hand.

Also, I need a dado the full length of the board and 1/8" deep and the full  width of the board. This is in final product. If this all looks easy, it took about twelve hours total. I guess I  have about twenty-five  hours into it so far.

I haven't had any disasters yet and things have gone smoothly. 
the dado
the side piece fit into the bottom.
The other side. The tenons will be cut down, but  are left long so the fined edge  doesn't get beat up.

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