Next Project

Jun 07 2014

Started a new project. A week or so ago, I got in some white oak. The thick board here is almost 1 1/4″ and the other one is about 7/8″. Left it down in the shop for a week to acclimatize.


Started yesterday cutting out the first four pieces to rough size and let them sit out for a day before doing any finer work.




And tonight I rough cut most of the other pieces I’ll need. I came pretty close on the amount of wood I needed. I’ll have some left from offcuts, but other than that, I had one small strip left from the original boards. Whew! Anyway, I’ll let these sit overnight too.


In the meantime, I got to work on the original four pieces, planing them down to exact size. It was my first extensive use of my new Stanley No. 5 1/2 jack plane, the big one there. I love it. Takes lace-like shavings off that oak.




Now time to cut some grooves. This is a Record 044 Plough Plane, made in England in the early to mid part of the last century. An elegant tool for a more civilized age. The one I picked up is in great condition and came with a full set of eight cutters in different widths. The cutters themselves were a bit beat up, but I’m reconditioning each one as I need to use it. Today I use the 3/16″.


There’s an adjustable fence that lets you set how far from the edge of the wood your groove will go. I’ve added an additional wooden piece to the fence to let it ride on the work piece more smoothly. This is optional. I set the fence so that the blade is 1/4″ away.


And there’s a depth stop which controls how deep the groove will be. It will ride on the surface of the work piece once the blade is down to depth, keeping it from going any further. I set this to 3/16″, so that’s how deep the groove will be.


Then, you just run the plane over the wood repeatedly until it stops cutting, meaning you have reached your intended depth and have a nice straight groove with an exact width and depth. I cut two grooves on each piece.




Something about this picture is just very satisfying.


All cut, with a huge pile of spaghetti shavings.



That’s it for today. I’ll let the rest of the wood sit overnight and then I’ll need to cut and plane those all to size and cut some more grooves.

By the way, the reason for letting the wood sit for a week in the shop, and then sit overnight after cutting, is for wood movement. Generally, this has to do with moisture content and internal stresses. Moving wood to a new environment, you want it to adjust to the new humidity and temperature. As it adjusts, it could bend, twist, warp, etc. You want it to settle down before cutting.

Also, after you cut a piece of wood, particularly a larger one, it can move. There may be internal stresses that are released when you cut it, causing it to bend. Also, the new open surface may let more moisture leave more quickly, resulting in some movement. So far, this white oak has seemed pretty stable. But I’ll let it sit overnight anyway.

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Finishing up

Jun 05 2014

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Ready for the final step, some finish. Lately I’ve been building everything with poplar and applying a shellac finish. I’ve used tung oil, danish oil and poly finishes, and worked with pine, oak, walnut, cherry, maple, and probably some other woods. But I decided to stick to one wood, one finish for a little bit, until I get a solid feel for it, then move on. Jumping around trying to try one thing after another, I find they all just get jumbled in your mind. Now, I feel like I know how poplar cuts, planes, chisels, sands and finishes. It’s part of my experience. And I know how shellac goes on, how much to cut it, how many coats, how much to sand it, or steel wool it and exactly how it’s going to look and feel at each stage. Soon I can move on and get some experience with other things. But one more time with shellac.

Shellac is alcohol based, and I’ve thinned this with 50% denatured alcohol. This makes it go on thinner and smoother, though it may need more coats.








First coat done. After a bit, I’ll flip it over and apply a coat to the bottom.



Shellac dries really quickly, presumably because the alcohol evaporates so easily. In less than an hour, it’s ready for the next step. I sand with some 320 grit sandpaper and apply a second coat. Let that dry, sand again, do a third coat. It’s getting super silky smooth now. Sanding the dry shellac produces a white powder that quickly clogs up the 320 grit sandpaper, and gets all over your hands and clothes. It also smells like someone’s living room the morning after a big party, before anyone has cleaned up all the empty beer bottles. Dried, stale alcohol. No lie.


This particular piece is a total pain to sand, too. Reaching down into those compartments trying to hold a piece of sandpaper and hit all the surfaces… all the knuckles on my right hand are torn up.





After the third coat is dry, I hit it with 4-0 steel wool rather than sandpaper, then shoot the final coat of shellac on it. When that’s dry, another once over with steel wool. The shellac fills the pores and seals the wood, so it’s hard to describe how smooth this feels. But at the same time, it doesn’t feel like a thick build up on top of the wood, just that the wood itself is now super smooth. Also, the alcohol in each fresh layer of shellac dissolved the previous layers and joins with it, so you end up with one solid surface, not multiple layers like some other finishes. Because the shellac dries so quickly, you can really do all the coats in a single day. Apply, go away for an hour, come back, sand, apply. This is great, but I left the shellac out and open in a jar this whole time. I think a lot of the alcohol evaporated during the day, so the last coats were a lot thicker than the first ones. You can see that in some of the pictures above, where it got kind of drippy. Not a big deal. Just meant for more vigorous steel wooling.

After wiping all the dust away, I apply finishing wax. Before I tried applying it directly with a cloth, but you end up with big chunks of it stuck in corners. Others actually say to apply it with steel wool, which kind of works OK, but you end up with bits of steel wool kind of stuck to the surface in the wax. I tried this time doing something else I’ve read, to put a chunk of wax inside a cloth and squeeze it out. This worked great. The wax kind of liquifies as it comes through the cloth and you get a nice, thin, even layer on the wood.





When that’s done, I let the wax dry for 20-30 minutes, then buff it out with a clean cloth, and then a shoe polish brush. This gives it an amazingly smooth, shiny surface. And we are done! Finished, literally. This goes to my daughter.




After years of making software and sites that are obsolete or ignored after a few months or a year or two, or require constant maintenance and upgrades to stay relevant, it’s nice to know that I can make something and call it done and release it into the world and know that it will probably survive and continue to be useful for decades after I’m gone.

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Bottoming out

May 31 2014

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With the main glue up done, time to start in on the fine details. I planed down all the protruding pieces of the dovetails and gave everything a thorough sanding.




Next, got to work on the bottom. I didn’t have a wide enough 1/4″ board, so I had to glue up a couple.



With the glue dry, I planed the bottom panel all flat and smooth, and cut it to size.


Then I gave all the edges a roundover with my faithful Stanley No. 4 plane and sanded it all silky smooth.



And finally, glue the bottom on!


And with that done, we are complete!



Of course, that means the construction is complete. Still need to apply some finish. Going with shellac and a finishing wax. Because that’s what I’m into these days.

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The Hole Boring Business

May 31 2014

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Got the other half of the handle shaped and I was happy how that turned out.



Now time to cut out the hole. Surely I had to resort to some power tools for that, right? Not when you have a vintage brace and selection of bits!



This works far better than I ever would have imagined. It looks like something you need to lean into and crank away forever, building up a serious sweat to get anything done. But really, with a sharpened bit, it pulls itself right into the wood with amazing ease. I go only until the top emerges from the other side, then turn over and go through the other way so it doesn’t blow out the wood on the back.



Then I get a coping saw in there and cut between the holes, then use chisels, rasps, files and sandpaper to shape it just right.




Finally, I go over all the edges with a few grades of sandpaper, making everything nice and rounded over and smooth. I’m super satisfied with how this turned out. Really feels just perfect to hold.




And finally, the glue up. Actually, in these photos, I’ve only got the four walls with the dovetails glued up. The handle and dividers are just sitting in there for support. When the dovetails had set, I went back and glued the other pieces in as well.



All that’s left now is planing the dovetails flat, making the bottom, sanding and applying finish.

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Starting to get a handle on things

May 29 2014

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Jumping quickly over the repetitive stuff, I cut two more stopped dadoes on the other side of the handle and put in a half-height divider.




So far, everything on this project has gone almost perfectly, which is scary. There’s almost always some major screw up at some point. I can usually work around it, but it hasn’t happened yet, so I’m just waiting for it. All that’s left is the handle and bottom. Maybe this will be one of those ones that just works out well all the way through.

I hadn’t settled on a design for the handle, so I got some feedback and help from the wife. Here’s what we came up with. I like it.


I transferred that onto the board itself, and now I’m ready to hack away all the wood that doesn’t look like a handle.



And now I go to town with my full arsenal – chisels, coping saw, rasps, files, spokeshave, sandpaper. I could have knocked this out in a fraction of the time with my bandsaw, but I’ve done this all without electron power so far. Not going to give in now.




One side done. Called it a night. Looking good. I’ll do the other side tonight, then I’ll need to figure out how to best cut out that handle hole. It would be a breeze with a scroll saw, but again, those pesky electrons. I’ll probably bore a couple of holes and then use the coping saw to rough it out, then finesse it with rasps, files, sandpaper.

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More Dadoes!

May 28 2014

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I left of last time, the dadoes were cut in the end pieces to fit the center divider / handle piece, and that piece was gluing up. When that was done, I planed it down flat and squared a couple of edges. Then I cut the third edge to length. And in it slid.




Nothing to complain about here. Next, one of the sides of this will have two dividers. These will also slot into dadoes. So apart the box came again, lines drawn and cut for those slots. On the side piece, the slots go full length. But on the handle, they’ll stop at the same height as the sides. After marking them up, I chiseled them out and cleaned it all up with the router plane.



Next, the box goes back together again, and I slide the center piece in. This allows me to measure the size for the dividers themselves. I’d actually planned for 1/4″ thick dividers here, but remembered that too late.


Finally, I cut out the dividers, squared them up and in they slid.




And that’s it for today. The other side of the box will have a single, half-height divider in the center. So a couple more smaller dadoes to cut tomorrow. Then I’ll need to cut out the handle itself, and prepare a bottom board. I’m still playing around with various ideas for exactly how I want the handle to look, but that’s coming up soon, so I guess I better decide.

Part 5 can be found here.

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May 25 2014

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Well, I finally got the other three corners done.




All in all, the rest of the joints turned out well. A few small gaps, but on the whole, I’ve made a lot of progress. There was one tiny bit of splitting, so I had to go back and pare that half pin down just a bit. Should be fine.


Referring back to the original plan, it’s now time to start prepping the middle divider / handle piece.


My plan was to just run a 3/16″ deep groove down each of the sides for the handle to slide into. A cross-grain groove like that is known as a dado or a housing dado. If this tote was going to be used for anything heavy, I’d use something stronger, but for pencils and scissors, etc. I think this will be just fine.

First step is to mark out the dado. I made a knife wall on one side of each dado, and a pencil wall on the opposite side as a guide.


Next, I need to mark the depth of each dado. I do that with a marking gauge. Set it to 3/16″ and scribe a line on each side. This shows me exactly how deep to cut that groove.




Next up is going to be a bunch more chisel work, so I sharpen those babies up.


Then, using that knife wall, I start alternately chiseling down and paring away, until I get down to depth on one side.





With one side chiseled down, I put an actual piece of wood in there and mark the other side with the knife. Then do the same thing on that side. Now I have a groove with a big hump in the center.





So next up is to reduce that hump a bit with a chisel and get it semi-flat.



Then I clean it up with a router plane. This is like a short chisel bent 90 degrees stuck in a metal plate. I set it to 3/16″ and use it to completely clean up the bottom of that dado.





With that done, those dadoes are perfectly flat and square, and exactly the right size to fit that center piece. These came out perfect.







Now I need to make and fit that center piece. It’s got to be taller than the rest of the box, so I had to edge glue a couple of pieces. These are gluing up now, so that finished up my work for today.


Onto Part 4!

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May 24 2014

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Now to cut out the pins. This is the make/break point. The tails, which I cut yesterday, need to be straight and square, but if you’re off a bit this way or that way, no big deal, because you cut the pins based on the tails. If you’re off on the pin cuts, you wind up with big ugly gaps.




Then chop out the waste with a chisel. Alternately chopping and paring down to the cut. Some people use a coping saw to get out a bunch of it first. I just use the chisel.



Eventually, you have a breakthrough, literally. This is a good thing.


Pins chopped out, now need to clean up the edges. Last photo here still needs some sneaking up to the lines.





After a few tests and finessing, we have a dovetail!





This is pretty damn good for me. Definitely the closest to perfect that I’ve yet achieved. Some parts are sticking up beyond the surface, which is actually what you usually want. They’ll all get planed down smooth later after glue up. In the meantime, I have 3 more of these to do.

Look! Part 3 over here!

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Making a Thing

May 24 2014

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Making some stuff for wife and daughter. This is going to be a tote type organizer, by my wife’s design. Something like this:


Start with some half inch poplar.


Knife walls for the first cut.


And the cut…


Plane the edges completely square on the shooting board.



Cut the next piece, use the shooting board. Now we have two pieces exactly the same length.

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Now cut the sides, same deal.



Now we have a box.


Surface and edge plane all the pieces. Now everything is flat and square.


Start laying out the dovetails with a divider.


Marking out the tails.



Cutting the tails.



Tails all cut.


Cut out the corner pieces.


Now chisel out the pin recesses.


Clean it all up, make sure everything is straight, smooth and square.




Now lay out the pins.




Ready to cut. But I’m going to call it a night. Not bad for an evening’s work.

Go to Part 2.

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Baystate Marathon 2013

Oct 21 2013

Not a whole lot good to say about this one, but I’ll stay positive and say that I completed my third marathon, and from the viewpoint of me, say, five years ago, that’s pretty amazing. And, out of the three marathons I’ve done, it was not the worst time, merely number two.

First I’ll give a recap of the race, then do an “analysis”.

The Baystate Marathon and Half Marathon both run along the Merrimack River, starting in Lowell, MA. The half marathon is a two loop course, down the southern side of the river and back on the northern side. The full marathon goes about 8 miles down the river, through Chelmsford and into Tyngsboro, crosses the river, then back about 5 miles, then looping around back to Tyngsboro then back to Lowell.

The run started OK for me. But just OK. In running several longer races – three marathons, two halfs and a 20 mile race, I’ve seen that sometimes there is a “magic” that happens on race day. And, sometimes there isn’t. I don’t mean magic like crystals or horoscopes. Just that all the training, your physical condition, diet, weather, mental attitude, and a score of other factors all come together just right. This has happened in three of my five longer races, so it’s not something rare, but neither is it guaranteed. This Sunday, I did not feel the magic.

In the last few weeks of training, I’d been having a lot of tightness in my left quads and in my right achilles tendon. Actually, the achilles had started acting up very early in the year and caused me to take a few weeks almost totally off of running. It had gotten better, but with the increased mileage had started tightening up again. So I was worried about these two things, but it turned out they didn’t cause me any problems at all throughout the marathon.

Again, it was all OK for the first half of the race. Nothing bad I could put my finger on. But maybe felt like there was a bit more effort to keep the pace than on other times I’ve run. At the Eastern States 20 Mile Race in 2012, I was amazed at how fast the miles were going by. It felt like every time I turned a corner, there was another mile marker. Yesterday, it seemed like those miles, even in the first part of the race, were a whole lot longer.

I’d lined up at the nine minute marker in the corral. The 4:00 pacer was there and a bunch of us were chatting with her. I kept up with her for a while, but I was doing around 8:46 per mile and she was pulling well ahead of me, indicating that she was doing significantly faster than a 4-hour marathon, which would have been around a 9:00 pace. I let her go and settled into an 8:50 pace. At some point the pacers switched off and I wound up catching up to the new pacer who was doing a more conservative pace of right around 9:00. I followed right behind her until her shift was done, and the original pacer came back. She held on at the same pace for a couple of miles, but then started speeding up again, so I let her go.

Around mile 15, I started getting pretty bad nausea. I was eating those chomps – gel chewey things. I’d used them in the Cape Cod Marathon and the Eastern Stated last year and did well with them. I’d also trained with them for those races. But I didn’t train with them this time around. I was also carrying and drinking Powerade, while I had done all my training with Powerade Zero. Cardinal racing rule number one broken: don’t do anything new on race day. So, every time I ate and drank, I’d get a wave of nausea that would last for 5-10 minutes. That lasted from about mile 15 through the rest of the race. Actually, I couldn’t eat anything until a few hours after I got home. The result of this was that I was not able to get enough fuel into my system during the run itself. Which meant I hit the wall nice and early.

The other thing that happened around mile 18 was that my abs just locked up. At first I thought this was just a stomach ache to go with the nausea. But it was actually my core ab muscles cramping up. If you’ve ever done a whole bunch of situps or crunches – more and faster than you’re used to – you might have experienced that sudden painful clenching of those same muscles for several seconds. This was like that, except it just went on and on. Extremely painful. My plan for this was to just keep going and hope that it went away. Surprisingly, this plan worked. I did have to start taking short walk breaks in mile 19, but by mile 21 or 22, the ab muscles had relaxed a bit.

But between the nausea and ab cramps, I felt my sub-4:00 slipping away. Actually, I think I knew it was gone pretty early on in mile 18 or so when the abs started acting up. But by mile 21 or 22 I knew it was gone. There was still the chance of a PR if I could beat 2:06. But I think by mile 23 or 24 I knew that was probably not real either. At the same time, I knew that unless I stopped running altogether, I’d still be able to beat my first marathon time of 2:26. So there wan’t really any goal to try for at that point. I just ran as much as I could. Took a lot of short walk breaks and ticked off the last few miles. It wasn’t fun at all. For the most part I tried to keep the walk breaks short. Either 30 seconds by time, or 0.05 miles by distance. And tried to give myself goals of running 0.3 or so miles between breaks. But near the end, the walk breaks were closer together, and some of them may have gotten a bit longer. It wasn’t pretty. Even in the last half mile, I couldn’t rally to a non-stop run. Blah.


My wife took this photo a block or so before the finish line. Don’t let that smile fool you. I was dying.

Crossed the finish line at 4:11:18. Five minutes longer than my Cape Code Marathon time, though this was a MUCH easier course. 15 minutes faster than my Hyannis Marathon time. But this mirrored my Hyannis run in so many ways. The 15 mile breaking point, the nausea (I was using gels in Hyannis and nearly barfed the last one up – haven’t had another gel since), the abs tightness, the early hitting the wall around mile 19, the death march of the last 4 miles.


Earlier I used the word analysis in quotes. Because it’s not really so much of an analysis as much as viewing the obvious factors that were in my face.

1. Don’t do stuff on race day that you haven’t done in training.

2. Pick a race fueling plan before your training, train with it and then race with it.

3. Core work. Strengthen those abs.

At this point, I know that I can run (or mostly run) a marathon. I can make it 26.2 miles on my own power and cross the finish line. I’ve done it three times. I can do it again, I’m sure. There’s nothing to prove there anymore. I would like to:

A. Finish a marathon in under four hours.

B. Finish a marathon without walking, or maybe just walking through a few water stops, but avoiding the death march.

To do this, I think it’s a matter of training smarter, not just harder. I know that sounds like a mindless cliche, but it means a very specific thing and is very real to me. Not sure what my next marathon will be yet. Right now I’m a bit burnt out on marathons. But there will be more, and I know what I need to do.

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