Tuesday, 18 June 2013

No Electrons Were Harmed...

...In the making of this pen box.

There it is, my first totally by hand, no power tools, no sandpaper project.  All the cuts were made by handsaw, the surfaces smoothed by planes and scrapers.  Modern form, traditional methods.

I started off with a block of maple and and a piece of Brazilian rosewood (thanks to my local Windsor Plywood for the clear labelling).

The biggest part of this project is cutting everything to size.  I started off by cross cutting the maple to length.  Once that was done I wanted to smooth and square up one end. My biggest fear was that I would not be able to do the end grain. I had never done it before.

Wow.  End grain shavings.  From maple.  So cool.  This sort of thing excites me.  I had to show my wife.  While she may not quite share my excitement over end grain shavings, she does understand the feeling of trying something new and succeeding.  Just one of the reasons why I love her.

 Next came a rip cut to get the blank to rough thickness.  Before, I always did my rip cutting with the table saw or the band saw.  I found that even on a small piece like this I had to do it in stages. I am really getting out of shape.

Yes, I am using a Japanese style ryoba saw.  I have been pretty happy with this saw.  It works for both rip and cross cuts, and the lack of a spine means it can cut through material that is thicker than width of the blade.  It also means that the blade is more prone to vibrate as you cut if you get too carried away, so it pays to take it easy sometimes.  And yes, I realise as I write this that I put the wrong set of teeth in the kerf to take this picture.

After planing down all six sides I was left with this nice, smooth little block of wood.  All of the sides were as close to square as they would ever be.

My next move was to take my marking gauge and mark a line just over 1/8" down from the top all the way around the blank.
And then cut the top off.  Look, I'm using the right teeth and everything.
And I am following the line.  That may not seem like such a big deal to some, but you probably haven't tried to do it.  Actually I have been working at my accuracy for a while, mostly on crosscuts, and I am getting better.  Taking breaks to take pictures and other things helped me to maintain my concentration.  A light touch and a lot of patience (as in "don't push too hard, let the saw do the cutting") helped too.
 Here it is with the lid cut off.  There are some bad scratches near the start, but the rest of the cut was remarkably smooth.  I had cut the lid just a little thick so the scratches planed out with no problem.  I was feeling pretty pleased with myself at this point.  The cut was smoother than anything I had ever been able to do with a power saw.
The next step was to cut a 3/8" strip off the back side of the main block to act as a hinge for the lid.  Again, this cut turned out very well, better than the last even.  I carried on by cutting the sidewalls from the rosewood.
I wasn' t comfortable with the idea of just gluing the sidewalls to the ends of the body because end grain glue joints are notoriously weak, even for a light duty piece like this.  I also needed a pivot for the hinge for the lid.  The solution to both problems turned out to be 1/8" dowels.  Lining up the holes, though, was too precise a job to be left to something as inaccurate as measuring.  my solution was to use small nails to mark the spots where they went.

I drove the nails in and then clipped the heads off with pliers.  I also glued the lid to the hinge so that everything would be in place to mark the holes on the sides.

Here is the way I transferred the marks.  The lid is upside down on the jointer table with the back of the hinge against the fence.  The body of the case is upside down on top of it.  The sidewall is placed next to them and then a block, which protects the sidewall from being dented by the mallet.  A few sharp taps with the mallet and the ends of the nails have marked the inside of the sidewall.

After pulling the nails out it was time to drill all the holes.  But how to do it?  I do own a brace, but it was way too big and too aggressive for this work.  Besides, it wouldn't hold a 1/8" bit. I considered going out and buying a hand drill, but I am too cheap for that.  Here is my solution.
It's the tap wrench from my incredibly cheap tap & die set.  At least something from that set has turned out to be useful.  If you look really close you can see the holes in the sides.
 Now it was time to make the groove in the body to hold the pen.  There were lots of ways I could have done this but I wanted to try my #45 combination plane.  I have had this plane in my shop for a few years now and have never used it, so I sharpened a 5/8" wide blade and gave it a try.  On a piece of scrap first.
I have to say I can see why these planes had so much appeal and why nobody makes them any more.  The extreme versatility of this plane makes it seem like such a good idea.  The wide selection of blades available and all the adjustability make it seem like this plane can do almost anything.  When these planes first came out they must have seemed like a great way to save money.  When the metal hit the wood, however, the other side of this plane was revealed.  It was heavy to use, I assume it was a lot heavier than the wooden planes it replaced.  The big problem I had with this plane though was setting the blade.  I simply could not get a decent shaving from this plane.
Another problem I had with this plane, although it wasn't really the plane's fault, was that I had trouble keeping it upright.  The result was that I had one sidewall of the groove that was pretty bad until half way down, where I figured out what the problem was.
Once I held it straight the side was just fine.  I smoothed it out using a float.  Back to the nice, fluffy shavings.
Now it was time to cut the 1/8" dowels to hold things together.
After a test fit I cleaned up the end grain of the sides a bit. 
End grain shavings from rosewood. Still a thrill.  All that was left was to put it together.  Here's a couple of shots of the completed piece, with a mineral oil & beeswax finish.

I have to say, this was a really satisfying project.  I feel like I have gained a lot of confidence in my ability to work with hand tools.  Not that I'm selling my power tools or anything like that, but I will have no problem increasing the amount of work I do by hand in future projects. 


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