One of the (many) projects on my laundry list is a traditional tool chest. I need a place to store my hand tools, and I don’t have any available wall space for a hanging cabinet. So, toward that end, I’m always on the lookout for the “right” wood for a tool chest.
Ideally, 24″ wide clear pine, for cheap. Flat would be good too. I’m not having a lot of luck on that front. I could use the white pine planks from the big box store and glue up the width I need, but every time I look at that option I see cupped, twisted and bowed boards with lots of knots. I think those price out at around $2/BF so at least the price is right. With enough digging and enough visits to enough different stores I could probably get straight enough boards without too many knots. Southern Lumber has clear pine boards, but at $6/BF it’s a bit spendy – and it’s not all that straight to begin with. And not to get off on a rant, but it’s absurd that the 1″ x 12″ boards they sell are 13/16″ x 11 1/4″. Someone seriously needs to fix that, especially when the wood is sold by board foot. I was buying some rough sawn claro walnut recently, and the guy measured the boards for pricing at the thickest point, the widest width and the longest length – including end cracks and non-square ends. Seriously? But I digress.
Long story short, a local speciality wood store has had a stack of “pine” for sale for a year. It’s marked down to $3/BF right now. This is not the sort of place that carries pine or fir, they specialize in exotics. This pine is heavy and dense, so I asked the guy there about the species. Turns out it’s “Canary Pine”. It seems pretty dense and resin-heavy. But would it work OK with hand tools? I picked up a 12″ x 25″ scrap the other day to see how it would work.
I didn’t spend a lot of time checking for a straight piece – I was driving my Mini Cooper so I went with the smallest piece they had. It turned out it to be pretty badly twisted, I’ll need to look more closely at the full size pieces before seriously considering this for another project. I tried planing the edge, it cut really nicely and left a polished, smooth surface. The shavings smell really nice too.
So I decided to try to make something out of it. Something small of course, with the hope that cutting it down would make it simpler to get the pieces flat. Man, it was really badly warped. Even cut down it was a workout to get the pieces dimensioned.
I’m going to make a “Shaker Candle Box” along the lines of what Paul Sellers shows in his book/DVD. I made some small adjustments to the dimensions in my head to accommodate the size of the stock. I decided to use the two edges for the sides and ends of the box, and use the more colorful area for the top/bottom. I also sharpened the pin in my panel gauge to more of a knife edge and that helped it track straight and not follow the grain.
I sawed the two sides free. It’s surprisingly hard wood for pine.
Besides the twist, there were some fairly deep cross-grooves in the stock that took a lot of work to remove. I got the material for the sides/ends flat and thicknessed to 1/2″. It felt like I was chasing “flat” for a long time. I seem to have trouble with long, thin, narrow pieces in general. The shavings smell really nice (did I say that already?), especially from the brown areas which seem to be saturated with resin. In fact, later in the process I planed a rounded edge and wanted to sand it a little to remove the tiny little plane facets. In the brown area it was impossible, the resin would just gum up on the surface and I had to rub it off with a rag. Maybe I could have cleaned it with solvent first?
This isn’t a very complex project, so I won’t bore you with the blow-by-blow on every saw cut and plane stroke. A couple of things that worked out really well though:
Cabinet Maker’s Triangles
Marking the sides and front/back with triangles like this made alignment foolproof. I never had any concerns about whether things were oriented in the right direction.
Hamilton Tools Marking Gauge
This was only the second time I’ve had a chance to use my new marking gauge from Hamilton Tools. It works like a champ, I could layout the baselines for my dovetails with the 1/2″ stock laying glat on the bench.
Bad Axe Thin Plate Dovetail Saw
I used my thin plate (.018″) dovetail saw from Bad Axe for this. It saws really nicely (yards better than I can saw, truth be told).
Rob Cosman Dovetail Marking Knife
I’ve used my Cosman marking knife twice now, and I like it a lot. I use it to transfer the tails to the pin board, and it’s flawless. I have a Blue Spruce knife too, which I like a lot for laying out joinery, but I haven’t tried it on dovetails. I suspect it’ll work well, but I’m so pleased with the Cosman knife for this I haven’t had the incentive to try it.
The joints came out fairly nice, I’m at least not embarrassed by them. I had to do more paring to fix up sawing problems, but this worked out well. In White Pine I could have hammered the joints together and it would have compressed OK. This material is waaaaay to hard to pull a stunt like that. Also, the Canary Pine really does’t like to be planed “against the grain”. It’s very straight grained, but if you go against the grain at all it will chip out badly. Even with a sharp blade and a fine set. Weird. I know the box looks like dime store white pine, but it’s a least twice as dense, maybe four time as dense.
I cut, flattened, thicknessed and bulnosed the piece for the base. The rounding over of the edges used a planing technique from Paul Seller’s videos, and it works well. The basics are to first plane a 45 degree chamfer maybe half the thickness of the board wide. On the end grain you have to hold the plane at a 45 degree angle to the direction of the cut and use a slicing motion so you don’t tear out the ends or chatter. Once you have the chamfer hold the plane almost flat to the face and start planing, raising it a hair with each stroke.
I put a bead of glue on the bottom edge of the box, set it on the base with a weight and left it to dry overnight. I have to go in to work today to make a presentation to the big shots (who don’t understand the word “vacation” apparently, but since I readily agreed maybe I don’t either). Then I’ll dress out the last bit of the pine for the lid and fit some hinges. Should have this finished in another hour or two in the shop, then I can get back to my workbench project. Or another distraction. Hard to say.
[house lights go up while I fire up Powerpoint to get ready]
OK, Presentation is finished and presented. I’m back on vacation. I glued the base to the sides. Yes, I know it’s a recipe for wood movement problems, but this is how it’s shown in Paul’s book – and who am I do disagree?
The darker areas of the wood were really loaded with resin. They were oily and wet, in fact. The fat red stripe here is actually translucent. I had to take my plane apart and clean it with acetone. I couldn’t sand any of the areas that had color because the resin just gummed up on the surface. I tried cleaning the wood with acetone before sanding, but still no dice.
I rubbed one coat of “Tried & True” oil/varnish finish on the outside of the box. I’ll probably put another coat on tomorrow, I’d like this to have a nice gloss (it won’t take much).
The best part? The candles we have in the drawer fit just perfectly!
So, what’s the verdict on working with Canary Pine?
On the plus side, it’s far more substantial than the big box store white pine. It’s in a different league. The red striping looks nice. It saws and planes nicely, with the exception of the resin buildup on the planes. My chisels didn’t care for it, but they aren’t great chisels. I stopped in the middle of dovetailing and re-sharpened them, and by the time I got to the hinge recesses they had nicks in them again. I wan’t even pushing them.
On the negative side, it’s a lot more work, and for a painted tool chest this seems like it would be a waste of nice material. I’d be concerned about edge gluing it with all the oily resin. Plus, at least this piece was really badly twisted and had some checks and cracks. If the longer stock they have is in better shape I may pick up a couple of boards to make a shaker cabinet like the one Roy Underhill did in two recent episodes.