Monthly Archives: March 2014

Chopping Mortises

I’ve been reading about chopping mortises, and thinking through my experience last weekend.  I think I have a better perspective on mortising now.

A couple of things I’ve been looking at:

First, watching a few videos is helpful.  This one from Paul Sellers is pretty good, he demonstrates chopping a mortise with both a heavy mortise chisel and a standard bevel edge chisel, starting from one end of the mortise and working toward the other.  The first pass he has the chisel vertical, and the bevel facing in the direction he travels across the mortise.  By the time he gets to the far end (maybe a little sooner) he’s at full depth.  Then he turns the chisel so the bevel is facing in the other direction and works back – starting just past where the mortise isn’t yet at full depth.  But this time, he holding the chisel so the bevel is vertical, so the the chisel is at maybe 30 degrees.

Another good source of information is Jeff Gorman’s web site, the section on mortising has some great pictures.  It does a really good job of illustrating some of the dynamics associated with chopping mortises.  He illustrates really well where the force is concentrated, it’s worth a careful read.

Why does my chisel go wonky?

 

 

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Mortise Hell

So I’m cruising along on my little Byrdcliffe-inspired cabinet and I run headlong into the door, specifically the mortise and tenon joints on the door frame.  The carcase of the cabinet is all glued up, nice and square with nice night joints.

Cabinet carcase glued up

Cabinet carcase glued up

But the mortises for the door frame are giving me fits.  I’ve made  a handful of mortise and tenon joints – a small enough number that I can probably count them on my fingers – over the past two years.  Generally I’ve used a router or drill to clear the waste and squared things up with a chisel.  On a few I’ve chopped them directly, which felt pretty good.  There is a joint on the Blacker House sconces that makes a L-bracket to hold the sconce body, I chopped a pair of mortises for that joint that came out pretty nice.

Dual through mortise and tenon on the Blacker sconces

Dual through mortise and tenon on the Blacker sconces

I know from experience that if the mortises on this door are just right the door won’t be right either.  The mortises need to fit the tenons nice and snugly so there is a reliable glue surface, and they need to be exactly true or the door don’t lay flat on the bench.  Ask me how I know that, go ahead…

So yesterday I ended up chopping bunches of mortises for practice.  It wasn’t much fun, kind of frustrating because I don’t seem to be progressing past a point.

My initial problem was glowing out the end, but I can avoid that by making the stiles over-long and then trimming them to length after the door is assembled.

End blowout, this is from the chisel digging in

End blowout, this is from the chisel bevel digging in

More end blowout, this is the more typical problem just from the pressure splitting out the wood

More end blowout, this is the more typical problem just from the pressure splitting out the wood

I tried pre-drilling the mortise, but on this particular mortise that just gave me a sloppy, wallowed-out slot.  The drill bit wanders a little, and truthfully it didn’t really seem any faster to me.

So I practiced chopping mortises with both a regular 1/4″ chisel and an English-style mortise chisel.  I think there is something wrong with the geometry of the mortise chisel as it tends to stick in the mortise.  I’ll have to check it with some calipers, but I think it’s wider behind the cutting edge.  It’s a lot harder to keep it aligned too, the shaft isn’t as true and my LN chisel.  I suspect that is a factor in my difficulty in getting the mortises truly plumb.

Here is what I’ve found so far.  Having the workpiece (and mortise) oriented so it is straight in front of me make it loads easier to keep the chisel plumb and have the mortise end up mostly straight.  But none of my mortises so far have been straight enough.  I have a piece of scrap that I test fit in each, and it’s never quite right.  Generally it leans away from the rabbeted shoulder slightly, which isn’t going to work.  I can pare the mortise to get it to stand straight, but then it’s too loose.

The other thing I’ve found is that it’s relatively easy to get a 3/4″ deep mortise, but getting to a full inch across the whole mortise take a lot more work.  I don’t know if that’s technique or what.  I’ve been using the “Central V” approach, I’ll have to experiment with other approaches.  In fact, as I write this I’m remembering a blog post by Chris Schwartz that talked about his struggles with mortising, and I’m already feeling better.  In his article, he mentions another site that has a number of great articles on hand mortising, I’m going to read all of those articles today, and do some more practicing tonight.

Practice hasn't yet made perfect, it's only made scraps and frustration

Practice hasn’t yet made perfect, it’s only made scraps and frustration

 

 

 

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Joinery for the Byrdcliffe Cabinet

The plans for this cabinet from Chris Schwarz’ original article had a fairly simple door.  The rails and stiles had a 1/4″ wide by 1/2″ deep groove down the middle of the inside faces.  The rails had a corresponding 1/4″ thick by 1/2″ long stub tenon.  That would be fairly easy to produce on the table saw, but I don’t think it would work well for my variation of the cabinet.

Here are the problems.

First, I’m not making a frame-and-panel door.  I’m doing a door with a stained glass insert, so I need a stopped rabbet that opens to the back to insert the glass into.  Second, the glass will be heavier than the carved panel and need a little more support, so I’d like a little stronger joinery.  It’s a lot of work to make the stained glass panel, I don’t want it to get damaged.

So my updated design uses mortise and tenon joinery.  To pull off the stopped rabbet the shoulders are staggered.  This is a fairly standard approach, I just needed to figure out the dimensions to make it work with my stock thickness and width.

I started with a CAD mockup of the door.  The overall dimensions are approximate, but the thickness and width of  of the stock are spot on.  The design for the glass is stretched to fit, I’ll have to lay that out more carefully before I cut any glass to make it.

CAD Mockup of the Door

CAD Mockup of the Door

In the exploded views you can see how the outside shoulders of the tenons are set back further — by the width of the rabbet.  I have the mortises at 1″ deep, which seems plenty strong.  But I’m not sure how to make the mortises, I don’t have a lot of experience making mortises.

Part of my consternation is that I’ve been saving my pennies (literally) for a big hollow chisel mortiser that I could use to make doors and gates — and I’m still a few pennies short of a mortiser (there is a joke in there somewhere).  I could do it with a router and a template, but the rabbet causes problems in designing the fixture which then has to sit on top of it.  By time I have the thickness of the jig (accounting for the guide bushing) plus the depth of the rabbet I don’t have enough bit length left to make a deep enough mortise.

Since routing won’t work, I could drill a series of holes, and then clean that up with a chisel.  I tried that and wasn’t happy with the results.  The drill bit wanders (even using a drill press and a fence).  It doesn’t really seem like it’s any savings over just chopping with a chisel in the first place.

I did several practice mortises with a chisel.  I can get a reasonable mortise — in fact, a pretty nice mortise, as the rabbet helps keep things on track.  But I made the mistake of cutting the stiles to the correct length instead of leaving “ears” on them.  On every attempt at chopping a mortise I split the end out.  Not good.

So I have to make more stiles now, and this time leave them long.

Exploded View

Exploded View

Dimensions for the mortises, rabbets and tenons

Dimensions for the mortises, rabbets and tenons

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Byrdcliffe(-ish) Cabinet Continued

While I was waiting for the hide glue to dry I decided to start planning out the joinery for the door and the stained glass panel I’ll make for it.  There is a funny story here, but first some background.

Rewinding a bit, the original Byrdcliffe cabinet has a carved and painted Lilly panel in the door.

web_steele_wallcabinet

Original Byrdcliffe Cabinet

I’m making something in more of a Stickley or Mission theme to match the furniture in our guest room, a carved naturalistic Tulip doesn’t fit.  I decided to make a stained glass panel to fit in the door, so I searched for inspiration on the web.  My original idea was to incorporate a stylized rose (sometimes called a “Glasgow Rose” or “Makintosh Rose”) in the panel.

Stylized Rose

Stylized Rose

I grabbed a bunch of images that I liked so I could review them with my client, eh…wife.  Some of these are really nice, I especially like the Poppy.

Panel Designed by Dard Hunter

Panel Designed by Dard Hunter

This was a strong choice, it had my vote

This Poppy was a strong choice, it had my vote

Another possibility

Another possibility

Now here is the funny thing.

My wife and I have always had Greyhounds, they are an awesome breed.  We get them through a retired racers organization.  At one point we had four Greys in the house.  My wife wanted me to incorporate a Greyhound into the design, but I just couldn’t do it.  It didn’t make sense in a Stickley or Mission aesthetic.  Maybe in an art deco piece, but not in a Stickley with it’s rectilinear lines and utilitarian design.

Then I showed her this design from Dard Hunter, with a stylized Tulip.  I liked it, but I liked the poppy above more.  It certainly fit the intended era and design.

When my wife saw it she immediately said “I love it, a Greyhound face”.  Once I spotted the “hidden” Greyhound face, and it was all over and we both knew it had to be this design.  (Hint: the eyes are green)

Dard Hunter Tulip

Dard Hunter Tulip

Stained Glass Panel - Dard Hunter Tulip

Stained Glass Panel – Dard Hunter Tulip

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Byrdcliffe Cabinet, Part 2

My variation of the Byrdcliffe cabinet is progressing along nicely.

If you didn’t read my previous post, I wanted to build a duplicate of a small wall cabinet that was made at the Byrdcliffe Art Community in the early 1900’s.  Since our guest room has several Mission-style pieces of furniture already I decided to make a Mission-inspired variation of the same cabinet.  I chose quarter-sawn white oak for the wood, and started by truing it all up and mocking up that case.

Lumber for case dimensioned and mocked up

Lumber for case dimensioned and mocked up

Once I had the sides, top and bottom thicknessed and cut to length accurately I started cutting dados and rabbets.  This is a pretty straightforward project, no fancy joinery anywhere – although that didn’t keep me from making a mistake.  I cut the rabbet for the back deeper than rabbets on the sides – so I would have more “purchase” to screw the ship-lapped back in place.  Of course that means I now have a gap I’ll have to plug later.  Rats.

One of the things that I’ve had trouble with on previous project is getting shelf dados aligned on opposite sides.  If two sides are the same height it’s not a problem of course, but in this case the two sides are different heights so I can’t just gauge off the end of the board.  Instead I mocked up the case, and used a spacer block to knife in the location for the dado, this seemed to work really well.

Using a spacer block to lay out the shelf dado

Using a spacer block to lay out the shelf dado

Once I had all of the parts cut and joinery prepared I did a final dry fit.

Dry Fit

Dry Fit

After the dry fit I hand planed all of the interior surfaces and edges, sanded with 220/320 and wet the wood to raise the grain.  A final scuff sand with 400 and I was ready to glue up.  I’m using “Old Brown Glue”, which is pre-mixed hyde glue.  I choose this because I didn’t want to worry about squeeze out messing with the finish.

I spread the glue and commenced the struggle with balancing clamps, parts sliding around, glue dripping onto my pristine surfaces and sticky hands.  In the end I was able to wrestle it into submission.  I have to add the shelf still, I’ll do that tomorrow after this stage has cured overnight.  I’m also going to pin the ends with Walnut Miller Dowels, if they ever arrive.

Glued Up

Glued Up

I have the slats for the back already made, so my next step is to start on the door.  The article that Christopher Schwarz wrote on re-creating this cabinet calls for stub tenons and a lightweight frame-and-panel door.  In the original the door had a carved panel, in Chris’ variation he substituted a scroll-sawn rendition of the same design as the original.

Since I’m doing a Mission re-interpretation of this piece, a carved Lilly doesn’t fit aesthetically.  Instead I’m going to make a stained glass panel for it.  That means I need a slightly different approach on making the door, probably mortise and tenon construction with a rabbet instead of a groove.  Time to sketch that out before I ruin any wood.

 

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Byrdcliffe(ish) Cabinet

I decided that my next project would be a rendition of this simple Byrdcliffe wall cabinet.  After some discussions with my wife it became clear that she wanted something that would “match” the existing mission-style bed and desk in our guest room.  This cabinet, with the polychromed flora wouldn’t be out of place, but it wouldn’t exactly match either.

Original Byrdcliffe Cabinet

Original Byrdcliffe Cabinet

I’ve seen this same pice done in other woods, and with the carved and painted lilly omitted.  I decided to make a mission-interpretation of the same piece.  I’m going to use quarter sawn white oak.  I haven’t decided on the decoration on the door, but I’m thinking of doing a Stickley/Ellis style design there instead.  We’ll see.

My main concern was in getting wide enough white oak.  I lucked out, and was able to get a couple of boards that were almost 9″ wide at the lumberyard.  It’s S2S, and a full inch thick, about $6 a board foot.

Quartersawn White Oak

Quartersawn White Oak

This has nice ray flecks throughout

Nice Grain

Nice Grain

The first order of business was to break it down into manageable pieces.  I cross cut it to rough lengths for the top, bottom, sides, shelf, divider and back slats.  I have enough pieces left for the door plus one extra board, so I think I bought a bit more than I needed.

Rough cutting parts

Rough cutting parts

All of the pieces for the carcase jointed on one side and one edge.  I need to change the knives in my planer tomorrow before thicknessing these.

All of the pieces for the carcase jointed on one side and one edge. I need to change the knives in my planer tomorrow before thicknessing these.

Boards for the ship-lap back

Boards for the ship-lap back

Tomorrow I should be able to get the carcase glued up.  I’m thinking of using Miller Dowels in a contrasting color (Walnut?) to pin the case together.  I’m tempted to put a design like this on the door:

ZoomImageFramer.aspx

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Coffee Cupboard Completed

OK, I finally finished this cabinet.  Last night I installed the back, the keyhole hangers in the back, a brass catch (I should have used a magnet, it’s a little too hard to close) and slathered on a final coat of Tried & True Oil/Wax mix.  It will take a few days for that to dry, and then I’ll was it – maybe by Sunday.

These aren’t great pictures, I’m not sure why they are grainy and have lousy depth of field.  I took them with my phone, which is all I use.  I suspect it’s the lighting in here.  The dark walnut of the cabinet seems to absorb light, so it hard to photograph well.  Maybe later this morning the light will be better.

Cabinet hung in the kitchen

Cabinet hung in the kitchen

Closeup of the Cocobolo handle, the angle makes it look bigger than it actually is

Closeup of the Cocobolo handle, the angle makes it look bigger than it actually is

Inside of cabinet, showing off the maple slats

Inside of cabinet, showing off the maple slats

 

 

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Coffee Cup Cabinet – Over the Hump

So, I installed the knife hinges.  I was really stuck on that for some reason — and I’m still a little nervous waiting to see how they will work out once the cabinet is fully assembled.  But enough about that.

I fit the maple ship-lapped back boards to the cabinet, and applied a few coats of blond shellac, rubbed out with wax.  I cut shelves to fit and checked everything for fit.

IMG_1373

Mockup of cabinet back and shelves

The other thing I did was to make a wooden pull for the door.  Actually I made two.  One in Macasser Ebony, but it split when I was assembling it (@&#!!), I made another in Cocobolo as I didn’t have any more of the Ebony.   I picked up some pen blanks to make the handle, which is a great way to buy little pieces of nice wood.  I turned two 3/8″ posts with 1/4″ round tenons on both ends, and drilled the door and the back of the handle to fit.  I glued it together with epoxy.

Cocobolo Handle Glued On

Cocobolo Handle Glued On

Handle

Handle

Finally, after sanding the outside of the cabinet I slathered on a coat of Tried & True Oil/Wax finish.  I’ll leave this to dry for a few days, then install the back, mortise in the keyhole hangers on the back (I wonder if I can do that before I install the back slats?) and apply another coat of finish.

It’s pretty dark, but I like the color of the walnut.

Door with one coat of finish

Door with one coat of finish

Carcase with one coat of finish

Carcase with one coat of finish

 

 

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