Friday, May 6, 2016

a simple lesson in design.

The boxes here present a simple design lesson and were made by one of my students, Dan Burke, at Marc Adams School of Woodworking. The lesson is this. Use what you know how to do to share elements of significance from your own life.

As good as your craftsmanship might be, if you are not telling something of your own story, your work might be missing something.

Dan and his wife had acquired the tiles embedded in the lids of these boxes at the Indigenous People's Museum in Quito, Equador. So the tiles became the focal point of the work, in more ways than one. They had the experience of enjoying another craftsman's work enough to buy it and bring it home. The other craftsman's work is made even more beautiful and useful through Dan's application of skill.

You can practice the principles and elements of design, and learn the useful relationship between all the colors in the world, but work is made more lovely still, when it reflects in full measure, the human being that made it.

The excellently crafted boxes are the frame surrounding the experience.

Sunday, December 6, 2015

glue injectors...

Box makers have asked about the glue injectors that I use when I teach box making and that I've used regularly in my books. They are available from here. These are great for box making but are hard to clean, as the glue will plug up the stainless steel applicator tube. To clean soak the bottle and tip in standard household white vinegar and use a large paper clip to push dried glue from the tip. If kept clean they can be used for a number of years.

Make, fix, create and assist others in learning likewise.

Thursday, September 3, 2015

compound miter saw for box making_

I almost always use my table saw to cut miters but as an alternative in my book on tiny boxes, I felt the need to address the compound miter saw and its potential as a box making tool, as many potential box makers may not be able to afford an accurate table saw.

There are some things that must be done to make a compound miter saw safe for box making. First of all, they are intended for cutting long strips of molding as a carpenter's tool. That means that a compound miter saw comes out of the box without a zero-clearance backing board or any effective means to clamp small parts.

In the normal use of a compound miter saw, it is fairly easy to keep your hands away from the blade, as the stock  is usually long enough that holding it securely will require them to be a safe distance away. With small parts, that is not the case. In the photo shown above, cutting miters for a small box, you can see the Baltic birch backing board that I've screwed to the miter saw fence.  This gives a great deal more support than the fence that came with the saw. I've also added a stop block and  I am using two hold down blocks to keep the stock in place during the cut. I use two hold downs because when the work piece is flipped over to cut the miter on the opposite side, they will apply pressure independently to the irregularly shaped molding.

Two tips that that are essential for both safety and clean cuts: Orient the  blade angle so that the wood being cut is pushed toward the stop block, rather than away. And let the blade stop in the down position rather than lifting it back up while still spinning. The wood only needs to be cut once, and in lifting, the work piece may shift slightly and become jammed against the stop block.

A third tip is to but a really good blade. The one that came with the saw may be good for cutting two by fours, but here we're box making.

So, is this my new favorite tool? It can be useful for quick cuts, but for general box making I prefer the table saw.

Make, fix, create, and encourage others to do likewise.

Sunday, August 9, 2015

routing hinge mortises

This month Fine Woodworking introduced a "clever new jig" to guide the routing of mortises for butt hinges on small boxes.  I introduced the type of template and routing technique in an earlier issue of FWW,  but also in my books dating back to 2001, and in an article I wrote for Woodwork magazine while this century was quite young.

The jig they introduce is in fact pretty nice, but certainly not state of the art.  In order to do left then right, the jig needs to be taken apart and reassembled between steps. I have a similar jig (as shown) that does not need to be altered in use. In fact, you simply slide the jig left, clamp in place, then rout, then slide right to rout the matching hinge mortise. Blocks of wood along one edge and at each end make certain of its location on the box. So it is essentially fool proof. Squaring the corners of the mortises is done with a chisel using the template as a guide. The photos show how it can be clamped on the left and right on the lid and body of a box.

This jig is useful for boxes up to 11 inches long and took less than 15 minutes to make. It can be just as quickly made for other sizes of hinge. I plan to make another one for even smaller boxes.

Make, fix and create... Teach others to do likewise.

Wednesday, April 1, 2015

applying oil finish

 A reader had trouble applying finish to boxes: "
I can do the woodwork ok. It seems good to me. Finish.  I have just sanded off the second finish because I had finger prints, and runs over the top. The top looks good, but sides are bad.
I put 3 coats of tung oil, but left finger prints on sides.
Tried spray shellac and got runs.
I just put on 1 coat of tung off and then if all looks OK I plan just to wax.
Wax is a good idea and provides a way to buff out the finish if it has an uneven sheen. But one of the biggest problems woodworkers have with oil finishes has to do with what you do to it after the finish is first applied.  I don’t know what technique the reader used to apply his finish. Tung oil needs to be carefully rubbed out at the right time with a cloth… before it gets sticky. The same applies to other oil finishes. The worst mistake you can make is to brush it on and then leave it alone like you would a polyurethane finish. If there are fingerprints, then the finish had not been rubbed out properly at the right time.

Shellac takes a completely different approach, but it is at least soluble with alcohol. Even after it is applied and hardened you can take alcohol on a rag and rub it out. You can sand down your runs and then use an alcohol rag to rub over it and restore the finish, by blending in.

One of the obvious questions that I must ask, and that has been asked me when I’ve had trouble with a finish has to do with reading the instructions on the can. They can be helpful, and are often overlooked to the detriment of the finished piece.

Make, fix and create...

Saturday, March 28, 2015

Tiny boxes...

I am getting ready to start a book about making tiny boxes. Tiny boxes in my mind are not scaled down to a size in which they are useless. I simply use the term to describe a range of size smaller than what box makers normally make. They can be used for any number of things, but because they as so small, they invite close examination, and thus require a higher degree of precision in their making.

As with my other books, Tiny Boxes will offer a variety of boxes using a variety of techniques, ranging from the known to the unknown, from the simple to the complex, from the easy to the more difficult, and from the concrete to the abstract. So, in that I believe that you can discover just as I have that the principles of educational Sloyd can apply to more than just woodworking education.

A box making article in Fine Woodworking by my editor friend Matt Kenny has raised a controversy as to whether or not mechanical fastening of some kind is required on small boxes. Matt contends that if miters are sealed with a diluted wood glue allowed to dry before a box is finally glued together, the miters will hold for years without additional keys or splines or other forms of reinforcement. He published an article in the last issue, that raised challenges from readers that were addressed by him in the most recent issue. Of course the answer to whether or not glue alone will suffice, is  it depends, on size, on what factors it will face in its life, and how long you want it to last.

Of course what happens during the life of a box, in terms of what kind of conditions under which it is used, the expansion and contraction that takes place under varying humidity, have effects on the integrity of the joints. Matt insists that he has made boxes using his preferred technique that have lasted 10 years. Is that enough? We each make the decisions that match our own objectives.

I should note that size matters. Small boxes suffer less strain from expansion and contraction of wood.

Make, fix and create...

Sunday, November 23, 2014

rabbetted bottoms

I am working on boxes for Freobel's gifts 5, 5b and 6.

One of the easiest ways to install a plywood bottom in a box is by using a router table and rabbeting bit to route the space for it to fit. Unfortunately, most rabbeting bits are large and while they can be adjusted to cut a small rabbet for small boxes, that requires adding a large bearing which keeps it from routing into the corners.

Amana has made a small rabbeting bit that is perfect for making small boxes. It has a bearing diameter of 3/16 in. and routes a 1/8 in. rabbet, which makes it perfect for use with the Froebel boxes I'm making for gifts, 5, 5b and 6.

In the photos above and below, you can see it in use.  When the rabbet has been cut, simply measure the inside space, cut the bottom to the same size and then round the corners.

For a single box, shaping each corner with a disk sander makes sense as it can be quickly done. In a production setting, many can be routed at the same time on the router table by standing them on edge and using a round over bit of the correct radius.

Make, fix and create...