Finished!

Once the structure of our cutting board is done, we can sand.  Start the edges (and only the edges) with 80 grit.  This is coarse enough to get out the rasp marks, but only just.  And sand with the grain.  If you don’t, the scratches from the sandpaper will be highlighted.  It will be smooth, but it will look like a cat used it as a scratching post.  Sanding with the grain: very important.  As you sand the inside radii on the handle, you can see that if the radius is too tight, or if you’ve got a lot of little details, trying to get some sandpaper in there is not going to work very well.  This is why the shoulders on my particular pattern are the gentle curves that they are.

Once the edges are all sanded, it’s time for the big key to a smooth, satin surface that will remain even after washing.  The key is: water.

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That’s right, water.  See, when wood gets wet, it raises the grain.  We want smooth.  So we’re going to pre-raise the grain, and abrade it off.  This is called “whiskering”, and we need to do it between grits  Then it will remain smooth even after washing.

Rinse the board under the tap, then wipe it dry.  It should be damp, not sopping.  Let it dry.  Then go back to the shop and start with 150 grit.  This time, when the edges are done, and using a sanding block, sand the faces.  If you don’t use a sanding block, you will put ripples into the surface of your board.

Here’s a procedural note.  What ever aspect you are trying to preserve is the one you sand last.  If we wanted blended edges that looked amorphous, then we would sand edges last.  This will ease the border between the edge and face.  We’ll get into that in the next project.  But here we want the border to be smooth, but distinct.  So we sand the face last.  It doesn’t seem like much, but it makes a difference.

So we continue sanding, whiskering between grits, up to 400.  After we sand with 400, we’ll whisker and sand again with 400.  Put down some paper towels for the board to sit on.  Take a paper towel, wet with mineral spirits, and wipe down your board.  You’ll see that this washes off the dust, but it won’t raise the grain anymore.  Let your board dry on the paper towels you put down.  Once it’s dry, rag on a coat of finish.  We want an oil finish here, as a film finish will flake off when you cut on it.  I use this stuff.  It’s available in most hardware stores, it’s food grade, and the emulsified beeswax gives it a nice sheen.  You want to goop it on pretty thickly, then let it set overnight and soak in.  In the morning, buff it clean with a paper towel or clean cloth, and it’s done!  Way better than plastic.

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Well-Rounded

So we stopped yesterday with a nice even perimeter all the way around our cutting board.  So now, while the edges are flat and easy to grip, let’s go ahead and plane our cutting surface even.

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If you look closely, you’ll see that it appears that there’s a dark outer edge and a lighter area in the middle of the board.  The dark areas are what the plane has been cutting.  The light area is a shallow hollow in the middle of the board.  So plane until the surface is a nice even texture, visually and palpably.  Once the other side is done too, here’s a detail that makes a difference.

When you try to pick a cutting board off the counter where you’ve been cutting things, it never wants to come up!  Especially since invariably you have wet hands, and it’s just a mess.  Here’s a way to make the board easy to grab off the counter.  I start with the planed handle, which is even with the rest of the board.

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I then take my plane and cut a sloped surface down to the end of the handle.  It doesn’t have to be a huge slope, but maybe an eighth or so.

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Remember that the grain is reversed on the opposite side of the board, so you’ll have to plane up from the end.  It feels a little strange, but it will work out.  This slope, along with the rounded edges, lets your fingers slide up under the handle and pick up the board easily, even if it’s on a flat surface.

To round an edge gracefully, it should be beveled first.  Otherwise it looks bloated.  Draw a line around the outer edges of the board on both face and edge.  I do it by eye, but it works out to be about a quarter inch or so.

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Once we have those lines as a guide (you could just do it by eye if you’re feeling frisky), connect them with a bevel, all the way around the board.  Once again, I like to use the plane on the flat edges, and a rasp on the curved ones.

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And finally, at long last, we can make the edges round.  I use a fine rasp for this all the way around.  Don’t go past your inside line, and try for a nice, even radius.

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That pretty much finishes the structural part of this.  Tomorrow we’ll sand and finish, and that should be it for this build.

Less talking…

…more working!

Right, so if I have a variety of pieces that need to be made, I always start with the cutting boards.  I’ll get into why a little later, but for now, just know that this is where we’re beginning.

Wooden cutting boards are a better idea than plastic.  A study by the University of California found that wood doesn’t turn into a germ colony like a plastic.  And it’s definitely, definitely better in the “marital bliss” department than using your kitchen counters to cut things on.

I don’t laminate little strips for a cutting board.  The glue fails in every one I’ve seen.  We’re also preferentially using a diffusely porous hardwood.  I found some cherry for a good price, so I’m using that, but rock maple or beech (walnut if you’re a Warbucks) work fine.

So taking our board, give yourself a cutline with a pattern.  Nothing too fancy, or too large.  I’ve seen a Shaker cutting board in this style (in Shea’s book) that looked like you could use it as a table afterward.  My pattern is about 8″ wide by 18″ long.  4/4 (3/4″ thick) stock is good for this.

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Once you have a cutline down, we can cut this out.  You can rough it out with a handsaw, but it’s fair bit of rasp work later to clean up.  Cutting along the entire perimeter of the handle with a coping saw is usually doable, but it’s slow.  I’ve done both, but my preference is a bandsaw.  Makes pretty quick work of it.  Just like a handsaw, though, we don’t want to saw right on the line.  Cut it a little fat so you have some material to smooth up without getting undersize.

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And it looks like a cutting board now!  Well, maybe if you unfocus your eyes a little…

So once we’ve got the shape roughed out, we need to clean it up.  On the flat areas, I typically use my #4 smoothing plane, but you could use a rasp or a spokeshave if you want.  You’ll need a rasp for the curved areas anyhow.

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This is by no means the finished edge yet, but a regular surface will make it easier to work with and give you a more uniform edge.  At this point you should be cutting right down to your cutlines with both the plane and rasp.

We’ve got more planing and rasping tomorrow, cutting the profile on the edge and putting in a detail that will make this a lot friendlier board to work with than a store-bought one.

 

 

 

Waste not…

Here in the shop, I don’t generate a lot of waste.  I make small things as well as large, so those offcuts that linger forever in most places tend to get used up for things like trays or boxes.  Though I still have my five-gallon buckets filled with little dribs and drabs of stuff that one day I’m sure I’ll use…one day.

But there’s a lot more that goes on other than saving little pieces of good lumber for a box lid or something.  What about waste: the knots that get cut out of a pine board, or those weird little slices that come off a batch of spatulas?  Where do I put that?

Well, waste is all relative.  See, that stuff goes in the woodstove.  It’s not trash, it’s fuel!  So I don’t have any chunks of wood, no matter how fractious, going into the landfill.  The only exceptions I’ve run into so far are pressure-treated wood, and “engineered lumber” (plywood).  Those have to be binned.  The treated stuff isn’t as bad as it used to be, when they used arsenic, but it’s not something I want to burn.  And since the ashes go out in the garden, I don’t want the chemical residues going in my food, thank you very much.  Same goes for the glues in plywood.  But since I don’t really use any of that stuff, I don’t worry about it too much.

So that takes care of the chunks.  But what about the shavings and sawdust?

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Well that gets swept up at the end of the day (or maybe every three…or four), and taken down my backyard to the ACUs (Autonomic Composting Unit).

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They get their bedding constantly refreshed so it doesn’t stink, and I get compost for the garden.  No waste again.

The other half of this idea is the concept that a healthy working environment is important.  So dealing with ammonia (for fuming Arts and Crafts pieces) or lead paint is right out.  But there’s more to it than that.  What’s in the finishes that we use.  Half of the can is warnings telling you of the deleterious side effects.  Or what about Poly-Vinyl Acetate (PVA)?  Sounds yummy, right?  Well, that’s the active component in “wood glue”, like Titebond and such.

Whenever possible, I avoid such things.  The cabinet with chemicals in it in my shop is almost entirely non-toxic.  I mostly use hide glue instead of PVA.  I use food-grade finishes on treenware (spatulas and the like).  Other stuff gets mainly shellac, milk paint, or wax.  Some linseed oil now and again.  I think that people should not have to worry about the things they buy from me poisoning them.  And the person most affected by the chemicals in the various finishes?  Me.  Yup.  Hoist with my own petard and all.  This stuff is all at its most malign, volatile state while it’s being applied.  So choosing to stay with more natural, benign finishes is in my own best interest, as well as yours.

What does the waste stream in your home look like?

Welcome to the Shop!

Watch the step down…sometimes there’s a dog there.

So when folks hear I’m a woodworker, they tend to imagine a couple of different extremes when it comes to my shop.  One is the Norm Abrams idea.  High-powered machinery screaming along, eye and ear protection a must, dust collection mandatory.  Everything revolves around biscuit joiners and feeding sheet goods through a big table saw.

The other pole is sepia-tinted: white aprons and neckties, centuries of tradition distilled into a single masterful stroke of a lovingly fettled plane that was hand forged by the elven smiths of…

Sorry.  Tolkien bleeding through there.

The truth is a little more mundane.  My entire shop is a single car garage, measuring about 12’x20′.  And it’s pretty workaday.  IMG_20160808_195559_339[1]

I’m standing in the far corner, pretty much on top of my little bandsaw.  There’s some wood stacked up on your right out of frame, and a rack for firewood on your left out of frame.  Everything else is there in front of you.  My lathe is bottom center: an old Delta made in the mid ’30s.  A panel in clamps is leaning on it.  Once it dries overnight, I can work on it tomorrow.  There’s about six or seven different projects in different stages going on all at the same time, which is why it looks like a Weyerhauser facility blew up.

My tools are mostly vintage.  Disston saws I bought for ten or twenty dollars because they had busted handles and needed sharpened.  You’d need sharpened too, after a hundred twenty years.  So I restored them and use them almost every day.  My planes on the bench are all vintage Stanleys (5, 7, 4), but I got them for a few dollars because the castings had cracks or chips, and the totes were broken.  They work.  I did buy new chisels because getting vintage ones that aren’t worn to a nubbin were more expensive.

The humble bench there is a 2×4 frame with a piece of plywood on top.  Fancy, huh?  Those propane tanks?  Yeah, those get filled up in fall because there is no heat in this shop other than a little propane heater.  That and working faster.  That (no longer) oscillating fan is the only concession to the muggy summer.  There are no windows, yet.  It’s on the list…but it’s a long list.  And my wife keeps adding to it!

Everything you see on this blog comes from this little space.  It’s usually pretty quiet, except when one of my saws automatically detects contact with human flesh.  And it’s a LOT less dusty than a machine woodworking shop.  Mostly I put out shavings.  It’s easier on my lungs.  More on this stuff tomorrow.

So now you know where I come from.  It might not seem like much, but it’s enough…and isn’t enough as good as a feast?

The Beginning

“Internet Woodworking”

It sounded like such an oddball concept.  Sort of like “Radio Knitting”.  How to reconcile the profoundly tactile with the remotely virtual?

I work almost exclusively with hand tools.  The feel of a plane whistling along the grain is different than the juddering snarl that occurs if the same board is planed against the grain.  The smell of working White Oak (sort of musty and earthy) is completely different than cutting through Douglas Fir (fresh and astringent), and both of those are different from Eastern Cottonwood (old litter box).  Watching the shimmering depths of a freshly planed piece of cherry sparkle in the raking sun is worlds away from looking at a picture of a cherry board.

But I will try.

See, people have told me when I make them things that while they really like to see and touch and smell the finished product, they would be interested in seeing how a chunk of tree came to be the spatula they use to make their family’s dinner.  Or how a serving tray ever came from a plain old pine board.  After all, who would think to build things out of tree skeletons?

So I will use this medium to allow a window to the process.  See what goes on as I design and create.  I’ll show the steps that go into that smooth, organic spatula handle.  Or you can see the precision behind those dovetails.  Unlike the world of trade secrets and proprietary information, my little shop is actually open for business.  Come on in!