A hanging

I figured you’ve seen painting before, so I skipped over that bit.  However, a key part regarding the sizing of this shelf had to do with the fact that 4′ is just about the maximum you can fit between the wheelwells on a full-size pickup.


When you’re figuring a job,  ALWAYS take transportation into account.  I will reveal a story here which will highlight how a bit of foresight can keep you sane:

Back in the halcyon days of yore, when I was making everything out of 2×4’s and plywood, I decided to build a bookshelf.  I had plenty of books, so it needed to be big.  I made it as large as I could fit in the room.  When the time came to move it out of the shop into the room where I needed it, I quickly realised that all was not well.  While the bookshelf would fit in the room, it would not fit through the door.  The only thing I could do was lop off the top shelf to make it short enough to fit.  So do keep in mind how you’re going to install things.

With the display shelf, the install requires that the cleat be installed first.  Do be sure to install it right way round.  That’s not a fun fix either.  But once the cleat is on the wall, it’s a simple matter to lift the shelf on to it and it’s done.


The only part left was to stock it!  So now, when you go to City Folks Farm Shop, you will see my shelf and a selection of the wares I typically make there on display.  Stop on by!


Shelf assembly

When it finally comes down to assembly, it can be a little nerve-wracking when you get something this size, with this many joints.  This goes doubly for a build like this where there isn’t an option for subassemblies.  It’s all got to go together at once.

Since we’re going to wedge our mortice and tenon joints (and dovetails too!), we first kerf all the tenons to receive a wedge.  We’re going to align the wedges so they will spread the tenon in line with the grain, rather than against it.  This helps avoid any possibility of splitting the wood with the wedging force.


Next, put everything together dry.  If anything binds, you should find out now while you can still correct it.


I made my wedges for this project out of white oak.  I want the tenon to deform in the mortice, not the wedge.  Be sure to make extra!  And remember that you want them rather blunt, especially the ones for the dovetails.


Now, this is going to take a little faith.  Make sure your hide glue is nice and hot (because the warmer it is, the runnier it gets) before you start.  IMPORTANTLY, a wedged joint is not the same as a drawbored joint.  These wedges will not draw the joint together, just secure it.  So do clamp your joints shut while you wedge them.

Drizzle your glue around your tenon, and let it wick down into the joint (a few seconds).  Then put a little glue on your wedge (MAKE SURE it fits the mortice first!), insert it into the kerf, and hammer it home.  You’ll know it’s in all the way because the sound will change from a tap to a solid clunk.  Once you’ve gotten it there, stop!  It does not matter if you still have wedge sticking out.  Once it is wedged, hammering harder won’t help.  As you work, make sure your glue stays hot, or it won’t run into the joints correctly.  Once you get all those little wedges in all those tenons, feel free to collapse from exhaustion while the glue dries overnight.

The next day, you can start to clean up.  Cut off the gross excess and then plane everything down.  I’ve taken a picture halfway through so you can see the difference.  It does turn out to be a pretty neat looking joint.


And that’s the assembly done!  Tomorrow we’ll finish and install.







Repeat as necessary

In the display shelf build I’ve been working on, we already went over the housed mortice joint that will hold the shelves to the sides.  The real trick is not in making that joint…

…it’s in making six of them, and they all have to line up.  It can get a little tedious.  But eventually you end up with a pile of boards, all with little nubs on the end.  One thing we did not go over was that after cutting the mortices on the first shelf, I tapered the sides.  The bottom is 12″ wide, narrowing to only 4″ at the top.  This is to prevent against a hulking look, and to let more light in on the middle shelves (which helps the various wares look their best).  I cut off the waste and then planed the two sides together so they would be even.


Even though the shelf is mostly ready to be glued, there’s a minor detail to work out first: it has to hang on the wall!  I chose to use a cleat, as it’s strong and straightforward to install on site.  First, I rip at an angle down the length of a strip of wood (I’m using Douglas Fir because it is strong, stiff, and I had some lying around after I ran out of yellow pine).  The actual angle is pretty unimportant.  Nothing too sharp, but a standard 1:7ish slope should be fine.


Then, since I had decided to mortice the cleat into the carcase, I went ahead and cut tenons on the end of one of the beveled strips.


Using the tenons as a template, I went ahead and cut the mortice in the sides.


Tomorrow we’ll assemble everything, but I wanted to end with a word of warning.  If you’re like me, you try to wring every last bit of storage out of your workspace.  But especially when you’re working with something big, that can work against you.  Keep an eye on the overhead, and be doubly cautious when working with a recalcitrant joint.  The problem might not be what you think…



More affixing, less fixing

I hate fiddling with joinery.  If you’ve cut many joints, inevitably you run across one that you have to fuss over and massage until it finally goes together…

…only to find it’s thrown another joint out of alignment and the whole thing starts over again.


So to affix the shelves to the sides, we’re using a housed, through-tenoned, wedged joint.  Robert Wearing, one of the contributors to woodworking canon, says it gives a very strong carcase.  Strong is good!  So here we go.

I’m using a technique I saw Chris Schwarz use in one of the multitudinous Popular Woodworking books so I don’t have to do as much fussing with the joint.  You make a shallow rebate along the edge of your shelf, and fit that to the housing, rather than the full width.  This may seem unnecessary, but it really does help with the fitting.  So first, I’m going to cut the housing.  You can use a saw to cut the sides, but I just use a chisel and mallet.  Knife lines defining the edges of your housing keep everything crisp.


We’re going to be using the router plane a lot on this build, and evening out the bottom of the housings is the first application for it.  You might not technically need it, but I for one wouldn’t do without it.  Once the housing is cut, we can use it to exactly cut the rebate on the shelf to match.  Gauge a line from your marks, and cut the rebate to fit.  You could use a moving fillester plane to cut this, but again I just use a chisel, mallet, and router plane.


You might have to take off another couple of layers of wood when you offer the rebate to the housing, but with the router plane it’s just a quick turn on the depth adjustment.  No big deal.  Work on it until it fits snugly.  A properly fitted housing joint should stay together from its own friction during a test fit.


Yes, that really does fit!  The extra length in front of the shoulder is for the tenons which pierce the sides.  We’ll lay those out next.  If you read the excerpt from Wearing above, you might have noticed he said that big tenons weren’t helpful.  Therefore I’ll lay out pretty small ones.  Here’s a design feature: since the sides narrow towards the top (we’ll get there), we can decrease the number of tenons for each shelf, giving a stepped effect.  It will also keep us from puncturing the same spot in the grain over and over, preventing the formation of a weak spot in the side.  I lay these out and cut them like dovetails.  BE SURE to mark your waste adequately.  It’s very easy to cut the wrong part since they look so much alike, especially in the middle.


Once the tenons are cut out, I offer them to the carcase side, and mark where they’re going to penetrate.  It’s kind of a finicky maneuver, but it’s the best way I know to keep them in line.  Once the mortices are marked, cut them out.  BE SURE to cut the face side last.  This way, if there’s any splintering, it’s inside the case and inside a housing where it won’t be apparent.  You can bore the mortice out with an auger, then clean up with a chisel, but in woods that have a big differential in hardness, like this yellow pine, I don’t like to do that.  Invariably I hit a bit of hard, dark latewood and that deflects my auger into the softer, lighter earlywood.  Instead, I just chop them out with a chisel and mallet.  You machine tool guys with hollow chisel morticers can keep your snide comments to yourself, thank you.


You might have to do a little fitting, but it should come together in the end.  We’ll go over wedging later, when we do the final assembly.





As complex as it needs to be

I’ll get into the joint for the rest of the shelves tomorrow.  But here is an interesting divide between an artisan and a hobbyist.  From the outside, it appears that people who make things for a living (especially if they’re self-employed) are really just playing around at stuff, then getting paid for it.  How many times in the various professions I’ve had that people would get a wistful look and say “I wish I could do this all day…”

It ain’t so.

In fact, it’s incredibly difficult to keep all the balls in the air.  Sometimes, you loathe the craft you work at because of the constraints of actually having to make a living at it.  And the margins are slim at best.  No one who works at craft for a living is in it for the money.

So when faced with design criteria, many times an artisan will have a different view than a hobbyist.  A hobbyist will turn the idea around and around trying to be “cool”.  Some crazy wackadoodle scheme inevitably results, requiring lots and lots of painstaking attention.  If you hear someone talking about how a piece took them umpteen hours of work, you’re probably talking to a hobbyist.

An artisan, on the other hand, has no truck with this.  Those hours of fiddling with things are like Scrooge’s coal: temporary and costly.  Instead, the artisan gravitates to the tried and true.  Why do a quad tenon when a single tenon performs perfectly well?  For a showpiece it might be warranted, but not on a working model.  For an artisan the key points are accuracy and efficiency instead of novelty.

Every piece that goes out the door is a reflection on the craftsman.  Shoddy, hastily executed work is self-defeating.  But at the same time, that work must be done as expediently as possible.  Only by combining accuracy with efficiency can the demise of the Arts and Crafts movement be avoided.

The Arts and Crafts movement was based upon the idea that well-made craft should be available to the “common man” by stripping away excess.  It was a reaction to the overblown decadence of the Victorian era.  Instead of veneer and extensive carvings, the main hallmarks became plain expanses of solid wood (to the point of crudeness on occasion), and exposed joinery.  This is where the Stickley brothers were working, as well as others such as Limbert and the Greenes.

But the theory fell by the wayside in the quest for refinement and class.  By the time the classic forms of Craftsman furniture (Sears, Roebuck had nothing to do with that, by the way) evolved, the pieces were priced way outside the realm of consideration by any but the well-off.  The complexity of most of the pieces demanded a lot of detailed work to construct and caused the price to rise.  Simpler furniture was largely left by the wayside, though vernacular forms persisted and the idea of quality furniture for the masses would occasionally surface in forms like the “utility furniture” of wartime Britain.

So for the craftsman, there is always a conscious struggle to design as complexly as necessary, but no more.  There are competing demands at work.  Do you want something unique?  Well-made?  From beautiful materials?  So far all of these are possible, but then comes the demand for economy and the whole enterprise collapses.  It’s a tough nut to crack.  How to design something agreeable, capable, and affordable?  All of these are considerations.  Balancing them depends on the client (you pick two!).

In the case of this shelf, I needed strong shelves.  The choice of material had been decided already.  I could have simply butt jointed the shelves on to the sides, or used a simple dado.  But having seen failures of those joints, I decided to use a joint that is more complex, but vastly stronger.  This is not because it was a way to show off, but rather because the demands of the design dictated it.  It is as complex as it needs to be, and no more.


Bottoms up

Our first process is to get the bottom joined to the sides.  We’re going to use dovetails for this joint.  The problem I have with that is in scribing my knife lines.  My combination square is too short to register solely from the reference edge, and I don’t want to introduce the possibility for error by squaring off both edges.  I can, however, use my framing square to scribe this line.  Keeping everything together while knifing (and not moving anything!) is troublesome at best, so I use my handy quick clamps to hold the square while I scribe.


Now to cutting the dovetails!  Once the base line is scribed, I’ll go ahead and saw the joint with my trusty Disston 12″ hybrid saw, starting with tails, then superimposing them on the other board to make the pins.


Keep these dovetails relatively beefy.  We don’t want to pull a gossamer pin out by the root.  Also, construction detail here: MAKE SURE to orient your dovetails so that the tailboards are the sides.  This puts the mechanical locking properties of the joint in line with the stresses this shelf will encounter.  If you do it wrong, the only thing holding the bottom on is the glue and that’s insufficient.


All joined!  This post brought to you by a giant letter “U”.