Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Portable Toolboxes, part 2

(Go back to part 1)

After taking the box out of the clamps, I loaded it up with tools to check capacity and weight: 55 lbs. without lid. So not a total gutbuster, but not light either. At least I can move it in and out of my van by myself and put it on a dolly.

Plenty of room for stuff! Not that I'd want to carry chisels and things loose like this.

The next step was to make the lid. I wanted a raised panel inside a frame lip (not a flat frame).

Glue up for the top panel. Pinch dogs hold the joint well; you can see the glue squeeze out from the pressure. Just make sure you leave enough rough length to saw off the end holes after it's dry.

Ripping the stock for the top frame; after ripping the thick stock for my portable workbench, this thin stuff is child's play, about 30 seconds to rip down the 6-foot length. Then I cut the pieces to rough length, jointed them, shot the ends, formed a frame one dovetail high, and grooved it for the panel.

Raising the panel: across the grain with a badger plane. I got the iron razor sharp, but the sole needs work, so this is a bit rough to handle. Still, the skewed iron takes a satisfying end-shaving, like a giant pencil sharpener.

Fine cleanup with a block plane. Note the tearout at the edge: this is the reason for doing the end grain first. This was even after having chamfered the edge.

Raising the side using a #6 with a new Pinnacle blade. Nice fine cut. It's awkward planing left-handed (naturally, the grain ran the wrong direction), but I just concentrated on fundamental form holding it.

Fine tuning the width with a block plane after test fitting in the frame.

Test fitting the completed lid before glue-up. The panel floats free in the groove, which means the side of the lid will probably bow a bit. We'll see how that design plays out over time.

At this point the box was structurally complete. However, the dovetails were what I call "10-foot dovetails," meaning they only look good from a distance of 10 feet or more. I crosscut a piece of scrap and chiseled off tiny wedges to fill the worst spots and at least turn them into 2-foot dovetails.

Wedges fitted into the gaps where I screwed up the baseline.

Cleaning up using a #4 smoother with another Pinnacle blade. The good replacement blade instantly showed that the sole needed work, so I gave the bottom a good lapping on sandpaper on glass to 320 grit, getting it satiny smooth. Now it takes a fine smooth shaving. This plane has enough mass to cleanly cut the dovetail end-grain, followed by a swooping lift-off motion at the end.

Leveling the joints. A well-tuned smoother means you can fit it with great precision.

After this, it was just a matter of hardware installation. I couldn't find heavy-duty handles in brass finish.

The completed box with just the tools from my minimum list. You could build just about anything with this load.

Closed up for travel. Total weight: 62 lbs.

What's in your toolbox? A bit crowded, but everything's sufficiently secure. I screwed small cleats to the bottom to keep the planes from sliding around. The saws sit in kerfed blocks glued to the bottom. The machinist's square is safely nestled in a fitted hanger on the right end. The two pig-sticker mortise chisels are in wooden holsters made by chiseling mating recesses in two halves and gluing them together, the method for making a Japanese saw handle. The roll holds other chisels, screwdrivers, marking gauge, bevel gauge, awl, and marking knife. Another roll holds auger bits and countersink bit. I tried to get a full set of sharpening stones in as well, but between weight and space, just couldn't make it.

It's full of little mistakes and imperfections, but it's sturdy and functional. If I paint it, I'll probably use Mike Dunbar's two-color milk paint method; I like the weathered look that produces. It'll do the job of protecting my tools until I can refine my skills and build a showcase chest (maybe in 10 years).

Now I just need to build a few more to carry the additional tools beyond the minimum set, as well as duplicates to equip several students.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

A Good Day In Nashua

I missed it last year, but Friday I took the day off for the Live Free Or Die Tool Auction in Nashua, NH. My daughter goes to school about 10 miles down the road, so after I dropped her off I went up for the tailgates sales. I didn't even bother with the indoor auction; I have to make a house payment this month, and I doubted my self control!

Clockwise from upper left: some good books; two jars of salvaged brass screws (have you priced new ones lately?); a Disston 10 ppi crosscut D-8; a nice skew iron; several socket firmer chisels; a couple of Yankee screwdrivers; five ratchet screwdrivers; a Starrett machinist's square; some Yankee driver bits; a mallet; a 12" Spofford brace; a selection of center bits; a wooden Sheffield brace; a saw wrest with brass stop; a hollow auger (to match the spoke pointer I got at Brimfield); 12 Jennings bits for less than a dollar each; a rosewood panel gauge; a rosewood spokeshave; a Stanley #12 scraper; and a couple of rusty old plane irons.

The parking lot of the Holiday Inn was spectacular. Where Brimfield was a large general antique flea market, this was nothing but tools. There were five times as many tool dealers packed into a single lot. The weather was gray, with on-and-off light rain driving the dealers to distraction. Not what you want when you have a lot of antique iron laid out.

The selection was incredible. So was the range. On one table, a solid ivory and brass Sheffield presentation brace for $4000. In another spot, rusty beaters in the bed of a pickup with nothing more than $20. There was something for every need and price range. One guy had the back of his van up with a rack in the back; on the top shelf was a Stanley #1 that looked like it had never touched wood, for $2600.

I saw one of the dealers I had bought from at Brimfield, and my favorite tool guy from Lancaster flea market. I saw Patrick Leach, but he said he was just there to buy at the auction. I got the Stanley #12 scraper from Walt of Brass City Records, and the lovely saw wrest from Tony Murland Antiques (was that Tony? His event list didn't list this one).

Most of the items I bought were in the $5-$20 range, with a few more expensive ones. I discovered that I have a weakness for ratchet screwdrivers (who knew?). One fellow was selling off the remnants of his collection, so I couldn't resist five of them. I was thrilled to get the Spofford brace from him; I love using my 8" Spofford, so it's nice to have one with a larger throw. I was also thrilled to get the wooden brace and set of center bits for good prices. Now I want to find some notched gimlet bits that will fit its spring lock.

Next year I may just skip Brimfield and save my money for this. Maybe I'll even dare to go inside. Someone could have walked into that parking lot owning no hand tools and could have left fully equipped. There were tons of planes (wooden and metal), chisels, saws, eggbeaters, braces, and auger sets. A group from Bennett Street School was there filling out their tool requirements.

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Portable Toolboxes

The next project to prepare for the class I'm teaching is to build some simple toolboxes. It wouldn't be cool to show up for class with all my prized antique tools rolling around in plastic bins. No style. I was happy with the way the horse care tote turned out, so I'll use that basic design and add a lid. Nothing fancy, just very utilitarian.

Rather than a single gut-busting chest with multiple tills (as Tom Fidgen calls it, the widow-maker!), I'll build three single-level boxes from dimensioned poplar. I had seen one of the vendors at Brimfield use something like that, and it looked very practical. The modular setup allows me to add more boxes as necessary (I can already see that I probably need 4 or 5 total for the class, given multiple sets of metal, wooden, and transitional planes, plus molding planes). Amusingly, Tom seems to agree, I notice on his blog he recently built some almost identical to what I'm doing!

This all may seem like a lot of work and expense to prepare for one class, but these are all the projects I need to go portable. Then I can do craft fairs and such, and hopefully there will be more classes. I'd also like to take some classes myself from Don Weber, Mike Dunbar, Drew Langsner, and Roy Underhill, in which case I'll have these to transport my tools. So I'll be able to enjoy the benefits of all this effort for years.

One other point about portable setups. On a nice day, you can take everything outside and work under the spreading maple tree in the back yard. There is no more glorious workshop.

How big does it need to be? Long enough for this 4 1/2 ppi ripsaw, my longest.

As usual, it starts with rough crosscutting to break the stock down. You know, that's not very good support for the cutoff...

...so I came up with this slight adaptation to Krenov's trestle sawhorse, a simple cross piece. Just slide the trestle under the board like this, and it's fully supported when the cut completes. It's just a simple lap joint, 3/4" notch in the main tresle to avoid compromising it's strength, the rest in the crosspiece. It's not glued in, and the joint is loose enough for quick removal. Simpler than making another trestle to use as a second support.

Cutting to final length.

Shooting the end for precision square length.

Scribing for the dovetail baseline.

Setting a bevel gauge to 6:1 dovetail slope, permanently marked on my bench hook.

Marking a short end piece for pins first.

Sawing the pins.

Rough-cutting out the waste. I've decided I prefer this method to chiseling everything out.

Chiseling out the remainder to the baseline. This is very easy since it's just a thin amount.

Marking the tails from the pins. The problem here is that this is a 33" board, resting on the precision-shot end. It stands up fine by itself, but it's too easy to bump aside, fouling up the marking. Next time I'll do tails first.

Chiseling the tail waste down to the base line.

Grooving a side piece for the bottom with a screw-arm plow plane. This is a stopped groove. The end pieces are fully grooved.

Finishing up the stopped ends of the groove with a chisel.

Next is the bottom of the box, glued up from two narrow boards. The edge needed to be rabbeted all around to fit in the grooves.

The glued-up bottom piece just barely fits on my shooting board. I normally use a large bench plane for this for its mass, but it's too long here. I found that a block plane cups right into the palm of the hand here for a good cut.

It fits in the hand to direct the planing force perfectly.

I wanted to use my antique moving fillister plane to do the rabbeting, but the rusty old iron needed sharpening. David Weaver over on Sawmill Creek had shown a method of using a simple backing stick jig for polishing the backs of plane irons. I remembered seeing a simpler version of this in Toshio Odate's book Japanese Woodworking Tools, so I tried it, and it worked great.

Rough grinding the back of the iron with 80-grit on a double-sided MDF sandpaper block. Heavy pressure on the sandpaper.

The result after 120 grit.

After medium and fine India stones, hard Arkansas. Lighter pressure on the stones to avoid damaging them.

Finishing up on 8000 grit waterstone.

5 minutes of work to a near-mirror polished back. Then I took the bevel through paper, oilstones, and green rouge on a solid cherry strop, 5 more minutes to get to shaving hair off my right arm (my left arm is already bald from working on chisels a few days ago).

That ugly bit of rust in the middle is the cross-grain nicker removed from it's dovetail.

After the same cleanup as the iron. It's good to have clean nickers.

Using the moving fillister plane to make a fillister (cross-grain rabbet) on the bottom piece.

Oops, I didn't have the nicker in cutting position, so I was building up an advancing shoulder with each pass. Using the shoulder plane to clean it up. With the nicker down and some beeswax on all the bearing surfaces, it went much better.

Rabbeting the length of the bottom, with the grain. These ribbons are pure joy to make!

A clean corner.

Using the groove in one of the end pieces as a mullet to check the remaining thickness for fit.

Test fitting the bottom in the grooves.

Moment of truth: full test assembly. It goes together well, and wonder of wonder, all rests flat! That's not guaranteed, you know. The movement clearances around the edges are perhaps too generous, so I could have reduced the width of the rabbets.

All glued up and no place to go. The spray bottle and paper towels are for wiping off glue drips.

Next will be making the top. I want to make a simple raised panel in a grooved, dovetailed 2"-deep lid.

Happy 20th to my son! For his birthday present, I'm not showing him how to do all this (after his Eagle Scout project, he vowed never to pick up a tool again)!

(Continue to part 2)

Recommended Books
Japanese Woodworking Tools: Their Tradition, Spirit, and Use