Finishing Steps, and the Completed Table

For me, finishing is like sharpening. There’s a lot of ways to do it, and I often think it’s best to pick one or two and stick with them.  I think you’re likely to produce better results that way than trying to tailor your finish to each individual piece, rather than practicing one or two different ones.

In my case, I use three different finishes:

Oil only: 6-7 coats of hand-rubbed danish oil (which is actually an oil/varnish blend. I use Watco Danish Oil.

Buffed: one coat of oil, followed by a pass through the Beall Wood Buffer system. This isn’t a furniture finish, so it doesn’t really count. Only usable for small, fairly sturdy items.

Lacquer: This is my standard furniture finish. I believe it was described by the Danish master Tage Frid. It’s almost foolproof, durable, and easy to apply. The order is:

  • Sand to 220 grit
  • Danish oil: 1 heavy coat. Dry 24 hours. Scuff-sand with 220 grit.
  • Sanding sealer: 1 coat. You must use Lacquer-based sanding sealer. Dry 2 hours. Sand with 220 grit (remove the shine). Wipe very clean.
  • Lacquer: 1st coat. Dry 3 hours. Sand 320 grit (remove the shine). Wipe very clean.
  • Lacquer: 2nd coat. Dry 3 hours. Sand as above.
  • Lacquer: 3rd coat. Dry 3 hours. Sand as above.
  • Lacquer: 4th coat (optional). Dry 24 hours.
  • Lightly rub with 0000 steel wool, and buff with paste wax.

There’s not too much that can go wrong with it.  I don’t own a HVLP sprayer; I don’t do enough work to make it a reasonable investment.  Good ones aren’t cheap.  I use Deft Spray Lacquer, by the can. It works beautifully; it’s just not as cost-effective.  Even coverage with spray takes some practice. It’s important to keep the nozzle facing the work at the same angle as much as possible, moving back and forth at a consistent distance from the work.  It’s easy to catch yourself swinging your arm in an arc, which will cause both drips and runs in the center of the arc, and spotty coverage at the edges.

This finish takes three days to complete.  I have yet to have a major problem with it, and it’s about all I use on furniture at this point. It makes an even, clear, medium-gloss finish that’s pretty durable, and suitable for about any indoor furniture.

Of course, nothing ever goes quite as predicted.

Everything was fine until It was done – and I slid the drawer into place. Or rather, tried to.  I used figure-8 fasteners to attach the table top, to allow for expansion room for humidity changes.  If you don’t the table can literally tear itself apart. Whatever method you use to attach the top has to be able to shift slightly.

The figure-8 fasteners attach in small recesses in the sides and back of the top of the aprons in one hole, and to the top through their other hole.  The problem (completely unexpected, of course) was that the fasteners are about 1/8″ thick, and there wasn’t clearance below them to allow the drawer to close.  That one, I didn’t see coming.

The answer was to remove the top and the fasteners, flatten one end of them in a vise (they were stamped metal, not solid), and drill a slight recess in the top with a forstner bit.  Then, when attached to the top, there was enough clearance for the drawer.

I tapped the pegs into place on the stretcher, and it was finished. It looks very much like I had visualized in its new home.


This was an amazing project. In many ways, it was the most difficult thing I’ve ever attempted – the difficulty of the hand-cut joinery, my first real dovetails, the angles of the casework, the copper fills, and the hardness and unpredictable grain of the wood all combined to make it a real challenge. But almost four months after it started, I’m a happy camper.

Thanks to those of you that have followed along on this little odyssey.  Originally, I started this blog for this particular project, but it seems to have grown into more than that.  So I’m going to continue, with further projects as they come along. Next will probably be a couple of small band-sawn jewelry boxes for a friend of mine, and then I’m planning to start a Roubo workbench.   But right now, I have a lot of resharpening to do.

Stay tuned. Same Bat-time, same Bat-channel.

Ross Henton
Frisco, Texas
April 2010

Nobody’s perfect, and neither is their work

Almost every project requires some minor touchup when it’s assembled. This is handwork, after all – imperfections are part of it, and what sets it apart from machine work.  The goal is to minimize the amount of corrections and fixes that have to be done.  In that respect this was pretty successful. But now that it’s assembled, I’ve found a couple of places that need minor fixes.

Most of this sort of work is pretty simple.  For example, one of the lower rails had a small nick where it joined the leg, less than 2mm across. The solution was to take a chisel and cut a sliver about the size of the end of a toothpick from a piece of scrap mesquite. I dipped the end in some cyanoacrylate glue (super glue, if you get it at Wally-World), and wedged it in the nick.  Once it set, I carved it flush with a chisel, and sanded over it. Viola, invisible repair.

A note about the glue: I really, really like the Titebond CA glues.  I don’t think there’s much difference between them and the competitive brands – except the bottle. Which is much less prone to clogging and mess. The gel grade is really thick, the medium grade is what I use most of, and the thin grade is wonderful for small repairs.

Mesquite is prone to a lot of surface variation… cracks, knots, holes, and such. I took a couple of small cracks, added a little of the medium-grade CA glue with a toothpick, and sanded over it while still wet with a piece of 22o-grit sandpaper. The dust bonds with the glue, and fills the crack almost invisibly.  I’ve used this particular technique a lot; occasionally using a random orbital sander instead of sanding by hand.

The one serious problem I found was a gap along the edge of the rear apron.  I think the tenon was probably miscut at a slight angle, and although it looked fine when doing the test fitting, squaring the assembly inside the clamps probably pulled it open just a hair. There are a couple of ways of dealing with this (tearing the table apart is not one of them).

Option 1: cut a thin, tapering wedge the length of the gap, brush it with glue, tap it in place, and shave it off.  For gaps this size, a narrow slice of veneer works even better. It usually looks good, but not in this case – because the gap runs along the cross-grain of the apron, and the wedge would almost have to be made lengthwise to the grain, or it would be too fragile to handle.

Option 2: Fill it with wood filler. And no, I’m not talking about any of the grades of commercial filler. Minwax, Plastic Wood, Elmer’s, Famowood, any of them. They’re all terrible. Even the ones that insist that they’re “stainable” really aren’t. The colored ones won’t match your wood. They don’t take stain well. Don’t even try.Can you see it?

Make your own. All you have to do is save some of the 220-grit sanding dust from the wood you’re working on, and mix it with a few drops of the first finish you plan to apply. In this case, that’s danish oil.  It took about three drops and a quarter-teaspoon of dust to make the paste, and I patched into the crack with a toothpick. It sands flat (but requires a light touch), will always stain or finish to match the wood, and is nearly invisible. Note that this is not for structural repairs – only small cosmetic repairs.  The repair took about 10 minutes, and I doubt anyone but me will ever know it’s there.

The Copper Filler Odyssey

My first attempts at the copper fill I intended to do for the voids in the mesquite were a resounding failure.  I really didn’t think it would be difficult; just melt some copper rod with a blowtorch, and let it drip into the void.  I couldn’t have been more wrong.

The problem is that copper is a terrific conductor – both of electricity and of heat.  I hit the end of a 1/8″ copper rod with a MAPP gas torch for almost 15 minutes, and it didn’t even soften appreciably.   It turns out that copper is usually melted in a crucible, at about 1800 degrees. And I didn’t happen to have an industrial ceramic crucible lying around the garage.

So, plan B: I got some 1500 mesh copper powder and mixed it into some System Three epoxy.  My first results were lousy; I didn’t get enough powder mixed into it, and the results looked like grayish plastic.  The second attempt was more powder than epoxy, and made a very stiff mixture.  When dried, it still looked awful – but when I scraped it flat, it looked better.  Sanding didn’t improve it much, until I realized that it had to be sanded to a much finer grit than I generally use in woodworking.  Instead of stopping at 220, I sanded it up through 1000 grit – and all of a sudden, it looked right.

I mixed up a larger batch (much larger than I actually needed, as it turned out), and packed it into all the open knots and voids on the table.  After about 24 hours setting time – enough to be hard, but not completely cured – I flattened it with a plane (yes, it dulled the blade) and a card scraper, and polished it up to 1000 grit. It looks exactly like I had visualized.

The Drawer Pull Shaping the pull

The last piece to make was the drawer pull.  I glued up a small block of mesquite, cut the rough shape on the band saw, and shaped it with a rasp and sandpaper.  It was a simple process, but when I wasn’t at all sure how it would look when I started.  It turned out to be pretty easy, but kind of a fiddly, picky process to get it shaped the way I wanted.  I cut a small hole in a piece of soft pine, and set it in a vise with the crown of the knob in the hole, so I could brace it securely and not deform the wood of the knob.  It was mounted to the front of the drawer with a brass screw, with the hole countersunk on the inside of the drawer to accommodate the screw head. The finished pull

Next time: Final assembly and finishing.

The Rubber Meets the Road: The Drawer Joinery

And here we are.  There’s no putting it off any longer.  After weeks of occasional practice at cutting dovetails, it’s finally time to do this for real.  A lot of my satisfaction with this project hinges on how the drawer construction turns out.  These are the first hand-cut dovetails I’ve done as anything other than practice. I don’t intend to belabor all the details of the construction; there’s probably more written about the subject of cutting dovetails than any other topic in woodworking.

Pins-first or tails-first? That’s one of the most argued topics.  I learned pins-first, and I’m sticking with it. First step was to take a marking gauge, set it to the thickness of the drawer side,  and mark layout lines on the inside face (only) of the drawer front.  Remember: the front dovetail is half-blind. It doesn’t go all the way through the board, so it’s not visible on the front.  Then I cut the ends of the drawer sides to the required 3 1/2 degree angle (the last cut like this I’ll be making for this project), and inscribed the layout line on all four sides of both ends of the sides and the drawer back. Pin layouts (pencil)

Then I clamped the mesquite face of the drawer vertically in the vise, and drew the layout of the four pins for the half-blind dovetails with a pencil.   Pin layouts (knife)I started with a pencil and not a marking knife, so I could see how the layout looked to my eye before committing myself to the irreversible step of cutting in the marking lines.  This was a good thing – because I originally intended to do the spacing slightly differently, and I didn’t like the way it looked. So I cleaned the pencil lines off with some denatured alcohol (works better than an eraser), and started over. The second pass looked much better.  I went back with my little 8-degree gauge (the angle of the dovetails), inscribed the pencil layout lines, and carried them down to the layout lines in front.

Then I walked away for about half an hour, started some laundry, sent a couple of emails, and played with Angus while I worked up my nerve.

There comes a time when you just sigh and start cutting the wood.  This was it. The angles of the dovetails were cut out with my little Veritas joinery saw (which I dearly love for detail work).  Came out pretty well, with one slight overcut about 2mm long in one place.  I couldn’t use the dovetail jig I described in an earlier post, because these cuts weren’t square to the face of the wood, but at a downward angle.Half-Blind Dovetails

I clamped the front of the drawer down to the bench, and chopped out the first set.  Because the dovetails are wider at the bottom, I had to be extremely careful to not damage the upper edge of each one as I pried chips out, or to ding the edges with the chisel.  I switched to a narrower chisel, so I could angle it slightly into the cuts. The first set actually looked pretty good. I switched to the other side, repeated the layout, and discovered that my chisels were too dull to cut butter, much less mesquite.  The heavy downward chopping had trashed the edges of all three chisels I used, practically folding them over in a couple of cases. So I had to stop and resharpen.Through Dovetails

The second set went about like the first, with comparable results.  Then I clamped the first side down, placed a 1-2-3 block against the face of the drawer front, and set both across the end of the first drawer side.  I transferred the angles of the pins to the drawer side with a sharp pencil, unclamped it, and carried the lines around the other side of the tails.  Cutting the tails is always where I get into trouble.  This is one instance where practice paid off.  They weren’t pristinely perfect, but looked pretty good. They fit into the first pins with only minimal paring.  I also rubbed some pencil lead on the inside of the pins, and started tapping them together until they started to jam.  The transfer of pencil lead to the tail board showed me where the high areas were that needed cutting.  Switching to the lyptus for the inside was an incredible relief from the hard mesquite – in fact, chopping one set of the pins for the drawer front took longer than all the rest of the drawer joinery combined.

Once the tails for the front were finished, I switched to the back.  The back corners are simpler, 3-pin through dovetails. One set came out perfectly; it tapped into place with no gaps or irregularities, and no paring or trimming. That was a really, really good moment.  The second set wasn’t as good – I had missed a cutline, and had a gap that would have to be patched later.  Fortunately, that’s not terribly difficult, and will look fine when it’s finished.

Groove for drawer bottomA 1/4″ recess for the drawer bottom had to be cut in each piece.  The best way to align it was between the lowest two pins in the drawer front – that way, the groove isn’t visible from the front of the drawer.  This was a simple operation – because I did not attempt to do it by hand. I did it in two 1/8″ passes on the router. There are hand tools specifically for cutting grooves like this, but it happens I don’t own any of them, and the thought of attempting to do it with a dovetail saw and a chisel just didn’t do it for me. It probably would have been a disaster.

Once completed, I dry-assembled the drawer. The bottom is two loose panels, with a small half-lap groove halfway through the thickness of each panel where they join, so you won’t ever be able to see light between them if it contracts.  The fit of the bottom was deliberately slightly loose, because I don’t want the drawer to tear itself apart if the lyptus panels expand in the humidity. Problem is, although they have expansion room, they rattled. To stop the rattle, I cut a couple of small strips from a rubber bracelet and set them in one of the drawer grooves. It stopped the rattling, and the drawer bottom can expand into the groove against the rubber if needed.  You can’t glue the bottom in place – expansion of the wood in the bottom will literally tear the drawer apart. The same goes for the top of the table; when it’s mounted, it has to be attached with allowances for changing humidity.Clamped

I knocked the assembly apart again, and brushed glue on the tails and into the pin sockets.  The drawer was clamped up in parallel-jaw clamps, with two angled blocks faced with sandpaper (saved from the base assembly) against the drawer front.  I measured the diagonal angles of the drawer, and almost fell over in shock – they were the same to within about 1/32 of an inch. Not bad.

I let the drawer dry overnight, and turned my attention to some touch-up work on the legs. I had missed some machine marks when I sanded the legs.  The easiest way to remove them is with the best-of-all finish tools – the humble card scraper.  Really just a rectangular piece of metal, sharpened with a burr along one edge. It takes minimal time to learn to sharpen and handle, and takes wonderful thin shavings.  I’ve found that placing a refrigerator magnet on one side helps stop the transfer of heat to your thumbs, and makes working with it more comfortable. In about 5 minutes, I had the areas I had missed on the legs completely cleaned up.Scraper shavings

Next morning, I took the drawer out of clamps.  There was some touchup and cleanup to do in the dovetails, but not much (more on that next time).  I clamped down the drawer, and planed the top and bottom of the drawer front down to the required 3 1/2 degree angle followed by the legs.  I clamped the frame for the drawer rails into the base, placed the drawer in position, and adjusted the frame up and down slightly until the space above and below the drawer front was where I wanted it, squared to rails to the top of the aprons with my Odd Job (another great tool) and shifted the clamps holding the rails in place. I was originally going to glue the frame in place, but I didn’t want to risk getting glue smeared around on the lower part of the top aprons… and this gave me a chance to use a new toy.  My family got me a Grex headless pinner for Christmas this year, and I’ve been itching to use it. It’s wonderful; I had the rails firmly attached in about 30 seconds.  I added two strips along the sides of the rails, against the aprons to prevent the drawer shifting laterally as it moves. Then I attached a stop block to the rear of the frame so it doesn’t try and slide in too far.

SuccessAll in all, I’m happy with how this part went. Next is touch up and minor repairs, finishing the top, the copper fills, making the knob, and final assembly and finishing.  Stay tuned… this is going to be fun.

Tool Cabinet Q&A

Out of all the photos I’ve posted here, the one that always gets the most hits and questions is the picture of my tool cabinet. What’s in it? What’s that thing? What’s it made of? So I’ve decided to give a guided tour, while I’m waiting for the glue to set on the drawer for the Stickley Table.

The cabinet is 3/4″ red oak plywood, with red oak trim and edge banding. I built it over a weekend, at a class offered at our local Woodcraft. The class is listed as “Build an Old-World Hand Tool Cabinet”, and was a Christmas present from my wife a couple of years ago. It was an absolutely wonderful class taught by Howard Hale. The best part wasn’t even the cabinet itself; it was the tips and techniques he taught concerning things like how to handle large sheet goods on the table saw accurately. It was three very full days, and the other three students that signed up for the class all had to cancel… so I had the teacher’s complete attention. Can’t beat that.

The finish on the cabinet is two coats of Watco Golden Oak Danish Oil, followed by two coats of spray shellac. The tool holders are all made from scrap red oak left over from class, with brass hardware. Door latches (and some tool holders) are recessed rare-earth magnets. Three anti-corrosion emitters are inside the cabinet, to help fight the moist Texas air.

Left Door (clockwise from upper left):

  • Henry Taylor carving tools (late 19th-century, belonged to my great-grandmother)
  • Crown Marking gauge
  • Starrett calipers and dividers (all antiques)
  • Crown sliding bevel gauge
  • Groz machinist’s squares (set of 3)
  • Crown skew chisels (two, left & right)
  • Lee Valley spring-loaded punches
  • Veritas saddle square
  • Veritas double square
  • Stanley #62 brass & boxwood ruler (eBay; restored by me)
  • Woodcraft 24″ center-finding ruler (left side, attached w/magnets)
  • Crown bench chisels, old Fuller chisel (for rough work), two Japanese mortising chisels
  • Crown try square
  • Woodcraft Odd Job (Stanley copy)
  • Veritas wheel marking gauge
  • Veritas & Crown marking knives (I’m going to make a smaller one soon; the Veritas one is nice, but it’s too wide for fine dovetails)
  • Stanley scratch awl (junk; I really need to make a better one)
  • Screw starter (unknown, belonged to my grandfather)

Right Door (clockwise from upper left):

  • Mallet (first hand tool I made, maple and walnut)
  • Hammers (ball peen, plastic/rubber, miniature claw)
  • Stanley level (cherry and brass, gift from my sister-in-law)
  • Assorted bits (phillips, slot, square, torx)
  • Crown 4″ level
  • Countersinks (single-fluted)
  • Punches
  • Pin vise (made by my father from an old drill chuck)
  • Screwdrivers (Sheffield)
  • Woodcraft 6″ ruler)
  • Miller’s Falls “eggbeater” drill (eBay, restored by me – I absolutely *love* this drill. Has beautiful rosewood handles.)
  • Groz center finder
  • French curves
  • Combination square (really crappy, from Lowe’s – badly needs replacing)

Main Cabinet:

Top Shelf: 24″ jointer plane (spalted maple and bloodwood)

Plane Shelf (left to right):

Main cabinet:

  • Parker #55 coping saw
  • Garlick Lynx flush-cutting saw (behind the coping saw)
  • Dozuki saw
  • Bowsaw (curly cherry & padauk; from yet another class at Woodcraft)
  • Veritas dovetail saw (14 tpi)
  • Lynx Gents’ saw
  • Veritas Low-angle spokeshave
  • Assorted files and file card
  • Crown burnisher
  • Card scrapers
  • Notebooks, calculator, and digital calipers (black case)
  • Powdered copper (white bottle)
  • Tape measures & utility knives
  • Pencil sharpener
  • Bench brush
  • Setting hammer for planes
  • Super glue, machinist’s oil
  • Renaissance Wax
  • Pencils, pens, scissors, knives, brushes
  • Blue box: 1-2-3 blocks and brass setup blocks
  • Old chisel (blunted, used for prying and separating)
  • Leather strop and rouge
  • Japanese layout square

I absolutely love this cabinet. Part of the joy of using hand tools is in caring for them properly. They can be a considerable financial investment, but some of my favorite tools (like the mallet) cost nothing but a little scrap wood – and make me smile whenever I pick them up. Keeping them properly stored keeps sharp edges from getting chipped or gouging your work.

Graduation Day – and new lessons

“I love it when a plan comes together.”

–Hannibal Smith, The A-Team

I started out in woodworking with power tools.  Since then, I’ve been working my way backwards… slowly incorporating more hand tools into the process.  I find it relaxing, often more precise, and producing (if not better) somewhat different results.  A year or so ago, I took Howard Hale’s excellent Hand-Cut Dovetails class at our local Woodcraft.  One of the things he said that stuck in my mind was, yes: machine-cut dovetails are easier, and more precise. They usually take as long (or longer) to do, because of the machine setup required. Machine-cut dovetails will look exactly like they’re from any piece of nice furniture from Haverty’s. Yes, hand-cut dovetails will be slightly irregular by comparison. It will clearly be hand work. And that’s why it costs five times as much.

I realized when I started today (the first of two full back-to-back days in the shop, which is an incredible luxury for me – thanks, Cathrine!) that I had miscut the back apron.  I made one of the first mistakes in furniture making, and one that I’ve written about in the past.  I measured something.

Today’s Lesson #1: Not a new one, but worth reiterating. Don’t measure stuff. Just don’t. Mark the pieces from each other after the first one is cut.

The distance between the tenons for the back apron was off from the front and back stretchers by about 1/8″.  There was nothing to do but remake the piece, or lengthen the tenons on everything else. Much easier to recut just the one.  The hitch was that when I thicknessed all the parts, I didn’t leave any extra – and that meant changing machine setups in my small shop (again).

Today’s Lesson #2: When you’re thicknessing lumber from raw stock, do extra.

I had a piece of stock about the right size – an inch or two big in all dimensions – and flat on one side. I could move the dust collector hose, reset the planer to the right thickness, plane it flat, move to the miter saw, cut it to length, change the dust collector gates to the table saw, cut it to width, switch the dust collector gates to the jointer, and joint the edge.

Instead – without thinking, this time – I cut it to width with a small joinery saw and a bench hook, ripsawed it to width with a bowsaw, planed it flat, and squared the edges with my Veritas edge-trimming plane. Elapsed time: 8 minutes. No noise,  no hoses to move. It didn’t run Angus out of the shop because of the racket. No stress.  No mess. Just some curls and shavings. Then I realized that I had just done this process without thinking about it… I had moved from power-tools first to hand-tools first for this (admittedly simple) operation.  For me, that was Graduation Day.

To avoid repeating this same error, I marked the tenons on the front drawer rail directly from the front lower rail.  I aligned the two pieces in a bench ho0k to do the marking, and then marked and cut the tenons for the new back apron in the same way. This led to…

Today’s Lesson #3: Bench hooks aren’t just for sawing. They’re perfect for bracing your work for almost any reason – like making clean, straight layout lines.  Much better than either clamping work in a vise, which tends to put things at uncomfortable visual angles, or (worse yet) juggling them around in the air or braced against your body.

Once the back apron was finished, it was time to cut the curves in the front and back rails.  On this one, I decided to cheat, and go back to power tools.  I was originally going to try to cut the curves by hand with a coping saw.  The blade on my bowsaw is too wide to cut these curves, and I didn’t really have another hand tool that would work well for this. Lots of stuff for cutting joinery, less for cutting curves.  But due to the hardness of the wood, and the need for some accuracy here, I cut the curves on the band saw instead.  I marked the line with the curved edge of a serving platter we had in the house, made the cuts, and cleaned them up with a small spokeshave and a piece of 120-grit adhesive sandpaper attached to one of the cutoff pieces.

Then the plan started to come together: I assembled the front and back sections. I scraped and sanded everything first, and knocked down the sharp edges with a block plane and a piece of sandpaper. The simple card scraper is still the best finishing tool ever invented.  I don’t remember where I read this… but if you put a refrigerator magnet on the scraper, it’ll stop a lot of the heat transfer to your thumbs, and make its use a lot more comfortable.

It was a pretty simple glueup, and came out straight the first time.  The tenons mated well, except in one place in the back I found (too late) to have a misaligned shoulder that’s going to take some repair when I’m finished.

This was working well… and was time to move to a more difficult piece: the lower stretcher.

The through tenons are fairly simple pieces; the challenge is that the shoulders of the tenons have to match the 3 1/2 degree angle of the front and back legs where they meet the rails.  The problem is that there’s no way to calculate the dimensions of the distance between the tenons, due to the angle of the front and back legs.  The distance between the lower ends of the stretcher and between the upper ends is different… and this is a pretty critical measurement.  And there’s no way to test it except to assemble it – and you can’t until both tenons are cut. At first, I thought I’d have to cut the shoulders too long, and trim to fit – and the though of that in this hard mesquite gave me the cold shudders.

The answer was to violate lesson #1: go ahead and measure it. I dry-fitted the leg sections and the side rails together without the stretcher, and then used a steel rule to measure the distance between the upper edge of the mortises in the lower rails. I started the measurement at the 1″ mark in the back (to make it easier to align the ruler), measured it at 19 9/16″, and subtracted the 1″ offset from the other end (don’t forget that! It’s easy to forget.), so the distance between the upper edge of the tenons is 18 9/16″.  Once the angle is transferred to the sides, the lower edges will line up correctly. I knocked the assembly apart again.  And yes, you’re correct: in the photo, you can see a small tearout at one end of the mortise – but it’s going to be inside the shoulder of the tenon, and completely hidden by it.

I marked the tenons the correct distance apart for the top side, and then marked the sides of the tenons outward with the same angle jig I made when I started the project. Then I carried the line across the bottom at the base of the new angle.  I’ve found the easiest way to do that is to put the edge of a marking knife in the cut, and slide a square up against it to position it for the marking. I chiseled out the edge of the tenons first (see my previous post), and used the jig to align the saw prior to starting the cuts.

Today’s Lesson #4: Don’t Panic. Lots of mishaps are repairable, and will be absolutely fine with a little extra work.

If you don’t have the book Fixing and Avoiding Woodworking Mistakes, by Szandor Nagyszalanczy, I highly recommend it.  it’s where I learned the basis of what saved me today.

I had cut the stretcher tenons slightly oversized, so I could trim them to fit tightly into the mortises on the rails. As I was cleaning up the edges of the tenons on the with a chisel, I knocked a large chip out of one of the tenons. Of course, I could have just glued it back in place – but it flew off into a big pile of dust and shavings, and I never did find it. It could also have shattered, but was unrecoverable, in any case.  There were two causes of this mishap:

1) the tenon is an area of wild, turning grain.

2) I got careless.

This wasn’t just a little ding that can be filled, or a tearout in a place that’s hidden behind a tenon shoulder: it was the outside part of the front through-tenon on the stretcher. The answer was to cut it out slightly further until the sides were square, glue in a small diagonal piece of square scrap with cyanoacrylate glue, and trim it even with a block plane. Once the finish is applied, I think even I will be very hard pressed to find it.

The project instructions state that the author thought the best way to cut the holes in the tenons is with a “single stroke” of a hollow-chisel mortiser. I agree; it’s the right tool, and worked beautifully. But “single stroke” means he was working with oak, not mesquite. It took somewhat more than that, but did an excellent job. I reassembled the pieces, marked the edges where the holes should start, and then shifted both holes inward slightly, so that the pegs will pull the rails tight against the stretcher. The pins were cut out of a piece of scrap, and shaved to the correct angle with a block plane.

I knocked it all down again, assembled it with the pegs and checked the fit, and then knocked it apart for the last time. The clamps have to pull the angled frame tight, so I took a minute and cut some scrap to the correct angle and attached adhesive sandpaper along the angled face, to use as clamping blocks. I brushed glue on the tenons on the upper aprons, and assembled the frame. Five pieces this time: the upper rails, the stretcher, and the front and back leg assemblies. The blocks keep the clamps pulling straight across the angled frame.

I checked the diagonal distances to make sure it was square (it was) and set it aside. While the assembly was drying, I turned my attention to a couple of other things.

My first attempt at making the copper/resin filler for the voids was unsuccessful.  It came out kind of a dirty brown.  This time, I tried the same thing with a much higher proportion of powdered copper. It seems to have worked much better; the surface of the fill is almost iridescent. The epoxy is terribly slow to dry – it takes about 6 hours to lose its tack, and at least two full days to set completely.  I’m going to try a couple of more mixtures with some 5-minute epoxy, in hopes of not having to wait two days to see if it’s going to work or not.

Next was the frame that supports the drawer. It’s poplar, which is like handling balsa wood after the hardness of the mesquite.  The original plans called for the frame to be joined together with mortise and tenons. But honestly, I think that’s overkill.  It’s not supporting much weight, and was an added degree of complexity that doesn’t add anything much to the project. So my inner frame is half-lap joinery – essentially, two facing one-sided tenons, glued into an overlap at the corners. This photo shows it set into place, but it hasn’t been glued in yet – I’m going to hold off until the drawer construction is finished.

Before taking the framework out of the clamps, I tapped the pegs into place, marked them 3/4″ above and below the tenons, and trimmed them to fit. Then I tapped them back in, and took the assembly out of the clamps.

It’s starting to look like it might be a table when it grows up.

From here, the next major step is to build the drawer.  That means actually cutting the dovetails I’ve been practicing for real (no, I’m not at all nervous about it, why do you ask?). Then mount the drawer frame and rails, make the knob, and finish the top.

Meanwhile, Angus says the shop is a huge mess, and I need to stop and clean it up. Who am I to argue?

What a great weekend.

Next time: The Drawer Joinery.