Finishing Touches

It’s a small thing. But signing your work is part of leaving your mark on the world.  I’ve tried more than one day to do it, and seen many others.  I’ve signed some pieces with a sharpie, which works very well.  I’ve seen some commercial branding irons, mostly with block lettering and little images of hand tools.   I think they look a little impersonal, though. There’s also a branding iron (even an electric one) made from  your signature. They’re pretty expensive, and I don’t do enough volume of work to justify it.

What I’ve settled on for now is simple.  I burn my initials into an out of the way place, drill a small 3/4 inch inset next to them, and glue a penny into it minted in the year the project was made.

I’ve been told that it’s a very old tradition, and was originally done as an offering to appease household spirits.  It fell out of custom, but was revived when coins started being dated. It became convenient (and cool) way to date your work.

The flocking on the boxes dried enough to be safe to handle after about 48 hours.  It’ll still be soft enough that it requires care for a few more days, but it’s tough enough now to pass the boxes along to their new owners.

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The Case for Hoarding

I really try not to hoard stuff. Mostly, I manage to dump old clothes, things I’ll never use again, and various other junk. Books are a problem; I go through and cull them a couple of times a year just so they don’t completely take over the house, but I still have a lot. I also keep most of my old woodworking magazines – but I intend to go through those as well soon.

Scrap wood is a different matter. I keep a plastic trash bin in the shop for small cutoffs, and a rolling stand for longer pieces. I have some sections of 4″ PVC made into a ceiling rack for long strips.  The only wood I throw away outright is cutoff pieces that are cross-grain, because they don’t have any dimensional strength.

But there is method to my madness. Scrap wood has a million uses, even little pieces. Veneer strips. Wedges. Support blocks. Little cutout triangles to use as supports while finish is drying. Jigs, fixtures, braces. Practice dovetails. Tool handles. Backer boards to prevent tearout when drilling. Clamping blocks. The list is endless.

After removing the rolling carts under my workbench to make room for the Roubo (upcoming), I’ve started making some small carriers for some of the things I’ll still want to keep handy under the workbench. They have to be short enough to fit under the Roubo on its lower stretchers without getting in the way, but that still leaves a lot of storage room.   And I think all of them can be made from leftover wood from other projects.

The first one is a carrier for my air tools – a Porter-Cable brad nailer, and a Grex 23-gauge pin nailer. It also holds all the assorted brads and pins, the air hose, and a bottle of oil.  Time required: 45 minutes. Supplies needed: scrap plywood, scrap dowel, two little wedges for the dowel, a handful of brads, two bolts, two nuts, four washers, glue, and a wipedown with Watco Golden Oak Danish Oil, just so it matches the color of my tool cabinet. Total cost: $0.00.

Did I mention tool handles?  For the Roubo workbench, I’m going to be using a technique called drawboring – the drawing together of a joint using a metal pin to pull it tight, then inserting a dowel to hold it. Christopher Schwarz (author of Workbenches from Design & Theory to Construction & Use) recommends this very old technique highly, and I intend to try it.

Drawboring pins are expensive – stupidly so, in my opinion. We’re talking about a tapered metal pin a few inches long in a wooden handle. Commercial ones seem to run $75-$100.   Chris Schwarz wrote this excellent article about making your own from a set of $6 alignment pins from Sears.  His instructions are nearly flawless, and the first pin I made was a great use for a beautiful scrap piece of walnut burl I’ve been hanging onto for a couple of years.

I said “nearly”, but that’s unfair.  I did hit a problem or two, but they were not the fault of his instructions.  He recommends heating the pin for about two minutes with a propane torch.  All I had handy was a MAPP gas torch, and I overheated the pin – which created a huge cloud of smoke, and I thought it might set fire to the handle when I seated it.

The other problem was that my first attempt was made using a glued-up block of curly maple – and when I whacked the pin into place, it split along the glue line. That never happens to me. This was the first time I’ve ever had a glue joint split; the wood around it always splits first. My theory is that the heat of the pin softened the glue (Titebond yellow) enough that it caused the joint to fail. My second attempt was using a solid piece of walnut burl, and I didn’t heat the pin as much… and it worked extremely well. Materials: one piece of scrap wood, a set of alignment pins from Sears. Cost: $5.95 (plus postage). And I’ll get a much bigger kick out of using this one than one I’d shelled out the money for.

Think before throwing away even small pieces of wood. I fight for every square foot of space in my shop, but I always have room for wood.