Saturday, September 7, 2013

Mistakes, finishing, and an unexpected gift

The chest of drawers was coming along nicely all up until I got to the drawers. I got the frame done, I edged it out in pine, and it looked like I was finally going to have an incident-free build. Of course, since I guess I'm required to have one major learning moment during every project, I got one in a major way this time. The drawers are made of 1/2" plywood with a 1/4" ply bottom. Since engineered materials like plywood are relatively consistent, that wasn't my problem. The problem came when I decided to use solid wood for the fronts. When I make fronts for my shop cabinets and other cabinet-type things, I usually make the box entirely of 1/2" material, then apply a false front. This prevents me from having to do joinery on the front itself. Since the chest of drawers qualifies as furniture and my nightstand drawer wasn't hard to build, I figured that this should be a fairly painless process. Here's where I learned a couple of things:

  • Poplar is way more consistent than pine.
  • The poplar I bought for the nightstand was much flatter than the pine I used for this project.

I went with pine on this project because I wanted it to have a more Shaker-inspired look. My nightstand, while also Shaker-inspired, was finished so it would look like cherry. When I think of Shaker stuff, I don't always think of cherry as the first material to use. I tend to think of maple or pine. Being a bit on the cheap frugal side, I used #2 pine. I thought the knots and defects added some character. I thought I was being pretty careful with stock selection. I guess that I thought wrong.

My initial set of drawer fronts was going along well until I decided to make the grooves for the joinery. First thing I did was reference the wrong face against the fence. That meant the groove was in the wrong place. I also tried to fix it by centering the groove. Of course, that would only work if the stock were straight and flat. A couple of the pieces were far from that. After totally mangling my first set of fronts, I had to build a new set of fronts, which meant I had to buy more wood.

So as to not waste some decent stock, I cut the grooves and stuff off the drawer fronts that weren't too bad, and edge glued them to make a top for my nightstand. I haven't settled on a design for it yet, but at the very least, I have a top.

At least I have a top for my nightstand..
 After buying some new pieces of pine that were considerably flatter than the ones I bought initially, I recut the fronts and did the joinery properly. This time I didn't make a hot mess of everything and I was able to do a decent dry fit and assembly of the drawers.

Once I finished up the drawers, I started work on the base. This I made from the solid pine that I had left over from making the drawer fronts. This turned out to be a lot easier than the drawers. The hardest part was cutting the wood out to make the feet. I tried using a technique I saw Norm do when he was making his jewelry box. This involved the router table and a spiral bit. It worked out great, and I'm convinced I should use it in the future since I don't really trust myself with setting up a circular saw and straightedge to make cuts other than roughing out plywood, and there's no way I'm going to try a plunge cut on my table saw.
The new drawer fronts. Properly fitted...
 Assembly of the base was pretty good. I still can't really cut miters that well, but I blame part of that on the fact that one of the pieces wasn't totally flat. Again, my lack of perfect stock is messing with my results, but it wasn't anything that couldn't be worked out.

After getting all the major pieces together for the bottom, I got to work on the top. Since I didn't want to make a large solid wood panel and have to glue up a lot of stock to make the top, I went with edged plywood. I saved a nice piece from my rough cuts and sized it up, then cut a groove on three sides so that I could fit the edging in. I made the edging by ripping some of the pine I had left to size and then cut a tongue to fit the groove. Again, my miters weren't quite as good as I wanted, but I know that I'll get better with practice.

The top was attached with very little effort and I used a 3/8" beading bit to cut a nice profile on the top. Aside from the small roundovers on the drawer fronts, there isn't much in terms of decorative elements. Since this is Shaker-inspired, I didn't want to embellish it up too much. Besides, I like the way the simple lines look.

With all the major woodworking done, I'm currently working on the finish. My test pieces came out pretty okay, but there was a fair amount of blotching around the knots. Since I used #2 pine, there are obviously a few knots that I have to contend with. After looking through some techniques online, I found that using some kind of pre-stain sealer helps, but most of the commercial ones are pretty useless. Being of a kind of DIY bent about this, I made my own glue sizing. It only took some Elmer's Glue-All diluted 5:1 in water so it kind of resembles something like milk. I painted that on the surface of the case, and let it dry. I made a sample to test it before I tried it on the case, and it worked extremely well to control the color. The knots were very even and it looked good. With a coat of finish on it, I really liked the look, so I dyed the case with the maple dye I tested. Like always, it didn't look quite the same as my sample because there's a LOT more area than the sample, but it's come out pretty good. Since I know I have a procedure for adding the polyurethane, I'm going to apply finish to the case tomorrow. I have to glue size and dye the drawers, so that's going to be my job for tomorrow. I also have to put on poly on the insides of the drawers. There's a bit more to do from a finishing standpoint, but I know that I can get this done by Wednesday at the latest, then it can go into the room. I swear this thing weighs in excess of 100 pounds, but I know that I can get it into the house without much incident.
Drawers are sanded and the knobs are on. Ready for finishing.

Dye is on. Looks good. Have to apply the wipe-on poly tomorrow.
 I spent some time talking with Nadine about my birthday present. She felt pretty determined to get me something, so I told her that we could split the cost of a surface planer. After seeing my troubles with the solid stock on this project, she agreed it would be a nice thing to have. I was pretty set on getting a fairly inexpensive planer with the intention that I'd use it a lot, wear it out, then save up the money for a better one when the time came for me to get a better one. It turns out that Nadine had other ideas. While we were at Lowe's, I was looking at the Porter-Cable planer that I wanted, but she was looking at the DeWalt 735. I thought that $599 was a little steep for, especially since my table saw was $50 cheaper than that. Apparently Nadine really had other ideas. She decided that she'd get me the 735, and I wasn't going to pay for one cent of it! I felt bad about it since it is a lot of money, but she said that she knew I'd put it to good use and she'd end up with nice furniture in return, so it was a fair trade. I still have it in the box and haven't even tried it yet since I want to make sure I have a place to put it, so I'm working on a design for a combination cabinet for my planer and chop saw. I just hope that I'll get good use out of the planer and it will help me build better furniture.

This was NOT the planer I was expecting to come home with...