Saturday, January 12, 2008

Box Completed

I have finally finished a jewelry box that I was making as a gift for my sister. I actually finished it in time for Christmas, but am just now getting the pictures up for the record. You can click on either of these pictures to see a full album of pictures I took throughout the building process.

It was made from canary wood and rosewood. For the main box I primarily used a bandsaw, and my planes and chisels. The finger joints were too big to use a router bit. For the drawers' finger joints I used a downcut spiral router bit.

By far the hardest part was fitting the miters for the top and bottom. It took for-ev-er. I eventually had to make two shooting boards that could hold the triangular pieces at a 45 degree angle, and shot them with my block plane. Even then, they were not perfect (although neither were the shooting boards).

All the box parts were made from three boards. Two for the main box, and another piece of canary wood for the drawers. All the initial cuts were made with the bandsaw, and then flattening and thickening were done with my hand planes. It was a lot of work, but the more you use those planes, the more efficient you get with them.

I don't know that there's any real advantage to having an electric thickness planer and jointer, except speed, but again, the more you use the hand planes, the quicker you get. You also have an incredible amount of control over the wood, you learn a great deal about how grain behaves, and they take up a ton less space, and are less expensive to buy, use, and maintain.

I have two new planes and two old planes. The new ones are both Lie-Nielsens, the 4 1/2 smoothing plane and the low-angle block plane. I love them. The old ones are an old Bailey No. 7 jointer plane (circa 1902), and a more recent Bailey No. 5 jack plane (no patent date on it, but I would say it's pre-war by the look of it).

I've also discovered the wonders of a cabinet scraper. I bought a Stanley No. 80 cabinet scraper, and it took me a little while to learn to use it properly, since it doesn't come with directions, but once I got the hang of it, it was producing perfectly smooth, kissable surfaces.

I noticed that the rosewood has a wonderfully musical quality to it, and in fact I learned that it is frequently used to make musical instruments. You can tell why when you handle a piece. When you knock it, it has a pleasant tone. It's very rigid, and hard. I think that gives it the tone. You could make a really nice xylophone or marimba, or wood block, or any other sort of percussion instrument with it.

I made several mistakes, of course. Like I said, this was my first significant woodworking project. Before this I had only made a couple frames, a router table and a bunch of jigs. I am calling this one a success. It is not the most original piece. You might see some Greene & Greene in there (I was going to pin the joints originally), and who knows what else. I didn't design it after anything in particular, although I did take some cues from the houses in my neighborhood. It all came from my head. Altogether I would say the main box took me about... 80 hours? Maybe 120. Yeah, it took a long-ass time. The drawers only took about 10, because they were the last things I made, and my experience was built up by then. I think I could do it all again in at least half that time now.

I started by making a prototype out of MDF. I later used the prototype to create a finger joint jig for the drawers. It came in handy! That jig is shown in the album.

I've learned that layout tools should be the highest quality you can afford. Every penny you put into that expensive mitre, square, straight edge, level, whatever, will be money well spent. Reliable precision tools and gauges will save you hours of time that would otherwise be wasted calibrating, measuring, re-measuring, and nudging things. And will give you more confidence in your cuts, allowing you to focus on the item you're building instead of your tools.

A post will be forthcoming on that No. 7 jointer plane.

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