Thursday, June 27, 2019

King Bed Headboard, Part 2: Working With Long Stock

Last week I wrote about designing the headboard.  The design includes two rails that, when tenons are included, are 76 or 77" long and 8" wide.  These are the longest (non-plywood) components I've ever worked with on a project.
The headboard design
While I tried to pick out boards that were as straight as possible, there was a bit of twist in both rails and a little bow in one of them.  These 5/4 boards had been "skip-planed" at the lumber store, so they were really about 1 1/8" to start.  So what started out as 5/4 boards ended up just under 1".  That's not too bad, considering my original plan was to use 1" thick material for the rails.  But after thinking about this a while and looking at the stock, I realized I should have shot for a 1 1/4" finished thickness, maybe even 1 1/2".

Anyway, working with these long boards is challenging.  I don't have a straightedge anywhere near long enough to mark a line to rip lengthwise, so at first I used a chalk line.
Chalk line marking the width
On the next board I just used a string, pulled tight from one end to the other and marked with pencil every couple of feet.  Connecting those marks with a metal straightedge gave me a good line to cut to.  For most of the ripping I do, I secure the board vertically in the vise.  But these boards were so long that the vise was impractical.  I hardly ever use the saw bench I made years ago, but it really came in handy for this.

My workbench is 58" long, almost 20" shorter than these boards.  Face planing wasn't too tough.  I used a bench dog as a planing stop when planing the far end.  When planing the near end, I overhung the board past the left end of the bench and clamped it in place.

When testing for twist, I used 5 or 6 locations along the length of the board.  This cherry planed very nicely and I was able to get the twist out fairly easily.  However, the top rail still has a little bow in it (less than 1/8") that I hope doesn't interfere with how the project comes together.
I've generated three 13-gallon bags of shavings with all the planing for this project.
This is just one of MANY piles.
The photo below shows the setup for planing an edge.  The left side of the board is held in the front vise and the right side is held to the bench with a holdfast.
A long board affixed to the workbench for edge planing
But my front vise sticks out from the front of my bench by about 1 1/2", so I use an L-shaped piece as a spacer so I can clamp the board against the bench.  The short leg of the "L" hangs down the front of the bench.
An overhead view of the spacer that allows me to clamp the board to the bench
In the design for this headboard, the upper and lower rails are separated by 11 vertical slats that will be connected to the rails via stub tenons in shallow mortises.  Because of that I needed the lower edge of the upper rail and the upper edge of the lower rail to be absolutely straight.
But my longest straightedge is only 24" long
I experimented with a string to see if I could monitor straightness.
String starting at one end, stretched to the other end ...
... and tried to see if the gap between string and edge could tell me if the edge had a hollow
Well, it was too tough to tell if the space between string and edge changed along the board's length, so I canned that idea.

I planed the edges as straight as I could and they looked perfect all along their length based on testing with the metal straightedge.  But when I stacked the two rails together, ...
Upper rail stacked on top of lower rail.
Can you see the light showing between them?
I planed the edges until I could no longer see any light.  I realized that they don't have to be perfectly straight.  They just both have to have the same "unstraightness".  Even if the two edges are not perfectly straight, as long as they mate perfectly the joints between the slats and rails should close up tightly when clamped together.

I knew there would be some challenges with a project this size.  But I love the challenge - it really makes you think about how to attack the problems that arise.

Thursday, June 20, 2019

King Bed Headboard - Part 1: Design

I'm finally getting to a honey-do project that's been on the list for a while.  We've wanted a headboard for a long time and finally I'm ready.  And I'm planning to incorporate a piece of purpleheart (peltogyne spp.) that my my wife gave me several years ago.  Fortunately, neither of us likes overly fancy things, so this will be relatively simple.

The first thing to do was to take some measurements and get a general idea of what we wanted.  The bed is a king", 76" wide.  I decided on rails that are 72" long (plus 2" long tenons at each end) and posts that are 3" wide, making the overall width of the headboard 78".
Sketchup model of the bed frame, mattress (including box springs) and pillows
The top of the mattress is about 27" above the floor.  This guides where I'll place a lower rail - if it's too high, then the pillows can slide right under the rail and that's no good.  So the lower edge of the lower rail will be about 22-23" above the floor.
Rear view showing placement of lower rail
A headboard can be a fairly simple thing.  In my case I'm planning to have two rails connecting the upright posts, and was thinking about vertical, variable width slats between the rails.  But there are still a lot of design choices to make.
An early version: straight upper rail even with top of posts, with cap piece over the whole
(I started experimenting with the positioning of the purpleheart and cherry slats)
Another design option had a curved top edge of the upper rail, in which case a cap piece wouldn't make sense.  I had an idea to cut out a design in the center slat, that ultimately didn't get included.  Good thing, too, as this purpleheart is danged hard stuff and a design would have been tough to cut and shape to the lines.
Alternate design with curved top rail and different arrangement of slats
We both liked the curved top better than the straight top.  With designs where the posts end higher than the top rail, there is an opportunity to add some decoration to the top of the posts.  Here is one option.
Chamfered top edge and an applied bead detail
I liked this idea, but it was nixed by the wife, so back to the drawing board.
Another option that got rejected - I tried a few different profiles
I liked this idea too, but she didn't care for it.  In the end I decided to go with a simple chamfer all around the top.  Here's the final design.
The final design: curved upper rail, chamfered post tops, only three purpleheart slats
There are a lot of other things to think about when considering the design.  One of these is overall thickness and width of parts.  Mostly I relied on Sketchup to help with that.  If it looked good to my eye, then it was OK.

The posts ended up at 51" tall, 3" wide and 2.5" thick.  I originally wanted them 3" thick, but the stock I purchased will only give me 2 1/2" when laminated together.  The rails are 72" long (plus 2" tenons on each end), 8" wide and 1" thick (see below for a not on thickness).  The slats were governed by the length of the purpleheart board.  I had enough length to give me three pieces that were 12" long.  So the slats will be 11 1/2" long (plus short stub tenons), variable widths (8", 5" and 2 1/2") and 3/4" thick.

The rails will be set back from the front of the posts by 1/2" to 3/4".  And the slats will be set back from the front of the rails by 1/8".

As far as joinery is concerned, I plan to use a double tenon at each end of the lower rail into mating mortises in the posts.
Lower rail tenon detail
The upper rail will have single tenons.  The curved upper edge drops the ends to 5" wide from 8" at the center.  So those tenons will be 4" wide.  The slats will have short stub tenons going into mating mortises.  That's 22 shallow mortises in the rails.  I thought about running a groove on the edge of the rails instead of chopping all those mortises, but I think filling the spaces between slats would end up looking bad.

OK, this is hindsight now - I've already purchased and started working on the project.  I should have specified 1 1/2" finished thickness for the rails.  I think that would have been a better fit for the size of the posts.  I bought 5/4 stock for the rails (which had been partially surfaced, making the actual thickness about 1 1/8"), but after planing out some twist and bow, I'm getting just under an inch thickness.  Live and learn ...

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Tips for Planing Very Hard Wood

Some years ago, as a gift my wife gave me a nice piece of purple heart (peltogyne spp.), approximately 36" x 8 3/4" x 7/8", and it's been waiting for the right project to come along.  That time is finally here.  I knew this stuff was going to be hard to plane, but I really didn't know just how hard.
Three pieces of purple heart on top of some cherry
This purple heart is incredibly dense - the board was very heavy.  My project needs pieces about 12" long - one 8" wide and two pieces 5" wide.  I crosscut the board into shorter lengths before doing any flattening.

Tip #1: It's key to have a VERY sharp plane.  I started by sharpening the planes I planned to use, and I probably got them as sharp as I've ever gotten them.  I've come a long way in that regard.
The Stanley #4 next to the diamond plates and strop
Tip #2: It's also important to make sure the plane is set up properly.  When the iron engages the dense wood, there is a lot of resistance and you don't want your iron to shift on you.  For metal planes, the iron should bed nicely on the frog and the lever-cap screw should be tightened properly so that the iron and breaker don't move when in use.  For wooden planes with cambered irons, make sure the iron projection is centered and is as coarse or light as you want it.

Tip #3:  Remove as much material as possible with coarser tools before trying to smooth the surface with a finely set smoothing plane.  Because I had a lot of twist to deal with, I was able to use the wooden jack plane to remove some.  And I had the iron set for a MUCH lighter shaving than I usually take with the jack.
Using the jack across the grain, but I also used it with the grain
To remove some coarseness left by the jack and to get closer to my layout lines, I used the wooden try plane that has a more gently cambered iron that was freshly sharpened.
Using the try plane to get close to the lines.  I think the heft of the try
plane helped a lot in getting through the dense wood.
Tip #4: When you're ready for the smoother, set the plane to take VERY light shavings.  Even then it was tough to plane consistently from one end to the other.  Skewing the plane also helps get the plane through the dense wood.
I had to press down fairly hard on the front knob to keep the iron engaged
See-through shavings
Pretty darned thin, but it takes a long time to plane
Here's the thing: planing a thousandth of an inch at a time will take a very long time.  This is why it is so important to remove as much material as possible with coarser tools.

I also did a little scraping with the #80 cabinet scraper - freshly sharpened - to level any remaining unevenness.
Scraping for final flatness
Tip #5: Don't remove more material than you have to.  When I drew up the plan in Sketchup, the PH boards were 3/4" thick.  But it won't hurt anything if they are a little thicker.  (It also wouldn't have hurt if the back side that won't be seen was left with a big twist, but I flattened it anyway.)  These pieces will finish out at approximately 13/16" thick.  It wasn't worth the effort to bring them down to 3/4" and I'll never notice the difference.

I'm interested to hear other people's thoughts on this.  Please comment if you have something to share.

This PH was definitely the hardest wood I've ever planed.  Fortunately (or maybe unfortunately), my current project won't require any mortising of the PH.  I'll need to saw some short tenons and pare shoulders, so I'll see how the chisels do. But the planing was a great learning experience and will give me more confidence in the future when working with harder woods like this.

Friday, June 7, 2019

Small Chest With Drawers

My wife has had this tiny little jewelry chest.  It's nothing special, but something about it always appealed to me.  It's a small, four-drawer, painted box.
The inspiration
Side view
You can see that it has tiny little bun feet and the drawers have curved fronts that are quite proud of the front of the case.

I didn't bother taking too close a look at how this piece was made, as I'm pretty sure it's some made-in-China crap.  So I decided on some rough dimensions (8" x 6" x 4") and put tools to wood.

The carcase is made from 3/8" thick pine.  The top and bottom are dovetailed into the sides and there's a groove along the back to receive a 1/8" plywood back.  The 1/8" groove is a good excuse to use my old wooden plough plane.  It's the only plane I have that has an iron that thin.
Underside of top
The sides have the 1/8" groove, as well as three stopped dadoes that receive the 1/4" thick drawer dividers.  There rear dovetail pin is wider than the others to leave room for the groove.
Inside face of left side
The three drawer dividers get a little step to conceal the dadoes and bring their fronts flush with the case front.  The stock on hand was not quite wide enough to allow the dividers to extend all the way to the back of the case.  No problem though - they do their job fine.
Drawer dividers
The case came together nicely.  It was a really good exercise in careful marking out.
A first dry-fit
After gluing up the case, I plugged the groove holes on the top of the case and trimmed the plugs smooth.  For the drawers, the fronts and sides are poplar, the backs are pine and the bottoms are 1/8" plywood.  The sides are connected to the front by a single half-blind dovetail and to the back by a through dovetail.  Thin, soft wood is so forgiving when cutting dovetails.  The drawer front has a 1/8" deep x 5/16" wide rabbet on its underside to accept the plywood bottom and the other drawer parts were made to be flush with that rabbet so that the drawer bottom could be glued to the undersides of the front rabbet, the sides and the back.

Drawer parts
At first I was just going to copy the shape of the drawer fronts of the existing chest, but then I thought maybe I'd try something different.  I recalled seeing some "serpentine" fronts on full sized chests of drawers and I thought that might be interesting.  I had no idea if it would look good, but what the hell - this is just a fun project.  So I made a template and a prototype.
Template being used to scribe the shape of the drawer front
This looks nicer than I thought it might
I remember on some serpentine chest I saw somewhere that the drawer dividers had the same shape as the drawer fronts.  After thinking about it, I nixed the idea and it still looks OK.

A couple more details to take care of - drawer pulls and feet.  I couldn't find any drawer pulls tiny enough to fit this chest.  So I experimented with some large nails and found one that seems to be sized right.
Using a cut off nail as a drawer pull
For the feet I thought I'd make some kind of "bracket" feet - two mitered pieces at each corner of the case bottom.
Mitered both ends of a 1/2" x 1/2" pine blank
Made a little template and transferred the shape to the blank.
This half-foot is about 1 1/8" long.
Chiseled and fine-rasped to the lines
Then glued the miters of each pair of bracket feet
Then glued them to the bottom of the case (glue not yet added in this photo)
Here's the feet glued to the bottom (they're not all cleaned up yet)
These look great from the front.  But they look a little funny from the side, where the dovetail joints are seen.
I guess that's why large case pieces have bracket feet that are proud of the case
and mouldings to cover the dovetails
I gave the drawers and the case a coat of shellac, more as a sealer than as a finish.  My wife is going to paint this piece (as practice for another future project), so hopefully the paint will hide the dovetails above the bracket feet.

And here she is, minus final painting.  I'll add the pulls after that.
Glamour shot
All for now.  Catch you on the flip-flop.