The Great Chiseling

In my last post I showed off the entry door I installed in the A-frame house I spent a couple months remodeling.  This was a test project.  I get this frequently,  one job usually leads to another.  The next project was to replace the countertops in the kitchen.

What should have been a very straightforward installation turned into a monster.  The house was built by a custom homebuilder in the mid to late 80’s, and the cabinets were built in.  The cabinetmaker used full half-rips for the carcase sides.  This means the cabinet depth was greater than the coutertops were made to fit (24″ rip + 3/4″ faceframe = 25″).  Most modern cabinetry is modular (vs. built in place) and proportions like depth and height have been standardized.  In production shops, plywood is cut in such a way as to minimize waste (hence the 23 1/4″ carcase sides).  In a custom on-site build, the cabinetmaker is likely to use different methods.  There’s nothing wrong with this, except…

Contemporary modular cabinets are 24″ deep including the faceframe (23 1/4″ rip + 3/4″ faceframe) keeping the overall cabinet depth at 24″.  The countertops in this case (off the shelf) will only allow for 24 1/2″, which creates a problem.  There were a few ways I could have handled this:

  1.  I could have added a second layer of plywood to raise the laminate,
  2. I could have just placed the counter anyway and made some attempt at filling in the gap against the wall,
  3. I could have routed out some of the backside of the bullnose to let in the cabinet,  or
  4. I could notch the face frame instead.

I have to make these kind of judgement calls all the time.  It is both welcome and unusual to have the homeowner on hand to help me make them.  I chose #4 after some consideration.  Adding the second layer (which would  be standard practice) was ruled out for a several reasons which mostly had to do with time.  If and when the homeowner asks “can we get by without it?”, I have to be confidently able to answer yes or no, and explain why.

Occasionally manufacturer recommendations can be ignored.  This might sound like blasphemy to some of you but consider this – the directions on a can of Minwax Fast-Drying Polyurethane say “do not thin”.  This keeps Minwax safely in compliance with VOC emission laws, but is preposterous in the finishing room.  Unless you’re an accomplished finisher, attempting to apply full-strength poly might leave you frustrated.  Having said that, I often use unthinned finish for the final coat.  But I digress…

The first thing I realized was that the existing countertops were not fastened with screws from underneath.  That meant that they were nailed down through the top, and probably glued as well.

So the chiseling began.  I started stripping the laminate with my 1/12″ chisel to expose the nail heads.  Then after digging them all out, it was fairly easy to pry the counters up.  Sure enough construction adhesive was used, but not excessively.  After scraping off the old glue, I turned to the task of chiseling the notch to accept the new tops.  The faceframes were pine and the work was easy, if not time consuming.

Next time I’ll be talking about coping base trim, and the way I approach installation.

Posted in Carpentry, Project | Tagged , , , | 2 Comments

The A-Frame Project

Last fall I installed an exterior door for some very nice folks that just bought a house.  I’ve hung a lot of doors over the years, some go well and others don’t.  This one took me 17 hours, but it went about as well as you can imagine – considering I had to replace a door that swung out with one that swung in.  You might say “So what? How could it take so long?”

Exterior doors in houses always swing in.  There are a few reasons for this, with security being the most important.  Imagine if the hinges were on the outside of your door…

Typically you will see outswing exterior doors on sheds and storage, not out to the deck from your kitchen.  The way the jamb legs are milled creates a problem with the existing trim, both inside and out, because it’s thicker to the outside.  This means the trim on the inside of the house needs to be removed and cut shorter, and the outside vinyl had to be meddled with.

I was talking to a friend about this when he asked me if I would install a new front door for him.  I didn”t know at the time, but I would be working on his house for the next two months.  During that time I installed the door, new countertops and sink, new floors in two rooms, tongue and groove pine on the ceiling and stained base trim and quarter-round throughout the first floor.

Old Door

Out with the old

New Door

In with the new

Next time, I’ll show you the new countertops and tell you about the Great Chiseling.

Posted in Carpentry, door, Trim | Tagged , , | 2 Comments

At Least I’m Home Now

I always planned to come back to Greene one day to retire.  Circumstance has me here now, and my daughter is expecting her first child.  I’m home for good.

Last year my plan was to go full time woodworking, the same plan I had the year before.  I can count on one hand the number of people who are not actually fighting against me.

My situation is unstable.  A series of unfortunate incidents has me looking for both a home and a vehicle.  Until I get comfortable again, work is just about all I have time for.  I’ve been averaging 6 days a week for a couple months now to try to get back on top.

I’m planning to reveal the kind of things that have been happening and the ways people around me have been behaving.  There’s a rant coming.

You’re not going to want to miss it.

Since I’m back to slaving away just to keep my head above water, there have been two major projects going on for the past couple months.  I’ve been involved in an almost whole-house remodel for a friend, and remodeling a bathroom in my daughter’s house on the weekends.  I have tons of footage and pictures that I just haven’t had time to deal with.  I’ll be posting all this work as time permits.


Posted in Carpentry, Misc, Project | 4 Comments

A Vinegar Bath to Remove Rust

Today I went to get a container to soak the plates of my new (old) saws.  As I started to remove the sawnuts, I found that each saw had one that just spun when I turned the screw.  Drat!  What to do about frozen saw nuts?  After a quick google search, I found an article by Bad Axe Tool Works with a solution that seemed obvious the moment I saw it.

The remedy was to drill a clearance hole in one jaw of a handscrew clamp.  This localizes the pressure on the nut, while leaving the screw free to turn.

Since my woodworking tools are in PA right now, it was off to the big box store to buy a clamp.  I got a ridiculously big one because it was literally the only one on the shelf.

I wonder how long it would have taken me to figure out something like this without guidance?

Without further ado, I picked up a couple of tools at an antique shop at a nice discount.  The store was having a clearance sale because they were closing.  I haven’t looked too close at the manufacturers of the planes, but the folding rule is a Stanley.  The irons went into the vinegar bath with the saw plates.  I’ll gather some more information after all the steel is cleaned up.

And here’s the vinegar bath in a comically large container.  I wanted it big enough for the plates to lay flat comfortably.  Tomorrow evening I’ll give them all a nice scrub.

I haven’t decided exactly how I want to reinforce the handle when I glue it up.  The breaks are all very clean and the joints all tighten up with hand pressure.  I’m going to glue this all up, and then maybe rout in some inlays across the grain.

Posted in Carpentry, hand tools, Woodworking | Tagged , , | 7 Comments

New (old) Saws and Some Bad News

I’ll start with the bad news.  Two days after replacing my alternator, my motor stalled and refused to start again.  A friend of a friend agreed to come out to look at it and sure enough, the motor is shot.  It jumped time and either lost compression, broke the camshaft or maybe both – who knows.  I’ll find out the extent of the damage eventually, but for now, I’m rideless.

This sucks, but it isn’t the bad news.  The bad news is I’m separated from my workbench for a while.

Rewind to this past Saturday…

After replacing the alternator, I was riding around to make sure it was running right when I had a notion to stop in the antique store in Ruckersville.  It’s more of a flea-market-type-thing than an antique store, but you never know what you’ll find in unexpected places.

Here’s what I found, starting with the nicer saw:

This one was less nice:

Both saws are 7 TPI

I’ve been scouring The Disstonian Institute for information.  Since the mystery saw has no medallion, I’m not going to spend any time trying to figure it out.  Feel free to sound off in the comments if you have any input.  I’ll post it in other places also, to see if anyone can ID it from the pictures.

I bought these saws thinking that they would make a fun restoration project.  I knew right away that the saw with the Warrented Superior medallion was worth having. The mystery saw badly needed jointing, and will likely be the practice dummy for sharpening.  And I thought nothing of the broken handle because I could just make a new one.  A little later that evening I got to thinking, “What are the chances…”  This week has kept me very busy with work, so I haven’t had a chance to stop back by the antique store, until today.  I went in and asked the owner if she had seen the missing piece, and would you believe it?

I figure by the time I get the plates all cleaned up, I’ll have a way up to Pennsylvania to be reunited with my workbench.  Then I can see about sharpening.

Posted in Carpentry, hand tools, Woodworking | Tagged , , | 5 Comments

Mortising a Door Hinge Without a Router

If you’re doing more than say, three doors – the router is the way to go.  I actually prefer to do it by hand, probably because I’m a woodworker first and a carpenter second.

The same principles of chopping a mortise for a joint apply to mortising a hinge.  This should be common sense, but it isn’t.  I’ve seen field carpenters panic, knowing they have to mortise a door and don’t have a router available.  We do live in the 21st century, after all.

To be fair, this is a woodworking application, but this is the way mortising doors was taught before power routers.  Router planes are great for this job as well, unless you don’t have one.  There’s really no need to switch tools, though.  If you’ve got the chisel in your hand, you’re better off just using it.  This job is very quick if you know how to do it right.

It’s easy to botch this job if:

  1. You don’t know the easiest way to chop a shallow mortise
  2. You don’t have a sharp chisel (in my experience, field carpenters rarely do)

The second thing is more important because once you have a sharp chisel, the rest of it is super easy.  Of course, careful layout is key:

Now the fun part:

I would have liked to film this, but location and time constraints prevented me.  It’s really hard to document field work without ruffling homeowner feathers.  It’s actually my second post on this method (although the first one wasn’t very enlightening), and I probably will make a video at some point.  I think this is a trick every carpenter should have up their sleeve.

Posted in Carpentry, door | Tagged , , , | 8 Comments

Challenge Issued and Answered

Half the fun of YouTube is interacting with other video makers.  I’ve been following Shogun Jimi’s channel since it started.  In his first video, he opened himself up to challenges from other YouTubers.  It was only a matter of time…

And he answered in spectacular fashion:

Now where can I get a gong…?

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Past Project – Kaleidoscope

My daughter and her husband just bought their first home.  While she was showing me around, I noticed a something in one of the storage containers (it was semi-transparent).  I asked if I could dig it out and sure enough, it was exactly what I thought it was.

kaleidoscope1It’s always really satisfying to see something you’ve made and given away.  I was very surprised that it was in exactly the same condition as when I gave it to her, because somehow I neglected to put any kind of finish on it.  I also can’t remember when I made it.  It must have been before I moved back to Virginia from North Carolina in 2008.  This might explain the absence of finish – I was in a hurry and probably just gave it to her with the intention of finishing it later.  In any case, she took very good care of it.  And it was really cool to see it again.

I made this after seeing one similar in a magazine.  The body is maple and the ends are cherry.  I tried several hole sizes and configurations before I settled on this arrangement.  I cut the mirrors myself and put 1/8″ plexiglass in the ends, to prevent glass shards from getting in anyone’s eye (in case it was dropped).

I’m not going to reveal construction details in this post, but I’m sure to make a video about it and probably an Instructables article as well.

Posted in Project, Woodworking | Tagged , | 5 Comments

Sidecar Crib

When I was asked to make a crib for my best friend’s expectant daughter, I immediately started dreaming of splayed dovetails and arts and crafts design elements.  This was not to be.  She wanted it as simple as the one she found here on Instructables.

I have no problem with these very basic projects.  In fact, I like them very much for the simple reason that I love woodworking.  I don’t need to be challenged on every project.  It’s the love of shaping wood that drives me, not the end result.

My crib is just a bit different than the one that inspired it.  I changed the structure underneath and I added some gentle curves around the top edge.  More important, I improved the overall joinery.  The sides have a shallow rabbet to receive the back, and all three sides have a rabbet on the bottom edge to receive the plywood.  Upgrading the joinery from butt joints to rabbet joints makes the structure much more solid.

The trim piece in the front was my indulgence.

Here’s the video:


And a few pictures:

Now the crib is off to be painted.  I’ll post finished pictures when it’s done.

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Carpentry and Joinery

In addition to a growing list of projects I want to tackle now that it’s spring and my workbench is back in the garage, I have some chores to do.  I’m building a door for my best friend’s chicken coop and will be installing some lattice around the base of his deck.


Half-laps in pressure treated 2x4s

Building the door feels more like carpentry than woodworking, even though the focus is on the half-lap joinery.  Of the many ways I could cut the joint, I chose to make relief cuts with the circular saw every 3/8″ or so, chisel out the waste and refine as needed.  Since I’m using polyurethane glue and screws, the cheeks don’t need to be glass smooth like they should if I were using PVA glue.  I may remove the screws and replace them with dowels at some point.

Rabbet Joint

A very shallow rabbet

I’m also building a sidecar crib for my expectant niece, based on something she found on Instructables.  My design is a bit different.  I wanted stronger joinery, so I’ll be doing simple rabbet joints all around using a 3/4″ straight bit in router. This one shallow pass with the router is a huge improvement over simple butt joinery.  In the end, it will save me a lot of trouble with assembly and help greatly reduce racking.  It’s going to get handled a lot before it gets used for its intended purpose.  When I’m done, it’ll get taken to be painted by someone else and then delivered to its home.


Adding some gentle curves

I had visions of splayed dovetails when thinking about this crib, but I was restrained immediately.  Although it’s not meant to be an heirloom piece, it’s built to last anyway.  I will be proud of it in all its simplicity and honored that she trusts me with the safety of her newborn.  And I did make a winning argument for adding some decorative curves.

Look for videos of both these projects coming soon.

On top of all this, the ring madness continues…


Posted in Carpentry, door, Project, Woodworking | Tagged , , , , | 4 Comments