Jul 20

Sharpening station

So ages ago I made one of Paul Sellers’ kind of sharpening stations – effectively just a plank with carved recesses for diamond plates (in a small shed, the diamond plates work best for me because they’re less muss and fuss than everything else would be in that space). It wasn’t exactly a masterpiece or anything (though I still think waney edge plywood will come into fashion), but it worked quite well for years.

It has gotten slightly grubbier with use (that’s the steel dust and the lapping fluids and so forth) and I added a handle because I started keeping it under the bench and the handle made extraction easier. But you still have to pull it out from under the bench and have room free on the bench to put it on before you can sharpen and that’s… uncommon in the shed. I mean, if you have a 12′ bench, I’m sure there’s always some room but my bench is about 5′ long and I only recently got to see the top of it again after a major effort in tidying for the first time in six months so that space is just not a thing in my reality.

So, a few months ago when I moved the tumble drier out of the shed (no, not kidding, don’t ask) and reclaimed some space, I decided some of that space was going to be used for a dedicated sharpening station. Maybe not a full-blown Shannon Rogers affair with two grinders and a tormek and plates and drawers and so on, but something at least that I could use for most of my sharpening. So I had a good rummage around online and found these:

So, one cheap order and a bit of waiting and an offcut and some fiddly installation later and just as the lathe was making its first chips, I had a folding shelf.

…and then I did nothing for several months. I mean, okay, there was the whole pandemic thing but mostly I just got buried doing other things. But in the last day or two I got a bit into doing shed jobs. I rebuilt the lathe tooling shelf because it went from reasonably tidy:

To a complete and utter pile of disaster waiting to happen:

Yeah, I might have bought one or two things without planning where to store them. So I pulled that shelf off the wall and disassembled it (and if you ever wondered how strong titebond II was, well, this is what happened when I hit the shelf with a lump hammer to break the glue line holding the shelf from the piece that’s actually screwed to the wall):

Anyway, took a scrap of pine left over from something else, and did some mucking about with the pillar drill and the router:

Put a small routed channel in at the back for the centerfinders to be propped up in against the wall, and end caps from plywood scraps that might stop them falling off the ends, and a small routed rectangle on the left for other stuff like a diamond hone, a spindle centerfinder that’s a bit awkwardly shaped and a few worm screw spacers on a little tower-of-hanoi holder thing.

I know it doesn’t look like it, but that is an improvement. Even if things are now looking busier than I’d like…

But anyway, today’s project was to finish the sharpening station so I pulled two of the four stones from the existing sharpening plate holder (the coarsest and finest ones):

That glue wasn’t messing about, it held onto the writing 😀

I won’t be losing the strop btw, I’ve found stropping to be very much worthwhile but I usually use a dedicated one that I leave lying around the bench which is just a length of 2×4 with some leather nailed to it that I made back when I was making the bench years ago.

Next I trimmed the edges of the poplar offcut I’m using here, planed it, and marked it out for the plates.

And I routed out the bulk of the waste with the power router. Have I mentioned I hate that thing? It’s loud, it’s scary and holy crap the mess.

But it was a bit easier than chopping the plate recesses out with a chisel. I prefer to cut mortices with chisels, but for large wide areas of excavation, it’s hard to beat a power router. It’s awkward to be precise with them though, so I routed to within 2mm or so of the lines and then did the rest with a chisel or two and a mallet and some patient thwacking. A touch of epoxy to glue the plates in place and some remounting with predrilled screw holes and…

(The paracord is for hanging the window cleaner bottle I use for lapping fluid from)

And now I can touch up a chisel from not-sharp-but-not-yet-dull to yikes-thats-sharp and be back to work in 30 seconds. Literally, I tried it (and it’s easier when you’re not holding the cameraphone in one hand):

Next job, the dust extractor cyclone has torn out of the lid of the drum it’s on so that has to get reinforced with plywood temporarily until I can build a 4″ cyclone lid (the flat kind like this) to replace it, and I have to make some holders for sandpaper (for which I might have to rebuild the printer head on the 3D printer which is acting up at the moment) and for the kitchen rolls I use in there for finishing on the lathe, and the wire-burning bits and bobs need to be rethought a bit because they’re literally a box of wires and two handles with holes in them right now which is just a messy pain in the backside, and the saw vice needs a proper home to hang on as well (probably on the wall behind the lathe low down like the little record imp machinists vice), and then I can get on with actually making stuff

Feb 19


More shed time today, and I spent the first half of it fettling the middle shelf in the desk. Straightforward, if repetitive process – assemble, check what’s too tight and what’s too loose, cut or pare the shelf a little narrower with saw and chisel, reassemble, recheck, repeat until the dovetail joint that was horribly stressed by the shelf being too wide:

…is no longer stressed, but just snug:

And doublecheck all the other joints to be sure nothing else is opening up.

Okay, I’m happy with that.

I’m also happy because before assembling this, I marked out the back of the top of the sides to show which bits had to be cut off to give a straight line across the back (because the top goes up against the wall for support), and when I assembled it:

Nice straight line.

So, now time to get rid of all the straight lines! Out with the French curves and the compass.

And also did a bit of marking with pencil of various things to know what goes where when assembled. Then I broke it all down and spent some time with the bandsaw, various handsaws, chisels and my favorite spokeshave to shape the shelves.

Not done yet, but nearly there for the walnut desk, and a little behind that for the middle shelf. Once they’re done, it’ll be time for inlay and decorative stuff. I need to order some resin for that, and do some testing. And there’s be the light fitting and cable chasing and then finishing and then final assembly and that’ll be that.

Meanwhile, there’s another project I want to start on because I’ve been watching Ron Aylor’s latest bout of carving recently and I’ve been wanting to go do some. But that will require some oak to be prepped. I have some but…

Well, I’ll have to dig it out…

…with a JCB. Le sigh. Also, it’s a bit thick for the size of box I have in mind. Time for the DeWalt 734 to earn it’s pay…

I’m kindof shocked really. I pulled four boards (because why dig that much for just one?) and with the #05 got one face to sit flat on the bench. That took about 25 minutes in total.

Then I fed all four through the 734, dropping thickness by about 0.4-0.5mm on each pass, and alternating sides once the first uppermost side was flat. That took 20 minutes to give the boards above. That would normally have taken all of this week’s evenings with the scrub plane. That’s a massive boon, I think it’s obvious the 734 is going nowhere. I mean, it’s not my idea of a finish planing, it’s very rough milling but still. That’s damn useful.

Now, I want them a few mm thinner, but it was getting late and the 734’s noisy, so I’m leaving them to warp and cup overnight before doing the last few passes in the 734. And also, I think I need to (a) clean up and (b) sort out something about extraction…


Feb 19

Angled dovetails

Some more – increasingly rare – time in the shed over the last week or so, and I started cutting the top shelf for the desk.

While I had the desk assembled to this stage the last day, I scribed the top shelf angles with pencil and set the board aside. Then this week, after thinking about it a bit, I double-checked the angles of the sides of the walnut board – because it’s the core around which all this is built – and then I used the angles of the walnut board, and the width from the scribe marks (and yes, I double-checked that the sides were plumb to the desk before scribing), and used those two to cut the top shelf.

I didn’t cut them according to the scribe marks’ angles because there’s a little bit of twist in the sides (not much, maybe 4-5mm over the full length of the sides, and the sides are poplar, not oak) so the top shelf should be pulling them back to the walnut board’s angles, not locking in their twist.

And of course, because it’s an angled cut on the end of the board, the dovetails get interesting.

The angles that would work on a straight edge obviously do not work on an angled edge because the line of the grain is no longer at right angles to the end – if you just cut the dovetails with no change to the angles, you’d get all manner of issues with the look of the joint, and with its mechanical strength due to some horrible short grain issues. So, like with everything, there’s a complex way to do it where you do all sorts of maths to figure out what the angles should be, or, there’s a trick (actually, there are two tricks, but one involves spending a few hundred euro on a Bridge City Toolworks bevel and sod that for a lark).

The sane trick is that you keep the offcut from the board when you cut the angled edge, then you mark off the dovetails with a normal dovetail marker against the straight edge on the offcut and you put a bevel against the angled edge and set it to the angle you marked off on the straight edge.

You also don’t cut both sides to the same angle – one side (in my case) is a 1:6 slope and the other side is a 1:8 slope. It doesn’t look right otherwise because of the angles.

I marked off the spacings using the normal two-dividers approach though.

With the marking out done, the sawing is nothing fancy (you can’t use guides, you have to saw to the line by hand – but that’s not that hard so long as you take your time).

Some tidying up with chisels and that’s the board ready. Next, hold it in place on the top of the relevant side, misalign it, swear a lot, erase pencil marks and retry until you eventually manage to hold a two-foot-plus board at a perfect right angle to an edge that’s five feet up in the air while drawing around it with a pencil.
I mean, it’s doable, but you learn new swear words.

After getting the transfer of lines done, the rest is standard dovetail fare. Cut them, fettle a lot with chisels, swear at gaps, the usual dance. And then repeat for the other side.

At that point, I assembled the carcass and found that the left dovetail fitted fine, and the right dovetail was hanging in mid-air an inch clear of the right side of the desk. What the…

Turns out, the middle shelf was too wide by a few mm. Out with the #04 and I shaved down the width by 2mm on each side (not all at once, it was a pare-and-fit job) and eventually I could assemble the entire carcass.

That middle shelf is not done yet though; it’s still a few mm too wide at the back, while being about right at the front but the end result is that there’s a lot of stress on the right hand dovetail joint:

There’s a whole 2.4mm of a gap there at the bottom, purely because the shelf is spreading the sides (I assembled without the middle shelf – it went together perfect square and true). I have some more fettling to do there tomorrow. But that wasn’t the point of this assembly (or bringing it indoors for that matter), it was more to check sizes. That desk seems so low off the ground that there’s no way it’s right, right?

Nah, it’s grand, the client is happy.

It’s now all back in the shed with the middle shelf removed. Tomorrow I’ll work on fettling that middle shelf fit and when that’s good enough, I’ll take the desk all apart and begin work on inlays and decoration and shaping. The inlay won’t be entirely conservative – the client isn’t a huge fan of traditional marquetry because he can’t spell “traditional marquetry” yet, but an inlaid race track for cars would be cool, and an inlaid blue ocean on which to recreate the death of several hundred people in the freezing waters of the north atlantic would be a very desirable feature apparently. I don’t know, don’t ask.

I also want to cut a 7mmx13mm channel in the underside of the middle shelf – that’ll house an LED strip in an recessed aluminium channel with diffuser (ebay’s a great tool these days). That does mean I need to figure out a way to run a mains cable from that shelf to the ground, in a way that doesn’t lead to a seven-year-old finding a way to pull it out of the desk and strangle the cat with it. Anyone know of a neat way to chase a cable through a piece of wooden furniture over a distance of around five feet in total? No, cable clips are not okay, and just routing out a channel and epoxying the cable in seems somewhat unmaintainable…

Speaking of routing, for some of the resin and the LED channel, I thought I might go back to the beast and try that again, but this time with a better way to hang on to it.

For the rectangular channel for the LEDs, a chisel would be just as good really, but for irregular pools of freezing-cold-north-atlantic-ocean blue resin, the router does make life a little easier.

Speaking of, I need to experiment a little with the resin. I have some ideas…