Friday, April 29, 2016

A Ming-Inspired Cabinet (54)

Today was the day: glue up of cabinet 1. This is where months of work can be ruined in less than an hour, so I was naturally a bit on edge.

Prior to gluing, I masked off where required, and used a gouge to make a pair of slight hollows on the side of each dovetail pin:

I did the same on the sides of the tails. The dovetail joints are a tight fit, so the hollows ensure that there will be some glue trapped within and it won't nearly all get squeezed out by assembly. When I use glue, I try to do so judiciously, not just slathering it on everywhere. My goal is an absolute minimum of squeeze out, and I only apply glue to places where the grain-to-grain bond is a sound one. I keep glue off of end grain insofar as possible.

I was doing this glue-up solo, and therefore needed the maximum glue open time I could obtain. This ruled out hide glue and aliphatic (PVA) glue. Resorcinol would have been an option, however shop temperature is below 70˚ to that was out. I opted for a System 3 epoxy product, T-88:

This 2-part adhesive gives 45~60 minutes of open time, and cures slowly. Slow-curing epoxy is the strongest epoxy, but I mostly was after the long open time. As it turned out, the shop temp of 55˚ or so made the set slower yet, so a full hour proved to be the working time. The drawback to this epoxy is that the clamps need to be left on overnight and a full 24 hours is required for the initial cure, with the cure continuing for a further couple of days beyond that.

Still, when the epoxy was mixed, I was uncertain how much time I had or what might eventuate, so it was full steam ahead. I filmed the whole thing, but after I was done I discovered that the camera position was such that the top of the cabinet was out of view. That was too bad, but "learn as you go". So, I'll do another video, with a better camera angle, when I put cabinet #2 together in the near future.

When the dust had settled, things had gone totally as planned, the cabinet was together and looking good:

I took a walk outside and sat by the bank of the river for a while to relax.

I was of course wanting all the joints which were just connected, some 32 mortise and tenons, plus the dovetails, to be drawn up nice and tight with no gaps. And that was the outcome - whew!

Here's one junction:


Another one:

Another rail-meets-carcase side:

A few photos now to show some of the longer joint interfaces, where the fits came out as I wanted and a minimum of glue squeeze out. This is the junction of the upper shelf panel and rail to the carcase side:

The inside of the upper carcase corner:

One drop of squeeze out along that junction is definitely something I can live with.

The opposite upper corner - again, one drop of squeeze-out:

Shelf and rail meets right side carcase wall:

I managed to stand the beast up - with the clamps attached it was especially heavy:

Another view:

The back side:


As the day drew to a close, I had the upper shelf assembly glued and joined onto the second cabinet:

I intend to be slightly more organized for the next glue up - lessons learned - and hope to produce a video to boot. Stay tuned for more, and thanks for visiting. Post 55 is up next.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

A Ming-Inspired Cabinet (53)

If you read this blog with a phone, there are many things - widgets and the like - on the right side which you will not see. I just learned this by seeing the blog by way of my wife's phone. I am thinking I may need to change/modify the template so as to make those sections, which include contact info, build thread index, links to previous posts, TAJCD essay links, links to other sites, etc., visible. If you're curious about that side bar material, then accessing this site by personal computer is necessary in the meantime.


Finish application work and assembly on the two cabinets continues. This stage involves fitting the lower shelf assembly to the drawer framing assembly completed previously.

Here is a view of the underside of the shelf assembly. The central divider is also test-fitted to the shelf assembly, as a final check of the fits between shelf panel and rails:

With the tenons from the vertical divider poking through the rails and panel, I marked out offsets at the mortises for the wedges which will lock the tenons in place:

Sliding dovetail joints lock the rails to the drawer stiles, while the middle of the drawer stiles fits to the panel with a simple housing.

A view of the same assembly in its normal orientation:

There is but modest clearance between frame and panel in this system. Normally, there would be sufficient clearance gaps to allow the panel to float and accommodate seasonal movement but they can be made much smaller in this framing system, especially given that all the material is quartersawn and will not move much anyway.

The parts were then re-separated and the mortises in the rails and panel flared by chisel and file in advance of wedging.

I then took the opportunity to film a short (6 min.) video, which I trust gives some idea of how things went together. I start the video with a clip showing the lower tenon kerfing on the central divider, after which we jump to the commencement of assembly, noting that the step where I applied a little glue to the vertical stile tenons and the dovetail mortises was not filmed:

I know, I know: I look like a homeless person. I realize I'm supposed to take care to present a professional appearance in this public format, meaning 'neat and tidy', with my shop immaculately clean and meticulously organized, with the right sort of tools hanging on the wall to suggest old time hand tool craftsmanship, etc.. I have a ways to go.

Before the adhesive (hide glue) cured, I got the wedges in there, with a dab of glue also applied to the wedges:

The view is of the underside of the panel, normally something you would not be able to see readily in the completed piece. Without a little glue, the wedges will tend to work themselves loose over time from seasonal movement. You can also see a small patch in the panel to the left of the mortise. I can't remember why the patch was needed, but curly bubinga flakes all too easily so it may have occurred while mortising.

The double wedged mortises form the connection between  front edge of the vertical divider and the front rail, upside-down in this view:

After the glue was set, I zipped off the excess with a flush trim saw:

Later on, both units were complete to the same stage:

Next up in this build will be the fitting up the upper shelf and the assembly of the carcase, which I hope to complete in the next couple of days.

I also was processing some more shedua today through the usual jointing, resawing, jointing and planing process. I mentioned several months back that the SCMI planer had a poorly designed digital readout that tended to lose tolerance over time, and I had fitted an i-Gaging readout with linear scale so as to have something to rely upon. Since that time I haven't touched the machine's built-in readout, and have found the i-Gaging readout to be dead accurate 10 times out of 10. Today though I was shocked to note how far apart the readings had gotten, with the i-Gaging readout at top (dead perfect) and the factory SCMI readout below (a whopping 0.1", 3mm, out):

Surely they have redesigned this feature by now(?). It's a decent planer otherwise and gives good results, but I'd really rather have a T-45 Martin. Hah! Wouldn't we all?

I have the painter's tape with 'Compressor On?' stuck on the front as a reminder, since the planer employs pneumatic roller pressure and doesn't plane so well if the compressor is turned off.  I need to set little reminders for myself in a few areas of the shop, as 'lost the forest for the trees' can certainly apply in my case.

All for today, thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way. Post 54 awaits.

Saturday, April 23, 2016

A Ming-inspired Cabinet (52)

The first picture of today's entry in this build thread is the carcase for cabinet #1, which has recently had the strips which serve as backstops for the demountable rear panels glued into place:

Here's carcase #2 together so that the strips to back the demountable panels could be glued up:

Over the past week, much of my time has been consumed with applying finish to piece after piece, decking the finish flat, and re-applying finish, and repeat, repeat.... I'm putting 5 coats on. It didn't seem worth taking photos.

Today, a little assembly at last - here, I'm kerfing the central tenons of one of the drawer stiles:

Before the two stiles can be fitted to the bottom carcase board, the drawer support runners and three-piece front rails need to be fitted. In the next picture, assembly is just getting started:

Moving along:

I thought I snapped a picture of the 'together' moment, but I guess not. Oh well....

So, instead, how about a short vid?

A dab of glue was placed in the mortises for the outer tenons pairs, in case you were wondering.

After the parts were firmly together and I had let the adhesive cure on the outer connections, I flipped the assembly upside down, and placed a very heavy chunk of steel on the lower carcase board, to be sure the drawer stiles were fully seated prior to putting the wedges in:

I use a bit of sandpaper to adjust the side clearance on the wedges prior to fitting.

The wedges get a dab of hide glue, otherwise the joint is done dry:

The projecting portion will be trimmed off later.

I managed to get that chunk of steel off without damaging anything, myself included:

Then it was time to fit the wedges, shachi sen, to the opposed 2-direction tongue and grooved rod tenons:

This one is down:

Trimming the excess with the flush-trimming Miyano saw:

The first pair is done:

Another view:

And the other side too:

A second pair done:

Once all the wedges were fitted, I did some minor clean up at the junctions and applied another coat of finish to the front edges:

Another view or the right side junctions:

The finish dries fast, so some areas in the photo look dry while other areas look wet. I'm looking forward to seeing the finish after it has been waxed and polished.

Here's the left side a little closer in:

Here's a view along the front edges of the 3-piece rails, to show that after the joints are wedged up tight, the rails form a straight line:

I'm pleased with the way these joints have come out, from the design materializing in execution. They were my adaptation of a classical Japanese joint form, and not something you would normally come across on a piece of Japanese furniture. Something borrowed and adapted. The assembly is rigid and the joints have drawn up tightly, so that is the important thing.

All for now, thanks for visiting. On to post 53

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Southern Swing 2016 (Part I)

My wife and I took the opportunity to take a week's break and head on down to slightly warmer climes. As with any trip like this, we took in some historic homes and I thought I'd share an account here of the interesting things which we came upon. Our tour took us down through Connecticut and New York, circling out and around NYC, and down through New Jersey to Baltimore, Maryland. Though we had the idea in mind that the further south we went the warmer the weather would become, in fact we found ourselves in a heavy snowstorm when we crossed into Maryland.

In Maryland we visited with some of my wife's relatives, and then the next day headed further south, first into Virginia, and then down to North Carolina. It was nice to see the trees in leaf and flower after the winter. I also found that pretty much everyone I came across in the south exhibited a pleasant mix of politeness and friendliness. It's so nice!

I'll detail some of the places we came across below, in the order we visited.



I have been long interested in visiting the home of Thomas Jefferson. He was an owner/builder, though I would use the term 'builder' loosely since he did not do any of the actual construction himself but rather was the principal architect. Of course, people often say so-and-so built something when they did none of the actual construction. It's a curious thing. Slaves built most of Monticello, let's face it.

A lot of the construction occurred while Jefferson was away from the house, as he spent some 40 years away from Monticello after starting work upon it when he was in his early twenties. He inherited the 1500 hundred acre estate when he turned 21. Not a bad start in life I suppose. He also inherited his father's debts as part of the package.

Jefferson's Monticello, as a national historic site, was striking to me for one reason more than any other: how polished and slickly run the entire place was. At the bottom of the hill is a newish visitor center with cafe and gift shop, and a shuttle bus takes groups up to the house every 15 minutes or so. And all the staff were so very friendly! The grounds are well kept.

Once at the top, the shuttle lets you off near the front of the house:

The weathervane on the roof you can see in the above picture connects to a compass located on the ceiling of the portico:

The house itself is of brick, like many houses in the south, with some imperfectly-formed stone columns to the front at the entrance. It seems that Jefferson had such trouble getting the stone columns carved, that for the west portico at the rear of the house the columns were made from curved bricks and then stuccoed.

The original plan Jefferson had for the house was actually quite different, as this model shows:

After Jefferson's 5 year stay as the US representative to France, he returned to Monticello, at that point half complete, with some fresh ideas. As a result, the building was partially razed and then built up again.

Here's the main floor plan:

When you pass through the portico at the front, there is an entrance hall with a display of native American artifacts collected by Jefferson, largely via the Lewis and Clark expeditions:

There is also an intriguing clock on the entry wall which is actuated with cables carrying iron balls on each side:


The position of the weights corresponds to the day of the week. The design wasn't fully thought through apparently, as there was not enough room for all the days of the week and holes had to be cut in the floor to let the weight stack drop down the right distance. The clock also connects to a face on the exterior wall of the portico, where it has, by design, but a single hour hand only:


Jefferson took daily weather readings and used these clocks and the compass connected to the weather vane for that purpose. Note also the interesting varied thickness of the brick arching above the central transom.

Inside, the standard tour is limited to the main floor only. The docent was very knowledgeable and skilled at her job.

Mention was made of the elliptical archways over some of the room passages, which were the work of an Irish joiner and thought to be very swish at the time:

It was nice to hear the word 'joiner' from the docent, as I think it is an unfamiliar term to a lot of folks. Frankly, the woodwork, including the molded arches, was only 'okay' to my eyes. I've certainly seen better. Most of it otherwise was done by a slave, and Jefferson had difficulty, it seems in finding a joiner who was not also a drunk. The view above is looking from the south parlor into the library.

Jefferson read widely, and some of the books in the house are in fact original possessions of his. When the the British torched the Library of Congress in 1814, Jefferson sold his vast collection to the LOC for $23,950 in 1815, more than doubling the holdings that the LOC had after the arson. Ironically, a second fire on Christmas Eve of 1851, destroyed nearly two thirds of the 6,487 volumes Congress had purchased from Jefferson. He seems to have been a compulsive reader and book buyer, and strongly believed in the virtues of an educated electorate. My how times have changed in political and cultural circles, as the bread and circuses model seems rather more in vogue. Marcus Tullius Cicero (106-43 B.C.) Roman philosopher, orator, and statesman, was Jefferson's favorite classical scholar. Jefferson is believed to have modeled his own life on Cicero's love of study and aristocratic country life.

The roof of Monticello is intriguing. Of course, the dome is the most obvious feature:

A circular dome sitting atop a stretched octagonal base is somewhat unusual. It was something Jefferson had seen in France -  a design originating with the sixteenth-century architect Philibert De l'Orme - and Jefferson had his carpenters recreate it. He did the calculations himself for the varied curved shapes of the rafters. The construction is on the crude side, with a clinch-nailed 3-ply oak lamination of short pieces, instead of joinery as in the original system.

In the middle of the roof is found the truly unusual piece - a hipped  'zig-zag' roof. The roof is low pitched and comprised of  rows of small alternating ridges and valleys, connected to one another with t and g lath. He called the alternating hips and valleys 'rooflets'. This type of roof is also found under the flanking walkways at both sides of the house. Sheathing nailed to the configuration of the lath was then covered with sheet iron – one piece bent and placed in the "gutter," or valley, and another similar sheet placed over the ridge and lapping the valley piece. The object was to make a watertight roof without the need for complicated metal seams.

The valleys are formed into troughs to collect rainwater:

The above shows the system as used on the flanking walkways.

Perhaps this model shows the system a little more clearly:

Four large cisterns are placed, two at each end of the house, to collect rainwater. It's an interesting set up and quite innovative.

I found Monticello worth the visit but not intriguing enough to go back again. I did learn some interesting things about Jefferson from the docent. He greatly admired learning and learned people, and had three portraits on his study wall of what he called "my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced": John Locke, Issac Newton and Francis Bacon. Interestingly, Jefferson noted in a letter from 1811 that when Alexander Hamilton visited Monticello,

"Another incident took place on the same occasion, which will further delineate Mr. Hamilton's political principles. The room being hung around with a collection of the portraits of remarkable men, among them were those of Bacon, Newton and Locke, Hamilton asked me who they were. I told him they were my trinity of the three greatest men the world had ever produced, naming them. He paused for some time: "the greatest man," said he, "that ever lived, was Julius Caesar." Mr. Adams was honest as a politician, as well as a man; Hamilton honest as a man, but, as a politician, believing in the necessity of either force or corruption to govern men."
Interesting that Hamilton favored a dictator as the 'greatest man who ever lived', not an enlightenment figure. Hmm, not sure I care much for Hamilton. Not my cup of tea.

Jefferson, as noted above, inherited both the plantation and his father's debt. It seems the plantation never made a whole lot of money, and when Jefferson died, he was still in debt, to the tune of $107,000.00. The creditors immediately set upon his heirs, and the estate, plus all furnishings, and the hundred or so slaves, were all sold off to pay down (some) of the debt. The house sold for but $7500.00.

The buyer of the house seems to have cared little for the house or it's famous creator, and by 1870 the house was a total wreck:

Grass was growing on the roof, shutters were dangling and many glass windows were broken. The fields were overgrown, animal feed was stored inside one of the rooms.

The next owner, eight years after Jeffersons death, was Uriah Phillips Levy, the first Jewish Commodore of the United States Navy, who bought the house and 218 acre estate for $2700 (equivalent to $64,000 in today's dollars). He was a guy who ran away from home at 10 and became a cabin boy, later to rise to the highest naval rank of that era. He fought in the war of 1812, was instrumental in abolishing the use of flogging in the Navy.

Levy was an admirer of Jefferson's - and held a very modern notion that the houses of great men should be preserved as "monuments to their glory," and he did a probably the most to save the house, along with his nephew Jefferson Monroe Levy.

Here's a look at Uriah:

Upon Levy's death in 1862, Levy left Monticello to the American people to be used as an agricultural school for the orphans of Navy warrant officers. Due to the American Civil War, Congress refused to accept the donation.

Jefferson Monroe Levy, who spent a lot of money to restore and preserve Monticello, served as a Congressman at times during the early 1900s and was encouraged by associates in Washington to turn the property over to public ownership. Though initially reluctant, in 1914 he offered the federal government the opportunity of purchasing Monticello, but after much congressional rhetoric on the subject, no funds were forthcoming. Some politicians, it seems, are often not the most forward-thinking individuals. Monticello was finally acquired by a non-profit, the Thomas Jefferson Foundation, in 1923, for $500,000.00. The Levy family's role in preserving Monticello was downplayed by the Thomas Jefferson Foundation through much of the 20th century, which Melvin Usofsky, in his work "The Levy Family and Monticello" (Virginia Quarterly Review: 395–412) suggests was due to anti-Semitic views among some of its board and members.

There were a few other stops on our southern swing that I'd like to write about, so look for that account in the following post.

Thanks for visiting the Carpentry Way.