Sanding, Sanding and more Sanding

With the bases assembled and the tops flattened (along with the edges tapered), it was time to head down the home stretch.  Finishing has always been frustrating for me but I have realized it has been frustrating because I skip so many steps.

First step is to sand.  I sanded the entire desk (both of them) using 80 grit, 120 grit, 180 grit and finally 220 grit.

Sanding using everything I've got

Sanding using everything I've got

I'm using my power sanders when I can (I have a 6" Festool and a smaller Festool which includes corner attachments).  Once I'm no longer able to use the power tools, I move to hand sanders and then finally to blocks wrapped in sand paper or just folded sand paper. 

I approach both sanding and finishing the desk in 2 stages.  I first approach the underside of the desk with both sanding and finishing.  Then I will approach the top side.  While I do the underside, I also finish the drawer.

Before I apply any finish, I use a folded piece of 220 grit and ease all the edges.  One of the most important tools while sanding, I've found, is my fingers.  I use my fingers to feel every edge to make sure that everything is smooth and not sharp.

I use a wet rag and wipe down all the sanded surfaces and then sand again to remove the raised grain.  I then follow it up with some tack cloth to get all the dust off the piece.

Next it's time to work on the finish.  I will apply 2 coats of shellac and then some poly over that.  On the base, I will apply 2 coats of poly and on the top of the desktop, I will apply a few extra coats to give it some durability.  I am lightly sanding between coats with 320 or 400 grit sandpaper.

Patches in Seattle

I grew up in Southern California and one of the shows on TV for kids was "Hobo Kelly".  I don't remember much about the show but since we only had 5 TV stations when I was a kid, we watched what was on.  We moved to Seattle about 20 years ago and apparently there was a male version of Hobo Kelly called "Patches".  Other than I'm patching up knots and other defects, this little story doesn't really have anything to do with woodworking.

On the desktops, there were several knots.  Only one was on the top but there were still several on the bottom of the desktop.  I chiseled out any loose material from the knot and then prepared some epoxy.  The hardened epoxy stabilizes the knot so that it won't loosen or decay over time.

Patches - a knot filled with epoxy

Patches - a knot filled with epoxy

Once the epoxy is dry, I then scrape and sand it smooth with the surface being especially careful to not over emphasize the knot.  I do NOT want to have to reflatten the tops.  The epoxy is smooth and looks natural in the top.

Next, on the underside of one of the tops, I had a crack.  It was still tightly joined so I decided to create a butterfly patch.  The notion is that the patch becomes a dead end for the crack so it can't grow.  I create the patch from maple and then use my thinnest marking knife, I mark an outline of the patch.  Using chisels to further deapen the knife cuts, I use chisels and a small router plane to create a hollow to accept the patch.  The goal is to go deep enough to stop the crack.

Patches - a butterfly patch made from maple to stop a crack

Patches - a butterfly patch made from maple to stop a crack

The butterfly patch turned out very nice that it's almost a shame it's on the underside.  Pretty good for my first attempt at this technique.

My last repair was a chip from the edge of the other desktop.  I took a piece of maple and cut it to the desired shape of the patch.  Then I did exactly the same as I did for the butterfly patch using a knife and chisels to create the outline and then a router plane to deepen the cutout.  This was a little simpler than the butterfly though.

Patches - an edge patch being prepped

Patches - an edge patch being prepped

I then glued and clamped the patch in place.

Did you notice that I said the patch was maple?  Oops, that was not what I meant for this one.  Of course, I didn't figure this out till after the glue was dried.  Fortunately, removing the maple patch turned out to be simple.  I found some cherry scrap and made a new patch., ensuring it's a little bigger and deeper.  The cherry patch actually wound up fitting much nicer than the maple one so I'm happy about this accident.

After I clean up the last of the epoxy and the above cherry patch, I will move on to make 2" holes for the cable grommits.

Lighten up!

With traditional Shaker style furniture, you get a very light and almost dainty look because the legs are either tapered or turned (or both?).  In addition, the tops on tables often have overhangs which allow the top's underside to be tapered.  This allows a thick top providing for weight and stability but also a visual line that gives it that light and dainty look to match the legs.

Even though these two desks will probably never be in the same room (except while I'm building them), I still wanted them to have a similar look.  The tops though were almost 1/4" different in their thickness.  While I was tired of flattening the tops, I knew that I had to add the taper to the underside of the tops.

The taper will leave 1/2" profile on the sides and taper towards the center 1 3/4".

Start taper on the end grain

Start taper on the end grain

I started the tapers on the end grain.  Before starting, I chisel the end out in a mild slope to prevent tearout.  The ends take a bit of time but I work carefully to the knife lines I made at the dimensions I mentioned above.

Mitchell pitching in to help

Mitchell pitching in to help

After the ends are done, I work on the long grain sides.  The long sides go a little faster though I do have to watch grain direction.  As you can see, I managed to get Mitchell out to help a bit (though he was grumpy from a full day of work at a robotics summer camp).

The corner detail where both tapers meet

The corner detail where both tapers meet

Above you can see the corner detail where the end and front tapers meet.

Background: desk with no taper;  foreground: desk with taper

Background: desk with no taper;  foreground: desk with taper

Above you can see the nice thin line that the taper gives the edge of the desk top which is actually about 1 1/8" thick but gives an impression of a much thinner top.  In the background you can see the desktop that I have not tapered which is just shy of 1" thick.  Once it is tapered both tops will have a very similar appearance even though there is about 1/4" difference in thickness.

Next steps include creating holes for cable grommets (these are for my sons who will mostly use them for computers to use for homework and games), stabilizing some knots (the knots are mostly on the underside), fix at least one chip, and stabilize a crack with a butterfly (I've never done this before).

Flat, Flat, Flat

I've been struggling a bunch with flattening the 2 desktops I need for the desks that I'm building for my sons, Xander and Mitchell.

I actually started flattening the desktops back when i first glued them up, quite a while ago.  It did not go well.  It seemed that I was taking off material but not getting any flatter.  I was quite worried that the tops were going to be  1/4" thin by the time I was done.  Anyway, I put them aside and started working on the bases.

A month ago, I finished the bases and needed to get back to the tops.  Before restarting the effort, I did some self exploration (not that kind of exploration, keep your minds out of the gutters!) and came up with some specifics on what I could do to get everything back on track.

  1. First, flatten the boards before glue up.  That won't help for this project but will in the future.  I didn't do this for this project because I had hoped that it would allow me to keep the tops fairly thick.  In the end they are still good with one at about 7/8" thick and the other just above 1" thick.
  2. Size the boards or the top closer to it's final dimensions.  This makes the whole thing more workable and I think I kept the tops oversized and that caused extra work and had me stressing too long.
  3. Add a cleat to my bench.  I had one on the end but also needed one on the far edge so that I could work cross grain.
  4. Go slower and more methodical.  I found that once I applied this, I could work specific areas and them move around the top like that refining the overall flatness.
Shavings while flattening the desktops.  For 2 tops, I created similar piles probably 10 times or so

Shavings while flattening the desktops.  For 2 tops, I created similar piles probably 10 times or so

While it was a frustrating process.  I'm very satisfied with the results.

2nd Desk with the top  setting in place

2nd Desk with the top  setting in place

After consulting with my design expert (aka my wife, Kathy), I have decided to taper the edges of the desk to give it a thinner edge to tie in with the tapers in the legs.

It's time to flatten some wood!

Now that the bases of the desks are done (see previous post), it's time to turn my attention back to the desk tops.  When I first began, I did a large glue up and did some initial work flattening the tops.  I got frustrated and turned to the desk bases.  My frustration turned out to be for a good reason which I'll get to in a bit.

One of the 2 tops turned out to not be big enough so I took another piece of cherry and added it to the desk top.  I had to then cut it down to size and square all the edges.

Ripping the 2nd desktop to it's proper size now that it had additional cherry added to it's width

Ripping the 2nd desktop to it's proper size now that it had additional cherry added to it's width

Once I had the edges squared up and the desktops sized.  I started to flatten them.  The first one was actually pretty close from my initial bout of flattening but it turned out I was still frustrated by the act of flattening.

My frustration stemmed from having this wonderful shop built 8 foot Roubo style bench but not having it fully equipped.  When I initially built it, I put a planing stop at the end of the bench (near the leg vice).  This planing stop works great when planing the length of single boards but I found that when you are flattening a larger surface, I needed some additional holding power.  Before I got smart, I tried all sorts of things involving clamps and hold downs and anything else I could find in my shop.  None of it really worked.

It turned out what I really needed was another planing stop at the back edge of the Roubo so that I could apply planing strokes both with the length of the boards but also across grain.  Both of the planing stops are about an inch thick and are made from Maple so are quite stiff and rigid.

Roubo bench with 2 planing stops, 1 at the end and the other at the back edge of the bench top

Roubo bench with 2 planing stops, 1 at the end and the other at the back edge of the bench top

Next steps involve a lot of flattening work.

One desk top ready to flatten on the Roubo bench

One desk top ready to flatten on the Roubo bench

I will follow flattening with tapering the edges of the desk.  This will give the top a more delicate look even though the tops are about an 1" thick.  After that, I will ensure the top of the base is also flat so that the joint between the top and base is nice and tigtht.

After all that work, it will be on to finishing.  First a lot of sanding going through various grits on all the surfaces.  I will stop at 220.  After everything is sanded, it will be on to applying the finish.  I will go with a coat of shellac to seal the wood and then something more durable for the outer coats.  I'm still aiming to spray the finish on.  Between coats, I expect to sand a bit with 320 or 400 grit to get any dust nubs flattened.

Desks - Bases are done

Though I've only been doing one little thing on any given day, I've made some great progress over the last few weeks.

Close up of 1 of 2 desk bases completed

Close up of 1 of 2 desk bases completed

I installed a stop at the back of the drawer cavity to prevent the drawer from going in to far.  Once that was installed, I did some fine tuning on the drawer front itself so that it had a nice flush fit with the front of the front apron.  I also took my 1/4" plywood and cut it to size for the bottom of the drawer and installed it into the drawer with 2 screws anchoring it to the back of the drawer.  Lastly, I located the drawer knob and drilled and installed it (temporarily, need to remove it during finish application).

2 desks ready for their tops to be finished and installed

2 desks ready for their tops to be finished and installed

I have to install the desktop anchors in each of the bases but otherwise, I'm ready for the top.

My next steps will be to flatten the 2 tops which are already glued up.  I've been putting it off since I started.  I glued these tops up a long time ago.

After the top is finished and attached, I'll be moving everything to my garage for finish prep and actual finish application.  I plan to try my hand with an HVLP so wish me luck!

Drawers - Pin the dovetails

I've been slowly working on  the drawers for my kids desks.  In past posts, I've shown and talked about the groove for the bottom and cutting the dovetails.  I think that next time I cut dovetails, I'm going to take some scrap and practice first.  The second drawer turned out much better.

Once everything was cut, it was time to glue up the drawers.

Glue up of the dovetails for the drawers

Glue up of the dovetails for the drawers

I  set out all the clamps and glue and measuring tools I'll need.  I then paint on the glue on all the dovetails on both sides.  I think I'm getting better on how much glue to use because squeeze out wasn't too bad.  I use my diagonal measuring tool to see which side I need the diagonal clamp on to ensure the drawer is square and then place the clamp on.  A few more measurements and a few turns on the diagonal clamp get it square.  I leave it clamped overnight.

Installing pins in the center of the tails of the drawers

Installing pins in the center of the tails of the drawers

The dovetails were a little loose (more on the first drawer than the second) so I decided to do a little over engineering and put pins in the center of the tails on the the sides.  This takes away all stress from just the glue and puts some of it on the pins..

First I mark the centers of the dovetails.  I am using  1/4" hardwood dowels so I drill a quarter inch hole that goes through the tail and about a half inch into the drawer front (and the back for the back tails).

Pins in the tails cut flush and sanded down

Pins in the tails cut flush and sanded down

I have let the dowels glue dry overnight and then I used a flush cut saw and then a bit of sand paper (I think the above picture is after the saw but before the sand paper).  I then take the opportunity to do an initial sanding of the drawer with 80 grit.

QUICK NOTE: one of the power tools I still use is a Festool sander.  I really should stop using this.  I tend to oversand with the power sander and hand sanding would likely minimize that.  I may pack the sander away and see if I can go to only hand planes and hand sanding for the next project.

Next I need to cut the plywood bottoms for the drawers and then choose what kind of drawer pull I am going to use.

Dovetails for drawers

My family and I were on vacation for the last 1 1/2 or so.  We went to my brother's wedding and visited with friends and did a bunch of tourist activities.  All in all it was a great vacation.

Now that I'm back at home, I realize how close the 2 desks I'm working on for my sons are to being completed.  I have to finish the drawers and then flatten and attach the tops and then finally put a finish on the desks.  I may actually get these puppies done before the boys school starts in September.

I decided to do half blind dovetails on the front of the drawers and full dovetails on the back.  The groove I cut the last time will allow to slide in the plywood bottom from the back and attach to the back.

Marking dovetails

Marking dovetails

In the picture above, I'm marking the full through dovetails for the back on the sides of the drawer.  I am ganging the 2 sides together.  I use a wheel marker for marking the depth of the tails.  I use a knife to mark across the end of the board and the angle marks on the side of the board.  I then follow up with a pencil to darken the lines.

Cutting the through dovetails

Cutting the through dovetails

After marking, I use my Bad Axe saw to cut the walls.  I then use a coping saw to cut out between the tails.  I follow up with some chisel work to clean up the bottom between the tails and some minimal clean up on the walls.  The above picture is the tails that will go with the half blind pins.

Cutting half blind pins

Cutting half blind pins

I cut the walls on an angle joining the mark at the edge of the board to the mark on the side.  I then follow up with my attempt at slow controlled chisel work.

The end result were a little loose so i'll have to work on cleaning them up when I'm ready to glue up the pieces.  I may even put a pin through the tails to give the joint some additional strength.  I expect that drawer number 2 will be a bit better.

Groove for Drawer Bottom

Almost time for some dovetails.  The drawer sides are all cut to finished dimensions.  I also chose to go with 1/4" plywood for the drawer bottoms.

I did a few tests to make sure that the groove for the drawer bottom was the proper size.

Working on groove for drawer bottom

Working on groove for drawer bottom

I created the groove on the drawer front and sides.  I then did a superficial groove on the back so that I could finalize the height of the drawer back.

Next steps will be dovetails.  I am doing half blind dovetails on the drawer front and full through dovetails on the drawer back.

Drawer Parts

Now that I've got the slides and rails for the drawers cut and installed, it's time to work on the the drawers.  I've got a drawer front made of maple with the sides and back out of poplar.

The first step is to cut to rough length.  I've always liked crosscutting wood but I've also got nicely tuned up saws and I think my technique is getting better so my cuts are straighter and more precise.

Crosscutting drawer parts to rough lenght

Crosscutting drawer parts to rough lenght

Next is to rip the boards to their proper height.  I've found that I'm getting better with rip cuts and the better I get at them the more enthusiastic about the cuts I get.  Again I have nicely tuned saws and I think my body mechanics and technique are getting better so that following a line is easier.

Ripping drawer parts to the correct height.

Ripping drawer parts to the correct height.

Next I use my hand planes and square up the edges and get the parts to the correct finally length and height.  The sides fit in between the slides really well as you can see from the preview below.

A quick preview of how the drawer will look.

A quick preview of how the drawer will look.

I need to go and get some wood for the bottom.  I will use a 1/4" plywood probably though until I get the wood, I may go to glued up panels.

The drawer fronts will be attached to the sides with half blind dovetails and the drawer backs will be with full dovetails.