This past weekend I went to a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event that was being hosted in the Bay Area. If you aren’t familiar with the company, Lie-Nielsen is a high end hand tool company based in Maine. Their tools are a bit pricey, but they are beautiful. (Or as they put it, they make “heirloom quality tools”)
Normally I’m all for getting cheaper tools. In my opinion, if you know how to use a tool properly you can make pretty much anything work. The problem for me was (is) I’m just starting out so I wanted to make sure the tool was “perfect,” that way if there were mistakes in my work I knew it was my fault and not the tools.
I wasn’t sure what to expect from the event, but I’m definitely glad I decided to go. There weren’t any official demonstrations, but they had all of their tools out for you to use, and they had plenty of staff walking around for you to ask any questions you might have. I was finally able to get some straight answers about the difference between a jack plane and a bench plane (jack planes are more versatile, and bench planes are good for smoothing near the end of a project), and have someone walk me through the proper tools and technique for sharpening my tools.
If there is an event in your area I highly recommend going.
After many long months my first project is finally complete. It’s not perfect, but I’m pretty happy with how it turned out. Plus, it feels very satisfying to complete my first project. 8 months ago I started with basically no woodworking knowledge, and after a lot work and effort I’ve learned enough to make this.
I think the next phase of my woodworking journey will be less about a project, and more focused on honing some basic skills; sharpening my tools, sawing in a straight line, etc.
Also, over the course of this project I took a lot of pictures which I plan to turn into a DIY guide of sorts. So, look out for that!
And for fun, one more picture of the arm rest coffee table, sitting in the sun right after being polished.
After all of my practice joints I had a growing pile of dovetail corners lying around. While I didn’t initially have any plans for them, one of my more recent pieces seemed like the perfect candidate to turn into a phone stand.
It was a pretty simple project, but it allowed me to use my new wood polish and also try using wood glue for the first time. Also, it felt good to actually make something for a change, instead of just practicing.
Check out the rest of the posts to see more details on how I made it.
As I mentioned in my last post I recently purchased a power sander.
Because I live in an apartment building I was really concerned about how much noise it would generate. I ran a few tests by turning it on, and then standing in the hallway to listen for any noise. Thankfully the sander was quiet enough that I’m pretty sure no one will complain as long as I don’t sand very late at night.
With that in mind a few days ago I decided to continue working on my first project, and sand the boards smooth.
As usual I did the work in my bathroom, and I learned a few things.
Sanding is now so much easier
I should probably wear a mask since I’m in a small enclosed space
The dust was pretty well contained.
After a few minutes I was finished and very happy with the end result. It wasn’t until about an hour later, when I walked back into the bathroom to wash my hands, that I realized how wrong I was about that last point.
You can’t see it very well in the picture (i was mid way through cleaning), but there was a very fine layer of wood dust on EVERYTHING: the walls, the floor, the shower head, the mirror, the toothpaste tube… everything. I frantically started scrubbing the bathroom. My wife and roommate are pretty understanding about me doing work in there, but even they have limits.
Since then, I’ve decided sanding is best done on the balcony.
It takes a lot of effort, and even more time. I’m really tempted to buy an electric sander to make my life easier.
(By the way, that’s not my hand, but it is the same sanding block I use)
I’m not against power tools, but they tend to create a lot more dust and noise than hand tools. This means that my ability to use them is even more limited; can’t use them at night, and I really need to empty my workspace of bathroom gear before starting work.
Although, the idea of making sanding easier is driving me to research power sanders:
I may still be practicing dovetails joints, and not yet ready to make any fancy, but I was curious and started looking into how to finish my eventual (amazing) work.
A lot of videos I watched mention sealing the wood with various types of oil, linseed oil being a common choice. I had no idea where to buy anyone, and I didn’t want a giant bottle of it anyway. Instead I found a rather handy blog post with a detailed how to about making a beeswax and olive oil polish and sealant. (Both items you can easily purchase at Wholefoods)
I won’t reiterate his steps here since he already wrote a great tutorial with pictures of each step. Instead here are two of my dovetail practice pieces before and after the finish was applied.
One thing about living is a small apartment is you lack space. Because of this whenever I start a new project I always have to think what tools do I absolutely need and which are just nice to have. There is almost always some expensive special tool that does one very specific task. It may be great at it, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do great work without it.
With that in mind, below is my list of tools that are required and which are nice to have when making dovetails.
Dovetail saw – Technically you can get away with any saw, but having a dovetail saw with dramatically improve your work. It has a strong metal spine to keep the blade from flexing, and a high teeth per inch count that will make the cut much smoother.
Chisels – These are useful for many reasons, beyond just dovetails so you should probably have them anyway. For dovetails though they help you refine the tail and pins to get a perfect fit, and also remove the waste when cutting them. The chisels don’t have to be anything fancy, but you want a few sizes.
Knife – This is just a handy tool in general, but it’s needed for making the tails against the pin board.
Handplane – I’m still trying to get my head around all the different types of planes there are so I won’t recommend a specific type just yet. The pins and tails are never perfectly flush with the other board so the handplane is used to smooth everything out.
Mallet – Many tutorials and reviews call out having a specific dovetail mallet, or a wooden wallet, or something else as fancy. Really anything will work to tap the joint together, I use a rubber mallet. The only thing to avoid is a hammer since it might damage the wood (if that’s all you have put a towel between the hammer and wood and be gentle)
Nice to Haves
Marking gauge – I really debated whether this should be here or in the required section. The tool is used for marking one boards thickness on another. I’ve seen a few tutorials where the carpenter does this by placing on board on another, so I decided while really helpful it’s a nice to have.
Dovetail markers – Dovetails don’t actually have to be any specific angle or size, and if you really want a marker you can build on your self.
Coping saw – The coping saw is used to quickly remove the waste from the boards. This can also be done using just the chisels, which is how I started. That being said a coping saw will make the process much faster.
Square – Handy for transferring the marking lines from the end grain to the face.
Wing divider – This is the one tool I haven’t had to use yet, but a lot of tutorials reference it. It’s supposedly super handy to space out dovetail joints evenly. I’ll probably get one eventually, but I’m in no rush.
Although there are a lot of nice to haves, realistically most of those are pretty useful for other carpentry projects so you will acquire them at some point.