bookmark_borderMeasure and Mark

I’ve been working on a new large carpentry project, and it involves a bunch of joinery that for some reason I have decided to cut by hand. Everything needs to be measured out and marked, regardless of hand or machine cut, since I almost never trust jigs or templates for this kind of thing. Here’s the kit of measuring and marking tools I have assembled for this particular project.

Tools

So yes, there are three adjustable squares here, so that I don’t have to keep setting and re-setting them for the different lengths I need. The tool right in the middle is called a wheel gauge. You set the length you want, run the large brass bit against the edge of the board, and the little metal wheel at the end cuts a groove in the wood. I do have a Japanese kebiki gauge, but I have a difficult time getting accurate distances with it. The larger aluminum tool next to the wheel gauge is a modern Japanese marking square that is awesome because the large sides let you mark around the corners of lumber, so it’s easier to get straight cuts on 2x4s and other similar pieces. The small metal ruler is very useful for drawing lines between marks, and inserting into small holes as a depth gauge. I mostly mark things out in pencil using the blue 2mm drafting lead holder. but the pocket knife in the upper left is helpful for cutting a groove to start saw cuts, particularly on rip cuts.

bookmark_borderMid-Height Japanese Sawhorses

Some years ago, I made a pair of low Japanese sawhorses for my workshop. They’ve been great, and very useful (mostly for keeping lumber off the floor in the garage), but it was time to take the next step up. My rickety western sawhorses spend most of their time itting outside in the rain and snow, so they are not in very good shape. A set of mid-height Japanese sawhorses would be nice to have, because they are designed to break down into pieces for transport and storage.

Sawhorses Four

These sawhorses are about 24 inches tall, 24 inches long, and 22 inches wide at the feet. This height is just short enough that I can put my knee on a board to hold it while sawing, but tall enough that I don’t need to worry about scraping my saw along the ground. All the joinery is mortise and tenon, and there is no metal hardware in anything.

They are made almost entirely from pine. Given their modest stature, I could cut all four horses from three 4×4’s, two 2×6’s, and one 2×4. This means that there is only about forty dollars of material in the whole set. The pegs that secure the feet to the legs and the wedges that secure the legs to the stretchers are made from some surplus walnut I had in the shop. It’s always best to make the fasteners from wood that’s harder than the wood it is securing, but maybe walnut was an extravagant choice.

I wanted to make these from cedar instead of pine, but it turns out that these days cedar is five times as expensive as pine. It used to be only twice as expensive as pine. My next big woodworking project is going to cost me $500 instead of $100 for the lumber alone. Gasp.

I cut all the pieces to length by hand, but I used the mortising machine to cut nearly all of the mortises, and the band saw to cut nearly all of the tenons. I smoothed the walnut fasteners with a hand plane, though. After completing all of the shaping and joining, it took me about three hours with the orbital sander to clean everything up and remove most of the saw marks.

When taken apart, I can fit all the pieces for three horses into a single large (27 gallon) storage tote. This means that in the winter I can put the horses away in the garden shed instead of having them sit outside like the old ones.

Four Sawhorses

bookmark_borderTachi Kake

The tachi is a type of Japanese sword that is similar to a katana, but it is worn differently, has different fittings, and is usually used as a more of a formal/ceremonial sword compared to a warrior’s katana. I bought a small tachi as part of my mission to recreate a full bunkan sokutai.

When not in being worn or in storage, the tachi would have been displayed nearby the bearer in a vertical stand called a tachi kake. These are readily available to buy, both as new items and antiques, but of course I wanted to make one myself. I was able to settle on a design, and I still have an excess of surplus wood in the garage.

Tachi Kake Before Finishing

Here’s what it looks like after cutting and shaping, but before finishing. It’s a little easier to see the shapes of the pieces. This is all pine lumber. The upright and the bracket at the top are just 3/4″ thick cut from 1by. The brace at the bottom of the upright is 1/2″ thick pine I had around; most of the examples I see online are only 1/4″ thick. The base is cut from some surplus 2by, to keep it bottom-heavy when unoccupied. The brace is fitted in a slot that I cut all the way through the upright. Tenons at either end of the upright fit into through-mortises for ease of assembly and disassembly.

All told, this item is about 26 inches tall when fully assembled. The tapering curve on the upright piece is one of my favorite shapes ever. I did almost all of the cutting on the band saw, though, because it made things like this curve so much faster to make. I also used a router to bevel and round over all the edges on all the pieces to give it a softer look.

Tachi Kake After Finishing

Here it is after about a half-dozen coats of black-tinted polyurethane. This stuff makes a good affordable lacquer substitute, and it dries in hours instead of weeks. I sanded the finish between every couple coats, but it still needs some final polishing. I also want to add some embellishment like I did for the kyousoku arm rest, but that might not happen until autumn.

For a better sense of scale, here’s another picture of the tachi kake before finishing, with my ko-tachi in the stand like it is supposed to be:

Unfinished Tachi Kake with sheathed Tachi

bookmark_borderShogi folding stool

I just completed this shogi folding stool that uses a new design. Instead of the ends of the legs fitting into slots in the feet (like in the old design), the legs are joined to the feet using wedged through-tenons with shoulders that curve up around the feet. I also used a new method of sewing the fabric of the seat so that stress on the stitches is lateral instead of longitudinal.

Shogi 2020

The frame is made almost entirely from red oak planks and dowels. You can just about see the walnut wedges that secure the tenons in the mortises. There’s also a respectable amount of glue and filler, but that can be our secret. The hinge axles are brass-plated hinge pins that I custom cut to length and cross drilled to accept brass cotter pins.

I like this design for the shogi because it is more properly medieval, even though I used even more modern machine tools to make it than before. I used a table saw to cut the legs and dowels, and to cut the joinery I used a drill press, band saw, and mortising machine.

bookmark_borderTest Cutting

I spent a bunch of time today buying a new band saw blade and setting up machines so I could make some test cuts on scrap wood to prototype some interesting joinery for a new folding stool design.

mortise and tenon
New Shogi Joinery

How do you join a 1.25″ wide board perpendicular to a 1.25″ dowel? It takes a forstner bit, a band saw, and a mortising machine. I’m pretty excited to see how this works out on an actual project.

bookmark_borderArmrest Coaster

Some months ago, we got a new sofa and comfy chair for the den. These pieces are very rectangular, and go nicely with the Mid-Century Modern look of the den, but it’s very tempting to rest your drink on the armrest while you’re sitting in them, which would be unwise since that drink is likely to sweat or spill onto the upholstery. I’ve seen little table-like structures that sit on the arm of a couch, and I figured, “I am a woodworker, and I don’t need to pay those prices for somebody else to make this for me.” Behold!

Coaster, armrest-type, from walnut
Walnut Armrest Coaster

I had a walnut board in the garage, left over from some project long ago. The corners are miter-cut, and I managed to keep track of the pieces well enough that you can see the grain flow around the bend. The corner joinery is reinforced with splines, also from walnut). You can see that I had a difficult time getting all this glued up, because of the blotches in the linseed oil finish.

This was a pretty-good fast project, only taking a few hours over the weekend. I may wind up making a couple more of these.

bookmark_borderFrom Progress to Project

I managed to get all the joinery and tuning done on Friday, making this project complete. Here is the complete “Breakdown Bench”.

Breakdown Bench
This is the completed and assembled bench.

It’s pretty solid, given how tight some of the joinery came out. It still comes apart, though. I need to sand some of these pieces a bit, and maybe add some sealer, but otherwise, it’s done.

Pieces of the breakdown bench.
The completed bench, disassembled.

I wound up cutting the mortises on the benchtop pieces by drilling through and then cutting with a jig saw. This gave me the basic through- holes, then I tuned them with a rasp and a file.