I have been building a new version of the Melanie table…..for Melanie. The first one I made was made many years ago when I first started out. It seated six. Then, a few years later, when they had moved house I made a larger version to seat eight. Now the latest table will seat ten . It is big…really big.
I use hand tools for the final fit and finish for a good reason.
In this case it was my trusty Clifton 410 shoulder rebate plane. It is one of the first tools I bought and, although it is not used daily, there are certain jobs it excels at. It is a simple, well made piece of kit and would I recommend it as part of every furniture maker’s tool kit.
Last week I delivered the 11 benched I designed and made for York Art Gallery. The Gallery reopens in August after a huge 2 year redevelopment project. I have made two designs for different uses but they had to compliment each other.
The project has occupied a lot of time and space over the last few months so it is good, but also a bit strange, to no longer have them in the workshop.
Here are some images of the work over the last few months. I will post the images of the finished benches later.
This week I spent a lot of time hand shaping bench backs for a large seating project. If I could find a faster, less back breaking method to complete this task I probably would. However, the feel of the hand finished piece has slight imperfections, undulations, which add to rather than detract from the overall feel.
The meat of the material was removed on the band-saw with the table set at a jaunty angle. The cut was as tight as I dared to the final thickness. This leaves me a flat, rough, angled surface, which I then have to shape into a beautiful, smooth curved surface. First of all I use the belt sander where I can, to remove material quickly down to the lines I scribed in with my custom scratch stocks.
Then the hard work really starts. The remaining wood is removed with rasps. I use a pair of really good quality, hand-stitched rasps of different coarseness. The roughing out is done with a number 3 rasp, called a hog, and then a finer number 9 is used to tidy up. This leaves me with the final shape although not the final finished surface. The next stage is smoothing everything off with a cabinet scraper and another bucket load of elbow grease.
The final step is sanding followed by a visit to the osteopath.
Sometimes the only way to carry out a process is to make your own tools. When making the hooped seat backs for the ‘Alice Chair’, I need to create a reference point within the structure so that when shaping the interior face I know when to stop. I achieve this by using a scratch stock .
A scratch stock is a very simple piece of kit used to create very fine decorative details near to or on an edge. The details are literally scratched in with a sharp, profiled bit of metal held in place a set distance from the edge in a handle. The problem I have is that the edge surface I run my scratch stock on is both curved in plan shape and profile.
Having tried and failed to use a standard scratch stock, I have now made my own custom ones to do the job. Like so many tools in cabinet making it is very simple, yet when used with skill is highly effective.
You can’t have a workshop without trestles and you never seem to have enough of them. I use them for so many things from supporting large planks (when cutting them up) to stacking components when machining and creating (with an addition of a piece of ply ) a set up table. So, the new workshop, new trestles – I have made them to the same height and design as the first ones I made, whilst training 10 years ago. I still have those original trestles and they have been in continuous use. The amount of weight they can take is incredible, I have loaded them up with piles of boards whilst sifting through to find the right piece and I haven’t heard a single creak. I reckon they should last me out, but I still need a few more.
The last few weeks have been a bit full on moving into a new workshop. Floors have been laid, machines moved and installed and there are still many more jobs left to do. However, I am finally up and running again. First job is to get ready for Made London.
Here are the contents of one of my tool chests – it looks a tad chaotic but it makes sense to me. Knowing where everything is really helps to speed things up in the workshop but that does depend on putting things away in the right place. As my tool kit is always being added to as new making problems arise, I sort my tools by category rather than having a specific place for each tool.
A few weeks ago we were in Bude doing a spot of shopping and decided to pop into a small shop called ‘Shabby ‘n’ Chic’ on the Parade. It sells all sorts of vintage household items as well as things like home made cushions and bunting. On the floor there was an old wooden box, containing the mixed remnants of a tool kit. I rummaged through and found a few old wooden moulding planes.
These traditional tools were used for creating decorative mouldings and have now been largely replaced by the router and spindle moulder. They still have their uses in cleaning up shaped work but are no longer part of the standard tool box for many woodworkers. This means you can often find them second hand at reasonable prices. After inspecting the ones in the box I found one in really decent condition. £5.
I really like old tools for their detailing and general appearance. They often have the name of the original owner stamped into them and have a sense of history. A lot of old tools are bought for the decorative value and end up sitting on shelves in themed pubs or interiors so buying one to actually use in a workshop as a tool felt a bit like rescuing it.
It set me thinking on how I might I might use it in my practice and I have started to design and make a piece where Iam using it to create a textured surface.