Olly Writes

Woodwork, writing, walks, DIY and more!

Sliding Towards the Finish

While I haven’t had much time on the bookshelf since Monday, I did manage to get all the sliding dovetail housings cut for the shelves on Tuesday afternoon. Then, yesterday, in the evening, I made some attempts toward sanding all internal faces and applying the first coats of finish…

Before this job, I had never tackled a sliding dovetail joint on this sale. Back in December, I did something very similar with the stretcher rails on a dining table but, those rails were less than 100mm wide. David Charlesworth’s first book (Furniture-Making Techniques Vol.1) covers an intriguing approach to cutting the housings, where they are slightly tapered along their length, so as to prevent the joint from “stopping short” once the glue is on and you’re trying to hammer it home… Maybe I’ll attempt that in the future (depending on how this one goes!!) but, here, I’ve kept all the housings parallel, with both pairs of fingers crossed, just in case! Back in 2008, I’d begun building a purpose-made jig for this. But, as I’ve since changed the design and now require only two housings in each side, I set out some lines and stuck a scrap of MDF on with double-sided tape, to act as a guide.

Routing the dovetail housings.

Two tips for routing a dovetail housing – remove most of the waste first with a straight cutter, narrower than the thinnest part of the dovetail cutter you intend to use (this greatly reduces the amount of work being asked of your dovetail cutter and saves it from stress and over-heating, etc.)

Secondly, if you’re fortunate enough to have such a luxury, get two routers and set one up with each of these cutters. It’ll greatly improve the efficiency and accuracy of the joint (particularly if you have two of the same model or, both bases are of equal diameter).

It is also very important that you do not release the plunge lock once you’ve finished cutting with the dovetail bit (otherwise, you’ll ruin the housing at one end)! Instead, switch off and slide the router back carefully to withdraw. On my Makita 3612CX, you could lock the plunge setting using the built-in fine height-adjuster; meaning that, even after releasing the plunge lock, the cutter cannot pop back up. Doing this does put your permanently exposed cutter at risk, should you drop it or catch it against something on your bench. This is why I like to use that same roll of double-sided tape as a temporary router stand! 😉

How to protect your dovetail cutters!

Before cutting the pins, I needed to flatten these boards and remove some of the excess glue. I really wish I head a small drum sander but, a portable belt sander with a 120g sheet works well enough for me. I don’t normally bother with dust extraction on this tool though, I was surprised to discover how efficient it is, without the usual clouds of dust you get from using a dust bag.

Note the Cable Clamp on my shoulder.

Once you’ve squared up the ends of your shelves, you could make a fairly simple jig that sits on top of one end (with the work held vertically in a vice) and rout the ‘pins’ with a single pass of each face. I prefer to do this on the router table though, with another simplistic jig that keeps the timber supported vertically and, thanks to a sacrificial back strip, prevents breakout at the rear. I’m also using the same dovetail cutter that was used previously to cut the housings.

It takes a bit of time and care to get the fence set in the correct position but, as long as you keep your hands well away from the bit, I find this works very well. I didn’t got for as tight a fit as I have done with the dovetails used to join the carcase corners; instead, the fits is slightly loose, which will hopefully allow for a little glue without any further trouble(!).

Cutting the 'Male' part of the joint.

That was all pretty smooth and didn’t require a lot of messing about – unlike Wednesday evening, when I attempted to spray on a coat of lacquer…

After sanding all the inner surfaces (both faces of the shelves) with my Bosch orbital sander, I wanted to apply a coat of sanding sealer; partly for protection, but also, because it make glue-removal easier and also means the excess cannot stain the wood. All mating parts were taped of with masking tape and I chose to apply the first coat of sealer with a cloth (I hate cleaning brushes!!). I apologise for the lack of photos documenting this, but I’m using a water-based Acrylic Sanding Sealer from Chestnut, for the very first time. I bought this back in 2008 and they do warn that the liquid tends to thicken over time – that certainly matched my first impressions! So, I added a little water for dilution and to make the application easier.  The sealer went on okay and, being water-based, it certainly gives off far less of a ‘stink’ than the cellulose-based products I’ve used in the past. With that though, comes one major downside – the finish becomes ‘touch dry’ in about twenty-minutes but, Chestnut advise you to wait two whole hours before sanding or applying additional coats (still, that’s nothing compared to an oil finish).

One coat of sealer was enough for the inside but I then wanted to spray on a coat of Acrylic Lacquer, which meant bringing my spray gun down (Earlex HV5000), which hasn’t seen any action since September. I was surprised to find that must have cleaned it thoroughly before I last put it away (that’s far from what I usually would do…). Like the sealer, this lacquer also needed thinning before I could start spraying. Yet, even with my largest nozzle (2.5mm) inserted, I was having to stop regularly to clear the gun from blockages! This entailed pouring all the lacquer back out in to a jar, then filling the can up with water and spraying that through the gun until the lacquer was no longer visible. I was still sitting at this stage for most of this morning (…after several hours sleep, of course!).

Very time-consuming, to say the least!! I’m now seeing the disadvantages of spraying in a small workshop and may look toward alternative solutions – in fact, I feel a rant coming on in a future post this weekend!

Back to more positive goings-on…

While searching for drawer material for this project, I was fortunately able to find a length of cherry just wide enough to give me the front in one piece. It’s not the most attractive board of all the offcuts I have but, it is really the only one from which I could get the whole front in one full width. Picking out some timber for the sides has given me greater concern. I don’t have enough sycamore to do it as most of what I have is reserved for another piece. Tulipwood, I have plenty of. It would offer a light contrast against the cherry but, I don’t think it offers the right sense of ‘quality’… I’m not concerned by its softness or lack of durability as I intend to add drawer slips anyway. At college, I’ve got a load of 2in ash and I may have to have a look next week [after Easter] to see what’s not going in to my chair.

I have made a decision on the drawer base and I finally cut in to this length of air-dried chestnut, which I bought at the Yandles woodworking show, back in September 2008! I cut off a 2ft length and ran it through my bandsaw to produce two equal leaves. Being 1in thick (26-27mm – minus 2mm for the saw kerf), I should be able to achieve a 6mm finished thickness without much trouble. There was no other way around it; I’m going to have to book-match the drawer bottom as nothing else would give me the width in one hit. I would really like to have used cedar here but, I can’t afford to buy or store any more wood right now. One day though, I’ll own a whole stash of cedar; something akin to my current mountain of English oak! 😀 Now, what to do with that other 5ft of that chestnut…

Chestnut for the drawer base.

Tomorrow, I should be able to start bashing this together with some glue (fingers crossed!!). 🙂

Thanks for reading.

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