Gye Greene's Thoughts

Gye Greene's Thoughts (w/ apologies to The Smithereens and their similarly-titled album!)

Saturday, September 14, 2013

Woodworking not knitting

Every Friday morning, I take the kids to their before-school tennis lesson, which lasts a half hour.

For the first semester, I'd sit there and read. Reading is fine:  I enjoy reading.  But I read on the bus for an hour each workday, so I don't need more reading.  What I need is more shop time...


Starting Friday, August 16, I started bringing along a small tool kit and two pieces of wood -- and I work on the wood.  I use one of the benches next to the tennis court as a workbench.

There are three different styles of benches next to the tennis court.  There's a pair of wooden benches which aren't suitable as workbenches because they each have a lip (indicated by the red circles) across the front of the seat, and also across the top of the back, which get in the way of clamping.

Similarly, the seats and backs on the aluminum benches aren't solid.  Instead, the back is hollow, with a lip all the way around:  again, this gets in the way of clamping.

So, I use this one.  It's clearly seen better days -- which is an advantage, as people at the school would be less likely to worry about me damaging the bench than if it was beautiful.  And it has an open structure, which allows me to clamp the boards I'm working on to the back and to the seat. For example, it's easy to pass my clamps through the gaps between the slats of the seat.

Here's one of the boards I'm working on, in the position I would clamp it when I'm (eventually!) ready to dovetail it.

Here's the position of my workpiece when I'm jointing the edge.  Ideally the wood would be perfectly vertical, and the top would be horizontal.  Instead, it's tilted towards me -- so when I'm using my handplane I have to adjust for that.

The red arrows (photo above, photo below) indicate the direction of handplaning.  You can also see how I butt the workpiece up to the concrete leg, which serves as a planing stop.  The concrete leg is sunk into the earth -- so there is no movement of my "workbench" whatsoever.

Below is how I clamp battens or stops to the seat of the bench, and then butt the workpiece against that.  I'm using a scrub plane to clean up and flatten the surface.

This next photo shows the workpiece pulled away from the battens, so you can see their positioning.  It also shows the towel a bit better.  The towel is mostly symbolic:  it signals that I'm taking steps to not damage the bench, and it also serves as visual contrast to show that my workpiece is separate from the park bench -- that is, that I'm **not** hacking away at the bench itself.

As you can see from this next photo, the bench isn't an optimal working height for some tasks.  Actually, for scrub planing the faces of the boards, I usually sit on the curb (upon which my left foot is standing).  When I'm jointing the edges of the boards (see earlier photos), the workpiece is actually at a comfortable height.

Here's a closer look at the wood that I'm working on.  They are two pieces, cut from a longer piece of hardwood that I found in my back yard (I forget exactly where) about five years ago.  I balanced it on a pile of bricks, unsheltered, and re-discovered it a few weeks before starting this project.  It's part of my wife's grandfather's legacy:  they used to own the property where we live, so there are piles of rusty metal, abandoned car parts, and stashes of 50-100 year old lumber here and there.

I'm cleaning up the surfaces, flattening the faces and jointing the edges (i.e. making them perpendicular to the faces).  Then I'll rip the boards in half to create bookmatched pairs (i.e. open the boards like a book, and the wood grain on the inside surfaces should mostly match each other).  These will eventually be the sides of a rustic-looking tool caddy.

And here's my stash of tools.  The specific contents will vary with the task.  Currently the caddy holds three clamps, the two wooden battens, a scrub plane, and some layout and marking tools (e.g. trysquare, grease pencils), plus my homemade plane-adjusting hammer.  When it's time to rip (resaw) the boards, I'll add a marking gauge, and carry my rip saw by hand; when it's time to dovetail, I'll swap in a backsaw, a bevel gauge and a marking knife.

And what am I building?  A tool caddy, similar to the one above but with more capacity.  It will serve as a portable, self-contained "dovetailing a box" kit -- with tools for scrubbing/surfacing, simple jointing, rabbeting, layout, and dovetailing.

It's somewhat recursive, I realize:  dragging a tool kit around and spending many hours to make...  a portable tool kit to drag around.  But I figure I have twelve more years of childrens' tennis lessons, soccer lessons, and etcetera.  I figure as long as there's a park bench, picnic table, or bleachers nearby, I can set up shop.  "Downtime" becomes "shop time".

My aim is to work on this project only during tennis lessons, and see how long it takes me. 

So far it's been working well. As I mentioned above, my first Friday doing this was Friday, August 16.  I've logged four Fridays of progress, and things are coming along -- and I arrive at work each Friday with a slight buzz, having started off the day with some woodworking.

(Although:  I have to clock in a few minutes late, as I work up a slight sweat while woodworking.  So I sneak off to the downstairs showers and change into my work clothes, before formally starting my day.)

Unfortunately, I didn't get to do any "portable woodworking" yesterday:  Thursday night I helped The Lady grade a bunch of papers (urgh), so I didn't get to bed until about 2am.  So instead of bringing my tool kit Friday morning, I brought a green bath towel -- which I folded up and used as a pillow during the kids' tennis lesson.

My nap took place on a different park bench.


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