New Project: End table

The Wood

I recently bought some second hand red oak, about 100 bf. Most of it is 12/4 stock, 5 1/2″ wide and 40″ long, and about 25 6/4, 4″ x 25″ pieces. All of it is rough cut and had been stored in someone’s garage for 15 years so it was in need of quite a bit of attention before it can be used. There was one nail which I think I extracted whole, so I’m going to have to pay close attention to make sure there are no more nails embedded as I go.

I’ve been trying to decide what to do with the hoard. I’d like to build a new bench as the current one isn’t even remotely flat, but is made of particle board, but that’s a project for another day. In the meantime, I’d like to do something a little less elaborate. We do need some end tables for our couch. There are a few design considerations.

  • It needs to be something I’m capable of, but still stretches my skills
  • It needs to be capable of standing up to my two children climbing on it. This will most definitely be a test!

Seeing as I’ve got the wood, but not yet had a design I began milling the boards up, all of the 6/4 stock and 4 of the 12/4 stock. There’s a ton of information out there about how to mill wood ready for your project, but I recommend watching “The Jointers Jumping” at the Woodwhisperer.

The 12/4 stock is quite difficult to handle due to it’s weight. I’ve only got a 6″ jointer. The in feed and out feed tables are only about 24″ long so I can just about joint two edges without it tipping off the end of the out feed. Unfortunately I found some staples the hard way when my planer finished working the opposite side. I’ve now got a couple of dings in my planer blades. Not a major issue, just a little frustrating as now anything I run through it will have little ridges on the surface. Still I managed to get all the stock milled I needed.

I noticed there was some stock which was significantly paler than the red oak, which may well be white oak. I’ve decided to incorporate them into the table tops, by sandwiching the red oak with the paler white oak, hopefully making an appealing visual affect.

Design

Sketchup has been used by woodworkers for several years since Google acquired it. I think this is mostly because it’s the first time that a CAD program has been available to woodworkers for the low low price of free. Google has since sold Sketchup to Trimble. For the time being Sketchup has remained free to use. One of the powerful features of Sketchup is it’s ability to interface with other custom programs. Most notable for woodworkers is Cutlist. This allows you to generate a list of the different parts for the project. It’s fairly easy to pick up the basics. It can also be handy if you’ve got sheet goods to cut up as it maps the parts out on the sheet.

My experience is that it’s easiest to design individual components as separate files, and then import them into your main project. This allows you to create the objects without being distracted by the overall design. I prefer to create an overall design, then almost start from scratch once I’ve got the components I need. The other thing I’ve discovered is that when you want to make a profile on an edge, it’s much easier to create the profile in 2D, then use the push/pull tool to then extrude the part.

So here is the design I’ve come up with so far:

Drawbored Joinery?

The next question I have is whether to drawbored or not. This method of ensuring a mortise and tenon doesn’t come apart has been used for centuries.  Pros:

  • Adds strength to a joint I’m not at all versed in producing. As I mentioned, my kids are going to climb all over this thing. Not because I want them to, I just know my kids!
  • It can add a level of detail here, especially if I use contrasting woods. It’s common to see ebony used in joinery for this reason.

Cons:

  • This is another technique I don’t know that I’m going to have to learn.

Given that I wanted to learn more techniques when building this table, this con isn’t.

I had considered putting a 5 degree angle on the legs for the table to add a level of stability. However, adding complicated angles to mortise and tenon joinery isn’t on the cards this time round I don’t think. I need to perfect making mortise and tenons first! Maybe if I find this is too top heavy and falls over too easily I’ll re-consider.

Final detail

The final detail which isn’t on my sketchup is the method for holding the table top onto the frame. Wood is a natural product, and is designed to draw water into itself when it gets wet, and in so doing wood can often move and change shape, and has a tendency to move more across the width of the grain than along it. If a wide plank, like my table top is subjected to changes in humidity and temperature then there could be significant forces being applied which can result in a project tearing itself apart. So with the table top this needs to be taken into account. My current solution is to allow the table top to float by adding cleats underneath which are then screwed into the table top, and slots cut in the aprons on the sides. This will allow for movement in the wood, whilst holding the piece in place. This would be the cheapest method as I have screws, and I can cut slots in the aprons with a router before putting it all together. I’ve seen other people cut the slots with a biscuit joiner.

Another method is to attach figure 8 shaped pieces of metal to the tops of the aprons. These have elongated holes in them which allows the screws to move. This is probably the easiest method, if I can find the right parts.

The final way I’ve come up with, is to drill an elongated hole through the aprons. I’m not keep on this for several reasons, mostly because drilling through the apron could be problematic, but also it’s a little ugly.

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Craftex CT052 tool review

Craftex CT052
I’ve only cut a couple of sets of dovetails with the jig, but enough to give an overview of set up etc. Until now I’ve not attempted cutting dovetails in any other way, with power tools or by hand.

This is a review of the Craftex CT052 dovetail jig. It is designed to accommodate pieces up to 12″ in size. I got mine on special offer from Busybee Tools for $80 (+tax) CAD.

The Craftex CT154 can go up to 24″ and is available for $189 (+tax) CAD, although at the time of writing there was a $20 off sale.

Both these jigs allow you to cut both pins and dovetails at the same time on the same pass.

Some people online have commented that whilst they may own a cheap dovetail jig, they’ve usually hated the things for some reason. It maybe because they have found them difficult to set up, or they are not very flexible. Having watched the video (see the link below), I found the set up pretty easy. I would however agree that they aren’t very flexible.

Out of the box
Out of the box a minimal amount of assembly is required. There are two clamp levers that need installing, and two thumb screws on the side. When you screw the clamp levers on, make sure you screw them in the right way round so that when the clamps are applied the long handles don’t obscure your work. (Which is what I did when I first put it together). The thumb screws on the side prevent the template gantry from moving during routing.

There are a number of templates available usually for around the $25 CAD mark, but it comes with a 1/2″ blind dovetail template already installed.

Build quality
The body is made from steel, and has quite a bit of weight to it. There are two holes in the metal at the back feet you can screw onto you bench or into a piece of plywood. The feet aren’t big enough to use to clamp the jig to the bench. That said, I’ve used the jig a couple of times and I’ve not really noticed movement to be a massive problem. The only time the jig moved was during the initial scoring cut, where you’re moving laterally across your stock.

There are a number of plastic parts which are for the most part fine. My only gripe on this front are the four stop blocks used to place the pieces in the jig. They are made of plastic, when they really should have been made of aluminum or steel. They are such an integral part where accuracy is needed. That said they are fine for now. I might replace them later if I really see a need.

Set up
Confession: I’ve not read the manual. I did watch the video (see the link below) and found that to be an awesome guide. Mark Eaton from BusyBees does a good job of walking you through the set up. I don’t have set up bars that Mark uses, but a 1/4″ and 1/2″ drill bit do a good enough job of getting everything in the right place.

My only criticism of the video is that during the setup half, it doesn’t discuss the fence at all. The fence is only mentioned very briefly at the very end of the video.

I do like Mark’s phrase for ensuring your router bit is set to the right depth:
“Heighten to tighten, Lower to Loosen”
If your dovetails are not tight enough, raise the router bit. Too tight, lower it. As with all jigs, some test cuts are needed to get things right.

Cutting my first set
I positioned the two pieces of stock in the clamps, vertical pieces first. There is a little frustration in positioning the vertically mounted pieces. Gravity has a way of taking hold! Mount the vertical pieces first, tweaking the screws on the clamp to hold the pieces in place before locking the clamp down. If you are doing a small box/drawer you will find that you can only mount the short pieces in the vertical mounts. My test pieces had a 5″ side, which is too short to go in the horizontal mounts.

The video recommends doing a gentle scoring cut on both work pieces first to help with tear out. I don’t know if it was the cheap pine I was using, or I didn’t do enough of a score, or it’s the jig, but I found a little tear out on the right hand side of both sides of the cuts. More attempts will with harder wood may tell.

Having cut the first set of pins and tails I removed them from the jig and noticed my first problem. The fit was tight enough that I needed to use a mallet to push the pieces together (perhaps a little too tight as it might squeeze all the glue from the joint).

As I’d been following the video, and didn’t really understand what the fence was for, my tails were cut too deep, resulting in the tails sinking too deep into the box by just under 1/8″. This resulted in me sanding off the extraneous tails. Not a problem with a box, but if your drawer needs to fit in gap, you’ll be 1/4″ too narrow. Once you’ve done one test cut, you can see how much you need to move the fence by and then use setup bars (or in my case, drill bits) to help with that placement.

I then made the mistake of not watching which way round I was putting the vertical pieces back into the jig, and cut the pins the wrong way round, resulting in a question mark shaped “box”. Lesson learned.

I also found that one of the stops on the left hand side of my jig was not in quite the right place, resulting in a step between the two pieces. So I wouldn’t have been able to complete my first box anyway.

Second cut
I went back through the very easy set up of the left hand side of the jig, and proceeded to make my second set of cuts. Everything went smoothly although again there was a little tear out on the right hand side – which makes me think it’s my technique and will probably be resolved with practice.

The resulting box (which I have glued up, but not taken pictures of) is square without any need to tweak the joints. I did note that the second cut was far looser than the first. So much so I was very surprised when it came out square first time!

Reflections
Dust collection – none. I was sprayed with pine fibers from head to toe. It wouldn’t be hard to create a shroud around the jig. I might make one if I find myself using it a lot. There’s no point in putting a shroud on the tool itself as you need to use a guide bushing, and the router rides on the template meaning there’s very limited air flow.

Quick to set up. I managed it with the video guidance in an hour or so if you include the time to reset the left hand guide blocks.

It is very limited. You can only cut even spaced 1/2″ dovetails. This can mean the edge of your project can have half a pin exposed on one of the corners. This means you either put up with it (or arrange it so all the halves are concealed in some way), or design your project with this in mind.

Conclusions
Generally I like the jig.

  • It was very easy to set up.
  • You can cut both pins and tails at the same time making work very quick. This adds to the limitations of the jig, but at the moment it suits me.
  • The video is worth its weight in gold. It gave me a lot of confidence to try to fix things when they didn’t quite fit.

That said, it is very limited (see above):

  • I wish the setup blocks were not made of plastic. Otherwise the build is of reasonable quality given the cost.
  • You can only cut half-inch, evenly spaced, half blind dovetails – which means there is a tendency to design the work around the jig.
  • If you don’t already have a half-inch dovetail bit, and a 7/16ths outside diameter guide bushing. I happened to already have both of those so I wasn’t more out-of-pocket than the $80 I spent.

What next?
I might actually have to read the manual.

I’m going to build a few boxes with hard wood. I’ve got some cherry and birch which I can play with. I see small boxes for my family for Christmas on the horizon.

Related links:
Instruction video
Craftex CT052 at Busybee Tools
Craftex CT154 at Busybee Tools