June 21, 2011

Woodworking Class

Back in March, I mentioned that I would be starting a woodworking class in May. Well, that class is almost over, and I got something to show for it!

The class I was taking was the Basic Woodworking class at the Eliot School. The Eliot School is located in a quaint old building in Jamaica Plain, and they offer all kinds of interesting hands-on classes, like woodworking, upholstery (!), sewing and drawing. Inspired by my bentwood chair makeover, I decided to sign up for a woodworking class.

The project in the class was to make a box modeled on the Amish candle box. This type of box has a sliding lid and was originally meant to store candles away from bees. In class, we learned about different ways to saw wood, different kinds of wood, and how to use various cool power tools. We used a planer and a jointer to create smooth, parallel surfaces on a rough piece of lumber. We then used a chop saw to make some rough cuts in this six-foot-long piece of lumber. Between classes, we stacked the wood pieces with space in between in order to allow the wood to acclimate to the environment. We learned that the wood is always moving. It can expand and contract depending on temperature, absorb and release moisture depending on humidity, and warp in various ways.

To create more precise cuts to form the pieces of the box as detailed in our plan, we used the table saw. We also used the table saw to make dado joints (that have three sides), rabbet joints (that have two sides), and cuts at an angle to form the shape of the lid.

Dado joint
Rabbet joint
Lid of the box

All these cuts were made with the table saw
Once all the parts and joints were cut, it was time to sand the "inside" sides of the pieces and glue the joints together. This was a pretty complicated process that involved lots of clamps, a dry run (to make sure you have everything handy - once the glue is on the wood, it sets in 8 minutes, so not much room for error), and making sure all the parts align to form a rectangular box. Mine kept trying to be a trapezoid, but I beat it into submission.

After the glue was set, we had to fit the lid to the joints. For me, that meant two hours of sanding the lid down and using a hand planer to narrow the lid's width. Finally, the lid was able to slide into the corresponding dado joints, and it was time to put the dowels in. The dowels are meant to reinforce the rabbit joints. First, we used the drill press to make holes on the side, and then we inserted the dowels. The tops of the dowels had to be cut off with a manual saw, and then sanded down. We then sanded the entire outside of the box and cleaned it with denatured alcohol. Unfortunately, alcohol opens up the grain of the wood, making it somewhat rough. We had two options to seal the wood - either with linseed oil (to darken the wood a bit) or with wax (leaving the wood light). I chose the linseed oil, and I'm quite happy with the results. I'm still planning to go over the wood with some sort of polyurethane coating (or a less stinky alternative) to make the surfaces smoother. Anyway, here is the finished product.

Candle box with sliding lid

Note the dowels on the sides

Here it is, with the lid open
The box is about 14 inches long, and is wide enough to fit CDs. I'm not sure what I will use it for, but right now I am just proudly admiring my first woodworking project!