10 October 2014

On woodworking: The easiest thing I know how to make, conclusion.

 And now, the pieces. I'll quickly outline some ways to make the pieces.

First, buy some.

Not the worst idea, but, on the other hand, if you were into buying things, you wouldn't be making this chequerboard. So, onto the next suggestion.

Second, cut up a dowel

This is a simple way to make the pieces. Get a one inch diameter dowel, or an old broom handle as I did in the pictures, and start cutting off quarter or 5/16 inch slices. It is helpful if you have a cheap mitre box for this. I used my old bench hook as a stand in in the photos, but the idea is the same.

First, put a stop block the thickness of a piece plus a hair away from the right angle cut slot.

Next, put dowel up against the stop block.

Then cut.


Sand both sides to smooth. Repeat another twenty three times.  Get a dark stain or the paint from the board and colour half of them. Done.

Third: Ah, this is a bit more involved.

Background: I used to do more craft shows and bazaars than I do now. I used to make wooden toys for them, until a lawyer friend of mine told me that selling wooden toys was a good way to get sued by people whose kids were dumb enough to try and eat a truck. And no, he would not represent me pro bono if I ran into trouble, and no, I would not hand out his card to my clients.

So I stopped making toys en masse, though I still make them for my own kids. I was left with a bunch of toy parts, especially wheels. Wheels were something I made on days when I didn't have anything specific happening in the shop as something to do and as a way of getting rid of those little pieces of wood that just start taking over eventually. Every now and then I would spend a day making scrap wood into wheels, because I always needed more wheels. Until I didn't.So, when I first started making the chequerboards, I started using up the smallest of the old wheels.

So, to make the pieces you need to make some wheels. Here's how.

You need these.

Tools shown here are a drill, a 1-1/8 inch hole saw, a saw, a plane, and a nut and bolt with a couple of washers.  Not shown: some sandpaper.

Get some scrap wood (The pieces I used for this I literally pulled from the garbage pile.) Clamp it down.

Start drilling from one side. Be careful, the hole saw heats up and smokes. use a low speed, and pull the hole saw often to clear the kerf of sawdust. Do not touch the hole saw with your bare hand after it has been used. Only drill through until the tip of the drill bit breaks through the other side.

Flip over, and drill again. Line up the drill bit with the exit holes.

Out it comes.

This is why you don't drill through all the way from one side: The wheel you just cut would be stuck up inside the hole saw, rather than mostly sticking out as it is here.

The standard wood around here is 2/4 of an inch thick. This is too thick for a checker piece. So, clamp it in something that can hold it tight,

and cut it in half. Eyeball it. Accuracy isn't important yet.

Now to make them all a uniform thickness. Get a piece of wood and use the hole cutter to drill out a piece of wood a quarter of an inch thick, then attach the wood to another block of wood that you can clamp somewhere.

Put the small wheels in the hole,

and plane them down. Don't go all the way on one side. Get started on one side, then flip the piece over and plane all the way down to flush on the other side.

Now the faces are smoothish and they are of a uniform thickness, but the edges are still rough. Not a problem. Get the bolt, the washers and the nut, and line up a few wheels on them, spacing them apart with the washers.

Chuck the bolt into the drill

And spin the wheels against some sandpaper.

I actually held the drill in one hand and the sandpaper in the other when I was actually doing it. Start out with a rough grit of sandpaper, then go up to some of the finer grades. Repeat until finished.

(I didn't do the full twenty four for this.  I still had some left over wheels from earlier years)

Colour the pieces as desired.

One of the reasons why I prefer the wheel over the cut dowel method is that the dowels will need some kind of container to hold them in, but the wheels allow you to string them together with some twine or an old shoelace. I just think it looks better.

And you're done.


Assuming I've already lost the tl;dr crowd, I'll just post a last few reflections.

I hope someone out there made it this far and found this to be of some use.I think what is best about this project is that it can be used an an introduction or a way to get started with some of the basic skills of the woodworker: measuring, marking, cutting, planing to a line, smoothing. Believe it or not, that is a very large part of woodworking right there. Whether you are making a small board or a large case, the basics don't change. Whether you use power tools or hand tools, it is the same. You measure, you mark, you cut, you bring to the line. It doesn't have to be a chequerboard for you to learning these basics. Every time you pick up your tools and set to work, you are creating not only work of wood, but also the opportunity to relearn and renew your understanding of the craft.

Part of the value of a little piece like this is that it offer an introduction into the art and it can be done before the new worker get discouraged or bored. One of the harder things to learn from my experience is how keep going. Big projects, and I've done a few, have what I like to call "the long middle". Starting a project is fun and exciting, a new venture into seemingly boundless possibilities. Ending a project is also wonderful, seeing all the hard work come together as your work takes its final form. Between the two points lie the long middle, where the excitement of setting out has faded, and the end is not yet in sight. As workers and craftsmen, it seems to me we live and die in the long middle. The way through, for me, is to enjoy the process, to love the time you have in your shop with your wood and your tools.

Most of woodworking is basic stuff repeated over and over. As proof of that, I offer you this, which I've been working around and has even crept into the edges of a few photos for this post.

It's an art cupboard/play station for my son. It's almost done, and, despite being badly photographed, it doesn't look too bad. I hope to have it painted and in his room in a few weeks. The whole thing, every last bit of it, is made with the same skills as it took to make the board: measure, mark, cut, plane, smooth, finish. That's all. The size of the piece, or the fact that it has more parts is irrelevant. Each piece became what it is now the same way- the exact same way- the other piece of wood became a chequerboard.

And so I leave you. I hope the man for whom I originally wrote this actually had a chance to read this despite my verbose and prolix style. I hope someone got something worthwhile from this.  I've only outlined a few of the most very basic of basics, but with some practice, a few basics can take you quite far.

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