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Arts of Japan series : case construction part 3

Posted by Dave Bull at 2:31 AM, March 29, 2012 [Permalink]

Time to snatch a few minutes and put up a blog update ... Lee-san has just gone home after another three days of work here, and I have a few minutes to myself. We still don't have a finished sample case to show everybody, but we've pushed things forward quite a bit. Actually, we've spent the past three days up to our neck in alligators ... one problem after another, and we're getting quite proud of our ability to shoot them away as they rise up to bite us!

This tool, we have had no problem with at all - a beautiful (and powerful) Hitachi router. Lee is putting a straight face on each board before starting the work of ripping the stock to the widths we need:

We then hit the first of the major problems. I wrote a few days ago on the Mokuhankan Conversations blog about the problems with the table saw, and how I jury-rigged a set-up to cut rabbets on it. That worked basically OK, but given that we have 200 cases to make, both Lee and I thought that we should bite the bullet and order a proper router table for that kind of work. So I browsed around, and ignoring the Chinese junk models, ordered a nice Bosch table. Good brand name, solid metal top, etc. etc. What could go wrong?

Everything. Google, are you listening? Current model Bosch tools are junk! Repeat: Bosch = junk! (Am I bitter? Not much ...)

We opened the package and started inspecting it, laying a straight edge on the table itself:


And here's a view looking horizontally along the table (click for closeup):

It looks like the runways of Sendai Airport after the earthquake last year! So back in the box it went, straight back to the supplier ... Time for Plan B. Lee-san and I have now lost our faith in ordering anything, so we looked around to see what we could use to build our own. Here's a little TV flashback to 1994, sitting with my father in the Gallery Takano, in Shinjuku:

That little black table! Solid frame, sturdy legs ... and I still have it!

I dug it out of storage, and a couple of hours later, we had it outfitted with reinforcement panels on top, a mitre gauge slot, embedded nuts for attaching our featherboards, and a place to mount the router:

... which of course goes in from the underside:

You'll see this 'new' table (which in our first testing worked very well indeed), in plenty of photos in the coming weeks!

Once Lee got a pile of stock ripped to width - enough for a first test run of 20 cases - he began cutting rabbets and slots, using a combination of our jury-rigged table saw ...

... and our new router table:

And the results look pretty good.

By the time he left this evening, he had done all the rabbeting on this batch, and the first job waiting when he returns next week will be to cut the slots for the base in all the side pieces, fronts and backs. We'll then begin to make the first assembly of the basic 'carcass' of each case.

In the meantime, I got busy with the job of building a batch of case 'tops'. None of our lumber is wide enough to make a top in a single piece, and we don't want to try that anyway, as such pieces would almost certainly warp, so we're building them up from smaller bits. I took a batch of the paulownia pieces that Lee had put a straight edge on, and worked out what bits of them we could use for the tops, avoiding knots, bad grain, etc. etc. 'Unfortunately', Lee-san had the table saw pretty much tied up, so the only tool available for me was the one visible in this photo ...

A few (sweaty) hours later, I had a nice pile of pieces cut to rough length, and ripped to width:

A hand saw doesn't leave a nicely finished edge of course, so I dressed them all on our belt sander:

Unfortunately, the 'bed' of the belt sander has a slight arch in it (I'm not making this up you know - every single one of those Chinese tools has 'deal killer' level defects...) so all the pieces had to be given a final dressing with a sanding stick before they would fit together properly:

I then matched them all up with suitable mates for gluing up to make tops (I'm laying up sections wide enough to cut two case tops):

I roll a thin layer of glue evenly on each piece (trying to avoid squeeze-out as much as possible):

... then clamp them all together, and - with a little help from old friend Fraser MacPherson - keep them flat while the glue dries.

It's going pretty slowly - a lot slower than I had wanted - as we're spending very little time actually cutting wood ... most of the time being spent in building tools and rigging jigs. The second - and subsequent - batches should move along much more quickly we think ...


Following comment posted by: Tom Kristensen on March 30, 2012 7:11 AM

I am also looking at buying a table saw and router table for making boxes and after your account I am now even more worried about making a choice. From my reading of the excellent Australian woodwork forum it seems as though all of these tools require "set up" before they can be used, but some are irredeemable as you have discovered. Building your own router table is a common solution:

I am thinking about using a jig for making finger joints and have settled on the Gifkins jig, nice Youtube video here:

Following comment posted by: Dave on March 30, 2012 8:15 AM

even more worried about making a choice ...

I can see - at present - only one way to go for outfitting a workshop, but it is unfortunately not available to me. Find a guy who is retiring, and buy his stuff, the whole kit 'n kaboodle. Convince him that you are the guy who can 'take care' of his tools, and that you will give them a good home.

Over in North America, I think this solution might be practical, because so many people have a home workshop. Here in Japan, home workshops simply don't exist, so such chances will be very few and far between ...

As for the 'set-up', we did expect to have to spend quite some time getting the Bosch router table set up nice and flat (after reading forums before making the purchase), but fixing that mess was completely out of reach for us, so back it went. I now regret not carefully inspecting the other tools when they first arrived, and doing the same with them (sending them back). Who on earth would sell a table saw with slots on the table that don't line up with the (non-adjustable) blade? Or a sander with an arched (non-adjustable) bed? Or a band saw with an off-center (non-adjustable) guide wheel? (Sorry to go on about this stuff again ...) :-(

Good luck with your purchases, Tom!

And while we're talking about home workshops, have you seen this one? There are three pages of photos and a video tour ... Read, and weep!

Following comment posted by: Tom Kristensen on March 30, 2012 9:07 AM

I sense a yawning chasm before me, do I plunge into become a woodworker who makes a print when time permits. I could spend the rest of my life just building a workshop. I would happily pay someone to make boxes for me, if I could find the right person. Maybe I need to find that guy who is just about to retire...

Following comment posted by: Dave on March 30, 2012 10:27 AM

makes a print when time permits ...

Story of my life!

There's a balance, obviously. For these few months, I am clearly way too far over on the 'wrong' side, and I certainly hope (plan) to get back full time to my bench as soon as possible.

But I also readily admit that if I were a 'full time' carver/printer, I would perhaps not be so happy. It's not that I would get 'bored' I think - I'm no kid anymore - but having all these other jobs to do - programming, planning, website, etc. etc. - does keep the whole thing from getting stale.

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