As I mentioned last week, I am absolutely terrible at getting projects completed on schedule and on time. I inevitably wait until the last possible second to start something, and usually wind up with an inferior product because of it. Sometimes that’s not the case, but more often than not it is. My greatest offense in recent months has been a large blanket chest that I started last August as a gift for two friends of mine who were getting married…in September. That chest is still incomplete as of this writing. How did it come to this? How has it been nearly a year, and the damn thing still isn’t done? Quite simple: Side projects and procrastination.
In the beginning…
Last year I was just getting started with my forays into woodworking. I had refurbished a few hand tools, learned to properly use a hand plane (or thought I had!), and was well on my way to acquiring all the tools I’d need to be able to make some amazing stuff. I felt good about life. Then I started looking for a house, where I could have all the space I’d ever need to make said amazing stuff. Great! Of course, the house hunt took time, and the work space I had in the house I was living in was shared space, so I didn’t always have use of it when I might want to. That’s part of living with other people, and it’s a normal part of life. I also had a lot of other things going on in my life. But that didn’t stop me.
When I found out that my buddy Chris was getting married, I decided that I wanted to make him a wedding gift that would be useful for many years. A blanket chest seemed an obvious choice. Sturdy, large, and practical, they also can look very nice when properly made. I found plans for one online that could be made (they said) entirely with hand tools. This was an important thing to me at the time, since I lacked any power tools that would be remotely useful in building something so large. (Not actually true, I own an electric drill, which could have been used, but I didn’t. More on that later.)
I read the plans, made my list of things to buy, and headed out to make the purchases.
I went out to my local home center and purchased several boards of clear 3/4″ thick white pine. Knowing what I now know about lumber, I probably could have gotten this for MUCH less money had I taken the time to just go to a local sawmill or lumberyard and bought it there. Sure, I’d have had more work to do in milling the boards down to size before I could use them, but I would have saved upwards of half the cost! I also ordered 2 different kinds of cut nails from Lee Valley, one in black oxide finish and bulky, for actually putting the chest together, and a pound of smaller, unfinished ones, to be used for attaching the battens and any molding that I would put on in the end (which didn’t happen, but we’ll get to that). I also ordered some hinges. The parts thus assembled, I got to work.
I took the boards I bought and glued them together along the edges to make larger panels that would form the sides, bottom, and top of the the chest. The ends were made from shorter lengths of the panels. Prior to gluing, I had to use my jointer plane on the edges of the boards to get them smoothed and straight for gluing. A couple of days and much Titebond III later, I had my panels.
The particular design I was making called for cutting rabbets on the ends and bottoms of both side panels to give the ends and bottom of the chest something to latch on to, helping with both stability after construction and increasing the ease of actually putting the chest together in the first place. To make them, I used a combination of a backsaw, chisels, a cheap shoulder plane, and a router plane for final clean up. Calling them “ugly” would be a massive understatement. They were awful. Rough, uneven, and out of square. But they were rabbets! I then used my backsaw, chisel, and router plane to cut the dadoes in the end panels. With all the joinery cuts completed, and still a month before the wedding, I figured I would have plenty of time to finish it. Boy, was I wrong.
Of course, me being me, lots of little stuff happened that prevented me from getting the chest done in time.
Okay, that’s a lie. I was lazy and didn’t work on it. The idea of putting such a huge piece together, all by myself, was intimidating. I’d never used cut nails before! What if I screwed up? I’d have to start over! What if I drilled wrong, what if I didn’t cut the molding right, what if, what if, what if?
I was paralyzed by that fear of failure. So much so, in fact, that I put the boards away in a stack and didn’t touch them again for almost 6 months. They stayed essentially put until spring. I kept giving Chris excuses, kept on apologizing. And Chris, being the awesome dude he is, just grinned and nodded. I’m pretty sure he figured he’d get the chest about the time he was getting ready to retire, and he was okay with that. He’s known me long enough to know how I operate, so I don’t think he was surprised when I didn’t have the chest done in time for his wedding. I know that I was disappointed in me, though.
Getting Into Gear
So early this spring, when I was finally moving into the house I’d bought, I deliberately put the boards out in the basement where I would have no choice but to look at them. They would be a constant reminder that, “Hey, you’ve got work to do!” And they were, but they didn’t have quite the effect I’d intended. Mostly what they did was take up space and cause me to curse the fact that I still hadn’t finished that damn chest. Finally, I got fed up and took the three hours one evening to put the whole case together. It required a lot of drilling (by hand, because I wanted to make this as much by hand as possible), hammering, clamping, and holding awkward positions, but I got the case together. (See my last post for a bit more about this whole saga.)
The Last Bits
Once the case was together, I sanded it smooth. No hand work this time, I used a power sander for sake of efficiency. Then it sat for another two weeks while I worked on some commissioned pieces and didn’t spend much other time in the shop. The only thing left to do was the lid. So last night I finished it. I chamfered the edges with a block plane, cut two battens out of a piece of 2×12 (using my band saw and planer to cut and mill them, because screw it, I’m running out of patience for this project!), then drilled the holes and nailed them to the lid. I clamped them on at first, then once the nails were driven I clenched them over with a few more hammer strokes. That way, even without glue the battens aren’t going anywhere, and seasonal wood movement won’t hurt anything. The pieces can all move freely, so hopefully nothing will crack.
Once the lid was finished, I sanded it, too. Then I went over the whole case and lid again with 2 more sanding passes. I had started with 80 grit, then moved up to 120 and 220 for the final pass. Once every surface was sanded, I pulled out my gloves, a rag, and my can of boiled linseed oil. Thirty minutes later, the lid and case were gleaming with a beautiful caramel glow. I put the rag outside on concrete to cure overnight after getting it wet with water (BLO can catch fire if you don’t have some way of removing the heat made by it curing). Then I showered and went to bed, exhausted but feeling incredibly good about myself.
Tonight I’m going to put on a second coat of oil. I might put a third on tomorrow, depending on how I feel about the color. After that, I’ll give it two days to cure completely and put a couple layers of paste wax on for the final protective coating. Since this will probably go in a bedroom of someplace else where it won’t take much abuse, I don’t expect it’ll need a polyurethane finish. I promise to post some pictures when it’s done. Until then, it’s still a top secret project.
Happy brewing (and building!)