Turning wood into glass

March 22, 2009

I’ve seen plenty of sandpaper in my life. I’ve seen orbital sanders and belt sanders – palm sanders and block sanders. But I had never seen a scraper – a cabinet scraper before.

A cabinet scraper is just a thin sheet of steel but when used in the right circumstances, it can turn your wood surface into glass. Instead of grinding the wood fibers like sandpaper, it cuts microscopic layers of wood tissue.

Excerpts from the following article are listed below:

Back before the invention of sandpaper, craftsmen would scrape the surface of wood to get it smooth. Thankfully, cabinet scrapers have stood the test of time and are still available today. One of the most inexpensive tools to buy, scrapers leave a silky-smooth surface superior to even the finest grits of sandpaper. They also work faster than sandpaper.

In order for a scraper to work, you need to form—or burnish—a hooked edge to cut the wood fibres. To accomplish this, first polish the scraper’s edge at 90º using either a fine whetstone or 1,000-grit sandpaper on a flat surface

The three main ways to use a scraper

Push method: This is the most aggressive method of scraping. A bow is formed in the scraper by pushing the centre out with your thumbs, and the scraper is pushed into the wood. This is the most popular approach, as it yields the fastest results.

Pull method: While not as aggressive as the push method, the pull method gives the user more control. I prefer to use the pull method when doing detail work, focusing on a specific area or difficult grain

Flat method: Because of the shape of the hook, scrapers work while laying flat on the surface of the wood. This method is the least aggressive, but really shines when you don’t want much material removed. A great use for the flat method is to remove dust bumps from cured finishes. Before rubbing out your finish, lay the scraper flat on the surface and use your fingertips to slide the tool back and forth. The scraper acts as a mini-plane as it removes the bumps without going through the surrounding finish.

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Drilling Square Holes

March 17, 2009

Last week I used the old Mortise machine for the first time. When I say old, I mean that it used to be powered by a water mill and that there are more leather belts on this machine than under the hood of my car. I’d been watching Peter use the machine for the last few weeks but was never quite sure exactly what it did – besides for making a lot of smoke. Getting asked to use the machine felt like graduating to a new level of responsibility.

In a nutshell, the machine drills square holes in order to create a mortise for a furniture joint. In theory, the square holes are drilled in sequence to create a straight hollow line. The straight line corresponds to a matching tenon and the joints line up and fit. Two pieces of wood become one without any nails or screws. It is simply amazing. The ingenuity behind this old machine makes me bow my head in respect.

And how do you drill a square hole you might ask? This is the part that is so amazing. A regular drill bit is enclosed in what is effectively a 4 sided chisel. As the drill presses downward and creates a circle, the circle’s perimeter tangents are hit with the chisels. Then end result is a perfectly crisp square hole. Amazing.

After doing a bit more research on the history of the machine, I learned that it from the company Wysong and Miles Co and it is model number 272. It was originally a Line Shaft machine that had been converted over to an electric motor. For more detailed information on how Line Shafts work, please visit this excellent post. There is a decent photo gallery of old Wysong and Miles mortise machines at the Old Working Machines website which can be viewed here: I copied the following photo from that gallery. As an explanation, the first thing to notice is the giant foot pedal. This is used to push the square chisle through the wood while drilling. The next thing to notice is the large bottom wheel. This sets the depth that the mortise will drill to and finally, please note the smaller nob near the fence. This sets the distance from the edge that the line will drill to. Like I said before – simply amazing.

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