Fixing Mistakes of an Inexperienced Woodworker

Some time ago I was asked to build a couple of tile-top end tables for a customer. She wanted them made from alder she had stored in her garage. I had never worked with alder, but I have to say, it’s a dream to work with hand tools.

After building the two tables and grouting the ceramic tiles for the tops, I applied several coats of General Finishes Arm-R-Seal to the base and top frame. I’m not one for staining or dyeing a finish unless the project warrants it or it’s figured wood.

This customer also had a tile-top coffee table that someone else had built for her. After she saw the beauty of the clear oil finish, she decided she’d like to have her coffee table refinished. This table was built by someone who was apparently new to woodworking. I’ll let the photos below tell the story. Check out the fit of the tenons in the mortises. And the uneven finish with runs and drips. The gap around the drawer front was large enough to drive a car through (can’t do much to fix that). The drawer box was so shabbily built that I’ll have to build a new one (I’ll use Baltic birch plywood).

I decided it would be quicker and easier to disassemble the table by cutting the aprons off, planing the finish off, then re-assembling the table.

WunderWoods Custom Wood Filler

Over on the Woodworking Network Blog, Scott Wunder writes about his frustration with wood fillers. Like most woodworkers (including me), he used the old recipe of mixing sawdust with glue. I use the fine dust from my random orbital sander. But the problem with mixing with glue, as Scott and I have found, is that it’s hard to sand. The sawdust/glue mixture is what I used to fill in the minor gaps after making a patch to hide the knot on the edge of a workpiece. The right photo shows the patch after the trim has been applied. This photo was taken just before I applied a finish.

Nasty Knot in the Wrong PlaceFinished Patch

I’ve used Famowood wood filler in the little plastic tubs, and honestly, I like it. It’s water-based so I can thin it to the consistency I need (or if it’s sat too long and dried out, it can be “revived”). It sands easily and cleans up easily (though after it dries on your putty knife, it will require a soaking to get it off).

So I’m intrigued that Scott developed his own WunderWoods Custom Wood Filler. He sells it in 6-0z. containers on ebay to match six common species of American hardwoods. If you need to match another wood, Scott will be glad to mix up a batch for you.

I’m going to order some of Scott’s filler and give it a try. I like rooting for the little guy, and I hope Scott’s product is one that ever woodworker will want to have in their shop.

Should I be horsewhipped for using finish nails?

I just finished putting together an antique cabinet that’s similar to the one you see here. It was literally in pieces when I picked it up from the customer. Apparently, at some point in its life, it had fallen off the wall onto the floor. And by the looks of it, this wasn’t the first time this had happened. Someone somewhere in the past had made a pretty poor attempt at repair using dowels. They had even drilled through the sides of the cabinet in a couple spots to insert the dowels into the shelves!

Miraculously, the heavy, beveled glass door survived and is still a beautiful piece of craftsmanship.

I had been contemplating for a couple of weeks how to go about a decent repair for the cabinet. The dowels and dowel holes had dried glue all over them. And obviously, the wood was old and cracked in some spots. I had to patch a spot that had broken out from the side near a dowel.

So how do I put this back together? I ruled out glue because most of the joinery was butt joints and glue doesn’t hold well on end grain. And the joints weren’t tight enough to be “glue worthy” anyway.

So I resorted to using 1½” finish nails. Yep. Modern nails. I figured with their small heads and a little dab of wood putty, they would all but disappear. So I got out my Warrington-style hammer and tapped in three nails through the sides into each end of the shelves. I countersunk the heads with a nail set and applied a little wood putty with a cotton swab to minimize spreading it around.

Famowood Wood Filler Famowood Wood Filler
Made from genuine wood flour, these fillers closely emulate the
properties of real wood. They can be stained, sawed, drilled, sanded,
planed and nailed, just like the real thing. They show no noti..
Famowood Wood Filler

Oh, I have one other confession to make. I used modern screws to hold the top of the cabinet to the sides. They even have a Torx head. But I figured this was where the point of failure was originally when it fell from the wall, and they’re on the back, so it really didn’t matter. If someone throws a fit, they can replace them with traditional, slotted wood screws.

So there you have it. Modern finish nails and screws used in the restoration of an antique cabinet. You can call the antique police now and turn me in.

GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw
In addition to a Torx-head design that eliminates cam-out slippage, these innovative self-countersinking bits feature six cutting pockets beneath the head and sharp, saw-like lower threads to drive through a variety of materials smoothly, without tearing. Available in several lengths and sizes. Torx/Star-head driver bits also available.
GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw
GRK R4™ Multipurpose Star/Torx Screw

Helping my kid earn a merit badge

My ten-year old is participating in Royal Rangers. It’s a lot like Boy Scouts but with a biblical emphasis. If you have younger children, either of these organizations are a great way to instill some great life-long values in your kids. They both provide hundreds of opportunities for earning merit badges through a variety of activities and learned skills.

Continue reading “Helping my kid earn a merit badge”

Did I tell you how much I hate finishing?

I have a small shop. It resides in my garage. I don’t have room or the resources for a “finishing room.” So my choices for finishing boil down to those I can wipe or brush on. But I’ve never had much success with brush-on finishes either.

I remember in my younger years watching my dad lay down a flawless finish using a brush. Back then, he used a lot of oil-based polyurethane finish (for kitchen cabinets, mostly). He learned the art of maintaining a wet edge, not brushing the finish once it’s laid down, and all the other techniques that are more art than science.

My experience, however, with the same finish was…ugly. Brush strokes and dry areas where there was no finish was the norm for me. I could never get the knack of it.

Continue reading “Did I tell you how much I hate finishing?”