Monday, June 18, 2012

Big pieces smaller

The wag refers to woodworking as the process of making big pieces of wood smaller, and as I was spending a small amount of time in the shop messing about on a project over the weekend, the aphorism seemed particularly apt.

The procedure in question is making dowel pegs.  In cabinetry, these are traditionally used to pin mortise and tenon joints.  The joint is actually drawn together and held by the dowel pin.  The pins are best made when the wood is still green.  Straight grained wood is a must, and usually wood like oak is used.  In this case, the pins are for a piece I'm building using cherry.

Flash back two weeks, when I took down a small decorative cherry tree for a neighbor.  The tree had died so I offered to remove it.  I sawed the six-inch diameter trunk pieces into firewood lengths and tossed them on my pile.  The other day I stood at our kitchen window, just above the firewood stack, admiring the yard.  I looked down and noticed that one of the pieces of cherry I'd cut was straight as a rod and didn't have any knots in it.  Dowel stock!

The process is to split (rather than saw) the still-green wood to allow the length of the piece to carry the strength inherent in the grain of the wood.  So, I work from the back of the above picture to the front.  It begins with the froe and maul.  The froe is that L-shaped tool in the top right.  This cleaves the wood in half, in successively smaller pieces.  Next is the drawknife- the blade with two handles right in the middle of the picture, which I use to get the stock roughly round and roughly 1/2" in diameter.  The finishing tool in the process is the dowel plate in the lower right of the picture.  This is a piece of tool steel in which I've drilled successively smaller diameter holes.  The stick of green wood is beveled at the end to get it started in the hole, then pounded down through, peeling it like a banana to that diameter.  Those three next to the dowel plate are just about finished.  Once done, they'll be allowed to dry completely before being used to pin the 14 or so mortise and tenon joints on my bookcase project.

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