Trying to make a mobile phone stand

Trying being the right word here.

Sometimes mistakes happen in the workshop. As long as the only thing injured is your pride it’s OK though as they can be a great learning experiance. For instance, I wanted a nice wooden stand to hold my phone at work because apart from it helping to keep my desk tidy I like the idea of adding some wood to that world of plastic and steel.

I’d seen a few pictures of ones that are basically two bits of wood with a slot in each that fit together and decided to try and make one of those. I had some likely wood around, I think it’s pacific maple or meranti so not the best timber but it has a decent grain and should come up nice. Plus, it fits into my ‘don’t bring in any timber until I’ve used what I have’ plan

I don’t tend to do a lot of actual joinery work because I struggle to get things right and so I’m trying hard to pick projects that will make me overcome this. While this project is quite simple, it requires a couple of slots to be cut to fit it together so I get to practise a number of things – accurate marking, sawing to a line and chiselling out waste.

I started with the below piece of timber. It’s already dressed so I can start right away

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I cut it to size. This is a lot easier now I have my hand mitre box built. I don’t think I’ve shown you pictures of that yet but I’ll get to it soon

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You can see in the previous picture I’ve started marking up where I want to create a cutout. This next picture shows both pieces marked and a knife line put in. I’ve also marked which bit is waste and which is to be kept and it’s important to remember to do this otherwise you can end up making mistakes with it.

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I put the shorter piece into the vice and cut both lines. I managed to miss the first line a little but can clean that up later. I should have been using a backsaw here because I’m not quite practised enough with the pullsaw to get the line. It’s just another opportunity to practise though so that’s fine.

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I cut the slot out of the other piece the same way, hitting the lines a bit better this time

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You can see below that while I actually got closer to the line on the second lot of cuts I still didn’t get it quite right. I’ll try and practise that some more.

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I clamped the first piece to the bench ready to chisel it out. I should have used a benchhook but my benchtop is just MDF so a few marks don’t matter.

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I removed the waster with a narrow chisel, taking small bites and working back towards my baseline.

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I was actually pretty happy with the results, the slot was just about right

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I repeated the steps for the small piece

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so I finished with two bits, slots cut and ready to put together

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This is where the ‘trying’ part of the title comes into play. I decided to test fit the two pieces and they were very close to perfect, and went 3/4 of the way together without an issue. I thought to myself that all it needed was a light tap with a rubber mallet and they would friction fit, I might not even need glue

Apparently the timber had other ideas and even with the lightest tap both pieces split across the grain and fell apart. This was the moment when I looked at the bench, looked at the clock and realised I’d just spent the better part of an hour making kindling.

Obviously I was disappointed but I’ve learnt to step away when this sort of thing happens and to grab a cup of coffee and let myself think about what went wrong and what I can do to fix it. I actually ended up making the stand again from the leftover bits and using glue instead, but that’s not the most important thing I took away here. I realised that I’d got in plenty of practise that will make me better next time I do similar work and even though this didn’t turn out the way I wanted it definitely wasn’t time wasted.

I could have pretended this project never took place but I decided to write about it instead in hopes that it will help someone else realise that even though things may not tun out the way you wanted, it’s still worth having a go at it.

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Adventures in Boxmaking

I made a box once. I was in year 8 at school and they were forcing us to take woodwork. I was one of the few in the class who actually enjoyed being there but I can’t say I was very capable even having grown up around a father and grandfather who were both very good with their hands.

The box I made was a shoeshine box with a sloped front hinged at the top. The idea was that you could store your show cleaning supplies inside and polish your shoes while they were on top. I’ve got no idea why I choose this project. I don’t think they made us all do the same thing and I don’t recall seeing anyone else try the same project.

The box was made of wood grain veneered MDF, something I’ve never seen again to this day. The sides were rebated on the router table and I actually got to use it myself under strict supervision even though most of the class wasn’t considered responsible enough to do so.

Everything was glued and nailed. It was actually square, and the only real problem was that the door wasn’t bevelled to match the angle of the slope so it never sat quite right, if someone had introduced me to a jack plane back then I could have fixed that problem in a matter of minutes.

That box is still around at my parents place and is being used for the purpose it was built. It’s also been used as a stool when changing light globes and has shown no sign of ever falling apart.

For some reason though even with that success story behind me I’ve avoided making boxes since I took up woodworking. They have always just scared me a little. I’ve made a few open front cabinets and drawers which are nothing more than boxes with another name but I’ve always found a reason to avoid boxes even though I admire others who can do them.

Part of it has to do with the problems I have with making things square. I just never seem to nail every cut so there’s always some sort of issue when it comes time to put things together. It’s one of the reasons I love spoon carving so much, everything is from one piece and no joinery is involved. If you make a mistake you just change the design a little and nobody ever knows the difference, where with a box everyone knows that the sides should join perfectly at 90 degrees and there’s a lot less room for error.

Another part of it has to do with dovetails. I know they look lovely but the one set I’ve ever cut were less than perfect so I never gave it another go. And what’s the point of making a box without dovetails, surely it can’t be any good right?

I decided a few weeks ago that I was going to face my fear and try to make a box. I wasn’t going to try and do dovetails this time around, it was going to be simple butt joints with glue and nails. I can only face one demon at a time and wanted to get at least one finished box under my belt before I tried something more fancy.

I started with some meranti that was in the wood pile. This piece of wood has had quite a few lives now. It started as the safety rail of my childhood double bunk beds, then was part of my very first plane till. Then it was slated to be part of a wooden toolbox I was building. I’m pleased to say it’s finally found a place in a finished project now. This is how it looked when I started.

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A quick sand and it’s looking better. I didn’t mind that it wasn’t totally clear of marks, the goal was to finish a box and in this case the process was more important than the end result.

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The next step was to cut the pieces to length. I had a couple of pieces that would do for a top and bottom so based the lengths on them. This is where it all started to fall apart though. I used my powered drop saw to make the cuts and while the fence is square to the blade, I made a mistake in assuming that the sides of this piece of timber were parallel and they weren’t so the angle of the cut was slightly off on all of them. Lesson one learnt – joint every board you use just in case or at least check them with a square.

The next mistake I made was not correcting the small error from above, which would have been a simple thing to do on the shooting board. Instead I let myself get flustered and almost give up. Lesson two learnt – don’t try and rush just to get finished or the quality of the end result suffers.

I managed to calm down, step back and look at what I had done and decided to put it together anyway. This is what it looked like at that stage. Small gaps at the joins but structurally strong enough after the glue and nails were put in. It actually almost looks like a box!

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I gave it a sand to see what it looked like then. Still a few gaps but overall not too bad.

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Because the board wasn’t jointed before starting there were some small height differences at the top, so I decided not to make the same mistake as before and fixed them so the top was all level. I also decided that the shape was too heavy so put a large bevel on the top to try and make it a look a little less…well….boxy

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I added the other piece as a top, and using a couple of small offcuts from the woodpile made a handle for it too, held in place with glue. I also added another bevel on top and a smaller one underneath.

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Two smaller bits of the same offcut were glued on the underside of the lid to make stops to hold the lid in place

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Then I put it all together to see how it looked

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A coat of shellac with an oak coloured stain mixed in started the finishing process

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A rub down with fine steel wool and another coat of shellac got it looking pretty good

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Finally the outside got a couple of coats of beeswax, buffed in between, to fill in the small gaps and to bring out the shine

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I think I must have sat and stared at it for at least 15 minutes once it was finished. I couldn’t believe it, I actually made a box! It’s now sitting proudly on my bedside table and is used to hold all of the items I take out of my pockets when I get home.

The actual process wasn’t that hard, and it was only a couple of very minor mistakes that caused problems and I know how to avoid them next time. I wish I hadn’t waited this long to try to do this as it’s put a lot of unfounded fears to rest. I know it seems strange to take about fear in relation to a woodworking project but that’s what it was – fear of failure, fear of not doing a good enough job, fear of wasting time and material.

I know that if it hadn’t turned out well it didn’t matter in the grand scheme of things, but it still mattered to me so I kept putting off trying it and somehow turned it into something a lot harder in my mind than it was on the workbench. I don’t think I’m alone in thinking this way, I’ve shown some of my spoons to friends at the local woodwork group who were terrified at the idea of working on something that was made up of curves  and I know others who won’t try any of the sample projects in front of the more experienced woodworkers for fear of looking foolish.

While the end result was good, I think what I learnt about having a go at something, taking my time and correcting the little errors before proceeding to the next step is the important thing. I’ve also learnt that boxmaking is a lot of fun and I can’t wait to have a go at my next one. This time though, there will be dovetails!

A pair of salad servers

Following on from last post, I was reminded by my lovely wife that I’d promised my mother a set of salad servers for Mother’s day. It was still a couple of weeks away but I wanted to make sure I could get them finished in time so picked out two in-progress spoons that I’d been working on to complete.

Both the ones I picked were meranti, but after a little work on them I realised the colour difference between them was too great. I tried staining both to see if that would solve the problem but it didn’t.

Back to the wood pile I went. I was lucky and found another semi completed blank from the same piece of timber as the spoon I’d been working on during the spiral handle experiment and quickly carved it to the same shape. It was a little longer but that was easy to fix. You can see the attempt to stain the handle on the lower spoon.

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I finished carving the bowls and using the first spoon as a guide I cut the same spiral pattern on the second. I sanded both spoons and used an existing salad server to mark out where the tines on the fork should go.

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I drilled the end point of each tine with a small bit in my nice old miller’s fall hand drill, then cut the rest out with a coping saw. I then finished the insides with some small files. I mentioned last post that I like to use files on wood, and in this case they were the only tool I had that would fit into the slot and they left a really nice finish inside the slots.

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Here’s a close up of the tines after they are cut and cleaned up

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I gave them both another good sand and used scrapers to clean up a few gouge marks that were in the bowls. I couldn’t get them perfect because the wood was so soft it kept marking more but hoped that after finishing they would turn out fine anyway.

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My first thought was to just oil them, but even a couple of coats of orange oil left them looking pale and quite grey.

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I moved onto a shellac with an oak stain mixed into it and gave them a few coats, rubbing them with fine steel wool in between and after the final coat to remove the shellac completely, as I’d only wanted it to carry the stain. Then I finished with a couple of coats of a food safe oil making sure the wood was sealed and buffed them until they looked right.  My wife tied them with a nice bit of ribbon and the recipient was very excited to receive them!

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Experiments in Spoon Design

Whenever I only have a few minutes to spare my go-to project is a spoon. I have a pile of blanks already cut out and since most of the work needs nothing more than a knife it’s an easy thing to pick up and put down without having to go to the trouble of moving my car out of the ‘workshop’ and setting up like is needed for larger projects.

I’d cut up some meranti that was laying around when I was cutting blanks and while it’s a difficult wood to get a good finish on it is very cheap and easy to work with so is great when you want to try out something new. Below is the rough blank, it’s been cut out with a jigsaw and is waiting to be shaped.

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My favourite knife made short work of getting the handle rounded and shaped.

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The idea this time was to try and cut a spiral pattern into the handle. I generally only find myself working with ‘boring’ woods eg pine, maple, meranti and tasmanian oak that don’t often have a huge amount of character on their own so I wanted to try and do something in the shaping to make up for that. I started by wrapping masking tape around the newly shaped handle in a spiral to use as a guide. The gaps are where the cuts would be made.

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I started with a round rasp and cut the spiral. I could only use the very tip since I didn’t want the channel to be very wide and since it’s a fairly coarse rasp it left deep tooth marks in the soft wood.

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You can see below that while the shape is pretty good it still needs a lot of refinement

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I don’t have a finer round rasp but I do have a good number of files, and even though they are designed for metal I fine they work very well on wood as long as you clean the teeth frequently. Good advice for both your files and your mouth!

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With the spiral channel now refined it’s looking more like what I had imagined, but it’s still hard to tell with the tape on it

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After I removed the tape, this is what it looked like. I was pleased with the result of the experiment and decided it would be something I’d try again at some point.

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Hasting’s Woodworker Guild

Way back at the start of the year I was away in Port Macquarie for a few days holiday and I posted about a trip to Timbertown, a recreation of a steam powered sawmill village. Also on the grounds is the local woodwork club, the Hastings Woodworkers Guild.

When you walk up to the front of the clubhouse you see an assortment of old hand tools mounted on the veranda along with name plates to identify what some of them are. While part of me wanted to take them down and restore them I could also appreciate the display for attracting passers by and fitting in with the theme of the area, and most of them probably wouldn’t have been in good enough shape to be working tools again anyway.

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The other thing that caught my eye on the veranda was a wooden pole lathe, complete with an example of a turned work piece and a sigh offering to demonstrate how it worked. I didn’t get the opportunity to do so but would have loved to see it in action.

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The entrance to the clubhouse is around the side, the veranda is just a display, and on walking inside I saw a wonderful display of some of the work the club’s members had been doing. With their permission I took some photos to share here.

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We were warmly greeted by one of the members who spent quite a lot of time telling us about the club and some of the work being done there. He was obviously proud of the club and the work it was doing and it was a genuine pleasure to hear all about it. He introduced us to some of the other members, pointed out parts of the actual workshop area which is fenced off from the display room and had my wife trying to solve complicated wooden puzzles from the display.

It’s always great to meet fellow woodworkers and the members at the Hasting’s club were incredibly friendly and the work on display was all of excellent quality. They even gave my wife a small scroll sawn dolphin as a souvenir of her visit. I’d highly recommend stopping in to visit if you’re ever in the area.

The not $40 Serving Paddle

One Sunday morning a few weeks ago my wife and I were wandering around the local shopping centre. She puts up with my frequent trips to the hardware store without much complaint  so I try to be patient when we visit homeware stores. This particular trip we were just looking around and spotted a wooden paddle for serving cheese and nibbles. The store wanted $40  for what was really nothing more than a bit of flat wood so she turned to me and said “You could make that couldn’t you?”

It’s not that often that she wants something made, so I leapt at the opportunity.

That afternoon I got some time to play in the workshop so went looking for a suitable board. There just happened to be one just the right size and length that I’d not found a use for yet so I got to work on it.

First we worked out how long she wanted the paddle and a rough shape for the handle and I sketched them onto the board. I think it’s Douglas Fir but I could be wrong, but I’ve got a feeling this is a leftover piece of the sides from when I built my step stool and that was what it was made from.

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A few minute work with a jigsaw and it was roughly cut to shape. My wife had a look and noted where she wanted it adjusted a little during the final shaping.

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I shaped it with files and course sandpaper. I suggested running a roundover bit on the edges but she was happy with just the sandpaper being used to break the sharp edges

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A few minutes with a random orbital sander and quite a nice surface was revealed. There’s still a few spots on the edges that weren’t smooth at this point so it will need some more work. My wife asked for a hanging hole in the handle so I drilled that in too, and softened the edges of the hole with a countersink bit.

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I sanded the edges and the face with 1200 grit sandpaper, making sure to go in the same direction from the handle to the end of the paddle to avoid scratch marks accross the grain.

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A few coats of orange oil and a light buff with a clean rag and it was done. The colour in the grain really came out nicely, especially the wider lines on one side and my wife is very happy with the result as was I. The wood was scrap and I already had the tools and oil so the total cost was minimal, except for around an hour’s work…if you can call something you enjoyed doing work!

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Finishing a breadboard

I’m still focusing on getting through all the half finished projects and wood stockpile so every opportunity I get I try and get something completed and out of the way. I’d had this breadboard glued up for ages but it wasn’t flat so I kept putting off work on it. This is how it started, you can see the joins aren’t great and there’s glue spillout.

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It does have a nice grain and even the marks add character

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I’m not a huge fan of sanders, they are noisy and throw dust everywhere but I hit the board with my random orbital sander and got it cleaned up

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It still wasn’t quite flat though so I used a jointer plane to take off the high points. I’d have used my jack plane but as usual I’d put off sharpening so it needed work and I was trying to get this done in a short period of time

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I gave it another sand, then switched to a sheet sander and a higher grit to finish it off

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A few coats of food safe orange oil and some buffing and it’s done. Tick that one off the list!

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Restoring a pair of cabinetmakers screwdrivers

Back in my ‘It’s a tool so I must have it’ phase a few years back I bought these two cabinetmakers screwdrivers. I must have needed them badly because they’ve been sitting in the bottom of a box ever since.

I still haven’t decided if I want to keep them or not but decided to restore them and see how they turned out first. Here’s what they looked like to begin with

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First step was to take the rust off. I’d long ago learnt that nothing beats steel wool. I’ve done citric acid, rust remover, awire wheel in my grinder and sandpaper and steel wool works just as well as any of them and it leaves a finish closer to the original one.

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This is how they looked once done.

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After cleaning, you can see the makers mark clearly on the larger of the two

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On the smaller one, the ferrule isn’t seated properly and there’s old paint in the gap, I’d guess these had been used to open and possibly stir paint sometime in their life.

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I used a small scraper to clean out the paint then gently tapped the ferrule into place. It already had dents in it but I was careful not to add more

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I gave the handles a cleaning with 1200 grit sandpaper being careful not to remove too much of the original finish, otherwise the old steel and the fresh handle would look strange

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I gave them a coat of shellac mixed with a walnut stain. It looks thick and not great to start with, but I wanted a thick coat to get into all old scratches

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Fine steel wool cleaned up the shellac and a few coats of beeswax later they were done. I still need to grind the tips square to get them working properly again but they came up pretty well. I still don’t know if I’ll keep them but at least I can see what they look like now.

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Making A Carver’s Bench Hook

As anyone who reads regularly knows, I’ve been doing some carving recently. Part of this comes from the desire to create something different and partly to use up the wood scraps laying around. My efforts have been mostly spoons and shallow bowls but the occasional other piece gets done as well. Up until now I’ve been using whatever way I could to hold them while I worked on them but when I was cleaning up the wood pile I found a scrap of 1/4 pegboard I hadn’t used. It wasn’t big enough to use in a cabinet so it was on the throw out pile until I happened to see a picture of a carver using a bench hook with a few holes drilled in it to help hold their work.

A light went on and I realised that if I cut the pegboard up and glued it into a block I’d have the base of the hook done. I figured it was a good way to use up the scrap and it would give me something useful at the same time. Total build time ended up being a bit over two hours including finishing and making pegs.

To start with I cut three pieces to the roughly the same size, glued them up and when dry I cut them to final size. I’d decided to use the back of the pegboard as it looked nicer and the textured surface could be helpful.

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The next step was to cut a few pieces for the top as these stop the work moving. I’m right handed so the stops go top and left, if you were left handed you could put the left stop on the other side. I had another project being glued at the same time and it was at this point I stopped to think ‘I’m glad I have so many clamps’. I also cut and added the piece to make the hook part and attached it the same way. All of this is scrap pine leftover from other projects.

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Once the glue was dry, I removed the clamps, put in a few nails just to stop them moving when in use and cleaned it all up with a scraper. I’ve got an old skarsten scraper that does a great job removing glue. I picked it up for maybe $3 ages ago and use it all the time.

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The next step was to put a small chamfer on the edges. I used a block plane for what I could then finished with a chisel into the inside corner. I just happened to pick up my favourite 1″ chisel (funny that) and had to work pretty hard to get a shaving. Maybe I need to stop building jigs and spend some time sharpening!

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After this was done then the whole thing gets sanded. I didn’t sand the pegboard totally smooth as I wanted to keep some of the texture for grip, but I wanted it to look nice. I know some people who think that a jig is finished when it works, but there’s not much difference in time and effort between ‘works’ and ‘works and looks good’ so I put in the extra effort.

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Following on from the sanding, I gave the whole thing a coat of beeswax and buffed it to a nice shine. Then I cut some small length’s of 1/4 dowel to use as pegs and rounded the ends. Finished!!

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I wanted to take some pictures of it in action to show you how it works though. Here it is holding a relief carving I’m working on. You don’t need the pegs in place for this as the frame stops the work moving. It’s really good in use, I was finding on a normal bench hook the work would slip sideways as I pushed a gouge into it but this doesn’t have the same problem. You would of course put the hook over the edge of the bench but that doesn’t make for quite as a good a photo ;)

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It’s great for working on the bowl of a spoon. I normally hold the spoon and knife carve it, but the bowl normally give me trouble. Now with the pegs in place I can use a gouge to work on it without a problem. The pegs fit firmly into the holes and do a great job holding the spoon.

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Lastly, it also works on really odd shaped work. This is a dolphin I’ve been working on and just by moving the pegs into position I can get it to any angle I need.

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I’m really happy with the way it turned out and have already used it for a few more spoons since making it. Would I change anything about the design? Not at all. It works just the way I’d hoped. The only thing I may do is build some pegs with a piece on top that turns so I can lock a workpiece that doesn’t quite sit between pegs in place more tightly and that can be a project for another day.

Cheers

Andrew