The Promise of Future Projects from the Ghosts of the Past

Once, I’m sure, it would have been regarded as a stunning architectural feature of the Menzies Building, but the original timber ceiling is no longer the flavour of the month and has been replaced with a modern suspended one.

I had a scan of my collection of digital photos taken over the years, and found one that at least gives a small taste of what the ceilings used to be.

timberroof-1Rather than see that timber wasted or worse (such as landfill or burnt), I have been fortunate enough to have a good portion dropped off at my place (yeah, just in time for me to then have to relocate it to the new house!)

While part of the ceiling, the boards are secured together in groups of 3 or 6, with a board nailed across them (bet that was some apprentice’s job!) The majority are 90 x 30mm, and 1.8m in length.


To take them apart, I initially tried a hammer, but decided there was a much better way – the Worx Pro Jawhorse.

By clamping the crossbrace in the jaws, it only takes a little encouragement (and gravity) to neatly separate the two, leaving lengths of very straight, very dry timber.


Just goes to show how stable the Jawhorse is!  And a tonne of clamping force to boot.  From there, the boards got stacked onto a pallet.  I haven’t measured it, but it’d be close to 2 m3.

I used a bit for toy kitchen for my daughter’s Christmas, and there are a fair few projects to come out of this lot.  Can’t wait!  So awesome (and inspiring) having a good collection of timber!


Sinking Deeper

Once the initial parts for the sink were glued up (the large U shape sections), it was time to make the actual components.  Ideally, I wouldn’t have had to take the previous step, but I am working with a limited stock size, partly as a bit of an exercise, partly because I have the timber, and don’t feel like buying something else.  The redgum is being salvaged from the ugliest, oldest sleeper you would have seen in a long time.  Always surprising just how much good timber is hidden behind a rough façade.


Creating the sink template

To cut the individual sections out, I created a template from MDF.  It is easy to draw up and shape to the required profile.


Template attached

In this case, I didn’t have to worry about screw holes, so it was easier and less problematic to use screws (Kreg square drive).  You may wonder about the amount of timber wasted here inside the sink.  It won’t be going to waste, as I intend to use this again in the same way to produce some other (as yet undecided) kitchen appliances.


Bandsawing around the template

To remove the bulk of the material, the bandsaw works exceptionally well.  Cutting near to the template reduces the load on the pattern copying router bit.


Routing to shape

Over to the router table, and with a pattern bit (a straight cutter with a bearing on top), each piece of the sink is routed to shape.  (The photo above has the piece upside down)


Glued and clamped

Next, each piece is glued and clamped together to form the body of the sink.  The ends have also been cut using the same template, but obviously only the outside is cut and routed.


Spindle Sanding

The spindle sander is next, and is the perfect tool for this job.  It may not get the full depth, but flipping the workpiece over a few times keeps things pretty even.


Fine sanding

The size of the sink just allowed me to get the ETS150 inside, but it isn’t ideal for sanding around corners…..except I have a soft sanding pad (from Ideal Tools).  This has hooks on one side, and loops on the other, so it acts as a spacer between the original sanding pad and the sandpaper.  With this, it is really easy to sand all sorts of concave and convex profiles.


Soft sanding pad

This is the soft sanding pad – a very useful addition for the ROS.

***Update: it is called an interface pad, and can be found here


Attaching the sides

With the inside done, the sides of the sink can be attached.  This (and the next image) were actually photographed before the glueup, but it gives you the idea.


Laminated sink

So that is how I make the laminated sink, still ensuring that the entire project can be made from timber.  Not sure if I will be able to maintain that ideal for the entire project, but I am still working towards it.  Very pleased I used contrasting timber this time – might as well make a feature of the laminations!

It’s a Crayon Jim, but not as you know it

Just what do you think of, if I suggested we were going to discuss crayons?

I have a (almost) 6 year old, so you can tell you where my thought processes are at. It has a lot more to do with colouring in, than working with wood!  When it comes down to it, Crayolas don’t cut the mustard when you have some serious work to do.

So it is fortuitous that there are crayons for the workshop.  Still, I can sense your incredulous look. So yes, I am being serious – you can buy crayons for the workshop, and they have real benefit over other marking methods.

Lumber Crayons

Lumber Crayons

They are the Pro-Ex Contractor Grade Lumber Crayons, and they are specifically designed for work.  They are a much harder crayon than what you are used to using – other than the name, they have little in common with the crayons in a child’s pencil case.  They are clay-based, not wax based, which makes all the difference where it comes to how they function in a serious application.

Obviously designed to write on timber (being Lumber Crayons), they can also write on steel, concrete and stone, dry, wet or frozen (not that much timber is frozen down under!)  They come from a company that specialises in industrial markers for the metal and woodworking industries

Back when I worked for a truck-fitting company, designs for a construction were laid out on the floor in full scale using chalk.  The lines would quickly blur, or simply disappear.  These would have been a real asset in that situation.

I’ve already integrated these lumber crayons into my standard practices, and it was quite surprising just how quickly I found they were the better solution for marking up the timber.  They obviously don’t replace the pencil or marking knife for measuring, but pretty much every other situation, they are taking over!

Timber gets marked where there are defects, the different timbers are identified (where it can become unclear), and offcuts get labeled as well.  Workshops have used chalk for this in the past, and again this can wear off, or the marks fade over time.  The lumber crayons remain a clear mark on the timber.



I have used them to clearly mark where I have found metal in reclaimed boards (which is particularly useful!) and on the thicknesser. By quickly scribbling on the surface of the board, it is a useful visual indication when the board has become flat across the entire surface (sometimes this is hard to distinguish).

Having the three colours is very useful as well – depending on the board, you can choose which will show up the best.  The yellow and black are the most visual (dark on a light background, and vise versa).

There is also a crayon-holder, which affords the crayon more protection from being dropped and a leather strap so it can be hung conveniently nearby.

Crayon Holder

Crayon Holder

These are available from Kaufmann Mercantile, and are made in the USA.

Send in the crayons

Invisible Progress

More progress made today on the kitchen, but not much to actually show for it. A lot of the day was spent doing the same sort of activities as the past few: machining timber to size, joining it up with glue (and Dominos as a whole).

I am still trying to maximise the yield I get from the timber, keeping any offcut of decent width, or length, and surprisingly so much of it is able to be used. I had a whole stack of offcuts, all thicknessed up just in case, and saw they were the perfect size and thickness for the base of the units. What is more, the pile was exactly the right number, and they had already been cut to length, which was exactly the length I needed. I’m sure it isn’t coincidental (being cut from stock that was the right size), but it is cool when it happens in any case.

The tops of the unit are done, excluding the machining (cutting a sink opening, and machining the elements into the stove surface).

Speaking of sinks, I have started preparing the material for the wooden sink.


Sink Laminations

This time I am doing it how I always planned, and envisaged it to be – laminated with contrasting timbers. The light timber is the Tassie Oak, the red timber is Australian Red Gum.


Rudimentary Form

To create the final sink, each lamination needs to be machined before glueup. Way too hard afterwards! So a whole bunch of clamps later (I’m rapidly running out), I managed to get it all glued up, ready for the net stage.

So a day where progress seemed slow to non existent, but it will prove itself during assembly, where all these stacks of dressed timber about the place will transform into the various parts of the project.

Enter, the Router Table

Taking the first components off to the next stage of the process involves the router table, and the rail & stile plus raised panel bits.

Cutting the interior profile

After some test cuts, the router table was set up to run the rails and stiles through the first router bit.  I use MagSwitch featherboards to hold the timber against the router table fence. They are so easy to position, and hold fast to the cast iron top of my router table.  Make you think it fortunate my router table is cast iron, but it came about in the reverse order.  I made the router table out of cast iron so that I could use MagSwitches on it.

Woodpeckers Coping Sled

After changing to the complementary router bit, it was time to cut the end grain of the rails.  If you ever wonder how to remember which is which, think about rails being horizontal.  They certainly are for trains! The stile is the other one.

The Woodpeckers Coping Sled is awesome for this task.  It holds the rails perfectly, and perpendicular to the direction of travel.  If I had taken more care, I would have used a sacrificial backing.  Probably should have – hardwood tears out a bit too easily. I’ll make sure I do when cutting the doors for the sink unit.

I just checked – the coping sled is still available from Professional Woodworkers Supplies.  They now have a mini one as well, but given the full sized one is on special, I’d still go with that one (the one pictured above).  There is so much more with this one, it is worth the difference.

Sanding the panels

After removing the panels being glued up in the Frontline clamps, I used the Festool belt sander to do a final flattening (including removing any glue squeezeout).  The large sander weights 7kg, and when coupled with the sled means you can hold the handle, and, well, hang on – letting the tool do all the work.  The work is clamped up using brass dogs on the vice, and dogs in holes in the table.

Panel bit

Once sanded (not the final sand – more a sizing sand than a finishing one), it was back to the router table, this time with a raised panel bit.  I don’t have a raised panel bit with a cutter for the back yet, so have to adjust it manually. This is not the final pass, but an intermediate one to check fit.  Best to do the crossgrain first, then the longgrain.

Panel bit

This is a monster bit – pretty much at the limit that a router can (or rather should) drive.  The run at the slowest speed still gets a decent tip speed.

Test fit

A quick test fit showed I was close, but still needs another pass to get it there.  Looking good though.  Will look even better when I do the 3D routing into each panel!  Once that routing is done (next session), then I can glue the panels up.

Thicknessing undersized stock

One thing I have been surprised with so far, is the lack of waste.  I’d always try to use timber to maximise yield, but there is always waste.  So far I’d not have enough offcuts to fill a 10L bucket – the yield is exceptional.

Even these thin panels that were ripped off the 19-20mm thick boards.  They will be perfect for the back of the units.  I wanted to run them through the thicknesser, but it just doesn’t go thin enough.  To solve that problem, I clamped on a sled.  The boards would not feed initially, but with a quick rubdown with Sibergleit, the boards fed through smoothly and easily.  I wouldn’t do this with any timber, or to go too thin, but it will get you out of trouble.
So a good session.  Progress seems slow, but this is always the slow part of any project.  Once the items are cut, and some preliminary joinery done, it usually flies together.


Some good news and bad news.  The good news is that I am documenting sessions on video.  Bad news is I am not planning on releasing the video until the project is complete!

Lignum Vitae

As a timber, Lignum Vitae will always remind me of my days at sea.  It was not a timber you actually saw during the normal course of events, but it was integral with the propulsion system, and that it was the material of choice always fascinated me.

The ships in question, at least that I was dealing with were the Leander Class frigates, but many of the same vintage (WWII – 1970s) used Lignum Vitae (LV) in the same role.  It is a very dense timber, so much so that it does not float, (weighing around 1.3 times that of water (less that of sea water!)), and is a very oily timber, so is self lubricating.  Both the density and self-lubricating properties made it ideal for the role, and being an ironwood, is extremely hard-wearing.

On some ships, LV was used in other bearings in the propulsion system, and in the stern tube (which stop water getting into the ship around the ship’s shaft), but not here (as far as I know!).  On the Leander frigate, it is used in the A frame – at the very back of the ship.  The A frame supports the end of the shaft, just near the props.  They remain immersed in sea water, and have to carry and support the weight of the shaft and prop, which is not the nicest of roles for any material, and yet LV got on, and got the job done. Unfortunately, the popularity of the timber for ship propulsion systems, and other large bearings has significantly depleted stock around the world, but hopefully, given other materials have since become more popular, overall demand has decreased and LV trees have a chance to come back.

To give you a sense of scale, here I am in the drydock beneath HMNZS WAIKATO (another Leander frigate – not the one pictured in the first photo – it is hard to get a photo of one’s own ship while at sea!)

So that’s a little story behind the scenes about Lignum Vitae, and why it always has particular meaning to me.  Sadly (and something I do want to recitfy), I’ve never actually owned a piece….yet.

Finishing off the boards

From the thicknesser, the final step in producing the components is the tablesaw.

With the side against the table (and now either side can be used as the reference, both being flat, parallel to each other, and at 90 degrees to the machined edge), and the planed edge runs against the fence.

The boards are then cut to width.

Ripping the board

Next, the fence is moved out of the way and the mitre fence added to the mitre slot.

Mine is the Incra, and like many, has a T end to the bar.  Rather than fluff around trying to insert the end at the near end, place the bar into the slot – it will ride up because of the T end.  Slide it forward past the end of the table, so the T slot clears the end, then drag it back.  So much easier than the other!

Crosscutting the ends

With the Incra Mitre 1000SE and Shop Stop, it is very easy to both dock the ends, and cut the boards to an exact, repeatable length.

First crosscut one edge, just enough to remove any checking, then flip the board over to dock to length.

Box sides

The final, nicely figured box sides.  Each is exactly the same thickness, the same width, the same length as its matching side, all ready for whatever joinery method is going to be chosen.

The extra, significant satisfaction that these boards have been formed, hewn from the trunk of a tree in your own workshop.

Completing timber dressing

The boards have been resawn on the bandsaw, and had a side and edge dressed on the jointer.  Next step is the thicknesser.

15" Thicknesser

I have a 15″ thicknesser, with a fixed head and the table rises and falls.  I prefer this style of thicknesser, but it isn’t everyone’s cup of tea.

The other version has a fixed table, so any additional infeed and outfeed support can remain at the same height, and the motor and blades rise and fall.  Winding the height down isn’t a problem – gravity and all that, but increasing the height is a lot more work, especially with the weight of a decently-powered induction motor overhead as well.

On the other hand, my thicknesser has a motor in the cabinet, and rise and fall is only the weight of the table – very smooth, very easy.  Added bonus, as the head doesn’t move, I have my drum sander located on top,  and a very functional arrangement it is, especially as the thicknesser and the drum sander both have the same requirement for infeed and outfeed.

Dressing boards

With the side dressed on the jointer face-down, the boards are fed through.  There is no point rushing the process – a little taken off each pass will still result in a finished product very quickly.

If I had a spiral head, things may be a little different, but I still have a thicknesser head with straight blades, so loading the machine and chipping away needs a little more finessing.

This doesn’t refer to the ‘spiral’ heads that have a bunch of the small square cutters arranged in a spiral around the head, but are still presented to the timber straight on.  This means the loads on the blades and machine are much less, but they are still chipping at the surface.

Instead, there are spiral heads where the small blades each present to the surface at an angle, producing a slicing motion.  This gives the best finish, combined with the benefit of much lower loads on the tool, and excellent waste clearance.

Completed boards

The boards, now complete (and you can see the bookmatching, if I intended to use the timber for that).

In this case, I now have a dressed side, the other side also dressed and parallel to the first side (and the boards are a uniform 10mm thick).

One edge is also flat, and at 90 degrees to both sides.  This side will be very relevant for the next step – the tablesaw.

How a thickness planer works.

From Wikipedia - a diagram of thicknesser operation

An illustration of the operation of a jointer ...

From Wikipedia - compare the above operation to this one which is how a jointer works.

Preparing Timber – Resaw (part a)

Over the course of a number of posts (not necessarily consecutive), we will follow a piece of timber through a whole range of machining and processing steps, until it becomes a finished product.  You may not need all the steps – it depends on your particular source of timber for one.

Sourcing timber is always a bit problematic, and I will be looking further into the whole timber supplier thing later on.

Unless you have purchased a kitset (and even then in some cases), timber does not come in any sort of finished state, and particularly a dimensioned state ready for your project.  Even if it is sold as DAR (dressed all round), you can be pretty sure it will have twists, warps, cupping etc, even on a minor scale.  Perhaps difficult to pick up while shopping, but painfully obvious in the final project if not dressed properly before it is used.

However, first things first. If timber is too thick (or if you want bookmatched boards), the ability to resaw timber (which can be considered to be taking a board and splitting it into two thinner boards) is an incredibly liberating function.  You are not restricted to the thickness of boards you buy (or having to resort to wasting to sawdust good timber), or even if you are provided/manage to scavenge branches and sections of tree trunk, you have the ability to turn them into useable, rough-sawn boards ready for drying and processing.

The tool to achieve this is one of the most valuable in the woodworking workshop, and one of the most versatile: the bandsaw.

This is not what I’d call a (and apologies if anyone gets upset by this) toy bandsaw 8″- 10″ (and smaller) – you need something with a bit of power, and the capacity to take a reasonable blade, and they don’t start until you get into the 14″+ size.  There will be some who’d still call these toys until you hit at least 24″, but a 14″ bandsaw should be able to resaw a 12″ diameter log.

This does get into bandsaw sizing, and when you first come across the bandsaw, you’d think the size (8″, 12″, 14″ etc) refers to the resaw height – the depth of cut.  It actually refers to the diameter of the bandsaw wheel (at least on a 2 wheel bandsaw), which dictates the maximum throat depth.

Depth of Cut vs Depth of Throat

What I have found in the past, is (as a general rule) the smaller bandsaws have real tracking difficulties – not only in following a line, but also in simply keeping the blade running on the wheels.

A bandsaw blade needs a fair amount of tension to work properly, and the little bandsaws just cannot get the blade tight enough, which makes them worse than useless.  I’m sure if you pay good money that there will be small bandsaws that can do a good job, but if you are forking out $100 – $200 (or less!), then you might be better saving your money.

My current bandsaw is the 17″ one seen above.  I still have a 14″ Jet which I am still very fond of – with the 6″ riser block, the Jet is capable of resawing 12″, and still has a reasonable throat.  This 17″ one does pick up some things that make my life a lot easier.  The tension wheel is underneath the top wheel (hard to see in the photo), and is at a good working height to crank the tension on easily.  Both this, and the Jet have a quick tension release, and both can take a reasonable resaw blade.  3/4″ for the Jet, 1″ for the Carbatec.

Blade Comparison

A bandsaw may come with a single blade, but it most certainly should not be the only blade you own.  In fact you should be seriously considering changing blades for each job you do (assuming they are inherently different tasks).  A blade that may be suitable for cutting tight circles (such as the 1/4″ 10 TPI blade seen fitted here) is completely unsuitable for cutting through thick timber, where you have a much deeper depth-of-cut, or for resawing.  The other blade seen here is my primary resaw blade.  1″ across, 3 TPI, it will not leave anywhere near as smooth a finish as the small blade, it cannot go around a corner (well about as well as a bus can, compared to a mini!), but it can handle significant blade tension, will stay very straight during the cut (including not bowing, so the cut remains vertical, and flat!), and won’t result in burning as it has significant chip clearing capacity.

I’d suggest having 3-4 blades of different widths, and different teeth counts to cover the range of typical tasks.  The blade that came with the saw you can keep (put aside), and use it for jobs where you wouldn’t want to subject a good blade to, such as sand-encrusted timber, aluminium etc.  (Yes, cutting aluminium on a bandsaw is a perfectly reasonable task, as is plastic).

The bandsaw is, in my opinion one of the safest cutting tools in the workshop – certainly much safer than the tablesaw, SCMS, or router table.  You can still do significant damage to oneself if not careful, but it is a tool I’m more comfortable in using (standard guards and safety gear all still bought into play of course).  The cut direction is down, into the table so work is much less likely to be thrown at you, and if there is a failure (such as a broken blade), it doesn’t fly around the workshop and instead simply stops moving.

You can still cut yourself though – no tool can be used with impunity.  A bandsaw has teeth, and any tool with teeth is designed to eat.  If it has no trouble with hard timber, then your hand/arm/body will prove no problem if you happen to offer it up as a sacrifice.

So the bandsaw – one of my must-have workshop tools.  Whether it is for resawing


or scrollsawing,


circle cutting (as will be covered in the next edition of ManSpace magazine)

Circle Cutting

Circle Cutting

or anything in between, it is often going to prove to be the go-to-tool.  In this case, (for the purposes of this article), its ability to break down logs and resaw boards is invaluable in the workshop.

Andy’s Little Lumber Store

I’ve spoken of some of Andy’s products in the past – a number of design templates provided by downloadable PDF as an alternative to computer design packages such as Google Sketchup.  His latest concept takes the design process one significant step further, away from 3D drawings and computer renderings, and back to a very traditional place – actual small scale modelling.

During the early phases of the $5 billion+ ANZAC Ship Project, the first few ships were physically modeled by a ‘small’ scale model (by small, it still filled an entire room!)  During the build of the first few ships, it was common for the fitters to head into the model room, and measure lengths and angles of the pipe they are constructing in scale, and create the full sized version simply from those measurements.  I don’t remember how much the model was worth – in excess of $250k at least, given the Dutch(?) expert modelmaker employed full time to keep the model up to date with the constant design changes (and being able to replicate each ship and the differences between them).  In time, TENIX moved to a suite of draughtsmen using CATIA to maintain a virtual ship model, and the actual physical one was retired.  As much as I know that for something as complex as a ship it was cost effective to have a computer model rather than a physical one, I know a lot of the fitters who lamented the loss of access to the physical one.  One thing they could do with the physical model was to take the item they wanted to fit into the ship and actually work it through the model to see how to twist and turn it to get it into the required compartment.  But progress rules, and computer modelling is always superior to physical modelling.  Right?

Being able to create an item first in model form is a powerful tool – testing the initial design, construction methods and forms required before having to scale the project (and the associated costs) up to full size.

Little Lumber

What Andy has come up with is a “Little Shop of Timber” (Feed me Seymour – if you can get my vague movie reference!) – scale wood lumber in 1/10th scale to the typically sized DAR timber.  You can scale-build your project, checking fit, material sizes, and overall design ideas.  How many times have you built a project, and either had a change of mind/design partway through requiring rework, or gotten to the end saying that you are satisfied, but would do it differently/better next time? Having the first build done in scale provides an extra opportunity to iron out those design issues.

There are a couple of starter kits, one for indoor projects, one for outdoor, and then a general lumber store where you can order all the different sizes as required.  The timber is primarily basswood (see here for a comparison of basswood vs balsa for modelling), plus plywood panels (in scale of course!)

Example of a 1/10 Model Bench

I have one of each kit, and my intention is two-fold.  Build a scale model of the workshop (which I need for planning layout optimisations (I used to have a cardboard scale model for that purpose)), and then use the indoor kit to conduct a test design and build of a workbench.

The indoor kit consists of 6-1×6, 12-2×4, 6-1×4, 6-1×12 and 2 plywood panels.

The outdoor kit consists of 24-2×4, 6-2×6, 6-4×4 and 4 plywood panels.



In each kit, it includes a scale ruler, plywood template and PDF wood calculator

PDF Calculator

When joining the project up, I’m sure it isn’t necessary to go as far as miniature dovetail joints etc (unless you are a masochist!)  – a hot glue gun should normally suffice!

The way things are going, I guess it is just a matter of “Watch this Space” to see what Andy and his EZ Woodshop comes up with next!

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