Building a Window Sash with Hand Tools

This spring in preparation for my workshop rebuild I needed to build a window sash.  I started by reviewing an array of sources to understand traditional window sash design and construction (a list of my references are included below).  It became clear that the basic design of sash joinery is pretty similar among sources, but there is important variation in building techniques.

The fundamental joint in a window sash is the mortise and tenon.  Nearly all of the sources suggest that the joints should be prepared before the moulding and glazing rabbet are completed.  The method of “sticking” the moulding profile (typically an ovolo) and rabbet can be accomplished in a variety of ways.  The British approach would be to stick the ovolo with a moulding plane and the rabbet with a sash fillister. The resulting material between what is cut by these planes would be the fillet.  The American approach would be to employ a “stick and rabbet” plane which has two irons and cuts the ovolo and rabbet simultaneously.  A similar and more “modern” (not necessary better) method would be to use a Stanley 45 with a sash iron.  Because of the Stanley 45’s square iron and minimal supporting surfaces, it can be harder to use with difficult grain. For my window build,  I utilized my Stanley 45 and the sash iron fresh from rehab and honing.  Really not a matter of preference as I do not own dedicated sash planes, so the 45 was my only option.  Hope to change that in the future.

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Dimensioned window sash stock with “story sticks”

Window sashes are traditionally built from stable, straight grain material and softwoods were typical in the US.  Without a source for 6/4 eastern white pine, I built my window sash from a home center 2×6 (it was ponderosa pine).  It took much selection to find a board where I could rip material so that the stock had the growth rings perpendicular to the face much like quarter sawn lumber.  My next step was to create a “story stick” based upon the open size for the window.  A “story stick” is a traditional, shop-made template in sash making that outlines the overall dimensions of the window as well as location and size of the joints and moulding. I followed the process described in Doormaking and Window-Making to mark-out the joints and moulding dimensions onto the “story sticks” (one for rails and one for stiles).

I dimensioned the rails and stiles for the sash based upon the opening height and width from the “story stick”. For this small casement window, the stiles and upper rail were 1 3/4″ wide, while the bottom rail was 2 1/2″ wide.  The rails and stiles were a bit thinner (~ 1 1/4″) than the traditional 1 1/2″ because of some twist that had to be planed out of the board.  Fortunately the sash iron of the Stanley allows for a small range of thickness; stock that is too thin would yield a glazing rabbet that is too narrow. Next I clamped the rails (and then stiles) to the “story sticks” and transferred the joinery layout lines using a knife.  Layout lines were transferred around the pieces and a marking gauge was used to define the tenon, mortise, and moulding depth (i.e., 3/8″).

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Marking sash components from “story stick”

Once the pieces were marked, the next step was to chop the mortises and saw the tenon cheeks.  My Stanley 45 was then used to work the glazing rabbet and stick the ovolo moulding.  The mortise chisel should match the width of the fillet.  Mine was slightly undersized (5/16″) and this discrepancy was corrected by some additional paring in several of the steps below.

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Sticking window sash moulding with my Stanley 45 plane

The tenon shoulders were then sawn and the tenon width was cut to match the mortise.  The haunch sockets on the rails that accept the fillet from the stiles were then chopped.

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Sash rail before and after chopping haunch

The final step before assembly was creating a scribed joint so that the ovolo moulding on the stile was overlapped by the ovolo on the rails.  The scribing process was as follows.

Cut away the moulding (ovolo) on the stile at the mortise leaving about 1/2″ of ovolo near the inside mortise wall, but let the fillet remain to form the haunch.

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Stile after paring away the portion of ovolo moulding
On the end of the rail, first pare the ovolo using a 45 degree miter block. Next, using an in-cannel gouge suitable for the size of the ovolo moulding, pare away the mitered material to form the excavated area where the ovolo on the stile will pass under the ovolo on the rail.


Having finished all joinery and scribing each joint should be test fitted.  Once a satisfactory fit is achieved the sash should be assembled.  Before assembly I sawed kerfs into the tenons to accept oak wedges.  I used hide glue and held the joints in place using clamps then the oak wedges were driven to serve as a mechanical counterpart to the glue.

It was pleasing to measure the diagonals of the sash and to find them in congruence.  This meant I was successful at creating square joints all around.  After the glue had cured, I sawed off the horns and cleaned up the sash with my smoothing plane. This project was a great learning experience for me and I hope this post assists some others trying to tackle sash joinery.


 Sources:
Anonymous.  2013. Doormaking and Window-Making (reprint). Lost Art Press, Fort Mitchell, KY.

Anonymous. 2016. The Woodworker: The Charles Hayward Years, Volume II. Lost Art Press, Fort Mitchell, KY.

George Ellis. 1987. Modern practical joinery (reprint). Linden Pub. Co., Fresno, CA. 486 p.

Paul Hasluck. 1907. Cassells’ carpentry and joinery. David McKay, Publisher, Philadelphia, PA. 614 p.

Charles Hayward. 1979. Woodwork Joints. Sterling Pub. Co. Inc. 128 p.

Roy Underhill. 1983. The Woodwright’s Companion – Exploring Traditional Woodcraft. UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 203 p.

Roy Underhill. 2008. The Woodwright’s Guide: Working Wood with Wedge and Edge. UNC Press, Chapel Hill, NC. 192 p.

Ledged (or Batten) Doors for Workshop Renovation

This spring I have been at work renovating my backyard shed workshop. Its exterior was in sore shape and I have been working to re-side the entire building as well as repair rotten framing. As part of this work, I needed build a window sash and a pair of batten doors. While I have leaned on a number of references for door and sash joinery, my primary one has been Doormaking and Window-Making, a reprint of a British publication done by Lost Art Press. A couple of articles in the recent Lost Art Press release, The Woodworker: The Charles H. Hayward Years, have also aided, especially the illustrations.

The doors I built for the shed are traditional board and batten (also know as ledged door) construction. Materials for the doors included tongue and groove pine, pine for the battens and braces, and 6d cut nails. I was fortunate that by buying two sizes of tongue and groove boards I was able to create a door nearly the size I needed. I started by placing the boards face down on my saw benches.  I used a wooden mallet to align the boards and clamped them steady using bar clamps. Next I laid the battens 5” from the top and bottom.  Following instructions in Doormaking and Window-Making, a screw was put through each batten into the outer boards and a nail was driven into the center board. The clamps were removed and the doors were flipped. Two pilot holes were drilled in each board at each batten with an offset to reduce splitting. Cut nails were clinched by placing a piece of 1/4” plate steel under each hole when the nail was driven. The braces were laid out and sawn and the notches in the each batten were chopped with a chisel. Braces were secured using clinched nails.

The door bottom was sawn square and to length. I planed each side of the door to achieve the correct width. Got pretty close with initial work but had to “fine-tune” the second door once the first was hung. The doors are a huge improvement over the warped plywood that they replaced. They are very solid and give the opening a nice new look (and function).

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Yellow-Poplar Shaker Side Table

After building the five-board bench, I wanted to explore some more furniture. I settled on a Shaker side table and I found some good plans by Christian Becksvoort (a renowned Shaker furniture builder) in Fine Woodworking (#210). I planned to build the tapered leg version, but without a drawer.

It started with a trip to a local sawmill in August. It was to be my first furniture project where I started with rough sawn lumber. I wanted to buy some easily workable wood that was not costly. I bought 4/4 yellow-poplar for the top and aprons along with 8/4 yellow-poplar for the legs. I can home from the mill and set forth to rough dimension the pieces.

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Ripping 8/4 material for leg stock

Given that my free time (and woodworking time is limited), it took me most of the fall to surface and final dimension the pieces needed for the table. The 8/4 material for the legs had difficult grain, unfortunately, and it created some considerable effort to get four legs dimensioned to 1 3/8” square. It did however provide opportunity for me to work on my plane iron sharpening skills.

For the top, I flattened one face and shot an edge on the two boards. Making sure the edges fit well together and were very slightly hollow along the length (i,e., a slight “sprung joint”), I glued up the board for the top. Once the Old Brown Glue was dried, I used my marking gauge to set the board thickness and surface the rough face. I believe that the board I used for the top was also not dried very well (moisture content above 11%) and it cupped and twisted quite a bit after this initial surface planing. It probably did not help that it was flat sawn and had grown rings from near the pith in it (further complicating the drying and stability). As all my pieces have been learning endeavours, this top allowed me much practice with the use of winding sticks and appropriate planing techniques to deal with twist.

Side Bar on Straight Edges and Winding Sticks: Based upon recommendations on the web referencing Chris Schwarz and Bill Anderson, I bought a length of aluminium angle as a long straight edge for the dimensioning of the top and legs. I first bought a piece of angle that was 1/16” thick and 1 ¼” wide on each side. I found this material to be too flexible to serve as a consistent straight edge. In other words, different hand pressure would make it flex across the length of a board making it look straight/flat when it was likely not. So I bought a second aluminium angle that was 1/8” thick by 1”. This seemed to be more functional as a straight edge. I turned the 1/16” angle into winding sticks by cutting the 4′ length in half and adding blue painters tape on the top ends of one half to serve as a color contrast useful in sighting boards when they have “winding”. The thinner aluminium angle seemed to be okay for this purpose.

I followed the well-written detail in Robert Wearing’s The Essential Woodworker as a reference for laying-out and cutting the joints along with assembly of the table. It is a great reference and with the text and photos it was a straight forward process to complete the joinery. Leg mortises and mortises for the shrinkage buttons that attach the top were chopped with a 5/16” chisel. The haunch slots in the legs were completed by defining the vertical shoulder with a dovetail saw and paring the waste with a chisel. Legs were tapered by first removing the bulk of the waste with a rip saw and then finishing with my jack and jointer planes. The only word of caution with this approach is tear-out on the backside of the legs associated with the ripping. It would probably be better practice to use only a plane or to offset further from the taper line when sawing the rough taper. Once all the pieces were finished I did a round of final smoothing with my Stanley #4.

Legs were attached using drawboring. I relied on several sources for the drawboring methods including Peter Follansbee’s blog as well as the blog named A Riving Home. Holes on the two face sides of the legs were at least an 1” from the mortise end walls and were carefully aligned so pegs from opposite faces would not intersect. I used a 1/16” offset toward the shoulder on the tenon for the drawbore hole. Pegs were made by splitting straight grained red oak and shaped with a large chisel to taper over then entire length of the peg.  The large end of the pegs were shaped to be slightly larger than 1/4″. Given the width of the legs (1 3/8”) and thickness of the aprons (7/8”) I had to remove some material on the inside of the aprons so the pegs could pass through the drawbore holes. This was done with a gouge. I did not use drawbore pins but did clamp the joint during assembly. After trepidation about splitting the piece with the drawboring, all pegs were driven, the joints were tight, and no splitting occurred. A relief, it was assembled!

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Assembled table base highlighting joinery

Next I sawed off the horns from the legs, levelled the legs, and attached the top using the shrinkage buttons and #8 brass screws. The bevel on the bottom of the top was planed before assembly and was 1” wide and 1/8” tall. I debated about milk paint as a finish, but I wanted to preserve the contrast between the poplar and oak pegs so I opted for two coats of Danish oil sanded between coats with a brown paper bag. The piece will cure for a time and then I will finish it with paste wax.

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Yellow-poplar Shaker side table

A ponderosa boarded box

The recent release of the Anarchist’s Design Book (Chris Schwarz, Lost Art Press) has reinforced my interest in “boarded” pieces that have a simple design and are constructed using rabbet and cut nail joinery. While waiting for my router plane to arrive so I may finish my side table project, I decided to build a small box using the techniques described in Schwarz’s book.

The piece started with a 1×12 purchased at the home center. I selected it so I could build the box out of pieces where the growth rings were perpendicular to the face such as wood that has been quarter-sawn or rived. Such straight grain pieces have good workability and are quite stable. A colleague who is wood science faculty member identified the board as ponderosa pine.

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As the project began

My first step in building was to layout the pieces I needed for the box and complete the appropriate rip and crosscuts. Once done I had the rough pieces for the box with a nice selection of grain patterns. I then planed one true face and shot the reference edge on all the pieces.

For the top, bottom, front, and back of the box, I needed to dimension the boards to 1/2” thick so the piece had a better look. Having the reference face and edge along with the ends cut and planed appropriately, I set out to resaw the boards to the proper thickness. I clamped the boards in my twin screw vise and sawed the pieces with my 5 ½ ppi Disston D-23. It is my rip saw with the least set and has a rake of 8 degrees and 5 degrees fleam. I generally followed the methods outlined in Peter Follansbee’s blog post about re-sawing. I did a fair job sawing and with not too much planing the pieces were ready for assembly.

The rabbet joints were made by first sawing the shoulders and then roughing out the waste with a chisel. I used my recently arrived router plane to true the joints. Never using such a plane before in my work I was very impressed with how easily the joints were trued.

I assembled the box at the bench by holding the pieces with either a holdfast and/or a handscrew clamp. I used 4d finish cut nails for the carcass and 4d headless brads for the bottom. Chamfers on the lid and bottom were 3/8” wide by 1/4” tall. They were completed with a block plane cutting the ones on the end grain first. Added the hinges and finished with two coats of Danish oil rubbed with brown paper bag after each coat. I feel the parallel grain pattern of the ponderosa pine makes the piece.

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The “boarded” box

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Wooden Tote as a Birthday Gift

Wooden Tote Yellow-Poplar

While still working on surfacing materials for a shaker side table (hopefully an update soon, you can see dimensioned leg stock in background), I had a small side project to make a present for one of my children. It is a small tote designed to fit the painting set that was given as the gift. The tote is made from yellow-poplar, ¾” material for bottom and ends with ½” for the sides. Bottom and ends are screwed together with #8 screws and headless brad cut nails fastened the sides. Finished with Danish oil. The dimension were dictated by the sizes of the paint bottles. Turned out pretty nicely I thought.

Visiting the Woodwright’s School

Woodwright's School

In August I had the pleasure of visiting Roy Underhill’s Woodwright’s School in Pittsboro, NC. It was a great escape for me and a beautiful drive through the heart of the central Appalachian mountains of WV, NC, and VI, passing enough oak trees to even satisfy a forester and woodworker. Pittsboro is an intriguing town lying somewhere between rural NC and the influence of the Raleigh/Durham metro area.

Given I started watching Roy’s show the Woodwright’s Shop in the early 80’s as a boy and have seen 100s of his PBS episodes, it was a surreal experience to arrive in the classroom on that Sunday morning. As an homage to my previous self, a hangover added to the storyline. My trip was much anticipated and it turned out to exceed my exceptions. He and co-instructor Bill Anderson make quite a team, are great instructors with amazing body of woodworking knowledge, and are two remarkable men. I feel privileged to have met them. The experience left its mark on me and I took much home with me to aid in my woodworking and perhaps even in the wider breadth of my life. I hope I can make a return trip for their week long class, Bench Week. The visit to the tool store upstairs owned by Ed Lebetkin was also worth the trip. Returned home with a refurbished, pre-civil war moving fillister plane.

The world would be a different place if all weekends for all people followed such a narrative.

Me at Woodwright's School

An Auger Bit Roll Tests My Sewing Skills

In my travels to a number of antique stores in search of usable tools, I have nearly gathered a complete set of Irwin auger bits. They are a bit cumbersome to store without a tool roll. While some of the auger bit rolls I have seen for sale are quite remarkable in terms of craftsmanship (i.e., Texas Heritage Woodworks), I thought it would be a good project to sew my own. We have a heavy duty Singer machine and I bought some brown duck cloth and red denim thread; I thought it would be an easy evening project. It turned out to be quite a challenge of my sewing machine skills and patience. Two rolls of thread later and plenty of practice with the seam ripper I was able to finish the roll.

Auger Bit Roll

I laid out the auger bit pockets with my framing square and marked the seam lines with a disappearing fabric pen. The piece is usable and I think will be quite durable. I made the bit pockets 1” wide for the small bits, 2” for the wider ones, and 3” for the 16 and 20 bits. I would recommend sticking with 2” wide pockets for bits sizes between 7 and 20 (note: these are sizes in 16ths of an inch, e.g., size 8 is 1/2” diameter). I plan a future sewing project to make a roll to hold my assorted Stanley 45 cutters.