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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Five-Board Bench

After building a number of boxes of different styles and uses, I wanted to build some furniture pieces. I thought I should start pretty simple and I decided to build a five-board bench. These are classic utilitarian pieces with straight forward boarded (nail joinery) construction. The design involves, wait for it, five boards, a top, two ends, and two rails. The rails are inset into the ends for better stability. I chose to make mine 18” tall to match our dining chairs. It was 38” long and 11 1/8” wide with the width being dictated by the widest pine board at the home center, 1×12 gross dimensions. I bought the clearest, straightest 1×4 (rails) and 1×12 spruce-fir-pine (SPF) boards I could find that day at the home center. I let them acclimatize to my house for more than a month before dimensioning each piece.

Sidebar: I store all my project wood (before, during, and after construction) in the house. This helps to keep the materials at a more constant moisture content than they would stay in my shed workshop. A more constant moisture content means better stability to resist further cupping or warping. My house remains between 40-60% relative humidity while the shed fluctuates from 30% to 99% depending on the weather. I read about this storage approach in Jim Tolpin’s book The New Traditional Woodworker: From Tool Set to Skill Set to Mind Set.

This project started where all hand woodwork starts by cutting the boards to rough length (1” longer than finished) and planing them so they have at least one true face and one true edge. Probably my favourite description of this planing process is in Joesph Moxon’s book The Art of Joinery. It seems that SPF boards from the home center always need significant work to get them flat even though they have already been surface planed at the mill. In fact a considerable pile of shavings was needed for these boards and they started at 3/4” thickness and ended as flat boards as 5/8”.

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Once the boards were flat I marked and cut the notches on the ends for the rails. Then I made the cuts on the ends that defined the “feet” of the bench, basically these are large v-notches. I could have ‘gang-sawed’ (pieces clamped together and joints sawed simultaneously in both pieces by sawing through both boards at same time) the notches, but as my hand dimensioned pieces were not all the exact thickness I cut them separately to insure a better fit. With the dimensioning and joinery cuts finished, assembly was done using 6d cut nails. I used 3/32” pilot holes (pilot hole depth was 2/3 nail length) for the cut nails. I affixed the piece to my bench also using my twin-screw vice and clamps to aid in the tightness of the nail joints as I nailed the piece together. Nails were set using a nailset I filed to match the pattern of the cut nail’s rectangular head.

The finished piece before painting.

five board bench, unfinished

I painted the piece using two coats of ‘Lexington Green’ milk paint followed by an application of Danish oil. My references for learning to use this type of paint were articles by Mike Dunbar and Christopher Schwarz.

five board bench milk paint cut nails