Cutting Tenons, Raising Panels
Now for the tenons. I occasionally cut tenons on the band saw, especially if there are not too many of them. I use the same setting on the marking gauge for the tenons and the mortises, and the same philosophy as if I were cutting them with a hand saw. I split the line with the saw blade and go nice and slow. Take your time on this, and follow your line with as much surgical precision as you can muster. (Do some test cuts in scrap.) Oh, and this may seem odd, but I choose not to use the fence; I do a better job freehand.
If you work nice and slow, you’ll end up with accurate cuts. Pat yourself on the back before cutting the shoulders on the table saw. You could also make the shoulder cuts first, before revealing your samurai skills on the band saw. Either way works well, in my opinion.
At this point, I put a 1/4″ straight bit in the router table and cut all the housings (dadoes) for the box floor, as well as for what I find to be among the most harrowing of woodworking operations: panel raising!
To raise the panels, I used a large profile cutter — one that cuts above and below the material. The smaller of the two profiles appears on the outside faces of the panels, adding a nice visual detail to the heavy-looking post-and-rail assemblies.
I don’t have a 7-1⁄2-hp, 3-phase shaper in the shop, but I do have a 2hp router with a 1/2″ collet that will accept the large, scary panel bit. Knowing this is an underpowered arrangement, I took the time to build a new fence out of some glued-up 3/4″ MDF and screwed it to the table in a semi-permanent fashion. This made it virtually incapable of shifting, in the event my bit would kick back like an ornery mule in the desert. I then routed a slot in the tabletop to accept the miter gauge from my table saw, furthering my intention to keep all my fingers in place for the next project. After a number of test cuts in various woods, including our precious mesquite, and a prayer for additional reinforcement, I started in carefully, moving VERY slowly.
The prayers, the planning … everything worked out well. I’m using the same two fingers to type this story as all the others I’ve written, and yes, I feel grateful. Before final fitting and surfacing, I cut the saddles into the front legs for the rails that will support the top in the “down” position. I then formed a radius on the back legs where the rails and top will pivot, which turns this entry bench into a “chair-table.”
Smoothing the Surfaces
I’m luckier than I am smart, so I was able to hand plane a fair amount of the exposed surfaces, including all the panels, posts and stile assemblies. The long rails were the toughest, but I managed to get the machine marks out before finishing with fine sandpaper.
I like hand planing because it’s less noisy, less hazardous (little or no dust), and it’s a good upper-body workout. Mesquite works surprisingly well with hand tools in spite of its idiosyncrasies.
After the finish surfacing, I whittled the edges of all the components using a small drawknife, a technique I learned from my days as a cabin carpenter in the far reaches of northern Minnesota. I think it’s a wonderful rustic touch that adds texture and visual interest.
I had glued and clamped the pine floor together a day earlier, and at this point I broke it out. After resharpening my #5 bench plane, I hand-planed the floor smooth (easy sailing!) before cutting a 1/4″ tongue all around on the table saw. The tongue allows plenty of room for wood movement inside the chest. I left this wood bare, hoping to coax out some of that good pine scent for the inside of the case.
Before final assembly, I gave everything a coat of wax-free shellac, as is my style. I’m a big fan of shellac: it may be the most beautiful natural finish out there, and it’s nontoxic to boot.
A couple of humid and ultimately rainy days caused things to swell up on me a bit, so I had to re-fit all the joints before final assembly. The way I figure, bringing lumber from a place that sees less rain in 10 years than we might get in Minnesota in a good month, this is to be expected. Just don’t try to force it; mesquite isn’t forgiving like that. If you don’t break the wood, you’ll break your hammer beating on it or throw out your shoulder in the effort.