Every Workshop Needs a Br’all

This post is part of Get Woodworking Week, an initiative started by Tom Iovino of Tom’s Workbench, to build interest and participation in woodworking.

I know that every one of my readers except for Paul-Marcel, for whom I made the first one, is scratching their head wondering what the heck a Br’all is, what it does, and why they haven’t heard of it.

A Br’all is a shop accessory that I think every shop should have.  I designed it to do one thing and one thing only.  It does not require a great investment in either time, tools or materials to make, so it is a great Get Woodworking Week project.

The first video is the one you should definitely watch.  I show you how to make a Br’all using different hand tools, techniques and the purpose of the Br’all.  (Duration: 13 minutes, 14  seconds; the high-speed segments are 2x speed.)

The second video shows the letter carving I added.  (Duration: 7 minutes, 12 seconds; the high-speed segments are 4x speed.)

Here are some pictures of my bench-clearing Br’all.

Construction of “Table with a Twist” – Part 2: Twisted Aprons

This is the second post on the construction of my Table with a Twist.  The first post covered the making of the legs.

I had initially thought about making the aprons square like the legs because I knew how to twist a square blank and wasn’t sure how a rectangular blank would work.  I experimented with different apron designs and settled with a quarter twist (right photo).

However, I realized that having a 2″x2″ apron would not have offered enough support for the legs and I did not want to incorporate a stretcher below, as I felt that a stretcher would distract from the shape of the legs.  Using a wider apron provided greater racking resistance.  Before I laid out the twist in the legs, I had determined how wide (high) I wanted the aprons to be so I kept that area of the legs flat and untwisted to keep joinery simple.

I wanted the base to flare outwards towards the back as well, so that meant the ends of the side aprons needed to be cut at an angle.  Also, the front and back aprons needed to be cut at different lengths.  I wanted the flare to be subtle and I laid out a pleasing angle by eye which was only a few degrees.  I used my Domino joiner set to cut mortises for the largest Domino floating tenons which were 10mm (3/8″) thick and 50mm (2″) long.  I cut three mortises in each apron end and the inside faces of the legs.  To minimize the chance of errors, I cut all 16 top mortises first, then reset the Domino’s fence to cut the middle mortise, then reset the fence once again for the bottom mortise.

Then I dry-fitted the joints.  They were tight and perfectly aligned.  Because the Domino floating tenons were such a snug fit, it was work to get the dry joints together and apart.  That was what I wanted.

Next, I laid out the quarter twists which was as simple as drawing lines from corner to corner on all four faces.  I wanted to carve the twist on three surfaces, though only two surfaces are visible.  If I were only carving the two visible faces, I would have drawn diagonal lines on the two edges and one front face.

Unlike the legs, I elected to twist the aprons all the same direction – clockwise.  Then I carved to the lines using my drawknife.  As before, I finished up with a spokeshave.  To hold the aprons while carving them, I put the bar of a parallel-jaw clamp in my vise and used the clamp to secure them from the ends.  This gave me full access to the carved sections.

On the short aprons, I ran into an unexpected challenge.  Because I was carving a quarter twist in such a short piece, the twist was sharper than any I had encountered before.  This meant that my drawknife was of limited use and my spokeshave was even less useful because of the length of blade or sole of the tool.  I did what I could with my drawknife, then went to carving gouges, rasps and card scrapers.

Once again, I dry-fitted the carved aprons with the legs.  The back apron, which was not carved, was yet to be fitted.

Next week, I will detail the construction of the top and finishing.

Construction of “Table with a Twist” – Part 1: Legs

When I set out to create this table I knew that I wanted to use plain wood for the base and figured wood for the top.  I knew that straight-grained wood would be easier to carve, and complements the carving well; curvy grain would distract from the linear design.  I expected that using figured wood for the top in contrast to the straight-grained base would create a “wow” factor – another dimension to the piece.

As most of my projects do, this one started with a hunt for wood.  I had a nice piece of figured maple that had been sitting around my shop for a few years and this seemed like the time to use it.  However, I didn’t have any 8/4 (2″ thick) maple that was exceptionally straight grained in my shop.  I found just what I needed at a local lumber supplier, P&D Taylor Industries.

With all the necessary material on hand I was ready to begin.  I started with the legs because they require the most time and are one of the most enjoyable parts of the project.  Also, I rationalized that the legs would be easier to store than a table top while the rest of the piece was being made.  By finishing the top last it stood a greater chance of not getting damaged.

I sawed the 8/4 maple into 2″ x 2″ x 36″ leg blanks and surfaced them to 1-7/8″ square.  Then I cut them to final length.  I wanted the table to be 30″ high, so I subtracted the top’s thickness and set a stop block to that measurement.  Looking at the colour of the wood as well as the slight variances in grain I oriented the legs on my bench to make the prettiest faces most visible.  It wasn’t easy when they all looked so close, as straight-grained stock does!  Once happy with their position I marked them FR (front right), FL (front left), BL (back left) and BR (back right).  I made the marks on the inside corner so that I knew where each leg went and how it was to be positioned.  I made sure to make my marks on the tops of the legs so the letters didn’t get removed in the carving process.  In this position, I used (blue) chalk to indicate which areas needed to be carved away to form the 1/8 (45-degree) twist.  When viewed from the front, the front legs twisted outwards.  When viewed from the back, the back legs also twisted outwards.  So when viewed from above, the front left and back right legs twisted clockwise while the other two twisted counterclockwise.

The creation of the twists was actually very simple.  First, I drew a line around the leg indicating where I wanted the twist to begin.  Then I would have used my Board Twister… if I could find it.  Sadly, the stores didn’t have any in stock either so I had to twist the legs the old-fashioned way.

On the bottom of the legs I marked the midpoints of each face and connected the dots.  A miter saddle square came in handy here.  This diamond represented the bottom of the leg.  Carving the twist automatically tapered the leg at the same time.  Note that my leg blanks were riftsawn – the growth rings ran at approximately 45-degrees to the faces.  This meant that each face exhibited straight grain.  I didn’t want to see cathedral grain (arches) on these parts.

Then, being mindful of the blue chalk, I used a long straight edge to connect the corner at the top of the leg (where the twist starts) with the midpoint at the bottom of the leg.  Note that the diagonal pencil line was drawn counter to the implied angle of the chalk.  This was correct.  I drew this line on all four sides of each leg, remembering that for two legs, the diagonal line would go the other way.  (The leg in the picture below has a counterclockwise twist and the top of the leg is to the right of the picture.  You can also see the marking tools I used sitting on the bench.  I don’t remember why the fine-tip marker is there though…)

To ensure that the leg bottoms ended in a crisp, clean square, I first cut chamfers up to the layout lines.  This project made good use of the Tucker vise’s tilt capabilities.

Then I used a drawknife to remove the bulk of the waste.  My goal was to remove all the high spots between the diagonal lines I drew on the leg faces.  Because of the twist, I started with the drawknife at the top and parallel to the leg face and finished with the leg at the bottom, angled 45- degrees to the leg.  Of course, if the grain ran the other way, I would need to work in the opposite direction.  I had to be mindful of the layout lines!  Even though I could work right up to them with my drawknife, but I always finished up with my flat spokeshave which fairs the twisted faces.

When done, I had something that looks like this.  Notice that my formerly rift-sawn leg blank now appeared to be flatsawn or quartersawn, depending on how you looked at it.  There was a chance that there would be more prominent figure towards the base of the legs.  By using the straightest-grained wood I could find, I minimized the chance of exposing wild grain patterns.

I finished up with card scrapers and sandpaper to 180-grit.  If I was not planning to add a pad or glide to the bottom of the leg, I would have lightly chamfered the edges.

Next week:  Carving the aprons.  While they were also twisted, the layout and carving procedure was different and there were be some additional challenges!  I had considered a few different profiles before settling on the quarter twist.