Life on the Coast

Wednesday was a reminder that summer is on its way. It was gorgeous outside – sunny and warm. Some might even describe it as hot. Soon, 20-degree weather sunny weather will be the norm. Can’t wait for that. The weather fired my imagination and resulted in this box, with a sea-side theme: rolling waves, sun, and sand.I started with a few boards of mahogany I salvaged from a pallet. Once I cut out the nail holes, I had a dozen short boards which I then surfaced by hand resulting in a big pile of shavings. Mahogany is sure nice to work with; this is my first experience working with it.

Here’s what I ended up with to work with. Two of the boards have a little bit of colour at one ends – it’s just too bad that the colour doesn’t extend any further. I’m not sure what to do with these two boards. Maybe they would make nice panels for a pair of small doors. The lighter coloured boards are substantially lighter than the darker ones. I decided that I would first use the lighter and softer boards to get used to working with this new material. In this box, I used the third and fourth boards from the left. The darkest ones will make a very nice box when I get around to it.

With dressed material, the first thing I did was select the best and widest stock to use for the top and bottom. I cut them out with a hand saw, then selected the material for the sides, front and back from the remaining stock. Since the material was easy to work by hand, I decided to bring them down to final width with hand planes instead of a saw. It might have been quicker too, using a scrub plane to do most of the work followed by a #4.

Next, I crosscut the pieces to rough length and trimmed them down to their final length using a shooting board. Using my new favourite Japanese marking gauge seen on the bench in the picture above, I laid out the shoulders, the put the tail boards in my vise and cut them by eye with my dovetail saw. I used a fret saw to remove the waste and a chisel to pare to the line. I then transferred the tails onto the pin boards and cut out the pins the same way.

Always experimenting, I tried fitting one tail board with another pin board and found that while less than idea, the fit was acceptable despite not using any layout tools to determine the location or angle of the tails. Amazing! Remember, this is a soft piece of mahogany (emphasis on soft). It’s quite a treat for someone used to dovetailing maple. Literally, I just cut the tails, transferred the marks to the pin board, cut the pins, then pressed the two together. Compression is nice!

I turned on my pot of hot hide glue and added a squirt of water from the water bottle I keep nearby before dryfitting the box. All the joints closed nicely and the resulting box was squared nicely. I checked that the bottom fit well. I planned to later fasten the bottom on with screws but would be using it to clamp the box sides to in order to control the twist which can sometimes happen if you aren’t careful.

I pulled the box apart and checked on my hide glue which had reached the proper consistency – that of thin syrup. I spread the glue on one side of the joint, then the other and pressed them together, squeezing out the excess glue in the process. Next I did the adjacent corner, then finally the last two corners at the same time. I checked that all the joints had closed up properly before clamping the sides to the bottom. Before letting the glue harden, I ensured the box was square.

While waiting for the glue to harden, I laid out the pattern that I would carve into the box sides. First, I used the marking gauge and a square to define the limits of the carving on a scrap of plywood. Starting at the center point, I used a compass to layout the stylized waves.

Once the glue had hardened, I affixed the bottom in place using brass flat-head screws countersunk a little below the surface. Then I trimmed the bottom flush with the sides with planes first, then sandpaper. Normally I would not use sandpaper, but because I was dealing with face grain and end grain at the same time, I was unable to get a uniform surface that met my standards.

I then laid out the wave pattern on the box and used carving gouges with a few varied sweeps to physically define the curves with a series of vertical cuts. I then used a #11-3mm veining tool and a 1/16″ chisel to relieve the carving. Careful work was required in order to not chip out the areas not meant to be carved. This did happen a few times and I was able to use a thin cyanoacrylate glue to reattach the chips.

Now that the box is finished, even I cannot tell where I made the repairs. This softer mahogany is not the best material for carving.

I cut the top to fit and sat it on top. I was too plain and needed something else. I decided that a circular “sun” design in the center would look nice, so I used the compass to lay out a circle which I then divided into ten segments. Using a gouge, I hollowed out each segment, then decided to round over the transition to make it look like rolling waves.

Mistake. By removing the sharp transition line, the resulting surface no longer stood out. It’s sharp lines and shadows that really make carvings stand out.

Not at all happy with what I’d done, I decided to remove the carved surface within the circle using a router plane. Then, with a flat but recessed surface, I once again laid out the ten segments. This time, I used a bench chisel to carve each flat, but at an angle running downhill in a counter-clockwise direction. Using a V-tool, I undercut each segment emphasising the shadows.

I was happy with this carving, but the top still seemed lacking. I decided that two satelite carvings on either side would work, so I laid them out using the compass again along with a square. I divided each wing into four segments and carved them flat and angled like the center, but reversed their direction, making them run downhill in a clockwise direction. This section symbolizes sand (dunes). Again, I undercut them with the V-tool.

With the carving complete, all that remained was the hardware and finishing. I chose quadrant hinges because I thought they looked good on the box and feature built-in lid stays to prevent the lid from opening too far. Also, I had never used them. I decided to mortise them into the base of the box and surface mount them to the top. If nothing else, this would allow the top to be adjusted atop the box.

I carefully laid out the L-shaped mortises they required along the edges of the sides and back of the box and cut them with a chisel and router plane. I used the #11-3mm gouge to cut the curved front of the mortise. I predrilled for the brass screws with a 1/16″ drill bit and used a jeweler’s screwdriver to drive the screws, being careful not to overtorque them and either strip out the holes in the soft mahogany or break the soft brass screws. I elected to use flat head screws to secure the hinges to the bottom and pan head screws to the lid. All flat head screws would have worked as well, but all pan head screws would have prevented the hinges from closing fully. I then removed the hardware and prepared for finishing.

To further accentuate the carving, I applied a gel pigment stain to the outside of the box using an acid swab to get into all the corners. I first pushed the bristles further into the handle to effectively shorten them and give me more control. After waiting about ten minutes, I wiped off as much of the stain as I could using paper towels. I let it dry a day and applied another coat of stain. This time I was more careful to leave more stain in the recesses and focused more on just removing stain from the uncarved surface. Another day later, I applied three coats of lacquer, waiting a few hours between coats.

After the finish had dried completely, I reinstalled the hinges checked that the lid was still properly aligned. Only then did I install the friction catch. If I had installed it earlier, I may have found that it no longer matched after reinstalling the hinges. I bored the required holes and used cyanoacrylate glue to secure the brass stud and plastic receiver in place.

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