Hand Tools are still Dangerous

In my last post, I had broken (smashed), two fingertips.  Now that really cramped my style for a few weeks. The biggest problem was that I was supposed to be delivering a blanket chest to my wife’s best friend as a wedding present.  With just a week and a half until the nuptials, I felt good enough to hold a hammer and get to dovetailing.

Before I could do that though, I need some nice, flat boards. Now, I had a dying walnut tree milled into boards a year or so ago, and had some nice 10” and 12” 4/4 stock on hand. But, I’ve got an 8” jointer.  I needed 20” wide panels, so I wasn’t about to take a nice, two board glue up and turn that into a 3 board one just so i could fit the boards on my jointer. Well, after much flattening by hand, I ended up with some pretty flat panels.

One or two were still cupped a little, but as long as you pull it flat when you mark your pins, everything will work out in the end. Mainly, I realized what the hell is the point of a 15” planer if I’ve got a 8” jointer? I’ve since read some tips on flattening boards wider than your jointer by removing the guard and blah blah blah. I just need a 12” jointer, end of story.

I guess it was because I cut 48 dovetails in two days, but I think I’ve got the hang of it at this point. AND seven out of 8 of the corners went together right from the saw cuts. I’ve discovered there are really only three things you’ve got to get right. First, you must saw straight across when cutting your tails. Exactly straight across.  I use a marking knife, so I find if I let the saw fall right into that line, it works pretty well. Secondly, mark your pins accurately. That means don’t let the board shift, don’t reset it while you’re marking them, don’t screw up. I don’t do the “140 trick”, but it would probably help. Go ahead and search for that on google if you want to know what it is.

Thirdly, cut your pins to the line, and cut EXACTLY straight down. Just start on the waste side of the line, and your saw will drop right on to that mark, and you’ll be good. I use a little square to help make sure I’m cutting straight down. Some would consider that cheating. Whatever.

Eventually, you’ll end up with some nice tight dovetails like so:

Now that I had the base and the carcass together (is it called a carcass on a blanket chest? I dunno), it was time to whip up some internal structure to support the drawer. I’m copying the Thos. Moser blanket chest, if you’re wondering what this thing is supposed to look like. So, I was squaring up the mortises in the drawer framing, and disaster struck. First, a picture of everything a few days later after I got it all together.

Anyways, I was squaring up the mortises with freshly sharpened 1/4 mortise chisel, and it got stuck. Now, remember, I was rushing to get this thing done. I had been working about 6 hours straight on this, and was pretty tired. One indicator of that was that I had been too lazy to clamp down the board that I was smacking my chisel into. So, that’s a bad move. Secure your work appropriately, folks. The second thing to remember is to NEVER have any part of your body in front of the sharp part of your hand tool. And never have any part of your body anywhere where your sharp, pointy hand tool might travel.

So, the chisel was stuck. I placed my right hand on the board to hold it down (with two broken fingers, I might add). And grabbed the chisel with my left, and gave a mighty heave, as if pulling the sword from the stone. Predictably, that chisel popped right out, and in an effort to keep from smacking myself square in the nose with the handle, I brought that extra sharp mortise chisel right down into my forearm. I let out a deep sigh, and walked over to my lovely wife, who happened to be in the basement with me. I asked her if she thought I needed stitches, and she said something about “sub-cue” tissue, so yes.  Half and hour or so later, here I was.

Twenty minutes later, I had these:

Awesome! So, that blanket chest didn’t get finished in time. The real lesson here though, is that just because something isn’t plugged in doesn’t meant it doesn’t require care and safe practices. Mainly, keep the sharp, pointy things heading away from you. And keep that rule in mind ALL THE TIME.  

February was definitely a “learn the hard way” month. I’m hoping that I can apply those lessons for a long time, and keep myself out of the hospital for at least, like, 6 weeks.

Next up: attaching the top of the Roubo, the tail vise, bench dogs, and more! I took very few pictures, so really I’m just going to gloss over all that stuff. But stay tuned!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *