Revisiting an Old Box (Part 2)

In part one, you saw how the box was constructed and the ‘minor‘ flaw, which effected the outcome on a larger scale. Now, I’d like to take a look at creating the veneered panels, assembling the box and finishing.

First of all, the veneers were sliced from blanks of a American black walnut and, what I suspect to be European ash, on my SIP 12in bandsaw. I didn’t have enough material to create full-width veneers – plus, I feared it would’ve pushed my bandsaw to its limitations, if not beyond. So, I was going to have to book-match them.

This was also the first time I had used a bandsaw blade made from M42 steel. They’re not re-sharpenable and I suspect TCT blades last much longer but, they should hold their edge and last much longer than ordinary carbon steel blades. Some M42 blades also come with a variable-pitch tooth pattern, where every inch of blade is configured with an alternate number of teeth – in this case I think it was “6-10 tpi“, which did require a slow feed-rate but, it also left an outstanding finish:

American black walnut.

On the left of the next photo is a finish straight of the planer/thicknesser. To the right, is what you get straight off a brand-new variable-pitch M42 blade:

Planed vs. Sawn

Undoubtedly, I decided that the finish was good enough to glue straight on to the 4mm MDF substrates without any further preparation. If I recall correctly, that M42 blades (at 2235mm long) was about £25 – three-times the price of a standard blade but well worth the investment. I recently received a similar blade for my Startrite 401e bandsaw, which has a variable pitch of 3-4tpi. Because the saw is much bigger and the blades are therefore that much longer then, of course, this blade works out even dearer than before! But, as I use my saw predominately for ripping timber, I’m sure it will be worth the investment, as carbon steel blades don’t seem to last that long, depending on what and how you’re cutting. I used to get my blades from Dragon Saws in South Wales, who went in to financial trouble about eighteen-months ago. However, you can still buy M42 blades from Ian John (a former employee of Dragon), now trading under the name of Tuff Saws, in case you didn’t know.

Each panel was then pressed between two sets of softwood bearers cramped in place on both sides – really, I should’ve added two sheets of 18mm MDF  here, as well; to keep the panels flat and prevent the slight distortion I experienced. Afterwards, they needed minimal work to clean up the joints with a scraper and abrasives – just in case you were wondering, yes, I did actually prepare the panels in this way before cutting the grooves in the box sides!! I do apologise for the way I’ve set out these posts, if it does confuse you at all. I wouldn’t do it any other way, personally. Or else, you risk ending up with a groove that’s too tight (so the panels won’t fit) or, the grooves are too wide and the visible gaps look sloppy, which always seems to be considerably more noticeable on small items and boxes like this.

Something I neglected to mention in the first post was the finish I got on the sycamore, straight from the thicknesser. Despite having reasonably sharp knives (three of them) set in place, the finish was almost disastrous and needed a lot of further prep-work, before I could start cutting joints or any other construction details:

A 'tear-able' result!

Yes, sycamore can be deceptively evil stuff to work with. It looks plain and safe but, it’s another one of those timbers that would encourage me to buy a small drum or wide-belt sander, one day in the future. Because, you see; when it came to polishing the inside faces before gluing up, I realised that my all my ‘hard-work‘ was done in vain, as the prepared surfaces were still far away from being ready from this stage, once the wax went on!

A warning to all!

So, I had to scrape all that off, scrape and sand some more and then think about re-finishing!

Fortunately, I didn’t have any such trouble with the panels:

Chestnut's Shellac Sanding Sealer

This has since become my preferred finish for small boxes like this. As much as I like oil finishes, they tend to smell horrible when used inside a closed, confined space (drawers being another fine example). I’ve tried using the cellulose-based sealer in the past but, even when it’s thinned by a small amount, I find it too thick and ‘gloopy‘ for finer work like this. Shellac tends to darken the timber slightly as well and, it’s as easy to apply as an oil finish. As well as using a brush, you can also use a clean cloth with good results.

On top of that, I wanted to add a coat of wax:

Chestnut's Wood Wax 22

I once tried a black bison wax from Liberon but it left me unimpressed. The smell throughout was quite horrible and it did little to really ‘lift‘ the grain within the wood (that box was also made of sycamore, coincidentally). I quite like a beeswax finish but, on this occasion, I wanted to try something new and that turned out to be Chestnut’s Wood Wax 22. I’ve used it a few times since and the results are always the same – after only the first coat, the grain shimmers and catches the light unlike anything I’ve seen before. Try to put too much on (even a second coat) and you can make a mess that’ll easily attract finger marks.

This was purchased at one of Yandles’ Woodworing Shows down in Somerset, two-years ago [the next one is in a couple of weeks, by the way!]. I didn’t realise until it was too late, but I made the mistake of buying the ‘mellow brown‘ wax, as Yandles didn’t appear to have any of the ‘clear’ finish available (I assumed it didn’t exist…). A browse through the Axminster catalogue sometimes later revealed that there is a clear wood wax finish! 😳 This was added to my growing collection of wax polishes several weeks later.

At first, I was quite impressed with how this wax had darkened the sycamore, without turning it to a shade of orange or anything that resembles the colour of urine. It looks good on the walnut but, it may be a little too dark or orange for the ash – you’ll have to wait until part three to decide for yourselves though, as I still need to take some “reasonable” finished photos. 😉

As you may have noticed at the top of the first post, the box was assembled inside a web of top ratchet straps, which I’ve found to be excellent for gluing up mitred boxes, which are otherwise very difficult to cramp successfully. A placed a short length of angle iron in each corner, protecting the sycamore with scraps of abrasive paper.

Cramping mitred corners.

I think you can imagine that there was much left to do from here on, except to clean up all the outer faces and finish them in the same way as the insides. So, I’ll wrap up here and, next time, you’ll be able to see some finished photos and pass judgement for yourselves. 🙂

Thanks for reading.

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