HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 3

A trip to the Home Depot resulted in a decent haul.  After rooting thru the stacks of #2 mystery pine, I managed to pull out one 1x12x6′ and two 1x12x4′ boards that should yield all of the timber needed for this project.  I’m not overly picky when going thru the stacks.  It’s #2 grade after all.  I typically reject any boards with knots on their edges.  Any with loose knots and any that show signs of a twist.  I learned that lesson long ago with this marginal lumber.  No matter what I did to remove twist from a board, it kept coming back.  Not good and not worth the hassle.  Anyway, here is what a drug home.


The first order of business this morning was to convert my proportional drawing into a working full-size shop drawing.  I’ve talked about this before, but it’s worth repeating.  I design with proportions to make scaling a project much easier.  For example.  Let’s say I want one of these boxes to be a specific height.  I’ll simply plug in that height and use the dividers to break that distance down to find all of the other distances.  So, suppose the required height is 15-3/4″.  The design drawing shows that the proportional height of the box is 9D (modules).  Therefore, 15.75/9=1-3/4″.  Then I would create a module key based on 1-3/4″ and then simply step of all the other distances.

For this project I’m using my usual 36mm for the module.  To start the full-size drawing I first created a module key based on 36mm.


Once the module key was established it was quick and easy to step off all of the required distances.  Well…mostly.  I had a couple of missteps as evidenced by the presence of correction fluid on my drawing.


So you can have an idea of scale.




So why do I design around 36mm?  Simply because it breaks down into the standard thickness of timber as well as the widths of chisels that I own. i.e. 6mm, 9mm, 12mm, and 18mm.  No magic involved just practicality.  I also find that any scaling of a project rarely changes the material thickness enough to warrant matching the resultant scaled thicknesses.  That’s probably clear as mud.  It’s far easier to do than to explain.  Just shoot me questions if you want to know more or need clarity.

I purchased the 6′ board so that I could fabricate the entire outer case with the grain running continuously around the box.  Starting at one end of the board I laid out the end, then the top, then the other end and finally the bottom.  I paid particular attention to the knots.  The last this you want is to try to cut joinery thru a knot.  I was able to avoid almost all of them.  The only knot that landed on a joint fell in the waste portion of a finger joint on one of the end panels.  Sometimes I get lucky.

I apologize for the lack of progress photos.  Since this is a new design I was concentrating on not screwing it up.

The next step was to surface plane and then square the ends of all the pieces on the shooting board.  The ends were made to be the exact same height and width.  The bottom and top received the same treatment.

I began the joinery with the dados in the end pieces.  Marking one end panel directly from the full-size drawing and then ganging it with the opposite end panel to transfer the marks.

Dados marked and ready to be cut.


Never hurts to double-check against the drawing.


There are multiple ways to cut a dado joint.  The end result is all that matters not how you got there.  For the record, I knifed, then chopped, then pared and finally leveled the bottoms with a router plane.

The top is joined to the sides with a 5-part finger joint.  For this I simply used a pair of dividers and trial and error until I had them set to exactly 1/5 the depth of the box.  The bottom is joined to the sides with a 3-part finger joint.  The front and rear portion of which are housed in the dados.

Cutting finger joints is no different than thru dovetails.  Less the angles of course.  Mark, saw and chop the portions on one piece and transfer to the mating piece and repeat.  I’m working in pine and wood compression is my friend.  The housed portion of the bottom added a little extra chance of screwing it up but not too much.


Up to this point I left all of the pieces the exact same width.  I think this made it much easier to keeping the joinery layout correct.  The top still needs the front trimmed back to make way for the lift out front panel and it needs a rebate at the rear to house the back panels.  The end panels need their width reduced at the rear to make way for the back panels as well.  I already trimmed the front edge of the bottom panel to make way for the skirt.  If I had made all the pieces their finished width from the start, I guarantee that I would have made a mess of the joinery.



Not a bad start if I do say so myself.  I’ll piece at it this week after work as time permits and go at it hard again next weekend.

Part 2 Greg Merritt

Posted in Hillbilly Hobby Tansu-000 | Tagged , | 11 Comments

HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 2

The design drawings are complete and I believe that I have all of the joinery elements worked out.  As I said in Part 1, the joinery is fairly simple.  Consisting primarily of dados and finger joints.

The overall proportional layout.


Detail sheet showing the arrangement of dados and finger joints on the end pieces.


hb_hobby_tansu-isoThe basic box is consists of a top panel joined to the ends with a (5) part finger joint that will be pinned with bamboo pegs.  The bottom is joined to the ends with a (3) part finger joint with a slight modification.  The front and rear portions of the finger joint rest in a shallow dado with only the center “finger” lapping the full thickness of the end panel.  This center finger also creates the cutout that forms the feet on the ends.  The bottom panel is tucked behind a simple skirt board that is lapped and pinned to the ends and glued to the edge of the bottom panel.

The center horizontal board that separates the large bottom drawer from the drawer bank above it, is installed in a stopped dado.  This dado will intersect the vertical dado that retains the removable sliding panel.

The back will be made up of two or three panels.  It will overlap the end panels and tuck under a rebate on the top panel.  Glue and pegs will secure it into place.  I’ll either ship lap the panel joints or spline them.  I’m leaning towards ship lap at this point.  Plywood is another option but the solid wood panels will have a better aesthetic.  Especial since the edges will be exposed and this box will be seen from all angles as a matter of course.

hb_hobby_tansu-scrollThe removable sliding panel consists of three parts.  A main board, a decorative appliqué, and the top trim piece.  The appliqué will simply be glued in place since the grain of it and the main board are running horizontally.  There is evidence that this appliqué was pinned in place on the antique and I’m not entirely sure as to why.  My guess is they were a backup to glue failure.  Rice or hide glue would have been the choices for glue on the antique.  Since both are subject to failure in high humidity, pegs would have ensured the pieces remained together.  At any rate, I may end up adding a few bamboo pegs as well, for the same reason.  The top trim piece will be glued and pegged in place.

The two pieces that form the upper drawer bank will be joined and installed in stopped dados.  The stopped dado will prevent the dado from showing on the front of the assembly.    This is not just cosmetic, it also serves to lock the pieces in place.  With the back panels of the box installed the divider pieces will be prevented from moving to the rear and stopped dado prevents them from moving forward.

The drawers will be my normal construction.  Lapped and pinned dovetails at the front and pinned finger joints at the rear.  The installation of the drawer bottom I’m still undecided on.  I’ll either install it in a groove or rebate it into the front then glue and peg it directly to the bottom of the assembly.  How the drawers are made is inconsequential.  They just need to be sturdy and function as intended.

I’m just about ready to start cutting wood for this project.  All that is left is to create the full-scale shop drawing and a trip to the big box store for the lumber.  Tomorrow should see the first cuts being made.

Below are pdf versions of the layout drawings.



Part 1 Greg Merritt Part 3

Posted in Hillbilly Hobby Tansu-000 | Tagged , , | 3 Comments

HB Hobby Tansu #1-Part 1

I’m interested in several crafts/hobbies some of which can be practiced inside the house.  Drawing, knot tying, leather and canvas work being the primary examples.  My wife enjoys crafting quilts and there is always some general sewing task that needs to performed as well.  Each of those crafts involve tools and supplies of their own that need to be stored away and, hopefully, corralled together.  To that end I have been searching for a suitable box design that can be pressed into service for holding these craft items.  My intent is for each craft to have it’s own storage box.

Generally I wanted a medium-sized box that could be easily transported from room to room and that could be stored away on a shelf or atop a dresser/tansu.  A drawer or two is always handy and of course it needed to have a Japanese flare to it.

In my search I came across several examples that came close to what I wanted.  The problem was that the examples tended to be a little to specific to the task.  They also tended to be purpose-built for a specific tool/material combination.  Two examples being the Japanese sewing tansu and the Japanese calligraphy tansu.

I like both of these examples but they each fell short of what I was looking for.  I wasn’t exactly sure what I was looking for, but I was confident that I would know it once I saw it.

So I spent a good deal of time trolling websites that sell Japanese antiques looking for inspiration.  Too big, too small, the search droned on.  Still nothing jumped out as “the one”.  Then I came across this merchant tansu.  Bingo!

One large base drawer with a bank of smaller drawers tucked away behind a removable panel.  The smaller drawer bank can also easily be configured as needed depending on the intended use of the box.  Very reminiscent of a carpenter’s drop-front toolbox.  In fact, I think this would make a great “fix it” toolbox for in the house.

The joinery is fairly simple (dados, rebates, laps) and I see no reason to change how this box is put together.  I will, however, change the drawer construction to match my standard assembly method.  Most of the details I can decipher from the photographs.  Those that I cannot, can be readily guessed and have little structural importance.

I’m currently working on my usual proportional layout drawing as well as a couple of detail sheets that cover the joinery details.  The seller of the above antique lists the dimensions as 19-1/2″(W) x 13-1/2″(D) x 12″(H). I’m scaling this first box to take advantage of a nominal 1×12 available at the big box store.  Once the design work is complete I’ll begin the build process.  The lumber for this project will be the same inexpensive Home Depot #2 pine that I built the Japanese Toolbox from.  The specific species of pine is still a mystery, but it was pleasant to work with and half the cost of the clear pine.  Win, win.

Greg Merritt

Posted in Hillbilly Hobby Tansu-000 | Tagged , | 15 Comments

Practice with the Uzukuri-Part 3

The completion of my Japanese style toolbox gave me the opportunity to see how the uzukuri technique would respond to a linseed oil finish.  All of the exterior surfaces, except the bottom, of the toolbox received the uzukuri treatment.  The surface created by the uzukuri is a burnished surface and I wondered how it would respond to the oil.

I half expected the oil to just pool on the surface.  Thankfully that is not what happened.  The BLO was absorbed normally.  What did happen was a little surprising though.

The burnished surface was quite glossy before the addition of the oil.


After the oil though, I was left with more of a satin finish.  My guess is that the compressed fibers, from the burnishing process, swelled slightly as they absorbed the oil.  Not expected, but not unwelcome either.  In all I finished the toolbox with one coat of BLO and one coat of Tried & True Original.  The Tried & True product contains linseed oil and beeswax and buffs to a nice sheen.

I really like the surface that is created by the uzukuri.  It’s a simple process to complete and it’s quite easy to create as little or as much texture as desired.  One thing to keep in mind is that the process is easier to perform on the individual parts than on the whole assembly.  So it’s best to treat each piece as you go.  A little blending after assembly brings everything together.

I wish there were someway for all of you reading this to touch the surface.  I cannot adequately describe it.  But it begs to be touched.  Smooth and rough, but in a pleasing way.  Another thing is, IMHO, that it elevated a marginal piece of timber to something interesting and beautiful.  I will be employing this technique quite a bit on future projects.  One downside, however, is that it’s unbelievably difficult to photograph.  I did the best that I could, but these photos fall well short of the real thing.








Part 2 Greg Merritt

Posted in Finishing | Tagged , | 8 Comments

Japanese Toolbox-Progress 5-Complete

I did a little less than scientific weight trials on the completed toolbox.  I used a bathroom scale and weighed myself.  Using that base weight I was able to obtain a fairly close approximation of the empty and packed toolbox.

To find the empty weight I simply stepped on the scale while holding the toolbox.  A quick calculation and the empty toolbox was found to weigh approximately 15lbs.  Pretty light, I think, for the size.  Next I began loading in tools to get an idea of the capacity.

I was surprised at just how many tools I could pack in.  In fact it easily held all of the tools that I would typically need for any of my projects with a little extra room remaining.  I’ll not list everything here but here are the highlights.  The box held a #4, #5 and all of my joinery planes.  All of my Japanese saws easily fit as well as the majority of my layout tools.  It also held a full complement of chisels plus my sharpening setup.  My boring tools also fit.



Once fully loaded I installed the lid, picked up the toolbox and stepped on the scale.  Another calculation revealed that the loaded box had 50lbs of tools in it, giving me a 65lb package.  Not too bad for the number of tools that I had in it.

This toolbox was never intended to be worked out of.  It was designed for transport and possibly storage and I think it will excel for these tasks.  It’s just a box after all.  With a few additions it could become a toolbox that could be worked out of.  A shallow tray for chisels and layout tools would be a really good start in that direction.  For now, I like the flexibility that a simple box affords.

The toolbox is surprisingly strong given it’s weight and simple construction.  There are a couple of design elements that I would like to point out.  The first being the integrated handles.  Besides being, well, handy, they cause the ends to be inset.  This moves the screws securing the sides well away from the edge of the sides.  Reducing the chance of a spit during assembly and during use.  The other design element has to do with the bottom panel.  Generally speaking, the width of this type of toolbox is fairly narrow.  Typically 10″-16″ being the width chosen.  This narrow width reduces the loading on the bottom and allows for a thin, light bottom panel.  One additional weight reducing element is the lid.  The lid has no structural value for the box.  It simply closes the top opening to protect the contents.  So the lid can be quite thin.  The lid battens adding rigidity and helping to keep the panel flat.

A finish isn’t really necessary but to further my uzkuri research I added a single soaking coat of BLO.  Once that had dried for twenty-four hours I added a coat of Tried & True Original.  When that had dried I buffed the toolbox with a soft cloth.  As expected the oil brought out the grain and added a little color.




Part 4 Greg Merritt

Posted in Japanese Toolbox | Tagged , | 18 Comments

The Art of Hand Washing Dishes

I am utterly saddened by the number of people who rely on an electric dishwashing appliance to clean their dishes on a daily basis.  This trend is causing the art of hand washing to quickly fade and it is in danger of being completely forgotten.  Soon to be lost are the nuances that are paramount to the art.  In the following paragraphs I will attempt to log these details in hopes that some record of the hand washing art will survive.

I shall begin with the detergent that is required.  For without the proper detergent the entire process is diminished to the level of a rank amateur.  The proper detergent for hand washing dishes is lye soap.  But not just any lye soap will do and it must be manufactured from the proper ingredients.  The base ingredients for genuine hand washing lye soap are as follows.  Fat rendered from hogs that are more than twelve months, but less than fourteen months of age.  These hogs must also have only been fed a mixture of yellow corn mash and egg shells.  The fat from these animals will be of the highest quality and essential for making the proper lye soap.  The wood ashes for the soap should be obtained by burning only red oak timber that has been air dried for at a minimum of three years.  Care must be exercised so that no knots are burnt in the process.  For the knots will foul the ash mixture and render the resulting soap all but useless for hand washing.  If none of the soap making artisans in your area are capable or willing to meet these requirements, then you must resort to mail order or self-manufacture.  Self-manufacturing being far too involved for the scope of this article.

The required cloth for both the washing and the drying of dishes is best obtained from antique pre-WWII flour sacks.  These are becoming exceeding rare, but the expense for this cloth is a small price to pay for the art.  These cloths are 100% cotton and were made on looms that are no longer in service.  It is also speculated that the flour once stored in these sacks imparted a particular quality to the cloth that there is no way of replicating with modern manufacturing techniques.

A scouring brush will prove useful from time to time.  As with the other items, the type of brush employed will either elevate or completely destroy the quality of the artistic process. The proper brush can no longer be obtained from any known source and therefore must be fabricated by the artist.  The dried roots of a three year old wild dogwood tree are required for the manufacture of this brush.  There are several opinions as to the correct number of dried roots that should be bound to create the brush.  Generally the number of roots required ranges from one hundred to one hundred twelve.  I  favor a brush made with exactly one hundred and seven roots that are all of the exact same diameter bound with sisal twine.

This brings me to the water.  Two basins will be required.  One for the washing and another for the rinsing.  The former needs to be brought to exactly 150deg.  At this temperature the lye soap is added and allowed to dissolve.  The water then must be cooled to, and maintained at, 120deg before any washing can begin.  The rinse water is equally important and must be maintained at exactly 170deg.  It is important to obtain a minimum of two quality thermometers in order to monitor and adjust the water temperature.

Now that I have listed the proper implements and supplies I will describe the actual hand washing art.  Only one item should be in the soap and water mixture at any time.  For all pots, pans and circular dishes a clockwise scrubbing motion must be utilized.  Many amateurs will use all manner of scrubbing strokes and as such destroy that art form.  For utensils the proper stroke is away from your body working from the handle of the utensil to it’s tip.  It is also very important that the utensil be completely submerged in the wash water during the entire process.

The items are then fully immersed into the rinse water for exactly 6.5 seconds.  Then removed from the water and held above the rinse basin for a further 2 seconds.  The item is then immediately dried with the aforementioned cloth.  Many an amateur will employ drying racks.  Please do not follow this poor example.  Endeavor to maintain the artistic process.

I hope that you have found the above information both informative and inspiring.  At the very least, I hope that it has encouraged you to abandon the use of the electric dishwashing machine.  The art of hand washing dishes is something that is far too valuable to let slip away into the annuls of time and must be preserved.  I encourage you to take up this highly rewarding and useful art form so that you too will have clean dishes.

The preceding is complete and utter nonsense and I hope that you recognize it as such.  Any similarity to the woodworking world is intentional and meant to provoke thought.  While I understand the value in preserving traditional methods, they are not always the be all to end all.  I also believe that some woodworking can transcend the common and become art.  That being said, creating and making are what I find more important.  I approach woodworking with practicality.  Using the tools that I have and exploring techniques to find what works for me.  As budget or necessity dictate, I’ll further explore tools and materials.  Sometimes my tools and methods are in-line with “expert” opinion but, more often than not, they are not.  Even so, somehow I still manage to build things from wood.

I’ll bet you can do the same.

Greg Merritt

Posted in Thoughts-Views, Woodworking | Tagged , | 23 Comments

Japanese Toolbox-Progress 4

Fabricating the parts for the sliding lid was just more of the same that I’ve already done in the build so far.  Starting with the lid panel itself.  The first step was to measure the exact distance between the end caps.  Then add an additional 1″(26mm) to this distance to find the true length of the lid panel.

The lid panel, like the bottom, needs to be thicknessed down from 3/4″ to 1/2″.  Same again as with the bottom panel.  Dress one face, gauge for desired thickness, heavy bevel on the outside side and Continue reading

Posted in Japanese Toolbox | Tagged , | 10 Comments