Well, I have finally started crafting the trundle bed I wrote about in the Trundle Bed Design series. Many family and unrelated projects got in the way of this project for some time. But no more excuses. The show must go on.
I decided to begin with building the panels for the headboard and footboard. The headboard requires a panel 22 57/64” tall by 40 1/2” wide and two panels 8 3/4” tall by 40 1/2” wide. The footboard requires two panels 8 3/4” tall by 40 1/2” wide.
The final thickness of the panels is 5/8”, but I prepare my stock for 3/4” and bring it to final thickness on the drum sander after glue up has been completed. This will allow me to take out any slight mismatches in the glue up joints which are unavoidable. In addition the drum sander can bring the finish panel to precisely 5/8” with 220 grit paper. That way, after shaping the edges, I can immediately apply several coats of finish, which I always do before affixing panels in their frames (The headboard and footboard are essentially a frame and panel construction.). Subsequent shrinkage of the panels will not reveal unsightly voids of finish.
Preparing stock for glue up requires the standard jointer, planner, jointer and table saw sequence to face and edge the boards. But the final step for me is always preparing the edges by hand with a hand plane. This accomplishes several things. First it removes any oils on the edge that exist from handling or are naturally secreted by the wood. This is especially important if the time from wood preparation to glue up is hours or days. Second the edge is given a glass smooth surface void of machine marks and scratches. Third I get a better edge, i.e. perfectly straight and square.
All these add up to a better looking and stronger glue joint. One of the tests I use for a properly finished edge is that I can get a continuous, very thin shaving, of equal width all the way to the end, and the length of the shaving is the full length of the board. Notice the shaving above right. A Lie-Nielsen smooth plane is the one I use for the final cuts. But I will start with a jointer plane if the edge is close to straight, or a block plane if I have to cut short local areas to correct for a bow for example.
When I have finished preparing the edges with a hand plane I immediately glue up. If I have a number of panels to do, as in this case where I have five panels, I’ll prepare all the stock on the power tools. But only the edges for one panel at a time is prepared on the hand plane so that the time from edge preparation to glue up is short, keeping the edges from getting soiled or dinged.
I have tested glued edge joints numerous times and always found that a properly prepared and executed joint will always be stronger than the wood itself. How long a joint will last I will never know because I won’t live long enough to see its failure. But the accelerated life tests manufacturers perform indicate these joints will still be going strong hundreds of years from now (barring abuse such as prolonged exposure to water, high heat or direct sunlight).
One other idiosyncrasy I have is that I always leave joints clamped overnight. True, the manufacture says you can work the wood after only one hour of clamping provided there are no undue stresses placed on the joint. But I am not sure what an undue stress is. This is an analog world we live in. Stresses don’t magically become undue at 10 lbs of force but not 9.9 lbs. So I am conservative but feel much more secure this way.
After curing for an evening the panel is ready for final thicknessing. I do this on my Performax Pro 22-44 drum sander. To gauge when a side has been entirely sanded and flat I mark the panel with red carpenter’s crayon in wide horizontal lines. When the marks are completely gone I have succeeded in flattening the side. See the picture at right. I use 220 grit paper for this final step. I will sand it one more time just before applying finish with 320 grit and an oscillating rotary sander.
I am careful during glue up to put the good side of the panel up, i.e. away from the clamp’s bars. This allows me to clean the entire surface unimpeded by the bars of the the clamps. See picture above left. I clean the other side too, but the bars always obscure some glue. When dried the backside will have little glue hills which I level with a putty knife. Still, there is remaining glue to be removed. So the backside is the one I drum sand first. Then I turn it over, mark the good side and continue drum sanding until I reach final thickness.
On a panel this wide each pass actually requires two passes. As you can see in the picture above right, the panel is wider than my drum sander. The 22-44 in the name implies you can sand a 22” wide panel in one pass, or one as wide as 44” in two passes. One note of caution about drum sanders; you must not let the work piece stop while going through the drum sander. If you do the sander will sand a horizontal valley into your piece deep enough that you may not have enough thickness left to remove it.
Once the panel is thicknessed I use a hand plane to create a square and straight reference edge. I then use that edge in my large panel cutter to square the panel to finished length. This panel cutter has been a life saver and workhorse for me. If you don’t have one I strongly suggest you make one soon. With it I can cut large panels (wider than a kitchen cabinet end panel) perfectly square every time, and with ease. The panel shown is 24” wide and 40 1/2” long. This panel cutter uses both table saw slots, has a high fence to keep your hands away from the blade and has a block that completely covers the saw blade as the fence passes it.
When the panel is cut to size I wet it down with mineral spirits to inspect for any remaining glue spots. Hopefully there are none. This step also gives you an idea of what the panel will look like when finish is applied.
Of course, this being cherry, it will darken considerably with sunlight and age. Most of the darkening takes place in the first few months of exposure to strong light, but it continues for a long time. In the picture at right the wood came from two piles, one which had not been subjected to light and one which had (it was on top of the drying stack). These pieces will darken to the same color in a few weeks time.
However, you will notice some sapwood in this panel. Purists argue that you should remove all sapwood when crafting fine furniture. I respectfully disagree. I have always felt that nature does a better job of designing wood than we do. I like to expose all “imperfections” in the wood, including dark pitch pockets in cherry, or cats paw markings. I feel they add to the piece. I am sure that the Shakers didn’t throw out pieces with these imperfections, and if its good enough for the Shakers, it’s good enough for me.
One of the really neat features of SketchUp is that you can print drawings to scale. I printed out the headboard to full scale (1:1). It took about 23 sheets of 8 1/2” by 11” paper, though most of them were blank and I put them right back in the paper stack. I taped one side of the swan neck together and then encapsulated it with self sticking clear plastic and made a template, which I then traced on the panel. Only one side is needed for a template because the curves are mirror images and you can flip the template.
After rough cutting the swan neck curves, I used my Delta BOSS with course paper to sand away the machine marks left by the jig saw. I usually use my band saw to cut shapes like this, but a 1 1/4” re-saw blade was mounted on it and I didn’t want to take the time to change to a smaller blade. The BOSS oscillating sander does a good job, however, in the end I had to finish the job with lots of hand sanding.
This panel is rather large for the BOSS table so I used adjustable roller supports to carry most of the weight while still making it possible to easily manipulate the panel. Note that the circle in the top middle of the panel is not cut out at this point. If I would have cut it out at this point, the shaper, which will be used to shape the edges, would likely destroy the delicate points that are formed by the circle (see the first picture).
The next task was to shape the edges. During design of the bed I chose to do this on a shaper because I could get a cutter that would form a wider shape than possible on the router. But the cutter has a rather large 5 1/2” outer diameter. Plus the shape of the swan neck is such that I had to expose most of the cutter to be able to manipulate the panel during shaping. This makes for a somewhat risky and dangerous cut. In situations like this I am always super alert, especially during the start of a cut when the shaper can grab the piece and throw it, or throw sharp pieces at you. Also, I am conscience of where my hands are at all times.
Finally I cut the circle with the jig saw and repeat the BOSS and hand sanding process. When cutting pieces like this where the panel has to hang over the edge of the table, I make the cut in sections, and support the cut-off by clamping it to the panel. That way it will not unexpectedly fall an split a piece out ruining the panel. These little extra steps can save a lot of work and material and pay for themselves many times over.
When the panel is completed I wet it down with mineral spirits again. This time I am looking for scratches or dings. This sometimes happens due to the hard surface of the shaper and BOSS tables. If I find a mark I remove it now. If I were to skip this step the imperfection would surely show up after finish is applied and would be much more difficult to repair at that point.
This concludes Part 1 of Trundle Bed Crafting. In Part 2 I will make the swan neck frames the will encapsulate the panel. Stay tuned.