Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Adam's plant bench is done

Home at last

Completing this project was an excercise in patience. Finishing wood before it's ready is always tempting, and always a mistake, so Adam and I challenged ourselves to be patient.

first coat of polyurethane dries
During smoothing, I used a 50 degree blade in my bevel-up smoothing plane because of the tricky grain direction around the miters, and learned why smaller cutting angles are preferable for softwood. The result was like a much smaller version of the pilling you sometimes see on a sweater.
a revealing moment of truth
We planed, scraped, repaired, made some mistakes, made more repairs, and ultimately sanded it to get the surface we wanted. We spread this over at least two evenings, which was barely enough.

tiles spaced while underlying mud dries
We started with one thin coat of glossy clear polyurethane thinned with a little mineral spirits. I like this finish because it's easy to get an even coat by wiping on and wiping off. Also, I like the way it soaks into the wood, leaving the wood's own natural sheen on display.

spreading grout, a messy process
This was enough protection that we decided to lay the tiles. Having never done tiling before, I was learning from Adam. We did a dry run first to check the spacing, then spread a layer of corrugated mud and set the tiles in their final positions. A bag of tiny spacers and finger pressure was all that was needed to get the spacing right. I was impressed with how easily this went, although the tops of the tiles were noticeably out of flat.
excess grout was no fun to clean off

Spreading grout was entirely different. We spread it over the tiles, packed it in the gaps, and scraped it off. At this point, the tiles weren't exactly clean, but the bulk of the excess was gone. After a few days, it was dry enough to wipe the excess off with a damp cloth. The difficult part of this was finding out that the grout (powder & water) was still fairly easy to dissolve in water, and tended to seep under masking tape, leaving dark stains on the wooden frame. These were sneaky but easily removed with yet another damp cloth. Also, the grout didn't come off very easily. I made some scrapers out of small padouk scraps, which worked well, but there was still a lot of elbow grease involved. I left Adam to do the bulk of this part and cleaned the shop instead. I wonder if the grout cleanup would have been easier if we waited longer.

Clean tiles. Finally.
Back to finishing. We masked off the tiles and went over the parts lightly with steel wool before applying a second coat of finish. After it dried, we both agreed that any more would start to build up a visible glossy layer, so we left it at two coats.

Last-minute adjustments.
Finally, we could assemble and admire the product of our labors, or so we thought. As it turned out, we had forgotten to take wood movement into account for the legs. Fortunately it was one of the hottest and most humid days of the year, so we learned this lesson by finding that the parts wouldn't fit, not by having the bench explode later. We adjusted the mating parts of the legs and top, leaving a little extra room this time, having learned our lesson. One coat of finish on the freshly cut surfaces and we were finally done.

The frame fits together and is ready to accept the top
Now that it's over, I've learned a few things:

- Woodworking is more fun with friends, but more challenging too.
- How to lay tiles. Grout is not my friend, but I'm glad for the experience.
- Adam's idea to make the whole thing disassemble without fasteners is really cool. I may use it again.
- Lots of miscellaneous hand tool skills. This project was crucial early learning for me. I'm very glad Adam was OK with his project playing this role.

It works!
Despite numerous errors, I feel pretty happy with the end result, and looking forward to using the reclaimed shop space for whatever is next. Maybe a tool chest.