HB Tansu #3-Progress 1

So the boy has decided that the tansu has some utility and has requested that I build one for him.  So I agreed.  Since he will be moving out in a few short years I thought an ultra-portable option would be a good idea.  So I sat down with my sketch book and scribbled a few options.  I finally settled on a design that has the same height as the first two that I built but only half the width.  I like the height that I have been using.  Basically its side table height and works well beside a chair or bed.  The width reduction will give this tansu a square footprint and will easily fit just about anywhere.  The decreased width will make sliding doors impractical.  So I came up with an asymmetrical drawer layout for this build.


I made a trip to the local Home Depot yesterday and purchased enough pine material to build the basic carcass.  As per my usual, I’ll be using birch ply for the panels and will be ordering this from an online source.  I have yet to decide on the drawer front material.  I may play with species selection to accentuate the asymmetrical drawer layout.

The first order of business today was to create a full-scale shop drawing.  I can’t emphasize enough how important I feel this to be.  The drawing makes the layout and checking of parts so much easier.


With the drawing done I turned my attention to processing the lumber for the frame.  Pulling lengths of members directly from the drawing.  Once all of the framing members were cut it was time to plane them all to a uniform width and thickness.  These parts are square in cross section and I use a purpose built planing jig to ensure that they are identical.  I place each piece into the jig and plane until the plane bottoms out on the jig and no more shavings can be produced.  I also continually rotate each piece so that each face is planed.  This step is well worth the effort.  The uniformity makes the layout and subsequent fitting of the joinery much easier.


When building these tansu I start with the vertical corner posts.  Using one as a master, I transferred the joinery locations directly from the shop drawing to the work piece.


I then clamped the remaining three posts to the master post and transferred the joinery locations.  This ensures that all of the joinery lines up across the work pieces.  If your new here I should tell you that I use a particular set of joints for building these tansu which you can review by following this link.  Anyway, I also created a dedicated marking gauge for the marking of this joinery.  So I then used that gauge to mark out the joinery and then used my sumi pot and sumisashi to mark all of the waste.


With the joinery layout completed on the posts I then plowed all of the required grooves in those pieces.



I still had enough shop time to chop and cut the joinery in one post.  I’ll not cut the end tenons until after chopping the mortises in the cross rails.


Like normal, work and weather will dictate how much, if any, shop time I get this week.  Worst case will be that I’ll have to wait until next weekend to further my progress on this HB Tansu.

Greg Merritt



Posted in Design, Hillbilly Tansu-002 | Tagged , | 11 Comments

Cleaning Day and Tool Storage

Today was all about cleaning the shop.  I’m pretty good at always wiping down my tools and putting them away.  Sweeping up the shavings…not so much.  The shavings were close to knee deep, so something had to be done before starting a new project.

The day started off slow though.  It was cold in the shop!  I’m pretty sure I heard my little space heater swearing at me as I headed back to the house and waited for the shop to warm up.  A couple of hours sweeping, sorting offcuts and two large trash bags later the shop was back in order and ready for the next project.


A while back Bill had requested an overview of my tool storage.  I had almost forgot about it and thought today would be a good day to tackle that oversight.

My tool storage solutions are quite simple.  Racks, drawers, shelves and pegs.  The bulk of my tools are stored on two tool racks.  One rack hold the main inventory of my wood working arsenal.  The second rack holds the odds and ends that come into play now and then.  Screwdrivers, pliers and such.

The main rack has two shelves, one at the top and the other at the bottom.  I store  my bench planes here.  The rack also has horizontal slats that are spaced out.  I store tools here by simply sliding them into the created gap behind the slats.  The remainder of the tools are hung on pegs.  Everything is within easy reach and I can reconfigure the tools easily if the need arrises.  Fasteners and other small items are kept on/in a small wall hung cabinet.  Saws hang on pegs from the front of the bench and the from the wall.

I also installed a couple of drawers at the end of my bench as well as a shelf.  The shelf holds my sharpening equipment.  The drawers hold files, scrapers, rasps and drill bits.

I’ve read several articles about open tool storage, dust and rust.  But, after three years I can report that I have not had any issues.  I frequently wipe my tools with an oil soaked rag and hand tools create a minimum of dust.  Anyway, this system works for me and my small shop.  Easy access to everything.

Greg Merritt


Posted in Thoughts-Views, Tools | Tagged , | 12 Comments

Chinese Gate Bench-Progress 6

I picked up today where I left off yesterday by profiling the remaining three legs.  I followed this by adding an edge detail to the long edges of the seat board.  Again I pressed my single moulding plane into service.  Then using my #4 to round over the remaining bits.  A little sanding here and there and I was ready for the final assembly.  This bench must be assembled in a particular way.  I described this procedure in an earlier post and had a request for a video to clarify my description.  Making a video is not something I’ve done very much.  Nor do I understand the ins and outs, but I took a stab at it.  At the very least, it does show the sequence.

With the assembly together all that remained was to wedge each joint and peg the end stiffeners in place.  Once the wedges were installed I needed to trim them flush.  This was a simple affair on the seat but the legs took a little more effort.  On the legs the short rail tenons intersect with the profiling.  To trim the tenons flush required the use of a gouge.  I trimmed the bulk out-of-the-way with the gouge and followed with the moulding plane.  With that the assembly of the Chinese Gate bench was complete.

I spent several minutes inspecting the bench and touching up any blemishes that I found.  Then I applied the first of what will be several coats of BLO.



I’ll spend this week applying a coat of Tried & True oil every day.  Next weekend will see this project completed.  I’ll take a few dog & pony photos and then call it done.

Greg Merritt

Posted in Chinese Gate Bench, Woodworking | Tagged | 14 Comments

Chinese Gate Bench-Progress 5

Woke up to about 8″ of heavy wet snow this morning.  This mess continued all day and is still coming down as I write this.  Trying to get to work Monday is gonna be fun.  Anyway, back to our regularly scheduled program.

The plan for today was to continue shaping parts.  But first I had to disassemble the dry fit from last time.  This went a little easier than I had anticipated but still took about half an hour of slowly knocking each joints apart.  Once I had the bench broken down to its basic elements I turned my attention to the long rails.  The first order of business was to create a template to ensure uniformity.  I used a scrap piece of cheap plywood to make my pattern from.  A little divider gymnastics and I had the layout completed.  Using a coping saw I cut the rough shape.  I followed this with 4-in-hand rasp and finally knocked off the sharp edges with sandpaper.  Using my newly minted pattern, I marked out each of the long rails.


I then used my bow saw to cut the rough shape.  Then I clamped the two rails together in the vise and used the rasp to refine the shape to the line.  Some further cleanup with a file and sandpaper and I was ready to add the heavy bevel to the edges.


To create the edge bevel I marked guidelines with a pencil using my finger as a gauge.  Most of the bevel I was able to cut with a spokeshave save the inside curve portions.  For this area I simply used a chisel bevel down and pared to the guidelines.  A little sanding and the long rails were done.


I must have been moving pretty slow today because that is about all I was able to get done.  I did manage to profile one leg and fabricate the small blocks that stiffen the end of the long rails.  The leg profile is subtle but adds a bit of dimension to the piece.  I used the same moulding plane for this as I used for shaping the short rails.  Of course it’s the only moulding plane I own, so the choice was easy.


Tomorrow I’ll finish profiling the other three legs and add some edge details to the seat.  Then it will be time for final assembly.

Greg Merritt

Posted in Chinese Gate Bench, Woodworking | Tagged | 2 Comments

Marking in the Waste

I’ve been working with wood for a lot of years.  Most of those years consisted of fits and starts with no real skill building taking place.  There were several reasons, but past is past.  This all changed a few years ago when several things came together for me.  I built a small shed in which to work, Paul Sellers started Masterclasses and I could afford to purchase some hand tools.  Once I could put serious focus on woodworking I knew that, beyond developing the basic skills, joinery was of primary importance.

As I began to build projects with more and more joinery one thing became obvious.  I needed a way to keep track of what went where.  A good deal of woodworking articles and videos make mention of using a lower case cursive “f” for marking the face side of a board in conjunction with a “v” to indicate the face edge.  Most woodworkers are also aware of using an indexing triangle to keep pieces oriented for assembly.  Laying out of joinery is pretty well covered too.  What is rarely discussed is how to mark the waste. An “X” or a quick scribble or, more often than not, no mark at all.  If you are cutting your joinery shortly after marking it out than this may not be that big of a deal.  If, like me, hours or days may pass between the marking out and the cutting than problems start to crop up.  I was spending a good bit of time reorienting myself with what was what.  Another issue was that I would occasionally cut on the wrong side of the line.

If you’ve visited here before you know that I have a deep-seated, obsessive has a negative connotation, interest in Japanese and Chinese woodworking.  There are a multitude of reasons but their use of joinery is what keeps me hooked.  As a result of this interest I purchased a video by Jay van Arsdale titled “Japanese Hand Tools & Techniques“.  In that video he touches on how Japanese carpenters mark in the waste to communicate what is to be removed.  They use these methods because the master carpenter is the one doing the layout.  However, he is rarely the one who actually cuts the joinery.  So a system was developed to readily and clearly communicate where and how the joinery was to be cut.  This method seemed like it would be worth a try.

sumi_pot-19After sketching ideas on paper I devised a basic system that I could put to the test in the shop.  The first trials were using a pencil to create the tick marks.  This worked but were simply not bold enough to give the visual contrast needed.  I then tried a Sharpie marker.  This worked fairly well.  I also ordered and tried a brush tip pen.  This worked great.  The tick marks took on a tapered form.  Fat at the beginning and thinner at the end.  They looked like, well, brush strokes pointing to the center area of the waste.  In the video, van Arsdale used the traditional sumisashi and ink pot to create the marks.  I like this method too.  So much that I made my own ink(sumi) pot.  It’s more work to get the equipment ready but is fun to use.

Since I began using this marking system confusion and errors have dropped dramatically.  I can still produce some bone-head moments but they are coming with far less frequency. By taking the time to mark the waste my focus on what I’m doing increases and I, by default, recheck my layouts.  I’ve discovered caught potential errors this way.  I’m also able to pick up a piece and quickly understand what joinery needs to be executed.  No matter the how long the delay between the marking out and the cutting.

Below is an example of a project piece with the joinery marked using my system.  Note the visual contrast between the pencil lines and the ink.


Here is a quick reference drawing that I put together to help illustrate the system I use.


I don’t expect anyone to adopt my system.  If you do however, let me know how it works out for you.  What I do want is for you to consider at least how you currently keep track of your joinery layouts.  Maybe you could benefit from creating your own system as well.  I can attest that using a system to mark my joinery waste has benefited me greatly in my own work.  Something for you to ponder on at least.

Instructional Drawing PDF:Marking Joinery Waste

Greg Merritt

Posted in Woodworking | Tagged , | 9 Comments

Chinese Gate Bench-Design Notes

I thought I would take some time and discuss a few key points pertaining to the structural design of the Chinese Gate Bench.  I designed this project from the ground up utilizing photos of antique benches and filling in the blanks with my best educated guess.  Now that I have a dry fit of the structure I feel confident that all of my choices were, if not historically accurate, correct in function.

cgb-end_view-dwgThe first item I want to discuss is the angle of the legs as viewed from the end.  There were two distinct variations when I reviewed the antiques.  One had a angle that resulted in the legs being wider than the seat.  The second variation utilized an angle that kept the legs within the width of the seat.  On this bench I choose to use the second variation.  A very shallow angle in order to keep the footprint of the bench no larger than seat itself.  In order to produce a stable bench the seat width must be a minimum of half the height of the bech.  Any narrower and things start to get “tippy”.  My design has the seat and resulting footprint exactly half the height of the bench.  The bench is very stable and will actually resist a good deal of lateral force before showing signs of tipping front to rear.  One point to note is that the outsides of the legs are directly in-line with the outer edge of the seat.  Those antiques that utilized a wider angle had, for the most part, the insides of the legs directly in-line with edge of the seat.  A small variation that results in a large visual and structural change.

cgb-saddle_view-dwgThe second item I want to discuss is the joinery for attaching the long rails to the leg assemblies.  Again I found two primary methods.  One method had this rail constructed from a single wide board.  The other utilized separate boards for the lower decorative gussets and then another board for the upper structural element.  To the best of my knowledge the original antiques utilized a saddle joint for attaching this long rail to the leg assemblies.  While it may appear complex, it is actually quite simple to execute.  So why go to the trouble of this arrangement?  Strength, a lot of strength.  The four shoulders of each saddle joint provide support to each leg helping it to resist racking forces from either side.  Essentially gusseting the top third of either side of each leg.

The third item I want to discuss is the double tenon at the top of each leg.  Most of the antiques that I reviewed showed evidence of a single tenon penetrating through the seat at each leg location.  A few showed the double tenon arrangement though.  My best guess is that the single tenon versions actually have a stub tenon into the seat board in conjunction with the through tenon.  Either way, these tenons are the key to locking the bench assembly together.  The tenons install into mortises that match the flare angle of the legs.  As the leg pairs are driven into the angled mortises they are steadily drawn closer together.    In the bench that I’m currently building, this difference amounts to about a 1/2″.  The short rails on each end assembly will only be fully seated when the legs are fully inserted into the seat board.  This also clamps each leg around the long rail saddle joint.  The only way to disassemble the bench is to back off each joint simultaneously, bit by bit.  Once the wedges are installed in the tenons the entire structure is dovetailed together.  Big deal you say?  Think about it this way.  In order for the structure to fail, all, I said all, joints must fail.  In other words.  The bench holds itself together.  I think that’s pretty damn handy.  Don’t you?

cgb-front_view-full-dwgThe fourth and last item I want to discuss is wood movement.  At first glance it seems that the seat board would soon be ripped apart due to wood movement.  This however is not the case.  Depending on the width of your seat the average amount of movement should be around 1/4″ in either direction.  Due to the placement of the uppermost short end rail and the thinner cross-section of the legs, the  top portion of the legs will behave like springs.  Flexing ever so slightly allowing the seat board to expand or contract.  The saddle joint aids in this spring action by creating even thinner cross sections that can flex at slightly different rates.  The long rails also provide support to the seat board in the vertical direction.  Additionally they act as shock absorbers for any inadvertent side-to-side stress.  Since the long rails are not attached to the seat board they are free to flex horizontally along their length.  This allows the absorption of racking stresses applied to the leg assemblies.  The long rail saddle joint is also lapped onto the legs.  This results in the “trapped” portion of the long rail being half the width of the original board.  Any expansion or contraction is minimal and can easily be absorbed.

So this bench is stable, strong, flexible and is designed to hold itself together.  At least that’s my take on it.  Maybe you agree, maybe you don’t.  I’m open to debate.  Because I always learn more from being wrong than assuming I’m right. ;)

Greg Merritt

Posted in Chinese Gate Bench, Design | Tagged | 3 Comments

Chinese Gate Bench-Progress 4

First let me address a point of confusion that I inadvertently created.  My intent all along was and is to install this bench just INSIDE my front door.  Given the name of the project and writings in my first post, I can see how I created the impression that this bench was going to be outside my front door.  Anyway, this bench will live inside the house.

My time in the shop today was stressful and long.  The day began easy enough.  I cut and fitted the second long rail.  This went smoothly.  Then it was time for the seat.

I marked the length from the shop drawing and surface planed one face.  Checking for and removing any twist or wind.  I then squared the long edges to this prepared face.  Using a marking gauge I found the narrowest point of thickness.  With the gauge set to that narrowest point, I  marked around the entire seat board.  Then I planed the remaining face down to this gauge line.  I verified that the two long edges were exactly parallel.  This is of paramount importance for marking out the mortises.  Then came the stressful bit.

The seat requires eight angled mortises.  These need to match the tenons exactly, or a least very closely.  If they are off by very much the leg assemblies will refuse to install or worse, the leg assemblies will be torn apart.  Since there are slight variations in the assembly the layout of these mortises needs to be pulled directly from the actual assembly.  So I dry-fitted the base assembly using clamps to pull all of the joints/shoulders tight.  Then I marked the outermost position of the tenons directly onto the seat.  Next I measured the actual width of each tenon and marked this onto the seat.  Then I measured the distance front to rear at the base of the tenons.  A little math gave me the inset from the long edges of the seat to the outer faces of the tenons.  Now I could set a mortise gauge and mark out all of the outer mortise locations on the bottom of the seat.  I then reset the gauge to account for the distance between the tenon pair and marked out all of the remaining mortise locations on the bottom of the seat.  Whew!!!

To establish the locations of the mortise openings of the top of the seat is a little less involved.  All that was required was to extend one set of marks to the end of the seat board.  Then using the bevel gauge, set to the correct angle, I wrapped these lines to the top of the seat board.  From there it was just a matter of setting the mortise gauge to match the additional inset created by the angle of the legs.  I fully intended to take photos as I did all of this but ended up being too wrapped up in my work.  You’ll just have to live my sketchy explanation.

I tried two methods of chopping these mortises.  The first method was to simply tilt the chisel to match the angle of the mortise.  This worked but I found it hard to control the chisel as well as difficult to maintain the correct amount of tilt.  The second method worked much better for me.  For this method I used a smaller chisel that would allow me to chop a plumb mortise at each location.  Then I pared away to remaining wast to give me an angled mortise hole.  This method was quick and allowed a good bit of control in the angle of the mortise walls.

After chopping all of the mortises I disassembled the base and fine tuned each leg to its corresponding mortises.  This went smoothly.  Only a small amount of trimming was required for each leg to seat into its new home.  Now it was time for the moment of truth and dry fit the entire bench.

The one quirk of this design, which is also one of its strengths, is that all of the parts have to be assembled simultaneously.  As each leg pair is driven into the angled mortise they start out wider and are drawn closer together as they are driven home.  This necessitates that the short rails must be loosely installed and will only fully seat when the legs are fully seated.  Since the long rails tie the leg pairs together, the whole lot must be driven together a little at a time and evenly.  Each joint must be monitored to ensure that it is seating at the same rate as the others.  Twenty minutes later and I finally had the assembly together.  Luckily it will be a few days before I have to try to take it back apart.

The only joinery left to cut for this project is the housing dados in which the end caps will be installed into.  These are mostly decorative but do add a measure of support to the ends of the long rails and serve to keep those ends parallel over the course of time.

It’s been a long time goal of mine to build a project that did not require glue or any fasteners.  This may finally be my first project assembled without glue.  The design, joinery and wedges will be more than enough to hold this bench together for a very long time.

Greg Merritt

Posted in Chinese Gate Bench, Woodworking | Tagged | 4 Comments