82 – How to Build a Steamer Trunk (Part 1 of 4)

Voiceover:Today, we're going to start building this beautiful steamer trunk. (jazzy music) Marc:Now today we have a very special project planned for you. It's a steamer trunk,
but it's not just any steamer trunk, this particular
trunk is being built with a very specific purpose in mind. It requires a little bit of backstory. About a week ago I was contacted by a gentlemen named, Dwayne. And Dwayne, unfortunately, was recently diagnosed with pancreatic cancer. And, as he's going through his treatments and he's thinking about
his future, he really wants to build something
special for his daughters. He has a few boys, too, I think, and he's going to build other things for them. But he wants to build
either a hope chest, or a steamer trunk or something,
and asked for my advice on where he could go to
find some information on it. He has a limited set of tools so he wants something that's
relatively simple to build. And, you know, I've thought about it for a while and I just
couldn't come up with a way to help him that would do
this situation any justice.

You know, just answering
a few emails and maybe pointing him to a plan was
about all I could think to do. Then all of a sudden it hit
me, one of the most powerful things we do here is the
ability to change on the fly. There's no reason why I
can't just halt production on everything that I'm
working on and start building a steamer trunk and show Dwayne the processes using this video. So, that's exactly what this is. I'm building this trunk
specifically to show Dwayne how this is done and some of the intricacies of this particular plan. Now the plan that we're
using is a steamer trunk woodworking plan from Rockler. This is the one that he picked out.

We're going to make a few modifications to simplify it a little bit,
and make some changes that I honestly think make it
look a little bit better. So we'll get to that when the time comes. If you're interested in
this plan, I'll definitely put a link in the show notes and you can follow along, and if
you want to help Dwayne out, too, feel free to join
the Wood Whisperer Forum and everybody is kind of
pitching in there if Dwayne has any questions as he
goes through this process. And there's already a few people who are going to build along with us. So, let's dig into these plans since we've never really done a
commercial plan on the show before, and well, we'll
see what we're in for. Now a plan like this can
be information overload. Unfold it and you'll
see in the small space here there is everything I could possibly need to know about this project, including a cut list, some diagrams
and detailed pictures. And it's all very good
but the problem is when you first unfold this
and that's what you see it's very intimidating
so it's important to look at the project,
step away from the plan for a second, and look
at the final pictures of the project and in your
mind break it into it's parts.

We have two identical
signs, we have a front and a back, and we have a lid. The corners are made from separate pieces that fit into the whole frame's structure. So it's actually not that
difficult but, again, when you see it in this big,
giant, poster sized piece of paper all of a sudden,
it's information overload. So, once you do that and
you have a good idea of the overall structure, then you
can get into the details. And I always recommend
reading through the plan at least once or twice. Go through it and make
sure you see all the different details because you
don't want to do something in the beginning that screws
you up five steps later. A lot of times you'll
get to that point later and go, "Oh, if I only knew this before, "I would have cut that
part at the same time "as I cut those other parts".

So that's why having a good
perspective of the entire project is pretty important. Now let's talk a little
bit about modifications. Now just because you have
a commercial plan doesn't mean you have to stick to
every little detail in there. Have fun with it and
think of different ways that you might be able to modify the plan to make it suit your personal taste. Just make sure that any
changes you make you think all the way through to the
end of the project so you know how they're going to
affect things downstream. Now for this particular project what we're going to do is change the top. Instead of that arched
curve top, we're going to make one that's nice
and flat and squared off. Now, Dwayne doesn't have
a lot of tools and he doesn't have a whole lot
of time, so something like this really simplifies it for him. And, honestly for me, I just like the look of the square top better. Now the other change is the wood itself. The plan calls for rift sawn red oak and also red oak plywood.

Now I'm doing everything out of solid wood and I'm going to use quarter sawn white oak to do everything. Now the panels I'll have to make sure they have a little room to
breathe because they're solid wood, they're going
to expand and contract. That should be no problem. But it is quarter sawn
wood so the movement is going to be to a minimum. And I just kind of like
the idea of building it out of a really
heavy-duty, something that has a natural weather
resistance like white oak does.

It's going to go into a
bedroom, most likely right? But it's fun to think
and sort of romanticize where this piece may have gone years ago. If it was going on a ship and
on a long voyage you would want it to be made out of
some sort of a heavy-duty wood that's going to take a beating. Because, essentially, this
was your luggage at that time. So, kind of fun to think about. I've got some beautiful
eight quarter white oak here. Quarter sawn white oak with
some beautiful ray-flects in it. And I had to cut it all down
to four quarter material. All of the project, primarily, calls for four quarter and of course quarter inch material for the panels. So I'm not going to show
you that whole process.

Really it was just a bunch
of re-sawing to get these big blocks down to the
appropriate thickness, like so. As far as the milling process goes, we have reviewed that in the past. Go back to Episode 6,
The Jointer's Jumpin, if you want a review of
basic jointing and planing, and getting a board
that's milled perfectly square, perfectly flat and parallel. Now, most of my material is
cut to rough size and now what I want to do is mill it
down to the right thickness. Now all of the rails and pretty
much all of the structural components of this
piece are three quarters of an inch, so it's a
good idea for me to mill all of those parts down to three quarters of an inch all at the same
time so there's absolutely no ambuguity about the
thickness of the material and it's consistent all the
way through the project.

Now another thing to keep in mind, if your wood starts to move a
little bit when you cut it, and by this point you probably know that, this particular batch, I have to tell you, is moving on me a little bit. Stuff like that can
happen because of improper drying techniques and
maybe because of the way the tree grew and the
trunk may have been leaning so you get what's called "reaction wood". Either way, if there's a
slight amount of movement as you cut it, you want
to prepare for that. So, let's say I mill this board down to three quarters of an
inch, and it's perfect, exactly where I want it, and
then I go to slice it in half because I want to get
two pieces out of this. Well, two things can happen. The board can start to bow
a little bit and spread out this way or close in
on itself as I cut it, but also the board, once I
release it from the center, the board can warp in
this orientation, as well, and I've already done my
jointing and my planing.

So that means if I want to
get this board dead flat, I've got to go now less
than three quarters. So if you suspect that your wood is either reaction wood or what they
call "case hardened wood", if it hasn't been dried
properly, if you suspect that and there's a slight
amount of that, you might want to do this rip first
before I thickness it and this way if it moves at all, I can do the thicknessing later, flatten it out, and bring it down to
three quarters of an inch, and then do my final
trim on the table saw.

Since I know this stuff is
giving me a little bit of a problem, I'm going to go
ahead and do it that way. I rough cut the boards on the table saw giving me my two leg halves. I then joint one face and one edge. (sawing sound) Then I clean the other face on the planer. I now can cut the parts to final length. I trim one end nice and
square and then flip the piece around, drop my stop block, and cut the other side. (sawing sound) Now even though we're using
a plan for this project, our role and sort of
responsibility as craftsman is to bring the human element into it. To be able to look at
these pieces and decide which pieces look best in a certain area. So here's a great example,
the front, I guess you can call them legs,
basically the front corner pieces are constructed from two separate pieces and they
join at a 90 degree angle and that creates the front corner.

Well also the back corner
and each one of the corners. So what I'm doing is cutting those pieces from a single piece of wood. So let's say I would cut this one here, turn the piece 90 degrees
and connect those two together and that would
make one of the corners. Now the cool thing about that
is the grain patterns will match up and it's going to
look really good that way. But the one thing you want to really pay attention to here,
especially with quarter sawn white oak, is which side actually has the best ray-fleck pattern
and that's the reason we're using quarter sawn white oak is because of that ray-fleck pattern. So in particular, this one has
a stronger, what I consider, a more pleasing fleck pattern
on the right hand side so that's what I want
to face in the front. So it's important that I
designate, and I usually use my end grain to do that, which one
is going to be in the front.

So I want to cut it here. This piece, which still
looks pretty decent… (dogs barking) My dogs are saying "Hi". This piece still looks
decent so I'm going to turn that 90 degrees and
keep this in the front. That covers the left side. You know it's never too early
to start labeling your stuff and dedicating it to a
certain part of the project. For the right hand side I want this one.

This one has a little
bit more of a distinct pattern on the left side of the board. So I would cut it here and flip this piece around 90 degrees to the
side and this becomes the prominent front face. So the idea is to just raise your awarenss that even though this is just
the plan that doesn't mean that we can't make an
exceptional piece by arranging the grain in the most
pleasing way possible. Now let's focus on the
legs first, or what would be sort of the corner
post, they're going to be constructed from two separate pieces.

Now the plan calls for you to cut a bevel, a 45 degree bevel into each
piece, and put that miter together with a spline
that runs all the way down. There's nothing wrong with that technique, but I think there's a
simpler way we can do this and I think that's
going to help Dwayne get this job done a lot faster. That's to do a reinforced
rabbit on each of these joints. So instead of just putting
the two pieces together and have to equal-sized pieces, what we're going to do is have one
piece cut at two inches wide and another piece cut at
one and three quarters. And the reason for that
is I'm going to give a rabbit to the two inch
piece, and when you put these two pieces together, what
you wind up with is the size that we wanted in the first
place, two inches by two inches.

And really as far as it looks,
I think this looks great. And if the grain is
matched properly, as we discussed earlier, the grain
will sort of wrap around and that one little quarter
inch strip won't really make that much of a difference visually, and it'll be perfectly strong. So this is where we're going to start. So the first thing we
need to do is make this rabbit over at the table saw. So I'm going to use the dado blade on the table saw to make this cut. You certainly could use
a rounder and a straight bit and that would work just fine. But let me show you the set up here. What I've got is an
auxillary fence set up. And this could be any piece of scrap wood. I just happen to have the ultra-high molecular weight plastic strip. Basically the same thing
that's already on my fence and I use that
as an auxiliary fence. When you put one of these on
for the first time, you want to clamp it to the fence, make
sure it's nice and secure.

With the blade all the
way down turn the saw on. And then slowly but surely bring it up. You want to basically create an alcove in this piece that allows the
blade to nest in there. And the reason we do
that is because on a cut like this we need that blade to be all the way to our outside edge. If we don't have an auxiliary fence there, that blade is going to
contact our good fence and we don't want that to happen. It will mar the surface. It would probably be pretty dangerous too. So the auxiliary fence allows us to bury the blade and make sure
that we get a perfect cut.

So if what we want is a three
quarter inch wide rabbit here we need a dado stack
that's actually bigger than three quarters of an inch because some of that is going to be buried
in the auxiliary fence. So it really doesn't matter exactly what number you pick as long as it's greater than three quarters of an inch and then we can finetune the setting. The rabbit is going to
be a half inch deep. And that's a lot of material
to remove especially in something as dense as white oak. So I'm actually going to
do this in two passes. The first pass I'll do at
roughly a quarter inch. I'll run all of my pieces through, then I'll raise it back up to the final height, and then run all three pieces, I'm sorry, all four pieces, through afterwards. And that should give me a pretty clean cut and minimize the risk
of any sort of kickback. Now that the rabbit's
done, we can start to turn our attention to the grooves.

Now the grooves not
only go in these pieces, but just about every
other rail in this project has some sort of a groove, And some of them even have two, one on the top and one on the bottom. Let's head over to the assembly table and we'll kind of lay it all out and I'll show you exactly what we're going to do next. Now even though it's early
in the building process, we have some really critical
decisions to make right now. First of all we have to decide what board is going to go where,
and make sure we write on it and indicate exactly what it is so that we don't use track of it. For instance, the top rail is only going to have one groove that
goes all the way across. The middle rail, on the other hand, has a groove that goes on
both sides, so we need to make sure each board
is labeled appropriately.

Now as part of that and what I hope you're doing with every project
you do, is you look beyond just the obvious. That we've got a collection
of boards and we're going to glue them
together to make something. What we actually have is a
bunch of individual boards, each one telling some sort
of a story with its grain. And hopefully you'll be
able to develop an eye that allows you to put grain next to each other that looks
complimentary and looks good. If you have a certain type of
grain on the left side of the piece you want to make sure
you balance that with a similar type of grain on the
right side of the piece. If you have two panels on two doors next to each other you don't want those to be drastically different because
it's just going to look funny and it's going to distract the eye. So even at this stage with
something like a steamer trunk, we can really take
this project from just being "Oh that's really nice" to
"Wow there's just something "fluid about it, there's
something that just works." A lot of times its positioning
of the grain that does that.

So what I'm going to do is
I've got my long rail boards here, three for the front
and three for the back. And I'm going to look
very closely at these and I'm not sure how much the camera is going to pick up with the
subtle differences between these boards, but just
know what I'm looking for is the ray-fleck pattern and I'm trying to get the best boards to go in the front. A set of boards that look
like they belong together. And the stuff that's not
so great they can go in the back because you're not
going to see it as often.

Now these two boards have a very similar background grain. They both have very outspoken
ray-flecks and I think these will definitely go together. And because of those strong ray-flecks, that's really something I'm going to want in the front of the piece. Now you turn this over
and this one, there's a lot of ray-flecks but
it's a more regular pattern. More of a striped effect,
which doesn't necessarily look good with the more
random effect I have on this board and on this side. And this has a little
bit more of a striping but it's not quite as regular
as you see on that side.

So these two look like
they want to be together. This one is another random
board with a good amount of ray-fleck in there,
big chunky ones, and this side is not as good so
this is a candidate to go with these other two over here. These three at least on this side, these are all relatively boring. There's a little bit of
ray-fleck in them, a very small striping pattern, but I don't see anything that really jumps out at me. So I think these three are going to wind up going together in the back. Now that one is actually
pretty impressive. In fact, this one looks
like a close brother to this guy right here. So I think that's going to be it. These three have a real
wild, random, outspoken fleck pattern, these are going to be my three that go in the front. So I'm going to label
them top, middle, bottom. And each one gets an
"F" to indicate front. Now on the side rails, there's not as much fleck to look at here,
there's some in there. When it's finished it
will come out even better.

But what I'm really
noticing here is the grain spacing and basically what would be the space between the growth rings. These two boards are pretty wide and they get tighter in this board,
tighter in this board, and this one gets a little bit wider, but this one is wider
than all of them, in fact. So, because of the grain
tightness what I'm going to do is put this guy with these two. So if you're looking at one side alone by itself, you won't see
this side it's all the way on the other side
of the trunk, this side you see an even grain
pattern across those three. And these three also look
like they belong together. So, it'll make a big difference
in the final product. Now if you can't get all of your boards to match up, it's not the end of the world.

The fact that you just brought
that level of awareness to the project is a sign of
your growth as a woodworker. And in future projects you'll
be able to pick the wood out at the lumber supplier with that in mind. And say, you know what,
this will be perfect with this and sort of pull things together at an even earlier stage in the project.

So if it's not absolutely perfect, don't worry about it and just move on. But you're bringing that extra level of awareness that makes your
stuff that much better. Now just because I know
myself all too well, and I know I have a
tendency to screw these things up, I'm going to use a Sharpie just to give myself a visual
indicator of exactly where those grooves are going to go. This is the bottom piece
for one of the side rails. I know I'm going to have a
groove somewhere in there. The middle piece gets
a groove on both sides. And the top piece gets a
groove on its underside. All right, so there's
one more modification that we're going to make
to the corner assemblies. The plan calls for a groove on this inside edge on both pieces that stops just short of the top, about a half inch. What we're going to do instead is cut that groove the same way all
the other pieces are going to be cut and put
it all the way through. Now that'll come back
again later, we'll talk about it one more time
when we're cutting the tongue on the rail piece because now that has to be a tongue that goes
all the way to the edge.

But again, I'll remind you of that later. But this really does simplify things and makes the process a lot faster. Now to make all our
grooves, I have my dado blade installed and it's set to about a quarter of an inch. And the trick here is to
roughly center it by eye, and then run the work piece
over once, flip it around 180 degrees and run it over a second time. And what that does is if you
were slightly off-centered in your setup, it's going
to make sure that you get a perfectly centered
groove all the way down.

Now that works fine
because we're making our panels fit the groove that we cut now and they'll all have
the same width groove in it when it's all said and done. We can adjust our panel
size appropriately. But if you're using plywood,
like the plan calls for, your plywood is going to
be a very specific size so I would definitely
recommend getting some scrap pieces that are
exactly the same size as your material that you're
using for your project, and make sure you get that
setting done perfectly so it's perfectly centered
and it's the exact width that you need for that panel. The way we're doing it gives
us a little more flexibility. Now that dado blade is
going to be removing a quarter inch wide
groove by three eighths of an inch deep and that's
a lot of material again. So it does put a lot of
force on that work piece.

So once again, using my favorite
push stick here, it gives me a lot of forward pressure
as I push it through. And you want to be able to
push it up against the fence so you get an accurate
groove all the way down. The problem is I really
don't want my fingers in this area pushing
that against the fence so it's time to use a feather board.

Over the years I've collected
a number of feather boards. I have everything from
these fancy mag switch ones to the grip-type ones with
the big magnet on them, all the way to homemade ones that I've made that I use for re-sawing. So anything you have like that will work. But what I'm going to
try is actually a new one that just recently hit
the market from mag switch. This is a kind of interesting unit. It's a dual roller guide and it
actually has bearings in here. So why not, I'm just
going to give it a shot. But just know that even
though the homemade ones are going to work for this purpose. I just like this one because it has a nice tall fence and it should
keep the entire piece nice and even up against
the table saw fence for me.

(sawing sound) Two passes will result in a
perfectly centered groove. (sawing sound) Now to make the tenons, we have a very similar set up to what we had before when we made the rabbits. We've got the auxiliary fence attached to the main fence, and
we have our dado blade that's embedded inside
the auxiliary fence. Now the big difference
here is instead of running the boards across this way,
we're making a tenon so I need something to hold the
piece at the right angle. What I'm going to use is my miter gauge. You'll notice I have the miter gauge outfitted with its own auxiliary fence. When you are running
the cross grain across the blade like this, it
has a tendency to chip out at the very end so having
a backer-board like this prevents that from happening.

So basically it's just
one pass on one side, one pass on the other side and that's it. It doesn't take any more work than that. I would recommend, as always,
using some test pieces though to make sure you
get the exact right size before you go and do an
entire batch of boards. So let's jump in and get started. (sawing sound) A single pass on each side
makes quick work of the tenons. (sawing sound) And since the grooves are already cut, now's a good time to mill
our panels down to size. (milling sound) Now all my panels are milled to thickness. Before I move on to the
next step, I'd really like to make sure that every
one of my rails is tested. There's a natural amount of variability in using our machines that
may result in a groove that's not exactly consistent
all the way across.

And that's exactly what I found in a couple of my rail pieces. If you look it goes nice
and easy into that side, and starts to get tighter,
tighter until it gets to the point I have to give it a few good taps to seat properly. Now I don't really want it that tight because I risk splitting it apart, so what I'm going to do is try to relieve some of the material on that end.

Now you could go back and
you could, if you have a drum sander take a few
more passes of your board. The problem with that
though is if I make it loose enough to fit nice
and snug and perfect on this side, what do I do to the other side? I make it down right loose. So what I need to do is
really fix the problem. I guess you could go back to the table saw and you could fix the
groove that way, but again I have to go back and
do a whole new set up. So this is one of those
cases where a speciality hand tool will actually do this job and do it really, really well and
save you a lot of time. I'm going to show you here, and let's make sure I determine which side has the issue. And I'm just going to
put this up on the bench. And what I have here
is a side rabbit plane.

This is the veritas model that came out not too long ago. It's a very simple, little plane that has two blades on it and the
idea is it's meant to simply clean out the inside of a
rabbit or a groove like this. It has a little fence on the bottom here that helps you adjust your
depth, and then you just loosen this knob on the
top and push the blades forward, manually, to get
them in the right position. It's very easy to use. And, of course, because
we have grain issues to contend with, you
don't necessarily want to go against the grain while doing this, you could easily move it
from left to right operation, depending on which
direction you need to go. So let's see how this works on this board. So now I have this set to
take a very light shaving.

We don't really want to
remove a lot of material, we just want to, sort of,
finesse the fit a little bit. Before I get started,
I gotta bust my thirst. (slurping drink) Ah, nice! (shaving sound) Very, very light shavings. (shaving sound) See that very little bit of
baby ribbon there, beautiful. Now let's see if that did anything. Getting there. (shaving sound) (guitar music) Looks pretty good. (guitar music).

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