Bread bin wip

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24 Jul 2007
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We need a new bread bin. Apparently they are available in the shops, but that's too easy and no fun. Besides, I want one made out of a suitable native hardwood, of a particular size. And just for fun, I want one where the front and back slope inwards. I think this might be a nice little warm-up project before I embark on something more ambitious later this year.

The design is really just a dovetailed box, with the lid at the front so it drops down as a cutting board. A bit like this:


The wood is ready. Some of you may remember that I deep-ripped a lump of alder into four half-inch boards, last October - deep-ripping-by-hand-t100654.html - it used to look like this:


then it looked like this


and then it looked like this


After three months in the workshop, the boards are still as straight as when I cut them, which is nice, as I don't work quickly. According to the books, alder was a popular wood for kitchen equipment as it works well and imparts no nasty taint to foodstuffs.

While the wood patiently waited, I did spend a while thinking about angles and dovetails and things. This is a full scale drawing of one end:


Unless I have missed something obvious, I can't make the ends symmetrical - because I want the front to open but not the back. I'm hoping that the slant of the dovetails will chime well with the slant of the ends and even if it's not quite regular, the overall effect will be ok. (Not that I expect anyone to give it a second glance - it's only a bread bin!) I am still undecided about how I will fit the back - it will probably have tongues on the ends, but not on the long edges.

Should I be leaving a ventilation gap along the top back edge, which would be easy to do? I don't want the bread going mouldy.

Anyway, I have made a bit of a start today. I took my sketch and cutting list and decided how to get the six pieces out of my four boards. The original lump of wood was wedge shaped, and to get the widths I need, the edge joints will have to follow the angle of the wedge. Maybe that will emphasise the angled nature of the box, or maybe my joints will all be invisible :lol:

The wood had a few defects - a bit of sapwood, some reversed grain approaching knots, and a bit of a branch. Here you can see that I marked out the defects with blue chalk, then fitted the required pieces in between, in white, with plenty of margin for error. Even on a tiny project like this, I find this stage difficult, so it was a relief to find that yes, there is enough wood, and nothing to be gained by trying to make anything bigger out of it. Chalk is good for when you need several attempts at layout.


Should I edge join the boards into two long pieces, then cut them up, or cut them up and then edge join them? It's a bit too late to ask...

I had a go at jointing the whole length of the edges


Here you can see that I have not gone far enough, and the shaving is not yet full width.


And here you can see that, with one end pinched together, there is rather a big gap at the other. :oops:


So I hopped over to the bandsaw and divided out the six bits I needed.


I then planed them properly and clamped them up. I used my old folding-wedge clamps, all made out of finest skipwood or old floorboards.


You just hold a hammer against one wedge and knock the other end with another hammer.


Also make sure that the pieces are in line to make a flat board - that's what the rawhide mallet was for.

Realising that some readers might be a bit worried that I have a bandsaw and used it for six cuts earlier, here's a reassuring picture of cutting another board with this "plenty-of-life-left-in-it-yet" Disston.


And that's all for now, while we wait for the glue to set. It's a cosy 14 degrees in my unheated basement, which is plenty warm enough for hand planing, and warm enough for waterproof PVA glue too. :)

More when there is any progress, but don't hold your breath...
Looking great. Thanks for taking the time to photograph the different stages - makes it so much more interesting to follow!
SteveF":365ed2i7 said:
looking forward to this

your top sketch looks like a car


So it does! The circles were marking bits where the design was not quite right. I guess there shouldn't have been so many!
phil.p":3rm6g9gc said:
Curiously, there's no mention in The New Sylva about alder being used for kitchen utensils - but it is highly prized for electric guitar bodies, Fender started to use it in preference to ash in 1956.
It was cheaper, and easier to finish. :shock:
"It remains highly prized for the bodies of the best electric guitars, because it provides excellent tone without excessive weight"
For what top class instruments (Fender in this instance) sell for I doubt a few dollars on the price (without going into exotics) of the blank matters too much.
Today, I have been mostly planing.

I made it a bit harder for myself by glueing some of the boards together so an already-planed face was alongside a rough-sawn face like this:



but it didn't matter in the end. I can still get nearly 1/2" out of all six pieces - well, it's more like 15/32" but the exact size doesn't matter as long as it's consistent.

So I marked the thickness in the usual way, using a new-to-me gauge, the sort with a spiral cam in which tightens when twisted.


and planed away like this


and with a Stanley 4 1/2 smoother until the boards look like this


and the floor is full of shavings.

It's still a nice steady 14 degrees in the workshop, which is just right for this sort of activity.

I've been trying to find where I read about alder being used for domestic articles. So far, I've found references to it being used for clogs, fencing, plywood, textile rollers, and to provide the best charcoal for gunpowder making, but there are a few more books to check yet.

Edit: Found it. Woodworking in Estonia, page 12.

"Due to its softness the European alder has been used for hollowed out deep utensils, or for turned wooden bowls. Also, milk or butter firkins were made of them because alder does not impart any smell or taste to the contents."
Great project! It's not often that you see Alder in commercial timber yards, which is a pity. It does everything that Poplar does, but it's home grown rather than imported and doesn't have those nasty green streaks so you have the option of leaving it unpainted. Whenever I see it for sale, which is normally in smaller, local timber yards, I usually pick up a board or two, and it's a very useful timber to have in the workshop.

It's far from a universal rule but I've noticed on quite a few antiques that Sweet Chestnut was the secondary wood of choice for Oak furniture, but Alder was the secondary wood for higher quality pieces where the primary wood was anything other than Oak. And, as you say, it was a common choice for treen and kitchenalia, unfortunately plenty of antique dealers wrongly describe it as Sycamore, so I don't think it's appreciated just how widespread its use really was.

Incidentally, how do you get on with your Marples "transitional" plane? I've got one exactly like yours, the rarer version with the closed tote. I can understand why it's rarer because the closed tote prevents the user from adjusting depth of cut on the fly! Apart from that they're pretty good, I love the shape, like a 1930's locomotive.
Andy, according to wood databases, alder is classed as an irritant and is mildly toxic and can cause skin and lung irritation. make sure its extremely well coated before use.
Well done Andy, thanks for sharing =D>

custard":2w7px52j said:
It's far from a universal rule but I've noticed on quite a few antiques that Sweet Chestnut was the secondary wood of choice for Oak furniture, but Alder was the secondary wood for higher quality pieces where the primary wood was anything other than Oak.

There you go again Custard, answering questions before I've asked them :lol:
So Alder would be a good secondary timber choice for a modern English Walnut piece?
Burrs for decorative inlays. Many of the piles found in Venice and Amsterdam are made from it, as it doesn't rot when continuously immersed. Not that they are domestic.
In one book published 1989 it was reported as being the most commonly available commercial hardwood in Washington and Oregon, so it would seem to be commoner there.
phil.p":3v3itaz9 said:
"Edit: Found it. Woodworking in Estonia, page 12."
Only you, Andy, only you ... =D> :lol:

It's not as obscure as it sounds, honest!

Roy Underhill named it as one of his three favourite woodworking books ... rite-books and Lost Art press have done a fresh translation. Perhaps I should do a bit of a review.

Custard, the little Marples plane just felt right working on this modest scale. I do agree it's a successful design.
I did a thread on it when I got it.

Not so much to report today, but the smattering of snow this morning did take the temperature down to 13 degrees for a while this morning, so some more vigorous planing was needed.

Without wanting to start any sort of distracting discussion about how to do it, I will take the risk of repeating something that I have said before and so have plenty of others. The single most effective way to improve your planing is to sharpen the iron in your plane. And sharpen it frequently - like an artist sharpening a pencil. It's not something to put off as long as you can - little and often is best.

For me, on this job, I did most of the planing with the Marples and finished off with this nice old Stanley 4½, with a Record Iron and a Stay-set cap


and this equally old oilstone


but other methods are available and also work!

So I had this little stack of boards in time for an early lunch.


Coming some time soon or when I feel like it - cutting out the bits, dovetailing, grooving and some ideas for a hinge and a catch.
Following along with interest.

With regards to your question about a vent.... Surely the sole purpose of a breadbin is to keep bread fresh, and therefore away from light and air? I'm no expert though so that is just my 2p worth.
The board smoothing looks like its gone well. I really need to get my hands on a plane and give that a good go, it seems really satisfying.
years ago we had a wooden bread bin with a drop down front (shop bought I hasten to add). It didnt have any vent but there was lots of air circulation around the door.
Now I keep my bread in a plastic tupperware type container, but dont snap the lid completely shut.