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  • Fred

No room at the Inn...

I'm working on a great and fun project to kick off this Advent season! We had a wedding gift Nativity set along with some additional Amazon-bought figures. The set had small a Stable that lasted a couple of years, but it was succumbing to the unintentional abuse that young boys tend to dole out. The figures are still in great shape (I highly recommend the Fontanini figures -- they're kid proof!) so, I'm building a new Stable!

One nice thing about this project is that I don't need any nice wood. The stable in Bethlehem was built over 2000 years ago. They didn't have nice clean, straight wood. This made choosing wood from my offcut bin easy, but also required me to do a bit of shaping and hand tool using to make the wood not so straight and clean.

To do this, I enlisted the help of my trusty hand tools. The No. 4 plane in the back of the photo is WWII era. The chisels are pretty new, but the spoke shave and small block plane in the photo both belonged to my Great Uncle Freddie and are also WWII era tools. Yep, that was a time when tools were built to last. The process was pretty simple. In the foreground of the photo, you see a before and after of the oak that I'm using. I rounded the edges using a combination of the hand tools and made sure that there were some inconsistencies that would be consistent with the look I'm going for (inconsistent consistencies -- got it.).

I'll digress for a moment and channel my inner Nick Offerman. If you don't know who he is, he played Ron Swanson on Parks and Rec and he's also a celebrity woodworker and author. He's pretty good at all of those things, so I like him. Anyway, in his book Good Clean Fun, Nick talks about chisels and woodworking. A chisel is a piece of metal sharpened to shape wood. This project is a great example of how most of the tools we use in woodworking are basically chisels. Planes and spokeshaves are basically just chisels with other parts that help guide the blade. Look around the shop and you'll see chisels all over the place!

The reason I bring up chisels is that the oak is mostly straight, but the grain does wander a bit along the length of these pieces. This is something to really look for when using a chisel to shape wood. It's like rubbing a dog's fur the wrong way -- it doesn't really work. Wood is the same way. I found myself cutting the wood using the various chisels from several different directions to minimize tear-out and gouging.

Now that the wood was shaped, I began to put the structure together. I laid the pieces out on my bench the way they would be going together and marked them for lap joints. Here's part of a lap joint on one of the corner support poles. There's a complementary notch in the beam this this connects to. They interlock and form a very strong joint. Once everything is built, I'll glue these and they'll be [mostly] kid proof for years.

There's still a roof cross beam to be added and I still have to add a loft (for the little animals to sit on -- the boys love the loft) and a roof. I may torch the whole thing to give it some color, but I'm not sure yet. I'll do a test piece and see how it looks. Then I'll most likely do a simple wax finish. It's kid safe and easy to put on and looks great.

I'll post more photos as I progress on this and the several other projects I have going on right now.

Thanks for reading!

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