And That A Perfect Dovetail Joint Can Make A Grown Man

om apprentice [o craftsman to ine'toolmaker, He's always had a passion for woodworking.

Torben Helshoj stands with the desk he built as a final project to complete His woodworking apprenticeship in Denmark.

may :>oue lorben Helshoj by Randy Johnson

Torben Helshoj's passion for woodworking started when he was a boy watching the skilled craftsmen in the boatyards of Denmark. But his path to becoming an accomplished woodworker, tool designer and co-founder of Laguna Tools included a number of interesting detours.

After graduating from high school, Torben started college as a mechanical engineering major. But at age 19, he took a break to do a little traveling, and hitchhiked from Denmark to India. Upon returning, he decided to pursue a traditional woodworking apprenticeship.

The first woodworking shop Torben approached was in the process of closing down, but Torben's sincerity impressed the shop's owner, so he recommended Torben to a friend who ran one of the best custom furniture shops in Denmark. Torben was accepted as an apprentice; becoming a journeyman took four years of hard work.

As Torben recalls, "The only tools I used for the first year and a half were sandpaper and a broom. When my fingers got sore I put masking tape on the tips and kept sanding. But I learned a lot as an appretice and the guys I worked widi were great.

"Every year I was sent out for six weeks of specialized training. Eventually, I was hand-cutting dovetails. But even that was an apprentice's job, because it was so time consuming: I was paid 70 cents an hour; the journeymen were making at least ten times that amount. But they treated me very well and I had the chance to work on some amaz-

o to

"The only tools I used for the first year and a half were sandpaper and a broom."

ing furniture.

"We worked closely with several prominent architects and built mostly modern Scandinavian-style furniture for wealthy Danes, oil sheiks and royalty. We'd bandsaw as much as possible and then hand-sculpt the rest with rasps and files. We worked with all kinds of fine hardwoods, including Cuban mahogany. The shop had a large inventory of this fantastic wood up in the attic. Dark red in color, very dense and stable, it's one of my favorite woods. We also used Oregon pine. This wood is called Douglas fir in the U.S., where it's commonly used to build houses; we used it to build fine furniture."

To complete his apprenticeship, Torben was required to build a final project and have it judged by the leaders of the woodworking trade union. As Torben puts it, "It was a big deal, and took place at the center of Copenhagen. The Queen of Denmark attended and personally congratulated the winners.

Torben's finely crafted Brazilian mahogany desk earned a silver medal. This was a prestigious honor, considering gold medals were not awarded (because "nothing is perfect") and it had been twenty years since the last silver medal was awarded in the woodworking category.

After Torben completed his apprenticeship, the travel bug bit again and he decided to take a trip to America. "My big dream was to sail to America," Torben says, "because going by boat is the only proper way to get to there. I went to Portugal and made arrangements with the owner of a schooner for passage to America the following year.

But their schedule changed and I missed the boat. So I flew to America and landed at JFK International instead.

"After spending a couple weeks on the East Coast, I drove to California: I had a business card for a woodworker in Laguna Beach. He offered me ajob and before I knew it, a year had passed. I came as a tourist but ended up staying!

"The woodworking business was good, but the shop was modestly equipped, so we borrowed money and imported a container of woodworking equipment from a company in Denmark. We were only looking to upgrade our shop, but the company was interested in setting up a distributorship in the US, so pretty soon we were building furniture and selling woodworking equipment. Both businesses flourished.

"But in the early 90s, the dollar went soft. That made it tough to profitably import equipment, and my partner decided to move on to other pursuits. I didn't set out to become a woodworking machine importer, but I wanted to give it one last shot. If it didn't work, I'd go back to being a woodworker, as southern California is a great market for custom woodworking. By this time I'd met Catherine, my future wife and business partner. She helped me get the machine business rolling. We decided to make a video featuring our combination machine, to familiarize American woodworkers with the benefits of its European design. We distributed the video by mail and business started to pick up. Laguna Tools has continued to grow ever since."

Torben was the first person in over 20 years to win the Queen of Denmark's silver medal for woodworking.The inscription reads "Woodworking Trade Graduation Test

Committee"on one side and "Effort and Ability

Promotes Wealth and Happiness" on the other.

Torben Helshoj, president of LagunaTools, inspects a shipment of new 18-inch Signature Series bandsaws. Laguna is best known for its high-quality bandsaws. Torben has spent years improving their design.

It's just as comfortabl as it looks.

by Tom Caspar

Adirondack chairs represent all . that's best about American design: they're practical, with no unnecessary parts; they're accessible, because just about anyone who can cut wood can make one; and they're perfectly suited to their setting, the great outdoors.

An Adirondack's low seat and broad arms invite you to slow down and take it easy. Most Adirondacks are single chairs, of course. A two-seater is something special. Sharing the Adirondack experience with a friend makes it all the better.

Materials and Tools

This project is built from western red cedar construction lumber, which is commonly available at home centers and lumberyards. You'll need two 2x6 boards, 8 ft. long, and nine pieces of 5/4 lumber-1 in. thick, 5-1/2 in. wide and 12 ft. long. Dust from cutting western red cedar can be irritating, so wear an appropriate dust mask and work in a well-ventilated shop or outdoors. Use rust-resistant deck screws to assemble the project. You'll need about 100 1-1/2-in. screws and 50 1-1/4-in. screws. You'll also need two inside-corner braces and 100 screw-hole plugs (see Sources, page 40).

You'll use a tablesaw, bandsaw (or jigsaw), router table, 3/8-in. roundover bit, 30-degree chamfer bit, cordless drill and a file for the project. A miter saw is also handy.

Make the Legs and Seat

1. The love seat sits on three back legs: two on the sides (Al, Fig. A, page 42) and one in the center (A2). They're virtually identical, except for one important detail:

About This Project

Our Adirondack two-seater is based on one built by Jack Priest as a centerpiece for the deck outside his son's restaurant. The Tin Fish, overlooking Lake Calhoun, in Minneapolis, Minnesota. Our design is slightly different from his. We've changed the arms and their supports a bit, as well as the back's profile, but that's what Adirondacks are all about. Once you've got the basic structure down, it's easy to customize an Adirondack any way you want.

1 Begin building the love seat by sawing out the back legs from a western red cedar 2x6. You'll get the most accurate cuts by using a bandsaw, but you could use a jigsaw, instead.

3 Assemble the seat. Fasten the first four seat slats, which are made from 5/4 cedar boards. Check for square as you go. Temporarily add a slat to space the legs the correct distance.

4Screw and glue together the front legs. Use a water-resistant glue to assemble all the parts of the project.

Joinery is simple: just screws and glue. You'll cover every screw hole with a plug later on. As you build the love seat, drill holes for the plugs and screws simultaneously with a combination bit.


7 Rout a 30-degree bevel on the upper back rail using a router table. The love seat's back slats lean against this piece; with an accurately made bevel, you'll get tight, strong joints.

8 Add the arm and upper back rail assembly. Stand it on two supports and adjust its position until the bevel you routed is in line with the lower back rail. Check this with a straightedge.

5Glue and screw the front legs to the seat assembly. Then add the rest of the seat slats and the lower back rail, which sits in the notches on the back legs. Assembly is much easier if you work on a large, flat surface, such as a door.

6Glue the arms together from two pieces of 5/4 material.To make a tight, invisible joint, first remove the rounded edges of this construction lumber by ripping the boards on the tablesaw.

the notch for the lower back rail (A5) is positioned farther back on the center leg titan on the outer legs (Fig. H). To ensure that all the legs come out the same, make one paper pattern based on the measurements given for the outer back leg (Al). Trace around the pattern on three leg blanks cut to the same length, omitting the notches. Then draw the notches directly on the legs. In addition, set your miter saw to 18 degrees and cut a miter on a scrap piece of 1x6. Use this piece to draw the angled lines that indicate the location of the front legs. Draw these lines on both sides of each outer leg.

2. Saw the legs (Photo 1). Smooth the saw cuts with a file or 80-grit sandpaper wrapped around a block.

3. Make the seat slats (A3). Discard pieces with large knots—they'll weaken the slats. Drill holes for screws and plugs in the ends and middle of all the slats using a 3/8-in.-dia. combination countersink/counter-bore bit (Photo 2). Make the plug holes about 1/4-in. deep. Round the top edges of the slats, and all other exposed edges as you build the project, using a 3/8-in. roundover bit mounted in a router table.

4. Line up the front edges of all three legs. Temporarily fasten a slat to the middle of each leg. Glue and screw the first four slats (Photo 3).

5. Make the two pieces that comprise each front leg (B1 and B2) from one long board. Rip the board to remove its rounded edges. This makes a better-looking joint when you glue the pieces together. Cut one end of the blank at 18 degrees, then cut the inner leg to exact length (Fig. E). Cut the outer leg to length, then glue and screw together the leg pieces (Photo 4). Note that the two front legs are mirror images of each other.

6. Apply glue to the front legs and clamp them to the back legs. Use the lines you drew in Step 1 to position the front legs. Drill holes in the front legs for screws and plugs, then run in the screws (Photo 5).

7. Make the back seat slat (A4, Fig. F) and lower back rail (A5, Fig. G). Note that the inside curve on each end of the lower back rail consists of three flat sections, to receive three back slats. The straighter these sections are, the stronger your joints will be. After sawing, use a file to straighten these cuts, if necessary. Use a file to flatten the rail's center straight section, too. Drill holes for screws and plugs in the back seat slat and lower back rail, then round over the edges of both parts with a 3/8-in. router bit. Don't round over the inner edge of the lower back rail, where the back slats (Dl, D2) go.

8. Remove the seat slat you temporarily screwed to the back legs. Glue and screw the lower back rail in position. Screw the back seat slat next to it, but don't glue it. Add the rest of the seat slats. Space them about 1/4-in. apart. Temporarily clamping some slats in position makes it easier to space them.

9. Remove the back seat slat.

Add the Arm Assembly

10. Rip two 5/4 pieces for each arm (CI) and glue them together (Photo 6). Cut each blank to length, then saw out the curves (Fig. J). Sand the glue joint, then round over both sides of the arm with a 1/4-in. roundover bit. Don't round the curved section where the arm overlays the back rail.

11. Make the upper back rail (C2). This piece has three straight sections on either side (Fig. M), like the lower back rail. Trace the curves of the arm pieces on the ends of the rail. Cut out the rail using a bandsaw, with the table set at 90 degrees, and straighten the flat sections with a file. Rout a 30-degree bevel on the inside edge of the rail (Photo 7). Leave a l/8-in.-thick blunt edge to guide the bit's bearing.

12. Glue and screw the arms to the upper back rail. Note that the inside edge of each arm is square to the back rail (Fig. C), and that the screws go from underneath the back rail and into the arms (Fig. A).

9Taper the back slats using a jig for your tablesaw. Mount toggle clamps on the jig to keep your fingers away from the blade.

1 /^Spacing _L v/the love seat's back slats requires careful measuring and marking. Begin by temporarily installing the four slats that define the two halves of the back.

n Fasten the middle slats next. Then install two slats between the middle and outer slats. Adjust these slats up or down to make

1 ODraw a JL ^ curve across the back using a shopmade trammel. That's just a stick with a nail at one end and a pencil stuck in a hole on the other end. Remove the slats and cut the curve on each piece.

Clamp the slats in position (the top ends of the centermost slats touch each other) and mark locations for the screws that will go into the upper back rail. Remove the slats, drill the screw-and-plug holes, then attach-but don't glue-the slats in place (Photo 10).

16. Install one of the inner back slats (D2) midway between the outer back slats. It should be vertical. Fit the remaining slats (Photo 11). Make the gap between them about 1/4-in. After these slats are fitted, mark their screw-and-plug holes and cut off any excess length at the bottom. Then install the slats with screws, but don't use glue. Repeat this process on the other side of the back.

17. Make a trammel and find the center point of each half of the back (Fig. T). Turn the trammel around and draw each curve (Photo 12).

18. Mark the position of all slats and remove them. Bandsaw their top ends and round over all their edges. Glue and screw the slats back in place. Cut a piece of paper to fit the gap between the two back sections. Fold the paper in half and use it as a pattern to make two pieces (D3) to fill the gap. Install these pieces.

Support the Arms

19. Connect the arms and legs with inside corner braces (Fig. A). Use #10 or #12 pan head screws to install them.

20. Cut two corbel blanks (B3). Rout stopped grooves on the inside edge of each blank to accommodate the corner brace and screw heads (Photo 13). Saw the corbel's shape (Fig. N) and round over its outside edges. Make sure each corbel's top fits tight under the arm. Drill screw-and-plug holes through the front legs and screw and glue the corbels to the front legs (Photo 14).

Finishing Steps

21. Install the back seat slat. Glue plugs in all the screw holes. Cut and sand them flush.

22. Apply two coats of exterior oil finish. It's best to do this outside, for good ventilation. Sit and enjoy!


Hamilton Marine,, (800) 639-2715, 3/8" Dia. Bung Cedar (plugs), #FSW-05-C, $10 per 100.

Rockier,, (800) 279-4441, 30-degree Chamfer router bit, #24805, $34.

corbels to the legs with glue and screws. The brace allows you to safely lift the love seat by its arms.

1 t Once J- «J every part is in place, glue plugs in each screw hole. Cut the excess with a flush-cutting saw.

M Fasten the

13. Cut two temporary support pieces (C3) to hold and level the arm assembly. Prop the assembly on these pieces and the front legs (Photo 8). Once the assembly is correctly positioned front-to-back and side-to-side (Fig. D), clamp it to the front legs, so it can't shift.

Fit the Back Slats

14. Make a set of back slats (D1

and D2). You can rough-cut two slats from one 5-1/2-in.-wide 5/4 board using a bandsaw. Build a tapering jig and cut each slat using the tablesaw (Photo 9 and Fig. K). The exact angles on the slat's ends are not important.

15. Drill screw-and-plug holes in the lower ends of the outer slats (Dl). Mark the positions of these slats on the lower back rail (Fig. B).

Rout grooves on the ends and inner edges of the corbels, the wing-shaped pieces that support the love seat's broad arms. These grooves hide metal braces under the arms.

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