Revisit: the ash shelf

Fitting keyhole brackets

I like to use these small metal brackets with keyholes. They are a good way to conceal how the shelf is hung on the wall. Another option, though more involved, would be a recessed french cleat. These are easier.

After marking the outline of the bracket, I chisel the 2mm (~1/16”) deep slot, round the ends with a gouge then drill out the bulk of the waste for the screw troth (which is larger than the keyhole in order for the screw head to have enough room). Some more chisel work to square the troth, and bob’s your uncle. I used the marking wheel as a makeshift router plane to square off the bottom of the dadoes for the brackets so that they rest on a flat surface. Next up: drill holes for the screws. Ideally, not too big holes…

Because if you do, you get to play around with glue and dowels to fix the screw(!)up…


The next task was to make a dado for the shelf. I made two cuts then chopped off the bulk of the waste with a chisel, observing the grain direction so that any splits went “uphill”. I pared down the bottom of the dado till I was close to the line and used the router plane for the finessing. Look at the reflection of the blade in the bottom surface of that dado (it is not a shadow)! I love sharp tools!

I adjusted the width of the dado with a fine flat file until the shelf just barely slipped in. I then put masking tape around the joint to catch glue squeeze-out. I taped both the shelf and the upright, like so:

I then applied glue to the dado and put the shelf in place. I seated the shelf using the bench vise (see the image to the right). After cleaning off the excess glue, I removed the tape. Done.

Admiring end grain

Let me stop for a minute and appreciate hand planed end grain:

Ash is a ring porous species, similar to Oak. In this case, European ash – or Fraxinus Excelsior. Excelsior! Quite more noble sounding than Quercus Robur – summer oak (a white oak species) which I consider one of the finest woods.

When we use a hand plane to smooth end grain, we can clearly see the pores in the wood. Medullary rays are not visible like in (white) oak (where they are very clearly visible), so no ray flecking in ash. In oak, you can see the medullary rays as short, thin brown streaks or lines in the surface on flat sawn wood. This is not visible in ash, as evident in the images of the shelf here.

Cooking a horse

Hide glue – basically you cook the bones and the hide from animals to collect the collagen, which is processed into glue. Waaaay simplified of course, but you get the gist of it. And that is why I refer to hide glue as “cooked horse”.

How did they think of that? “See those horses lumbering around? I think they could be GLUE!

“And do you see that one raving about acting all strange? He could be crazy glue!”

Thank you, Jerry Seinfeld, for that one!

Anyway, I use hide glue to attach pieces that might need repair. To fasten the shelf, I just used regular Titebond I (any wood glue would work perfectly fine) since I don’t expect it to ever need a repair which cannot be done without removing it from the upright. I like to secure the dowel so that it won’t slide around, but I don’t want a permanent bond in case the dowel would need work. Hide glue can be split if given a good whack, you can soften it by warming it or using steam and water to dissolve it. Another great feature is that you don’t need to remove old glue like you do with PVA glues. New hide glue bonds to old without problems.

For longevity, such considerations should be taken where applicable. You can disassemble a Stradivarius violin “safely” even after over 300 years because Antonio used hide glue. Don’t do it, though…

A line of Titebond liquid hide glue. Great stuff. You don’t have to warm up a glue pot, but be aware that the shelf life is short (2 years).

PS: “paint” with hide glue, then apply paint on top. It’ll give the paint job a crackled effect.

After positioning the dowel, I left the shelf for 24 hours so that the glue could set.

The upcoming task: leather work, but that happens on the next page…

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