Fence Posts

May 20, 2012 § 1 Comment

Fence posts (hopefully) arriving soon.

I’ve never been enamored with that saying, “Always use the right tool for the job”. Admittedly, it’s appropriate for power tools, as using the wrong power tool could result in serious injury. But for hand tools? Ok, some tasks are much more reliable when the right tool is used, but in woodworking there are lots of ways to skin a cat. I find that many of my methods are born of necessity, as I presently don’t have as complete a kit of hand tools as I would like. So I find some work-arounds using the tools I have. It might take me a little longer, and maybe the end result isn’t quite as polished as using the “right tool”, but it beats forever putting projects off until I’ve acquired every tool that’s recommended in books and articles.

I’m continuing to work on the garden area in our backyard (why do I have the feeling that it’s going to be a summer full of outdoor cedar projects?). The raised beds are built, the planting mix added, and the first round of vegetables planted. (On a side note – we have a pick-up truck. Yes, it is a pain to navigate in our narrow city streets. And yes, I get strange looks and comments from some  neighbors. And yes, it gets bad gas mileage compared to cars produced today. But when you own a house, there are at least a dozen times a year when you put aside your eco-green save-the-earth principles, drop to your knees and raise your arms in the air and thank whoever the hell is listening up there that you have a ‘effen truck. Hauling two cubic yards of dirt is one of those times.) Now the race is on to complete the fence around the raised beds before the dogs decide to do some exploring.

I ripped down some 2×10 cedar boards into 2×2’s for the fence posts. I could have cut them down to length and put them up as is, but of course I decided to dress them up a little. I sawed a pyramid on the top of each to help shed rain off the end grain—a straightforward task with a handsaw. I also wanted a couple of small decorative grooves near the top and stopped chamfers along the outside face of each post. So, what are the best tools for the job? With the grooves, I could see making them with some sharp carving tools. One of these days I’m going to break down a get a small set of good carving tools, but it’s not an option at the moment. Instead I took a fine tooth Japanese saw and simply cut out the grooves. I first sawed straight down just a hair to create a small step, and then angled down about 45° to create a v-shaped groove. A little bit of sandpaper wrapped around one of those rubber sanding grips gave a slight chamfer to the top of the cut. It worked fairly well and was rather quick. The fine teeth of the dozuki really help when you working in a small area like this.

Below you see the triangular wedge that the saw pops out.

And this picture shows a little better the small vertical step created by the initial straight downward cut.

For the chamfer, I again lacked the best tools for the job. One option would be a chamfer bit chucked into a router. I don’t have a router bit, and actually my router bit collection is pathetically sparse, which probably says a lot about how much I like to use that tool. A drawknife in experienced hands is probably the best unplugged option. A drawknife would make short work of a chamfer in a soft wood such as cedar. Two things I lack there – a drawknife and experienced hands. My way was to cut a series relief cuts with my dozuki and then chop out the resulting triangular wedges with a chisel. For some reason I found having the chisel down below and popping the pieces up was easier than the reverse. Doing it that way meant the piece needed to be clamped down well to the bench. This wasted away most of the wood, and I followed with a wide chisel to pare down the roughness to a smooth surface. Skewing the chisel and using a slicing motion worked the best to prevent the chisel from diving too deep into the wood. I got better with each one, but the resulting chamfers were not completely straight and uniform like you would get from a router – let’s call them “organic”. (To see how to make a chamfer this way really well, see how Peter Follansbee does it here.) For a fence post that will be viewed from a fair distance, though, I think it will work just fine. And cedar is so soft it wears if you just look at it wrong, so in a few years there will probably be no sharp, clean lines left anyway.



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