Thursday, October 29, 2009

Phillips Head vs. Straight Slot!

Just a quick entry about today's progress on the pistol case.  It's complete except for the leather straps that will hold the pistol in, I'll cut those and dye them tonight.  As "modern" woodworkers we tend to forget some of the advances we enjoy due to different ways to make common, every day things like screws.  To maintain the era of the case I knew I wanted to use slotted screws rather than phillips.  Using them I realized how much easier it is to drive a screw with a phillips or square head.  Some of the hardware I used required a #2 x 5/8" flathead, slotted screw.  Yes, I did break my tiny drill bit in one of the holes!  Even following the most prudent practices of first using a steel screw to pre-size the hole and waxing the brass screws before putting them in, it was a very time consuming process.  Luckily, all went well.  I'll post some pictures of the finished box soon.

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Back in the Shop

Last weekend we were in Denver for the opening of an art show that Diane was accepted in.  It was at Saks Gallery and the opening was very well attended.  I'd estimate at least 200 people and although there  weren't a lot of red dots (indicating a sold painting) it was good to see so many folks out looking.  When we left Sunday evening it was just starting to snow!  If you're ever in Denver I can't recommend going to their art museum enough -- 6 floors, 2 buildings and just fantastic.
Back to work on the pistol case and today I applied the first of 4 final coats to the exterior.  This is a 3-part mixture I use that is wet sanded into the wood.  I start with 400 grit, then 600, and the final coats are applied with denim.  It's a formula similar to what George Maloof uses but I learned about it from Art Espinoza Carpenter back in the early 70's.  The main difference is that it uses boiled linseed oil where Maloof uses tung oil.  Been using it for years and I've never had a complaint about it.  The interior will be waxed only using Liberon Black Bison wax.  Some clients object to the turpentine smell of the three part mix.  Tomorrow will see another coat on the exterior and I need to dye the leather for the straps.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Parts is Parts!

Most of you will probably remember that line from a chicken commercial a number of years ago.  Finally, here are the parts of the pistol case all laid out and ready for the first coat of Watco oil.  You'll notice that the panels for the top and bottom have already been finished which is what you should always do on panel and frame construction.  Should the panel shrink (as wood tends to do) you won't have a line unfinished wood showing at the edge.  Looks kind of like a jig saw puzzle doesn't it? Let me talk you through what you're seeing; the top and bottom of the box are pretty obvious.  At the sides, the long pieces are the dust check for the long edge of the box, the end pieces are laid out at the top.  The piece that looks white is the bottom of the "sandwich" I talked about in the last blog, that's where the foam and leather go.  Then the piece that has the pistol and powder horn cut out on it gets screwed from the bottom to complete that sandwhich.  The sandwich is placed in the box, the partitions are put down, the dust checks are screwed to the sides and you're almost done!  All that remains is to dye the leather for the straps that will hold things in place and screw the hinges on for the door that will cover the paraphernalia for the pistol.  Attach and fit the hinges, handle, and clasps and it's ready to be delivered.
I've been asked how long this project has taken so far, usually you don't want to know that but I keep track of these things anyway.  There is close to 22 actual work hours into this piece so far.  There is the final, hand rubbed coats for the exterior and wax only for the interior.  Lots of careful fitting, planing, chiseling, etc. -- the kind of work that machines can only replicate on the assemble line.  To me, theirs no satisfaction in that!

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Construction Details

As with all projects a lot of thinking and planning goes into them to make it all come together.  The problem here was to assemble the interior of the case in such a way that it could be dissassembled in case the leather or foam needs to be replaced, those are the only things that could wear out.  I've posted a sketch to help you see how I solved this dilemma.  First off, the case is finger jointed and the bottom and top panels float in rabbets.  I decided that the best thing to do was create a "sandwich" with a 1/4" piece of Baltic Birch plywood on the bottom.  A 3/4" spacer was attached to that around its perimeter.  Next is the fitted piece that holds the pistol and powder horn in place.  In between them is a 1" thick piece of upholstery foam covered with my leather.  When these pieces are screwed together the foam/leather pushes up into the cut outs for the two pieces.  Once I assemble all of this I will use leather straps to hold them down into the foam.  The dust check is screwed to the sides of the case to hold the insert in.  Should the foam or leather ever need to be replaced it'll just be a matter of unscrewing the dust check and taking it apart. I've also made 4 compartments to store the cleaning equipment and the balls, wads, and caps.  I spent the better part of today assembling this and it all works.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Got Clamps?

There seems to be a long stretch between the beginning of  a project and the time you start to glue parts of it up.  Then, it seems to be an even longer stretch to work out the details and go through the finishing process.  Admittedly, my finish is pretty labor intensive but well worth it in my opinion -- never had a client complain!  Anyway, here's a shot of the pistol case glued together and clamped, I guess it's true that you can't have too many of them!  I don't know about other woodworkers but the time you begin to assemble your work is always somewhat stressful for me.  Each one of the fingers needed to have a thin coat of glue brushed on them and everything has to be done quickly, especially in our dry, desert climate.  During the summer I won't even think about gluing a complicated project together.  Lucky if it's below 85 degrees at 6 am, no problems today though.

Fitting the top and bottom.

Progress on the gun case is going well!  Much of it now is the quiet handwork that is really enjoyable to me.  The way the case will be built is to assemble it as a closed box and then cut the top and bottom section apart.  Because of its size (approximately 11" x 25") the top and bottom pieces have to float and have enough room for the inevitiable expansion and contraction of the wood.  That's something you always need to do when building with panel and frame construction.  Failure to do that will probably result in a cracked panel or case.  Sorry about the distortion of this picture but you can see the rabbet which was rough cut with a router bit and then fine tuned with my shoulder plane visible at the top of the bench.  Next was to cut a slight radius around the edge of the panel, this was accomplished with the block plane.  Finally, the board was finished off with a #4 Smooth Plane as the final step. There's always something special to me about the way shavings come off of a well sharpened plane, you can see them in the picture. Both pieces will be finished with Watco Danish Oil before the case is assembled, that's the best way to avoid having an unfinished edge as the panel contracts or expands.  Looking forward to assembling the case tomorrow.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Finger Joints and Stopped Dados

This is one of those times when it is very easy to ruin all the work so far!  The way I've designed this case is to have a floating panel for the top and bottom.  Originally I had planned to resaw some 8/4 stock and book match these but since I was able to find a wide piece that wasn't needed.  The top/bottom will be 5/8" thick and positioned slightly below the edges. With finger joints you can cut your dado through the open  finger on one board but the other one needs to be stopped and cut into the finger itself.  Time for patience and sharp chisels!  You can see in the photo how the dado goes about 1/4" into the finger.  Always a danger of splitting when you cut with the grain but even if it does, if you're careful not to let it split out, when the box is assembled the glue will hold all of it together.  This box will be glued together completely and then the top will then be separated from the bottom.

Been Busy!

I've had to take a break from the gun case and concentrate time on our backyard re-do.  Layed the sod today and all that remains is the new light and putting bricks part way up the columns.  The other thing that's kept me occupied is finishing the 6 dining chairs to go with the table I made earlier.  I've attached a picture of the oak prototype which has a laminated back made of Canarywood.  This chair is for sale for $100.00, that's a bargain because the final ones will be four to five times that amount.

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Barrel Support Insert

In my research I learned that the pistol or gun should have about half of it proud of the piece it's inserted into.  Since the pistol will be supported by a 1" thick layer of upholstery foam covered with leather beneath the board it's inserted into, the barrel would be way to low once the pistol is strapped down.  To solve that problem I decided to mortise in a piece of mahogany to support the end of the barrel.  I could have used a router but prefer hand tools when ever possible.  Something about the quiet process of using a mallet, chisel, and my router plane that soothes the soul and makes me feel as if  I'm really connecting to the work.  What you're looking at in the photo is the bottom of the board.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Pistol Case Template

The first step for this particular project was to make a template of the pistol and the powder horn.  I suppose I could have done this on the project itself but since there is the possibility of two more boxes this seems like the wise thing to do.  This is simply on a piece of 1/4" MDF which I'll use to transfer to the mahogany.
Since the case I'm making will be a contemporary example instead of an authentic reproduction I've made some changes.  First of all, the pistol and powder horn will be secured with a leather strap and snaps.  This way they won't be able to move around as it's being carried  from one place to the next.  I used an article from an old Fine Woodworking magazine as a source and it suggested using leather placed over 1" upholstery foam.  Leather will stand up better than felt to gun powder and oil.  It'll also be constructed in such a way that it can be disassembled and replaced if needed.  I'll share the details as the box is built. Pretty straight forward process so far.  I used a scroll saw to cut out the template and then filed and sanded to get it to fit the piece.There will be compartments on the right side of the case to hold the cleaning equipment, balls, powder, and wads.  I've neglected to tell you what type of pistol this is, it's a .44 caliber, 1860 Army Revolver. 
I've also been making an improved version of a finger joint jig.  It was designed by Nick Engler and was in Popular Woodworking, June 2001.  What I found ingenious about this jig is that he used a #10-32 x 2" long, flathead machine screw for the fine adjustments.  Since there are 32 threads per inch, each complete turn of the screw will move the jig 1/32" -- one of those simple yet brilliant things where you scratch your head and say "why didn't I think of that?"  I'll take a photo of it when I get to cutting the finger joints on the project.

Thursday, October 1, 2009


Since I'm new to this blogging thing, I'd like to do an experiment to see if I can make a link to my wife's site. She's a very talented artist and represented by a gallery in Naples, Florida and Calistoga, California. She's the one who's inspired me to do picture framing and I've gone from very basic wooden frames to carved and gilded ones. To view her work,just follow this link.