Monday, August 30, 2010

Latest Picture Frame for Diane

    At the beginning of this summer we took a trip to Seattle to deliver the crib for my soon to be, grandson.  That was a great visit and one of the places we went to was the Center for Wooden Boats.  I'd heard about them through woodworking magazines so the four of us went to check them out.  It's a combination museum and woodworking school, heck, they're even listed in Wikipedia!  Rich has sailing experience and he said that for sure, him and Jennifer would be back to see about renting a sailboat in the future.  There were a couple of guys working in the shop and it was great to see all of the old hand tools being used as intended.  The walls also had these hull sections showing the profile  at various points along the length of the ship.  Upstairs there is a school, library, and examples of wooden boats and assorted paraphernalia.  On the docks there are a number of boats.  If you're ever in the area, it's located on Lake Union and is a wonderful place to visit.
    Diane snapped a number of pictures and when we returned home this is one she began on.  You're looking out of a window but the ship is a model, perhaps of one that is still to be built.   The shop itself oozed character, open framed walls, rough cut studs, pots and containers of who knows what, things hanging off nails stuck into the wall, and of course the tools set on any available surface.  Here's what the painting looks like:

   The frame is made of Walnut, I cut a triple bead detail on my shaper and then resawed the remainder of the 5/4 material to make the panels.  Finish is natural oil and the painting is 20" x 24".  The molding itself is 5" wide.  It has been accepted into the Oil Painters of America Western Show which will be held in Jackson, WY this fall.  Seems like an awfully good reason for a road trip!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Stools Assembled

     This morning I decided to take the chance that it wouldn't be too hot and I'd be able to get the stools assembled -- good idea because it went pretty smoothly.   Here is a picture of them with the clamps still on them.  I prefer leaving clamps on 24 hours even though I know a couple of hours should be sufficient -- another reason I like working on singular projects as opposed to production work with deadlines!  Here's the photo:
I couldn't resist laying the grid in place on the bottom to get a visual of how it will all come together.  I can picture the copper being highly polished and then the contrast of the curved back it should be awesome.

The next step is to glue up the laminations for the back.  All of the pieces are ready to go, I just need to have the weather cooperate.  Each back consists of 4 pieces, 3/32" thick so that means 6 surfaces that measure about 3" x 28" that need to have glue applied, wrapped in wax paper, and put into the form all before it starts to set!  Laminating requires resorcinol glue which needs to be mixed fresh before glue up.  I'm thinking of maybe covering the island in the kitchen, throwing down some drop clothes, and doing the glue up in the house.  Betcha I can talk Diane into it, heck I know she'd help me if I need it.  I always get somewhat stressed during glue ups anyway.

 Let me share a construction detail with you.  This is what I did on the bottom of each leg, a very slight chamfer that serves two purposes.  First off I think it adds a small detail and makes it appear as if the stool is "floating", then, from a construction stand point it will prevent the grain from splitting should the stool be dragged across the floor.  I have some glides from Lee Valley Hardware that lift the stool up ever so slightly and are designed for tile or wood floors.

Thursday, August 19, 2010

The Business of Custom Work

     As I've been working in the shop these past couple of days, things have been going around in my head!  Maybe it's the 100+ degrees, high humidity, or the Woodshop News article asking how we're coping with the record heat this summer.  Don't get me wrong, this isn't a rant, just miscellaneous observations I've made these past days.  Doing custom work, creating one of a kind pieces just can't be compared to the mass produced (mostly Chinese these days) offerings you find in any of the big box stores and even many of the so called "high end" furniture stores.  We had a demonstration last night on using Google Sketch Up to design projects.  I hate to sound like a dinosaur because I know that it definitely has it's place but I couldn't help but think how computers can stifle your creativity.  Similar to the feelings I had when calculators first came into the schools.  They're great tools to speed up your math process but if a student didn't understand the process in the first place it becomes a crutch for them and the problem is that they fail to grasp whatever concept there is.  They knew that Mr. Eugster didn't allow plastic brains!  The problem I'm ranting (whoops, said this wasn't one) about is that the average person doesn't understand what goes into making the items we use everyday. With a program like Sketch Up you sketch what you'd like and "it" designs it.  You can then take this sketch, put it into a program, and your parts can be made from metal, wood, glass, etc. just by computer control.

   Let me use the grid I'm making for the bottom of the two bar stools I've been commissioned to make.  On the surface this looks pretty straight forward, the two maple pieces at the ends or the stretchers for the stools themselves while the grid of Chakte Kok is not only a decorative element but supports the foot rest at the front.  A 1" copper pipe will be attached to those half round recesses for that purpose.  What you may not realize (or care about) is the setups and time it takes to create the lap joints holding the grid together, then drilling counter bores and pilot holes for the screws which will be hidden or plugged.  This requires careful measurement and inventing ways to make the cuts all the same on each piece.  Then there's the tenons at each end of the stretcher and the chamfers I cut on the ends of each piece as a style element and also to minimize splitting on the ends of the pieces.

To cut all of those chamfers I made this jig and guide block to have some control.  When only a couple of chamfers are needed it's easy enough to eyeball them but with multiples it's best to make a jig.  When your mindset is to "let the computer" do the design work then you're at "its" mercy and limited by what it's programed to do.  If, on the other hand, you understand the problem, then you can figure out how to solve it based on experience.

     So, what's my bottom line, purpose behind my blog today?, not really sure!  Must be the heat because when I know I truly enjoy the work and process behind making things.  I'm afraid that much of what I do is a dying art.  My last years teaching woodshop showed me that these traditional skills, those that take time and effort to perfect are not that appealing to the general public.  I hope this art form will never be lost.  Diane and I like to watch American Pickers.  A recent conversation we had is what will happen when the people that can recognize "junk" that we produced here are gone?  Who will carry on that tradition of knowing that the engine block you found is one of a few produced and worth thousands?

Sunday, August 15, 2010

Machine Part of Joinery Done

     Although I always use traditional joinery in my work, machines do play a very important role.  It's not my quote but it was said by another woodworker that he uses his machines just as a craftsman of old used their apprentice!  In other words, they do the repetitious grunt work so I can concentrate on refining the joints with chisel, saw, plane, etc. to bring it all together.  So where I use my surface planer to bring pieces to their required thickness, it's using the smooth plane that eliminates the marks left by the machine and prepares the stock for finishing.  I suppose the big difference is that eventually the apprentice would become a craftsman where the machines will quietly and efficiently do their work asking only for their required maintenance -- I can deal with that!
     Previously I'd mentioned how it's crucial to make a full size drawing of chair parts and then taking sizes and angles off of that, here's a photo:

There's a bit of distortion so you'll have to take my word for it that the piece of wood is the exact size and angle as what's been drawn.  At this point the tenons are the same width as the stretcher but they will be trimmed to fit into its mating  mortise.  This will be accomplished with a dovetail saw, chisel for paring, and a rabbet plane.  Lately I've been cutting my tenons with two dado blades with spacers in between them to match the mortise width.  That way you only make one pass on the saw with the tenoning jig for each end.  I leave them ever so slightly over sized and then use the rabbet plane to not only fine tune them but also to smooth the cheeks for a better gluing surface.
     Tomorrow I plan to fit all of them, start on the grid for the bottom, and begin shaping the legs with a spokeshave.  As luck would have it the weather man has predicted more heat -- bad timing!  When I laminate the back I need as much time as possible to spread the glue on all of the pieces, can't have it setting up before I get them into the form and clamped.  Hopefully too, some time this week I'll get a call from the finisher telling me that the TV lift cabinet is ready for it's final assembly.  Be glad to write "Completed" next to that project.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Bloodwood vs. Chakte Kok

As I mentioned in an earlier blog I (and my client) just wasn't pleased with the coloration of the Bloodwood.  What I had shown him was  a piece of Chakte Kok and even though the Bloodwood is a good looking piece of wood it doesn't have the pizzazz of the Chakte Kok.  I learned that it is sometimes referred to as Red Heart and when you look at this picture you can see why:

That's the Bloodwood on the left and the Chakte Kok on the right.  It will be used for the curved and laminated back rest and also combined used in a grid at the bottom of the stool that will have   a section of copper pipe and serve as the footrest.

Saturday, August 7, 2010

Thanks Bob Z!

You may remember a post where I mentioned that I'd received a call from a gentleman regarding some tools he wanted to give me.  Just to recap, he's retired and did an apprenticeship in Sweden in the 60's and had been moving these tools around with him ever since.  When he saw the chair publicity in the newspaper he and his wife decided that his tools would serve me well and they were right!  I've given some away to other, like minded woodworkers, and kept the others.  One of the ones I've kept is this wooden smoother plane.

I've always wanted to try one out and the feel is quite different from the bronze, #4 I have from Lie-Nielson. Currently I'm working on some picture frames for Diane and this Walnut panel is for one of them.  After sharpening the blade I was eager to try it out.  Your hand position is different from a metal bodied plane.  The left hand wraps around the horn while your right hand wraps around the back section just below the blade.  The most obvious difference is how this plane is adjusted.  The mallet in the background is used to tap either the blade or a designated spot at the rear of the body -- a metal button to set the blades depth and level it.  Just like everything else, there's a learning curve and I doubt I've mastered it at this point!
Using the plane was nice, totally different feel to it but as you can see by the thin shavings it worked out well for me.  Nothing like using a sharp blade to get rid of the chatter marks a planer will always put on the surface.  Another plane I'm holding on to is a bullnose that's over 1 1/2" wide and will be a good choice for trimming tenons.  I'm currently sharpening that one (needs a lot of work) and will try it out on the tenons for the bar stool.  Had a minor setback on that project, the Bloodwood they sent doesn't have the brilliant red color like the Chakta Kok I showed for the barstools.  Currently Woodworkers Source is out of stock but thankfully, the client for those is not in a hurry.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Barstool Joinery

     The TV lift cabinet went to the finisher today so now I have room in the shop to spread out and begin some serious work on the barstools.  Up to this point I've made the form to laminate the back, ordered and picked up the Bloodwood for the back and the lower grid, and roughed out the Maple for the legs.  One of the most difficult aspects of building a chair or a stool is the joinery.  Since my objective is to build heirloom quality pieces I stay with traditional methods.  In the world of woodworking certain things "say" quality.  One of the most obvious ones is using dovetails, they are a hallmark of fine furniture construction.  Among furniture, chairs are one of the most difficult items to make because of the angled joinery.  Other areas that are pretty complex are circular stairs and wooden boats -- haven't tackled those yet!
     As far as chairs go, a tried and true method to tackle the joinery is to make full size drawings and then use a bevel to establish your angles.  In this photo, I've done just that:

This is one area where "winging it" can get you into trouble!  What is drawn is half of the chair, the mortises are drawn in to locate them exactly.  Chairs take a lot of stress so the design and placement of the joinery need to take that into consideration.  Mortises have been cut for the stretchers and the bottom foot rest.  One of the design decisions I can make is choosing the wood and the surfaces that will show.  At the left are the front legs for one of the chairs and although it's pretty difficult to see from this photo they are cut from the same board and the bottom portion has that waterfall grain effect.  Those are the little things that separate a custom piece from a factory made project -- it's good to be able to take the time and care required.

Monday, August 2, 2010

Composition Ornaments are Done

    Here we have it, the final design of the ornamentation.  I'll allow it to dry thoroughly over night and then use a scraper to eliminate the "ghost" patterns where the compo left its' tracks.  It's hard to make out in this picture but there is a line of compo that finishes the bottom curve nicely.  If you've never worked with this stuff it's pretty neat.  This was really fresh so didn't take too much time on the steamer to activate the glue.  Just like anything else, there is a learning curve.  I did the sides first, then the back, and left the front for last.  A friend of mine came over to see how to work with it and even though he's a carver could see the value in using the compo -- imagine how long it would take to carve all of this by hand?  Like he said, maybe Christmas; yeah, 2011 ! The next step will be getting it to the finisher so he can work his magic to make this piece look like an antique, French Provincial chest.  After I clean up any little details, tape off the lift mechanism, and organize the inside wiring it'll be ready for the finishing process.