Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Dutch Black Frame Finish

The latest frame escapade has been pursuing how to create a frame finish that replicates the Dutch Black.  It's a rich, luster that mimics the originally used Ebony.  Ebony is an extremely expensive wood so not an option for creating this finish.  I've done other frames by ebonizing them with a vinegar/dissolved metal solution, this reacts with the natural tannins found in the wood and turns the wood black.  Although this works well, the color can vary and you need a wood that has a high content of tannin like Oak.  For this job, the heavy grain pattern found in Oak wasn't desirable.  Of course, another option would be to paint, I've used Krylon and had success with it but just not exactly what I was after.
As I did my research I remembered talking with Peter Werkhoven at the West Coast Framing show last year.  Like me, he's a Dutchman so who better to ask for advice!  He has his shop in San Francisco, click on this link to go to his website.  In any case, he suggested India Ink to blacken the wood followed by French polishing final coats of shellac.  Sounded great to me so here's what my sample mold looks like:
Here's what I did to create this molding.  First off, it's made of 4/4 Steamed European Beech and about 3" wide.  The sight edge is a separate piece that is about an inch tall and currently it's going to be used for panels, not canvas.  I used a router bits to cut the grooves and shaped the outer edge and sight edge with a half round profile.  Notice that the flat portions have a definite sheen, that's because that surface is hand planed before assembling the frame.  The insides of the grooves have a more textural appearance due to the cutting action of the router bit.  It's a slight, but obvious, change in texture that adds interest to this molding.
To get the ebony color I used aniline dye (JE Moser) which is something I've always wanted to experiment with.  For this mix I used 1 oz. dye, 2 oz. denatured alcohol, and then 6 oz. distilled water.  Two applications of the dye with a foam brush a couple of hours apart, wiped dry, and then allowed to dry overnight. I used shellac, a Jathwa button mix, to bring out the color and add a warm amber cast to the piece.  This was padded on but next time I think I'll use an airbrush to seal the dye first, followed by the French polishing technique.  I had some color transfer on the pad which was more pronounced on the first couple of coats. This may or may not be a problem.  In any case, I padded on at least 7 coats and I like the way the planed surfaces have more sheen than the routed grooves.  It's finished off with Liberon wax, love the smell and sheen it provides.
Was it successful? well according to my best client/wife it must be because she requested 3, 12" square ones just like the sample for her current Square Foot of Art Series!

Wednesday, November 24, 2010

Just Keep Learning!

So much to learn in this world I doubt there's enough days left!  Here is the completed picture frame and when I mention learning I need to add how to take decent photographs of them.  Not too bad but there's room for improvement but since I want to get this published here it is for all to see.  I must admit that I'm pleased with the final results of this frame.  As I mentioned previously, the design was one that I was inspired to create after seeing a picture of a Frederick Loeser design.  The arrows or darts at the corner are a definite Southwestern, Taos style while the curving ribbon between them leads towards the Art Nouveau design.  Love to have curling, interwoven designs in my work.  One of the things I need to work on though, is refining the background with the chisels.  This can be done with sandpaper but that's a long process and I prefer the look of finely cut wood as opposed to sanded/abraded wood.  This is in keeping with my previous post of planing the surface of the wood.  I've ordered a power honing/sharpening system for the chisels which should make this somewhat easier.  The finish is natural Danish Oil which is sanded into the surface.  This was followed by wax for protection and to add a sheen to the frame.  I believe it will really go well with the Craftsman inspired design of the home it's going to for Christmas.
Speaking of frames, after the Thanksgiving holiday I have a couple of goals lined up.  We have a whole bunch of frames that I've carved, designed, and/or gilded.  Some of them were created specifically for a painting of Diane's which may have been sold unframed through a gallery.  Others were exercises in techniques.  In any case, they do take up a lot of space so the plan is to open an Etsy store to sell them at a decent price.  Monies will be used to purchase materials to make more frames, buy carving tools, gilding material, and whatever else.  Seems as if the more we do, the more we want to improve our craft and this is a means to free up space and purchase more materials.  Anyone interested in some frames?  I'll put it on my blog as soon as I open the Etsy store.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Practicing What I Preach

At the last meeting of the Sin City Woodworkers I gave a hands on demonstration on how to set up and use hand planes in our woodworking.  You can see the blog here, everyone was asked to bring their own plane and a piece of wood to work on.  I think all agreed that it made for a very interesting meeting and I know that personally, as the presenter, I had a great time sharing what I know with the rest of the group.
Currently I'm working on a set of three picture frames for Diane.  She has a new series called "A Square Foot of Art" which is a series of 3 separate paintings.  I've designed a frame for the first three.  Obviously, they are 12" x 12" and the molding I've made is about 3" wide.  Here is a shot of the work in progress:

Smooth Plane 
What I wanted to show is how I actually use the plane just as I talked about during my demonstration -- there's no way to get a finer finish than with a nicely sharpened and properly adjusted plane.  I mean really, check out those shavings!
I started this molding with some 5/4 Poplar and cut the beaded profile on the sight edge.  The back is cut at 10 degrees to set the frame away from the wall and add some visual depth to the piece.  The next step was to use the dado head and cut a shallow (3/32") groove on the face of the molding.  At this point you can see the slots for the biscuits which is the way I always join frames; glue, biscuits, and clamp over night.  For the finish there will be 4 coats of traditional gesso mopped onto the frame.  After the final coat I add more whiting to the gesso to make it quite thick.  This thickened gesso will only be put into the shallow groove and then I use a comb on it to give it some interesting texture.  Once that's dried completely the entire frame will be sanded.  Here's where using the plane to smooth the face and edge is so important.  The gesso will telegraph every defect through and it will show.  The final finish is black applied over a deep, red base.  The technique I use is to allow the black to set up for a couple of days and then use BriWax to carefully cut back the finish and reveal the red base underneath.  This replicates the aging process and gives the frame the character Diane is after with her work.

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Always something to Learn

As the progress continues on the picture frame I've learned a couple of things.  One that's not so new is that working with the grain of the wood is crucial and the experience I'm having with this Walnut has taught me I better check the grain of anything I want to carve before I put it together!  This piece has some wild grain which changes direction a lot, even within the short 12" or so of molding.  File that one away in my memory and hope I retrieve it before I do the next frame.
The other thing occurred by accident.  To help me see better when I carve I bought a really nice light from Lamps Plus.  It's an LED and gives out a pretty intense light and the color hue can actually be adjusted.  I was ready to take a break but forgot to turn off this light at the carving.  When I turned off the main light I saw I forgot so went to shut it off.  That's when I noticed how the shadows and grain on the frame were much more distinct with the LED light only. Let me illustrate with these pictures:

 Notice how distinct the grain of the wood shows up when the main light was turned off? Every little facet shows, see what I mean about the grain being pretty wild in the center?  This will be a good challenge and learning (hopefully) experience.

Main Light Off

Compare that to how it looks with the main lights on, it's more washed out even though the carve looks better.  For sure, when the piece is oiled every little facet will show so like it or not, carving with the main lights out will give me a better indication of how the frame will look finished.

Main Light On

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Frame Project

I've always enjoyed making gifts for those I love, Christmas is one of the prime times to do that.  I don't want to let on who this will be for but I know they're not avid Face bookers so it's probably safe to share this project.  As usual, this is unlike anything I've attempted before so it's a great big unknown.  Diane painted a picture and presented it to these folks so I thought I'd attempt a frame to put it into.  It's a fairly small painting and there is a definite Craftsman influence in their home.  Dark woods predominate so Walnut is the wood of choice.  However; having never carved Walnut for anything serious I know it'll be much more challenging than the Basswood I usually use for picture frames.  Even Cherry that I used for the cabinet scraper box is easier to carve than Walnut.
I was inspired by a picture I saw of an art nouveau, Taos style frame created by Frederick Loeser.  The size of that frame is 55" x 48" while the frame I'm doing is only 9" x 12" so things needed to be scaled down a lot!  I started with a piece of 8/4 Walnut and decided to use the edge grain for my face grain.  The pieces I cut off were just under an inch thick and 1 3/4" wide.  Here's the first photograph of this project:

I put the piece in the middle to show the profile of the molding, nothing fancy with just enough of a rabbet to hold the panel .  My method is to make a pattern out of a piece of aluminum valley tin which is what you see laying inside the frame.  It cuts easily with my shop scissors and is easily flipped so that both corners can be sketched on.  In this case I used a white pencil.  Even if the radiuses aren't drawn in exactly it's not too critical since the sweep of the chisel I chose will determine the curve anyway.  I've always found the "arrows" at the corners of a Taos/Santa Fe style frame appealing, now you combine it with the art nouveau sinuous curves and I'm really liking it!  Have started to carve some of it and just as I suspected the Walnut is a challenge -- why do something easy.  Now that it's posted the pressure is on to succeed!

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Cabinet Scraper Box Finished

Well, here it is my first attempt at some relief carving.  I've shown the details of this box in prior posts, it's designed to hold my cabinet scrapers, burnisher, etc.  Like many projects it was something I can use in the shop but mainly I wanted to have a practical "practice piece" to play around with and improve my carving technique.  You can see the latch on the left side that secures the lid.  I added the claws to provide a finger hold to slide the lid open.  The other purpose of this box was to experiment with a new type of finish I may want to use on a dining table.  I actually hate surface coatings and finish all of my work with a hand rubbed oil which is then top coated with a 3 part concoction I learned about from Art Espinoza Carpenter when I was at San Francisco State.  Although it gives a beautiful sheen, it's just not super durable and requires lots of maintenance when used on a surface like a dining table top.  What I used here were 3 coats of polyurethane, brushed on and lightly sanded between coats.  The problem with a surface coating (other than the plastic appearance) is that it can chip/wear off and also gathers lots of dust during the long drying period.  To combat that, this technique uses a gel polyurethane which is basically rubbed on and then wiped off.  Although it was a satin it was still too shiny for my tastes so I applied the final two coats with 4/0 steel wool.  It's tolerable, next step is to take the sample piece I made and use it at the table to put drinks or plates of hot food on and see if it holds up.  All of this for a possible commission somewhere down the road.  Never stop learning and trying new stuff!

Monday, November 8, 2010

Whoops !!

We had a family get together last night and I was reminded that I need to post a picture of my grandson in his crib -- like the saying goes "my bad". Here it is, isn't he a handsome boy!