Monday, January 31, 2011

Ready to Go Home

Well, here's the other chair in its' finished state just waiting for a ride home.  This was a good challenge, I've woven a seat before using a natural grass material but this is done using paper fibre rush.  It's very uniform in size but more rigid than a natural material so weaving the final bridge section of the seat was difficult -- I have achy fingers and hands to prove it!  After two thin coats of shellac it was ready to re-attach the moldings to the sides, front, and back.  I wasn't able to keep the nails from popping through but that will just add to the aged, antique quality of the chair although I will see if I can find a touch up for it.
After I delivered the two chairs I picked up an antique table that needs a bottom shelf, which will be caned and also a wooden waste basket that needs to be redone.  The basket has an oval of the manufactured cane that I will re-caned to match the table and the other chairs.  My client didn't realize that the table was also missing a drawer, that side was against the wall.  That may be another part of the project, either a false front or a complete drawer assembly will be required.
Even though my main interest is doing new work I'm glad I've taken these projects on.  I can't help but think it's a God thing, He's providing me with work even in these economic times and I'm learning new skills and keeping busy.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

A Tale of Two Chairs

Here we go with the tale of two chairs, my apologizes to Charles Dickens!  The two chairs I'm re-doing are quite different even though they're from the same manufacturer, Hitchcock.  I completed the one on the left yesterday and it's done with pre-woven, manufactured cane.  After soaking the cane for a couple of hours it was wedged into a groove which runs completely around the seat.  A tapered spline is then glued and forced into the groove to keep it in place.  Now that the caning is dry the seat is as tight as the proverbial drum and ready for another half century of sitters.
I've just started on the chair on the right and am breaking for lunch.  It has a woven seat and will be done with a Fibre Paper Rush.  I've only used sea grass in the past and this fibre is a manmade material that is woven in a spiral pattern.  You need to be careful not to unwind the spiral as you weave the rush around the seat.  The only part done so far is the front corners which needed to be filled in before going to the back.  As is typical in chairs, the front is a bit wider than the back so the first step is to square it up.  This chair has painted, wooden slats that will cover the front, back, and sides.  I was fortunate to be able to loosen the glue and wedge them off without popping the nails.  Keeping my fingers crossed that I'll be able to re-install them into the same holes without popping them back through the front and ruining the existing paint.
If anyone has a chair they need to re-cane or a new caning job I whole heartedly recommend Mike Frank who is the owner of  Franks Caning.  He has been in Southern California for years, has great service with quick shipping.  The best part is that you can call him and he answers the phone!  No recordings or anything, another big plus is that he's more than happy to give you advice and help on your projects.  That's the kind of company I like to do business with.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

The Initial Carve

Here's the progress on the carving for the lid on the chisel chest.  As a beginner and mostly self-taught wood carver I'm never sure if what I'm doing is the correct way or not!  This is a book-matched panel, you can probably tell that by the whitish streak running down the center.  I used a technique from a carver friend of mine and routed a cove to have a positive area to end the carving.  At this point it's mostly ground out but I still need to smooth the background, the photo helps make the areas that need attention show more.  This is a tricky piece of Cherry to carve, sometimes it seems as if it's easier to use the chisels, especially a large skew, by going across the grain rather than trying to figure out which way the grain is going.  You can tell by the grain pattern that this piece has some interlocked grain so probably not the best piece to practice on -- it's all a learning experience.
     I've been splitting my time between this and cleaning out the spline and cane from one of the chairs.  Constantly putting the water/vinegar solution in the groove, letting it soak, and then scrape out more of the glue residue.  Went to Harbor Freight last weekend and picked up a complete, professional grade, Chinese quality set of 11 carving chisels for only $5.99 + tax!!!  I think they drug them behind a car to create the cutting edges on the pavement, they are rough.  But, for what I needed they work great.  I modified a couple of them so I could pry out the caning in the seat and also as a scraper to fit into the tapered groove and scrap out all of the glue.  The cane came this afternoon so may decide to tackle it tomorrow after reading up on the skills I need.  One thing I hadn't thought of is how bright and new this one chair will look compared to the others, maybe I can mix up some shellac with tints to replicate some age.
   That's what's been going on in the shop.  I didn't get the bid for the TV console table, there were some design issues with it but the time wasn't wasted and I learned from doing the drawing and research.  Something else will come along -- no worries!

Sunday, January 23, 2011

Not the best Multi-Tasker but ... Why Not?

This has been an interesting weekend for my woodworking.  First of all, as you saw in my last post, the What Not Cabinet has been returned to it's owner.  I saw it this afternoon after she had rubbed in a few coats of lemon oil and I must admit, it's really looking good!  The reason I was there was to return three of the five chairs they had brought to me. It was decided to just repair the two that needed it the most and leave the others alone.  Here's what I'm looking at:

Hitchcock Chair, Pre-woven Cane

Woven Rush Seat

 These two chairs are fine examples of the Hitchcock Chairs manufactured in Connecticut. This is a long time furniture manufacturer and are very collectable, do a Google search and you can learn a bit of their history.  At this point I've removed most of the spline from the pre-woven chair which took a couple of hours while soaking it with a solution of vinegar and water.  I'll order the cane, rush, and spline tomorrow.  That's job one.

Then on Saturday afternoon I met with a potential client who needs a TV console table with some interesting custom features.  What was helpful is that she has a definite idea of what she wants from a catalog picture, now the challenge will be to be competitive with a solid walnut piece vs. China mass produced laminate.  I'm up for the challenge, she knows what she wants and quality is on her list.  I'm confident I can deliver!

The last item for the weekend was to make the dividers for the chisel chest.  I'm also working on the carved panel for the top lid.  Here's what it looks like:

The very top section doesn't have any finish on it yet because I need to complete the carving and glue it together.  I'm liking what I see and will be happy to have this complete and store my chisels safely.  Having them in drawers will keep them from falling out of the leather rolls when I take them out of the cabinet.

Why do they always have to hit the concrete on the cutting edge?

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Deterioration Arrested?

Well, here is the completed project and I believe we have arrested the deterioration.  It turned out to be a very interesting yet educational project.  I have a much better understanding of the properties of wood and how it reacts to moisture and temperature change.  This cabinet started life at least 100 years ago in the Northeast part of our country.  For us desert rats, this is where humidity changes with the seasons and moisture is  problematic for furniture.  Sure, we get some humidity swings with the monsoons but as a general rule, we're pretty even "tempered".  As a furniture maker I understand the way wood moves and try to design accordingly but now I wonder how my work would hold up if it went to New York or Maine.
As an example, the back of the center unit is made of a couple of boards laminated together.  It was simply nailed on but has shrunk to such a degree that it no longer covers the opening!  It was attached with brads that were clinched over but the wood had pulled through leaving slots.  At the top and bottom I was able to use a small brass screw and washer to hold it to the case.  Another problem was previous repairs that were done through the years.  On the sides a screw was driven to hold a bracket in place.  One side the bracket was cracked but still there and on the other the piece was gone.  I made a replacement piece and did what I could to make it match.  Thankfully it's underneath and in the shadows but let's just say it won't pass The Antique Roadshows group of experts!
In a few other places repairs had been attempted with a nail and judging by the missing pieces whoever wielded the hammer missed the nail a time or two.  Using the 23 gauge pin nailer made it much easier to attempt to hold pieces together.  I'm a firm believer now in using hide glue.  Previous repairs done with a yellow or white carpenters glue were very obvious.  Around one of the round mirrors the frame was in about 5 pieces and caked with the residue of the glue.  Trying to scrape it off to prepare it for gluing resulted in pieces of the old, brittle wood coming off with the glue.  The hide glue would re-dissolve when I used a solution of vinegar and water just warmed in the microwave.
All I can say at this point is that I'm glad I decided to take on this project and although far from perfect, I think I've met the clients goal of having the piece structure intact without ruining the patina built up over all this time.  That was another lesson, I was really able to see where the spots were that didn't get a complete cleaning or dusting.  Re-assmbling the parts without making it look like a new repair was a challenge.  It took just under 9 hours to complete the work.

Monday, January 17, 2011

All Clamped Up and No Where to Go

Another good day of progress on the restoration project.  Started off buying the pin nailer and it's well worth it.  There are some places on the cabinet where someone had made a repair by using a finish nail or brad and inevitably that's also a place where the wood cracked.  With a 23 gauge pin it's almost invisible, I have some furniture markers and a swipe across the hole should conceal it completely.  Re-assembling this gallery was quite the trick!

It's made up of 5 pieces and they all had to be installed at the same time.  Two side pieces, two posts, and then the front -- all doweled together.  Over the years they have cupped, warped, and otherwise changed shape since it was originally put together which added to the complexity.  I ended up supporting the side pieces with a couple of clamps then glue the posts to the front, hold that and attach it to the side pieces, brush glue on the cabinet portion and then try to hold all of them together and find the dowel holes -- whew!  It worked okay, then it was a matter of clamping with just enough pressure to hold it in place but not so much that the wood will crack.  Tomorrow afternoon we'll see how it holds.  Next is to reattach the curved and carved molding that goes under the shelf. There's a return piece missing so I'll more than likely try to replicate something to fill the space.  Good education putting this together and seeing how it was done in the 1900's.
By the way, in the background you can see the tool chest I've been working on as well.   I put the first of 4, hand rubbed top coats on it this morning.  A friend of mine, Vince, came over to learn about this finish so that made the morning enjoyable.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Back Together

Progress went well today on re-assembling the cabinet, couldn't have done it without Diane's help though. The cabinet measures 40" wide and my arms just aren't quite long enough to hold the clamps in place.  I'm sure that this piece was originally put together with hide glue because when I cleaned the joints and dowels with warm water and vinegar I could feel it redissolve and become sticky again.  My thoughts are that it can only help make a better bond.  It was tricky trying to line up a dozen or more dowels in such a long piece but all went well.  Here's what it looks like now:

It seems to me that one reason the unit failed is because there isn't any member of it going the full width, everything is left to dowels to join it together.  Essentially it is three separate pieces joined with the dowels so any unevenness in the floor would cause joint failure.  I didn't want to add any mechanical fasteners to the already brittle wood so decided to cut some glue blocks to reinforce the bottom.  I sanded first to clean the area and then made some 45 degree pieces out of alder and glued them in place.  At worst, future settling and movement may cause them to fall off but at least it won't cause any damage to the piece.  In my experience I've never seen a glue block like this fail.
In the foreground you can see some of the bric-brac that I need to replace for the gallery at the top.  See the bracket hanging loose at the left edge, that's another part that needs to be reattached.   First thing tomorrow I'll be headed to Woodworkers Emporium to buy a pin nailer.  They have the new Porter Cable model that can shot a 1 3/8" pin.  Sure hope they're open since it's MLK Day.

Saturday, January 15, 2011

Don't Know When to Quit !!

I guess being an ultrarunner means you're pretty intense and don't always know when to quit -- I seem to carry that in what ever I do!  After dinner I went out to the shop to see how the glue was setting up and thought, heck; might as well sand, scrape, and clean up some of the pieces for tomorrow.  Well, as you can see; one thing lead to another.  As I was cleaning the shelf I noticed there was quite a gap between it and the leg assembly.  Too much wiggle!  I've figured out that by gently pushing wooden shims between the loose joints it's possible to get them apart so that's what I did.

The entire assembly came away.  Boy, this really reinforces my thoughts on not using dowels.  There is a lot of end grain to end grain surface here and the only thing holding it together is a dowel.  I know it was the production method of the day but .......
In any case, I used the brush and water/vinegar solution to re-dissolve the existing glue, sanded the dowels and gave them some notching, and also discovered that I had a wire brush that may have been used to clean a rifle bore that was perfect for cleaning out the dowel holes.


Here's this section glued up for the night, now I really am going to let it rest until tomorrow afternoon!

Always Up for the Challenge

I had an interesting email from a lady who'd seen the story in the Review Journal about the Dovetail Chair.  She has a "What Not" cabinet that dates back to the early 1900's and came from the east coast.  Between the move and the lack of humidity here, it's starting to fall apart.  Although I usually shy away from this type of project it was evident that the piece has a cherished memories for her so I decided to take it on.  She and her husband helped bring it to my shop and I was able to begin on it this afternoon.  My first concern was being able to disassemble it without doing any further damage.  Essentially it is three units joined together with dowels and glue.  I'm reminded as to why I feel dowel joints are not the best choice because they had shrunk more than the furniture wood and that lead (in part) to the failure.  I also noticed several cracks on the face of the wood where the dowels had been inserted.
The first part I decided to tackle was the gallery at the top of the center piece shown below.

You can see how intricate some of the carvings are but it came apart fairly easily.  My fear came true that as I gently disassembled one section it caused an adjacent section to loosen as well!  Since we're after a "state of arrested deterioration" project rather than a complete rebuild I'm doing what I can to keep things intact.  A couple of dowels had broken and these were carefully drilled out and new ones made.  I'm also filing grooves on them to allow the glue to get a bit of purchase.  I'm pretty sure the piece was originally assembled with hide glue since a solution of vinegar and water applied with a brush dissolves it.  There is evidence of previous repairs done with white glue, nails, and an occasional screw or two!

This is the center section, it's laying on it's back and this is a view from the bottom.  The two spindles were dowelled into the top and bottom of the piece but had broken loose.  There is also some bric-brac at the top that has separated and cracked as well.  I was able to loosen the spindles and get some glue into the joint with a syringe and clamp it.  These spindles have bracketed molding on either side which I will clean up and re-glue.  I'm going to need to buy a 23 gauge pin nailer to accomplish that, there isn't any way to clamp the curved pieces and an 18 gauge finish nailer would be do risky -- this wood is very brittle.  I'll definitely let this dry in the clamps overnight.  Actually will be longer, I think it'll stay clamped until after Church tomorrow.

In the meantime I started to work on the right side of the cabinet that pretty much separated from the rest of the piece.  The challenge was figuring out how to clamp it so here it is laying on my workbench.  The section with the mirror had completely cracked at the bottom.  It had separated from the leg as well so I'm basically trying to work two ends from the middle.  I cleaned up the joints with the vinegar and water solution, scuffed up the dowels, and figured out how it'll all go together.  I used the hide glue to re-attach to the leg but chose regular cabinetmakers glue for the mirror piece.  It wasn't a joint that let go but the wood cracked completely.  You can see how I made a caul to surround the carving at the top.
Again, leave it till tomorrow for maximum strength.

Just a Test

I'm doing this to see if Blogger automatically posts to my Facebook page.  That could explain why they are duplicated a couple of hours apart.  Here's a picture of Ali to keep you interested!

Thursday, January 13, 2011

Shop Made Runners, part 2

In my last post I shared how I went about making the runners, now comes the fun part -- installing them.  As luck would have it one of the drawers ended up being ever so slightly tweaked but a little bit of planing took care of that.  The drawers are pretty wide and shallow but should be fine once they get a load in them.  The technique I use to install a bank of drawers, whether they're metal slides or shop made like these is the same for both.  I know there are jigs available but I've found this method to be pretty fool proof and accurate.  It starts by using a piece of MDF or plywood that spans the interior of the case.  In this instance my first drawer was the bottom one because I have a shelf on top to reference from.  First I locate the drawer with the cabinet on it's side and locate the runner.

I then cut the plywood so that it will locate the top of the runner, drill the holes, and screw it on.  Flip the case over and use the plywood again to attach the runner on the opposite side. Using the plywood insures that the distance is the same.  In this picture I've already installed two, and am doing the third of five.  It's a simple matter of ripping the plywood to size.  The penny? that's what I use to determine the spacing between drawers.

Here's a better shot of the technique I use.  The reddish piece of wood is the inside of the drawer.  At the front, out of the picture, I have a penny between it and the next drawer and you can see the end of a try-square keeping the drawer in line.  That very light piece of wood by the tape measure is the drawer runner.  It's about 2  3/4" from the top so my next cut on the plywood will be that size.  Remove the drawer, place the plywood against the top, and screw down the runner.

It really is a good system and insures that the runners are at the same level from your reference point.

  I couldn't resist sharing a picture of the first mock up of the cabinet.  I've oiled the drawers and you can see the joinery I used.  The very top piece will hinge at the back but I still need to do the carving on the panel for it.  You may notice the hole at the upper left corner, that's for the brass pin I'm using to hinge the lid section.

So far I'm liking it a lot!

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

Shop Made Drawer Runners

Work is going along well on the chest in spite of the chilly weather, mid-forties until I kicked on the heater so the glue would set.  The drawers are assembled with the dowels rather than dovetails.  I shellacked the bottoms before assembly.  I also cut a 3/4" slot, a little less than 1/4" on the sides for the runners.  There's something cool about wooden runners as opposed to metal hardware.  For one thing, you don't need to allow a half an inch on each side for the hardware.  I use pennies for spacers.  Since I had some European Steamed Beech left over from a picture frame I chose it for the runners.  Very nice, straight grained stock.  Each runner is between 1/4" - 5/16" thick so that allows a little room for final planing.  Cutting thin material like that on the tablesaw can be risky, here's what I did:

Front View
 I first planed a radius on the front and planed the edge that's against the fence.  What appears to be a pretty fancy push block is actually my mock-up piece for the drawer.  I cut it so it rides just above the table and with my hand on top of the fence there's very little chance of contacting the blade.  You can see from the side view how the splitter will keep the wood from binding -- worked nicely!

Side View
I only need 10 runners but made a couple extra, just in case.  Must be part of Murphy's Law because if I take the time to make extra parts I don't need them, but no extras and you inevitably screw up!!
Anyway, the final machining step is to put slotted holes to attach them to the sides of the case.  For that I used a bit from Lee Valley which cuts the screw hole as well as a recess for the screw head.  I made a quick jig for it so that the slots are approximately 3/8" long which should be more than sufficient.

Slotting the Mounting Holes

Tomorrow will be time spent on finishing the drawers, attaching the handles, and going from there.  The last major step is to carve the likeness of the smooth plane on the top of the case.  Easy on the coffee then, don't want to get the jitters trying to carve that.

Sunday, January 9, 2011

How Hard Is It ??

Sounds like a punch line from a Johnny Carson monologue doesn't it?  'Cept now I'm talking about the Bloodwood.  I cut dovetails on the stretcher going across the front of the tool chest and noted that it was a hard, sinewy, type of wood.  Easily split off (got the sliver under my fingernail to prove it) and hard on the tools.  Well, after about 6 sets of practice half blind dovetails that I had planned to use for the drawers I changed my mind.  The main drawers are 2" tall so that would easily accommodate 2 tails so that was the intent of my practice.  Split, crack, splinter, dull tools, sharpen, and do it again until >>>>>

Japanese Skewed Paring Chisel
Yep, broke the tip right off of it.  I know Japanese steel is pretty brittle and to be honest, I'm not sold on them.  I may have pried a little but the tip stayed stuck into the wood!  Anybody want to make me an offer on a slightly used set of chisels -- I can take PayPal (I'm serious).
Anyway, after weighing my options I decided to do a rabbeted joint reinforced with dowels.  The drawer sides are Alder, the dowel is dark, and it should make an interesting contrast for the joint.  Cut all the bits and pieces last night so will work on that in the morning.
I called the Japan Woodworker and was told they'd charge about $15.00 to regrind the tip.  They're in their current catalog for $43.00 each so I'll sell the pair for the first $60.00.  Part numbers are 06.001.060 and 06.002.060.

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Love the Hand Work

There's just something about working with a hand tool that I had to share today. I wanted to ease the top edge of the sides on the tool chest with a 1/8" chamfer.  Once it was laid out it took a half dozen passes with a spokeshave to accomplish.  I had a friend over to the shop yesterday and admittedly, he prefers power tools over hand tools and I can respect that but......there's just something about the quietness of doing hand work that appeals to me.          
In this photo you can see the spokeshave I used, it's one I blogged about making last year and a Veritas kit
from Lee Valley.  It did a great job on the end grain, you can see the shaving from the long grain wrapped around it.

Here's a better shot of how it turned out.  I suppose I could have chucked a chamfer bit in a small router but the risk of tear out and not being able to balance it on the edge, combined with the noise and dust kept me from that.  Maybe I'll talk my friend into more handwork.  I know I'm wired to where I enjoy the process odf the work as much, if not more, than the final product.
The last thing I did today is to crank up the heater and glue the sides and back together.  Tomorrow I'll assemble the front pieces and begin work on the drawers.

Monday, January 3, 2011

Pins, Tails, and Snow?

Well, the snow came through this morning so it made for a chilly day in the shop.  Used the propane heater for a while but it actually wasn't too bad with a sweatshirt and coveralls on.  I spent the day cutting the dovetails that will hold the front of the tool chest together.  I wanted this project to be one where I improve my skills and these put me to the test!  Bloodwood is one, hard, cantankerous wood.  Really glad I've decided to use only one big dovetail on the drawers, they're only 2" high so should be no problem.  The bottom drawer is 3" so I'll put a couple of tails on it -- after I've practiced a bunch on the smaller drawers.  There will be four of them so hopefully I'll have those half blind dovetails figured out by then.  I've also figured out a way to utilize the last scrap of that birds eye/curly maple I have left from Connor's crib for handles on the lid and drawers.
Since I'm trying to use up as many odds and ends as possible, I used a piece of Cherry for the bottom stretcher.  Did the dovetails on it first after doing a practice one to get my body accustomed to cutting it.  It came out nicely.  Then I did the stretcher for the top which is Bloodwood.  Tough, hard wood but I'm happy with the results.  There seems to be an ongoing controversy as to whether you should cut the tails first or cut the pins first.  I like the tails first method, just seems to me that it's easier to transfer and scribe from them to the pin board.  I also like to use a coping saw to remove the bulk of the waste, here's a picture:

You can see how the coping saw has cut the majority of the waste between the two pins.  Once that was done I clamped the piece on the bench and carefully chiseled to the lines.  The outer shoulders where cut with the dovetail saw you can see in the background.

Here the piece is almost to it's final fit.  The Alder is so different to work with than the Bloodwood!  Once again I used the old Stanley router plane to bring the sockets to the correct depth.  At this point the stretchers are ready to be glued into the sides but I need to finalize the back height first.

There are many different ways to join pieces of wood and without a doubt, this is probably the most time consuming way to go about it.  Saying that, it's also the most traditional way to accomplish it as well.  I suppose a jig could have cut the dovetails or pocket screws and a Kreg jig would have done the work in a third of the time but I like tradition!

Sunday, January 2, 2011

As a teacher I woulda...............

....... never let a student start a project with plans as sketchy as mine!  You've probably heard the expression "burning the candle at both ends", well; with this tool chest project I must be burning it at 5 or more ends!  It's been an interesting challenge making do with mostly odds and ends of material.  Quite a change from planning, making a cutting list, and then buying what you need plus some for waste.  Now it's a matter of finding the material and planning around it.  With the temperature hovering in the low 40's I'm using a brain freeze for any and all mistakes as well.  Here's the first mock up picture of what the final outcome may be:

This is looking at the back and I like how my  tongue and grooved back pieces came out.  They're about 1/2" thick and to add a little detail I simply used a spokeshave on one edge.  Rather than measure and mark I relied on the thickness of the shaving to tell me when I had enough of a chamfer.  I almost wished that I'd made the T&G panel for the sides as well but didn't have enough material.  Once I calculate the height of the piece I can cut the back to the correct size.  My plan is to have the top lid hinge with brass dowels and until I figure out exactly where it will be the final back size will have to wait.  The lid will need to be rounded over on the back so that it can pivot -- probably use a block plane to accomplish that.
There's a 50% chance of snow later this evening and tomorrow, may need to crank up the propane heated to work on the dovetails for the front.  There was some glue ups that I did yesterday so I worked as close to the heater as possible and then brought them into the house (laundry room) to cure.  This desert sure makes it tough on gluing up -- too hot and it cures before clamping, too cold and it never cures!