Monday, February 28, 2011

First Stool Post

Always a bit of excitement when you finally assemble whatever you're working on and begin the finish process.  Well, that was done today so thought I'd share a picture of it.  The wood is Honduran Mahogany except for the top stretchers which are Canarywood.  Looks odd but once I weave the rush seat they won't show -- just another way to use up leftover pieces of wood.  I'll use my standard finish of Watco and the 3 part top coat.  Next photo will be of the woven seat --- over, under, around, back, repeat, repeat, repeat, ..........etc. !!!

Sunday, February 27, 2011

Poor Man's Dowel Plate -- No Go!

In one of my previous posts I showed my attempt at making my own dowel plate.  Sorry to say it wasn't successful.  The first Ebony peg was the correct size and worked fine going in to the Poplar sample joint.  Each peg after that got ever so slightly larger and rougher.  I was concerned that the force required to get the peg into the joint would split the stool.  As I broke for lunch and pondered what to do I checked my emails.  I had one from Vince saying that he got his dowel plate from Lie-Nielsen!  A phone call to make sure he was home and a quick ride over there had me coming back with his brand new dowel plate.  He was more than willing to let me borrow it but did mention that he wasn't sure how to secure the plate to make the dowels.  I told him I'd come up with something so here's what I came up with:

 Since his birthday is coming up I figured might as well make it a little special.  I used a couple of scrap pieces of Australian Lacewood and sandwiched two short pieces of Maple in the middle.  The plate is recessed and it is completely open at the bottom so the dowel can fall through.  The lacewood is about 3/4" thick, the Maple is about 1 1/4" so you can clamp the Maple section in your bench vise.  It takes a lot of pounding to get the dowel through the plate.  This way it is completely supported by the bench and secured in the vise.  I thought I'd show some of the pegs.  The Ebony is from some material that was supposed to be 1/4" square for another pegged project but is undersized.  That's what I was able to use.

Thanks Vince and Happy Birthday!!

Thursday, February 24, 2011

My First Cloud Lift!

If you're familiar with Arts & Craft style, especially Greene & Greene's take on it you've no doubt heard of the "cloud lift" detail that was a common element of the style.  It adds a certain Asian influence to the piece.  For the rush seated bench I'm making I decided to incorporate it into the stretcher.  Here's my piece:

  I first made a template from 1/2" MDF.  I like using it because it's very easy to form with sandpaper or files yet hard enough to guide a template router bit.  I used a technique from a recent article that suggested using a pin nailer to temporarily hold the template to the piece.  At 23 gauge, the pin hole won't show and, as advertised, it's much more secure than double back tape.  My suggestion would be to use the shortest pin possible.  My shortest was one inch and it was difficult pulling it out of the Mahogany, surprising how well that little pin held!
As it is now this stretcher is way over size, the plan is to insert it into a through mortise on the leg stretchers.  It will be secured with one of the Ebony pegs I made earlier and a bit of glue.
As far as the rest of the project I've completed cutting all of the mortises on the legs and the tenons have been cut and sized.  Something that has been a real joy to use is the Lie-Nielsen rabbet block plane I recently bought. My way of making tenons is to use two blades from my dado set with a spacer in between so that the tenon can be cut in one pass.  I like to leave it just ever so slightly oversized so I can get the fit I want.  Trimming them down is what has been the challenge.  I've tried a good sharp chisel (okay), a Stanley #92, cutting it perfectly on the saw, but nothing has worked as well as the rabbet plane.  I got the optional nickers on it and it really does the job.  About half a dozen passes on each cheek and the fits just what I'm after.  Here's what she looks like:

As with all of Lie-Nielsen tools it's a thing of beauty and after honing the blade it takes a whisker off at a time.  Very easy matter to hold the piece in a bench hook and trim away.  That's one of the stretchers with the through mortise for the cloud lift detail.
The tenons for the upper seat stretchers need to be mitered since they meet inside the leg so once that's done the final smooth planing and chamfer details will be next before glue up.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Greene & Greene Leg Detail

Work is progressing on the bench for the entry way but I'm also doing a couple of other, small projects.  One of them is a pizza peel.  We got a pizza stone and it came with a metal peel to take the pizza off but we need a wooden one to slid it into the oven.  Di's planning a get together on Friday so this one has a deadline!  The other is a corner sample of a frame I'm scheming in my head for a series of Diane's Square Foot of Art.
The Greene & Greene detail, here it is:

 You can see how it'll create an interesting shadow line at the bottom of the legs.  I chose to put a very slight (3 degree) taper on the inside front and rear legs but left the sides un-tapered to give some weight to that view.  There is a book by Darrell Peart that shows how to make a jig to cut this detail.

Basically it's a sled of 1/2" MDF that has an opening for a router cutter with a top mounted bearing to guide the cut.  There is a piece of masonite (1/8") at the rear that raises that part and allows the router to cut this inclined ramp.  Three legs down, one to go.

The tapered jig was a little more complex because the front of the legs tapers the opposite way that the backs of the legs do.  What this called for was being able to put the fence on either side of the jig.  Once I routed one side, I unscrewed the fence and positioned it on the opposite side.

The critical dimension is how far the opening is from the fence which clamps against the straight side.  Little bit of math required here, the leg is 1 5/8" wide and the ramp detail is 1" wide.  This leaves 5/16" on either side of it so that's where the fence needs to be attached.  Believe me, if it's off even a sixteenth of an inch it's quite noticeable!

The Honduran Mahogany I'm using for this is a dream to plane.  After cutting the tapers on the inside of each leg I planed them smooth -- so nice!  Next up is the mortises for the stretchers and making a template for the cross brace.  The plan is to use the Arts & Craft cloud lift as an inspiration.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Poor Man's Dowel Plate

Many years ago a dowel plate or dowel sizer was a pretty common thing to find in a furniture or cabinet shop. Even then, the diameter of the dowel would change with humidity and they weren't always the correct size so the dowel plate corrected that.  If you want to have dowels of a non commercially available species like Ebony, you could make your own.  Well, things have changed and the dowel plate is a hard to find item.  Lie-Nielsen has a beautiful one in their catalog but it has a back order time of 2-3 weeks.  How do I know that? my friend Vince, ordered one and said I could use it but it won't be here soon enough.
After an extensive Google search I found that it is possible to make your own but results were mixed.  Since I need about 8, 1/4" Ebony dowels I thought I'd give it a shot.  Here's what I came up with:

I had a couple of pieces of Ebony that were slightly under 1/4" square.  In my vise you see a piece of a miter box saw blade that I've screwed onto a piece of maple.  After attaching the blade, I drilled a 1/4" hole through it and completely through the wood.  I removed the blade temporarily to increase the diameter of the hole to 9/32" and replaced it.  I also drilled another 9/32" hole at the other end of this piece of wood as a "pre-sizer". The final step was to chamfer the metal with a countersink to create a cutting edge.
Here's what I did, first I used the block plane to ease the corners.  Since the Ebony pieces were about 20" long it was easy to hold one end while planing.  I would eyeball it for roundness and also test it in the 9/32" hole drilled into the wood.  When it seemed right, 2" or so of the dowel was cut off and hammered through the hole with a mallet.  It would stay in the cutter until I ran the next piece in.  I forced each dowel through the hole twice and although they're kind of rough they will be acceptable for the project I'm working on now.  You can see the sample hole I did in the background.
This weekend has been one of figuring out how to get Ebony dowels and also making jigs.  The project I'm designing is a small bench of Honduras Mahogany.  The seating surface will be woven rush and it will have some design influence from the Greene & Greene style.  The jig that's in progress is one put a detail on the ends of the legs.  You can see that detail on the cover of Darrell Peart's book.  Me being me, I had to complicate things somewhat!  In my sense of design, some of the Arts & Crafts furniture is a bit heavy.  To overcome that I'm putting about a 3 degree taper on the bottom of the legs, about 8" worth.  Of course, this necessitates a jig that has that same taper and it has to be reversible.  I've figured it out and will show how it works in the next blog or so.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

Showing Off? -- Maybe

Now that I'm done with the paying jobs it was time to get back to the tool chest I had in progress.  You may recall, it's designed to hold my carving chisels and planes and my goal was to use up the odd pieces of material I had laying around.  Another reason is as a skill builder.  The measurements are 16" deep by 19" high and 24" long.  The wood for the drawer fronts and top is Bloodwood, the handles are quilted birdseye Maple left over from my grandsons crib.  The only wood purchased was the Alder that makes up the framework.

For the back I had a piece of 8/4 Maple which was re-sawed then tongue and grooved so that it will float in the Alder frame to compensate for the change in humidity.  Since this chest will be in the shop that can become a problem when the monsoons arrive.

On the sides of the chest Maple was used as well but this time I left the panel in one piece.  In retrospect, I like the looks of the back and almost wished I'd treated the sides the same.  In this view you can see how the drawers were treated and also the finish that has that wonderful sheen.  Almost a shame that it'll spend it's life in a sawdust laden shop!

  The four shallow drawers will hold carving chisels.  Never again will I pull them out of the cabinet in their leather roll only to have one sneak out and fall onto the concrete floor!  The dividers are left-over slats, again from Connor's crib.  The top is hinged with brass rods topped with acorn nuts for that decorative touch.  Eventually it will have dividers to separate the planes, dovetail saw, and whatever else I decide to put in that space.

 Another skill I wanted to work on with this project is my carving.  I traced my #4 Smooth Plane onto a Cherry panel and this is the result.  Talking with one of my woodworker friends, Dennis, he mentioned how he likes to carve Cherry.  This was a challenge for me since I book matched the panel and it was a piece left over from a project that had some pretty gnarly grain in places.

All in all, I'm really pleased with how this chest turned out.  It'll fulfill the functions I needed and it kept me off the couch for quite a while -- that's always a good thing.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Ready to Deliver

Completed the project this morning and am quite pleased with how the whole thing turned out.  The goal was to keep the patina on the table top yet not have it junky.  I used Johnson paste wax to achieve that.  It's interesting to note that the little drop pull on the drawer is one that I've been carrying around for about 35 years or so -- not even sure  where I picked it up but it fits well on this piece.

Here's a photo of what I'll call a "Matched Pair".  I like the way the cane ties the two pieces together, making the shelf stabilized the table so now my client will be able to use it again.  Well, wonder what the next project will be?  I know we need a small bench by the front door to sit at while we put on our shoes, you know I really enjoyed weaving the seat ---- hmmmm, sounds like I have it!

A Matched Pair

Friday, February 11, 2011

Half Blind Dovetails

Dovetails have become the so-called mark of craftsmanship and there is lots of information out there about them.  Let's face it, it's a classical joint and its use has been traced to ancient Egypt.  As the name implies, it's shaped like the tail of a dove and is traditionally found on drawers and carcass construction.  It's always been a goal of mine to achieve some kind of mastery hand cutting this joint -- maybe even an obsession!  For this restoration project I chose to use it even though I won't charge for my time to make it.  Partly because of the challenge and also, for the time period of that table it would have been dovetailed.  Thought I may as well use this as an opportunity to go through my method, one that's gleaned from many articles and web searches.

Lay Out
 First of all is the lay out of the joint.  On this drawer the angle of the tails are 1 to 6.  My preferences are to cut both sides of the drawer at the same time, saves having to do the lay out twice.  I also prefer to use a marking knife and then use a pencil to show the line better.  A trick here is to sharpen the pencil to an almost chisel like point so it rides in the marking knife track.

Coping out the Waste

There are a couple of schools of thought about how to remove the waste between the tails.  My preference is to use a coping saw rather than using chisels to remove it all.  Of course there are a couple of schools of thought on that as well -- coping saw or fret saw.  Well, as for me, I'd rather cope it.  Once that's done it's a matter of using chisels to pare down to the lines and clean up the corners where the tail and shoulder meet.

Lay out for Sockets

Once you're satisfied with your tails, the next step is to lay them out on the drawer front to locate the pins.  When I say socket I'm referring to the area between the pins that the tail fits into.  The plane that is laying on it's side provides a steady surface to lay the side piece on, it's checked with a try square to make sure it's in line with the front and then marked out.  In this instance, I had already painted the front of the drawer black which made it a little difficult to see where to cut.  I tried to use a white pencil and it was so-so!  At this point it's a matter of using a chisel and a mallet to remove that waste after cutting as much as possible with a dovetail saw.

Web Trick

I apologize for the fuzziness of this picture but I wanted to share a trick I learned about for helping to pare the web of the socket out.  The web is that small section of the drawer front that stays in a half blind dovetail.  What you do is take a piece of wood that is the same thickness as the web and use that to support your chisel while you pare it level.  In this case I used a 1/4" piece of MDF for that -- works great!

One Side Done
Here is one side of the completed drawer.  Must admit this is one of the better ones I've done.  In this picture you can see a new tool made by Lie-Nielsen that I basically purchased just for this project.  It's a 3/8", fishtail chisel and is excellent for paring the inside of the socket where a straight chisel just won't fit.  You may recall my experience with breaking one of my Japanese skew chisels, one fishtail does the work of a right & left pair of skew chisels.  The back is perfectly flat to make paring a breeze.

Another part of the ongoing dovetail discussion among woodworkers is that some say it's quicker to cut the dovetails by hand then to set up a router and jig to do it.  There are other ways to make a well constructed drawer using a tongue and dado joint cut on the table saw.  I kept a stop watch going and to do the entire drawer took me about 88 minutes.  Setting up the table saw with a dado cutter, making test cuts, then breaking it down could probably have been done in half the time.  I must admit though, the second board took me about half the time of the first one so with more experience I'm certain I'll get quicker.  I guess it all depends on how you like to do your work, for me; I'll take the quietness of chisel and mallet over the roar and dust of a router and table saw any day.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

My First Caned Ovals

Early 1900's Waste Basket
After about 3 hours in my chilly garage I completed caning this project for my client.  This would have to be one of those mornings where we were in the 30's and the cane and spline needs to be soaked to make it workable -- water's cold!
Not to be egotistical but I really think this is a wonderful piece!  Very simple design but also very elegant;  I can see it sitting next to a desk in an office somewhere.  When I got it the cane had holes in it and some of the spline was missing as well.  It's made of a veneered plywood but it was scarred pretty badly and beyond re-veneering.  Once all of the old spline was removed, the glue soaked with vinegar and water and then scraped clean it was ready for it's do-over.  It was decided to go ahead and finish it in a satin black but I taped off the triangles at the bottom, these add a nice feature to the piece.  Experimentation was needed to see how long to soak the spline to get it to conform to the curves.  Turns out it was about 3 hours but the shop was littered with flying spline as it snapped trying to get it into the curves.  Once the spline was inserted, I left it there over-night.  The next morning the cane soaked for about 2 hours and was pressed into place.  Squaring up the spline to an oval and tapered sides was tricky but marks on the top and bottom center helped that.
It's been a couple of hours and the cane is already starting to tighten up as it dries.  The shelf for the table was done at the same time.  All that remains now is the drawer for the table, assembling the shelf to it, and final waxing to protect it and keep these pieces around for another hundred years or so.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

Burning Embers -- Honest!!

There are times when being thrifty doesn't count and today was one of them!  The current project is the shelf for the table I'm doing a bit of restoration on and I made it out of European Steamed Beech.  It's a nice, straight grained wood that I chose because my original plan was to use a black, aniline dye on it.  However; I just happened to read an article where a woodworker was bemoaning the fact that when he used liquid hide glue on a piece he'd used aniline dye on, the dye ran into the inlay even though he sealed it before using the water based glue on it.  I had a test piece that was dyed so I routed a groove into it, soaked the cane, and set it with the spline.  Just as advertised the dye ran into the moistened cane.  Reminded me of the experiments we used to do in science class with dye and a carnation -- ever do that one?
Once it became apparent that I couldn't use the dye I had to come up with another plan.  In the meantime I had also started to clean the waste basket and it is in rough condition.  Re-finishing is not in my bag of tricks and my client knew this so I suggested that since the legs and apron of the table appear to be painted black anyway, why don't we follow suit and paint the shelf, repaint the legs and apron and then do the waste basket to match -- they agreed so that's the plan.  I've had pretty good success using Krylon on some of Diane's picture frames, after they've cured waxing them gives a nice luster.
So, where do the burning embers come in?  Once the framework for the shelf was mortised and tenoned together I needed to rout a 1/4" x 1/4" groove all around the opening for the cane spline and it looks like this:

 The groove was routed into the end and crosspiece before assembly and the lengthwise groove was done after it was glued and assembled.  This left an area a little over an inch long that needed to be cut to join the groove all the way around the frame.  By this time, the router bit I was using was beyond sorry!  Trying to rout that little section resulted in so much burning that the embers were actually  smoking and on fire!  Never saw that before, looked like a cigarette ash!  Rather than put up with the smell and the possibility of a fire I decided to finish it off by hand, much safer all the way around.  Besides, hand work is much more rewarding and I enjoy the quietness of it all.  Rather hear the sound of a chisel and mallet then the roar of a router, even a small one.
The other thing required of this groove is that the inside of it should have a radius so that the cane won't break on the sharp edge when the spline forces it into the groove.   I knew it could be sanded but thought that would be a hassle, instead I used a specialty carving chisel called a back-bent gouge and it did the trick.  Here's what that looks like:

It worked well, the wood is a little ragged in a few places but sanding that will clean it up.  The edge won't be visible, the cane will cover it.
Hopefully the wind won't be blowing tomorrow so I can get some paint on these pieces.  To keep the groove clean and free of paint I'll stuff some rope into it.  That way the wood will remain raw so the glue can penetrate into it and hold the cane in place.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

New Restoration Projects

What good is living if you don't step out and take a chance every now and again?  The same client that I did the What Not Cabinet and re-caned the chairs for asked me to take a look at these two items:

 What you see is a wooden waste basket that is also caned, trouble is the cane has a few holes in it and the finish is pretty bad.  Although I'm not a refinisher and it's not a priceless (as far as we know) antique I said I'd take it on.  Interestingly enough, there's a tag on the bottom that says W.A. Hathaway Company, 51 West 45th. Street, New York City.  I Googled that name and found some items for sale that were dated to 1917 so it is a genuine, old piece.
The table it's sitting on needs some attention as well. Once upon a time there was a shelf on the bottom which would have provided some structural strength.  We know it originally had a shelf because there are dowels in three of the legs and there are notches where the shelf should be.  The plan is to build a shelf then cane it using the same material used on the chairs and waste basket, and then re-install it.  That's the tricky part because the shelf would have been attached to the legs before they were attached to the table.  It's pretty obvious there have been several previous attempts to repair the table judging by the amount of glue there is on the legs and apron.  It's also missing a drawer and I was told that I could either make a false one or replace it if it didn't run into a hundred dollar project.  At this point I'm thinking it may be a good project for half blind, hand cut dovetails.  It's a rarity to make any money hand dovetailing but I enjoy the challenge and it would have been the way the piece was originally constructed.  Any chance to work on that skill is a good one as far as I'm concerned.