Sunday, March 27, 2011

Hand Tools vs. Power Tools Etc.

As I'm advancing on my current project I wonder sometimes why I do the things I do -- not in a negative way but just in a way that I enjoy.  I'd really like to be able to present nothing but cleanly planed surfaces but admit that there are times when a scraper or a piece of sandpaper needs to be employed.  The same goes for edges.  Let me show an example, here is one of the corners of the frame and its radius:

Cut on the Bandsaw

Smoothed with a Spokeshave

When the wood is simply cut with a bandsaw the appearance is somewhat rough and ragged.  I would have had the same results though had I used a hand coping saw.  Once it was cut there are basically two options to smooth things out, a spokeshave or sandpaper (either hand or power).  I chose to use the spokeshave you can see laying on the bench.  Take a look at the grain on the radius now -- see how clear it looks?  That's the effect a sharp blade has on wood.  Sandpaper, on the other hand, tends to abrade the wood to shape and you can achieve what the spokeshave does but you have to work your way through several grits and run the risk of rounding the edges.
Once all corners were done, I did use a router to begin a slight radius all around the frame as well as the sight edge.  My method is to take an extremely light cut with a block plane on this radius to remove the machine marks left by the router.
Since the frame and the stained glass are destined to hang in a window, both sides will be visible.  That meant making a stop to hold it in place that will be good enough to be seen unlike a picture frame that is against a wall.  I cut two steps in that side, here's a picture to help you see it:

The piece at the top of the glass with the miter is the stop.  You can barely see the countersunk hole for a small, brass screw.  From the outside all that will be different is that there are 10 screws visible holding the stop to the frame.  This way too the glass will be easy to remove should the need arise.

All that remains is to finish planing the surfaces and edges, stain, and finish with a hand rubbed linseed oil, turpentine, urethane mixture and deliver it to my client. 

Thursday, March 24, 2011

Biscuits vs. Mortise & Tenon

It's always interesting to get into a discussion with other woodworkers when it comes to joinery.  Some (like me) stay with the traditional methods even though they are much more time consuming.  Others will employ the quickest way possible to get the job done.  Don't get me wrong, I'll use biscuits on built in furniture too, especially if there's no chance the unit will be moved but that mortise and tenon just can't be beat when building chairs and tables -- it's a time proven joint.
I use a combination of power tools and hand tools.  I prefer to cut the mortise with my hollow chisel mortiser.  The resulting cut still requires a bit of chisel work in the bottom to square up the sides.  Although I had my students doing the tenons completely by hand, something I've done lots and lots of, my choice these days is to cut the shoulders on the table saw with a sled and then use a tenoning jig.  To cut the tenon I use the outside blades from a dado set with spacers between them.  This way I can cut the entire tenon with one pass.  They are ever so slightly oversize which allows me to use a rabbet block plane to get the fit I'm after.

Tenoning Jig with Two Blades to cut Tenon

Hand Tools used to fit Tenon 

I won't deny that using biscuits to accomplish this would probably have taken less than a fourth of the time but being a traditionalist and also knowing that this frame will never separate makes it well worth the extra effort for me.  I assembled the frame this evening, tomorrow I'll drill the holes for the Ebony pegs, glue them in and begin the process of cutting out the stepped recess house the stained glass.

End of the Day, See the Quarter Sawn Rays?

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

Ready for their Marriage!

Time to take a break from the experimentations for new picture frames and try to make some money!  In this economy the paying commissions haven't been as steady as I'd like but I'm set to start on a new project.  This is to make a Mission inspired frame for an heirloom piece of stained glass.  The stained glass panel is one that came from my clients childhood home in Chicago, here's what it looks like:

Mission style, which is also known as Arts & Crafts, was made famous by Gustav Stickley and other furniture makers in the early 1900's.  One of the features of the style was to use quarter sawn, White Oak.  Traditionally this was fumed with ammonia to a dark finish and the flecks that distinguish it would stay lighter.  Fuming requires chemicals, plastic tent, and a respirator!, more effort than needed for this project.  Instead I'll use a dye to enhance the quarter sawn characteristics of the oak, it'll take some experimentation but I'm confident the wood, shown below, will frame the heirloom stained glass properly.  Here is a picture of the wood I'll be using, notice the flecks?, that's the distinguishing characteristic of quarter sawn wood.

My plan for this frame it to utilize mortise and tenon joinery, pegged with Ebony dowels to stay true to the Mission style.  The marriage of the clients piece of stained glass and the frame I make should be a lasting one!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Latest Shop Work -- Remember Whistler's Mother?

I had a project on the back burner, one I've been experimenting with for quite a while.  You probably recall the painting by James Whistler of his mother.  He also made many of his own frames and an article in a picture framing magazine I subscribe did a story about them.  It inspired me to attempt to replicate that style of frame.  Whistler broke the rules of gilding in that he gilded directly onto the wood. Traditionally, gilding is done by applying multiple coats of gesso followed by multiple coats of bole (clay).  The wood he used was Oak because of it's porous nature.  Well, I followed suit and here's the result:

Square Foot of Art:  Diane Eugster
I won't go into the steps needed to achieve this but basically the first process was to spray umber tinted shellac onto the wood to compliment the color palette of this series.  It was then gilded with Dutch gold and rubbed back through a series of steps to achieve and almost iridescent quality.  If you remember the shark skin suits of the 60's you'll have an idea of how the gold appears and disappears depending on where you're viewing the frames.
Next project coming up is another frame but this one is for an heirloom piece of stained glass.  It'll be done in the Craftsman style, the client wants to hang it in a window.  I plan to use quarter sawn White Oak with ebony pegged joinery.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Greene & Greene Inspired Stool

Here it is, completely woven seat and the Honduras Mahogany oiled and finished.  The inspiration I took from Greene and Greene includes the detail on the lower legs, the cloud lift profile of the stretcher, and of course the ebony pegs through the mortise and tenon joinery.  I really like how that leg detail adds a subtle shadow line where the leg meets the floor.  By tapering the insides of the legs my feeling is that it's lighter over-all than typical Craftsman furniture while the cloud lift gives a hint of  Asian influence.  We had a get together last night for my daughter and grandson so it was tested and approved by the neighbors!

Monday, March 7, 2011

First Look

First Look
Here it is, the first look of the stool with a completely woven seat.  You can see that there are quite a few "whiskers" that will need to be clipped off with fingernail clippers.  That will be tomorrows first task.  That will be followed by coating all of the seagrass with a very thinned down application of varathane.  Once that's dry there'll be a second clipping of whiskers followed by a second coat to seal the grass.  How hard was this? Well, it was not without its challenges and looking at it I can find some flaws but that's only because I'm the one that spent hours doing the weaving.  Using seagrass was good and I enjoyed the process.
 My first go around was to use a #7 size seagrass which looks like this:

# 7 Seagrass
This is actually one roll of it but as I wove it, the more I did the less I liked it.  To my eye it's just too big for the rest of the stool.  Doing the recommended process I left it on, critically looked at it several times, slept on it, and then cut it off the next day and ordered the #4 seagrass instead. Design wise, I think the first look picture is much better.
One of the challenges to weaving a seat is keeping the weave going correctly and believe me, it's very easy to run a course the wrong way or forget which rail you should be going to!

Another challenge that arrises is that because the seagrass is twisted into a single strand, as you weave under, over, around, and through you're constantly untwisting it which creates a jumble!  Then as you weave the center part you must pass the weave around first the back rail, then the front rail in a figure eight pattern.  The more you weave, the smaller the hole in the middle of the chair becomes.  What tends to happen then is that the seagrass catches on the sides of that hole and untwists itself.
Whew -- really not complaining, just sharing the trials and tribulations of weaving a seagrass seat.  All in all, I'm pretty pleased with this project and look forward to placing it where it belongs in the house.  What the heck, if I really want to I could cut it off and go again but doubt that will happen any time soon.