Thursday, June 30, 2011

Legwork and Glue-Up

     Good morning in the shop today, the weather even cooperated by cooling down a bit and I was able to glue up around 11am!  Lots of wind yesterday brought in a cold front but the forecast calls for 110 - 112 for the weekend.  First thing this morning was to taper the legs.  They're going from 1 1/4" square at the top to about 7/8" at the bottom.  This taper starts about eight inches from the top.  This is a definite case of measure twice and cut once -- actually more than twice!

Here's the sled I use to cut the tapers.  The taper is on the insides of the legs only and the trick is to plan the cuts so that after the first one is cut, you need to be able to flip the leg and still be on a square plane.  If you cut the wrong one first, then you won't have a  flat surface to lay on the sled.

After two sides of each leg were tapered it was time for the quieter process of removing the saw blade marks and getting that smooth surface.  A number four, bronze smooth plane is the best for that.  Even it had some difficulties on this piece of walnut because of the interlocked grain.

This interlocking grain adds visual interest to the piece but is a bear to smooth.  I will need to resort to a cabinet scraper on a few of the legs.  I wanted to add a bead on the bottom of the aprons as that's a pretty traditional touch.  In keeping with my desire to replicate the style of work of the time this table would have been built I knew using a router wouldn't do.  Instead, I filed piece of old bandsaw blade to a simple pattern and did the apron with a scratch stock.  I must admit I was a bit apprehensive of the grain tearing out because it's pretty gnarly!
The picture at the right shows how subtle the detail at the bottom of each apron is.  Notice the grain?, if all goes the way I hope it does there'll almost be a three dimensional quality to the aprons.  In case you're wondering, that's the scratch stock laying by the top of the board.  I'd mentioned in an earlier post the the tenons had to be somewhat like a jig saw puzzle.  The end of this side apron has two tenons that go into the leg mortise while the back apron piece has a single tenon that locks into the side ones.

Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Dovetails, Fishtails, and a new Sled

Progress is going along nicely on the traditional table, I've decided to really make this a traditional construction even though it's small, over-all size makes it a challenge.  As an example, the dovetail for the front table stretcher:

The over-all size of the leg is 1 1/4" square so after cutting the female dovetail into the top, there isn't much material left.  To reinforce the grain and avoid a split in the leg I supported it with a clamp -- seemed to work, phew!
You can see the male portion of the stretcher.  Once again I'm glad I bought the fishtail chisel from Lie-Nielsen to cut and pare the dovetail.  That little chisel does the work of a pair of skewed chisels and, in my opinion, much better.  I knew that cutting these could have been a problem so the legs were left longer than needed until this step was complete.  Figured that if the leg split I could trim it and try again.

     The next step was to cut the mortises in each leg to accept the apron.  Again, due to the small over-all size of the parts it was somewhat touch and go.  Once they're complete I'll share a picture of them, really like a jig saw puzzle.  The apron is 5" wide and, unfortunately, presented me with another problem!
     It's a pretty common thing for furniture/cabinet makers to make what's called a sled to add accuracy to the miter gauge that's standard with a tablesaw.  I've had one for many years and I knew it was "slightly" off but since most of the pieces I've used weren't as wide as the apron for this project I accepted it and was able to pare the joints easily enough.  With an apron this wide it was just too inaccurate so -------- off to Fine Woodworking website to find some plans.  I came across some by Gary Rogowski and made the sled pictured here:

It's smaller than the one I had before but the big plus is how the rear fence is attached.  Using 5/16" bolts in 3/8" diameter holes gives a certain amount of play so the alignment of the fence to the blade is easy to adjust. In doing my research I discovered a different way to check it for squareness that is super accurate.  Never to old to learn something new!  In the picture, the clamp is holding what he called a "stupid block" which reminds your fingers where the blade comes out of the back of the sled.
I got so engrossed in what I was doing that I broke my go in the house when it hits 100 degrees in the shop.  It's hot out there, so hot that you have to make sure you don't sweat on the machine tops and cause rust!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Can You Smell It?

     The weather has cooled down some today (relatively speaking) and peaked out at 99 in the shop.  That gave me a good long work afternoon.  In my last post I showed all of the pieces that are rough cut for the traditional table with the marble top.  I'm also working on a set of three tables that will nest together and almost take on the characteristic of a modern art installation.  When they're not nested they can be used in the living room as side tables when we have company as a place to put drinks, snacks, etc.  
     So what's with the title of this post and smells?  Most woods have a distinctive aroma when they are worked, think of cedar -- that's one most everyone is familiar with.  Here's a look at what I was lucky enough to smell all afternoon:

Here you see piles of Walnut shavings created as I prepared the edge of each piece.  The smell of freshly cut Walnut is really pretty sweet.  So satisfying to work the rough cut edge from the Walnut, making it smooth and square with my old Stanley #7 Jointer Plane.  Once the working edge is established the board is run  through the table saw at it's rough width, then the other edge is planed square.
Whenever a pile of shavings are created it reminds me of how Jennifer would use them to create paper bag people.  We'd draw a face on the bag and she would glue on hair, beard, eyebrows, etc.; a really good memory!
There's only one slight problem with this project and that's the Zebrawood that will be used as the insert for these tables.  It's darn near impossible to plane smooth, even by hand!  I may need to revert to a disc sander for this project.  I did some research on line to see the working properties of Zebrawood and everyone mentions how difficult it is to plane or even scrape.  Also the instability issues in dry climates is another challenge.  You can see them on the bench on the right side of the picture.  Years ago I did a console table that was also made of Walnut with an inlaid top of Zebrawood and that particular piece worked much better, matter of fact that table sold at a gallery I was in at the time in Scottsdale.  Can't always be lucky, besides; problems create strength!

Friday, June 24, 2011

Star of the Show and Supporting Parts

     A couple of days ago I purchased the Walnut needed to make the side table for a new commission. Yesterday and this morning were spent rough cutting all of the pieces to their required dimensions.  Here is the star of the show, a 12" square piece of marble that was brought here from Vermont and will wind up on  a new side table.

Heirloom Marble from Vermont

     Whenever possible, I like to select one large piece of lumber to make an entire project from.  This way  when the piece is oiled and finished the pieces will react the same.  That's why almost every piece of furniture you buy from a retailer will be stained, dyed, or toned to make it look cohesive.  My biggest objection to that is the fact it's done with a surface coating that can, and will, get scratched, dinged, or peel.  I started out with an 8/4 piece of Walnut that was about 6" wide by 12' long and after re-sawing and planing here's what we have:

Supporting Cast
     Starting at the left there are the pieces that will become the front & bottom dividers, next to them is the pieces for the apron and drawer front.  Then comes the cross braces for the shelf, the legs, the drawer pieces,  the table top frame, and finally the pieces for the bottom shelf.  Not shown are the pieces needed for the runners and kickers for the drawer.  All the pieces are considerbly over-sized but that's the best way to start.  This way I can select the pieces with the most interesting grain pattern where ever I want it to be in the  project.  With this project I intend to keep it very traditional and I'll blog the progress as it goes along.

Thursday, June 23, 2011

Things are warming up!

Here in Las Vegas we've finally hit the 100+ degree phase of summer.  I believe the weather service said that this year was the ranked the fourth in being late to reach that milestone.  What it means for me is that if I need to do a glue up or any finishing I have to get up early.  This morning I needed to put the final coats of shellac on the eyeglass cases, something you should do at less than 90 degrees.  Well, at 6am it was already 86 and now that I've finished that it's 88 degrees at 8pm.  Here's how they look now:

Left to right: African Paduak, Goncalo Alves, and Spanish Cedar 
The final coats of shellac have been sprayed on and I need to wait about a week before rubbing it out and doing the final assembly. Now it's on to the other two projects I have on my list.
     I bought the Walnut for the table I've been commissioned to do, the one that will utilize the piece of marble from my clients great-grandfather.  This table will be a very traditional design and construction.  I suppose I could plagiarize Charles Dickens and call the next projects a Tale of Two Tables!  In addition to the traditional table, I'm also working on a set of three, contemporary style tables for us.  They're the ones I bought the Zebrawood for.  Having a slight problem with the Zebrawood panels that's probably caused by our low (less than 10%) humidity -- they're splitting across the width and cupping rather badly.  It's time for winding sticks and a smoothing plane to tame that.  Well, that's the project update for now.  Back to the shop before it's 100+ degrees in there which is my official get out and take a siesta temperature.

Friday, June 17, 2011

NO DUH !!!

     At times I think all of the sawdust I've inhaled through the years has affected my thinking, add the normal aging problems to that and you wonder sometimes where your brains are!  In my last post I talked about the long process of hollowing out the recess in the eyeglass cases.  The bulk of the material can be removed with the forstner bit but that still leaves a lot for the router.
     There's always been a debate between woodworkers regarding hand tools vs. power tools.  If you're talking speed it's the power tools hands down.  And, as I've mentioned before, I use my share of power tools and think of them as the apprentices in my shop.  If you've ever used or been around a router as it's cutting away they produce copious amounts of fine dust and screech at a bizillion decibels.  Between ear protection, nose protection, and eye protection you feel like Sammy Safety!  When I came into the house after doing an African Paduak box Diane thought I'd burned myself because every inch of me was covered with a bright orange sawdust.
     So, here's the "no duh" moment I had this afternoon.  The biggest advantage of hand tools over power tools is the quietness and relative cleanliness.  I have these at my disposal as you can see here:

Quiet & Dust free Tools 

     I found that by using a chisel to remove the bulk of the waste left behind by the forstner bit and then my old (antique?) Stanley #71 router plane to level the bottom just shy of where it should be I eliminated at least half of the router time for each case side --- no duh John :-( what were you thinking?

Thursday, June 16, 2011

Eyeglass Case Progress & the Weakest Link!

Soss Hinge aka The Weakest Link
This somewhat blurry picture shows what could be the most difficult part of the project.  These are called Soss Barrel Hinges and they require that 10mm hole, precisely 2.5mm from the edge, 11mm deep, and in the exact same location on both parts of the case.  Here's the dilemma though, they're basically a one shot fit and to make matters worse once you put them into the case you can't take them out.  My first case is off ever so slightly but it's only to antagonize me since it's the one I use.  I'll explain the major steps to this project in pictures to help you understand the dilemma.


This is the template used to rout out the recess for the glasses.  Under the squared off sections on the right side are the holes for the Soss hinge.  After securing the blank into the template I use a plunge router to outline the opening shape onto the wood.  The first case I did I used the router to get down to the 5/8" depth, 1/16" at a time.  If you do the math that's 10 very noisy and dusty passes with the router -- yeech!

Waste removed with Forstner Bit

The easier and more efficient way to do this is to remove the bulk of the material with a large forstner bit.  This is how it looks after that process.  Of course, no step in this project is without it's challenges.  Forstner bits are used to cut a flat bottomed hole ---- but; they have a fairly long spur in the center to help it stay on track.  On the bit I had it was about 3/16" in depth which translates in to many more passes with the router.  I used a grinder to remove the bulk of this spur, you can see the mark it left on the two blanks at the right.  The farthest piece to the right is African Paduak, the other is Goncalo Alves.

After the bulk of the waste was removed with the forstner bit which; by the way,  works great in the drill press my friend so generously gave to me it was back to the template.  A series of cuts were made, about a sixteenth of an inch at a time.  The bottom is still not up to the smoothness I want but no matter how accurate the set up is, trying to smooth an area approximately 2 1/2" wide by 6 1/2" long with a router bit that has a cutting edge of 3/8", it's not going to happen.

Tadpole sander in Spanish Cedar
The next step in the smoothing process is to use a tadpole sander which you see here in the Spanish Cedar box.

     As you can tell there is a ton of hand work that goes into this project.  Before the hinge goes in it must also have radiuses formed on the outside edges, then hand sanded, then shellacked several times, and finally rubbed out with wax and synthetic steel wool.  To think that after all of that I could insert the hinge and find one of the measurements just "a silly lil' millimeter off" kind of sucks and puts lots of pressure on me.  Tomorrow morning (when the shop is below 103 degrees again) I think I'll sacrifice a pair of hinges and ever so slightly grind them down so they will slip into their holes.  If the hole isn't deep enough I can fix that.  If the holes are way off I'd rather sacrifice them then before doing all the work I listed above only to find out they're scrap.
At the Sin City Woodworkers meeting last night someone mentioned that this is a project that lends itself to CNC, computerized production.  That's not the point of my work, I want to create genuine, hand crafted items.  My preference is for furniture but with todays market, anything I enjoy is fair game.

Tuesday, June 14, 2011

A Very Generous Friend

     A friend of mine, who also is a woodworker, showed me his very generous nature.  In the current vernacular he's having some "issues" and he's shared them with me since both of us have had the misfortune to have the same type of issues.  Since we can share these things it's too bad that he is moving back home to the east coast, Las Vegas just doesn't compare to the place he's lived most of his life so I really can't blame him.
     Yesterday we were talking on the phone and I mentioned what a headache I was having with my old (1940's Craftsman) drill press.  I told him how the pulley kept spinning and the allen screw wasn't holding and right away he said: "just come over and get my drill press".  At first I thought he was kidding but he was serious!  He said to me that he hardly ever uses it and it would be one less thing he'd have to pack up for the move.  I tried to talk him out of it but he insisted, told me come over right now and bring some Starbucks and it's yours!

If you look past the clutter in my shop you can see that it's a great machine.  Sixteen and a half inch capacity, nice large table with castings for T-bolts, heck, it even has a light.  Once I figured out where to put it and then familiarize myself with adjustments, speeds, etc. it's a dream.  My old drill press will be taken to the neighborhood garage sale this weekend.  I had some nostalgic attachment to the old one but the newer one performs so much better -- the heck with nostalgia!

Here's the set up I finally came up with to drill the holes for the Soss hinges.  They have to be exact since there isn't any adjustment.  10 mm in diameter and 11 mm in depth and the wall thickness has to be 2.5 cc .............whew!  I made the jig and blew the chips off after each hole to prevent any chips from messing up those precise measurements.  I had a few problems setting the depth on the new drill press so a few had to be rebored.  Next step is putting the recess for the glasses, anxious to see how that will work out.  Lots of unknowns here.
Need to start drawing the plans up for the Walnut side table that will have the piece of marble inset on the top.  Now that we're finally hitting our 100+ degrees I need to get back to my habit of working in the shop in the morning but once the temperature hits 98-100 it's time to head for the air conditioned house.

Sunday, June 12, 2011

Like an Open Book

     For your reading pleasure I've just book matched these beautiful boards that are destined to become glasses cases.  For the refined and quiet look there is a piece of Spanish Cedar on the right.  This is a popular wood for making cigar humidors.  For the more flamboyant reader the wood in the center is African Paduak.  For the discriminating reader that just wants that quiet elegance the board on the right is Goncalo Alves.  I went to Woodworkers Source in Phoenix last Wednesday because they are a good source for exotic species like these.  I also picked up some Walnut for an upcoming commission -- more on that later.
    At this point it is still speculation but after my meeting with the folks at Obika I feel pretty confident that this will be a marketable item.  In the foreground is the template that I've been working on for the cases.  With this configuration, the sides are 1/4" thick  and I've left the maximum amount of space for the glasses to fit into.  At this point, the wood has been book matched and planed to exactly 3/4" in thickness.  I should be able to yield 10-12 cases.  Next step will be to make a drill press jig to locate the Soss hinges, this has to be precise because there is absolutely no adjustment on them.  They either fit or it's scrap!
     I've just been commossioned to make a side table that will feature a heirloom piece of Marble that was quarried by the great grandfather out of a quarry located in Vermont.  The piece of marble is beautiful and about 12" square.  Soon as I draw up the design I'll get started on it.  It's pretty awesome to be entrusted with this heirloom and have the responsibility of creating a piece of furniture that will preserve it for generations to come.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

Reckoning went Well

     The meeting at Obika went very well yesterday.  Diane and I went to there and met with the manager, the controller, a salesman, and the lab technician.  Everything was very positive, when people admire your work it makes it all worthwhile.  As an artist/craftsman, your reward is not so much financial as it is an appreciation for what you do.  They are very interested in them, more as a gift for their special clients rather than a standard inventory item.  They are a specialty optical concern, located in Tivoli Village which is an up-scale shopping, restaurant, and office complex.  Future tenants includes the type of cliental that they attract.

Friday, June 3, 2011

Day of Reckoning!

     I hesitate writing this blog because I'm not sure of todays outcome.  Will it be successful or another disappointment as I try to find a marketable item in our current economy.  The salesman at Obika showed the Zebrawood glasses case to one of the managers but ..... he's not the one who writes the checks!  That manager is supposed to be in today so she's my target to approach today.  Here's how the current model of the glasses case looks now:

Zebrawood Case
     I made a larger opening to accommodate more frame sizes.  Still really like the way the grain seems to curl into the recesses which it actually does since the interior is routed away.  Should I be lucky enough to have the store carry this case on a trial basis I need to get a new bit to rout out the recess.  Currently I'm using a core box bit and it requires a lot of finishing on the bottom of the recess.

The thing that's always been appealing to me about wood is the grain pattern and coloration.  This is how the case looks when it's closed.  The technique used to make it is referred to as a "book match".  The easiest way to explain that is you take a board, cut it down the middle of its thickness, and then open the two pieces just like a book.  One side is a mirror of the other.  When you reassemble them the grain pattern is continuous, the only slight break is from the material removed to smooth out the saw marks, this is done with a hand plane.

Bits & Pieces
     In this final photo you can see the sequence of the main steps for this project.  At the top is the initial piece of Zebrawood, it's about 1 1/2" thick.  In the middle is the template used to rout out the recess.  This is made of 1/4" MDF.  The bottom shows the two halves of the box, shellacked, waxed, and ready for assembly.  Well, just about time to see the folks at Obika --- no matter what the outcome is, this project kept me off the couch and mentally stimulated as I tried to solve the problem of how to get a good looking glasses case without succumbing to the mass produced, imported stuff!!

Thursday, June 2, 2011

Anyone Still Read Books?

     Seems as if everything is getting more and more technologically oriented and less personal.  The last piece I made was the reading glasses case out of Zebrawood and I'm currently working on another to present to the place where I bought my glasses as a possible inventory item for them. The salesman seems to think it's a sale-able item but I have some reservations.  As I was doing some research on the web (how else?) I came across very few, custom, one of a kind, wooden glass cases.  That either means that there isn't a market or else the individual craftsman, like myself, simply cannot compete with the mass produced items.  I guess I'm eternally hopeful so I'll find out and share the adventure with you.
     That brings me to the subject of actually reading books.  As I was doing my research I came across a book titled The Encyclopedia of Furniture by Joseph Aronson.  Love the technology of being able to log in to my library account, search for the book, and then have it brought to my library branch.  This book was published in 1965 and goes A-Z on any subject related to furniture and the major influences of various countries.  There's just something about sitting in a comfortable chair with a book and cat on your lap, sipping a glass of wine and turning the pages to discover new things!  Although I use the internet a lot, turning pages just has a better feel than clicking the mouse and watching the page load up.  It's a large book with lots of black and white pictures for illustrations.  Much of it is things I look at and don't really care for but I can appreciate the effort and skill it takes to create the pieces. It seems that both Diane and I are trying to find our niche as artists/craftsman/designers/entrepreneurs/etc. in this down economy.  I belong to a woodworking group on LinkedIn and posed the question of how many one many shops are doing much business these days and the responses were pretty dismal.  So, another book I checked out is titled How to Survive and Prosper as an Artist.  It's only a couple of years old so maybe it'll offer some hints as to which way to go.
     I guess this is a rambling kind of post but the next one will have more substance on how I came up with the design and the process I went through to make the glass case.  Very interested in seeing how the manager of the shop reacts to them and what the market will bear $$.  As it stands now, all that's left is to rub out the shellac with 4/0 steel wool and some wax and assemble it.  I'll share the pictures and adventure of this next time.