Sunday, July 31, 2011

Dry Heat, Monsoon Humidity, and tales of Cupping

     Before I get into the technical stuff, I put the first coat of Watco oil on the hanging shelf this afternoon so let me show that first:

This Cumala  is a different type of wood.  Billed as an alternative to Mahogany it has some of the characteristics and coloration but doesn't really work the same.  Quite a bit softer which requires very sharp tools to cut cleanly, it's also somewhat punky.  I selected this piece because of the coloration which I think is probably a mold, disease, fungus by the way it smelled when it was cut.  It does add interest to the piece -- you know me, it's all about the wood!  The drawer sides are  some wood I had left from another project, the Cumala I had set aside to use for the drawers was just too unstable.
     In an earlier post I had mentioned a cupping problem.  I was taken by the figure and color of this board when I should of been checking the end to see which part of the tree this particular board came from.  When I bought it the weatherman was saying that we had 1% humidity and it may have gone up to our normal 6-8% while I was preparing the stock.  Well, a day or so after cutting the dado and beginning work on the dovetails we had a monsoon move in and boy, did the bottom and shelf section cup.  The outside edges turned upward so I was hoping that when the dovetails were assembled it would be enough to keep things in place.  Here's a fairly good shot of how it looks:

This is when I was planing the dovetails level with the sides, look close at the end grain of the pins, maybe you can make out the grain.  It's kind of like a smile!  The ends are tight but the middle has some gapping.  You know what though?  I wouldn't be at all surprised to see them flush up once the weather dries out again.  Yesterday I fit the drawer front for a good fit.  Then today it's been raining (high humidity) and I also oiled it (more moisture) and guess what happens next?  The boy from next door likes to come over so I had just finished the oiling and he asked how it looks with the drawer -- it has expanded enough to where it was tough putting it in!  I learned a lesson when we first lived in Boulder City.  During the monsoon season we couldn't hardly get out of the front door because it would swell up and bind.  Being the woodworker I am, I took it off, planed the edge and it worked just great.  Yeah, until the summer hit again and then we had a good 1/4" of space.

 One last thing about the cabinet.  Usually when you cut a dovetailed drawer you need to put in stopped dados for the bottom and plan carefully to the dado doesn't exit in the tail.  Using this router bit eliminates that chore and will make it much easier for the class.
Glad to have this almost complete so I can go on to another project.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

First Look

     I've mentioned that I'll be teaching a hand tool class at WoodItIs!  which is a woodworking school here in North Las Vegas.  It's run by Jamie Yocono, if you're not familiar with her and are interested in learning about woodworking she offers many classes as well as an open shop Saturday where you can utilize her space and expertise.  All students do have to take a mandatory class before enrolling in any other class she offers.  Here's a LINK to her website.
     Ever since she approached me about being a guest instructor I've been pretty excited and really looking forward to it.  The class will be limited to 8 people and teaching and working with adults who actually want to be there will be a treat.  Far cry from working with 12-18 years old incarcerated boys although that was a good way to end my teaching career.  Here's the first look at the project for the class:

Just glued it up this morning and hope the glue will be alright in spite of the 90 degree temperature.  For dovetails and finger joints I like using liquid hide glue because it cleans up easier than others but it is pretty sensitive to temperature.  As you can see, it's a fairly simple design somewhat inspired by James Krenov's work.  The challenge will be completing all of the dovetails in the allotted class time but I'm confident it can be done.  I'd like to expose the class to as many techniques possible including the use of a scratch stock to add a detail on the front edge of the side pieces.  Next comes the drawer with its new challenge of half blind dovetails.  The particular piece of wood (Cumala) I selected for this piece was quite the challenge, it cupped big time after it was surfaced so will lead to one of my "teachable moments" and a discussion on how to counter-act that!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Clap On / Clap Off

Not really, that's kind of a misleading title but after working on the shelf for the class I'll teach in September out in the shop the heat and humidity has scrambled what brain cells I have left!  Really wanted to complete the lamp before Adam & Nicole came over yesterday and succeeded, here it is:

Lamp On


Lamp Off

Really pleased with how the project turned out.  As I mentioned, we were in Lamps Plus looking for just a shade when this swag lamp caught our eye.  Bits of various glass/stone are wired to it with a fine copper wire.  Their colors (blue, white, copper) match our decor so it was a perfect complement for the room.  I used copper tubing for the support and the column and base are Baltic Birch.  The right piece for the room,  another one of those collaboration projects that Diane and I do to make our house our own.

Saturday, July 23, 2011

First Public View

     I've mentioned that I was in the process of making a floor lamp and here's the first shot of what's going on with that project.  Talk about a radical departure from the last thing that left the shop -- the Heirloom Marble topped side table, this leans towards the contemporary style big time!  What you're seeing is the base and the top of the column that is now attached to it.  I like using Baltic Birch plywood and using the exposed edges with all of the plies as a design element.  This is 3/4" thick and has 13 plies.
The base is two layers plus the feet and will give me enough room to attach a 5 pound barbell weight if needed to keep things from tipping over.  The column itself is a little over 2" square and was made with tongue & groove construction.  the piece of pipe and the flange will go up through the bottom to add strength.  We found a really cool swag lamp at Lamps Plus and will use that rather than having Diane make one for us.  We were there looking for ideas and this just caught our eye.  When's the last time you saw a swag lamp?, didn't think they were even around anymore!  We're using copper pipe for the lamp support and I almost have that figured out.  The finish is blonde shellac and will really bring out the plywood design elements.  So far there are 3 coats on the project and yesterday I started dissolving more flakes to make a fresh batch.  It's so hot out in the shop that it shouldn't take too long for all of them to dissolve.
     The big AWFS woodworking show was in Las Vegas this week and for a hand tool guy like myself, quite an over whelming display of computerized madness!  Unbelievable to see a full sheet of plywood or MDF put on this conveyor and then feed into the CNC machine.  The result is all of these cabinet parts come out of the other end.  There were two that I saw that created a child size rocking chair that simply slotted together.  Pretty impressive but way to the other side of what I enjoy doing.  I took a couple of seminars that were more up my alley.  One was by Phillip Lowe of Massachusetts that dealt with advanced hand joinery.  He runs a school and is well known for his traditional furniture making.  The other was by Jeff Miller of Chicago on designing furniture and the process he uses.  It's always good to watch and listen to how other craftsman accomplish what they do, seems you always walk away with something new that you can use in your own work.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Ready for Delivery

  Many hours have passed since the Heirloom Marble Side Table went from a conversation with my clients that lead to this:

And resulted in this:

     One of the things I used to stress to my students was that by building their projects they went from an idea that germinated in their brains, to a sketch or drawing of that idea, and then finally to an actual project.  The process of achieving  that took them from to abstract to the concrete -- all with the God given talents that they cultivated and worked on and through!  This process is one that I felt they would use no matter what career choice they followed.  I'm sure that very few are woodworkers professionally but imagine there are those that have kept it up as a hobby, at least I hope so!
     This was a good project to design and build.  I've mentioned several times how this utilized traditional construction.  Joinery like mortise and tenons and dovetails, these have been around for centuries and are well proven construction methods.  Sure they take more time and really don't lend themselves to mass production but for someone with the mind set that it's more about the process of creating these things it's well worth it.  Here's a detail of the drawer construction to illustrate that:
     Combining the amber glass knob, the woven cane shelf, the inset Marble top, with the warmth and beauty of the Walnut finished with traditional oil and about 5 hand rubbed coats of finish resulted in the side table the client wanted.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Gustav Stickley in San Diego

   We took a trip for our 15th. anniversary to San Diego the end of the week.  Had a great time doing the tourist things at Seaport Village and the Gas Lamp District but the focus of the trip were several of the museums at Balboa Park.  What a treat!  At the San Diego Art Museum they are currently featuring the furniture of Gustav Stickley.  Most of you would probably associate Mission style with him.  In a sense, he was to the furniture world what Henry Ford was to the automotive world.  By mass producing and standardizing the joinery for his pieces he was able to increase production which equals more sales and in turn (hopefully) more profit.  As his work became popular (early 1900's) it started to be copied and or modified and then, just as now, he was unable to keep on top of the market.  I'm glad to not be in that position, mine is more a desire to produce  quality pieces that our customized for my clients.
   No trip to a museum would be complete without checking out the beautiful paintings and for me at least, the framing techniques.  One of my favorite artists was a Spaniard by the name of Sorolla, fantastic sense of light in his work.  We also visited the Automotive Museum there and had a great lunch at the Prado restaurant. We stopped by LaJolla on the way back to check out the gallery scene there but unfortunately, they too are suffering in this economy.
   Well back to work.  Finished up the heirloom side table and once I photograph it for my website it'll be delivered.  I did want to share this shot of it:

Roey Grain in Walnut
  This gives you an idea of what that "roey grain" that I've been talking about looks like.  It can be seen on the apron and looks like dark, vertical stripes which is really the grain kind of turning back on itself.  Up close it has a slight three dimensional appearance.

   Other things currently going on in the shop is that the work progresses on the trio of contemporary tables and also a floor lamp for our selves.  Since replacing the couches we've had since we were first married with a more contemporary style we needed to upgrade the lighting to match.  Well, since we couldn't find exactly what we wanted Diane made a sketch of what she thinks would work so it's now in progress.  Too early to photograph it but it'll be a combination of Baltic Birch plywood and copper.  So far so good!

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Freshly Caned and a Sneak Preview

Freshly Caned

Here's the shelf for the bottom of the Heirloom Side table and what it looks like freshly caned.  Since I'd already applied 4 of the top coats and it's cured for a day or two the finish shouldn't have any problems with the water needed for caning.  I've found that using the wedges you can buy to hold the cane in place while installing it don't work as well as simply cutting a short piece of spline and using that.  I always use a liquid hide glue for caning because it is reversible (meaning you can unglue it) and it's much easier to remove from the finished piece the cane goes into.  I really like the look of the cane, the first time I used it was on a TV stand I made at SFSU in the mid-seventies!  Since water and wood don't react well to each other I decided it would be wise to temporarily attach the shelf to the table to stabilize it just in case it wants to react to the moisture.  That gives us a sneak preview of what the table is starting to look like:

Sneak Preview

I thought I'd put the drawer in place to get the visual of how it'll look.  The walnut for this table definitely has what's called "roey grain". It's too complicated to try to explain what that is, basically the grain is wild and crazy which makes it hard to finish but looks pretty cool none the less.  There is an amber colored, glass knob on order which will set it off just right.  Several more top coats for the drawer and top, seal the marble, and it's done!  In the meantime, work is also progressing on the contemporary tables that will be for us.  Once again, the heat dictates that I use my indoor, climate controlled assembly table; aka, kitchen island, to accomplish that.  Here's one of the three tops glued up and drying:

As work progresses on them I'll add them to the blog.  As for now, Diane and I plan is to take some time off and enjoy our fifteenth anniversary.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Part of What It's All About!

It's All About the Wood
As work progresses on any project I sometimes lose sight of why I love working with wood.  Then, you start the finish process and the beauty of the wood hits you and once again; you know why you're so passionate about this craft.  I had a difficult time finding enough 8/4 Black Walnut boards that didn't have a lot of sap in them.  The quality just wasn't what I wanted but in Las Vegas, wood supply is pretty limited.  If you've been following along on this project I also mentioned the unruly grain in the stock I was able to select.  In this picture the sap wood is the lighter, almost yellow colored, streak at the top of the apron.  I figure that since the top will hang over, it will put that in shadow and minimize it.  The unruly grain is evident in the grain patterns, where it appears to have hills and valleys is where the grain kind of reverses itself and makes it difficult to plane.  Some scraping and a bit of sanding was needed to tame that.  Notice the detail at the bottom of the aprons, that's how the scratch stock work turned out -- I like it!
Shelf in Place
Here's another shot of the table with the shelf in place.  At this point I still need to wet sand a minimum of 2 more top coats into the wood.  The groove in the shelf is for the spline that will hold the woven cane in place.  One of the other parts assembled today was the top, once again it was too hot in the shop to do the glue up so the kitchen island was used once again.  I was starting to work on the drawer but it's so humid this evening that I'm afraid I'll rust my tools!

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Heirloom Table Progress

     The weather's gotten more humid, just when I'm in the process of fitting the drawer to table.  To replicate the time period that this table would have been built, I'm using hand cut dovetails for the drawer.  It's a fairly small drawer, about 4" deep, and any excuse or reason I can find to work dovetails into a project is usually taken.  Frustration, eh, I mean, practice makes perfect!  Another reason to cut them is that I may be teaching a class on them so it never hurts to do them when possible.
     There's always been a controversy among woodworkers on what to cut first -- the tails or the pins?  My preference is to do tails first.  I find it easier to scribe a tail onto the pin board then vice-versa.  Through the years I've read many articles about them and tried many different methods but here's what I'm comfortable with.

     Once I've laid out the tails I clamp the two drawer sides together and cut them at the same time.  When the waste between the tails is large, I'll use a coping saw to remove the bulk of it.  If it's small like on this drawer I'll stack them together, remove a couple of chips from one side and then turn them over to remove the remaining material.  Once the tails are done it's time to scribe the pin board.

This is accomplished by placing the drawer front in the vise, the distance it sits above the jaws is determined by whatever you set the board on for the layout.  In this case I used a block plane that you see at the left of the picture.  The combination square is used to make sure the pieces are in line, then the hold down is tightened and the tails scribed with a marking knife.  You can also use a pencil to do your layout but my preference is the knife.  Seems a bit easier to start the saw in the scribed line.

  After making the cuts with a dovetail saw the waste can be chopped out with chisel and mallet.  A technique I learned (Lie-Neilsen video I think) is to use a piece of material to rest the chisel on when you flatten the socket.  The board is 3/4" thick so I made the sockets 1/2" deep so a piece of 1/4" MDF can be used to pare the shoulder flat and square.  The little fishtail chisel is great for getting into the corners.

The drawer was just glued up today.  I've finished the table and the shelf with the Watco oil and worked the first top coat into them with 400 grit paper.  I need to get at least 3 topcoats on the shelf so I can cane it.  Last major step is to machine the material for the top, it'll be approximately 1 1/4" thick.

Sunday, July 3, 2011

No, it's not a Porcupine!

Kickers in Place
     With all of these clamps stuck on the top of the table it does somewhat resemble a porcupine doesn't it?  Why I challenge myself is beyond me but it is definitely part of my nature.  It's no wonder that inset drawers that slide on wooden parts, carefully made by the maker are hardly ever found.  Much easier to use metal slides but not traditional.  Since this is a side table that will probably be used to store the TV remote and magazines the wood will be just fine.  What you see clamped to the inside top of the table is called a kicker, this is what keeps the drawer from tipping downward when it's pulled out.

Test fit for runners
     In this shot you can see the runners which are only clamped into place for now.  Extending from them is the actual drawer side.  For now, I'll leave them clamped and do the final fitting once the drawer is made.

Drawer Front
     Here you have the front of the drawer after fitting it to the opening.  My only concern now is that it's been pretty humid today and wood will expand across the grain when you factor that in.  The worst thing that could happen is that although the drawer front fits like I want now, when the piece is put in an air-conditioned house the lack of humidity may cause it to shrink and ruin the reveal around its perimeter.  Thankfully that's not a problem that comes up a lot in the desert.

Scratch Stock detail on Apron
     Last of all I wanted to show how the scratch stock came out on the apron.  Very subtle but a feature that only this particular table has.  Tomorrow will be the time to begin cutting the dovetails for the drawer sides.  Better start early, the low temperature is supposed to be around 85!

Saturday, July 2, 2011

Ready for Market, Custom Eyeglass Cases

Rear:  Spanish Cedar  Left to Right: Goncalo Alves, African Paduak, Zebrawood

     Here is the final results of the eyeglass cases that I've been working on.  The first one was created just for my own reading glasses.   When I showed that case to the people at Obika, they were very enthusiastic about seeing more so I refined the design to accommodate a range of glasses.  In the Spanish Cedar case  you can see the bag that Diane sewed up for these cases.  She went to the only place in town that carries 100% China Silk and has made bags for each of the them.  It's really great the way our artistic endeavors compliment each other.  I'd say we make a pretty good team!
     After refining the design and the methods I used to create these cases my original one seems very heavy.  Even though the outside dimensions are identical, the new model is very light.  I was able to work the case to where it's only 1/8" thick.  The finish is blond shellac which I mix up fresh from flakes and was applied with an air brush.  After spraying 5-6 coats it was allowed to cure for almost a week and then rubbed out with 4/0 steel wool and Liberon wax.  It's given the wood a low sheen and it feels great.
     The wood --- for as long as I can remember it has always fascinated me.  Even as a youngster going to the doctor I'd notice the grain patterns on the wooden doors and see all kinds of things in them.  Faces, animals, ghosts, etc. all can be found in the swirls of the grain when you really start looking at it.  That's a feature I wanted to incorporate in these cases.  Since they're crafted out of a single block of wood the patterns are continuous. Since there isn't an obvious sign as to where they open this is like a secret that only the owner of the case will know.  That secret will become apparent once the owner of the case studies the grain and can tell which side is the hinge side and which side will open.