Tuesday, August 30, 2011

Class is a Definite Go!

Class Project
     I received word from Jamie this morning that the hand tool class is now officially on the schedule at her school.  We weren't sure if the required number of students  would sign up but after she notified all of former her students with an email sign ups came briskly and we're both pleased.  The only place she had on her schedule was a twice weekly class during the day.  Many of her students are work night shifts or are retired so a day time class is ideal for them.  She thought the sticking point may of been the twice weekly meetings, Tuesday & Thursday.  You can see her complete schedule and more info about her school from this  LINK .
     I'm really looking forward to teaching this class.  According to Jamie, many of her students have asked about hand tool instruction so she approached me about designing a project for it.  The results of that are in the picture above.  The majority of the joinery is hand cut dovetails.  We'll begin with through dovetails to join the top to the sides, here there are only two tails.  To join the bottom to the sides we'll add a few more tails with some unequal spacing and sizes just to mix things up a bit.  I plan to introduce them to making and using a scratch stock.  That's what was used to form the profile on the front, curved edge.  The dovetails continue to the drawer front but this time they are half blind -- more of a challenge!  We'll leave the rear of the drawer simpler, grooved only.  Depending on how much time we'll have, students can either create their own drawer pull or else buy one.  The wood used is Cumala which is a plantation grown species that can be used in place of Mahogany.  If you've never had the pleasure of working with genuine Mahogany you don't know what you're missing but the Cumala will have to do -- it's not a bad substitute.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Refining the Profile, Use of a Story Stick, and Waiting for Cooler Temps

     Have I mentioned how hot it's been lately?  Seems like my shop time is dwindling down but I'm still moving forward.  One of the things that's most enjoyable about doing custom, one of a kind work, is that you create pretty much every part of the project.  I guess that's what it means when something is referred to as "Custom".  Many times you can find things that'll work but more often than not, it's up to the individual craftsman to make what is needed to complete your vision.  Case in point is the molding that will make it look as if the bookcases are separate units, here's a close up of that profile:

See the Difference?
The black thing in the back is what's called a tadpole sander.  These are rubber profiles that can be used to  refine or sand a shape that's been cut.  Look closely at the pieces of molding in the back --- see those faint lines running perpendicular to the grain?  Those are marks left by the shaper cutter and are commonly referred to as chatter marks.  By comparison, check the piece in front -- they're gone right?  In most mass produced furniture and moldings you'll still see these marks.  They're virtually unavoidable because of any slight variation in the cutter or run out in the bearings but very time consuming to remove.  Here's a close-up of the profile for this bookcase:

    Although the tadpole sander isn't a perfect match it flattens out when you put some pressure on it.  At this point the molding has been completely sanded with 120 grit paper.  Once the piece is assembled it'll be completely sanded with 150 - 220 grit paper prior to finishing.  As much as I prefer a natural oil finish, this piece will be stained to match the other units the client has already.

In between the times I spent whining about the heat I also managed to sand all of the pieces that will make up the bookcase.  In my construction technique I prefer to use joinery to "lock" pieces together.  When using sheet goods like on this project a good choice is tongue and groove joint.  I find it hard to believe that much of the knock down furniture available from the so called big box merchants use particle board and relies on a butt joint and screw to give it strength!

Story Stick
In the  photo above you can see how these units will go together.  What we have is the top of one of the side pieces with the groove for the shelf to fit into.  The piece that says "back" is the story stick.  I needed to locate 4 holes to secure each shelf, top,or bottom to the case sides.  Rather than measure and mark the location numerous time,  you mark them once on the story stick and use it to locate all of the required holes.  These are drilled from the inside of the case.  After temporarily clamping the unit together I'm able to drill and countersink for the screws from the outside.  The way I've designed this unit is that the molding I talked about earlier will cover the screws.  Should work like a charm!
Here's the first look at the top unit, clamped together, pre-drilled, and waiting for a cooler temperature so it can be assembled.

First Look

Thursday, August 25, 2011

Shaper Work

     For some reason, probably well deserved, the wood shaper is not a tool you'll find in too many small size shops.  Even as a teacher, I only had one at a high school I taught at until they decided to eliminate the program and turn the shop into a weight training room for the football team!  I know one of  the reasons shapers are scarce -- they'll completely mangle a finger or hand or whatever else it may come into contact with.  Sounds gruesome but a tablesaw, on the other hand, will slice a part of you off and it can probably be re-attached!
     I have an old Rockwell model, probably produced in the 50's that I traded for some work many years ago. It's a one horsepower, 1/2" spindle but I've used it to make numerous doors and also for pattern shaping on chairs, legs, etc.  Here's a picture of it with the parts for the barrister doors stacked behind it:

Coped Pieces for Doors
Years ago I bought a set of matched cutters from Freeborn and they're worth their weight in gold.  Actually I have two sets of these cutters, one is a more provincial style and the other more streamlined.  That's what I chose for this job as well.  Shaping these pieces reminded me as to why I prefer working with woods other than red Oak -- it's very splintery, almost felt as if I needed a flak jacket with pieces going every which way!

Close Up

     I feel comfortable enough using my shaper.  The yellow wheels are excellent in preventing kickback and also holding the piece firmly onto the table.  You can see that a lot of material is being removed at one time so a steady feed pressure is called for.  In a production shop there would be a power feeder to control the stock and rate of feed. Maintaining a steady rate of feed is important in determining the final finish on the wood when using a shaper.
     Since the temperature is not going down any time soon I really can't start assembling the case.  In the morning I'll cut the pieces to final width and start the process of sanding all of the pieces of molding.  I left the case sides and shelves an inch or so wider than needed so that I could rip clean edges after running  the dado head for the grooves.  Making good progress, now if only it'll cool down some so the assembly process can begin.

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Lessons from the Mock Up

     I made quite a bit of progress in the shop today and wanted to go back out tonight but the thermometer scared me off!  Really glad there's not a tight deadline on this project and it helps that my client is a "car guy" so knows only too well what it's like working in our desert heat.  Last night I almost had the mock up complete and if there's one thing I've learned it's that the tolerances/clearances in a barrister bookcase leave very little room for error.  There is a type of complicated mechanism that looks somewhat like a scissor jack and is supposed to control the travel in the door by keeping it parallel.  I haven't read too much positive about that system other than it's very tricky to make, install, and keep running smoothly.  I suppose that a barrister type arrangement is suitable for what it's designed for; occasional access.  Drawers are designed for frequent opening and closing so their design is totally different.
     Anyway, here's a few pictures of what's been done to date:
Door Close Up
Here you can see the groove that the pin will ride, this is the heart of how this works.  What's critical is that there is a minimum of play between the end of the pin and the wall of the groove.  I'm using brass rod for the pin.  Once the cabinet is assembled, I'll need to design a molding that will cover that groove and also prevent the door from coming out.  The door will be installed through the back of the cabinet before the knobs are attached.  Once all of the doors are installed the back is screwed on.  Should it ever be necessary to remove a door, the back can be unscrewed, knobs removed, and then it will be removable.  Not something you ever want to do but you need to leave yourself an exit plan!

Over-all View of Mock Up, Plans, & Parts

Here's another view of the mock-up with the plans behind it.  As you can see, this will be a fairly tall unit.  You'll notice the middle section of the case is considerably larger than the others.  This is where the turntable will be housed.  The lines drawn on the door were to give me a visual for determining the width of the stiles.  Turns out that 1 3/4" looked about right!

 The last major bit of work completed today was to cut all of the pieces required for the doors.  They've all been brought to a uniform thickness with the planer but I always surface each one with a hand plane (#4 Smoother).  In my opinion, a machined surface just doesn't compare to what you can achieve with a good, sharp hand plane. The coping cutter is set up on the shaper so that's where we'll start tomorrow.  A good practice is to make extra pieces which I did. Oak can split pretty badly when you use a shaper or router on it, it seems to never fail that if I make a few extra pieces at this time I won't need them.  If I take a chance and fail to make extra stock I have a problem and have to start from scratch -- isn't that Murphy's Law?

Sunday, August 21, 2011

Latest Commission: Barrister Bookcases

     I recently met with a client that asked me to make a Barrister's style bookcase to fill a media niche in their home.  Happy to say that after we discussed the project and their requirements for it they accepted my bid and now it's off to work.  I'm going to refer to these as a faux Barrister bookcase because there are some major differences in the design.
     Traditionally, barrister is a term used to describe lawyers.  Before the advent of the internet lawyers had collections of books to research their cases.  As you may imagine, the longer they practiced the more extensive this collection of books became.  The Barrister bookcase was developed as a way to add cases as they were needed.  One unit stacks on top of the next.  Another feature is the glass panel in front that slides up and into the top of the case to allow access, this also minimizes dust.  My client has several of these cases already so this one will add to them.  The main difference is that I'll build it as two, stackable units that will be 80" high.  One of the primary uses for the case will be to house a turntable so the center unit will be considerably taller than the rest --- there comes the challenge!
     Using a cabinet grade, Red Oak plywood will simplify the construction of the case but it also requires using mechanical fasteners (i.e. screws) rather than glued, traditional joinery.  The doors will be a traditional coped frame.  To conceal the screws and to replicate the cases being separate units meant I needed to design some type of molding.  I spent much of the morning yesterday doing just that.  After planing the material down to 5/8" thick, I formed the profile using a router.

  Each piece required four passes, increasing the depth of cut each time.  The mantra for this is to keep a slow, steady feed to achieve the best cut possible.  There will still be a lot of sanding with the tadpole sanders to smooth the profile to meet my standards!  You can't see it in this photo but I'm sure glad the router fence I made has a port on it to attach the shop vacuum.

Here's a close up of the molding, what I needed to do was raise the bit and make it wider than needed to maintain a flat, square edge.  Once the desired profile was cut, the molding was ripped to about 1" wide.
     The remainder of the afternoon was spent cutting the casework pieces and dado's in them for the joinery.  One of those days where you get so involved in what you're doing that you don't notice the temperature hitting 102 degrees!  My first clue is usually that I see these wet spots on the wood caused by my sweating all over it.  Quit work around 4pm and completed the order for the hardware.  Anxious to see how the work progresses today after church.  Sure am glad that I probably won't be doing any assembly next week as the predictions are for our temps to hit 110+, can't work fast enough to keep the glue from skinning over before clamping the work together!

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Wow, I've been Published!

Picture Framing Magazine  August 2011
    This is really cool and something I definitely want to share!  Much to the chagrin of any of my high school English teachers, this foreign boy that couldn't quite seem to grasp the language (or show any interest in doing so!) has been published in a nationally distributed trade magazine -- wow, I'm stoked!  It all started when I saw a how to article in the magazine which started the wheels turning.  As a teacher I wrote many how-to's and developed plans of projects and thought I could do as good of a job as the article I saw in PFM.  I had recently completed work on a set of frames for Diane so I approached Picture Framing Magazine with my idea for a story using those particular frames.  They are inspired by the frames that James McNeil Whistler did for some of his work.  Most people are aware of him because of his famous painting, Whistler's Mother.
     At first they didn't seem to excited about this article so I let it lie.  I sent them some photographs of Diane's paintings in the frame and explained what I had in mind.  I let it go and put it out of my mind and wouldn't you know it, they started pursuing me!  The editor called several times from New Jersey and once again, writing and doing a photo series for the article really intrigued me.  The process was long and pretty involved but Diane and I have decided that we're all about the process, it's equally important to us as the final result.  During the discussions and emails with the editor I got a clear picture of what they wanted and formulated a plan to achieve that.  Obviously, since the frames for Diane were already completed I needed to replicate the process and document it with photographs and text.  This was done, I sent them a CD with about 25 pictures on it and also emailed the article to them. The article called me and we fine tuned it and now, here we have it, a 4 page article with 9 pictures illustration who to get from a raw piece of Oak to a finished frame --- what fun!

Saturday, August 13, 2011

I'm Still Here -- Just a Waiting Game

     Ever find yourself busy but not sure where the time goes?  It's been about a week and a half since I wrote my last blog.  I've kept myself busy working on the plans and the bid/estimate for a set of bookcases.  They're based on the Barrister style where the fronts are glass and lift up to slide into the top recess of the case.  The purpose of them is to keep dust out and you know that we have plenty of that here in the desert!  I'm referring to this project as "faux" Barrister bookcases.  Traditionally they are separate units that stack on top of one and other.  Barristers (lawyers) would buy additional cases as they needed them to house their law book collection.  This unit is just under 7' tall but will be made in two pieces.  The largest section will be for a turntable.  I have some concern on having a door of this size; 25" wide and 18" tall, the mechanism that allows these doors to slide up and over is nothing more than some 1/4" dowels that ride in dados.  Even at their more standard height of 12"-13" they can bind if they're not pushed up evenly.  I've made a mockup out of MDF and we'll just have to see what happens.  I meet with the potential client next Tuesday morning to see whether or not they'll like my plans and price.
     I was asked to do a demonstration at the next meeting of the Sin City Woodworkers this coming Wednesday and agreed to do one on half blind dovetails.  It'll be good practice for my upcoming class in September.  In my preparation for that today I discovered that my chisels could be sharper!  Seems as if sharpening is a never ending process when it comes to working wood.  Without a doubt though, when your tools are sharp the work goes so much better.  It's a valuable part of woodworking and well worth the time and effort.  My general procedure is to look over my sharpening notes but here's a link to really good video on YouTube by Lie-Nielsen tool works .  Using his advice, I flattened my stones after using both sides once and just as advertised it went well.  In the past I'd only flatten after a complete sharpening session, this way is quicker and insures that the stone will be flat for each tool.  Here's a picture of all that action:

Left to Right: 4000/8000 Stone, 220/1000 Stone, Flattening Stone
     This is the messy part of the operation so it's done in an old baking tray to contain it to some degree.  I use a Veritas honing guide which works well for all but the smallest chisels, those need to be held by hand.  The stones are 3M that are fairly new and I do like them better than the old ones.  They had lots of spider web cracks that didn't seem to affect the sharpening but the 3M stones seem to cut faster and the scratch pattern is very easy to see.  The appearance of that scratch pattern changes whether you're using 1,000; 4,000; or 8,000 grit.  Once there is a uniform scratch pattern on the entire cutting edge it's time to change to the next grit.  This time I put a micro bevel by taking about five strokes, pulling back only.

Ready to go to Work!

     One of the things that always pops up in my head when sharpening is the phrase: "if you can see something then you have nothing".  Meaning that the cutting edge should be invisible, if you see anything at all it's probably a nick or blunted edge that needs to be taken care of.

The chisel on the far left is a Lie-Nielsen special they call a Fish Tail, kind of obvious how that name came about!  A while back I mentioned a pair of Japanese skew chisels that gave me some problems -- tips breaking off are a problem!  Those were sold on e-bay and I did show the damage.  This fish tail chisel replaces the pair and I really like using it to clear out the sockets for dovetails.  Decided to sharpen the marking knife as well.
     I still need to cut the taper on the legs for the contemporary designed tables for our family room.  Seems as if every time I start to do that something else pops up!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Class Cabinet Complete

WoodItIs! Hand Tool Class Project
     The cabinet is complete and I just had to hang it on a piece of plywood to get the full effect and see how it will look from different angles.  This will be the project for the class at WoodItIs! that is scheduled for September 6th. through the 22nd. on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons.  Making the project and the plans has really gotten me excited about teaching it.  Although I've given one on one lessons in my shop, having more people adds that interaction which makes a class enjoyable and challenging.  Like Jamie stated in the class description I do have a real passion for woodworking and hope to pass it on to the students.  Even though this wood is a substitute for Mahogany (plantation grown, eco friendly to keep up with the latest trend!) it works differently. In an earlier post I'd mentioned how the grain seduced me into buying this particular piece and it really finished nicely, beautiful glow and the color is pleasing to the eye.  I hope that by showing the students how a simply made scratch stock can add that subtle detail to the sides they'll make one for themselves rather than grabbing a router.

Walnut Pull

      Another thing to share is being able to take scraps and odd pieces of wood to make your own handles and pulls.  This just adds another touch to it and is well worth the time and effort in my opinion.  This is a piece of Walnut with carved indentations for your finger to latch onto.

In Use
     So, what can you use this cabinet for?  Any number of things really.  Here I just put a couple of books on it, you could use it to display a couple of pictures.  The drawer is a place to put your keys, writing supplies, secret stuff, or whatever.  My goal for the class is that everyone in it learns new techniques and an appreciation of wood and it's beauty.  My philosophy has always been trying to teach ways to do woodwork without spending a fortune on machinery.  I may sound like a Renaissance man but I figure if it was done with stunning results before we should be able to accomplish it now as well.  It's only when we add the commercial aspect to this process that the pleasure of working with our hands diminishes.