Sunday, December 30, 2012

Sometimes #**%*^(*# Happens! Take Two

     This was the conclusion of the post when I talked about the tablesaw mishap and how it tore up the inside, bottom of one of the legs.

Epoxy/Sawdust Patch

     I wasn't real pleased with it and hated the thought of having to compromise on the over-all quality of the piece.  I reasoned that it was in a location that wouldn't be real noticeable but, like I always would stress to my students; I'll always know it's there!
     This is where the magic of the internet and electronic networking come into play.  I've had communications with Chris Hall who's blog can be found at:   He is from Massachusetts and specializes in Japanese style of woodworking which, if you're not familiar with it involves a lot of intricate hand cut joinery.  In any case, he commented on the blog and asked why I didn't consider making a Dutchman patch?  Let's see now, I was born in Amsterdam and am a genuine Dutchman myself -- you'd of thought that would have been a no-brainer for me now wouldn't you?  Thanks to his comment the outside of the leg now looks like this.

Dutchman Patch
      Realize that this is an extreme close-up so there is a visible line at the end of the patch but this piece came from the cut-off from this leg.  That one prominent grain line that goes from the lower right towards the upper left is the most visible feature so I was glad to be able to match that up.  The more difficult part of the hunt was trying to line up the various sections of interlocking grain the Sapele has.  Won't really be able to see exactly how well I succeeded on that until the final finish has been applied.
     Once I found a suitable "donor" piece, the first step was to route out the leg to remove the damage.

Dutchman Donor Piece
     I made a template for the patch which was clamped to the leg.  The first step was to outline it with a marking knife to prevent the wood fibers from tearing out as the router removed the material.  I went down to a depth of about 3/16".

Dutchman Template

     The corners were squared off and the patch piece was fitted and glued and clamped in.  Once the glue was thoroughly dry everything was planed flush.  Here you can see how that predominant grain line follows through the patch.

Ready for Final Sizing
     Here's the final shot of the patch from the inside.  It's slightly visible but a vast improvement over the photo at the top of this blog.  Thanks Chris for pointing out a better way to fix an unexpected mishap!

Much Improved, Darned Inter-locking Grain!

Tuesday, December 25, 2012

Ouch, Sometimes #**%*^(*# Happens!

Zero Clearance Throat Plate Disaster
       Not the best thing to happen the day before Christmas and well into a project.  What you see here is my throat plate, split in two.  The piece of Sapele with the chalk marks on it is the culprit, it's the tapered off-cut from one of the legs.  This occurred as I was cutting the taper on the leg using my taper jig.

Taper Jig

     I know now how it happened and what to do to prevent it from ever happening again but I'm now left with a leg with a chunk out of it.  Besides having spent lots of time selecting the grain and cutting the mortises there isn't any more of the Sapele to make another leg.  What happened is the tapered end of the off cut got caught between the blade even though there was a zero clearance plate.  It jammed and stopped the 3 horsepower motor as if I had a SawStop!  That's never happened before but I see that it can be prevented if I reverse the leg to start the cut near the top of the leg rather than the bottom.  This way it'll end the cut with the thickest part of the taper which shouldn't have any possibility of wedging itself between the blade and the throat plate when it drops down.
     Don't know how many times I'd tell my students that the difference between a good woodworker and one that's not so good is that the good one has learned how to hide his or her mistakes.  Guess it's time to see if I can practice what I preach!  My first instinct was to cut a new leg, couple of problems with that scenerio.  First of all, I'm out of wood and secondly, even if I could get another piece of 8/4 Sapele that chances of it matching the coloration and grain pattern would be pretty remote.  Here's my Plan B.
     Here's the raw damage after removing some of the splintering:

Ouch, Right on the Corner of the Leg

     The first step was to clean up the nasty gash caused by the jam.

The Damage, Epoxy, & Sawdust
      I then gathered up some fine sawdust and 5 minute epoxy.  My plan was to mix up the epoxy and then add some sawdust to it.  This was worked into the gash with an applicator made from a flexible piece of wood.  If you've ever done Bondo work on a car, this process is similar.

Epoxy Applied

     After it dried thoroughly the resulting patch was planed smooth.

Planed Smooth
     Here's what it looks like after spraying the surface with some water.  This will be similar to how it should appear when the table is oiled and finished.  The way I apply my oil and top coats is to wet sand it into the wood.  This tends to build up a slurry which will, hopefully, fill and blend in the patch.

Semi-Final Appearance
     It's not a perfect match but I'm trying to keep things in perspective.  It's about 2"long on a 29" leg so just a small percentage.  It's located on the inside bottom at almost the same location of a shelf that will span between the legs.  I'm pretty confident that it will barely be noticeable.  We have an ongoing discussion in our woodworking group about how we always tends to point out the flaws in our own work.  If the project is a success, in my opinion, I'll take it to the group for our show & tell sessions and see if anyone notices it.  If it bothers me I won't take it to market (so to speak) but won't mind having it for ourselves anyway.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

All Waxes Are Not Created Equal

Here is the finished project I began a week or so ago with the carved and gilded lid.

Finished Camellia Box

    At that point I'd left you with a lid that was brightly gilded with Dutch Gold and I promised to share the technique I'd use to tone it down.

Bright & Brassy Composition Gold Metal

     Well, that's the point of this blogs title; all waxes are not created equal.  The first step to this process was to completely paint the lid.  I used a Krylon, satin black spray paint for this project.  They make a paint called Ultra-Flat which is a great one to use for picture  or mirror frames.  I should mention that this technique can also be done by using carved appliqu├ęs that you can find at craft stores.  Simply attach them to flat stock and that will eliminate the carving step in this process.  For me though, this gives me a great avenue to practice my carving.  After you've applied the spray paint it's best to wait 2-3 days to allow the paint to cure completely.
     Next up is selectively remove the paint to bring out the highlights of the carving.  This is a process that you can control if you realize a few things about waxes.  I'm familiar with a few different brands so that's what I can share with you.  Waxes have varying amounts and types of solvents in them, something you can tell strictly  by the smell.  The reason that's important to know is that the more solvent there is in the wax, the quicker you will rub off the paint and reveal the gold underneath.  Here's the basic premise:

  • More solvent = quicker removal of paint which can be a plus -- or a negative!  You may remove more of the paint than you wanted.
  • Less solvent = slower removal of paint which again, can be a plus or a negative.  It'll take you longer to reveal the gold below the paint layer but you'll have a bit more control.
     As far as waxes go, my favorite is made by Liberon and called Black Bison.  I love the smell and feel of it and is the one I use as a top coat on picture frames, boxes, and any furniture projects that I choose to wax.  It doesn't have a lot of solvent so it is quite slow at removing the paint layer.
     Another one that you may have seen since it's advertised quite a lot is Briwax.  It has a lot of solvent, you'll be able to smell it, and removes the paint layer extremely fast.  Because of that I don't like to use it.
     The last one I'm familiar with is Johnson's Paste Wax.  It's readily available and has a moderate amount of solvents and doesn't have a strong odor like the Briwax.  I should mention automotive paste waxes too because they are sometimes used on wood.  The only drawback with them is they usually contain silicon and they tend to leave a white residue in the pores of the wood.  I'd avoid them.  For this project I began by using the Johnson's to accelerate the paint removal process and then finished off with the Liberon.  The amount of time the paint has cured and the temperature/weather conditions will affect how the paint reacts to the wax too so, as you always hear -- test in an inconspicuous area first.
     I prefer to use cotton balls to work the wax onto the surface.  Because of the lack of structure to them they will get into the crooks and crannies of the carving.  Put a small amount of wax on the cotton ball and begin wiping the surface.  I'd advise that you put some wax on a scrap piece of wood rather than continually getting it out of the can with the cotton ball --- you'll contaminate the can with the paint.  At first you'll think nothing is happening but all of a sudden you'll feel some drag on the cotton ball.  That tells you the paint has become softened and is ready to come off!  Take your time and creatively remove what you want.  Obviously this is subjective but here's a photo sequence of this particular lid.

Initial wax application, notice dullness on lower left?

Drag on cotton ball & dullness means you should lighten up.

Remove as much of the black as you desire then

Buff entire lid.

     One of the disadvantages of course to black and waxed surfaces is that it will show any defects or blemishes but this is referred to as the patina and aging of the piece.  Tends to add to its appeal, makes it seem like a treasured heirloom object.  Like a gallery owner once told Diane as we were discussing her awards vs. sales: "the public votes with their checkbook".  I'll list this on my Etsy store tonight and see how the public votes!

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Celtic Flute Case is in the Mail

Custom Sapele Case for Celtic Flute
     I'll have to admit that I'm really happy with the final results of this Etsy order that I just mailed this morning.  This picture shows some of the beauty of this wood with its' ribbon grain effect.  The finish is Danish oil with my hand-rubbed, 3 part mixture.  Here's another shot of it that shows off the chatoyance of this wood.

3/4 View

     I tend to say that in my work it's all about the wood and this project bears that out.  I have always loved the subtle nuances in wood, one that really stands out to me is the spot about half way up on the lid.  It looks as if it's an "outie" but you run your hand over it and it's as smooth as can be!  I love the hand rubbed finish I use on almost all of my work.  You may recall that I applied all but the last 2 coats before separating the lid from the box.  They are applied with pieces of denim which I get from my neighbors whose kids have outgrown their jeans -- works great!

Applying Final Coats of Finish
     Whenever I do this step it reminds me off Marine Corps boot camp and sitting on a locker, rubbing boiled linseed oil into the stock with your hands.  I doubt they still do that, M-16's have plastic stocks whereas the M-14's of my era were wooden.  The denim concept is the same.  You use a very small amount of the finish (don't saturate it) and rub it into a small area until it's almost dry.  I really think it's more of a burnishing effect using the finish as a lubricant.  Once you're done it's important to wipe everything completely dry and just let the piece sit overnight.  
     I sure I'm not the only person that gets a bit apprehensive the closer you get to the end of a project.  Just the thought of making a fatal mistake -- I mean, the potential is always there.  One area is installing the hardware like the hinges, latches, handle, and nameplate.  First up were the hinges.  After pre-drilling them the next thing was to pre-screw them with a steel screw to avoid any possibility of the brass screw breaking.  Even after all those precautions, I still lubricate the threads of the screw with beeswax.

Hinge Installation

     For the nameplate I use a tiny #2 x 3/8" round head screw.  I don't even bother with an electric drill for those, a small gimlet works just as well.

Gimlet for the Nameplate
     Any commercial handle I found was way too large in scale for this case.  I chose to use the same leather material I use for strapping in my pistol cases.  I think the look of it with the brass finish washer and slotted, oval-head screw maintain the scale and purpose of the case.

Handle & Nameplate Detail

     Got the case all wrapped up and sent it priority mail this morning.  Most projects I do I get some attachment to.  This one was extra special.  The person that ordered it from me recently sent two recordings of the actual flute being played, the one that's going into this case!  That was special, a bit of Irish Celtic music to really get me into the spirit.  I played it while I was taping the package up.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

The Separation of Lid & Box

     One of the more common ways of making a lidded box is to make it as a solid piece and then separate them.  This way the grain is continuous and you know they will be perfectly aligned -- after all they were made as one piece!  The two most common ways of doing this is by using either the bandsaw or the tablesaw.  My preference is the tablesaw, it just seems to make a smoother and more uniform cut then the bandsaw does.
     In practice, it's simple.  Set the rip fence to the required size and cut away.  However, there is a potential for problems which usually occur on the last side cut.   What can happen is that on the final cut, the box and lid squeeze together resulting in a snipe. On a recent episode of Rough Cut with Tommy Mac he did this process but didn't do what I recommend doing.
    Here's what I suggest, first cut the two longest edges of your box completely through.  The blade is set slightly higher than the thickness of the box sides.  To cut the other two sides I'll adjust the blade so that it is 1/16"+ lower than the thickness of the sides which results in something like this:

Tablesaw Work to Separate
     What happens here is that you leave a small sliver of wood so there's absolutely no risk of squeezing the two sides together and causing a snipe or even a kickback.  Notice that I cut right in the middle of a finger joint so there is long grain on both the top and bottom.  All that's required now is to use a zero set saw to complete the cut.

Finishing the Separation

     You can hold the box either as shown or horizontally.  This results in a small fin of wood that can easily be pared or chiseled flush with the box.

Paring the Cut

     Now that the two are apart, it's time to check the fit of the insert ….

                                                                                                         ……. it fits!

      Next step was to mortise in for the hinges.  These are a quality pair of solid brass hinges from Lee Valley.  I'm planning to use a set of Brusso hinges for my next custom box project.  They're not that much more than these and I've heard so much about the quality of them I believe they'll be worth the couple of extra dollars.  I use a template and bearing guided router bit to start the process.

Hinge Mortise Guide
     Hinge mortises need to be exact if the box is to close and open properly.  The mortise I route out is slightly less than the hinge length, 2" in this case.  Even though I align the template as carefully as I can, there's still a chance of being off.  To counter that I use a chisel to trim the mortise so that the distance from the end of the box and the outside edge of the hinges are exact.

Exact Distance from End
    Once that's set, the inside edge of the mortise is trimmed to fit the hinge.  I prefer to use slotted, solid brass screws for this type of project but they have a tendency to strip out or worse -- break off.  Not good so each hole is pre-screwed with a steel screw. Good insurance as far as I'm concerned, nothing worse than trying to remove a broken screw inside of a finished project and then fill the hole, re-drill, etc.  By the way, I prefer the slotted head screw because it gives the appearance that this case has been around for many, many years.
     The way the insert will be held in place is with strips of Sapele that will do double duty to not only secure the insert but also function as a dust check for the box.  After carefully fitting them in place I needed to taper the outside of the front one so the lid would close easily over it.  The other edges will have a slight round over.  These pieces are only 1/4" thick and 3/8" wide so no way could you use a router or even a small block plane.  I have the perfect solution for this; an old, Stanley #101.

Stanley #101
     When Adam was a teenager he went to England with his Dad and brought this little antique back for me.  Not sure if he figured I'd use it or that it was just a great memento to give me from his trip.  I've sharpened the blade and it's great for forming chamfers or quarter rounds on small pieces such as this.  I know it's an antique because the blade is stamped with the Stanley Rule & Level logo.  This plane was made from 1877 to 1962.  Since he bought it in England I'd assume that's were this particular model was made.  It's a neat little tool that has seen much use in the past and will continue as long as I'm able.
     Last up today was to shellac the dust check and the top edges of the newly separated box.  Diane is going to sew the felt covered, foam piece that will secure the flute in the case.  All that remains are a couple more hand rubbed coats on the outside followed by wax, apply the handle and nameplate, and this project will be ready for shipping.  I've met the Christmas deadline!

Friday, December 7, 2012

Oil Gilding Tutorial / Brief but Informative

     In my desire to build my carving skills I enrolled in an on-line class taught by Mary May.  I had seen an episode of the Woodwrights Shop that featured her and enjoyed her style and delivery.  She has been written up in a number of woodworking magazines and has several YouTube videos as well.  When I first heard about these on-line instructional methods I must admit I was a bit skeptical.  That's probably  based on my own experience as a classroom teacher for 31 years!  In any case, I enrolled in the program a few months ago and at $10.00 per month I'm finding it well worth while.  Here's a LINK to her web site if you want to check it out.
     One of the on-line courses was one on carving a Camellia.  Her lessons are broken up into different phases and include a downloadable pattern and tool list.  Like many people, I prefer to have an end use for my practice work (used to hate practicing my trombone alone in a little practice room) and thought of a way to have my practices carvings be useful.  I decided that any carving that is "suitable for human consumption" could be used as a lid on boxes in my Etsy store.  Depending on the wood used I could leave it alone, stain it, or gild it.  In the case of the Camellia I chose to gild it since it was carved on Basswood.  Here it is in the beginning  stages.

Rattle-Can Clay and Quick Size
     Traditionally, after a picture frame or other piece that will be gilded is carved many coats of gesso are brushed on to completely fill in the grain of the wood and create a smooth surface to gild.  This is quite a complex process where powdered gesso is mixed with rabbit skin glue and water, then warmed, stirred, and strained through cheese cloth to remove any lumps.  Well that may be all fine and well and I've done quite a number of frames that way but a lid calls for a quicker and less labor intensive method.  Enter the spray can!  Rustoleum and Krylon both make a product that is designed to prime rusted metal.  Instead of using actual clays to prime the object you want to gild this can be substituted.  It will fill grain and small imperfections of the wood.  You can even use automotive primer/putty if needed.  I spray on several coats and let it dry, usually over-night.
     Next up is to use either a fine (400+ grit) sandpaper or steel wool to burnish the cured primer.  You will actually burnish it so the gold leaf will be quite shiny.  Now, before I forget; when we talk about oil gilding it's almost always done with what's referred to as composition metal or Dutch Gold -- not precious 18-23kt. which is accomplished by a process known as water gilding.  After the piece is burnished, blow or tack cloth off all traces of dust  and apply a very thin, even coat of quick size.  Depending on the brand, quick sizes usually have a working time of 1-3 hours.
     To know when your size is ready for gilding, use what I refer to as the knuckle test.  You rub your knuckle over the surface and it should kind of squeak as you drag it across.  Remember dragging your thumb over a desk when you were a kid?  That annoying sound it  made is what you're after.

The Knuckle Test
     To lay the composition leaf takes some experience and getting just the right feel for it.  It's best, especially when you first get started, to cut the sheets into several, small pieces that you can handle.  It took me some time to be able to lay a full sheets.  The great thing about Dutch gold is that you can handle it with your fingers if you have a very light touch.

First Sheet
     To lay the leaf I have a waxed piece of MDF that has rounded corners and edges.  This way the leaf will slip off easily.  Hold the MDF in one hand but let the leaf hang over the edge.  Use your other hand to gently tap the leaf onto the size to anchor it.  Now, slowly pull the MDF back and at the same time use the fingers of your other hand to tamp the leaf down.  Once it's made contact you can rub it down completely with your fingers.  The remainder of the piece is gildedvusing the same technique.

Remaining Sheets
     Work slowly and gently press the leaf down into the carvings' low areas.  You'll more than likely get cracks which are known as "faults", there's a number of them on the left of the flower.  Generally speaking, they are most common where the level of the carve changes.  What happens is the leaf bridges the high and low spots and then cracks as you tamp it down.  Not to worry!

Patching the Faults/Cracks
     As long as the quick size is still tacky you should be able to tamp a piece of leaf over the faults.  It's better to do that now than wait too long and try to add a small amount of size and patch that -- it almost always shows up.  Once all is covered I'll use a soft brush to remove any bits of leaf and follow this with a microfiber cloth to really press the leaf into the size.
     Let this all dry over-night.  For this one I plan to use a technique that, hopefully will interest you.  A gilded surface is rarely left bright and shiny.  You'll need to wait for my next blog to see what I plan to do with this one.  I know this was brief but feel free to contact me with any questions or details you'l like to know more about.

When Your Theory Pans Out

It Worked!

     I had an earlier blog about the Celtic Flute case where the challenge of custom work was praised but the uncertainty of an untried process could undermine the over-all success.  Even saying that though, that's the part of doing this kind of work that keeps you motivated.  At left is the completely formed and lined inner compartment for the flute.  The socket at the top was used as a gauge because the largest diameter of the flute matches it ; 1 1/2".

In a previous post I discussed how the recesses with their rounded bottoms were formed.  In this post I'll go over the process I used to line them with the 100% wool felt.

     The first step was to protect the ends that have already been shellacked and are completely finished.  This was done with painters tape then carefully trimmed so it was only on the sides but none on the bottom.

Taping Off the Insert
     Diane and I discussed the best approach to this and we decided that starting from the center was the best way to go about this.  The outer edges were protected with tape and then the inner surfaces were covered with spray adhesive.  That tape was removed from the outer edges so the felt wouldn't stick there before the inside walls, cove, and bottom were covered.  Because the application started from the center, the outer ends helped align and keep everything square.  I waited a bit for the adhesive to set and then began working it down the side, cove, bottom and then back up the other side.  Here's what it looked like then:

Before Final Glueing 
     The side was protected once again, didn't want a glue layer there that could prevent the insert from sliding into the box.  A layer of newspaper was placed  over the box and the glue sprayed on.

Ready to Glue One Outer Edge
     Next, the tape is removed so the only glue is on the upper edge and some on the back of the felt as well.  This was securely glued down and the process was repeated on the opposite edge.

Ready for Final Trimming
    Once the glue was set up and everything properly cured, a fresh blade in the utility knife trimmed off the excess and this step of the box is complete.  Also hand sanded the first of 5 coats in to the assembled box with 400 grit wet/dry paper.  The nameplate is ready so that was picked up from the trophy shop so hinging, fabricating the handle, and final assembly is what remains to be done.

Thursday, December 6, 2012

First Coat of Oil

     So, what do you suppose is lurking under this conglomeration of clamps?

Bet you Guessed!

     Yep, you were right; it's the assembled case for the Celtic flute.  Here it is with the clamps removed.  The tape is there to help me keep the pieces straight during assembly, it's happened that a board was flipped or put in the wrong sequence so the grain doesn't match up anymore.

Unclamped, Mark on Right Indicates Lid
     I always like to use liquid hide glue for dovetails and finger joints since it has a longer open time and is relatively easy to clean up.  I tried Old Brown Glue for this project and so far I liked working with it.  The only disadvantage is that you do need to run it in a warm water bath to get a good working viscosity but I would do that with the Titebond brand I'd used before too.
     I decided to try a different approach on this case and  oil the case before I separated the lid.  Most of the bottom of the case is the insert that will hold the flute.  The top will have a foam piece that will put pressure down on the flute when the case is closed and hold everything securely.  After paring the finger joints flush and preparing the case, here's what it looks like.  I really like the ribbon grain of this piece of Sapele.  Well, admittedly I like it better to look at than trying to surface it -- interlocking grain makes planing or scraping difficult.  I chose this panel for the top because of the blemish just left of center.  I think it adds character, it's really not a blemish, just an interesting swirl in the grain.  Next up is lining the insides, a number of top coats, and then final assembly.  This is where things slow down, you just can't rush that 24 hours between coats!

Freshly Oiled

Monday, December 3, 2012

So, How Do You ……...?

Celtic Case Innards

     The thing about doing custom, one of a kind projects is that you rarely get complacent or bored.  That, in my opinion, is a good thing!  For example, when I was first contacted about making a case for the Celtic Flute, the unknown aspect of this project was how to create the recess for the flute parts to rest in.  In our earliest correspondence I referred to these as "troughs" but that word just didn't convey that elegant image this case will have.  After looking at various designs and things that others had done, I came up with my own solution.

     This first picture shows where we are now, next up will be to shellac and seal this assembly prior to gluing in this high quality, 100% Merino Wool Felt.  It's that deep, rich green color similar to what you may have seen on a pool table.

     The unit starts out with the Sapele ends, Poplar dividers, and a piece of 1/16" Mahogany door skin.  The ends will show so that's why they're made of Sapele, everything else will be covered with the felt.

Basic Structure
   This is sized to just fit into the assembled case.  You may notice how the ends were notched to accept the dividers.  This was the perfect project to use a 23 gauge pinned on, can't imagine trying to apply glue, hold everything square and aligned, and then drive a brad home with a hammer.  I bought the pinner a few years ago for a restoration project that had lots of small moldings to create and re-attach.  The challenge was to create the radius in the bottom of each recess.  Here's how that was done.

Routing the Coves

     The first step was taking a piece of MDF that was longer than the case and cutting a 1/2" cove on each edge.  A small plunge router with an edge guide completed that step.  Boy, is MDF ever a messy product -- dust all over the place!

First Pass on TableSaw

     The tablesaw was used to separate these pieces.  I suppose if this was an official publication this is where I'd put in the disclaimer about keeping your guards in place and that they were removed for photographic clarity but I don't like to lie.  This is how it's done, you could use a push stick and a feather board to increase the safety of this operation but the bottom line sometimes has to be this:  if you're uncomfortable doing any process with your tools than, by all means, DON'T DO IT!  Find another way.

Second Pass on TableSaw

      After making the first pass as shown the fence was readjusted and the blade height was set so that it is just above the thickness of the MDF.  In this instance I am using a push stick.  You need to reach over the end and hold the piece next to the fence to avoid the possibility of it shooting back.  Safety wise, it would have been a better option not to have the cut off piece against the fence but I was confident in handling them this way.  They needed to be consistent in size so I chose not to readjust the fence for each cut.

     The final step was cutting and gluing them in place at the bottom of the dividers.  For this a utility knife did the trick.  My glue of choice for this was Liquid Hide glue.  A bead of glue was applied to the flat sides of the radiused piece and a "rub joint" will hold it all together.  A few coats of shellac to seal everything and then I get to be an upholsterer of sorts!

Cutting the Cove Pieces