Friday, November 30, 2012

New Special Order: Celtic Flute Case

It's a Start!
     Although it doesn't look like a whole lot in this picture, this will be a case for a Celtic Flute and  placed under someone's Christmas tree this year.  I had a request from my Etsy store to make this.  Making custom cases is interesting, so far the communication on these types of projects has been successful.  There's kind of an unwritten rule that says you should only rely on measurements you've taken yourself when building something but that's not always possible.  The approximate size is 3" tall x 5" wide x 16" long.  The wood is Sapele and I had just enough for this project.
     Making one of a kind pieces is a joy.  It allows me to select and lay out the wood to show it to its best advantage.  If you're a woodworker you know that there may be hidden flaws or defects the show themselves only after you've begun to cut things out.  For this project a piece of 8/4 Sapele was used which of course, called for re-sawing.  One piece was cut into thirds to give me the 7/16" thickness for the sides while another was sawn in half to yield the top and bottom panels.  I've seen quite a bit of talk about bandsaws and specialized fences for re-sawing but find that the old method I use is still effective.

Checking for Drift
     Step one is to plane the bottom of the board square and then mark your line.  Free hand, I'll cut about 2/3's of the way through  the board staying right on the line then turn off the saw.  Once the blade has come to a full stop I carefully let go of the board making sure it doesn't move.

Draw Line 

     Step two is to draw a line along the edge of the board on the table.  This will be parallel to the cut you made.

Can You See It?

Step three is to align the fence with the line you just drew.

It's hard to see, but if you look closely the drawn line is just to the right of the fence.  On my Jet bandsaw there are 4 bolts that can be loosened.  This allows you to move the fence to make it line up to the line drawn on the table.  You're now set up to re-saw the boards.  Basically this is the amount of drift, for this kind of wood, with the tension currently set on the saw.

Re-Sawing the Sapele


     Now that every thing is properly set up it's time to cut the material.  The final step to the process is to run the boards through the thickness planer so they are the same thickness.

     I have a good quality planer but it seems that no matter how carefully things are set up and adjusted a small amount of snipe is inevitable.  You can see the snipe here, just ahead of  the pencil.

Planer Snipe
     That's why I always use a smooth plane for the final surface, even this Sapele with its interlocked grain responds pretty well to the plane, now that snipe is gone.

Snipeless --  Is That a Word?
  Next up is cutting the finger joints.  You'd think that the adjustments wouldn't have changed but … they did.  After tapping a bit to the right, then a bit too much,  then back to the left for what seemed like a hundred times I finally just completely loosened the jig and started from scratch.  You know what, that worked the first try!

Finger Joints on the Last Piece
     One of my students keeps asking me if I own stock in Lee Valley because many of the tools I own were purchased from them.  I don't but they do carry and develop quality tools for not only woodworking but gardening as well.  They make a box-slotting router bit that really simplifies the process of cutting a slot to hold a box or drawer bottom.  Here's a LINK to it so you can see for yourself.  To cut a slot in any box that isn't mitered requires a stopped groove on two of the sides.  You can plan the slot on the other two sides to either coincide with a dovetail or finger but that can be a hassle.  With this router bit, you assemble the box and then route the slot.

Box Slotting Bit in Use
     It is a pretty messy job which is the one downside.  After clamping the box together, I used band clamps for this one, it's put over the bit and cut out.  I try to keep ahead of some of the mess by holding the vacuum cleaner hose in one hand as I cut which does help quite a lot.  The one bit of advice I'd give is to make the cut in two passes.  I'm cutting a 1/4" deep slot so just eyeball half the depth for the initial pass and then finish it off to the final depth with the bearing guiding the depth of cut.
     This leaves a radiused corner which just so happens to be about the size of a quarter.

Laying Out Corner Radius
     Pretty self explanatory and very easy to file to the required shape.  After marking the limits of the radius with the small combination square, hold the quarter at the edge, trace around it, and then file away.  As always, a trial fit is a wise use of your time.
     The function of this case determined my design process.  The slot for the top and bottom is located 1/2" from the bottom of the case.  The top and bottom panels are 7/16" thick so that means that the box sides will be proud of them so there's no chance of scarring the panels.  To raise the panels a panel raising jig was used, this is my dedicated tablesaw sled that's set for a 15 degree cut.

15 Degree Panel Raising Jig
    As always, the end grain is cut first because if the grain is going to split out, that's where it'll happen. This is followed by cutting the long grain.  To create the flat section of the panel that fits into the slot, the blade of the tablesaw is set to about 5/16" and the fence is slid over to leave 1/4" on the sides to slip into the slot.

Cutting the Flat Tongue for the Box Slot
     A lot has been accomplished but I'm thinking that this is the easier part of the project.  Before gluing together I will finish the panels with Danish oil and my hand rubbed finish, it's always easier to do this before gluing the box together.  The more difficult part of this project will be to create two recesses or troughs for the three sections of the Celtic flute to fit in to.  I was able to find 100% Merino Wool felt from another Etsy store ( and that's already arrived.  What a difference between it and the blends of wool/rayon you find at the local craft stores -- no comparison!
     Looking forward to finishing this wood, that's when things really start to look good.

Tuesday, November 27, 2012

Forming the Top

Nothing Like a Hand Plane

     The breadboard ends are now secure, the Ebony has been trimmed, and it's time to shape this top.  I want to put just the slightest ellipse on the sides.  The top is 16 1/2" wide and just under 54" long.  Each end is brought down to 15 1/2".  To accomplish that the first thing I did was to create a template from MDF with the radius for one fourth of the top.  To locate it squarely, a straight edge was clamped across the width of the top to first draw the line on one edge, flip it over and get the other edge.  That's repeated for the opposite end and cut on the bandsaw.  To true it up, the template was clamped and a pattern routing bit was used so that all edges begin with the exact, same profile.

Step One of Shaping

     The reason I say I'm starting with the same profile is because there will be a lot of plane work to refine this shape.  The router is just the muscle to rough it out and it will never leave the kind of surface a plane or spokeshave will.  In order to take the lightest cut possible, the first passes were done with a very short pattern bit.

Pattern Routing

     You can see that it won't cut all the way to the bottom of the edge so after several passes with it, I swapped it for the longer bit you see on top of the template.  Once the cut is made with the short bit the template isn't needed any longer -- just use the cut surface of the edge as a guide.
     Next up is to bevel the bottom edge to give a sense of lightness to this piece.  You may recall that I laminated an additional piece to the bottom that was 5/16" thick.  I want this joint to be underneath the tabletop so drew a line 3/8" up from the bottom.  Arbitrarily I ended up measuring in about 3/4" to get the angle that looked good to my eye, turned out to be 65 degrees.

Checking the Angle
     Yes, it turns out to be a lot of planing but there's really nothing that compares to a hand planed surface.  If the profile had been square perhaps a table saw could have removed the bulk of the waste but with the interlocked grain of this Sapele, it could also have ripped  out a chunk!  I find that once I get a rhythm I can hold the angle all the way down.  Even so, I'll check every 4-5 passes to make sure I'm on target.

MDF Scrap to Prevent Blowing Out the End Grain
     The other visual thing to watch is the lines, as long as you approach the lines pretty much at the same time and keep the cut the same distance from them as you work you should be okay.  This was a bit unusual because of the bread board ends.  Generally you'd plane across the grain first which is the end of the board but in this case it isn't.

Entire Edge

     Here you can finally see the entire edge and probably notice the slight ellipse it has.  The taper is only 1/2" from the mid point to the end.  Just enough to add some character as far as I'm concerned.  My process was to use a jack plane first for the roughing work.  Once I got my rhythm I was careful to observe the shavings coming out of the throat.  I figure that if they're even all the was across I'm probably taking an even cut.  However, like I said I do check with the sliding bevel every 4-5 strokes.  As I approached the lines I switched from the jack plane to a smooth plane to finish it off.

     The final bevel is cut across the ends of the top.  To me, this is always kind of a magic part of the process.  You begin by drawing a diagonal line from the inside edge of the bevel to the corner of the piece.

Beginning the End Bevel
     As you continue to plane you watch as your cut gradually approaches the line you've drawn and the corner of the board.  If the picture above looks a bit odd remember it's a breadboard end.  You expect the end grain to be at the end of the board but no --- it's on the edge.  Must admit, looking at the picture threw me off!  As you continue to plane you watch carefully and soon you will have an exact corner.


Walnut Table Bases

The Total View
     It's very unusual for me to be able to see and share a photograph of one of my projects in its entirety.    You may recall that last summer I was working on a job building some table bases for a client who was in the process of a major remodel.  They had a set of three tables with some beautiful Travertine tops but the ornate bases didn't go with their vision for their living room.  They commissioned me to design and build the bases you see in the picture above.  They had promised to send me a photograph of the room when it was complete and here it is!  It's a real treat for me to see one of my projects in its final setting so thought I'd share it with you.

Sunday, November 25, 2012

Installing the Breadboard Ends

Star Jasmine Flower
     Yesterday's work ended with the breadboard ends installed and the top ready for final shape and form.  I don't think I've shown the flower that serves as the inspiration for this piece.  It will be a real challenge to carve this on the drawer fronts and the panel on the shelf that will be at bottom of this table.  Like so many other things we do when working with wood, one slip of the chisel and all of the previous work could be wasted.  That's where what I used to tell my students comes in to play: "the difference between a good woodworker and a not so good one is that the good one has learned how to hide his or her mistakes".  There's a lot of truth in that statement.

     The process started by making the Ebony dowels used for attachment.  I have very little of the Ebony left but wanted to utilize what I could since it makes a nice functional yet decorative accent to the top.  I'm sure this wasn't OSHA approved but I needed to make some small blanks on the bandsaw.

Watch Your Fingers!
     After using a scrap for a zero clearance board I carefully sliced some pieces to just over 1/4" square. Then came the process of making the dowels.  Not as easy or straight forward process as you'd like to think it should be.  Much more than simply driving a square peg through a round hole and coming up with a round peg!  The literature tells you that for best results you should rive the wood to get straight grained pieces to start with -- not possible with my very limited supply of Ebony.  Here's the set-up and process in a nutshell.

Square to Round

     It begins with planing the blank into an octagon shape.  If you look at the picture, to the right of the block plane there's a bench hook with a groove in it that I use to hold the blank to plane it as needed.  My next step is to use a pencil sharpener to taper the end making it easier to hammer through the dowel plate.  That's the fancy looking piece of wood in the center of the table.  I managed to get just enough of the 1/4" pegs for the top, 6 short pieces.  Since I was at it, I used the smaller pieces that remained to make some 3/16" pegs as well.  Even though these are kind of small, they may work to peg the tenons for the apron. Now we get to prepare everything for assembly.
     First up was bringing the breadboard end to thickness.  I left the lay-out tape on the top and then surfaced the end.

Planing End to Size
     My thought was that as long as the tape is there to protect the top I could be a little more aggressive with the smooth plane.  As soon as the tape was cut, it was time to stop.  At this point the holes are drilled in the breadboard end only.  I wanted to draw bore these to create some mechanical pressure.  The first step was to use the 1/4", brad point used to drill the holes as a center punch to mark the holes on the top.

Transferring Holes
     The ends were clamped up tight to the top for this process.  Next, the breadboard ends were removed and I used a scratch awl to move the hole position about 1/32" inch towards the inside.

Locating Hole
 This was then drilled out, a piece of scrap wood was put under the hole to prevent tear out as the bit went through.

     The purpose of a breadboard end is to allow the table top movement inside the slot/mortise.  Wood moves across the grain due to atmospheric and humidity changes.  The only place glue is used is on the center tongue.  For this table, the center tenon is about 5" wide and the mortise it fits into is 1/4" wider on each side.  The same applies to the measurements for mortise and tenons on the outside. Essentially this will allow the table top 1/2" of movement inside of the slot.  Before assembly though, the outer holes need to be elongated so the wood can move as needed.

Marking Slots

     They are first laid out with the marking gauge, this is followed with a round file to elongate the hole.

Round to Oval (more or less)
     The dowels can either go completely through or stop before they come out of the other side which is my preference.  To assemble this a 4" wide stripe of glue was brushed on the center tongue and inside of the tenon.  I put a few drops on glue on the inside of the dowel holes of the breadboard with a toothpick before sliding in place.  Holes were lined up, Ebony pegs were inserted and then driven through.  For the center hole it's okay to have the dowel glued to the hole but since we're after some movement on the outer ones you don't want to glue them tight.  That's why I put just a spot of glue into the stopped hole.  For the outer holes I drive them about 3/4 of the way in and then apply a bit of glue to them.  Hopefully this is enough to only secure them to the upper part of the hole without gluing the tongue.  Draw boring works well to bring the end piece tight against the top.  Once the glue dries the dowels will be cut flush and the shaping will begin -- but that's for another day and blog.

Saturday, November 24, 2012

Breadboard End Beginnings

     I'm working on the Star Jasmine table, a speculation piece in progress;  between visits to the eye doctor plus finishing up a commissioned box.  My eyes got pretty funky as a side effect of a medication the doctor prescribed, not taking that anymore but the eyes haven't improved.  The only good thing about that is it could be a valid excuse for mistakes!
     The 16 1/2" width is probably narrow enough to not need a breadboard but I like to use it to conceal the end grain.  Breadboards require multiple steps to make and can get kind of complicated.  The first step is to cut the full length tongue on both ends of the table top.  This one is 1 3/16" long and will be housed in a 1 1/4" slot.  It's tricky sometimes to get the top and bottom edges lined up exactly when using a router but making this sleeve like guide works well.

Router Guide for Cutting Tongue
     What makes it work so well is that after you cut the one side you simply flip the tabletop over without removing it.  As long as the pieces are lined up accurately the sleeve it's fail proof.  Next up was cutting the slot in the end itself.  Here's where I'm glad I have a hollow chisel mortiser, much quieter than a router and much easier than chopping it out by hand.

Ready for the Slot
     This will be a 3/8" slot, the chalked over lines indicate where to go full depth (1 1/4"), the remainder is for the slot tenon which is about 3/8".  To simplify this operation here's the set up I use:

Depth Stop with Block
     I set the depth stop for the full depth which is 1 1/4".  The stub tenon will only be 3/8 so I cut a spacer that's 7/8" long.  It's the piece of Sapele you see there at the left of the picture.  When I get to the part of the breadboard that only needs the stub portion of the tenon you just put the spacer below the depth stop rod and the depth is automatically set -- works like a charm!
     In a way, I feel as if I'm burning the candle at both ends and working to get to the middle.  I haven't planed the tabletop to its finished size and the thickness of the breadboard end pieces are thicker and longer than needed to!  First step was to semi finish off the table top.  For the top surface I'm using a smooth plane.

Smooth Plane for Top 
      On the bottom surface I figured a cabinet scraper would be sufficient.

Stanley #80 Does the Trick

        To see the tongue lay-out on the breadboard end I love this Frog brand green tape, really lets you see the lines to cut to, especially helpful with my current eye problem!

Tongue Lay-Out on Breadboard 

     You probably notice that the breadboard end is longer than the table is wide.  Those chalk marks on it are the approximate length but I intend to cut an ellipse on the table after the ends are attached.  Found out too that having them extend makes it easier to fit, they're like handles to pull it off with.

Coping Saw for Centers

     The outer sections were removed with a dovetail saw then pared flush as needed.  The inner section was removed with a coping saw.  Then began the trial and error phase of individually fitting each of the ends.
Final Fitting
     Using a rabbet block plane is my favorite method of bringing tenons to size.  On the lower right you can see a test block used to  work it a little bit at a time.  The top isn't completely surfaced so I'll need to do that before bringing the breadboard ends to size.  That will be followed up with the drilling and draw boring the three pegs to secure everything together.  Hope I have enough scraps of Ebony to make them.  The plan is to not only use them on the breadboard but also to have pegged mortise and tenons holding the apron together.  I know with the strength of modern adhesives it really isn't required but I think it adds a very nice, yet subtle, decorative element to the piece.

Tuesday, November 20, 2012

Koda Cremation Box is Finished

Curly Maple with Finger Joints

     I've blogged about the special cremation box I was commissioned to make through my Etsy Store , here is the finished project.  It's always difficult to capture the chatoyance of wood in a photograph but it does show up nicely.  The finish is clear shellac and I'm waiting a few days to rub it out before I ship it to my client.  I use Liberon wax and synthetic  steel wool for that process but want the shellac to cure properly first.  The picture is pretty true to the actual color of the wood which was chosen because it echoes the beautiful coloration of Koda.  Here is his picture, what do you think of the color match?

In Memory of Koda
     These are the types of projects that have a special meaning; not only to the client, but also to me for being able to create something that has a personal meaning for them.  I hope it's exactly what they had in mind to honor their special dog.

Monday, November 19, 2012

Contour Lines Emerge!

Kodapup Box at Top
     One of the things that appealed to my clients for this box was how the lid of the box resembled the lines you'd find on a contour map to indicate the terrain.  Matter of fact, the box that initiated this order was one in a series I had titled Contour Lines.  This picture illustrates how those lines emerge when you begin to cut the wood at an angle.  Selecting the material was the key, notice the difference between the two lids?  The one on the bottom has more of the curly effect instead of the bold grain pattern for the custom box.
      Making this lid is similar to raising a panel for a door.  The center section is first outlined  with a shallow cut on the table saw.  I have a panel raising jig I made that holds the piece at 15 degrees.

Panel Raising at 15 Degrees
     When doing this it's important to cut along the end grain first.  That way any tear-out should be removed when  you finish the operation by cutting with the grain.  I'm cutting the last long edge here.  This is followed by smoothing things out and removing any tell tale saw marks or burning with a block plane.  That's what's shown in the first picture.
     Before I began making the lid I needed to smooth out the fingers on the corners.  Remember the box was assembled last week but since we were out of town for a few days I didn't get to that until yesterday.  Some would be tempted to hit this with a belt sander but I prefer the polished look a good, sharp plane gives to the end grain instead.

Planing Joints Flush
     The difference between the surfaced and unsurfaced fingers is pretty obvious.  Looks like today will be a good day to begin applying the many coats of shellac to this project.  All that remains to be done is the final fitting of the lid so if the weather warms up and I can get to the side of the house before the sun does we'll be in good shape!

Thursday, November 15, 2012

A Special Box for A Special Client

     It's always exciting to me to design a project tailor made for somebody who's asked for it.  When I know some of the story behind the projects purpose it adds much more meaning to it.  I received a convo from my Etsy store site regarding a custom box.  We discussed a few options and I directed them to pictures of boxes I thought might be good examples.  One that really fit the bill was the series I'd titled Contour Lines.  You see, this was to be a cremation box for a very special pet, look at this beautiful dog!

     The reason they liked the Contour Line box is because they had spent a lot of time running through mountains together, also the coloration of the wood (Curly Maple) bore a resemblance to Koda's coat.  Once we decided that this was the style of box that would be suitable the next step was to find the materials.  Lucky for me, Peterman Lumber here in Las Vegas had one board in their warehouse.  Look at the beautiful figure in this piece.

The Box to Be
      I just love the chatoyance this piece of wood shows.  Chatoyance has to do with the way the light reflects the grain of the wood, I've also seen it referred to when talking about gems like a cat eye.  I decided to go ahead and make a couple of smaller boxes to add to the store at the same time.  This box will be finger jointed and have a lift off lid.  For the Koda box I decided it was best to plane it down to about 7/16" in thickness.  Cremains tend to be fairly heavy and I wanted the box to be substantial enough.  For the additional boxes I went ahead and re-sawed the piece.  I love the marking gauge I made using the blade from Hamilton tools:

Ready for Re-Sawing
     It makes such a nice mark, screwed it up though when I penciled over it to make it show more for the picture!  When I re-saw a piece of wood I'll scribe a line from both sides.  Most 4/4 wood comes in at 25/32" so scribing in 3/8" from each side usually leaves just enough for the saw kerf.

Jet's Pivot Point

    When doing one or two boards I find it's easy enough to guide it against a pivot point like the one that attaches to the fence of my bandsaw.  If my cut is pretty accurate it will yield two boards that are 5/16" thick which is sufficient for a decorative box used for jewelry or other small keepsakes.

     The next step is to cut the pieces to size. For this I prefer to use a sliding sled on the tablesaw.  The only way to ensure a square box is to make certain that the two opposing pieces are exactly the same size.  A feature of a custom box is that the grain of the wood flows around the edges and follows the natural grain of the board.  Here's my technique.

Cutting Box Sides
     Since you can't set a stop block for the two long sides and cut them at the same time my technique is to go ahead and set the stop for the longest piece.  In this case it was approximately 8".  The short sides were approximately 6" long.  I cut the long piece first and then added the 2" spacer you see in the picture above.  It's the small piece between the clamped on block and the end of the board being cut. This allows you to cut the short piece, next; remove the spacer to cut the second long piece, put it back and now you can cut the remaining short piece.  Always important to mark the boards so you put them back together the right way.

Preparing the Sides

Here are the pieces for the Koda box being planed prior to assembly.  The very thing that makes the wood look so beautiful is the same thing that makes it difficult to work.  A very small throat opening and a freshly sharpened blade were required with the smooth plane -- love those fine shavings!  The figure in the wood is caused  by the grain being either interlocked or reversing back on itself.

At the same time, here are the sections for the other two boxes.  See how the grain will be continuous all the way around the box when it's glued together?  The Koda box is clamped together so that I can cut the dado for the bottom.  Once the surface has been prepared by planing I use tape to identify which  piece goes where and also which way is up.

Getting Close to Assembly
     Ended the day with fitting the bottom and gluing the box together.  I prefer using Liquid Hide Glue for finger joints.  It cleans up easy and has a longer open time than polyvinyl glues.  The trick I use when the weather is colder like it is now, is to run hot water over the glue bottle first.  The heat reduces the viscosity and makes it very easy to spread the glue on each finger.

Glued Up & Waiting
     This will dry at least overnight and then it's on to find just the right section of wood to create the top.  The goal is to find one that will show a great collection of contour like markings to remind my client of the mountains and hills she used to share with Koda.