Monday, April 11, 2016

Asian Inspired Shelf - Part 1

I received a commission from my uncle to build a natural edged shelf for his bedroom.  It will hang on the wall above the TV.  What we decided to do was design it after the style of furniture he has in his room which has Asian stylistic elements, and is an ebony color.

My first order of business was actually to strip off the bark.  I know that sounds like the most heinous crime, but I have read many articles on working with boards with bark inclusions, and many have argued that keeping the bark can lead to it flaking or falling off, or potentially harboring pests.  The bark peeled off very easily which made me feel better about my decision to remove it, as it could very easily have fallen off.  

My next task was to establish the width of the board, and rip it to width.  Neither edge would have worked as a reference edge very well due to the bark, so I snapped a chalk line along the bark to have an idea of what that edge would look like if it was sawn straight at the mill.  I then measured the width from that line, and snapped another line.  That line would be the one I would saw.

A wedged kerf
Sometimes wide boards like these that are kiln dried have a lot of tension stored in them, and when you cut them it is released.  This can lead to binding on the saw plate.  To reduce the friction on my saw plate, I rubbed paraffin wax on it, but this particular board had a great amount of tension, and it was a very long cut, so that did not suffice. I drove a wedge into the saw kerf to open the kerf a little more, and make room for the width of the saw.  This helped tremendously.

The shelf, milled s5s

Thursday, March 17, 2016

Shadow Boxes – My First Commission

Earlier this year, I was given the task to build a pair of shadow boxes for my neighbors' young boys. The boxes would display the boys' Harry Potter magic wands.  I believe on of the wands was Dumbledore's and the other was Voldemort's.  The boxes were to be skinny but long, with a hinged hinged door or lid with a glass pane, a felt trimmed interior, and hooks to hang the wands upon.

I used a cherry plank I had kicking around left over from when I built the bed last year.  It is a very stable board because of how long it had been sitting around adjusting to my house's climate. I got a pane of glass from a hardware store and a glass cutter.

I needed a way to hold the back into the box, so I rabbeted the back edges of the box sides.  This meant that I needed to conceal the rabbets so they were not visible from the outside of the box.  To do this, joined the box together with mitered corner dovetails.  I cut one dovetail and a straight tail at each corner.  To cut the miter, a 45° line is marked on the edge of the board from the inside corner, where the baseline meets the inside face, to the opposite corner, where the face of the board meets the end.  I purposely cut a tiny bit away from the line, so that the joint errs towards not seating all the way and then I saw the corner away until the joint seats.  I'll try to make a video of this process next time a project I'm working on demands this joint.

The lid uses miters to hold the corners together, which I reinforced by cutting a kerf into the corner and gluing veneer into the kerf.  This edge grain to edge grain glue joint is a very strong bond.  The lid pieces are grooved in their edges to hold the 3/32 inch thick glass panel.  

The bottoms of the boxes are lined with colored felt which corresponds to the house colors of each wand's owner.  Dumbledore, as I learned, is from the Gryffindor house, and the box for his wand is lined with red felt and gold hooks hold up his wand.  Voldemort is from Slytherin house, and the box for his wand is lined with green felt.  

These boxes were finished with a 3:1 mixture of mineral spirits to polyurethane varnish.  I love this finish for cherry for a number of reasons.  Cherry usually starts out a pinkish-orange color, and turns brownish-red with age.  This finish brings out the deep, dark cherry color I love almost immediately, and it only gets darker and warmer with age.  I have used a varnish and mineral spirits blend on a number of other species, but it works wonders for cherry, and not as much for the other woods I have tried it on.  I applied several coats of varnish to the boxes, rubbing it down with grey scotch brite to get rid of any dust particles stuck in the finish.  This process produced a semi-glossy surface, and very smooth.  I decided to leave it at that and not add any wax because I was satisfied with the surface quality, and they won't see a lot of wear, so the wax's protective properties aren't required.  I truly enjoyed this project.  It was a great first commission because it was manageable, yet challenging.  I am very grateful to my first customers for giving me this opportunity, and I look forward to more experiences like it.

Queen Anne Lowboy

I have been very excited to bring you this post for quite some time.  In June, I took a class at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts with Phil Lowe on building a Queen Anne lowboy.  Over the course of a week most of us completed the frame and shaped all four legs. At the end of the week, I had a lot of work to do.

My first task was to glue the table together after I had mortised the drawer runners into the back. Then there were sixteen dovetailed corners to make.  I had to flush the post blocks to the aprons, make the knee blocks, and flatten the top and make the thumbnail molding.

Upon Phil's suggestion, I deviated from the plans, and chose to veneer the drawer fronts and add herringbone inlay.  I chose crotch mahogany veneer for the bottom drawers, and curly mahogany veneer for the top drawer.  Phil made the herringbone inlay by cutting a thin strip of walnut at a steep angle so the grain runs about 60° to the edges. I took over from there by sawing the stock into 1/16 inch strips which, when placed flat, the grain runs diagonal to the edges. The inlay is cleaned up, mitered at the ends, and glued into rabbets along the perimeter of the drawer's face to border the veneer.  Then another piece is placed outside of that one, with the grain running opposite the first inlay border.  This created the herringbone effect.

I finished the lowboy with ten thin coats of garnet shellac.  The dark finish brought out the depth of the walnut, and enhanced the grain.  The many thin coats resulted in a smooth, shiny surface.  I then added two coats of paste was for added protection, and for an even smoother texture.

This was an amazing class, and a fantastic experience.  I learned a lot and met a lot of great people. Watching Phil at work is truly something to behold.  He devoted an enormous amount of attention to his students, and taught us techniques he has used for over forty years.  I could not have built this piece of furniture without his help, and I am very fortunate to have had this opportunity right when I was beginning to expand my woodworking experience into period furniture styles.

Monday, March 14, 2016

Mahogany Jewelry Box

Sorry about yet another delay in my blog activity.  This time it was due to technical difficulties with uploading photos onto my computer.  I have a host of exciting new projects to post about, starting with this one.  In October, I made a dovetailed jewelry box out of mahogany with a lift out tray.  This was destined to go to a very special recipient.  It was a birthday present for Courtney, my girlfriend.

I decided to use five dovetails for the box, the outside tails are narrower than the middle three.  It serves double duty as both a design element as well as the housing for the groove that holds the bottom and lid inside the box.  

Because I used grooves to hold the bottom and lid instead of separate units, I needed to hide the grooves.  I thought of a number of solutions to this, and finally decided to rabbet the ends of the tailboard about flush with the groove's bottom.  This meant that the groove was eliminated from view, inside and out.  There were drawbacks to this solution, most notably that the tails became only about 3/16 of an inch thick.  I figured that the box will see minimal abuse; therefore, the extra thin tails wouldn't be a problem.

I used the same strategy for concealing the groove in the lift out tray

The tray nests inside the larger box, flush with the top edge.
The lift out tray nests inside the larger box, and contains the bottom with grooves and uses the same method of concealing the grooves with a rabbet.  It rests on mitered slats glued to the inside faces of the box.  These slats were carefully fitted to the inside dimensions, mitered, and then precisely fitted for width so that the tray has a continuous surface to sit on.  

The bottom is lined with felt 

The tray was intentionally sized larger than the space it occupies in order to be fitted later.  I achieved a precise fit by taking shavings from the tray's faces until it coasted down on a cushion of air.

I finished the box with shellac and wax.  My first step in this process was to lightly sand any imperfections out of the surface with 400 grit paper.  Then I brushed on a coat of garnet shellac.  The garnet shellac really brings out the depth of the mahogany.  I then rubbed the finish with #0000 steel wool in between coats.  In all, there were six coats of garnet shellac.  I followed that up with paste wax.  I place a scoop of paste wax in a rag, and work it across the surface, letting the wax seep through the cloth which coats the surface in a very thin film.  The wax enhances the texture of the wood and gives the exterior an incredibly smooth texture. 

This jewelry box was a fun, small project.  I love making boxes because they are simple, yet stimulating, and very practical.  My first project was a jewelry box, and I learned a lot from that, and each box I have made since then, I learn something new.  When all was said and done, I was very excited to give it to Courtney, and she was delighted and surprised when she saw it.  I would recommend something like this as a first dovetailed piece for anyone who is looking to put their dovetailing skills to use.  It's small and manageable, yet rewarding nonetheless!