Friday, April 25, 2008

Entrance Bench

One of the difficulties with the blog is the upkeep. Its easier to keep up to date with my current projects as they come in. It's the past projects that are unique and I've enjoyed that I have difficulty finding the time to write about. The entrance bench is one of those.

At first glance, it appears like a bench (photos down at the bottom). Arms, back, storage space. The back slats were drawn kind of strangely, but pretty straight forward. As it turns out, the construction and parts were all over the place.

It seems as though we had made one of these once before, but only one as far as I could tell. Fortunately one of the guys remembered the name of the customer who bought it (from 8 years ago) so we could go pull the folder and look at it. The back slat drawing was actually specified there, so we were able to get the exact slat pattern and spacing.

Then I started to examine the structure of the piece. There were the back legs, cut down versions of our Hampton legs. Front legs were pretty much standard Hampton. Arms, Hampton arms, but since Hampton chairs are wider in the front than the back (not so with the straight sides of the bench) I had to modify those as well. The backrest fit over the top of the legs as a cap, not between as most of our chair construction. The back of the bench was to be finished, along with the sides in our Craftsman style. And finally, they wanted the storage space to be accessed via fold-up doors.

So, I had to learn the different styles and how those parts are normally made in the shop (jigs and measurements and such) and then adapt them to fit this particular piece.

One of the more interesting things was the seat and the arms. With straight sides, and those arms, the accepted procedure in the past was to leave one arm off, have the piece finished, attach the seat, and then attach the last arm. They wanted to avoid this for re-upholstering down the road, as you cannot remove the seat without removing the arm. I had to create a seat blank with kerf cuts in the bottom to be able to flex the seat in and out around the arms.

I believe I ended up with a few random construction techniques through the piece, and looking back I don't know how I would have changed it, but I do remember it being awkward to assemble.

The bottom of the storage space was a 2" fixed shelf (2" hardwood strips afixed to a sheet of 3/4" plywood). The center post on the front and back was mortised into the shelf and the bar above. The shelf was glued and screwed to the legs, but the top bar was mortised into the legs. The sides were created as an entire piece, and then splined into the front and back legs.

The worst part of the whole thing was the storage space with the fold-up doors. I would have voted drawers over doors so that nothing could get lost in the depths of the bench. We were able to use our pocket door mechanisms (we normally put them on entertainment units) to get the doors to fold up and retract out of the way.

If I were to build one without restrictions, I'd have a divided space with drawers, no arms, and hope I could come up with a simpler construction method.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

In Honor of Earth Day

Happy Earth Day everyone! On this particular day I plan on doing nothing out of the ordinary. This just happens to be one day out of the year where the rest of the world's actions lines up with my own.

I recycle, conserve energy, am in the process of planting my own garden, try to get roommates and others I know to follow my example. Now that the weather is nice, I'll be taking the bike in to work instead of the car.

The area where I fail the earth is work. My chosen profession is directly linked to the world's deforestation. We also create a lot of sawdust, with is particulate matter pollution. And we aren't the most energy efficient shop either.

All of these things are hard to change in an automatic shop environment, especially one as large as ours that has been running for so long. For myself, in my future endeavors, I can change that. Running equipment only when needed and turning it off when not in use is easy with a one man shop. Moving from power tools to hand tools can cut down on the amount of sawdust created. Harvesting local trees has less impact on the world's forests, and making sure to replant or working with mills with replanting programs helps renew the forests.

Until then, I'll just keep doing what I can.

Monday, April 21, 2008

Baptismal Stand

When a Presbyterian Church in NW DC wants a Baptismal Stand built to fit in with their Stickley furniture (apparently), they come to us.

I heard about it as it came into the shop a few weeks ago, and it came to me last week. Since it is for a church, Mark has been dealing with a committee, with all that entails. His only guidelines were: he wanted to double check my template for the legs before I cut them, and just to "make it perfect".

Structurally it has a lot in common with the copper coffee table I build in February. Cross braces under the top and shelf, outer skirts at the top for extra rigidity and style. The unique parts are the 1 5/8" thick octagonal top, and 1 1/2" thick octagonal shelf. The top is also getting a route to center and stabilize the bowl.

I spent some time in the computer room programing out the CNC to cut out the top and shelf, which is interesting work. Since I don't do programing often, I'm going to have one of the regular programing guys double check my work.

I'm finding that the center route for the bowl to be the hardest part to the whole process. I imagined that it would be some sort of ceramic bowl with a foot that would be easily measured and duplicated in the top. However, it is a swirly glass bowl without a foot, so I get to play the guess and check game until we find the diameter and depth of the route that match the contour of the bowl bottom.

Pictures thus far:

Before and after the upper skirts were attached

the bowl, and lower arched braces detail

Tomorrow we get the route figured out, then cut out the top and shelf. Then after it gets stained and shot, I'll have another round of photos.

Weekend Wrap-up

So, good weekend. Not as much sleep as I would have liked, nor enough spoon carving. I worked on a few spoons that are nearly complete, started the bowls on a couple, and worked a bit on my ladles. The rest of the time we spent reminding teenagers to turn off lights and close doors, and to try and not kill each other.

There was a bit of boating (canoes and kayaks), some bicycle rides, and some rock climbing (an Eagle Scout put a 30' rock wall up last summer, so I had fun climbing it 4 times).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Spoons at the Eastern Shore

We are off to the Eastern Shore this weekend. Mostly to help out on a
youth retreat, but really just to be outside and carve spoons.

I'll update with some photos of what we get done after we get back.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

The Business

I have held the belief, for a while now, that it does not always pay to be an employee. I have the dream to own my own business, leaning more toward the one man operation than to have to figure out how to have employees. And only in the past couple of years have I narrowed down the dream to include the "what". A woodworking business.

The original thought was to make fine furniture; i.e. just take what I'm doing now but do it for myself. That dream was enough to encompass other desires of mine as well, mainly stained glass and blacksmithing. I could build the cabinets, make decorative art glass for them, as well as my own unique set of hinges and handles.

Then, with attending these local craft festivals, and renn faires, the idea has morphed into a craft fair circuit. Making the wood kitchen items (cups, bowls, spoons, and cutting boards) and having a booth at various events.

Yet another, smaller, morph took place when I renewed my interest in titanium and chainmaille jewelry. This was another thing that ties into the renn faires, is a little unique, and falls neatly into the scope of my Studio.

As of now, I see myself being an artist in a variety of medium. Wood, jewelry, stained glass (when I have more time to play with it), and blacksmithing (when I take the time to learn it). They are all 'olde timey' pursuits, and tie in neatly to the renn faire. And since I have yet to figure out how to market titanium jewelry and wooden goblets in the same booth at the same event, I think I'll be working as a wood guy at some events, and jewelry at others.

So, because I'll be at renn faires and need to blend in, and because I am good with my hands, and have a crazy need/desire to make the things I use, I will be making most of my booth. The tent (oak lockmitred legs with dyed canvas), seating (three legged camp type stools probably from maple), jewelry displays (freestanding wood backerboard with holes to hang things from) display tables (if I can only figure out how to make them so they will store and transport flat), and table top benches and bowl vices (small versions of woodworking benches that clamp to a table top).

I also wanted to make my own wooden business cards, but that may be a little trickier than I'd like to do myself for the time being.

I did however have an idea for description/price tags. Two contrasting woods, with dovetail routes, and butterfly splines holding it together. I was able to slice off 1/16" sections that are fairly stable. The problems are, because it is so thin and end grain it will crack if not careful. My butterfly splines are really close, but could be just a little bit tighter. I think I used just not quite enough glue. And because they were cut on the bandsaw they are a little rough, which I intended to take a light pass through the table sander on each side to smooth things out. Unfortunately the feed rollers on the table sanders apply too much pressure to the thin wafers.

If I can figure out how to smooth them a bit, as well as try to apply a thin acetate film to the back, I think they will be great.

Monday, April 14, 2008

A Difference of Opinion

Work has a lot of standards and guidelines. Dresser drawer faces should be glued up as a panel that flows together and then cut out, instead of a one board per face approach. Knots, sapwood, mineral deposits, etc. are considered defects and should be hidden or not used. Tops should be made from boards no narrower than 3" and shouldn't have more than a few inches of difference in width over the span of the top. Every board we use should be the "typical" representation of that species, so that we match what may already be at our customers homes, or so we can match their future orders.

So, I thought I was on the right track with this table top. It is unacceptable, however. Not "bad" but not good either. The grain (with its typical cathedrals) speaks cherry to me, but not to the company.

Its another case of me finding beauty in the wood because it is wood. Most of the defects that are avoided in the industry attract me. Knots, when structurally sound, mineral streaks and deposits, and sapwood are all beautiful, and I try not to shy away from them.

I recently had an opportunity to make a sappy cherry rocking chair, with heavy mineral deposits, and a couple of knots here and there. And while I chose wood with an eye toward defects, I didn't necessarily try to match everything. It turned out wonderfully. All the "mis-matched" parts actually matched. When sapwood came through it look as thought I planned exactly where it would appear, but I didn't. I just didn't let it frighten me away.

I like telling the story of curly maple (also known as fiddleback or tiger maple). Because of the way the tree grows, it has these high and low spots that catch the light, and it gives it a ripple or curl look. For many, many years, the curl was considered a defect because it was too hard to work with hand tools. Only recently has this defect come to be prized, and curly woods (it happens in other trees as well) are sought after, and command a higher price.

Now, I have met ugly boards, and I try to stay away from them, but most of what I find absolutely beautiful I have to set aside, and save for my own projects.

Saturday, April 12, 2008

More Goblets

I spent a few hours this morning making some new goblets. I think I've finally gotten down a good technique and routine for goblets.

First I'm getting the hang of using the hollowing tool. I also found the tailstock chuck, so I can use a drill bit to remove a good chunk from the inside, as well as hit the depth I like.

I've also gone from completely turning the outside, stem and all, first, to shaping the cup, defining where the stem should start and stop, doing the inside, and then coming back to finish the stem. This leaves a lot more wood for stability while turning the inside, and I don't have to use the bearings to steady the goblet anymore. Which means I don't have to worry about creating windows in my cups, like here.

So, here they are. A slender mahogany cup, with added maple foot, that holds around 6 oz. And a nice little solid maple cup that holds around 5 oz.

Next step is the exopy resin coating, and a month for curing. While those are curing, I can figure out my next project, a commissioned mahogany coffee cup with handle. Its the handle that is going to be tricky.

Thursday, April 10, 2008

A Simple Device

With the success of creating chainmaille earrings, came a few things. First, a need to get non-chainmaille supplies (pendants, earring hooks, clasps). Second, a desire to not have to bother with extra suppliers and try to get everything from one place.

Sadly, the Ring Lord doesn't have everything I could want. They have titanium, and niobium, and aluminum, some clasps and earring hooks, but alas, no pendants. They do have a curious device to make your own earring hooks. After seeing that, I wanted one, to make hooks from whatever I was making earring out of. After looking around a bit, and finding out how it worked, I wanted to make my own.

I'm a bit crafty, as people who know me will attest, and I have some skills to go with my knowledge and craftiness. I'm no machinist, so I couldn't make it out of a block of metal, with spring loaded guides and such. So a block of wood, a pin, and a couple of the right sized drill bits gets me close enough.

Which works pretty well. One side is 1 1/2", the other I'll cut down to 2". This will be great for different length shanks. The other thing I'll need is not so tall (or sharp) drill bit 'pins'.

And here are the results. Three fairly uniform hooks, of the appropriate size. The only thing my device doesn't do is the eye. Maybe I'll have to get one of the machined ones so that it can "do the eye perfect everytime". But in the meantime, I can do for myself.

Wednesday, April 9, 2008

Leftover Niobium

The first time that I ordered titanium, I also picked up some samples of anodized niobium. They had very bright color, were a little bit thinner gauge wire, and had a little bit of spring back when I was working with them.

I made a few bracelets and necklaces, but because it was thinner, and because of the springy-ness of rings it was a little hard to work with. I did have some left over, and decided to spend some time tonight turning them into mobius balls.

I made some 5 ring rainbow balls, some solid paired balls, and some 3 color paired balls. They look like little chainmaille roses all lined up on my table.

Hidden dangers

Everyone knows that a woodshop is not the safest of work environments. Every woodworker knows that every tool has the potential to be an elaborate limb/digit remover. Even if you aren't a woodworker, you can tell that the big, loud, spinning blades are something to be wary of.

And while we have had a number of of those types of accidents at the shop, there are all those other "hidden" dangers of a woodshop.

Handtools can be just as sharp, and can just as easily become dangerous if you aren't paying attention. You probably won't loose a finger from a handplane or chisel, you can do a fair amount of damage if you aren't careful.

Then there is the wood itself. It's dense, and heavy, and requires paying attention to how you go about lifting it. Or paying attention to where your feet are when the corner of a dining table slips off the clamps.

In its un-milled form, you can pick up quite a number of splinters if you aren't careful. And then there are the edges. When we work with wood, we are trying our best to get the exact size that we want, as well as perfect 90 degree corners on everything. That means that every edge and corner are a crips 90 degrees, and can give you the larger version of a papercut.

Fortunately for me, my accidents come on the tamer side of the spectrum. I'm pretty focused and aware of the 'spinning blades of death' around me, and even of the handtools while I'm using them. Its all the little things that get me. Like droping the corner of a dining table on the top of my foot, or the elaborate papercut. I'll nick myself with a chisel when I'm just holding it, and not trying to cut anything. The one that always hurts the most though, is when I kick a pipeclamp that I'm only half aware of being there. And while my shin hurts for a while, the pain comes mostly from being a spaz, and knowing that I could have avoided it if I just look where I'm going.

Monday, April 7, 2008

Chainmaille Weekend

I've had a busy/productive weekend of chainmaille. I've figured out that the oven doesn't get hot enough to heat oxidize titanium, even 3" from the broiler for ~1 hour. So propane torch is the way to go.

I've also spent some time with my design consultant (Kelley) picking through various jewelry making paraphernalia to expand my jewelry niche. They will eventually make it up onto the chain jewelry page of the website, when I have a bit of time to crop, and resize, and make thumbnails, and descriptions...all fun back end web stuff. As always, click on the image to get a larger, more detailed photo.

The first pair. Green, violet, and dark blue/purple mobius balls looped together with oval links. Simple, highly customizable earrings.

Here we have mobius balls with a dangle pendant that I really like.

Mobius balls with iridescent crystal. I like the mobius ball. There are two versions. One where pairs of rings (3 pairs usually) intersect with the other pairs, the other where 5 or 6 rings (depending on the density of the ball) intersect every other ring.

These are a variation on the byzantine weave, which I haven't had any experience with. And yes, I do like these crystals too. The iridescence lets them match well to a variety of titanium's colors, and I just like the small and simple teardrop shape.

The byzantine without the crystal, in the bronze shade of anodized ti.

Mobius ball on ear threaders.

A flat heart I made for Kelley the first time I had titanium. Would make a good pendant for the right chain.

A green double twist/spiral bracelet, this time with a bar and loop clasp

Ok, there may be a couple more that I worked on, I told you I was busy, but they will have to wait for the website. The nice thing about earrings like these, is that it they aren't very labor intensive, once you have the wire turned into rings.

The only thing left to do, according to Kelley, is learn that some people like larger earrings. I like the small simple stuff, and am hesitant to use bigger crystals, or even some interesting pewter pendants that we saw, on earrings.

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Musing in Titanium

While a headpiece for Kelley was high on the titanium list, and I have started it, it is still far from completion. Instead I've been spending a little time making bracelets, which seem to be my primary trick.

Two rainbow bracelets made with the anodized titanium.

I've also tried my hand at heat oxidation. With a few leftover cinder blocks, and a random square of concrete out in the backyard I've stacked up a little 'forge' area. Add to that a propane torch, and you've got a recipe for some good heat oxidation.

The colors have dulled a little bit from when I was heating them, but it was very easy to accomplish. The colors appeared in very short time, and the side closest to the flame colored differently than the side further away.

I think my next heat experiment will be in an oven, and see what kind of color distribution we can get

Wednesday, April 2, 2008


I know I'm spoiled. When it comes to woodworking I have access to a fairly large shop with a lot of really nice machinery. Two sliding table saws, dedicated blind dovetail machines, and the biggest bandsaw I've ever seen.

When I see in Fine Woodworking tips and jigs to do this or that, I get a little sinking feeling, knowing that one day I won't have access to a machine that does exactly what their jigs and tricks end up doing.

So, while I am saving a lot of these articles intended for the home shop, I am also spoiling myself further with my love of hand tools.

There is this large part of me that wants very few power tools, to do the brunt work, and have at least the same square footage dedicated to hand tools to do most of the work with.

I like the convenience of power tools, don't get me wrong, but they are noisy, take up a lot of space, and are incredibly expensive. And hand tools have this beauty and allure to them. Besides, it seems that power tools (mostly) just make cheap (sometimes) knock-offs of the beautiful hand worked pieces of the not-so-distant past.

Or so I feel at times.

Which isn't to say that hand tools aren't expensive either. Especially the good ones. Lie Nelson hand planes for example. Or this block plane system. Which I covet.

I want to hand cut dovetails, and utilize a whole host of hand planes to flatten a dining room table. Admittedly I will probably one ever want to do that once, for the dining table for my own house. But who knows, I may love it so much that I do it for every panel I put together.

Carving the bench gave me a lot of satisfaction. Of getting right in to the wood, making sure everything was sharp, and making it 'personal'. I get that same sort of feeling from turning as well. Even though the lathe is a power tool, that's not the tool. All the hand sharpened tools, choosing the right one for the right cut, and getting up close and personal with the wood you are working on.

It is infectious. If only I had endless resources to get all the hand tools I could ever want, and and endless supply of extra time to master each one. I guess I'll just have to start slowly, and give it the time I can. I guess that's what lifetimes are for.