Wednesday, June 25, 2008

Shinto Bench

On and off for the past 3+ weeks, when I haven't been working on the new sofa, I've been working on what I have dubbed the Shinto Bench.

It was finally decided by the powers that be, that we (meaning the Design Team, aka me) need to have actually produced something. Since 2 of the 6 benches are for customers, they have been jumped up to the top of the priority list, and I have been working on them solidly for the past week.

They are a simple bench that echo the lines (in my eye at least) of Shinto Shrines and Temples. Simple in looks, and basic construction techniques, but actually turned out to be quite involved.

All of the tenons were through tenons, where the tenon penetrates through the legs and seat. The seat tenons will be flushed up, and have a wedge of ebony, while the stretcher tenons are left proud and are keyed with more ebony.

The mortises in this case were better served to be square, made with a hollow chisel mortiser. The hollow chisel, a sharp chisel blade on 4 sides, with a drill bit in the center, echoes the construction technique of yore, where they would drill out the waste wood first, and then come back and square everything up with a chisel. The hollow chisel mortiser does take some getting used to; making sure that everything is lined up just so, cutting just over halfway through, and then flipping, and cutting from the opposite side, leaving you with a clean surface.

To complicate all of this, the legs are splayed in both directions, necessitating the tenons going into the seat to be cut in with compound angles, which seemed simpler than cutting the mortise other than straight. The leg mortises were cut with only one angle, so the tenons could be straight with only an angled shoulder.

Then the tenons were cut by hand, with a tablesaw and dado blade, then mortised in the tenon to allow for the key. The seat was cut with our CNC router, with required a bit of tricky programming of what turned out to be 1/4 of a sine wave. Fortunately, I laid this problem to one of our showroom guys, who happens to have a background in engineering and a love of calculus, and he set me up with the equation I needed.

It was only after everything was cut and finished (for 6 benches) that I could clean one up enough to dry fit, and hope I was accurate enough for it to go together.

Fortunately, the dry fit went fine. Unfortunately, it is not easy making sure each tenon fits into each mortise. There is a lot of sanding of tenon faces, and paring of mortise cheeks until the proper fit is found.

I am pleased that it is all coming together, and that I've had the opportunity to experiment with non-traditional wood. The long cherry bench was requested as Artistic Sapwood cherry, where I was to select an interesting board with sapwood, and sort of bookmatch it into a seat. It may be a bit hard to see in the photo, but the sapwood runs down the middle of the seat, lightening in the center where we cut down into the heart. It was to be a bit rustic. I followed through with that same thought for the other customer's bench, in walnut. In this case, there was more sapwood, so the only heart left on the bench is in the 4 corners.

Too bad I didn't think to make one for myself, I do really like them. I just don't want to ever have to make them again for any reason.

Monday, June 23, 2008

An Overabundance of Logs

Sudden and severe thunderstorms are sort of the norm in the Mid-Atlantic region during June and July. Tornado warnings aren't unheard of, but I remember hearing about them maybe once a year, and sometimes not at all. This year, it seems as though every other T-storm has tornado warning associated with it.

With all this crazy wind and rain branches and limbs are coming down all over the place, which gives me a great opportunity to get green wood to experiment with.

Yesterday I got some walnut logs and branches, as well as an elm branch, a dogwood trunk section, and some type of fruitwood.

Then there is the limb that came down in our own backyard. The landlord cut it up, and stacked it against the fence, and there are a few sections that I have my eye on. I've also got some maple being held for me from a downed limb at a friends house.

One of the things I'm looking forward to is trying out different woods than what I have access to at the shop. The other things is turning the green wood, and then letting it distort as it dries.

Thursday, June 12, 2008

And, We're Off

Tuesday's design collaboration came up with a good looking couch frame. I then "sculpted", sanded, and reassembled the couch so that it may go out to our Rockville showroom.

We're having a second back cushion made, as the complaint on the top of the list (so far) is that the back is too hard/stiff. I'm personally not terribly in love with the bullnose on the arm, and we still need to pin down the edge treatment for the rest of the frame.

We'll do all that after we get a few weekends worth of input from out customers. If you happen to be in Rockville MD, come by the Hardwood Artisans showroom and sit in it.

Monday, June 9, 2008

Couch Prototype

Most of what I've been working on, when I haven't been hiding from heat stroke, has been the prototype couch. The Mark I was entirely build from plywood, to get the basic dimensions and feel.

After getting the upholstery back, we had round 1 of sitting and adjusting, which consisted of 8 people sitting and giving their opinions, some more detailed than others, and concluded with the need for 2 more inches of back padding, more slender arms, and a seat pitch adjustment. Round 2 had 10 (maybe more) people getting grilled on the feel of the couch, and concluded with a need to drop the arm by 3/4", as well as the whole couch by 3/4".

Thursday I did a little AutoCAD drawing, trying to nail down the aesthetics, and tie it into the Mid-Century Line. My ideas seemed to be somewhat well received, which gives me some encouragement to this whole design thing.

Today, we started in on the Mark II. Solid wood, finalizing dimensions and construction methods (even though we are just screwing this one together, we are thinking of how the "real" versions will be put together), and getting ready to sculpt.

The Mark I with uphostery, Mark II waiting for upholstery.

I've also finally gotten around to photographing the cubes
Cherry by itself, and the scrap box stacked atop the cherry.

and the sink stand lacquered and with chrome bars attached.

Sunday, June 1, 2008

Film Star, Design Team, and Cubes

Even though I haven't been posting recently, it has not been from lack of content. Let's start with the Cubes.

I got to be a part of the idea, and implementation of the Cubes. 13 1/2" 4-sided cubes, that could be modular. Get 2 and put them side by side and they can function as a coffee table. Need the floor space, separate them and use them as end tables. Get a few more, and stack them against the wall and you have a bookcase.

I did a bit of research (mostly just happening across similar items online and collating them), the idea was well received, and given the green light. I then happened across an article for Scrapile. A Brooklyn based company that was creating high-end furniture out of scraps from New York's woodworking industry. I thought that would be perfect for a Cube.

Unfortunately, my skills were deemed to valuable in Cube production, so they were handed off to one of our up and coming craftsman. I did get to make the scrap panels for the solitary scrap Cube prototype, in which I learned that its harder than it seems like it would be.

Now that the Cubes have been put together I'll have to get some photos, so you have that to look forward to.

In the mean time you can all try to picture me as a Film Star. 2 weeks ago I was asked to participate as a background figure while some customers were interviewed and filmed for an info-mentary. It turns out that there wasn't really room in the shot for background figures, so mostly I helped with the prop and set work (moving furniture and lights around wherever they wanted for filming). But then they wanted some interviews for employees, so reluctantly I was put on film talking about actually making this stuff.

I am told I did well, that I have 'a presence', and that I know what I'm talking about and that I am passionate about it, so that it comes through well. All I know is that I was nervous, and still don't think I like being the focus of a camera.

So that leaves, the Design Team. I've been moved over to the newly created Design Team, in which we are going to develop some new products, filling out at least one of our product lines, and maybe redoing some of our current products. I am, at the moment, the only member of the Design Team. I will be getting to work with a 2nd craftsman when he finishes his current projects.

As my first task for Design Team, I was to make some promotional pencil cups. Being not very difficult, I was able to over two half-days. The second, and much more difficult task, was to design a Mid-Century Classic Sofa. We had some photos of a Scandinavian designed couch, a desk bookcase and filedrawer already in that line to match it too, and a couple of discussions of elements we'd like to see in the sofa.

I started designing and drawing on the computer, to get ideas down and concrete. At some point it was decided that the concept phase needed to be in realspace, so we could tweak the comfort of the couch and actually sit on it, then develop the aesthetics to tie it into the Mid-Century Classic style.

So I've been making a plywood sofa back to be padded and upholstered. Not very easy. There were a few false starts, a couple of good ideas, and then the impracticality of those ideas when I actually got to trying to bend 1/4 luan around some not-so-gentle curves.

So I have a back that I'm not so sure of, that happens to be 2" too long, as I neglected to resolve the armrest overhang problem satisfactorily before I actually began the back construction.

This just reiterates what I already knew, which is that designing is tricky business. Made trickier by that fact that I am not the final authority on this project. When doing my own designs I am beholden only to my own ideas and ideals, which I can change to suit whatever obstacle I encounter.

On this project I am on the front lines, and while I do have input, I have at the very least 2 people, and probably more like 8 people, who are the authority.

Photos of all this to come. Maybe tomorrow.