Finally, Glue Up of Bubinga Frame and Panel

It always seems to take a long time between the start of a project to the assembly of some of its pieces.  The first goal, after milling the lumber to approximate dimensions, was to assemble the top.  The rest of the cabinet sizes would be based on that.  Well, if you’ve been following the progress of this piece the top has been done.  The next step was to cut all of the frame and panel members that will make up the front and sides of the Mechanical Cellarette.  In my last blog about this unit those pieces were completed on the shaper, the panels were sized and ready for a couple of coats of the Tried and True Danish oil that will be used for this project.  If you missed that, here is a LINK to that post.  In my opinion the panels turned out beautifully with the two coats of oil.  The purpose of pre-finishing the panels is primarily to make sure no unfinished surface will ever be visible should they shrink as time goes on. Another plus to doing this is so the glue won’t stick to the panels as the frame is assembled.

Smoothing tools for the Bubinga

Smoothing tools for the Bubinga

Once the pieces were coped and sized they were made as smooth as possible at this stage of the construction; although I prefer not to sand I think this project will require it.  I’ve mentioned how difficult the Bubinga can be to work with due to it’s tricky grain structure.  At left are some of the tools used to accomplish that.  They included a smooth plane which was effective on 70% of the wood as long as a super thin cut was taken, a cabinet scraper, and denatured alcohol to tame the grain down a bit so that it could be planed successfully.  That’s a technique that works well too in carving.  Here’s some of the process, pictures do not truly show the effects of smoothing the wood but this will give you some idea:

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Rabbet Block Plane to fine tune joinery

Rabbet Block Plane to fine tune joinery

The horizontal pieces of the frame and panel assembly are tenoned into the legs at the top and bottom.  The entire side piece fits into a shallow 1/4″ x 1/4″ groove.  The pieces were initially cut using a dado head in the tablesaw but intentionally slightly oversized.  A rabbet block plane is used to fine tune the pieces to fit into their perspective grooves and mortises.  Something usually needed to compensate for that inevitable wood movement.

Japanese Razor Saw

Japanese Razor Saw

When it came to cutting the tenons to fit the mortises I discovered that my English style crosscut dovetail saw didn’t have enough blade under the reinforced back to complete the cut.  Although I prefer the English style saws for my joinery for this instance only a Japanese style razor saw was able to get the depth I needed.  By holding its long, bamboo handle as shown in this picture I’m able to get a straight cut.  By the way, here is another great use for the Black Diamond Headlamp I mentioned previously, it really helps me see and cut to the line!

The first panel I decided to tackle was the front one.  It’s approximately 39″ long and 22″ tall.  The frame consists of four,  5/16″ thick, equally sized panels.  After arranging the wood to where I thought the grain was being showcased to it’s best advantage it was time to do a dry fit, label all of the pieces, and lay out all of the clamps needed to accomplish the job as stress free as possible.

As you know, once the glue is applied to your pieces things can slip and slid around a bit and that is especially true with an assembly such as this.  What you’re seeing is the backside of the panel.  I had to chuckle to myself during the layout process as I recalled the difficulties my students have with math.  The horizontal rails needed to be divided evenly and then the vertical members centered on those divisions.  All of those markings are on the backs of the boards.  What you see in the second picture are polyethylene pads (1/4″ thick) laying on the clamps.  Their purpose is to elevate the panel so the clamp pressure is centered but more importantly they’re a barrier between the metal bar clamp and the glue.  Water based glue and steel clamps equal some pretty deep stains!  The glue up was done on the workbench so it looked like the first photograph.  Once all the glue was applied the entire unit was carefully carried over to the assembly table, laid onto the clamps, then squared, flattened, and secured to dry.  Can’t wait to turn it over tomorrow and see the show face!  My glue of choice comes from Lee Valley, this particular glue has an open time of 15-20 minutes, one that’s definitely needed when you’re a one man shop doing a complicated glue up.  After the assembly was in the clamps for about a half an hour it’s a good idea to make sure you can move each panel within the frame.  No matter how careful you are, some glue is bound to stick to the panels, pre-finishing them with the oil makes it easier to break them loose.  They need to be able to move as the wood moves due to seasonal changes.

Whenever I do a frame and panel assembly there is usually some slight discrepencies between the pieces.  Usually these can be smoothed out by careful block plane use but I have some concerns due to the nature of the Bubinga.  Sanding carefully with a random orbit sander followed by hand sanding and a block may be what’s needed to work this beautiful wood.  I made up a sample piece to experiment with before committing myself to the process — better safe than sorry!

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Creating the Panel & Frame: Mechanical Cellarette

The last post on the Mechanical Cellarette found the top of the unit ready for final details.  This is one of those projects where I have the artistic license to adjust the sizes a bit to utilize the available lumber.  The 8/4 Bubinga was mail ordered from Woodworkers Source in Arizona.  There was enough to make the top, legs, and supporting framework for the lift unit.  I planned my cuts to  have enough of that beautiful 8/4 stock to resaw into the panels needed for the sides and front of the unit.   The remaining material is 4/4 Bubinga which I was able to source locally from Peterman Lumber.  I’m glad that I was able to mill enough material for the panels from the 8/4 as the grain and figure in it is much more pronounced and showy than the material from Peterman.

Initial Planing of Stock

Initial Planing of Stock

There are always plusses and minuses when it comes to exotic lumber.  With the plus of showy grain comes the minus of it being more difficult to work with.  Wood that’s a bit easier to work, even if it’s the same species, usually doesn’t exhibit that wild and crazy grain!  In this instance though I was happy the 4/4 material from Peterman was easier to work.  These pieces were approximately 6″ wide so that determined the sizes of the frame for the Cellarette.  After running all of the material through the planer to achieve a uniform thickness, pieces were cut to the approximate length needed, one edge planed smooth and square, then ripped on the table saw to the required widths.

End panels labeled for shaping.

End panels labeled for shaping.

These were then carefully laid out and labeled for the next step which was to cut the cope and stick joinery.  Shown here are the two frames for the ends.  The pieces you see clamped together are the seven panels ripped from the 8/4 stock that will fill those frames.  Lots of chalk, arrows, tape, etc. to keep from getting confused and mistakenly shape the wrong edge or side of those pieces — no time to daydream!

Squaring miter gauge

Squaring miter gauge

Next step is setting up the shaper.           I have an almost antique, Rockwell Shaper model 43-120.  This has a 1/2″ spindle, 1 1/2 hp motor, and runs on 110 volts.  Rated as light duty but has always done the job for me.  A set of matched cutters from Freeborn work just fine but it is critical that everything is as square as possible.  This starts with the miter gauge used for making the cope cuts.  Shapers have a bad reputation with many woodworkers. Accidents on them are particularly bad because the cutters will just make mince meat out of any body part it comes in contact with!

The first step of the process is to cut the coped part of the joint, that is the end grain.  Here’s a video I made to illustrate that:

After the pieces are all coped, this is what is referred to as the “stick” part of the joint.  This cut is made with the grain of the wood:

Ready for Panels

Ready for Panels

The results are laying on the shop floor, the horizontal pieces are longer than needed as they will have tenons on the end to fit into legs.  In the class I recently taught there was some reluctance and unfamiliarity with working with rulers and fractions.  Oh boy, is this ever a skill needed for building furniture.  Most of the calculations have to do with locating the center of the spaces that need to be filled with the panels.  Then you need to add for the grooves, subtract for expansion, and go from there!  Believe me, I will also cut scrap pieces before cutting the actual panel stock.  There isn’t enough material left to make a mistake.  Even if the wood was easy to obtain (which it isn’t) every board will finish differently. When making a piece that will only have natural oil finish on it you can’t dye or stain all of the pieces that have different coloration to look like one, unified piece.  So, that saying “measure twice, cut once” is one I live by!

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All of that made for a pretty long couple of days, especially since my eyes were dilated from a morning optometrist visit.  The goal tomorrow is to begin the finish on the panels.  They’ll need to have at least two coats of oil before glueing them up.

 

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Hand Tool Class Ends

We just wrapped up the 6 week Hand Tool class at Wooditis here in Las Vegas.  Wooditis is a great place where woodworkers from all over the valley come to learn the craft.  The owner, Jamie Yocono,  has really developed her school and studio to be the premier woodworking facility here in Southern Nevada.  I was honored to be a guest instructor over these past weeks.

The focus of the class was learning how to sharpen, maintain, and use tools such as dovetail saws, chisels, mallet, and hand planes.  I  brought in some of my own tools so the students could experience them as well.  Those included router planes, spokeshave, brace and bit, and coping saw just to name a few.  The class began with learning how to sharpen.  If they had them, students were encouraged to bring their own tools so they could learn those skills on their own tools.  Most of them had their own but if not, the school had plenty of tools for them to use.

The first project was to make a bench hook which I refer to as project over-kill.  Where a few scraps of wood, screws, and glue would suffice I’ve turned this into a project that incorporates dovetails and a hand cut dado.  There were a few times we needed to use the “big eraser”, the nickname I gave to the chop saw when the dovetailing went awry!  Although students could have chosen to make a box of their own choice, when they saw the tool tote I carry that was inspired by the one in Jim Tolpin’s book The New Traditional Woodworker  they unanimously decided they’d like to make that.  That took the remaining class time.  Unfortunately, although most got real close to completion they will have to assemble the tote at home.  The last day was spent working out the details, learning how to use a brace and bit, a coping saw, and cutting stopped dados by hand.

All in all I think the class was a success.  I always enjoy sharing my skills with others.  Students can contact me and I’ll be happy to answer any questions they may have as they finish the tote.   Having been involved with woodworking and construction for well over 50 years it’s easy to see how the skills that I was taught growing up aren’t as relevant today.  Especially in the area of shop mathematics, measurement, and working with fractions.  Makes me feel like the old timer I probably am, but in years only!  Looking forward to being invited to teach another session.  Here are some pictures of the students busily working on their projects.

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Inlaying Marble in a Bubinga Top

It has been an involved process getting to this point but here’s the first look at the Italian Marble placed into the top:

First Look at Marble and Top

First Look at Marble and Top

The over-all measurement of the top is 20″ wide by 44″ long.  The piece of marble is an 18″ square piece of Bianco Gioia Marble.  The two pieces that currently have some Oak plywood in them is where the marble will be inlaid.  These are approximately 8″ x 14″.  The center section is where the mechanical cellarette will be housed.  Since it measures approximately 12″ x 18″ there will be a 2″ wide inlaid section of marble at the front  as well.  The marble was purchased from Emser Tile here in Las Vegas at the recommendation of my tile guy.  I was pleasantly surprised at the service I got from them, sometimes buying small quantities of material doesn’t bode will with retailers/wholesalers.  He also suggested having a 1/2″ base for the marble due to their weight.  That was the next problem that needed solving.

These pieces of 8/4 Bubinga have been particularly difficult to work.  As I mentioned earlier, when a piece of lumber has beautiful and showy grain patterns, it usually means it’s going to be a tough one to work — oh so true for these! You may recall the reluctance it had to being planed smoothly and the joinery has been “hard fought”.  The top measures 1 1/8″ in thickness so applying the rule of thumb, the tenons are 3/8; one third the thickness of the piece.  A combination of machine work with a hollow chisel mortiser and a tenon jig on the tablesaw followed by hand work gave me an acceptable fit.

Router table to cut groove

Router table to cut groove

The next step to creating the top was to cut a groove that would house and support the plywood.  The tricky thing here was keeping all of the pieces organized and make sure the proper face of each board was held against the fence.  Let me explain what you’re looking at, the marks on the green tape indicate the beginning and starting point of the router bit.  The groove doesn’t run the full length of the pieces so they will have to be dropped down and picked up from the cutter depending on the location.  Since the groove depth is 3/8″  the edge of the board needs marking to tell me where to start and stop each cut.  Due to the hardness of this wood the cut had to be made in two passes.  The face of the board needs to go against the fence so the backside was marked with chalk — every time I picked up a board my mantra was: “see the chalk before you cut” and it worked!

L-Fence on Tablesaw

L-Fence on Tablesaw

Now that the grooves were properly located it was time to size the plywood.  I had some quality, 1/2″ Oak ply in stock so that was the obvious choice, it’s a 7 ply material so plenty strong.  After cutting them oversize to allow for the groove depth, they were rabbeted to slip into it.  That was achieved using an L-shaped fence and a dado head in the tablesaw.  Now it’s finally time to dry fit and glue this piece up!

Glue ups are always stressful and this one was no exception.  The flattest surface I have in the shop is the tablesaw so that became my assembly table.  A combination of Gorilla glue and cabinetmakers glue from Lee Valley was used for this process.  Because of the oily nature of Bubinga the Gorilla glue was used for the mortise and tenon joints while the cabinetmakers glue secures the plywood.

Glued up and curing

Glued up and curing

Just a side note on the glue from Lee Valley.  I ordered a bottle to replenish my supply recently and when I opened it the consistency coming out was more like a tootsie roll than glue!  I sent a picture to their customer service and they replaced the bottle for me, no questions asked.  We were trying to figure out what could have happened to the glue and they suspect that it must have frozen and thawed several times in its journey from eastern Canada to here which ruined it!  Moral of that story is to only order it during warmer temperatures!

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Fitting Lee Valley Brass Leg Tip #01A4535

Tablesaw Taper Jig

Tablesaw Taper Jig

The wood used for the Mechanical Cellarette is Bubinga which I’m learning is a pretty challenging material to work with.  The legs are approximately 1 3/4″ square and the initial plan was to taper the insides of them with the bandsaw then plane smooth.  On my sample piece, planing that band sawn surface to an acceptable finish proved to be rather difficult due to the inter-locked grain.  Even a freshly sharpened Jack Plane with a very tight mouth couldn’t achieve the finish I was after;  time for Plan B which was to use the tablesaw and a tapering jig.  This left a much smoother finish, one that I was able to smooth by taking the thinnest shavings possible with a smooth plane.  Once they surfaces were acceptable, I used the traditional marking system to identify which leg goes where.  I also use machinists letter stamps for a backup.  The grain pattern of Bubinga is quite vivid so I chose the best faces for the show surface.

Now that the legs have the taper complete the next step was to fit them for the brass leg tips from Lee Valley.  These will add a traditional look to the piece.  My client liked the appearance of them in the plans so they were chosen for the project.  These are an old brass finish and the only instructions given is that they attach with a single brad into a friction fit.  That’s the extent of the information given so it’s up to the craftsman (me in this case) to figure out the process.  They measure 1 5/8″ tall and the width at the top is 1 3/8″.  When I laid out the taper it was done so that the leg would measure 1 3/8″ square at 1 5/8″ from the bottom.  That was step one.

Determining Tip Angle

Determining Tip Angle

Now I needed to determine the degree of angle inside of the tips.  I first tried to hold the sliding bevel square inside the cap and set the angle from there — not acceptable!  I’m currently teaching a hand dovetail class so chose to use this system to set the bevel, it’s the same way you’d set one for laying out the tails.  It begins with a vertical line drawn up 1 5/8″ which is the length of the tip.  The difference between the top and bottom of the tip is 1/4″ (1 5/8 vs. 1 3/8) so I marked 1/8″ to the side of that vertical line.  Now the bevel is set by lining it up at the bottom of the line and the mark 1/8″ to the side.  You can be sure I made a practice piece on some Poplar to make sure this worked before I began work on the actual legs.  You may notice a couple of aids I used to accomplish this in the slide show.  First of all, I absolutely love my Black Diamond ReVolt headlamp I got from REI with gift certificates for my recent birthday!  I can see the lines not only for hand cutting joinery but also on the bandsaw.  Another aid I used was to put green painters tape on the boards and pencil the cuts on it.  The wood is pretty dark and I find that green tape shows pencil lines better than the traditional blue painters tape.  Last of all, to keep the small cut off pieces from being sucked into the dust collector I added a temporary  zero clearance fence to the bandsaw.

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Now that the legs are complete the next step is to make the top.  I’m building the casework after the top is sized to make sure of the dimensions.  I picked up two pieces of Italian Marble that measure 18″ square that will be inlaid into the top after it’s completely finished and installed.

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Work Begins on Latest Commission

Mechanical Cellarette-WoodworksbyJohn-OriginalDesignTowards the end of last year I was contacted about making a Mechanical Cellarette.  Now, this was something I’d never heard of before and my research turned up very little information.  Essentially, it is a cabinet used to store liquor and there are some references to it on auction sites.  I met with the client, he showed me the intended location and shared his vision of what he had in mind.  I submitted this basic plan to him which he approved and the work began.  It’s taken a while to get all of the parts and pieces together but the timing worked perfectly as I just completed Nick’s Media Stand when the mechanical part of this project was delivered.

The project will be in my clients office which is a brand new space.  Fantastic finishes on the walls and the flooring is Brazilian Rosewood.  Images I had found of the Mechanical Cellarette were mostly in the Victorian style with lots of carvings and applied moldings and my design and style is more Shaker inspired.  I prefer letting the wood itself be the star of the show.  To that end, he suggested using Bubinga which is a beautiful wood from the western jungles of Africa.  This will be teamed up with a top of inlaid Italian Marble.  I knew going into this project that Bubinga is a difficult wood to work with, extremely dense and heavy but that’s the correlation: beautiful wood = challenging work!

Brass Leg Cup on Poplar

Brass Leg Cup on Poplar

The first parts to arrive were these brass leg cups from Lee Valley.  We decided they would add a nice style element to the cabinet.  This was the first of many challenges to come for this project.  The legs will be approximately 1 3/4″ square and taper towards the inside bottom. The leg cups also taper from 1 3/8″ at the top to 1 1/8″ (inside dimensions) at the bottom.  This requires a combination of machine and hand tool work to get the fit just right.  A trial piece was done on Poplar and I took notes so to be able to do the same thing on the Bubinga.  I know that it won’t cut as easily as the Poplar will but at least now I have the process down.

8/4 Bubinga ready to cut

8/4 Bubinga ready to cut

I ordered the 8/4 Bubinga from Woodworkers Source in Arizona.  You’re looking at just under $500.00 worth of material which is enough for the top and framework for the Cellarette.  Rod Stewart’s classic “The First Cut is the Deepest” always plays in my head as I begin to cut apart the materials.  I substitute hardest for deepest because you just can’t afford to make a mistake here! Careful planning is called for when using expensive woods, especially since the supply is limited and hard to obtain.  I’ll be purchasing the 4/4 Bubinga from Peterman Lumber here locally — they don’t stock 8/4.  Once things were laid out it was time to begin the actual cutting.

Re-sawing top material

Re-sawing top material

 

Even after carefully honing the blade on my old Stanley #7 jointer plane it had a difficult time with this interlocked grain of this wood.  By taking the thinnest of cuts with the tightest mouth possible the jack plane gave me an acceptable surface.  I can tell that there will be a lot of hand scraping to achieve the finish I want on this Bubinga!  I was pleasantly surprised to see that the resaw process went better than I feared.  The bandsaw is fitted with a Wood Slicer resaw blade from Highland Woodworking.  This is a time that proves buying the Powermatic planer with the upgrade, Byrd Shelix cutter was a good investment.  It was able to surface the resawn pieces and achieve a good finish.  As always, it will require a smooth plane and card scraper for the final surface preparation but that’s to be expected.

Days end result

Days end result

At the end of this work day I reduced the stack of 8/4 Bubinga to these pieces.   They will sit for a few days to stabilize before the joinery work begins.  The small piece at the lower left is a cut-off that I’ve applied the first coat of finish to.  This really brings out the richness and beauty of the wood.  I’ll take it with me to select the Italian marble for the top.  The mechanism for the unit is under the bag to keep it as dust free as possible in a shop environment.  I wanted to see how smoothly this unit from Auton worked so made this little video as a demonstration.  I’ve used television lifts before and they usually have a single lift mechanism located at the rear of the unit and can exhibit some instability as the raise and lower.  This unit features four gears on either side of a rack that the unit essentially “crawls up”, well worth the money as this unit seems to be of very high quality.  Here’s my video:

So there’s the first step of many to come on the creation of the Mechanical Cellarette.  Time to order the marble and pick up the remaining Bubinga here from Peterman.

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Nick’s Media Stand Delivered

Yesterday a friend helped me to deliver this unit to the client — good deal for the delivery charges; a cup of Starbucks and a treat!  This is a picture of it in the house and, as you can see my client is still in the early stages of moving in.  The TV that will be on the unit is sitting behind it.

Nick's Media Stand in place

Nicks’ Media Stand in place

The unit went upstairs and luckily, they were wide and my friend was strong!  All of the pictures show a bit of distortion, sorry; it was difficult to get enough distance to eliminate that both in my shop and their house.  The pictures in my shop show it on dollies with furniture pads used for backdrops.

Inspiration Photo

Inspiration Photo

During our early planning stages for this unit I was given this image as an example of what they were looking for.  Over-all their piece measures 65″ long by 20″ wide and stands 26″ high.  As you can see, there is a resemblance between my work and the inspiration piece with some notable differences.  The material in mine is recycled  material that started life as dog-eared, 1″ x 8″ Redwood fence boards.  They came from somewhere in California and are probably about 50 years old!  I mentioned in one of the blogs that who knows,  I could have cut these as a teenager.   I worked for a Silvera Lumber in Antioch then and that was a job I would do at times!  In any case, the bottoms had quite a bit of the expected rot and the top, dog-eared sections were beat up as well.

Drawer Unit

Drawer Unit

The first step to prepare them was to run one face through the planer to establish a fresh, smooth surface.  This was for the glue to adhere when they were attached with brads.  Due to the rough nature of the boards, those brads barely show at all.   The show side of these boards were wire brushed by hand to remove the accumulation of 50 years of dirt, grime, and who knows what else!

Drawer Detail

Drawer Detail

Being able to find a suitable board that would span the drawer was of importance to me.  After all, in fine furniture construction you select a single board for your drawer fronts for a continuos flow of the grain and even though this is constructed of recycled materials it had to be done right.  The drawer box and top are made of shop grade, Maple plywood.  The drawers are 1/2″ Poplar and feature full extension, ball bearing slides rated for 100 pounds.  The drawer pulls haven’t arrived yet but the mounting holes are drilled and ready.

The metal legs came from an Etsy store, Blue Ridge Metalworks.  The finish chosen for this project is multiple coats of General Finishes Enduro-Var which is a water based, Polyurethane.  This was sprayed on as brushing on the rough surface of the recycled boards wouldn’t have good results.  There’s talk of a companion unit to go into their living room — that’s would be a good indication that my client was pleased with my work!

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