Fig Leaf Frame Complete — Gold Leaf Tutorial

FigLeafFrame-VerigatedGoldLeaf-Sequence-5This painting and frame is the first collaboration Diane and I have had in almost three years!  She took a hiatus from painting during the downturn of the economy and pursued other artistic endeavors.  I always enjoyed creating frames for her work, it brought us together since we spend a lot of time in our shop/studio pursuing our passions.  Although she is not ready to get back into the brick and mortar gallery scene, she has been juried into an on line gallery called UGallery, here’s a LINK to their website.  You’ll see this painting without a frame on it; 5 am is its title.  In previous posts I elaborated on why I chose fig leafs for the frame and I’d always wanted to try gilding with the veriagated gold leaf, this is a red one from Sepp Leaf and although I was concerned that it would really be garish and over-power the painting we’re both pleased with the final results.

Bondo to repair minor blemishes

Bondo to repair minor blemishes

This is an oil gilded frame and although I’ve done traditional water  gilding using 22kt. gold leaf this is much easier and affordable.  This leaf is referred to by a few names; metal, composition, and Dutch gold among them.  Being born in Holland I prefer the Dutch Gold label!  This comes in 5 1/2″ square sheets and it’s possible to lay an entire sheet once your skills allow you too.  You can also handle it with your fingers if you’re careful.  Finger nails and callouses will tear it and you need to be very gentle or it will rip;  practice, practice, practice!  Once you’ve gotten your frame ready for the process, you need to apply a coat of burnisher/sealer.  It’s a very heavily pigmented paint that comes in the traditional red and yellow colors used for water gilding.  It’s purpose is to seal the wood.  However the finish of your frame is after the burnisher/sealer will determine the surface of your gild.  You can apply several coats and sand to get a perfect base or allow the brush marks to stay to give the leaf some under-lying texture.  A trick is using Bondo glazing putty to patch any small defects.

Burnished with 4/0 wool

Burnished with 4/0 wool

After the burnisher/sealer is the way you’d like it to be it needs to be burnished.  In this picture you can see that the bottom leg has been burnished.  This is done with oil free 4/0 steel wool or a nylon scotch pad.  I prefer the Liberon brand of steel wool for my work.   You’ll need to remove all of the dust prior to putting on a coat of  gilding size, I’m traditional and use Rolco oil based products,  not water based.  Dust removal is best with an air hose, it’ll get any of the small steel wool particles out of the carving.

For a project of this size, my preference is to use slow set gilding size.  This needs to set up for 10-12 hours before you can lay the leaf but allows up to 24 hours of working time.  Quick set size is okay for smaller projects but my opinion is that the slow set has more lasting strength.  This creates a potential problem with dust — any dust that settles on the frame during the drying time will telegraph through to the leaf.  Here’s my solution:

Gilding Slide Show

Diane took a series of pictures which I hope will illustrate the process.  It begins by cutting one sheet diagonally to start a corner of the frame.  Not having used this type of leaf before I wanted to be sure to match the pattern of the variegation, use a fresh razor blade whenever you cut the leaf.  Notice in the slide show how the leaf is first anchored on the inner, sight edge of the frame.  I use my finger to gently press it onto the size.  Once it’s anchored you slowly move the leaf layer (waxed piece of MDF) back as you press the leaf onto the curves of the frame.  All I can suggest here is to practice the technique, it’s something you’ll get a feel for.  The final step, once the entire frame is covered, is pressing the leaf firmly onto the frame.  I start this with my finger at the overlaps of the leaf and end up with a micro fiber towel.  The entire frame needs to cure for at least 24 hours before the toning process.

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Toning Slide Show

Last of all, you’ll want to tone the frame down because Dutch gold is pretty garish looking.  If you get into frames, the difference between metal leaf and the real gold are quite obvious.  This is an area I struggle with because all of your hard work can be ruined with one bad layer of toning.  To cut the initial glare of the leaf, lightly buff it with 4/0 steel wool, again an oil free variety.  For this frame I used a wash of Asphaltum thinned with Naphtha to mellow out the gold.  Works well as you can see in the third picture.  I try to keep it simple, bottom line though is that any form of Dutch gold has to be sealed to prevent tarnishing.  Shellac is an easy choice for that.  I took this series of pictures in the same location and camera set up so you can see the subtle change that took place.  Enjoy!

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Fig Leaf Frame

In between working on the Selig chairs and the beer server/paddle I’ve also been doing the carving on the picture frame for one of Diane’s pictures.  By the way, she has started a new blog on WordPress, here is a LINK to her blog.  I’d love to have you check it out.  The painting she’s featuring is of a photo she took in Italy and one that I plan to make a Walnut frame for.  Anyway, back to the Fig Leaf frame in progress.  Carving is a very challenging aspect of woodwork for me.  On a picture frame the curves of the profile add a level of complexity and then since they are mitered at the corners, you have yet another challenge of working the grain.  We have a wood carving club that meets once a month here in Las Vegas.  Clubs are valuable in that they give you the opportunity to share information — sometimes you give and other times you learn!  Well, one of the guys who’s quite an accomplished carver (Dennis Patchett) gave me some advice that proved to be valuable for this frame.  Rather than using a parting tool or V-chisel to outline his work, he showed me a technique of using the tip of a gouge to accomplish the same thing. Holding the chisel this way allows you to pivot it around the curves and compensate for the profile shape at the same time.

He and another member also suggested that I don’t try to cut as deep in one pass but rather remove thinner sections of the background to achieve a crisper edge.  By holding the chisel vertical I’m able to use just the point of it to outline the leaf.  With the curves of the profile using a V-chisel is for this is difficult.  This was my first success!

One leg, ready for burnisher/sealer

One leg, ready for burnisher/sealer

Next was how to blend the leg of frame into the corner where the fig leaf had been carved.  You can see the final result in this picture.  You may notice some irregularities in the carve where it meets the frame.  This is a difficult area to smooth but at this point, with so much happening with the variegated leaf I don’t think it will matter.  I do have a way to smooth this out after the burnisher/sealer is applied.

What I ended up doing was to set the table saw fence so that the blade removed about 1/4″ from the thickness of the frame.  However; this cut can’t be made on the entire edge so after marking where the saw blade started and stopped I carefully dropped the frame on the mark, feed it along the fence to the end mark, and then lifted it straight up.

After all 4 sides were cut a line was drawn at the same measurement on each leg to give me a visual point to blend the curve of the profile towards the corner and the carving.  I did what I could to refine the leaf and added lines and curves as possible to give it life.  Something magical about carving a life like object onto a chunk of wood — don’t know if I’ll ever achieve on wood what I visualize in my mind but that’s what sparks the motivation to continue doing these types of things.

The final steps to this process will be to apply the burnisher/sealer, polish or burnish that out and then comes the oil size.  For this one I’ll be using slow set size which sets up in about 10-12 hours and will let me work it for almost 24 hours.  Usually I do this in the house but will do this frame in the garage which adds a bit of the “unknown” to the process and drying time at 100 degrees vs. 80 degrees in the house.  Thought I’d give it a try out there rather than have the gold leaf floating all over the room where we store paintings and boxes.  As always, life stays interesting!

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Selig Chairs: My Learning Adventure

Refurbished, Re-Strapped, & Ready to be Returned

Refurbished, Re-Strapped, & Ready to be Returned

In my first post regarding these Danish Modern chairs made by the Selig company I gave a little bit of the company history.  This set, consisting of a recliner, chair, and ottoman were entrusted to me for refurbishing and they are now complete.  When you think of how long ago these chairs were originally made in Denmark and the fact that they’ve been in use since the 1950’s their condition is amazing.

 

During the time I had them I learned quite a bit about their construction that I’ll share with you now.

The first unique thing about these chairs was the webbing system.  The initial plan was to make a wooden frame to insert into the recess and then use conventional webbing to make the seating more comfortable. They had currently had plywood pieces tacked into the openings.  After some research I discovered the Evans Company that still imports the original, Fagas Straps used by the Selig company from Denmark.  Of course, when I first started doing the research I had no idea of what a Fagas strap was.

Ottoman

Ottoman

The Evans Company imports many different sizes and each strap is marked with their item number.  Wisely, when I made out my order I noted which straps go to which piece of furniture.  I was anticipating a lot of arm work but it wasn’t too difficult pulling them tight and snapping the angled clip into the slots.  There was some friction to overcome as they became interwoven, the rubber tending to grip together.  Marks were made on some tape to get the spacing as even as possible.

 

Chair Joinery

The way this chair is put together is pretty interesting!  First of all, the curved back on the recliner is laminated.  I would have expected to see thin pieces laid up following the width (2″ or so) of the chair but instead it appears that pieces were cut from some 1/2″ thick material to the shape of the back.  These were then laminated together to form the curve, five of these are used for each side.

Reclining Mechanism

Reclining Mechanism

The reclining mechanism is interesting as well.  We’re used to seeing recliners with springs to move them into a position that’s comfortable.  This chair has a lever on one side, when you move it a pin retracts out of a series of holes drilled into the bottom of the seat.  The holes are on both sides of the chair bottom and tied together with a rod attached to the inside of the front stretcher.  The chair is able to slide back about 6″, you can stop at any position.  The back pivots and is connected to the seat with a piano hinge and that’s how you adjust the angle of the chair.  The mechanism works only when you’re sitting in the chair, it seems to need the weight to operate smoothly.

 

I was trying to understand how this chair was assembled.  Traditionally I would have guessed mortise and tenon — that would be my approach.  However, the members are so thin and delicate that strength could be an issue.  Add to that the fact that there isn’t a square surface to be found and mortise and tenon joinery becomes more of a mystery!  I found the secret somewhat accidentally.  The only looseness I found was on the recliner which would tend to make sense because of the moving parts.  What was strange though is that the loose movement was up and down rather than in and out.  You would think that a loose joint would move in and out, not up and down!  What I discovered can be seen here in these photographs:

 

As you can see, these chairs are put together with keyhole brackets, something still used today.  A common application would be to attach wall brackets, shelves, mirrors, and even cabinets.  Here’s a LINK to Rockler Hardware which carries them to this day.  The one side that was loose on the front stretcher was the one I wanted to tighten up since it affected the operation of the reclining mechanism.  I was able to lift it up just enough to get a screwdriver in there to tighten those two screws slightly.  It did take a  bit of trial and error to have the screw protrude just the right distance and achieve a tight fit.  The rear is a different story, the screw hole itself is worn out so the screw wouldn’t tighten properly.  I suppose it could be completely removed so you can drill out the hole, put in a dowel, and then re-drill for the screw.  I imagine that assembling these chairs is somewhat like that proverbial Chinese Puzzle, the pieces probably need to be loosely assembled to one side then carefully aligned with the other side and nudged into place.  Probably take a couple of people to do that properly so my choice was to “leave well enough alone”; the chair is pretty solid as it sits so I’ll leave it be.

Glad I took on this commission although it’s not in my area of expertise.  I’ve found that no matter what you take on you’re bound to learn something along the way and this project proves that out.

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Beer Boot Server/Paddle Done

How about a cold one?

WoodworksbyJohn-LasVegasWoodworker-BeerBoot-servingpaddle

My production run of the five serving  paddles for the beer boots is done.  Now it’s time to deliver them to my client to see where they go from here!  This type of work is definitely best suited for a production shop with CNC equipment so now he has a sample to show.  My design concept turned out as I hoped it would, by using a lighter colored wood than the Cedar server he gave me the rich color of the beer (Fat Tire in this one!) is a nice contrast.  Also, the shape of the boot shows up better; with the darker wood and dark amber of the beer everything appeared the same.  That effect that would would only get worse in a darkened bar after a few cold ones too!

These are made of clear Pine and finished with  5 coats of General Finishes Enduro-Var. This is a water based, polyurethane that should hold up to this use.  The initial coats were sprayed on then lightly sanded with 400 grit paper.  After drying thoroughly, a final buffing with a white, extra fine, scotch pad completed the job.  Now to get them to my client and on to the next project.  Currently working on re-webbing the Danish Modern chairs and a carved picture frame.

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Refurbishing Danish Modern Selig Chairs + Ottoman

Danish Modern Selig Chair

Danish Modern Selig Chair

Here is an image captured from the internet of a Selig Chair. I mentioned in a previous blog that an interior designer contacted me to see if I’d be able to make a seat insert for a chair, recliner, and ottoman for a client of hers.  They now had pieces of plywood in them and, needless to say, were no longer as comfortable as they should be!

SeligButtonUpon meeting at the clients house and inspecting the chairs I thought it was a doable project but we also noticed this badge which led me to do some internet research.  These chairs were produced in Denmark and this particular style is from the early 1950’s.  Those of you who are woodworkers can probably see some Sam Maloof  design characteristics in this chair.  The sculpted arms and joinery is a signature feature of Maloof’s work. Having read quite a bit about the history of Sam Maloof and his evolution in furniture making I’d suppose that this chair could have influenced his work too.  Here is a LINK to Sam Maloof  if you’re unfamiliar with him.  I would say that he’s among the top 10 contemporary furniture makers.  Although he has passed on his legacy continues with his family and co-workers and there is a museum  dedicated to his work in So. California.  As for the Selig chair,  here’s a LINK with some information about them as well.  They are now collectable examples of fine furniture, made with quality materials and joinery techniques that have them last for decades.  Unfortunately we can’t say the same about the furniture offerings in most so called furniture stores today but I don’t want to get on that soapbox!

One of the best things that came from my research is discovering that these chairs used a webbing system called Fagas Straps.  These are a rubberized strap with brackets attached at either end.  This bracket will attach to a groove cut in the seat bottoms.  There is one company I found that still imports theses directly from Denmark so I ordered enough to do both chairs and the ottoman.  I was a bit leery of how long it may take but received shipping notification this weekend that they’re on the way via USPS, 2 day shipping.  I suspect that the company I ordered them from makes these up as people order them cutting the  raw strap material to length and then attach the brackets.  If you’re reading this and need the straps they are the Evans Company out of San Diego.  They don’t have the spiral bands for the backs though, these are in good shape and all there.  Finding these straps will make the job much better, restoring the chair to its’ original condition rather than modifying it with an insert and conventional chair webbing.

I’m going to use the word “refurbish” rather than restore because I feel that’s what I’m doing with these chairs.  I don’t consider myself qualified to be called a furniture restorer and  I’ve seen enough episodes of The Antiques Roadshow to know that an amateur job on a piece of furniture can really affect the value of it in a bad way.  The client told me she wanted to have the chairs cleaned up but did not want to lose the patina and character they have.  After all, these chairs represent over a half a decade of family history.  She mentioned that the recliner is one where one of her relatives would have his nightly cocktail!  All in all, they are in very good condition.  There was some type of white paint spills on each of them and a few chips near the bottom of the legs, probably from vacuum cleaner collisions.  You can see normal wear on the front of the arms and backs but nothing real obvious, just a lifetime of usage.

Luckily, the plywood was only attached with screws and brads; not glue.  On the chair some of the plywood adhered to the frame but scraping it off damaged the finish so I choose to leave it as the seats and webbing will conceal most of it anyway.  I experimented on the bottoms first using Briwax and a fine, scotch pad.  This worked well for general cleanup.  On some of the heavier stains I experimented with various scrapers but the only thing that wouldn’t mar the finish was my thumbnail so that’s all I used.  Once the Briwax softened the stain, the thumbnail was sufficient.  Using a matching furniture touch up pen on any worn areas and then waxing and blending it in seems to work too.  Here’s a small montage of some of the work in progress:

I have the recliner to finish the refurbishing on and it’s really interesting how it operates. If possible I’ll attempt to photograph that and share it with you.  I’m confident that re-strapping the chairs will be a relatively simple procedure — time will tell.

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Production Mode; It’s all about the Process

Ready for final sanding and finish

Ready for final sanding and finish

The work has progressed nicely on the Beer Boot servers and although my preference is building furniture, this is a good experience!  I’ve often said that the process of making anything is what’s exciting.  That planning stage where you’re working out any potential problems in your mind and actually watching the project take form mentally — that’s the magic.  The icing on the cake is when you see that 3 dimensional object before you and you realize you’ve accomplished the goal of turning your mental image into a real item.  Here are my 5 prototype servers next to the sample I was given when I accepted this commission.

Templates for Boot and paddle ends

Templates for Boot and paddle ends

In the first post I concentrated on making the template to fit the shape of the boot.  There was a bit of a challenge since the boot is somewhat bulbous but after 4 attempts I had a pattern that had the right fit.  Putting them at an angle of about 60 degrees allowed me to minimize the width of the paddle (4 1/4″) and placing it at an angle also presents it as a boot more than a glass.  Once the template was made it was attached to a fence to insure that the cutouts would line up.  Another template was made for the shape of the handle as well as the opposite end.  After marking the center of the opening, lines were drawn on the paddle blank so the opening could be traced.  What followed was a production mode to make the blanks with three cutouts each.  Here’s where it would have been nice to have a Festool router and vacuum cleaner set up — routing is messy!

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Making the recess this way may add another step on the drill press but in my opinion it’s easier and not nearly as messy as doing the entire process with the router.  Here is an application where CNC equipment would be ideal.  Next, I turned my attention to shaping the remainder of the paddle.  A 1/4″ hole was drilled in the end for hanging.  Once again, time for templates and pattern routing.  This time the pattern is an external route rather than an internal one used to make the cutouts.

You probably notice my “bench on bench” in these pictures.  That is such a back saver!  It’s always used for carving and joinery work but I found that for routing like this it’s equally valuable.  Bringing the work up so you’re not constantly bent over is a God send.  It’s not the bending over that gets tiresome, it’s trying to straighten up again!  You younger guys will appreciate that as you enter your sixth decade of life.

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Busy feels Good

During the warm/hot season here in Las Vegas my routine is to work early in the morning out in the shop and then, as temps hover towards the century mark try to discipline myself to work inside.  At times, the self control it takes to do that eludes me!  There’s been quite a bit of progress on the BeerBoots serving paddle but once I got to a certain point on that it was time to get back to Diane’s Fig Leaf Frame.  This frame has a sight of 11″ x 14″ and in the last post I had just completed the corner sample carving and used the burnisher/sealer to prepare it for the gilding stage.  Before I continue though, here’s some exciting news about Diane’s painting!  There is an on-line gallery called UGallery that juries in artists to represent. Diane submitted her work and was accepted.  Here is a LINK to their website and to top it off, Diane is one of their Staff Favorites on the current newsletter.  They do n0t encourage the work to be framed since they pay for  the shipping.  The website is quite interactive, you’re able pick a painting and then put it into this virtual room.  You can change the dimensions and color palate of the room to get a feel for how it would look in your house.  When someone buys a painting from from the UGallery website they will send Diane an Airfloat container that is pre-addressed and postage paid.  She will then insert the painting and send it to her client. Check out the website, it’s a new way to purchase art.  Unlike the galleries where we would have to either deliver or mail paintings (expensive!) they stay in her studio.  Anyway, I’m really proud of the fact that she is back to her figurative painting and I have the opportunity to experiment with more framing.

Frame with trial corner sample

Frame with trial corner sample inset

Speaking of which, here’s the frame ready for carving and gilding.  Carving is a challenging activity for me — the process of making a flat piece of wood appear to have life and dimension is appealing though.  The leaves are drawn on each corner and I decided to make another corner sample to use for selecting the proper sweep and size of  chisels.  Being able to do that rather than utilize a V-chisel or knife will make the over-all carve more definite.  That’s the traditional way of carving but requires a huge assortment of chisels and gouges which I don’t have — have to work out the design with the tools I have.

Checking for proper tack

Checking for proper tack

I talked about the differences of oil gilding vs. traditional laying of precious gold leaf on a gessoed surface.  Oil gilding is so much easier but if you look at gilded frames you just can’t duplicate the genuine, 22kt. gold leaf.  To do oil gilding the first step is to burnish the sealer using 4/0 steel wool.  I always use and recommend the Liberon brand which is oil free. Next is to brush on a very thin, uniform layer of your oil size.  Quick size will set up in an hour or so to achieve the proper tack and has a 2-3 hour window when it is at the correct tack for gilding.  Slow set size needs to set up for 10-12 hours before it reaches the proper tack and can be worked for up to 24 hours.  In the picture at the left I’m demonstrating how to check for that “proper tack”.  You track your knuckle across the surface and you’ll feel and maybe even hear a distinctive sound.  How to describe a sound?, well; as a mischievous grade school student I’d lick my thumb and then drag it across the desk making a class interrupting sound — ever do that?  That’s similar to the sound and feel of a “proper tack”!

Vertical leg is back side of leaf

Vertical leg is back side of leaf

We’re always learning something, having never used a variegated leaf before I didn’t realize it has a good and bad side.  I had a 50/50 chance and laid the first corner sheet with the back side up!  Once I realized my mistake I marked the top of the package and also noticed that it’s the side that has some printing on it.  The leaf comes in a book of 25 sheets, separated by thin sheets of tissue paper.  You can see how garish the back side of the leaf is and of course, I started on the corner!  Since this is my sample piece it’s not too big of a deal, just kind of aggravating.

Laying the leaf

Laying the leaf

Laying the leaf is a skill that takes time to learn, at this point I’m able to lay a full 5″ square section using what I refer to as my leaf layer; a piece of waxed MDF.  You need to let the leaf lay onto the inner edge and slowly feed it from the leaf layer onto the frame. Unlike precious gold leaf you can handle if you’re careful and tamp it down  with your fingers.  Once it’s completely dry the first step for me is to remove some of the garishness of the leaf with 4/0 steel wool.  Dutch gold does need to be sealed to prevent tarnishing so shellac is the best choice for that.  Now comes the toning of the frame.

Corner sample toned with Asphaltum

Corner sample toned with Asphaltum

Not wanting to obliterate the variegated nature of this leaf I decided to experiment with some asphaltum and naphtha which seems to work just fine.  The asphaltum will go into the veining of the leaf and it tones it down ever so slightly.  Follow that with a wash coat of shellac and I think we’re good to go!  Now to carve those fig leaves in each corner and blend them into the frame legs.  The great thing about carving is that once I get engrossed and “in the zone” the heat of the shop and the cares of the world seem to simply go away!

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