Dining Chair with Seagrass

Philosophical thought for the day:

Without experience you don’t know the pitfalls and potential problems of a project, it’s only by trying something new that you discover them.

Prototype with new seat

Prototype with new seat

That thought came about during my  time spent caning a seat for the set of dining chairs I made back in 2009.  This was before I had my WordPress blog and was using the Blogger platform.  I’ve looked to find information on their construction but unable to locate that in the archives but here is a LINK to the original chair.  This one pictured is the final prototype made of Red Oak.  The laminated back is Canarywood which is what the final set of six were made of.  Following my wife’s lead of entering painting competitions I thought entering this chair in the Design in Wood competition sponsored by the San Diego Fine Woodworkers was worth pursuing.  To my surprise, it was juried in to the show and awarded an Honorable Mention!

As the years have gone by, the original fabric on them is beginning to fade and show some age.  Some of my recent projects have included woven seats like this one for our clubs Christmas Challenge.  I really like the look and feel a woven seat provides but you need a chair that has narrow stiles to wrap the grass around.  I happened to see an antique chair with an insert so thought this was a feasible option!  Notice the word “thought”, like my philosophical rant at the top of this post that’s the key word of the day!

The idea was to create a frame to wrap the cord around that would fit in the seat opening.  The original chairs have a seat of plywood and foam.  Using 5/8″ by 1 1/8″ Poplar and lap joints was how the frame was made, decided to stick with hand tools for this project since that’s the best way to maintain those skills.  It would have probably taken as much time to set up jigs, blades, etc. to machine the joints out.

Corner Blocks

Corner Blocks

Because of the angles, gluing the frame up was a bit tricky but by maneuvering the torsion boxes around proper clamping was possible.  The next step was adding blocks at each corner to fill in that space but the more important reason for them is a positive stop for the grass.  These were scribed to match the corners where the side rails met the leg and front rails.  They are located square in relationship to the front rail and overhang the frame by the diameter of the seagrass I’m using, about 3/16″.  No strength is required so a simple rub and clamp glue joint is sufficient. Now we begin the weaving process, here are the highlights in slideshow form:

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Time spent weaving a seat is really quite enjoyable!  Well, until the strand of grass breaks in a place you can’t add another on, or you lose count and make two wraps where you should of made one, or you have too much slack in a weave you made 3-4 courses ago,   or ………..!  Seriously though, weaving is enjoyable.  Kind of like running my ultra marathons where instead of one foot in front of the other repetition it’s one strand over the other, count and repeat.  I get this material from Franks Cane and Rush out of Huntington Beach, he’s been very helpful and is a reliable source for all types of chair materials for me.

So, let’s go back to my original, philosophical outlook on this project.  I was feeling pretty good about the weaving.  It does take time but is very relaxing for the most part.  Just put  SOS on the radio, sing along and don’t lose count.  Occasionally the strands do break since Hong Kong Seagrass is a natural, twisted material.  I found that by wetting it for about 10 seconds in warm water it’ll work a bit easier.  Here’s the majorHongKongSeagrass-WoodworksbyJohn-PrototypeChair-Complete-2 pitfall I discovered after completing the insert.  Because the chair was designed for a slipseat, I placed the corner supports about 5/8″ below the top of the rails to accommodate a 1/2″ plywood base.  With the seagrass wrapping all the way around the corner blocks no longer fit flush with the tops of the rails and have an unattractive appearance.  The insert looks okay on the sides and front but at the corner block it shows the frame underneath.  I had thought of making corner blocks that wrap around the edges but that would create a very delicate piece with a good chance of breakage.  This chair is really comfortable and will go back to my study with the Seagrass seat, the others will be re-upholstered with a better quality material.

I now have the experience needed understand the pitfalls and potential problems of this type of seat construction.  To design a chair with a woven inset requires the corner braces being placed lower to accommodate the inset and grass.  Since these were glued and screwed into place, modifying the chairs is out of the question but —- now I know!

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Of Beading Tools and Scratch Stocks

CustomPictureFrame-Walnut-HandBeaded-WoodworksbyJohn-LasVegas-4

If you followed my blog on the making of the Treble Clef custom box for an Etsy special order you’ll recall the carving that I did for the lid; here’s a LINK to that blog.  To be on the safe side I chose to do an example one at the same time so essentially, I ended up with two of the carved, treble clefs!  I decided that since I now have an unneeded, gold,  gilded piece that looked pretty decent why not build a frame for it and put it on the Etsy store to sell!

My first thought was to just chuck a bit in the router and hog out some Walnut for the frame but you know me, I do prefer hand work over the dust and noise of the machinery.  I used to always make my own scratch stocks and holders as the picture above shows.  Being a minimalist and frugal that always seemed best to me.  I had a good friend who I helped move from New Jersey.  During the drive he asked me what tool I really wanted and I told him that the Lie-Nielsen #66 beading tool was something I’ve always had my eye on but really went against my philosophy and frugal nature.  Well, he surprised me with it and I love using it on my work.  Something special about a hand beaded finish.

Adjusting Fence & Depth

Adjusting Fence

Since this was to be a shadow box type of frame the first step was cutting a deep rabbet in some 1 1/2″ wide Walnut that I had.  This was done on the tablesaw.  After deciding which cutter to use the fence and depth were adjusted.  Even if this in’t quite centered, as long as the fence is guided along the same edge it’ll be no problem.

CustomPictureFrame-Walnut-HandBeaded-WoodworksbyJohn-LasVegas-3

 

Some other woodworkers I’ve talked to mention that they have problems cutting with the #66 but if you begin by taking a series of fairly short (2″-3″ or so) cuts to introduce the cutter into the wood things should cut nicely and you can complete the piece with full strokes.  You do need to allow some extra at both ends since scraping that cleanly is difficult.

Nice cuts on Walnut

Nice cuts on Walnut

When everything is set up you will be able to achieve some very nice shavings.  There may be some chatter due to the grain of the wood but by tilting the tool slightly one way or the other you can usually overcome that.  Personally, I find that a slight amount chatter adds to the charm of the work.  Once the beading work was complete, the pieces were mitered and joined with glue.  The finish on the frame is oil with a 3 part top coat wet sanded for a traditional looking piece.  I think this will be ideal for a musician to hang on his or her wall or receive as a present.  Now I’ll have to wait and see if the Etsy shoppers feel the same way!

MusiciansWallArt-WoodworksbyJohn-GildedTrebleClef-1

Musicians Wall Art 7″ wide x 13″ tall

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The Real Reward!

Completed Box, Ready for Shipment

Completed Box, Ready for Shipment

 

Those of you that have been following the creation of this box may recall that I sent my client images of the lid in its almost completed state.  When you do things like that you run the risk of them not liking the work so far due to the quality or angle of the photograph and you know that seeing and touching the actual object will never compare to an image.   I’d like to share her response with you:

“I love it, love it, love it! My house is full of antiques. (Heck, my house is an antique – built in 1908.) So this custom box will fit right in and everyone who knows me as the music nut will understand it perfectly. I’m looking forward to getting my hands on it.”

Any of us that work in creative endeavors know that the satisfaction of your client means so much more than the monetary rewards.  That expression “starving artist” is a valid one as many of you may agree with.  This project was really fun for me, trying to create what someone else envisioned and having it all work out.  The wood used is African Okoume which I bought from Cook Hardwoods.  I’m on their weekly email list and the information they send is always tempting!  I enjoy working with unusual, exotic woods and as you can see in the picture, there is a lot of figure which I’ve emphasized by making sure the grain is continuous as it works its way around the box.  The mitered keys are Walnut.

The top was the biggest challenge as it’s the focal point.  It’s so nice being able to do a Goggle search for images, copy it to your Pages program and then manipulate it to fit the needed space in the project.  At her request, after carving it was gilded with copper leaf.  The toning was accomplished by first taking the sheen off with 4/0 steel wool followed by  shellac and thinned down asphaltum.  As I mentioned in the blog on that, toning is where things can go either great or horribly wrong!

In any case, the box was shipped out yesterday morning and I’m looking forward to the next commission.  It would be nice if it were a furniture piece but anything that keeps me in the shop is a good one!  Several personal projects to start that include weaving seats and building a door for the side of the garage — this western, desert exposure is murder on a mass produced, big box quality door!  Here is the final look at the completed Treble Clef box:TrebleClefBox-Etsy-AfricanOkoume-WoodworksbyJohn-4

 

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Treble Clef Box Update

 

Pretty Boxes All in a Row

Pretty Boxes All in a Row

Always hesitate showing work in progress; worst case scenario is that your client wouldn’t like what’s going on due to the picture, angle, etc.  Heck, I like to take chances and since it’s been a while since I’ve written anything about this series of boxes it’s time to blog something!  This is when time seems to stand still during the creation of a project.   Doesn’t matter if it’s a box or a dining table with 6 chairs, when you begin the finish process you feel as if you’re working slowly.  It’s just the nature of the beast; I’m using Watco oil on these which is wet sanded into the wood.  There will be a total of 5 coats and each needs to dry/cure overnight so that’s where the progress seems to slow down.  In the picture above, all but the second from the right and second from left are sliding lid boxes.  Second box from the left is the custom ordered one for my Etsy client and will have the lift off lid.  The second from right will be hinged after I separate the lid from the rest of the box.  Pretty much all that remains is to apply a final coat of wax and line the bottoms of each box.

The carved lid is another story!  When it comes to adding a wash or toning a gilded surface you’re never quite sure of the outcome and, to make things even more dicey; things can go bad in a heartbeat!  My goal was to create a surface that would reflect the light as it’s viewed from different angles.  My client requested copper and wanted it to appear as if it had been around for a long time.  Here’s a slide show taken with an iPhone while the lid is on a turntable.  I rotated it 90 degrees for each picture:

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Personally I’m pleased with the outcome.  As often seems to be the case, carving and creating these boxes took more time than I anticipated but that’s the nature of the beast when you’re involved with artistic endeavors.  Diane and I have decided that two, starving artists on a fixed pension makes for a happy couple of people!  Hope this box is everything my client envisioned and the others find success on the Etsy store or the next craft fair.

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Treble Clef Box Lid

CopperGildedTrebleClefThe request for this custom order from Etsy was a large box to store remote controls for her music system.  Just so there wasn’t any confusion as to what the box will contain she asked if I could carve a treble clef on the lid and then gild it with copper leaf.  I just completed the gilding of it this morning and this is what it looks like before the copper is toned down a bit and sealed.  One of the things about copper is that it began to tarnish almost immediately, once the size is completely cured it will get a very light scuffing with  4/0 steel wool and then sealed with shellac.  The shellac will more than likely be tinted to soften the coppers shine.

The way I went about this particular carving was to use a spray adhesive to fasten it to the wood.  I thought I’d try this rather than using tracing paper to get the design on the wood.  Then it was a matter of cutting the outline, for this I like using a chip carving knife from Hock Tools, Ron really knows how to work blades and I’ve used his plane blades to make my own scrub plane.  I chose this rather than a V-chisel because the Basswood didn’t cut too cleanly with it when going across the grain.  I found that an advantage of gluing the design directly to the wood is that the inside shapes and lines remained where they were supposed to, the only downside is that the residue of the adhesive was a little difficult to remove from the surrounding area.  Next time I’ll only apply the adhesive to the back of the paper rather than the entire board.  Here’s a slide show to give you an idea of how the work progressed:

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Usually boxes are smaller than this one so adding texture and shape to the lid background is pretty straight forward.  The background is always a dance; you don’t want it to look as if it were hacked out crudely but you also don’t want it to look as if it were done with a machine.  At this point I try to create a uniform flow of valleys and peaks to catch the light.  Once I was satisfied with the overall appearance the edges needed to be chamfered a bit.  I suppose this could have been accomplished with the table saw but it’s more enjoyable planing a 45 degree chamfer by hand with a block plane.  The first step is to pencil in a line on the top and sides to work to.  This one is 1/4″ from the edge.  It’s really matter of controlling the plane and locking you hand to the correct angle.  Always start with the end grain since it may split out at the ends.  After making a few passes, check to see that the angle is correct, if not adjust your hands.  Your goal is to work down to both lines equally.  Once the end grain is done it’s time to do the long grain edges.  By now you have a feel for the proper angle and the important thing now is to watch the corners.  There should be a straight line from the junction of the chamfer on the lid directly to the edge, here’s another slideshow to illustrate that:

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We’re getting down to the final steps on this project and the 5 other boxes of this series.  The copper gild needs to dry thoroughly before it’s toned and sealed so in the meantime I’ll be trimming the keys on the mitered edges and beginning the finish process.  The lids are ready to be fitted now that the humidity levels are getting more desert like after the recent monsoons.  You may have seen how the interstate (I-15) had a 2 mile stretch washed out between here and St. George — that was quite a heavy rain from the remnants of Hurricane Norbert!

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Assembling the Treble Clef Box

Work continues on this custom order from an Etsy customer.  In the previous post I mentioned that I’m making 5 additional boxes using the same techniques as the custom one.  Doing a series of boxes is more efficient, especially when it comes to machine work and setting up the required tools.  Thankfully, the bulk of the noise and dust created by those machines is over and it’s now time for some quiet handwork.  Cutting the mitered pieces on the tablesaw with the sled is an excellent way of getting pieces that are the exact size.  You can’t make a square, miter cornered box if opposing side pieces aren’t exactly the same size.

Shooting Board

Shooting Board

The tablesaw also tends to leave a somewhat uneven cut due to the way it operates.  Smoothing that cut out is best done with what’s called a Shooting Board.  In its simplest form, a shooting board is a ramp that guides a hand plane.  In this picture, I’m adjusting the fence to be a perfect 90 degrees to the ramp.  Like the miter jig for the tablesaw, this shooting board was made so that the fence is adjustable.  It is sized for small work and  set up to use a block plane.  Lie-Nielsen makes a dedicated plane for this purpose based on the original Stanley #51, here’s LINK to that plane — as you can see it’s rather pricey!  Using a block plane for this serves my purposes well, here’s how each end is trimmed up:

The boxes in this series destined for Etsy store inventory are rather small so can be assembled using packing tape only.  The Treble Clef box is larger so I begin the process with tape but added two band clamps to insure a good bond.  The process began after the miters were trued up with the shooting board/block plane technique and the insides were sanded.  The bottom is fitted as well.  Picture #1 shows the box sides put in the proper sequence and  the packing tape is applied to the outside of the box.  After flipping the pieces over, for this box I also put tape on the inside corners to make clean up easier in case of glue squeeze out  (picture #2).  After applying glue to the miters, the pieces are closed around the bottom and band clamps are added  (picture #3).  There’s enough tension and stretch to the packing tape to close and hold the joint while the glue sets.

Tablesaw Jig

Tablesaw Jig

The final step for the construction of these boxes is to cut slots to put keys in the mitered edges.  The beauty of a mitered joint is that the end grain of the wood is hidden.  The downside is that having end grain to end grain as your gluing surface there isn’t a lot of strength.  To compensate for that, a slot is cut across the corner.  This exposes the long grain of the wood so by gluing in a key of long grain wood the corner is now reinforced.  Usually this key is of a contrasting wood which adds a decorative touch to the box.  This process is accomplished with the tablesaw jig shown in this picture.  You can see the cut already made on the box.

The remaining boxes need to have the lids fitted into them but we’ve recently had some massive monsoons here in the desert.  Where the humidity level in my shop is usually less than 10% it’s not closer to 100%.  Not a good time to fit sliding lids as the wood will no doubt shrink once the relative humidity stabilizes.  The carving of the treble clef on the box lid is almost complete so that will probably be the subject of the next blog.

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Etsy Custom Order: Treble Clef Box

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Treble Clef Motif

A week or so ago, I received a request for a custom box based on the design of my Gilded  Cats series.  Rather than having a cat though, they wanted a treble clef carved onto the lid and the box made much larger to hold remote controls.  After a few conversations we came up with a design and price so I have now started on this box.  This is just the incentive I needed to make a few more boxes to add to the inventory.  Traditionally, sales on Etsy are slow during the summer time and will ramp up again as the holiday season approaches.  Although my work has a lot of hand operations there are certain steps where the machines perform the grunt work for me to refine later.  I’m going to take advantage of that and make some additional boxes as well.  The motif for the box will look like this image.

We decided on using a light colored wood which gave me the chance to use a piece of figured, African Okoume.  Since it was slightly thicker than an inch I was hopeful that I could re-saw it and yield pieces that were 3/8″ – 7/16″ in thickness for the box and it worked out as I had hoped.  I’m using a 1/2″ Wood Slicer blade from Highland Woodworking which, as you can see; does a great job.  This board is about 6″ wide and the cut was straight and true.

Table Saw Miter Jig

Table Saw Miter Jig

Whenever I cut miters on the tablesaw my choice is to leave the boards wider than they need to be by about 1/2″ to compensate for any tear out that tends to occur when cutting. My jig has two runners on it so is pretty stable.  It seems that jig fences never stay 90 degrees so I learned a long time ago it’s wise to engineer a way to adjust them.  In the jig, the hole for the bolt on the left side is oversized.  This allows me to loosen them both and make trial cuts to check for 90 degrees, once it’s dialed in both bolts are tightened and we’re ready to begin cutting the various required pieces.

I have simple method of cutting the pieces for mitered boxes I’ll share with you.  It’s important to plan your work so the grain of the wood will have a continuous flow at the corners.  Visually it just looks better and shows some craftsmanship.  It begins by cutting one end at 45 degrees and then marking the longest box side.

Measuring First Piece

Measuring First Piece

A stop block is clamped against the fence to allow for clearance and the first piece is cut.

First cut to length

First cut to length

The long side is set aside, the piece on the sled is flipped over and cut near the end.  This is done so the outside of the board will be correct.

Trimming miter end

Trimming miter end

Next, I’ll use a stop block that is as long as the difference of the box sides.  For example, this box is approximately 5″ wide and 10″ long.  A 5″ spacer is put between the stop block and the board and the shorter side can then be cut.

Short side cut with spacer

Short side cut with spacer

Flip and trim, remove the spacer to cut the longer side; flip, trim, and repeat.  It’s important to keep the pieces in order as you cut them to ensure continuous grain flow.  Marking them with tape is the most fool proof way for me to keep things organized.  As I mentioned, I’m also making several other boxes to add to my stores inventory so at the end of this phase here’s what I had:

Box Parts Galore!

Box Parts Galore!

The parts for the custom box are at the top.  The next one down will be a hinged lid box while the rest will be sliding lid boxes.  After cutting the pieces to final width and also putting dados in them for bottoms and lids I managed to get all of the bottoms cut so as this picture shows, things are coming along well!

Plethora of Boxes to Be!

Plethora of Boxes to Be!

As a general rule, table sawn miters need a little bit of truing up which will be my next step.  This is done with a block plane and a shooting board which I’ll show in the next blog.  For the sliding lid boxes, one end will need to be cut down so the lid can be slid into position.  Each box will have corner splines of a contrasting wood to strength as well as adding a decorative element to them.  It’ll be time to start carving the treble clef and right now the piece of Basswood for that is being laminated.  This lid is about 6 1/2″ wide and the only Basswood I had was 6″ — darn, an additional step!

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