Carving and Gilding of Picture Frames

After the frames were carved and sanded the next step is to apply a coat or two of burnisher sealer.  This is the product you use in oil gilding that takes the place of multiple coats of gesso and then the actual clay used when you do water gilding with precious, 22kt. gold leaf.  As I’ve mentioned in previous blogs I used to use a product by Rolco but can’t seem to find that anymore.  The supplier I get my Dutch Gold from, L.A. Gold Leaf has their own line of the burnisher sealer available in red, yellow, and gray which is a good product.  After application you need to burnish it with 4/0 steel wool.  Oil gilding differs from water gilding in many aspects but one of the most important ones to consider is that oil gilding cannot be burnished like precious can — instead you need to burnish the sealer before applying the size and leaf. Another distinct difference between oil gilding with metal leaf and water gilding with precious leaf is that the leaf used for oil is much thicker.  The advantage that I see is that you can manipulate it with your fingers if you’re careful.  Precious gilding requires the use of a gilders tip to lay the gold on the frame.  A disadvantage is that it’s thicker so it’s difficult to lay in the recesses of the molding and tends to have more cracking issues.  I decided to go ahead and make a tutorial of the gilding process I use.  To lay the Dutch gold on this frame I found it best to lean it up and take advantage of gravity to lay it without having it stick before the gold was in the proper place.  Here’s the YouTube video: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Gb6Ntq09AjI After the oil size is completely dry (24+ hours) the toning and aging process begins.  I start with using Liberon 4/0, oil free steel wool on the freshly gilded surface to cut down the garishness of the Dutch gold.  This is followed by two coats of clear shellac applied with an air brush.  The purpose of the shellac is to seal the gold prior to toning.  I let that dry overnight and then worked these frames with a casein wash followed by waxing to add a layer of protection.  The casein is water soluble so can be completely removed if you don’t like the effect.  My technique is to mix it up with distilled water, apply to one leg at a time and wipe off immediately.  One of the challenges I face is making new work appear as if its been around for ages.

Oregon Sunset

Oregon Sunset

Here is a picture of the first frame I did with this molding.  For it, I took my collection on nuts, washers, cotter pins, and other hard metal items that are on a cable and just beat the “you know what” out of the frame.  The burnisher/sealer used on this was the red and with all of the cracking on the various steps it showed through a bit more than I’d like.  I followed the same toning schedule mentioned above and used the Payne’s Gray and Titanium White casein for the wash followed by an application of Liberon Black Bison wax which is probably my favorite of all waxes. To illustrate the difference between a frame that has just  been oil gilded with Dutch Gold and that same frame toned down with its artwork installed I’ll leave you with these images.  All the work is done by my artist/wife Diane Eugster The title is April’s Offering; On the left is the freshly gilded frame, the right it has been toned with Payne’s Gray and Titanium White.

The title is Mending Her Shoe; On the left is the freshly gilded frame, the right it has been toned with Ivory Black and Titanium White.

The title is Japanese Tea Garden; On the left is the freshly gilded frame, the right it has been toned with Burnt Sienna and Titanium White.

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Frame Carving and Gilding

I’m often kidded by my neighbor who tells me that if retirement means being as busy as he sees me all of the time he’s not so sure he wants to retire!!  Well, first of all; Diane and I don’t like the word retire because that sounds like you’re completely out of the game, sitting on a beach and drinking cocktails with little umbrellas in them — how boring is that?  It’s more that after 31 years of doing a “day job” now I have the opportunity to pursue all of the things I couldn’t get to before.  For me that’s primarily building furniture, picture frames, and boxes to support this habit.

80 Feet of Seconds Molding

80 Feet of Seconds Molding

You may remember that towards the end of last year, we went to SoCal and bought a truckload of picture frame molding from Foster Planing Mills seconds selection.  I’ve begun work on one of the profiles from that trip so thought I’d share that with you.  Diane recently completed a painting activity referred to as 30 in 30 where she painted one painting every day for 30 consecutive days.  She did them on 8″ x 8″ panels so that was my incentive to make a few frames.  I had enough of one molding to make two 8×8 frames plus another 12×12.  That left me with about 6″ of molding to experiment with!

Distressed Frame 8x8

Distressed Frame 8×8

The first one to be completed was distressed using a bunch of nuts, washers, cotter keys, etc. that are on a cable.  Just wanted to beat up the surface a bit so that toning would show up.  I must admit that this is always a bit of a problem for me — beating something up to look old but that’s the routine for framing.  To tone this particular frame casein paint thinned with distilled water was used.  In this case, Payne’s Grey and Titanium White created the patina you see in the distressing and steps of this frame.  Kind of replicates years of accumulated dust.

The other two frames are carved.  Diane is pretty accomplished at drawing so drew aleaf motif into the corners of the 8×8 frame.  Now, if it were me there would have been a template to trace.  For me, carving is a challenge but on this frame there is only a small area to carve in, about 3/4″ in width.  Many ways to tackle this but I’ve found that using the customized, golf ball handled knife helps me maintain control over the piece.  I talked about it in this BLOG a while ago.

FrameCarving-WoodworksbyJohn-ToolsUsedHere are the tools used to carve the leaf motif, from left to right:

  • #7/14 gouge
  • #6 60 degree V
  • 2a/8 right hand
  • 2a/8 left hand
  • 3/6 Fishtail gouge
  • Golf Ball skew
  • #8/6 gouge

I’m a definite novice when it comes to carving but for the most part, enjoy the process.  Just like any other aspect of woodwork, you can ruin the entire project anywhere along the line with a slip up or incorrect measurement.  There’s a lot of truth in that saying “measure twice, cut once”.  That being said, it’s up to the craftsman to disguise whatever mistakes inevitably come into our work.  Without a doubt, few people are as critical of our work as we are!  Now that you have an understanding of the tools I used for this frame, here’s the process:

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You probably notice the gap on the miter joint, that’s partially due to these moldings being in the “seconds” pile at Foster.  I noticed the profile didn’t always match up exactly and the backs were a bit uneven.  Clay should take care of that.  Also, just have to mention how much using that Black Diamond headlamp helps these old eyes see what I’m supposed to be cutting!

Next up is the gilding and toning process for these frames.  It’s a very difficult profile to leaf due to all of the steps leading to the panel.  I may attempt to make a YouTube video of that process — stay tuned!

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Off the Fence — Details, Details, Details !!

At the risk of sounding like a whiner I’d like to get this on the page.  It seems to be a natural instinct for people to think that a small size project is much easier and quicker to make than a larger one.  Those of you that create things just know that’s not true!  The only difference is in the size of the final outcome; techniques and joinery are the same.  Sometimes making small items can be more exacting and tedious.  I’m liking how this series of boxes is coming out even with the challenge of the small parts and brittle wood..

Media Cabinet

Media Cabinet

If you’re not familiar with them you can see the previous post but I had some reclaimed fence boards left over from a media table a commission at the beginning of the year.  The boards were ones I’d picked up from a recycler and are Redwood fence boards.  Since I had a few left over and couldn’t bear to just throw them in the trash I chose to make some finger jointed boxes showing the beauty of the surfaced wood compared to the weathered results after who knows how many years out in the environment.  Problem number one was the dryness of the wood along with its inherent splitting and cupping.  This limited the over-all size of the boxes.  You can read about it in this, the first post on the project.

Now that they were assembled and shellacked it was time to separate the lids from the boxes.  My method uses the tablesaw with the rip fence to accomplish this.  They were separated at the 5th finger joint which was cut at its center.  My process is to raise the blade so it just cuts completely through the long sides of the box.  The blade is then lowered to leave a 1/16″ piece connecting them.  Some box makers use the bandsaw for this but I find that this can leave a rougher and sometimes uneven cut.  The purpose of leaving that piece connecting the two parts prevents them from closing up, seizing on the blade, and possibly kicking back.

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First of Off the Fence Series

First of Off the Fence Series

Now it’s time for setting the hinges and the hasp.  I bought these from a company in Canada called Small Box Hardware.  It took some doing to finally figure out the correct way to position the hasp on the front!  For the first box the flap was screwed to the outside of the lid which looks okay but I wasn’t completely satisfied with it.  Also, it needed to be bent slightly to get the little locking mechanism to latch.  I took this shot with my phone to give you an idea of how the rough, natural wood inlaid for the top contrasts with the surfaced wood used for the box — I like it!

Since I like using hand tools my first choice was to simply chisel out a mortise and recess the hasp into the bottom of the lid.  Without the mortise there was too much gap between the lid and bottom.  Being dry and brittle, the Redwood split rather than cut cleanly even with a sharp chisel and very light cutting pressure.  Luckily, this was fixable with a touch of glue and tape to repair the split on the inside of the lid — whew!  Enter a trim router with a 3/16″ bit to rough out the required mortise.

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Here’s another instance of the advantage of adding one more tool to my arsenal, the Black Diamond, rechargeable headlamp.  My vision is showing the effects of six and a half decades of use and almost qualifies me for cataract surgery, using this headlamp allows me to see the lines as I performed the delicate operation of cutting a tiny mortise for the hasp.  A spacer (mat board) is used to offset the hasp, holes located and predrilled with a gimlet, cut out with the router and trimmed with a chisel.  The surface mounted hinges were located then installed two screws at a time, checking the operation as each pair of screws were tightened.  I took the precaution of waxing each of the tiny little screws to minimize any chances of splitting the wood or breaking the screw — did I mention this wood is dry and brittle?

Okay, time to give my eyes a break for now.  All that remains is to line the bottoms of each box using some denim material to complement the rustic style of these boxes.  I may add some dividers to the largest box.  Then it’s time to photograph and add them to the Etsy store inventory.

 

Posted in Etsy Store, Finger Joint, Off the Fence Box, Recycled Wood Furniture | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Off the Fence — A New Box Series

Some of you may recall my post dealing with the Cigar Presentation tray that was recently completed and delivered.  The construction of that featured finger joints cut on the tablesaw.  One thing I’ve learned while making boxes for the Etsy store is that it’s better to make a number of boxes rather than just one at a time as special orders come in.  This holds true especially on those that don’t feature hand cut joinery.  I had some of the recycled fence boards left over from Nicks Media Center that, even though they were inexpensive; I couldn’t make myself just throw them away!  Running them through the planer to create a flat gluing surface  and exposing the old growth redwood they looked  fantastic.  It crossed my mind that these boards could be good candidates for future boxes.

With that in mind, I selected the pieces that I thought might have some promise.  After weathering out in the wilds of California for who knows how many years there was a fair amount of cupping, warping, and cracking. Because of that, the width I could get was limited to about 4″ or so.  When I tried to make a taller box than that the warp in the boards prevented the finger joints from coming together without splitting the board — didn’t look too good so I’m keeping the boxes at a lower height.  Using 1/4″ finger joints and the accepted practice of an odd number of fingers will determine the over-all size.  As much as I dislike production line work, a project such as this benefits from it.  Once the finger joints were cut here’s a brief overview of the process:

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Off The Fence

Off The Fence

Maybe you noticed how some of the boards still have a bit of the original “patina” to them.  The plan is to leave the top au natural just the way it came to me.  The only thing I’ll do to it is wire brush it to remove any loose materials.  I did one example (shown here) so you can get the general feel for how they will come out.  Diane suggested leaving the top completely unfinished, for this example I shellacked it which she thought took away from the character of the box.

Outdoor Spray Area

Outdoor Spray Area

Since she has a design sense I really trust I’ll follow it, here are the assembled boxes being shellacked outside — notice the top is taped off to keep it natural.  These should be an interesting series of boxes.  When they’re complete they will have some decorative, black hardware and the bottoms will be lined with denim.

 

Just a couple of notes about this project.  There’s a company I use from Canada called Small Box Hardware that has quite an extensive collection of interesting hardware.  Another item I’ve mentioned before in my blogs is the box slot cutter router bit from Lee Valley that makes cutting the grooves so much easier.  As you saw in the slide show, it’s simple to use.  After clamping the box together you run the bit inside, I recommend going to the full 1/4″ depth in two passes and using your vacuum to keep things clean.  Using a 1″ belt sander makes quick work of rounding the corners of the top and bottom.  My glue of choice is Old Brown Glue as it gives me more than enough time to get glue on all of the fingers and clamped before things start to set up.  It’s made in the USA and works great.

After the shellac cures it’ll be time to finish them and list on the Etsy store.  I’m considering doing the Summerlin Art Festival again this year in October.  The entry deadline is June 1st. and I’d need to get juried in.  It’s a good way to get local exposure for my furniture work plus, hopefully, make a couple of bucks!  Now that we have the tent, tables, and shelving the expense won’t be as bad as our initial Art Festival.

Posted in Craft Fair, Off the Fence Box, Recycled Wood Furniture | Tagged , , , , , | 1 Comment

Cigar Tray Complete; Ready for Delivery

Finished tray of Walnut:

 

Cigar Presentation Tray

Cigar Presentation Tray

I doubt that I’m any different from other custom woodworkers in this, as the project reaches its final stages you often wonder if it will meet your clients expectations.  That’s especially true with these two projects I’ve made for the same client, the other being the Mechanical Cellarette.  The Cellarette was different though because there were many stages of the project that I shared with him via the blog so he knew how things were shaping up.  This is one of those fun challenges that basically started out with the proverbial “sketch on a napkin” and went from there!

We began by laying out the items that were destined for the tray.  The main feature is a genuine cigar box which is probably made of Spanish Cedar which I learned isn’t really a Cedar at all.  Rather it’s a species of Mahogany traditionally used for cigar boxes since the worms that like cigars don’t like it!  There will also be a cigar cutter and matches or lighter to go with the whole cigar experience.  Since the cigar box has finger joints it seemed the obvious choice for this tray as well.  Walnut was chosen for it’s dark, dignified appearance which will complement the over-all style of his office.  Thanks to the internet, he located something similar to what he had in mind, sketched in his vision of how he would like his tray to look, and then entrusted me with the coin that would be embedded into the front piece.  That too was a process; many times, seemingly simple projects usually are!  I mentioned that in the other post about this project but basically it had to do with the diameter of the Peso and finding an appropriate bit.  I tried using a slightly smaller bit and enlarging with a #7 sweep gouge.  Although the curvature was almost the same it just didn’t look right.  Then the forstner bit I did buy because they’re supposed to have a flat bottom left a slightly convex bottom.  The Peso rocked in the hole so it needed to be flattened with a small gouge.

Close up of Glass

Close up of Glass

As things began to come together in my opinion, the plain Mahogany plywood bottom just didn’t convey the richness needed.  I recalled some previous projects that had glass doors.  There are many types of clear, textured and sculpted glass available from Glass Art Studio here in Las Vegas and since I used them for the doors thought they might have something to add a touch of elegance to this tray.  In my opinion, the picture at the left shows that — an elegant way with an Art Deco influence to present a cigar to your clients.

 

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Can Traditional Artists Skills Transfer to High Tech?

Tools of a Different Trade

Tools of a Different Trade

That was the question my wife and I asked each other recently and I’d like to share our experience with you.  Have to give you a spoiler alert though, there won’t be any woodworking or painting techniques anywhere in this blog!  If you already follow my work that’s where you can get my thoughts, techniques, and approaches to woodwork.  You already know that my preference lays with hand tool work and for me it’s all about the process not the speed at which I can accomplish things.

 

 

 

I’d guess that if you’re interested in my blog you may be interested in my wife’s work as well.  She’s a very successful artist and I’m lucky enough to be her framer, packing and shipping guy, and #1 Fan!  If you have the time and inclination you can check out her work at these gallery sites:

Okay, back to the computer high tech stuff!  In 2009 we decided that since our old PC had some issues and either crashed or picked up a virus it was time to replace it.  At the urging of our Apple infatuated son, our Christmas presents to each other that year were MacBook Pros.  Her’s is a 15″ while mine is 13″ but in any case; they are getting on in years, especially for electronics.  Things were slow and we got that constant, whirling beach ball of doom!  To replace both of them would have easily approached the $2500.00 threshold and I’m sure you’ve heard of the starving artist syndrome!

Once again, Adam came to the rescue with his solution.  Our MacBooks were outfitted with old style drives which create a lot of heat which equals slowness! He had replaced the drive in his girlfriends computer with solid state unit plus installed a new battery and said it made a huge difference.  Diane did what she does so well and started searching the net for parts and info.  A fantastic site she found was IFIXIT.  Not only did they have everything needed to update our laptops, it was very carefully laid out for each particular model.  Then, there are very clear video’s showing how to complete each step and they offer all of the tools — one stop shopping at its best!

Things went well with one exception, specific tools needed.  After backing up our hard drives to the new, solid state ones it was time to begin.  After unscrewing the back of Diane’s we discovered that this particular model (Mid-2009) used a Pentalobe #6 for the battery which wasn’t included in our deluxe 26 bit screwdriver set.  Definitely give IFIXIT credit for great phone support.  When Diane called them he offered to send that screwdriver out with free postage so that we got it in two days.  Incidentally, my battery was secured with a Y-shaped screw head!  After getting the needed screwdriver we spent a couple of hours yesterday afternoon on our high tech challenge.

What we accomplished was to replace our old drives with solid state units, both batteries have been renewed, and Diane increased her RAM from two, 2KB chips to two, 4KB chips.  My computer originally had two, 1KB chips so those were replaced with the original ones form Diane’s computer.  After the work was completed on Diane’s computer and the back screwed on tight we held our breath as the screen went from dark to grey after hitting the power button.  What a relief to see that Apple trademark appear and watch everything load up.  Seemed like an eternity for that to happen but now it is lightening fast.  Diane and I then went to work on mine, this went quicker since we’re now “pros”!  It too was a success and the difference in our computers operation is amazing.  For about $600.00 we updated and increased the speed of our computers immensely; money and time well spent.  Computer repair/update was an interesting endeavor but I think painting and woodwork will be our mainstay!

New use for the kitchen island

New use for the kitchen island

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Cigar Presentation Tray — with a Cuban Influence!

I’ve finally made progress on this project, a cigar presentation tray commissioned to me by the same client I completed the Mechanical Cellarette for.  During that building process I had two other commissions that I had put on hold so I could concentrate on the Cellarette.  Those two are now complete so I could spend some concentrated time on this project.  They were the Stone Carvers Bench and the Gilded Cat Box.

Sarcastically, I’m beginning to think of the tray as a “twofer”; what do I mean by that?  Well, I’m sure you’re familiar with the two for one sales and coupons.  Here in Las Vegas they’re commonly referred to as “twofers”.  Seems as if each phase on this project has required two steps to complete one step!  The wood of choice was Walnut but when I first went to every one of our local lumber suppliers their Walnut was a few pieces of yellowish sap wood — not the rich Walnut tone I or my client wanted.  The second trip, a few days later rewarded me with some nice, dark Walnut.  After work began and I was ready to cut the recess for the Cuban Peso that will be embedded in it.  As luck would have it, the Peso measures about 1-1/16″ in diameter.  The needed forstner bits only come in increments of 1/8″ — where’s the “twofer”?  Well, although the store closest to me said they had a 1-1/8″ forstner bit they didn’t so the “twofer” was going to a store further away to find it!

Assembled Presentation Tray

Assembled Presentation Tray

Well, after all of that this picture shows that persistence has once again, paid off.  For strength, the corners are finger jointed, a traditional method also  referred to as a box joint.  Using this type of joint exposes lots of face grain for gluing to give the needed strength.  You can see the main feature of this under the strap.  The front has been stylized  and the Cuban Peso will be embedded in the center of the arched section.

Finger Joint jig on Tablesaw

Finger Joint jig on Tablesaw

The finger joints were cut on the tablesaw using this jig.  I decided to make another box for the Etsy store out of some recycled fence boards since everything was set up anyway.  Although the use of this jig requires a bit of trial and error, once things are adjusted they are relatively easy to cut — just hard on the back as you bend over the tool!

 

Glass sample for tray bottom

Glass sample for tray bottom

The bottom of the tray is a piece of the same plywood used for the Mechanical Cellarette’s back.  To elevate the over-all appearance of this tray I’ve decided to have a piece of glass cut for the bottom.  I’ve used  Glass Art Studio here in Las Vegas for projects such as glass front doors because they have some really unique pieces.  In my opinion, the piece shown at the left has kind of an Art Deco flair to it that will work well in my clients office. Once his cigar box and the accruements are on the tray it should look great!

A challenging aspect of the tray was creating the stylized front.  My client had sketched out what he had in mind so that was my starting point.  When you design something that is symmetrical on both sides the challenge is making them both exactly the same.  I’ve learned that it’s best to make a pattern for one half and then simply flip it over to draw a mirror image.  That’s the approach taken for this.  Since it’s very visible I also chose to use a router with a ball bearing guide to ensure symmetry.  Here’s a slide show of that process:

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Ideally, finger jointed boxes should have an odd number of fingers for best appearance.  Since these are 1/4″ fingers the final height of the tray should be 1-3/4″ to yield 7 fingers.  What complicated this though is that the arched section is 2″ at the center.  So, the process began by cutting all of the pieces 2″ tall at first,  then cut the finger joints, lay out and form the arch and cut the dado to support the bottom.  After that I still needed to reduce the two sides and back to the 1-3/4″ height.  This was done with the tablesaw and a plane.  To transition the sides to the front piece I found that my small spokeshave was the best choice.  This left sanding the insides prior to gluing the project together.  I used Old Brown Glue, my favorite for these things because of it’s working properties.  Let things dry for 24 hours or so then begin the finish process.

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How to Add Keys or Splines to a Mitered Box — Cat Box Completed

A box constructed with miter joints, like everything else; has its plusses and minuses.  On the plus side it allows you to use a single piece of wood so that the grain pattern of it can flow around the corners.  In the first blog about this custom box I explained my method for doing that on the tablesaw.  You can then cut a slot across those mitered corners and insert a piece of contrasting material to reinforce the weak, end grain to end grain of the mitered joint — that is the primary minus to this type of joint.  There are a few different ways to go about this.

You can buy a specialized jig like this one from Rockler Woodworking or you can take the route I took and make your own.  Mine is made from some scrap pieces of MDF and 5/4 Poplar.  It’s important to use a blade such as rip cut to create a flat kerf  for the spline to glue in to.  As you can see in the center picture I’ve been using this one for quite some time!  Lines on the cradle allow me to line up the work, once the stop block is clamped down simply rotate the box to cut all four corners.  You can vary the depth to add even more of a stylized look to the work — being careful to not cut through the box!

After the cuts are made, plane down your material for the splines.  I start with a power planer then fine tune with a hand plane.  Here’s my spline cutting and gluing set up.

Needed "stuff" for cutting and glueing up the splines/keys.

Needed “stuff” for cutting and glueing up the splines/keys

Starting at the left is the Old Brown Glue which is my preference for this work.  Since it needs to be heated the coffee cup with hot tap water is used for that.  I use a small brush to get the glue into the cut without making a lot of mess.  A piece of Marlite is great for glue ups since it glue won’t stick to it.

Cutting spline/key

Cutting spline/key

To cut the spline/key I’ve found that a bench hook with an accurate 45 degree kerf paired with a Japanese razor saw is a good choice.  The glue is put on a piece of scrap wood and brushed into the cut, then a small amount is also applied to the spline/key.  Keep in mind that you want it to seat all the way in the cut and too much glue may prevent that.  Once dry, a block plane makes quick work of trimming it flush with the sides.  The grain of the key runs diagonally so take a light cut towards the box, not the outside. The corners of my blade have been radiused to prevent them from digging into the work.

Now that this step is complete it’s time to separate the lid from the box.  Again, I use the tablesaw for this.  The technique is to cut the long sides of the box completely through, then lower the blade so that you leave 1/16″ or so of the box uncut.  Doing that prevents the box from closing on the blade as the cut is finished which can result in a snip at least or a serious kick back at worst.  This remaining piece is easily cut with either a utility knife or flush cut saw and then planed flush.

Fitting Hinges

Fitting Hinges

Other than the finishing process which in this case was Platinum Shellac and wax all that remains is the hardware.  The hardware was installed after the shellac was cured thoroughly, I use an air brush for my boxes.  Hinges were installed using a combination of a trim router and jig followed by fine tuning with hand chisels and marking gauge.  This is where all of your effort can be  lost so I tend to be very careful at this point.  Pretty difficult to conceal a hinge mortise that’s been misplaced!

Gimlet in use

Gimlet in use

 

For the tiny screws used for the hinges, hasp, and nameplate my preference is using a gimlet.  Much easier to control than an electric drill — that being said though I will use a small Vix bit to start the holes centered in the hinges followed by the gimlet.  Screws are always lubricated with beeswax since I don’t relish trying to drill them out should they break.  Also a wise choice to use a steel screw in the hole first if the hardware screws are brass.

Happy to say, all went well and the box was mailed out Thursday to my client in North Carolina.  This has been a while in the making and thankfully, she was very patient.  She knew she wanted the Leopardwood which took me a while to get plus the Mechanical Cellarette project had priority over this one.  Looking forward to getting back to work on my personal project, the Armoire.  I’ll end this post with a few pictures of this completed project.

 

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How I Made a Stone Carvers Bench

This is a modification of the plans created by Don Dougan.  He is a noted stone carver and also an instructor from the Atlanta, Georgia area.  A former client contacted me about this project.   A number of years ago I re-caned some chairs and did some restoration work on some other pieces for her.  To be honest, after the precise work, mortise and tenons, fitting marble, etc. of the Mechanical Cellarette I was ready for something a bit simpler — you know the type of work; chop saw, drills, glue, and screws! Here’s the beginning and ending of this project:

 

Just like anything else though, this piece wasn’t without its challenges and issues too!  For starters, he suggested using rough sawn, yellow Pine which he mentioned as being hard, durable, and easy to find — not so much here in the Southwestern desert!  My client and I decided to use construction grade Douglas Fir instead.

Squared Up Top Section

Squared Up Top Section

Apparently these were designed for his sculpture studio and as I read through the plans, he used a pneumatic wrench, a holding jig, and 5 1/2″ long lag bolts to attach the legs to the top section.  When I discussed this with my client I told her that I didn’t feel lag bolts were a good choice for our desert climate.  Knowing that this bench will be kept outside and that the wood will continue to shrink the lag bolts would soon work themselves loose and the hole would be worn out resulting in loose, wobbly legs!  His plan also called for simply nailing the structure you see pictured here together.

Admittedly, I tend to over-engineer things so those nailed joints were replaced with pre-drilled holes, Titebond III waterproof glue, and deck screws.  I also added a 2×4 to the center of that section.  Once this apron section was squared up, glued and screwed, it was  allowed to dry before attaching the legs.  These are 4×4’s and he used a spacer to achieve a 15 degree angle to splay them out for stability.  The plans called for lag bolting these in from either side of the apron but here is where I chose to use through bolts so that they could be tightened as the wood will eventually shrink.  I made a trellis in my back yard years ago with carriage bolts, those needed to be tightened yearly to compensate for the wood shrinkage and I want my client to be able to do the same thing with her bench.  Not wanting to cut this angle by hand, I used my Makita chop saw which only has a 7+ inch blade so that cut needed to be made in two passes as shown:

The reason for drawing two lines was an accuracy thing, I was able to center the blade between them to achieve the most accurate cut.

Marking legs to correct length

Marking legs to correct length

Now it was time to cut them to length.  The top will be made of 2×4’s which are actually 1 1/2″ thick.  Using a sliding bevel set at 15 degrees, I measured down from the top of the apron 34 1/2″ to get the 36″ total bench height.  I could now draw the leg location on the outside of the apron, take it to the drill press and drill the holes for the 3/8″ bolts.  Figured the best way to assure straight, accurate bolt holes was to use the drill press.

Transfer mounting holes from apron to legs

Transfer mounting holes from apron to legs

By laying the apron on a flat surface (tablesaw) and holding the legs firmly against it, those pre-drilled hole locations could be transferred to the legs.  I used the drill bit to locate their centers and then took them over to the drill press once again to maintain those straight holes.  The bolts were countersunk in the apron, washers were added and assembled loosely.

Front View

Angles and background make this appear catty-woumpus but it is square!

Next up was flipping the entire assembly over onto the legs so it could be leveled and tightened up.  Getting tables and chairs to sit flat on the ground can be challenging enough with dry, seasoned lumber.  Substitute that with green, select construction grade materials and it becomes even more fun!  On the assembly bench it was perfectly stable in the evening but the next day had a slight wobble.  By adding cross bracing (glued and screwed) to the lower portion of the legs plus an additional shelf I believe this will help it to stay stable for many years.

Although I’ve never really done any stone carving I did take an introductory lesson from Sharon Gainsburg, a very well known artist here in Las Vegas.  I don’t recall exactly how her carving benches were constructed but do recall that you use multiple bags of sand to anchor them.  These are placed on top to cradle the stone and also on the lower shelf to add ballast to it.  My client customized this to suit her requirements so the top is 22″ square and the over-all height is 36″.  A coat of Thompson’s Water Seal was applied to give some protection from our environment.  That too has been modified to meet EPA standards and doesn’t perform as it used to — but that’s another rant for another time!

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Carving and Gilding a Cat for a Lid or Plaque

Free clip-art

Free clip-art

In my last blog about this Etsy custom order I shared my method of making a miter cornered box.  The client requested a copper gilded lid with an image of a cat.  We choose this one from free internet images available from the internet.  The first step you need to do is transfer this to a program on your computer that has rulers so you can size it to fit whatever you size you need.

Carving the Design

Transferring Design to Lid

Transferring Design to Lid

An image size of about 3″ x 5″ was needed for this box lid, once it was printed out center lines were drawn on it and the lid to position the image.  I used carbon paper.  My wood choice for carvings such as this is usually Basswood.  Because of its even grain it is a very popular wood for carving, works easily and holds detail well.

The first step to carving anything is to outline the desired shape.  There are a number of methods you can use to accomplish this. Some carvers use only a carving knife for this process which requires a pretty strong hand to control the cut.  Others will use a V-tool or parting tool, striking it either with a small mallet or simply pushing it in a very controlled manner, following the desired outline.

I didn’t mention my custom tool with the golf ball handle yet!  When trying to outline with just a carving knife I found it difficult to see the line when making curves — my hand was in the way.  It’s also hard making a tight radius because of the way your hand is positioned.  My solution was to take a double bevel skew chisel (garage sale find) that needed a handle.  I love using golf balls on files so did likewise for this.  Now you can hold the chisel upright with only the tip cutting the outline.  Because you’re vertical, not only can you see the line but the ball handle allows you to pivot around curves quite nicely!

Gronding out design

Gronding out design

Once it’s completely outlined the next step is “grounding out” the design.  What that means is you remove the wood to make the design stand proud.  There are any number of tools you can use to accomplish this.  My personal preference is a small, shallow gouge (#3/10mm) but your design will dictate which tool will work best for you.  Once the image has been outlined it’s time to work on the background.  This step is pretty personalized, you want it to look hand worked but not so rough that it looks “hand worked”!  As a general rule I prefer to remove all of the original surface using a variety of gouges, generally #7, #8, and #9.  My goal is to evoke a sense of motion, kind of like you’d see in a cartoon picture where they want to indicate something’s moving.  Again, very personal and you should develop your own style.

Gilding the Design

For projects such as these I use oil gilding and Dutch gold.  Now just so you know, Dutch gold leaf is one of several terms for what’s commonly known as composition metal leaf.  Since I’m a Dutchman I like that term but it can also be called composition metal, scalage metal, gold foil leaf, metal leaf, etc.  Anything to differentiate it from actual gold leaf and the water gilding process which is much more complex and time consuming than using metal leaf and oil gilding size as I will discuss here.

Burnisher/Sealer

Burnisher/Sealer

The first step is sealing the wood to attain a smooth surface.  You leaf will telegraph anything through it.  I decided that since I was in a carving/gilding mood I would do a frame and another lid at the same time.  The lid for the box will be copper gilded so used a red, burnisher sealer from LA Gold Wholesalers.  The yellow is from Rolco Labs.

Steel wooled burnisher/sealer

Steel wooled burnisher/sealer

After this dries you can burnish it with 4/0 steel wool to give it a shine.  I recommend using only oil free steel will for this such as Liberon’s.  You can see the difference here.  This is where oil gilding and water gilding differ.  Oil gilding can not be burnished once it’s applied whereas in water gilding the gold leaf is burnished with an agate stone to get that true gold shine on your work.  In any case, for this application oil gilding is just fine.

Now it’s time to apply the gilding oil to the project.  My preference is the slow set which sets up in 10-12 hours and gives you a long window of application, they say up to 24 hours.  You can also use a quick set oil that sets in about 1-3 hours.  The major problem with them is that dust will settle on the surface so the longer time means more dust possible — especially true since we had a wind storm but all that being said it seems to me that the slow set provides a better bond.  Once ready for gilding it’s a matter of laying the leaf on the surface.  Metal leaf allows you to handle it with your fingers and I use my leaf layer (piece of waxed MDF) to accomplish it as you can see in this slideshow:

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Assembled Box

Assembled Box

One thing about composition metals is that they will tarnish so need to be sealed.  I use platinum, wax free shellac that is mixed up fresh and apply it with an air brush.  Wait at least 24 hours for the oil size to dry completely.  That’s done so the box was glued up as you can see.  Next step will be cutting the slots for the keys in the corners, sanding, separating the lid from the box, attaching the hardware, and then final finishing.  But that’s for the next blog!

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