Art Nouveau Frame — Tale of Woe!

Clayed and Gilded, Ready for Paint

Clayed and Gilded, Ready for Paint

Well, being an honest man means I have to admit to the failures in a project as well as the successes.  I know there were a few of my readers wanting to see how the Art Nouveau frame would turn out and have to report that it didn’t!  Not sure what happened because this technique has worked well for me in the past.  The technique was to spray the frame black after gilding the highlights with silver leaf.  After the paint dried I would use wax and a cotton ball to gently remove the paint from the gilded areas exposing them.  A reason for the failure may be that there was a different name on the can of Satin Black Rustoleum, it also had a different style of nozzle.  The paint wouldn’t dissolve with the wax as it had in the past, instead it became really gummy and then suddenly the red clay was exposed leaving very little of the silver gilding — not acceptable to say the least!  Lesson learned;  my test sample came out fine but that was with an older can of paint so it’s possible that the formulation changed and the new can of paint had one that set up quicker and harder.  Well, when you run into a problem you need to overcome and move onward.  I will use Naphtha or some type of solvent to remove all traces of the wax and then gild the entire face of the frame.  This time I’ll work in a more traditional fashion of sealing the leaf and then toning those areas of the frame I want to minimize — toning and antiquing of frames is a tricky area, one I need to work on so here’s my opportunity.

John’s Armoire — New Project

WoodworksbyJohn-CustomFurniture-LasVegas-Mahogany-DrwgAHere is the drawing I made for my new project — an Armoire.  It is my own design and I know it will be a very challenging piece.  Thos Moser has a very well known piece called Dr. Whites Chest which I’ve always admired but knew I would never be in position to buy.  Hey, I’m a woodworker so why not challenge myself to make my own plus add something to it to show my design sense.  Over-all this will be about 20″ deep by 4′ wide and the tallest section with the door will be 6′.  I want to use all traditional woodworking techniques and it is a post and panel construction.  I’ve done a lot of research and questioning to other woodworkers and there isn’t any easier way than to essentially make the front and rear frames which will have to be assembled at the same time while fitting the tenoned drawer runners/kickers into their mortises.  This will not be one of those weekend projects, more like a half year or so one!

The lumber I’m using is genuine Mahogany.  It just so happened that Woodworkers Source in Phoenix has it on sale this month prompting my 600 mile road trip yesterday.  After leaving Las Vegas at 4:00 am I arrived there a little over 5 hours later.  They have both 4/4 and 8/4 on sale and I had wrestled with which way to go.  I went with the 8/4 option even though it means more work as far as re-sawing and surfacing to make the project.  One big advantage to working this way is that the coloration of the wood will be more consistent through-out the piece.  I had my cutting list and chalk and spent close to 2 hours selecting the wood.  Unbelievable selection of wide boards, check out this one that is destined to become the panels for the sides and the doors; it’s almost 15″ wide and 8′+ long:

I was also able to select pieces to make the drawers out of single boards, they will be 7″-8″ wide.  Joining two boards together for the drawer front wasn’t the way I wanted to go so the final dimension was to be determined by the size of the boards I’m able to get from this wood.  Ended up with a bit more than 80 board feet of the 8/4 material and plenty of width to yield single board drawer fronts.  They also had a great selection of 4/4 material but the time and effort of going through and finding boards with similar grain pattern and coloration wasn’t worth it.  I suppose the unknown in all of this is how will the boards react after resawing — since there isn’t a time frame the plan is to sticker and allow them to settle down and dry after they have been cut.  This project will be a learning experience to say the least and I want to enjoy it rather than rush through it.  There are two potential clients for some custom work which would get priority over this personal project.  I tend to get obsessive so my mantra will be “Patience Grasshopper”!

Construction of the face frame (and back) will be a combination of draw bored mortise and tenons plus dovetails for the lower section.  That’s the best way to figure out the construction puzzle and is traditional.  Alder will be the secondary wood used for the interior web frames and the back.  The 3 drawer unit at the top will have the drawers suspended on runners and figuring out the exact construction details of that is one that I really haven’t finalized.  All other drawers will be traditional half blind dovetails with wooden runners.  The section with the door will have shelves for sweaters, shorts, etc.

The thought of under mount drawer runners to simplify the construction of this piece entered my mind but I want to stay traditional on this piece.  The Media Cabinet I built last year had a single bank of traditionally mounted drawers so this will just add to the complexity and challenge of the work!

 

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Etsy Box Order — Almost Ready to Ship

Nothing like the smell of Shellac in the morning!

Nothing like the smell of Shellac in the morning!

So — why talk about it when they’re not quite ready to ship?  Want to get this blog done and put this commission into the “complete” file to start on the next project.  All that remains is to rub out the shellac and I like to give the final coat at least 48 hours to cure fully.  The finish procedure on these boxes was to apply two coats of shellac, allow them to cure over-night before lightly sanding them with 400 grit paper.  After the final coats applied this morning are cured they will be rubbed out with Liberon Black Bison wax applied with a 4/0 white scotch pad.  Other than that the inside bottoms need to be lined with ultra suede and they’ll be ready to ship.  Two are for an order and the other two will be added to the store inventory.

Radius on the corner of the bottom piece

Radius on the corner of the bottom piece

Drilling holes for pins

Drilling holes for pegs

Once they were assembled the holes needed to be drilled out for the  3/16″ pegs centered in each tail.  This was accomplished at the drill press with a tall fence.  The last blog generated a number of comments about the box slotting bit that I used.  The bit is available from Lee Valley to cut either a 1/8″ or 1/4″ slot for box bottoms. For these boxes I used 1/4″ hardwood  plywood.  The only thing you need to fit these properly is to create a radius on the outer corners.  There are a number of ways to do this and my choice is to draw the radius on with a nickel and then remove it with a 1″ belt sander.

Beveling the lid at 15 degrees

Beveling the lid at 15 degrees

Glue up was next and since this is an unconventional way to utilize dovetails it’s a bit of a trick!  The glue of choice for me is Old Brown Glue due to its properties.  Only a small amount needs to be applied to the long grain of the joints and on the pegs.  Contrasting pegs were used which I believe adds to the puzzle like quality of these boxes.  After assembly I tackled the last step of making the lids.  They are a lift off affair that are rabbeted to fit the box.  They are bevel at 15 degrees, the process begins on the tablesaw with a fixture that slides on the rip fence and ends with block plane to remove saw marks and ensure the corners meet at a crisp 45 degrees.  I’ll have them packed up and ready to ship first thing Monday morning.

As always, I hope to achieve my personal goal of having the work exceed the expectations of my client.  I always appreciate they have enough faith in my abilities to commission a project from me via the internet.

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Break from the Routine — Road Trip !!

Diane and I took some time this weekend to do change up our usual routines.  Now that the bathroom remodel is complete we knew it was time to get out of town for a few days and do something different which we managed to do in Pasadena, California.  There is a huge (and I mean HUGE) flea market that is held at the Rose Bowl  which had always been on our list of things to do.  No way can you see every booth there in one day, we walked a lot, saw a lot, and; although we didn’t make any huge purchases we did have a wonderful experience.  The night before we went to the Norton Simon Museum and enjoyed the paintings, sculptures, and of course, picture frames there.  It’s always a treat to see paintings in person that you’ve only seen in books before.  Added to that is seeing other works from those famous artists that aren’t widely publicized.

FosterPlaningMill LogoAnother thing that has been on our list was to visit Foster Planing Mill located in Los Angeles.  I first learned of this place on-line when we were looking for moldings for Diane’s paintings.  They also exhibit at the annual West Coast Art & Frame show which is held every year here in Las Vegas.  Besides exhibiting they provide frame materials for the various educational workshops held in conjunction with the show.

Previously, we’d order a couple hundred feet of pre-finished molding and I’d make the frames from that.  As time went by, Diane wanted something to make her work stand out from everyone else’s.  We’d notice many paintings in shows and other galleries that had the same frame as hers!  Enter Foster Planing Mill and their excellent service.  Diane designed the profile she wanted and we worked with Bob to finalize it.  We’ve re-ordered that molding but when the economy tanked and Diane decided to put her painting on hold my framing days dwindled.  That’s changed now, and she has a new website and is also blogging about her work.   I’m happy happy making frames again for her work

80 Feet of Seconds Molding

80 Feet of Seconds Molding

Foster Planing Mill is located at 1258 West 58th. Street in Los Angeles and has been there since 1922.  In one of their newsletters they mentioned that they offered tours of the mill so I called last week and talked to Bob who said he’d be happy to show us around.  As you can see from this picture showing the moldings we bought, it is an old facility and I must admit — I loved it!  As a teenager I was hired at Silvera Lumber in Antioch, CA.  Started there in 1965 and worked until I enlisted in the Marine Corps in 1968.  When I was discharged in 1972 I went back to work for them.  The owner (Lou Silvera) and his son Dick were the best bosses I ever had.  Even though I quit them to begin my apprenticeship as a carpenter, they hired me back a few years later when the construction industry fell upon hard times telling me it was time to change occupational goals.  They worked around my schedule as I studied to become an Industrial Arts teacher.  That led to my 31 year teaching career.  Sorry about that long “back story” but taking the tour of Foster’s brought back many good memories about Silvera’s.

Foster’s is a company that still works the traditional way (no computerized equipment) and makes quality materials.  During the tour, Bob explained that much of the machinery dates to the 60′s and older!  To create custom moldings the first step is to cut the profile on a piece of steel plate.  Once that matches the design on paper, it will become the template for making the required number of cutters.  The machine that makes the cutters is similar to a lathe duplicator to ensure that each cutter is identical.  Depending on the complexity of the molding, two to six cutters may be required.  We started the tour with the gang rip saw that cuts materials to the required width before they go through the molding machine.  The molding machine cuts all 4 surfaces of the material.  From personal experience I can vouch for the quality and consistency of their materials.  No chatter marks and the wood is of excellent quality.

Sticks of molding that don’t meet their quality standards are destined to the seconds area.  This is where Diane and I spent some time picking out bundles of molding she thought were suitable for her work.  It’s also an area that reminded me of my work at Silvera’s – let’s just say I learned that pigeons and lumberyards seem to go hand in hand and learned how to eliminate them in my teens!  Diane prefers moldings that are at least 3″ wide and since she works primarily on canvas needs a deep rabbet.  That means they all start out from 8/4 stock.  You can’t break the bundles and pricing will vary with the profile.  Some of the pieces may have splits or knots I’ll need to work around.  Occasionally you can tell where the end of a piece was slightly narrower and the cutters made a pretty good snipe for a foot or so.  To make a long story short, we yielded about 75 feet of molding for $35.00.  Just to put that in perspective for you, I checked my price list from 2012 for the moldings we picked up and they ranged from $5.00 to $7.00 per foot!

The weekend was a great break from out normal routines but both of us missed our work spaces and being creative.  The Etsy order is almost complete, just down to the last of the finishing steps and I’ll blog them when they’re done.

So many projects — so little time!

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Etsy Custom Order — Two Boxes Continued

Work is progressing well on this project and it’s given me an excellent way to “hone” my dovetails.  Any time you read about certain skills the phrase muscle memory seems to come up.  I know during the many years I spent ultra-running my muscles responded to running without any hesitation.  Now, if I try chasing the dog around the house it feels like a completely foreign movement!  I now continue to pursue woodworking techniques and am rewarded when that muscle memory seems to be kicking in!  Here’s the progression so far:

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There is so much information in magazines, on line, and from other woodworkers on how to cut dovetails it’ll make your head spin.  I always tell my students that the way  I teach is just one way and encourage them to explore other methods once they get the hang of it.  There are two woodworkers that have influenced me in this regard.  One is Tage Frid and the other is Christian Becksvoort.  I’ve linked them to information from Fine Woodworking if you’d like to learn more about them.  Like many others, Tage Frid influenced me when in the late 60′s and 70′s when woodworking and furniture making was a popular endeavor.  Christian Becksvoort started during that time period too and continues to make primarily Shaker style furniture.  In any case, my dovetail technique is influenced by both of them.  Both advocate cutting tails first, chopping out the waste with chisels rather than a coping saw, and stacking your work to aid your efficiency.  They also encourage you to learn how to saw to your lines so that you spend minimum paring with chisels to get the joints to fit.

You’ll recall I cut all of the tails first.  This morning they were scribed onto the pin board, cut and chiseled out.  Lay out begins with a marking knife but the line is darkened with a pencil whose point has been sharpened by a chisel.

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Initial cuts on shoulder line

Initial cuts on shoulder line

This was done to each board until I had my “pile of pins” you saw earlier.  Both Frid and Becksvoort encourage stacking your pieces to save time it would take you to clamp them individually.  The first cuts are straight down into you shoulder line but not too deeply at first.  You only want to remove a thin sliver to begin with since going too deep will force the chisel away from your shoulder line.  Notice that in the Maple I cut a small wedge out of the waste area rather than a full piece as on the Walnut.  The hardness and grain pattern of the Maple wouldn’t allow for that full cut!

The technique is to cut about half way down on one side then flip the board over and finish the other side of it.

Very happy with how the initial fit went on these joints and not much paring was required.  Both Frid and Becksvoort recommend making your first cut into the shoulder line light and at 90 degrees.  Removing that piece gives clearance for your chisel and prevents it from pushing the shoulder line back.  It was really evident how different woods react to the chisel with this project.  The Walnut and Black Limba behaved while the Maple fought me every step of the way!  Once that initial, 90 degree shoulder is established the remaining cuts can be undercut slightly to make fitting the pin and tail boards easier.  Of course, having only one tail per board helped to make this more successful.

The remainder of todays work included using Lee Valley’s slot cutting bit to make the 1/4″ groove for the bottom of each box.  If you’ve never used this bit, Lee Valley #16J83; I  highly recommend it for installing bottoms in any box you make.  I do find that when making a 1/4″ deep groove it’s best to reach the final depth in two passes.  Tomorrow will be the time to fit the bottoms, sand the insides, and drill for the pegs in each of the tails.  Also looking forward to getting back to work on the Art Nouveau frame, Diane put the picture it’s designed for in another frame just to taunt me!

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Etsy Custom Order — Two Boxes

Chinese Checker Set

Chinese Checker Set

Last week I began a series of conversations with a potential client from my Etsy store.  They asked about making two boxes to hold pieces for a Chinese Checkers game set that is destined to become a Christmas present.  Included was this picture of the game set plus the box requirements  of 6″ square and 2 1/2″ tall on the inside.  She had found one of my boxes that featured dovetails so I suggested we use a style of boxes I have that called  Tails around the Corner.  These have a puzzle like quality and making them of contrasting woods will complement these game boards.

Pile of Tails

Pile of Tails

This met their approval and so work has begun on this project.  Since I had Walnut and Maple in the shop and they provide a nice contrast that is the material we agreed to use.  So far, I have what I’ll call a pile of tails!  I’ve found it to my advantage to make more than what’s needed for any custom order I receive and then add them to my inventory.  The box in the back is made of the same materials but different size, it’s my experimental box to make sure things will go according to my plan.  The pieces in the foreground are the custom order plus another of Maple and a nice piece of Black Limba I had from another project.

Stanley 140 Technique with a tenoning jig

Stanley 140 Technique with a tenoning jig

After cutting the pieces to size work began on the tails, if you’ve read my blog you’ll recall that I’m a “tails first” dovetailer.  I also use a variation of the Stanley 140 technique in my work which gives dovetailed drawers and boxes a neat, inside corner.  Not having a set of the skewed, rabbet planes I use either the rip fence or; in this instance, a tenon jig.  Looking at that pile makes me realize that there are a lot of dovetails that need to be cut!

Parts laid out

Parts laid out

The pieces needed to be chosen carefully for each box and marked for re-assembly.  For furniture work I use a set of metal alphabet stamps to mark joints but didn’t think stamping a bunch of letters on the bottom corner of each box would look too good.  Instead, masking tape and a sharpie were chosen for this project.  One word of caution, using the tenon jig can cause the bottom of the edge to tear out a little, that makes it a good edge to have on the bottom.  Yes, you’re not seeing things that is the heater going for the first time this season!  Those of you in colder climates probably think I’m being a wimp but we got down to 47 degrees last night!  Once I began sawing and chopping out the dovetails though the I warmed up naturally and the heater was moved out of the way.

 

Paring to the line

Paring to the line

 

The Walnut and Black Limba cooperated just fine to having the joinery cut on them.  On the other hand; the Maple was a real bear.  It is extremely hard and for some reason I really struggled maintaining a good line cutting down to the tails.  This line is about 1″ long and I found that I consistently angled to the outside of the line.  Maybe the wood, maybe the saw, maybe the sawer, but I’m going to blame it on the time change.  Thankfully I had recently re-honed all of my chisels so was able to pare each joint to the line.  Rather than allow myself to get upset I looked on it as a good exercise in honing my paring skills, we can always practice this craft to get better!

These boxes will feature a peg of contrasting wood in the center of each dovetail.  This is what I drew out for the client and besides adding a bit of strength, it will also add a nice design element.  Of course, you just can’t go out and buy dowels of any species of wood.  At the local big box stores you may find some Oak but most of it is a mysterious species of Chinese white wood!  That means you’ll need to make your own dowels out of your material of choice.  For me that was Poplar and Walnut.  I use a Lie-Nielsen dowel plate which is one of the few left on the market.  When I first began teaching woodshop in the late 70′s a standard issue item was a dowel sizer.  This was used to make dowels the exact size since at that time, they were usually oversized.  That’s not the case today, now they will usually be undersized and crookeder than a dogs hind leg!

There are several ways to go about making your own dowels.  One recommendation is to rive your wood to get the straightest grain possible.  Although this works well I find it to be pretty wasteful.  Another way is to cut oversized square pieces and then plane them to an octagon shape.  This time I decided to try a different approach and it worked well so here’s a little slide show on how I went about it.  In keeping with the current trend of putting out warnings and disclaimers this is probably not an OSHA approved method of using the tablesaw!  On making the second cut the piece of wood will shoot out behind you but I simply put my hand out to catch it!

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Just a word or two about the dowel process, cutting on the saw is safe if you’re confident in your abilities and keep safety in the forefront of your mind.  It’s important to cut the piece upright first — if you reverse the order all that remains is a very thin piece that will lodge between the blade and the slot creating a kickback or worse!  As with most of my things, the dowel plate holder is “over-kill” but since I spend much of my time in the shop I’d just as soon be surrounded by things I like to see.  This is made of a piece of 8/4 White Oak and Lacewood.  The purpose of the holes through the bottom rather than just one open slot is to prevent the dowel from twisting as it’s hammered through the plate.  Not all of the dowel will be perfect, you may have a flat spot here and there but should be able work around that.

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Art Nouveau inspired Picture Frame

My wife, Diane, has been very busy creating new art work in her studio.  She recently changed her website to dianeeugster.c0m  Since her studio location is on my way to the shop I get to spy on her whenever the door is open!  Sometimes I’ll see one of her works in progress and feel the inspiration for a frame design which was the case for this one.  I’ve always liked the Art Nouveau style but find that my carving skill level isn’t quite up to the task of reproducing many of its intricacies.

Carve Prototype

Carve Prototype

I came up with a simplified design to carve onto the frame and this is the prototype.  The frame will be painted black but before painting, the carved areas will be silver leafed.  My technique is to allow the paint to cure for a few days and then carefully rub the paint away over the gilded areas to expose the silver.  This is done with a cotton ball and wax.  I didn’t allow the paint to fully cure — got impatient and wanted to see how it would turn out.  The tricky thing (which I goofed up!) is the under/over aspect of the carve.  At the far right it flows over and then should have gone under the carve, one of those things that you really have to study to see.  On the actual frame the ribbon is carefully laid out.

Laying out the Pattern

Every project has its new and unknown factors, that’s what keeps me motivated when I create something.  To make sure the corner pattern will be as close to the same on each corner as possible a template was made from some 1/4″ masonite and transferred to the actual frame.  Initially, lines were drawn completely around the frame and the pattern lined up with that.  The white areas of the design were drawn in freehand.

Next up was laying out the single line that connects the corner details.  Working at this craft is mostly a solitary pursuit so you need to come up with your own ways to do these things sometimes.  My dilemma was how to draw a straight line that would be consistently parallel to the edge of the frame and then equal width all the way around.  I chose to use my marking gauge for this and so far it seems to be working!  The marking gauge is one I made myself and I was able to extend the cutter (from Hamilton Tools) to get the depth needed.

Now the work begins.  I suppose that oft quoted saying of “ask 10 woodworkers the same question and you’ll get 12 different answers” applies to this project.  A few years ago I took a carving workshop from Ian Agrell where I learned his techniques.  Essentially, each curvature of the carve is first outlined with the appropriate sweep and size of chisel and then the background is removed.  Well, it didn’t take long to discover that this requires a huge number of chisels ($$$!).  A  friend of mine here in Las Vegas, who is quite an accomplished carver; uses a knife to do almost all of the initial outlining.  I’ve had some success with that process but have a hard time making smooth curves as my hand seems to be in the way of seeing the line.  So, I improvised by modifying a double beveled, skewed chisel for this purpose.  This was a Marples, blue handled chisel I’d had for years but never cared for the look and feel of that handle —- enter the golf ball!

I’ve used golf balls for years on handles for files and rasps.  They fit comfortably in the hand and allow you to grip it in any position needed.  This method seems to be working for me but I wouldn’t turn down any advice from other carvers on how they would tackle a project such as this.

 

 

 

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Garage Side Door — Unorthodox Methods but Done!

Well, I was so glad to get the door completed and hung that I took a few shots of it with my iPhone and posted them on Facebook!  It brought a number of positive responses and I knew I wanted to share the final steps of this project with my readers so here it is.

Twin Tenons

Twin Tenons

First of all, the initial process of how I went about making this door and my reasons for it can be found in this first blog on the project through this  LINK .  Much larger in scale than my normal furniture work but sound construction practices included twin mortise and tenon joinery with tenons 5/8″ thick and 2 1/2″ long.  All the material used is 8/4 Poplar and the Speak Easy window is 7/8″ in thickness.    As expected, there is a little bit of a discrepancy in the flatness of that panel but that will probably fluctuate with the seasons anyway so I’m not overly concerned about that. I did build it more to furniture quality hardwood and oil finish standards rather than construction standards using Poplar and latex and found my fit was a bit snug!

Speak Easy adjustments

Speak Easy adjustments

I needed to relieve the corner where the panel pivots into the opening.  My first plan was using a piano hinge but that proved to not be a good one — too much flexibility.  I resorted to a couple of butt hinges which work much better.  The sides of the panel were trimmed as well and the opening is now sealed with weatherstripping.

Laying out bevel

Laying out bevel

The unorthodox method I used to hang this door included mortising and fitting the hinges to the stile before gluing the door together.  The same procedure was followed for setting in the lockset.  This was a much easier task for a one man operation before assembly and the resulting heavy door!

 

Beveling the Strike Edge

Beveling the Strike Edge

The only thing done after assembly was planing a slight angle on the strike side of the door.  The original door was 1/8″ smaller across the width on the front so that’s what I used to lay out my line.  I then planed to the line using a small bevel square to check my progress.

 

Out with the Old

Out with the Old

It took some final adjustments and fiddling around but all in all this project went rather smoothly.  There always seem to some unforeseen things in any project.  The positive things though is that I now have a door that isn’t delaminated and at the bottom and blistered on the surface, I can get light and air into my shop area and have full access to the tool chest and end vise, and finally don’t need to worry about Brandi getting out unnoticed!  Here’s the old door, right where it belongs with the trash.  Basically a solid block of particle board, yikes!

Last but certainly not least, let me leave you with this slide show of this custom, garage side door.  One of my friends coined it as the Vegas Dutch Door.

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