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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Custom Picture Frame Molding: Part 2 — Finished

Nuns at the Fountain by Diane Eugster

Nuns at the Fountain by Diane Eugster

Before I do the continuation of creating the custom picture frame molding I just have to show you the completed piece.  As I mentioned in the first installment of this blog, my wife Diane; painted this from a picture she took on our recent vacation to Rome.  I love the quiet, yet dynamic way she captured the nuns bending over the fountain.  The way she used the cobblestones as an eye path plus the light on their habits leaves you with no doubt as to what the center of interest is in this painting.  When I saw it in her studio I thought their world needed to be contained in a quiet, elegant frame so that was my goal.  Do you think it was met?

In Part 1 of this blog I worked through how to create a molding with depth out of 4/4 stock.  Basically cutting one side at an angle after doing whatever profile work you desired.  Then the area between these profiles was coved on the tablesaw.  There are a number of ways to smooth out this cove.  If you make your final pass at a slow rate of speed and a very light cut sandpaper is usually enough.  If not you may want to try using a goose neck scraper.  My favorite sanding block for things like this is an old school, chalkboard eraser:

CustomPictureFrameMolding-Final Sanding-Chalkboard Eraser

Tadpole Sander

Tadpole Sander

It has to be the original chalkboard eraser, not a cheap imported one because these really hold up well.  I started with 100 grit paper then progressed to 150 and 220.  The only precaution here is to make sure you don’t flatten out the beads at the edges of the molding.  Prior to mitering the pieces to the required size I use an appropriately sized tadpole sander to finish it off.

I prefer to use biscuits when joining picture frames that are only mitered.  This gets tricky since the back of the frame has a beveled edge.  You’ll need to hold the biscuit joiner flat against the non-beveled surface to join them properly.  Experiment first on your MDF sample pieces to make sure of the correct surface and location of the biscuit.  The beveled surface also makes it difficult to clamp the frame together.  I raise the frame up about 1/2″ with non-stick plastic spacers to center the band clamp on the corners.

Clamped Up

Clamped Up

 

Since there is a tendency for the center of the frame to raise up as the clamp is tightened that problem needs to be addressed as well.  My solution for that was to separate my assembly table so a caul could be placed across the frame and snugged up slowly to line up the mitered corners.  Liquid hide glue was used for this.

WalnutPictureFrame-CustomMolding-LasVegasWoodworker-1

Blending in corner profile

One of the things that happens pretty commonly when making your own moldings is that there will be some inconsistencies in the profile.  Perhaps if you have a power feeder this wouldn’t occur but it’s usually not too big of a deal.  One corner had some noticeable inconsistency that was fixed with a #6 back bent gouge for the bead and a flat chisel for the outer edge.  Putting this at the bottom corner of the frame will conceal it from 99% of the viewing public — after all it’s the painting they’re looking at, not the frame.

The finish on this frame is natural Watco Danish Oil followed by a few coats of my sanded in topcoat.  Keeping with the old school methods a simple gimlet is used to pre-drill the holes needed for screwing the clips to the frame and also attaching the wire.  I number all of my custom frames and this is #72!  I’m pleased with the finish even mounted in front of the sawdust collector.  You can see that by using this process you’ll be able to transform a 3/4″ thick piece of wood into a custom molding with an increased depth.

 

 

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Custom Picture Frame Molding: Part 1

My last post had to do with the process of carving and gilding the first picture frame I’ve made for my wife in several years.  That frame used a custom, basswood molding we had ordered from Foster Planing Mill several years ago and modified to accommodate the fig leaf carve at the corners.  I received a number of positive comments for the frame and the tutorial on how to use Dutch gold to leaf a frame.  Here’s a LINK to that post if you missed it and would like to see it.

Diane and I really enjoy working in our perspective spaces/studios and that seems to be where we seem to spend the bulk of our time.  Walking past her open door one day,  I spied this really cool painting of two nuns at a fountain in front of the Pantheon which was taken on our recent vacation to Italy.  It really caught my eye so I immediately asked if she’d like a frame for that —- predictable answer was “yes”!  In my opinion, this painting needed a quiet, dark frame to contain the subject rather than a gilded one.  I decided to make some custom molding out of Walnut.  Although not as easy as ordering molding on-line, it is possible to make your own from raw materials.  Your challenge is to give the molding depth, not only for visual effect but also to contain the painting.  This painting is on a 1/4″ panel but stretched canvas paintings will have a thickness of almost 1″ so your molding needs to be made from 6/4 or 8/4 material.  The other option is to use this method that I’ll explain here, it’s similar to cutting a crown molding for a cabinet.

First step, routed bead on both outer edges

First step, routed bead on both outer edges

The first step to create this frame was to cut my 4/4 stock to a width of 2 5/8″.  Once the edges were planed smooth and square a single bead cutter was used to form both of the edges.  This is my router table, mounted on the extension table of the tablesaw.  The cut was made in two passes and you can see the pieces of MDF used for set up and trial cuts.

 

 

 

Now, to give the frame depth you need to bring one edge of it away from the wall.  It’ll be tricky to explain but maybe you can visualize it.  Hopefully, these pictures will help.

  •  Picture #1:  The blade is tilted to 15 degrees, more tilt will bring the frame out further.  I drew the line on the end of my MDF trial piece.  To give enough support you’ll want to make a temporary throat plate, set the molding on top of it and adjust the fence to your line.  Lower the blade and clamp the temporary throat plate to your table top.  Start the saw and cut through the temporary throat plate to the required height.
  • Picture #2:  With the beaded edge against the fence, cut the bevel on one side of each piece.  The cut off piece will fall safely to the side, no danger of kick back here.  Even though this is the back of the frame, I plane it to have it blend smoothly and also remove the saw blade marks.
  • LasVegas-CustomWoodworker-PictureFrameMolding-Walnut-Tutorial-WoodworksbyJohn-5Picture #3:  This one is tricky!  The rabbet needs to be 90 degrees to the beveled edge.  You can accomplish this by leaving your blade tilted and run your molding so that the flat side is on the table.  It would be unsafe to set the blade back to 90 degrees and hold guide the wood on the angled piece.  You’ll need to make two cuts and adjust the depth as you go.  To smooth that rabbet out I have an old Stanley #78 rabbet plane that works for this operation.  Since this is where the painting will sit a perfect edge probably isn’t too critical.
Setting up for the cove cut

Setting up for the cove cut

Now comes the fun part! Cutting coves on the tablesaw.  If you’ve never done this it’s an interesting process.  The premise is that you attach a fence diagonal to the blade to guide your boards at an angle which results in a cove.  In furniture work this is used so that you can make crown moldings out of the same material that your furniture is made of.  For large work you can use your regular table saw blade.  I’ve found that using two, 6″ diameter dado blades give a smaller radius.  In the picture you see a bevel, a parallel contraption, and the board used for the fence.  In practice you first draw your profile on the end of your board.  Then, set the blade for the depth of that cove you drew in.  Here’s where the parallel contraption comes in to play.  It is adjusted to the width of the cove, the screws on the arms are tightened to hold that distance.  Next, you play around with this by angling it until a tooth on the blade comes up at one leg and down at the other.  Once you’ve found that angle, set a sliding bevel to it.  This will give you the proper angle to clamp down the fence.  Slide your molding towards the blade to position the cove and clamp down the fence.  I think the technical term is “fiddle fart around” but it’ll take some trial and error to dial it in just right.  Here’s where to use the MDF rather than your good material.  The key is to raise the blade a very small amount for each pass and use a push stick to keep the wood firm against the blade.  Just like using a router or shaper, a light cut and slow feed will yield the best possible cut.  At the end to the day, here’s what I came up with:

Beaded, Coved, and ready for Final Work

Beaded, Coved, and ready for Final Work

I’ll follow up with how to finish and assemble this frame in my next post.

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