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.

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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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Fig Leaf Frame Complete — Gold Leaf Tutorial

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

Bondo to repair minor blemishes

Bondo to repair minor blemishes

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

Burnished with 4/0 wool

Burnished with 4/0 wool

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

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

Gilding Slide Show

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

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Toning Slide Show

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

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Fig Leaf Frame

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

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

One leg, ready for burnisher/sealer

One leg, ready for burnisher/sealer

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

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

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

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

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