Christine Profile Picture Frames Take Two!

Those of you that follow me may recall that back in October I had an order for 15 frames from a local artist.  These were 4″ x 6″, finished with black and about 4″ wide.  She contacted me recently and asked about doing another 3 of that profile in a 5″ x 7″ size which was my latest frame commission.  Luckily this time, instead of having to get 8/4 Basswood and waste a lot planing to a better thickness, I found some very nice 1 – 1/16″ thick Basswood at Peterman Lumber here in Phoenix.  Width of these was determined by the material they had so they ended up being about 3 – 1/2″ wide which worked well for my client.

Semi-Production Mode

It’s a good feeling knowing that there are artists here who are willing to pay a bit more for a quality frame, it does make such a difference in how their work is presented to their potential clients.  An internet search will give up all kinds of cheap frames that are assembled with V-nails, maybe some glue or solvent cement, and have a slick, characterless finish.  Most of these will begin to separate or the miters will be sad when you get them!  With this particular frame there are 6 different steps needed to create the profile after the wood has been milled to size.  I’ll  use a smooth plane to remove all of the marks left by the planer on the flat surface and tadpole sanders to eliminate chatter left by the router.

Compressing Biscuits

After mitering, the joint is readied for a  biscuit and then glued and clamped overnight.  I have a question for those of you that also use biscuit joinery.  I’ve found that with the #20 size they are almost always snug in the slot!  Not a problem except with a frame you need time to be able to slide the joint so all of the profiles match up.  I did some measurements and found that the slot was about .160 and most of the biscuits were .155+ which didn’t allow much leeway.  As soon as the glue is applied to the slot it too will expand.  A recent article in Fine Woodworking magazine showed someone who compressed tenons (hammer and anvil) to make assembly easier.  I’d beat biscuits before but that didn’t do much so decided to try using my machinists vise and it worked!  Each biscuit was compressed twice and brought down to .150 which gave me plenty of leeway and time to get the profile of the frame to match up.  I’d like to hear back from anyone else that has this problem — thanks!

Burnisher/Sealer with half of the frame burnished.

The finish is the next step and something that’s always in progress.  For these the frames were first sealed with a red burnisher/sealer that I purchase from LA Gold Leaf.  You can see the difference in the finish at the left, the bottom and right side have been burnished with oil free, 4/0 steel wool from Liberon.  This is a great product and being oil free means that your finish work won’t be contaminated.  I’m experimenting with using thinned Japan Black for the top coat, black frames seem to be the thing that most galleries are asking for these days but I feel they should have character and a certain patina/age to them.  By  thinning the Japan it’s more of a wash and easier to rub back with wax.  That’s the step that requires some careful timing and why it’s important to make sample pieces to work with.  Here’s a collage of some of the finished areas, in a few instances using steel wool and turpentine was needed to rub back to the red.

This type of frame has also been done using spray paints but I feel that this is a more “traditional” method to achieve this look.  Using Liberon Black Bison wax gives them (in my opinion) just the right luster — not too flat and definitely not too shiny!



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Artists’ Taboret Complete

For those of us that have a passion for creating art, the work space is our happy place.  Rarely have I talked with someone who hasn’t lamented that they either need a larger space or a more efficient one.  This taboret  project was inspired in order to make your studio a more user friendly area. My first blog was written about the basic construction of it.  Allow me to explain the thought process behind this project and discuss ways it can be customized to suit specific artists needs.  Diane’s studio started out like this:

But now she has this:

She has told me several times how much she enjoys her new set up, everything she needs is at hand so her creative process doesn’t get interrupted by leaving the easel to search out a special tool or supply.

Size & Construction:    The most obvious advantage to having a  custom taboret is that it can be sized to fit your workspace.  If you’re tall or short, the working height can be adjusted.  Maybe you like to work standing or sitting on your favorite stool, this taboret can be built to suit that. Mass produced taborets are limited to standard sizes but not with this unit.  I’m calling this The Industrial Chic look.  By combining the Birch plywood with it’s multiple plies of wood exposed plus stainless steel fasteners there is a no-nonsense, I’m ready to create vibe!  Even the shop made drawer pulls echo that look.  The taboret also has polyurethane wheels for mobility and the front two will lock into position.

Drawers:    These are the heart of the unit, a basic taboret will have three drawers that will feature ball bearing, full extension slides.  Many artists use this style of palette keeper that can be stored on the shelf to keep it out of your way.  Trays can be added for your pencils, charcoal, erasers, etc.  Drawers are divided to organize your tubes of paint, brushes, and knives.  Deeper drawers can have a sliding tray added to them to maximize their usefulness.

Other Options  

If you use a tablet or iPad for your studio work this shelf is an option.  The shelf will be sized to fit whatever you may use to support your tablet.  It is mounted on the side of the taboret and locks securely at any height with two large knobs.

While designing this project I received input from several artists on features they would like to see.  These included a way to adjust the angle of the palette, additional brush storage off the side, and a dedicated well space for your turpentine.  These, and most other things you may require can be incorporated into the taboret.  My goal is to make your creative process as seamless as possible by having your work space actually work for you!  Not a “knock down” project or import that you have to put together yourself — this is a one of kind unit designed and built just for you.  Pricing will vary depending on the size and optional features you’d like, $500.00 would be the starting point for a basic model.  The one shown has additional drawers and the iPad mount.  Shipping is really not an option due to the size and weight.

Contact me and we’ll design one to suit your requirements.  I enjoy the challenge of designing of creating artists furnishings to suit their needs.  If there is something unique you’d like to see in your taboret let’s see if we can work that out.


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Artist Taboret: Carcass and Drawers

Many artists use some sort of taboret to organize their work area and equipment.  Having a taboret placed next to the easel gives them an area for their palette, brushes, and turpentine.  It seems that most of the fine artists I know could always use a larger studio space so if the taboret can be designed to provide storage for those often needed supplies and keep them close at hand that is a definite plus.  If you should do a Google or Pinterest search for them you may be surprised at all of the variations there are.  Then it’s time to take an assessment of what you really need and the space you have to work with.  What brought all of this about you may ask, an artist and friend that I’ve done work for in the past sent me a picture of a pretty nice, compact sized taboret.  When I showed it to Diane she immediately saw a use for it in her studio so she’s my “prototype artist” and my goal is to make others for local artists as well.

The challenge to designing this taboret will be to keep the costs down and still maintain the quality I’m known for.  For that reason I’m going with clear-coated Baltic Birch plywood.  The plus is that almost nothing sticks to it but the downside is that neither does glue!  I’ll use tongue and groove joints plus stainless steel fasteners to give an Industrial Chic look and then for the back section use the clear-coated birch that’s only finished on one side.  That way the glue will adhere to it as I intend to inset the back into the sides.  The case will be assembled with tongue and groove joints plus the screws and glue.  In my opinion, even though it’s an additional step, making a dado that is less than the thickness of the plywood and creating a step results in a stronger joint.  In this case, the dado is 9/16″ and the shelf has been trimmed to fit tightly.

Drawers:  Here’s where things really got interesting, no matter how you look at it they are very time consuming to make.  After going through the process I did for this prototype I believe I’ll make the next one using the clear-coated Baltic Birch plywood (1/2″ thick) and use tongue and groove joints.  Then make solid wood fronts to set them off.  Definitely use full extension, ball bearing slides although it will add to the over-all cost.  I had other thoughts for the joinery which I’ve sketched below.  I’ve used before but it is very fussy to cut.  Especially when you consider the bottom drawers for this are 6 1/2″ deep.

Here are the two options for the joinery; with the joint on the right, you use 3/4″ material for the front of the drawer and cut a 1/4″ x 1″ dado in the end.  You also remove the end of the 3/4″ thick piece to leave a 1/2″ lip to conceal the hardware plus another 1/4″ for the side to set into.  Then you cut a 1/4″ x 1/4″ dado in the drawer side you now have a way to conceal the slides, okay for shallow drawers but not the deep ones.  I ended up going with the joinery on the left and will use a separate drawer front to conceal the hardware.  Like I mentioned, future taborets will probably have more utilitarian drawers made of 1/2″ Baltic Birch plywood.  I thought I could save money by purchasing 8/4 Birch and resawing it but it was quite time consuming and you know that expression!

That’s more than enough info for one blog!  Unless you’re a dovetailer what I’m about to say will seem non-sensical but I find it more enjoyable hand cutting dovetails than I do messing with the machine set ups!  Next up will be a special holder on one side for an iPad, divisions in the drawers for tubes of paint plus one just for brushes.  Last of all will be installing the drawer slides, sizing their fronts, and making custom pulls — stay tuned!


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Gilded Floater Frame in Progress

I’m just getting started on a frame for a new client who was referred to me by a previous client of mine.  How’s that saying go: “referrals are your best form of advertising?”  That’s certainly true and I always appreciate it when one client refers me to their friends.  This referral came about when my client saw a similar painting she had by the same artist; Robert Lemler.  Obviously the process a one man shop (boutique picture framer?) goes through to create a frame will differ from the likes of  Aaron Brothers or Michaels so always like to share how it comes about.

This time I’ll stick with pictures and you’ll notice I have a nicely wrapped, green finger!  After marking out countless joints with a knife and try-square someway or another I managed to let the knife slip away from the square and take a good sized slice off the top of my finger, sharp tool = clean cut so nothing to stitch.  I’ll end up with a nice divot there so wonder how that’ll effect my guitar playing.  In any case, let’s talk wood.  Started out with a nice piece of 8/4 Basswood from Timber Woodworking in Mesa.  Following my hybrid style I have them straight line one edge and go from there.  The first step is using a scrub plane to flatten one face prior to running the board through the planer.

Planing the working edge

The stock was pretty good, only one piece had a bit of a wind to it but all in all, this step went well.  Besides the winding sticks I also lay the board on a flat table to make sure it doesn’t rock — planer won’t take that out.  The 4 boards were planed to a thickness of 1 3/4″.  This step is followed up with planing a working edge, ripping it on the tablesaw to 1 5/8″ and then bringing to the needed width of 1 1/2″ for this frame.


Plowing the grooves

Each piece was then cut oversized which makes it easier to do the next step which is to plow in a 1/4″ x 3/8″ groove for the floater panel to glue into.  Sure, this could be done quickly with a router or dado head on the saw but working with the small plow plane from Lee Valley doesn’t take much longer and is much more enjoyable.  No dust, no noise, just that satisfying swish as each groove is cut where it belongs.


Clamped and left overnight

The last step of the day is to glue in the 1/4″ Baltic Birch piece that becomes what I refer to as the float section.  If you’re unfamiliar with a floater type frame, check out this previous blog post I wrote about them.  Due to the design of the frame it’s easy enough to gang them together for clamping to dry overnight.



Planing the chamfer


This morning the final step to this particular profile involves cutting a slight chamfer on the outer edge.  I’ve found that this creates a subtle glimmer of gold around the perimeter of the frame.  Again, my choice is to go with a block plane rather than a router.  Not only is it quieter the surface is much cleaner and you’re able to work in either direction as the wood grain dictates.  Started to think back to teaching junior high woodshop in the 70’s and 80’s; taught students how to do this and also use block planes to form quarter rounds on their projects.  Oh boy, any still doing that or have they gone to computer aided production!

Well, need to give this finger a break — next up will be mitering the pieces to their required lengths, biscuit joining the corners, and then it’s overnight in the clamps for lasting strength.

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Celtic Clover Study

Celtic designs seem to hold a fascination for many of us, myself included!  There’s just something mesmerizing about how the lines go under, over, and around in an endless loop with no apparent starting or ending point.  Much like an Escher (one of my favorite fellow Dutch guys!) drawing — they really capture your attention.  Mary May recently had a video lesson on carving this design so I thought it was time to take it on.  A friend of mine from Las Vegas does these beautiful carvings on a large scale and Mike inspired me to attempt this one.

Transfer of Design

You know how these senior moments get, hopefully between being able to refer back to Mary May’s video and this blog (notes to myself) I’ll remember how to do this the next time!  This carving is on a 6″ square piece of Basswood and began with transferring of the design.  It is taped onto the wood and using a red pen lets me see which lines have already been traced.  The piece is oversized and then cut to the 6″ square afterwards.  The slight notches in the centers were cut with a coping saw and filed smooth.

Design Outlined

First up was to outline the design with a #39 V-tool trying to keep the depth to about 1/16″.  I’m thinking that the reason this is done is to remove some of the material before going in with gouges that actually outline the clover.  Similar to cutting a small relief before cutting a dovetail I suppose this prevents the gouge from undercutting the line since the waste is partially removed.  In any case, using a small mallet for the longer straight cuts gave more control.

Background Complete

Here’s where I’ve learned that having the correct sweep gouges is critical for repetitive designs.  Most of the curved areas required either a #3 or #2 and the straight areas were outlined with a double bevel #1.  A #2/5mm is the smallest and flattest gouge I have and it was used to bring the background down.  A problem area were the diagonals going from corner to corner; although my template size was correct at 6″, tracing was probably slightly off so the #2 wouldn’t fit in that area.  Note to self, future designs need to be based off of the tools I have!


Over/Under Shading & Half Complete

The next step is to identify where the design goes under and over.  Shading in each junction was the way to go and even then a few were missed.  The proper gouge is selected to match the curve and then gently rocked to about half the depth of the loop.  A #3/6 or #2/5 removed enough wood to give the illusion of one piece going under the other.  Need to be careful on the shorter pieces and leave enough height for the near loop to go under.  The final step was cutting a slight chamfer on all the edges.  I didn’t want to use any sandpaper, preferring a surface that only reflects tool marks.  Using a #2/10 worked for that.      Oh Boy! is this ever a case for figuring out the proper grain direction.

The final step was the finish.  I prefer a natural finish but decided that since I’m experimenting anyway let’s go for an antique look.  Two coats of wax free shellac was used to seal it and then the only product I could find locally was a water-based gel stain from Min-Wax.  It was brushed on and then removed from the top of the design with a cotton rag wrapped around my finger.  Hey, I like it — first one came out okay!



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Mesa Art Center Co-Op

I am really happy to say that I am now officially a member of the artists co-op of the Mesa Arts Center.  I’ve mentioned (lamented?) several times over the past few months that the jurying in process was underway but finally, today 3/7/2018 my work is on the shelves and up for sale!  Here’s a LINK to the store, it’s a really nice venue and the Mesa Arts Center offers so many classes and events it should be a great experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with co-op’s they are a collection of artists who show their work.  There are 44 artists currently displaying their work and the requirements is that the artists are all from Arizona and the work is original.  Jewelry, paintings, glass, ceramics, wood, and photography are some of the work.  Sales are commissioned and as an artist we’re required to demonstrate our craft at least once per month, about 4 hours time.  This is what makes the co-op interesting to potential customers — they can actually see the work being made and talk with the artists.  I’m looking forward to my demonstrations, good chance to show how hand cut joinery is done and hopefully promote the craft.  Here are a couple of pictures of my main display area:

The process began for me back on Nov. 15th.  Filling out the application, submitting good quality photographs, writing my bio, etc.  Towards the middle of December a meeting with the committee resulted in official acceptance.  What followed was background checks, fingerprinting, and getting my official badge which all lead up to today.  The lady I met that is in charge of the exhibits had a phrase which really said it all:  ” we’re governed by committee”. That’s a good way to justify why things take some time.  Another requirement of being in the co-op is that I too must serve on a committee.

Just like many other woodworkers who love to build furniture, making my handcrafted boxes is a good way to maintain those skills.  Being in the co-op and having my name and work out there for the public to see can’t help but be beneficial.  My card and links to my website are available there so it’s a good prospect for future commissions.  If you’re in the Phoenix area do stop by and visit the center.  The weekend of March 17-18 they have an annual event called Sparks going on.  This event is free to the public and is a great way to see what the Mesa Arts Center is all about.

Here are two more pictures of the inside of the store, they placed my work in these areas so you can see some of the other artists work.  All very high quality.

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SawStops Sliding Table to the Rescue!

Resulting Cut-off

About three years ago I replaced my Jet tablesaw with SawStops Professional cabinet saw and opted for the sliding table.  This meant changing some of the ways I approach using the tablesaw but for the most part I’ve really liked this feature.  After doing the installation of the Walnut Bookcase that like has changed to love!  Most of my furniture work is free standing, much easier; you just finish it and deliver it to the room it belongs.  Built-ins add the challenge of dealing with those walls, floors, and corners that inevitably tend to be out of square.  During the initial meeting about this book case I noted that the corner was a little bit out but figured that between a little planing and a scribe strip it would be a minor problem; well that proved to be wishful thinking on my part.  Maybe not the most exciting blog but allow me to share with you what happened and how it was solved.  This picture shows the resulting cut made with the slider — nice!

Bookcase Installed

Sorry about the parallaxes in this picture but the bookcase is installed in a small space at the top of the stairs.  It’ll help explain what’s happening here.  The case is about 30″ long and 14″ deep.  After cutting away the 4″ tall baseboard it was moved into position.  Surprise — the upper inside corner was just slightly out of square which would be easy to conceal with scribe strip.  It also fit nicely at the bottom by both ends, however; the pony wall leans out towards the stairwell and also out at the inside corner!  Rather than cutting the inside corner of the top to match the walls I found that the back edge was the one that needed cutting!  This is a solid piece of 1 3/8″ thick Walnut and to plane that would have been quite a chore.  I left the bookcase in place and decided to wait until the top was sized to attach it to the studs.  I had brought a piece of foam core to make a template to see what would fit.  Talk about stress time, the material alone for the top was $120.00 which doesn’t include the time it took to laminate the pieces together, finish, etc. so couldn’t afford any mistakes.  I briefly thought of hand planing the whole thing but decided that’s what the SawStop it for.

The top was left longer than required so the first step was to cut it to length.  You know that expression: “measure twice, cut once”; well with all that was at stake I measured, checked, and double checked — twice!  First was to set the sliding table to match up with piece of foam core, surprisingly this was only about 91°.  This was confirmed by raising the blade and running that foam core with power off.  A second check was then done with the wood, I knew there was a 1/2″ difference in the width from one end to the other.  Here’s a  photo essay of the process:

Cutting scribe strip

When I took the top back to the job the second day my client had given me a key since they would be gone.  Nervous anticipation doesn’t begin to describe how I was feeling and honestly was glad they weren’t there in case my calculations were off.  Yes, success — the top fit just as I had hoped.  After attaching the bookcase to the studs and attaching the top the scribe strips were cut on their stairs using a razor saw and bench hook — old school.  Once done I texted the clients with a picture of the unit in place.  Later that evening they texted me the picture you see here with the bookcase already filled with all of their art books.  I think that means they were excited to get it!

Clients Picture



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