Tabernacle Frame # 148

In my last published post I had just begun to work on a Tabernacle Frame, an exciting project to say the least.  If you recall, the plan was to first make the spandrel (gold leafed panel that surrounds the painting) and build the frame around it — that’s exactly the process followed.  I often get questions about how I determine the sizes and spacings of wood in a project like this and there are a number of methods used, notably is the Golden Ratio.  What I tend to do is to trust my eye first and often, when I check my drawing against the Golden Ratio it matches pretty closely!  Another method you don’t hear about too often is basing project sizes off of the material you have available.  For example, to determine how wide to make the sides of the frame a piece of wide Basswood was evenly cut in half — voila; that’s the width!  It was drawn to scale before actually cutting but I’m sure I’m not the only woodworker that bases the size of project parts on the material available.

Constructing the frame starts by milling the material, for me a combination of hand and power tools like this scrub plane, table saw, power planer, and jointer plane.  You’ll find the term hybrid woodworking used to describe this method — often I’ll say the power tools are my apprentices and then I use the hand tools refine that process.  Since the horizontal pieces are 5″+ a 1/2″ deep mortise was cut the entire length with a 1″ deep by 2″ long tenon.  This is to prevent the piece from wracking.  Again, the hollow chisel mortiser and table saw starts the work and then the tenons are sized to fit with hand tools.  On the mortiser I’ll use a 1/2″ gauge block to set the depth for the haunch then remove it for the tenon (see picture below).   Once satisfied with the joinery it’s time for glue up and at over 3′ wide I needed to get creative with clamping.  By clamping a 6′ bar clamp to the assembly table I was able to pull it off!

Spandrel fitted into rabbet

Now that the frame is assembled it’s time to add the elements.  One thing that needed to be done was to rabbet out the back to fit the spandrel.  This was done with a 3/8″ rabbeting bit in the router, decided it would be easer to radius the spandrel than to square the corners! The 2″ wide columns were created with a single bead router bit.  The crown and dentil molding was purchased from Barger Molding.  I thought I’d need to make the small cove located below the bottom horizontal piece but found a piece of molding that had it there and ripped it off, only about a 3/8″ cove.  The top and horizontal piece at the bottom were glued, screwed, and plugged.  Wanted to be sure they were as secure as possible since those areas might be used as “handles”!  The rest was glued and attached with 23 gauge pins — they say they’re almost invisible but I disagree, a test piece shows them so they were all covered with Bondo surfacing putty and sanded, yes I’m particular!  In the test piece the pins at the top were puttied, bottom left alone.

Here are some pictures of the final assembly steps.  Where the dentil and column came together it needed to be scribed and then pared level with the column.  Decided to use plugged screws and glue to attach the top piece as well as the bottom shelf thinking that they may be used for “handles”!

Ready now for the finish process, always one that gives me some concern.  Made a practice piece to experiment with so I can get the patina and aging process just right.

Posted in Design Process, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Mortise and Tenon Joint, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, tabernacle picture frame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Tabernacle Frame Commission

I/4 Scale Concept

A Tabernacle style picture frame has been on my “want to do” list for a long time and although I’ve had artists occasionally express interest in having one made, up until now it has just been talk.  One of my clients was picking up some frames and casually asked if I was interested in designing one for her — my response was a quick “YES”!  If you’re not familiar with the style, here is a LINK to a page of images.  They can be quite complex and ornate, many are designed to sit on a mantle or shelf, and others hang on the wall.  At 29″ x 43″ this one is rather large and will be wall hung.  My client prefers to keep it somewhat contemporary rather than the super carved and ornate.  The finish will be black over red clay with the black brought back to replicate wear and add patina to the piece.  So far it’s been quite a process designing it but that’s fun!  I’m pretty much given free artistic license and some of the elements will be created in the shop and others will be store bought.  It took quite some time to come up with the 1/4 scale drawing that you see at the left but let me share the process taken to get there.

Full Size Mock-Up

I’ve found that with a piece of this size and complexity it’s very difficult to scale out, unlike a furniture piece there are many little details that will make up the frame.  It was easier to find some crown molding and also a dentil detail at Barger Molding then it would be for me to make such a small amount of it.  They’re the company that mills the molding I designed for my frames too.  Once I had those elements it was time to lay them out and get a full visual of the future frame.  Over-all the frame will measure approximately 36″ wide by 55″ long.  A piece of butcher paper became the painting and a newspaper taped together became the spandrel.  Cardboard of varying widths was cut to get an over-all look at the ratio of frame to spandrel to painting.  There is virtually nothing to be found on the web about how these frames are put together so using my years of experience at building furniture decided that’s the best route to take.  Sizing the spandrel is important as well as the shape of the arch on top.  I bought some gold paper and cut a couple of different shapes for the artist to choose from:

Her preference was #2 so the next step was to make a full sized one, take it to the painting to see where it should be located.  This is a vital step, she had some brush work around the head that she wanted to highlight.  Now it’s time to make the actual spandrel and the frame will be built around it.  This one is made of 1/4″ MDF and will be gold leafed.  It’s quite fragile since the sides only measure 1 3/8″.  A small plunge router with a 1/8″ bit was attached to an arm (compass style) for the first cut at the top.  After that, the bottom and sides were cut out the same way with an edge guide mounted to the router.  The final cuts to connect the arch to the sides was saved until last.  These cuts will be square up by hand, chamfered and smoothed prior to gilding.

Boy, that MDF puts out a bunch of fine dust — yech!  Next up is making the frame itself.

Posted in custom profile, Design Process, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Carved Tulip Cross

Quite a number of years ago I found a carving of a mirror frame on Pinterest and saved it.  This was of a tulip and it’s leaves that wrapped around on side of it.  The carving was by someone named Athanasian Pastrikou and it really captivated me.  I loved the way he carved the tulip so a few years later it was time to challenge myself and see if I could capture his style on a cross.  If you look at his website you can see I have a ways to go but that’s what it’s all about, keep challenging and never be satisfied with where your skill set is at any time!  I’ve tried to find out what I can about this man and believe he’s from Greece, in any case the credit for the design goes to him.

My first attempt on this was a simple relief carving which turned out okay.  Then it was time to attempt to capture the curling leaf at the bottom which I did out of Basswood.  That cross hangs in my shop to remind me of where my strength and skills come from.  Sometimes it gets in my Instagram or blog post pictures so from time to time I’ve been asked to make them for others.  Well, I had some free time so decided the time was right to  carve a cross or two!  I started out with Basswood.  Since that’s the type of wood the majority of my custom picture frames are made of I usually have scraps of it in the shop.  The project begins by transferring the design to the wood and then cutting that wood into a T-shape as you can see here on the Cherry wood I needed to switch to, why switch?  Well check out how the original Basswood refused to cut cleanly:

In a recent Mary May video she did a leaf motif completely around a Mahogany table.  She did a lesson on it and for that she used Basswood.  I recall her saying that the Mahogany was actually easier to carve than the Basswood so thought I’d give it a chance and it worked much better.  Now I want to try one of these in Mahogany!

Cutting Lap Joint

After transferring the pattern the next step is cutting lap joints for the cross arm.  This picture is of the Basswood but the process is the same.  Placement of the cross arm is up to you, I prefer the placement on the second cross I did.  The cross arm is about 3/4″ square to match the T section of the motif.  Easy enough to do this by hand with a saw, chisel, and router plane to finish it off.  The area that over-laps is about 1/4″ thick and a combination of files and chisels is used to finesse the outer edges.  Next up is the carving itself.  Won’t go into the exact procedures and chisels used but basically once the motif is outlined the background (cross) is lowered.  Next up is the challenge of making the wood look like a tulip and leaves.  Must of been okay since both of them sold!

Currently have a couple of commissions for picture frames, one of them being a Tabernacle style which is something I’ve wanted to do for a long time.  I’d like to continue the carving work and do a few more of these before Christmas so check back if you were interested in them.  Here are the finished crosses, the one on the left was the first one completed.  You can spot subtle differences but that’s what hand craftsmanship is all about,  there’s a saying that goes something like: “the beauty of an item made by hand are its’ imperfections” and I can definitely live with that!



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October was an Exciting Month!

Gallery Representation

Kumiko Sofa Table at Anticus Gallery, Scottsdale

This is the most exciting thing to happen in October for sure, this is the first gallery to represent me since our move to Phoenix.  The timing was just right, I approached the owner of the gallery; Phillip Payne, as he was going through some changes and looking for ways to diversify the gallery.  The name of the gallery is changing from Desert Mountain Fine Art to Anticus.  Phillip is an amazing sculptor as is his father Kenneth.  If you check out the link to the galleries website you’ll see the variety of artists he represents and the services he offers.  My work is unique to the gallery, he will be representing my premium, hand crafted boxes that feature the Kumiko inserts in their lids.  I’m also working on another series of boxes that will feature exotic woods and the hand crafted joinery I’m known for.  Like other high end galleries, there is an area where clients can view art in a setting that is more home like rather than an open gallery space.  There was ample room to display the Cherry sofa table and we thought if fit perfectly.  Diane and I discovered the gallery (located at 7012 E Greenway Pkwy, Suite 160 Scottsdale AZ 85254) when we were going for our anniversary dinner.  It’s in the Kierland area of North Scottsdale which is an amazing area of shops and eating establishments.  Come check it out!


Phoenix Home & Garden Magazine

Through the Store at Mesa Art Center I was fortunate to have a recent Kumiko insert box included in a recent story about local artists that incorporated traditional Japanese and Celtic work into theirs.  Phoenix has a sister city in Japan, Hemeji and that’s the connection.  This photograph is on page 40 of their November issue.  Honored to have my work included in their story.


Diane’s Upcoming Group Show

When it comes to picture framing you’ve probably heard me refer to myself as a “boutique framer”, in other words; designing a frame specifically for the artwork or occasion.  Diane (website link) has been invited to participate in an upcoming show at the Meyer-Vogl Gallery.  The show is titled Plunge and the theme is water.  She has created five paintings to fit that theme.  The frame is a fairly simple profile but for these, General Finishes milk paint in Persian Blue was chosen for the undercoat.  The frames are oil gilded with 12 karat gold leaf which allows that blue hue to faintly show through the leaf — a water like effect!  The sides were left painted.  Here are four of the framed paintings:

I always enjoy her creative process so allow me to share her blog on the last of the paintings, Aquarius which features a whimsical look at the classic rubber ducky!  Once that painting gets it’s final varnish it’ll be framed and sent off to the gallery soon.

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September Wrap Up & New Kumiko Box

This has been a productive month beginning with commissions for several frames and ending up starting another Kumiko box and a glimmer of hope to get them in a local art gallery.  More on that when it happens, don’t want to jeopardize an “iffy” situation!  Now that I’m doing more frames I’ve found that additional space is needed for them in between processes.  Finding enough horizontal space isn’t possible, my main shop area is about 19′ square.  The best solution seemed to be adding more boards with pegs to the walls so they could be hung, I use that already for the tools used the most.  Very similar to Shaker pegs.  Here’s a before and in progress panoramic shot:

I hang my most commonly used tools (plane, marking gauge, mallet, etc.) to the left of the work bench and then by the table saw are jigs and push sticks used for that.  See the mess of frames on the outfield/assembly table?  Those are what lead to this shop makeover:

Rail and Pegs

All of the tools are on mobile bases but now the assembly table is usable, rather than glue the pegs in they’re left lose in case they need to be moved around to accommodate different sized projects, jigs, or whatever!

Then there were a number of picture frames, the ones you see hanging on the new rack system will be 12kt. gold oil gilded but had a problem with air bubbles in the size so that’s been delayed, luckily they’re not needed till early November.  Another recent frame was this 18″ x 36″ custom profile for Christine Vallieres, a good client of mine.  I like to identify  my frames and this is the 10/20 Rip, that’s the angles used to cut the edges.  The grooves were put in by hand with a plow plane.  The finish is black over a red undercoat and then the sight edge was gilded with composition gold leaf.  I priced this frame at $150.00.

The Kumiko work is addictive as I’ve mentioned before.  Woodworkers Source is having a jewelry box contest and I’ll probably enter one of mine in that.  I mentioned a possible gallery interest in them so am in the process of making another; just in case.  I love the beginning stages of a project.  For this one I ended up making an actual sized Kumiko to help visualize, this was then copied on the scanner and sized to fit the box.  An 8/4 piece of Sapele from Woodworkers Source will be used for this piece.  Since I don’t stain, my preference is to buy one piece of wood and then mill it to whatever sizes I need, this way when it’s oiled it’s obvious it’s from the same board.  Here’s a collage of the steps so far:

It’s almost a chicken and egg conundrum, what comes first the design, the box, or the lid!  My solution is to first do the design based on my rough guesstimation of the overall box size.  The first part to be assembled is the lid and then the dovetailed box is built around it.  I use #0 biscuits which protrude into the lid but are trimmed and then the Kumiko conceals them.

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Sofa Table Finished — Next!

There’s a feeling you get when you complete a long project that is often  compared to childbirth, kind of a let down that it’s over but overwhelming joy at the results.  As an ultra runner that was a feeling I’ve experienced many times.  After months spent training for an upcoming 50 mile mountain race as you reach the finish line there’s a mixture of joy and sadness that it’s done — finito!  With all of the interest I’ve had with this project I hope to make a few more for others.  Always a challenge for shipping but if you’re in the Phoenix area and interested please do contact me.  Here are a few pictures that Diane took with her camera and the lighting she uses in her studio for her work.

Every project is a learning experience and this one was no different.  I’m often asked about the methods used to design my work and it generally begins with sketches then progresses to scaled drawings with detailed joinery done on 1/4″ graph paper.  The legs started out just being tapered but after doing a mock up (another one of my design methods) I could see that curving them added a lightness to it.  Since the Kumiko is “light” the top was tapered on the bottom edge and I wanted it to “float” as well — emphasizing that feeling of lightness.

Template for top/apron fitting

The challenge of locating the 6 dowels accurately in both pieces was solved by making a template that fit the top of the apron exactly.  After drilling small pilot holes the template was turned over onto the top.  After centering it and locating the holes they too were drilled out.  The top floats about 5/8″ above the apron.  Gorilla glue was chosen for this since removing any squeeze out is relatively easy.  The table and top were finished before this happened.

The final step was to fit the Kumiko panel into the table.  Acme Glass in Scottsdale is where the 3/16″ tempered glass was purchased.  I needed to lower the rabbet a slight amount which was harrowing to say the least!  Something learned on Kumiko is that a panel of this size can bow a bit, also the pieces I’d cut for the rim needed some fine tuning to hold everything securely.  Also needed to completely remake a short piece by scribing it with the panel in place, then marking which side to cut on, and finally mitering it to fit.

All things considered, I’m really pleased with this project and hope to make more pieces like it.  It’s all about the wood, Diane took thispicture of the Kumiko panel, under glass with her camera which really emphasizes the contrast of the Cherry with the Basswood.  As I look at it my eye goes to every little mistake I can see — isn’t that what we all do?  I’ve learned over the years that perfection and woodworking rarely go hand in hand so just strive to do the best work possible.

Kumiko under glass

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Kumiko Table Progress


As many of you know, working on a project begins with various bits and pieces and then after a long span of time you actually begin to see things take shape, that’s the case with the sofa table project.  Yesterday I could actually see in 3D what had only been on paper and in my mind; makes for a great day!  It’s far from complete and there is much work to be done before completion but we’re well on the way.  As you can see, the intricate Kumiko portion of the design still needed to be done so that kept me occupied for a time.  The picture on the left shows the completed inset which was done this morning.

One jig for 67.5° the other for 22.5°

What I enjoy about that process is that it’s detail oriented and one of those things you get into and the next thing you know, 3-4 hours have gone by.  Wonderful isn’t it? No news, no politics, no TV noise, just music on Pandora and working with your hands!  Always learning and I found a YouTube video by Mike Farrington showing how he does this work.  It really helped me out, I’d been cutting the 67.5° angle 1/3 and then 2/3 and it was tough getting them consistent.  In his video he cuts one end completely at that angle, then the 22.5° at the other end and trims them to fit the space.  Only after they’re fit does he trim off that 1/3 to create the 2/3 pocket for the locking piece.  I tried it and it worked well for me — Thanks Mike!

I’ll pass along something that I’ve found helpful with the Kumiko work.  After dry fitting all of the wings the next step is cutting that little key that’s cut at  45° at both ends.  One end fits in the corner and the other goes into the 2/3 pocket cut at 67.5°.  This project called for 12 of them and you’d think they should all be the same length, well; almost!  My method is to get adjust the jig for a good fit and then try the in each location.  If it fits fine, if it’s too long a bit more needs to be taken off the end.  For me it’s tricky to hold that small piece out and trim both ends equally to maintain the point.  Some type of shim was needed so I took an old feeler gauge set for setting spark plugs, trimmed it so it will lay across the jig, and used that — works like a charm!

It’s a little awkward holding the feeler gauge and cutting but you can see what a nice, thin shaving I was able to get.  My left pointer finger is a bit numb which makes it hard to play guitar!  Now it’s time to finish the table and make the dowels to float the top.  The Kumiko will be installed after the top is finished, the rim pieces that secure it need to be scribed and mitered which is quite a process.



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