Another First for the Phoenix Shop

It’s said you can only do things once for the first time and now I can chalk off another for my woodworking here in Phoenix.  The recently completed Ocean Waves frame was the first commissioned carving piece here and now work is commencing on the first Etsy custom order!

Custom Etsy Order

Custom Etsy Order

Just like the frame, this client contacted me before the shop was up and running but was willing to wait for this project.  It is a good sized, finger jointed, Oak box that she will use  to store hand made books.  In our conversations she asked for a dark finish but, if you know me, as a general rule my work features natural oil finishes to highlight the wood rather than stained ones.  That turned out to be no problem as she will do the stain work herself.  After going to Woodworkers Source here in Phoenix to pick up the material work began by cutting and planing the material to size.  It was more difficult than I thought it would getting the Oak in the 8″ width required but after much digging through the piles the required material was found!

It has been a while since I’ve used the finger joint jig made to fit the SawStop sliding table. Truth be told, I forgot how nice it is!  Through my 50+ years of working with wood many different styles of finger joint jigs have been made and used, from the simple board screwed onto the miter jig to fairly complex units that straddled both miter slots on the tablesaw.  By far, this one is the most secure and easy to set up.  You can see how it is made and functions through this blog link.  At the time I made a YouTube video  showing the jig in action.  If you’ve ever cut finger joints I think you’ll see how nicely this one works.

Once the jig is attached to the arm, gauge blocks are used for the initial adjustments.  It took 3 trial cuts to get everything dialed in.  To cut them, I use Freud’s box cutter set.  To insure against a lot of tear out on the back side of the piece I always replace the backer board and make sure to hold the piece being cut tightly to the jig.  As usual, the boards are marked as they’re cut to get continuous grain patterns around the corners of the box as much as possible.  One of those seemingly minor details that can make a big difference.


Ready for Glue-Up

The box was clamped up to size the bottom piece which is 1/2″ Oak plywood inserted into a dado for strength.  The top is a straight forward lift off one also made of the Oak plywood and then banded with a mitered piece of solid Oak.  Next up is sanding the interior and gluing the pieces together and it should be ready to ship out by the middle of next week. It’s been some time since I last worked with Red Oak — forgot what a nice smell it puts into the shop while it’s being worked!

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Sliding Barn Doors; My Way and Completed!

Alder, corrugated roofing, and heavy duty sliding barn door track — I’m liking this a lot!  Not built the way any directions said it should be done but modified to meet the vision I had for the shop storage area.  Two, concealed sets of shelving for boxes, paints, tools, etc. and then a center area with drawers for all of those sundry items we need to do our work.  The top of that drawer area is the right height for use as a stand up desk.  As promised in my last blog I’ll explain how this all came about.

The first problem, if you will, is that this type of track is designed so that you can attach the hardware to the door, slide it onto the track, and then install stops to prevent it from leaving the track.  As you can tell in these pictures, my plan has the track between two walls so no way to slide the doors on after the fact.  I had thought of trying to lift the track (very heavy) plus the doors into place at one time but with an almost 8′ span decided that wouldn’t work too well.  The plan I devised was to pre-drill the mounting holes for the brackets, attach them and the track to the cabinets, and finally put each door in place.

Before the doors were assembled a chamfer was needed to allow the bracket to sit squarely on top.  You’ll notice the ridicules set of instructions that came with the hardware.  Two pages that covered a bunch of different style brackets.  One thing that really stuck out and irked me to no end was that the brackets have square holes which would anchor the carriage bolts provided.  However; the directions showed inserting the carriage bolt from the back side which would give you a visible nut on the front.  This made no sense to me and even after calling Stanley to speak to their tech guys couldn’t get a straight answer. I can see the problem was that if the bolt is too long it would probably hit the wall.

Can you hack it?

Can you hack it?

The solution, although not quick; is easy.  After drilling a counterbored hole to accommodate the nut and washer on the back side of the door each bolt was cut to length.   In my opinion; that’s a much more elegant solution and method then having an ugly nut showing on the outside.  Last of all, was to cut a slot for the adjustment bolt.  Here’s some pictures illustrating that.  The one showing the track with a hanger on one side and the bolt on the other shows the need for the slot.  For a typical installation the directions had you drill an oversized hole for that adjustment bolt to fit into.

The next problem was cutting the tin to fit the rabbet of the doors.  This wasn’t quite the challenge I thought it would be.  Looking on line and at YouTube you’d think it would be darn near impossible.  Even tried calling a few, local sheet metal firms to see if they would be able to cut the tin for me but they all declined!  I found that an offset pair of Wiss tin snips from Home Depot did the trick.  Then it was time to attach it which was accomplished with a four pieces of plumbers tape, stretched tight, and screwed down.  I didn’t care for the finish on the tin, just too garish and bright but didn’t want to create a rusted finish either.  Check out the picture below, there is a subtle difference created by using a couple of pads of coarse steel wool to mellow out the luster of the tin.

The purpose of the handle is obvious but it also stabilizes the door stiles at the center.  My thought is that by screwing the handle to span across the middle of the door that should counter any seasonal changes.  The handle was cut on the bandsaw then cleaned up with hand tools.

Now the doors are ready to be hung.  After attaching the hangers to the track and cabinet it was a matter of setting one at a time in place.  At the right of the cabinet there is some extra space so the plan was to attach the right side door first, slide it as far to the right as possible and then attach the left door.  Once both are in place the stops (inside the track) are positioned to set the outer limit of the door travel.

So, there you have it.  Now it’s time to go on to the next challenge.  All through this project I kept hearing what Diane had told me years ago when it comes to her painting.  She told me she has a vision and starts on it until she reaches a problem.  Then, she’ll solve that problem and continue work until the next problem comes up — woodworking is much the same but I’d rather face those problems and challenges then follow a set of prescribed plans or, heaven forbid; have a computerized machine do it all for me!

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Sliding Barn Doors — My Way

I say “my way” and as of now, not 100% sure they’ll turn out right but do have a good feeling about my thought process.  I’m using Stanley Hardware, heavy duty galvanized for actual doors on a barn!  Lowest cost and they had the one piece, 8 foot long track that is needed for my application.  The doors are made of Alder (6/4) and the plan is to have corrugated tin roofing for inserts.  Let me say this too, it’s been well over a year since I’ve done this type of work.  Remember that during our six month Scottsdale Adventure the focus was carving and gilding and then when we returned to Las Vegas it was time to move.  Now the shop is built here in Phoenix and I’m back in my happy place.

After surfacing the Alder to uniform thickness it was allowed to acclimate to the shop before ripping to width and beginning the joinery.  Classic mortise and tenon for something like this and since it really is “utilitarian” my hybrid method of machines for grunt work and hand tools to fit them properly.  I must admit that on this project the tenons were almost exact right off the tablesaw!  Half inch mortises were cut first in the exact center of each piece, this way either face could be presented to the fence but center must be right on — I use a dial caliper to check both sides:

It’s wise to clamp all of your pieces together and do the layout at one time to ensure each location is the same.  For smaller work you can layout on one piece and then set stops on the mortiser for repetitive cuts.  The mortise is haunched and is 1 1/4″ deep.  To set the haunch depth check the right hand picture, I use a 3/4″ set up block between the depth stop to obtain a 1/2″ deep haunch — just a little trick to pass on.

After cleaning these up it’s time to cut the tenons on the crosspieces.  Layout begins with the marking gauge and cutting is accomplished on the table saw and also a tenoning jig.

I use dovetail saws to trim the tenons as needed and lay out for the haunch.  This can be problematic, I mean am I the only one whose cut the haunch wrong because of a measuring or visualization error which leads to cutting the haunch wrong?  What works for me is to first set a small adjustable square to the depth of the haunch and then hold it like shown in the right hand picture to establish the correct cut.

Glue up was straight forward, what was a bit of a challenge though was to cut the 1/2″ x 1/2″ rabbet on the inside to set the corrugated tin into.  Hated the thought of using a router with all of its noise and mess so made plunge and stop cuts on the tablesaw.  After the doors were assembled the rabbets were connected by cutting them out with chisel, mallet, and a router plane.

That’s enough information and pictures for one blog so I’ll call it complete.  Since I’m going at it my own way and not the way Stanley suggested getting the hangers on the doors was a head scratcher — next blog will reveal the secrets!

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End of Year Goals Met

Christmas in Phoenix 2016

Christmas in Phoenix 2016

This has been quite a year for the Eugster’s to say the least!  It began with Diane and I challenging ourselves and moving to Scottsdale, Arizona for our 20th. anniversary.  We’d always wondered how living in a more arts oriented area compared to Las Vegas would be so we rented an apartment for six months to give it a try.  Diane has lived in Las Vegas most of her life and I’d been in the Southern Nevada area since 1977 so this was a major step for us both.  That challenge led to us moving here to Phoenix where Diane’s work has blossomed, she’s in a new gallery in Charleston where she has had a number of sales.  As for me, I now have a free standing woodshop!  For that 6 month period the focus of my woodwork shifted from furniture to carving and gilding picture frames.  As artists, you always strive to “get to the next level”; whatever that may be!  We both feel that this move has been good for us in that respect.

Once we decided to make this move permanent there were those details of selling our home of 20 years in Las Vegas.  Those of you that follow my blog (thanks!) recall what we termed our “real estate hell” due to the foul ups of our buyers agent — he was a joke and the brunt on many negative reviews from us!  In the midst of this chaos, an email came to me requesting a custom picture frame.  This came from a client in New Jersey and my initial thoughts were those of doom and despair — here I have a potential job and no shop to do it in!  This gentleman was extremely patient and told me no problem, he wasn’t in any hurry but had a definite idea of what he wanted for his frame.

Anthony Thieme Painting in Ocean Waves Frame

Anthony Thieme Painting in Ocean Waves Frame

The painting is by Anthony Thieme; a Dutch/American artist working during the 1920-1950’s and measured 8″ x 10″.  He sent me a picture of the painting in its current frame as well as images of a frame style he thought would be a better fit.   Although rebuilding the shop here in Phoenix had more than it’s share of challenges my personal goal was to get this frame to him by years end.  I shipped it out on the 27th. of December and met that goal.  After he received the frame he sent me this picture of it along with this comment: “Frame looks fabulous and really complements the painting. I have attached a picture of the painting and frame.  Please feel free to use it in your blog/website, etc…”  As I used to always try to impress upon my students, the money you earn from your work is great but won’t compare to the compliments you receive; money is spent but accolades for your work will stay with you forever.

The last major goal for the year was organizing and rebuilding my first, climate controlled, free-standing woodshop.  That’s like 80% complete.  The shop is just under 500 square feet, it is quite an undertaking to organize from scratch.  A good friend of mine from the woodworking group in Las Vegas also moved and is setting up a shop of about the same size.  Bill and I have compared photos and it’s interesting to see our different styles when it comes to that phase.  I have one major cabinet/drawer unit and prefer to hang stuff on the walls similar to how the Shakers set up their space.  That system starts out with 8/4 Alder, ripped to size, then planed.  I add a chamfer or shelf to the top, then pegs positioned to hold the tools.  Really wonderful to use my planes again after a years time some beeswax was required to make it a real joy.

Here’s a montage of how the shop is shaping up.  I need to work on a bid for a possible Etsy commission but the next major undertaking for the shop it to build the doors for the storage area.

And, so ends a wonderful year.  Hope that you, like us; are looking forward to more adventures and excitement in 2017!


Posted in Carving, Phoenix Woodshop, Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , | 3 Comments

Ocean Waves Frame — Shining Brightly!

And, that’s really not a good thing!  Yesterday morning this frame was gilded along with a short section of the molding that will be used to see how the different toning affects may look.  If you’re unfamiliar with what’s commonly referred to as oil gilding this process begins with sealing the wood to eliminate any wood grain telegraphing through the leaf.  That’s another reason for using a wood such as Basswood since besides holding carving details quite well, its’ grain is pretty nondescript. For the sake of comparison, when using 22kt gold leaf that is referred to as water gilding.  That process is much more involved and consequently much more expensive.  For it you need to brush on many layers of gesso which is basically a chalk and rabbit skin glue mixture.  With the oil gilding process this is simplified with the application of a single layer of what’s called a burnisher/sealer.  This is heavily pigmented and burnished with oil free steel wool prior to laying on the composition gold leaf.

Since my client requested a lighter frame than what he sent a picture of, it seemed best to use a yellow burnisher/sealer.  I did a test sample with the red burnisher/sealer but didn’t care for how it showed through the inevitable faulting of the leaf.  Notice that plastic bag next to the frame?  That’s something new I’m trying from Lee Valley, called a finish storage bag.  Instead of having the air in a typical paint can react and skin over the finish with this you can squeeze out all the air and then cap it off.  My only complaint is that it’s a two person job — couldn’t maintain pressure on the bag and twist the cap on once all the air was out.  In any case, oil size is ready for leafing after 10-12 hours so susceptible to dust landing on it.  This is a simple PVC frame with Kraft Paper over it to eliminate the dust problem as much as possible.  After the frame was completely gilded you need to wait 24 hours for the size to be completely cured.  At this point it’s pretty darn brassy and bright as the picture on the left shows.  The initial step to knocking this down is to burnish it lightly with 4/0 steel wool then air brush on a few coats of shellac.  My preference for the steel wool is Liberon since it is completely oil free and for shellac I mix mine up fresh with flakes purchased from Shellac.Net.  These need to be de-waxed and for this frame, super platinum.  Note the difference in the frames appearance, freshly gilded on the left and burnished/shellacked on the right.

Toning will take place after Christmas but the frame will be ready to go to its new home in New Jersey before the years end.

Speaking of appearances, I’ve been in the process of re-vamping my website with Diane’s’ help.  When it comes to woodwork, teaching, or running ultra-marathons I have tons of patience. Throw a computer into the mix and that seems to vanish!  In Las Vegas much of my work was through word of mouth and recommendations from my clients.  Establishing myself here in Phoenix will require some work.  I’d been told that my website portfolio was hard to find and navigate so Diane has been working to make that easier.  Rather than having a separate page for chairs, tables, picture frames, boxes, etc. she has created one portfolio page.  On it will be a representation of my work broken down into a few categories.  The category completed so far is the custom furniture.  The tab at the top of the site says Woodworking Portfolio.  This WordPress site lets you create a tiled mosaic which to my eye, looks more interesting than a bunch of pictures all laid out in columns.  If you have the time and inclination I would like to hear your feedback about how it looks to you.  Now that Diane has helped by setting this up it’s now up to me to organize the rest of the portfolio page.

 Thanks for following my blog and your feedback,

Here’s wishing all of you:

Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year


Posted in Carving, Gilding, Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Ocean Waves Frame Progress

My Happy Place!

My Happy Place!

Ah yes, it’s been a long time coming and now the plan to become known as a custom, boutique framer is under way.  My goal is to establish my work here somewhere between those frames that are priced in the thousands of dollars and the big box frames that are okay for framing diplomas or you grandkids picture but not really gallery quality.  Like Diane told me; “You need to be the artists friend”!  Pricing will be the key knowing first hand that the phrase “starving artist” is really valid!  This frame, Ocean Waves; is the first on that will be made from the Woodworks by John#1 molding.  After talking with many of you at the Scottsdale Artist School and hearing your questions about my process of frame making I thought this would be a good opportunity to share that with you.  It’s very similar to the process I use with custom furniture where my clients input plays an important role.  In the past, I used some of the molding we had milled for Diane’s work or else the moldings I’d get from Foster Planing Mills seconds area.  Now that Barger Molding here in Phoenix is milling my profile this will be my stock molding.

The process begins with our initial contact.  The price for this 8″ x 10″ carved and gilded frame is $330.00 plus shipping.  My client emailed me from New Jersey with these images, the one on the left is of the painting he now owns and the one on the right is of the frame idea he has in mind:

Seeing that frame you can understand why I chose to title it “Ocean Waves”.  The painting it was on was much larger so the design obviously needed to be modified.  Technology comes into play first by allowing  me to scan and resize the image with computer and printer.  This is then modified by old fashioned drawing!  After getting approval from the client a pattern is created to ensure that all corners be uniform, there is more detail about that process in this Blog.  The next step is to figure out which chisel is appropriate to first outline the pattern.  The pattern, which is mounted to a piece of thin plastic, is actually cut out with the chisel and noted on a piece of paper.  This helps me remember which chisel to use — keep in mind there are eight of these to carve!

I realize that this pattern could be programmed into a CNC router and spit out in minutes rather than hours of hand work but the final product just isn’t the same.  Even if I were to make a number of these frames, each one would have its’ own personality and hand crafted quality.  The carving process begins by outlining each curve, connecting the longer elements with a V-chisel, and then grounding out to set it apart from the background.  The challenge is maintaining a uniform depth, thankfully the quality of the Basswood is great!


This process is time consuming but many of you artists know that feeling of becoming so engrossed by the creative process that time doesn’t seem to matter.  Many times we get  into that “zone” and discover half the day has passed without even realizing it!  Great feeling isn’t it?  At this point half of the frame is pretty much complete.  The steps that follow include applying burnisher/sealer to the entire frame followed by gilding and patination.  I’ll keep continue to blog about the process.  Here is how the frame is looking at this point.

Partially Complete

Partially Complete

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Want it done right? — Do it Yourself!

Before getting into the latest project let me summarize what Diane and I have been up to this crazy and exciting year!  After a 20th. anniversary celebration of living in Scottsdale for 6 months we decided to sell our home in Las Vegas and move to Phoenix.  For Diane, the purpose was to be close to the Scottsdale Artists School and the generally more art oriented environment.   My objective is similar for my furniture work and also finding a group of artists to make “boutique frames” for.  Someone needs to fill the niche between the multi thousand dollar frames most artists can’t afford and the big box crappy ones.  Another big plus was that this house already had a free standing shop of sorts.  It has taken some time to get it to my liking and you can read about some of it here.

Woodworks by John #1

Woodworks by John #1

So, to make what could be a very long (and boring) story short I began to look for a suitable molding; one that was wide (3″-4″), could accommodate stretched canvas, and had a panel that had space and a contour that could be carved.  I searched the few raw molding suppliers on line and checked with Foster Planing Mills in So. California who we had used before but shipping would be a killer.  Then I learned about Barger Moulding and ended up designing and ordering 100′ of the profile we designed.  That’s the reference in this blogs’ title.  If it’s worth doing or if you can’t find what you want you either do or make it yourself.  This profile is called Woodworks by John #1.  Enough background, let’s get into the first frame currently under construction.

A few months ago, while we were in the middle of our move; I received an email from someone on the east coast.  It was from a gentleman who had seen my website and was interested in having a frame made for a painting he had recently purchased.  My first reaction was a slight panic — I’ve been wanting to expand my custom frame work and here I am without a shop and in the middle of what we called our “Real Estate Hell”.  We had a few emails back and forth and thankfully he is very patient and willing to wait until the new shop is complete — thank God!

Anthony Thieme Framed Painting 8" x 10"

Anthony Thieme Framed Painting 8″ x 10″


It was interesting to see that the artist, Anthony Thieme; is someone who like me, came from Holland!  Here is an image of the picture my client bought along with the frame it came with.  Along with this image he also sent an image of the style of frame he would like to have for this piece.  screen-shot-2016-12-08-at-5-09-14-pm



This design is more fitting with the carved waves on the panel.  Obviously, this painting is much larger than the size of his painting.  He also asked for molding to be wider, somewhere in the neighborhood of 4″ which is what the new, Woodworks by John#1; his frame will be the first to be made from my custom molding design!


The first step was to come up with the design.  This is accomplished by grabbing the image and manipulating the size to fit the frame.  I discovered that with a frame of only 8″ x 10″ having two waves at each corner wouldn’t work.  Reducing the second wave by 25% allowed me to fit both elements and get a pleasing design.  Once the design is drawn out it is attached to a piece of plastic from a salad container.  In this picture you’ll notice the pattern being cut with the chisels of the correct profile — their size and sweep is noted on a piece of paper to facilitate the actual carving:


Pattern Making

Pattern Making

Next is the the actual carving on a corner sample.  I was anxious to see how this Basswood from Barger would cut and am impressed with the quality of the wood.  Using the plastic for the pattern makes it easy to flip and get that mirror image on the corners.  The line on the outer edge of the molding indicates the center on each leg.  Yep, I’m in my “happy place”, in front of the carving bench lost in making the design come to life!

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