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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Sofa Table with Kumiko : Starting Point

Old School Planning, full size on craft paper

Lately I’ve been intrigued with the Japanese form of woodworking called Kumiko, you’ve probably seen the two boxes I recently completed using that technique as an accent. I’ve seen a few images of the Kumiko being used in furniture as well and that’s been my long term goal — we can use a sofa table so that became the impetus for this project.  The wood chosen is Cherry and what I like to do, if possible, is to buy one board that can be used for the entire project.  The coloration and grain pattern will usually match through out and make for a cohesive piece since I only use clear finishes.  I bought a piece of 8/4 x 10″ x 10′ and yes, it does involve more work with resawing but I think it’s worth the effort.  Rough sketches began at the drafting table and ended up full size on craft paper.  I’m after an Oriental inspired design with a floating top.  Haven’t done a top like that so that’ll just add that to the challenge, learning some new techniques in a project is what it’s all about for me.  Here’s a brief montage of how the top was made.  Basically there is a rabbet deep enough for the Kumiko and two layers of 3/16″ glass.  They are joined with mortise and tenons so the rabbet needed to be cut away  in those areas.

Beginning the Grid

The next step was to make the grid work for the Kumiko, there’ll be 3 Asa-no-ha’s surrounded by a uniform grid to lock it into place.  After cutting all of the lap joints they were assembled on a piece of plywood (lined with wax paper to prevent any sticking) inside the top.  Won’t bore you with the details but will add that I’m glad I made some extras — broke some and learning how accurately those lap joints need to be cut!

Offset Tenons with full length haunch

After milling the material for the legs, approximately 1 3/4″ square, it was time to cut the mortises.  There’s a lot that goes into figuring out table legs!  First of all there’s the grain direction, especially important because I’d be planing the curve at the bottom of two sides of each leg. Then, there’s laying out the mortises and making sure  the tapered curve and apron pieces are in the proper sequence — definitely a time to measure twice (or more!) mark carefully, and cut once.  The apron is 3 1/2″ wide and since the legs are pretty slender I chose to go with a full length haunch and then offset the tenons.

That left designing the curved, taper at the bottom of each leg.  After drawing a “fair curve” on a piece of MDF to use as a pattern that work began. When doing a set of dining chairs I used my shaper and did pattern shaping, however; for this project using eye and hand is sufficient. Only 4 legs and eight sides to form. In the middle picture you can see the progression.  At left is the template, then it’s drawn on the leg, cut out on the bandsaw leaving the line, and finally smoothed out with a low angle block plane.

I love working with hand planes and found so much pleasure fairing these bandsawn curves decided to make a little video of it and share it with you.  My usual disclaimers — old camera, older camera guy but you get the gist of it!

Posted in custom furniture, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Kumiko, Mortise and Tenon Joint, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Latest Frame Commission and Box Done

I recently received an order for two picture frames from someone in the Portrait Artists of Arizona, they will be used on paintings entered into shows so that’s exciting!  She asked for a fairly simple frame with a black finish.  Black seems to be “the new gold” as I’ve been doing quite a few of them lately, these will  be over red clay with the black rubbed back to expose the clay undercoat.  One is a 10″ square and the other is 12″ x 16″. Since these are for stretched canvas I needed to begin with 8/4 Basswood.  The profile is angular, after the wood was brought to thickness it was a matter of cutting the angles on the tablesaw and then refining them with a smooth plane.  Rather than take the time to set up a dado head to cut the rabbet it was easier to make about 3 cuts and then smooth out the top with a rabbet block plane — hand work is more enjoyable anyway!  Here’s a photo montage of the process:

Clamped and Glued

This part went pretty smoothly, the 8/4 Basswood was purchased at Timber Machinery in Tempe and was wide enough to get two pieces that were 3 1/4″ wide.  Instead of  working with long lengths of material, I cut each side of the frame oversized for profiling, that makes it easier and more accurate.  After mitering, each end had a biscuit slot (#20) cut and was glued and clamped up overnight.  The finish process has started, just waiting for the paint to set up so I can begin rubbing it back to expose the red undercoat.  That’s always tricky, never know how much or how little of that the client wants so this is where I use my own digression and “artistic license”!


In between steps on the frame project I managed to complete the larger Walnut box that has the Asa-no-ha inlaid top.  The measurements on this one is 6″ tall by 7 1/2″ wide and 14 1/2″ long.  Used the same finishing procedure with the Osmo PolyX that has become my finish of choice after decades of using Watco and my 3 part mix — EPA has forced changes to make it environmentally safe but that’s ruined the quality IMHO!  This is just a summary of the final steps for this project, details can be found in my previous blog.  Kumiko is definitely addictive and all of this is leading up to making a sofa table that will have Kumiko work sandwiched between two pieces of tempered glass on the top.  Here’s the final results for the latest box.

The tray is mitered; after plowing a groove for the bottom they were cut using a guide on the table saw.  I set a stop for the longest side and then use a spacer to accurately cut the short side being careful to keep them in the order they’re cut for grain pattern.  The bottom is a piece of Birch plywood rabbeted to fit the groove.  Packing tape assembly works well for a tray of this size.

A scrap of Birdseye Maple is used for the lid lift, rather than using a router this seemed like a good opportunity to hone chisel skills!


As I mentioned, Kumiko is addictive!  Final fitting of what I call the rim piece that sets it into the box and trimming the small locking pieces keeps you occupied!

I like it — on to the next challenge!

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Kumiko Box #2

Perhaps you’ve read my two previous blogs about the Kumiko process or are one of the Instagram followers who have fallen down the Kumiko Rabbit Hole — thanks HillbillyDaiku!  If you too have fallen down that hole you know how addictive this can be.  I’m actually looking forward to just “cutting some dovetails” for the box that will hopefully showcase this lid!  As I’ve read through the various blogs and Instagram there seems to be quite a bit of interest in technique — hand tools only, power tools only, combination, etc. so thought I’d share mine and add to the mix.  As always, I welcome your comments so I know I’m not just talking to myself!

I’m primarily a hand-tool guy using power as my apprentices.  The wood I’ve chosen to use is Basswood, it’s straight grained, works well, and I have many odd sized remnants left over from my custom picture framing work.  I decided to make my Kumiko pieces 5/8″ wide so the first step was running the selected pieces through the planer to get them all uniform.  For the thickness I went with 3/16″, seemed to fit my vision — no other reason! The first step was to hand plane a working edge on each piece (Picture #1), then it was taken to the bandsaw and cut slightly over-thick (Picture #2), that was followed by hand planing in the sled to the thickness (Picture #3).  The sled was inadvertently made slightly more than 3/16″, actually 5cm which turned out to be a good thing for calculations!

This was just repetitious work to get a bunch of Kumiko stock, plane, rip, thickness, plane, and repeat.  All of the plane shavings go to a ceramist who uses them for her Raku pottery.

Mind Numbing!

The next step involved doing the calculations for the Asa-no-ha design and to complicate things I decided to go with a double one with a space in between.  OMG what a calculation nightmare, honestly several hours to figure this one out!  Now I’m sure it could be done quicker and easier on some sort of computer program but did I mention I’m primarily a hand tool guy?  I found that it’s best to actually lay it out on a piece of wood after the paper/pencil work.  Here’s where having the thickness be 5cm helped.  Much easier to do these calculations using metrics.  When I taught junior high woodshop there was a failed push to change the USA to metrics.  What I taught and still believe is that if you’re going to use metrics then use metric scales; never try to convert metric to Imperial measurements. When you calculate the pitch (from Desmond King, Book 1 page 78) metrics are the only way to go — ever try to evenly divide 1/2″ by 3?   The other thing with the Kumiko work is to use a marking knife and dividers, your pencil us too thick and inaccurate.

Fine Tuning of Shooting Board

Cutting the pieces is done with the Japanese saw and a shop made miter box.  Each piece is squared up and fine tuned on this shooting board with a block plane.



So, the next step is making your lap joints.  There’s a lot written about that process.  Without a doubt a tablesaw is quick and accurate but then you’re left with a kerf of 1/8″ or so — too thin IMHO.  So, how about a 1/4″ dado — too thick IMHO!  I use Dovetail saws for most of my work but found using a Japanese style saw works better for this.  My jig allows me to clamp the pieces together and cut them at one time.  Those pieces that are screwed to the base of it are about 5/16″ thick so when the saw hits that you know you’re at depth.

Care needs to be taken after your initial cuts to cut on the correct side of the line, I mark that side to be safe.  Once the first side of the lap is cut a scrap of the wood is used to set the thickness (Mitsuke), hold it tight against the square and slide if until the initial kerf is just covered, scribe that and cut.  Remove the waste with a chisel and fine tune to fit.  I’ve found that leaving a piece of Kumiko in each joint after it’s cut helps hold everything in place while cutting the rest of the lap joints.

Lid looking for a Box!

Let me leave it at that — getting too long winded!  That’s my technique and for sure not the only way to go about this.  As for cutting the rest of the pieces that was shown in my two other blogs about this Kumiko addiction.  My preference is using a 1″ wide chisel although I see many others using a plane — tried that with a low angle but seems too large of a tool for such small pieces.  Here’s the lid so far, those outside pieces will be mitered and hold it all in place.  Now …….. on to the box!


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Hand Carved Picture Frames — My Process

Why take the time to blog? That’s a question that I’m asked from time to time and the answer is somewhat complicated!  For starters, as a career teacher I seem to have a natural inclination to share with others.  A practical aspect, as I approach my seventh decade; is that it is an on-line diary to help me recall what the heck I did — some of you may be at that stage of life now and know what I mean!  All that aside,  it’s rewarding when someone appreciates my work and asks how to get those results for themselves  in their own work.  That being said, recently there have been a few questions about carving picture frames so I’ll use that as a springboard to share my process.

Dreaming In Blue
Diane Eugster
18 x 24

This is the painting the Diane recently completed that needed a frame.  The subject has an Art Nouveau feel to it so my first instinct was to find a pattern that would compliment the painting and the brush strokes in it.  Although Diane, being my wife, is my best client the process is the same for anyone that commissions me to do a frame for them.  I try to get a feel for the emotion the artist had and begin by making sketches and designs.  This will eventually lead up to making a corner sample for approval.  That’s pretty important, most people won’t be able to visualize your idea from a sketch.  My usual source for inspiration comes from image searches on the internet and copying them.  Once they’re copied they can be manipulated and printed out to the required size.  I couldn’t find anything I liked so went to a book Diane has titled Alphonse Mucha Masterworks.  On a few of the pages there was a graphic of these ivy leaves that caught my eye so it was copied and manipulated to fit the space on the custom profile Basswood molding made for this painting.  Now the fun, aka frustration; can begin!

Plastic Pattern

Time consuming for sure but rather than go by “time is money” concept I prefer “time is care & quality”.  The first step is to take the correctly sized pattern and use spray adhesive to attach it to a piece of plastic commonly found as salad containers.  This is stiff enough to follow with a pencil and flexible enough to lay onto any curves your profile may have.  It’s also easy to flip over to get the needed mirror image on the opposing corners of the miter.  The pattern in cut out with the gouges that I have — when you carve a frame the elements need to be consistent and I’m not skilled enough to have that consistency with a V-tool.  Using the curvature of the various gouges is key for me to stay consistent.  As I cut the design out of the plastic I also annotate it on another piece of paper for reference.  To take care of the interior aspects of the design tracing paper can be used to make your own carbon paper.

Pattern Work

As you can see, it’s a somewhat complex process.  I usually carve a sample and in this case discovered I needed to change the pattern around to make it appear more random.  Went through a number of changes and revisions to come up with something my client liked.  I go through this process for all my clients but when it’s for my wife it may be a bit more daunting!  In any case, her gallery; MeyerVogl, in Charleston likes her work and tells us that the fact her frames are custom made for each painting by her husband adds to the story behind her art.

Work in Progress

Once the carving was complete it’s on to  the finish.  Diane did an under painting of warm oranges and greens on her painting and asked for a black frame.  Rather than do the traditional Japan Black over red clay  a mix of yellow and red clay resulted in a rust colored clay.  After burnishing, a coat of thinned down Japan Black was applied and then rubbed back to expose that clay undercoat.  I feel that the over-all effect of the frame compliments the emotion Diane put into the painting.  In my opinion, the frame should compliment the art without upstaging it.  Granted I have a bias but going to shows and seeing a beautiful painting that the artist framed with an inexpensive, mass produced, and probably imported frame is sad.  I know frames can be very expensive and my goal has always been to make frames affordable for the artist so their work can be showcased the best way it can.

Corner Detail

Here’s a close up of one corner of the frame.  Each corner and section is different of course but this is the left side which has a lot of background.  I attempted to expose more of the undercoat to mimic Diane’s brush work in that section of the painting.  The next question most folks ask is “how long did that take?” I’ve heard a tongue in cheek answer to that: “all my life” implying that to get to this stage of work you’ve been going at it for a long, long time.  And for me that’s probably the best answer.  Any of you that work at a craft know that it’s not about getting rich but rather it’s the enjoyment of the results of your creative process — at least that’s it for me.  Hope this helps those of you who asked about the process.  Keep your comments and questions coming — I appreciate them!




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