The Making of Frame # 107

I was reminded of a documentary film that followed the making of a Steinway Grand piano from start to finish as this picture frame started to take shape.  It came out around 2007 and maybe some of you other woodworkers saw it. The title was  “The Making of Steinway L1037”.  As a furniture maker who’s passion is working  primarily with hand tools I really enjoyed this film.  Not to compare my work with something the magnitude of a Steinway piano but the process that takes place as we make an item by hand is taken for granted by the general public.  During my teaching career something I always tried to  emphasize is that everything we see, use, or touch was created by someone; it didn’t just happen!  As this frame went from an idea to an actual piece it brought up the memory of that documentary, if you haven’t seen it you can probably still find it on Netflix or another internet provider.

Summer Breeze by Diane Eugster

This painting titled Summer Breeze; was painted by my wife, Diane Eugster.  She hired a model and spent the morning taking pictures of her in various costumes and locations throughout  our house and yard.  The goal for my picture frame designs is to incorporate an element of the painting into the frame whenever possible.  Diane asked for a silver, cool frame to complement the painting.  One feature that stood out to me was her braids so being up for a challenge (as always!) I made it my mission to find some clip art or an image that I could possibly carve to give the illusion of braids.  The thing to keep in mind is that it’s the painting that is the star of the show, not the frame.  Think of the frame to be jewelry or eye-candy that will draw the viewer into the art.  It’s always surprising that many artists will scrimp on the frame even though it may be that “hook” that makes their work stand out from all the others in a gallery or show.

Braid Designs

The frame making process begins by first cutting and joining the pieces together.  To see what that process entails, check out this page of my website.  Now comes the fun part, finding an image that is usable.  Thank goodness for internet image searches and copy and paste capabilities because my artistic abilities aren’t up to this task!  The first braid design I found was really cool but it used three strands.  A flexible plastic pattern was made and I carved a couple of trials — the problem came when it was time to model it.  Even after coloring in each strand to see which goes under, which goes over, etc., etc. it became apparent to me that this was just a bit too complicated.  Since the plan is to have it go about 9″ from the miter on each corner there is too much chance for error.  The time spent was a good lesson and practice in carving but in the end the design chosen is what you see in brown which has only two strands to it.  We changed the ending of it so it wasn’t quite so literally strands of hair.

Creating the Pattern

Just a brief recap on how I make these designs; once it’s manipulated on the computer to the size needed it is attached to a piece of plastic you can get from salad containers with spray adhesive.  This picture is of the three strand braid but the process is the same.  The plastic piece with the design is stapled or taped to a piece of wood and then cut out with carving chisels.  The size/sweep of the chisel used is annotated on another paper so I can remember what the heck I did!  Salad container plastic is flexible enough to fit into the cove and by flipping it over I can trace a mirror image on both corners of the frame.  The pattern is cut at 45° to align it with the miter.  Since the ending of this braid is modified there are two pieces for this particular pattern.

This frame is rather large so I needed to pull the bench out from the wall. The plan is to first lay out the basic design and ground it out.  It’s always tricky working on a curved, ogee/cove surface like this but here’s the first two corners.

Although the details have been drawn in to model the braids I’ll wait until all four corners are ground out and attempt to do all of the modeling then.  My thoughts are that I can get a rhythm that way to achieve more consistency.

For the most part, using a chisel or gouge of a certain size is the best way to have consistent curves and profiles on a carving.  Sometimes though, that’s not possible.  Enter one of my favorite little tools I call my Golf Ball Skew!  Using golf balls for handles on my files is something I’ve done for years, they’re great.  You can hold them in any position and the surface provides a good grip.  This is made from a Marples, double skew chisel that came from the factory with an ugly, blue, plastic handle.  It’s my “go to” tool whenever I need to cut lines that don’t match the standard carving chisels I have.  You can sight right over the top of it and pivot the tool exactly on the line that needs to be cut.

So there you have it, a look at how the carving of my picture frames go from my head to the wood.  It really is all about the process — hope you enjoyed it, now it’s my turn to make some chips!




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Beaded Frame #105

Scrub Plane

Diane is currently working on a painting that will look better with a more contemporary frame than the molding I had milled at Barger Molding.  I always like the challenge of creating my own profile from rough stock plus it gives me an opportunity to work with the two new planes from Veritas, the plow and skew rabbet.  Unfortunately, no local supplier had any 6/4 Basswood so I made a lot of sawdust and purchased some 8/4 instead.  The process started by flattening one side with the scrub plane then using the planer to bring it to the required size — hybrid woodworking at its’ best.  The painting is 9″ x 12″ so the choice was to cut 4 separate pieces rather than trying to plane and form two longer pieces.  The profile is a fairly simple one as most contemporary profiles tend to be, it will be silver gilded.

Molding Profile

Overall dimensions are 1 3/8″ x 3 5/8″.  Cutting the 15° and 20° angles was done on the table saw then cleaned up with a smooth plane to remove the saw marks.  The sight edge is the shorter one and in hindsight, I should have planed the rabbet before cutting the longer, 15° angle on the other side.  It would have been easier to secure the board in the vise without the angled face — next time!  Since the plow plane works best with a 90° corner, the edge I’m pointing to with the pencil was also cut at 15° to achieve that.

I’ve always liked the simplicity of beaded surfaces and in the past, created them with either a shop made scratch stock or the Lie-Nielsen # 66 bronze beading tool.  An early frame I did of smoked poplar was completely done with that tool.  That is a great way to add details to your work but, unfortunately; Basswood is too soft for that process.  That’s why I was so excited about the small plow plane and the beading cutter!

Cutting the Rabbets

Okay, enough back story, let’s get into this project.  After roughly shaping the stock, the first step was to cut the rabbet which, as this picture shows; created lots of shavings.  It was a bit of a process to get the blade adjusted exactly where it needed to be but with the set screws used position the blade it should be a one time deal.  Yes, a tablesaw could have accomplished this in no time but hand tool work is soothing and I enjoy the process.  It took around 40-50 passes to cut the 1 1/8″ wide by 3/16″ deep rabbet in all of the pieces.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to bore you with this video (2 parts) and share my enjoyment with you!

Since watching it in it’s entirety may be as exciting as the proverbial “watching paint dry” I broke it into 2 segments.  Here I’m just going down to the final dimensions:

Hopefully you’re not too bored watching these videos and found something informative in them.  Let’s continue with the Veritas small plow plane this time outfitted with a 1/4″ bead blade.  This was also great fun and only took 16-20 passes to cut the beads.  For some reason two of the pieces of Basswood developed this stringy cut, the others cut cleanly from start to finish:

All that remained was to cut the miters and slots for the #20 biscuits and glue it up.  Remember the angled outside corner?  Well, that created a problem when it came to the assembly process.  I use a Merle band clamp for assembly purposes and the jaws are 90°, the outside of the frame is 15° so it wouldn’t clamp securely.  Lucky for me, the cut off pieces were still by the saw so short pieces were attached to the corners with double-back tape — now I was able to glue the frame together.

Next up is the final preparation, gilding, and toning and hopefully it’ll be a great complement to Diane’s latest work.

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Fence for Plow Plane

Ever view this woodworking we do as an addiction?  I find that the more I do, the more I look forward to the challenge of taking on another project.  I have some plans to make a custom molding for a small (9″x 12″) painting that Diane is working on.  It needs to be silver gilded and have a somewhat simple design.  I’m starting out with Basswood that I’ve milled down to approximately 1 3/8″ x 3 5/8″.  Purchasing the plow plane was partially influenced by this frame design.  In the past, I’ve used a beading tool to create moldings but that tool doesn’t cut very cleanly in a softwood like Basswood.  When I saw that Veritas now makes beading cutters for the plow plane the thought crossed my mind that maybe this was the way to go.  You can guess the rest; go on line, open Lee Valley website, sign in and click that order button!

Auxiliary Fence on Rabbet Plane

After getting UPS delivered the beading cutters it was time to give them a try.  They are a little more difficult to control. Unlike a straight cutter, the beading cutter needs to be carefully guided, any slight variation will show up in the bead.  Straight cuts are usually used as part of a tongue and groove joint or to inset a bottom for a box or drawer.  Since the bead is a detail and variation will be obvious.  Decided it would be wise to make an auxiliary fence just as I did for the rabbet plane.  As with most things, there are plusses and minuses — the fence helps guide the tool but it also decreases the distance you can go from an edge.  Oh well, easy enough to remove if needed.

For the plow plane I had a small piece of Mahogany.  Once is was planed to about 1/2″ thick to accommodate the threaded inserts it was time to form it.  This is where the fun comes in; doing a small, free-form shape with hand tools.  The first step was to draw a shape on the front of the fence then cut it out with a coping saw.  Instead of making a template you can simply take the cut off piece to transfer the same design to the rear of the fence.  This was followed up with a spokeshave to smooth out the coping saw cuts.  I attempted to use an Auriou Rasp but just find that for something this small they tend to tear up the wood — it’s probably going to end up on Ebay soon!  A cutting tool like the spokeshave leaves a much nicer finish.  Similar to using planes to create a smooth face rather than sandpaper which abrades it.

Installing brass, threaded insert

Spokeshave was used to round over the outer edges of the fence as well.  Prior to the shaping process holes were drilled to accept threaded brass inserts (10/24) for the screws that will attach the fence to the plane.  Those inserts can present problems and you’ll find any number of ways to have success with them.  With slotted brass inserts, it’s almost a given that the slots will break as you use a flat tip screwdriver to inset them into the wood.  My method is to find either an allen head screw or bolt which is threaded into the insert.  Now you have something to get a grip on.  Also use a countersink to bevel the hole and beeswax to help the process.  Glad to say it was successful!  Some final sanding and a coat of wax and we are good to go!

Here’s a couple of shots of the plane in use, this beading bit is 3/16″ in width.  The fence really helps keep it all in line but you need to concentrate on pushing the blade securely against the edge, this fence will make that a bit easier.

Next up is cutting multiple beads on about 4′ of Basswood, hope I get the hang of this plane soon!

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Small Plow Plane Box Complete

In the last blog I discussed how this project has gotten away from me and my tendency to get pretty darn obsessive with most everything.  I’d like to think that there are  other woodworkers out there who, like me; get as much enjoyment out of the challenge and process of making a project as we do from seeing the completed work.  This box was no exception to that and if pressed as to how long it took to make I’d tell you I have no idea!  I’m quite pleased with the results so here’s a photo essay of the finished piece.


You recall the difficulty with trying to cut dovetails and eventually running out of the Flamed Oak to have enough for the box.  Notice that the doweled joints are on the shorter side of the box rather than the longer side which is more customary — not enough material left to get the inside length needed for the plane.  As before, rabbets were cut first on the tablesaw and then trued up with the skewed rabbet plane.  The dowel making process is best explained with these pictures.

Drill Press Set-Up

Drilling the holes and keeping them accurate required kind of a Mickey Mouse setup.  I needed a way to keep the long side 90° to the drill bit so came up with the setup you see here.  The box is what I keep shaper cutters and parts in so after lining up the bit it was clamped to the drill press table.  Hole locations were previously marked on masking tape and after the first hole was drilled, a peg was inserted to ensure each subsequent hole would be aligned.  Notice all of the green masking tape on the sides to help keep myself straight — it works for me!

Assembly was the next step and was done using Old Brown Glue, a liquid hide product I like to use.  Dovetails provide a mechanical lock to a drawer or  box which pegged joints don’t have.  Just in case  of a joint failure it’s good to know that hide glue is reversible without serious damage to the wood.  After 24 hours cure time the ebony pegs were cut flush, followed by a block plane and finally a smooth plane with an extremely tight mouth.  The face grain of this wood has some pretty good workability with planes, not so much with chisels though.

Mortising for Latch

The lid for a sliding type box is always tricky since you want to hide the grooves.  Since this wood is so cool looking I used a small piece of it to fill the space at the opening.  After working with this wood I figured a breadboard end wasn’t the way to go so broke the rules and attached it directly to the end of the lid with ebony pegs and Gorilla Glue — small as it is I doubt it will be a problem.  After oiling the entire project it needed some type of locking mechanism to prevent that lid from just sliding out on its own — yes, a piece of Flamed Oak can be mortised!  Just like in carving, the wood cut cleaner and somewhat easier going against the grain.

Creating the Blade holder

The final step was creating a way to store the blades safely with the plane.  Veritas does sell a leather roll but I wanted something different.  The solution was to use the plow plane to cut 1/8″ wide grooves of different depths in a piece of Alder.  It is twice the length needed so that it can be cut in half to create a bottom and top.  The reason for the different depths is to accommodate the varying widths of the blades.  I have space for eight of them, the plane came with 5 and I hope to get the beading blades soon.  The over-all thickness of the blade holder equals the distance from the skate to the guide rods.  In this way, when the plane is strapped into the box it also secures the lid.  The finish is Watco Oil (natural) and my 3 part hand rubbed top coat.

Hope this inspires you to tackle a project like this for one of your special tools — beats the heck out of the factory supplied cardboard box in my opinion!

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Project that’s Getting Away From Me!

Okay, I’ll admit I tend to be pretty obsessive (my principal said “anal”) but I tell myself if it doesn’t kill me in the end I’ll be stronger.  I suppose that helps explain my running history that saw lots of 50 and 100 mile mountain runs.  Enough of that, lets get into this latest project that has become all consuming and much more involved than I thought it would be.  It all started when I purchased a couple of pieces of Flamed Oak from Northwest Woodworks of Arizona  from their booth at the Mesa Woodcarving show earlier this year.  I had never seen wood with this type of grain and thought it would be a good piece for a future project — a box never entered my mind at that time!

So that’s the beginning, fast forward to me breaking down and purchasing a Veritas small plow plane from Lee Valley.  I blogged about my previous misadventure with this plane here but since they fixed the depth stop problem and Lie-Nielsen still hasn’t put theirs into production I decided to get it and like it just fine!  So put these two events together and you end up with the decision to use this spectacular piece of wood to make a proper box for the plow plane.  As a rule, I like to hang my planes for easy access but the plow plane has a set of blades that I felt belonged together.

Flame Oak & Skew Rabbet Plane

Another plane on my wish list was to replace to remedy the aggravation I’d had with my old Stanley #78.  This is the Veritas skewed rabbet plane shown here sitting among the boards of Flame Oak for the box to be!  I use the Stanley 140 trick for all of my drawer and box construction.  It’s been written up in Fine Woodworking and I did this blog on it a long time ago.  Lately I’d cut the shoulder on the tablesaw but that really wasn’t the safest way to go about it.  So I’m not getting any younger and woodworking is my passion so decided to bite the bullet and purchase this plane hoping that it would do the same work as a pair of the 140’s plus have a depth stop.  The blade is 1 1/2″ wide so I’ll be able to raise panels with it as well.  Let me add my 2 cents about Veritas vs. Lie-Nielsen.  In my opinion, L-N is a superior tool; I say that based on their finish, tight tolerances in threaded parts, and over-all quality.  I’ve had students that bring their Veritas tools and there’s just something about them that doesn’t feel right in my hands.  Perhaps that’s because I grew up using Stanley and at 67 my habits and perceptions are set.  All that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending either one of these Veritas planes to anyone.

Board Stretcher Process!

Let’s start on this project.  First obstacle was the size, the boards weren’t tall enough to contain the plane so had to go into “board stretcher” mode.  The grain on this wood had so much variation that it was not a problem trying to match the pattern.  For glue ups like this my choice is always Gorilla Glue, it has proven to be the easiest to clean up and never have had a joint fail.  Once the pieces were sized it was time to begin the joinery.  Dovetails were my first choice and believe me when I tell you; this wood is tough!  When I bought these boards they referred to it as Fire Oak due to the way the grain pattern looks but when your plane is on it it actually sounds more like you’re scraping the blade across a piece of concrete!  Almost more like working a burl than working a board.  I have a Powermatic planer with a carbide, helical cutter head which handles the face grain well, plus a smooth plane performs well on it too.   To square the edges the rough work was done with a #7 Jointer Plane which left an okay finish.  Follow up with a Jack Plane with a super tight mouth gave an acceptable edge.

The first step was creating that rabbeted shoulder for the Stanley 140 trick using the newly purchased skewed rabbet plane.  After playing around with it on soft woods I was ready to give it a try — did I mention planing concrete!  The plane cut but the sounds made during the process made me fear for the life of the cutting edge so choose to go into my hybrid woodworking mode by using the tablesaw to bring the rabbet close to size and then the plane to complete it, that was the winning combination.  In the right hand picture the lid is being rabbeted.

Dovetail & Flame Oak = NoGo

Believe me, after 2 attempts I was convinced that dovetailing the Flame Oak wasn’t going to happen.  I had very little problem making the saw cuts but removing the waste between the tails and then trying to chop out the pin boards proved to be undoable (is that a word?).  With that beautiful burl like grain going in every which direction a smooth chop or cut didn’t seem possible.  The chisels were re-sharpened and honed but to no avail.  Each attempt took almost 3/4″ off the length of the boards so I knew I needed to go to plan B which was to rabbet the corners and use dowels to hold them together — I’ll save that for the next blog.

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Faux Sgraffito Frame Complete

I can only give you a partial view of this frame for now, it’s been accepted into the Portrait Artists of Arizona show which opens this Friday evening, May 5, 2017.  The show is held at the University Club located on Monte Vista Street in Phoenix and opens at 5:30.  Looking forward to seeing the work all of the members have had juried into this show, there’s a lot of talent in this group.

Laying the Leaf

In the last post about the creation of this frame I mentioned that the profile would be a challenge and it was!  Due to the 90° corner where the panel meets the outer band.  I anticipated that the gold leaf would tend to fault there.  By tilting the frame on a box it was possible to hold the leaf up at an angle allowing me to slowly press it into the corner.  By preventing the leaf from contacting any other portion of the sized frame and using a burnished piece of cardboard it was possible to get the leaf into the corner.  Once it was as close to the corner as possible it was brought up straight onto the banding.  The sight edge was done after the panel and banding areas were leafed.  My usual process is to wait 24 hours to allow the size to dry completely.  After that the brightness of the gold leaf is slightly burnished with 4/0, oil free steel wool.  Two coats of shellac are then applied to seal the leaf and protect it from tarnishing.

The final step in the frame process is to tone the frame and create that patina suggesting that it’s been around for a long time.  Lately I’ve been using oil paints thinned with odorless turpentine.  It seems to flow nicer than casein paints which dry quickly and tend to leave a streaked finish.  In this case, a light grey was used which also replicates an age long build up of dust.  Another nice thing about using oil paints is that Diane can give me some of the colors she used in the painting so that it really complements it.  After allowing the oil toning to dry thoroughly it is lightly waxed.  Here’s the change from bright gold to toned down frame:

I must admit that the toning process is difficult for me, seems like if you go through all of the effort creating a new surface it’s almost a shame to distress it!  I feel the same about distressing furniture to make it look as if it’s gone through the ravages of time but I know what’s required for this type of work.  If Diane’s success in the galleries is any indication, I must be on the right track with these frames.

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Frame #104 Faux Sgraffitto

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary  Sgraffito is a form of decoration where the surface is scratched away to reveal another color below it.  Its origin is Italian and it’s used extensively on frames.  This is the second time I’ve created this profile, I wrote about it earlier in this blog about a year or so ago.  The reason I’m referring to it as faux is because “scratching” a consistent pattern on an already finished and gilded frame is not in my skill set, this is my interpretation of the technique.  The carving is done first followed by a coat of red burnisher/sealer.  During the gilding process the gold leaf will tend to crack into the carving which will expose the red sealer.

Faux Sgraffito Ready to Gild

This is the last frame Diane needs for the upcoming Portrait Artists of Arizona show I mentioned in the last blog.  It is for a 16″ x 20″ painting which is larger than the previous frame made with this technique.  I decided to go more with hand tools on this one and embrace that hybrid woodworker philosophy I’ve talked about before.  Basically the power tools are my apprentices while the hand tools are used to refine everything.  Such a wonderful time working in the shop without the noise and dust of the power tools.  That being said though, I do appreciate the ease and accuracy power tools give us and am not quite ready to put them all on Craigslist!

Frame Profile

Let’s start with the profile, basically it’s two pieces joined in a T-shape by a rabbet and tongue joint.  The twin beads on the top piece were formed on my 60’s model Rockwell shaper and the single one was cut with a router bit.  Now that Lee Valley is offering beading cutters for their small plow plane they could be on my Father’s Day wish list!

Other than ripping to width all other work and joinery was completed with hand tools.  The wood used was Basswood so jointing one edge prior to ripping to width on the tablesaw is the first step.  In keeping with becoming more “hi-tech” a series of pictures went onto my Instagram showing the view from the four planes used, here they are:

Clearing the Rabbet Plane

The Lee Valley small Plow Plane has proven to be a real delight now that the depth stop issue has been resolved.  The shavings just curl effortlessly out of the tool as you can see in the lower right hand picture.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my 30’s era #78 Stanley Rabbet Plane.  The shavings tend to clog up but were easily cleared with the use of a sharpened dowel.  The other thing I discovered is that it is no longer a true 90° so the resulting rabbet isn’t square.  I’ve trued up the bottoms of planes before but in this case besides being flat it’ll also need to be exactly 90° to the side.  That’s a problem for another day.

This profile is difficult to gild and also to carve.  The gilding difficulty is due to the profile and since it’s my own design it’s also my own fault!  I’ll be working on that tomorrow and think there’s a solution.  To make it easier to carve the carving was done before the side pieces were glued on, that way there wasn’t a lip to contend with.  A long bent #12/6mm  v-tool works well here, my goal was to keep the shavings consistent to gauge the depth of the carve.  The little holes were first cut with a #9/3mm then flattened with a punch made from a nail set.

Wedgewood & Lilac Corner

So far things are going well with this frame but you’re always just one step away from disaster!  Tomorrow is gilding day and I’m looking forward to the challenge of this profile. I’ll share my success or frustration with you when this frame is complete.  I won’t be able to show the frame with the painting in it since there is judging to take place and Diane doesn’t want her work out in public until after that time.  The other painting is ready to go, it was titled Wedgwood and Lilac; I can show you the corner detail now that it’s complete.


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