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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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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