VanDam Float; New Picture Frame Commission

If you saw my last post it had to do with the approach I took to making a floater type frame for Diane’s latest painting.  I gave a definition and explained how it was made, here’s a link if you’d like to check it out.  That must of been a premonition for my next commission because I was asked to replicate a frame for a client.  They have three beautiful paintings by the same artist and only one of them was framed.  These are stretched canvas on 1 1/2″ thick stretcher bars, the edges have been painted so they asked for a wider reveal (3/4″) than what was done on Diane’s frame.  One of the paintings measures 40″ x 45″ and the other is 36″ x 72″.  The frame itself is minimal, only 1/2″ thick x 2″ wide.  For that size of a painting I knew the frame needed to be reinforced.  Oh yes, the name VanDam Float was chosen because that’s the clients name!  After making up a corner sample to show them, they gave me a deposit and we’re off and running.

For the frame itself Basswood will be used and then 3/8″ Baltic Birch plywood will make up the “float” area and serve to reinforce the frame.  I always enjoy the hand planing process, especially when it involves a board of this size.  This project started with an 8/4 thick piece of Basswood that was about 6″ wide and 10′ long.  Not having a power jointer of my own I’ll have the lumber yard sweeten one edge; aka straight line rip.  Then it’s time to put the old Stanley #7 Jointer plane to work.  Watching those shavings come through the throat always makes me feel good so thought I’d try to share it with you, probably should have had the camera a little further out there but you get the idea.  Always reminded of hearing that in shops of old they would nail the longest continuos shaving to the wall and whoever made it could sign it — got one almost 6′ long from this board!

Pretty straight forward process.  After one edge was planed smooth and square the board was ripped to 2 1/4 width, this will make 3 pieces for the frame so the process was repeated to get the rest.  One face was planed before to guide against the bandsaw fence for resawing the required 1/2″.  After resawing off one piece the sawn edge of the board was planed again and then resawn until all 3 pieces were cut.  These were run through the planer to a uniform thickness.  Now that those were ready it was time to rip the plywood down to 3″ wide strips.  Each of the boards have a 1/4″ x 1/4″ groove and the plywood has a corresponding tongue on one edge and end.  After cutting the sides to the required length the plywood and sides were glued together.

Corner Detail

To reinforce this frame and give the 1/2″ sides strength here’s what I came up with.  These joints are staggered around the frame, in other words the plywood goes to the miter on one end but is shy of the miter on the other.  Although you can’t see it in the picture, the plywood on the bottom piece has a tongue cut into it that glues into the groove on the piece.  The miter will be glued as well then have a few brads shot into to secure it while the glue dries.  There is also a masonite gusset that will be glued and clamped on the back over the plywood splice.  Lots of things going on at one time but by the end of the day, both frames have been assembled.  The 72″ one had to have the plywood spliced since Baltic Birch generally comes in 5′ square sheets.

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Floater Frame — A Furniture Builders Method

To be sure, if there’s one thing I can be accused of it’s of over-building and/or over-thinking a project.  Recently Diane asked for a floater frame for a recent work of hers.  I can’t show the completed picture of it as her painting hasn’t been revealed on her blog or to her gallery so all you’ll get is a teaser image!  Here’s a definition a  floater frame if it’s something you haven’t heard of before.  Where a traditional frame has the painting inserted from the back and held in place by the rabbet of the molding the floater frame has the painting inserted from the front.  Generally there is a gap between the painting and the frame which is painted black so the painting appears to “float” within the frame.

Like so many of us do, the first step was to do a YouTube search for how to do floater frames.  As with many instructions found on the web, most tended to be pretty crude consisting of different pieces of wood glued, stapled, or taped together.  These methods may be okay for a quick project but not the gallery quality framing needed for this work.  Diane asked for a gilded finish that allowed some wood to show through to compliment her painting which features a girl standing in front of a weathered, clapboard house.  Rather than cobble pieces of wood together the frame piece (1 3/4″ x 1 1/2″) has a 1/4″ groove cut in the inner surface.  Another 1/4″ x 1 1/2″ piece was milled to fit in that groove and support the painting.  Timber Woodworking and Machinery had some beautiful 8/4 Basswood for this project.  Just like with furniture work; joinery and glue results in better quality then using just glue and nails or staples.

After mitering to size, a #0 biscuit slot was cut into each end and the frame was then glued and clamped overnight.  I realize that this is easier for sizing, the gap of 1/4″ all around can be off a little one way or the other and no one will be able to tell!

Masking off the inner surfaces

The cut offs from the molding were used to experiment with the finish for this frame.  Prior to the size application, the face was taped off and the inner surfaces painted black.  Once that was dry it was time to tape off that black, inner surface and apply the oil size — lots of masking tape for this project!  My initial thought was to just apply a coat of slow set size and gild directly over that but apparently the Basswood absorbed too much of that to get good adhesion for the leaf.  A second coat was needed for good adhesion of the leaf.  In the future the frame will probably be sealed with shellac prior to applying the size.


After the gilding was complete and the frame thoroughly dry it was time to achieve that weathered look Diane wanted.  Using the cut-offs to experiment with the technique was a good choice.  Steel wool (4/0 oil free) will take down the gold but the results are rather scratchy and rough.  A slurry of rottenstone and denatured alcohol worked into the surface gave an okay effect but the rottenstone added a grayish, dirty effect to the finish.  The best results came from using a white scotch pad and denatured alcohol.  By wetting a 12″ section or so first and then going back with the DNA and pad I could remove bits of the leaf and expose the wood underneath.  The first, wetting application of the DNA was done with light pressure and moving the pad back and forth.  This softened the leaf slightly and also took away some of the abrasiveness of the pad.  Increased pressure and moving the pad in one direction allowed me to observe what was happening and stop (hopefully!) before going to far.  The surface felt slightly tacky but after drying for a couple of hours it was sealed with two coats of clear shellac applied with an air brush.  The final step for the frame was using the white scotch pad with Liberon Black Bison wax to smooth out and completely seal the frame.  I think that if you look at this picture the effect on the frame mimics the weathering on the house in the painting.  Most importantly though — Diane is very happy with it!

One final note about this frame.  Some of the video’s and info on the web suggested using double stick tape to mount the painting.  I opted to pre-drill the frame for #6 screws.  The holes are slightly oversized to allow for any slight adjustments.  Spacers (1/4″) were placed around the canvas when it was in the frame to locate and center it properly.  After pre-drilling the stretcher bars with a gimlet the screws and washers are attached and we’re done!





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Sliding Door Almost Complete

Smooth Plane prior to assembly

This sliding door is taking up most of the available floor space I have in the shop.  Roughly 5′ x 7′ means that when I have it on sawhorses now to do the finish work I can barely get around it, good thing I’m on the slender side!  Hit that point where there’s a definite light at the end of the tunnel.  The glass was ordered today, didn’t realize that because it’s tempered most glass shops are unable to cut it so it’ll be here in 7-10 days.  Since it’s in a door tempering is required by code and a wise move, well worth the added cost.  Before assembling the door each piece was smooth planed to remove those inevitable planer mill marks.  Even though there’ll probably be some minor sanding required after assembly my preference is to always have hand planed surfaces.

The assembly went pretty smoothly thanks to the help from  my wife, getting everything to line up and moving quickly to avoid having the glue set before the clamps were in place is always stressful to me.  The plywood (Cherry) has the first coat of Osmo PolyOil applied already.  We did it in two steps, in the morning half was assembled and left clamped until late afternoon when we completed the process.  Notice the cauls by each clamp, these worked well in spreading the pressure across the 5″+ wide pieces and also elevated the wood off of the clamps so there wouldn’t be any staining.  Each side of the joint was taped to catch the squeeze out from the glue.  Even though I could have gotten to the up side of the door, the back side was impossible; this seems to have worked.  I have an ancient set of Jorgensen I-Beam clamps that are 6′ long and even they developed some bowing as the pressure was applied!

Glass Recess

The next morning it was time to cut the recess where the glass will sits.  If you recall, each board had a 1/4″ x 3/8″ deep groove cut into all of the inside edges.  This accommodates the plywood and now that groove needed to be turned into a recess for the glass.  That was done by first making two passes with a 3/8″ rabbet bit in the router followed by a flush bit with a top mounted bearing to finish it off.  You can see the process in this picture.  Once the routing was complete the corners were squared off with a chisel.

Glass Stop

See this little piece of wood?  Unless you’re a woodworker folks wouldn’t believe how much time it takes to mill something like this!  First the stock needed to be milled to 9/16″ x 3/4″.  Next the 45° chamfer was cut on both sides on the router table.  Last of all was removing the required amount so that it retains the glass and lays flush with the top of the door.  This was accomplished on the tablesaw with a dado set.  The glass will sit in a bead of silicon and the glass stop will be secured with 23 gauge pins.  All that remains for the glass stop process is to miter them to fit the opening.

Since this project is taking up most of the shop floor space I’m contemplating putting it in the garage for the finishing process.  I’ll do 2 coats on each side so the plan is to do one in the morning and if it’s dry enough to flip by late afternoon flip it and do the other side.  Just repeat that until it’s finished.  One last step is to make a router template for the inset door pulls.  Shouldn’t be any problem being complete before the glass arrives.

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Sliding Door: Joinery

Tripod Support

The last blog was all about preparing the stock for this sliding door which is followed by the joinery.  All joints are mortise and tenon and vary from 2″ to 1 1/2″ in length.  Following the 1/3 customary rule they are 3/8″ wide which is as close to that I can get since the stock is a full inch in thickness.  I anticipated that since the members of this frame are all around 5″ wide there was the potential for fitting issues so they have full haunches to curb that as much as possible.  With the longest piece measuring 85″ the camera tripod was used to support the end, probably not the sturdiest but it did the job!

Before the mortise and tenon process began a 3/8″ deep by 1/4″ wide groove was cut in all inside edges on the tablesaw.  The bottom of the door will have plywood panels while the top will have tempered glass.  My plan is to remove one side of the groove at glass area with a 3/8″ rabbeting bit after the door is fully assembled.  After that a glass stop will be milled that will secure the glass in the opening.  Since the dado head was set up in the saw and some of the tenons needed were on the end of an almost 7′ board it seemed best to rough them out using the dado rather than a tenoning jig which I prefer.

Someone said on their blog that they never tire of the steps needed to do joinery, whether it’s dovetails, mortise & tenons, laps, etc.  Even though you may do them time and time again it’s always a challenge.  Here’s a montage of how I go about it, the twin tenons are on the bottom piece which is 6″ wide.

The first pieces to be assembled are the top and bottom horizontal ones with the center vertical one.  With the tendency for a 10′ pipe clamp and the wood to begin to flex under pressure my aim to center act that was by clamping the pipe between two old Black and Decker Benchmates; remember those?  This helped keep the pipe stabilized and then as the board started flexing it was clamped to the Benchmate.  Also made come longer cauls to help spread the clamping pressure.  Looks as if it worked, we’ll know tomorrow when it’s all unclamped.

Before going any further the 1/4″ plywood has to come in.  It will need to be prefinished prior to glue up and then it looks as if the glue up will take place in two stages.  At 56″ wide and 85″ tall there is no choice other than gluing up on the floor or maybe on the Benchmates as shown in that picture above.  Have my idea of how to go about it and will let you know how that works!



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New Commission: Sliding Door

Sliding Door Plans

We have a new neighbor across the street and I’ve been commissioned to build a door.   It will be made of Cherry with tempered glass in the upper section.  With an over-all the size of 56″ wide and 85″ tall this is not your standard sized door!  It will be a sliding door that provides privacy between the kitchen/dining area and the living/entry area of his house.  Looking at my drawing I’m beginning to wonder if it would be better to increase the bottom wooden panel by 5″ or so so the division isn’t so symmetrical — appreciate any comments from my woodworking readers.  In any case, I picked up about 30 board feet of 6/4 Cherry from Woodworkers Source here in Phoenix.  For the size of this door 4/4 stock that’ll finish out at perhaps 3/4″ wouldn’t be right, unfortunately going to the 6/4 to get a full 1″ thickness is wasteful and adds expense to the project.  It used to be fairly common to find 5/4 stock but now even 6/4 is difficult to find, lucky for me Woodworkers Source had a great selection of it and I came home with enough 10′ long boards that were around 6″ wide to do this project.  I have them do the straight line rip for me, 10′ boards and a #7 Stanley jointer plane is possible but in keeping with the hybrid woodworking philosophy they can sweeten one edge for me!

Once they were in my shop the first step was to carefully layout the the boards and cut to rough length.  This began with checking (and double checking) the plan and is done with chalk.  Since they will all be surfaced the finish size and use for each board is written on the end with a black sharpie.  I need all the hints I can think of to keep myself straight!

The pictures above are kind of a before and after representation of the days work.  The process is to first sweeten up the edge that had been straight line ripped with the #7 Stanley Jointer plane; I love this tool! It probably dates to the 1920’s and originally had a Sweetheart Laminated blade which I’ve replaced with a blade and chip breaker from Hock tools.  With its’ corrugated sole and a little bit of beeswax and it’s smooth sailing!  There were two boards that had a bit of twist to them which was taken care of with a scrub plane, you can get the view of the over the winding sticks in this picture.  Once all the boards had a working edge and were flattened they were all run through the planer to 1″ thickness.

Boards were then ripped to the required width and the second edge is planed to remove the marks left by the tablesaw.  With boards that were over 7′ in length planing from both ends was needed one some to follow the grain direction but all doable.  Here’s a little montage of that process, hand planing is such a relaxing process — the turmoil of the world gets relieved shaving by shaving!

For this project I’ve decided to use a different type of finish recently written up in Fine Woodworking Magazine.  It’s called Osmo Polyx Hard Oil and the distributor was good enough to send me a sample of it.  After experimenting on a piece of Alder I’m really liking the finish.  As some of you may know, the finish I’ve used since the 70’s is one I learned about at San Francisco State from Art Espenet Carpenter.  Basically it was Watco Danish Oil and then a 3 part mixture that was wet sanded into the wood.  Watco has changed drastically over the years (not for the better!) to meet EPA requirements and just isn’t the same — so, this old dog is trying to learn a new trick.

Now that the wood is prepped the next step is the joinery.  All mortise and tenons, 2″ long for strength.  Since the door is over 7′ tall I need to get a 10′ piece of 3/4″ black pipe and pony clamps.  I had several 10′ lengths of pipe but when we moved here from Las Vegas a year ago decided they weren’t worth the weight or hassle of moving so sold them at our garage sale — off to Home Depot!





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Patio Table is Done!

Happy to say that the table is done and with the help of a neighbor it’s on the patio ready for the first outdoor meal!  Always rewarding to see anything you “conjured” up in your mind, then put on paper, actually come to life and have it look just as you imagined.

In the last blog the trestle was complete and there was an issue with the Watco Exterior Oil. Although this finish has mixed reviews I’m willing to give it a try since I really do not care for surface coatings that inevitably crack and peel resulting in lots of sanding prior to refinishing.  Since this table will be under cover most of the day the plan is to refresh the finish every 6 months or so with the Watco thinned down to help penetration — I’ll try to keep you up to date as to whether or not this will work.  Assembling the top went as I hoped, after assembling the two ends and center pieces to one side work began on the infill pieces.  Since the Alder was random width it took some math calculations to determine their sizes.  Worked out that with the 1/4″ gap between they ranged from 5″ to 5 1/4″  so the variation is barely noticeable.

Cutting Tongues

These tongues were cut on the tablesaw with a dado head.  The goal was to have a snug fit in the groove but still allow them to expand/contract with seasonal changes.  Everything got two coats of the Watco, it wouldn’t have been possible to get the oil into the grooves and on the tongues if the finish was applied after the top was assembled.  Care was taken to avoid getting any of the finish on the joints.  You can see the tongue cutting process in this picture.

Now it was time to see if the calculations were right; as the dry-fit began my concern was that the ends could splay outward if they were pinned before assembling  the opposite.  After all of the pieces were slid into the grooves loose I saw that was not a concern.  Everything was dissassembled and given two coats of the Watco Exterior oil.  I used Titebond III Ultimate on this project.   After drying overnight, the clamps were removed and two #16 brads were centered to secure each infill piece.  To keep the gaps uniform spacers were made out of some 1/4″ MDF and a guide for pinning completed the operation.  My thought is that this is similar to breadboard end construction and will prevent too much cupping on the top — any opinions from you other woodworkers reading this blog?, love to hear them.

The last step was drilling and counterboring the holes in the legs to attach the top.  Sounds simple enough but it’s a three step process which began by drilling an oval counterbore with a 3/4″ forstner bit followed by a slotted 1/4″ hole for the screws.  A fence set up on the drill press kept things aligned.  The slot is so the top can expand/contract during those seasonal changes without fear of splitting apart.

Some friends and neighbors have mentioned that the table top reminds them of an entry door.  This design and way of making a top is not one I’ve seen before (although sure it’s been done) so I’d appreciate any comments from you other woodworkers that read this blog.  My thoughts are that only does the gap between the infill pieces add a style feature but also that as the years go by, the table won’t do like outdoor tables tend to do which is cup and warp all over.




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Patio Table: Phase 2

In the last blog the table base was in progress.  Fine Woodworking had a video series by Gary Rogowski showing the way he built a trestle table which I used for inspiration.  As you’ll see, I don’t like to build from someone else’s plan so designed my own table.  The video showing how the wedge was made was of great help.  You may need to be a member to have that link open for you.  Anyway, here’s the assembled trestle of my design:

The wedges were cut at 9° and are made of Sapele.  My first instinct was that the mortise in the stretcher would need to be tapered at one end and square on the other but the video from Rogowski showed how that wasn’t the case.  It’s 3/8″ and was cut on a hollow chisel mortiser after tilting the table.  I only have one mortise chisel, a 1/4″ wide so I was able to refine the cuts made on the mortiser.  Rogowski also showed making this simple jig for the bandsaw to cut the wedge.  It was cut over-sized then hand planed to fit.


Working Drawing

Next step is creating the top, let me let you in on my plan and we’ll see if it works out!  On paper it looks good but the logistics of it are new to me.  You can see that the base came out as drawn, now for the top.  The length of my clamps (3′ +) dictate that the table is 3′ wide.  Since  6’6″ is the total length and I sold my 10′ pipes before we moved here the end pieces need to be mortised into the sides.  After cutting all of the mortise and tenon joints to assemble the perimeter, ends, and inner pieces that will be glued up — but wait, there’s more!  On the inside of the end and center pieces there is a 1/2″ x 1/2″ groove.  The goal is to cut tongues on the pieces that will infill the table.  To accomplish that I plan to glue the ends and center piece to one side only.

End and center pieces glued to one side

This proved to be quite a hassle since the clamps only open to 3′ plus about 1/2″.  I had to beat the heck out of it before the clamps could get on it with the most important consideration being that the glue up was square.  Here’s a picture of the results, I think so far so good — whew!  Now, the infill pieces need to be cut to slide into the grooves.  It’s a puzzle calculating the width based on the material I have but it looks as if 5 pieces will do it.  Notice there’s a 3/8″ gap between the center pieces and the infill pieces will have a 1/4″ gap.  The nice thing about this is that these can all be pre-finished before glue up. They will slide into the grooves and center of each board will be pinned from the bottom allowing them to expand and contract with the seasonal changes.

Everything else was pretty straight forward.  To cut the haunch on the 2 1/2″ long tenons I needed to use a Japanese joinery saw.  Clearing out the haunch which will be visible at the ends was done with an antique Stanley #271.  I can see where the improved ones from Lie-Nielsen and Veritas are easier to adjust but this one’s paid for!  When ever there are a lot of joints to keep straight I like to use metal marking stamps.

Since I don’t care for surface coatings my choice to finish this is Watco’s Exterior natural oil.  It’s a product I’ve used for my furniture for over 40 years and even though Min-Wax screwed up the formula trying to meet EPA standards I understand that now that Rustoleum makes it is almost back to what it was before environmental standards messed it up.  That being said, the quart purchased to experiment had some problems where an orangish color came in — I now need to sand the trestle part down which means it’ll still be lighter than the top but at least Rustoleum is sending me a refund to the quart.

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