Custom Cat Furniture

Cabinets Complete 2′ deep by 3′ wide and 6+’ tall.

One of the many aspects of woodwork I enjoy is the variety of work you’re able to do with so many different types of materials.  The last project was made from Baltic Birch and this project is a continuation of that theme!  That project was for the Scottsdale Artists School and although complicated, pretty straight forward.  They are cabinets where artists can place their work to dry over-night during their workshop.  I’m using a technique I started when making a taboret that uses clear coat Baltic Birch plywood.  The beauty of that product is that virtually nothing sticks to the coating, the downside is that it’s very heavy and in order to make good joints (my goal) the plywood under the coating needs to be exposed  so that glue can do its’ thing!  No pocket screws in my work, just time proven dados and rabbets to lock everything into place which is assembled with glue, oval head screws, and finish washers for an industrial look.  Anyway, lets talk about this latest project — cat furniture for what I hope will be our future cat.

Those of you who know me or have seen either my instagram or facebook entries remember that I had a wonderful Oriental Shorthair cat named Ali.  She and I had a bond unlike any pet I’ve ever had!  After living a full life we needed to put her down a few months ago and it’s unbelievable how I miss her companionship.  I contacted the breeder we got Ali from (Susanna) https://purrsiacattery.com  and let her know we were looking for another wonderful cat like Ali . She mentioned that she indeed had a possible cat for us, one who was having her final litter and would probably be available for a “forever home” after that.  At this point it’s a good bet we’ll be able to get her so I’m pretty excited about that, she may be my Christmas present!

Scale Model by Diane

Diane and I decided that a new cat would need a new place, she’s not going to be a replacement for Ali but a new chapter in our lives so everything will be fresh.  Ever look at Pinterest and various search engines for Cat Furniture?  Wow,  there’s a ton of it out there and much of it is super expensive and seems to be made in Europe.  Well you know who decided he’d make it himself and it would fit our space exactly.  It was quite a long process but we came up with several ideas and finalized what we wanted.  Diane was busy in her studio with mat board, tape, and an X-Acto  knife and made this scale model.  Now the balls in my court to turn it into reality.

The over-all concept is that there will be a tower for her to climb on and get away from it all.  These are C-shaped pieces and will provide a safe sleeping place as well.  The cabinet below is for the litter box which and the top of it is where her food will be safe from a little Dachshund with a never ending appetite!  The doors are centered in the opening with a notch used to open them.  The tower will be centered as well.  The cat can easily access the first step to get to her “safe place” and the litter box entry; that step is too tall for Brandy.  Here’s some details of the build for the cabinet, keep in mind that the plies need to be exposed for the glue to penetrate and the screws keep it all together.

The tower was quite complex, not only to cut but also to figure out how to assemble it. Those C-shaped sections are grooved for 1/2″ plywood and joined with lap joints and brads on the ends.  They’re housed the tower section which was dadoed to accommodate them.  The screw goes through the tower, into the C piece, and then into the plywood.  The longer C piece will rest against a wall and the shelves will be covered with peel and stick carpet.

That’s it for now, the exposed edges of the plywood have been sanded and sealed with polyurethane.  The carpet should arrive the middle of next week so there’s plenty of time to put it all in place.  As much as I enjoyed this project ready to go back to working with real wood — Diane needs about 3 frames and I’ve been contacted about making a small run of tables but that’s just in the “talking” stage.  Looking forward to having a new, cat buddy. She had her litter and Diane and I have received several video’s of her and the babies.

 

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SawStop One vs. Finger Three — stitches that is!

The Cartridge Works!

I must admit that when the SawStop technology first came out I wasn’t  really in favor of it.  The first I heard about it was someone invented a good idea for saw safety but was trying to get rich from it by getting legislation that would require  every saw to have it.  Of course that would bring them royalties and I just saw it as a greedy money grab.  Well, over the years I changed my thoughts and when it was time to replace my worn out Jet, I purchased the SawStop cabinet saw with the sliding table and love it!  Here’s a LINK to when I first purchased it and if you search my blog with the keyword SawStop you’ll find many jigs and uses I have for this saw.   Oh yeah, my finger — I was ripping a piece of Baltic Birch Plywood that has that beautiful yet slippery ClearCoat finish on it.  As I approached the end of the cut, I reached for my push stick and all I can figure my hand slipped and just contacted the blade and WHAM, down and out of the way just like that!  I have triggered it before cutting gilded molding so knew what happened.  That was Sunday 11/3, it ripped off half of the nail and made a good slice that needed 3 stitches to close up, those came out this morning so I’m able to work much better.  To their credit, SawStop is sending me a replacement cartridge which they do if you send them the triggered one.  They’re able to tell if it’s a body part or nail — body parts get you a free replacement!  I’s scheduled to arrive tomorrow and lucky for me, this part of the project required my dado set so I used that cartridge.  Little tough working with the metal splint on my finger but I managed.

My current commission is building two cabinets that are designed to be “drying cabinets” for artists working at the Scottsdale Artists School.  This school is the premier artists school in the southwest and draws students and world class artists from around the world. It’s the primary reason Diane and I moved here from Las Vegas more than 3 years ago.  This job is a welcome  break from the more traditional work I’ve been doing but definitely not without its challenges!  The cabinets  (2 @ 2′ deep x 3′ wide x 6.5′ tall) are made of clear coat Baltic Birch plywood.  It’s a good choice for a project like this but it’s heavy!  Nothing sticks to the surface so dados and rabbeted shelves are needed to expose the wood and have the glue stick.  Construction is similar to this previously made Taboret project but much larger.  I enjoy doing furniture for artists and trying to fit that niche of making items customized for their personal work style.

Although challenging due to the size, dado’s and rabbets are pretty straight forward.  Each 4×8 sheet was ripped in half so that it fit in the shop.  Outboard supports and an L-Fence helped control them on the while using the SawStop sliding table — here’s some photo’s of those operations.

It took several hours to make this jig to accurately lay out the grooves, actually needed to make 2 before the spacing was even.  Never thought I’d use metrics but after doing the Kumiko work I realize how it’s easier to divide spaces in metrics.  Also use dividers a lot to double check and lay things out.

Making the slots and using the jig became a repetitive process, just need to concentrate because one wrong move and the entire piece would be ruined and extremely time consuming to remake — plus, I have no material left!  Here’s the process that begins by locating the jig for the first slot from the edge:

Making good progress, hopefully my next blog will show them assembled.

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New Frame Commission and Drawing Desk Follow-Up

 

Sophia’s Drawing Desk

Before I begin to talk about the frame commission allow me to share the final results of the drawing desk.  If you missed that post here is a LINK to it which includes a YouTube video showing how it works.  Let’s backtrack a bit; I met Sophia while working as a costume model, she was one of the artists.  During the breaks she mentioned how sitting at her desk at home to draw was killing her back and I ended up designing this for her.  The greatest reward in this business, IMHO; is the appreciation of your work.  She was so happy with the results and sent me this picture of the desk in her studio within an hour of leaving the shop!  I think the dovetailed Walnut base looks great on her table.  During my 31 years as a teacher I often shared this with my students — the money you get for your work is nice but you pay a bill, buy a tool, and it’s gone.  However, having someone tell you how much they like and appreciate what you’ve created will be in your mind forever.

An artist who’s commissioned me to do a number of frames for in the past, Tim Rees; contacted me recently and placed an order for 8 frames.  They range in size from 8″ x 10″ to 24″ x 48″.  The profile is one designed for him previously so it’ll be named the Rees Profile in his honor.  It’s a clean, simple molding that measures 1 1/2″ thick and 2″ wide.  They are close cornered frames and his preference for finishing is that the surface is smooth (black) with no visible wood grain.  Semi-production work required to mill the approximate 36 board feet of 8/4 Basswood to the required size and add the rabbet.  Machines are my apprentices for that and then the final frames will all be finished off with a smooth plane prior to a red clay burnisher sealer.  As always, corners are assembled with glue and biscuits then clamped overnight to achieve the strongest possible joints(Link to my process page).  Here’s a picture essay to illustrate the process, after bringing home the raw 8/4 Basswood from Woodworkers Source  it is cut and planed to the required dimensions:

To make cutting the rabbet and mitering easier, these pieces were cut to length plus an additional amount for miters.  These frames are various sizes so rather than measure and mark each piece individually I marked the required lengths on a piece of tape using the cutting list as a guide — you know the saying about measuring twice and cutting once, make that 3-4 times!

After that step was complete a fine tooth crosscut blade was installed along with my mitering sled.  Again, if you’re unfamiliar with that, here’s that LINK to my process page.  Mitered pieces were then received slots for biscuits and were glued, clamped, and allowed to dry overnight.  Gluing seems like a mysterious process in a way; for me though, if I get an “ooze line” along the entire joint I feel assured of its’ strength.  I allow that to skin over before using an old chisel to remove it.

Three down, five to go

I have three, Merle steel band clamps which I would recommend to anyone making frames.  There’s an assembly concept that about freshly cut joinery creating a stronger glue joint so since I have three of the clamps I only miter, biscuit, and glue up three frames at a time.  At this point all 8 plus one for a painting by Diane have been assembled.  Finish is next!

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Drawing Desk Complete

In the last blog the dovetails had been cut and fit for the bottom section of the custom drawing desk.  If you missed it, here’s a LINK to that one and before I talk about the remaining work, let me share the end result!

As you can see, the only variation was to eliminate  one of the paper hold downs, unlike the drafting that I’m accustomed to where your paper is held down at each corner an artist only needs to have the paper secured at the top of the board.  At least that’s what I’ve observed when modeling.

L-N Bronze Smooth Plane for final finish

The bottom of this is also made of 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood.  I like the ClearKote option, it’s easy to keep clean and virtually nothing sticks to it, even glue can be scraped off easily once it’s dry!  The bottom is glued into a 1/4″ groove, the thickness is needed to secure the hardware.  Prior to the final glue up the inside and outside of each piece was worked over with a smooth plane to get that final, quality furniture finish.

 

Location inside box, center line market

The hardware chosen for this is from Rockler Woodworking and it is their #30155.  These are a pretty robust pair of supports — almost overkill for this light of a project.  It has 14 pre-set stops that hold the top at angles ranging from 0° to 50°. The top is hinged to the bottom with a brass piano hinge repurposed from an old piano.  The directions that came with it were pretty vague, only giving measurements from the barrel of the piano hinge to mounting brackets.  What was missing was how to align them to the box and top.  After drawing a center line on the bracket the location was marked on masking tape.  That tape was extended to the end of the box and over the sides.

Location under lid, center line marked

Since the top was partially attached to the box it was closed and turned upside down to transfer the location to the top.  Now I could extend that line on the underside of the lid to establish the corresponding center.  Then it was a simple matter of centering the bracket, pre-drilling the holes, and the bracket.  Once I was sure all worked well the remaining screws were added to the piano hinge and all that remained was cleanup, attaching the paper holder bar, and a coat of wax.

The plywood didn’t require any finishing but the Walnut bottom was given two coats of Osmo Polyx Oil, it’s an environmentally safe product that I’ve been using since Watco oil has changed their formula so drastically to meet EPA requirements. The artist I designed this desk for does amazing work, this is  her instagram link .  She posted these two pictures of the pen work she did of me at Divinity Tattoo.  Check out the second one, these were done with pens and represent about 6 hours of studio time!  I decided that a good way to end this project was  to make a video of how it operates and post it on my YouTube Channel, you can find it through this link.

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Modeling Job = New Commission

Many of you know that I occasionally work as a portrait or costumed model since moving to the Phoenix area.  For me, it’s a great experience — I get out of the solitary life in my shop, meet different artists and get to talk with them and learn about their techniques; it’s just interesting all around.  Recently I worked at Divinity Tattoo for a 6 hour session where the artists captured my likeness in pencil, pen, charcoal, and oil — amazing what they came up with!  During the breaks I like to circulate among the artists and see how they see me.  While  talking with one of the artists my woodworking came up.  One thing led to another and now I have a commission from her to build a custom drawing table.  She mentioned how being hunched over a table was murder on her back so we decided to see what could be done to solve that problem — here’s what I came up with.

The majority of my own work is designed at my stand up drafting table/desk.  This is an early picture of it but the space below holds my reference books.  When used for drafting I clip a vinyl drafting cover on it.  For me, drawing my projects out helps me visualize the construction process before the actual build begins.  Projects are drawn to scale and then joinery work is sketched out full size graph paper.  At right is the drawing and the beginnings of the project.

There’s quite a bit of hardware involved for this project. There will be an adjustable system that will allow her to secure drawing paper of any size.  The over-all top dimensions are 18″ x 24″ and is made of clear coat Baltic Birch plywood for stability.  It’ll be hinged to a lower section made of Walnut and dovetailed together.  Adjustable drafting table hardware from Rockler is combined with a piano hinge to allow adjustments from 0°-50°.  The A -B  notations on the wood are there to keep the grain flowing around the corners, that piece with the cathedral grain is the front of the desk and cut so the peak is centered.  Matching grain is one of those things we, as custom furniture builders can do that mass production can’t.

At this point, the dovetails for the bottom section are done, this is the process I use for doing them; I’m a “tails first” kind of guy!

The next phase will be fitting the bottom which fits into dadoed sides and is 3/4″ Birch plywood.  Next will be cutting and installing the various bits and pieces needed for the paper hold down system.  My client is excited about this project, as am I.  She expressed an appreciation of “old world” woodworking so combining the dovetailed construction and natural finish on some beautiful Black Walnut with a more contemporary combination of natural Baltic Birch and aluminum I think we’ll come up with a winner!

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Twisted Feather Carve — Sharing the Process

When I first began making picture frames it was incredibly difficult to find information about the finer points of how to go about it.  Most literature was pretty old and when talking with other framers I’d get the feeling that what they were doing were “trade secrets” and not for public consumption!  That being said, there were some who were willing to share which was appreciated greatly so I decided that I’d share my techniques.  They may or may not be the best way but for now they work for me and if it works for you then it’s all good!

Literal and Subtly Carved Feathers

My wife is working on a painting that has a bird interacting with the model so my first instinct was that hey, this needs some carved feathers!  It just happened that on Chris Pye’s wood carving workshops he had a video on a carved feather.  Decided to give it a try but found that it was too literal.  If you’re familiar with Diane’s work you know she goes for the subtle so that’s always my goal for her frames.  Pretty obvious but the top one is the “literal” feather, in your face with bright Dutch gold.  The bottom one is what I came up with after a lot of experimentation and that’s what this blog is about, how to get what you’re after.

Profile right off the saw

Not being gifted in the area of drawing I need to find images.  This has become quite easy with Google image searches and the ability to copy/paste.  Making it even easier now is being able to proportionately enlarge or minimize the size of an image to fit your space.  Some of you other old school folks may remember the technique of using grids to do that — oh boy, this is a cinch!  Once I had the image, it was time to create the molding.  The painting is on stretched canvas and measure 18″ x 24″.  The profile shown here is about 3 1/2″ wide and 1 1/2″ thick, here it’s right off of the tablesaw and a smooth plane was used to remove all of the saw marks.  Pieces were then cut to size and joined with #20 biscuits and glue then clamped over-night.

To get the design onto the frame you could use graphite paper which works fine but …. I find that locating the design in the exact same spot, eight times is a daunting task.  The paper moves, the graphite moves, and thought there should be a better way.  For me, that turned out to be using spray glue and attaching the pattern to the thin plastic used for salad containers.  This has a number of advantages, first the plastic pattern is much more durable than a piece of paper and can easily be flipped over to do opposing corners.  Secondly, by cutting the plastic pattern out with the gouges I have (and annotating that carefully) your process is consistent on each corner.  The left hand picture shows the design with the gouge sizes written on it.  Before attaching the design to the plastic I made a copy of it for reference.  The design was then glued to the plastic and cut out with the appropriate gouge.  I’m holding the finished pattern in my hand.  Yes, it does take time but now the pattern can be replicated easily.

Three places where measured out to locate the design on the frame.  After completing the outline, #2/5 to incise the inside about 1/8″ deep.  A small v-tool created the center quill and my goal was to “pillow” the wood from the quill to the outer edge. In keeping with the subtle theme, this design is lowered into the frame and pretty shallow.

The finishing process could be a complete blog on its own.  I find it’s pretty experimental.  For this frame I decided to go with a spray on primer rather than the usual burnisher/sealer which is very thick and would probably obscure the shallow carve.  This was followed with a satin black. Careful rubbing back with cotton balls and wax created the finish I wanted — subtle red peeking through at the corners of the frame.  At first glance you barely notice that the frame is carved so just like with Diane’s work the intricacies and beauty needs to be discovered by the viewers.

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Frame #168: Final Work

If you’ve been following the consruction of this Tabernacle style frame you’ll remember that the last BLOG dealt with how the roof was constructed.  That was an interesting challenge that I can now say I’ve conquered; at least for this frame!  I’ve mentioned before how personally, nothing is more satisfying than to conjure up an idea in your mind, then transfer it to paper, and finally execute it to a three dimensional piece.  That’s something I always tried to impress onto my woodshop students during my teaching career.  Here’s the beginning and ending of this frame:

The artist told me she’d take some pictures of her painting installed into the frame.  This particular piece is done on a 1/4″ copper panel.  What you see on the left in the conceptual drawing is a copy made at Office Depot from a cell phone photo — not too bad eh?

Gilding in Progress

After a base coat of red burnisher/sealer from LA Gold Leaf  the frame was oil gilded with 12 karat genuine gold leaf.  Overall the frame measured about 21″ x 25″ and there are several different levels that needed to be gilded.  To avoid having pieces of leaf fall on the area around the sight edge, the process was broken into 2 stages. The first day gilding was done to the outside edges, columns, pilasters, and roof top.  The next day the remaining frame was gilded.  This picture shows how I ended up positioning it to reach all of the crooks and crannies!  This is at the end of the first day.  After allowing the oil size to cure fully the leaf was very lightly rubbed back and the entire frame is protected with two coats of platinum blonde shellac applied with an air brush.  The final step is to apply some Liberon wax with a white scrubby, this evens out and takes that shiny shellac finish down to a nice matte finish.

When my client picked up this frame we began talking about gilding, I mentioned how water gilding would have allowed us to really make the gold shine.  After showing her some samples she really liked that look!  Even after explaining that the water gilding process is much more time consuming she seemed intrigued to see how it would look on her work — maybe a floater frame would be a good place to start.

 

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