Kumiko Box #2

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

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

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

Mind Numbing!

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

Fine Tuning of Shooting Board

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



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

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

Lid looking for a Box!

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


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Hand Carved Picture Frames — My Process

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

Dreaming In Blue
Diane Eugster
18 x 24

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

Plastic Pattern

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

Pattern Work

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

Work in Progress

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

Corner Detail

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




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First Kumiko Box

Preparing Sides, Note eraser for sanding block and Kumiko panel

This has been a wonderful challenging project that was inspired by blogs I had read by Mike Pekovich of Fine Woodworking Magazine and Greg Merritt of HillBilly Daiku.  To start this journey “down the rabbit hole” as Greg puts it was making the various jigs needed to cut the precise angles called for in Kumiko.  You can catch up on that process with this BLOG.  Once they were done it was time to try my hand at making a Asa-no-ha which I described in this BLOG.  My eventual goal is to incorporate this design element into some furniture pieces but for now designing a box with a Kumiko  insert in the lid seemed to be a good beginning.  I decided to make a double Asa-no-ha of the and then add some design of my own to surround it.  Those of you familiar with my work know that I like to create box sides at various slants and angles which emphasizes the dovetail so for this I went one step further — lets’s do a coved side!  This was accomplished on the tablesaw in a piece of Cherry.  The lid was made to fit the Kumiko so then the box was made to fit the lid — kind of cart before the horse!

Preparing the Sides

Preparing the sides was done with plow and rabbet planes to do the bottom groove and overlay I use for the dovetails.  The overlaid technique means you don’t have to cut stopped dados for the bottom.  Always like using them for joinery work.  I’m a tails first dovetailer and once the lay out was finalized both sides are clamped together and cut at the same time — pretty straight forward process.  The coved sides which are the pin boards were a bit more challenging.  After lining them up and scribing the location they were ready to cut and chop out.  Once fitted, the curvature is penciled in and carefully cut with a coping saw.  I imagined one of the tails cracking during this step but thankfully, that didn’t happen.  Cauls were made to apply pressure to the tails only so they would seat completely — my glue of choice is Old Brown Glue.

To hinge this box I gave Lee Valley’s hidden pin hinge a try and was pleased with them, you do have to be exact but they work nicely and allow you to remove the lid for final fitting.  One word of caution: they suggest and it’s a good idea to place a small washer on the hinge between the lid and box.  Here’s what I learned about that, the washer will get stuck in the groove on the hinge pin and make taking it out a real hassle!  I wrote them about it but my advice is do not put your washer in until all adjustments and finishing is done.  That included mortising in a small piece of Ebony for a lid lift and chamfering the corners of the top.  The Ebony was from that piano I salvaged some keys from awhile back!

This box was finished with Osmo Polyx oil and wax.  The bottom is lined with deer skin and the dividers can be removed if desired.  I’ve had a lot of interest in this box during its’ construction so sure there will be several more in the future!



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June Frame Projects

Custom Frame

June has been a busy month as far as frame making goes.  Kind of ironic because I’ve just fallen down that Kumiko rabbit hole and have a project half way started with that.  However, with my philosophy of keeping this passion self funded, paying clients get priority!  A frame that was recently completed is the one shown at left.  It is currently at FraminWorks here in Phoenix and they are doing the mounting of the pastel which will be attached to the block in the middle.  Very thankful that they are doing that for my client, pastels are much trickier to frame than oil paintings.  Ironically enough, I’ve had contacts with the farmer there on the Picture Framers Grumble!  As soon as my client gets it from them I’ll post a picture of it.  The pastel is of three, colorful ice cream cones and will be mounted under glass.

Fine Tuning the Miter

The bigger frame order was for five frames with a custom profile that are scheduled for delivery this Thursday.  The milling of the wood and assembly of the frames is covered in this BlogPost.  Actually, the final finishing steps for these frames took the bulk of the time! My client asked for the smoothest possible finish without any wood grain showing through the finish.  They are finished with three coats of  satin black paint over a clay based sealer.  The sealer I use comes from LA Gold Leaf in a few different colors, for these I used their red.  Since these are closed corner frames it’s important that the miters do not show.  No matter how carefully frames are glued up, there may be a little variation at the joint.  In some instances that may need to be planed off but usually sanding is all that’s required.  I use pencil to go across the miter, when the pencil lines are sanded off completely the corners done. Once I was satisfied with the corners  it was time to brush on the sealer.  I always tape off any part of the frame that won’t be finished to leave a smooth, clean transition.  After the sealer is completely dry it is block sanded by hand with 320 and 400 grit paper.  The beauty of the sealer is that you can see which areas need attention due to the color change.

Corner Sample for next frame

Since these paying jobs are almost at the finish line it’s time to go on to the frame for one of Diane’s latest paintings.  It’ll be carved and I was inspired by the subject and palette  to try a rust colored sealer and a series of randomly placed leaves.  I’ll leave you with a teaser picture of it and go into the details on the next blog.  Of course, there’s the box with the inset Kumiko Asa-n0-ha piece waiting for me too!

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Custom Picture Frames

I recently accepted a commission to do a series of  picture frames for a well known artist who also runs an Atelier here in the Phoenix area.  The profile he was after is a contemporary one that is deeper than it is wide so definitely not a “stock profile” you could find locally.  Since it doesn’t have lots of curves, beads, or coves it can be made with a combination of hand plane work and tablesaw.  I’ve been asked to do five for him, they will be finished in black and suitable for either panel or a canvas up to about 1 3/4″ thick.   The work has progressed nicely so I’ll leave you with a photo montage of the process.  It all began with 8/4 Basswood that was purchased from Timber Woodworking in Mesa.  They had a good selection to choose from, this time I bought more than needed for this project — Basswood can always be used!

I did have them “sweeten” one edge which isn’t always square but it does make the board safe to run against the tablesaw fence.  The first step was bringing them all to 1 1/2″ thickness, very little work with the scrub plane to flatten one face.  Showing off a long shaving from the #7 Stanley Jointer plane.  Just a side note, I posted a picture of it on Instagram and learned from a collector that it’s dates to pre-WWI — always thought is was more like the 1930’s.  Love this plane, the process is to create one working edge to run against the rip fence.  Since the final width of the profile is 2″ I allowed about an eighth of an inch for planing.  The wood was over 8″ wide so after each rip the jointer plane prepared the edge for the next rip.  Made about 60′ of this material which was then cut to rough length for each of the frame sides.

Dado head to cut rabbet

The next step of this process is to create the rabbet the paintings will sit in.  At 1 11/16″ by 1/4″ this one was unusually deep.  I attempted to make that cut in one pass on a trial piece and although it’s possible decided I’d rather make it a little easier on me and the machinery and accomplish that with two passes.  Lots of sawdust created, clamped the shop vac close to the blade to help control it all.

Now that all of the pieces are cut to rough length and have their rabbets cut it’s time to miter them.  A recent purchase was a Tenryu Silencer 72 tooth cut off blade.  I’ve always liked their Gold Medal series and this blade cuts cleanly.  I’ve been meaning to re-do the miter sled so this gave me the incentive to do so.  By the way, the purpose of the weight is to keep it from lifting up when there is a longer piece of wood being cut.

The final machining step was cutting the slots for the face frame sized biscuit used to reinforce the corners.  Since this profile is 2″ long it was necessary to provide some type of caul to spread the clamping pressure evenly.  It’s hard to see in the picture but there are some 2″ tall pieces of  UHMW polyethylene that worked perfectly for that.  Glue won’t stick to it and I was able to snug up the clamp and then slide it to center the pressure and close up the miters.  Two of them are now assembled and glued, they’ll dry over-night and then clamp up the next two tomorrow.







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Journey down the Kumiko “Rabbit Hole” Continues


First Asa-No-Ha

Here’s the first, completed Kumiko design.  This has been a cool process to get into and the teacher in me always likes to share what I’ve discovered during the journey!  In my first blog about this I showed the jigs that were made to accomplish this and there were a few changes needed.

Lap Joint Cutting Jig

For starters there were two problems with the lap joint cutting jig.  The first is that the stop at the end is thicker than the pieces being cut so that interfered with the try square when laying out the joints.  The other is that the screws holding the pieces in the jig could be hit with the saw — not good!  Easy enough to drill more holes to make sure that didn’t happen.  An additional jig was needed to cut the small pieces that make up the design, simple plywood one that uses a Japanese style saw took care of that.  Speaking of saws, after trying both I find that using the dovetail saw gives me more accuracy than the Japanese style saw.  That one gives a finer cut but after decades of cutting joints with the dovetail, English style that’s what I’m most comfortable and accurate with.

Lay-out and measuring is an critical thing with this work.  I’m using the books by Desmond King as well as the articles in Fine Woodworking by Michael Pekovich for my inspiration.  Desmond is Australian so naturally the dimensions are metric.  At first I balked at using it but it proved to be much easier to determine the “pitch” using metrics instead of fractions.  Turns out that the pieces I planed down to 3/16″ thick (Mitsuke in Japanese terms) equals 5mm.  I won’t bore you with the details but it is much easier to add and divide millimeters than it is to add unlike fractions together and then try to divide them into an even measurement!  For accuracy, once the distance was calculated my preference is to lay it out with a divider.

Pieces cut now it’s time to do the joinery.  First up is the diagonal which is is cut at 45° creating a 90° point that fits across each of the four square.  By the way, this Asa-no-ha is roughly  4 1/2″ square.

Hinge Piece

The diagonal is relatively easy, it’s the hinge pieces (longest piece) and small locking part that require more attention.  The jigs with an adjustable stop make this easier to do.  It was suggested doing the more difficult.  It’s circled in red and notice that the left side is tapered equally at 22.5° while the other is cut in an approximate 1/3 to 2/3 amount at 67.5°.  Having two jigs to cut that 22.5° angle is helpful.  After scribing a line on the face of the joint I would place the piece in the jig and try to line the scribed line up with where the jig ends, there is a bit of trial and error required so be sure to cut extra pieces. After the hinge pieces fit, the final part to the puzzle is the small locking piece that comes in from the corners, both ends are cut at 45°.  Since this locks everything together you’ll need to individually fit each one.  A small bit of glue applied with a toothpick was all that was required, everything locked together nicely!

Cutting the Hinge Pieces

I’ve tried using both a wide chisel as suggested my Pekovich in his article and also a low angle block plane.  Although the plane seems to cut smoother I found it awkward for these smaller pieces — interested to hear from others and their experience cutting these small pieces so appreciate your comments.  The picture at the right shows the set up for cutting the unequal 67.5° pieces.


Not perfect but I’m pleased with the first effort at Kumiko — who knows where I’ll end up down that rabbit hole HillBilly Daiku warned me about!


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Kumiko or “down the rabbit hole!”

The expression of “down the rabbit hole” came from Greg Merritt who writes a blog called HillBilly Daiku.  He’s been doing some Kumiko woodworking and got me intrigued, I laid some of the blame on him and his response was that he didn’t mind shouldering some of the it!  There have been a few articles in Fine Woodworking about this technique as well by Michael Pekovich which inspired me too.  Internet research had me checking out video’s and books and falling down that “rabbit hole” even more!  Sounds like it’s right up my alley — lots of time, lots of patience, and at least worth .50 an hour if someone were to pay you for it, but a great process to get into and escape from the world!

Thickness Jig

My first question was the size of the pieces which Greg (HillBillyDaiku) suggested shouldn’t be more than 1/4″; I decided to go with 3/16″.  For width my choice is 5/8″. The eventual goal is to make display tables with a Kumiko insert sandwiched between tempered class that could be sold through a gallery to compliment their sculpture sales.  There are jigs needed  to accomplish this so that’s where I started.  The first is this one designed to make all of the pieces an exact 3/16″ thick.  It is made of MDF and sized for my smooth plane.  The runners on the sides are L-shaped so the plane rides exactly 3/16″ above the bottom, the stop at the end is 1/8″ so the pieces stay in place.

Lap Joint Cutting Jig

The next jig’s purpose is to cut the lap joints.  There are a number of ways to accomplish this but I want to keep it hand tools as much as possible so liked this concept.  The pieces are held in place by screwing the loose stop tightly against the boards to sandwich everything together.  Joints are laid out carefully and cut by hand with a crosscut saw.  The Walnut boards sandwich them together are 5/16″ thick.  When I just hit them with the saw that tells me I’m at the required depth.  A 3/16″ chisel is used to remove the waste and we’re good to go.  Here’s a practice lap joint I made — I like it!

Angle Jigs

Last of all, these pieces need to be cut at precise angles of 45°, 22.5°, and 67.5°.  I’ve seen this done in video’s in a few different ways so will ask for advice.  Mine have adjustable stops and I’ve had success using a 1″ wide bench chisel.  You can also  use a block plane which I’ve tried as well but it seems that could eventually mess up the guide block.  Mike Pekovich uses the chisel and said he preferred it to the plane.  Seem to get good control with the chisel and holding the Kumiko with that little Walnut piece you see laying on the back jig.  These can easily be held in the vise while the other jigs are held between dogs on the work bench.

The first step will be to make the strips needed for the designs.  I’m using Basswood that has been planed to 5/8″,  the process is pretty straight forward — here’s a photo collage to explain it.



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