OSMO Polyx Oil: Is this my new go-to finish?

Since the mid 1960’s I’ve been using Watco Danish Oil for finishing almost everything.  I built a house in 1980 and all of the cabinetry was finished with that, followed by a 3 part mixture of boiled linseed oil, polyurethane, and turpentine I learned about at San Francisco State.  That was demonstrated by Arthur Espenet Carpenter and used by many students in the Design and Industry department.  However; I’ve lamented many times in these blogs about how the EPA standards have forced changes in the formulation of the Watco oil.  As a comparison, any of you work on cars and been around long enough to remember using gasoline to clean parts before it became unleaded?  Old school  gas would completely evaporate and leave a clean surface, unleaded on the other hand leaves a film.  You can feel it on your hands too, why?  Probably to eliminate those VOC’s escaping into the atmosphere.  I think the same has happened with finishing products.  The smell, feel, and working properties of Watco are just not the same.

So, enter a product made in Germany by a company called OSMO.  I first learned about this finish from issue 262 of Fine Woodworking Magazine, here’s a LINK to that article but you may need to be a member to read it in its entirety.  It’s available from World Class Supply and I use their #3054 which is a matte finish.  It’s available too from Amazon but I still like dealing with independents whenever I can.  It’s advertised as an eco friendly product made with all natural materials.  I first tried this product on a sliding door commission and intended to explain the process but forgot!  Let me do that now on the bookcase.

For starters, the OSMO is quite thick and the directions say to apply a thin coat.  This was accomplished with a chip brush and completely wiped off after soaking into the surface for about 30 minutes — like Watco this is an important step!  Any finish left in corners will get gummy.  The Watco process calls for sanding the top coat in with successive grits of wet/dry paper beginning with 320 and working up to 600 or more.  With the OSMO being so thick that didn’t seem to work well so only used 320 with a flat, rubber sanding block.  The second thin coat was brushed on, allowed to soak into the surface for about 10 minutes and then sanded with the 320.  If it started to drag I would put some more finish directly on the sanding block.  After completely wiping dry I’m happy with the hand rubbed luster on the piece.  According to the manufacturers information this product is more resistant to moisture and stains than Watco is — time will tell but so far I’m happy!

I know it’s really difficult to show the results in a photograph but here’s the finished bookcase.  The solid wood face frame and side have been sanded with the 320 grit.  The shelves and back are made of plywood and I didn’t dare use sandpaper on the tissue thin veneers used these days (ugh!) so they were finished the same way but with a white scotch pad instead.  Time consuming process but in my opinion, it’s worth it.

Tried to capture the Luster

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Building a Bookcase; My Approach

My current furniture project is a small bookcase made of Walnut.  I talked about my design approach and the requirements for it in my last blog.  While working away in the solitude of the shop I started thinking about why I do my work the way I do, after all; there is more than one way to skin a cat and you know I like that saying; “ask 10 woodworkers the same question and you’ll get 12 different answers”!  My blog serves a couple of purposes; keep my clients informed, share and get feedback from other woodworkers, and; being a “man of a certain age” give me an easy way to go back and remember what I did!

My woodworking began in high school in the mid 1960’s and I distinctly remember Mr. Ben Aiello, my woodshop teacher explaining how doweled joints will ultimately fail at the dowel because you’ve added a different type of wood.  With the advent of pocket hole joinery, Kreg’s jig, biscuits, and now the Domino I still remember that so prefer mortise and tenon and also tongue and groove joints in my work.   Yes, they take more time to fit but I really admired Mr. Aiello and had seen older furniture fail at dowel joints.  Ironically, the Ash coffee I made in high school using dowels to laminate the top together from 3-4 boards failed about 15 years after making it!  So, that’s the back story of why I utilize these joints.

Approximate dimensions of this bookcase are 14″ deep x 30″ long and 41″ tall.  It will sit in a corner so only the face, left side, and top are solid Walnut.  The book matched panels were oiled prior to gluing up that side.  The glue I use is Old Brown Glue, a liquid hide selected because of the ease of cleanup and longer open time.  This is constructed with mortise and tenon joinery.


This is the left side which will show, the right side buts up against a wall so is 3/4″ Walnut plywood.  Both sides glue into the front face frame with a tongue and groove joint shown below.

Left Front:  Face frame has 1/4″ groove and side is rabbeted to fit.  The front is left slightly proud and is planed flush after glue up.  So that both vertical members of the side are equal width the one that is rabbeted is narrower than the other — just some math required.  You can see how when it is assemble there is no seam and the entire corner is securely glued.

Right Front:  Since this side goes against the wall it is slightly inset to compensate for any variation in the wall, already know the corners not square but will scribe the top to fit.

The plywood is a challenge!  It’s what’s referred to as a combination core which has a lumber core covered with a thin layer of MDF and then the Walnut veneer.  At $140.00+ I would have expected it to be flat but unfortunately that’s not the case!  A consideration for this bookcase is that it will hold many heavy books.  In the past I would laminate two pieces of plywood together but don’t think that will work.  The solution was to create almost an I-beam unit by cutting a groove into the bottom of the shelf so a tongued piece can be clamped and glued into it.  This piece is pre-drilled for screws and my plan is to glue and screw it to the face frame and 3/4″ plywood back.  It’ll be an interesting glue-up process but I’m confident it will come out fine!

That’s my method, comments and questions are always welcome!

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Walnut Bookcase

I’ve recently begun work on a solid Walnut bookcase for a client.  It will be located at the top of the stairs in their home and needs to be sturdy enough to hold various large and heavy books they own.  Unfortunately, some of the shelves they already have that are your typical laminated MDF variety are beginning to sag under the books weight — not good!  My plan is to use 3/4″ furniture grade Walnut plywood for the shelves, back, and the one side that goes against the wall; the remainder of it will be solid 4/4 and 6/4 Walnut I’ve purchased from Woodworkers Source here in Phoenix.  The shelves are about 13″+ wide and 30″ long, my first thought was to double them up but decided a rim glued and screwed around the perimeter  will be even stronger and prevent any sagging.  The top will be 15″ wide and the first thought I had was to laminate 4/4 stock together and then band it.  As I was selecting the wood I couldn’t find two pieces that were wide enough to create that top — lots of sap wood.  Well, as luck would have it there was a stack of wide and sap free 6/4 material next to it.  As the maker it’s up to me to come up with the best solution and although it meant a bit more money and time I decided I’d rather have a beautiful, solid top, in our discussions the client mentioned it would be nice to have a “showy” piece so hopefully; this will meet their needs.  To prepare the edges for laminating I check not only with a try square and straight edge but also set the boards on edge and check that their faces are level with a long straight edge (picture 1).  Another trick is to rotate them when stacked and feel resistance indicating even contact (picture 2).  For glue ups I always use Gorilla Glue and these old panel clamps (picture 3), if the ooze line is uniform that usually indicates a good joint.  Finally, before bringing this piece to width a block plane and even the smooth plane was used to polish the end grain that will be visible (picture 4).

Parts ready for joinery

Most of us woodworkers have our own strategies, mine is to draw out the plans by hand (old school) then label each part.  When it comes to the joinery my preference is to draw it out full size on 1/4″ square graph paper.  Here I can accurately measure tenon width, mortise depth, and any rabbets and tongues plus add the tenon length to the pieces that need it.  Once the pieces are roughed out the exact sizes are noted on the plans and each piece is marked with chalk.  At this stage of the game not only are the parts cut to required sizes but all of the mortises are in as well.

Resawn Panels for Side

One last thing that came out better than I’d hoped was to resaw a piece of the 4/4 stock for the two panels for the side of the bookcase, you can see it if you click on the plan picture to enlarge it.  A piece was selected that had some nice cathedral grain but the blade in the bandsaw was the 1/4″ wide one.  Not wanting to change it out for a wider blade decided to take a chance and it paid off!  Just planed the bottom edge square, drew a line, and used a simple pivot point to guide it, about 5″ x 40″ long.  Between the power jointer and then final cleanup with the smooth plane I was able to get two, very nice book matched 1/4″ thick panels for the sides.  Have some house work to do first thing tomorrow but then it’s on to cutting the tenons.


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Lovely Vanessa Frame

For this frame I decided to use a gilding technique where planed wood is directly oil gilded without the wood being sealed.  I wrote an article about this and was honored to have it published in the August 2011 issue of Professional Picture Framers magazine! It was titled “A Whistler-Inspired Gilded Oak Frame” and in it I discussed my way of replicating one of James Whistlers technique.  It worked out well on Oak, not so well on Basswood, but the finish on Walnut was more to my liking.

Lovely Vanessa by Diane Eugster

Of course, photographs rarely do justice to the real thing but there is lots of texture in Diane’s painting.  She wanted a frame that also had texture plus the coloration of her work.  Since it is more of a contemporary painting she also requested a floater style frame. The painting is done on a 1/4″ Baltic Birch panel so to make it work for a floater the first step was to glue an additional rim of plywood to the backside of  the painting.  This gave enough thickness to screw it to the frame.  That rim is inset which created what I’m calling a “double float” since it raises the painting up from the black floater section.  A simple rub glue joint is used to attach the rim to the back of the painting.

Walnut was chosen for its’ dark rich browns and some reddish hues.  As a furniture builder I prefer planed surfaces rather than sanded ones, planing opens the grain whereas sanding tends to abrade it — there is a difference!  The painting measures 14″ x 18″ and the frame members are 1 1/4″ thick by 2″ wide.  The outside edge has a chamfer planed on it which I wanted to leave solidly gilded.  You can see it on the right edge in the picture above.

Let’s talk about making it.  That process began with 8/4 Walnut that was planed and ripped to the needed size.  A groove was plowed with the Veritas small plow plane, the location is determined by where you want the painting to be inside of the floater.  I prefer it to sit just slightly below the surface of the frame.  This groove is about 3/8″ deep and the next step was to glue in the Birch plywood that becomes the floater section; easy to “gang clamp” them as you can see.

The floater section was painted with Japan Black which is “dead flat”.  Once dry the frame members were mitered, slotted for a biscuit, and then glued and clamped overnight.  My  preference is to use slow set size on everything, in my experience the quick set doesn’t have as strong of an adhesive quality.  I get mine from LA Gold Leaf, it has a good consistency and working time.  Generally a frame will be sized around 7:00 pm or so and then gilded the next morning.  Of course, the black section of the frame is taped off while applying the size but removed immediately once sizing is complete. Gilding is pretty straight forward, it’s the rubbing back of the gold that is nerve wracking — real easy to go too far!

The rubbing back process is done with a white Scotch pad and Liberon Black Bison wax.  Once the finish is taken back to my liking, a cotton ball is used to apply an additional coat of the wax.  After drying the entire frame is buffed.  The wax will be sufficient to seal the gold and prevent any tarnishing in the future.  This is one of three paintings that Diane had accepted into the 8th. annual Portrait Artists of Arizona show.  The show has 59 paintings and is currently hung at the Scottsdale Artists School.  It will be open for viewing from January 6 through the 27th. with the reception and awards presentation scheduled for January 13, 2018 from 2-4:00 pm.  The majority of the works will be for sale and the public is invited to view the show any time that the school is open.




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Design & Carving Procedure for Custom Frame

In a recent blog I talked about my process for getting a design onto a picture frame for carving.  Whenever I share the methods I’ve come up with there are two reactions I get.  First of all it’s a thank you (like those!) but the other one is where I’m told I shouldn’t give my methods away, someone will use them.  So I’m stymied, when I first got into the framing there wasn’t a lot written about how to carve and finish them.  Through the many years I’ve been doing this it’s been a lot of trial and error plus gleaning information from various sources like YouTube, workshops at the West Coast Show held in Las Vegas, online courses from Mary May and Chris Pye, and the Picture Framers Grumble.  Very little though focuses primarily on carving picture frames.  Since my career spanned 31 years as a woodshop teacher I suppose sharing what I do is second nature so that’s the path I’ll take.  Always appreciate comments and feedback from those of you that read my blog.  Another aspect of blogging is selfish on my part; having almost 7 decades under my belt I find that being able to refer back to my own blogs refreshes the memory!

Let’s start with the design phase.  Not being super artistic I’ve found that going to any internet image search works for me.  You can copy, grab, and paste them to your desktop and then manipulate the design to fit your size.  For example on this motif the number of leaves needed to be reduced to be able to ground out the design.  I use the plastic from salad containers as a template since they are flexible enough to conform to the molding and easy to flip over for a mirror image.  Simply spray glue your paper on them and cut it out.  The Olive Motif needed two templates, one for the stem and another for the leaves and olive.

As you can see in the second picture the actual gouge used to cut the design is also used to cut and annotated on the pattern for reference.  Now comes the carving of the design.  I’ve learned that although it’s possible to do curves freehand with v-tools or parting chisels having the proper sweep guarantees consistency.  The leaves were cut with a #7 sweep in 10, 14, and 20 mm widths.

Here’s a photo essay of going from a flat molding to a low relief carved one:

The carving was followed by a light sanding, this frame was primed with a yellow clay burnisher/sealer.  Each corner took approximately two hours to carve.  Next up is the gilding process.  For this frame a 1/3 piece of leaf was laid first on the sight edge.  It went from the cove to the inside.  Luckily, my little finger is a perfect size to press the leaf into both coves!  Once the inner edge was complete on one leg, a full sheet of leaf went from the inner cove all the way around the molding.  I only use slow set size as I believe it gives a better bond then the quick set does.  I’ve done a couple of YouTube’s demonstrating my technique, here’s a LINK to one of them.

To end this blog I want to stress that I’m no expert when it comes to carving but rather have learned what I can through lots of trial/error and experimentation. I doubt I’ll ever be as good as I want to be but as long as I’m challenged and see improvement in my work I’ll be satisfied.  Personally, I think the mindset of always wanting to improve on what you did before harbors craftsmanship and artistry.  Diane recently took a workshop where the instructor stated that being self-taught gives most people a set of bad habits!  So, bottom line I hope my journey helps anyone who’s trying to do what I’m doing along the way.  I’ll end with this picture of the “freshly gilded frame”.  I’m fighting a cold but at this stage the brassiness has been knocked down and a very light grey wash applied.  Final step in my toning process is to wax and highlight portions of the frame.  I’ll share that next week.




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Mid-Century Modern Dresser to Double Vanity

Dresser to Double Vanity (It does have legs and base)

This project is finally complete and I’ve mentioned it a few times in previous blogs.  The same client I recently made the 15 picture frames for was also in the process of buying and remodeling a new home fairly close to me.  To be honest, this could have been the type of project you wish you hadn’t taken on but I could see the potential of turning their mid-century dresser into a vanity — I mean; it was just a cool looking piece!  I didn’t have to make a commitment when first asked since the new house was under renovation and this was crowded along with everything else in the rental house they were leaving.  Besides the picture frames had priority which gave this project time to come to fruition in my head!

The first time I saw this piece in the house was when I met the plumber.  It was placed in the bathroom and he was trying to figure out what to do first.  This is a really well constructed piece of furniture!  Full inset plywood back (nailed not stapled) with dust panels between each drawer which were supported by a drawer web and wooden center mount slides.  After popping the back off the plumber was able to roughly locate where the tailpiece for each sink would be and drilled holes through the top and each of the dust panels.  It would have been the best option to have him do the plumbing hookup and then modify the drawers but as with many construction projects — wrong parts were ordered or delivered so there was that inevitable delay.  Decided to take a chance and modify the drawers based on the rough measurements.  I took two of them home experiment.  Luckily, there was enough room between the drain and the center mount slide.  After marking the location, a piece of the drawer was cut out on the bandsaw.  Then pieces of 1/2″ Baltic Birch plywood were mitered, glued, and nailed inside of the drawer to tie everything together.  Drawer bottoms were wood, if this had been a modern mass-produced piece these modifications wouldn’t have been possible.

I figured okay, if one of them works my process must be working so took the rest of the drawers home to modify them.  It was a couple of weeks before the correct parts arrived and the plumber finished it all up.  Drawer one — good; drawer two — good; and so it went until the drawers seven and eight at the bottom of the right side!  They just hit the P-trap where it went into the drain, had a bit more angle to it.  Luckily after taking them to the shop and removing the bottom right up to the center mount guide they both fit with just the slightest bit of friction on the very bottom.  I was happy, my client was happy and things looked good.

My client, Christine; is an artist who I met through Diane.  You can see some of her work, including a few of the frames I made for her, on Instagram.  The reason I bring that up is to tell you about an upcoming show at the  Rees Atelier Academy located in Mesa, AZ.  Christine is in the program there and her work will be on display. With Christmas right around the corner this show could be just the place to find that perfect gift for that special someone!  Tim Rees (owner of the Academy) is having a Holiday Show and Sale on December 9th. from 9:00 am to 5:00pm.  Here’s  a LINK to the show flyer.






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November; Another Month Gone!

This has been a good and very warm month here in Phoenix.  My work is increasing as more people hear about me and decide to ask me to work on their projects.  One that is 99% complete that I had hoped to share was the Mid-Century Modern dresser that has been modified to become a double vanity.  Unfortunately some of the parts required to complete this job were the wrong ones so we’re waiting on those to come in so the plumber can finish the installation.  I can give you a teaser picture of how the drawer was modified so the drain has a way to through each drawer.  My client has all of the drawers and has promised to send pictures of the completed vanity, I’ll explain and give you details of how this problem was solved then.

Robert Lemler Painting 4″ x 10″

A commission I had for picture frames and one I really enjoyed was to frame two nudes painted by Robert Lemler for a client.  Robert Lemler’s work is fantastic and I know him personally. He teaches at the Scottsdale Artist School and is represented by a number of galleries.  His work is on several websites and is easy to find with an internet search.  Here are the two frames.  Both of the moldings were custom milled from Basswood.  The first measures 4″ x 10″ and is a custom milled profile.  The finish is Japan Black over red clay which has been rubbed strategically back to expose the clay and replicate years of wear and handling.  The other nude is larger, measuring 12″ x 24″.  This one was framed in a floater style frame that has been gilded.  Again, the frame was slightly distressed, this is commonly done to add age and authenticity to the piece.  I always feel honored when a client trusts me to frame their valuable art work

Robert Lemler Painting 12″ x 24″

Rockler Speaker Kit

A quick and fun project this month was to make a blue tooth capable speaker for Diane to use in her studio and car.  Rockler Woodwork sent an email showing this little speaker so decided to give it a try!  The radio went out in her car and the price of this kit was way less than the repair cost for that.  Made a little holder for the speaker that fits in the cars cup holder and it works great.  Now she can do Pandora on her iPhone and hear it.  I’ve always wondered it Baltic Birch Plywood could be finger jointed and now I know — yes it can!

Last of all, work has begun on a new frame for one of Diane’s paintings titled Cheers.  It’s on stretched canvas and measures 20″ square.  In it, the lady is holding a Martini and my first thought was olives!  After a bit of image searching I had enough information to design a gently flowing design that’ll go in each corner.  Again, my go to source for making a pattern is the plastic containers used for salad that you get at the store.  After drawing it out, the pattern is spray glued to the plastic which is then cut out with the appropriate chisels.  Here’s a photo montage of the process.

Diane’s painting has been accepted in a show but I have until the beginning of January to get it finished.




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