10 Board Feet + 5.5 Hours = ??

How long did it take you to make that?  Many times that’s one of the first things people will ask when they see a custom crafted item.  There’s a somewhat flippant retort I’ve heard: “been working on this all of my life”.  Meaning that the skills it took to make this have been cultivated, in my case; for 5+ decades!  As it should be, generally speaking a custom piece of furniture or picture frame will cost more than a similar item from Wayfair, Macy’s, Ikea, Aaron Brothers, etc. just because of the nature of handwork.  What bothers me is when people automatically assume that a hand crafted item is beyond their budget so close their mind to purchasing one.  Pricing our work is tough and I recently read an article by Philip Morley in  Fine Woodworking Magazine  He is a custom furniture maker and it’s an interesting read for anyone working at a craft.  There have always been formulas to calculate your time and overhead, materials, planning, etc.  For me, this is a self-funded passion and according to the comments on the article he wrote many of us don’t even want to calculate our hourly wage.  Rest assured, those fighting for a $15.00 minimum wage have no idea what real effort and work is required to create the stuff we do. That being said — I love the process of creating something from nothing so that’s what drives me.

Here’s the answer to the riddle of my title, two frames.  One measures 14″ x 20″ and the other is 14″ square.  That’s the time it took to get from the surfaced 5/4 Basswood to the completed and joined frames.  It’ll probably take another 4-5 hours to gild them since they will be done in 12 karat precious gold leaf which takes much more time to lay than composition leaf.

This frame is made of two separate pieces as you can see in the profile detail (click on image to unsquash it!).  The outer edge is 1″ x 1 3/8″ and the panel is 1″ x 2 1/2″.  They are splined with a 1/4″ piece of MDF, glued and clamped together.

First step is to cut them to approximate length on the table saw.  This is followed by planing a working edge (Stanley #7 Jointer Plane) and ripping to the required widths, note the tally sheet laying next to them to keep myself oragnized.

Now that they are approximate width and planed square it’s time to use the Veritas small plow plane with a 1/4″ bead cutter — such fun!  The panel pieces have a single bead while the outer edge has two.  Once done each piece had a 1/4″ groove cut into it on the tablesaw and the rabbet for the picture was too.

Assembling these is pretty straight forward, after applying a bead of glue into the groove for the MDF more glue is brushed onto the other pieces.  After rubbing them together to ensure there is glue all over they are clamped up in pairs, back to back and left to dry overnight. The glue on the bottom of the joint is easy enough to scrape off when dry.  For the face side, once the glue had set up to that “buggery stage” it was removed with a dull chisel and wiped as cleanly as possible with a damp paper towel.  Since the frame won’t be stained glue in the pores of the wood are acceptable.  Last step was to set up the mitersled on the table saw and cut them to the required length.

So there we go, 5.5 hours of creative work which will result in two, uniquely crafted picture frames.  At this point in my career it’s all about the process and staying engaged — need a frame or something else custom: contact me!

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Hand-cut Finger Joints & Reclaimed Wood

A recent remodeling job we did here left me with a few pieces of genuine, white-washed, Kentucky horse ranch fence boards!  There’s a lumber recycler here in Phoenix, Porter Barn Wood  that has an amazing collection of reclaimed wood that is so popular now.  For our remodeling project an odd door leading from the dining room to the bathroom was closed off and the resulting alcove in the bathroom was clad with these original fence boards.  Also bought some full, 1″ thick pieces to make the mirror frame.  After adding the two shelves (painted pine) the job was complete.

What Porter does is resaw the fence into uniform 3/8″ thick boards, however; resawing sometimes goes off so the resulting boards are put into a random pack and sold cheaply — that’s what is in the alcove.  The random thicknesses create some interesting textures.  In any case, at the end of the job there were quite a few pieces left over.  Many of them had green mold on them which we didn’t use so those were left on the curb, advertised in our neighborhood on-line bulletin board and gone within the hour!  There were a few interesting short pieces left and I’m always looking for any excuse to work with hand tools so here’s how they were re-purposed:

Veritas Small Plow Plane


The pine was Home Depots finest so once I figured out what size boxes I could get they were cut to size.  Next up was using the small plough plane to cut the grooves for the bottom and top.  Decided against trying to do these stopped and made filler blocks instead; after all this is a rustic pencil box!


The box was divided into thirds to determine the finger sizes.  Using a dovetail saw was the first step, then time to remove the waste with chisels.  This gave me the opportunity to experiment a little.  Whether it’s a dovetail or a finger-joint my method is to remove a small notch first to clear a space for the chisel and prevent it from moving back beyond the shoulder line.  Once that’s complete the remaining waste can usually be taken out but I’ve never been satisfied with how rough the results usually are.  So, here’s a photo montage of what I did this time around.  I start on the show face, remove that notch, then continued to work my way about halfway through the board.  I’ve shaded the portion that was left.  Before flipping the board over the shoulder line was chiseled.

Even though the shoulder is usually undercut, I never liked that void that is pointed out in the final picture.  By taking thin slivers out once the board is flipped that was eliminated.  When I teach dovetails it seems everybody is in a rush and tries to take out huge pieces at a time — no need for that.  If you want to rush grab a router and a jig!

Final work on the box was pretty straight forward.  Since the leftover fence boards were uneven, the only surface they could be referenced to was the back, resawn one.  That was guided against the rip fence and the final fit achieved with a rabbet block plane.  The finish is amber shellac and wax.  One of the boxes will be taken to the Mesa Arts Center store and the other is listed on Etsy.


Posted in Etsy Store, Finger Joint, Finger Joint Box, Sliding Lid Box, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Christine Profile Picture Frames Take Two!

Those of you that follow me may recall that back in October I had an order for 15 frames from a local artist.  These were 4″ x 6″, finished with black and about 4″ wide.  She contacted me recently and asked about doing another 3 of that profile in a 5″ x 7″ size which was my latest frame commission.  Luckily this time, instead of having to get 8/4 Basswood and waste a lot planing to a better thickness, I found some very nice 1 – 1/16″ thick Basswood at Peterman Lumber here in Phoenix.  Width of these was determined by the material they had so they ended up being about 3 – 1/2″ wide which worked well for my client.

Semi-Production Mode

It’s a good feeling knowing that there are artists here who are willing to pay a bit more for a quality frame, it does make such a difference in how their work is presented to their potential clients.  An internet search will give up all kinds of cheap frames that are assembled with V-nails, maybe some glue or solvent cement, and have a slick, characterless finish.  Most of these will begin to separate or the miters will be sad when you get them!  With this particular frame there are 6 different steps needed to create the profile after the wood has been milled to size.  I’ll  use a smooth plane to remove all of the marks left by the planer on the flat surface and tadpole sanders to eliminate chatter left by the router.

Compressing Biscuits

After mitering, the joint is readied for a  biscuit and then glued and clamped overnight.  I have a question for those of you that also use biscuit joinery.  I’ve found that with the #20 size they are almost always snug in the slot!  Not a problem except with a frame you need time to be able to slide the joint so all of the profiles match up.  I did some measurements and found that the slot was about .160 and most of the biscuits were .155+ which didn’t allow much leeway.  As soon as the glue is applied to the slot it too will expand.  A recent article in Fine Woodworking magazine showed someone who compressed tenons (hammer and anvil) to make assembly easier.  I’d beat biscuits before but that didn’t do much so decided to try using my machinists vise and it worked!  Each biscuit was compressed twice and brought down to .150 which gave me plenty of leeway and time to get the profile of the frame to match up.  I’d like to hear back from anyone else that has this problem — thanks!

Burnisher/Sealer with half of the frame burnished.

The finish is the next step and something that’s always in progress.  For these the frames were first sealed with a red burnisher/sealer that I purchase from LA Gold Leaf.  You can see the difference in the finish at the left, the bottom and right side have been burnished with oil free, 4/0 steel wool from Liberon.  This is a great product and being oil free means that your finish work won’t be contaminated.  I’m experimenting with using thinned Japan Black for the top coat, black frames seem to be the thing that most galleries are asking for these days but I feel they should have character and a certain patina/age to them.  By  thinning the Japan it’s more of a wash and easier to rub back with wax.  That’s the step that requires some careful timing and why it’s important to make sample pieces to work with.  Here’s a collage of some of the finished areas, in a few instances using steel wool and turpentine was needed to rub back to the red.

This type of frame has also been done using spray paints but I feel that this is a more “traditional” method to achieve this look.  Using Liberon Black Bison wax gives them (in my opinion) just the right luster — not too flat and definitely not too shiny!



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Artists’ Taboret Complete

For those of us that have a passion for creating art, the work space is our happy place.  Rarely have I talked with someone who hasn’t lamented that they either need a larger space or a more efficient one.  This taboret  project was inspired in order to make your studio a more user friendly area. My first blog was written about the basic construction of it.  Allow me to explain the thought process behind this project and discuss ways it can be customized to suit specific artists needs.  Diane’s studio started out like this:

But now she has this:

She has told me several times how much she enjoys her new set up, everything she needs is at hand so her creative process doesn’t get interrupted by leaving the easel to search out a special tool or supply.

Size & Construction:    The most obvious advantage to having a  custom taboret is that it can be sized to fit your workspace.  If you’re tall or short, the working height can be adjusted.  Maybe you like to work standing or sitting on your favorite stool, this taboret can be built to suit that. Mass produced taborets are limited to standard sizes but not with this unit.  I’m calling this The Industrial Chic look.  By combining the Birch plywood with it’s multiple plies of wood exposed plus stainless steel fasteners there is a no-nonsense, I’m ready to create vibe!  Even the shop made drawer pulls echo that look.  The taboret also has polyurethane wheels for mobility and the front two will lock into position.

Drawers:    These are the heart of the unit, a basic taboret will have three drawers that will feature ball bearing, full extension slides.  Many artists use this style of palette keeper that can be stored on the shelf to keep it out of your way.  Trays can be added for your pencils, charcoal, erasers, etc.  Drawers are divided to organize your tubes of paint, brushes, and knives.  Deeper drawers can have a sliding tray added to them to maximize their usefulness.

Other Options  

If you use a tablet or iPad for your studio work this shelf is an option.  The shelf will be sized to fit whatever you may use to support your tablet.  It is mounted on the side of the taboret and locks securely at any height with two large knobs.

While designing this project I received input from several artists on features they would like to see.  These included a way to adjust the angle of the palette, additional brush storage off the side, and a dedicated well space for your turpentine.  These, and most other things you may require can be incorporated into the taboret.  My goal is to make your creative process as seamless as possible by having your work space actually work for you!  Not a “knock down” project or import that you have to put together yourself — this is a one of kind unit designed and built just for you.  Pricing will vary depending on the size and optional features you’d like, $500.00 would be the starting point for a basic model.  The one shown has additional drawers and the iPad mount.  Shipping is really not an option due to the size and weight.

Contact me and we’ll design one to suit your requirements.  I enjoy the challenge of designing of creating artists furnishings to suit their needs.  If there is something unique you’d like to see in your taboret let’s see if we can work that out.


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Artist Taboret: Carcass and Drawers

Many artists use some sort of taboret to organize their work area and equipment.  Having a taboret placed next to the easel gives them an area for their palette, brushes, and turpentine.  It seems that most of the fine artists I know could always use a larger studio space so if the taboret can be designed to provide storage for those often needed supplies and keep them close at hand that is a definite plus.  If you should do a Google or Pinterest search for them you may be surprised at all of the variations there are.  Then it’s time to take an assessment of what you really need and the space you have to work with.  What brought all of this about you may ask, an artist and friend that I’ve done work for in the past sent me a picture of a pretty nice, compact sized taboret.  When I showed it to Diane she immediately saw a use for it in her studio so she’s my “prototype artist” and my goal is to make others for local artists as well.

The challenge to designing this taboret will be to keep the costs down and still maintain the quality I’m known for.  For that reason I’m going with clear-coated Baltic Birch plywood.  The plus is that almost nothing sticks to it but the downside is that neither does glue!  I’ll use tongue and groove joints plus stainless steel fasteners to give an Industrial Chic look and then for the back section use the clear-coated birch that’s only finished on one side.  That way the glue will adhere to it as I intend to inset the back into the sides.  The case will be assembled with tongue and groove joints plus the screws and glue.  In my opinion, even though it’s an additional step, making a dado that is less than the thickness of the plywood and creating a step results in a stronger joint.  In this case, the dado is 9/16″ and the shelf has been trimmed to fit tightly.

Drawers:  Here’s where things really got interesting, no matter how you look at it they are very time consuming to make.  After going through the process I did for this prototype I believe I’ll make the next one using the clear-coated Baltic Birch plywood (1/2″ thick) and use tongue and groove joints.  Then make solid wood fronts to set them off.  Definitely use full extension, ball bearing slides although it will add to the over-all cost.  I had other thoughts for the joinery which I’ve sketched below.  I’ve used before but it is very fussy to cut.  Especially when you consider the bottom drawers for this are 6 1/2″ deep.

Here are the two options for the joinery; with the joint on the right, you use 3/4″ material for the front of the drawer and cut a 1/4″ x 1″ dado in the end.  You also remove the end of the 3/4″ thick piece to leave a 1/2″ lip to conceal the hardware plus another 1/4″ for the side to set into.  Then you cut a 1/4″ x 1/4″ dado in the drawer side you now have a way to conceal the slides, okay for shallow drawers but not the deep ones.  I ended up going with the joinery on the left and will use a separate drawer front to conceal the hardware.  Like I mentioned, future taborets will probably have more utilitarian drawers made of 1/2″ Baltic Birch plywood.  I thought I could save money by purchasing 8/4 Birch and resawing it but it was quite time consuming and you know that expression!

That’s more than enough info for one blog!  Unless you’re a dovetailer what I’m about to say will seem non-sensical but I find it more enjoyable hand cutting dovetails than I do messing with the machine set ups!  Next up will be a special holder on one side for an iPad, divisions in the drawers for tubes of paint plus one just for brushes.  Last of all will be installing the drawer slides, sizing their fronts, and making custom pulls — stay tuned!


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Gilded Floater Frame in Progress

I’m just getting started on a frame for a new client who was referred to me by a previous client of mine.  How’s that saying go: “referrals are your best form of advertising?”  That’s certainly true and I always appreciate it when one client refers me to their friends.  This referral came about when my client saw a similar painting she had by the same artist; Robert Lemler.  Obviously the process a one man shop (boutique picture framer?) goes through to create a frame will differ from the likes of  Aaron Brothers or Michaels so always like to share how it comes about.

This time I’ll stick with pictures and you’ll notice I have a nicely wrapped, green finger!  After marking out countless joints with a knife and try-square someway or another I managed to let the knife slip away from the square and take a good sized slice off the top of my finger, sharp tool = clean cut so nothing to stitch.  I’ll end up with a nice divot there so wonder how that’ll effect my guitar playing.  In any case, let’s talk wood.  Started out with a nice piece of 8/4 Basswood from Timber Woodworking in Mesa.  Following my hybrid style I have them straight line one edge and go from there.  The first step is using a scrub plane to flatten one face prior to running the board through the planer.

Planing the working edge

The stock was pretty good, only one piece had a bit of a wind to it but all in all, this step went well.  Besides the winding sticks I also lay the board on a flat table to make sure it doesn’t rock — planer won’t take that out.  The 4 boards were planed to a thickness of 1 3/4″.  This step is followed up with planing a working edge, ripping it on the tablesaw to 1 5/8″ and then bringing to the needed width of 1 1/2″ for this frame.


Plowing the grooves

Each piece was then cut oversized which makes it easier to do the next step which is to plow in a 1/4″ x 3/8″ groove for the floater panel to glue into.  Sure, this could be done quickly with a router or dado head on the saw but working with the small plow plane from Lee Valley doesn’t take much longer and is much more enjoyable.  No dust, no noise, just that satisfying swish as each groove is cut where it belongs.


Clamped and left overnight

The last step of the day is to glue in the 1/4″ Baltic Birch piece that becomes what I refer to as the float section.  If you’re unfamiliar with a floater type frame, check out this previous blog post I wrote about them.  Due to the design of the frame it’s easy enough to gang them together for clamping to dry overnight.



Planing the chamfer


This morning the final step to this particular profile involves cutting a slight chamfer on the outer edge.  I’ve found that this creates a subtle glimmer of gold around the perimeter of the frame.  Again, my choice is to go with a block plane rather than a router.  Not only is it quieter the surface is much cleaner and you’re able to work in either direction as the wood grain dictates.  Started to think back to teaching junior high woodshop in the 70’s and 80’s; taught students how to do this and also use block planes to form quarter rounds on their projects.  Oh boy, any still doing that or have they gone to computer aided production!

Well, need to give this finger a break — next up will be mitering the pieces to their required lengths, biscuit joining the corners, and then it’s overnight in the clamps for lasting strength.

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Celtic Clover Study

Celtic designs seem to hold a fascination for many of us, myself included!  There’s just something mesmerizing about how the lines go under, over, and around in an endless loop with no apparent starting or ending point.  Much like an Escher (one of my favorite fellow Dutch guys!) drawing — they really capture your attention.  Mary May recently had a video lesson on carving this design so I thought it was time to take it on.  A friend of mine from Las Vegas does these beautiful carvings on a large scale and Mike inspired me to attempt this one.

Transfer of Design

You know how these senior moments get, hopefully between being able to refer back to Mary May’s video and this blog (notes to myself) I’ll remember how to do this the next time!  This carving is on a 6″ square piece of Basswood and began with transferring of the design.  It is taped onto the wood and using a red pen lets me see which lines have already been traced.  The piece is oversized and then cut to the 6″ square afterwards.  The slight notches in the centers were cut with a coping saw and filed smooth.

Design Outlined

First up was to outline the design with a #39 V-tool trying to keep the depth to about 1/16″.  I’m thinking that the reason this is done is to remove some of the material before going in with gouges that actually outline the clover.  Similar to cutting a small relief before cutting a dovetail I suppose this prevents the gouge from undercutting the line since the waste is partially removed.  In any case, using a small mallet for the longer straight cuts gave more control.

Background Complete

Here’s where I’ve learned that having the correct sweep gouges is critical for repetitive designs.  Most of the curved areas required either a #3 or #2 and the straight areas were outlined with a double bevel #1.  A #2/5mm is the smallest and flattest gouge I have and it was used to bring the background down.  A problem area were the diagonals going from corner to corner; although my template size was correct at 6″, tracing was probably slightly off so the #2 wouldn’t fit in that area.  Note to self, future designs need to be based off of the tools I have!


Over/Under Shading & Half Complete

The next step is to identify where the design goes under and over.  Shading in each junction was the way to go and even then a few were missed.  The proper gouge is selected to match the curve and then gently rocked to about half the depth of the loop.  A #3/6 or #2/5 removed enough wood to give the illusion of one piece going under the other.  Need to be careful on the shorter pieces and leave enough height for the near loop to go under.  The final step was cutting a slight chamfer on all the edges.  I didn’t want to use any sandpaper, preferring a surface that only reflects tool marks.  Using a #2/10 worked for that.      Oh Boy! is this ever a case for figuring out the proper grain direction.

The final step was the finish.  I prefer a natural finish but decided that since I’m experimenting anyway let’s go for an antique look.  Two coats of wax free shellac was used to seal it and then the only product I could find locally was a water-based gel stain from Min-Wax.  It was brushed on and then removed from the top of the design with a cotton rag wrapped around my finger.  Hey, I like it — first one came out okay!



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