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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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.


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