Project that’s Getting Away From Me!

Okay, I’ll admit I tend to be pretty obsessive (my principal said “anal”) but I tell myself if it doesn’t kill me in the end I’ll be stronger.  I suppose that helps explain my running history that saw lots of 50 and 100 mile mountain runs.  Enough of that, lets get into this latest project that has become all consuming and much more involved than I thought it would be.  It all started when I purchased a couple of pieces of Flamed Oak from Northwest Woodworks of Arizona  from their booth at the Mesa Woodcarving show earlier this year.  I had never seen wood with this type of grain and thought it would be a good piece for a future project — a box never entered my mind at that time!

So that’s the beginning, fast forward to me breaking down and purchasing a Veritas small plow plane from Lee Valley.  I blogged about my previous misadventure with this plane here but since they fixed the depth stop problem and Lie-Nielsen still hasn’t put theirs into production I decided to get it and like it just fine!  So put these two events together and you end up with the decision to use this spectacular piece of wood to make a proper box for the plow plane.  As a rule, I like to hang my planes for easy access but the plow plane has a set of blades that I felt belonged together.

Flame Oak & Skew Rabbet Plane

Another plane on my wish list was to replace to remedy the aggravation I’d had with my old Stanley #78.  This is the Veritas skewed rabbet plane shown here sitting among the boards of Flame Oak for the box to be!  I use the Stanley 140 trick for all of my drawer and box construction.  It’s been written up in Fine Woodworking and I did this blog on it a long time ago.  Lately I’d cut the shoulder on the tablesaw but that really wasn’t the safest way to go about it.  So I’m not getting any younger and woodworking is my passion so decided to bite the bullet and purchase this plane hoping that it would do the same work as a pair of the 140’s plus have a depth stop.  The blade is 1 1/2″ wide so I’ll be able to raise panels with it as well.  Let me add my 2 cents about Veritas vs. Lie-Nielsen.  In my opinion, L-N is a superior tool; I say that based on their finish, tight tolerances in threaded parts, and over-all quality.  I’ve had students that bring their Veritas tools and there’s just something about them that doesn’t feel right in my hands.  Perhaps that’s because I grew up using Stanley and at 67 my habits and perceptions are set.  All that being said, I wouldn’t hesitate recommending either one of these Veritas planes to anyone.

Board Stretcher Process!

Let’s start on this project.  First obstacle was the size, the boards weren’t tall enough to contain the plane so had to go into “board stretcher” mode.  The grain on this wood had so much variation that it was not a problem trying to match the pattern.  For glue ups like this my choice is always Gorilla Glue, it has proven to be the easiest to clean up and never have had a joint fail.  Once the pieces were sized it was time to begin the joinery.  Dovetails were my first choice and believe me when I tell you; this wood is tough!  When I bought these boards they referred to it as Fire Oak due to the way the grain pattern looks but when your plane is on it it actually sounds more like you’re scraping the blade across a piece of concrete!  Almost more like working a burl than working a board.  I have a Powermatic planer with a carbide, helical cutter head which handles the face grain well, plus a smooth plane performs well on it too.   To square the edges the rough work was done with a #7 Jointer Plane which left an okay finish.  Follow up with a Jack Plane with a super tight mouth gave an acceptable edge.

The first step was creating that rabbeted shoulder for the Stanley 140 trick using the newly purchased skewed rabbet plane.  After playing around with it on soft woods I was ready to give it a try — did I mention planing concrete!  The plane cut but the sounds made during the process made me fear for the life of the cutting edge so choose to go into my hybrid woodworking mode by using the tablesaw to bring the rabbet close to size and then the plane to complete it, that was the winning combination.  In the right hand picture the lid is being rabbeted.

Dovetail & Flame Oak = NoGo

Believe me, after 2 attempts I was convinced that dovetailing the Flame Oak wasn’t going to happen.  I had very little problem making the saw cuts but removing the waste between the tails and then trying to chop out the pin boards proved to be undoable (is that a word?).  With that beautiful burl like grain going in every which direction a smooth chop or cut didn’t seem possible.  The chisels were re-sharpened and honed but to no avail.  Each attempt took almost 3/4″ off the length of the boards so I knew I needed to go to plan B which was to rabbet the corners and use dowels to hold them together — I’ll save that for the next blog.

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Faux Sgraffito Frame Complete

I can only give you a partial view of this frame for now, it’s been accepted into the Portrait Artists of Arizona show which opens this Friday evening, May 5, 2017.  The show is held at the University Club located on Monte Vista Street in Phoenix and opens at 5:30.  Looking forward to seeing the work all of the members have had juried into this show, there’s a lot of talent in this group.

Laying the Leaf

In the last post about the creation of this frame I mentioned that the profile would be a challenge and it was!  Due to the 90° corner where the panel meets the outer band.  I anticipated that the gold leaf would tend to fault there.  By tilting the frame on a box it was possible to hold the leaf up at an angle allowing me to slowly press it into the corner.  By preventing the leaf from contacting any other portion of the sized frame and using a burnished piece of cardboard it was possible to get the leaf into the corner.  Once it was as close to the corner as possible it was brought up straight onto the banding.  The sight edge was done after the panel and banding areas were leafed.  My usual process is to wait 24 hours to allow the size to dry completely.  After that the brightness of the gold leaf is slightly burnished with 4/0, oil free steel wool.  Two coats of shellac are then applied to seal the leaf and protect it from tarnishing.

The final step in the frame process is to tone the frame and create that patina suggesting that it’s been around for a long time.  Lately I’ve been using oil paints thinned with odorless turpentine.  It seems to flow nicer than casein paints which dry quickly and tend to leave a streaked finish.  In this case, a light grey was used which also replicates an age long build up of dust.  Another nice thing about using oil paints is that Diane can give me some of the colors she used in the painting so that it really complements it.  After allowing the oil toning to dry thoroughly it is lightly waxed.  Here’s the change from bright gold to toned down frame:

I must admit that the toning process is difficult for me, seems like if you go through all of the effort creating a new surface it’s almost a shame to distress it!  I feel the same about distressing furniture to make it look as if it’s gone through the ravages of time but I know what’s required for this type of work.  If Diane’s success in the galleries is any indication, I must be on the right track with these frames.

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Frame #104 Faux Sgraffitto

According to the Merriam Webster dictionary  Sgraffito is a form of decoration where the surface is scratched away to reveal another color below it.  Its origin is Italian and it’s used extensively on frames.  This is the second time I’ve created this profile, I wrote about it earlier in this blog about a year or so ago.  The reason I’m referring to it as faux is because “scratching” a consistent pattern on an already finished and gilded frame is not in my skill set, this is my interpretation of the technique.  The carving is done first followed by a coat of red burnisher/sealer.  During the gilding process the gold leaf will tend to crack into the carving which will expose the red sealer.

Faux Sgraffito Ready to Gild

This is the last frame Diane needs for the upcoming Portrait Artists of Arizona show I mentioned in the last blog.  It is for a 16″ x 20″ painting which is larger than the previous frame made with this technique.  I decided to go more with hand tools on this one and embrace that hybrid woodworker philosophy I’ve talked about before.  Basically the power tools are my apprentices while the hand tools are used to refine everything.  Such a wonderful time working in the shop without the noise and dust of the power tools.  That being said though, I do appreciate the ease and accuracy power tools give us and am not quite ready to put them all on Craigslist!

Frame Profile

Let’s start with the profile, basically it’s two pieces joined in a T-shape by a rabbet and tongue joint.  The twin beads on the top piece were formed on my 60’s model Rockwell shaper and the single one was cut with a router bit.  Now that Lee Valley is offering beading cutters for their small plow plane they could be on my Father’s Day wish list!

Other than ripping to width all other work and joinery was completed with hand tools.  The wood used was Basswood so jointing one edge prior to ripping to width on the tablesaw is the first step.  In keeping with becoming more “hi-tech” a series of pictures went onto my Instagram showing the view from the four planes used, here they are:

Clearing the Rabbet Plane

The Lee Valley small Plow Plane has proven to be a real delight now that the depth stop issue has been resolved.  The shavings just curl effortlessly out of the tool as you can see in the lower right hand picture.  Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for my 30’s era #78 Stanley Rabbet Plane.  The shavings tend to clog up but were easily cleared with the use of a sharpened dowel.  The other thing I discovered is that it is no longer a true 90° so the resulting rabbet isn’t square.  I’ve trued up the bottoms of planes before but in this case besides being flat it’ll also need to be exactly 90° to the side.  That’s a problem for another day.

This profile is difficult to gild and also to carve.  The gilding difficulty is due to the profile and since it’s my own design it’s also my own fault!  I’ll be working on that tomorrow and think there’s a solution.  To make it easier to carve the carving was done before the side pieces were glued on, that way there wasn’t a lip to contend with.  A long bent #12/6mm  v-tool works well here, my goal was to keep the shavings consistent to gauge the depth of the carve.  The little holes were first cut with a #9/3mm then flattened with a punch made from a nail set.

Wedgewood & Lilac Corner

So far things are going well with this frame but you’re always just one step away from disaster!  Tomorrow is gilding day and I’m looking forward to the challenge of this profile. I’ll share my success or frustration with you when this frame is complete.  I won’t be able to show the frame with the painting in it since there is judging to take place and Diane doesn’t want her work out in public until after that time.  The other painting is ready to go, it was titled Wedgwood and Lilac; I can show you the corner detail now that it’s complete.


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More Frames — seems to be a theme here!

I’ve been spending quite a bit of time creating frames for Diane’s work lately.  First off, there  is an upcoming show that she has two pieces accepted.  That show is put on by the Portrait Artists of Arizona of which she is a member.  This show opens May the fifth so that deadline is looming ever closer.  One frame is complete for that show and the other was just glued up an hour ago.  There was another focus for the frame frenzy and that was that Diane’s gallery, Meyer-Vogel in Charleston wanted to change out some of her work they currently have shown.  We had the appropriate frames for most of them but one in particular, Almost Summer didn’t.

I wrote about that frame and included a video of how its diamond motif was laid out in this blog.  Diane and I collaborate on the frame finish and we initially thought this painting would show well in a cool, silver frame.  By cool I’m referring to the temperature of the over-all paint on the canvas.  Even after toning down the silver gilding it was still way to “cold” to do the painting justice.  These are things I’m learning about and even though I’m not well versed in all of it, after seeing her painting in the various frames I can tell what’s most pleasing to my eye!  See if you come to the same conclusion we did:

The best question I can think to ask is this; Which frame makes the painting “pop”? Keeping in mind that the purpose of a frame is to draw the viewer into the world the artist created in the painting.  It should isolate it from everything else around it and focus all of the attention on the subject of the painting.  The gold gilded frame is just too warm, it almost seems to cast a yellowish hue to the painting.  The silver frame is too cold and seems to wash out the painting.  It’s almost hard to distinguish painting from frame.  Our final choice was to use black and then some gold gilding washed onto the sight edge.  There is the black of her dress which is a good connection and everything else now seems to stand out — do you agree with our choice?

Diamond Motif in Silver

My goal as a framer is to add some element of the painting into the frame design, that’s where the diamond motif came into play; a take on the grills you’d find on cars built in the 60’s.  When you think about the purpose of a frame, it’s secondary to the painting.  Yes, the carving, gilding, and finishing need to be of gallery quality but it’s not the star of the show.  The goal I’ve set for myself as a “boutique framer” is to create affordable frames for  notoriously starving artists.  I’ll be shamelessly commercial and ask those of you that follow my blog and are artists to contact me if you’re in need of a custom frame or other artists furnishings.  I’ve begun to share some of my daily work pictures on Instagram and if you’re so inclined, follow me there as well.  I may be well into my sixth decade but need to get into the 21st. Century!

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Diamond Motif Frame # 103

Almost Summer by Diane Eugster

If you recall reading one of my recent Blogs work had started on a frame for a recent painting by Diane titled “Almost Summer”.  In my mind, I refer to this painting as the Studebaker Girl because she had the model posed by a Studebaker.  This was from a photo shoot at the Henderson Heritage Museum where I was her helper.  The original design was just too heavy and more suited for a Native American type of painting.  Simplification was needed and here’s the frame design I came up, somewhat reminiscent of argyle socks!  It’s actually a fairly simple, geometric pattern laid out by measurements and the use of dividers.

For the first time ever I thought I’d attempt to show the layout process for this design. The challenge was figuring out the spacing and measurements but the 6/30 gouge really determined that.  Let me know if that saying “a picture is worth a thousand words” helps to illustrate the process.

What gets tricky in a process like this is making the cuts a uniform depth, the difficulty is compounded by the coves and curves of the frame.  Using a long bent v-tool seems to be the answer for me.  Also found that starting on the outside of the diamond for each facet helped keep things consistent too.  Here’s where that saying I like comes into play:”the beauty of an item made by hand are its inconsistencies”.  Initially we thought that the painting would work well with a silver leaf frame rather than a gold one.  We’ve learned that frame choice makes a huge difference to how the painting captures the viewer.  At this point we’re still experimenting with our choices.

New Shop Look

Speaking of choices, I’ve decided to change my workshop look after all these years!  In the past I always wore complete coveralls, usually Carhartt’s.  I had a light weight denim pair for the summer and heavier duck material for the winter time.  Wearing them would help me keep most of the sawdust from the house.  It seems to be quite a bit more humid here in Phoenix compared to Las Vegas so decided to “lighten up” my wardrobe and go back to wearing a shop apron instead.  This is a nice, leather one and reminds me a little bit of the one I wore teaching woodshop for all those years.  That one I made myself but wasn’t up to that challenge now!  So, if you’re interested in a slightly worn set of Carhartt overalls with the carpenter’s apron check out my listing on Ebay  It ends sometime tomorrow afternoon (4-15-17) so if you hurry you can get in your bid!

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15° Boxes Progress

As I mentioned in my latest blog titled the Week in Review one of the projects I was working on was the 15° box.  It’s a variation of the slanted dovetail series of boxes I began building a couple of years ago.  Those have been successful on my Etsy Store so this variation developed to keep myself challenged!  The prototype is available in the store and both sides slant outward.  I wondered if it’s possible to make both of them slant the same direction — so far, so good.  The lid will be tricky as it can only be put on from one direction and slid into position; at least that’s the theory, we’ll see when it gets to that stage!

The Walnut ends combined with the Big Leaf Maple sides should make an interesting contrast.  The first step was to plane a working edge, my old Stanley joiner with a Hock blade is always up to the task:

Not OSHA approved!

Cutting the side pieces to 15° was accomplished at the chop saw, as you know; I use the old Stanley 140 trick when dovetailing.  No way to use the tenoning jig so by carefully holding it against the fence the cut was initially made with a rip blade then planed smooth with a rabbet block plane.  I do have one of those, can’t afford the pair of skewed ones Lie-Nielsen offers!

Initial cuts

Because of the 15° angle on the sides the angles of the dovetail are different.  It took some experimentation before getting what I considered a good appearance.  I’m a tails first dovetailer and they are laid out with pencil.  If you vary from the line a bit it’s not a big deal since the pin board will be cut to match them.  You can see I missed the line a little in this picture.  The length of these is 1 1/8″.  Just like doing drawers, both pieces are clamped together and cut at the same time.

Chisel cut notch, aids sawing


Removing the top pieces is done with a crosscut dovetail saw but I always begin the process by cutting a slight notch with a chisel.  This helps the saw track on the line.  I caught myself just in time and made that cut at 15° so that it was lined up with the shoulder.  I have a bad habit of not always cutting to the shoulder line; easier to cut more then it is to “uncut”!

Waste between tails



The method I use to remove waste between the tails is to first cut a slight notch on the scribed shoulder line.  If you remove this little piece of wood you’ll find your chisel will cut down straight.  Removing it allows room for the bevel edge which naturally moves backwards due to the bevel.  On dovetails this long my technique is to remove material at the base from both sides as you can see.

Lee Valley Small Plow Plane

I forgot to mention that before starting the dovetails a groove was cut into the sides with a Veritas Small Plow Plane from Lee Valley.  You long time readers of this blog may be saying, wait a minute — didn’t he have a blog outlining the difficulties he had with this plane?  Yes, I did and you can check it out here.  After my experience with that tool and then being notified that the depth stop slippage has been resolved decided to try it again.  Lie-Nielsen has been rumored to have one in production for several years now but I’m tired of setting up a noisy, dusty router or making a series of cuts on the tablesaw to cut small grooves.  Happy to report that the plane works great and the depth stop holds.

Router aid to remove waste between pins

Doing the pin board for these was particularly tricky due to the angles.  After making one big error I found that putting a piece of tape on each end and then on the dovetails being fitted kept me on track.  Angles are crazy and it’s super easy to get your ends mixed up.  After carefully scribing them on the proper end the first step is cutting with a rip dovetail saw.  For these long pieces it’s critical that the bottom is uniform so using a trim router with a 3/16″ bit is how I go about that for these long dovetails.  Yep, I know; I just lamented about that “noisy, dusty router” but working that much end grain of Walnut or other hardwood that works well for these boxes just isn’t effective.

That’s it for a while, this box is well on the way but will be put aside as I have three frames to get ready for Diane.  She’s been accepted into the Portrait Artists of Arizona annual show and there are also a couple of paintings she needs to send to her gallery in Charleston.  So nice to be able to concentrate more on woodworking a less on the things needed on the house!

Partially assembled and sitting on frames ready to carve


Posted in Hand Cut Dovetails, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Week in Review

Waiting for the Washer and Dryer

Wow, doesn’t that title sound like some kind of TV story?  If you’re familiar with the expression about “chasing your tail” you can understand how the past week or so has been.  Seems as if it’s one little project after another and each of them seem to have hurdles to overcome!  Let’s start with the Laundry Room and the new utility sink.  What it looks like now can be seen from this picture and happy to say the appliances are scheduled for delivery this Wednesday — woo hoo, no more laundromat!  The plumbers came on the day promised and after half a day had added the supply and drain for the sink.  I drywalled it and then had the same guy who taped and textured the shop come in to do this.  Such a small job he was happy to do it on his way home.  That took 3 days since you have to wait between coats.  Once that was done it was my turn to paint (dry overnight), install tile (dry overnight), and then grout, yep you guessed it: dry overnight!  Seems like most of these steps were relatively quick to do but then you had to wait.

Plumbing in the faucet was another story.  Since it is wall mounted I needed to get the exact size nipple and these types of faucets require that you “play around” with the pieces to get them to line up correctly.  As luck would have it, one side needed to be backed off just slightly to line up and that caused a tiny leak.  That meant completely disassembling the whole unit and then try to give that piece one more complete revolution to seal properly.  It’s a really cool faucet from Kingston Brass, chrome plated and everything so you can’t just grab on to it with a pipe wrench and crank away!  Used some scrap pieces of wood to protect it from the jaws and after the second attempt everything lined up and was water-tight.  Little bit of shimming to one leg to compensate for some unevenness in the tile floor and now that the stand is attached to the wall and we’re good to go.

Another project was coming up with a set up to photograph my work for the Etsy store.  I’ve been getting a good number of sales and likes lately but my inventory is running low.  Since photographs are all that people see I feel they need to be good and have a consistent theme to be recognizable as your own work.  I’ve always used burlap for my background so wanted to find a way to do this again here in Phoenix.  Using the 40% off coupon at Hobby Lobby I purchased a yard and a half of it.  In Las Vegas my work was photographed in an  upstairs bedroom but I wanted to do that in the shop now.  After ironing the burlap it was rolled onto a cardboard tube and suspended on a couple of bar clamps mounted to the assembly table.  Seems to work just fine, here’s what it looks like:

Another thing I need to do is now photograph the 15° Box prototype and get that listed on the store.  Also in “convo’s” with someone else on Etsy that is interested in a custom box.  They’re fun to make and help keep my joinery skills up.  Nice to as a source of revenue!

Earring Inspiration

There is a painting Diane completed quite some time ago that features a lady standing in front of a 60’s era Studebaker.  Love the painting and was part of the photo shoot when Diane hired the model.  Anyway, decided it needed a silver frame with an automotive theme of some sort.  Unfortunately the grille which could have been an inspiration isn’t really that inspiring!  I photographed the earring you see on the left thinking that it would be a good choice.  After going through the steps needed to replicate it on a frame corner I decided it was too literal and clunky.  At first I was kind of bummed out thinking that I had spent a considerable amount of time in the project but in the long run it was a good, learning activity.  From sizing it to fit the frame, then making the pattern from a thin piece of plastic, then figuring out which gouge or chisel fit the best, to finally carving it just builds up my skill set.  Here’s a small photo sequence:

The only silver leaf I had on hand was some patent that was quite old!  Not sure why I had this patent leaf as I really don’t care to work with it.  Hard time releasing from the paper backing and I really do prefer loose leaf.  In any case, you can see that it’s a pretty bold carving, perhaps better suited for a southwestern themed painting.

Any time spent doing what you like is time well spent, even if you don’t always get the results you’re after and life throws you a curve ball.

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