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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Mesa Art Center Co-Op

I am really happy to say that I am now officially a member of the artists co-op of the Mesa Arts Center.  I’ve mentioned (lamented?) several times over the past few months that the jurying in process was underway but finally, today 3/7/2018 my work is on the shelves and up for sale!  Here’s a LINK to the store, it’s a really nice venue and the Mesa Arts Center offers so many classes and events it should be a great experience.

If you’re unfamiliar with co-op’s they are a collection of artists who show their work.  There are 44 artists currently displaying their work and the requirements is that the artists are all from Arizona and the work is original.  Jewelry, paintings, glass, ceramics, wood, and photography are some of the work.  Sales are commissioned and as an artist we’re required to demonstrate our craft at least once per month, about 4 hours time.  This is what makes the co-op interesting to potential customers — they can actually see the work being made and talk with the artists.  I’m looking forward to my demonstrations, good chance to show how hand cut joinery is done and hopefully promote the craft.  Here are a couple of pictures of my main display area:

The process began for me back on Nov. 15th.  Filling out the application, submitting good quality photographs, writing my bio, etc.  Towards the middle of December a meeting with the committee resulted in official acceptance.  What followed was background checks, fingerprinting, and getting my official badge which all lead up to today.  The lady I met that is in charge of the exhibits had a phrase which really said it all:  ” we’re governed by committee”. That’s a good way to justify why things take some time.  Another requirement of being in the co-op is that I too must serve on a committee.

Just like many other woodworkers who love to build furniture, making my handcrafted boxes is a good way to maintain those skills.  Being in the co-op and having my name and work out there for the public to see can’t help but be beneficial.  My card and links to my website are available there so it’s a good prospect for future commissions.  If you’re in the Phoenix area do stop by and visit the center.  The weekend of March 17-18 they have an annual event called Sparks going on.  This event is free to the public and is a great way to see what the Mesa Arts Center is all about.

Here are two more pictures of the inside of the store, they placed my work in these areas so you can see some of the other artists work.  All very high quality.

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SawStops Sliding Table to the Rescue!

Resulting Cut-off

About three years ago I replaced my Jet tablesaw with SawStops Professional cabinet saw and opted for the sliding table.  This meant changing some of the ways I approach using the tablesaw but for the most part I’ve really liked this feature.  After doing the installation of the Walnut Bookcase that like has changed to love!  Most of my furniture work is free standing, much easier; you just finish it and deliver it to the room it belongs.  Built-ins add the challenge of dealing with those walls, floors, and corners that inevitably tend to be out of square.  During the initial meeting about this book case I noted that the corner was a little bit out but figured that between a little planing and a scribe strip it would be a minor problem; well that proved to be wishful thinking on my part.  Maybe not the most exciting blog but allow me to share with you what happened and how it was solved.  This picture shows the resulting cut made with the slider — nice!

Bookcase Installed

Sorry about the parallaxes in this picture but the bookcase is installed in a small space at the top of the stairs.  It’ll help explain what’s happening here.  The case is about 30″ long and 14″ deep.  After cutting away the 4″ tall baseboard it was moved into position.  Surprise — the upper inside corner was just slightly out of square which would be easy to conceal with scribe strip.  It also fit nicely at the bottom by both ends, however; the pony wall leans out towards the stairwell and also out at the inside corner!  Rather than cutting the inside corner of the top to match the walls I found that the back edge was the one that needed cutting!  This is a solid piece of 1 3/8″ thick Walnut and to plane that would have been quite a chore.  I left the bookcase in place and decided to wait until the top was sized to attach it to the studs.  I had brought a piece of foam core to make a template to see what would fit.  Talk about stress time, the material alone for the top was $120.00 which doesn’t include the time it took to laminate the pieces together, finish, etc. so couldn’t afford any mistakes.  I briefly thought of hand planing the whole thing but decided that’s what the SawStop it for.

The top was left longer than required so the first step was to cut it to length.  You know that expression: “measure twice, cut once”; well with all that was at stake I measured, checked, and double checked — twice!  First was to set the sliding table to match up with piece of foam core, surprisingly this was only about 91°.  This was confirmed by raising the blade and running that foam core with power off.  A second check was then done with the wood, I knew there was a 1/2″ difference in the width from one end to the other.  Here’s a  photo essay of the process:

Cutting scribe strip

When I took the top back to the job the second day my client had given me a key since they would be gone.  Nervous anticipation doesn’t begin to describe how I was feeling and honestly was glad they weren’t there in case my calculations were off.  Yes, success — the top fit just as I had hoped.  After attaching the bookcase to the studs and attaching the top the scribe strips were cut on their stairs using a razor saw and bench hook — old school.  Once done I texted the clients with a picture of the unit in place.  Later that evening they texted me the picture you see here with the bookcase already filled with all of their art books.  I think that means they were excited to get it!

Clients Picture



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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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