Drawing Desk Complete

In the last blog the dovetails had been cut and fit for the bottom section of the custom drawing desk.  If you missed it, here’s a LINK to that one and before I talk about the remaining work, let me share the end result!

As you can see, the only variation was to eliminate  one of the paper hold downs, unlike the drafting that I’m accustomed to where your paper is held down at each corner an artist only needs to have the paper secured at the top of the board.  At least that’s what I’ve observed when modeling.

L-N Bronze Smooth Plane for final finish

The bottom of this is also made of 3/4″ Baltic Birch plywood.  I like the ClearKote option, it’s easy to keep clean and virtually nothing sticks to it, even glue can be scraped off easily once it’s dry!  The bottom is glued into a 1/4″ groove, the thickness is needed to secure the hardware.  Prior to the final glue up the inside and outside of each piece was worked over with a smooth plane to get that final, quality furniture finish.


Location inside box, center line market

The hardware chosen for this is from Rockler Woodworking and it is their #30155.  These are a pretty robust pair of supports — almost overkill for this light of a project.  It has 14 pre-set stops that hold the top at angles ranging from 0° to 50°. The top is hinged to the bottom with a brass piano hinge repurposed from an old piano.  The directions that came with it were pretty vague, only giving measurements from the barrel of the piano hinge to mounting brackets.  What was missing was how to align them to the box and top.  After drawing a center line on the bracket the location was marked on masking tape.  That tape was extended to the end of the box and over the sides.

Location under lid, center line marked

Since the top was partially attached to the box it was closed and turned upside down to transfer the location to the top.  Now I could extend that line on the underside of the lid to establish the corresponding center.  Then it was a simple matter of centering the bracket, pre-drilling the holes, and the bracket.  Once I was sure all worked well the remaining screws were added to the piano hinge and all that remained was cleanup, attaching the paper holder bar, and a coat of wax.

The plywood didn’t require any finishing but the Walnut bottom was given two coats of Osmo Polyx Oil, it’s an environmentally safe product that I’ve been using since Watco oil has changed their formula so drastically to meet EPA requirements. The artist I designed this desk for does amazing work, this is  her instagram link .  She posted these two pictures of the pen work she did of me at Divinity Tattoo.  Check out the second one, these were done with pens and represent about 6 hours of studio time!  I decided that a good way to end this project was  to make a video of how it operates and post it on my YouTube Channel, you can find it through this link.

Posted in Artist Furniture, custom furniture, Hand Cut Dovetails, YouTubeVideo | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Modeling Job = New Commission

Many of you know that I occasionally work as a portrait or costumed model since moving to the Phoenix area.  For me, it’s a great experience — I get out of the solitary life in my shop, meet different artists and get to talk with them and learn about their techniques; it’s just interesting all around.  Recently I worked at Divinity Tattoo for a 6 hour session where the artists captured my likeness in pencil, pen, charcoal, and oil — amazing what they came up with!  During the breaks I like to circulate among the artists and see how they see me.  While  talking with one of the artists my woodworking came up.  One thing led to another and now I have a commission from her to build a custom drawing table.  She mentioned how being hunched over a table was murder on her back so we decided to see what could be done to solve that problem — here’s what I came up with.

The majority of my own work is designed at my stand up drafting table/desk.  This is an early picture of it but the space below holds my reference books.  When used for drafting I clip a vinyl drafting cover on it.  For me, drawing my projects out helps me visualize the construction process before the actual build begins.  Projects are drawn to scale and then joinery work is sketched out full size graph paper.  At right is the drawing and the beginnings of the project.

There’s quite a bit of hardware involved for this project. There will be an adjustable system that will allow her to secure drawing paper of any size.  The over-all top dimensions are 18″ x 24″ and is made of clear coat Baltic Birch plywood for stability.  It’ll be hinged to a lower section made of Walnut and dovetailed together.  Adjustable drafting table hardware from Rockler is combined with a piano hinge to allow adjustments from 0°-50°.  The A -B  notations on the wood are there to keep the grain flowing around the corners, that piece with the cathedral grain is the front of the desk and cut so the peak is centered.  Matching grain is one of those things we, as custom furniture builders can do that mass production can’t.

At this point, the dovetails for the bottom section are done, this is the process I use for doing them; I’m a “tails first” kind of guy!

The next phase will be fitting the bottom which fits into dadoed sides and is 3/4″ Birch plywood.  Next will be cutting and installing the various bits and pieces needed for the paper hold down system.  My client is excited about this project, as am I.  She expressed an appreciation of “old world” woodworking so combining the dovetailed construction and natural finish on some beautiful Black Walnut with a more contemporary combination of natural Baltic Birch and aluminum I think we’ll come up with a winner!

Posted in Artist Furniture, Artist Model, custom furniture, Design Process, Hand Cut Dovetails, Hand Tool Woodworking, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Twisted Feather Carve — Sharing the Process

When I first began making picture frames it was incredibly difficult to find information about the finer points of how to go about it.  Most literature was pretty old and when talking with other framers I’d get the feeling that what they were doing were “trade secrets” and not for public consumption!  That being said, there were some who were willing to share which was appreciated greatly so I decided that I’d share my techniques.  They may or may not be the best way but for now they work for me and if it works for you then it’s all good!

Literal and Subtly Carved Feathers

My wife is working on a painting that has a bird interacting with the model so my first instinct was that hey, this needs some carved feathers!  It just happened that on Chris Pye’s wood carving workshops he had a video on a carved feather.  Decided to give it a try but found that it was too literal.  If you’re familiar with Diane’s work you know she goes for the subtle so that’s always my goal for her frames.  Pretty obvious but the top one is the “literal” feather, in your face with bright Dutch gold.  The bottom one is what I came up with after a lot of experimentation and that’s what this blog is about, how to get what you’re after.

Profile right off the saw

Not being gifted in the area of drawing I need to find images.  This has become quite easy with Google image searches and the ability to copy/paste.  Making it even easier now is being able to proportionately enlarge or minimize the size of an image to fit your space.  Some of you other old school folks may remember the technique of using grids to do that — oh boy, this is a cinch!  Once I had the image, it was time to create the molding.  The painting is on stretched canvas and measure 18″ x 24″.  The profile shown here is about 3 1/2″ wide and 1 1/2″ thick, here it’s right off of the tablesaw and a smooth plane was used to remove all of the saw marks.  Pieces were then cut to size and joined with #20 biscuits and glue then clamped over-night.

To get the design onto the frame you could use graphite paper which works fine but …. I find that locating the design in the exact same spot, eight times is a daunting task.  The paper moves, the graphite moves, and thought there should be a better way.  For me, that turned out to be using spray glue and attaching the pattern to the thin plastic used for salad containers.  This has a number of advantages, first the plastic pattern is much more durable than a piece of paper and can easily be flipped over to do opposing corners.  Secondly, by cutting the plastic pattern out with the gouges I have (and annotating that carefully) your process is consistent on each corner.  The left hand picture shows the design with the gouge sizes written on it.  Before attaching the design to the plastic I made a copy of it for reference.  The design was then glued to the plastic and cut out with the appropriate gouge.  I’m holding the finished pattern in my hand.  Yes, it does take time but now the pattern can be replicated easily.

Three places where measured out to locate the design on the frame.  After completing the outline, #2/5 to incise the inside about 1/8″ deep.  A small v-tool created the center quill and my goal was to “pillow” the wood from the quill to the outer edge. In keeping with the subtle theme, this design is lowered into the frame and pretty shallow.

The finishing process could be a complete blog on its own.  I find it’s pretty experimental.  For this frame I decided to go with a spray on primer rather than the usual burnisher/sealer which is very thick and would probably obscure the shallow carve.  This was followed with a satin black. Careful rubbing back with cotton balls and wax created the finish I wanted — subtle red peeking through at the corners of the frame.  At first glance you barely notice that the frame is carved so just like with Diane’s work the intricacies and beauty needs to be discovered by the viewers.

Posted in Carving, custom profile, custom profile, Design Process, Picture Frames, Tutorial | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frame #168: Final Work

If you’ve been following the consruction of this Tabernacle style frame you’ll remember that the last BLOG dealt with how the roof was constructed.  That was an interesting challenge that I can now say I’ve conquered; at least for this frame!  I’ve mentioned before how personally, nothing is more satisfying than to conjure up an idea in your mind, then transfer it to paper, and finally execute it to a three dimensional piece.  That’s something I always tried to impress onto my woodshop students during my teaching career.  Here’s the beginning and ending of this frame:

The artist told me she’d take some pictures of her painting installed into the frame.  This particular piece is done on a 1/4″ copper panel.  What you see on the left in the conceptual drawing is a copy made at Office Depot from a cell phone photo — not too bad eh?

Gilding in Progress

After a base coat of red burnisher/sealer from LA Gold Leaf  the frame was oil gilded with 12 karat genuine gold leaf.  Overall the frame measured about 21″ x 25″ and there are several different levels that needed to be gilded.  To avoid having pieces of leaf fall on the area around the sight edge, the process was broken into 2 stages. The first day gilding was done to the outside edges, columns, pilasters, and roof top.  The next day the remaining frame was gilded.  This picture shows how I ended up positioning it to reach all of the crooks and crannies!  This is at the end of the first day.  After allowing the oil size to cure fully the leaf was very lightly rubbed back and the entire frame is protected with two coats of platinum blonde shellac applied with an air brush.  The final step is to apply some Liberon wax with a white scrubby, this evens out and takes that shiny shellac finish down to a nice matte finish.

When my client picked up this frame we began talking about gilding, I mentioned how water gilding would have allowed us to really make the gold shine.  After showing her some samples she really liked that look!  Even after explaining that the water gilding process is much more time consuming she seemed intrigued to see how it would look on her work — maybe a floater frame would be a good place to start.


Posted in custom profile, Gilding, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, tabernacle picture frame | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Frame #168 Trim and Roof

In the last blog the main part of the frame was constructed along with the base for the pilasters.  The next step is to apply the embossed molding along the bottom and build the roof.  Applying the molding at the bottom seems pretty straight forward but it turned out not to be that way!  Since those inside returns are about an inch long my thought was to use the miter box and Japanese saw I use for my kumiko work.  That’s a very small piece to hold and with the profile hard to keep secure.  Same negative results with my Jorgensen miter box.  I have a guillotine trimmer but it was too short to hold it and as the blade did its trimming the piece moved.  So decided to use the tablesaw at 45° with a backer board so the piece could be pushed completely past the blade.  Then, a block plane and shooting board coaxed the piece to the correct size.  You can see the shim that makes the piece level for the inside cut.  They were attached with glue and 23 gauge pins, nail holes were concealed with Bondo spot putty.

Next up is to build the roof.  Totally new experience so I decided to post a question on the on-line Picture Framers Grumble .  This is a site I’ve used for many years to ask for advice and share my work on.  A couple of people suggested using CNC programs and offered to build the roof for me if I sent details — sorry, I’m old school and hands-on!  One said that unlike a typical mitered corner it’s best to leave the bottom portion square and miter the top to match.  That made sense so the first step was to take my full size drawing and locate the center line, over-all width, and height. Then it was simply a matter of calculating the angles and go from there.

Turned out that the angle needed to be 17° on the miter saw and tilt the blade 73° on the tablesaw and use a tenoning jig that slides on the rip fence.  Lucked out on the setting, only needed  minimal tuning with a block plane to get good fitting corners.  Blocks were cut for support and also to give me something to tack a piece of MDF to which fills the front.  That piece is trimmed out with what’s actually the scrap piece cut out to create a rabbet for a frame.  Angles were drawn in and then trimmed to fit with a chisel.

At this point, the entire frame is assembled and has a coat of red burnisher/sealer that I get from LA Gold, it’s a good product and hopefully one coat will be enough for this frame. It usually is and what I like about it is that it takes a nice burnish with some 4/0, oil free steel wool.  There’s so much that needs to be covered with the 12 karat genuine leaf that I’m probably going to break it down into a two day operation.  Stay tuned and I’ll let you know how it came out!

Posted in custom profile, Gilding, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Picture Frames, Tabernacle, tabernacle picture frame | Tagged , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Frame #168: Tabernacle Style

This will be the third Tabernacle style frame I’ve been commissioned to make and I truly love the challenge of them.  I know there’s a lot of historical background for this style but at this point, I’m making them based on the tools, equipment, and knowledge I have.  I’ll call them a “contemporary” style rather than following a specific historical design.  This one will have a new feature, a roof!  I do like to share my information but Diane tells me I get too “technical” so there’s your warning — truth be told though, for me this blog serves as a memory booster; you can’t imagine how often I refer back to a long ago project to refresh my memory of what the heck I did!  Seven decades will do that do you.

Initial full size drawing

My work generally starts out with a drawing or sketch, in this case full size on craft paper works for me.  The painting is 11″ x 14″ so Office Max enlarged a photo I took with my iPhone.   Being full size allows me to make bits and pieces of the frame and actually see them in place.  The molding at the bottom is an embossed piece from Lowe’s while the dentil mold on top is left over from another project.  This drawing was shown to my client, she liked it and gave me some artistic license so we’re off and running.  My initial plan was to have a 12kt. gold leaf spandrel and then black over red clay for the rest of the frame but she prefers that I do the entire frame in 12kt. gold leaf, it’ll be oil gilded.

The first step  making the main frame.  It’s 5/4 Basswood and about 3 1/2″ wide.  By drawing it out full-sized I get a sense of proportions.  First thought was to use simple biscuit joinery but that just didn’t sit well with my furniture maker frame of mind!  Ended up using haunched mortise/tenon joinery for stability and strength.  More effort but, IMHO, a better quality build.  After being glued and clamped overnight any inconsistencies were taken care of with a block plane.  The sight edge is a 45° chamfer and was formed using a router. That’s followed up with rabbeting the back to accept the painting, also with a router.  This painting is on a copper panel so 1/8″ oversize is sufficient.

Squaring off the radiused corners formed by router bit

Since routers leave round corners they need to be squared off with a chisel. This is easy enough on the back but takes some careful paring on the sight edge.  I’ve found that after extending the outer limit to establish a square corner (pencil) and then marking the diagonal makes it easy to pare with a sharp chisel.  Right side done and left side drawn out.


My design called for a pilaster sitting on a long base.  If you look at the drawing, the base is rather short, the more I looked at it the less I liked it.  To my eye it chopped the painting and frame up too much.  The base itself is actually some left over pieces from a floater frame I made some time ago.  Having it overlap the frame adds another dimension to it.  The pilaster was made using the Lee Valley small plow plane with a 1/4″ bead cutter. Something learned is that if you try to cut the bead too close to the edge it seemed the skate went off track.  After totally messing up the first one decided learned that to get a good, clean bead it’s better to make the piece wider than required so the bead can be cut in a ways from the edge.  Once they’re cut simply rip those edges to the required width.

The next step was attaching the bases to the frame.  There’s a lot of face grain so glue and clamps is all that’s needed.  I do use a pin nailer (23 gauge) to anchor them, they get pretty slippery once the glues applied.  Then a couple of clamps so it’s time to work on something else! If you’ve read through my entire blog, thanks!  As a retired teacher I enjoy sharing what I learn along my woodworking  journey and am willing to answer any questions you have — just use the contact button.

Posted in Design Process, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Mortise and Tenon Joint, Picture Frames, plunge router, Tabernacle | Tagged , , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Making Custom Frames Summarized

It’s always an honor to know that there are quite a number of you that follow my blog, that makes me feel good about what I’m doing.  I enjoy sharing what I do and learn — suppose that’s a carry over from 31+ years of teaching!  Over the last few weeks I’ve had a number of contacts via my blog asking about the process I use to create custom moldings so thought this would be a good opportunity to summarize and share it with you.

Starting point; 4/4 Basswood

Generally, frames that are to be carved, gilded, or painted begin with Basswood.  Thickness will depend on the profile and whether the frame is for a panel or stretched canvas.  The other option is to use an exotic hardwood for the frame which would be clear coated only.  You can see a recent example of this in this POST.  The method of woodworking I follow is what’s sometimes referred to as hybrid woodworking.  In other words, although I prefer using hand tools I use my power tools to do the grunt work and processes that are too time consuming to do completely by hand.  Since I don’t have a jointer I generally spend the extra money to have the wood straight line ripped at the lumber yard.  Then it’s a simple matter of sweetening that edge with my trusty #7 Stanley, corrugated jointer plane.  It’s best to cut long lengths to workable length first.  My “workable length” is determined by the frame size and I’ve found that anything up to 50″ or so is easy enough for me to work by hand.  After ripping the boards to the required width the opposite edge is made smooth and square before running through the thickness planer.  Not having (or wanting) a power jointer any flattening of the board is done with my shop made scrub plane.  As long as one face is flat and doesn’t rock, the surface planer will thickness the board evenly.  Next up is the profiling.  This may begin with beveled cuts on the tablesaw which are cleaned up with a smooth plane.  Other times beads are formed with a Lee Valley small plow plane.  This frame though has two coves, they were made with a core box bit and a router.  The rabbet was cut by making two passes on the tablesaw after forming the sight edge with another router bit.

One step I didn’t mention is that prior to the profiling process every board is hand planed with a smooth plane to remove those inevitable chatter marks left by the planer.  I’m pretty particular, even my helix head Powermatic planer leaves marks that will show through the finished piece.  After mitering, each frame is joined with #20 biscuits and glued/clamped overnight.  A closed corner frame is one that is finished after assembly and the goal is to not have that miter visible.  No matter how accurately the pieces are cut, mitered and joined there can always be some discrepancy.  I begin the smoothing out process with a low angle block plane, it has radiused corners so it you take a super light cut the blade won’t dig in.  This is one of the few times I’ll sand since the glued joint was wiped down with a damp rag the grain is raised a bit.  To ensure an almost invisible joint a pencil line is scribbled across the miter and then sanded with 220 grit until it’s gone.  These frames have a black finish which was rubbed back with wax and steel wool to expose some of the wood below.

This particular profile is called “Christine Profile” after the client it was designed for.  It can be modified by carving in the field, gilding either the entire profile or just the sight edge.  These came from 4/4 stock since they were for panels but thicker stock can be used for stretched canvas.  I’m often asked: “how long does it take”?  To do these 8 frames took me about 15 hours.  If you plan your work process and think it through I hope that you, like me; will find it enjoyable.  It’s rewarding to go to an art show or gallery opening and hear people comment about these frames.  Even the lay person notices the difference between a custom, closed corner frame and a production, stapled together one assembled from moldings.

Posted in custom profile, Design Process, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Hybrid Woodworking, Picture Frames | Tagged , , , , , | Leave a comment