New Frames and Cataract Surgery in my Future!

Well, did that title inspire you to read the rest of this blog?  Approaching my seventieth  decade and noticed over the past couple of years that things are becoming more difficult to focus on and see.  Thank God for muscle memory because most times I really can’t see the line when doing joinery work!  According to my research, this surgery is one of the most common ones performed in the US and success is high, like around 95%.  First the left eye this week and then next week we go into the other one.  From what I understand it’ll be several weeks before my vision will settle so my close work will have to be done with cheap reader glasses.  Fingers crossed and prayers that all goes well.

Carving of this frame was another great challenge, something I strive for!  Always want whatever project I’m currently working on to be better than the one before.  Honestly, I know that’s not possible, as a hardcore distance runner I know your times can only improve to a certain level.  I believe though that setting goals and accepting new challenges will keep a person from growing complacent and stagnant.  Here’s a photo montage of the process for this frame, it started out with the custom profile Barger Moulding here in Phoenix milled for me:

Transitioning from the curved surface of the molding to the details of the leaves is the challenging area.  Not only is there a curve and a cove but as anyone who’s ever carved knows, the grain direction may also change.  It’s the design that determines the direction you have to cut (towards the leaf) so if that’s against the grain you need to deal with it!  After reading Joel’s blog from Tools for Working Wood I decided to order a piece of Horse Butt from him to use as a strop and achieve the sharpest possible edge — seems to do the trick!

“Here Comes the Sun” by Diane Eugster

In any case, the frame is complete and the painting by Diane Eugster has been installed.  The finish is a thinned Japan Drop Black over a red burnisher sealer that has been tinted to match the palette of the painting.  The frame should isolate the painting from the rest of the world and draw the viewer in.  Between the profile and the way the leaves wind around the molding we think that’s been accomplished.  I know photographs rarely do justice but I wanted to rub back just enough of the black from the leaves and edges to warm up the black of the frame.

Not knowing how my vision will be for the next couple of weeks I wanted to get this other frame done before the cataract surgery too.  This frame is a custom profile, about 3 1/4″ wide and 9″ x 12″.  Black seems to be the “new gold” as far as the galleries go and this frame has the same theme.  This time though to warm up the gold the black was rubbed through and slightly abraded randomly to pick up the color palette of this painting.

Well, that’s it for now — if I can read them I wouldn’t mind hearing a story or two from anyone who’s had cataract surgery.  Seems like everyone I’ve talked to has positive stories so hope to keep it that way!

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Beaded Frame & Water Gilding Experiments

23 Karat gold leaf

Definitely keeping busy, how in the world did I ever find time to work a “regular” job?  Our house has a bigger yard which requires more maintenance than we’d planned on but having a separate studio for Diane and a free standing shop for me more than makes up for that.  Continuing to experiment and try to hone my water gilding skills after taking the workshop from Charles Douglas.  These two sample pieces feature 23kt. gold leaf with slightly thinned Japan Black to offset the gold.  The carving is a sample piece for a client.  The molding is the profile made for me by Barger Moulding here in Phoenix, just re-0rdered from them.  That design allows space for carving and is pretty traditional, I really enjoy creating my own profiles whenever possible.

Molding sample, Veritas small plow plane, and Flamed Oak box.

This is one of the more interesting profiles I’ve created.  It’s a two piece design and the beads are formed using a Veritas small plow plane with beading cutters installed .  When I posted this picture on Facebook, it got lots of response.  Probably as many asked about the plane and box as did about the moldings!  If you’d like to know more about the plane and the box here’s a LINK to the creation of it.  To make this profile I used 1-1/16″ Basswood that I get from Peterman Lumber.  The outer piece has two, 1/4″ beads plowed into it and then the groove is cut for the spline.  The groove for the panel is cut at the same setting on the tablesaw.  The panel has one bead which is set back a bit from the edge, it’s trimmed at an angle later.  The critical part is to locate and cut the angle on the outer piece so that it aligns perfectly with the thickness of the panel.  Trial and error with a protractor is how that’s figured out — no CNC or computerized gizmos for me!  Forgot to mention that the panel is finished with a smooth plane prior to cutting the bead.  The rabbet is cut after the pieces are joined to leave a lot of surface so they can be clamped sight edge to sight edge as shown below.  The size of this frame is 16″ x 20″.  The spline is MDF to eliminate any concerns about movement as there would be using wood.

Tinted Grey Base Coat

The finish for this frame will play off of the palette used by the artist (Diane Eugster).  The painting is a landscape from the Sonoran Desert which has a deep, blue green hue.  Not being a colorist I get some assistance from Diane.  It began with a grey burnisher sealer which is tinted with Mixol to get the base coat color.  Once this is brushed on and burnished it’s top coated with slightly thinned Japan Drop Black.  Timing is critical and the goal is to just have the base coat ghost through and be exposed more around the sight edge.  There’s a lot of texture in the painting that is a goal of the frame.  There’s a certain time when the paint is at just the right stage of drying where it can be burnished with a 100% cotton rag wrapped tightly around my finger. This will eliminate most of the brush marks and just barely expose the base coat.  It’s a dance of how hard and long to burnish without pulling off all of the black. In my opinion though, this hand worked finish trumps a mass produced, sprayed on finish applied by a robot and probably somewhere off shore!

My current project is another carved frame, again in black.  For this painting the base coat will have a reddish brown base coat.  Ironic that now that I’d like to get into more precious gold gilded frames the market is leaning towards black!

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Ebony Dowels & Sharpening Concerns

Like all of us that work with wood and hand tools, maintaining a sharp edge on our tools is critical.  Through the years I’ve gone from oil stones and no jigs to water stones plus using jigs, and now diamond stones.  On the latest project where I retrofitted shelves into an antique armoire for a client I needed to bring that shelf edging flush with the pre-finished Birch plywood — sharp block plane ideal for that, however; the blade wasn’t quite sharp enough!  I’ve had Lee Valley’s Mk. II honing jig/guide for more years than I can remember and it’s always worked well for me.  Occasionally a plane blade would move a bit but it wasn’t a major issue.  However, it became an issue when sharpening this blade!  No matter how tightly those knobs were the blade shifted and was no longer square in the guide.  I looked at the guide very closely and here’s what I saw — a huge gap!  I was afraid it was time to invest another hundred bucks or so to replace it but decided to see if there was a way to re-align the holder.  After taking a block of wood and fitting it between the studs to protect them I was able to put it into a machinists vise and remove the gap.

So what caused this?  My thoughts are that when putting chisels, especially narrow ones in the guide that bar is bent when you tighten down.  I’d noticed that chisels especially tended to move in the guide no matter how tightly I cramped those knobs.  That’s why in June of 2015 I purchased the Narrow Blade Holder accessory Lee Valley came out with, p/n 05m09.09.  If you experience the Mk.II slipping check the gap!

Banded Shelves for Armoire

Once sharpened the plane worked great to level the banding on these shelves.  This was an interesting job.  Shelves are about 36″ long so did a tongue and groove banding on the front and back for strength.  After notching the corners they will fit into the antique style of sawtooth, adjustable shelf supports.  It was obvious to me that these had been cut by hand since each was slightly different.  Sharp chisel trimmed each support as needed.  My client was told the Armoire came from France.

The latest picture frame to be completed is this one for the painting titled:  When the Rooster Crows by Diane Eugster.   Love the painting, it’s one she did from a recent photo shoot in our backyard.

Australian Lacewood was chosen to not only compliment the over-all palette of the painting but also the texture of her brush work.  Notice that the bottom of the frame has more of those beautiful flecks and rays of the lacewood pattern and diminishes as it goes up which is the same as in the painting.

Creating the Octagon in doweling jig

The pegs are made from some of the Ebony keys reclaimed for a recent box commission.  The process starts by drawing the circle on the end of the key.  This gives me a reference point to begin planing the corners to create an octagon.  The piece is held in what I call a doweling jig.  It’s a simple bench stop design made of MDF with a V cut into it to hold the piece.  There is a piece inlaid at the end that acts as a stop.

After cutting the end with the dowel plate

After planing as closely as possible to the circle drawn on the end, the piece is started into the dowel plate to give an even better guide to plane to.  On smaller diameter dowels you can use a pencil sharpener to point the end of your piece.



Pounding through the L-N dowel plate


Once you get the piece as close as you can it’s time to pound it through the dowel plate.  I use a Lie-Nielsen one that I’ve inlaid into this block.  Just a side note, the block has holes that are slightly larger than the dowel being made.  This helps keep them aligned.  Ebony was a tough wood to turn into dowels this way, kind of wish I had a small lathe!  If you’re interested, I made a video of this process some time ago, here’s a LINK.


Wow, it’s mid-May; keep making sawdust!!

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Picture Frames and a Doggie Ramp!

Beneath the Trees by Diane Eugster: Frame is laying on a brown background

To my way of thinking, a picture frames purpose is to isolate a painting from the rest of the world and subtlety complement the work of the artist.  When I design a frame I observe  the palette and mood of the painting and try to have the frame reflect that in some way.  Being what I refer to as a “boutique frame maker” coming up with a challenge for myself is another aspect of the design process.  Quite often, a client will tell me to just use whatever molding I have but the thing is — I don’t have pre-made moldings!  Somewhat like a restaurants by-line, we don’t make it until you order it!  This painting is by Diane Eugster and the frame has been in progress for quite some time.  The title is Beneath the Trees.  This is the first time I’ve water gilded a floater style frame, it’s in 12 kt. gold leaf.  The story behind it is that it was initially ordered by a client as a 12″ x 24″ but there was a defect in the wood I hadn’t noticed until it was time to join it.  I must be blessed because a day after noticing it she called and asked if it was too late to cancel that part of the order — her painting for it wasn’t working out.  No problem I told her and asked my wife if she wanted an undersized panel and you can see the results.  Definite challenges doing the transition from the gesso and clay surface to the inner black surface but it was a good learning exercise and we (Diane and I) believe it came out nice in the end.

Another completed frame is this one, and again painted by my favorite artist!  It’s on panel and measures 9″ x 12″.  I wanted to experiment and see how it would look with an outer band of 12kt. gold leaf rather than the sight edge.  To draw the viewer into the painting the molding was beveled towards it.  The initial cut is on the tablesaw and then refined with a hand plane.  Wood being what it is and crafting by hand there’s bound to be slight inconsistencies.  One corner didn’t quite match at the inner taper, to match that it was first scribed with an cranked paring chisel then planed until the corner was satisfactory.

The outer edge has a 3/4″ wide, shallow rabbet cut into it for the gold leaf.  This frame is done in black and decided to do oil gilding directly over it, no clay.  Difficult getting a sharp edge but all in all the results are quite nice.  From where I’m sitting now I can see that frame and the way the light catches that edge is appealing.

The final project is this doggie ramp made for Brandy, out miniature long-haired Dachshund.  This ottoman is her favorite place to lay and guard the house but, being a doxie she could be prone to back problems.  Although there are many ramps on the market we wanted something lightweight that could be easily stored under the couch whenever we have company.  This is the answer and now Diane is busy training her to go up and down!

Another fun challenge, mainly making the folding mechanism and way to lock it securely in place.  Since the angle isn’t 45° using available folding leg hardware wouldn’t work.  The supports are fabricated from a piece of 1/8″ thick by 3/4″ wide aluminum stock which was easy enough to cut and counter sink the hardware.  The support almost folds flat but will slid under our couch without a problem.


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I Love the Challenge!

Chickering & Sons Piano box circa 1917

In almost every aspect of my life, it’s all about the challenge and figuring out how to overcome it.  Makes no difference, it can be  a woodworking project, ultra-marathon  mountain race, personal goal or whatever — rising to the challenge is always satisfactory!  This box was a challenge put to me by the person that started it by offering their well used piano as a source of materials.  Things started out fairly easy as you can read about in this BLOG on the first project made from the materials. When I shared that blog with her it must have set her wheels in motion because a few days after that I was contacted with “the challenge”!

For background, every member of her family are serious musicians and they’ve probably all used this piano sometime in their lives.  She was wondering if a box could be made from it to store sheet music.  If you recall from the first blog, I was hoping to find boards of solid mahogany or walnut but discovered that it was primarily veneer over Poplar and in some areas Chestnut.  I salvaged what I could and ran it through my planer to remove the veneer.  When we met, she used the words “funky box” so I think this will fit that genre!  Sheet music is larger than the standard 8 1/2″ x 11″ paper.  She brought over some of that and our design collaboration began.  Lots of ideas were thrown out but the size of the paper determined the overall size of the box which is 4″ tall x 11 1/2″ wide and 14 1/2″ long.  One piece has the numbers 1301 stamped so I wanted to keep that at the front of the box as proof.  I discovered that the formed key covering piece seems to have been made from one piece of Poplar that was milled and then veneered.  This was cleaned slightly  but all of the original patina left intact.

The first step was to glue up some panels to make the top and bottom of the box.  For that I use Gorilla glue and my old school panel clamps.  The sides and back of the box were made from the Chestnut which has a nice grain pattern.  To keep with the “funky box” genre, they were finger-jointed and the front pieces have part of a tongue that remained after trimming them.  Finger joints are a very traditional way to join boxes together and the jig I made for the sliding table on my SawStop make them quite easy.

Since I also salvaged some of the Ebony keys from the piano they were turned into pegs to join the rabbeted top and bottom to the sides.  Assembly was done with Old Brown Glue, my favorite for dovetails and finger joints.  To keep it all authentic, part of the piano hinge and screws that once graced the piano itself was used for the lid.  The handles are some latches that probably held the top or bottom panel in place.  To secure those to the lid I used the piece of hardware I found at the end of each key where the piano wire was attached to.  After wet sanding in a few coats of Osmo PolyX oil the box was waxed and ready for delivery.

So there it is, 10-11 hours of work and a bit of head scratching to see how it would all come together but the challenge was met.  As of now,  the box hasn’t been delivered yet so don’t know what my clients reaction will be — I like it!



Posted in custom furniture, Design Process, Finger Joint Box, Recycled Wood Furniture, SawStop Sliding Table | Tagged , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

What happened to March?

Wow, just turned the calendar to April and wondering what happened to March?  My wife really dislikes the expression “f *#*t in a whirlwind” but that’s how I feel the month went!  Many things going on between the house, woodwork, and becoming pre-marital counselors for our church.  One good frame commission came to me from Devon Kearny who needed 3; 11″ x 14″ frames.  She’s a local artist, friend, and instructor at the Scottsdale Artist School.  These were about 3″ wide and made from the 1 1 /8″ Basswood I like to use from Peterman Lumber.  Finish was satin black over planed wood then rubbed back a bit to replicate age and give that hand crafted look you won’t get from a mass produced frame.    Basic process used on all custom frames to create these for her, always enjoy the progression from rough material to finished frame!

Also had things to address around the house.  One that didn’t get accomplished in March was to rebuild our berms.  We use flood irrigation and need to raise the height of a few berms in the back yard — well, there’s always April for that manual labor!  Basically there are some areas that have compacted so the water doesn’t quite go where we want.  A couple loads of dirt, wheel barrow, shovel, and tamper should take care of that.

Attic Fan

Something  that took more time than anticipated was putting a powered exhaust fan in the attic.  Our house has been added on to a number of times since it’s original build in 1951.  One of the additions is our master bedroom and it’s much warmer during the summer than the rest of the house.  After cutting an access hole to get to that area in the garage, I discovered that the original roof had been left under the new addition.  This would seem to prevent good air flow in the attic creating a hot spot right above our bedroom.  First thing was to go remove as much of the old roof (shingles, tar paper, and sheeting) as possible, space is limited since the roof is a very low pitch.  Once done, I was able to make my way to the backside of the house to locate and install a thermostatically controlled, electric exhaust fan through the roof.  Here’s a video of  it taken from inside the attic!  Purchased the fan from JetFansUSA and must admit I was really impressed with the reviews and customer service from Jeff who I contacted several times via email.

Something that’s taken a good chunk of time this this month is my quest to become more proficient at water gilding gold leaf.  The process is quite exacting and time consuming.  Begins with making rabbit skin glue, then gesso, then bole (clay) before the gilding process can even begin.  Then picking up your precious gold leaf with a gilders tip to place correctly on the frame — pictures speak volumes!

Knowing that this is a skill that will take time to become proficient at is okay — although frustrating.  In the works is a box made from the wood salvaged from the Chickering & Sons piano.  It’s coming along nicely and the client had input on the design of it.  That’ll be my next blog!

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Chickering & Sons Piano Box

Quite some time ago, a friend contacted me and asked whether or not I’d be interested in a piano that had been in their family for a long time but was now relegated to the garage.  I had visions of fantastic, old growth Cherry, Mahogany, or Walnut so of course, jumped at the chance!  It was an upright that had definitely been well used so, with her permission we proceeded to take it apart.  The maker of it is Chickering & Sons which she dated to approximately 1917.  Here’s a LINK to some history about this particular brand of pianos if you’re interested.  As it turned out, the piano was veneered and after running it through the planer discovered some interesting Chestnut and also Poplar.  I also kept some of the keys for the Ebony — the other keys and ivory went to a local luthier school.  In any case, here’s what was made from some of the wood:

It’s a basic hand cut, dovetailed box which could be used for pencils, remotes, keys, or decorative item.  I like the grain patterns of the wood and used an Ebony key for the lid handle.  Dimensions are 3″ high by 4 3/8″ wide and 9 1/4″ long.  The inside is lined with a red velveteen material and the finish is hand rubbed PolyX oil.  This box will be added to my inventory at the Store at Mesa Art Center.  I suppose this would fit the current movement of up cycled, recycled, re-purposed stuff but to me it’s just using and showing the beauty of wood regardless of where it came from!

Marked for proper grain alignment

Construction details are pretty straight forward and all hand tool with the exception of cutting the board to width and length which I do on the table saw.  It’s important to me that the grain continues around the box so the box is cut from one piece of material.  That means only one corner will not have a perfect grain match.  I’m making two of these boxes but you can see how they are marked on the inside to ensure proper alignment.

Stanley 140 Trick

The first step is to cut a slight rabbet at the end of the long sides.  This is referred to as the Stanley 140 trick and one I use in any dovetailed construction.  The purpose is to give a tight inside corner.  If you make it deep enough it will also conceal the groove needed to insert the bottom of the box or drawer.  Not having a set of skewed block planes means I use a Veritas skewed rabbet plane which does the job nicely and, unlike the Stanley 140 has a depth stop.

Plowing groove for bottom


The next step is cutting the groove to insert the bottom.  In this case a piece of 1/4″ Baltic Birch plywood.  Plow plane is used for that process.  Cutting the dovetails is a process I’ve written about many times so won’t bore you with that again.  Just a side note, as a member of the co-op at the Mesa Art Center I’m required to give demonstrations at the store.  The first box was demonstrated previously but I’m scheduled to demonstrate  again today from 2-6:00 pm.  Today being March 16, 2019 so if you’re out and about stop by and see me!

Posted in Hand Cut Dovetails, Hand Planes, Hand Tool Woodworking, Mesa Arts Center Store, Recycled Wood Furniture | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments