Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Turning the Feet

I enjoy using my lathe, it's one of the few times in woodworking where you clamp a piece of stock into a machine and come out with a nearly finished product on the other side. The only issue is I have never been able to devote enough time to become a truly skilled turner, I'm middle ground at best. Up until recently, my biggest turning success was a maple gavel for a non-profit group's meetings. I was using a cobbled up, Frankenstein monster of a lathe, it was more than a little scary to use.
Apologies for the poor picture quality.
I gave away that lathe a couple years ago, I don't miss it.

I have never been able to successfully pull off a matched set of four turned legs or in this case, feet. For a while I considered altering the feet to be more of an 18th century pedestal foot kind like this.
But I just couldn't do that. It didn't seem to fit. I had to man up and make the turning work. I picked up a couple new turning tools this spring that I had not put to use yet, a big roughing gouge and a parting tool, and they really made the work more enjoyable.
 I selected one of the beefier sections of walnut from the pile.
 And liberated a lengthy section with a crosscut saw.
The joiner, bandsaw, and fore plane turned roughness into a nicely milled blank about 2"x2" x18".
I put on the Darth Vader helm and went to work. I never used to wear a face shield but a while back, on the Frankenstein Lathe (I've gotta get some pictures of it) I was roughing a blank and it let loose. Flying off the lathe and flinging itself across the shop. When I picked up this cheep replacement lathe I also decided I was going to pick up a face shield, just in case. You can also see my ginormous 1 1/2" roughing gouge advancing on the blank.
The big ol' gouge made short work of the blank in the initial rough up. What was always a lot of work in the past was an easy and enjoyable process. I was almost sorry it ended so quick.
Then I used the parting tool and a caliper to pare the blank down to a uniform radius. Is this a necessary step? maybe not with someone with a lot of experience, for me it seemed to make sense.
Then more parting tool work to set the wide radius at either end of the feet. I decided to build in a fudge factor and turn six instead of just four. 
I used the skew chisel to flatten those six areas out and define where I had to work.
A little more work with the parting tool.
A small gouge, a skew chisel, and a fingernail scraper allowed me to rough out the basic sweep of the foot shape.
Then I shaped the knob that would get glued into the frame. This followed with a liberal amount of sanding. I have to say that there is nothing quite like sanding on the lathe. Your hands hold the paper and the lathe does the work. Watching the sawdust swirl around the spindle somehow reminds me of ocean waves.
Well I screwed up one of the six beyond all recognition, but five reasonably close feet is not bad. There is one of these that is not quite like the others. The dude on the right ended up a little tall, so he's out. Whew . . .I just barely made it to four feet. There's a joke in there somewhere.
I used my dowel plate to finish all the dowel ends to a consistent sizing.
I'm actually pretty proud of these little feet. They're not perfect, but they're not far off either.
A few holes placed in the bottom of the frame.
And another dry fit, this time with all the drama of the cut outs in the sides and the feet. Now to mill up and cut the center pieces that do the real work.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Joining The Inner Frame

As I work through building my own version of Chuck Bender's William and Mary bookstand, I am continually blown away with the amount of work that goes on in this little piece. I recall looking at in in the "Art's and Mysteries" section of Popular Woodworking Magazine and thinking to myself, what a cool project to eat up a little stock and a weekend or two. Well I was wrong when I thought that and if I really paid attention, I would have realized that.
I cannot recommend a better workout for an array of basic woodworking skills. For a smallish size piece, its at least an intermediate level build. (I know, I know, don't judge a piece by it's size) Just off the top of my head the skill set includes.
  1. Milling pieces to size and thickness.
  2. Through dovetailing.
  3. Proportional layouts with dividers.
  4. Decorative relief cut-outs.
  5. Blind mortise and tenons.
  6. Turning small pieces.
  7. Through mortise and tenons.
  8. Planing for moving elements in a piece.
  9. Complex glue ups.
  10. Careful finishing strategies.
Much more than I originally thought, but so very rewarding in carrying it all out. I suggest you give the piece a try if you haven't already. There is a cut list and measured drawing available to download through the Popular Woodworking's Blog HERE. (A word of warning, even though it is revised, it is not without errors, so use it as a guide, but not a bible as you explore this piece yourself.)
At this point I am ready to cut the mortise and tenons holding together the inner frame that will eventually support the book itself. I start by marking out my tenons using a marking gauge. I like to darken the lines in with pencil to help me see them as I cut, especially on this dark walnut.
A small tenon saw cuts on the waste side of the marked lines.
On small tenons like these I take the cut in two stages, I start on the closest corner and saw until I nearly touch the baseline. . .
Then I level the saw and draw the cut down until it's level at the baseline on both sides of the stock.
A little chisel work then because it's "first class" saw cuts all the way.
With both tenons cut, I'm ready to start the mortises. I am unconventional because I cut my tenons first and use them to layout my mortises. I know most people cut mortises first, but this way works for me and garners good results. I stick with it because in the end, its the results that matter.
Using the tenons as a guide, the mortises get marked out.
I learned this trick from Roy Underhill. The piece is so narrow and chopping mortises has the possibility of blowing out the thin sides. With the stock placed in a wood clamp the thin sides are reinforced and blow out is much less likely. I don't always drill my mortises but removing stock to make the mortising easier seemed to make sense this time.
It was off to work with the mortising chisel, some call it a pig sticker, but I can't say that, or type it, without some immature giggling, I know sometimes I'm just stuck in middle school mentality.
With the mortises chopped out, I dry fit the frame together. You'll notice the bottom section wider. this gets cut down and sized with the doweling plate to make a pair of 3/8" round pegs. These will be the hinge that the books support turns on.
I mark the drill points for the hinge in the sides of the outer frame. . .
. . . and drilled them out with a brace and a 3/8" spade bit.
Then a dry assembly. Yes I drove my marking awl into my benchtop to make the frame sit up pretty, but it's just a benchtop and it's meant to take abuse. When its toast, I'll build another. Wait until you see me nail something down to it, then you'll really freak out.
How's this for drama? Next is turning the little bun feet.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Creating the Drama

When I see a piece of furniture, it's the joinery I'm drawn to.

I love to cut joinery, I should add to that. I love to cut joinery by hand. For me there is just no better way to spend a day in the shop because I find it to be one of the most satisfying processes in woodworking. I understand some people find fulfillment in finishing and some just find it in the end product, some probably even find it in the initial milling boards to size, I've never heard anyone say they enjoy glue-ups or assembly but I'm sure there's someone who loves that as well. (glue up time seems to be my most irritable time)
Here's the problem, I think that all of us a workers of wood can appreciate well executed joinery as a mark of craftsmanship and sometimes refinement. On some level, non-woodworkers can appreciate those things too. But often joinery is just not enough to supply the drama good pieces need. Projects need an element that draws people to look at them, to pick them out of a room or a picture. Something to draw the eyes of woodworkers and non-woodworkers alike. Whether its complex drama like carving, inlay or marquetry or simpler drama like a tapered leg, a simple turning, or an eye catching moulding, there needs to be some aspect that will tell a story.
Lately I've been writing about my building a version of Chuck Bender's William and Mary bookstand. When I saw it in Popular Woodworking Magazine I knew I was going to have to build one for several reasons. One reason was that even though it was a smaller piece, there is a ton of joinery going on in this baby. Another reason was I fell in love with the subtle drama of it. The combination of small turned feet and scalloped relief cuts makes this piece sing out a story most everyone wants to hear.

The turning comes later, for now lets start with the scalloped relief cuts or cyma curves.
 No templates were harmed in the creation of these relief cuts. Instead I carried out a simple layout using a pair of dividers to scratch in the eventual saw cuts. I used a marking gauge to define a line down the middle of the piece. Then I set the dividers to the depth of that mark and from the center of the board, scratched in the center curve.

Without changing the divider's setting I took three steps down the center line, I placed my post pin on the outer edge of the board and scratched a matching curve, but in the opposite profile. I repeated that until I had three semi circles total, one in the center and two on either end.
 Then I took a different pair of dividers and set them to around 2/3rds the width of the first setting. I did not measure, I used my eyes. I then played with the distance to find the "sweet spot" that would connect the end of the center's circle with the sweep of the outer circle and I scratched that in place. I darkened all the scratch lines with a pencil and shaded the areas to remove.
 Now I was ready to begin to cut them out. I had meant to cut these out on the bandsaw, but for whatever reason the wood gods were not on my side while I tried to change out to a thin 1/8" blade. After an hour of setting, tensioning, and swearing, I gave up and decided I would have to resort to the coping saw. Not really a defeat, I like to work with the coping saw too, so closer to changing gears.
 I dug out my Moxon Vice, set it up, clamped in the first piece of stock, and went to work. First I sawed out as much of the waste as possible.
 Then I set about cleaning up the lines and making them as crisp as possible. To accomplish this I moved back and forth between a couple rasps, a couple chisels and even some paring with a relaxed sweep carving gouge.
 This method of ding it by hand does not create carbon copies on each of the four pieces, but the truth is you will never see them stacked in profile like this.
 Instead they will be spread out around the four sides of the frame, and even though they are not perfect copies, unless someone breaks out a ruler and goes to town measuring them, no one will ever be the wiser. So if you are the type that gets hung up on these things, my advice is that you gotta relax a bit man. In the end if it looks right, it is right.

Ratione et Passionis

If you missed them and you want to catch up on the rest of the William and Mary Book Stand story all the articles have been collected together HERE.

Saturday, July 16, 2011

A Hundred Little Decisions.

In every build, in every piece of a build, there are a hundred little decisions you have to make. The pressure is on to make good decisions at every bend because if you don't the overall work can suffer. Good decisions are an essential part of good woodworking but how do you tell a good decision from a not so good one?

I cringe a little when I look at the woodworking book section of my local Barnes and Nobles because a third of the books there refer to woodworking "done easy" and that's a shame because being good at woodworking is hard. It takes a lot of time and dedication.

After reading that you might think I have something against beginning woodworkers, and you'd be wrong. I remember starting myself and all the poor decisions I made. (buy me a beer and ask me about the pencil post bed debacle) But what's missing for many of those would be apprentices is some perspective. The idea that learning is a linear process, that you have to build one mastered skill set on top another, that knowing how to build a picnic table from 2x4's does not translate into being able to build a highboy. You can pull off a highboy shaped object, but not a real highboy. Not one done well and done right with all the right decisions made at the right times. There has to be more in between the two, and I think our modern society doesn't understand that.
Highboy on display at the Chazen museum of Art in Madison Wisconsin.
Without anyone to tell me, it took half a dozen years of making sawdust before I realized that though I had made stuff from wood, I was not a woodworker, I was closer to a child who has made mounds of sand on the beach and then imagines they are magnificent castles.Once I realized that, I knew I had a long way to go, but I still wanted to make the journey. Hell, I needed to make the journey, and I am still on that journey. Here on this blog I get to record the steps of my journey, and if I go back and read where I've been, I'm proud of how much I've grown.

The thing that nobody says in those books for beginners is that anything worth doing well takes time and dedication. In our world of instant gratification that's a tough horse to sell. You've gotta put in the hours, so when you make one of those hundreds of decisions, you have the experience to know what will "most likely" work well, so your piece will "most likely" turn out satisfactory.

I say "most likely" because the interesting thing about woodworking is that there are no guarantees, no matter how much experience you have, each piece is a journey.
This piece did not come from a novice's hands. A 17th century Joined Chest from the same museum display

I started writing about decisions because as I work on my version of the William and Mary book stand that Chuck Bender wrote about in the November issue of Popular Woodworking, I have my own set of decisions to make. In the original piece, and on Chuck's version, the corners of the frame were joined with one single stout dovetail. As I built my failed attempt earlier this year, I used that single tail without thinking about it. When it was time for this rematch I decided that one of the mistakes made was letting the cut list and measured drawing I had from HERE make decisions for me.

I have never been good at follow the leader. Things work better when I use pieces as inspiration rather than a strict blueprint. (One reason I am a better woodworker than I am a carpenter) I don't even follow the exact recipe when I make Mac 'n' Cheese from a box. Me being me, I have to make my own decisions and then I can stand or fall on them, and I can deal with that.

It took a while to decide to bypass the single dovetail. I cut some test joints and I looked at them from different perspectives. I actually kind of agonized over the decision divert from the original, but in the end I decided on a pair of tails over the single.

After I finished cutting all the corners I dug out the failed attempt from the back corner of the shop to get a look at both of them.
The twin tails just feel better to me, and as far as the look of my work, no contest. I almost didn't put up this picture because of the gaping in the oak attempt. I've done a lot of dovetail cutting this season and practice makes perfect but I believe another big factor is my purchase of an incredible quality dovetail saw from Mark Harrell over at Bad Axe Tool Works. A quality too can make the difference, another lesson I've been learning. The sticky question is, has the saw made dovetail cutting easier and there fore I get better results, or is dovetail cutting just that much more enjoyable so I tend to cut them more and the practice equals better results?

How many licks does it take to get to the center of a tootsie pop? The world may never know.
In the end, did I make a good decision? That's not a question I can answer yet. The important thing is I made a decision and that there are lessons to be learned from each decision.

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rematch In Walnut

A few months ago, as winter gripped Wisconsin in it's sharp black talons, I attempted my own version of Chuck Bender's William and Mary Bookstand. The one he built for the November 2010 issue of Popular Woodworking Magazine. I'm not going to rehash my issues except to say that I failed to do a good job of choosing my stock.

As I banished the white oak catastrophe into the dark, cobwebbed corners, I vowed to return for a rematch, and this time I would win. While I could have just burned it or scrapped it, I left it sit, so it could stare at me in judgement, day in and day out. There was something about the piece that spoke to me the minute I saw pictured of it, whether it's the proportions or the novelty of the work. I just really dig it, and woodworking skill wise there is a lot going on here that isn't obvious at a first glance. It has dovetailing, mortise and tenons, turned feet, proportioned decorative cut outs, and moving parts. There's a lot going on in this little guy that's going to take up a square foot of room on a table or desk someday.
This picture was shamelessly borrowed from Chuck Bender's Blog "Parings" But it's difficult to talk about the piece without having a finished picture here to help you visualize it.
Last autumn, friends gave me some black walnut culls off of their land. I split them with mallets, wedges, axes, and mauls into a whole bunch of very rough stock. It had been weathering in the woods for more than a year before I brought it home. After waiting the last several months I had the feeling that it was ready to be worked. I don't own a moisture gauge to tell me anything, I went a little older school and put a jack plane to a smaller piece and when I arrived at a reasonably level grade, I used an old fashioned moisture meter, my hands. This stuff wasn't green anymore, and by the quality of the shavings I was getting, crisp and clean edges, no dragging or feathering. I decided it was ready enough.

I didn't know how much I was going to get from each split, I had never worked wood this rough before, so I pulled four candidates from the pile and lined them up against the bench.
 Then I sat down and stared at them for the longest while. Half intimidated, half excited, but all over, unsure where to start the process. I weighed my options and decided the best way to start was with the outer frame. There was four pieces of stock to the frame each approximately 12" long by 3/4" thick by 1 3/4" wide. If I started by sawing up one board into four 14" sections, I should be able to at least mill one stock board from each section.
The piece I selected had been somewhat flattened back in the fall just after it was riven apart. (Sometimes I have the patience of a toddler with ADD, I just had to plane at least one board that day, just to see) I marked some rough lines in pencil and just went to work with my course crosscut saw.
Once I had the pieces sawn I could see the benefit of riving the lumber. Just look at the growth rings and how they run vertical and all line up. As good as or better than quarter sawn. I had chosen my stock very well for this go around.
I then took one board over to the power joiner and flattened one face.
I then used that flattened face as a reference to joint one edge square to that face. I then used the table saw to cut the other edge parallel to the first face.
Now I had stock that was square on three sides. I do not own a thickness planer so I took the resaw route.
On the bandsaw I cut the stock down to just a little over 3/4" thick, leaving enough to hand plane the board smooth and keep the thickness I wanted. When I was done with the first experiment I realized that I had enough stock in one of these pieces to get two sections of the frame. I ran another section of stock through the same process and ripped them to width.
Man the color in this walnut is incredible. It feels good to be back at this project and feeling like I can finish it off this time.
Ratione et Passionis

Want to see the process of splitting the Black Walnut culls click HERE.

Want to get a look at Chuck Bender's notes on his blog Parings Click HERE

If you want to read about that failure you can catch the misery by clicking on the link HERE. (This post will be collected there as well, you'll just have to scroll past it)