Wednesday, September 28, 2011

A Sliding Till

I was working my way towards gluing up the dovetail joints on my unconventional bible box and I was facing a delima. Did I want to add a till to the piece or not? The answer was yes and no.

Broadly defined a till is a smaller storage space inside of a chest. Traditionally bible boxes had a static till fit into dadoes with a lid similar to the one I placed inside this Hutch Chest I built a while ago. I have done several of these styles of till and they are both challenging and satisfying, but this time I had something else in mind.
The other type of device that comes to mind when I hear the word till is the sliding variety, like those found in traditional tool chests
This picture was borrowed from Chris Schwarz blog at Lost Arts Press. Since he is the reigning king of the traditional tool chest at this time I figured I had to give a little shout out to him while I was at it.
This was the type of till I wanted to install. I've been ramping up to build a traditional tool chest myself, more on that in the future, but what I was getting now was a little dry run at fitting one, albeit on a smaller and less finicky scale.

The first thing to do was install some runners for the till to slide back and forth on. I had used black walnut as a accent wood on the outside of the box so I decided to repeat it's presence inside. On the bandsaw I cut a couple thin runners a 1/4 inch thick and planed them up smooth at the bench.
Then I predrilled and countersunk some screw holes and installed them with a little glue and a couple of screws each.
The more I thought about the small sliding till I was working on here the more I decided to do the opposite of the wood scheme I had used on the outside of the box. I decided to use walnut for the majority of the box and then accent it with the red oak.
The important thing about fitting a till is the tolerances. You might almost fool yourself into thinking a slightly lose fit would be the way to go. That would mean no sticking, right. But the truth is that a snug fit is a better idea because then the till will ride straight on the rails and not shift crooked and impinge itself. A snug fit makes the till easier to move one handed. I sized the bottom of the till first, with that done I could build up from there.
Resaw some more walnut to about 3/8ths thick, mark and cut some dovetails and you have yourself a box.
A little planing to get a perfect fit and it was ready for me to make the lid.
I took my red oak stock I had left and resawed a thinner section, again around 3.8ths thick. I didn't want the lid to be a let down after all the carving on the outside of the box. I chose to just go for a simple arch pattern. I nailed it to the bench and scribed the arch lines with a pair of dividers.
This is a very quick and simple pattern and it took less than 20 minutes with the "V" tool to finish it off. I eased the lip to a slight bullnose with a block plane.
Then it was the moment of truth as I dropped the till into place. I was really happy with the way it turned out, in the end I think it was a decent decision. It allows the owner to keep some small items or even remove the till and use it seperately if they desire.

After this I put a couple coats of my Maloof finish (1 part BLO, 1 part Wipe on Poly, and 1 part Tung Oil) The oils deepened the walnut and darkened the oak and mellowed out the difference in contrast. I will have some good pictures of the finished piece up here soon so until next time.

Ratione et Passionis

Read more about the Unconventional Bible Box and the rest of the building process HERE
Read more about the Medieval Hutch Chest HERE

Sunday, September 25, 2011

First Intention, Then Enlightenment

"It is spiritless to think that you cannot attain to that which you have seen and heard the masters attain. The masters are men. You are also a man. If you think that you will be inferior in doing something, you will be on that road very soon . . This is the same as the Buddhist maxim, 'First Intention, then enlightenment.'"
-Excerpt from Hagakure: The Book of the Samurai
recorded sayings of Master Yamamoto Tsunetomo
Translated by William Scott Wilson

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, September 24, 2011

The Unconventional Bible Box

I've been writing about my build of what I'm calling and unconventional bible box. I was a way for me to do something with pieces I used to practice the 17th Century carving techniques I picked up from Peter Follansbee's DVD on the subject. I call it unconventional because I strayed from traditional joinery on the corners by using dovetails instead of nailed rabbet joints, and I did a panel carving for the lid where I believe traditionally they were left plain, maybe with a molded edge. I consider my steps outside the coloring lines acceptable here in the fact that I was doing this as practice on the techniques.

If you want to see the sections on the carvings you can read about the sides of the box HERE and the panel carving for the lid HERE

With all the major pieces of the box finished it was down to some assembly. I glued up the dovetails on the sides and after they dried I cleaned up the joints with a little plane work.
For the bottom of the box I decided to go with ship-lapped pine boards. So I made some measurements and cut some pine to size. A little work with the rabbet plane and the pine was ready to be placed.
I laid out all of the boards on the piece to mark the nail holes for the first one. Here I'm using a bird cage awl. You will notice that I oversized the boards both in length and in spacing width wise. More on why later.
The I set to working my way along securing the boards with some finishing nails. I know cut nails would be so much more correct. Well I haven't purchased any cut nails yet and finishing nails will do. By the way I love the echo of the hammer's motion in the photo.
I then worked my way along securing each board in kind. I used a couple of dimes as spacers between the ship lap boards. Why dimes and not nickles or quarters, well dimes are the only coin I had two of in my pocket at the time. So dimes it was, but I don't really have a preference, any consistent spacer will do.
Then I fit the last of the ship lapped sections, and the oversized bottom is terribly evident. You have choices in woodworking, often times between the easy way and the harder way. you see when the user of this box opens the lid they are going to see the joint lines on the bottom, and I want those lines to be space symmetrically. I could do that with a lot of measuring and figuring in board width and rabbet widths and the mess up the whole thing and have to start over or accept the screw up, Or I could skip the long division and oversize the boards, center the whole thing on the box and remove the overlap like this.
This is another of my favorite shop photos ever, with the shavings flying off the plane and caught in mid flight. Seriously though this is the only way to size this kind of work. I've done it the hard way before, and in the end I recommend easy.
So now you have a box with these ugly ship lapped edges sticking out underneath. You can't just leave it like that, so what can you do? You wrap it of course.
I decided that some black walnut would be a great accent to the lightness of this batch of red oak. I planed a little moulding in a piece of scrap and took a close up picture to see if I liked it. I loved the color but in the end I decided to not use the moulding plane but just chamfer the upper edge instead.
I wrapped the walnut around the box and dovetailed the corners, reversing the pins and tails to what's on the box itself. Then I took my block plane and ran it over to chamfer the edges.
To complement the accent of the walnut around the base I wrapped walnut around the lid as well.
Cutting the rabbet on the already carved lid is one of those "put up or shut up" moments in the shop. It's not a difficult operation, but if I screwed up the panel then my effort in the carving would be a waste, Well not a waste in the fact that I got the practice in, but I had kind of become attached to the work now, I didn't want to see it go wrong. To that end I used the table saw to make the shoulder cut in the red oak, then I planed down the rest with a rabbet plane.
Then I sized some strips of walnut and plowed a grove to fit the edge of the panel. I'm hoping that this small breadboard end will help keep the panel flat over the long haul. I used only a spot of glue along the back end and secured the rest with nails.
A few shallow mortises to hold the brass hinges and what you get is a box. My unconventional bible box.
But there is more surprise and unconventional takes on the form to come. So hold on for the next time.

Ratione et Passionis

Monday, September 19, 2011

Panel Carving

I've been writing about my build of an unconventional bible box. I was using it as a chance to practice the carving techniques I recently learned from Peter Follansbee's great video "17th Century New England Carving" The box is unconventional in the fact that I used dovetail joinery in the corners instead of nailed rabbets. Another unconventional decision was to carve the lid.

I admit, in my limited experience I have not seen a carved lid on a "bible" box. I guess it may exist out there, but I don't think I have seen Mr. Follansbee carve a lid on his blog either, but what I wanted to accomplish was practice carving a panel similar to the panels you may see between the stiles of a joined chest.
I figured as long as I'm going to build a box... I might as well incorporate the panel into the box as a lid. I love the panels on this joined chest I took pictures of at the Chazen Art Museum in Madison, but they didn't seem to fit with the fleur de lis pattern I chose for the boxes sides. I did a little searching through Mr. Follansbee's reproduction work and came up with this example to work from.
This photo is borrowed from Mr. Follansbee's incredibly inspiring blog Joiner's Notes.
The arches and the flowers in this panel seemed like they would pair pretty well with the side panels I had carved. 
I started by dividing the piece spacially and scribing the arch. The arch is also where I started to carve. As you look at the next series of pictures I should explain that the panel wasn't carved in one sitting so there is some variety in the look of them.
 From there I scratched in and carved out the the four lower circles with a V tool.
Then it was time to start filling in the flowers within the four circles.

Here I began to go off the map. I love the artistry in the reproduction I took as inspiration, but as I worked at carving the piece I had a little additional inspiration. The vines and flowers I had carved seemed to need roots, and leaves and so I started to stray from the path.

Some may believe it was the wrong changing it up would be the wrong decision, but you have to understand why I wanted to begin learning these techniques to start with. I am not as interested in creating copies of templates as I am in using carving to add my own flairs to basic woodworking items like boxes. the techniques and the execution of them is higher on my priority list than completing an accurate reproduction.

There is a time and place for reproductions, and when I am trying to accomplish that I will work very hard to remain accurate and true to the original. In this instance, like I said, I took inspiration for what it was and let the piece talk to me.
 I took a pencil and sketched out where I wanted to go. I took the photo home to ask the only person who's opinion really matters to me. My wife's. She offered a few ideas that I liked and I took those back to the shop with me.

With those things in mind I worked the panel to a finish.

 The next trick is to take these pieces and turn them into a respectable box.

Ratione et Passionis

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Working On the 17th Century and Earlier.

Earlier this summer I picked up a copy of Peter Follansbee's video "17th Century New England Carving" and I started on a bit of a journey that has taken most of the summer to complete. After practicing a few basic techniques I decided to jump into the deep end of the pool and build a carved box sometimes called a bible box. I did make some, non traditional decisions with the box.
At the time I had just gotten a new dovetail saw from Bad Axe Tool Works and I hadn't given it a run through in any hardwoods yet, and I was using red oak for the box, thus the box became dovetailed instead of nailed rabbets. It started out as a practice piece anyway so what the heck right.
I sized the pieces, precut the dovetail joinery, and got to work carving . . .well, ok not really "got to work" in the truest sense of the phrase. As many of you are aware, one of my other passions in life is historical reenactment, I am a member of a group that does Viking Age and Medieval Reenactment, we are a not for profit organization that does educational shows for fairs and schools and similar things. (You can see some pictures of me in action HERE) For a long time I searched for a way to combine my loves and do something that was a demonstration of a woodworking skill in a medieval style. This style of carving was very similar and used a lot of techniques that would translate well into a demo. Finally I had a way to go about it.

Initially the box initially progressed slowly, carving a panel at a time at different events. I started with the sides of the box, choosing to carve the front facing section first. I borrowed heavily from Peter Follansbee's work to get started but in my mind that only made sense because I had used his video to pick up the techniques I needed to refine.
I find it difficult to take pictures of the process while I'm carving, with joinery and other woodworking operations there are some clearly defined steps and that makes remembering to pick up the camera easy, but carving is almost one long process, and once I get started working I get drawn in. At that point pictures become a secondary thought, but I am trying to get better about that. Above is the start of the front panel with its opposing series of arches

I did blog about the demo and the other things that went on that weekend HERE.
Mix in a couple of days of visiting with the public as they came through our demo and you get this finished panel, below is the print out of a picture of Peter's work that I used as reference. This was my first time really carving anything like this and I am still pretty proud of the way it turned out.
A close up of the carving.

After that weekend the pieces went back to the shop, until the next event a month and a half later. Now I was ready to tackle the sides but I had some decisions to make. I could carve them exactly like the front with the arches reaching all the way to the edges, or I could change up and do a more encapsulated design. I really liked the idea of the stand alone medallion on the side and besides, this piece was for practice so mixing it up would be good.
I started it out with a vague idea of one arch and one fleur de lis, so I used dividers to scratch in the top arch and the two half arches that reach up into the flower. Then I just stood and stared at the piece for a while, trying to visualize where to go next.

I started by conecting the arches together. From there I filled in the space inside. If you click on the pic to look at it bigger you can see the divider scratches in the yet undone side. I laid out both of these at the same time so I didn't have to try and recreate the settings on the dividers over from scratch.
With the front and sides carved I couldn't help but bang the dovetails together in a dry fit and place the stock meant for the lid on top to visualize things a little. Then I moved on to carving a larger motif on the lid, but we'll talk about that more next time.

Ratione et Passionis

Thursday, September 8, 2011

A Separation of Status.

I have one more series of thoughts on the William and Mary Book Stand I recently completed. As I was pondering the finish of the piece I spent a little more time on Chuck Bender's site to get a look at how he did the finish. He took a little bit different of an approach than I did, creating a finish that looks aged, but what I began to really notice was the finish pictures he had staged of his piece. Pictures just like this:
Now he also had a picture of the original piece. that picture was staged very similar to the picture of his work.
So I figured I had to keep up the tradition and stage a similar picture of my own. I wanted to personalize it somewhat though. I didn't have a nifty chip carved box or a blue glass vessel to show off in the picture. I thought about it quite a while. I wanted some items that represented me and yet, I also wanted to do something that was an update on the piece itself.

This is a piece with it's roots in a different era, a time when books were a status symbol of wealth and affluence. The other day I was sitting in our local Barnes and Nobles with my wife. We each were enjoying a quiet moment together in the coffee shop area, each of us paging through a book.

I'm not sure if everyone remembers such antiques as books but they are made of paper with words printed right on the page. The words don't move, light up, or hyperlink to a web page, but they can be highly entertaining. On the whole, I recommend books!

But while we sat there I took my eyes from the print in front of me to take a sip of my lemonade, and I happened to look around me. We were not alone, at least six other tables were occupied and we were the only ones with books in our hands, the rest of the tables were a collection of different digital tablets and readers and one dude with another antique known as a laptop.

In 1711 a book was a status symbol, in 2011, to my sometimes chagrin, the tablet reader is the new status symbol of the literary world. So I borrowed an tablet reader from a friend and used it to set up this picture. For what it's worth, I'd rather see a book on the stand.

Ratione et Passionis

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

To Finish a Book Stand

The toil of the William and Mary Bookstand was approaching a close. I had dodged all the pit falls that could have done the both of us in and now I was to the moment in a project where it becomes make or break. The dreaded glue-up.

Now glue ups get a bad rap sometimes as a time for high stress. It can be that moment in time when all the hours sizing, planing and joining result in nothing better than flotsam driftwood floating in the cow pasture pond. It can also be that wonderful moment when all that hard work comes together into a realized piece that pulls together your individual effort, ingenuity, and creativity.

Or, preferably, the experience exists somewhere between those two extremes.

But anytime you add some moving pieces to the glue up mix, you do up the ante some.
So the glue up for this book stand required a little planning and staging. In the end the simplest way for me to attack it was to move from the inside out. So the first piece is the leg and it's cross member, gluing the tenon of the wedge into the mortise in the cross piece.
Next was the frame that surrounds the leg and supports the book. The ends of the central cross piece fit into some drilled holes.
I am a firm believer in building something to be bulletproof, or as near as possible, if you can. Joinery should be something done to last several lifetimes. To this end I decided to add a subtle little help to the corners of the inner frame with a single peg through the joint.
The joinery of the dovetail joints of the outer frame ended up encroaching on the drilled holes for the pegs of the inner frame. I didn't want any glue to grab the pegs at all so I gave myself a little insurance and coated the pegs in a little wax.
Then comes the glue up of the dovetails for the outer frame. We've almost made it to home plate, but not quite yet.
Everything was going swimmingly, then I hit the first snag of decision. Once the legs were all glued on the top flare of the nob stuck out past the frame. I hadn't rally paid attention to it on the dry fits but now, it kinda bugged me.
I grabbed a chisel and shaved off the offending flare. I was kind of nervous making the choice, not that it would have been a momentous blunder, but it would have been something I was stuck with on this piece, right or wrong. I am happy with the choice I made, it makes the legs appear as if they are at one with the rest of the frame, where the flare I had turned had made the feet seem set apart from the frame.

The glue ups done, and the final sanding over, it was time to work towards the finish. I will readily admit that finishing is the weakest of all my skills in woodworking, so I did some more reading to solve the question of how I should tackle the task this time. I had this beautiful air dried walnut and I needed to do it justice and yet retain a look that was in congruence with the William and Mary style. My savior was Bob Flexner and his great book "Flexner on Finishing"

In that book was a specific article on finishing walnut, and it included the idea that you should use a stain to help even out the variation between the light sap wood and the dark heart wood. Here's my admission, I hadn't used a stain product in years, when I started in sawdust I often fell on the singular thought you finished pieces with a stain and polyurethane and I was always disappointed with my results. Then I happened upon the oil finishes of Danish oil and Tung oil and my world changed.

But now I was ready to put my toe back into stains. I went and perused my options at the local home center and came home with a small can of a dark finish named "Jacobean"
I first took a scrap of the walnut I had been working with and did a test of the process and I was happy with the results so I jumped headlong into the piece.

I applied the finish and wiped it off after several minutes. Then I hit it with a hand sanding of 400 grit paper to lighten the effect a bit and expose a subtle amount of the color difference underneath the stain.
I then applied three coats of my Maloof finish, a concoction I found in an article written by the Master himself.  It is one part wipe on poly, one part boiled linseed oil, and one part tung oil. This finish adds a depth to color and grain like any top finish should but the neat thing is the "feel" of this finish under your fingers. The touch of it is a smooth, silk like feel that still translates the feel of the wood beneath. I love using it and I'm glad I found it.
With that the story of my take on the William and Mary Bookstand is pretty much over. I am very proud of this piece and all the work that went into it, more challenge than I imagined when I first spied it on the pages of popular woodworking and thought, "hmmm, that would be a cool weekend project" but the fun and enjoyment in this piece came in the discovery of it nuances. I appreciate subtlety, and this piece is subtle in it's challenge to the craftsman.

In the end I think that makes it a very worthwhile piece to spend some time with. There are many lessons to learn, not just when it comes to joinery and planing, but more importantly, lessons in making a piece that is complex in it's creation, yet simple and elegant in it's appearance. There is true beauty and art in such endeavors.

To finish up this article, a couple of vanity shots of the completed piece.

Ratione et Passionis