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
Oldwolf

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