Sunday, December 28, 2014

Thank You Indianapolis.

This past weekend was the last family Christmas get together of 2014 (there is still a friends party to go). This year the my wife's family chose to gather in Indianapolis. I'm not good at sitting still and doing nothing constructive, so I took the chance yesterday and took off with my 15 year old daughter to explore the city.

We went first to the Indianapolis Museum of Art. Of course I was most interested in the furniture.

It was fun to see a cabinet like this after the drawer front veneering I've played with lately. I have definitely gained a new appreciation and respect for this work.

 On top of that are some closeups of the boulework on a stand up clock. This work is beginning to intrigue me more and more.

The inlay and detail is amazing.

I have looked at lots and lots of photos and measured drawings of Greene and Greene furniture over the years. Of all the Arts and Crafts movement they are one of my two favorites (Charles Rohlfs is an easy favorite too) but I have never seen any of the pieces in person. I guess I can't say that any longer.

There was a dining set from the Charles Millard Pratt House.

The details on paper and in books are one thing. To see them in person is another thing completely. If you ever can, go see real pieces of inspirational furniture in person. It will fire those synapses in your mind like nothing in a book ever will. That's saying a lot considering how much I love books.

I was truly taken with these brass pin details against the ebony. These are the types of detail I strive for in my work. I often fall short of this, but it reminds me to do better.

There was a gallery of classic American furniture, I found a great example of a corner chair. I'm quite taken by this form.

But this small tiger maple mixing table, was really something special.

It had a slate top, wooden knobs, some subtle grain painting, three drawers, brass wheeled hardware on the legs. Great joinery, proportions and subtle elegance that made it stand out in a room of much more grandiose furniture. Given the high boy in the corner versus this table, for me the table wins hands down.

I'm considering building this one. Maybe even trying to write an article about it. I just have to get my hands on some tiger maple and get someone to fabricate the brass wheels.

There was a large galley of modern design as well. I am not a real fan of these styles or sensibilities. There is something to be said for the timeless fashion of good proportion and construction. I especially have trouble with the postmodernist stuff.

I understand exploring this territory from an artistic point of view, but that's about where my understanding stops. Just looking at it offends my sensibilities a bit.

The only thing in the modern design galleries I found that I liked was a modern dutch chair designed by Hans Wegner and made by Johannes Hansen.

On top of this there are great works by great masters of the Arts. The Van Gogh they have on the walls is one of my favorites (by one of my favorite artists) Several Gauguins and Cezannes. There is nothing quite like visiting a museum in person to add some fuel to your own creative endeavors.

Ratione et Passionis

Friday, December 26, 2014

Finished With These Drawers

There are benefits to writing on a woodworking blog for a length of time. You get the chance to connect with some people you may never meet with otherwise. Those connections pay off. For instance, a little friendly internet banter and the incessant posting of progress pics of a nail cabinet on Instagram and you too may get Chris Schwarz to offer to send you a Calvin Cobb postcard for the door of your nail cabinet.

When they arrive, you know it's Christmas, (or close to it) because  he sent you a few additional postcards to round out the collection.

Thank You Chris.

The veneering of the drawers went well. Considering it was something I had never attempted before. I'm not going to share the process I used because I can't say I've enough success or experience to believe I did any single thing right. In the end the veneers worked and that's great, but I believe in absolute dumb luck and that's possibly the case here.

The veneers only highlighted some of my drawer fitting errors. Well, less errors fitting the drawers and more errors squaring up the egg carton dividers. For whatever reason, doing that before I secured things into place didn't occur to me. Live and learn.

But I knew how to fix hide mask the error. Shadows are swallowed by black so the answer was to paint the inside of the cabinet black. I used a primer followed by a good quality tempera paint. Why tempera? Because it's what I had on hand. The good stuff is better than the cheep crap they hand out to kindergartners by the gallon, the pigments are much more vibrant. They aren't the most durable of paints and the black will wear off in places over time. I am perfectly OK with that. I love when a piece of furniture looks lived in.

I added a layer of wipe on poly over the black, It will add a little wear-ability to the paint. Not too much I hope. I wavered and flip-flopped on the knobs. The wooden ones I bought didn't fit the screws that came with them, frustrating. I fished around and came up with some new screws that worked better. Pan head pocket hole screws. Not a super satisfying solution, but what the heck. It's a nail cabinet for the shop. I soaked the knobs in the last bit of a very, very dark oil based stain for a day and let them sit and dry for two more days after that. The dark little accents are pleasing.

The inside of the cabinet is finished.

Now we can start on the door. Raised panel on the outside and I'm working on ideas for the inside.

Ratione et Passionis

Saturday, December 20, 2014

Dressing Up My Drawers

I've been working hard in the shop on a wonderful distraction. Honestly the Underhill nail cabinet is a fantastic project, just challenging enough yet straight forward enough. It hits that intangible Goldilocks's zone of "just right."  I'm very happy I decided to build one.

I'd spent some time building the carcass, filling it with some egg crate dividers, and attaching battens around the outside. Last Sunday I started the day in the garage at the table saw hacking up every piece of pine I had in my possession to make the drawer parts. I attached the back and fashioned a french cleat to hang the cabinet from.

Getting in on the wall and off my bench was important to clear up space to work on the drawers.

I sorted out the parts into the drawer spaces and called it a weekend.

Throughout the week I'd spend an hour here and there fitting each drawer to it's opening. I'd plane the pieces to fit side to side and then mark them to length. I'd size the bottom to the opening and use that to dictate the rest of the drawer.

When I'd finish fitting all the pieces in a vertical column, I'd build those drawers before I moved on. No highfalutin dovetails or trick joinery here. On the original the drawers are put together with butt joints, glue and brad nails. I sought to replicate that. Until I had an issue.

I've had a little electric staple gun / brad nailer for around fifteen years. I've had a package of 5/8" brads for it for nearly as long, I knew I was running low but after two drawers I had run out. I took off to the home store to find more and thought I was successful. I brought home several packages of 5/8" brads that listed the make and model number of my little nailer on the box.

Unfortunately I was swindled. The brads were all 1/16th too long to fit into the gun. Though it occurred to me I could file or grind down each group of brads to fit that seemed like needless fussing as well. I returned the brads and resolved myself to use staples instead.

I was disappointed at first. I mean what self respecting woodworker uses staples? After a bit I remembered not to take myself so seriously. After all the original was built from a packing box, in the end, staples seems fitting while in this phase of mass drawer construction. Though they are decidedly less dynamic a fastener.

If repairs come up in the future I'm sure to use whatever odd and end I have on hand.

By Friday night I had finished all the drawers.

Now to play a little.

Shop furniture is the perfect place to experiment, I've wanted to do some work with veneers for a while and here was the perfect place to jump in and learn to swim in the current. I wasn't going to be satisfied with just a straight piece of veneer covering the drawer front. Nope, I had to do some pieces and assembly.

I don't own most of the typical tool kit associated with veneering. I've been collecting it slowly, but there are big pieces missing yet. After taking stock of my options I decided, why should that stop me.

My mother is a quilter, I've watched her do it all my life. Parquetry and marquetry remind me very much of her quilts, Different pieces fitting together for a whole. I know a common quilter trick for repetitive pieces is to make (or buy) a Plexiglas template. I decided to do the same, making two templates for the two drawer sizes.

The templates offered support and rigidity to the veneer, allowing me to cut it to size with a rip and crosscut backsaw.

I cut enough so the outside vertical lines of drawer could have dark colored back grounds and the middle line would be light in color. Several years ago I picked up a couple multi-sample packs of commercial veneer at a woodworking show. There was too much variety to do much significant with so I've just held on to them. but the variety is fun to play with here.

A little while ago I managed to get my hands on the Veritas string inlay system. I have plans for a chest with large line and berry string inlays. I lightly hacked the tool to remove circles from the center of every drawer front by using the string cutting blade and the compass point together.

This allowed me to swap the center dot around and get the same fit repeated over and over. No toothing plane in my repertoire, but I do have a fine toothed gentleman's saw I dislike so I held that at 90 degrees to the surface of the drawer front and used it much like a card scraper and achieving a similar surface effect, (I'd almost forgot this part, a shout out to Freddy Roman who reminded me via Facebook. Thanks man!)

A little warmed Old Brown Glue and into the press vise for a few hours.

Out of the press vise. A little trim and work with a card scraper. I think that will do nicely.

It's an odd pairing, stapled drawer joints and veneer. Let's see what else I can do to mess with this concept and get away with it.

Ratione et Passionis

Sunday, December 14, 2014

Damn The Cut List And All It's Lies

It has been a while since I full out chronicled a build here on the blog. I think it's long past due. I stopped because there's parts to every project that are the same. Milling stock, cutting dovetails, gluing up carcasses . . . and it gets challenging to write about the same things for every build and make it sound and feel new, but lets give it a try again.

I decided to build a nail cabinet. The Schwarz got to me again. I had the pine I needed laying around the shop and I've been trying to do things that will use up some of my excess stock and unburden my garage shop a bit. Besides the new shop deserved a nice place to store nails, screws, and other errata.

Typically I'm not much of a "measured drawing and cut list" kind of guy. I try and follow where the piece takes me and this time would be no real exception, though I do have the look and over all dimensions within reason of the original. I started with some nice wide white pine stock and milled and flattened the base carcass to dimensions.

One of the things I wasn't anticipating was the over all size of this cabinet once it existed in space. It looks a little diminutive in the photos, hanging over Roy's and Chris's benches. Reading dimensions on paper and seeing dimensions sitting on your bench top are two different things.

Over this last summer I had the chance to kick in a few bucks for a Kickstarter campaign to support a woodworking school called Worth The Effort down in Austin Texas. Shawn Graham is a great guy to interact with on social media and I was happy to do my part, with or without a reward.

But one of the reward offerings was a dovetail marker made by the school. Now I've never used a dedicated dovetail marker before. I've always used a sliding bevel gauge if it mattered and just cut the slope by eye when it didn't, but I thought it'd be nice to try. (who knows it might lead to my purchase of one from Sterling Tool Works, those are very nice)

I have found the gauge useful for someone who cuts a lot of dovetails, and I am someone who cuts a lot of dovetails. I always thought owning one would be one more thing to knock around in the tool chest and not use, (more on that soon) but I've revised that thinking. The only complaint I have is the angle of the tails on this gauge is a a little standard and milk toast to my eyes. I guess I like my dovetail slopes extra slopey.

One other thing I've noticed in my photos lately is my hand position has changed when I'm sawing. I start in a finger out, proper technique hold, but once the kerf is set my hand shifts to this relaxed pose that puts more meat behind the handle.

I'm not sure if it's laziness moving towards sloppy technique or just a modified hold that's developed organically. It doesn't seem to be detrimental to the outcome so I should probably stop over-analyzing it.

Friday night I milled the sides, cut the dovetails and some rebates in the back and glued up the carcass. Saturday morning I trued the face to itself, removed the dried glue squeeze out, and planed the dovetails and trued the case a bit.

Scraping up dried squeeze out on the outside of the carcass is easy. It's those inner corners that drive me bonkers. I used to pare at them with a bench chisel (and still do sometimes) but on deep pieces I would end up bumping and scraping my knuckles (and that gets old fast) or ding up the front of the carcass with the chisel's socket or ferrule.

So I started using my slick. I know it's not a true slick with a four inch wide blade. Mine is around two inches wide with a socket that's offset to allow it to pare flat. I got a pair of these in an old tool chest given to me by my Father In Law and they work well.

I turned a couple long handles for them, They are each right about two foot long and that long handle gives an incredibly subtle amount of control. I flatten tenons with them and use them like you see above. I think the bevel of the cut is still a little obtuse yet but it's a lot of steel to remove to refine it quickly so I'm fixing it incrementally, sharpening by sharpening, and when I creep up on dialed in, I'll know it.

With the carcass done I took off out the the garage shop to break down and resaw some more pine for the next stages. I didn't bother take any photos because "yay, I can use a table saw!" (snore).

I made myself some 1/2" thick boards for the back and some 3/8" thick for the egg carton joined insert that holds all the drawers. I never think of egg crate joinery as being that sturdy or strong of a construct, but when you make the joints tight and the material is 3/8" thick solid wood, it feels a lot different. the only thing you have to be careful of is not breaking off one of the "tabs" along a grain line.

I pared down all the dividers to fit in the carcass and gang clamped them together to cut the slots with a brace and auger drill to establish the stop and a big backsaw to cut the walls. It wasn't until I was laying out the slots I realized my error.

I had only resawn five horizontal boards and by the measured drawing and the cut list, I should have sawn six. Dammit. I should probably start to use cut lists more so I have more practice.

I was not going out and repeating a lot of set up for one board, my cabinet would just have to have three less drawers. But how does one figure out the spacing once we've abandoned the measured drawing. We're off the map and headed towards the edge of the world.

Never fear, I made sectors.

They're a fantastic little shop tool that solves all kinds of problems for me, Two sticks, a hinge, and a dividers and you can change your world. Make a pair and play with them. I use mine all the time.

The sectors helped me divide the space into six equal parts. I also widened the central drawer by an inch to make it easier for my hand to dig out the hardware goodies I store inside.

The moment of truth was sliding the crosshatched construct into the carcass. Everything was reasonably tight and yet, with the judicious persuasion of a mallet, everything slid into place.

The dividers are toe nailed together in their crosshatching and the shelves are all nailed to the carcass wall from the outside. In the article Chris has a nice little jig to help translate the location of the shelves to the outside of the carcass. BUT there was no measured drawing or cut list for the jig so I had to figure out my own way of doing it.

I used a wooden clamp to transfer the mark. There's a little play in the clamp but once you tighten it up it snaps back into line and if I positioned the bottom jaw along the shelf, the top jaw provided reasonable guide for a pencil line. I used it all the way around, two nails in each place the divider touched the side of the carcass. didn't miss once.

 I also ran some 2" wide boards for the battens around the carcass. It feels weird and kind of liberating to cover up your hard earned dovetail joints. No joints to this work, cut to length, glue and cut nails. But my guess at how much 2" wide stock I'd need came up short too, by one board.

That's it. I'm done for the night. We will simply have to reconvene on the cut list on the morrow.

Ratione et Passionis

P.S. There is no font option that can convey sarcasm. I find this to be a tragedy and I think we should stop all attempts at manned space flight and instead get our nations best and brightest minds settled down to solve this problem first.

P.S.S. What if Comic Sans was the font meant to stand for sarcasm and no one understands that. What can we do to raise awareness people.

P.S.S.S. If you cannot infer for yourself what above text in sarcasm, what is sincere, and what is pure insolence, I cannot help you.


Saturday, December 6, 2014

I Can't Fight This Project Anymore . . . .

Cue the REO Speedwagon over length guitar solo. . .

I have made it no secret I am a big fan of Chris Schwarz's work and writing. I've even professed my undying love respect across the undying electrons of the internet. (HERE)

And while I'm not interested in being a carbon copy of anything or anyone, once I finished setting up my Winter Shop and stepped back to look, even I was surprised at the not so subtle influence Chris has had on my shop.

With the workshop items I couldn't live without in place, it looked like a interior decorator with an boner for Lost Art Press had done the job. (I guess that would be me) I mean seriously . . .

Anarchist Tool Chest

Wall hanging tool rack

Nicholson style workbench

Anarchist English Square

The OK part is that I understand my problem.

A few years ago I was having an evening meal with a small group of woodworkers, and one of them, unfamiliar with me asked what I like to build. At the time I was finishing up a version of the school box from "The Joiner and Cabinet Maker" and like the simple psychology of a word association exercise, I piped up, "I build anything Chris does."

Later on I over analyzed that conversation and that statement (as I do), and decided there was something I had to change about the truth in that. In my core I want to explore my own work, but it's uncanny how closely my workshop aesthetics and habits align with the things Chris writes. Some of it is my own proclivities, some is direct influence from his work. The chicken and the egg argument ensues.

Here's how weird it is for me. I literally had a rough draft of a measured drawing and article query for Popular Woodworking on a Medieval Aumbry Cupboard. I was a few days away from finishing it enough to send it when I read on Chris's blog that he was building and writing an article about the same piece. I was frustrated for a bit, enough to delete the work I'd done, but in perspective I have no hard feelings and I can't wait to read the article when it's published.

So I purposely began to steer around the projects I saw Chris doing. I did not boycott his work. I just though long and hard about things before I jumped into them.

The problem is, trying to avoid a good solution out of stubborn pride is just plain stupid. So I succumb.

I succumbed when it came to the wall hanging tool rack and I'm preparing to succumb again.

Roy Underhill's Nail Cabinet (photo borrowed from Chris Schwarz and Pop Wood)

The Winter shop needs a place to store nails, screws and bits of hardware and I have loved this nail cabinet project from the first time I recognized it for what it was. Over all I like the idea of storing hardware in this type of set up, I love apothecaries and spice cabinets, but Chris brought it to my attention and because of that I put the brakes on.

But it's too perfect to pass up. I will build one.

Chris's take on the cabinet hanging in his shop (This photo also stolen borrowed)
My version will be close to faithful, but I want to add some elements not present in the original, or Chris's. I'm considering extending the back panel down below the bottom board by six inches or so. cutting a fancy profile out of it and adding some pegs to hang things from. I am also going to use this project to start practicing a skill set I've been dying to dip my toes into. Veneering, parquetry,and inlay. The door panel and drawer fronts are the obvious victims here but we'll see how far it goes. Shop furniture is the perfect place to experiment.

I've got a couple boards of 1"x12" pine sitting around and only a couple of small projects in the works. I need the storage in the new shop and I guess it's time to give in, shut up, and start sawing.

Ratione et Passionis