Friday, November 26, 2010
The above bowl was turned from an imperfect piece of burl I saw on a neighbor's downed tree. I knew it had flaws, but I thought it might be interesting. Turning it was work -- the void in the middle made it impossible to ride the bevel and acheive a perfect surface. In fact, I couldn't hollow it to the degree I wanted to as it was becoming increasingly unstable. As a green piece of wood, it will move and warp -- hopefully not to the point where it breaks apart.
But knowing the why of making it made the how enjoyable. This bowl is a gift to friends with whom we shared Thanksgiving dinner. Having been to their house, I knew that the objects that they valued were things that had some meaning. I'm convinced that the only way we can proceed as craftspeople is if we stay true to that credo -- what does this piece mean? There's no way we can stand up to the pace or efficiencies of a factory, but we can create pieces that mean something to us or to those who take them into their homes.
Nothing original here, I guess. James Krenov, John Ruskin, and William Morris have said the same thing for generations, and that elusive coupling of art and technique is what keeps me in the shop (and being my own harsh critic.)
Sunday, November 21, 2010
The second modification was that I cut a wide 1/16" groove in the bottom to accept the support piece and extended the tenon from the pedestal so that it extended into the top. There is plenty of meat in the 1 1/2" top to accept about a 3/8" deep hole, and its only real purpose is aid in assembly. This is part of an experiment I'm doing to see if I can create pieces that can be shipped with ease, allowing the client to assemble it at home.
I will secure the top with brass insert nuts that are drilled and embedded into the top. These accept a 1/4" round head screw and, since this is a cross grain application, I will expand the hole in the support to accomodate wood movement. My normal finish for pieces such as this is Tried and True oil, however, I'm going to wait until the other tables are complete and finish all in one go.
Monday, November 15, 2010
I've long felt that woodworkers can be categorized in the same way that you approach comparative theology. You'll find Amish woodworkers who use no power tools. Evangelical woodworkers who believe that their way is the only way, and that all others will be punished with an afterlife filled with MDF and Harbor Freight tools. Unitarians whose methods and approaches change weekly. Presbyterian woodworkers who understand that the tearout on that table top was predestined, and that only the elect will make true heirloom furniture.
Look around and you'll find Lutheran cabinetmakers who feel that their techniques aren't important, but that all good furniture comes from the grace of the big sawyer in the sky. Mennonite drawermakers that feel that they will be judged not by their ideas, but by their actions. Hindu tablemakers who know that their ruined project will reappear in another life as a piece of baltic birch plywood. Cultists who follow a charismatic personality (WWSMD -- What Would Sam Maloof Do.) And most recently, we've seen the rise of what I'll call Samsonites -- Chris Schwarz, David Charlesworth, and Tom Fidgen -- who somehow derive their woodworking prowess from the length of their hair.
And there is nothing that will define these hard-won theological positions like a row of dovetails.
Theoretically, the resurgence of the premium dovetail saw, rip-filed and well-sharpened, has put hand-cut joints, with tiny pins and aesthetically pleasing layouts, within everyone's reach. It is certainly my first choice and it carries with it an aura of craftsmanship. If sharpening is a gateway skill, precision handcut dovetails ushers you from the realm of the journeyman to that of an artist. They are (in spite of the videos that promise "Five-Minute Dovetails") time-consuming and there is a longish learning curve. To add insult to injury, I've found that it is other woodworkers, not potential customers, who find them most appealing. But still I persevere.
I have not reached that state of Nirvana where I can, Samurai-like, pull out the saw, pencil, marking gauge, and begin a stream-of-consciousness-mind-straight-to-wood display of artistry. It is work, and it defines "workmanship of risk."
Still, I have no interest in being converted to a "Normite." Dovetail jigs define blandness and scream compromise. I guess they are not too bad for shop furniture, but I use shop furniture to keep my technique in some sort of order for real furniture. When under the gun I use a hybrid approach, adapted from (I think) David Marks, that is a hand-cut dovetail, with an assist from a machine.
The heart of this "Middle Path" is a set of two jigs, designed to be used on the bandsaw, that cut the tail board and pin board with complete accuracy and flexibility. My jigs are set to a ratio 1:8 and are quite simple to make.
Start with something like a 6" x 18" piece of MDF or plywood. Mark 8" down a long side, and 1" over from that mark. Make a 1" wide fence from 1/4" plywood and connect it from the top left corner to the 1" mark down the long side. A check with the dovetail gauge shows that it is a 1:8 ratio.
Now mark the pin board in the traditional fashion -- be sure to mark the waste side and strive for accuracy.
At the risk of sounding like that Woodrat spokes guy, the obvious advantage is that you have complete flexibility to make the pins as small as you like, as no router bit is used. You can also stop at any point and finish the work in the orthodox manner. I guess the downside is that you need a bandsaw.
I almost forgot to mention, in all this meta-woodworking blather, that I did cut dovetails (by hand) for the drawer supports and I made progress with the Single Drawer Sewing Stand.
Tuesday, November 9, 2010
I was eager to get beyond the machining phase and get back to some real hand tool action. With all three sets of legs removed from their templates I needed to take care of any machine marks, remove any nubs left at the end of the legs from the templates, and taper the legs to their final profile.
I started by inserting the legs in their dovetails and marking where each leg contacted the supporting ridge on the pedestal.
With the use of a spokeshave (steady on, there's lots of short grain around these parts) and an inflatable doohickey that goes on my lathe and holds sanding sleeves, I brought the profile down to the correct arc. I also made sure that the curve was still "fair" up to the top profile. In addition, I made sure that the length of the shoulder along the dovetails was equal, as this (and the overall length of the legs) would determine whether the table would be level. I held off on radiusing (if that's a word) the topline as still thinking about the final look.
I wanted the leg width to taper from 3/4" at the top, to 1/2" at the bottom. By scribing a line 1/8" at the end of each leg, I had a reference point for hand planing.
I also made a handy jig for holding these odd-shaped pieces in place for planing. I just drew an outline, predrilled the holes, applied some hot glue, lined it with scrap leather, and assembled.
I had been careful to make sure that the grain ran from the dovetail-to-foot direction to accommodate the planing. I started with my old Stanley #3 (set for a medium cut) and did my normal routine for tapering. Starting about 1 inch from the end I take three passes, then three passes two inches from the end (all the way to the end), then three inches from the end, etc. I do this all the way until I'm planing the entire piece and repeat until I have some thing that looks like the right angle and I've reached my scribe marks. I then switch to my Stanley 5 1/2 for a couple of swipes to make it an even slope.
Setting this aside I moved on to some drawer construction. The Single Drawer Sewing Stand has a drawer that is housed below the top. Taunton's In the Shaker Style has a good diagram.
Right, just a quick through dovetail job to make the U-shaped support that will hold the runners and call it a day. I cut the parts, trued them on shooting board and marked everything for dovetailing. After taking the summer off, I really felt rusty as I pushed on with the tails and pins. A few minutes turned into an hour and still I worked -- marking and cutting. OK, almost done let's just assemble, and . . .
Arrgh. I failed to notice that I'd marked out the second tail piece upside down. Instead of a U-shaped support, I had a Z-shape hunk of firewood!
But, like the proverbial fox who couldn't reach the grapes, I concluded that the dovetails were not great anyway. I think I'll spend a few hours bringing my hand-dovetailing skills back to their former mediocre state.
Next, I do a bit of work on the Round Stand and see if I can get my spatial relationship issues worked out on that support.
Thursday, November 4, 2010
The three pedestals are turned to their various dimensions, and dovetailed mortices have been cut to accept the legs. As you can see from the photo above, the Two-Drawered Shaker Stand (left), the Round Stand (center), and the Single Drawered Shaker Stand (right) stand different heights as each has a unique drawer configuration.
And now a word of praise for 4/4 common cherry.
I always feel a bit shabby sautering into Hearne Hardwoods, eyeing of some choice 12/4, medium figured board that is wider than nine inches (and thus sets off all kinds of monetary multipliers), and then selecting five somewhat ratty common boards at $2.25/bf. . . But that feeling passes quickly. I happen to have some leftover 12/4 from a previous project, so what I need is leg material. My method of cutting and templating legs suits itself well to short pieces of interesting stock.
I also like to make my templates in such a way that you can affix them on ether side. This allows me to read the grain and decide which way gives me the least chance of failure.
It would be irresponsible of me to try to give a fool-proof method of routing with a template. (By that I mean, do it at your own risk!) All I can say is that you want to be cutting "downhill", with the grain, as much as you can, and never try to take off too much at a time.
This first picture shows some clear sailing. Moving the work right to left, and with the grain running downhill, you don't encounter much resistance until you start up the the hill at the end of the leg (on the far right). Just don't start the cut on the edge of the far left, as that would be entering end grain.
The beginning of this cut might give you some problems the arrow shows where you will be cutting uphill into the grain. You could put the template on the other side (thus reversing your direction of attack) but I wouldn't do this mid-stream. You could also cut the portion on the right and then "climb-cut" your way (moving the work from left to right along that uphill portion. Do this at your own risk! The work will want to fly out of your hand to the right. I actually took very thin passes, moving the work in the correct direction and got away with it. In any case, do not let the cutter make contact with the end grain on the left. . .
Entering on end grain is instant disaster. The work will snap, your hand might fly into the cutter, and you must start again. Ahhh, the joys of the router. Just be safe and careful.
Once all of the template routing is done you will be left with plenty of hand tool clean-up to remove any burn marks and finish the places that were too risky to complete with the router.
Next . . . I'll taper the cyma curved legs and shape the cabriole legs for final fitting.