Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Shop - oak and leather headboard - post one

Design, it seems, never comes easy. It's difficult to just sit down and create; to bring an the feel of an idea into reality. In addition, when money and so much time and effort go into the final product the design is often the monster in the closet. I had been thinking about making a headboard for some time, but I wanted to modernize the look of the nightstands, which match the other antiques dressers. I was generally thinking about some kind of metal panels surrounded by the oak. Perhaps a typical country-type Victorian headboard, but replacing the panels with plate steel. However, the idea never really gelled as the elements were just a little too incongruent and a little too harsh. I just never could make it work.

For some reason the idea of replacing the metal with leather came to me and I really liked the possibilities. I did some research on gluing leather to wooden panels and the process was very workable. I then began drawing up some ideas which incorporated the look of the nightstands into a headboard with leather panels. It was fairly easy to come up with a good look as a headboard is fairly simple.

I found some nice cow hides at an eBay store and paid about 40-bucks for an entire hide! It was very good leather and the color worked with the intended color of the oak. I began looking for the oak and found two absolutely straight grained, rift-sawn, wide boards. They were perfectly sawn being perhaps the straightest grain boards of this length I'd ever seen or at least worked with. These two boards supplied the majority of the visual elements and the remainder was found rough-sawn at the local lumber yard. When working with a very heavy-grained wood like oak you have to pay attention to the visual aspects of the grain. Crazy grain (unless desired) going in all directions can really change the look of something - generally negatively. In addition, of equal importance, is what the grain is creating in the board - warp, twist, cupping, and other undesirable traits. For wide boards that include joinery (in this case tenons) it is important the boards be rift or quarter sawn to avoid expansion and contraction problems. I did some calculations of the widest boards as constructed and determined that the boards potential worst-case expansion could be about 3/16" perhaps 1/4". This calculation is based upon species, some low and high moisture content assumptions, width, and grain orientation. I'll discuss the construction details later.

I often use mortise and tenon joints and planned to on this headboard; however, I usually make the tenons on the table saw. Six foot boards make that impossible so I set up the router. With very wide tenons a router works well, but the set up, from start to finish, must be precise. On the table saw the repeatability of machine crates accuracy. With a router the accuracy must be created by you. First, as usual, make sure your boards are evenly dimensioned and exactly squared. There are some things to pay attention to: First of all you should try to mill all of the tenons at one time so I clamped both boards together. This eliminates two set-ups, but more importantly ensures that both boards are milled exactly the same. The tenons should be left a little thicker than needed and planed to the exact needed size before glue-up. I left these 1/64" large. Another key element is leaving the boards with several extra inches on each end. Only waste the center leaving the extra length proud so as to support the router. You must transfer the lines from one side to the other very carefully. Mark the guide board, not the cut. This ensures that the guide board remains in the same location and that the cheeks of of each tenon are even on each side once the tenon is fit into the mortise. Mess this up, even a little, and you'll have a big problem.

Once both ends are milled on both sides the boards can be unclamped and the tenons cut to their final size.

I made these tenons quite beefy with only an 1/8" shoulder as I wanted lots of strength and my mortise was being cut into a 6/4 post. After previously milling up the posts they were ready for mortises. I cut these with a mortiser.

I always carefully lay out my cuts on the wood even though I have to set up the machine. This keeps mistakes down to zero (hopefully). Again, lay out all of your pieces, clamped together, at the same time. I even mark out the waste so I don't cut on the wrong side of the line. This is always good practice and is usually learned the hard way. Once the machine is set up the mortises are easily cut and cleaned up with a sharp chisel.

Once all the pieces are cut they are ready for preassembly. This is when you check everything before applying glue. The tenons should fit snugly in the mortises, but not too tightly. Square everything up just as it will be assembled. Plane the tenons to just the right size.

1 comment:

  1. Sounds interesting. You really lucked out on the material! Looking forward to hearing more as you go along.


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