Thursday, October 30, 2008

Shop - oak and leather headboard- post two

With the two rails of the headboard complete I also needed make the stiles, which also held the leather panels. This connection requires little strength so a lap joint is sufficient. I milled these up on the table saw. A rabbit in each rail and a rabbit in the stiles will hold the leather panel. The rabbit in the rails also holds the stile.

Once these tasks were complete the first glue-up was ready. It is important to make certain everything fits before glue-up. The process must go quickly and smoothly. Prepare everything and prepare for cleanup. No matter how carefully you spread the glue there will be a little squeezed out - especially on a mortise and tenon joint. A little bit a tape along the joint can prevent most of the squeeze-out from getting on the wood thus making clean-up easier and more effective.

In the previous post I briefly discussed wood movement. The bottom tenon was almost 10" long. To accommodate the wood movement I only applied glue to a little more than half of the top of the tenon. This will allow the wood to move downward. Also the tenon should be cut somewhat smaller across the width so as to allow for this movement.

After gluing up the rails and posts I set them aside and milled up the top from 3/4 and 5/4 oak. I then glued the two together and set them aside for the next day. The next day I joined their common edge and connected the top to the rails using biscuits.

Next the leather panels - the leather must be glued to something very smooth as any defect in the surface behind the leather will show on the face of the leather. I used smooth birch plywood, but I wanted the back of the headboard to all be oak too and the panels were not going to be covered. I milled up 1/4 oak and applied it to the back of the plywood creating what amounted to an oak panel. I used Titebond and spread the glue evenly with a tile trowel and then clamped all of the panels up in a large stack.

I didn't want to apply the leather until the wood color was applied and there was one coat of polyurethane on everything, so as to not discolor the leather. Again, I used water-based aniline stain. Tammi's the color expert and always helps me mix the colors and she matched the nightstands exactly. Because aniline stain is water-based it raises the grain so the wood must be hand sanded one final time.

I finished the headboard with a mixture of linseed oil, polyurethane, and thinner. I gradually increased the mix so that the last several coats were only polyurethane. This gives the finish a very deep and lusterious look.

With the panels finished it was time to apply the leather. Previously, I applied a small piece of leather to the birch plywood with regular wood glue (Titebond III) and everything appeared fine. The drying glue didn't bunch the leather and the connection was very strong. Also, I precut leather panels somewhat larger than needed intending to trim it tightly and neatly when the glue dried. I applied leather conditioner to the finished side of the leather, faced the finish sides to one another, and stacked and pressed the leather flat for a day or so. I didn't want, or need much glue on the panel to hold the leather; however, I did need a nice consistent application so I used a foam roller to spread the glue. This gave the surface a nice even spread. The leather, once fixed, was rolled out with a rolling pin, stacked, and clamped. Once set I trimmed the edges flush and set the panels in the rabbits designed to receive them. I trimmed out the interface of the panel and rabbit with quartersawn 5/16" x 1-3/8" oak strips.

I was very happy with the results and I fully expect to incorporate wood and leather together in the future.This is the king size headboard which is just over 6 foot long.

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.

Monday, October 20, 2008

Shop - a simple box

I had some scrap maple taking up space and had been thinking about making a small box with it. Those thoughts turned into this. This design is superb, but I can't claim the idea of this simple box. However, when I saw the picture I knew the maple was going to be this box. Making boxes is a great way to use scrap and to acquire and gain new skills.

The tiger maple is colored with a water-based aniline stain, and finished with a mixture of linseed oil, polyurethane, and thinner. This kind of finish, as you can see, brings out the beauty of the maple. I enthusiastically recommend this type of finish for many projects and dye for all woods where you need to bring out the figure. It works wonderfully with quarter or rift sawn oak, quilted or tiger maple, sycamore, and many exotics. On the previous picture frame post I did not use dye as I did not want the flake to pop.

The box was formed by using only a box core bit and hand planes. The two sides are simply routered with a 1/2" box core bit at the "handle" while the angled part below is cut off on the table saw leaving half of the original radius. The rounded top of the sides was formed by hand. The sides are lower than the bottom and thus form two legs. The top is hand planed to round with the box core bit forming a hollowed out area in the inside. In addition, the box core bit formed the indent in the front and top which provides a handle. The bottom was fit into a dado. The side and bottom are 1/2". The box is about 12" long and is the new home of Tammi's jewelry.

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Shop Made Picture Frames - MDF - post three

By far the easiest, cheapest, and most numerous frames that I make are made out of MDF. Medium-density fiberboard is an engineered wood product made by breaking down softwood into wood fibers and combining the fibers with wax and a resin binder, and forming the panels by applying high temperature and pressure. It is a building material similar in application to plywood but made up of separated fibers, not wood veneers. It is denser than normal particle board. MDF has a homogeneous structure with uniform texture and properties throughout.There are no identifiable grains or knots seen at the edge, end or face, nor any internal voids or pits or variation in surface hardness. MDF can't be stained or colored like traditional wood so it must be painted. Also, it could be gilded; work I've done on steeples and something I wish to apply to picture frames, but I have yet to try it.

MDF is highly machinable so just about any profile you can machine may be incorporated into the picture frame. It can also be glued together face to face and machined so that profiles thicker than 3/4 can be obtained. In this simple finished example, the frame is about 6 inches wide with a rounded inside and outside. The inside is 1/2" and the outside 1/2" and 3/4" creating a type of torus or thumb. See figure 2. (The painting is by Tammi and is of Bridger sleeping. One of his toys, a large praying mantis, contrasts innocence with impending and inherent danger. There was a lot of light scatter on the painting so the picture isn't the best.)

To create the overall profile I start by ripping 8' runs of the flat sections to the desired width of the frame . Due to weight and cost savings I generally make the flat sections out of 1/2" MDF. I then mill up the various profiles from smaller rips of either 1/2', 3/4" sheet or some glued up combination and then apply the milled profiles to the 8' sections. This effort often results in the use of quite a few clamps along with some creative clamping. After the glue drys I then cut the miters and assemble.

The Miter Sled

The miters must be absolutely precise. The best way to saw wide miters is to build a miter sled for use on the table saw. Of course the wider the miter, the more a fraction of a degree shows. With a picture frame this error is multiplied by eight. This means that a error of 1/8 of a degree will produce, in a picture frame, three tight miters and a miter that is off one degree!

Painted MDF tends to show every flaw, and I mean every little flaw. So, exactitude is critical. The miter sled setup must therefore be exact. A miter sled is built like a typical sled with the guides for the miters fixed at the correct angles rather than having a back fence. The best way to accomplish an exact 45 degree angle is to assemble the sled minus the miter guides and run the sled up and down the table saw with the blade down and off. Mark the front and back of the sled at the exact center of the blade. Draw a line which connects the two points. You now have the exact center line of the blade. Determine the location of the "point" of the miter on the sled along the center line. This line marks the shortest part of the cuts mites, which will be on both the left and right miters. With a beam compass set the one point at the intersection of the back of the sled and the center line. (I suggest using a point rather than a pencil) Stretch the compass to the predetermined point of the miter and scribe a radius. An exact 45 degree angle is now described by the two points which intersect the back of the sled at the outside of the radius and the miter "point". (The rear of the sled must be exactly perpendicular to the center line to achieve accuracy. If not, scribe a perpendicular line to the center line. The further apart all of these line and points are, the greater the accuracy of the setup. The easiest way to accomplish a perpendicular line is to again use your compass. Move the center point along the center line a short distance and increase the diameter. Scribe two points where this radius meets the original radius. Connect these two points with a straight line and you have two perfectly perpendicular lines. ) Next, prepare absolutely straight miter guides for the sled. It is beneficial to cut a small dado along the length of the guide at the intersection of the sled and the guide so any sawdust or other obstruction is prevented from affecting the angle of the miter. Attach the miter guides, add some clamps to keep things in place and you're done.

Three Examples

Figure 1

Figure 2

Figure 3


After cutting the miters and glue-up the frames must be painted. Before painting I run a very tight bead of caulk around each milled section. This keeps any small cracks from showing and creates a more professional finish. I always spray paint the frames flat black and then spray a light coating of satin varnish. This keeps the frame from looking flat and also too shiny.

Sunday, October 05, 2008

Shop made picture frames - post two

I thought that I would do a series on picture frames having done the previous post. I get a fair number of hits on the blog for woodworking. Oddly enough wood movement seems to be the most popular. Tendons come a close second. As Tammi is an artist, I've made quite a few frames and have perfected a way of making very cheap ones. I'll cover those next post.

Getting anything framed is a serious investment; however, shop-made frames don't cost too much. Some can even be made for a few dollars. One of the essential elements is design. Time spent in design always pays off. Responding correctly and appropriately to the artwork is essential. Always remember that it is the art that's primary. A frame just shows it off.

Tammi needed a frame for one of her early shows and the painting clearly called for an unusual frame. This is a large painting - just about four feet tall. Tammi came up with an idea and I tried to carry it out. This crazy frame what we came up with in the end. (Double click for a larger view.) The wood is riftsawn oak and came from one board. I found the board at Home Depot while looking for something else and scarfed it up. At a mill it would have gone for many times the price of normal or flat sawn oak.

The point of this frame is that, expect for the curved miters, it is very simple. The painting is held with a simple rabbit which I milled before cutting out the curves. The outer edge is rounded over with a 3/8 roundover bit. The finish is simple Danish Oil, but before putting on the oil I rubbed in red pigment. Thus, the frame has a very subtle red color. With a very complex painting a simple frame works very well. Keeping away from complex wood grain is critical. If you used these curves with a complex grain, the painting would be overcome and the striking curves lost in the conflicting grain.

What is unusual about this frame is the curved miters, but keeping away from straight lines is what really makes this frame sing. I made the curved miters by making a full-sized template of the entire design out of 1/4" plywood. I laid out the full frame and cut the template out, one miter both sides at a time. I had to layout the frame slightly larger than needed to account for the cuts. Thus each miter mirrored the other side. I then worked each side of the miter until both fit tightly as the width of the blade forced the "low points" and "high points" apart. Once all four miters (eight sides) were tightly fit I laid the four templates along the board and marked the board. After cutting out the oak about 1/4" wide of the line I used the template as a router guide and cut left, right, top, and bottom out with the router. I used double sided tape to adhere the plywood to the oak.I assembled the frame using biscuits located on some of the straiter curves.

I like to hang around Tammi's paintings at the openings and listen to the comments. During this opening two men who where quite obviously gallery owners spent some time in front of Tammi's painting. After discussing it at length, one said, "I like the painting, but I could never sell the $800 frame." Wrong, she didn't spend that kind of money, but she does have to put up with me.

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