Here I discuss anything to do with what I am up to in my wood shop.
Below is an article I wrote for Ann Marquez’s blog site at Desert Muse Publishing. It pretty much sums up the tie-in between writing and woodworking the way I see it.
WRITING WITH WOOD
In a way, cutting patterns out of wood is akin to writing with wood. The difference is that someone already wrote the story and I am just printing it out on different paper. I may alter the pattern slightly, giving my interpretation of the story. It’s akin to a band doing cover tunes.
Woodworking has been a passion since discovering and destroying many of my dad’s tools in the garage when I was a little kid. I never really knew how to use them, but I could slap two pieces of wood together and make something, no matter how weird the result. In elementary school shop class, I channeled that interest into the “standard” carved walnut bowl. Eventually I tackled a square-rigged sailing ship that other kids destroyed before it was completed. Our shop teacher, Mr Rosen, who actually had all his fingers, did have a glass eye. When he got mad, he’d give us the “fish eye.” He taught me how to square a board and how to use basic shop tools. I later used those skills to build furniture, guitar amp cabinets and boxes for my analogue modular synthesizers. Eventually, just making boxes for musical instruments and various furniture items around the house was not much for artistic expression. In the mid 90’s in Oklahoma, my wife Kim bought me my first scroll saw. It was on the budget side, but it set me on a path that saw me cutting out designs and making even fancier boxes. Those designs branched into many different projects including log slices, clocks, Christmas ornaments, thermometers, and other things.
I now have a much nicer scroll saw. Though it is still considered a bottom feeder in the world of scrolling, it does the job for me rather nicely. I still have the original saw but it languishes in my storage shed. It provided so much pleasure, I hate to part with it even though to use it now would be a big step back.
I get most of my designs either from Woodworks and Crafts magazine or from a company called Wildwood Designs. I have created a few designs, but am a lousy artist so I depend on others to provide me with designs. I just acquired a computer program to convert pictures into usable scroll saw patterns, but quickly discovered it’s not as easy to do that as the advertising implies!
I love the smell, the feel, the look of wood. I love working with it and love the finished product. I’ve sometimes gone to great lengths to get pieces of a particular wood, from buying it at exotic lumber stores to going to firewood yards and scouring through their logs to chain sawing felled trees in someone’s back yard.
Below you will find some examples of my work. There is a story behind each one. I try to include a paper with each project describing the type of wood, when it was made and where the pattern came from.
This is a castle shelf made mainly from oak plywood. The doors and face with the hinges on it are solid poplar and the rails are solid cherry. The drawer underneath is luan mahogany plywood. I now holds all of our lead D&D figurines from a bygone era!
I call this my “unemployment” deer shelf. I was in the middle of cutting this when I was laid off at my maintenance planner job in Indiana. I worked on it quite a bit but had to set it aside when I finally got a new job and didn’t get back to it until a year later when I got my scroll saw back. I made two of these simultaneously by stacking. The back is luan mahogany plywood. The shelves and rails are poplar. The animals are aspen.
This is a dolphin (or as I call it my “dolfink”) clock. It is made from solid oak. It was inspired from my oldest daughter who likes dolphins. Anyone who knows Popeye will know where I got dolfink from.
This is one of my log slices. I like to take a log and slice it with a chain saw diagonally and cut a pattern into it so that the grain of the wood is visible. Unfortunately, this slice happens to be maple. Unless maple is spalted (molded), the grain pattern is pretty plain. In this case, my wife backed it with red felt and painted around the edge and this is the result.
This is another log slice. This time it is also maple, but it contains a bit more interesting though subtle figuring, but it is not spalted. My wife backed it with green felt but left the edge unpainted. I’ve used this duck scene in other works.
I love to make boxes too, and this is one of my later examples. The main body of the box is African padauk. The light-colored design is aspen and the dark filigree is purpleheart.
This is a griffin clock made from jotoba, or Brazilian cherry. I gave this away at the 2011 Las Vegas Writer’s Conference as one of the raffle prizes for the kid’s scholarship program.
This is my latest completed project. A Jeff Gordon 1957 Chevy clock. The wood is solid African bubinga. I finished it in April. It is two wide pieces sandwiched together to make it wide enough. The actual splice is somewhere around the right side headlight.
This is one of my favorite log slices. It is a piece of elm from my firewood pile when we were living in Miller Beach, in Gary, Indiana in 2000. The wood was still a bit green so after I cut it and planed it, I had to cook it in my microwave to dry it out a bit. It took a while and stunk up the house a bit, but it was worth it! It now hangs on my mother’s wall.
This jewelry box shows that old oak palates are good for something! Yes, the box is made from wide pieces of oak palates I found somewhere. The trick was making sure the pattern holes coincided with the nail holes because they tend to turn the wood black around the nails. The top piece is aspen. My mom also has this piece.
This box is made from purpleheart. I love to work with that wood. It has a very consistent grain and cuts very well. The top piece is thin oak.
This is a ram log slice. it was cut from a poplar log and has a bit of spalting in it though I never really knew that poplar spalted like maple. Apparently it does! This piece of wood also came from my firewood pile in Miller Beach.
I had no idea what I was getting into when I took this project on. My wife picked the pattern and I was really anxious to dig into it. Little did I realize it involved a lot of woodburning! Yes, if you look close, the side pieces highlighted in read all have woodburned designs in them. I am no woodburner! I did my best but well… At least it looks good at a distance! The wood is standard Baltic birch plywood from Hobby Lobby. Nothing fancy.
These are a sampling of some of the mass-produced Christmas presents I like to do. In this case, they are thermometers instead of tree ornaments (for instance). The backings are luan mahogany and the filigrees, if they have them are aspen. I backed them all with different colored felt. I say mass-produced because I cut three at a time by stacking them. I made 40 of these altogether. Nine designs, I think.
This wolf silhouette was inspired by my friend, Bobby Licher. He used to have a band called Pocket Full of Blues. He is a big fan of wolves and I saw this pattern and the rest is history. The wood is purpleheart and it is backed in blue felt.
This is a top view of a chess board I made for my daughter Brook. The dark pieces of the chess board are wenge and the light pieces are maple.
This is an inside view of the box. It is lined with aromatic cedar. However, the cedar was quite dried out and even after cutting it to shape it still didn’t have a lot of smell left. Oh well, it will be covered with foam for the chess pieces anyway. The sides of the box are made from Zebrawood. I burned up a lot of scroll saw blades cutting the design in all four sides. That wood, especially in that full thickness of 3/4″ was tough! Also, the left side looks warped, but it isn’t. It’s the curve of the woodgrain that makes it look warped. It kept throwing me off but I kept checking it over and over again and it was straight. Kind of disorienting!
The project took over a year, all told. Glad it’s finally done so I can move on to other things.
Here’s a side view showing the fretwork that burned up my saw blades.
Besides fretwork, I also do a bit of woodturning. This was one of my early successful projects. It is a bowl made from sassafras. Yes, that is the same sassafras that the bark is used to flavor root beer. No, I didn’t smell root beer the whole time I was turning it! The wood doesn’t smell anything like root beer. It smells like wood. It is kind of soft and you can see from the grain, very uneven, yet with sharp chisels, I was able to successfully turn it without too much trouble. I obtained the piece of log when we first arrived in Indiana from a friend’s yard, I think. The wood is quite light when dry. I remember this being a bit wet when I started it.
This was an oak hot pad Kim gave me and told me to do something with. Turns out it is a familiar pattern from one of my log slices above, just reversed. I made sure it was sized to fit onto it with plenty of space around the rim. She put the red felt backing on it. Makes it stand out pretty nice.
Kim’s a big quilter and she needed a quilt stand, so we found plans for a stand someplace. It came with patterns and a hardware kit. I got the oak from Lowes. Nothing fancy, just cutting straight lines with an occasional curve here and there. Took about a week. Never uses it. Turns out we found something else that works much better so it sits in the spare bedroom. Oh well…
EVOLUTION OF A SPECIAL PROJECT
A while back, I did a special project for a friend of mine, Laurens “Bakkie” Bakker, drummer in the Dutch heavy metal band Picture. He’s an avid fisherman, especially with all the canals they have in Holland. He wanted me to make a pike, and this fish design I came up with is as close as I could come up with.
I used a piece of walnut, planed down to 1″ and cut short enough to accommodate the pattern and the base. The original design included a clock cutout, but if you look close, you can see that I drew more lines through the clock hole (since I didn’t have any extra clock inserts anyway). I sprayed glue onto the back of the pattern, let it dry a few seconds, then stuck it to the wood. With this type of contact cement, I didn’t let it dry too long, or the paper would stick too much and when it was time to remove the leftover pattern, it would be even harder to remove (more on that later).
The next step was to drill the pilot holes. Each and every cutout needs a pilot hole to thread the scroll saw blade through. As you can tell from the pattern, there are a lot of holes to cut out!
Here I’m setting the blade through the hole. With this type scroll saw, the blade stays attached from the bottom side and is threaded up through the bottom of the wood. On some of the higher end saws, the blade can be threaded down from the top because the upper arm of the saw lifts up. My new saw does that, but this older Craftsman didn’t. It was a lot harder to thread the blades this way, especially if the holes were not drilled clean on the bottom.
Here I’m cutting out one of the inside pieces. I’ve threaded the blade through the pilot hole and cut out the shape. You can see another pilot hole inside one of the shapes to be cut, to the right and to the left of what I just cut out. The red cone-shaped tube next to the blade is a dust blower.
Here I’m lifting out a piece of waste wood after cutting it out.
All the inside holes are now cut. When cutting with a scroll saw, you ALWAYS cut the inside holes first! Once that is done, you cut the outside.
The outside cuts are done and the main pieces are ready to finish. To remove the paper pattern, I’ve learned a few things. I used to use minimal spray glue, but during the cutting process, I’d lose the pattern halfway through and would have a mess and lose track of my cuts. I tried heavier glue, but it would stick in the grain. I’d have to sand it off with heavy grit and would sometimes break some of the finer and more delicate details within the patterns. I found by using the spray glue and letting it dry for just a few seconds, it gives me a strong enough bond to hold through the cutting process. It still won’t just peel off, so I have to use Goof Off, a solvent that I think has Ketone in it. It’s pretty nasty stuff, but it gets the paper and 90% of the glue off. Then, all it takes is light sanding and it’s ready to go.
I do most of my sanding on my drum sander. I built this one from a kit I got from a company in Canada called Stockroom Supply. It’s called the V-Drum sander and it works great. I also use disc and belt sanders if called for, but this baby is my real workhorse.
Here is the fish plaque before finishing. I couldn’t find the photo of it actually completed so this will have to do. It turned out pretty decent, I think. I made it at the same time I made a batch of those thermometers featured above. They were all presents for the band. If you love heavy metal music and ever get a chance to hear Picture, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed. They rock!
MY EMPLOYMENT DEER SHELF
Back in the day, I made two of these deer shelves. One of them can be seen above. I called it the Unemployment Deer Shelf because I started them both when I was unemployed in Indiana. The one above is hanging in my mom’s house in Palmdale, California. However, Since I’ve been gainfully employed for over a decade, it’s time re-titled this third version my Employment Deer Shelf.
My wife has always wanted one. At the time, there was no way I could’ve cut through three double layers of luan mahogany plywood to make the backboards. As it was, cutting two at once was a chore since with my 16-inch scroll saw, I had to not only cut the backboard in half, I had to use spiral wound blades for the cutting because even cut in half, the saw didn’t have enough reach for any of the cuts. Another problem was the long parallel arm style of the saw caused wedge in the cuts and despite an accurate cut on the top where the line was, when the blade got to the bottom, it had drifted one way or the other. When I’d finish an inside cut, as often as not, I’d have to fight to force the waste piece out of the hole. That also meant that the copy underneath was a crappier looking cut. It would be slightly mushroomed out, or the fine detail would be skewed or had wild cuts in it. That problem was prone with everything I cut with that old saw, which started as a Ryobi and became the Craftsman I used up until late last year. It was always the same. Make the cut and force the piece out. That meant that I’d always have to cover the back of the piece with something because the back would look terrible. It didn’t matter that I had the table and blade squared, the blade would still drift because the long arms of the saw would wobble and cause flex, flaring the cut on the back side.
When I got the new Excalibur 31-inch saw, it used a parallel link system which made a world of difference. I no longer had a problem with wedge. When I make a cut now, the piece pops right out. It never gets stuck. Another thing is that with the longer reach, I can do the entire Deer Shelf without cutting it in half or having to resort to spiral wound blades. The only caveat was that as I cut the backboard, especially doing the end sections, my chair was placed about three feet from the saw!
This time I took no shortcuts with the wood. Instead of the Luan mahogany plywood I used for the other two, this time I dug out the widest slab of that walnut I’d been saving since Indiana. It was quite a challenge to find a clean piece that was not only wide enough, but not cracked, warped, or had something else wrong with it. It was dicey, but I managed to get just the piece I needed. I trimmed the excess off the raw piece and ran it through my planer. I had to cut it down to a hair under twelve inches wide so it would fit in my rather small planer but it was worth it. I planed the wood down to ½-inch thick.
For the shelf braces and rails, I used some left over purpleheart that was already planed down to ¼-inch. For the shelf bases, I planed down a piece of that chestnut door framing I still had left over from my wife’s uncle’s house that burned down in West Virginia. The last of the wood will be aspen which I’ll use for the animals that will be set onto the different spots on the backboard.
Now for some visual aids. Progress has been quite slow. I started this project in late winter but as it got hotter, work became unbearable in the garage with the heat of summer so I held off. In fact, I just had a chance to try again Memorial Day weekend, September 3rd, 2012. It was cool enough to go out there for a while without passing out.
This is the backboard cut out. All one piece, too. The paper pattern is still glued on. I’ll remove it later with solvent. I used to sand the paper off, but it was messy and also took more wood than I wanted to. The solvent works better and relies on less sanding.
Here are the three shelves, cut out. I turned one over so you could see the chestnut. It’s planed down to ¼-inch from the original ¾-inch. Notice the dark stain at the bottom of the middle piece. That’s an old nail hole. It’ll be at the back of the shelf and facing down so it shouldn’t be noticeable.
These are shelf braces and rails cut out. They are all ¼-inch purpleheart.
This is one of the raw boards I cut the rails from. You can see the pilot holes in the two uncut pieces.
This is the other uncut rail board. The pilot holes haven’t been drilled yet.
Here I’m cutting a shelf rail. Note the blower aimed at the saw blade. Also note that I don’t use the hold-down bracket on the saw. I removed it. I found it extremely annoying and useless as I have on all of my scroll saws. It was the first modification I made when I found my mojo as a scroller. I tried the hold-down and it just didn’t do it for me. I can see the work better and most hold-downs grab the wood, block the line, and are generally a nuisance. I never have a problem with the wood jumping on me. I did when I first started, but that was because I was rushing things. If you don’t rush, you don’t have the wood jumping. Simple as that.
The fan in the far left is blowing, despite how the blades look. I wear the mask anyway because dust drifts up and everywhere. I could have that fan on high and the dust would still drift everywhere. Besides, working with exotic woods can be hazardous to your sinuses. Trust me! I also don’t use glasses for this. I can’t see up close with them on and despite safety concerns, stuff doesn’t go flying everywhere with this type work unless you’re being stupid.
Another angle of me cutting.
Well, that’s it for now. More as I progress. The next phase will be cutting out the animals. I have a stash of aspen that I’ll use. Once they’re done, it’ll be cleaning off the paper, sanding, and gluing everything together. The last step will be finishing and putting a felt backing on the baseboard.
Until next time…
It’s been about a month since I had a chance to work on the Deer Shelf and I finally got back to the last of the cutting. All that is left are the animals.
Because the wood is so light colored, I chose aspen. Very similar to pine in density, aspen is soft and very easy to work with. The thin boards my in-laws sent me came from Lowes in West Virginia. They are not available locally in Las Vegas. I used to get this also at Menards when we lived in Indiana. Apparently, even though we are much closer to Colorado, where I assume most aspen comes from, they only ship it east instead of west.
Aspen makes a great contrast wood against almost any other wood because it is so light and the only other woods that compare to it in color might be some of the lighter poplars, maple and light pine (off the top of my head). However, when it comes to grain, there is no comparison. On the aspen I use, there is little to no grain visible unless you were to stain the wood and I have no intention of doing that. This wood is perfect against the purpleheart and walnut I’m using for the rest of the project, even the chestnut.
In the first image, I’m arranging the cut out patterns on the boards to take advantage of not only the space available on the piece of wood, but also any defects in each board. You can’t see it very well in the photo, but just above the dogs head is a seam where the wood was spliced together. I made sure his head goes just below that seam. I’d hate to cut through that and find a defect in the glue at that point! I also look for cracks at the ends and shift the patterns as necessary to avoid them as needed.
Next I spray the tacky glue to the back of the pattern pieces and lay them on the boards. The trick is to spray just enough glue to make the pattern stick but not enough for the glue to soak too deep into the wood and become a problem to sand out later. What I do is spray a healthy dose of glue onto the paper, let it dry tacky so it’s not wet, then lay it down. That way, it will stick hard, but the glue will not soak too deep into the wood. I used to spray heavily, then rush to lay it down. I’d have to sand like crazy to get all the glue out of the grain, especially with open grained woods like oak. I’ve resolved that problem somewhat by using Goof Off solvent to remove the patterns now instead of sanding them off. Heavy sanding can cause a lot of damage, especially to fine detail.
Another thing about me using heavy glue is that I still have a problem sometimes with the pattern bubbling up, especially if I have to leave the project for a few months or longer. That can almost destroy a design, especially if I’ve already drilled the pilot holes and then lose the design. It will be almost impossible to re-glue another pattern exactly on top of any work I’ve already done. By using heavy glue, letting it dry a bit first to make it really tacky, then sticking it on, it stays better so I can take it off with solvent and not worry about it soaking into the grain or heavy sanding.
Note, the glue tends to get on your fingers so rubber gloves are not a bad idea. I should’ve used some!
The next step is drilling the tiny inside pilot holes. For these fine detailed holes, I use the smallest drill I have. I found that the smallest drill my 28 teeth per inch blades will fit through is a #68 bit which I got at a local hobby store called Danseys’ Hobbies here in Las Vegas. I may pay a few bucks more, but it beats hassling with Internet or mail. I only drill as many of these pilot holes as necessary. If I can get away with a larger hole, I go for it because that tiny hole is a tight fit and if there is any bend in the blade from the bottom clamp on the saw, the blade won’t go through it.
Here is one of the deer with the tiny detail holes. I could have gone with a larger hole for the eye, but went with the smaller bit for that hole because the larger bit can sometimes drift and I wanted to make sure the hole wouldn’t go outside the pattern.
Once all the inside holes are drilled, I then do all the outside and larger holes. Though this is a relatively narrow piece of wood, I NEVER cut to the piece from the edge of the board if it is a thin piece of wood. Doing so creates an instability in the wood and could lead to cracking that could break the work. I always keep the inside piece intact unless the board is at least 1/2-inch thick.
Also, it is good to start the cut at a point so that there is no seam or cut point at a smooth spot. However, you do not want to start the cut at a thin spot. The reason for this is torque. Notice I drilled the pilot hole at a dull point, the ear, rather than a sharp point at the end of one of the antlers. If I’d done that, when I cut all around the piece and came to the other side of that delicate antler tip, if the saw blade grabbed for some reason, that jerk could easily snap off that antler.
All the cutting is done now and the animals are laid out for you to see. All that is left now is to remove the pattern paper from all of the pieces, sand and file everything, fit and glue.
We’ll cover the cleaning and prepping in the next phase.
The cleaning phase progressed nicely. However, I didn’t have the camera during the stripping process so I can only describe what I did. I filled my mini-can with Goof Off. Then I took a 2′ X 4′ piece of 1/4″ plywood that I use for gluing and messy projects out into the driveway, dropped the tailgate of my truck a laid it in the back. Then I brought the refilled solvent can out along with all the pieces of the project along with a wad of paper towels, my shop trash can, a putty knife (to lift the paper off) and some heavy-duty rubber gloves.
The trick to removing the patterns is soaking the paper with enough solvent to loosen the glue but not saturating the wood. With the solvent can, which is like the old lighter fluid cans with the flip-up spout and pointed nozzle, I let the solvent wick out onto the paper. I used to squeeze the can so it would squirt out but it would soak the wood and that was too much solvent. By letting the tip drag on the paper, the solvent wicks out onto the paper at enough of a rate to soak into the wood.
For the larger pieces, I’d do a section at a time because out in the open, the breeze would dry it and the glue would re-stick. Once wet, I’d take the putty knife and get under the paper at a pointed spot on the paper where it was easy to start a peeling motion. Using this technique, I’d slowly soak and lift the pattern off the wood. Unfortunately, as I found out later, this technique still leaves residual glue which has to be sanded off. Too much glue can clog the sander surface.
Once all the paper was removed and tossed in the trash can, I let everything sit in the driveway to air out for about a half hour before bringing it back in the garage. Then I let it sit overnight and commenced work the next day. That way I had less fumes to deal with and didn’t allow them to carry into the house.
The next day, I prepped my V-drum sander. This sander was a lot more affordable than a standard drum sander and it was a do-it-yourself project from a kit out of a company in Canada. After pricing drum sanders, I found the ones with enough capacity not only required huge amounts of cash, but 220V power which I don’t have in the garage. This model is their second largest and has an 18″ capacity in one sweep. It does what I want. I ordered the critical parts from them, which are the drum, bearings, table top (pre cut) and the sand paper rolls. I had to make the box, buy the motor and add my own vacuum attachment. It’s a breeze to set up and use.
Here it is below naked with the pre-cut paper lying on top ready to install.
Now here is a shot with the paper installed and ready for use.
To sand, I simply drag the pieces across the drum, keeping them as flat as I can against the formica table top. It works pretty well except it can put a groove in the leading edge of the piece if you’re not careful. I always rotate the piece to compensate for this and it usually works pretty well. There can also be a tendency for it to grab if there is excessive glue, if the pieces are tiny, or if the paper develops a tear. I’ve learned to live with these quirks. I’ve had the paper unravel on me which can be quite a surprise. I’ve been slapped in the wrist by that paper occasionally but with no damage. Safety gear is of course recommended.
Below is all the pieces on display after the residual glue has been sanded off. This also knocks off the rough kerf (flaking at the edges caused by the sawing). There is still a lot of fine filing to be done within the inside cuts but that will come during the detailing before final gluing.
Next is squaring the shelves, rails and rail braces. I use a disk sander for that. First things first. I recently found a digital angle finder at Harbor Freight Tools. It works pretty good and helps me get that precise angle on the disk sander shelf and miter gauge.
I do all my fine squaring on my disc sander. The scroll saw can only as accurate as I can follow a line. Everything needs to be trued. Therefore I square up the sander table first, then I true up the miter gauge. Below is my disk sander.
Here is a shot of me squaring up one of the shelf braces. First I sanded the long sides of every brace. Once that was done, I put on the miter gauge and used the long end as the reference against the miter to true up the short end against the sander. That gives me as close to a perfect right angle as I’m going to get.
Everything is now hard sanded so all that is left is to take my jeweler’s files and go through all the inside cuts and get rid of any errant kerf, hanging glue or other debris. A good run over with the vacuum will finish that up. Once that is done, everything will be ready to glue.
Now that everything is hard sanded and squared, it is time to do the cleaning and fine detail. That involves cleaning out the debris stuck in all the inside cuts. It might be kerf from the saw blade, debris from the sander or more glue/pattern mix left over from the cleaning. for most of that work, I use jeweler’s files.
I have a variety of shapes and sizes but favor a few that see the most action. I’m holding one of them now. It is tapered as shown and is flat on one side and triangular on the side facing the camera.
From this point on, the job becomes quite tedious. With all the pieces involved, there is a lot of checking, filing, a quick vacuum, a second check, maybe another bit of filing and another vacuum before going on to the next piece. I often just blow off the debris with my mouth and hope for the best before vacuuming everything later. Then I do a final check. Depends how lazy or in a hurry I am.
Here I am detailing a piece of purpleheart railing.
Now there are some places even a jeweler’s file will not reach. For those tiny places, I save worn scroll saw blades. I hardly ever break blades anymore so I have plenty of extra blades left over. They really come in handy for fine work.
Notice how the leaf veins are clogged with debris. A jeweler’s file will never fit into those tiny cuts. However, a blade the same size I cut them will! Just remember to use a straight blade! A mangled blade will bend and get stuck! Don’t use a new blade either because after doing a bit of this, you’re going to bend the blade along the portion you are not using.
It doesn’t matter whether you use the cutting side or the back side. Sometimes it’s better to use the back side of the blade because all you want to do is run something through those lines to clear the debris out, not recut them. However, sometimes, I’ve had to almost resaw them by hand due to the wood swelling or warping slightly and closing up the gap. When that happens, things can get a bit tight and you can get some pretty sore fingers and thumb over it!
Here is the leaf cleaned out. Sorry for the blurry image. My camera didn’t focus properly close up though it looked clear in the finder.
Once everything is clean, neat and spiffy, it’s time to start gluing. Yeah, thought I’d never get to that part!
The first thing I glued were the rails. I wanted them first so I could fit them to the shelf floors. I didn’t put any fancy joints on the corners and wanted to make sure I had a good fit before I glued the assembly to the backboard.
I love those angle clamps. They give me a virtual perfect 90 degree angle every time. Well, as long as the wood pieces aren’t warped!
Next, I glued them to the shelf floors. Here is the large shelf with a weight on top to seat it better. I let it dry for about 30 minutes. Here in Las Vegas with our low humidity and warm temperatures, that was enough time for the glue to set. I use Elmer’s Wood Glue, by the way. The cheap stuff. Nothing fancy. It works just as good as any of that high-end stuff.
Here are two shelves with railing glued. Above them is the small shelf with a weight on top going through the same process.
The rail ends are trued up to the shelf back edge so they will fit straight when I glue them to the backboard.
Now it’s time to glue the shelves to the backboard. This part is a bit tricky but not rocket science. The spots are marked by the design, but the trick is getting everything straight and butted up so there are no gaps. What I did was glue the bottom braces first, very quickly, then put glue on the front of the shelf floor and rail ends and set that all down on the shelf braces. Then I fudged it all around to get it straight before the glue set. This all takes place in about thirty seconds or less. I assembled it all in place first, to get an idea where it was supposed to go, then, took it all apart and started gluing. I followed the same process with the subsequent shelves.
Here is the first shelf in place.
Now here are all three shelves glued in place.
Of course, things couldn’t be a breeze from here. Remember all those animals? You would think it would just be a matter of gluing them on. But oh no! It couldn’t be that easy, could it???
Because this project comes in four different configurations, things have to be customized. Below is the perfect example. Half of the animals won’t fit on the backboard because the shelf braces get in the way. What that means is I’m going to have to customize these animals for each place where a brace interferes.
See the photo below.
Notice first the deer antlers. They’re much longer than that. So, I had to cut them off and glue a tiny piece on the other side of the brace. I also had to cut a wedge out of the shoulder to account for the bottom of the brace on the left. As for the fox, I had to cut its tail off and continue it on the other side. I actually cut a section out the width of the brace so it wouldn’t look out of proportion.
I had to do this with several other animals on both the middle and top shelves.
In the end, it worked out okay. Below is the final product, ready for lacquer.
Next time you should see a transformation from the raw wood into a (hopefully) beautiful finished project
The final finishing is all that’s left. I opted to spray the clear glossy lacquer on instead of brushing it on. Too many nooks and crannys to worry about.
Here is where I really deviate from what everyone else recommends. A lot of finishing experts say you should finish all the individual parts first, then glue them together. Coat them, steel wool or fine sand them down, then coat them again. Rinse and repeat several times. I suppose with certain paints and certain glues, you can get everything to stick. I don’t like that. I like the wood to be raw so the glue, at least the glue that I use, penetrates for a stronger bond.
Second, I rarely put more than one coat on. If the wood really absorbs the finish, leaving a dull surface, I’ll run over it again until it looks glossy or more solid.
Third, I don’t sand between coats. That would involve another mess to clean up. Cleaning up within all those inside cuts multiple times is not something I look forward to over and over again.
Finally, though I may end up with a glob of paint (or lacquer) here and there, a thin spot, a thick spot, a brown or light spot, you know what? I really don’t care. This is a hand-made object, not something from a machine. Sure I want it to look good, but I’m no Rembrandt. I’m not out trying to win some prize at the scroll saw championship. I could care less. I take pride in what I do but I do it for myself, not to win a prize. If you want to take the meticulous time to make it look something more than hand-made, be my guest. Make it look like more than a work of art. Or, more of a work of art. I’m quite happy with what I do. My projects are full of mistakes if you look close. So what?
Now that my philosophy is out of the way, here are my cans of lacquer, ready for use. I have two because one is almost empty. In the end, I used the almost empty one and maybe a third of the full one. Nothing fancy!
Here is another shot of the shelf in raw wood, before lacquering started. Notice my cardboard backboard. I use that broken down box for all of my spraying, such as gluing patterns and painting. I’ve had it for several years now. It’s a bit sticky, but why fix something that isn’t broke?
Here it is again after spraying. I started with the shelves, top then bottoms. After that, I did the backboard front, then back. All the time I have to make sure I get every angle of the inside cuts. That’s one reason I like spray now. With a brush, you have to get inside every tiny spot and have to worry about broken bristles sticking everywhere. Spray tends to get into all the little places. The shelf ended being positioned at just about every angle of the compass so I could get to all the different inside cuts. The trick was trying not to spray too much and getting gobs of excess dripping down on everything.
Notice how it’s a bit darker now. After drying, it’s even darker. The final photo shows it hanging on the wall. Sorry it’s a bit blurry but I took it in almost complete darkness and had to rely on the flash. I didn’t know it was unfocused until I got it up on the computer screen. The review image looked okay on the camera. Oh well, I’m not going to do it over again.
There you have it. A project, start to finish. Hope you enjoyed this essay. Maybe I’ll do some more in the future. If you have any questions about this or any of my other projects, please write me or make a comment and I’ll be glad to answer as best I can.
A CHRISTMAS GIFT
I made this one a month or two ago but couldn’t post it because it was a Christmas present and didn’t want to spill the beans until today. After my sister-in-law thanked me, I figured it was okay to let the world (the few of you that actually come here) see it.
The idea for this project came from a cheap giveaway from one of the casinos we frequent. I forget which casino, but we got several of them over the course of many months gave all except one away as Christmas presents. One we gave to my mother-in-law. When my sister-in-law saw it, she liked it and mentioned she’d love to have one also. Word got back to my wife and next thing you know, I’m using the one we kept for ourselves as a template.
The project is a rotating picture frame consisting of three medium-sized frames in a larger rectangular frame. Each one rotates so that photos can be placed back-to-back allowing six photos which can then be randomly or otherwise displayed on each side.
Here it is:
The original was made from cheap pine and the outer frame warped. I wasn’t going to tolerate that, so I made the frame not only thicker, but used well-seasoned walnut that’s been aging for over a decade in the dry Las Vegas heat in my storage shed. I don’t think warpage is going to be a problem. Second, the glass inserts in the three frames were real glass in the original. Rather than going to a glass cutter, besides wanting a safer material, I went to Lowes and purchased the thinnest Plexiglas they had. It worked just fine. Finally, I chose not to place brass clips on the edges of each frame to hold the photos in. Too complicated. Tape will work just fine or friction from the thickness of the photos.
For the inner frames, instead of using walnut and hassling with joining and such, I used three doubled thicknesses of face-to-face Luan mahogany plywood. It comes in almost 1/8-inch thick sheets at anyplace that sells lumber. By gluing the two rough sides together, you can create roughly 1/4-inch plywood, good on both sides. I sandwiched the three layers together with the center one cut in a U shape with the opening to one side so the Plexiglas and photos could slide in. I made sure the thickness of the wood and the available slot left over was wide enough for two layers of the Plexiglas plus photos to slide in without binding. I glued each sandwiched set together and cleaned up the four edges on my disc sander.
The toughest part of the job was drilling the pivot holes for the dowels. They have to be precise, not only to keep the three rotating frames from bumping each other, but also to keep from binding, allowing the frames to fall out, and sitting in the frame uneven. I set up a jig on the drill press to accomplish this so that all the holes were the same depth and at the same distance from the front edge of the top and bottom frame members. I did the same thing with each picture framed piece.
I then had to cut the dowel pieces exactly the same length or all was for naught. If one was off just a tad, a frame would bind or be out of position. If I shaved it off too short, the frame would fall out of the setting. I drilled the holes deep enough to give me a bit of slack, but I didn’t want to take any chances. I pulled it off. The last thing was pounding them in. The holes were a snug but not too tight fit. I didn’t want to break the pegs off or surgery would be involved. I tried glue on one of the pegs but that was a mistake. It actually caused friction and resistance because there as no way for the air to escape around the sides. I almost lost that one! I put all the pegs in before I glued the frame together because I had to assemble everything in one step.
I did screw up the frame edges. The 45 degree angles were not precise. I left gaps. As it turned out, my wife spotted some extra filigrees I had left over from the thermometer project shown up top and that’s those purpleheart enhancements you see in the center and in the corners. She wanted them to dress it up. I wanted them to cover the crummy corners!
Whatever the case, it worked and my sister-in-law loved it.
A PAIR OF JEWELRY BOXES
It’s been a long time since I’ve done anything out in the woodshop for too many reasons to list, mostly too boring to go into. Let’s just say the time has finally arrived and here’s the next project. I’ve got a lot of copies of these little jewelry boxes in my pattern box. They came from a book on my shelf, can’t remember which one. I can tell though because the page numbers are at the bottom of each copy! Maybe when I’m more motivated, I’ll dig into the bookshelf and figure out which book they came from and post an image of the cover somewhere down below, or at least give credit for the title.
I’ve been wanting to do some more jewelry boxes or log slices, or something along those lines because I have all this wood available. The log slices are a bit harder to get started because I have to cut the slices with a chain or band saw, then either plane or drum sand them down. That’s almost more work than cutting the designs, so I’ll save that for another time. In this case, these cute little boxes were just calling to me. I’ve never done these exact patterns plus they are relatively simple yet look good and will give me a chance to try out a new pattern technique as you’ll see below, as well as a wood I’ve never worked with.
For this project, I’m using lacewood. I’ve always thought lacewood came from the London Plane Tree, or Sycamore, but eau contraire! Apparently, what we know as commercial lacewood comes from South America. There are several varieties, as usual, but what I have I positively identified as the most common type found in South America.
The wood came in 3/4-inch thickness which is way too thick for such small boxes, so I had to plane it down to 1/2-inch, which not only made it easier to work with, but also cleaned the boards and flattened them out. Lacewood is a very splintery wood and comes with cracks and worm holes, at least all the pieces I’ve seen. It seemed like I wasted a lot of wood but in actuality, I improved the quality of the pieces. Here is the difference below. Notice not only the thickness, but the color difference after planing.
The wood came with several cracks throughout the length. I had to work with those in mind as I laid out the patterns.
Here you can see where I had to set the pattern on a cut piece to avoid one of the cracks. The crack is the faint “darker” grain line below the edge of the paper.
Here are the initial patterns laid out for each box.
The next thing I did was precut the sides. One thing I’ve learned about making these boxes, never ever cut square fitted pieces using the scroll saw! It doesn’t work, trust me! There’s no way a blade the width of several hairs is going to cut a straight line, no matter how carefully you follow the pattern. Not only that, the extra tedium of cutting that long line is not necessary. You also have to consider the corners. If you want to use a mitre, like 45 degrees, which I do, you’ll never get a good accurate cut on a scroll saw. I precut the square sides on my table and compound mitre saw along with the mitred corners and prefit them. That way, I can just slap the patterns on to each piece and cut out the inside cuts. Here are the two box assemblies slapped together with the pattern pieces below them.
The next step was to apply the patterns. I recently picked up the latest copy of Creative Woodworks & Crafts and there is an excellent article on how to apply patterns. My tried-and-true method has been to apply spray glue to the back of each paper pattern piece, allow it to set a moment, then apply it to the wood. Works well. Unfortunately, I usually have to use Goof Off solvent to remove the pattern and the residual glue. This not only causes a mess but can lead to coating issues. It’s always worked for me but this article made me think. The author likes to use blue painters tape not only for lubing the blade so it will last longer, but also to keep that tacky glue off the wood. I’ve heard of this before but never tried it. His other method was to use double-sided masking tape and avoid the glue altogether. On my quest to find the double sided masking tape, which I never did, I picked up a roll of blue painter’s tape to give it a try. The result is below.
With that on there, I still sprayed my pattern pieces.
Let the glue sit a moment.
There you have it. Patterns, ready to be drilled.
Drilling progressed with no issues because the pieces are small enough that they fit within the throat of the press with no problem. If not, I’d have to use a hand drill.
Here are the pieces drilled out and ready to cut.
The piece cut and now for the big test, ready to peel off the pattern. Sorry for the bad exposure. Didn’t notice until I downloaded it to the computer.
I was amazed how easily the tape peeled right off. There was no residual glue left on the wood at all. Plus, I could see no kerf left on the inside edges of the wood (flaking bits of wood). Very clean. So far, I like this blue tape method and I don’t have to mess with chemicals anymore.
That’s it for now. So far, this little project is working out well. Lacwood, though an easy wood to work with as far as cutting and holding a pattern, tends to have a lot of splinters along the outer edges. My hands are still full of them several days later. Watch out!
Until next time…
* * * DETOUR * * *
A FLAG DISPLAY CASE
I had to take a slight detour in April when my father-in-law passed. He received a full Air Force military funeral with honor guard and a tri-folded flag. My mother-in-law wanted to display the flag so I started working on a display case. This was one of the most difficult projects I’ve ever done! It should have been simple but calculating and getting the angles just right went beyond me for some reason, and it took a lot of “cackelating,” ”figgering,” and ”contemporating” to finally get it just right. I wanted to make it out of real wood, wood I’ve witnessed cut from a raw log, and not something I picked up at the store. Since I have an abundance of raw walnut, well…
Turns out, that walnut, though a great wood, was a lot rawer than I ever imagined! During this process, not only did I have immense trouble finding pieces good enough to plane, I blew up my planer in the middle of one run and had to go out and get another one to finish the remaining board feet. Even after all that, with the wood having dried in the Las Vegas near-zero humidity for over a decade, I still ended up with some slight warping that I had to deal with.
I was so afraid of getting something wrong. I ran our of clean enough pieces that were long enough, wide or thin enough to use without wasting a huge amount of wood. I managed.
The project took from late April until October, but it was worth it. The funny thing is that in early September, we made a trip to Hobby Lobby in Henderson, Nevada and guess what I saw in the section next to the picture framing area? Yup, almost exactly the same thing! However, it was almost $90. Considering the effort and grief I spent on this labor of love, I’d have probably saved money buying one but I’d rather know my hand went into something for my mom and pop-in-law. They’re the greatest. Besides, it wasn’t all bad! I still had a great time once I got those cuts just right.
Here are a few photos of the results.
The precise measurements for the angles were NOT 45 degrees! The compartment is 16 X 16 X 23, an exact match to the folded flag. The bottom compartment is for the shell casings the honor guard fired plus any medals Grandma may want to add. The thing is that she has to mount them to the bottom piece because it’s the removable part so the Plexiglas front can slide out of the groove it sits in.
The left side showing the walnut wood grain.
The right side showing more grain and knots that add character.
The bottom is held on with four large wood screws. The bottom board also has a miter groove in it for the Plexiglas like the sides up to the peak.
I gave it two coats of spray lacquer. No fancy rubbing or steel wool. Just a coating to keep the moisture out and darken the wood. There are plenty of paint globs on it I probably should’ve rubbed out but didn’t. Hey, it’s HAND MADE!
I’m sure glad I did this project but am also relieved it’s over.
Now, back to the jewelry boxes!
Until next time.
The jewelry box is humming right along now that I have time for it. Below are the completed lacewood pieces. Also, you can see the two top inset pieces, ready to cut. They’ll be made out of aspen, which is a very white wood and should contrast nicely with the lacewood, especially after they get a coating of lacquer.
When I cut the two bottom pieces, I switched from my usual 2-ott 29 TPI blade to a heavier 20 TPI reverse-tooth blade. This blade has the teeth reversed at the bottom for a short bit so that on the up-stroke, the cutting hits the bottom of the wood and prevents kerf (fuzzing the edges) underneath. I also used the heavier blade because the outside is one long continuous cut that I wanted to be smooth. That thin double-ott blade would lead to a much more wobbly finish on the outer edge.
One more thing I did this time around. On the inner folds, which appear sharp on the pattern, I used to take a lot of time going into the groove, backing up, cutting around so I could come in from the other side of the pattern, and hitting it from that side, all for the sake of making that inside groove more pointy. I found that what I ended up doing was usually mess it up and leave multiple blade digs in the groove that I usually had to either file out or just leave.
This time, what I did is when I came into the groove and hit the point, I pulled the piece against the back of the blade (away from the cutting teeth) and quickly swiveled the piece around and headed out along the pattern. Turns out the cuts were smoother and I didn’t have that gouging I usually got trying to make a sharper V pattern. The pointy grooves may not be as sharp of a V, but who cares? Nobody will notice anyway! See the photo below.
Next is something I should’ve thought about a long time ago, which I think I did a long time ago and somehow got out of the habit. Whenever you’re working with an especially splintery wood, it’s a good idea to sand out of the edges! Trust me on this, after getting more than my share of splinters from this lacewood, especially today, it finally dawned on me that I should’ve taken the time to dress up the raw piece before I put the patterns on. It would have saved me a lot of grief. I even still have a splinter in my finger as I’m typing this! See an example of the edge of a piece below.
Finally, since I now use the painter’s tape method and glue my patterns to the tape, it’s been a fantastic way to avoid unnecessary sanding and dealing with that sticky glue spray. However, don’t forget to get rid of the overhang on your work piece! If it gets onto the underside of the board, watch out! When I was cutting the two bottom pieces, I remembered to cut away the overhang on the one but forgot the other. I found out what friction really is when I started the other one and almost screwed up the first few inches of the cut. That sucker grabbed the table like it was glued down! Once I realized what was going on, all it took was a few snips with the scissors and the wood glided right along with almost no friction. Live and learn. Look at the edge below (already trimmed on the yet-to-be-cut aspen piece) to see what I’m talking about.
Notice how the tape doesn’t curl all the way around to the bottom side? If you use this method or something similar for attaching your designs, make sure you don’t add brakes to the underside of your wood!
Well, that’s it for this stanza. Next time, I should have the insets cut and everything will be ready for final sanding and assembly.
Until then, later!