Monday, January 27, 2014

My first attempt at woodgraining

I've been wanting to give woodgraining a go for quite some time. I think that this type of work and other decorative techniques (Japanning, tortoiseshelling, etc.) are severely underrepresented in current period woodworking. We all want to make a Newport secretary in mahogany, or a W&M high chest in walnut, but I think its important to recognize that those pieces are the stunning exceptions to the mundane every day rule. There was an awful lot of furniture made in the 18th century that didn't necessarily make it to museums... but that doesn't make it any less worthy of reproduction.

I've built a couple of this size / style pine chests of drawers in the last year or so. Some have had ball feet, others (like this one) bracket feet. This feature alone would highlight this piece as a slightly later style, perhaps leading into Queen Anne.

I wanted to broaden my skillset, so I built another one of these pieces and grain painted it.  I had aimed for walnut, but in reality I think I achieved more of a mahogany-like surface. It looks pretty good from about 6 feet away, perhaps good enough to fool someone into believing it is real. Close up, the little details that make wood, well, wood, are missing. But that is exactly what this technique should produce.

My chosen method was a couple of coats of chocolate brown milk paint, followed by numerous coats of a dark brown oil-based glaze. This glaze was brushed around to simulate the grain.  After that, I selectively applied a black oil-based glaze to darken areas (making the finish coloration less uniform). Once I was happy with the look, I applied five coats of blonde shellac, which was then rubbed out with dark brown paste wax and 0000 steel wool..

I learned a lot from trying this and will definitely try this technique again.

On other fronts, I'm in the home stretch of completing the woodworking on a Hepplewhite huntboard. The last major thing I have yet to start is the veneering of the top. I am aiming to have this piece done in time for SAPFM's period furniture show at the Detroit Institute of Art in March.

Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Gooseneck Cabinet is finished - sash door, finish and availability

Well, its done. The sash door has been built and installed, using hardware from the ever-wonderful Londonderry Brasses catalog.  The finish has been applied, 18th century pattern paper now lines the shelves. Now I have to hold on to it until the end of March for its exhibition at the Detroit Institute of Arts / SAPFM period furniture show. After that, I will be looking for a new home for the piece. If anyone is interested, please contact me at for pricing / delivery.

A breakdown of the finish:

I started by rubbing in a little BLO, then sealed that with a couple of coats of blonde shellac. After that, I used a dark brown glaze to even out any color differential in the cherry as well as color the pine top to more closely resemble the cherry. Then, I put on five coats of blonde shellac. Finally, I rubbed out the shellac with 0000 steel wool and dark brown paste wax, leaving a small amount of wax in the sash moldings and in the volutes. The wax was then rubbed down with linen cloth, providing a final glossy (but not too shiny) finish. 

I may add a little more wax in the sash moldings, they need a little "schmutzing" up. 

Some have asked for a description of how I did the sash door. I tried to take photographs but I needed three (maybe four) hands to do that.  So I wrote a quick description:

The stock has to be precisely the same thickness (3/4") for the joinery to come out right and for the door to close properly. So I had to thickness plane with accuracy. Not a usual thing for me but easy enough. I cut the stock close to the right length at this point. I would have preferred to make it all from one length, but the cutoff of cherry I was using was not long enough to make that happen. I just went with the flow.

Lay out joinery by scribing a 1/4" wide space that is 1/4" in from the front face. Mark out mortise and tenon locations in all stock together as much as possible to keep things nice and square. Chop mortises, then cut in the 1/4" x 1/4" glazing rabbet (on a small piece this will help prevent blowing out pieces of your fillet, which you will do if you try to chop after the glazing rabbet has been cut). Reset fillister plane to cut 1/4" wide by 1/8" deep rabbet. Plane one rabbet using the front face as your reference, then plane another using the top edge as reference. This will leave you a small fillet which will later be rounded off with a hollow plane (I didn't have a sash ovolo this small, so I had to make what I had work).

Cut tenons, then round off molding (done last to protect the molding). Then cope tenon shoulders to a miter and then to fit over the molding on the mortised piece. Tweak the fit as necessary to end up with a square door with mullions that are straight and not too wonky.

Assemble the center first, then add the top and bottom rail, then put on the left and right stiles. Clamp and drink the beverage of your choice.

This sash door is pretty easy. About two hours of actual work from rough stock to assembled and glued. Larger sash take a lot longer. 

Well, that is the last post on the gooseneck. Another beauty in the bag. Next up is a Hepplewhite sideboard for my wife. It will be nice to build a piece with intent to keep it for once!


Tuesday, December 31, 2013

Sneak peak at an incredible tool box find

Solid mahogany. Yes, that is a mirrored door. No tools, but I see this as a blank canvas on which to work, using it to store my best woodworking tools.

It was a steal. More information and better pictures to come... (I invested in some professional photography equipment recently...)

My hanging cabinet is nearly done. Pics of that to come as well.

Happy New Year to one and all. I sincerely hope for the best 2014 you can imagine.


Thursday, December 26, 2013

We don't need no steenking overarm router... or How I hand-carve gooseneck moldings.

The inlay I designed and installed, the moldings carved, and some linseed oil applied.
During the holiday, I spent a fair amount of time working on my cabinet. The gooseneck moldings needed to be carved to match the returns.  This had to be done freehand with carving chisels (no overarm router in my shop), but it only has to match perfectly at the miter. It can (and should) vary a little as it goes up the molding. This is an important thing to make sure the molding looks right. It should not be perfect when hand made. To me, machine precision is just wrong in this situation.

First I laid out the molding, using the return as the template. Both the profile of the molding and the thickness at the facade back had to be scribed onto the work. I also marked a line on the inside of the molding that corresponds to the depth of the waste that existed above the entire profile (i.e. I could remove all of it without taking any of the profile away). This is akin to cutting rabbets when using molding planes to cut straight sections of profiled work.

Profile I am aiming for.

First I used a purfling cutter to mark out the fillet at the top of the profile. I deepened this mark with a carving knife. I then cut away all the waste down to the inside pencil line using a very long, very sharp paring chisel.

Rough cutting the waste

Final cuts.
 After I had the rabbet cut in, I used the same chisel to cut the remaining waste down to a bevel that terminates on the inside pencil line (determined by the return molding's bottom fillet) and the terminus point of the top curve in the molding. One has to be very careful near the volute, as the grain rises there and it is very easy to split off the work (you can see the rougher quality of the chisel work in this picture).

With the bevel cut, I then turned to my favorite #8 Addis carving gouge. This gouge saw a lot of work on this piece, as it was responsible for most of the volute as well. Taking great care, I carved a trough down the center of the bevel to guide the gouge. I then took progressively deeper cuts until the profile was roughed in.

I then used a wider backbent #8 gouge to act like a jointer plane, knocking down the highest of the facets left by my gouge. 

This left a very interesting texture in the molding.  I had a very hard time scraping this away, as I thought it looked very nice as it was. 

Neat texture left by the gouge. I may leave them on a future piece.
As I am aiming for period-correct in all respects, I smoothed the facets down quite a bit. You can't really see them, but if you touch the molding you can feel them. This matches exactly many of the period pieces I have been lucky enough to study. 

The finished molding (and a sneak peak at the inlay layout.