Thursday, September 25, 2008

9.5 Outta 10 Ain't Bad...

"Virgil Briggman is back on the air...", "Good morning Vietnam!", and all that crap. So, I'm sitting here waiting for my double-dose of Percocet to kick in, I thought I'd sneak in my first blog in a while. As you may or may not know, I had a little "industrial accident" in the shop Friday morning.
That roughly translates to cutting my middle f'ing finger off (I'm already qualified to be a high school shop teacher). Luckily, it was still hanging by a little flap of skin, so I didn't have to go through the agony of looking for it.

I was in the process of milling 2" legs for the matching night stands that will complete our bedroom suite. Anyhoo, I was doing something relatively safe, and something I do all the time. I use 4/4 stock to do all my glue ups, since thicker stuff is more expensive, and I think it's a little more environmentally responsible. I'm modifying the plans to beef up the leg thickness to give it a much more substantial, antique look, that worked really well on the dresser. So Friday morning, I was ripping my blanks to 2+ inches, so they could be jointed and planed down to their finished thickness/width. I was actually thinking about safety as I was pushing the
4+ inch wide, 2+ inch thick board along the rip fence. Halfway through
4+ 4+
the board I grabbed the push stick to finish the cut with my right hand safely out of the way. For some reason, at the very end of the board, maybe I torqued it by not having enough lateral force fom the push stick.
Whatever the cause, I don't have anti-kickback rollers or a splitter installed, so that's my bad. Anyway, the board shot back toward me, missing my ribcage (thank god I always allow kickback clearance) and somehow drug my hand back with it. With the way my hand had contorted because of the kickback, my middle finger took the brunt. I thought my ring finger got compressed and was broken, but it turned out that my index snapped. There's also a nice gash on my thumb that took my thumbnail off, along with the bone tip. All in all, a pretty gruesome sight. I haven't had the guts to look at any pics (which I was thoughtful enough to insist on) or the x-rays, which we might've actually stolen. Always thinking about the blog!

After emitting a scream that elicited from the depths of my soul when I saw my finger flopping loosely, I calmly took control of the situation by clamping my right hand around my wrist and getting Kim to stop doing her decapitated chicken dance. We put the remains of my hand in a bag of ice, and tied a tea-towel around my wrist. Kim managed to beep the car and I was able to just barely crawl into the passenger side before blacking out, which would've been a major problem for Kim to get me into the car by herself.

There were typical communication issues with the various medical personnel we encountered. Somebody asked where my finger was. I said "In the bag".
The discrepancy caused Kim to have to go home and look for more parts. They kept changing their minds on which digits were involved. The shots into the base of each digit were excruciating. They kept asking me silly questions like name, age and pain rated from 1-10. Some bookkeeping yutz came out and immediately started discussing financing options, while I was mentally preparing myself to be an amputee.

Another ambulance ride, and I was in Stanford. I won't bore you with any additional details, but some of the highlights were "F**k Seth Thomas", regarding how slow the minutes were during the nights they wouldn't let me sleep more than an hour. When the nurse who had just given me a suppository (the size and shape of a rifle bullet) asked if I needed anything else, I said, "Hell, I was going to ask you out to dinner!". The same nurse, upon removing my catheter, told me that if I didn't pee in the next six hours, it would have to go back in. I leaned over to Lisa Chapin and said, "She gets me. Incentive through implied threat". I dutifully spent the next two hours trying to pee into an empty jug, something I used to do all the time when driving between Austin and Houston. On a side note, I'm still "farting" out my peehole, which is something I've never experienced in all my 39 years, and certainly wasn't on the list (way down from three-way with twins). It doesn't get much better than that, though. I can certainly tell you that much.

Well, I'm kind of tuckered out after this, so I'm going to watch TV through a narcotic haze. "Hi, I'm Chris Larsen and I've been sober for five days..."

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Bistro Table

This was another commission piece for a friend who had a party house on the lake. He has a billiard room with Pottery Barn stools and wanted a matching bistro table. He had a bunch of Ipe (Brazilian Walnut) laying around after a flooring project, so we thought it would be a great way to salvage/recyle the wood that was just sitting under his deck. I loaded up a stool and the wood and headed off to the shop. I carefully measured the stool and drew up a proportionate table in AutoCAD. After getting his approval from the drawings, I dug in. Ipe makes the most horrible saffron colored micro-sawdust in the world. It's also unbelievably hard and abrasive, so it trashes your tools.

This was also my first foray into loose-tenon jointer (ala David Marks), and I'm glad I did. Loose tenon joinery allowed me to make the eight degree cuts on the aprons and stetchers nice and clean, without having to worry about tenon extensions. I made a jig out of MDF and cut the oversized pattern out to make 3/8" tenons.

The happy accident was that because the the jig sits flush against the end grain of the tenon and the face of leg, the tenons are perfectly aligned and registered between the two pieces, so the joinery is perfect. I set the depth of cut on the router bit to allow 1/16" for hydraulic squeeze-out. The piece was delivered unfinished because the client wanted to use the same finish as the floor, which would make it match, and also make it quite durable.

Craftsman Bookends

Fun little project I saw in an advertisement in the back of "American Bungalow" magazine. I had some scrap red oak laying around and my girlfriend had to go out for the afternoon for a business meeting (we work from home). I showed the ad to her, she said she liked it, so I said I'd have it done by the time she got home. "Yeah, right", she said. Sure enough, a few hours later, the raw piece was sitting on the counter. The hardest part was chiseling out the four little holes on each side. Gluing the thing together so that the two respective halves slid freely, without too much slop was really trying. I ended up using dowels to give it enough strength. I have since overstessed it and I think broke some of the dowel fibers, but that should be easy enough to fix. This piece ended up being fumed with the tabouret tables, so once again, the red oak didn't turn out as well as I hoped, even though I had been warned. It currently resides on my desk, holding all of my .ASP, .HTML, .CSS, and SQL manuals. It used to hold all of our commonly used cookbooks on the back of the kitchen sink peninsula.

Craftsman Headboard

My first "big" project. I had been living my entire adult life without a headboard, and I had been feeling a tad white trash to say the least. We decided to bite the bullet and build this, even though we were moving in a month, which basically meant I had to knock it out quick and use it for only a few nights before we packed. $300 worth of quarter-sawn white oak and I was off. This was my first foray into QSWO, but after the tabouret debacle, I haven't looked back since. Following the illustrated and photographed plans, I was able to make the parts and the box-joint jig required to assemble the headboard. Assembling it for the dry fit was a two hour process, which involved a lot of creative vocabulary. After getting the assembly procedure down, it was time for the glue-up. This part always stresses me out because it's a point of no return kind of thing. The glue up went relatively well. Since I glued it up in a tiny apartment, and I had to move the dinette set out of the way to make room. Beause no wall was long enough for the headboard, I had to lean it against the wall at an angle to cure, which gave it a decided rack, which we did not think about until it was time to bolt it to the mattress frame. It's 1/2" out across the six feet, but there's not a lot I can do about it now. I finished it with TransTint #6003 Reddish Brown, with several coats of hand-rubbed poly, just in time to use it for a week. All of my woodworking friends thought I was crazy to start a project of that magnitude while we were packing, but I didn't know when I was going to have the time to make something so personally important afterwards. This piece was made in the spring of '08. It ended up being the first piece in an entire bedroom set.

This was my first commission piece for a friend of ours. They were remodeling their master suite, and needed something light and airy to match the basin they had already purchased from Ikea. They had a very specific finish recipe, which they had used on the red oak floor (i.e. Minwax "Sedona Red" and "Golden Oak"). We discussed design elements, some of which were against my personal tastes, but once I drew it up in AutoCAD, I was thrilled with how it turned out and I learned a huge lesson about being open-minded. I had to purchase a minimal amount of wood because another friend had given me some rather dramatic oak from skids he had salvaged from work. Sawing them down on my contractor's saw ended up burning out the motor. Since I was in a time crunch, I ended up buying a nice 10" Delta hybrid saw that has since seen hundreds of hours of use. I arranged the four legs to optimize the "show" sides, since there were lots of knots. I also made the lattice just like you see teak decks on old-school sailboats. Making the box joint jig really helped out, and the entire lattice assemble fit very snugly into its hole. I used dowel pegs to suspend the lattice work invisibly, and to allow for easy removal. They were ecstatic with it, and I gained an appreciation for what you can find at Ikea.

Gamble House Motawi Tile Frame

We were quite inspired by our trip to the Gamble House in the Fall of '06. After the tour, we spent an hour in the bookstore garage. My girlfriend really liked the Motawi tiles they had there, and I was so jazzed about all of the joinery I had just seen that I told her that I would make her a Gamble-esque frame for them. Boy, was I naive! This frame took me at least 40 hours to make. I even had to quit working on it for a few weeks to get my head around how to glue up all of the parts in the right order. The spline joines were tough to align. I used pocket screws to clamp the major pieces together, but they interfered with the splines. I was really pleased with my scarf joint cheat. I actually cut the piece in half long-ways and cut the angle on all the parts with the same miter saw cut, thus ensuring they would perfectly align. I then ganged the parts together and ran them across the dado blade, making the hole for the big pin. All in all, I'm very happy with my one and only foray into tile framing. Of course you should never say never. She was obviously very happy with it, even after my bad moods from coming into the shop. Ironically, her dad gave her another Motawi tile, framed very elegantly and simply with his awesome craftsman finish.

Magazine Rack

I designed and made this magazine rack in the fall of 2006. It fit perfectly on the small wall across from the toilet, under the towel rack in my apartment. It was finished with Minwax's "Vermont Maple" water-based stain. Back then, it was the best Craftsman finish I knew how to produce. It was designed to fit one month's worth of all of my sailing magazines, except for "Sailing". The spindles are partially lap jointed into the rails. It was actually much more difficult to get the spindles perfectly centered and vertical than I expected. Now I would gang parts up and be much more efficient and accurate. This was also done on my contractor's saw.

Tabouret Tables

My first real foray into "fine" woodworking. A buddy of mine introduced me to the design when he made one for his son's nursery. It was from "Popular Mechanics - Mission Furniture - How to Make It". We later found the entire book in the Gamble House Book store and snapped it up. I ignorantly went to Home Depot and bought $100 worth of red oak and went to town on it. Somewhere in the middle of making the lap joints on the stretchers, I realized that I only needed two sets to make one table. I had inadvertantly made four sets, unconsciously thinking that a table required four legs. When I realized my "mistake", I quickly went back to HD and bought more wood for a second top and additional legs. With just a little more work and expense, I now was the proud owner of two tables. My buddy had already experimented with ammonio fuming, ala Stickley, so all of the research telling me that red oak doesn't fume well, I fumed them. They turned out a muddy green color. I then coated them with water-based poly and put them into service. The good news is that the red oak has darkened considerably over the last year, so I might not have to strip them and refinish them. This was the second to last piece I did on my contractor's table saw, so I was a tad limited. This piece was done in the fall of 2006.

Monday, September 1, 2008

What I Did With My Tax Relief Check...

For a long time now, I've been living out of one of those damned Rubbermaid dressers from Wal-Mart. It's made me feel a little white trash, so I took a couple of weeks off from working on Cathi's house and bought some quartersawn white oak for some plans that I've had for years. Six hundred dollars later, my truck now popping a wheelie up 680, I unload a couple of hundred pounds of QSWO, poplar and plywood into the garage. The dresser is called a gentleman's chest, and is a standard Arts & Crafts piece of bedroom furniture. I really liked the asymmetrical look and the flexibility of the cabinet opposite the smaller drawers.

I started cutting out the parts of the case (which gives the frame rigidity and reduces seasonal wood movement, which would cause the drawers to bind) being extremely careful to cut them as perfecty square as possible. Taking the time to make these parts perfect will yield serious dividends later on. I cut the dadoes in the case for the intersecting parts, making sure they all aligned perfectly. Any error would be noticeable and interfere with drawer movement. Once all of the parts for the case were made, I glued it up in stages, according to the directions and went to work on the oak. Carefully selecting the wood for optimal aesthetics. The medullary ray flake/fleck is one of the most striking aspects of quartersawn white oak. Ironically, Gustav Stickley used ammonia fuming on his furniture to subdue the ray flake to give his pieces a more homogenous look. Most woodworkers today take great pains in formulating their finishes to celebrate this effect, which in certain light and at certain angles is actually reflective.

I cut out the dozens of pieces of QSWO to the dimensions in the plans, labeled each with a part number and the "show" side, then starded applying the parts to the case. I had to cut wide slabs of QSWO into thin panels using a technique called resawing, which means holding the board on edge and running it across the band saw (the $200 band saw I got off of CraigsList in Austin for $80 because the guy didn't want to have to put it together). That was first for me and required me to make a special jig for the bandsaw to align the board properly. Luckily, I was able to plane the panels down to the proper thickness, which means I didn't get off center too much. The panels were prestained so no unstained edges might show. The sides went together first, then when cured, they were applied to the case. This formed the inside dimensions I needed to apply all of the oak to the plywood edge, thus hiding the plywood and making the entire dresser appear to be of solid oak.

The top got glued up and all of the trim pieces were applied. It was starting to look like a piece of furniture. Camping and sailing got in the way, but when we got back, I dove back in, finishing the case. It was now time to make the drawers.

Following the directions, I planed $100 worth of 3/4"+ poplar down to the 1/2" in the plans. Since the large drawers were taller than the poplar was wide, I had to glue them up. The next day, when picking up the cured 1/2" panels, they snapped off on the glue lines. Quite bummed out, I went and bought more 3/4" poplar and started building the drawers without planing it down. I reasoned that it would be much beefier than the flimsy 1/2" stuff. Unfortunately, this caused a whole slew of modifications in the drawer dimensions. When it came time to cut the drawers' lock joint, I setup the table saw for the original 1/2" thickness and proceeded to make the first set of cuts on all of the applicable boards. When I realized I had made a mistake, I then had to figure out how to salvage the drawer stock. I settled on a symmetrical "T" shaped joint, which was necessarily thinner than the sturdier "L" joint I should have had, but there was nothing I could do at this point.

I also have to mention that I originally had planned on making my dresser with dovetail joints, but after messing with the $200 dovetail jig I bought for the occasion, having the spindle come out of my new router (which is an all day repair job), and finding out that Stickley pieces have a lock joint, I settled on what I thought was going to be the lesser of two evils.

Case w/ Door
When glueing up the drawers, I realized I had made another mistake. The back of the drawer should be shorter than the sides, so the drawer bottom overlaps the back for nailing purposes. I had made the back of the drawer the same height, cut the groove for the drawer bottom in the back, and had cut the drawer bottom short enought to fit into the back groove. The drawer bottoms should've been 1/2" deeper. Because drawer bottoms are loosely fit to allow for seasonal wood expansion, they aren't glued in. As a result, my drawer bottoms are completely loose, captured in the groove on all four sides, instead of nailed/screwed in the back, so they have a nice, loose sound. I hope that when I pile my tidy whities into the drawers, the weight and muffling will compensate.

When fitting the drawers, each drawer had to be numbered and paired with each opening in the case, based on a best fit trial and error process. There were slight differences in the opening dimensions and drawer sizes that seem to me almost unavoidable, considering the care I took. Each drawer was custom sanded to fit into it's respective slot.

When I was happy with the fit, it was time to make the QSWO faces for each drawer. Once again, the required height was taller than my board width, so I broke out the glue once again. This time, everything went well, and I had some nice looking boards with glue lines that were mostly inconspicuous. The medullary ray flake was spectacular on the board I saved for these parts, and the front of the dresser is a writhing exploding celebration of QSWO. Each face was custom fit into its respective drawer, then double stick taped to the drawers with shims underneath to center them in the opening. Gingerly removed, making sure to keep the tape from slipping, the drawers were screwed to the faces from the inside. These screw holes indexed the faces to the drawers, so I was able to remove them and put several coats of hand-rubbed polyurethane on them, which really brings out the luster of the finish (which is TransTint Reddish Brown #6003, thanks to Kim's dad Joe). I still have to disassemble everything and put several coats of poly on the case, but otherwise, it's a done deal. It weighs about 200 pounds, so getting it into the house is going to be interesting. It exactly matches the headboard I made before we left Austin, so I'm on my way to a complete bedroom set. I looked online, and comparable dressers are going for $2,000-$2,500, so I think it was a good investment. I'm looking forward to it being in place, loading it up, and moving the Rubbermaid dresser out into the shop for tool storage.

Friday, August 29, 2008

Setting Up Shop

I've recently become addicted to blogs like treefrogfurniture and woodwhisperer, so I thought I'd give it a shot. This blog is entirely dedicated to my mediocre woodworking skills. For pertinent details of the rest of my life, check out the Larsenoster blog. For those of you that may not know, I'm seriously into Craftsman/Arts & Crafts/Mission style furniture. I've made a fair amount of it so far, and am advancing with every project. I started out with a picture frame, then made a coat tree, some tabouret tables, more picture frames, a headboard, and most recently a dresser to match. I'll post pics once I get this blog up and running. I recently joined LumberJocks, which is a really cool site, with lots of excellent projects. I will endeavor to keep this blog updated with my projects. After the dresser is finished, I'll be making a dog feeding stool and probably some more picture frames. I've got a mica lamp kit that I need to do something about too. My girlfriend needs a piano bench with some storage. Ultimately, I'd like to build at least one Morris bow arm chair, a side table to go with it, another lamp, a grandfather clock ala New Yankee Workshop's Tall Case Clock, and new dinette set. I'm a big fan of Stickley, although I'm willing to stray. We also went to the Gamble House last year, and the Greene and Greene style is really appealing to me, although as accent pieces. All the cloud lifts really are a bit much for me. Anyhoo, check out my LumberJocks projects until I can get this up and running.