Thursday, February 18, 2010

The Best It's Ever Been

When Sue and I began building our house, we knew that it would be a constant work in progress. I've often envied folks with the means or insight to wait until a house was absolutely finished to move in (do they really exist?). As time has worn on and projects get completed, I've come to see working on the house as sort of a boost to my sense of optimism. I love the moment when I get to step back and say "This is the best that it's ever been!"

Here's some before and afters of the kitchen project (doors and drawers yet to come)

It's not finished by a longshot, but just think of all the opportunities to revel in a new appreciation that I have left!

The countertop glows with the curl in the cherry, maybe I'll even set a sweating glass on it someday.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

Strange Days Indeed

These days are filled with so many different types of work that I am beginning to get a headache from changing hats so often. Lucky for me, I have some help in the form of Seth Weizenecker. Seth is a recent graduate of the North Bennet Street School and attended both of the classes that I taught there last year.

I decided to take advantage of his cabinet expertise to finish the countertop for my kitchen project. Seth is a real expert with his handmade persimmon handplanes.

The cherry that I cut off my property about 5 years ago and had cut on a bandsaw mill is serving as the lumber for the project. I don't have a jointer and the material is a bit thin to mill completely anyway, so we decided to just flatten one side and leave the underside rough to preserve the thickness. To join the breadboard ends, we used a simple router jig that references off of the flat face. Below is a sample of the tenon, I noticed the bark and couldn't resist the photo.

Here I am, (my wife says I look concerned, and she's right) with the router jig. By referencing off of one face and using a spacer, the thickness of the tenon is uniform.

What can I say, yuk.

But the results were sweet, although the bit did vibrate loose at one point.

The mortise portion of the jig was rough going, but you can't tell from the outside. Frankly, I have no interest in working to improve the routing of this joint. If I really want to have some fun, I'll follow my dream and get a dovetail plane!

Here is the half lap dovetail that joins the breadboard into the L of the countertop.

I think Seth enjoyed this little detail.

Here you can see the rough underside.

And the finished face! It really came out lovely.

After a little scribing to fit the space, the counter actually snapped into place.
Below is Seth working on my new kiln, which is now done and I'll post after showing the finished kitchen.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Thinking Inside the Box

My kitchen cabinet project is coming along nicely, although I can already feel it stalling out before all the doors are done. Here is the "before" photo. We moved in about 6 years ago and have been roughing it with a couple of cabinets and the blue hutch that I built in my Manhattan kitchen 11 years ago. The hutch was my first project with milk paint and took up just about the entire kitchen.

We put the fan in last summer. It's amazing how you can cease to see exposed ducting and 2X4's after such a short while. As you can see, counterspace and storage are sadly lacking in this part of the room. Below is one of the cabinets, just about ready to go in.

I joined the carcass together with tongue and grooves that I made on the tablesaw. I like the accuracy of the alignment etc...but beyond that, I pocket screwed the faceframes together and nailed them onto the boxes. Down and dirty for sure. The shelves are edged with solid strips to prevent sagging and to give an opportunity for decoration. I use a Stanley 45 (very fun) to plane a bead into the front of each shelve, after all, I had to feel like I was woodworking!

This box has a bay for some shelves on the left and drawers on the right. I will be dovetailing the drawers, mainly because I need the practice.
Below is a sketch of my plan for the countertop. I plan to use breadboard ends to keep the cherry flat and for a nice detail.

I cut this cherry off of our land about 5 years ago and had it milled into 1 1/2" thick boards. Even though some of them are 15" across of clear heartwood, I sawed them down to prevent outrageous warpage, it is a kitchen after all.

And here's the Chairnotes covergirl in a different sort of eating venue. When I saw her head out the door in my dingy old Carhartts and mud boots I must admit that I swooned a bit.

We still don't know if Maggie is "in a family way" yet, apparently young goats play their cards close to the chest, but we have high hopes for kids this spring!
I'll post the "after" photos of the kitchen when the counter goes in. I'm afraid that if I wait for all the doors to be done that we could be here a while.

Saturday, February 6, 2010

Distant Cousins

What's that about the cobblers children having no shoes? Well, in my house there are plenty of places to park yourself, but for 6 years since we built the house, we've been lacking proper kitchen cabinets. So finally, out come the brad nailer, pocket holer, birch ply and wood filler!

When I built the house, I was careful to follow a "rustic" farmhouse aesthetic, which basically means that I can slam the stuff out, paint it a couple of times and it just oozes authenticity.
The smell of the plywood cutting on the tablesaw was like a time machine, I used to spend most of my time ripping up the stuff and putting it back together. It was a melancholy moment, but not without fond memories.

These days, I'm overly busy with all sorts of different projects which would seem to make this one take an even lower priority, but I've found that sometimes I just need a distraction from all the "important" stuff to make time pass a bit easier. Plus, in the big picture, all the chairs will leave, but the cabinets will stick around. Now what's more important!?

Even though I know that my lovely bride would have embraced these cabinet years ago, she has never once asked me to add the project to my list, preferring to share a bit more free time with me. Just one more reminder that I've made at least one good choice in my life!
So this morning, I'll head into the cold shop to finish the cabinets, while she is taking a three legged beagle on the first leg of its trip to the new home that she found for it. Ike, Good luck on your journey to Cape Cod, not a bad retirement for an ol' hunting dog.

Friday, February 5, 2010

Now THAT'S Fumed

I like to fume the wedges and pins for my oak rockers ahead of the rest of the chair to create contrast. When I opened the tupperware container that I use for this, to my surprise, I had left it full of pieces and actively fuming for about 6 months!! As you can see below, with a freshly cut piece for contrast, the parts are downright black.

I've always wondered how far I could take the fuming and how long it would take to get the maximum depth of color. I use janitorial strength ammonia, which doesn't have the kick (or as much danger) as the blueprinting stuff. I suppose some experiments are called for, or, I could just make neglect a part of the process.

Below, you can see that I've made a pattern using my fancy new profile gauge and used it to carve the seat on my latest chair. It was interesting to use such a distinct reference, I liked it.

Looking at many chairs to arrive at the shape brought to light some interesting notions. My goal is to carve a seat that is deep enough to avoid pressure spots, but also broad enough to allow easy movement. Then there also is the issue of removing enough material from the front of the seat so that the circulation isn't cut off to the sitters legs. Depending on the style of seat, this can be more or less difficult to achieve. I must admit, those upholsterers might have some advantages!

Once the chair is done and I can truly test the shape out I'll post a measured drawing of the templates that I used.

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Where Tung Oil Shines

Yep, it's February, let the tough times begin. This time always begins the long slog until the end of winter, which, to me, is the start of syrup season.

I couldn't resist digging through the photos that I took last year and putting this one up as my desktop. Sue and I literally laughed with glee when we saw it on the screen.

I recently read an interesting post that Kari over at the Village Carpenter wrote about finishing. She addresses a number of different finish options for one of her projects and the conclusion put Tung oil at the rear of the pack. It got me thinking, because for a very specific application, I love the stuff.

When I started making chairs without painting them, I had all sorts of trouble keeping the parts clean. In chairmaking, there is a lot of part wrestling and once a little dirty oil gets on cherry, you're sunk. Plus, because I don't sand my turnings, I couldn't just sand away the offending smudges. So I started applying a coat of finish right on the lathe.

First, I used my normal varnish mix, which worked fine. But then I remembered that I had some pure raw Tung oil from the Real Milk Paint Company. I bought the stuff because it's completely nontoxic, no metallic dryers or spirits. It smells great, but to finish a chair with it would be a chore, because it doesn't build a film without rubbing and rubbing and rubbing.

Here's where the lathe comes in. By applying the oil to the spinning piece and then holding a cloth on it until I feel the heat (should I be worried about exploding?!), the oil builds a lovely finish that I'm able to keep clean for the rest of the process.

I'm no finishing expert, but I think that the heat helps the oil polymerize (which I believe is the job of the metallic dryers normally in boiled linseed oil and hardware store tung oil) and build a quicker, tougher finish.

As you can see below, the finish is lovely and highlights the woods natural character. I do still add more coats of oil/varnish when I finish the assembled chair, but it seems like it takes about 3 applications before the other chair parts catch up with the turnings.

It's even inspired me to dig out my old can of Tried and True non toxic Varnish oil finish to try on my chairs. I know that the rubbing is added labor, but on a well prepared surface, it's like a victory lap. Plus, I'd love to cut my exposure to the nasty stuff in the spar varnish as much as possible.

By the way, Kari, great post!