Archive for ◊ May, 2011 ◊

• Tuesday, May 31st, 2011

Here is a two-part answer. Some reasons are clear to any woodworker, starting with the pleasure of working with a wonderfully beautiful and diverse material – wood. Craftsmen have a strong urge to simply make things, and, for some, there is the creative joy of producing original designs. There is also the primal appeal of skillfully working with one’s hands. Each woodworker has his own reasons.

However, I think for many of us, amateur and professional, there are satisfactions derived from woodworking which are especially meaningful because they are notably lacking in much of the modern world of work. Here I submit three such satisfactions. Can you relate?

1) Woodworking produces a product that you and others can see. Moreover, you can use and share it for a long, long time in the comfort of home.

2) A woodworker is responsible for, and controls, the process and the outcome. The limitations come from your skills and resources, not from “corporate.” Control and responsibility seem to be frustratingly unlinked in many occupations.

3) There’s no BS in woodworking: If you do good work, the result is a good product. If you do poor work, you and others will see it plainly. What you put in is what you get out; there are no “moral hazards.” Politicians probably should stay out of the shop, or at least leave it at the door.

Step into the shop, my fellow woodworkers, and enjoy the sawdust. If you’re reading this and considering getting started in the craft, consider the above.

Happy woodworking.

Category: Ideas  | 5 Comments
• Tuesday, May 24th, 2011

This continues the frame and panel construction. So far, the panel template has been made, and now we must position and size the grooves in the frame and coordinate this with the panel thickness.

Rout the grooves in the frame parts with a 3 or 4-wing slot cutter bit. Use the appropriate bearing diameter, which will ride the straight and curved parts, to create the desired depth of cut. Allow for seasonal movement when planning the depth of the grooves in the stiles. (A straight bit, standing the frame part on its side, would be fine to cut the grooves in a straight edge, and though passable for a shallow curve, it is not ideal.)

Position the template on the selected area of the panel stock and secure it with double-stick tape. The thickness of the panel stock will be determined by the frame thickness and the location of the groove. In sizing a frame and panel, remember that the strength is primarily in the frame.

For example, in a 5/8″ thick small door frame, it would be reasonable to use a 1/4″ wide groove, positioned in the middle of the frame width, and a 3/8+” thick panel, raised 1/8+”. This will leave the face of the panel about 1/32″ below the level of the frame which will allow for finish planing or sanding the frame after glue up. The panel, of course, is finished before glue up.

Raise the panel by hand-held routing with a square edge dado/planer bit or a short-radius bowl-and-tray bit which leave a smooth finish. These use a top bearing and have a short cutting length (1/4″ to ½”) to avoid the need for a template thicker than 3/4″. Examples of these types of bits are shown in the photo above. Adjust the depth of cut to yield the desired thickness in the panel edge. You are routing an outside curve, so go counter-clockwise (as viewed from above), cross grain first, and make the cut in two or more steps as needed. (I will not advocate climb cutting but I will do it for a final pass if the grain direction demands it.)

The result of the cut is shown in the photo in the previous post.

For a square-profile field, I round the corners. I pin the panel at the center of its width on the rails, from the back, with brass escutcheon pins and nip off the excess and file it flush. 

My method suits my designs – the beauty is in simplicity and the wood but with a degree of design flair. The frame members have plain edges and the field profile is simple. The curve in the rail can be created without a template or router, even freehand, because the panel template is made directly from the actual frame.

By contrast, curved-edge frame and panel work with a sticking profile on the edges of the frame and an elaborate profile around the field of the panel usually involves a pair of offset templates, one for the rail, another for the panel. Bearing-guided router bits create the rail edge and a fearsome horizontal raised panel bit creates the edge of the panel’s field.

In summary, this method is another approach to a traditional construction – the frame and panel – that is suited for clean, simple designs with the added interest of the curved edge. The method is direct and it works.

Category: Techniques  | 2 Comments
• Sunday, May 15th, 2011

A curved-edge frame and panel, especially an asymmetric curve, adds a nice flair to a piece. The curve is typically along one or both rails which are tenoned at both ends.

In general, for a frame and panel in my style of work, the panel is the star and the frame is the supporting cast. The panel is a highly figured, special piece of wood or at least contrasts with the frame. I find that a simple square profile or a very small radius cove bordering the raised field is the most effective way to display the beauty of the wood. An ogee or wide cove or bevel is a visual distraction from the effect I am trying to create.

In making a curved-edge frame and panel, it can be challenging to match the curved edge of the raised field to the curve in the frame member. I will describe a simple, reliable method to create an even gap between the field and the frame. Basically, the frame is made first, then a template for the field is made using the dry-fit frame as a guide. The template is placed on the panel stock and a short pattern-routing bit creates the field. The photo above shows the template still on the panel stock after raising.

Start by making the curve in the rail according to your shop drawing. I do this by measuring the key points on the wood and drawing in the rest with an Acu-Arc adjustable curve, or by making a 1/8″ MDF template to transfer a layout line to the wood. [Tips for laying out curves.] Two parts can be made to match by clamping them together for the final fairing of their curves. For efficient production work, though not fundamentally necessary for this method, a plywood or MDF template can be made and used to guide a pattern or flush trim router bit.

Complete the mortise and tenon joinery for the frame. Dry assemble the frame and place it on top of a piece of 3/4″ MDF or plywood. Decide on a width from the inside edge of the frame to the edge of the field. Find a small washer with a rim width that matches that measurement. Trace onto the sheet stock with a pencil point held against the inner rim of the washer while pushing the outer edge of the washer along the contour of the frame.

Carefully cut to the curved line and fair the edge, keeping it square to the face. Use your eye to match its curve to that of the frame, creating an even width between the template edge and the edge of the rail; make minor alterations as necessary. Then cut the opposite end of the template. If you are building during either extreme of the annual range of humidity, alter the width of the template along the stile edges to anticipate the seasonal movement. For example, if you are building at a very dry time, slightly reduce the width (crossgrain) of the field because it will only be larger at other times of the year.

The template can be used to help in your selection of the panel wood. Draw around its edge onto the proposed wood to see exactly how the panel will look. The template can be used from both sides for two symmetrically oriented panels such as on a pair of doors.

All of this makes for a very direct way to control the fit and appearance of the panel.

The next post will discuss using the template to make the panel.

Category: Techniques  | One Comment
• Saturday, May 14th, 2011

Wood comes from trees, simple enough, but sometimes the trees or logs have a surprising history or the wood has been processed to dramatically alter its properties. Surfing the internet for wood sources is much more fun than cruising the TV menu, so here’s a resource list that I hope you’ll find interesting and perhaps will inspire a new project. Following the list are several resources for general information about wood. Enjoy!

Ancientwood, Ltd unearths 50,000 year old, enormous kauri logs in New Zealand, then processes them into workable honey-colored lumber with an exotic, opalescent appearance. Greener Logs retrieves sunken exotic tropical timber from waters in Central America and sells this old-growth lumber, including big-leaf mahogany (Swietenia macrophylla) via Greener Lumber, located in Missouri.

Blue Moon Exotic Wood in Ithaca, New York operates an exotic woods plantation in Palau in the South Pacific where they sustainably harvest Cuban mahogany (Swietenia mahogani). I once got my hands on a small chunk of this species and still recall its remarkable working properties, sometimes described as like slicing cold butter. It is, of course, expensive, but I don’t think I can much longer resist giving this stuff a try when the right project comes around. Another source for Cuban mahogany, among other species, is Urban Forest Recycling who salvages removed trees in the Florida Keys.

Northwest Timber in Oregon buys and mills salvaged logs, notably my favorites Claro walnut and Western big-leaf maple. I really think Lewis gets his wood from heaven and you might agree after perusing his online store!

You can buy directly online from the above dealers and from Pure Timber (below).

Normal wood is subjected to special processing by the following companies to produce amazing new possibilities for the woodworker. Pure Timber in Washington puts solid wood of many species through an amazing proprietary process that yields wood so flexible it can be tied into a knot. The shape stabilizes after it dries. You can buy lumber ready to bend to your imagination. Seasonwood in Canada offers a special heat treatment which produces a controlled darkening of any species of wood. The process also makes the wood much more stable. WoodSure in Oregon infuses wood with acrylic resin to produce dimensionally stable, super-durable wood. With the addition of dyes, they can also produce dramatic figure effects.

To explore innovative materials that you might want to incorporate into your projects, take a look at the Inventables website, especially the “wood” section. You can order samples of the materials from them.

For general information about wood and specific species:

  • Forest Products Laboratory’s Wood Handbook, a pdf download of the whole 508 page book.
  • FPL’s Tech Sheets give extensive information on many species. Look on the right side of the page under “Tech Sheets.”
  • The Wood Database has lots of information on many species of wood. 
  • Same for the Purdue Cooperative Extension – go to “Hardwood Lumber and Veneer Species” on the drop-down list.
  • Hobbit House has a zillion pictures of lots of species.
  • Woodfinder is a search engine for where to buy specific woods and wood products.
  • An article by John English in Woodshop News: “Is it an endangered species and who’s making the call?”
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• Sunday, May 01st, 2011

Myth: Woodworking is easy. If you simply follow [whatever clever procedure], you can do it quickly and it will come out perfect every time.

Reality: As with doing anything well, woodworking takes a lot of skill, few procedures go lickety-split, and there is a degree of uncertainty in making any piece.

Where is this myth promulgated? Look at several issues of most woodworking magazines: “made easy,” “perfect every time,” “quick, fast,” and similar catch lines are rampant. TV and, of course, ads also seem to thrive on this approach. Perhaps this sells but it must discourage many woodworkers who find a different reality when they get into the shop.

Also, I wonder why, in conversation with fellow woodworkers, I more often hear how a particular technique is so easy and “no problem,” than about the likely reality of uncertainty, trials, and mistakes that preceded such ease. I guess this is understandable since most people like to talk about their successes more than their failures. I’m sure I’m guilty of this here in the blog.

High quality woodworking requires artistry, imagination, engineering, knowledge, physical coordination, and patience. Building a piece involves many subtractive processes and without constant awareness, errors are prone to accumulate. Different woods require alterations in technique and often hold surprises. So, maybe it’s just me, but I think woodworking is not easy.

As for “quick,” sure, to get things done and to make money, work in any field has to move along efficiently. However, speed comes only after study and experience; without those, quick usually means poor results.

Perfect every time? Even if one employs highly systematic procedures, even with machinery, there is a host of gremlins poised to thwart perfection in woodworking. Among these is variability in the wood itself, tool sharpness, and tool calibration. Excellence certainly is an achievable goal, but perfection is not a realistic expectation to hold out to students of woodworking – and we’re all students.

I learn more from the hype-free literature and discussions that are out there, where I can appreciate the difficulties as well as the successes of woodworking. That’s the real stuff that makes for happy woodworking.

Category: Ideas  | 6 Comments