Monday, December 16, 2013

Steamed Rockers

Beauty is whatever gives joy

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Maybe a little persnickety but the gaps when I let in rockers are driving me nuts.  I didn't photo the gap that was there but suffice to say it was unacceptable.  The problem was that that I must have mis-reamed the legs, leaving the routed slots for the rockers non co-planer.  What to do....

I thought long and hard and decided to steam the rockers and let them into their slots and see what happened. I usually deal with gaps with wedges but the gaps were pretty significant and honestly I wondered if steaming would work..

As you can see the results were spot on. Really good contact between the rocker and the routed slots.  All gaps eliminated and the rockers fit perfectly.

Anyway, I'm happy with the results.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

New Blade

"God, how I ricochet between certainties and doubts"

Sylvia Plath

First off I have to apologize for my lack of substantive posts of late. Just life getting in the way I guess. Lots of personal stuff...waiting for sweet boredom. That'd be nice.

Anyway, enough about me. Above you see my three favorite spokeshaves. The one to the left is a Lee Valley round bottom, the middle one is a Lie-Nielsen, and the right one is a cherry one I built years ago before I even know how to build chairs. Its based on a kit from Daves Shaves as seen in American Woodworker years ago.  The Lie-Nielsen is a beautiful tool and I use it all the time. I'm not super crazy about the iron and will be replacing it come Christmas.
I love L-N tools, don't get me wrong and I have the credit card bills to prove it. I'm just not super crazy about the steel used for the irons. To me its just too hard. I like good old high carbon. Easy to sharpen and given it's small molecular structure it get wicked sharp. Or rather wicked shahhhp.

Which brings me favorite spokeshave. Like I said I built this before I could build chairs. Back when I had a jobby job and all I did was build tools and jigs and such. Ahh the good old days. I don't build jigs or tools anymore. No time for that. Anyway, I built this spokeshave and despite all that is apparently wrong with it it works wonderfully.   The wear plate just ahead of the blade is maple and has a pretty significant groove worn in it from spindle work. If memory serves it had a brass plate but as the blade narrowed I switched it out for maple.

But all good things end. And the blade has been sharpened to the point of uselessness.  So I broke down and bought a new one from Ron Hock, making sure it was high carbon/. Above you can see the original (top) vs the new one. Quite a difference as you can see.

Here's a groove worn in the toe piece. While it opens the mouth, it hasn't proven to be a problem as it registers the spindle during the cut. 

Thursday, November 21, 2013

New Old Digs

Time marches on. Don't waste it assuming you'll always have more.

Dr. Z

Some of you may have known but for the last 15 years I have been running dry kilns and a solid fuel low pressure boiler.  Above you can see the boiler house.

Here's one way to bend wood. This birch board fell out of a pack and was placed under the third pack.  As the wood dried it of course shrank and in doing so the board was bent.  Gives you an idea how much wood moves when it dries.

Above you can see the moisture meter I use to check the progress of the drying.  

Above you can see the control panel for one of the kilns.  Below is the write up of the schedule I run to dry birch and maple.  The air temp. is called the dry bulb and the humidity level is called the wet bulb.  These two values are relatively close initially and pull apart as the wood dries. Otherwise the wood would dry too quickly at first and the wood would split and develop stresses. 

Below a better look at the controller.  This one is a Partlow two pen ( top value is the dry bulb and the bottom one is the wet bulb) circle chart.  It tracks the progress of the wood as it dries.  While I never really wanted to run dry kilns per se, it has allowed me to learn how wood dries and how to use that  to my advantage when building chairs.

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Student Chair

"Ishmael gave himself to the writing of it, and as he did so he understood this, too-that accident ruled every corner of the universe exceptt he chambers of the human heart."

David Guterson, Snow Falling on Cedars

Iv'e recently been building some rod back side chairs. I like the fact that the lower and upper turnings are basically the same...thin pieces that stylistically are very similar. But thin is the rub. Because they are very whippy and frankly and a pain in the ass to turn.  I guess part company with some builders in that I have no problem using a steady rest.  Guess I'm not a purist, or a Protestant.  One thing that does help a lot  is having two tool rests.  Before I would turn the left portion and then I'd have to disassemble the whole thing (tail stock, steady rest etc ) in order to move the rest to the left part.

After a big bench order I said enough of that and ordered an additional rest base.  I want to call it a banjo but I'm not sure that's right.  I like rodback spindles turned.  I built a big bench years ago and I shaved the spindles and I still don't like it. That's me.  I also like Tabasco and ketchup on my scrambled eggs.

Above you can see a rust eraser ( I think I got this from Lie-Nielsen ) and I use this thing all the time to buff up the tool rest.  I also use it to buff the part of the tool that contacts the rest.  I seem to get this weird black stuff that makes the tool sticky.

Below you can see Mark my latest student.  He picked a difficult chair, a Philly Comb Back Rocker and pulled it off swimmingly. He picked up the turning right off the bat and we had a great week.  One thing Mark allowed me to do was see how random I can sometimes be.  That is to say I know what the various processes and sizes need to be, but seeing the whole process thru a students eyes allowed me to see where confusion lies.  So after the class I spent better part of two days just organizing and labeling.  This has in turn helped me so thanks Mark.

And here's Mark and his chair. As I said he picked a very difficult chair and did a great job.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Time sinks

Deep sadness, overstruck by deeper strength

Union Officer describing Robt. E Lee at Appomattox Courthouse

After a rather disappointing last show, I decided that maybe I needed little more modern chair.  After all, not everyone lives in an old farmhouse.  So to that end I decided to come up with a modern chair that could be easily built in lots of 6 or 8.  I had designed a small side chair years ago for a potential client that never panned out so I decided to dust that off and make one up.  Above you can see the original quick and dirty prototype.  And below the side view.

I thought that a bent lamination would be the strongest way to make a bent back leg so I did that and broke the leg as I tried to glue it up. So I steamed more pieces and bent them, and then did up a bent lam.  Tick tock.

More views of the time consuming glue up.  I do have a vacuum bag that works great but still.  Its a messy time consuming process.

Below you can see exactly how far I got with this chair.  The seat and back are more bent laminations.   The back legs have to be fit with a plane because each back is different.  Each leg comes out a little different and has to be fitted. The seat pan has to be shaved to fit the rails.  Long process.

What I'm coming at with post is this.  As a professional chair maker I have to make every minute count.  I can't spend oodles of time on chairs or designs that I know will never pan out.  This chair will never look better than a $40 buck garage sale chair.  And I know that.  There comes a time in every design or build where you really have to think where is this going.  And where will it end?  What will the end product be?   Some designs are just dead ends. Time lost but lesson learned.

Some things you do are just dead ends...times sinks that will never go anywhere and you have to cut them loose or they will drag you down.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Hints for Turning

I only that summer sang in me a little while,
that sings in me no more

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Above you can see the basic set-up I use for turning.  Nothing really special here but I do want to mention a few things that have helped me out.  First off I print or draw the pattern onto the a piece of thin plywood or wood and clearly mark all major and minor dimensions onto that.  That way they are clearly and consistently transferred to the piece.  No fiddling with a tape measure or piece of paper.

As to the major/minor dimensions.  I define major dimensions as "outside" dimensions, like the outside node of a bamboo turning, or the dimension of a tenon.  These are finite dimensions and are carefully measured with calipers.  Further, these are denoted with with one pencil line.  The "minor" dimensions represent, in this instance, the hollow between the nodes of this turning.  These are also measured and cut with a parting tool as well, but when I come to actually turn them, as long as it looks good and flows it's fine. I denote these with two lines.  This is all pretty obvious stuff but it really does help with consistency. 

This next step was a major step forward for me.  I used to struggle with vibration, even on big pieces.  And while it was very obvious now, I used to simply place the blank on the lathe and use the tail stock to force the drive center into the piece.  Which of course put a lot of pressure on the ends and as the middle was cut away, vibration resulted.

Now I either hammer the drive center into the end or if the blank is square I make diagonal cuts on the drive end that the drive center can bite into, and then as I'm turning the piece I can back the pressure of the tail stock and reduce the chance of vibration.

Above is a view of the a bamboo turning that shows what I mean by major and minor measures.   The hills are the major dimensions and and the valleys are the minor ones.

This is a shot of the calipers I use.  I used to only have a couple and I would measure each dimension and transfer to the piece.  And I can tell you if you want a slow, inconsistent way to do it that's one.  I also use a Galbert Caliper which works great.  But for really precise measures I prefer calipers.  You can't tell but I actually froze the thumb nuts with some super glue so they would not get out of whack.

Like I said, just a couple hints that have helped me out.   Now off to pick blueberries with the kids!

Saturday, September 7, 2013

More Chair Seats

Any idiot can handle a crisis, it's day to day living that wears you out

Anton Chekov

It's always difficult, very difficult to predict what chairs will sell.   I like Windsors and while they will always be my favorites, I remember thinking as I was loading for the last show, wow, that's a lot of black chairs.  I like milk paint and the different colors and effects you can achieve with it.  That having been said, I think I should add some different styles with a clear finish to my line of chairs.  Maybe something more "machine" based than all hand tools.  Again, I like using hand tools but classic Windsors may not fit every taste, budget or house.  Long story short, I'm trying to add some chairs that are maybe less expensive and ones that can be easily built in batches of 4 or 6 or more.

Its important when doing batch runs that the machines ( table saw, jointer, bandsaw etc..) all be set up very carefully and all the pieces all be exactly the same size.  If you start adding variances to the pieces, all economy of scale is lost.

Another thing I decided was that obviously the seats cannot be hand carved.  So for this chair design I decided to make a form and then vacuum press the 1/8" pieces to the contour I wanted.  What would be ideal is if the local veneer mill would sell me full size 4x8 sheets of 3/16" veneer.  Then, no glue seams and I could run the seat grain left to right, which would match the grain in the back pieces.  But until I look into that, I simply re sawed some pieces, maple in this case, to a strong 1/8" and drum sanded them and glued them up using my press.  I got my bags and pipe seals and the press seen below from Veneer Supplies.  The vacuum press works great and all you need is a compressor.  Best part is there's a valve that keeps the vacuum constant at about -28 hg.  I used a hand pump one before but it would always lose the vacuum.

Below you can see the chair prototype, a pretty simple side chair.  I hope it works to be a comfortable and visually interesting chair.  I further hope it doesn't look a chair you got at a garage sale for 20 bucks.  Time will tell.

Here is the prototype with the pressed seat.  The seat came out plenty strong even though it's only 1/2" thick.

The legs are going to be bent lamination as well.  I actually had to steam them first, then bend them, then let them dry some, and then I did another vacuum press but more on that later.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Chair Seat

Experience is simply the name we give our mistakes.
Oscar Wilde

 Used to be I would leave the sightlines and the different scribblings that comprise a chair on the bottom.  Never really gave it much thought. No one ever saw it and it wasn't painted so what's the big deal.  But lately, not really sure why, but this struck me as something of a short cut...lazy maybe.  So I have been planing the bottoms just before assembly.

Also I now use a clean rag when I wipe the finish on the bottom of the seat.  What happens is by the time you get around to wiping the oil the milk paint has been sanded three or more times, so a lot of color gets transferred to the seat in the oil.  I know this is being very persnickety but it bugs me.  I like to flip the chair over and see a bright, clean surface.

Here are some different shots of a seat I recently made for a rocker.  I actually timed myself and came in at just over an hour, not bad.

This is a nice curl of end grain.  The above drawknife is made by, I think, Ray Larson. I takes a wicked edge but due to the very low angle is really only good for pine and butternut.  But even so, a small price to pay for a tool that cuts like this one. 

And believe it or not this girl starts 3rd grade tomorrow...tempus fugit.  

Sunday, July 21, 2013

Lining Up Posts

A divorce is like an amputation: you survive it, but there's less of you

Margaret Atwood

I knew it had been awhile since I had last posted and but April 17? Wow. See above quote.   Anyway, I have a student coming tomorrow and it's high time to get back at it. 

This post is about how I line up and ream the arm posts.  I'm sure there are other ways but this is how I do it.  If you've followed this blog at all you know I use sightlines and a square and a reamer from Elia Bizzari to obtain a 6 degree hole. Just be careful not to over-ream and all is good.   But in order to get the ends to land at exactly the same place, I use winding sticks.

You can see here the side view. These arms are spot on.  And the process is dead simple.  I use the back of a yardstick painted green and a length of aluminum angle.  The yard stick butts against the back of the posts and the aluminum angle rests over the ends of the arms.  Then just sight down and you can see how the posts relate to each other.

This one is pretty much spot on.   One caveat...this does not show you slope ( the angle left and right relative to the seat ) so be careful not to get tunnel vision. In other words, keep checking the reamer tip against the square.  But this is a eazy-peezy way to have both the post land at exactly the same spot.

Below you can see my fancy winding sticks.  I also use this same method when reaming the back posts on my rockers.  Works great there too because the angle is really irrelevant ( within reason). Symmetry is much more important.

For those of you who merely read my blog for the literary wit, winding sticks ( like wind up for a pitch ) are use to flatten wood and show relations across distances.  Think of it this way...if you had a black stick and a white stick, both strait and flat.  And you placed them at either end of a table that was also flat. And you peered ( sited) from end to end across the table you would see a white line and a black line parallel to each other.  This would tell you that the table was flat.  Now imagine one end of one stick you placed three quarters under. When you sighed down the table, the sticks would be "out of wind".  Now imagine that there were no quarters but the sticks were not parallel.  This would tell you that the table was not flat. 

Sunday, April 21, 2013

A Different Way to Bend

"There's no room in here!"

Wayne Burby

The quote is from a great old guy I used to work with who was always griping at the mill that there wasn't any room.  He was a funny, sweet guy and honestly he was right; often times there wasn't enough room.  His saying has sorta turned into my own joke when I find myself tripping over stuff or looking for too long for things that I JUST PUT RIGHT THERE!!!

I recently went on a cleaning spree and tossed pieces of wood and took stuff to the salvation army in order to have a common area where all my patterns, papers and forms can go in a somewhat logical way. 

The picture above shows a bench I'm building for a client and while I have wanted to build this for awhile, the prospect of 14 bending forms and the subsequent 28 clamps was a bit much, but the book also had this board that had holes drilled in and pegs, sorta like my own little Plinko board. 

Here's a better shot below.  The turned and steamed pieces, Maple in this case, are threaded thru the pegs and thus held in the right bend for a few day in the kiln, then taken out done.  The best part is the they can be stacked two high, seven wide so I can do all 14 on this one 2x16x 20 piece!

And here's the first one steamed and bent.  The thin piece of wood prevent denting.  I finish turned the tenons top and bottom before steaming and while I seriously doubt the sizes to hold, it would sure be nice if they did.  I turn my tenons on the lathe but once they are bent I can't so I'd have to size them by hand.  Not a huge deal but much faster on the lathe.

Another thing I've recently tried and it works is doubling the slats for my rockers and then doubling them again between the clamps.  I used to do these one at a time, and man dragging those clamps around was a pain.  But now I can do four with just two clamps.  The Irwin clamp pulls the middle together, and the K-bodies finish the clamp and hold it in place.  So for one chair I went from seven forms and 14 clamps to 4 forms and 4 clamps. 

Sadly Wayne isn't around anymore, but I did laugh to myself thinking of Wayne and his comments about room.  I think he would approve.