I enjoy all aspects of a project – design, wood selection, construction, and finish. I like the fourth aspect best when it is hard to mess up. And you need to not mess it up because your finish can make or break your project! It’s important enough that many professionals send their pieces out for finishing. That leaves the rest of us to do it on our own.
If I’m not at all worried about the durability needed on the top of a dining table or end table, I’ve been using beeswax and a pollisoir when I can for a pleasant, tactile finish. But when it needs to have a bit more protection, I tend to go with a wiping finish of some sort – usually a varnish, but sometimes a 1lb cut of shellac.
When I have the option, I always go with the glossy version of a finish. It doesn’t muddy the figure in the wood and if you don’t want it to be glossy in the end, you can rub it out with 0000 steel wool (or the nylon equivalent) to bring it back to a semi-gloss or matte finish. You can never start off with a semi-gloss or matte finish and then try to make it glossy later. Well… you can make the top of it glossy, but you’ll have already lost some of the clarity of the final product.
Earlier this year, my best friend turned me on to Amazon’s prices for Birchwood Casey Tru-Oil stock finish. I picked up a 32oz bottle for under $20. This is one of those finishes that, if you follow the directions pretty closely, it’s hard to screw up. You can apply it with cotton rag or foam brush, you can re-apply after a few hours, and it builds up a protective, glossy finish in no time. Plus, it has a good shelf life, so I’ll easily use all 32oz before it goes bad.
If finishing a project has always been a challenge for you, you might consider picking up a bottle of it the next time you need to get some more finish. It’s hard to beat for the price.
* As with any oil finish, be aware that it will darken the wood just a bit and that you have to properly dispose of oily rags. Also, I don’t make any money from Amazon sales and I didn’t receive this finish for free or at any discounted price. Just piping up about a good deal.
In the 9th Century, an Irish monk wrote a poem about his relationship with his white cat, Pangur Ban (Ban meaning “white” in Gaelic). There are several translations. I like this one the most…
(Translated by Robin Flower)
I and Pangur Ban my cat,
‘Tis a like task we are at:
Hunting mice is his delight,
Hunting words I sit all night.
Better far than praise of men
‘Tis to sit with book and pen;
Pangur bears me no ill-will,
He too plies his simple skill.
‘Tis a merry task to see
At our tasks how glad are we,
When at home we sit and find
Entertainment to our mind.
Oftentimes a mouse will stray
In the hero Pangur’s way;
Oftentimes my keen thought set
Takes a meaning in its net.
‘Gainst the wall he sets his eye
Full and fierce and sharp and sly;
‘Gainst the wall of knowledge I
All my little wisdom try.
When a mouse darts from its den,
O how glad is Pangur then!
O what gladness do I prove
When I solve the doubts I love!
So in peace our task we ply,
Pangur Ban, my cat, and I;
In our arts we find our bliss,
I have mine and he has his.
Practice every day has made
Pangur perfect in his trade;
I get wisdom day and night
Turning darkness into light.
And it seems an appropriate time to post such a thing, as I try to get back into my woodworking and writing and as we have added a new member to the kilted family.
This is Isabeau (named after the character in Ladyhawke), a mask-and-mantle bicolor tabby. She is just 5 mos old right now and seems to be adjusting well to her new surroundings. After a day confined to just a bathroom, I think I’ll give her a little bit of roaming room in the basement this evening. We will see about the rest of the condo later this week.
In the mean time, the Tiny Human (tm) is enjoying her and she seems to be doing quite good with him, as well. She has a solid motor on her and I’m hoping she won’t be too timid to be in the shop with me when I’m working with hand tools.
With the tops properly thicknessed, jointed, and cut to size, I began work on the butterflies. The first task was to make more butterflies. I began doing so with the remains of a small plank of bog oak I had left over from another project (a commission I have Caleb James, Planemaker working on). As I made some cuts to free butterflies from their matrix, I paused to admire how great a job my old bandsaw was doing.
Apparently Karma thought I was getting cocky, because not two minutes later my blade broke. The blade breaking was not in itself such a problem. It happens. It was an old blade and it broke at a patched weld. No, it was a problem because I had absolutely no idea where my other bandsaw blades were. At some point during my move into the condo, they were boxed up… and that’s all I knew.
I spent three hours looking through all of my boxes with woodworking equipment and tools for my other bandsaw blades – multiple times, actually – all to no avail. I growled in frustration and begrudgingly drove to Woodcraft to pick up a new blade.
An hour after installing the new blade, I found my other blades, in a box I’d checked three times but apparently hadn’t fully opened to see the blades quietly sitting on the top at the other end of the box.
*sigh* Regardless, I was back in business and quickly made a kaleidoscope of butterflies…
After cutting them on the bandsaw, I use a bench hook and a sharp chisel to pare the sides smooth and add just the slightest chamfer towards the bottom of the butterfly on all sides. This chamfer is usually not more than one or two thousandths of an inch.
With butterflies all in order, I laid out some butterfly options to stabilize the split knot in the hall table. Everyone has their own methods for figuring out where to put these inlays – mine is to lay them out in various ways and take pictures, then examine and compare the pictures to see what looks best while also stabilizing the intended area.
In this case, I decided on two butterflies. Sticking them down in place with double-sided tape, I traced the bottom edges of the butterflies with my large Blue Spruce marking knife and then removed the inlays.
In order to properly delineate the edges of the mortises I needed to make, I chiseled out a wedge of wood along the entire border of each butterfly and used white pencil to highlight the wood to remain.
In preparation for removing the bulk of the waste with a (corded) router, I drilled a series of holes in each end of the butterfly. Chopping out the waste between the three holes leaves me a place to drop in my router bit. I have to do this because I’d rather use my smaller palm router, a Bosch 1608 edge trimmer, which does not have plunge capabilities, than my larger Bosch 1617.
After removing most of the waste with the palm router, I’m left with the smallest amount of wood along each edge.
This remaining waste is easily removed with a sharp chisel.
Once I have the waste removed, I fitted the butterflies in place and tapped them in about 1/8” or so to make sure they fit. They did, so I pulled them back out, added glue to all of the walls of the holes, and cautioned them to fall into place without a fight by showing them my joiner’s mallet. That didn’t work, so I had to resort to seating them with the mallet and a scrap of wood. They didn’t put up much of a fight and I could tell they were a very tight and pleasing fit.
They seated so well, in fact, that I didn’t wait but a minute to begin cutting them flush with my Veritas flush-cutting saw.
After a little bit of work with a block plane and some sandpaper, I’m left with this.
Not bad. I had a paper-thick gap on the end of the top butterfly and a tiny corner chip out on the near one; these things are easily fixed with a minor bit of epoxy later on.
Now to start on the smaller end table…
A few weeks ago, I borrowed a friend’s Festool AFT-55 (circular saw) and tracks so I could make some exact cuts on the hall table and end table. I love the precision of the Festool, but don’t yet use it enough to justify such a purchase. I would consider picking up something, though, if I continue with making large-ish things, like live edge tables. At $650+ for the new track saws, however, I might get more versatility from the Carvex jigsaw.
The only real problem I encountered with the AFT-55 was the depth of cut. The walnut planks were over 8/4 thick and the Festool could only cut about 1 7/8″. So I had to finish the rest with my Disston 26″ rip saw that was cleaned up and sharpened by Wentzloff & Sons (I got it, along with a crosscut, from Jon Zimmer , who still carries saws that are cleaned up and sharpened by Wentzloff).
While I had the Festool saw in my possession, I decided to rip two of the reclaimed Checkerdome douglas fir planks to proper size so I can make some headway on the workbench, as well. Those beams are almost 3″ thick. That meant ripping over 1″ with the rip saw. It might not seem like a lot, but those old beams are very dense and heavy and it took a lot of effort to saw through them.
Although I’d be a lot happier with a longer top, say something more like 8′, having a proper bench of even 6′ long will be a welcomed change. This is a good idea of how it will look, about 6′ long, 22″ wide, and just under 3″ thick.
With the tops cut to size, I went to my friend Scott’s shop Saturday morning to put some time in on his 52″ “friend maker” (wide belt sander). I spent more time with the end table top than the other three because it had so much cup. I was able to get it perfectly flat and still retain 1 3/8″ thickness. The hall table was a lot straighter and I was able to keep it to 1 5/8″ thick. I’m not at all worried about this; I think the end table needed to be a little thinner than the hall table, anyway. If it was too thick, it would look chunky.
Some of you might recall I talked about saving the cut-offs from the bog oak butterfly keys I inlaid into the conference table I made last year. Turns out, they came in very handy (once I was finally able to locate them, after sorting through many boxes of stuff)! I was able to lay them out on the tables, not to use as actual templates for inlay (because each one is individually scribed and inlaid), but just to give me some idea as to what it would look like.
Using these, I can easily adjust positions and determine the best design layout and evaluate what I need to make.
I still have some spare bog oak keys left over from last year – one large one and three smaller ones – so I’ll make up a few more and maybe even make some medium-sized off-cuts using two of the larger ones to see if having three sizes might show better.
More to come later…
Over the years, I’ve learned that my initial gut instinct is usually right. This was no exception.
After spending a half hour cutting cardboard and using blue tape, it didn’t take two seconds for me to realize I needed to trim the end table on the crotch side and not the straight live edge side when I set it up against the slab.
Trimming the branch side off will still leave me with plenty of awesome grain in the crotchal region while allowing me to create a usable table top.
I did not have a strong initial impression of whether or not 12″ was enough depth for the hall table. This gives something of an idea of what it might be, though I would probably keep all of the live edge and not chop it like that. Or maybe I could make the live edge more of a straight-line reference for the front of the table for consistency.
I did not have time this morning to adjust the frame to 15″ to see what a deeper hall table might look like. I will do that this evening, though, as I think it is important to see. Looking at it framed out the way it is, I’m afraid I’m not getting enough depth. Also, I need to check with the photos of where the table will go again. If the hall table ends up with one end being deeper, because of the live edge, I need to know which end it should be as I can control that based on which side of the plank I take the waste from.
Oh, I updated the last post, but wanted to mention here as well that my wood supplier in Evansville, IN is Joe Schneider. His website is The Wood Slab King. If you’re in need of large pieces of wood at a great price and you’re within 4 hours of Evansville, he’s definitely worth checking out.
More to come…
Over the holiday weekend, I took a trip to Evansville, IN, to visit one of my wood suppliers, Joe Schneider. He has a great selection of wood and the price is better than anything I can find within 50 miles of the Greater Saint Louis area, so it’s worth the trip.
This time I was after an 8/4 plank of walnut that was 98″ long, about 20″ wide for most of its length and then about 30″ wide at the crotch. There were several slabs to choose from, so I picked the one I felt was best suited for the project.
Once again, there were those who doubted I would be able to fit the wood into my Toyota Venza…
Since I knew the rough dimensions I needed, however, we just cut it into two pieces there and I only had to drop down half of the back seat.
Before we left town, we were directed to a place called “Carrie Jen’s” (which seemed an odd name until we realized it was an Amish-based restaurant called the Carriage Inn) for some delicious fried chicken and bumbleberry pie with ice cream. I think the beard suits me. I’m amazed it has taken me so long to get around to growing one.
Now that I have the pieces home, I’ll make some cardboard frames of the table dimensions (5’6″ long by 12″ deep for the hall table and 24″ x 24″ for the end table) and figure out the best place to make my cuts. Having the visual reference always helps me to determine how to make such important cuts. I will take the opportunity to get the client’s opinion, as well, in this case.
I think they might want the hall table to be a bit deeper than the indicated 12″ and the crotch is about 30″ wide, so I’ll have to trim off 6″ from one of the live edges. But do I trim it from the left side, with the relatively straight live edge? Or from the right side, where there is some nice crotch figure? My initial instinct is from the right, because I think it will look better with the straighter live edge on the front of it, even though it will mean losing some of that beautiful figure, but I’ll have a better idea when I frame it out. This must be decided first; there is a bit of cup to the end table section, so I’m going to cut it to size before I flatten it to retain as much thickness as possible.
I’m not at all worried about the split, even though it looks rough. I will be stabilizing it with several bog oak butterfly keys and it is still quite solid on the far end. This table will be a first for me in that some of the keys will be exposed in the gap. This means I will treat at least part of each bog oak key as if it is a finished surface (planed smooth) and will need to figure out how to clean out the inside of the crevice (I’m thinking pressurized air for starters).
Stay tuned for more…
Funny how life works. You think you have a plan set up, at least short term, to get something done (in this case, organizing my tools and shop space and making some much-needed shop storage and a workbench) and something comes up that is terribly difficult to turn away.
Just as I was moving back into my old condo last month, I got an email from the owner of the marketing design firm I made the conference table for last year. They have need of a long sofa table and an end table. They want them in a way that is congruent with the conference table (walnut, live edge, some bog oak butterflies, fabricated legs) and wanted to know if I was interested in making them.
Jeeze, I can hardly say no to such an offer, right? Yes, of course I will!
After some negotiating, I have the commission. After some design conversations back and forth and another email off to my wood supplier in Evansville, IN, I have some ideas in place and a few large slabs of wood waiting for me to peruse after a 3 hour drive.
And I get to add some more pictures to the Shit-I-Can-Put-In-My-Venza photo album! What fun!
Now I just need to figure out where I can get all of this work done…