Thursday, April 15, 2010

Reproduction Stickley hardware #3

I thought after the last Reproduction Stickley hardware entry that I was done with the subject.  But, found one more set of instructions on how to roll your own Hand-Hammered Copper hardware.  The first entry I did on this topic had a link to a different guide.  Personally, I think they are both worth reading.  The lead picture from the article is shown at the left.  I sure hope this constitutes Fair Use as my only purpose in displaying it is to tempt you into reading This Great Article on the American Woodworker Magazine website on how to make the hardware for yourself!  Hammer Your Own Copper Hardware by  David Olson is well worth reading, as is the companion article by Randy Johnson on building a Stickley style chest of drawers.  Yes, to get these results a fair bit of work is going to be required, but, I think worth trying, at least once.

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Saving woodworking articles for later viewing, Part 2

If you have a Macintosh, you can simply "print" to a PDF printer - and that includes interesting articles that you've stumbled upon on the Web.  If you are a PC (user) then there isn't a native method to do this.  (See Part 1 for native methods to save webpages.)   However, for the last few months, I've been using PrimoPDF, a free print-to-PDF driver that is added to your printer selection combobox.  I especially like being able to highlight something and then print just that selection to a PDF file.  PDF is an acronym for Portable Document Format.  Like an MHT file, it stores everything you need in one file. A nice thing about PDF files is that they can be viewed on any machine (the first word in the name is Portable, after all.)  On a PC, the best way to view PDF files is by using Adobe Reader (also free!) which used to be called Acrobat Reader.  So, if you aren't afraid to install two pieces of software, ignore everything I said in Part 1! 

Monday, March 1, 2010

Is plywood a fine woodworking material?

Our friends at the Fine Woodworking magazine website took this "issue" on.
The article HERE was good, but the comments were almost a better read than the article itself.  The two pictured casework pieces are a delight to look at, so even if you don't read the article, follow the link for the pictures!  The picture I am showing you is not from the article, but from Timber Products.  They make not only hardwood veneer plywood, but pre-finished plywood as well.
Personally, I thought the Fine Woodworking list of helpful tips was pretty good, but the last one: "Delivery pays: Let the supplier deliver hardwood-veneer plywood to reduce the risk of damage in transit" didn't sit well with me as you are stuck with the grain they pick for you - rather than picking through the sheets to get the figure you want from what is available.  Or, if you have hand picked your sheet goods, the variability of turning it over to their delivery people...
I'm pretty careful with my material when I've spent hard earned money on it.  Not a fan of mangled corners and dented edges, not to mention strap marks on the wood.  One commenter got it right - if whoever you are buying plywood from has a panel saw (even Lowes and Home Depot have them) have them make some of the gross cuts there, so you are transporting smaller easier to manage pieces - especially if the cuts you need are rip cuts, because once a panel saw is locked in, it will give you near identical repeat cuts - which can be handy when what you need is a match between two pieces, not an exact / dialed in perfect measurement.  But, you have to be careful - if you are using the pretty cathedral grain for panels, you may want to make grain match decisions back in the shop, not in the store.
The Fine Woodworking article / discussion thread really caught my eye as a couple of the projects I helped work on lately have been predominately of plywood, with solid wood trim.  The one thing against plywood is that it is as flat is it is every going to be, the day you buy it.  If the juice is good, it will stay good.  If not... ...well there really isn't anything you can do about bad plywood.  And, to some extent with hardwood, there Are things you can do about it.
What I really didn't like is the (results pictured) POLL that went along with this article.  No concept that perhaps sometimes plywood was the right material?  That the only possible reason to use plywood would be to save a dime, or for lesser purpose?  It seems especially silly as a lot of people that turn their noses up at plywood are proud of their veneering skills -which is the art of making (you guessed it) plywood.  Anywho, a lot of this is in the comments to the online article.  But I really wish that at least the poll questions had better balance.  I was glad to see that people weren't bullied into rejecting plywood in the poll, based on their responses to the questions.  But then if the questions were fair, there probably wouldn't have been the active commenting! (grin)

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

How to Ruin Perfectly Good Furniture, part 1

I think this will be a helpful post, but also somewhat of a rant.  To my mind, there are 4 main ways to ruin furniture:  1) Before you apply finish, 2) When you apply a finish, 3) Caring for a finished piece and 4) Fixing a piece that has previously been finished.  I'm not going to count the nicks and bumps damage that occurs from regular use.  It happens to even our most beloved pieces and there isn't anything we can do about it except to plan for it in the robustness of our designs.
There IS one more way to ruin furniture that doesn't match directly up with the above categories and that is to purposefully damage finish or piece itself to "antique" it... ...and that is where the rant part comes in.  I don't like fake antiques.  Never have, never will.  Reproductions?  Wonderful.  Aging metal hardware?  Fine.  Banging on otherwise perfectly fine furniture to make it look worn?  HELL NO! 
If you need a particular piece to look a certain way for a play, or a movie set, or you make props for Halloween - well, those are the only exceptions I can think of.  But then, we are talking about my personal taste.  Your mileage may vary.  As you may guess, I'm not a "shabby chic" guy either, even when someone is decorating with "found" junk.
People use words like "distressed" or "layered" as euphemisms for damaging on purpose.  The above photo of a crackle finish was done on purpose!  Ugh.  Please look at this cover of a nationally circulated Woodworking Magazine.  I can't post it directly on this blog because, well; I won't do it.  Too Hideous.  It isn't even good "antiquing".  It is the poster child of what not to do, even if you like that kind of crap.  But, I do want you to see the picture so you can share my disgust.  Ok, end of rant.  I'll try to be more productive in the next installment.

Monday, February 8, 2010

Oak Floor, Walnut accent

My friends Donna and Mike have been making incremental improvements to their 40 year old house ever since they bought it.  Their latest project was to replace the dark Oak parquet floor in their entry and first floor hallway and to replace the Linoleum in their kitchen all with Oak strip flooring to match their dining room and living room.  To address wear concerns, they opted for a tiled entry, placed as a inlay with oak flooring around it. 
One of the questions was how to best frame the area where the tile would go / how to make the transition.  The initial thought was to make a mitered corner two-strip-wide border, to effectively picture frame the tile.  As I was drawing out the lines for this framing / showing how it would look on the membrane paper that goes between the flooring and the subfloor, Donna came through and saw lines marked on the paper like this and said "how pretty!"  She wasn't seeing what Mike and I were seeing - she saw corner blocks with angled cuts, out of contrasting wood, where we saw mitered corners & continuation lines to mark out the miter.  So, as a trial, we cut small square blocks of Oak from the scrap offcuts of the flooring and used dark markers to simulate the contrasting colors of an accent wood like Walnut. 
Even with the blocks rotated into the kite pattern you see here at the left, it wasn't exactly what they were looking for, but they still liked the idea of some form of contrasting wood detail around the entry.  What they decided on was solid squares of Walnut, 2 per corner.
Making the little Walnut blocks was interesting - 2 sides tongue, 2 sides groove (to tie in with the tongues and grooves of the rest of the flooring) and I tried to gang cut them on the table saw as much as possible & then cut the joining tongues apart as the last operation.  Still, getting the blocks sized correctly took a lot of time!  Cutting the blocks without tongues or grooves would have taken just a few minutes instead of the few hours.  But, hopefully the floor will be more solid because of the pains we took.  I made a total of 14 blocks out of a small board of figured Walnut I had been hoarding and they selected their 8 favorites for appearance / grain direction, etc.  And the results look like this:
 At the point this picture was taken everything is finished except for the molding.  The Oak register covers look great and Donna and Mike have a seamless Oak floor for much of the first floor.  The flooring matched very nicely with the original Oak after it was sanded and finished as the one floor it now is.  They selected Swedish Finish for its durability.  It really looks nice.  Oh, in the tile work, note the stainless steel accent tile in the lower right of this picture.  They used a similar tile pattern to cover the bricks of their living room fireplace surround - it really helps tie everything together & looks great.  So, I suppose the lesson in this is that it really helps to have multiple sets of eyes on a project, before you start cutting wood.  Without Donna's perception, this would have been a much plainer floor!

Tuesday, February 2, 2010

try Hide Glue, epoxy, and repairability

I've been addicted to Titebond II since it came out, and based on my success with it, use quite a bit of Titebond III now too.  They both create amazing bonds to the wood, to the point where I wonder if  mortice and tenon joints are just overkill and do we really need more than half-lap joints?  In tests I've seen in the last few years, the wood tends to fail before the glue does!
However, what about repairability?  A lot of people talk about hide glue (the original woodworkers glue and still the choice of Luthiers / instrument makers) as being the best / only repairable glue joint.  Bob Smalser did a test of the various glues, but to "repair" he use epoxy and discovered that none of the Titebond glues create good bonds to epoxy.  Epoxy being the most likely glue to use to repair a failed joint.  Of course his criteria for repairability is that of a boat builder / restorer, where joint strength and watertight are both equally important, and water based glues such as hide glue is right out!  So, his test involved just glues that a boat builder might reasonably use.
As an aspiring furniture maker I have been wondering about hide glue though.  Sure, it isn't the glue of choice for even kitchen cutting boards, but hide glue is the traditional glue of woodworking, and the best choice for repairing antiques.  The reason that hide glue is so cool is that it is waterbased and reversible.  Simply get the glue wet again and it turns back into gel.  Get it warm again and it turns back into runny glue.
Most everything you need to know about hide glue is available on Frank Ford's website.
Something that I've seen in a few different places is an easy way to try Hide Glue out.  Gelatine - like Knox unflavored Gelatine available in nearly any supermarket IS hide glue.  Gelatine is super refined for food use, but still Hide Glue.  Sandor Nagyszalanczy talks about it in his book: Fixing and Avoiding Woodworking Mistakes, as does Frank Ford on his website in his Kitchen Glue page.
I probably won't try hide glue until necessity requires it - which will be the next time I'm faced with repairing an antique originally made with Hide Glue, or, when I want to reinforce a joint with a rubbed glue block.  But, good to have in our bag of tricks.

Saturday, January 30, 2010

The right size extension cord (Supplying power to your tailed devils #2)

In March 2009 I wrote a little bit about electricity - this post is really a continuation of that one.  If you've ever finished with a tool and been surprised at how warm the cord was when you unplugged it, this post is for you.
Basically, the longer the extension cord the more resistance / friction there will be and the more likely that there will be a significant voltage drop - sometimes dropping it below the threshold where your electric motor tools will operate well.  Plus (added bonus!) if the extension cord is too anemic / wimpy, it can heat up or even melt.  Can you say fire hazard?  What to do about it?  The answer is to use an extension cord that is big enough for the tool.  Your tools may even last longer and perform better if you do.
This is a table that I derived originally from one posted on this site (well worth your time) but checked using other tables.  Length by Amps, results in wire gauge:

Remember that with wire gauge, like shotgun bore gauge, the smaller the number, the bigger it is.
To use this table for 110/120v circuits you'll need to know the amps used by your tools.  Mostly motors will be clearly (if somewhat microscopically) labeled with the amps used.  If not, you can derive amps from Watts by using the formula: Amps = Watts/Volts.  So, a 1400 watt blow dryer will draw nearly 13amps on the "high" setting.  No wonder the cord gets warm!  In the motor label picture Amperage is indicated "AMPS" but it is often abbr'ed to "A":

But wait!  This motor lists VOLTS as "208-240/115" and AMPS as "6.1-6.0/12.0" - be careful when reading such.  This is just indicating that the motor can be wired to use 220v instead of 110v.  Note that the 115 at the end of the volts corresponds with the 12.0 at the end of the amps.  This (12 amps) is the number you will use if you plug the tool into regular house wiring.  If the motor is only 110v, it will only have one A/Amp number to worry about.  So, using the above table you could using the following extension cords with the pictured motor safely: a 25' 14 gauge and a 50' 12 gauge extension cord... ...nothing longer than that!  And this is only a 1 Horse Power (HP) motor tool!  Here are some common tools and the amps they draw:  Circular Saw 12 to 15 amps.  Corded drill 3 to 7 amps.  Contractor's Saw / Table Saw 15 to 20 amps.  Router 4 to 6 amps.  Remember, your mileage may vary.  When it doubt, check the label.

As you can see, it pays to have a few different sizes and lengths of extension cords.  But how to pick out the right one for the job?  When you are buying an extension cord, the Gauge label will generally read 14/3 Gauge or 12/3, etc.  The first number (14 or 12 in our examples) is the gauge used in the above table.  the /3 means that there are 3 separate wires in the in the jacket of the cord - one for each prong on the plug: Green is  ground, Black is hot, White is neutral.  (Just like house wiring, except the Green ground wire is often just bare copper.  Switches and outlets often label the right terminal/bolt to attach that bare copper wire to by coloring it green.) Older 2 wire cords are missing the Green/Ground prong and are not as safe as 3 wire cords.  On new cords the gauge is often stamped repeatedly down the extension cord, but not marked at all on older ones.  Eventually you will be able to tell by hefting the cord - there is quite a big difference between the various gauges, also a large size difference.

When in doubt, the shortest thickest extension cord is the one to use.

For more information on extension cords, especially about voltage drop, this PDF is great.