Friday, February 27, 2009

Matching colors with tinted Polyurethane

There are a variety of ways to make wood look a different color.
The easiest / least potentially blotchy would be to use a one-step finish like Minwax® Polyshades
® which is a tint added to regular Polyurethane - so the poly itself has tiny flecks of pigment suspended in it. The more coats you use, the darker the color and the more grain obscuring / muddy the coating is. But, sometimes that is a bonus in certain situations.
The picture is of two pieces of molding for around a doorway, one a finished piece, the other with all the blotchy patches of color is the back side of another piece of molding that we used to try to match colors. Using the back side of a piece of the same wood makes a lot of sense. If you are careful and don't slop any finish onto the good side, you can use the wood. Plus, using the hidden side for color matching means that the wood will accept the finish identically, assuming that it is sanded to the same level as the front.
There are a bunch of different colors available (from a bunch of different companies) but it will be rare to get a perfect match right out of the can. If you are trying for a great color match, you are going to have to get into blending. This is where it pays off to buy a number of the same types of finishes, by the same manufacturer. I think you could probably mix and match from different companies, but you are pretty much guaranteed of a good application by staying in the same family of products by the same company.
We had a few different cans from a previous project, and purchased the two closest color matches... ...which weren't close enough.
The secret to being able to make a good sample / good application is to blend enough to do the entire job, rather than trying to eye-dropper / measure out and mix for a sample strip, and then trying to match the eye-droppered sample in a larger quantity. I guess I'm saying to not be afraid to waste finish - mix up enough in-between finishes that you can completely color your project. It helps to have some small clean sealable containers to store your various concoctions in. You can try for a wet match, but it is better to wait the full 6 hour drying time. The other thing you will want to do is that if you are trying for a color match in one coat for a product that needs a few layers for the level of shine you are looking for is to clear coat after getting the color you want. BUT, if you are serious about a good color match, you'll have to top coat your sample strip and wait for that coat(s) to dry. Even a clear poly may change the appearance enough to throw your match off.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

My favorite Woodworking magazines

This entry is kind of ironic, as I'm currently reducing the amount of paper I subscribe to (and subsequently have to store!) But, I may go through withdrawal and resubscribe to a few, will have to see. This entry is a (short) list of my favorite woodworking magazines and what they are about. But really the best way to evaluate magazines is to look for yourself at a newsstand & then subscribe at once! Most subscriptions are cheaper than paying retail for 3 or 4 issues.
Fine Woodworking published by Taunton Press is a wealth of information, although not necessarily for the beginning woodworker. My favorite articles are the how-to and reader galleries - inspiring to see how other folk do things. Very often there is an article that will take you step by step through a project. There are some really good online resources on the Fine Woodworking website too. I particularly like this plan with video of each step - unfortunately this is one of many of the website's project links require membership which is an extra cost over and above the magazine subscription cost. At least you can look at many of the pictures for free. I like many of the Taunton Press Woodworking and Homebuilding books. Be aware that some of their books are simply compliations of magazine articles and that some have original text but use pictures previously published in their family of magazines. This is a nice bookcase plan by the same author of the above table, but is a free download. Other free plans are available if you subscribe to their eletter.
Popular Woodworking is a great all-around magazine. Christopher Schwarz is the editor and I really enjoy anything he writes. His blog for the magazine is great, as is his personal blog. Honestly, as I type up this entry I feel like I'm assigning homework, but my other feeling is that I'm passing out keys to treasure chests or golden tickets to chocolate factories! If I was going to pick one magazine for the intermediate level woodworker, Popular Woodworking would be it. It has a good balance of power tool and galoot woodworking articles & the articles are long enough to fully explore whatever topic they are covering. They also have a regular beginners column that makes this the most well rounded of all the issues reviewed here.
American Woodworker is a pretty good magazine - chatty, many short articles, good exploded views of projects so that you can see how it all goes together. Some regular columns that are a lot of fun including one called "Tool Nut" that I like. I also like the profiles they do on various woodworker's work, often with detail on how they achieve some of their results. I would say the audience is beginner to intermediate & it covers most of the different types of woodworking including turning occasionally. Pick up an issue and thumb through it to see if it is for you.
Woodsmith - last but not least. The only magazine that doesn't have ANY advertising. Yep, none - well, the page inside the back cover does do a sneak peek at the next month's projects, but that is it. Pound for pound the most project-dense magazine. It comes 3 hole punched for binder storage, and is printed on a heavy weight non-gloss paper. I think there is a business relationship with Rockler, but that doesn't fuss me. There is also an associated Woodsmith TV show, that is showing on some PBS stations.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

Building with an initial set of hobbyist woodworking tools

Ok, I was going to call this post "Kreg Jig projects" but why not tie it to a previous post? Plus, buddy Adam suggested demonstrating what is possible with a minimum number of tools. Rather than coming up with a new project, or taking pictures after the fact, I Googled around and found this Reader's Digest / Family Handyman project that does a great job of building a cabinet with pocket screws and a minimum of tools: This is a good project showing how to hide the screws and use them to full advantage. Plus, the list of minimum equipment is similar to mine. Sure, Kreg isn't the only game in town, but they are one of the most widely available. Any pocket screw jig kit would work. Kits like Kreg's Rocket (currently called the Junior) kit includes a starter pack of what you need for your first project. Well, ok, probably not enough screws if the project is half way ambitious: 1 1/4" square drive screws with washer heads will work for all most all of your needs, starting out.
This jig is the cheapest full featured one I could find, but not sure I can recommend it over Kreg.
In parting, a few links to good pictures, to help get your creative juices flowing. Here is a great way to completely assemble a kitchen base cabinet with pocket screw joinery. And This great video came with the Kreg jig pro kit I got from my brother Greg and sister-in-law Tracy for Christmas 4 or 5 years ago. (Thanks again!) This Lowes project requires a few more tools, but demonstrates that even chair making isn't beyond pocket screw joinery.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Rough sawn vs surfaced wood

Wood that you buy from Home Depot, Lowes, Parr or any other retail outlet that services the general public as well as most home building and construction trades has one thing in common: it is surfaced, reasonably square, and ready to use. It even has a standard name; dimensional lumber. A 2x4 from one store is likely to play well with a 2x4 from any other store. If you are building a house or a garden shed that is perfect.

When you look at wood available from specialty stores such as Woodcrafter, Rockler, Crosscut Hardwoods, Woodcrafters (or any other specialty store for woodworkers) you start to see some differences. Sure, there are flat smooth boards available for sale but there is also rough cut wood too. Some of the rough cut stock looks almost woolly it is so rough. The other thing you'll notice is a difference in price. Surfaced planks may be cheaper at bigbox stores or lumberyards, but the same species of rough sawn wood from specialty stores will be less expensive. Maybe not a lot less expensive, but some. Also, if you are looking for figured wood the only place you will generally find it will be a specialty store.

But, if you have the tools to deal with rough sawn wood you can cut out the middleman and buy directly from a sawyer or lumbermill. You'll get better prices, and you'll have a better chance of buying boards that were all cut from the same tree. Also, you'll be able to get boards of locally harvested wood that may be completely unavailable to you otherwise. My favorite local sawyer Tyler of Urban Hardwood Recovery has his own kiln and operates his business on a part time basis. Locating a local sawyer isn't hard. Search for terms like Hardwood, mill, lumber, kiln-dried and the species you are looking for. You can also contact a local Arborist who may know of a small sawmill operation, or even the makers of small sawmills like Wood-Mizer who may know of mills operating in your area.

Friday, February 6, 2009

The most important tool

Speaking of tools - The most important tool anyone brings to any project is their brain.
Yep, that bony knob protecting 8 pounds of greasy meat is more than just a sensory organ cluster, well at least for some.
But, to sharpen that tool, you need to hone it using several different methods.
The first is all the varieties of classroom learning. Everything from sitting in a desk facing a blackboard, to reading web articles, blogs (meh) books and magazines. Not everyone learns well this way.
The second is to learn by demonstration - having someone experienced show you the way. Videos, flipping through pictures and in-person are the usual way such knowledge sneaks past our eyeballs and creates new synaptic pathways.
The third should be an outgrowth of the first two, and is the "lab" portion of the process - learn by doing. If it isn't the logical follow through of the above, you are in possession of an original thought (be very careful with it, it is lonely and in an unfamiliar place) and are charting unknown territory. OR you are a mad scientist type attempting to re-invent the wheel from first principles - because hey, you are smart and know better than everybody else anyway - right?

Notwithstanding the superannuated status of said canine and its lack of ability to absorb concepts of unfamiliar prestidigitation: I think it behooves us all, no matter what our skill level, to improve ourselves and therefore our work.

Taking a class, joining a club or guild, or just spending time with a buddy working as his helper on something is a great way to learn. Reading or even just flipping through pictures can help. I have a list of favorite magazines and books that I need to post here sometime. The method I like best is that once I have the basic concept for something clear, is to try it. Then, keep practicing it until I develop muscle memory and the skill to apply my new learning to a new project. Sadly, the new technique and project often go hand-in-hand. This should not be the case & can lead to wasted time and shoddy projects. I think Popular Woodworking Editor Christopher Schwarz has the right idea. Heck, he says it best, here. Take some time every day to refine a skill that you want to master by practicing those skills.

Old Dogs CAN learn new tricks.

Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Buying an initial set of hobbyist woodworking tools

If you are just starting out making things out of wood, the first thing to do is acquire a good basic tool kit to get you through your first projects. I think people generally start doing woodworking 3 different ways:
1) They were exposed young, either through a family tradition of craftsmanship, school shop program, or an innate desire to make things.
2) They've done a few projects around the house like assembling kit furniture, fence or furniture repair and desire to expand their repertory.
3) Basic need - a desire to make furniture better than they can afford to buy, or satisfy immediate furniture needs as cheaply as possible.
Whichever route we take, most people accumulate tools to accomplish the job at hand. Sure, sometimes people dive right in and purchase a bunch of tools all at once, but most people don't have the means, desire, or even the knowledge to pick out tools that way.
Years ago I wrote an article that was published by The Guild of Oregon Woodworkers about buying second hand tools from garage sales. I do recommend buying your first tools as inexpensively as possible without sacrificing quality (click here to read it) but that isn't the focus of this blog entry.
TIP - join a local woodworker's guild or club to learn from others rather than solely your own mistakes. Some mistakes are bigger than others - most folk start off with hearing, 10 digits on their two hands and 2 eyes; at a minimum you should at least hang on to those - safety first!

Here is my minimum list of equipment for making furniture from surfaced and (mostly) square lumber from a Home Center:
1) Eye protection - safety glasses are a must. Buy extra for any helpers!
2) Hearing protection - in ear or over ear, use whatever form you like every time you turn on a power tool. The important part is to never forget to use, and to use properly. Again, make sure you have protection for your helpers too.
3) Circular Saw - really, almost any will do, what is important is the blade, and how square the blade is to the shoe. For construction almost any blade will do, but you'll want a high quality blade if you are trying to make good looking furniture. I like Freud crosscut blades for their clean cutting action - get one that fits your saw.
4) A fence / sawing guide - for the shoe of the Circular saw to ride against. It can be homemade, or a fancy self-clamping guide. The important thing is that it be perfectly straight as the fence turns your lowly hand-held circular saw into a precision instrument. It has to be long enough to cut the pieces you are making. You may even need two - a short one and a long one depending on your projects.
5) A drill - a reversible, corded, variable speed hand-held drill with a 1/2" chuck, with a set of bradpoint drillbits in the common small sizes. Why 1/2" and not 3/8" ? Because this is one piece of equipment that you won't grow out of, or need to replace if you buy a good one the first time. Cordless and impact drivers may be tools that you add to your arsenal, but you'll be reaching for your larger drill more often than you think. Kreg Pocketscrews or Dowels or Miller dowels, they all rely on a good handheld drill. I also prefer a chuck with a key rather than a hand-tightened keyless chuck. I like a key chuck because I think they hold more securely and I've had keyless chucks bind and be hard to loosen, especially when wearing gloves or with sweaty hands.
6) Squares. You'll want a couple and for a few different reasons. A Speed square, a framing square, and a combination square are good ones to start off with. A good large combination square would be my first purchase in this category.
7) Sanding - at a bare minimum, a selection of sand papers in various grits up to 220 or higher, and a sanding block or two. First upgrade in this category would be a random orbital sander. My personal favorite is the Porter Cable Quicksand - of their current models, the 343K would do nicely.
8) Rules and tape measures. A good straight accurate rule and a quality 12' tape measure are handy for getting sizes right. When it is critical always be sure to use the same measuring device for all tightly fitting joinery because small differences occur between various types of rules.
9) A workbench, or at least a work surface. The Black & Decker Workmates come in a variety of sizes, the larger of which is a small workbench! A undrilled solid exterior door and a couple of sawhorses can be a great initial bench. Using a sawing guide on your bench can mean cutting into the bench itself, one method to protect your work surface is a 4'x8' piece of rigid foam to put under the board being cut, so the protruding blade divots the foam instead of bench or floor.
10) Clamps - good clamps are expensive, but pay for themselves in ease of use. I got my initial bunch of clamps from Harbor Freight (ugh) and still use some of them today... However, if you can afford at least 4 Bessey K-body clamps large enough to build your initial projects, you will save yourself a lot of grief. There are a lot of different clamps and types of clamps out there, but the Bessey K-body is a gold standard. Other clamping types are needed too, like "C" and "F" clamps or other small adjustable clamps for holding things in place. Mostly buy as you need, but always in groups - clamps of a common size from one manufacturer are easier to use together. "You can never have too many clamps"
11) A handsaw - doesn't have to be fancy, but a circular saw does poorly on inside cuts. Use a handsaw to finish what the circular saw starts. A handheld jigsaw would be the first upgrade in this category & would allow for some curves in your work.
12) Hand powered screw drivers in a range of sizes, both Philips and straight bladed - especially important if you are driving brass screws. TIP - cut grooves for brass screws by using a steel screw of the exact same size first, then back it out and hand-drive in the brass screw. This will save a lot of wear and tear on the "swear jar" as you won't break or damage as many brass screws that way. I like drills for putting in most screws, except for exposed / decorative ones.
13) Consumables - pencils, glue (I like Titebond III as a general purpose glue) and screws, sure; but also whatever finish you are going to apply, and the proper applicators and cleanup for that finish.

The above list is by no means exhaustive, but with the above equipment you can build nearly anything. Equipment beyond this will allow you to do so more quickly and attractively / with greater detail. Popular Woodworking has a special "I Can Do That" program that has a similar basic list of tools. Their PDF Manual is an amazing free download.