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 www.Frets.com 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.