Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Fling With Furnishing

Fling With Furnishing  
By Catherine Noel

  In front of me in the bright July sunlight is an unassuming gray and green metal building. This is the home of Bear Kat Wood, Fine Woodworking in southern Oregon. I am on a quest to find a piece of furniture, specifically a sitting chair. I am not particular, any old thing to sit in will be fine.

Inside I am surrounded floor to ceiling and wall to wall with all of the implements of wood. Saws, tools, wood, sawdust, and signage all work to immerse the visitor in the world of wood. Even the air is tinged with the smell of fresh cut wood, and the slightest hint of oil and finish products. Around me are scattered absolute beautiful works of art in various stages of completion. The furniture is randomly intermixed with scraps of plywood, planes, large saws and every size imaginable of wood pieces, from large colorful slabs cut in large thick sections down to the fine dust that is coating every surface I see.

This is not a clean well laid furniture store with casually thrown shawls, it is a working furniture shop. No interior decorator has done due diligence to present the perfect motif. This is wood from humble beginnings into furniture that we all use every day.

Near the wall across from me a particular black walknut chair grabs my attention. It's sculpted form flows with natural beauty. Smooth lines and gentle curves undulate in a balanced dance with the natural shades and colors of the wood. This simple chair is alive with movement and purpose. I run my fingers softly over the gentle curve of the nearest arm. It is a sculptural piece that belongs in a museum. People should see it, often.

“Have a seat”, the owner Bear tells me.

I'm remiss to disturb such perfect beauty. “It's so beautiful, can I sit in it?”

“Absolutely. That's why we build 'em.”

I can't imagine something so lovely and visually pleasing to also be comfortable to sit in. As I slide back into the seat my arms rest naturally on the chair arms. I feel as if I've just received a hug from a very dear friend, one I've known and enjoyed their company for a long time. Every part of my body is supported as if this chair was designed and built specifically with me in mind.

“It's wonderful.” I say closing my eyes. The chair is solid wood, but I feel perfectly cradled in its perfect form. “I could sit here all day.” I say relaxing into the hug of the chair just a little more.

Bear smiles understanding. “It's designed so that you will want to do just that.” Bear says. “Over here I'm building a dining chair. It is designed in a way that will be comfortable as you sit at the table to a nice meal, but the back is a little straighter, the seat flatter and higher, so that you won't want to stay too long. If you know what I mean?”

I understand what he is saying I think about the design aspect and our relationship with the furniture in our lives. There is a natural philosophy behind the design of furniture. A dining chair is designed to give the feeling you are visiting the table. You should initially be comfortable, but you shouldn't want to live there. Its made to welcome it's visitors and then send them on their way. The sitting chair is different, it should give you the feeling that all your cares are gone and that you do want to live there. It is the piece you sit in while enjoying an all night talk, or sitting peacefully contemplating life and all of its idiosyncracies.

I think about other pieces of furniture and what my relationship is with them. A high bar is uplifting, a piece to encourage fun and laughter. It raises you up above your usual self just a little. I always feel like it is a special lunch date or a meeting with good cocktails when I sit at a high bar. Conversely the kitchen table is compatible with the dining char like visiting a friend or loved one, a comfortable and unassuming piece. The kitchen table is not judgemental, it accepts me as I am and is good at keeping secret the bit of extra around my middle or the unpalatable fruitcake spit into a napkin. Though it has a time limit and it's important to never overstay your welcome. Hall tables are shallow and off to the side, things we merely glance at in passing, yet nice to set a special vase or a bit of color to encourage those walking through. They are much like that fancy neighbor we greet a little too exuberantly and get away from quickly in our embarrassment. Whereas bedside tables receive a lot of attention from their owners. They are a self contained nook to keep our personal items, specific to us. My bedside table is almost like a tiny ark. I keep anything that I think I made need off hand in the middle of the night there. It keeps my implements of inspiration safe from the prying world. My bedside table is a piece of furniture that I protect jealously from the world. The furniture I own for working is perfect for four and one half hours in the morning and four and one half hours in the afternoon, five days a week. Then my chairgoes under the desk or the stool goes under the workbench, put away until the next time I clock in. It is utilitarian in nature and designed with practical usage in mind. Writing utensils go to the right, I'm right handed, book holder to the left, so I can type while reading, etc. The chair is comfortable enough and the stool also. Though all of these items are worn, work gets done here, so I feel like I am meeting up with co-workers when I sit down and I don't really want to see them after the day is done.

The wonderfully sculpted sitting chair I sit in now is a piece I want to come home to. It is a piece of furniture I want to share my morning cup of tea or coffee with. I want to share my evening libation in this chair while I let the rest of the world wait, be still, just for me. I want to see this chair on weekends and holidays, share my joy and my sorrows while I sit here. This is a long term relationship, not one I will be taking lightly. It is strange how I came here with certain expectations and have found so much more than I realized I could. We never quite know how or when a relationship will start, this chair has pleasantly surprised me.

I sigh, let my worries sink deep into the dark depths of black walnut, and easily rise to face the day with a smile. This one is coming home with me.

Written By
Catherine Noel

Friday, July 24, 2015

Sometimes the old ways are better.

They say that necessity is the mother of invention, 
well then woodworking must be the mother of necessity.

 Over the years I have used countless jigs, mills where I needed to add some sort of coupling to the piece to fit it to the machine, all trying to find a faster way to turn my stepped tenons. I have ground open end box wrenches, made slip measurement guides, attached routers to the lathe, jig after jig, all with the same conclusion; that I was doing it the best way to begin with. By taking my time and slowly turning to the desired measurements. Stopping often and checking with calipers. 
I am not a purist in my woodworking, nor am I against using hand tools to complete a job, I am in the middle somewhere and try to do the job the most efficient way I can. For some tasks it means unplugging completely while for some other tasks the power tools can get the job done. 
Sometimes the search for a faster way comes to a good end and you find that more efficient technique, but sometimes a slower more methodical route is the best. Only experimentation can tell you sometimes. 
No matter what method of work you do, mass producing a piece with machinery or making a one of a kind with hand tools, don't let the tools or technique define your design. You might have to ponder a design concept for years before you figure out how to make it work. Pandering to the tools can steal the creativity from your design and it will fall flat. Draw your creation in your journal(very important for designer to keep) then figure out how to make it happen. 
Don't let your imagination get constrained by the tools, but make them work for you to create. 
I do still use this aid, but taking my time and creeping up on the measurement, stopping and checking with calipers seems to be the best for me. 

If you want to use the slip measurement tool, start by setting up a fence on your drill press and drilling concentrically larger holes in a piece of thin stock and labeling them. Then cut this board in half and when you rough in your turning you can slip it over the work and see how you are progressing. 
For the wrench tool, pick an open end box wrench and check it with calipers to get the perfect width. Using a grinder with cut off wheel to take a bit off the end of the wrench then put an angle on it with a bench grinder and sharpen it like you would any other turning tool.
 Bring the wrench up from underneath the stock and slowly bring the cutting surface into the stock until it encompasses the work. I don't use this too often, but they are nice to have around.

For tenons I like to add a strip of measurement tape to the top of my tail stock and set my compass to that, then mark the work using the compass. 
You might have a better way, that's fine. I just offer tips on what I have found works best for me. The point is to find the best way to make it all work for you to craft your creation.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Making a Backsaw

Making a Backsaw 
Part 1
 Owning a good backsaw can make all the difference in your joinery and your joy of cutting wood. It isn't too difficult to make your own if you have a little woodworking and machining experience. Heck if I can pull it off anyone can do it.
 Quality saws can get quite pricey and while I completely respect the amazing workmanship of these makers from antiques to current models, after you have sharpened your saw a few times it becomes yours. If you can put together a saw with a straight back having the right tension in the blade, a handle that sits securely and comfortably in your hand and saws true, why not make your own.
 It might get you hooked on backsaws and then you will want one of those fancy high dollar ones and if you are already hooked on backsaws, making your own is a great project.

First step;
I like to start with the handle and draw out a design I like. If you are unsure about making your handle pattern, blackburn tools has some great patterns. 
Be sure when you cut it out that you leave the indexing marks that show the center of your exterior curves as this makes the job a lot easier.

 Find that perfect piece of wood and mill it to about and 1". What you can do to get it just right is use some scrap wood to make mock up handles. This way you can get the feel just right on where you want curves and the thickness.

  Lay out the pattern with the grain so theneck of the handle will have good support.
Use an awl to lay out your hole centers and drill the out with the appropriate drill bits. You can use this method with every con-caved curve on the design, I just do the biggest ones.

The two dots on the inside of the pattern are for the saw bolts and will get drilled out later.
 Carefully cut out your design and use a spindle sander or files to clean up the edges for routing.
I will let the handle sit for a bit and get comfortable with its' new look ;)

For the blade I will be using .02 shim stock steel. It is 1095 tempered steel and has a blue coating on it. I use gun stock bluing remover to take it off and then give it a buffing with 600 grit wet/dry sandpaper. If you are going to use an old thrift store saw, you should completely disassemble it and clean it up. Watch "Super Tune Your Backsaw" by Matt Cianci for tips on taking it appart and cleaning.

For the Back on this saw I will be using a pre-slotted back from blackburn tools. You could also order kits with slotted backs from gramercy. If you would like a folded back, you can usually find a good one at a thrift store on an old saw. This can be the best way to begin learning how to make a backsaw. The bolts, blade and back can be re-used to make a new saw. My twist on the backsaw is to use a wood back with scalloping. This came about as I was waiting impatiently for my supply's to arrive and I wanted to make a saw. After Chatting with the saw wright Matt Cianci, I found out that there were some early american saw makers that offered saws with wooden backs. 
  I use a .02 slitting blade in a grizzly arbor in my drill press set on the slowest setting.

There are a few resources for the saw bolts. Like I said, if you are using a thrift store model, you can re-use the bolts. But if you want some new ones, again Blackburn is a good resource as well as Gramercy and TGIAG (two guys in a garage) They have some good stuff.
 If you are using old bolts be careful with them, they can be very fragile, clean them with a soft wire brush.
One option for your saw is a medallion bolt to have a little show. It has a small recess or bezel that can house a coin or something similar. For the saw we will be making, I will be using a piece of petrified wood I found on the beach and a tile saw to make a cabochon to go in the medallion nut.
My wife uses precious metal clay's to make jewelry and I stole some and had my local laser engraver print me a stamp out of poly-carbonate material with the reverse image of my logo. I put it on the end of a dowel and used it to stamp the clay. I then fired it and set it in the nut. They have a variety of clay's such as copper, silver and bronze and it is best if you have a kiln to fire them in, but some can be done with a small butane torch. You can fill the medallion nut with anything you like, giving it a one of a kind look.
Now we have the necessary materials to build a backsaw. In posts to come I will show how to finish it up.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Inspiration for the 
Wave Bench

I wanted to share a bit about how the wave bench came to be. It was a design that took years to perfect and working with my wife to find the right balanced look it came from many different sources of inspiration. First off would be the ocean we live next to. Bandon Oregon rests on the southern Oregon coast, just about as far west in the continental United States as you can get without getting wet. Our shop is about 1/4 mile from the beach and taking walks to the ocean every morning inspires a lot of my furniture designs. You can see a wave repeat in the bench in many places.

I am also a fan of art nouveau curves you can vaguely see in the legs and when I was able to engrave the stretcher I chose to go with a Celtic knot with a nod to traditional Irish furnishings.
The bench has a symmetry that mimics a pagoda.
Being a fan of Sam Maloof I chose to add "socks" seen in the book "The Furniture of Sam Maloof" on his 1952 prototype dining chair.

This bench has been one of my favorite pieces to build and it is very close to my heart as it was a culmination of designs both I and my wife enjoy.
 I hope you enjoy it as well.

Flattening stock

If you have ever had problems with lumps and hollows when you are trying to flatten your stock, try tilting the tool to a 45 degree angle to the stock and make a few passes and then rotate it 45 degrees the opposite direction and repeat. This problem is more prevalent with smaller based tools such as spokeshaves and travishers working on curved surfaces. Small hollows will form that the tool rides in and creates lumps and an uneven surface. By alternating the tool you create a wider base which will plane out these lumps and help smooth out your work be it a flat piece of stock or a curved chair leg. This works well with all tools that have a small footprint, but can be employed when planing flat stock as well. Cabinet scrapers in particular benefit from this practice. By coming at it from a different angle you can get a very even smooth flow to the work.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Maple backed dovetail saw.

Recently I have been making a lot more of my own tools and tried my hand at a dovetail saw. This saw is a bit unique and has a maple back. Works beautifully and I plan to build more. They are very challenging and fun to build and I may go over the process in a later post.