Thursday, January 31

Parts Blanks

It took a couple of hours this morning to get the daily bookkeeping in order; our internet connection was especially slow today. I did get word from Gary; he got his cradles and thinks they’re fantastic!

My first woodworking task this morning was to resaw the lumber pieces that will become our side and back panels later on. I start by removing the 3/8” general purpose band from the band saw and replacing it with a ¾” resawing band. After setting up and tuning the bandsaw to this new band (blade) I mark the centerline of the stock to be cut with a marking gauge. I will be splitting the lumber in two along the width of the boards. The lines I cut into the edges of the boards serve as a channel through which the blade will need to travel. The tubular attachment on the fence of my band saw allows me to steer the cut to compensate for blade drift. This is a slow process when working with 6 inch wide oak, if I get impatient and rush the cut I’ll burn up the blade and have to change it out. This too is time consuming… and expensive. It is best to take my time.

When the resawing is done I take the half-panels I glued up last night for the top plate and cut a glue joint down the center, glue it into a full panel and clamp it securely. This will need to set for a couple of hours, so I move on to the next task.

That would be surfacing and ripping the rough chunks of lumber onto parts blanks for the case work; rails, stiles, panels, grid pieces for the front and blanks that will yield the drawer fronts later on. One of the things we do on pieces like this is to make drawer fronts that are in a row from a single board so the grain in the wood flows across the drawers. It’s really quite a nice touch, much better than just having a bunch of random looking fronts. When done the parts blanks are labeled and stacked on a table by function. While at this, I also made up some small pieces of the same wood being used in the table that will be used for stain color samples when we get to that point.

My final task for the day was to work on the panel stock. I surfaced these pieces along with the rest, so now I lay out each set of four pieces, all cut from a single board to the coloring and graining are the same, and arrange them to a pleasing grain pattern that will allow me to hide the joints between the pieces. Right now the edges are rough, once I joint them the seams between the panels will disappear.

I got all the panels jointed and one pair of half panels glued and clamped, I’ll do the other two in the morning. Now it’s time to clean up the shop and post today’s progress report.

See you tomorrow,


Wednesday, January 30

Parts Pieces

This morning was spent answering e-mail and discussing possible new projects with three people. Kristi is interested in a 4-Post bed for her daughter, Angela (in Australia) would like a Doll Cabinet, and Gwen is asking about a Breakfast Nook set. None have made a formal Bid Request, so I am supposed to limit the amount of time I put into these discussions. But I can’t be rude either, so the discussions continue.

I spent the afternoon examining the boards I brought in a few days ago and chunking up and labeling lumber for the various casework parts for Nance’s CD End Table.
The top plate is glued up from 4 pieces of lumber, I jointed and glued them up into pairs (halves of the top). After the surfacing is done I’ll joint the pairs and glue them into the full plate.

Now THAT is a brief posting! We’ll get into serious woodworking tomorrow.


Tuesday, January 29

Lumber Prep

Some of the more often asked questions that we get have to do with our lumber; where we get it, are our sources ecologically minded and what grade the lumber is. Since we haven’t covered that in a while, I’ll go through that again briefly.

We purchase nearly all of our lumber from a local broker; Tommy. He runs a tree cutting service and is pastor of the local Church of Christ. He’s a good, honest man. People will call him when they need a tree or two, sometimes more, cut from their property. He is against deforestation and does not engage in large scale logging. Since most of the land around here is part of either the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, The Cherokee National Park or the Martha Sundquist National Forest, logging here is mostly small scale.

There was one operation up in Del Rio a couple of years ago where a large number of trees were cut and flown across the French Broad river to a spot next to Highway 321 by a huge helicopter because it was the only way to get them out of the remote location they were being cut without major ecological damage. That’s the only time since we moved here 6 years ago that I’ve seen more than a truck load of logs being taken from a single site.

Tommy buys lumber as standing trees – trees that need to be removed for one reason or another – and works with several local sawyers. He and a sawyer go in and fell the trees, cut them into logs and mill the logs into lumber on site with a portable mill.

If Tommy expects the logs to yield some especially nice lumber he will call me to see if I am in the market for that species. If so he loads the freshly milled lumber onto his truck and delivers it to me here, where we will sort it, count it up and cull out the useable stock. As to the grade of lumber -- because I buy the entire log, what I get is called log run lumber. In it we will get some choice and select grade lumber, some #1 and #2 common, and some that is pretty rough. Mostly the grade of a piece of lumber depends on how closely spaced any defects (knots, bark inclusions, rot pockets, wormy areas, etc) are, and somewhat on the grain pattern. Perfectly clear, very straight grained boards are select or choice grade. One or two small defects in a board would make it #1 common grade, more would deem it #2 common. Lumber that isn't suited for furniture making can be cut into stacking sticks or used in odd projects around our yard, so little is wasted. Even the shop scraps too small or gnarly to be used in any other way can be used in our fireplace to heat our home.

Hint: if you should decide to try your hand at logging, don’t park your truck under the tree you’re cutting! No, that’s not anyone I know. Really!

Before this lumber can be used in furniture making it has to dry. Fresh milled lumber is saturated with water. It normally takes around two years for the lumber to air dry to a useable state. During that time it must be stacked on a drying rack, each layer separated from the next by spacers or “sticks” so air can circulate all around each board. The stacks are then covered with sheets of tin roofing (if stored outdoors) and weighted. Now that our new workshop is in use, the old workshop building is being used for lumber storage. I hope to expand this "under cover" storage by building an open sided shed that connects the old shop and the new. That will keep rain, snow and the sun off of the lumber piles but allow the air to circulate freely.

As the lumber dries it will shrink. It will also want to cup (curl up on the edges) and bow (curl up toward each end) as well as split. By sealing the ends of the boards before stacking them I can prevent the open end grain from drying out faster than the rest of the board which causes splitting. If the boards are properly sticker stacked and weighted the cupping, curling and warping problems will also be minimized. If it is done properly.

Some want to know if our lumber is kiln dried. It is not; here’s why. Kiln drying *can* be an effective means of drying lumber more quickly than air drying, but if it’s done improperly, if it’s rushed, the lumber is ruined. It may not look ruined, it may look just fine until you cut into the board, then internal stresses created by the too-fast removal of the water content cause the board to curl off in weird directions. Sometimes the internal structure of the wood is so damaged that it honeycombs inside, rendering the board useless.

Kiln operators will tout kiln dried lumber as being superior for exacting uses (like furniture making) because they dry the wood to 6% to 8% water content. They claim that this makes the wood more stable, less likely to shrink up. Which has some truth to it… if you use the lumber as soon as it comes out of the kiln. But if the dried lumber is stacked and stored for any length of time, it *will* begin absorbing moisture from the atmosphere until it is back up to the 10% to 14% (or more, depending on humidity levels) that is normal.

Even if you do use the lumber right out of the kiln, the wood in the finished furniture will absorb moisture right through its finish and expand. If you have not allowed for this – if you think that “kiln dried lumber doesn’t ‘move’” -- then you will be popping joints all over the place. Wood never stops moving.

By air drying my own lumber I know that it was done correctly, my lumber costs are significantly reduced, and I have far fewer problems with case hardened or honeycombed lumber. I do have to keep ahead of my demand; have to keep enough lumber on hand to serve my needs two years down the road. And that my friends is a considerable amount of lumber. We stock 7 species; red oak, white oak, hickory (pecan), walnut, cherry, poplar and maple. We also bring in some specialty woods when they are available, at the moment we have ash, holly, sycamore, honey locust and some aromatic cedar in our lumber yard.

When I begin a project I go to the lumber stack and pull out boards that are well suited to the project at hand. A detailed discussion of what this entails would be beyond the scope of this little blog; it is something learned through experience… we call it “reading the wood”.

When I have the wood I need I take it into the workshop and allow it to acclimate for a while. Acclimation is just a snazzy word for adjusting to the new environment. The environment inside my workshop is different from that outside (thank God). As the wood’s water content and temperature equalize with that inside my workshop it may want to change shape. This time I allow it to do so. While this process is on-going, I can chunk the boards up into oversized pieces from which the parts will be made, but I must allow them to finish acclimating before milling them to finished size. That is what we’re doing now. This is in fact enough oak for Nance’s CD End Table, Ira’s TV Tray Table set, and a dining room table that I’m working on in the evenings for my own family, and probably enough to finish up the oak steamer trunk we began when we built the two trunks last fall. About time I got the other two finished up.

The lumber is inside now and I can go through the boards with my cut list and mark each board according to it’s intended purpose based on it’s coloring and graining. Sometimes it is necessary to surface plane a board a little to get a better look under the rough sawn surface. But if the sawyer used a sharp blade, I can usually see what I need to see as is.

I am also double checking to see that we have all the parts needed on hand and ready to use. The one part that gave me trouble on his project is the drawer pull selection. Nance really wanted antique brass library pulls. For some odd reason, none of the suppliers from whom I can buy library pulls offer them in an antique brass finish. But I did find a supplier who offers unfinished brass library pulls, which I can use an antiquing solution on, then lacquer them to preserve the finish and prevent corrosion. So that’s what we will do. This would not work on brass pulls that have already been lacquered (unless you removed the lacquer first) or on pot-metal pulls with a brass colored finish. Only on real brass.


I said I’d be brief, didn’t I? Sorry about that.


Monday, January 28

In Transit

Friday evening I ran the Bill of Lading, a set of shipping labels, and billed the final payment to Gary’s credit card. After placing the shipping labels and FRAGILE tags on the crate I moved it out to the dock. I ran into a little trouble with this task – the doorway is not as wide as I had thought it was. This came as quite a surprise as we have not encountered this problem before. But, with a little Devine intervention the problem was overcome and I was able to load the crate onto our truck for the trip to White Pine where the Old Dominion truck dock is.

Old Dominions local dock is HUGE, with hundreds of trucks loading, unloading and being serviced all at the same time. Except for two days a year, the dock is open 24/7 so we can take our shipments to them when it is convenient to us. I have to go inside and present the paperwork to the City Desk then they send someone with a fork lift to pick the crate off our truck and take it inside the dock building. In most cases, it is loaded onto a trailer and leaves the dock that same night.

It is a tradition with us to stop off on the way home and have supper as a celebration of another commission successfully completed, and we did so once again.


Friday, January 25


Crating begins by making rubber booties for the cradles rockers to protect them from rubbing after nesting the cradles together. Then I nest them and take careful measurements of the overall size of the total package. In addition to the booties I use Styrofoam to pad the sides of the cradles where they might rub together.

The finished crate must be snug to keep the cradles from shifting about, but not so tight that things get crushed. Once I have my measurements and have added figures for packaging I stretch out the monster sheet of crate board and begin laying out the panels. To help keep everything nice and square I borrow a tool from the drywall industry; a huge T-square. As long as I working from factory cut edges things turn out nicely squared up.

After the panels are cut I begin to build the base of the crate. Like the foundation of a home or the chassis of a car, a good base is necessary even for a crate if it is to properly protect the contents and allow it to be moved about. I cut relief’s in the longs sides so a fork lift or pallet jack can be used to move the crate – the dock workers and truckers appreciate this and since it means not having to man-handle the crate around the truck it also means less chance of damage.

Once the crate base is done I lay it on a roller platform and set the cradles in place on it, insert the separator foam pieces and securely strap the cradles together with cellophane ‘flat twine’. Then I install the blocking rails under the cradle rockers that will help support the cradles evenly and prevent them from trying to rock. Additional blocking is made up of crate board scraps and Styrofoam. This blocking is added to key points inside the crate to hold the cradles in place. I suppose I could just build a box and fill it with foam peanuts or shredded paper, but with a box this size, it would take a WHOLE lot of peanuts, and those would make a big mess when the crate is opened up. Doing it this way is lots more work, but better for everyone in the long run.
The blocking is glued together then glued to the side panels as I assemble the crate. The side panels will lift up and out after a few screws are removed for easy access to the furniture inside. No crowbar required. Once the blocking is all in place I begin applying the banding around the perimeter of the crate. This too is held in place by a spray-on contact cement. Key joints are reinforced with screws for easy disassembly.

The final step is to cut the top piece, add banding around the edge to give the screws a bearing surface and reinforce them. Once the top blocking is glued in place I secure the top with screws. Then the crate is ready to weigh and move to the dock where we will put it on our truck and take it to White Pine TN, the closest O.D.F.L. truck dock. The truck line won’t send their semi-trucks up Piney Mountain Road, and if they did they’d charge an additional $65.00 fee for doing so since our dock is not large or sturdy enough to run a fork lift on. So we take it to them.

The crate is 43” x 46” x 36” high and weighs 140 pounds.

Tools required:
  • A #2 Robertson head (square drive) screw driver. A power screw driver or reversible drill with this bit is recommended, but that’s up to you.
  • A knife or pair of scissors.
  • A wheeled platform or cart is recommended if you must move it very far.

If you must tip the crate up on its side in order to move it through a doorway look for the side marked “Alternate ‘down’ side”; setting it up on this side is least likely to cause damage to the contents. Set the crate down flat before opening it.

1) Remove the 4 wood grained couplers around the base of the crate.
2) Remove the screws around the perimeter of the top and lift off the top.
3) Remove the 3 screws along each corner post and remove the side panels.
4) Cut the strapping that holds the two cradles to each other.
5) Remove the cradles.
6) Please remember that cardboard is recyclable.

Thus ends this adventure in furniture making.


Wednesday, January 23

Crating Supplies

I spent 3½ hours this morning fetching the crating supplies I’ll need to crate up Gary’s cradles. First stop was International Paper in Morristown. The crate board I use is ½” thick triple wall corrugated cardboard. It has the same puncture resistance as ¼” luan plywood but one third the weight. Cutting down on weight saves you, my customer, money on shipping fees. While I was there I got two sheets so I'd have enough on hand to crate up Nance's CD End table, which is next on the docket. No need to make that drive any more often than necessary. The crate board comes in 9 foot by 16 foot sheets so we have to fold it up just to transport it, and cutting it to size is something of a task. This task was not quite so daunting the last time we did it because we had just moved into the new workshop and had a large open piece of floor to lay the board out on and work with it. Now that we’ve been in here a while… no more wide open spaces.

I also stopped into the lumber yard to get the pine lumber that will be used as the frame around the crate. I could simply build a cardboard box but, again, we get a better price by shipping in a wood framed crate – it’s better protected that way.

And I brought in from the big shed some Styrofoam sheeting (4’x8’ sheets) that will be used as cushioning to protect the cradles during transit.

The afternoon was spent cleaning up and clearing out as much stuff as I could to create some extra work space. Right now the truck is loaded for a run to the Convenience Center (local name for a community trash dump) and a stop at the Good Will to donate some items that are useable but no longer needed.

Tomorrow we’ll roll up our sleeves and build the crate.

Check in again then,


Tuesday, January 22

Final Finishing

As mentioned yesterday I have not caused an incendiary mushroom cloud so things are going well. The fan is pulling the lacquer fumes out to the rest of the shop remains inhabitable. The double doors into the finishing room can be opend up to allow easy passage of large pieces, or one can be locked down and just the other used for access, making it easier to keep the room separate from the rest of the shop. Being glass doors, it's easy to peek into the finishing room to see what's happening without having to open the doors.
I checked the lacquer this morning and it has laid out well; very little sanding is required. In fact I could probably get away with not scuffing it at all if I wanted to. Lacquer does not need to be scuffed between coats to improve adhesion because lacquer dissolves a bit of the coat below a fresh layer to bind them together securely. Scuffing lacquer is done to smooth the coat only. But to give them the best finish I can I will go ahead and scuff them before applying the final coat.

It is warmer this morning (29° as opposed to 19° this time yesterday) so I can begin right away. It is, however, raining so the added humidity will slow the drying process.

I have scuffed both cradles inside and out, top and bottom and have shot the oak cradle with its final coat. That cradle will occupy the finishing room until it is dry enough for me to move it without marring the finish.

As I finish the cradles I am also finishing two pair of bag handles for an order that was phoned in last Friday. They too get Satin Lacquer, so it’s a snap to do them alongside the cradles.

Both cradles are now done. Tomorrow morning I will head over to International Paper to get the crate board I’ll need and the lumber yard to get the crating lumber.

Check in again tomorrow,


Monday, January 21


This morning I took care of the weekly bookkeeping chores and set up to do some lacquering on Gary’s cradles. That project is on hold for just a bit due to cold temperatures.

Last week I was lacquering another project – the first larger project we’d used lacquer on in our new shop since it has been so cold -- and the fumes got to be quite intense despite having closed doors on the finishing room. So intense that Marie had to leave. I stayed to complete the job and became quite sick. The following day I opened the shop up and aired it out, but the stink lingered enough to get me feeling poorly again. That feeling stayed with me all weekend. I have a respirator that I wear when in the finishing room and in the past, when it was warmer, we opened a couple of windows in the finishing room and that kept the fumes from invading the rest of the shop too much. You could smell it, but it didn’t burn our throats and eyes and make us loopy like it did this time.

So this time I will open a window, set a fan in front to force air out the window and draw fresh air into the room from the heating ducts. Drawing warm air in should help maintain enough heat to get the lacquer lay out properly – I hope. My only reservation here is that this is not the right type of fan for this use. Since lacquer fumes are highly flammable an explosion proof motor should be used to power any fans that will be in the air flow, this one is not. But since I will be shooting in short sessions and will be using an HVLP gun not a compressor driven gun, the concentration of lacquer thinner in the air *should* not get to explosive proportions… as long as I don’t aim the gun in the direction of the fan.

I will, however, go ahead and post this much before I start shooting so that if I *do* end up creating a smoking crater in the mountainside someone somewhere will know what happened and be able to come up with a suitable epitaph for my head stone. If all goes well, I’ll add more later to complete today’s posting.

Wish me luck!

Mid-afternoon progress report:

Things are going well. I have not, as yet, turned the place into a flaming ball of rubble and the lacquer seems to be laying out well. The only lacquer scent I can detect coming out of the finishing room is being carried out on my clothing. I do have to wait for each cradle to dry to the touch before I can move it out and bring the other in because I’m working alone this afternoon. The round thing the cradle is sitting on is my finishing spinner – think of a lazy Susan only 3 feet across.

Our finishing room used to be a Master Bathroom. The platform I’m working on there has a big garden tub under it. Once I get the tub and decking torn out I will build a larger finishing spinner (5 feet in diameter) in the floor so I can roll large pieces of furniture in there and spin them around to do the finishing. My ‘plan’ also includes building a box on the outside of the room, encompassing the lower portions of the two windows behind the cradle. Air will be drawn out one window, through a series of activated charcoal filters to remove mist and smell by a large squirrel fan and then re-enter the room through the other window. I have the fan out in the top of the old shop, I used it to pull heat out of the shop in the summer, I just have to climb up there and pull it out.

After 2 full coats of lacquer they are looking pretty good. The lacquer is wet here, it will be a satin finish when dry. And that pretty well uses up another day. I’ll let the lacquer dry well overnight and do the last step tomorrow.

See you then.


Friday, January 18

Finish Sanding

There are precious few things more boring to watch than sanding. Not that it’s so boring to do… in fact one must guard against getting bored and losing focus because that’s when you’ll miss something. And this is how I spent the day today. Going over everything, inside and out, every detail; looking at and feeling it all as I sanded. All done by hand.

And now it’s done. There is no point in tacking them off just yet because more dust will settle out of the air over the weekend. Sanding dust is very fine and will stay suspended in the air for hours. I’ll clean them up on Monday and set up to shoot them with lacquer.

Hope you have a great weekend!


Thursday, January 17

Completing Construction

Today I completed the initial sanding, reassembled the cradles, using glue this time, plugged the screw holes, attached the rocker bases and the roof panels. This completes construction of the cradles.

One of the issues I have with this plan is the way they say to attach the base to the body; the plan says to simply apply glue to the lower edges of the sides, foot board and headboard and center it on the base plate. The weight of the cradle body will act as a clamp until the glue dries. Maybe that would work, I don’t know as I’ve never tried it.

My biggest objection to this method is in the area of wood movement. Wood expands and contracts with the atmospheric humidity levels. Finishing wood helps some, but no finish can entirely seal out moisture in the air. The body parts all have their grain running horizontally. Wood expands across the grain, not lengthwise. So as these panels move, they will move up and down together. In humid weather the cradle will get just a bit taller, dry weather it will be just a bit shorter, but the movement will be equal all around the body so nothing should be prone to popping loose or cracking.

But the base plate is perpendicular (or nearly so) to the body panels and when it moves it will do so across the width of the cradle – and the body panels can not move with it. If the base is glued to the body either the glue joints will fail and the cradle will come apart or crack.

The base plate is not huge, not like a dining table top where movement can be considerable, so maybe if an elastomeric glue were used it would work out OK. If I were building this for myself, I might be tempted to try it and see. But I’m not, so I don’t want to take any chances of these cradles disappointing anyone.

To address this issue, I do not glue the bases to the bodies, but install 3 screws in each end of the cradle. The center holes are regular counter sunk screw holes. But the outer two holes are enlarged into ovals before countersinking them. These ovals will allow a smidge of extra space to allow the wood to move unimpeded and the screws to bend just a bit as the wood expands and contracts.

Over the years these screws may stretch a bit but because they are not plugged, a light twist with a screw driver will snug them up again and keep the base plates in firm contact with the cradle sides.

The roof panels were supposed to be installed in the same manner; just glue them on, but I’m not comfortable with that, so I’ll use some small finish nails to reinforce these joints without marring the appearance of the roof panels. But I’ll do that after the glue sets up hard.

See you tomorrow,


Wednesday, January 16

Roof, Roof!

Today we built the final pieces of these cradles; the roofs. This consists of a front support member and three roof panels. The panels need to be cut from a 24” long and 11” wide board. For the walnut cradle, I have a board wide enough to do this. For the oak cradle I’ll need to glue this up. For that purpose I selected a couple of quarter sawn cut-offs that show some beautiful ray flecking and have graining and color similar enough that the joint between them will not be especially noticeable.

So I make my first task that of surfacing, jointing and gluing up the blank I will need for the oak roof panels. That way it will be ready this afternoon when I get to that step.

While I’m at it I go ahead and plane out the pieces for the roof aprons as well.

It’s pretty cold out this morning and our Chief of Security; Dolly, who takes her job very seriously, has decided to fulfill her duties as watch dog by watching from *inside*. Nice big windows make that duty much easier.

Shaping the roof apron is not as difficult as it might look for there are no beveled edges, lots of angles but all made at a blade setting of 90°. If we make the cuts in the right order they are simple enough to do. I start with a rather unorthodox cut for the miter saw by cutting the long angle on the roof top. No sneaking up on this cut; have to get it right the first time because most of the end of the board that sits against the fence will be cut away. Because the miter saw swings both directions I simply swing it over to the other side to make the cut on the opposite side.

Then I make the 8° end cut that will match up with the little arms on the side panel. This is done in a more conventional manner with the long edge against the fence. Swing the blade around to 8° on the other side and slide the piece down to do the other side. I could have done these cuts with a miter gauge on the table saw but that would mean having to lay out the cut for one end on the back side of the piece so I could flip the work piece over end for end to make the second cut. This is easier and faster.

The remaining cut; the scrolled edge is again done on the bandsaw with a narrow blade. But before I do that I test fit the piece into it place on the cradle and eyeball the way it will fit. As you can see, this corner would have been off by 1/16” had I cut it as laid out. I’m not sure where the error came in, but I can adjust for it and cut the apron for a perfect fit. Because it’s a square cut, not beveled, I can smooth and fair the edge of this piece with a drum sander. At least most of it. The little notch in the middle has to be done by hand, but that’s not bad.

Lunch time.

Now I grab the board I glued up this morning and the walnut plank I had set aside and plane them both down for use as roof panels, then rip them to width, and make the
cross-cuts. Then I tilt the blade to 15° to cut the miters where the three panels meet up. Once those are done I set the pieces in place, hold them together with masking tape and check the fit. Very good.

That completes the parts making stage. Now we have some decorative routing to do along the edges before I take it all apart again and sand everything smooth and ready for final assembly. And that uses up another day.

See you tomorrow,