Tuesday, December 22
I arrive this morning prepared to produce the weekly radio program our church puts out but decided that before getting into that – it generally takes me 3 to 4 hours to produce the program – I’d post a new entry to the Mountain Man series of articles which was inspired by the weekend’s events. I am almost finished with that, when Tim arrives and says, “I have a job I need to do and I could use your help.” I am about to tell him that it would have to wait until after I get the radio program done, but something in the back of my brain tickles and changes my mind; I’d help Tim first, the radio program can wait. We spend the rest of the morning and the first few hours of the afternoon building 8 Country Primitive shutters for a gal that he does a lot of this type of work for. He has a sketch and the lumber, we figure out there rest as we go. Tim is very pleased with the results, and is sure Joyce will be too. All that remains to do is to paint them, so we load them on his trailer and he returns to his own shop to do that. I return to my office to find an e-mail from the General Manager of WGSN radio, informing me that the electricity to their transmission tower had been out all weekend and on Sunday the back-up power source had gone out too so our program for Sunday had not been aired. All programming was and is available on-line, but not via radio. Well, that gives me some extra time today because now there was no need to rush to get the new program done, they can just keep the latest disk and play that next Sunday. I can produce this week’s program when time allows. I’m glad I listened to that brain tickle! This is especially good news because Marie has planned a Christmas Tree Hunt for this evening, and that is likely to take all evening. I would be back here in the workshop office (I’m using a cheap microphone and there is too much background noise at the house to record there) working late into the night to get the radio program done, burned to a disk and ready to go out in Tuesday’s mail so it gets to the station in time. So I spend the last couple of hours attending to some chores around the shop that need doing and piddling with the oak steamer trunk – I’m not very happy with the way it came out and I’m trying to decide what I should do about it. Perhaps I should just set it aside and proceed with the walnut trunk. I do have three orders and two stock projects on the production list but will not start on any new projects until after Christmas. Carl’s doors give me something to work on if I want, but he and Pam will be away until early January, so I have plenty of time on that one.
Friday, December 18
It was a cold, damp night and it’s raining now. The polyurethane on Ann’s tray tables isn’t even close to being cured out this morning so I brought them into the office where I have an auxiliary heat source to keep this room a little more livable than the rest of the shop. Hopefully this will help get the poly to harden so I can box them up today. UPS does not pick-up on Saturdays, but if need be we’ll drive them over to the customer center in Russelville tomorrow and get them on their way. The UPS man did stop to make a delivery at my Mom’s house, which is a hundred feet or so down-slope from my workshop, but did not come up the driveway to our place. This is a new driver. Our previous driver, Willis, was an excellent fellow, going out of his way to provide superior service to everyone on his route and took a genuine interest in helping us get things out to you. But, he retired or was transferred or promoted and I haven’t seen him in a while. He didn’t say anything about leaving, just wasn’t coming around any more. The new guy appears to be a rookie who has trouble navigating his truck. When he stops here he parks in the road (blocking it) and walks up to Moms house to make her deliveries, but will not come the extra distance to our shop. When we have deliveries arriving, he leaves them at Mom’s house or a neighbors house and we may not even know they’ve arrived for days. But I don’t want this to become a “dump on UPS” message so I’ll move on. I finished the bid on Brian’s coffee table Wednesday morning, which is a modification of the photo here, adding a mechanism that allows the top of the table to swing up and toward the sofa so it can serve as a large tray table as well as a coffee table. No word back yet, but this is a very busy season for most everyone. I won’t harass him about it yet, I like to give people time to make a considered decision. By about 2:30 the poly on Ann’s tables was dry to the touch, but not hard. Not hard means that it can be marred by things pressing on it and things left in contact for an extended time can stick – especially Styrofoam blocks often used on packing these tray tables. But, this is not the usual table order: just two tables, no stand so packing will be somewhat different than the norm. I do need to cut the Styrofoam packing, so I slice up a 4’ x 4’ sheet into the pieces I will be needing and go get a box out of the loft if the lumber shed. I wrap each table in cellophane, to keep the packing paper out of the trays where the poly is, then nest them together with packing foam in any chafing spots and wrap the nested tables again to hold them together as a bundle. A sheet of Stryofoam goes in the bottom of the box, strips are cut and placed around the edges, packing paper will fill the void and another sheet of Styrofoam will go on top. These boxes were custom made for us to ship our tray table sets in. For this use I will cut the box down to reduce the shipping fee and the need for additional packing material. It is snowing big time now, I’m sure our UPS guy will not be stopping in this evening, so we are planning to drive to Russelville in the morning to get these two orders on their way. I received an order for our last 4-Tier bottle stopper rack, but I can send that out Priority Mail in the morning. So, friends, that will finish up another week. All current orders are completed, so I’ll go back to working on stock items until another custom order comes in.
Thursday, December 17
I start the day by taking the completed trays for Ann’s Tray Tables out of clamps and do the finish sanding along the outer sides of the rails. Then I use the router table to round over the upper and lower outside edges of the tray rails. Why didn’t I do this before sanding? Because I wanted to be sure any glue bumps or slight miss-matches at the corners were evened out so they would not be repeated in the cut the router makes. Once routed I sand the round-overs and the trays are done. A while back I said that we had one final thing to fit before I could permanently assemble the leg sets, now we will look at that. I need to be sure the mounting blocks fit properly between the side rails; this is perfect! No adjustments needed so we can make the legs permanent. That done, I go ahead and glue the leg mounting blocks to the backer panel. There is no way to use screws to reinforce this joint, so the glue-job must be done right; good smooth mating surfaces, just the right amount of glue, and the right amount of clamping pressure to hold them in place while the glue tacks up. While the glue tacks up I make up a batch of walnut screw hole plugs using cut-offs from this project so the wood is the same color. I also finish making the latch block assemblies and glue those in place on the backer panel. Pictures? Well, I *could* show you how we make those, but then I’d have to kill you – it’s a closely guarded secret. Then I install the screw hole plugs and set the tables aside to let the glue set up. While the glue is setting I make a box for Dianne’s Cutting Board and package it using our eco-friendly packing. Then I weigh the carton, run the balance payment, print a shipping label and affix it to the box. That will now be set aside until I see the UPS man. By that time the plugs are ready to be trimmed off, then I do the final sanding by hand. Then I vacuum off the dust and shoot both tables with the first coat of lacquer. Once it is dry I’ll shoot the second coat. When that is dry I’ll scuff sand the tables to smooth the finish and shoot them with a third and final coat of satin lacquer. Once that is dry I’ll apply a skim coat of satin polyurethane to just the tray tops to help protect them from water rings and stains from spills; lacquer is a beautiful finish, but it needs a little more care than most people these days are willing to give it to keep it beautiful, so we skim coat the tops to help them remain unblemished. The polyurethane requires at least eight hours to cure before we can attempt to package the tables – more when it’s cold and/or damp (and it’s both tonight) and we need to have both of these orders on the road this weekend to be sure they get to the west coast before Christmas. So this will be another very late night – probably close to midnight – so I wrote this after shooting the first coat and I’m posting while waiting for the second coat to dry. I’ll do some cleaning up around the shop while waiting on the third coat and just go home once the Poly is on. See you here again tomorrow.
This is going to be a long one, so I’m in early. I mentioned on Tuesday that while cutting ribbon strips for Ann’s Tray Tables I also cut the maple and cherry strips for Dianne’s Cutting Board. That process went as most do, starting with jointing the blanks to establish one flat face and one flat edge that is square to the jointed face. Then surface planed them just until the other face was clean. In this case I’m not shooting for any particular thickness, in fact using some random width strips adds interest to the pattern. Because these surfaces will become my glue joints, I also used the wide drum sander to remove any ripples these machines left behind. I set these strips aside while I glued up the ribbon panels for Ann’s tables. This morning I start by removing the clamps from the ribbon panels and checking to see if they need to be scraped before machining – hardened glue globs will chip the expensive knives in our surface planer – but we’re in good shape, I did a good job of removing the squeeze-out with a damp rag after clamping. I trim the panels to finished with, being careful to take equal amounts off of each edge to keep the center of the panel centered. I put enough effort into getting a nice pattern that I don’t want to make it lopsided now. Then I run the panels through the surface planer. When we bough this large planer one of the considerations was the fact that it can handle a 15” wide tray panel. In the past we had to make these panels in two pieces, plane the halves smooth then joint the halves at the center joint and fair that out by hand. This is much simpler and worth the extra cost (about double) of going from a 13” planer to a 15”. I plane both sides, very gently; taking very light cuts to as not to cause chip-out since there are widely varying grain directions in the panel. The last 1/32 inch is taken off on the wide drum sander to produce a better surface. By the time they come out of the final pass they’re looking mighty good! Not only are they attractive, but all the joints are perfectly tight. Now I prepare the plywood backer panels. “Whoa, plywood? I thought you said plywood was bad!” Plywood is not my choice in most cases, but there are times when the special properties of plywood are desirable, even better then solid wood. This is one of those. The reason being that solid wood *will* contract and expand with humidity changes – that can not be stopped. In most cases I will design a piece to allow for movement so joinery doesn’t get popped open and panels don’t crack. In the case of these tables, the rails are quite delicate and don’t offer “meat” at the corner joints to be relied upon as the only means of holding the rails together, they need to be glued to a solid base as well. That can not be the ribbon panel because of the aforementioned expansion/contraction cycles, so I incorporate a plywood backer panel under the ribbon panel that will not expand and contract, so it can be used as that stable and stalwart base to which we can glue our frame rails. I use furniture quality veneered plywood for this, not Home Center stuff, so this is still very expensive and high quality material. After cutting a piece off of the large plywood panel (a little wider than I need) I flip it over and trim up the ”raw” edge, then flip it again and to a final trim on the first cut to be sure I have good straight, clean edges to work with. Then I use the big cut-off sled to cut them to rough length. I’ll cut to finished length later. The backer panels are cut so that they are 1/8” wider than the ribbon panels, allowing me to leave a 1/16” space on either side inside the side rails. This is to allow room for the panel to expand into and to insure that glue inside the rail groove does not adhere the panel to either the backer or the rail. I apply a stripe of glue down just the center of both backer and ribbon panel, flip the ribbon panel onto the backer, center it side-to-side and apply clamps. Once both are done I’ll find heavy stuff – full gallon cans of finishing supplies work well – to set in the middle and apply pressure so the glue sticks there too. While the glue sets up on those I pull out my cutting board strips and arrange them to obtain a pleasing pattern. It is very important while doing this to remember that the template Dianne supplied (as all these templates are) is the shape of the INSIDE of her sink opening. If I cut the board to this size, it will fall into the sink and be absolutely useless, to achieve the desired use it must have a lip around the edges that will sit on the rim of the sink. I make this lip ¾” wide, so while arranging wood strips I leave an inch all around – just to be sure. I also need to keep an eye on the orientation of the template. Because I’m working with the visible side of the board, the side marked as TOP must be up. I trace around the template, more to provide a means of getting the strips back just as they are now than for anything else. I reassemble the collection on top of a collection of clamps. To reduce material waste I do not try to make the board blank into a rectangle, so I end up with a challenging pyramid shape to clamp up. I remove the strips two at a time; one to glue and put back, one to allow room to work in. I start at the wide end and when I get to where I can tighten the first set of clamps I do, that way the glue does not dry out before I get the whole collection glued and assembled. When all are glued and clamped I wipe the set down with a damp rag to remove the squeeze-out. I’m not stingy with this glue-up; I’d rather waste a little glue than have a joint be glue-starved and fail. This board will subjected to repeated washing and during, so I use a polyurethane type III glue that is waterproof, but a joint that is not solidly boned together will allow water to creep in and star “working” that spot in the board, and that can break most any glue over time. I want this board to outlast Dianne’s kitchen sink, so we’ll build it right. While the glue in the cutting board is setting up I take Ann’s tray panels out to the table saw and use the cross-cut sled to trim them to finished length. By cutting backer and ribbon panels to length at the same time I insure that both end up square and even. I do the finish sanding now. Then I take them into the finishing room and shoot the ribbon panels with one coat of lacquer. Why? Two reasons. One: I need to finish at least the upper edges of the ribbon panels so when they contract they will not show slivers of unfinished wood along the sides. I also tape off the ends so I can apply lacquer to the ends of the ribbon panels – but not to the backer panels. This allows me to get a good glue joint between backer and side rail, but will prevent glue from sticking to the ribbon panel. While the lacquer is drying I plough the panel grooves into the rail blanks, round-over the inside top edge or each rail and sand the inside faces only. Sanding and routing the rest of the rails will be done later. Doing this on the inside face now means I don’t have to risk scratching up the lacquered panel by shaping and sanding the insides of the rails after assembly. I cut the rails to length, miter the ends, and fit them around the panels. I need these to be absolutely perfect: no gaps in the miter and the lengths correct. Too short and the corner won’t close, too long and the rail will not seat tightly on the backer panel, weakening the assembly. As in anything, “absolutely perfect” takes time, working slowly and being very careful. If I cut a little too much off I’ll be milling out a new set of rails. Once both trays are fitted, I glue them up by taking the rails back off – one at a time – and applying glue very carefully to the lower edge of the groove with a small artists paint brush then placing it back in place on the assembly and taking the next one off. When all rails have been glued to the backer and to each other I apply clamps to gently pull them together. This takes only firm pressure, no need to “go gorilla” on these. This assembly will be allowed to set up overnight to be sure the glue sets up well before I work with them any further. While I’m waiting on that… I trim the cutting board blank to width and joint the “hypotenuse” side of the board to make it smooth and straight. And run the board through the surface planer to smooth and flatten both sides. As with the ribbon panels, the final few passes are done on the drum sander to get a superior surface. I lay the board bottom side up on the work bench and place the template – make sure it is TOP side DOWN now! – on the blank and trace carefully around it with a sharp pencil so the line is right at the edge of the template. We can not cut on that line though – remember the lip? – so I use a good ruler to project out ¾” from this line and make a series of tick marks. When that is done I play connect-the-dots to create the final shape of the board. Now we can go to the band saw and cut out the shape. As always I cut just a hair outside the line so I have a little wood left to use the stationary belt sander in removing saw marks and fairing the shape as I sand back to the lines. But I don’t want to leave too much, this is 7/8” thick maple after all and will require some effort to remove the waste. Here is where the tricky part begins. We need to route a ¾” wide lip on the sides that will sit on the edge of the sink. How do we do that? Well, I do it by chucking a bowl making bit into the router table and setting the guide fence to limit the depth of cut. Unlike most rounded router bits, the bowl making bit has a fairly substantial flat area on top – which is made to smooth the bottom of a shallow bowl or tray – that works well to produce an even surface on the underside of the lip. I make the lip in shallow passes, stepping the fence back a little on each pass until the bottom of the board gets to the line I traced around the template. Then I make one more clean-up pass that makes the part of the board that pokes down into the sink just a smidge smaller than the sink opening. I’d rather have it fit just a little loose – the lip is plenty wide to support it – than to have it end up too tight. You don’t want to have to pound it into the sink opening! Sanding is next. Lots of sanding. Fortunately The large flat surfaces can be sanded through the various grits (120, 150, 180, & 220) needed to achieve the soft glow we seek once the wood is oiled. OK, you caught me… I do not sand the bottom of the board all the way to 220, I stop after 150, but the visible parts are sanded, and sanded and sanded some more. The final pass, even on the top, is done by hand to get the best finish possible. Once that is complete, I tack away the sanding dust, take a sinus pill to fight the headache I’m going to get from breathing all the really fine sanding dust, and go into the finishing room to apply the first coat of oil. This is food-safe mineral oil. Never use vegetable oil or nut oil to treat a cutting board as these will go rancid in time and could bleed unpleasant stuff back into the food you are preparing that may make you sick. Mineral oil does not spoil. Nor does it form a film like most finishes that would flake off into your food. Most finishes are non-toxic once they’re cured, but if you want to try new flavorings in your food, look to some new spices not polyurethane, lacquer or shellac. The oil is applied very wet and rubbed into the wood –literally- by hand. I can use a rag, but I prefer to use the palm of my hand because it allows me to feel a little extra drag where areas of the board are especially thirsty and are drinking in the oil faster than the rest. I continue rubbing the oil for at least 10 minutes, moving it around the surface making sure that areas that need it are getting it, them wipe the excess oil off with a clean rag. I’ll let the board set overnight and apply another coat is just the same way tomorrow. I’ll finish out the day by milling out the basic parts for the latch blocks for Ann’s tables. Actually making these parts is tricky. It’s almost 10:00 PM now and I’m tired. I’ll call it a day for today and get to this step when my brain is again up to the task. G’Nite! NOTE: Turns out I was too tired to write and post this episode Wednesday night. My apologies to those who eagerly await each episode of this oh-so- thrilling blog (grin). I posted this during lunch on Thursday so please forgive any salad dressing stains you find while reading.
Tuesday, December 15
OK, we have a lot to accomplish today, so lets get to it. We’ll start out by selecting a cherry board with consistent color and even graining – or as even as we can find. Because all the old-growth timber has been cut and we’re working out of much younger trees now, trees that were planted and harvested after just two or three decades, we rarely find the kind of boards that our forebears had: wide boards with straight even grain. Being much smaller trees, lumber we work with now has a lot more “direction” in the wood, and areas of straight, clear grain are small and short. But I digress. So I lay- out the board and chunk it up on the chop saw into the rough-length blanks for TV Tray Table ribbon strips. Because this board was cut from the center of the tree and contains the pith, it cupped as it dried. But that’s OK, for I am cutting it into short lengths and then the lengths into narrow strips. To salvage more useable thickness, I rip the worst pieces along the pith line, where the board bends to separate it into two much flatter pieces that will require far less jointing to flatten the first face. Which is done on a jointer. A cutter head under the red, swinging guard removes a little wood from the downward face of the board. The infeed and outfeed tables are perfectly parallel to one another, with the outfeed table perfectly even with the top of the knives in the cutter head, the infeed table can be lowered to adjust the depth of cut. Together they work to remove any twist or cupping from the face of the board. Here I’m jointing a wide board and you can clearly see (I've flipped this board over for you) how the outer edges have been cut onto and smoothed, the center part of the board is still rough because the knives have not gotten to it yet. Another couple of passes will have this entire face smooth, flat and straight. After flattening the wide face, I flip the board up on edge, press the jointed face against the fence at the back of the jointer and run one edge over the cutter head until it too is smooth and flat. This also makes the two jointed faces perfectly square (at 90°) to one another. When I’m finished I mark the two jointed faces in pencil. The two triangles point to the square corner. This is called a joiner’s bow-tie and is a hold-over from the days when an apprentice in a woodworking shop did nothing but flatten rough lumber boards using a hand plane – because they had no power tools. Using these marks, the master craftsmen would know for certain which faces have been jointed and were ready for use. Then the boards go to the surface planer. On this machine the cutter head is above the wood and the freshly jointed faces are placed down on the flat bed of the machine and fed into the cutter head by a tractor mechanism or feed rollers. The cutters remove some wood to smooth the upper surface and make it parallel to the jointed face. We now have only one rough edge, the rest of each board is nicely smooth and rectangular. In most cases a rough part blank would now be trimmed to the proper width on the table saw and that last rough edge is cut away. If in doubt about whether the table saw blade is square to the table top a machinists square or electronic angle finder can be used before making that final cut. In this case I will be doing something just a little different; instead of making one cut to finish the part blank, I will cut the blanks into multiple thin strips which will then be edge glued into the tray panel. Because the wide faces I’ve been working with will become my glue-joints, I take the added precaution of running the blanks through the drum sander to remove any ripple that may have been left by the jointer and planer. Then cut the strips, setting each aside and keeping them in order as I cut them off the blank. This helps to keep the grain patterns flowing smoothly, where just tossing strips randomly together would create a rather chaotic look. When done I have enough strips cut to make 2½ tray panels, which is good because I like to have extras in case a strip or two turn out to have a defect. If so I pull it out, close the gap and bring the next piece in order into the edge of the collection. While milling the ribbon strips for Ann's table, I also milled the maple and cherry pieces needed for Dianne’s cutting board (on the left) and set them aside. Now we lay the strips out on a flat surface and look them over carefully. Ignore the burn marks; a result of close-tolerance cutting, they will be sanded away when we dress the panel. What I’m looking at is the coloring and grain patterns. Sometimes the end result is better if I flip every other ribbon over to get a book-matching effect in pairs of ribbons. Other times I need to rearrange the order, maybe taking a dramatic section from one side and centering it in the panel - yet avoiding any sudden changes in pattern that will offend the eye. When I’m happy with the pattern I square the collection up and secure them together with three strips of wide masking tape. A mass produced table would be using a piece of veneered plywood here instead of going through the trouble to make the solid wood ribbon strip panels. But our tables, being solid wood, can easily be repaired should one become scratched or dented. The veneer used on plywood – even good veneered plywood – is only as thick as 3 or 4 pieces of 24 pound printer paper stacked together and sanding such a surface is extremely risky. You can not sand through as solid wood tray! Well, OK, you *could* but it would take an awful lot of determination! When both panels are ready, I take them into the assembly room where I have a gluing fixture set up, glue pot at hand and clamps laid out ready for use. The fixture allows the panel to fold over the edge, opening the joint so I can brush in some type III polyurethane (waterproof) glue, the tape holds it together and acts like a hinge as I work down the panel. When there glue in each of the joints I lay the panel on the clamps, even up the bottom face (which will become the visible tray face) and begin snugging up the clamps. I wipe both faces with a wet rag once all the clamps are tight to remove the glue squeeze-out. This saves a good deal of scraping later and is much easier on my planer knives as well. These panels will sit overnight to allow the glue to set up good and stiff. It won’t reach maximum hold for 5 days, but will be quite workable by tomorrow. So it’s time to clean things up a bit, and go do the blogging thing. Join me again tomorrow as we clean these ribbon panels up and make them into tray tops.