Southeast Michigan Woodworkers

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PostPosted: Mon Aug 21, 2017 1:58 pm 

Joined: Tue Oct 11, 2016 9:39 am
Posts: 134
Location: Plymouth
WARNING: this is a long post about this entire build. Picture link below if you just want to see the finished shots. :)

I just finished my first "chair" -- well, really a stool, but built using traditional chair undercarriage joinery. I learned a lot about sightlines, compound angles, and really how they are much simpler than they sound when you first dive into it. As I believe both Peter Galbert and Chris Schwarz (both of whose books guided me through this project) have said in some form, there's really nothing special about 90 and 45.

The fun part first, the photos:

It's not exactly a step-by-step gallery, but it is in chronological order and each photo highlights each big step. My process wasn't exactly revolutionary, but for anyone curious, here's the outline. All this work was done by hand (well, I'm sure the lumber came off a bandsaw mill before it ended up in my hands, anyhow).

- Using my Disston miter saw and compatible Stanley box, we cut the seat blank from a piece of 8/4 poplar. My 4 year old helped me with this part since it made the cuts easy with the miter box. The slab of poplar was sawn pretty well, so we did the corner cuts at the same time, instead of me flattening/jointing first.

- I had a bunch of ~6/4 square leftover red oak from various other things that was used for all the undercarriage. Just some quick crosscuts by hand with the carcass saw to get them to working leg lengths.

- Used a low angle jack plane both to dress the seat blank and the four leg blanks. This was fast since the poplar slab and the red oak were all sawn well and pretty darn close to true as they were. At this point, I set aside the fourth leg blank since it was a spare, in hopes that I'd do alright on the three legs and would be able to us the fourth leg blank for the stretchers.

- Marked out the rectangular taper I wanted on each piece on the sides, then marked out what the ultimate octagonal taper would look like on the ends. I used this very nice and very cool 8" Witherby drawknife to quickly rough in the rectangular taper. Even on kiln dried stock, I was pretty blown away how quickly -- and how close -- you can get to your finished shape with a good drawknife.

- Trued up the rectangular taper with the jack plane and used the jack plane to plane the rectangles to tapered octagons.

- Then the fun picture of the three leg tenons... can you tell which tenon I cut first, second, and third? :) Ultimately, they were finished with a Lee Valley tapered tenon cutter, but you have to start with something else to hog away most of the waste. I used the drawknife at first, but actually ended up settling on my 1" bench chisel as feeling a bit more controlled and quick for this work. I'm sure most of that is down to my comfort level with the tools at play. Next time, I may drawknife in the rough tenon shape BEFORE I work the rest of the leg into its final shape, so that I don't have the shoulder to contend with. Also, I'll probably use my straight carving knife to fine tune what the drawknife does before going to the LV tenon cutter to finish it up. I think sitting down with a carving knife and roughing in tapered tenons is a more intuitive and comfortable approach than how I did these.

- I marked the sightlines and baselines on the seat blank bottom. Then I set a bevel gauge to the resultant angle of the leg and taped it in position on the blank.

- I bored the holes in the seat blank with a 5/8" augur bit and brace. I wanted the control the brace afforded just to take it slow and make sure I was keeping on the angle of my bevel gauge for the resultant and following along the sightline properly. I'm sure with practice my cordless drill will make this a faster operation, but really, with a sharp augur and oiled brace we're talking about a difference measured in a few minutes. I did bore until the leads came through, then flipped to finish them. This is because, while I saddled the seat a little bit, it wasn't much. I don't have a scorp/inshave, adze, or anything that will really quickly saddle a seat. So even though I knew I'd saddle it a bit, I didn't want to spelch out the top, just to be safe.

- I have the LV reamer that matches the LV tapered tenon cutter diameters and included angle. That isn't strictly designed for a brace, but I chucked it in there anyhow and it worked great. I actually did the first hole with my cordless drill and found that it was tough to regulate the speed without just burnishing the hole. A slow pace with the reamer in my brace and it shaved out the hole nicely and didn't heat up and burnish the mortise.

- Next few steps I skimped on pictures. You can see the test fitting of the legs into the seat, and then the next picture is a test fit with the stretchers done. The first stretcher I did was the longer one across the front. That went pretty well, and I did it just like I did the legs, it just had the bulb in the middle. Drawknife got it 95% there and the jack plane finished it up. On the front to rear stretcher, I screwed up on the length of tenons I needed, so I had to remake it -- I had cut the shoulders too far in and it looked bad. Oh well, it was quick enough to remake that stretcher.

- Before the picture with the wedges glued and driven, I did a bunch of stuff that I couldn't really take pictures off, it wouldn't have shown much... first, I saddled the seat. I have an extra iron for my #3 smoother, so I eased the corners on that iron and then set it for a deep cut, and worked across the blank to put a little hollow in the middle. You can see this in the finished pictures. Not a huge saddle, but it does make a difference in how it feels, and I think it makes it look nicer. Next, I scraped the seat blank to get it nice and smooth. Then, I went over all the edges with a fine toothed come, and use my spokeshave to ease them and facet them a bit so that they'd look and feel nicer to the touch than crisp lines. Then I raised the grain on everything and lightly sanded with 220. And finally, I sawed the kerfs in the tenons for the wedges, and split wedges out of a spare chunk of oak, can't remember if it was red or white.

- Then of course, the moment of truth, the assembly. I used liquid hide glue and moved quickly. I had never done this before so honestly, I just pretended like I knew what I was doing and put the thing together. It wasn't rocket surgery. Just like Peter Galbert says, when you drive home the legs into the seat and know you've hit the sweet spot, the sound changes. And similarly when you drive home the wedges and hit the sweet spot, you can hear the tone of the hammer blow change. It was a lot easier and far less nerve-wracking to assemble than I anticipated. Then again, this isn't a full, beautiful Windsor. I'm sure as I get better and build nicer pieces, the anxiety of hammering them home will creep upward! :)

- Sawed the tenons down and finished them up with a chisel. I know a paring gouge is recommended for this to avoid scarring the seat and to make it harder to blow out the other side, but I don't have one yet. I wetted the end grain a bit and that made it easy to pare carefully. I scraped quickly right over the tenons to even things out, then did a really fast pass with 220 sand paper one last time.

- The finishing process is taken straight from Peter Galbert's book (except for the last step). First, van dyke crystals were used to stain the whole thing to give it a uniform appearance underneath so that it wears well. Second, red milk paint. Third, black milk paint. And finally, I finished it up with wax instead of varnish.

- This was the first time I did van dyke crystals. I wanted to go full DIY and buy some walnuts still in the hull, and then save the hulls and make my own stain with it. We eat a lot of walnuts anyhow! But those only seem to be available in stores around xmas time, so I just got the crystals. This is easy enough to use. For anyone that hasn't used them before, you just dissolve them in warm water and rag it on. It goes on very easy and very even, and of course it's totally natural and safe. A nice departure from the numerous finishing procedures that involve multiple MSDS. But wear gloves unless you want orange and brown fingernails. Obviously, this provides no protection. But it would be a really nice and super easy finish to use for decorative pieces... work in some water soluble dyes and you have a lot of possibilities. I'd highly recommend it for things like picture frames or clocks, something that is truly decorative and you want to highlight the wood grain quickly and safely.

- This was also my first time using milk paint. I heeded Galbert's advice and went with Real Milk Paint over Old Fashioned Milk Paint. Obviously, since I only used the former, I can't say from experience the contrast, but it certainly seems to be Galbert is correct in that Real Milk Paint mixes easily (no filtering needed), covers well, and keeps after being mixed for a bit. I just mixed in a wide-mouthed, short mason jar with the marble. I did his ratio of 3 parts water to 2 parts paint for the first coat of each color, and watered it down for each second coat to an inkier consistency. This is all stuff that is clearly said by anyone that talks about using milk paint, Galbert included, but I'll reiterate for anyone else that hasn't used it -- it does not go on like latex or oil paints. It simply does NOT flow. As Galbert writes in his book, it's almost like you are mashing or forcing the pigment into the wood grain. As such, if you try this, I suggest this -- think about how much latex or oil paint you'd mix for what you're finishing. Then, add maybe 50%, or possibly even more. You need to load the brush up good and keep refreshing it because you really make the most progress by pushing the paint into and onto the wood.

- The milk paint was easy on the undercarriage. Due to the faceted nature of the octagons, you were always working off the wet edge and never retracing your steps. But the seat top was another beast. It was very difficult for me. The first coat of red was rough. Sanding it as even as I could without taking off too much helped a lot. The second coat of red really helped. The second coat of black was still tough, and the seat is not as pristine as I'd like... after burnishing a lot and waxing it, it came out pretty good and I'm really pleased for my first effort. But on a large panel or seat top like this, I will practice next time I use this paint, to try and figure out the right wait to work to the wet edge without overlapping and thus getting noticeable thinner and thicker streaks.

- I will definitely keep using this paint though. The finished look is great and versatile because you can top it off in different ways to change the sheen dramatically. It goes on tough compared to latex or oil paint, but I can see that perfecting the technique will be worth it, because the spots where I got in a groove and painted quickly came out looking so more more rich and natural than any wall or reclamation project that we've slapped home center latex or oil paints on. And similar to what I mentioned about the van dyke crystals, it's safe. No, you don't want to eat it, but it's lime, water, and milk protein. In the world of finishes, it doesn't get much safer.

- After the first coat of red, I used a grey scotch brite pad on everything, and then went back over the seat with 220. After the second coat of red, I did the same, but used a lighter hand on the seat with the 220, since it was pretty even and just needed to get the texture smoothed out. After the first coat of black, I did the same thing as the first coat of red, but was a little more forceful with the scotch brite pad to burnish it through to red in a few subtle places. And on the final coat of black, I used a trick that I read in Chris Schwarz's blog (not sure if he got the tip elsewhere and can't find the post) -- I started by burnishing the entire thing with a paper bag. I used it just like it was sandpaper. This gives enough abrasion to remove the nibs and dust, but keeps you from going overboard and cutting through deeply on all the corners, edges, and curves. After that, I did just the lightest few passes of 220 on the seat top to get it very smooth. And then I finished up by buffing the entire thing with 0000 steel wool -- pretty vigorously and extensively on the seat -- and more gently on the legs so that I wouldn't overdo it and remove too much black.

- Lastly, I broke from Galbert and decided to wax as a finish, at the recommendation of Real Milk Paint. I had wanted to try a stand oil + beeswax mix. So I made it based on this recipe ( ... wax-finish). This was easy to make and came out as described. It went on easy enough, but in the end it was, as I somewhat expected, too matte of a sheen for my taste. So once it cured, I decided to come back with some neutral Liberon Black Bison paste wax. If you haven't used it, it's great wax. It goes on easy, shines up anything to a moderate sheen. It looks good on bare wood, over shellac, and now I've discovered, over paint. But holy hell does it stink. Not BAD, exactly. It smells soapy and floral. It's just stronger than hell. It's VOCs out the ass. But it did give me the bumped up sheen that I was going for. After seeing how the 0000 steel wool didn't overly burnish the seat, I decided to apply the Liberon wax to the whole stool using the 0000. I think the fact I did it with 0000 instead of just a rag helped bring up the sheen on the overall product, so I'm glad I did.

In the future... I'd probably try another finish. I've heard very good things about the finishes by Osmo, both that they go on really easy and protect well without giving the plastic look of a lot of built up finishes. But for this particular piece, it was both something for my older son, but also something of a practice piece. So I really wanted to see how the milk paint would wear, tear, and burnish further with use. I didn't want to have a hard shell of poly or something sealing it out from the world -- I want to see what happens as Matchbox cars race all over it and the layers of paint start to burnish up, and their layering becomes more prominent.

A side note about the stand oil + beeswax homemade finish. I'm working on a bookshelf in cherry. Common cherry, not the most beautiful and clear, but pretty cherry nonetheless. I had been thinking of doing BLO, sunning it, and then shellacking it. But I did a sample board the other night. On one side, I did van dyke crystals (at the random concentration I chose for the stool's undercoat), and the other side I left natural. Then, on each side, I did the stand oil + beeswax finish with a pollisoir. Both sides look good. The natural side looks better. It's just natural with a little more saturation and depth to it. I am going to make sure it hardens up good, but if it does, I will probably finish the bookshelf with a few days out in the driveway in the sun, followed by this oil and wax mix. It's easy, doesn't have metallic dryers in it and doesn't smell. Wouldn't do it on a kitchen table or side table. But for a bookshelf I think it'll be a good ticket.

Van dyke crystals on cherry seem prone to the the splotchy effect that you get with a lot of finishes on cherry. If you were finishing something fairly small in cherry and wanted to roll the dice that the pieces were going to cooperate, I think van dyke crystals could get you a really nice, deep tone, especially with some wax over it or some dye in it. But I personally wouldn't cross my fingers on it.

Overall, this was by far the most fun project I've done. I really love working with hand tools, and as Galbert highlights in his book, there is something about making a chair that is one with handwork -- all the operations you need to do almost demand to be done by hand in order to be most efficient.

After I finished this yesterday, I was proud, but I actually felt a little more, uh... empty -- because the project was done! I have this bookshelf to finish, and I do want to finish it, but I just can't stop thinking that the next thing I want to build is another stool, or better yet, a full-blown chair. The work really spoke to me, and was a type of fun and relaxing that I haven't found in another craft or hobby ever before.

As a last point, I should highlight this, as it was the immediate design for this. I obviously shrunk it and changed the proportions and some of the angles a tiny bit. I did the stretches in my own way. But this is almost completely Chris Schwarz's design, so credit where it's due. He has published a thread about building this stool, along with full plans of it, on his Lost Art Press blog, so if you're interested in doing something like this, check it out! ... igh-stool/

Apologies for the length of this message, as you can tell I'm really excited about this one and it's the first thing I've really shared with anyone outside my family and closest friends. I welcome all comments... questions about what/how I did something, why I did it that way, and I'm happy to take critiques -- there are A LOT of little things on this that are not right, that realistically I'm probably the only one that'll really notice them. But truly if you see something that looks like I could learn a little something, don't feel like you should pull punches. I'm in this for the fun and the learning, not to quit my day job and build a brand!

- Nathan

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