Tuesday, August 24, 2010

Sawdust and Plane Shavings

It can't all be about cultural criticism. I don't fritter away all my time pondering what's wrong with our culture and layering my opinions over it.

Lately, I've been spending as much time as possible in the wood shop. That's not much given my travel schedule this year. I sometimes joke that I work harder in my free time than I do at the office. Perhaps that's true, but immersing myself in a project is extremely challenging and rewarding. The small scale focus is a welcome change for a person who often feels the big picture of politics, etc. is hard to reconcile.

Our dear friends, Angela and Eric, were married in June. April suggested I make them a wedding gift -- patterned after a picture frame from an issue of Fine Woodworking magazine. The project was small and had limited joinery. I estimated it would take a weekend to build. It just so happened I had a board of thick cherry suitable for the project. I scaled a drawing of the frame to hold an 8x10" photo with mat. What luck -- the board was just the right size to cut all the parts. This meant the grain would be be complementary. The board had some very nice figure.

I recollect this board was given to me in 1999. I'd used it to practice face planing technique but the board still had a pronounced twist. It was beyond the necessary thickness, so I decided to rough out the cuts, take out the bench planes and make the stock true. That part went remarkably smoothly. Here are the parts planed to dimension and stacked in preparation for joinery:

Attempting to cut the long through tenons with the table saw produced some tear-out. Behold the beauty of hand tools! I marked out the tenons in full, cut them with a dozuki and trued the shoulders with a plane. The entire time I worked quietly without the need for ear plugs or safety glasses.

The groove for glass/mat has been routed, mortises are pre-drilled and the tenons rough cut. It's all chisels and planes from here. Here's a shot of the frame with tung oil finish applied, sans glass, of course:

I absolutely love the natural grain and figure of hardwoods. This piece really popped when the oil was applied. It became a vibrant red with dark banded accents. The frame is double-sided and freestanding so you can show off two images or pieces of art. The original frame design used small dowels to hold the top in place. I thought this looked a little chinsey. I have a couple blocks of ebony that were gifts years ago, but I've never worked the wood. Rather I've been intimidated by how dense and hard it is. Inspired by my success with the frame, I decided to handcut tapered keys with a finial to hold the top in place. The black ebony would add a contrasting touch to the flaming red cherry.
To my surprise the ebony is very stable making it easy to control chisels and planes when shaping it. I don't have an image of the finished keys, but they added a nice touch.

I sometimes feel like all I build is shop fixtures out of 3/4" plywood and dimensonal lumber. It's true, that's mostly what I have worked on over the past two years. This cherry picture frame was a nice break. It served as a reminder of two important things: 1)I am learning a lot of practical skills, and 2)All my work setting up shop is a foundation for crafting many fine furniture projects in the not-so-distant future.
Here's how the shop is looking these days. I have a short wish list of a few remaining tools. The list of fixtures and shop projects numbers less than half a dozen currently. My one-car space is well laid out. There is little space I'm not utilizing, but if I need to make more room I can.
By woodworkers' standards my space is quite small. I think it's pretty darned close to ideal for now. More space just tempts one to fill it with more stuff anyway, and more stuff costs more money. I'll eschew the pursuit of the fanciest tools with lazer sighting and jigs that do most of the layout work in favor of developing solid skills and handtool techniques.

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