Marquetry

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Saturday I received a book I had ordered entitled Marquetry by Pierre Ramond.  I was poking around on Instagram and asked about more information on the use and construction of the marquetry “donkey” found in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, published by Lost Art Press and written by the now super-famous Andre Roubo. Ramond’s book was suggested to me by Luke at AddingtonFurniture.com

As soon as I opened the package and saw the cover of the book I knew I was in over my head. The book covers the history of marquetry as well as the different specializations within marquetry. And to not disappoint, it is also a very thorough “how to” manual. Ramond covers everything–history, materials, tools, techniques, etc. At this point I am overwhelmed by the volume of material covered but that is a great place to be when starting to learn something new.

And the best part? There is a detailed plan in the back of the book that illustrates how to make a working “donkey.” I had read about it in Roubo and saw it in an article in Furniture & Cabinet Making but Ramond is by far the most explanatory of them all.

Sadly, it was also made known on Instagram that Ramond passed away this past Saturday. His book is marvelous and stands as a testament to his mastery of marquetry and his legacy in the craft.

I find it somewhat Ironic that in general I prefer furniture designs that are modest in embellishments; Shaker, Craftsman, etc., but am drawn to the detail and precision of marquetry. I don’t know where this path will lead me but I believe the first step will be building a “donkey.”

The Bench is Done…Now What?

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I feel as though I have turned a corner in the pursuit of learning the craft of woodworking. In the past I have just wanted to get the project done so I can move on to the next. But it was different with this bench. Maybe it was that I was building from a set of plans which I rarely do and to me, requires much more attention. Maybe it was the scale of the project; there were a lot of little steps building up to a finished product that looks so simple.

Actually I’m not sure I can put a finger on exactly what it is that led me around the corner but I feel a little sorrow that the bench is done. For the first time I think I relished the process and not just the end product. However, the end product is awesome and I do look forward to the next project(s).

I think this bench gave me a really good look at my current skill level and helped me recognize areas of weakness. As much as I want to become proficient with hand tools I found myself navigating back to the machines–the land of familiar. So my strategy for improving next year is to focus on practicing.

Following the construction notes from Benchcrafted made me realize how much I can learn from others (duh!). I think my problem in the past has been thinking I can just read books and magazines and somehow absorb the knowledge without actually having done it. It is a disconnect between theory and practice. So for next year I’m going to pick a couple of good books on different categories of woodworking and do them step-by-step. And I’m going to take a few classes too.

Make A Sector

Jim Tolpin and George Walker’s book By Hand and Eye has been a book I have carried everywhere for the last few months. Some of the Instagram folks have even called it “wizardry” and I have to agree. One of the tools mentioned in the book is a Sector. The Sector is used to quickly make divisions (or multiplications) of any length. Going through the exercises in the book I made a quick paper sector with a couple strips of card stock and a brad. But for use in the shop I wanted something a little more substantial.

Sector 10

I picked up a pair of cheap hinges at Rockler. They come in a two pack so you can make a large sector and a smaller one. The cost is about $12 and the hinges are made in China. I chose these because they were relatively inexpensive and could be easily mortised into the legs of the sector adding some strength.

Keeping to the theme of the book I didn’t use any dimensions. I found a piece of maple that appeared to be around 2 ft in length and was wide enough to get two tapered pieces out of. I squared this up making the thickness about 2/3 larger than the width of the hinge.

The next step was to mark a diagonal line that would create the taper. The tapered edges would then become the outside of the sector. The tapers are not essential but are aesthetically pleasing. After cutting the two tapers I used a hand plane to clean up the sides and bring them to the same size.

Sector 11

I then put the two pieces end to end and lined up the hinge. Once you have things lined up the way you want them, mark around the hinge.

Sector 12

I used a marking gauge set to the thickness of the hinge to mark the ends of the pieces.

Sector 8

Then I used a chisel the same width of the hinge to chop out the waste. When it came to the curved portion of the mortise I switched to a narrow chisel and gently pared around the arc.

Sector 4

Sector 9

I assembled both halves to make sure that the hinges fit flush on the ends and top. Doing it this way meant that I could divide the length from the end of my “stick” instead of from the hinge.

Sector 2

George Walker recommends dividing the legs of the sector into 13 intervals. You don’t measure this. Simply set your dividers to a width that will allow you to create the 13 lines. Once you are satisfied with the spacing, leave a slight impression with your dividers.

Sector 5

You could probably just use a pencil and mark across the points left behind by your dividers, but I chose to use a marking knife so that I could come back with a permanent marker and darken things up over time. Hopefully this will leave a lasting mark. Tip: when you make your marks, set your square to the inside of the sector leg and not the tapered side, otherwise your lines will be off.

Sector 6

Sector 3

Sector 1

At this point the sector is completely functional. However, I’m thinking of adding a mechanism to lock it into place. More to come. Maybe.

Split-Top Roubo

About a month ago I started building a split-top Roubo bench based on the plans offered by Benchcrafted. Honestly, I hadn’t settled on this design until I was in Iowa at Handworks 2015 and had the opportunity to play around with Jeff Hamilton’s bench built by Plate 11 Bench Co.

1 blanks for legs

The construction notes offered by Benchcrafted for free recommend starting with the base if you are limited on space. I certainly qualified for that tip so I milled and glued up 8/4 maple to create the 3″ x 5″ legs. Once those were dry I began creating the mortises for the rails.

2 Mortises in legs

I went with the Benchcrafted leg vise which uses a massive chop. I glued together pieces of 8/4 and 4/4 maple to get the thickness and milled it down to 8″ wide.

3 Flattening material for chop

My jointer is only 6″ wide so I had to flatten the material for the chop by hand. After the glue was dry I created a channel for the crisscross and drilled all the holes for the vise in the chop and leg.

4 leg vise fitting

The nice thing about this vise is that you can completely install it with just the leg and the chop. Here I was test fitting everything before routing out and installing the acetal bushing. After getting all the main components of the base completed I test fitted everything.

Test fit mortise short rail Test fit left side

The short rails will get assembled with drawbore pegs. I couldn’t bring myself to pay for an “official” drawbore plate so I made one by drilling a couple of holes in a piece of scrap steel and filing the surfaces. Surprisingly, they came out fine.

Making Pegs

I got all of the base parts complete and started working on the tops. I glued up several boards at a time using Titebond Extend to give myself a little extra time. Even with using glue with more open time I still had to hustle.

Clamping top

I started with the back section of the bench and glued it up to the final dimension. Then I started with the front section that gets the dog hole strip and tail vise.

Dog hole strip Tail Vise Cavity

I made a simple jig to guide my router for the dog hole strip and then glued on a thin piece to close everything up. Then I had to create the tenon on the end and rout out the cavity for the tail vise. Once that was done I glued the dog hole strip to the main section and started working on the end cap.

Today I worked on making the condor tails on the front laminate. I used a router bit with a guide bearing to cut the tail board and ended up burning the ends with the collett.

Condor tail goof

Fortunately, I had inset the tails enough that I think I can still clean it up. Either way I went for it and glued the front laminate on. Here is where I finished for the day.

Front Top Section

The Code

The Code

Looking for something to put me to sleep, I came across a mathematical documentary on Netflix entitled The Code. It is a BBC documentary produced in 2011 and I was pretty sure this would be the trick for my insomnia. However, once I figured out that this wasn’t one of those creepy end-of-the-world kinds of films, it was actually quite interesting.

Specifically, what grabbed my attention was when presenter Marcus du Sautoy started talking about proportions. It sounded a lot like George Walker and Jim Tolpin’s comments in By Hand & EyeThe difference was the imagery. In The Code, the host is is walking through a massive cathedral and illustrating the proportions and rations found in the architecture and explaining how those same ratios are found in music. He ends the scene with the statement “a symphony set in stone.”

Walker and Tolpin explain ratios and proportions in the same way; as a symphony that we are creating through furniture (see pg. 55). Sautoy uses a device to measure tonal frequency to visually explain why proportions fit so well. The visual explanation really helped me to conceptualize why proportions are so fundamental to design.

The Code is essentially about the mathematics behind the world around us. In the second episode Sautoy explores geometric shapes and even goes so far as to use geometry to explain the mathematics behind a Jackson Pollock painting. Ironically, I have always found Pollock’s paintings to be mostly left to chance but at the same time there was something about them that changed the way the world defined art. Sautoy explains that the reason behind this is essentially proportions.

If you are a woodworker, and especially if you have been working through By Hand and Eye or By Hound and Eye, I think you would find this documentary interesting. You can check out some clips here.

Wyatt’s Bed Finished

Wyatts Bed Final

I managed to finish my son’s bed a couple of months ago. There are many woodworkers who advocate making a model or a preliminary piece out of inferior material prior to actually making a piece of furniture. Most of the time I don’t have the finances or time to do a mockup, but in this case I wish I would have. Overall the bed is fine and fully functional for a three-year-old (and hopefully a teenager one day) but there were certainly things I would do differently if I ever make another one.

First of all I would change the design of the stairs. I made them as a separate piece that could be removed completely in the future when Wyatt gets big enough to not want or need them anymore. The problem is that you can see the bottom of the stair case under the footboard. I hate it. And it wastes some useful space. In addition to the eyesore at the bottom of the footboard, when I reassembled the angled side of the stair case something shifted and the front post appears out of parallel with the post on the footboard. I’ve checked it and it is actually in the same plane but it looks wrong to my eye. That kind of thing drives me crazy.

The second thing I would change would be how close the rails are to the springs. When I bought the springs all the model beds had the rails attached to the springs. In a design that doesn’t have rails above the level of the mattress this is fine. But for full sides it makes fitting sheets and blankets a real pain in the neck.

Another thing I would do differently is purchase the mattress before starting the assembly. I took measurements off of my oldest son’s bed (which I also built) and assumed that the mattress would be about the same size. It turns out that new mattresses are considerably thicker. I had to make several trips and shell out another $70 (restocking/cleaning fee) to get a mattress that would work.

The last thing I would do differently is spray the paint on. I have the means to do so but my current shop (aka the garage) houses the furnace and water heater—both sources of open flame. I’m not happy with the brushed latex and think the bed would look much better with a smoother finish.

The good news is that it is finished. Wyatt loves it. My wife is happy with it.  And I saved us about $2000 by making it myself. All of that adds up to a pretty good life.