A glimpse of my woodworking
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It's sort of strange when just a few photographs summarize hour after hour, day after day of planning, sawing, gluing, clamping, routing, sanding, finishing, and sweeping up pile after pile of sawdust and wood shavings. But here it is, a small glimpse of the total story.
New mahogany keyboard tray
Years ago, I made a mahogany keyboard tray⩘ designed to mimic the shape of my maple desk and to give me a way to type when I sit with my legs propped up on the desk, as I almost always do, as I'm doing right now as I type this. I have loved using it. Unfortunately, the keyboard died recently, and the current model is a different size and form factor. I still had a few pieces of mahogany thinwood, ordered a few more from Ocooch Hardwoods⩘ , and made a new mahogany keyboard tray similar to the original, though with some design improvements, for example, it's a bit thinner, therefore, even lighter in my lap.
At the same time, I was doing a project of sanding and refinishing the cedar railings and stairs of our deck. For that, I use Penofil Verde⩘ , a low VOC penetrating oil with a base of Brazilian Rosewood Oil that contains no petroleum distillates, something I really appreciate. It leaves the cedar absolutely glowing. It's made for exterior and interior use, so I thought, why not try it on the new keyboard tray. After applying two coats and letting it dry for a week, I finished it with Mike Mahoney's Oil Wax Finish⩘ , which is made from beeswax, carnauba wax, and California walnut oil. Came out really nice. I love the feel of it under my palms.
Why the unusual shape of the keyboard tray and the desk it mimics? When I made my desk, I decided I didn't want a plain old rectangle, and so gave it some curves, including an inward curve in front of me, which fits me better when my legs are propped up and pointed towards the back left side. I decided to make the keyboard tray in a matching shape just for fun. Why do I prop my legs up so much? When I was a kid, I injured my lower back, and that's the only way I found for me to sit comfortably for long stretches of time. Now a lifetime practice!
Details: Made of a sandwich of 1/4″ bottom and 3/8″ top; therefore, the top openings into which the keyboard and touchpad fit are 3/8″ high. Those openings are exactly the width of the keyboard and touchpad, but are 1/8″ deeper to allow a gap at the back so the Bluetooth windows aren't blocked, as well as to make space for the on/off switches, which stick out a little bit. At the bottom back of the openings, there are thin 1/8″ × 1/8″ strips of mahogany glued in to keep the keyboard and touchpad from moving around, and those sit beneath the Bluetooth windows and on/off switches. At the bottom front of the openings, there are 3/16″ high × 1/2″ deep mahogany strips glued in. The front footpads of the keyboard and touchpad rest on top of these, and that levels them with the top of the keyboard tray (the keboard and touchpad are wedge shaped, but my preference is that they be flat). The keys and touch surface sit just above the top surface of the tray.There are 1″ holes drilled into the bottom of the tray beneath the keyboard and touchpad to make it easy for me to pop them out for charging.
Windtraveler shoji lamp
In late 2013, while I was finishing the Pentafleur lamp, I began thinking about a lamp in the shape of the Catalan deltoidal hexecontahedron. Made up of 60 deltoid-shaped faces, it's the dual of the Pentafleur (rhombicosidodecahedron).
I really love the deltoid. One of my earliest lamp shade projects was a pair of small shoji screens in the shape of kites that I used as shades for two bulbs hanging in the corners of a room. I still have one of the shades hanging in my workshop, simply because its shape inspires me.
A few rough cedar projects
I was at the lumber yard a few weeks ago when I spotted some beautiful 2″ x 6″ cedar planks … I love cedar, so that glimpse sparked a bunch of projects.
Refurbished deck stairs
For some time now I've had a project bouncing around in the back of my mind: to refurbish the cedar stairs on our deck. Unfortunately, the friend who built our deck 16 years ago didn't pick the best planks for the original stair treads. In the meantime, the (overly big) knots have fallen out, including a couple on the leading edge of two of the treads, so the stairway was looking a bit worse for the wear. I figured now was the time to do this project and so grabbed the beautiful planks.
Over the next few weeks I began planning the project. I had one moment of dismay when I discovered that for some reason, the treads were designed to be 49″ wide. What the heck?! From when I was a kid doing my first woodworking projects, I've always been super conscious about not wasting wood. I meticulously plan all of my projects so that I use every possible last square inch of wood I purchase for them. So this broke my heart a bit; I was going to end up with a bunch of 46″+ cut offs of beautiful cedar! But what to do, the treads needed replacing, so I went ahead and searched for and purchased additional cedar planks for the project.
And I have to admit, the stairway turned out really nice (I used the old treads to reinforce the stringers, making it much more solid feeling). So nice, in fact, that I realized I should refinish all the cedar railings to look as nice, so I spent an extra week sanding all the top and deck-facing faces down to the beautiful bare wood (not the most enjoyable project I've ever done!), then refinishing it with fresh deck oil (we use Penofin Verde⩘ , an environmentally friendly and low VOC product made from Brazilian Rosewood Oil). This should last quite a few years!
Note: We intentionally don't use risers so that it's easier to shovel our plentiful snow.
One night I was sitting at my desk thinking about all that leftover cedar when an idea struck me. I turned to Garima and said, "I know what we can do with all that beautiful leftover cedar." A light went off in her eyes at that same moment and she said, "Oh, I know, too!" We have a little shed that she uses to store the boxes and bottles for her business, and there is a short wooden—and by then, quite rotten—walkway connecting our garage with that shed. So I ripped out the old walkway, which was even more rotten than I thought, dug a trench and filled it with gravel so rain will drain away better, and then built a new walkway from the cedar. Finally, Garima re-did the rock walkway on either side of it.
A gift for our feathered friends
After all of that, there were still some small cutoffs left, and it struck me that I could turn them into a birdhouse. We've had a small birdhouse that we purchased perched on the side of another shed, our garden shed, for many years and it has hosted one or two batches of baby song birds every year (melt my heart, already!), but is now getting a bit worn out, so I figured it was a good time to make a replacement.
I went online to my favorite bird site, The Cornell Lab of Ornithology⩘ , and studied their plans for birdhouses appropriate for some of our favorite local song birds. I decided to reduce the thickness of the leftover pieces from 1-1/2″ to 1″, which I thought would be better suited for the design I chose, so I ran them through my planer. Wow, did my shop smell good after that!
Turns out I actually had just enough wood left over for two birdhouses, with about 8 inches of 1″ x 6″ remaining! The leftover piece is so nice that I'll keep it; I'm sure I'll figure out something to do with it someday! By the way, I made the roofs—and the top tread of the stairway, which is even a bit wider than the other treads—from a beautiful cutoff piece of 2″ x 12″ that I squirreled away 16 years ago when the deck originally was built, just waiting for the right project to come along.
Note: While the birdhouses are relatively smooth on the exterior from the planing, the interiors retain their original rough-cut faces, which I read makes it easier for the little birds to climb out when they are ready to fly the nest. Also, the fronts swing open (outward and upward) for the annual clean out.
I'll hang the birdhouses this autumn to be ready for tenants next spring.
Update: A couple years have passed and I'm happy to report that both birdhouses have been home to boisterous broods of chirping chicks each spring, in some cases, multiple per season!
A deck table top
I finally found a use for one more 2″ x 6″ cedar plank that's been sitting in our garden shed for a long time because it warped too badly to be usable for most projects that need longer pieces like the stairs: I made a top for a small steel outdoor table. Because I was using shorter lengths and didn't need the full width or thickness, I was able to plane and trim away all the warpage of this otherwise beautifully grained and colored piece of wood.
By the way, the pine bench next to the table is one I made just after the deck was completed 16 years ago. After I saw how beautifully the deck refinishing turned out, I decided to do the same with this bench, sanding it down to bare wood and refinishing it with the Brazilian Rosewood Oil. Turned out quite nice.
A related summer project
As the bench in the previous photo shows, I've also been working on refurbishing all our wooden exterior furniture, including two cedar Adirondack chairs, a redwood bench¹, a teak bench that we were the second hand-me-down recipients of, and a couple of little cedar tables that we use to hold a variety of potted plants we grow for the hummingbirds who visit us.
All of this furniture had become a dark weathered gray over the 15 years we've had it. In fact, the teak bench arrived almost black in color, so we had never seen the beautiful wood grain that hid beneath the weathered surface. Over the course of the summer, I've slowly been disassembling each piece, as much as possible, and then sanding them down to the bare wood, reassembling them, oiling them with a fresh coat of Brazilian Rosewood oil, and finally finishing them with a coat of Mahoney's Oil Wax Finish⩘ , which is made from a natural blend of walnut oil, beeswax, and carnauba.
Wow, they're all turning out so beautiful! Here's a before and after glimpse of the cedar Adirondack chairs, the final two pieces I'm working on.
And here's the refurbished teak bench.
 The redwood bench is made from ethically harvested redwood recovered from a previously logged property. The new owners, Forever Redwood⩘ , are using the proceeds from the furniture they're making to finance the sustainable restoration of the redwood forest.
Barn wood bird feeder
I had some old barn wood and a grate from an old bird feeder that had fallen apart, so I turned them into a new summer feeder. The birds seem to love it!
The mounting poles, squirrel baffle, and roof are made by Erva Tool in Chicago. The roof is actually another type of squirrel baffle that I converted to a roof/rain cover. It's perfectly sized for this feeder. I also use their poles for my amateur radio antennas. They make great quality stuff!
Window insert for air conditioner
Last summer got really hot. We've lived here for more than 25 years and it has always gotten hot during the peak of the summer, but the really uncomfortable level of heat never lasted more than a week or two, which I could tolerate, especially since a characteristic of living in the foothills has been that it usually cools down nicely at night. So we've never had an air conditioner; we just used fans to cool the house down in the evening and overnight, then closed the house up during the day to keep it cool enough.
But last summer that uncomfortable level of heat lasted for probably six or seven weeks, on top of which, it didn't cool down as much at night, so we couldn't cool the house down as much as we like to. Ugh! I was miserable.
When it got really hot again already very early this spring, I freaked out. There was no way I could tolerate another summer as hot as last summer, and it was starting even earlier this year! So I broke down and ordered a window air conditioner, just enough that we can knock the peak off the heat in the house and keep the inside air fresher by circulating the cool air with fans. Because our house is small, a 10,000 BTU A/C, the biggest unit that can fit in our windows, is sufficient for this.
Here's the thing, though: I don't like plastic (like the accordion gap filler that comes with window A/Cs, and I also wanted to figure out a way to install the A/C unit permanently, yet without doing any damage to the window or the oak trim I installed around all of our windows (so no screw holes). Basically, although I intend to leave the A/C installed year around, I want to have the option to remove it completely someday without a trace.
To solve this challenge, I created an oak frame that fits snuggly in place of the lower window, screwed into pieces of oak sitting in the jambs and on the sill, and clamped, so to speak, to the top window.
I made a little double-paned window to fit in the gap space that was left.
The window slides out to allow for fresh air circulation (there's also a screen). For times when it's not hot enough to need A/C—like many nights—I created a little shelf that fits into the window opening and attaches with thumb bolts that slide in and out, on top of which a little fan can sit and encourage some fresh air into the room.
Outside, I created a shelf for the A/C to balance on, as well as a wooden awning over the window to protect the A/C from the hottest overhead sun and the occasional hail storms that we get here in the foothills. The shelf and awning are attached with lag bolts, so they can be removed relatively easily, if need be.
The awning has a frame construction, and the roof piece fits over that frame; this enabled me to do the installation myself. The frame is light enough that I could climb up the ladder with it and keep it held in place with one hand while I bolted it on with the other. The roof piece is a framed 4′ x 2′ piece of 3/4″ plywood, so it's heavier, but I could still manage it myself since all I had to do was walk it up the ladder and slide it into place, where it sat down snuggly around the frame. Then I simply had to finish attaching it with screws from the frame beneath it. (Everything has to be strongly secured in place to be able to withstand the ferocious winds that occasionally blow down from our mountains.)
I finished all of this in early May. In June, another bout of really hot weather hit, and I'm happy to report that the A/C works well. Using the energy-saver mode—which means that it only turns on occasionally to test the temperature and do some cooling if needed, then shuts off again—it manages to keep our entire little house fresh, and prevents it from ever getting too hot. I am so relieved!
Picture stand for our local museum
This was an unusual little project. Our local museum has a table on which are standing/leaning—rather precariously—a bunch of framed class photos from our local high school. They asked if I could make a stand for them so that they would still be easy to flip through, but safer. I came up with this oak "crate" that I hope will do the trick.
Since it's going to be in a place full of "old-timey" stuff, I figured it should be made in a manner that is a bit in harmony with more traditional techniques. I did use modern tools to make it (table saw, miter saw, drill press, router), but it's put together with only glue, though I used Festool Domino Joiner joints instead of more traditional mortise and tenons (awesome tool, that). It'll hold photos up to 30" wide.
Pentafleur shoji lamp
My main project of 2012 - 2013, a shoji lamp in the shape of an Archimedean rhombicosidodecahedron.
Making the Pentafleur lamp
The main lamp body has 62 faces: 12 pentagons, 20 triangles, and 30 squares. If you look carefully, you'll see that three additional polyhedral shapes are revealed by the pattern of the kumiko (the latticework frames to which the paper is glued):
- The icosahedron, which is made up of 20 triangles.
- The dodecahedron, which is made up of 12 pentagons.
- And the Catalan deltoidal hexecontahedron, which is the dual of the rhombicosidodecahedron and is made up of 60 kite-shaped faces. (Each vertex of the dual touches a face of the original.)
- 285 pieces of maple
- 705 pieces of mahogany
- 705 dowels
- 296 pieces of washi (shoji paper)
- 470 neodymium disc magnets
- 77 wood screws
- 23 lamp hardware parts
- 1 dozen audiobooks
- 4 pinches of patience
- 2 jiggers of stubbornness
- 1 dash of insanity
- Calculate the dihedral and miter angles
- Build cutting, drilling, and gluing jigs
- Plane maple planks to width
- Rip maple with table saw and bandsaw (for the dihedral angles) to create 100' of frame stock, as well as the five lamp stand legs
- Rout 100' of rabbets, 55' of round-overs, and one 5' groove (to run the cord in one leg)
- Sand with power palm sander
- Make 2,000+ cuts with power and hand miter saws
- Make fine angle adjustments with a spindle sander and fine length adjustments with a disc sander
- Glue up 1,000+ joints using clamps and jigs
- Drill 1,200+ holes using jigs and freehand
- Glue in 1,100+ dowels and magnets
- Sand with a drum sander and by hand
- Add a coat of finish
- Add two more coats of finish, hand sanding between each
- Plug in
Oak corner table
We live in a cozy little home. The elbow room is outside, which is where we want it, but that means every square inch inside counts. If you've ever read Sarah Susanka's The Not So Big House, you'll understand the kinds of creative challenges we enjoy. The corner table I just finished is an example. We needed a place for Garima's growing stack of quilts. The only place we thought might work was a corner in a small bedroom, but it wasn't quite big enough.
The solution is an oak table sturdy enough to hold a couple dozen folded quilts (they're surprisingly heavy). And to make things more interesting, this was the first time I used mortise and tenon construction (previously I always had used dowels). I used a tenoning jig on my table saw and a bench top mortiser. It turned out very nice, but it took hours to cut the eight tenons and plunge the eight mortises!
Here's a close-up of the edge (the top isn't really bowed; that's just a flaw of my cheap Cybershot camera). Everything is softly rounded so there's nothing for the quilts to snag on.
The table top is offset from the legs a bit in order to overhang the bed, but is high enough above the bed to leave plenty of wiggle room for feet, and with the legs set back, there's plenty of room for the quilts that are on the bed to comfortably hang over. There's also space for one of Garima's favorite baskets beneath.
This is now the most colorful corner in our home! And it should hold another winter's worth of quilts, no problem.
Here's a glimpse of the build.
About ten years ago I got quite sunburned on a hike (we're pretty close to the sun here in the Rocky Mountains) and because there's just about nothing worse than sunburned ears, I decided to wear hats after that.
Over the years I became pleasantly addicted to hats and slowly figured out that there are hats suitable for hiking in the mountains under a hot summer sun (Head'n Home Breeze⩘ ), and others more suited to strolls on cooler days (the leather Kakadu Bushranger pictured below on the hat hanger), walks in the rain (oiled leather or waxed canvas), saunters in the park (Montecristi Panama), winter jaunts (wool with drop-down ear flaps for when the wind kicks up), or an evening cruise at a Colorado county fair (a nice felt or straw Cowboy).
Challenge is storing a bushel basket full of hats like that in a small home like we have. Coat hooks are too pointed and will damage the crown over time. Hat racks are typically ugly and also too pointed. So I decided to make my own hangers.
The half moon provides a large surface for the top-back of the crown to rest on. The rounded and tapered saddle (I do love what a bandsaw makes possible) provides a wide rest for where the crown meets the brim, holding the hat horizontal to the wall surface (a bookshelf side next to my desk in this case) with the brim floating just off the wall.
Works quite well. If I were to do it again I'd make the half moon and saddle one piece, but this will do. Now I just have to perfect tossing a hat onto the hanger from across the room, and we're good to go!
Happy Chewers – Natural maple chew toys
A friend of mine asked me if I could make some natural chew toys for her baby daughter because she was concerned that the ones available weren't fully non-toxic. This led me to do quite a bit of research about the appropriate woods and finishes.
The wood was pretty easy to decide: it should be a hardwood with a dense grain that doesn't splinter easily, and not an exotic wood, because those sometimes contain toxins. Loving maple personally, that's the wood I settled upon. Of course, I was also excited to have an excuse to use some of my recently acquired tools, so I jumped right in and made nine maple toys with 2-1/8″ holes so they could all be stored on a 2″ poplar dowel.
Because of my love of polyhedra and the shapes that make them, I ended up making a set of basic shapes: triangle, square, pentagon, hexagon, and octagon. To this basic set I added a bit of spice: circle, star, bird, and whale. They all have rounded corners and rounded-over edges, and I spent a few hours sanding them to a silky smoothness.
My research into finishes was not as easy. Though there are many finishes that claim to be non-toxic and safe for use on foot utensils, I learned that these often contain toxic solvents and dryers, and are only considered non-toxic because all the toxic ingredients are presumed to evaporate out of the wood as the finish dries. While that may be true, it left me feeling uncomfortable because I wouldn't want to make something for a friend's young baby that had even the remotest chance of containing a minute residue of a toxin.
So I kept searching and eventually came across Mike Mahoney's finishes. Mahoney is a bowlmaker, and his bowls are exquisite works of art⩘ . He makes his own finishing oil, pure walnut oil that is heat-treated to make it harden faster once it has penetrated the wood. He also makes a wax, which is a combination of his pure walnut oil, beeswax, and carnauba wax. He received so many requests for his finishes that he eventually started selling them: Mahoney Finishes⩘ .
It's an entirely different experience to use Mahoney's finishes. For me, oiling typically means wearing a respirator (looks a bit like a World War I gas mask), opening the windows, turning on the fans, wearing latex gloves and safety glasses, and still getting a headache. With this walnut oil, I used no mask, no glasses, no fans, and no gloves … and I didn't get a headache. The oil is totally pleasant to use; I actually like the feel of it on my fingers. Both the oil and wax smell faintly, but it's a pleasant fragrance. The smell dissipates as the oil dries.
To dry it, I kept the pieces under a 150-watt full-spectrum bulb in a reflector hood. That kept the wood nice and warm even in my winter cool workshop. I turned the pieces once every morning and evening. Each coat dried in three days. The slowest part to dry was the end of the poplar dowel, which makes sense because it sucked up a lot of oil. The wood, especially the maple, ended up with a nice, deep sheen.
The waxing step was also totally pleasant. Application took only a few minutes. I kept the full-spectrum bulb on it overnight, then turned it off in the morning, let the warm wood cool for a couple hours, then buffed the wax. Ended up with an even richer sheen that feels good to the touch, with a lingering, very subtle, quite pleasant fragrance.
I'm feeling quite good about my choices of wood and finishes for the Happy Chewers! I've continued to research the safety of woods and finishes for use in food utensils, which I think gives me a good idea of their safety for a chew toy, too. The woods that are mentioned most often as safe are Maple, Birch, Beech, Cherry, and Walnut. The finish that is mentioned most often as both safe and effective is walnut oil and beeswax. Walnut oil is a drying oil, so it won't turn rancid and won't evaporate out of the wood. The beeswax adds water resistance.
Best of all, the Happy Chewers have passed the crucial quality assurance testing!
Small barn wood picture frame
Recently I've had the honor to play a small part on the team that has been creating the new Google Groups⩘ , which launched at the end of 2010 to many cheers from fans of Google Groups. One thing that we found both delightful and humbling was to use it to view the announcement by Tim Berners-Lee: "WorldWideWeb wide-area hypertext app available⩘ ," which is a part of the Usenet archive that can be viewed via Google Groups.
So I decided it would be fun to hang a framed image of the announcement in the office to remind us what we are a part of, this enormous communications medium that has grown out of the seed that Berners-Lee planted. So I made an old barn wood frame for it.
Closeup of the announcement. I love this bit: "This project is experimental and of course comes without any warranty whatsoever. However, it could start a revolution in information access."
Weathered picture frame
The photograph hanging on the wall above my desk is called Landscape in Sandstone⩘ . It is by a friend, Tom Andrews of Wildland Art⩘ , who lives up the mountain a bit and has for years traveled to and photographed some of the wildest places still left in the U.S.
I never tire of looking up at this view into Paria Canyon in Arizona's Vermilion Cliffs Wilderness; it gives me a serene respite from the busyness that takes place on my computer screen, and even after many years I continue to discover new details in it.
But I was never quite satisfied with the frame that came with it, an absolutely perfect dark cherry frame with crisp edges, because it felt to me to be too perfect for the canyon it enveloped. One day not too long ago I realized that what I really wanted was a weathered barn wood frame that matched the hues and textures of the background rock on the canyon walls, and that I felt would really help the orange and salmon-hued rocks pop out vividly.
After a long hunt, I finally found some beautiful 1″ thick pine from an old corn crib that had been dismantled in the midwest, via the Old Barn Wood Company⩘ in Wisconsin. Yes, it's really a full 1″ thick. I decided to frame around the cherry frame in such a way that the weathered frame rode off the glass a ¼″ and the cherry was tucked back so that it can't really be seen. I also decided to use the wood at its full thickness, so that you'd have the sense of looking through a window opening out at the canyon.
It came out beautifully. I preserved the inside edges, and mitered the outside edges at 45 degrees, then glued onto the mitered outside edges a matching piece from the face that is a full 1¾″ wide. My point-and-shoot Cybershot camera distorts things, so the sides look a bit curved, but they're actually straight.
The wood is very aged, with deep grain grooves, as well as some vertical cracks (this is a closeup of the right side). This matches very well the striated and cracked canyon walls. The new frame has made the canyon feel much more intimate to me, and I love the way rock and wood share a common bond of aging. As a bonus, the wood released a wonderful fragrance when I cut it, unlike anything I've experienced before. Perhaps it had been imbued with the sweet fragrance of the corn it had stored for so many years. It lingered in my shop for days, a real sensory treat.
Oak chair mat (aka: celebrating sawdust)
Some people say cheese when a photo is taken, but as this one was snapped, I asked myself whether I'd rather be at work (first days of vacation)!
This is not a new project; rather, it's a rehab. I made this chair mat many years ago to give myself a nice surface to roll around on, as shown below, when I'm at my desk in a room that is carpeted. But two of the boards had cracked over time, one quite severely.
The photo of me sanding is actually day two of the project. On the first day I cut out the cracked pieces and glued in the new ones, something that sounds trivial but actually took considerable time. After cutting out the cracked sections, I used a special router jig I made some years ago (an alternative to a jointer) to ensure the edges between the new pieces and the original mat aligned well, drilled in ten matching glue dowel holes per edge, and then slowly glued the mat back together, one section at a time. The entire process took several hours.
After it had dried overnight, the next day I went at it with the Bosch 1276DVS 4″ belt sander and its sanding frame, which ensures a near perfectly flat surface. What an amazing tool! By the time the first photo was taken, I had ground down the old surface and was working with a 240-grit belt to polish out most of the scratches. The mat, now looking nearly new again, was starting to feel like … well, like only finely sanded wood does.
Next step was to rub in some good Danish Oil, and now it's slowly redeveloping the glowing patina that oiled oak gets as the months and years pass, hopefully with no cracks this time.
Took longer than usual to clean my shop today
Translation: It was a good vacation! Ended up with big piles of wood chips, shavings, and sawdust around every major tool: bandsaw, table saw, router table, miter saw, and planer. In addition to the oak mat project, I also made another picture frame. I was inspired by how nicely the framed frame worked on the previous framing project, the mahogany and maple picture frame for the photograph of Hanging Lake, so I did something similar for the photograph hanging over our fireplace titled Aspens on Deer Mountain⩘ , which is by our friend Tom Andrews of Wildland Art⩘ .
The photograph is fairly big, and I always felt the frame was too small for its size, 1½ inches wide for a frame that was about 43 inches across. I also didn't think the color, a mahogany-hued stain, was quite right. It's an autumn mountain scene, aspens in a blaze of color set against a pine forest in the background and surrounded by golden tan grasses, so I framed the existing frame with maple, which matches the hue of the grasses, and used a much wider size, 2¾ inches. I left just a ¼ inch of the original frame showing as a highlight.
What has 100 feet and is made of maple?
It actually was the third project of my vacation that really filled my shop with sawdust. I began preparing the wood for the next lamp I'm going to attempt, something I've been thinking about for probably seven years, but that I forced myself to defer in favor of remodeling and making furniture for our home. The shape is my favorite polyhedron, a rhombicosidodecahedron, which is made up of 12 pentagons, 30 squares, and 20 triangles.
I'm making the lamp from maple and mahogany. Each edge is going to be 5 inches long, which means I needed to prepare about 100 feet of wood for just the frame of the lamp (which explains all the sawdust in my shop!). Since there are two different dihedral angles in this shape, the wood needed to be different thicknesses to match up properly (hence the pile of planer shavings). I cut the angles with the bandsaw, then used the table saw to slice the mirrored angled pieces off the remaining board, both of which left large piles of sawdust. Finally, I used the router table to rout rabbets into each piece, into which I'll set the kumiko (the mahogany pieces), and that's where the piles of chips came from.
If it works out—and with the complexity of the angles, it'll be a while before I know for sure whether it will—I expect it'll take me the better part of a year to make the complete lamp, including the frame, kumiko, and a stand (it'll be a standing lamp), as well as to apply the finish and then attach the shoji paper. The next steps will be really nice ones: cutting the edge pieces with my hand miter saw, gluing them up into the three shapes, and then gluing the shapes together. I love those steps because they're quiet and tactile, and they put me into a space of slow, relaxed focus, a nurturing contrast to the busyness of the everyday world.
Jump to the story of the finished project >
Mahogany and maple picture frame
About a year ago, we realized we wanted a more compelling photograph hanging in our living room, something that would invite us to wander in and experience moments of tranquility. A few months ago we finally found the answer, a stress-dissolving photograph of the waterfalls at Hanging Lake⩘ , which is near Glenwood Springs, Colorado, by Brian Brewington⩘ .
A couple years ago while shopping for some maple for a project I intended to work on, I spotted an exceptional mahogany board. For me, exceptional means full of character. It had whorls, streaks, and rays, all signs that it had met the challenge of a chaotic life with tenacity. Though I didn't have a project in mind that would need a piece of mahogany, I couldn't pass it by.
When I started thinking about the frame I would make for this large print (matted: 36″ × 30″), I immediately thought of that piece of mahogany squirreled away in the back of my shop. When I set it down next to the print, I got an immediate a-ha! Still, I tried several other options, including pieces of maple, poplar, walnut, pine, and oak. Nothing else came close.
My first step was to rip the mahogany board into two pieces, which would give enough footage for a 3″ wide frame, with a generous amount left over for mistakes (or, if all went well, for another, smaller project). I was stunned by what happened next. For the first time in all the years I've been ripping lumber, I watched in near disbelief as the two ends emerging beyond the splitter bowed in opposite directions and then crooked so severely that the "legs" started to cross. The stresses bound up in that grain must've been enormous! (And thank goodness for that splitter, which certainly saved me from some serious kickback.)
At first my heart sank, but when I studied the two pieces I ended up with, I saw that I could salvage four lengths that were only minimally crooked and were long enough to make up the picture frame. I would have no leeway for mistakes, but that's okay, that just makes each cut a bit more interesting! The pieces were still slightly bowed, though, so I was left pondering how to deal with that.
The answer was in the large size of the matted print. I've often thought about various ways to frame a frame to get an interesting two-tone affect; here, finally, was a good excuse to try it. I decided to frame the mahogany with pieces of 1 × 2 maple with a channel routed down the center, into which the mahogany could slip … er, could be forced in order to straighten the bow. The maple, for which I picked a very regular, straight-grained piece, also could provide an understated contrast to highlight the dramatic character of the mahogany. And the assembled frame should have a larger presence, more appropriate to the size of the print.
I prepared the pieces by routing and sanding them, then measured and prepared each miter cut in the mahogany, then measured again, then cut too long on purpose, then fine-tuned each cut, just to ensure I wouldn't blow the entire project with a single incorrect cut. (This was one instance when the dual laser lines cast by my miter saw really made a difference!) I assembled the mahogany frame with two glue dowels per corner to strengthen the joints and absorb any residual twist, using Titebond II for the dowels and mitered ends, and strapping the four pieces together with a heavy duty web clamp.
After the mahogany frame was dry, I repeated the process with the maple, only this time I used Titebond III in the routed channels, together with Titebond II on the mitered ends. I finished the frame with a couple coats of oil-based satin Varathane Professional Polyurethane, let it dry for a week, and then assembled and hung it today.
I'm quite happy with the outcome! I already sat down on the couch opposite and took a couple trips to the lake, and feel calmer for it.
Poplar and oak bed platform
My main project of 2010, a new bed platform, one of the bigger projects I've undertaken.
Mahogany keyboard tray
A nice weekend project. The keyboard tray is designed to mimic the shape of my maple desk and to give me a way to type when I sit with my legs propped up on the desk, as I almost always do, as I'm doing right now as I type this.
It's quite nice to finally have both a wireless keyboard and a big, wireless touch pad; makes it so much easier to browse the internet, edit photographs, and write, which are a few of the things I spend hours doing while sitting with my legs propped up.
Bamboo and pine shoji screen
This little project celebrates what a good miter saw makes easier. We have a parallelogram-shaped window in the hallway from our sunporch to our garage (my shop). Most of the year, the window gives us a nice view of Ponderosa pine trees and sky, as well as some beautiful full moons. For a couple months during summer, though, it frames the rising sun, allowing a bit too much heat to stream into the room at a time of year that is already often quite hot. So we wanted to partially shade the window, but still be able to see through it. The solution is a shoji screen that blocks about 60% of the light.
The screen's frame is made from clear pine finished with a water-base satin polyurethane. The screen itself is recycled from a bamboo shade we replaced, which I oiled with Danish Oil to give it a bit more UV resistance. (Oiling and wiping the shade actually was one of the more difficult steps in this project … bamboo splinters are wicked!) The shoji screen simply slides into place, is deep enough to hold itself in place, and can be slid out easily when we want to let in more light during the winter months. Here's a shot that shows the bamboo a bit better:
Maple end table
Designed for our living room, this table provided me with an opportunity to explore angles. Finished with Danish Oil, it has a small plant stand on top, which doubles as a bookshelf.
The bookshelf holds several of the beautifully made volumes in the the Wooden Books series by Walker & Co, which succinctly cover some of my favorite topics:
The Golden Section⩘
Symmetry: The Ordering Principle⩘
Islamic Design: A Genius for Geometry⩘
Li: Dynamic Form in Nature⩘
The Sacred Number⩘
Platonic & Archimedean Solids⩘
This was my main project of 2009: I upgraded my 15-year-old workbench to be full height and to have a new maple top. After drilling 20 more ¾″ holes in the new top (gulp!), I oiled the workbench and a few other items (a maple end table and two refinished handsaw handles⩘ ). The oil really highlights the beautiful mark the runs up one of the boards!
A parting thought
Reflecting on spending time on things that aren't our primary focus—hobbies, for example—something Robert A. Heinlein said comes to mind:
A human being should be able to change a diaper, plan an invasion, butcher a hog, design a building, conn a ship, write a sonnet, balance accounts, build a wall, set a bone, comfort the dying, take orders, give orders, cooperate, act alone, solve an equation, analyze a new problem, pitch manure, program a computer, cook a tasty meal, fight efficiently, die gallantly. Specialization is for insects.