Matching Color (and Other Fun)

I recently took on a project involving the building of a dining table insert. The fabrication part of this table was fairly straight forward. The client provided me with their current table insert for reference during the build. The original insert is about 18 inches wide and 42 inches long. The ends had 40 degree bevels and cross-grain braces were screwed to the underside to prevent cupping.

After letting some 6/4 cherry acclimate to the shop, I started the process of milling it down to the 13/16 final thickness. I performed this milling over the course of about a week, re-flattening a face each day and taking a bit more material in an effort to allow the wood to full stabilize.

From there, it was just a matter of gluing up the strips of wood, taking extra care to ensure a good alignment of boards. (Patience is a virtue at this step. I went to fast on the first try and ended up with a center glue line that needed to be sawn apart and redone). Once the glue was hardened, I took the top back to the workbench and scraped off excess glue lines. The top was then trimmed to final width.

Hardware for extending a dining table
Extension Hardware

Trimming to final length was a bit more involved. If you haven’t seen or used a dining table that can extend, it’s worth understanding how the pieces all fit together. The most common mechanism for these tables is a gear-based slide. The slides are attached to the table base, and the two halves of the top are attached to the slides. When pulling the table from both ends, the top will pull apart allowing space for inserts to be added. How is everything aligned? With holes and pegs.

To make sure that everything would match up, I wanted to drill the locating holes in the edges before trimming the top to final length. I don’t usually write about woodworking products, but this one deserves mention. Milescraft makes a product called the JointMate.

The JointMate is a doweling jig that has a number of unique features. Like most doweling jigs, it has metal guide bushings to ensure a 90 degree hole. However, it can self-center on a board edge using four pins and rotating the jig, rather than having to use a screw-based system like other self-centering jigs. I didn’t need a self-centering mechanism for these holes. Instead, I needed to be able to use pre-existing holes to set the location on this new piece. To do that, the JointMate has both an adjustable fence and a pin alignment guide. You know you’re drilling in the right place because you’ve set the fence based on the original hole. You know you’re in line with the old holes because you slide the jig up to the old holes with the old and new piece clamped together. It’s an 11 dollar tool and is just brilliant to use.

With the peg holes drilled, I was able to put the tops together and mark the exact cuts for the length. Following trimmer, I then started the process of sanding the top to 320 grit. Slow passes up and down the boards ensured a nearly glass-like surface. The cross-braces were also sanded at this time. I also took the time to fabricate a piece of moulding that adorns the edges of the cross-braces.

The hardest part of making a piece to match someone’s existing furniture is the nature of wood and color. Unless you were the person who made the original piece, and saved documentation of your finishing and coloring regimen, it’s a trial and error process. Even if you can perfectly match a color today, the wood (particularly cherry) will darken over time, altering the color further.

I decided to attempt to match the current color as closely as possible. Rather than using a stain, which sits on top of the wood and hides the grain, I prefer to use water-based wood dye made by TransFast. I started by using a cherry dye that I had mixed awhile ago to give me some reference on the color. The existing top was much, much darker in color, necessitating mixing 5 additional samples of various coloring and darkness using the Dark Red Mahogany and Java dye powders. When colors appeared close, it was then necessary to start applying a topcoat to the sample boards to see how they would be affected by the wiping varnish. In the end, the color ended up being a near-dead match.

2019 Year in Review

This has been a busy year all around. The first half of the year ended up as mostly a wash. After hand surgery, I wasn’t able to get any substantial work done in the wood shop for several months. In that time, I was able to acquire lumber to prepare for several of the builds that were documented throughout the year.

The Great

These five projects took up much of the time in the work shop throughout the year. The Roorkee chair and trestle table, in particular, were multi-month builds from lumber acquisition to finish application. They were good exercises in wood selection and milling, as well as cutting joinery and processing large table tops. The bookcase and the plant stand were both furniture requests from family, allowing me to play with designs that I’ve seen elsewhere. I was also able to find two excellent sources of lumber going forward.

Any time I get to spend time at the lathe is a treat. Making kalimbas was a lot of fun. I’ve seen them made from boxes, flat boards, and gourds in the past. However, I haven’t seen any that were turned bowls. I plan on making several more of these in the next year, including playing around with segmented bowls to allow for larger resonating chambers.

The Good

I completed several projects that were not documented on the website. I was able to finish building out the workshop earlier this year, including adding lumber storage, building shop fixtures, building new shop storage, and setting up new cabinets. Lots of work was done clearing the yard of years of overgrowth. I also build a temporary solution for some of our rainwater management (I have plans for something much nicer next springtime). In addition, I spent a good amount of time helping out on a building renovation.

Other builds not documented on the site included cutting boards, pens, lamps, and a number of different experiments. You should see some of these for sale on the site in the next few months.

The Not-So-Great

Thankfully, this list is fairly short this year. I had a surgery on my right hand early in the year. That took me out of commission for a few months. I’m still dealing with residual weakness related to the carpal tunnel syndrome now, especially when using handled tools (Gent’s Saw, Shinto Rasp, etc). I’ll be having a second hand surgery in January 2020. Knowing what to expect should help the recovery process this time.

2020 Plans

I’ve spent a good amount of time planning for 2020 during the past month. There are several projects for the house that I hope to complete next year, including bathroom updates. This will mean building a new vanity, standing, and wall cabinets. I have a few furniture pieces that I’d like to build, including a Morris chair, more book cases, and some more lighting fixtures.

I will also be launching an online store for items that I build. Most of what will be available in the store will be small objects including boxes, cutting boards, pens, bowls, instruments, and some other functional and decorative items. As always, I also accept commissions. You can reach me on the contact page.

Happy New Year

Roorkee Chair

When I first saw the Roorkee Chair in an episode of the Woodwright’s Shop, I knew it was a project that would go on the build list. I later bought Chris Schwarz’ book Campaign Furniture and read through it several times. I really can’t recommend the book enough. It explores a forgotten style whose influence can be found throughout contemporary furniture. I have plans to build several pieces in the style, including a campaign chest/secretary.

I decided to make the chair the first project to build out of the book. I enjoy working at the lathe. The piece requires minimal lumber. The joinery of the chair, conical mortise and tenon, would be easy to execute. The piece is also very practical. It would also give me a chance to work with leather for the first time. The only hold up was that my lathe could turn only 18 inches between centers.

In January of this year, I purchased a bed extension for the lathe. The bed extension added about 20 inches of distance between centers, easily enough for this chair.

Finding Lumber

I thought about a number of different wood species for the chair. I ended up settling on using ash. The species is strong and easy to work. Finding good lumber sources is always an adventure. As this work required working with 8/4 (2 inch thick) material, I wanted to be careful on the source of the wood. I haven’t had the best luck in the past with material that thick. Watching a piece of soft maple turn into a pretzel when cut in the past has turned me off of one lumber yard. For this project, I reached out to a local sawyer, Jones Saw Mill. The selection at the saw mill was fantastic. After working with the material, including having it sit and remain stable for several months after initially milling it, proved that this will be a good source in the future.

Roughed out and stacked parts

I brought the material home and proceeded to the band saw to rip it to rough size. The importance of this step can’t be overstated. First, this allowed me to help speed process of acclimating the wood to my workshop by exposing more surfaces to air. Second, the parts in this chair, specifically the four stretchers, need to be made out of dead-straight grain. If these aren’t made from straight grain, there is a larger chance that they will break under the weight of a person sitting in the chair.

After the parts were cut down to rough length, width, and thickness, they were placed on stickers (strips of wood) and stacked to allow them to further dry and acclimate to the shop.

Turning the Parts

All four legs. Notice the slight differences in the location of transitions.

The first step was to turn down the legs. I started by making a story stick for the legs and stretchers. This allowed me to mark out the locations of elements (feet, handles) and transitions. It should allow for identical parts. However, you can see that I had some variation in the location of transitions. I can’t speak to whether this sort of variation was present on period campaign pieces.

However, a recent article in Popular Woodworking from George Walker looks at the same sort of variation in turnings. You can see that the same elements were present in each foot. However, the execution of those elements differed significantly from part to part. These aren’t made by a duplicating lathe. Rather, they are made by a person holding a tool.

After completing the legs, the stretchers are then turned down, with rough turning of the conical tenons. Those tenons are further refined by hand with a tapered tenon cutter.

Cutting (Drilling?) the Joinery

The joinery for this chair is all loose. After roughing down the shape of the tenons on the ends of the stretchers, they are finished off with a tapered tenon cutter (think large pencil sharpener). The mortises are first drilled out. They are them reamed out to get a shape that matches the tapered tenons. It was in the reaming step that I ended up hitting a bit of a block.

I have been using a cheap bench-top drill press from Lowes for several years. The drill press has been nothing but trouble. The table on the drill press refused to be square to the bit. While the table could be adjusted side to side to account for tilting, the machine could not be adjusted front to back, where the problem was. This meant adding a sub-table to the drill press along with shims to get it level. This was a constant battle resulting in more wasted time checking for square than I care to admit. In the end, it wasn’t the issues with the table that led me to upgrade my tooling, but rather the lack of power from the drill press. It was simply unable to ream out the mortises, constantly stalling in the wood.

As a result, the chair sat in the lumber rack for a few months while I debated a solution (researched other drill presses). I settled on the 13 inch bench-top drill press from Shop Fox. It had more than enough power and is substantially beefier than the old tool. Once the new drill press arrived and was assembled, it made short work of all of the mortises.

A Brief Detour

The chair sat in it’s partly-finished state from July until late October. During that time, a number of other projects took precedence over it, including instruments, our dining room table, and the plant stand. Additionally, I didn’t want to dive right into the leather work for this chair without a warm-up project. Looking to the book, Campaign Furniture, I decided to make a camp stool for an introduction to working with leather.

The stool is straight forward. It’s three straight-grained turned legs. The legs are joined together using a tri-bolt that allows the legs to pivot around a central point. A leather seat is then added to the top. The stool is light, portable, and durable. It also gave me the chance to cut, join, dye, and finish leather on a much smaller scale than the chair would require.

Finishing The Chair

The final work on the chair included finish-planing the legs, making the tapered pieces for the back, applying garnet shellac and wax, and attaching the hardware. I also decided to dye my own leather.

After starting the chair in June, I made a final push to complete the chair in November, just in time for the annual Western PA Woodworkers November Meeting and Show-and-Tell. The chair turned out well. While it was in parts from June to November, the actual time spent building the chair was less than a full day. The turnings are simple, the joinery is straight forward, and the leather work is fairly easy. I look forward to making more of these in the future.

A Table for Thanksgiving

After nearly six months of work, most of which was spent with roughed out lumber stacked in the basement while it finished drying, the trestle table was completed in time to host Thanksgiving dinner. You can read earlier entries in the build process here and here. Additionally, I suggest taking a look at this article from Woodworking Magazine. This table follows the design from that article fairly closely, with only a few changes to top and the feet.

Painting the Base

Painted Trestle Base

After assembling, gluing up, and truing up the base of the table, I applied three coats of Soldier Blue milk paint from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company. I find that milk paint adds color as well as texture and depth to a piece. Here, the paint was applied over the yellow pine base. While I don’t object to the stripey-ness of yellow pine finished with only a clear coat, there were several knots that were present in the table feet and stretcher. The paint did a good job covering those up.

Rather than applying paste wax as I had originally planed, I applied a few coats of danish oil over the base. This significantly deepened the blue color of the paint. It fits well with the colors in the dining room. In comparing the blue color from the photo above with the blue of the photo in the post, you can see just how much darker the blue becomes with the danish oil.

Finishing the Top

While the paint was drying on the base, I applied Tried and True Varnish Oil to the top. This was my first time working with a Tried and True product. The varnish oil has the consistency of honey. I applied it by wiping on a light coat and allowing it to penetrate the wood for about an hour. After an hour, the excess oil is wiped off and the table is buffed with a clean lint free cloth. The oil is then allowed to cure for twenty-four hours before applying each subsequent coat. A total of three coats were added here. In the future, I’ll plan on allowing more time for the final coat to cure.

Buttoning it Up

A wooden button used to attach a table top to a brace.

The top and base were then flipped over and placed on a workbench. After getting equal reveals around the base, the buttons were placed into the previously cut slots in the base and used to drill pilot holes into the table top. The buttons were then screwed in. These will allow the table top to expand and contract throughout the year while remaining firmly attached to the base. A total of six buttons, one on each side of each brace, were used.

The buttons were unscrewed to allow me to bring the top and base upstairs where they were then reattached. The table ended up over six and a half feet long and about 30 inches wide. Eight people can easily sit around the table with serving dishes in the middle.

All in all, this was a good build. I found working with the width and length of the table top to be a larger challenge than any of the joinery or shaping on the base. Jointing nearly seven foot boards with only a short-bed jointer required building jointing sleds for the planer. Even then, without a seven or eight foot workbench, sag in the sleds when leveling the boards with shims proved to be a constant battle. While biscuits were a great help for alignment, I expect that I’ll likely slow down and do one glue joint at a time in the the future to help the accuracy of the glue up. Similarly, for any future large table top, I expect I’ll take a different approach to finally flattening and try to rent time on a large drum sander rather than attacking it with a No. 7 plane and belt sander.

Even with all of the challenges in this build, I think the table came out well and we look forward to using it for decades to come. Now I just need build chairs to match to the table.

Table Progress

The stretcher tenons have been fitted and cut and the mid-brace has also been cut and fitted. The stretcher had already been face jointed and thicknessed when I ran the parts for the legs through the machinery. A quick check with a straight edge and winding sticks revealed no movement over the intervening few weeks.

The next step was to edge joint the strecher and rip it to width. While my powered jointer works well for shorter boards, this five foot board would be a bit of a challenge to get perfectly flat. That meant going to the workbench with my Union #7 jointer plane. I picked this plane up from eBay a few years ago and it has worked very well since then. There is definite pitting across the sole of the plane, but it has not affected the quality of cut or ability of the tool to function. A quick trip to the sharpening stones and then I look some wonderful shavings, getting a nice clean, flat cut across the full length of the edge. With one edge jointed, I then ripped to width on the table saw.

The next step was to lay out the tenons. Once laid out, I decided to try a couple of different ways to cut them. I cut the first tenon cheek with hand saws. Cutting the shoulder fairly easy. However, ripping down the face of the tenon cheek was a bit too difficulty. The tenon is 3 inches deep and 2.5 inches wide, so it was a bit too much to cut I cut the first tenon cheek using hand saws. I ended up straying from the line. After paring the tenon with a chisel, I moved to the table saw for all other tenons.

This post has been delayed a few times. Since I started it, I’ve moved to final glue up for the base.

The table top was glued up. When squaring it all up, I had some gnarly blow out from the router. It tore about a nine inch long piece off one edge. I was able to glue the piece back on, but eventually had to scab a small patch onto the edge. I decided to add breadboard ends. This is the first time that I’ve made breadboard ends. I started by cutting one long tenon on each end of the tabletop using a router, a clamped straight edge, and a straight bit. I then milled a groove into the edge of the breadboard using the dado stack on the table saw. The throat plate on jobsite table saws has some flex, so I cleaned it up with a plow plane to ensure that it was the same depth along the full length. I then marked out and cut three individual tenons into the ends of the tops, leaving a haunch that is as wide as the groove is deep. The breadboards were then placed on to the tenons so that I could mark the extends of the mortises. This was mortised by hand. Once everything seated acceptably, I marked locations for peg holes. These were drilled out on the drill press. The breadboard was then put back into place to transfer the locations of the holes. The holes in the outside tenons were drilled out and made oblong to allow for wood movement. Hide glue was used only for the center tenon on each end.

All that is left is to clean up the top, cut the buttons, and finish it all. We’ve decided on a Soldier Blue milk paint for the base. After a few coats of milk paint, I’ll top it with paste wax. The cherry top will receive Tried and True Varnish Oil. More photos to come later.