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Roorkee Chair

Cat standing on a 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.

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A Table for Thanksgiving

Completed Trestle Table

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.

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A Fair in the Park (or Kalimba Madness with Turners Anonymous)

The weekend of September 6th, 7th, and 8th brought the annual Fair in the Park in Pittsburgh. For anyone unfamiliar with this event, it’s a three day arts fair put on by the Craftsmen’s Guild of Pittsburgh. The event features artists working in ceramics, fiber, glass, metal, jewelry, leather, and wood. Every year, the western Pennsylvania chapter of the American Association of Woodturners, Turners Anonymous, has a booth, not to sell, but to show work from members and demonstrate.

With Fridays free from the 9-5 job, I signed up to spend the day in the booth talking to folks and demonstrating. There were lots of wonderful folks that stopped by to talk art and woodworking, watch shavings fly on the lathe, and look at the works on display. I also had the chance to browse the wonderful artist booths throughout the park.

In preparation for the event, I wanted to put together a few example pieces to show what I would be demonstrating. I considered small items like pens and stoppers, as well as candle sticks/holders, bowls, and boxes. However, I decided that I wanted to try my hand at a musical instrument.

I remembered an old episode of the Woodwright’s Shop from the 1980’s where Roy looked at different traditional African instruments. One of the instruments, a mbira or kalimba, could be as simple as a board with metal or wooden tines set to be able to vibrate. Adding a resonating chamber to the board helped amplify the sound. So, if a box is all that was needed, why not a turned box? I obtained a tines and bridge hardware and set about trying to figure out the size for the turning.

Kalimba #1 was made out of cherry and ended up a bit small. Additionally, the kit that I had obtained contained one inch screws, suggesting a need for a rather thick sound board. This first box was made with that in mind. The result is a much smaller resonating chamber and a quieter instrument.

Ruby the Cat posing with Kalimba #2

Kalimba #2 was made from Hormigo (also called Orange Agate, Macacauba, or Macawood), a central american hardwood. I’ve worked with this wood several times before and find it to be easy to turn. It also accepts a very nice finish. The sound board was made significantly thinner. Due to the initial size of the blank, I was left with a relatively small instrument that could only accept nine keys. It has a very nice sound and handles very well.

On the first day of Fair in the Park, I had an opportuntiy to demonstrate the making of the instrument. The process is fairly straight forward for anyone that has turned a lidded box before. After placing a bowl blank between centers, I turned down the blank, shaping the outside of the bowl and adding a tenon to the foot to allow the bowl to be placed into a four-jaw chuck. Once the outside was turned and sanded, the bowl is reversed placed into the chuck. The top of the blank is then flattened, taking care to remove any piercing from the spur center. Once the top is flattened, a lip is turned into the top where it will be fitted to the bowl. After the lip is established, the top is parted off. The cherry blank used for Kalimba #3 was larger than #1 or #2 and I did not have my handsaw with me. This made parting off a bit of a chore.

After the top is parted off, the next step is to start hollowing the bowl, taking care to establish the side walls so that the top will fit snuggly. Once the walls are established, the rest of the bowl can be hollowed out and sanded. Finish, if desired, should be applied to the inside of the bowl at this point.

Once the bowl is finished, the top inside lip of the top is coated with an epoxy and fitted to the bowl. After giving the epoxy time to set, I then cleaned up the transition between the bowl and the lid. The lid is then flattened, the sound hole drilled, and pilot holes for the screws for the grounding bar are also drilled at this point. The entire bowl can then be removed, flipped around, and placed in cole jaws to remove the tenon and clean up the bottom. Final finishing can then be applied. After the finish is cured, the grounding bar, bridge, and tines can be added, and the instrument given its first tuning.

17 Key Cherry Kalimba

Kalimba #3 was made from cherry. The top was made significantly thinner and the bowl much thinner, resulting in a larger resonating chamber. The sound quality remained clear with the ability to amplify sound much better.

17-Key Sapele Kalimba

Kalimba #4 was made from sapele. The initial process for this was the same as the prior three instruments. However, I wanted to obtain a perfect grain match. The sound boards for kalimbas #1-3 were each made by flattening the top of the intact bowl, creating a lip on the outside of the bowl, and then parting off the top. The top was then flipped over and placed into the hollowed bowl. This resulted in an inability to get a perfect grain match.

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Arts and Crafts Plant Stand

This project started based on a request for a small stand to hold a vase. I initially started to consider building a small Shaker-style side table. However, I had a few pieces of red oak in my lumber rack which were calling out to build something in the Arts and Crafts style.

The Design

Straight vs. Splayed Sides in SketchUp

The plan for the stand involved sides would taper in width from bottom top. I had initially considered using straight sides with tapers. However, working with SketchUp allowed me to play with adding splay to the sides that both sloped inward toward and tapered in width from bottom to top. The sides would have arrow-point piercings and arches to define feet.

Build Process

The piece as fairly straight forward to build, with the only “trick” being to save tapering the sides until last. Oak panels were glued up to reach the maximum width on the bottom of 13 inches and length of 28 inches. The sides ended up 5/8″ thick. Two shelves were glued up, with the bottom shelf measuring about 12 1/4″ wide and 13″ long, and the top measuring 9 3/8″ wide by 10″ long. These were 1/2″ thick.

Once the sides were glued up, flattened, and squared, I set the table saw to a 5º bevel and beveled the top and bottom edge of each side to match the intended 5º splay of the legs. I then swapped out my combo blade for a 1/2″ dado stack, leaving the 5º bevel setting intact. Dados were then cut into the sides for both the top and bottom shelves on each side.

Quartersawn Red Oak Shelves held in place with dados and rosehead nails.

After the dados were cut, the combo blade was swapped back into the saw, leaving the 5º bevel. I then began the process of trimming the ends of each self to the proper length. The bottom shelf was trimmed first, maintaining a length as close to 13 inches as possible. One end of the top shelf was then beveled. The stand was partially assembled with the bottom shelf in place. The top shelf was then aligned (but not inserted as it was still too long), and the unbeveled end was marked to find the final length. This was a tedious process and I’m considering a better way to do this going forward.

Before tapering the sides of the stand, I turned my attention to the arrow point piercings. These piercings involved up and down arrow points connected with a 1/2″ channel. I started by creating a template of the arrow point shape. The template was then used to draw the arrow points in both top and bottom locations, centered on the 1/2″ channel. With a Forstner bit, I removed the bulk of the waste in each point. I then pulled out a router with fence and spiral upcut bit installed. Setting the fence on the router to dead center of the sides, I then routed out the channels in each side. I returned to the arrows with chisels, cutting to the lines and defining the full arrow. Then, with a chamfer bit installed in the router, I routed around the piercing. This was finished with a chisel and knife to reestablish the points at the very top of each arrowhead, leaving the sides rounded.

After the piercings were complete, each side was then tapered 5º from bottom to top using the band saw, cleaning up the marks with a jointer plane. I then measured and marked in from the top corner 3/4″. Using a bevel gauge set to match the angle of the arrow points, I marked a line and cut the final bevels. the outside edges of both sides where then chamfered with the router.

Wrought rosehead nails to add decoration and strength to the shelves.

The piece was then dry fit to allow for marking each shelf’s final depth. These were then ripped down on the table saw and cleaned up with hand planes to match the taper of the sides. The stand was glued up and finished using a wash coat of shellac, followed by a dark walnut stain, and topped with black paste wax. Wrought rosehead nails were then put through the sides into each shelf.

Thoughts for the Next Batch

There were a few mistakes along the way in execution of the design. First, I would prefer to make the next round entirely out of quartersawn stock. I had only enough quartersawn oak for the shelves. The sides were glued up out of the remaining stock which was mostly flat sawn. I didn’t notice until the piece was in the finishing stage, but I should have flipped one of the sides to align the flat sawn pieces. The panel glue up was also somewhat glue starved, as I found when inserting tight shelves. It resulted in a partial glue joint failure. This was remedied by wicking in some hide glue, but I’d rather not have to deal with this mid-build.

Second, if making the piece again, I’d likely make a full template of the sides and piercings to allow for template routing. Roughing out tapers on the band saw and cleaning it all up with a flush trim bit would save significant time over repeated resetting of the table saw, particularly given the jobsite saw that I work with.

Finally, I’d need to consider a better method to size and trim the shelves. What that method is I’m not yet sure.

On the way to its new home.
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Boarded Bookcase

Boarded Bookcase with Top

Just a brief update. I have a number of projects in the works, including a new dining room table, a pair of Roorkhee chairs, a side table, and some boxes. Add to that some updates in the workshop, including adding electricity, installing my mobile cabinets in a more permanent position, and adding a lumber rack, and it’s been a busy few months.

I completed this bookcase a few months ago. Like the earlier bookcase that I posted, this is based on the Boarded Bookcase design from Chris Schwarz’ The Anarchist’s Design Book. However, I added a top to the case. The exterior was finished with Federal Blue milk paint (one of my favorite colors from the Old Fashioned Milk Paint Company) and shellac. The interior used garnet shellac and wax.