Prairie Couch in Eastern American Walnut

I recently completed the first of three prairie style couches. They are based upon a design by Frank Lloyd Wright and fit nicely in both an arts and crafts as well as in a modern setting. The one shown in the photos below was built as a speculative piece and the other two are for a very nice couple who commissioned them from me here in Portland. They are all made from solid eastern walnut and finished with oil and wax. The speculative piece was professionally upholstered with sinusoidal springs under the seat cushions and covered in high-quality european leather. I am very happy with how it turned out as it is both beautiful and very comfortable.  I can not stop caressing the arms as they are smooth as silk!  I am asking $4500 for this couch, and plan on completing a matching ottoman or coffee table to be sold separately.

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Also finished; Spalted Valet

This is meant to be a “man’s box” for keys, spare change, wallets- a catch all for your pockets at the end of each day. It was a lot of fun curving the sides with a handplane and the inside via coping sled on the table saw.

Large curvet valet with inner box. Spalted wood and mahogany with wenge and paduk pulls.

Large curvet valet with inner box. Spalted wood and mahogany with wenge and paduk pulls.

The two lids are of solid spalted alder and maple. It has hand-carved handles of wenge and paduk .

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The main box is mahogany, the inner box of walnut.
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oil and wax finish, of course…

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I’m fond of making my “mustache” handles.

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Jewlery Box

Two years.  Two years it took me to finish this thing. Two years spent squinting at it- looking for possibilities. Two years of thinking about leg options late into the night.

And now it’s done.

Large Jewelry box, bubinga, mahogany and ebony with Pendelton wool drawer linings.

Large Jewelry box, bubinga, mahogany and ebony with Pendelton wool drawer linings.

I used brass plane iron adjustment knobs with rosewood infill. The drawers and top are made from a piece of billet wood I acquired from a guy who knows a guy who works on the docks here in Portland It was a piece of mahogany-like wood spalted from prolonged time in a ship hold in proximity of water and suitable fungi.

closeup drawers

closeup drawers

The top handel was hand-carved. The inner drawer dividers are rippled maple from a local maple tree.

top drawer open

top drawer open

I finished this with oil and wax. Couldn’t bring myself to give it a top-coat.

jewelry box front

jewelry box front

I managed to use lots of ebony pieces I’d had laying around for the trim.

drawers

drawers

The top lifting box is of a piece of Chechen I’d been lugging around with me since the early 1990’s. Drawer linings of Pendleton wool scraps.

JB top open

JB top open


Since this was a practice piece, my price on this has nothing to do with the amount of time it took. Thanks for looking!

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blanket chests

I recently finished a run of six milk-painted chests. These measure 19″ x 40″ x 16″ (height). They are constructed of southern yellow pine, finished in four coats of General Finishes Milk-Paint, then hand-rubed with oil and wax and fitted with soft-close hinges. Each carcase is dovetailed to ensure a chest that will last generations. I am selling these for $400-$500 each.  Own a quality piece of custom furniture, locally crafted in Portland, Oregon and support your local artisans!

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New stuff keeping me busy, old stuff needing to get finished…

I’ve been pretty busy these days between hanging with my kids while my wife works a long stretch of days, as well as kindergarten round-ups, getting our home ready for sale and acquiring the oak I need for a recent commission. Still I’ve managed to squeak in quite a lot of time for building. My goal is to have a few dozen items ready for sale for around the holidays (or possibly an art show or two this summer in the NW). I’m going to need to slow down a bit soon though, as the approaching spring and mountain bike season on Mt. Hood and St. Helens is beckoning me.  Here’s a quick look at what I’ve got in progress.

Dovetails tails cut on Southern Yellow Pine

Dovetails tails cut on Southern Yellow Pine

These are the beginnings of a half dozen toy boxes/coffee table/side tables in progress. They will be larger than the toy box I made for Madeline (here). The southern yellow pine has been jointed, dimensioned and the tails cut.

Leigh adjustable dovetail Jig

Leigh adjustable dovetail Jig

This is the set-up I use for machine-cut dovetails.

windsor shield seat in white pine

windsor shield seat in white pine

I’ve glued up a 2 inch thick slab of white pine for use on a Philadelphia style windsor fan back chair. I hope it turns out something like this.

sticks made octangle while green on shave horse

sticks made octangle while green on shave horse

These are the spindles I rived and octangalized (ha) for the chair. I used my new shave horse for shaping. The spindles need to dry in my shop for a few days then get further dried in a kiln I’ve yet to make.

shavehorse -Boggs style

shavehorse -Boggs style

The shavehorse I threw together in about 20 hours with $50 in soft maple.

shavehorse seat in cherry and walnut. The points on the sides are for grabbing to scoot your seat forward or backwards when you need to.

shavehorse seat in cherry and walnut. The points on the sides are for grabbing to scoot your seat forward or backwards when you need to.

The cherry seat was my first time using a lancelot disk on my grinder for shaping. I’d like to do my shaping by hand with a scorp and travisher, but I need to get over the sharpening hurdle first. Still, this one was fun to make.

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I’ve been making the patterns for the Peter Galbert Windsor rocker from Fine woodworking (here).

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I have the seat glued up and pattern with sight-lines and resultant angles drawn on it. I think I am doing this entire chair in Ash.

I have a series of small tables I drew a pattern for marked out on some quartersawn oak as well.

All this is just the most recent stuff. I have three jewelry boxes, four peppermills, eight sets of toy trains (3 cars each -only the locomotives need finishing), and several dozen assorted pens and small lathe toys to finish. Not mentioning the half dozen or so tools I have planed to make for myself (spokeshave, chisel handles, krenov plane(s), straight-edges/winding sticks and layout square).

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Stickley #72 Magazine Stand

Saw this in a blog by Chris Schwarz (here) and really liked the proportions. It was originally designed for Stickley by Harvey Ellis, who lightened the heavy Stickley look with a slight taper to the legs and the curved top stretcher. I changed the way the bottom shelf meets the stretcher to ensure consistent grain.

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The piece is quartersawn white oak with an aniline dye followed by three coats of varnish/oil and brown paste wax.

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An easy little build though I had to use some case-hardened oak for the legs I was able to keep the visible checks to a minimum.

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The back is shiplapped flat-sawn white oak with a chamfer at the seams. Unfortunately, the case is a little small to hold full-sized kids books. Magazines or small books are the ticket.

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Bow-arm Morris Chair

This is my second attempt at the Morris chair shown in the gregory Paolini morris chair   built for Fine Woodworking (here) and for which plans are published by American Furniture Design Co.  The piece is still in need of upholstery; for which I’ve a brown leather that matches another piece I’ve made for our living room. I feel this chair came out heads and tails better than my first Morris chair – a project I first undertook with next to no real woodworking skills to my credit. I think a lot of it comes down to a nice finish and attention to details like edges and through mortises.

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Back and arm detail bow arm Morris chair

Back and arm detail bow arm Morris chair

I used blackwood plugs to suggest the holes found for the backrest adjustment on the rear legs.

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Quartersawn white oak was lock-mitered to create legs with quartersawn grain on all four sides.

The finish is oil and dark brown wax. There are no stains or dyes used to color the natural white oak. I am beginning to prefer the clean look of unstained white oak. It should brown a bit with age.

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The added benefit of proper edge treatment is that corners are easier on little heads, hands and feet.

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Shaker Oval boxes

I’ve always admired the Shakers for the perfection of their forms. That and their work ethic. They got a lot of stuff done in their short time here. They are not credited with the invention of the bentwood box, but many believe they perfected the form.

To build my shaker boxes, I decided to finally make myself a steam box. A steam box is a simple box into which you pump hot steam. In the photo below you can see the front of my simple box placed out my shop window in an attempt to keep the moisture from entering the shop and changing the humidity. The black tube is the route by which steam is injected and leads to a commercial wallpaper steamer I bought specifically for this purpose.

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By steaming pieces of wood, you soften the lignin bonds that hold the wood together and allow it to be bent into radically different shapes. I’ve been wanting to play with bent designs for quite some time now, and decided these boxes would give me the excuse I needed to get a move-on. The boxes also required construction of the cores and shapers used to shape the bent forms. I used patterns from John Wilson’s (http://www.shakerovalbox.com) publications to build these, making them for box sizes 1 through 6.  The photo below shows some of the shapers in the background.

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For the bands, I found some very nice quartersawn cherry from our local hardwood supplier here in Portland and tuned up my new Laguna 16″ bandsaw and carbide blade. Re-sawing was a revelation with this new tool! Finally I am able to re-saw thick material – it opens up so many possibilities!

Once the bands are bent around the forms, you use copper tacks and a hammer and anvil to hold them together.

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Once cinched, the shapers are placed in the top and bottom of each box and they are allowed to dry for a day or two. After that, it’s simple matter of cutting the top and bottom pieces to size, fitting them and tacking into place with small splinters of wood (I used hardwood toothpicks). My tops on these were spalted alder. The boxes need a bit of hand sanding, then oil and wax, and the result is a set of very cool looking oval boxes!  These are destined for a wedding gift for two friends of mine – never mind that they are 6 months late (Officially, my wife tells me, I have up to a year…). I think they will really like them. I have some reservations about use of the spalted alder for the tops as it is not quartersawn, and may swell and break the bands someday, and it is quite fragile (being rotten wood after all…). Still, I think they will be OK if treated with a bit of care.

Things I’d like to get better at with these are;
1) Don’t dent the cherry when installing the tacks
2) Line up the fingers on the top band and the box bands
3) Line up the tacks more evenly
4) Build bigger sizes – through size 10 at least.

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shaker oval boxes sizes 1 - 6

shaker oval boxes sizes 1 – 6

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Harvey Ellis 9-Drawer Dresser

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Finished Harvey Ellis 9-drawer dresser in White oak

My adventure in large carcase construction began with the acquisition of what appeared to be some very nice 12/4 quartersawn white oak stock. In the past, I’ve had really horrible luck picking decent thick oak stock from my local hardwood dealer (Crosscut Hardwoods), as everything I’d bought thicker than 5/4 was case-hardened to the point that it was good only for firewood. Case hardening occurs when lumber is rushed through the kiln to speed the drying process. It happens when the wood shrinks too much at the surface in the kiln, which compresses its damp interior. This results in unrelieved stress.  The rushing of wood through the kiln is done because of monetary considerations, and results in a board that appears fine on the surface but is riddled with cracks as large as 1/4 inch in the interior. It can often also result in interior stresses in a board that can cause it to warp and deform wildly. I’ve complained in the past about the low-quality of the wood Crosscut has been passing off to consumers but have been told that there is nothing they can do about it as they do not have contact with their buyers. Crosscut has in the past has also refused to take back or refund my purchase of case-hardened lumber, which really irks me since I’ve had several hundreds of dollars of essentially firewood because of greed on the part of Crosscut and their suppliers. Northwest area woodworkers beware!

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Evidence of case-hardening in oak (google image)

Anyway, I was at Crosscut a few months ago and spotted what appeared to be decent quality 8 and 12/4 white oak with nice ray-flake grain, and made a purchase with more than a little trepidation. After letting the wood season a few weeks in the shop, I cut into it and was pleasantly surprised; very few checks and splits! Perhaps my standards are set too low, but I was happy I had the stock I’d need for the project I had in mind.

My two girls, Madeline and Caitlin, had been growing like gangbusters this past year and the space we have for their clothing was reaching it’s limit. I’d been wanting to do a large dresser and had been eyeing the Harvey Ellis design sketched by Robert Lang in his craftsman furniture books (here) (sketch below).

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Robert Lang’s drawing for the Harvey Ellis 9-drawer dresser

Though I’m always in the middle of a dozen or so projects at any time, I’d decided to move this one to the top of the queue in order to have the dresser finished by the holidays. My girls are too young to really appreciate my work yet, but I hope that someday they will look back at what I’ve made them and perhaps even fight a little over who get to keep them when I’m gone (ha ha).

About 6 weeks later, I’ve finally moved the piece into the girls room. As expected, they are oblivious to their new gift, but I am thrilled at the way the piece looks. I’ve got to say; this is my best piece yet! I feel like I’m finally starting to get the quality I’ve been desiring out of my work.  I discovered that the Lang drawings for this piece were lacking in a lot of information (what’s up with that Bob?), but this pushed me to think through the details of the piece as I went. There are of course a few things I’d do differently. I’ll list them here because I want to remind myself when next I build a carcase piece.

  1. I’d add a divider at the top of the drawers, if only to allow space for attachment of the top. As it stands now, I had to notch the outer edges of the top two drawers to allow room for the table mounting clamps – a solution that detracts from the aesthetics of these drawers.
  2. I’d extend the length of the tongues that attach the sides to the legs as well to 1/2 inch rather than 1/4 inch. They are strong as they stand, but the extra length would put my mind at ease when moving this heavy case piece. I’d also lengthen the frame and panel tongues for the same reason.
  3. I’d modify the sides of the piece such that the base of each side would match the curve that appears on the base of the front.
  4. I’d modify the way I did the drawers. I glued thin white oak runners onto the bottom of the small drawers after ripping a bit off each side. For the larger drawers I incorporated a larger piece of white oak into drawer sides their glue-up for proper height (I’d started with 6-inch southern yellow pine stock) and then cut my dovetails into both species of wood. I’d stick to the later strategy next time as it was less time consuming and in the end produces a stronger drawer. For the drawer bottoms I also experimented- two ares solid white oak panels, two are 1/4 inch cherry ply, and five are birch ply onto which I glued and shellacked decorative papers. I am happy with both the solid wood and the decorative paper. No more plain ply bottoms for me! I did not end up needing runners for the drawers as they were fit by hand and run very smoothly with a bit of wax. One item to watch out for is when you use a frame and panel side, the indent where the panel sits inside the case may catch the drawer as it slides in. This is easily remedied with a piece of wood glued in to fill the gap.
  5. I’d create the tongues on the web frames after gluing the frame and panels together to ensure a smooth transition between stiles and rails. For some reason I’d created the tongues piece by piece which resulted upon glue-up in a bumpy transition which affected the fit of the dividers into the carcase.

There were a few design decisions to be made while building this dresser. Historically, the Stickley pieces used both frame and panel construction as well as flat panel construction for the sides (a piece constructed with flat panel sides is here, the modern Stickley piece is here). I’d decided to do frame and panel sides rather than a flat panel, and though this added considerably to the pieces complexity, I think it was worth it aesthetically. Of the frame and panel options, one could choose center panels or panels to either side of a center stile (like here). I went with center panels, but might try the later option if I was to do this piece again as it would save a bit of time in construction. Flat panel construction would be much quicker and easier and if a ply was used would save considerably on lumber costs. But what’s the point of putting so much love and effort into a piece only to skimp on details like this?

Drawer divider showing sliding dovetail joint with recess to keep divider inset from the plane of the case front.

Drawer divider showing sliding dovetail joint with recess to keep divider inset from the plane of the case front.

I decided to strengthen the carcase by using sliding dovetails on some of the web frames/ drawer dividers. Since I had not used this method on all the dividers, and since the original piece for which I was aiming had a 1/8 inch offset back from the leg fronts, the dovetailed dividers stood a bit proud. I fixed this by recessing the divider about an inch shy of the carcase legs.

I decided on southern yellow pine for the drawer sides. I’d used this species in an earlier project and fell in love with it’s workability and finished appearance. Southern yellow pine was a traditional secondary wood for pieces made in the 17th – 20th century on the eastern seaboard, but was not common out west as poplar was more easily available. These days, both species are available widely. I am very happy with my choice as it is a fine and sturdy wood. My drawer dividers/dust slips were made of some local pin-oak I’d acquired in a craigslist trade. Though the stuff way full of splits and knots, I was able to find enough decent material with judicious selection.

I decided to use commercial pulls for the piece. I’ve seen photos of similar pieces done with turned pulls (see here), but really liked the look of cast/hammered copper hardware even if the costs were considerably higher. Luckily, my wife agreed, and I decided on the pulls from Lee Valley as I have had nothing but positive experiences dealing with the Canadian company and have grown to trust their quality and customer service.

I am happy with the finish I used. I sanded to 220 grit then applied Trans-tint “mission brown” in alcohol to the wood in several coats. The alcohol minimized the raising of the grain and allowed the dye to dry very quickly. I sanded lightly with 320 paper then applied several coats of Land Ark oil. I like this oil because it is non-toxic and smells nicely of citrus. It produces a beautiful if not durable finish, so I also be sure to wax after drying to allow additional protection. In this piece I used a brown wax to further darken the wood a bit.

Start to finish I figure I have about 100 hours into this piece. I’d expect to cut that down to about 80 if I were to do it again, perhaps less if I could focus on the piece full time for a week or two. I’d guess I spent about $500 in wood and materials.

Wow, that was a long post. But finally, finished photos:

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Caitlin with her new dresser

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Hand-cut dovetails

 

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I love Pintrest!

Most every designer and woodworker keeps a collection of images that inspire. I’m no different, only I’ve recently discovered a fantastic way to do so – and it makes sharing the collection easy and fun as well. If you have no yet checked out Pintrest, you ought to do so now. My own Pintrest boards can be found here.

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