Twin Cradle Series, Part 2: layout

One of the reasons I looked to Sketchup was the ability to create templates for the pieces.  While the pieces themselves were not really that complicated, it was extremely important that they not only be accurate, but also symmetrical. Templates seemed to be the best way to go. I have used story sticks in the past but I had never really created or worked with templates.

I did my research, watching the wood whisper’s videos and getting advice from my friends on google+.

I own a design company, so I am fortunate enough to own a 48″ plotter. Making full size templates super easy.  Printing full size in Sketchup was another story. I struggled with this for several days. But luckily, again, I was assisted by my friends on google+, including none other than Bob ‘Sketchup’ Lang.

At my local lumberyard I invested in several sheets of 1/2″ MDF.  As always, I brought my trailer. It’s bed is 48x 60. A perfect size for most of my needs and wide enough for a sheet of ply, or so I thought! Since my shop space is a premium I usually have the sheets cut in half for easy handling at home. They cut the 1st piece but when we went to put it on the trailer it wouldn’t fit. What the…? Anyone, anyone? Well it turns out that a 4×8 sheet of MDF is actually 49″ x 97″!! Who knew? Ok, well maybe you did, but I didn’t and the guys at the lumberyard apparently forgot. So, a couple of cuts later I was on my way.

With my full size prints, my new MDF and a can of spray adhesive I created my templates.  I must admit, the simplicity of the shapes made me feel I was being a little silly, and I could have laid this out by hand. But given the curves and the need for exact placement of the through tenons, this made sense and prove to be a worthwhile exercise for me. And besides I was taking true advantage of sketchup by figuring it all out ahead of time.

More on MDF in an upcoming post.

pro-to-type [proh-tuh-tahyp]

Prototype

pro-to-type  [proh-tuh-tahyp]

Noun  1.the original or model on which something is based or formed.

This weekend I decided to jump into a small project: two picture frames. For Christmas I bought my wife two small paintings for our kitchen.  I loved the paintings, but the frames were a bit too formal for our kitchen.  So, I thought “no problem, I’ll just build two new ones.”  As always: easier said, than done.

I’ve never built a picture frame before, but how hard could it be?   Now normally when I come up with a project I do as much research as I can on the subject.  I Google, I hit the forums, WoodTalk Online, Lumberjacks and the like, not only for inspiration but for advise and instruction. I would even hit Amazon and buy some book like ‘Picture Frames and You’.  But this time I decided to just jump right in.

The frames I wanted would be simple outlines of wood around the paintings. No mitres, no fuss. Just give the canvas something thing to conceal the edges where the painter’s brush had stopped and trailed off.  I had an idea in my head, so I decided on Sunday I would just head to the shop and jump right in.  Not a big project, I imagined it would take me the afternoon, and it probably would have,  if I had done my homework and actually laid it out.  I was able to build a the frame in a couple of hours, but I was not satisfied with the result.  The frame was not as deep as I had wanted (due to the size stock I started with), I had not thought through how my joints would come together, nor had I thought through how was going to glue and clamps the pieces together (but besides that, it was perfect!…).  I did build something on Sunday afternoon, but I didn’t build the frame I wanted, I built a proto-type of the frame I wanted.

I think I’ve been shy of the concept of building a prototype in the shop, mostly because I don’t have enough time to build the actual project, never mind a crappy mock up of one.

When I was in scenic design school we would stay up for a week building scale models of the assigned production and then bring them into class for critique.  By critique I mean, watching the professor physically rip apart the model and say “maybe like this, or maybe not”, as you stared at your shredded weeks worth of work.  Perhaps I am scarred.   But on Sunday I really had to step back and say “hmmm, I really need to figure this out, and come up with a plan.”  Even for a simple frame. It’s just part of the process, even for a hobbyist.

So Sunday afternoon was not at all a waist.  I made a prototype of an idea I had for a frame.  I have already come up with a half dozen ideas on how to make it better, more unique and how to use better woodworking skills.  It may be firewood, but it was a great way to spend the afternoon.

…To Do: Finish my Moxon Vise

Yes it’s true.  I too have a Moxon Vise.  I know, imagine that!

I think smarter folks than me have explained at length how they built their vise, so I won’t get into that. But I will share some of the modifications I’ve made this weekend.

Several years ago I built this moxon- wanna be, after seeing an example of it online.

 

 

 

 

It did not take me long to realize that these jig handles weren’t going to cut it. Not a complete failure, but depending on the size of the wood, it just didn’t have the grip, as you can imagine.

 

 

So I invested in the Benchcraft kit.

Game-Changer!

 

 

 

 

 

The vise is awesome, but I had seen two modifications on Paul-Marcel St-Onge’s site, www.halfinchshy.com, which I really grooved on.  The 1st was the addition of the rear bench, which is also shown on Benchcrafted’ site, and the other is the french cleat he added in order to hang and store the vise when not in use.  Paul-Marcel is a pretty smart guy, if you don’t follow his site, you owe it to yourself to check it out.

Gluing up the back bench

Glueing and Screwing the french cleat to the back bench

Vise flipped over for final clamping of rear support.

Stored!!

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Stores perfectly right under my bench!  Brilliant space saving in my tiny shop.

Thanks Paul-Marcel.

 

 

 

 

I am going to add one more small modification.  I use my Gramercy Hold Fasts to secure the Moxon to my bench.  Now that I have added the rear bench, I need to extend the stabalizer on each side, so fastening the holdfast isn’t as clumsy.

Now I have no excuse for practicing my dovetails!

Finish My Moxon Vise…

Done!

The To-Do List

I have had so little time in the shop lately and when I have, it seems its for short spurts.  Luckily I did a big shop cleanup, not too long ago, so I don’t spend my time cleaning.

Instead of starting another project, only to chip away at it sporadically I’ve decided to chip away at those little shop projects on the ever expanding To-Do list.  You know the ones where your in the middle of a project and think “someday, I’m going to fix that!”. The ones where you’ve bought the parts, but never get around to installing them.

So here are some of my recent To-Dos:

My Router.

I own a PC 890 with a fixed base and a plunge router. I’ve been very happy with it, but I had taken the motor out and placed it in my router table.  Sound familiar?  So every time I wanted to use the plunge feature I’d have to remove it from the table.  Not a huge deal, but it can be a pain. My router table has been fitted for the 890, so I didn’t want to start from scratch. I searched around and found just the motor for sale on eBay.  Perfect.    So I installed that and was able to tune up my plunge router.  Done.

My Lathe:

I am not turner, but I’ve been trying slowly trying to build my skills and use the lathe for portions of projects.  In the process of that I broke off one of the adjustment handles on the tool rest body.  I bought a bit to try and drill out the screw, with no luck.  In fact, I think I made it worse. I had a plan to find a metal shop that could rethread it for me.  But then it occurred to me that I could replace the base piece for about $30.  Kinda seemed like a no brainer.  So I Installed the new tool rest body and a new tool rest extension arm.  Done.

Lathe Tool Rests:

I bought my lathe used on craigslist and the tool rest was always rather beat up, not to mention it always seem to be too long for the project at hand, so while I was tuning up the lathe I decided to invest in some new tool rests.  I purchased the woodcraft toolrest sytem, it has one rod and you and you can screw on different rest.  I bought a 12″ rest, a 6″ rest for pen turning and a curved rest for when I take up bowl turning (as if I don’t have enough to do!)  Not a lot of set up, but Done!

Micro Jig Splitter:

I’ve had this forever and never seemed to get around to actually installing it.  Pretty stupid to not install something as important as a splitter.

 

 

The directions seem a little over complex, even slightly intimidating, but the truth is, it only took me less than an hour and it worked as advertised.  A great innovation.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

I naturally was able to use another product from MJ:

The GRRRipper!!!

 

 

Starret 12″ Square:

I recently took a hand tool class and compared my old 12″ square with the instructors 12″ Starret.  Wow.  I was really surprised to see how accurate his was and how out of square my hardware store square was.  I had recently purchased the 4″ model and now I could not seem to build anything until I added this to my arsenal.  Luckily, I had an order from woodcraft coming anyway!  Imagine that. Square!  Done.

Today I worked on my Moxon Vise (yes, I too have built a Moxon!).  More on that tomorrow…

 

Twin Cradle Series, Part 1: Design

As many of you know my latest project was a cradle for my new twin nephews who were born shortly before Thanksgiving. I was certainly inspired and motivated by  Vic Hubbard’s cradle for his granddaughter Gretchin.   I quickly learned that the good thing and the bad thing with building a cradle are the same:  a deadline!  Babies wait for no man.  Twins have a tendency to come early, so the pressure was on.

As a trained designer (not a furniture designer, however) I tend to put a good deal of thought into a project before delving in.  I do as much research as possible.  What are all my options?  How can make this project unique? What are the practical aspects I need to consider?  I obsess about such decisions.  I go over and over them in my head.  On our long drives back and forth to the country I get into the zone and mull over every aspect of a project.  The big joke in our house is that I like to take long showers in the morning.  I design everything in the shower.  I figure out everything for the day.  Crazy I know, but it works.  So out of the shower and back to the topic at hand!

To start,  I made a laundry list in my head of all the things I needed to consider.

#1:The babies.  That’s a no brainer. But the truth is, as any parent knows, a baby will sleep almost anywhere, given the right circumstances.  Tired enough a baby would sleep in a cardboard box, but that would be a boring thing to build, to blog about, and the parents might get bad looks if they put them in a box as if they were kittens.

Which brings us to consideration #2: The Parents.  Probably the single most important consideration.  While this may be  a gift, the parents are the ‘clients’.  This piece of furniture needs to meet their needs.  Luckily, as a parent of two children, I have ALL the answers and know exactly what all expecting parent needs and am able to predict the future for them (it drove me nuts when people would say ‘just wait…’).  Anyway, the cradle really needs to meet the needs of the parents.  Being able to rock the babies to sleep and the ability easily to put them in it and feel comfortable walking away. Parents are so overwhelmed with safety regulations these days surrounding cradles, it would be unfortunate to present something to the parents that they were not comfortable with.

#3: The Aesthetic.  As I said earlier, babies will sleep anywhere. Ian & Betsy (the parents) were using several pack & plays.  Certainly functional, and you still need them to raise children, but maybe not in keeping with the living room furniture.  I was setting out to create an heirloom piece of furniture that they could put in their living room and be proud of. After all, if you think about it, it is kind of funny to present a huge piece of furniture as a gift to someone and say “Here!  Put this big honking thing in your living room!”.

#4: Practicality.  Size was obviously key.  It had to fit two babies and leave them room to grow.  This was not going to be a tiny piece.  While I wanted to create an “heirloom” quality piece, let’s be practical: this is a cradle for twins.  Ian & Betsy may not have more children, let alone a set of twins.  So what do you do with this “museum quality” work of art in a year?

#5:  My skill level and time.  While I am obsessed with woodworking, I am an amateur.  I do this on the weekends, in between family activities and obligations.  I needed to design a piece that was within my skill set.  While I love to push myself, I had a deadline.  These babies were on the way and they would not always fit in the cradle.  They certainly would not wait for me to struggle though new techniques.

I naturally took to Google images for inspiration.  One of the very first images I came across stuck with me.  It’s a rather modern piece that has a bit of Swedish aesthetic to it (read: Ikea look).   As I kept researching, my thoughts kept bringing me back to this piece.  The cradle I found answered several considerations, but above all I was sure I could actually build it.  Then the designer in me took over.  How could I improve upon this utilitarian design?  Building it out of a wood other than fiberboard and plastic veneer was a start.  I love cherry.  So I chose: Cherry.  Already this was looking better!

1st Scribbles

I start scribbling out some rough sketches, really to get some overall dimensions.

Rough dimensions

I made a flat mock up of the side to get an idea of the angles.  This was very telling but I still felt I needed to really have this completely conceptualized and designed before I started cutting cherry.

I laid out sticks of scrap to get sense of scale, angles and proportion.

I did not have the luxury of time to be creative, in that sense, in the shop, and let’s face it- cherry’s not cheap.  That’s when I decided I needed to finally take the bull by the horns and learn Sketchup.  I had dabbled with it before, but this was an opportunity that would force me learn it.  I was an excellent hand draftsman and did pretty well with Vectorworks, but 3D was something I just never had to do.  So, I signed up for a two night class at 3rd Ward in Brooklyn.  They offer amazing classes in all sorts of creative fields, including woodworking.  The class gave me just enough to go on. I wasn’t a master, but I finally felt really comfortable. I spent a week fiddling around with different ideas.  Sketchup really helped me land on some key design aspects.   For me, who spends the entire week in the city, far from my shop, Sketchup was going to be my friend.

So what did I discover?  The first thing was that this was going to be a sizable piece of furniture!  Thats when I decided it needed to be able to break down easily, both for our trip to New Hampshire, but also for storage once it has outlived it’s sole purpose and is retired to the basement.  I then decided that I wanted it to go together without any hardware.  It needed to be able to fit together with wood, and wood alone.  I decided to create through tenons for the bottom, as well as the footboard and headboard that could easily slide into the sides.  I worked on the symmetry and to be honest it all came together rather quickly.  If anything it was my sketchup skills that slowed me down! I decided to lose the oval handles my research had provided.  That seemed clunky and I could not see how they would be comfortable or useful for the parents.  I pictured my brother-in-law, Ian, drinking beer and watching football, with the cradle in front of him.  I decided it needed a foot rest that he could rock the cradle while chilling out on the couch.  So I extended the base so it would make a comfortable foot rest.  At this point I was really feeling good about the design.  I did leave a few decisions up in the air to see how things progressed.  I needed to decide how to make the center divider come and go easily and I needed to fine tune the thru tenons and what I would use for pegs to hold them together.

Overall, I was pretty excited.  It was time to start building!…..

Dovetail Connections

Back in September I attended the Berkshire WoodWorkers guild show in Stockbridge, MA. It’s an opportunity for members to display and sell their work.   The craftsman are varied in age, gender, and design sensibility. It’s a small show and I’m always surprised that there aren’t more active members, given the creative nature of the Berkshires.

Each year there is a silent auction of smaller projects from members. This year there was a “handcut dovetail class” on the auction block. Starting bid was $90. I’m in! I signed my name and was the 1st to bid, we then went and wandered the show. As I stated, designs and skill levels are varied, and you know how it is, you wander a show and there are certain pieces and artisans that you respond to more than others. Towards the end I came upon the booth of John Corcoran. His work was traditional, well done and obviously created with a skilled hand.  As I admired his work, we sparked up a lively conversation. He spoke of his work and where he has taken classes. It was then that it occurred to me the John was the one offering the dovetail class. Perfect I thought!

Well as luck would have it, I got a call later that week that I had indeed won the auction. Score! The sad thing is, no one else apparently bid. I must say I was surprised. Like many of you, I want to see more folks participating in the hobby we find so enjoyable. Ah well, their loss, my gain.

I was very excited. I’ve taken a number of woodworking classes, but handcut dovetails were never really covered in great depth. I can machine cut dovetails and I’ve even handcut single dovetails for joinery, but not for a traditional use such as a drawer.  In fact, last year I built a shaker table as part of the Woodworkers Fighting Cancer build with The Woodwhisper Guild. Sadly the table has sat in my shop awaiting a drawer. It just seemed to me to be one of those projects that calls for handcut dovetails. I didn’t want to use a router jig  for a 3″ drawer, and I didn’t want to cop out and use a rabbit joint on this very traditional table (I am a member of the Hancock Shaker Village after all!). So the table sits, collecting dust until my skills (& confidence) are up to it.

So after lots of phone calls back and forth, John and I set up a Saturday morning for my private lesson.

John, a former engineer, has spent his retirement pursuing his woodworking dream, building a shop and honing his craft by taking extensive classes. An avid fan of Krevnov’s work, he spent three weeks out at the College of the Red Woods Fine Woodworking Program sharpening his skills, as well as several classes at the Center for Furniture in Maine.

John Corcoran at the Berskhire Woodoworkers Guild Show

We headed out to the shop, where John had laid out an impressive display of tools for us.  He was very organized, including a step by step printed hand out.  This wasn’t going to just be a couple of hours hanging in the shop!  This was a one on one tutorial.  We briefly went through the various tools and he got straight to it.  He showed me how he does the layout and then he let me lay it out, he showed me how he cuts this pins and then I cut my pins, and so forth.  This was great.  I thought, this is how woodworking classes should be, a couple of hours zeroing in on just one skill, in a casual shop atmosphere and no distractions for other students at different levels.

We covered both through and blind dovetails.  John is a “pins first” kinda guy, which makes sense to me.  So we’ll see, perhaps that makes me a “pins first” guy as well!  His technique is quite similar to Kari Hultman’s video shown here.  John also uses a block, clamped down at the shoulder, giving the chisel a surface to reference off of (very smart!). Unlike Kari and others, John does not use a fret saw, which I was happy about.  I have not really tried the fret saw, but I like using the chisel to remove all the waste.  John also introduced me to a simple method of twisting the chisel to remove larger pieces of waste. It’s those small techniques that make classes so valuable.

Well, time flew and before we knew it we had worked though lunch. John’s wife was kind enough to prepare some sandwiches and we sat inside and chatted for at least an hour!  It’s true what they say about woodworkers, we are a kind bunch (and so are their wives!).

Although it was only October, we were hit that day with a freak snow storm.   As we sat in their house the snow continued to come down, I looked out and decided I better get on the road. I could have stayed all day, but I would have to finish up my blind dovetail at home.

Success!!

As you can see my dovetails came out pretty good…

What's wrong with this picture??

…except for cutting my blind tails as both pins!  I guess I need to hire full time to look over my shoulder!

Please take a moment to check out John’s work here.

He is a true gentleman, a talented woodworker and a new friend.