Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Woodworking can change the world... a high school shop class made urns for the ashes of unclaimed veterans.

Remember that old Crosby, Stills and Nash song... we can change the world? 

Here's a link to sing along, and I'll warn you - once this song gets in your head, it might stay there all day. 

The lyrics seem more fitting than ever.  

I was reminded of that song when I read this terrific article about a high school shop class that made urns for the ashes of unclaimed veterans. Bravo to that shop teacher!

It's a great idea, you can read about it here.

Sunday, September 16, 2018

RIP Beth Wheeler

The woodworking community here in Las Vegas lost a valued and talented member this week. Beth Wheeler passed away in her sleep early Thursday morning after a brave battle with pancreatic cancer. 

There wasn't a more prolific woodworker in our group than Beth; these pictures prove that! 

She was a force in this world - not just in the wood shop but as a very successful entrepreneur, too. Whip smart, with a nearly photographic mind - Beth had the amazing ability to devour woodworking articles and almost instantly master whatever she attempted. As I told her many times - she was one of the most talented students who ever worked in my shop. (I can count on one hand how many people are in this category.) She purposely tackled techniques that stretched her talents, and employed them into projects chosen for their difficulty. 

Life isn’t fair, and Beth’s passing should be a reminder to us all about embracing challenges and enjoying the journey. I’ll miss her enthusiasm for hand tool work, and for her monthly show and tell projects - from difficult chairs and stools, to simple fun pieces for her grandchildren. Although her woodworking career was brief, it was rich with variety and personal goals - all of which she met head-on.

RIP Beth, our world here burns a little less brightly with your absence. 

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Sand-Thru sticks - where have you been all of my life!?

Can I go off a bit about staining wood?

When my customers request something made in darker wood tones, I usually suggest that we use dark wood from the start. Staining lighter woods can be a huge challenge, both in the way in which wood accepts color, and later in the process, when wood can be damaged.

If we start with darker woods, it's easier to apply a clear finish, like Danish Oil. In fact, that's why we use clear Danish Oil on just about everything that we build in my shop.  

I've seen more projects ruined by a poor finish than just about any other problem out there.  

Someone can build a perfect piece - with excellent design and proportion, perfect joinery, excellent sanding....  but if a bad finish is applied, the overall impression of the piece is often ruined. 

So... staining is my pet peeve.

 Now, don't get me wrong - I stain a fair amount of work, but a huge complaint is that when wood that is stained gets dinged or chipped, the resulting blemish exposes the lighter wood underneath, and it looks horrible. 

Either way, it's a lose/lose situation. 

I recently built a giant thermometer for a church - you know those thermometers that keep track of fund raising efforts?  

Sure, you can buy a wall poster to hang up, and keep track of your progress that way. But this church wanted one that they could use over and over, and commissioned me to design a nice one. 

To keep some costs down, we decided upon a stained outer frame. Over the course of  building it, I had to stain the wood, which caused the grain to raise a bit. I usually use a soft sanding block with 400 grit sandpaper on it, to knock down the roughness, but when I did that, I accidentally exposed some of the lighter wood underneath.  

(On darker woods, that wouldn't have occurred.) 

It's really hard to touch up those areas, because you don't have a ton of control where the stain flows. 

It's easy to darken the surrounding areas when you're trying to just touch up the lighter ones. You can chase your tail all afternoon doing this!... trust me, I've been there.

Then I found a game-changer. 

I stopped by my local Mohawk dealer, to pick up some finishing supplies and asked if they had any suggestions for touching up small stain defects, and lo-and-behold, they led me to this...

Who knew?! These sticks are nothing short of a lifesaver to me, and I can't believe I had never heard of them before. In fact, I bought a variety of them to keep in stock, for future problems. 

It's nice to have a few tricks up your sleeve when problems arise in the woodshop!

Monday, September 10, 2018

Quick followup on that charred frame...

Taking pictures of anything that has glare on it is tough - so getting a good shot of this charred frame was a challenge! 

But I love it when it I can see a piece of wood morph from this slab

 to these rough parts, 

to this glue-up,

to this finished piece.

 I suspect this BLM firefighter will cherish this piece forever.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

Into the fire...

This piece of Russian Olive wood has been floating around my shop for a while, awaiting the perfect project. 

Luckily for me, that project presented itself last week, when someone came to my shop looking for a picture frame. But not just any frame!

This one is special!

My customer explained that she wanted a rustic live edge picture frame to hold a photo of her firefighter boyfriend. He fights fires for the BLM, and she has an amazing photo of him in front of flames, fighting a blaze. 


I knew there was a reason I held onto this board for so long. 

But the truth is - I don't love making picture frames - they're cranky, and they make me cranky when I build one. But this was a project I couldn't turn down!

Working with live edge boards complicates everything, as frames have to be square and accurate so that the mitered corners fit together and look good. So I sat with a sketch book and came up with a method to ensure that I would mill the slab up correctly. One mistake and the frame components would be ruined. 

Since the frame was going to be roughly 3" wide, I cut some scrap MDF to the rough size I needed, and laid them on the slab to choose the best parts of it. 

I was dodging splits and cracks, 

and even this bullet! 

Luckily, that didn't make it into the planer!

Some planing and cutting of the rabbets gave me some flat edges, and once everything was milled,

I added some Dominos for strength. 

They also hold the miter together while clamping, so I didn't have to worry about one piece slipping. 

These boards were a little warped, nothing bad, and the warpage added to the character of the frame, although I had to clean up a few areas with my shoulder plane, to ensure that the glass would sit correctly. 

The Olive wood is relatively soft, and though I thought it would be stringy like Elm, it was very easy to work. 

In fact, it planes like buttah!

A dry fit and ...

time to clamp!

Time to sand! 

Did I mention that this customer asked me to add a bit of char to the frame, in homage to her firefighter? I pulled out a plumbers torch, and charred the top corner, adding just a bit of color to it. 

It was so tempting to really give it some char, but... hey, if you're paying the bill, you get to call the shots. 

A bit of oil and this is ready for the glass and photo.... stay tuned!