Thursday, March 27, 2008

Acid Test results

As promised...

Here's the same tile (from the post below) after a 3 day soak in vinegar.

Not sure if you can tell by the picture, but there is a distinct difference between the lower area, which was the part that was submerged.

My first thoughts about this include a realization that if I want to use this glaze for dinnerware, it's probably not suitable. But if I want to use it for tile, it's probably fine.

Sunday, March 23, 2008

The elusive Waterfall Green Glaze

Call me persistent.

I've been working on and off for over a year trying to develop a green version of the Waterfall Brown glaze. It's a glaze developed by John Hesselberth and Ron Roy, and featured in their book - Mastering Cone 6 Glazes.

If you mix your own glazes and need help, or if you want to start doing so, I can't imagine a better book to get you started.

About my green tests, I've come up with so many versions of green, my studio is full of samples. I have a small piece of pegboard hanging right above my glaze mixing area, where all the samples are stored.

It's full.

Since I'm mostly trying to develop a green for use in my hand made tiles, I'll tell you a little about the test tiles I make.

I made a small jig that allows me to cut a half dozen rectangular tiles at once. This allows me to roll out a slab and cut six tiles in seconds. I also use a small circular cookie cutter for making small circular tiles. Sometimes, I even make small "tubes" of tile, similar to the cardboard center on a roll of paper towels, only much smaller. I make them roughly the size of a finger, which allows me to test dips in the glaze sample. This is really helpful for learning if a glaze drips during it's final glaze fire. See, I figure if I'm going to the trouble of mixing a 100 gram batch of a glaze, I might as well dip it on a few tiles, rather than just one. So I generally test a glaze on 3 different bisqued clay.

I tend to not add a lot of texture tiles I make for furniture, but still, I want to see how the glaze behaves over texture. So I'll occasionally stamp something in the clay, just to experiment a bit.

The tiles above show a green that's way too light, but the crystal pattern is strong and well formed, which is, besides the color, something I'm trying to achieve.

In the next two tests, I tweaked the colorants slightly, and while there are still some great patterns within these tiles, the color is off. It's much too light for what I'm hoping to achieve.

I'm getting closer to what I want with these two, but I still have to play with the colorants. I envision a hunter green glaze, and these are still a bit too bright. They're very nice, if you like teal versions.

Instead of using chrome to achieve green, I am using copper carbonate. It's beginning to make the green really pop out on these test tiles. I tested extensively with chrome, but nothing I did met my approval.

Switching to copper carbonate made the tiles much more pleasing, and put me on a better path for getting the color I want.

The tile below is still a little light, I'm hoping for DEEP green.

Now this is what I'm talking about!

I've now tested this version of the glaze three times, and each sample has given me consistent results. I like this color so much, I will probably use it on some of the sushi dinnerware sets that I make. But before that, I need to test it for it's resistance to acids.

It's a simple test, but it takes 3 days.

Basically, to test a glaze for it's resistance to acid, you soak it in something acidic for three days. In this case, I'll be using ordinary household white vinegar. Here's a "before" of the glaze I want to test. Check back in a few days and you'll see the "after" result. Keep your fingers crossed!

Saturday, March 15, 2008

Woodworking 101

A few blog posts ago, I wrote about one of my favorite woodworking authors, Tage Frid. His books were instrumental in filling in all holes I had in my Furniture Design degree. When I graduated, I realized exactly how much more I needed to learn. Frid's books were invaluable.

So it was only natural when I started teaching, that I would put together a list of woodworking books that I felt were helpful. Sure, I'm overlooking many books, because I'm not particularly interested in certain niche areas like pen making or decoy carving, or antique reproductions, for example.

What follows is a hand-out that I used to give to students, listing some of the great woodworking books that I have in my library. I hope it's helpful to you.

Basic Woodworking: recommended reading

A visit to any bookstore will confirm that Woodworking is one of the more popular hobbies. There are specific books available on just about any area you might be interested, from jig-saw cut-out patterns to lathe turning to Shaker Furniture and on and on and on! Below are some recommended books, with a short description of each. The books in red are highly recommended.

Woodworking Basics

The Complete Manual of Woodworking
by Albert Jackson, David Day and Simon Jennings

I think this book is one of the best overall texts that you'll find on this subject. It's similar to an encyclopedia; the illustrations are really good, as is the photography. It contains more information that any other book I've seen- about wood and identification, hand and power tools, joinery, finishing and even chapters on carving, veneering and bending wood. This is a great book. (My top recommendation for someone wanting an overall guide to this subject.)

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Joinery, Tools and Techniques
Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Shaping, Veneering, Finishing

Tage Frid Teaches Woodworking: Book 3 Furniture making

I could retire on a desert island with a woodshop and these three texts and never want for another reference book. His set of books contain pictures explaining every sequence, and charts for various calculations. He writes the book as if he’s standing next to you explaining everything, and all the information is very well organized.

Working With Wood by Peter Korn

Someone told me that this book is out of print, though I think you can find this on eBay or It may be hard to locate, but it's worth it. This book is a good basic guide for woodworking, although Korn has this romantic notion that it’s better to perform certain operations by hand than to use power equipment. I say that’s crazy....if I can machine-plane a board in 30 seconds that it would take me a half hour to do with a hand plane, what’s the advantage? Some purists say the enjoyment is in “the dance of doing” but I would rather sit back and enjoy my creations with fewer sore muscles and scraped knuckles.

Fine Woodworking the Publishers of Fine Woodworking Magazine

Fine Woodworking Magazine reprints some valuable articles from it’s magazine into small books, which are very helpful and specific. Their books range in topics from Joinery to Setting up a Small Woodshop, from Sharpening to Helpful Tips. If you have access to all their back issues, then you already have this information.

For Inspiration and Appreciation

A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook by James Krenov
The Impractical Cabinetmaker by James Krenov

The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking by James Krenov

This is not an understatement: My work and outlook has never been the same since I first read Krenov’s books. He is the ultimate woodworker, teaching us about “seeing” wood as opposed to working with it. He writes about specific skills, shows simple ways to perform complex operations and most of all, teaches us an awareness of working wood that has never since been discussed as eloquently.

For Ideas

Fine Woodworking Design Books 1-7

Every few years or so, Fine Woodworking Magazine publishes a book featuring some of the best woodworking projects from around the world. The books are broken down into different categories, from Architectural Designs to Chairs, Tables to Casework, even Musical Instruments and Toys. These books have hundreds of top quality photographs, and offer a vast array of ideas when you need some inspiration.

Advanced Studies

Designing Furniture by Seth Stem

Working at Woodworking by Jim Tolpin

Both these books offer more specific information about working with wood.

Stem’s book contains many design formula’s, such as the golden triangle, for designing pieces with properties that have held up throughout the ages. This book goes into detail about designing a piece, which is helpful to those who follow their own designs, instead of using someone else’s plans.

Tolpin’s book is more suited to someone who is starting into a woodworking business. It discusses more business related topics, such as marketing, pricing and business structure. There is some very good information about setting up a shop, including tool and jig information and shop

Night time Reading

Tools of the Trade by Jeff Taylor

An interesting collection of essays about various tools that we use everyday, but of which we know little. I love this book! It's a great gift for someone who enjoys tools and working with their hands. Even long time woodworkers will enjoy reading about the trivia contained here, and everyone can learn something. Very easy to read- I guarantee you won't be able to put this book down.

Tuesday, March 11, 2008

Confessions of a tool junkie

Back when I taught woodworking classes at my local college, I always made it a point to give handouts during each class.

See, I've taken adult ed classes before, and the only ones I've ever really benefited from were the ones that included handouts. The paperwork was invaluable for future use, and frankly, the classes I've taken that didn't include hand outs... well, I barely remember anything about those classes.
I knew when I started teaching, I would become the hand out queen.

Most of the time, my handouts were focused on whatever I was teaching during that particular class. Router handouts were always popular, as was my recommended reading list.

Even on days when I didn't have anything pertinent to share, I'd simply print up a favorite recipe or maybe a woodworking cartoon.
But one of my favorite handouts was the "Ten tools I can't live without" sheet, which featured obscure but entirely useful tools that I've come to rely upon in my studio. The list has changed slightly over the years, some tools have dropped off, and I've added some new things. But there are a few essential tools that I want to discuss today.

I'd like to preface this by saying that I have no financial stake in recommending any of these tools. I wish I did! Most of the tools come from Lee Valley, a Canadian company that manufactures it's own line of tools under the name Veritas. Their tools are extremely well designed and made. As a tool junkie, I get my fix with them a couple of times a year. Visa must love me.

Today in my studio, I was working on a chest/bench.

It's a popular piece that appears to be a simple blanket chest, but the real charm of it is that it's sized to fit hanging file rails, so that this chest can double as a filing cabinet.

The bottom is made of solid aromatic Cedar, so the chest can also be used for fabric storage, like linens, sweaters, towels, or bedding. But the most common use for this chest is as a filing cabinet bench.

Over the years, this bench has been one of the most popular pieces that I build. Versions of it are scattered throughout the country, and from time to time, I hear from the people who have purchased them, still professing their love for them. I've tried to keep this piece fresh, by varying the style, materials, and features that I offer. In fact, some of my recent versions include tiled front panels, thus introducing color and texture into the mix. While working on a bench today, it dawned on me that this was a perfect time to shoot some images of the building process.

I couldn't do without my box of set up
blocks. The particular set I own is contained in a simple box, and holds 6 different "blocks" of metal, all sizes to nearly perfect dimensions.

Instead of using a tape measure, which can be inaccurate at times, I can use these blocks for marking things, like screw locations, or adjusting a fence on any given tool. The largest block is a 1-2-3 block, which measures 1" x 2" x 3," perfect for measuring and marking.

The other smaller pieces are all useful dimensions -- everything from 3/4" down to 1/16" - used in combination, you can come up with just about any dimension you need. While using the setup blocks for locating where I'm going to drill some screw holes, there are many times I need to transfer a dimension around a corner. Yes, a simple square might work, but I've gotten fairly dependent on using a saddle square.

This ingenious device is simple, yet dead-on accurate. Here, I'm using it to transfer the location of the center of the side board to the face of my bench panel.

Speaking of accurate locations, I'd like to talk about measuring.

I've gotten accustomed to using a
cabinetmakers tape specifically made for a right hander like me. My buddy, Dave, bought me one of these tapes a few years ago, and since then, I've bought a few more, placing them at various locations around my shop. See, the tapes you buy in your local hardware store read left to right, which means that if you're right handed, you're reading the numbers upside down. It's hard enough to be accurate in the first place!

I'd like to share a tip for measuring and marking, one that virtually eliminates errors when trying to locate the center of a board. It's a simple, effective way of finding the center, without doing a lot of math. This method is pretty goof proof, which is what I need from time to time.
First, measure the piece of wood on which you want to find the center. In this case, the board is 13" and some odd fraction.

It doesn't matter, you just need a rough dimension. I always round up to the next whole number, in this case, it's 14" To find the center, measure 7" from the right edge of the board, as shown below.

Then measure 7" from the left edge of the board.

In between those two lines is the center.

In this case, the lines are only about a half inch apart. It's much easier to look at a half inch space and mark the center, than to measure and do the math to find the center.
Finally, once I've located the center and marked the location for the screw, the next step is to predrill the screw hole.

Wherever I install a screw, I fill the hole with a solid plug of similar wood, so that the screw virtually disappears. There is a great device for drilling screw holes, it's called a tapered countersink bit, and my favorite one is made by Fuller Tools.

box set includes a variety of sizes, lengths and even comes with some plug cutters, so that you can cut some wooden plugs to fill the holes.

A couple of things about cutting solid wood plugs for filling screw holes - it's best to save a piece of wood from whatever you're building, so that the wood color matches perfectly. Sometimes, I'll even label the scrap wood, so that I know where it's mate is located in the piece. And forget about cutting a bunch of short plugs; they're too hard to hold when they're short.

I use
tenon cutters to cut plugs, which allows me to cut "tubes" of wood up to 3" long. Take a short scrap of wood, roughly a 1 x 2, and turn it on edge. Drill into the edge, so that you're cutting 2" long plugs. Holding a 2" plug is much easier to hold than short plugs, and one long piece can often yield a half dozen plugs or more. I apply a little glue on the plug, tap it in, and chisel it off just a hair above flush. Apply a little more glue and do it again to the next hole.

As Napoleon Dynamite would say....sweet.