Wednesday, January 25, 2012


Alright those who may be interested, let me take you on a sweep of my process and "logic" of/in surface prep.
My words are certainly not the final words on the subject but a view into my practices and what seems to work for me.

-Surfaces with Nicholas Nelson
You have your rough lumber, do whatever you need to do to get it down close to size over a period of time.
Stress and/or moisture can often be less than stable in a plank, or the plank has some sort of "equilibrium" of forces keeping it in shape. Cutting away material can let loose these forces.
Don't cut it down to final dimension right away!
I try to take time with my lumber. Let it acclimate  to the shop as much as possible. Give it some time to settle after milling away material. And so on.

So, keep it a little fat. I joint the pieces on the jointer again, follwed by the planer again. I mill to "final" dimension when I feel the time is right, or I can't wait any longer.
Though some machines perform better than others, I have yet to see a jointer/planer give a perfectly smooth, flat surface. You will get little ripples by way of the rotating cutter head. However fast it spins it does not apply a continual cut. Usually there is some level of snipe as well.
Enter the hand plane.
A very old tool indeed. A plane is just a jig that holds a blade. The sole of the plane acts as registration for the blade. The sole will ride over bumps and valleys in the surface in a way that the position of the blade will remain "planner" to the surfaces over which the plane is traveling.
Sanding devices do not have this advantage. While one can sand out the ripples and other defects left by machines, the fact is that planes were designed to create and maintain a flat and planner surface. Sure, it is easier said than done. Just like any discipline, accurate hand planing takes practice and accumulated knowledge which will lead to skill.
The hand plane also accomplishes what the typical jointer or planer cannot. A continuous shearing cut the length of your work piece. In my opinion, there is usually nothing better than a freshly sheared, friendly wood in terms of surface quality.
When faced with more difficult woods I will opt for my high angle plane. If that doesn't work I'll try a scraping plane. If not that, then I go to sand paper.

When working with friendly woods like Maple, Walnut, Cherry, etc I typically don't do anything more for prep beyond wiping any dust off with a clean cotton rag before finishing. Another plus for the hand plane/shearing tools, one step surface prep. When working with less friendly woods, such as this Red Elm, I find the surface will be slightly fuzzy, or gritty if the wood contains a fair amount of silica.
This Elm planes fairly well with my high angle plane. I just need something to take care of the small fibers and silica left.
I have used steel wool but Nick B had a good concern that I had forgotten about. Which is the possibility of iron particles trapped in the pores of the wood rusting, depending on finish. I don't really use water carried finishes. Shellac gets methyl hydrate, or I use oils. I'd like to be careful though.
I don't particularly like using the 1000+ grit sand paper that would do the job. It creates more fine dust, clogs quickly, and doesn't perform especially well over rounded surfaces with plane/spokeshave facets left like edge treatments or pillowed legs.
I picked up some non-woven pads by Mirka. These are often used in the automotive paint industry commonly referred to as "scuff pads". I chose their finest "grained" pad which they call "micro fine". I took it on some test runs with an Elm off cut which I'm also using for a finish sample of the oil I plan to use. It seems to be doing the trick! Only problem is, these pads aren't as cheap as steel wool. I imagine I may switch back to steel wool after the the second coat of finish is applied.

Well, I think that about does it!

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Progress: Rustica

I haven't been getting out much lately. That's just fine, it's cold out and I've been getting good work done on this table.
I had to once again rip the larger planks to be the top apart so that I could mill them. It's a drag, but I just don't have big enough machinery to do much else.
Using my new high angle plane on its maiden project. Thus far this little guy is great!
Elm doesn't plane or work particularly well. Under the plane it is pretty dry and dusty. The high angle is working well though. Before applying finish a quick buffing with steel wool should be all I need.

The final top glue-up after a series of edge joints. Looks pretty darn good from the top and bottom, the end grain will give away the joints though. Oh well, it tells a story.

Already had all my components milled over a few days. Time to think about leg joinery.

I wanted to make this build as simple as possible, something I'm not too familiar with ha. Well turns out I just can't get away that easily. Here's the plan for leg joinery over-head view.

Here it is after the fact. The longer tenons belong to the long apron going the length of the table. This is the only piece spanning the length so it gets both of the twin tenons overlapped. The side is not only shorter (less able to create torque) but it gets a stretcher under the apron. This configuration seems to be a bit of a motif of mine.

There, see? Yes.

How does one trim and square off a table top without a panel-saw, or even a cabinet saw? I don't know. Here's how I did it. A circular saw and a well placed "fence".
It certainly doesn't make a clean cut, which is a drag because this end grain is HARD! I forgot how hard Elm's end grain can be.

Next problem was how to get the piece so I could work the end grain.
Yep, bringing my craftsmanship to a new level...

Thursday, January 12, 2012

Rustica Table

Back again in rapid succession!
While I'm waiting around pre-finishing I thought I'd get started on my next project: a table for Rustica Bakery.
Rustica is the place that I have been working at part-time as a Barista. It is a European bakery and coffee bar producing some of the best products of both fields I've laid hands on AND they wont brake the bank. The space is also not shabby. Not super "swank" but comfortable and approachable.

Mmmm Flax Seed Levain (bread) and Dogwood Coffee in the background.

Espresso being pulled from the lovely Synesso machine I get to work with.

The place of course already is outfitted with seating and tables but there are a couple tables that had never meant to stay. One of which is the bigger table (6 seater) pictured to the right. This is where I see this table project going.
As the name suggests they have a bit of a "rustic" aesthetic going on but it is certainly no "Caribou" cheeky log cabin thing. The aesthetic reflects the product, though more time and effort has gone into their product as it should. There is a level of refinement yet the beautiful variation and humility that comes from things man-made. This of course is more true with their product than the decor, but shall we see what I can introduce?

These are the two main planks I will be using for the table top. This is Red Elm. Craig will perhaps recognize these as a couple he left behind in New Brighton at a local sawyer's barn.
The design I've been fiddling with is HIGHLY Shaker inspired.
This is where we get a little conceptual...
Though Rustica definitely has a European edge to it, it is not in Europe though one just may mistakenly think so when enjoying some baguette and cheese. The decor has more "Americana" than the baked goods and coffee. The interior and identity gives suggestion of perhaps "American Farmhouse". Course grain woods, rusty brown reds, heavier proportions...
Of course something of a Shaker nature should fit right in along with a native tree that tends to have an American connotation... not to mention a similar color palate.
Red Elm typically gets put into gnarly, knotty, heavily rustic pieces. A couple reasons being that the grain structure is, as I see it, inherently rustic. Also the fact that Elm is not a dense nor overly strong wood means that heavier cuts are used to compensate. However I feel a lot of what we see in Elms are perhaps overly compensated a tad, or that compensation wasn't even in mind as much as just wanting a heavy aesthetic.

Well, we shall see what I can do with it. Hopefully it will be strong enough to withstand some punishment. If it goes over well, perhaps I will have a couple more to build... maybe not in Elm, I just may have a lead on some air dried Ash...

Wednesday, January 11, 2012

That Was Quick

Ha, well that was a quick trip... After the first week of work at the cabinet shop I already quit. To sum it up I am not built physically for that job (5'8"-9", 150-155 lbs), nor am I wired for it mentally. I was having severe reactions to it... and back pain.

Don't know what the heck I'm going to do now but at the moment I'm back at the bakery.

So, more sofa time. I managed to get the frames glued up without too much problem.

A day later I could get to trimming the frames. I tried especially hard to get everything and close to final and square before/during assembly so that I would have less fuss over these big pieces later. It paid off! Trimmed the sides of the seat and back frame to match each other by shooting with my jointer plane.

Ha, some slightly questionable rigging allowed me to trim and clean the six foot long edges just fine.

Lastly, shooting the apron/stretchers to match the frames while maintaining a square end of course.
Things are looking good with some pre-assembly and I'm off pre-finishing again.
Looks like I'm back on track with my end of the month "deadline" I wanted. At least on my work. Don't know when the upholstery will be completed!

Till next time!

Monday, January 2, 2012

On the Road and Back Again

This past week I had time off between jobs and Eva was on vacation. We decided to make it more of a vacation by jumping on a road trip. Without time to really devote to any particular place we decided to make a little over view of a a few places in Oregon, and whatever else along the way. As I called it, "pretty much a long Sunday drive". Met up with one Jason Herrick in Portland, a helpful guy and great character, thanks again Jason!
Pictured above, making way to the Rockies through Montana, beautiful.
This was also a kind of first step in the physical in search of a possible future.
We are both difficult to please in terms of an ideal location. Wanting a bit of isolation and scenery yet proximity to potential places of work/clients both in woodworking for me and design for Eva, all without the bitter winter we see in the Minneapolis area.
It seems the more I've traveled around the more I can appreciate what the Twin Cities has going for it, though I do like to gripe over a few things.

 Road-trip dinner ;).

Welp we're back and trying to get back to reality ha.
I did miss my shop. I got a little time today to put the last coat of pre-finish on some frame parts and start the leg to stretcher assembly of the sofa.
Tomorrow I start the new job bright and early. Here's hoping things work out!