Sunday, July 26, 2015

Table Progress - Part IX

The table is finally nearing completion. On the third of August the clients will be coming by to make a final approval of everything before I do the finishing. There are still a few loose ends, such as the iron bits that are not all finished, but here is the next to last post on the topic. The next time this table is featured will be when it is ready for delivery. This week we will go into detail about the table leaves and the slide mechanism, as well as a bit of discussion on draw-top tables in general.

One of these days it will actually be finished

I had some pictures of how I made the structural members for the apron, but they were lost when my memory card gave out. Once the supporting sections were completed I began working out the slide mechanism. On a draw top table, the principle is that the slides run under the top and are connected to the leaves. These guide rails are generally long enough that the weight of the top is able to support the the leaf. One drawback to that method is that if someone presses to hard on the extended leaf it will lift up the main section of the top.

When I was a kid we had a huge draw-top dining table and I remember a couple of unpleasant accidents caused by someone attempting to push themselves up from their chair by pressing down on the extended leaf. Not a pretty picture. To prevent this from happening, and because my guide rails are not long enough anyway, I will be using an iron cross-tie  which will prevent the leaves from being pressed down. In this series of photographs that has not been installed yet, however.

Setting out the slot for the guide rails

Cutting said slots

One down...the other three are already gone

The slots in which the guide rails will run also serve as a track for the rails to run in, therefore they had to be cut precisely.

Of course the ends of the guide rails cannot just be square

Cutting out a decorative end

In a situation like this, it is much faster to make a couple of straight down cuts and then use a chisel to finish up the shaping.

And of course they cannot be without a little extra ornament made
with a carving gouge as well

Trimming the ends of the leaves

I opted to use straight timber which had some curve to the grain and cut the curve in the stock, as opposed to bending these short segments. As it turned out, I should have used one piece, steam bent it, and then cut it into segments as needed. It was a bit of a challenge to get the inside curves to meet up without a gap. I did manage, but I think it would have been much faster with bent timber. I deliberately left the end wide so that I could place the finished leaves under the top and trace the outline. Once it had been traced, I cut the waste material off and planed the edge smooth. (I used a spokeshave for the inside curves.)

When you cut from one direction and then turn around and come back to
the place where you stopped you will be able to see if your cut is
running square 

Using a cabinet scraper to do the final smoothing

I love cabinet scrapers, and have no idea why anyone would want to sand instead. In addition to getting a nicer surface, the scraper is one hand tool that actually takes less time than the a machine. It took me less than a minute to get this little pile of fluffy shavings, but to remove the same material with a sander would take at least 20 minutes; not to mention that one would have to change grit 3 or 4 times.

Guide rails in guide ways

The table; ready to receive the main section of the top
The contraption on the end is to prevent the leaf from falling. 

It looks good; it feels good to be at this point as well

Top with leaves extended

One of the things I like to do with draw top tables is to put a little bead moulding between the two sections of the top. This helps to disguise the line between the lower and upper parts. The way I do it is to make the top thicker than the leaves, and then use a scratch stock to add the bead to the bottom edge. The lower leaf is the thickness of the top, less the bead. In order for the table to have a uniform surface when the leaves are extended, however, spacers must be added between the leaves and the guide rails. In this picture, I have not yet put the spacers, thus the leaves are currently lower than the top.

I had hoped to install this iron brace today, but spent the whole day getting the leaves and guides set up. I lost count of how many times I took the top off and then put it back on, but it was many.

One of the two braces which a blacksmith and I made this past week at his
little forge. That was a lot of fun, so much so that I did not get any pictures.
I got to play at being a blacksmith myself.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Wooden Knives

Somehow the years keep speeding up, and though it only seems like two months ago I did my last craft show, it is actually only 2 1/2 months until the next one, which means to say nearly a year has  gone by. I know I am not getting older, but they they keep changing what year it is on me!

Anyway, since my next show is fast approaching, and the table project is coming to an end, it is time to start making some things for the show in October. I will also be doing another show in November this year, so it would definitely be good to get some things done to sell. Most people who come to these shows are probably not intending to walk away with a buffet or a corner cabinet, therefore small items which can be carried away are the order of the day. Last year I did some rolling pins, and these were well received; more are planned for this year, but I tried to think of what else I could make. This blogging will be about what I came up with.

Some of the knives I have been working on
Each one of these takes about 2 hours and 15 minutes to make.

This was actually meant to be last weeks blog, but my memory card for the camera decided it was done, so I lost all the pictures which I took of the process of making these. The end of this week found me feverishly working on some designs which I must present to a prospective client on Monday. I was also in a couple meetings, one with a current client, and one with a tool collectors club I belong to. Nonetheless, I wanted to share these knives and discuss a point which is relevant to just about any artist or craftsman,

As I said, the main purpose of creating these knives is an attempt to make something which people can buy and take home with them at my craft shows. The challenge is to make something that looks beautiful but does not cost too much. I could carve leaves and vines curling up the length of these handles, and they would look even more beautiful, but then who could afford to buy them. I believe that in the 18th century, artists nearly put themselves out of business and helped spur on both the wars of that time period and the Industrial Revolution. "How?" you ask. Because, by creating all the incredibly ornate and lavishly decorated items, they set a standard of luxury that only the wealthiest of people could afford. This created jealously among ordinary people, and it caused inventive people to come up with ways of producing things more cheaply.

Time is, and always has been, money. When people go to museums and look in awe at the wonderful things produced by such craftsmen as David Roentgen and Johann Heinrich Riesener, they usually fail to grasp that these pieces would have cost millions of dollars in today's money; only kings dukes and bishops could afford to buy them, In a world where people no longer spend that sort of money for furnishings, an artist must curb his creative energy to suit the market which he is creating for.

A desk made by Riesener for Louis XV
(from Wikipedia)

In a world where ridiculously cheep items are produced en mass in places like China, people have a still greater lack of a sense of value in things. I have seen furniture sell in stores for less money than the local cost of the timber it would require to produce them. I recently spent two days turning and carving a candle stick, and showed it to someone I know who owns a second-hand furniture store. He showed me a fairly nice carved set of candle stands which came from China and cost 19$ new!

9th century style candle stick,
it took two days (20+hours)
 to make this

As an artist, how do you compete with that? The answer is, you cannot; but you still must try to go on doing what you do, because an artist is what you are. I started this blog in the hopes of sharing myself as an artist with the world, with a goal of educating the public to some of what is involved in the creative process of producing things. A set of 19$ candle stands are not made by artists, they are made by workmen who function as human machines; they sit at a stool all day, mechanically doing the same process on piece after piece. (I have been to Asia and witnessed this process firsthand.) They have done it for so long they are efficient and quick, but their work has no soul or spirit; because they have put none of it into what they have produced. Things produced by an artist are actually a part of him, they are his children, and each item he creates has a bit of his soul passed into it. That is the difference between something made by an artist, and an imported item from a factory. You, as a customer, are paying a premium because you value the spirit which you recognise within the work.

Handles on some of my wooden Knives

Hopefully in October and November, some people will be willing to exchange some of their hard earned money for a little piece of my soul.

Sunday, July 5, 2015

Table Progress - Part VIII

Our last episode of the table saw the legs completed and the outside frame added to the table top. At that time, there was still a lot left to do, to reach the point of having something that looked like a table. There still is, but as Aerosmith sang, I have been chipping away, at the wood though, not the stone; oh well, it kind of worked.

It begins to look like a table
The block is a counter-balance because the apron section is not yet
attached to the legs.

The first big thing for the continuation of progress was to get the apron built, in order to do that, I  had to make the four blocks that would join the corners together. Actually, at the time of the last post, they were already made, but I saved that bit for this post, because what I intended to do with them might not make sense until one could see the end results.

Layout of the corner blocks

Because the table top is a section of a circle, the corner blocks needed to be slightly wedge shaped to fit their respective segment of that radius. I decided the best way to make them would be to draw a template on my pattern, and use it as a guide to check the blocks, and to set each angle with the bevel gauge.

There is no right angle to any two sides of the block

I began with a square block, and then, using one face, set the angle for the next face, working off the template; I then marked the block to that angle and planed to the line.

Checking the set angle to the block after planing

Working one side at a time, I went right the way 'round each block, planing or sawing and then planing, to get each piece to match the template.

To remove a lot of stock, sawing is faster than planing

Meanwhile, I still had to finish building the top, and that meant adding the inside frame and the two end cleats. Getting the inside piece on was a bit of a challenge, because the tenons would not let the edge slide on. The solution was to bevel the inside edges of the tenons; the farther they were from the centre, the more angle they needed. In this way, I was able to get the part on. I got too busy doing this and did not take any more pictures of the process, or of the end cleats of the frame which are joined to the sides and serve as a means of locking them together.

In order to get the inside frame on, the corners of
the tenons had to be eased

End cleat, connecting side frame rails

Back to the apron project; I decided a long time ago, that the best way to build this table would be to make a box out of the apron section. Since the top and leaves will be movable, they cannot be attached to the apron or the legs, yet somehow the legs and apron must be firmly connected to each other. By making this section as a box, I will be able to accomplish those two goals.

Planing by hand is much more quiet than with a
machine, but it sure makes a mess

To make the box, I began with the timbers which served as the steam-bending form for the frame. I cut the parts to the correct radius, glued them together, and then planed them flat. Since this is the underside, it does not need to be smooth, and I actually like the rough planed look on undersides of things, If you look at any pre-industrial revolution piece of furniture, this is what all the backs, bottoms, and insides of things look like. (Unless something needed to be glued to it, then it had to be planed smoother.)

Now we are beginning to make some progress...

Another advantage of this 'box' method, is that I now have a way of keeping the apron in the right shape. Over time, it could attempt to distort, were it simply an open frame.

...One of these days it might actually look like a table

I left the ends of the 'floor' of the box a bit long so that they could be trimmed once the sides and corner blocks were attached. That took the guess work out of getting the measurements correct. Most people now-days use patterns and plans to make everything. They wonder what historical plans looked like; they did not look like anything, because no one made them. Cabinetmakers just made the parts fit to each other as they went along, their knowledge of how things should be made and joined, and the power of their mind to imagine the entire project in it completion, was their only guide. (They did use templates for unconventional angles and shapes, though.)

With a bit this large, one gets a work out with this
tool (32 holes)

Once the sides were set, I made the mortises in the end blocks. I also made slots to allow for the bottom of the box as you can see here.

Test fitting - Hey, it fits!

Putting together, and then taking back apart, is a big part of this sort of work. I had not even carved the end piece at this point, but since it had to go together and come apart several more times before final assembly, it did not matter. Even if everything fit perfectly on the first go, one still must disassemble it to drill the holes for the pins, assemble it again to mark the holes for the tenons, then take it apart one more time to drill them.

Scrub planes make great panel planes too

With the test fit of the end, I was able to mark the correct line to cut the end of the floor to. It then had to be re-beveled to go into the rebate in the inside of the apron end.

Mechanical method of attaching two pieces together

I do not like relying solely on glue for joinery. No matter how good the glue is, it will fail at some point in future. If glue was all that was holding the parts together, that means to say that at some time in future, the piece will collapse, I do not want that to happen to anything I build, and therefore, I use mechanical means of fastening things. In this case, were the join between the apron front and the bottom to fail, the apron would have a tendency to spread; to prevent this, and keep it connected to the floor, but not have anything showing from the front, I used double dovetail keys, or "butterflies". This is actually a very old joinery technique; in the book, English Historic Carpentry, by Cecil A. Hewett, there is a large "Saxon" door of pre-conquest (1066) manufacture, which used large double dovetail joinery on its face.

One end to go
The gap in the carved channeling is where the slides for the leaves will go.

Once the first end was joined and pegged, I had a sense that finally I was actually making some progress on the table...

Still a long way to go, but it finally begins to look like a table

...until I made a list of all the things which still need to be done. The list is too long, but the major things are spending a few hours doing the final smoothing with a cabinet scraper, finishing the leaves, attaching the legs to the body, and doing the finishing. By the end of the month it should be completed though.