Sunday, March 30, 2014

Finishing The Clock

Finishing pine is a precarious adventure. There are a lot of ways to go wrong in  the process and most woodworkers cut their woodworking teeth on pine and have made most of the mistakes one can make attempting to finish this blotch prone material. For this reason it requires a lot more effort than other woods. 

During my time of making furniture for a living, potential clients were always confused by the idea that making a piece from pine did not result in a cheaper overall price. Whatever was saved in materials cost was spent in the additional labor of the required finishing process.

Rule #1 when finishing pine. (1) You can't make pine look like another wood. End of story, no discussion required. If you attempt to make pine look like another wood you will look like an idiot. If you want to your project to look like walnut, make it from walnut. If you make your project from pine then other rules apply.

Distressing. (2) Pine is soft and will get beat up. It can happen now or later. You have some control over now. If your project gets a few dings and bumps during the build process don't worry about repairing them. Go with it. It's a natural thing and it will keep you from worrying about subsequent dings and knocks it will received once in service. You can enhance the distressing as it occurs with Old English scratch cover for dark woods.

(3) It's terribly blotch prone. If you are going to apply color of any kind you will need to take measures to control blotching. It's not a matter of "will it blotch". It's a matter of where and how much.

(4)  For vivid consistent color with clarity of grain, build your color in gradual layers. Otherwise you will mask the grain of the wood with thick layers of pigmented stain. If you're gonna apply thick layers of pigmented stain you will most probably have adhesion problems with your top coat and you would be just as well to paint the piece.

(5) Painting a pine piece is a very viable option and there are several ways to give a painted finish the look of age, but that's another subject for another blog post.

Step one. Apply a stain blocker. Some use a thinned coat of shellac as a stain absorption controller. The application will need to be consistent which is not always an easy thing for people without a lot of prior finishing experience. I use a solution that consist of 2 parts tung oil finish and 1 part lacquer thinner. I apply this liberally and reapply in areas that seem to absorb it. Especially areas around knots and like features. Remove the excess and you have a very consistent application. I let this settle into the wood for about 30 minutes and then I applied a Transtint dye of Honey Amber. See picture above. It's very yellow but it gives you an even undercoat color from which to begin.

When the dye was quite dry I applied an oil pigmented stain. I typically am not a fan of Minwax stains. I think they're cheaply made and don't contain as much pigment as a professional wiping stain. In this case I thought this might work to my advantage in trying to achieve an aged look on the pine. The color used was Provincial. In the picture below you will see the result. It was browner than I imagined it would be and at this point I figured worst case I'll have to paint  the thing. So I went forward confidently.

 I knew a couple coats of shellac would make a big difference. To this point the only dramatic color change was with the Transtint dye. This is as it should be. I sprayed all the parts with two coats of a 1 1/2 pound cut of garnet shellac. This toned down some of the brown from the stain and gave the parts an amber cast as you can see in the picture below.

The next evening I lightly sanded the parts with 400 grit sandpaper and rubbed them down with maroon Scotchbrite. I then applied a light glaze of a Sherwin Williams fruitwood stain. The next day I sprayed the parts with 2 more coats of garnet shellac.

For a piece that will hang on the wall and not see hard use, garnet shellac is a great finish. If you get heavy handed with this material it will window pane around the edges. This is why I like a lighter cut. I let the shellac cure for 3 days.

The rub out process was simple. I lightly wet sanded the parts using soapy water and 400 grit paper. I then rubbed the surfaces down thoroughly with #0000 steel wool. I wiped off the residue and then went over the parts with Old English scratch cover for dark woods. This colors any residue left that might show up a light color when thoroughly dry. Installing the  frame for the movement and cross shelf for mounting the coil gong was fiddly and I didn't take pictures of that process. The Hermele movement is a pendulum driven 14 day movement that chimes the hours and once on the half hour. I think this is very appropriate for a Shaker styled clock.

I finished the pine back boards with a couple of coats of clear lacquer. I like the contrast of the case to the back boards when I open the case.

The end result did not end up being the finish I pictured in my mind when I started. If I were to repeat the process there are some things I would do differently. However I'm very pleased with the results and consider the end result a happy accident. We learn as we build. I was once told "when you quit learning, you start dying".  I prefer learning.

In summary, the yellow base color plays nicely with the amber and reddish color of the shellac and the other color steps. It gives the piece nice visual activity and I've actually used this same honey amber dye on walnut and then wiped it with a dark walnut stain. It worked well and was a very interesting look. I'm of the opinion that garnet shellac gives the piece a look that clear lacquer or other top coats could never achieve.

If you think this was a very involved finishing process you're correct. I don't think the effort required to build the piece deserved any less.


Thursday, March 20, 2014

Shaker Clock

Recently I've taken the time to build a clock that's been on my list of "Things I Want to Build". I've wanted to build a Shaker wall clock for some time now but I didn't want to build the clock that is the mainstream clock you've seen in hundreds of woodworking magazine articles. I decided to create a piece of my own design.

Many build Shaker styled pieces because they think of them as easier pieces to accomplish because of the simplicity. I think nothing could be further from the truth. You can't get away with bad design just because the piece is simpler in detail. In fact just the opposite is true. When the piece is simpler in scope the proportions and the exactness of build become paramount in achieving an acceptable result. A white elephant is a white elephant no matter what the style. Everyone has made a few white elephants in their time as a woodworker and that's when we learn how important the overall design element becomes in building any piece of furniture.

Pleasing proportions are pleasing proportions and no matter how well joined or fitted, things that are out of the scope of pleasing proportions are just awkward to the eye.

In this case I've used the design of the simple one door Shaker cupboard. I've made a couple pieces based on this form, This clock being the most recent endeavor. It couldn't be simpler really. Two sides made from two pieces glued into a 90 degree corner or side, a top, a bottom, a simple door and an apron board for visual interest. In this case I also included pine back boards aligned with splines in lieu of tongue and grooves. The splines serve the same purpose as the tongue and grooves and only required one milling setup. Easy Peasy if you think out the process before you proceed.

As more of your work is accomplished with hand tools you tend to take the time to think thru processes in order to ease the burden. One liberating thing about working with acquired skill and hand tools is you just set about your work and in most circumstances in the time it would take to otherwise set up machinery you'll have completed your task. Not to mention the fact that it's a more satisfying way to work.

I don't presently own a thickness planer and it didn't deter me on this project. If you can plane and measure you can certainly thickness materials with a hand plane and some components can be sized using a planing sled jig as long as the part is narrower than your widest plane.

A good 80 to 85% of the work on this pieces was accomplished with hand tools, in fact at this point I don't think I would know how to go about building anything without hand tools.

As you have probably noticed this is a somewhat unique door configuration. A two board door with the boards fastened to battens is pretty common but when you attempt to add a cut out for glass it requires a bit of head scratching to sort out the details.

I finished the case prior to leaving on a trip to meet my new grandson "August Brese Paglia". We're calling him Gus, not Augie. He looks like a "Gus" to me, at this point I've taken to calling him the" Gusling". It was hard to tear ourselves away to return home.

Below is a picture of the completed clock case. I was itching to return home and start the finishing process on this piece. The finishing schedule is quite involved and I expected to spend at least as much time finishing this piece as was required to get the project to this stage.

Next Week: A very involved finishing schedule


Monday, March 3, 2014

Cheap Chairs Eventually get Expensive

In the 15 years that I was  full time woodworker I repaired a lot of chairs. Most of the chairs I repaired were in need of repair for one simple reason. They weren't very well made chairs, therefore they didn't last very long. Chairs came into my shop that I refused to repair because I knew they were made from materials unsuitable for chair making and for this reason I knew they would not stay together for long. No need having that person put good money after bad because eventually they would need to buy better chairs. This is the point  when buying cheap chairs gets expensive. When I was required to repair a well made chair it was generally because of accidental damage. Nichols and Stone chairs only arrived at my shop because of a broken spindle caused by human error or carelessness or for some other similar reason. We have a Nichols and Stone rocker and it's as solid as the day it was assembled.

Somewhere in years past Julie and I acquired 6 Rex furniture ladder back chairs. These were hand me downs from other family members and they have stood us well. Rex furniture was a business that operated in Stockbridge, Ga, just south of Atlanta. They closed their doors many years ago but there is a lot of that furniture in the surrounding area. In all the years I was making and repairing furniture I never was required to repair a Rex chair. That speaks volumes.


When the fiber rush in our chairs was breaking and looking quite worn we decided to keep these chairs and perform a refurb on them. Good chairs are expensive and these Rex chairs to were too good to replace.

One by one my yougest son Marc would bring a chair into the shop, cut out the old rush, pull the staples, sand and prep them for painting. Traditionally chairs were very often painted. Turnings show up better on painted chairs and I was reminded of this when I began painting these chairs satin black. The side chair seats received a basket weave of beige Shaker tape or lasting. Now these chairs look better than they have in years and the seat is considerably more comfortable with the Shaker tape.


This was a great family project. Julie spent several nights with me in the shop weaving the seats. Everyone involved received a great sense of accomplishment from this project and we got nice chairs as well. One of the arm chairs at the ends of our table was put into service elsewhere so we needed at least one arm chair. I remembered that we had two ladder back arm chair kits from Cohasset Colonials stored in the loft of the garden house. They've only been up there for about 15 years. They are nice chairs I decided it was about time to get them out and make use of them. Now we have two matching arm chairs.


Julie and I assembled them, and I painted them. Last week we received a new order of the Shaker tape and decided to weave a 2 color pattern in the arm chairs.

All this work on chairs has sparked a new interest in making chairs. In order to get the mechanics of turning accurately sized tenons and the other processes for making leg and rung assemblies I started with making a stool. It has a red finish that I like and this two color seat combination goes well with the red frame I think.

We could actually use two more side chairs so I may cut my chair making teeth on those before progressing to a rocking chair. My friend Jeff Miller has warned me that a person can become rather obsessed with chair making. I don't know if I'll go that far.....heck I'm just having fun!