Monthly Archives: July 2012

Dead Cool(er)

This past week I have been in Connecticut teaching a class at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking (CVSW). If you are looking at a class or two to up your woodworking IQ, you owe it to yourself to check out Bob Van Dyke’s place.

CVSW is a huge, well-equiped woodworking shop. Bob runs the school, teaches and brings in instructors from across the country to enhance his already superior selection of classes. Visit the school’s web site to look at the class list and you’ll find everything from saw sharpening to building a Goddard Newport Tea Table. And the list of instructors is second to none with names such as Alf Sharp, Will Neptune and Steve Latta.

During the week, students constructed a hand dovetailed, hanging wall box complete with a raised panel door and a drawer. Each student finished the project completely, including backboards. They all did a great job. Nice work.

Bob Van Dyke explores the clock hood.

About mid week, Bob, Mickey Callahan and I squeezed in a visit to the Wadsworth Atheneum to measure a Burnap tall clock for an upcoming class taught by Chuck Bender (click here to see the class listing then scroll down). On a floor reserved for museum  personnel, full hands-on access to the clock was made available. As a woodworker,I felt like I had opened the door to antique furniture heaven as we explored and measured the clock and discussed period construction techniques.

Thursday, not to be out done by the Atheneum, Bob ran me down to the Connecticut Historical Society (CHS) to take a look at a current exhibit where pieces built by members of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers are on display next to many of the pieces from the CHS collection. The exhibit runs through September 8, 2012 and is well worth a visit – the craftsmanship is top notch and the exhibit is impressive.

Friday we returned to CHS for a second trip to heaven. Yes, we were again invited to step behind the curtain for a closer look at pieces of the CHS collection not on display. This is where the piece of furniture shown in the opening photo was found. (Finally, right?)

What you see in the opening photo is something I knew nothing about – didn’t even know it existed. The museum card called it a body preserver. I came to find out that this was used for wakes. The case separates about 10″ up from the bottom and a body is fit into the lower section. The round plate at one end is for viewing the face of the deceased.

With that plate opened, you can not only see how the face is viewed, but you can also see a metal liner. The liner protects the body from the huge amounts of ice that were used to keep the body cool while on display. Inside the face area, the museum stores the crank used to adjust the corpse. At the head end, you could crank the upper torso upward to better frame the face in the viewing window. At the foot end it was sometimes necessary to raise the knees to better fit a taller corpse in the body perserver.

In the last photo you can also see drain tubes that allowed water from melted ice to vacate the preserver. You should note the quality joinery, expensive brass hardware and elegant based. This was an expensive piece of furniture.

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Filed under Antique Pieces, Hardware

Hardware Installation Basics

This week I wrapped up finish on my block-front chest then installed the hardware. While hardware installation on this chest is a bit different due to the rounded block-front design, once the location of the plate is decided all else is identical. For those of you who wonder how I go about this step, here it is.

Ordinarily, I would measure in from the drawer ends to locate my back-plate. That is a bit difficult when dealing with block-front drawer fronts. Because I wanted each plate centered in the rounded section and had to find that point, I cut a thin strip to the exact length of the curved portion then marked its center point. Lay the strip on the drawer front, position the lower point of the back-plate just at the center line of the strip then mark both hole locations. I strike a vertical line at the center of each hole.

This hardware also requires that the holes be centered from top to bottom. This is easy when using a double saddle square. With my square set, I struck a small line to form a cross-hair that indicates exactly where to drill. At my drill press, I installed a 1/16″ bit then drilled a pilot hole through the drawer front.

With the drawer set so I could operate on the interior and using the pilot hole as a guide, I drill a 5/8″ recess which is just large enough to allow socket access for tightening the nuts. This recess allows me to keep any posts and nuts flush on the inside of the drawer.  You do not want to catch your unmentionables on your hardware.

With the drawer flipped down so I can work on its front, I complete the hole using a bit that matches my post diameter. The pilot worked to keep the two drill operations aligned and straight.

On most of the drawers I work on, the posts need to be cut in length to remain in the recess cut in the back face of the drawer front. I figure the thread length needed, grab a piece of scrap that is the correct thickness then cut each post to size. The post ends are not conducive to easy nut installation straight from the saw, so I use a sander to round the ends as shown in the photo above – when you have fat fingers working in small recesses, you want every advantage you can get.

Although it is not easy to see the nuts in this photo, this is the look inside each drawer. Posts do not extend into the storage area. This presents a clean look inside the drawers. As for the outside, the photo below says it all.

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Filed under Design, Hardware, Power Tools, Shop Tips

Decode Your Shellac

I use shellac on nearly every project that passes through my shop doors. I think it is the best product for furniture because it is easy to use, can be brushed on or sprayed, and  dries quickly compared to urethane. I use shellac on top of aniline dye and even on top of a coat of boiled linseed oil if I aim to highlight figured grain. It is my “go to” finish before and after glaze. As you can tell, shellac is, in my opinion, the perfect topcoat. I’m good with shop-made shellac from flakes and I use store-bought shellac from Zinsser.

Until recently, my only problem with shellac – all shellac – is that I do not care for the high sheen that comes when shellac is built-up as a finish, but I have found a great work-around. I apply a coat of dull-rubbed effect lacquer, or I rub-out the surface using #0000 steel wool or an equivalent. Over the last year or so, I have developed a second problem with Zinsser shellac purchased from hardware stores or the large home-center stores.

As you undoubtedly know, shellac has a shelf-life. From the moment it is mixed into solution, it begins to degrade – degradation effects drying times. Eventually, as the degradation continues, you end up with a gummy mess with which to deal. Experience taught me this lesson, so I watch my dates closely.

A while back, Zinsser switched from using a date stamp on can lids to a lot number. With the date stamp, and the fact that the company-issued literature states its shellac was good for three years after the stamped date, you had a good idea as to when the shellac would reach it’s end. Even today I can go into a local home-center store and find shellac in gallon cans with a date stamp of 2008 – in 2012, that can is not one I’ll purchase.

With a lot number, there was no way to tell when the shellac was mixed. Or so I thought. I contacted the company, explained my dilemma and was pleasantly surprised when I received a reply that same afternoon. I now know how to read the lot number to tell when the shellac was mixed. Here is the information.

The first number after the letter is the year the shellac was made. If you look at the number in the photo, you see a zero. That shows the year at 2010. The number one would represent 2011 and a two is for 2012. Easy enough. That’s probably all the information you need, but the company goes further.

The first number after the year indicator stands for the month of mixture. In this case there is a seven, so this can of shellac was mixed in July. If the month would have been November you would see an “N”, December is a “D” and all other months are numbers.

The two numbers printed after the month identifier are the exact day of the month on which the shellac was mixed. In our example that day would be 20. This can of shellac was manufactured on the 20th of July, 2010.

With this information at hand, there is no reason to purchase shellac that is past or very close to the date of expiration put forth by the company. This also gives you the assurance that the shellac you buy is good to go. Below is another can lid for you to work out.

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Filed under Finish Techniques, Shop Tips

Weather Wallops Woodworking

Not much woodworking was accomplished this week in my shop. My area of the country, like many areas around the country, was covered in triple-digit temperatures. My option was to work in the shop for a few hours during the mornings, then close up and move back to my air-conditioned home office. Of course, I could stay in the shop, but only if I stood in front of my fan dressed only in my boxers. (Not photos included – you’re welcome!)

Due to humidity levels edging higher, I put off the final coats of the walnut secretary. That should happen this coming week if weather forecaster continue their fantastic accuracy rate. (Note the sarcasm.)  I did manage to slap a couple coats of paint on a small four-drawer chest and to finish construction on a block-front chest that was started a year ago. I even went as far as to apply aniline dye to the chest and spray on a couple layers of shellac. Damn the humidity.

What was interesting about the block-front was the two distinctly different mahogany woods used on the piece. My case was a nice pink shade – all the lumber came from a single source. For my drawer fronts however, I had to use 12/4 stock and its color was much deeper. Not only that, as the piece sat around my shop for the year, my drawer fronts changed far greater than the case did. Below are photos of the different mahogany used. While you may not notice a huge difference in the photos, in person you could see vast variations.

Case lumber.

Drawer front stock.

To overcome these variations, I decided to dye my case as I normally do – soak the piece until I get dye dripping off the surface, let it stand for five minutes then wipe away the excess. As I began finish on the drawers, I decided to brush on a single coat and immediately wipe off any excess.

After the first drawer was dyed, I pulled out my hair dryer to fast-track the drying process – a good tip if you’re in a hurry – before sliding the drawer into the case to see if my hunch was correct. To my surprise, the drawer front was lighter than the case, so I applied a second wipe-it-on-wipe-it-off dye coat. This time, as I slid the drawer into the case, the color looked close enough (see the chest in the opening photo).

Not only should you try and use lumber from a single source, but rules – in this case how aniline dye should be applied – are made to be broken. Maybe that should read adjusted.

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Filed under Finish Techniques, Shop Tips

Self Promotion & Follow-up Information

This week I am using my blog to promote an upcoming class at The Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking (CVSW), and to provide additional information on past posts.

Beginning July 23, 2012, I am teaching a week long class at CVSW titled “Get it Done! Efficient Joinery Techniques with Glen Huey.” The project is a hanging wall cabinet that, by itself, is a great woodworking project. The case is a dovetailed box with an applied, beaded face frame. There is also a raised panel door and small drawer in the mix. That covers most woodworking techniques. If you conquer those techniques you could build almost anything.

But we are not just covering those techniques. During the class you’ll produce hand-cut dovetails and learn how to speed up the process without sacrificing appearance, discover secrets to better and more efficient face frame joinery including half-lap and mortise-and-tenon joints, uncover the tricks to perfect sliding dovetails and learn shortcuts to produce raised panel doors. In other words, we will “fast-track” your abilities in the shop and eliminate the need for allowing experience to be your teacher.

There are a few openings in the class, so contact Bob Van Dyke at the school and sign up.

Follow-up Information

In a May blog post, it was suggested that I setup a page on the site dedicated to woodworking questions. You may have noticed a new page as you landed on my homepage. I began the page with the blog entry from May 13. 2012 and have added a couple new questions and answers. It is worth stopping by this page every once in a while to check out what is new. And by the way, please continue to send me questions. As you do, the page fills and information is shared. Also, if you take issue with my answers, please leave a comment. I am always interested in different and new ideas, too.

Finally, I want to direct you to my May 21, 2012 post where powdered shellac is discussed. I have added new information at the end of that post that talks more about powdered shellac. Click here to jump to that post.

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Filed under Finish Techniques, Questions, Shop Tips