You want me to make this out of what?

030618 molding casting05Today was a great day of learning. Having had made some molding a few months ago, using two or three different router bits and a nice piece of oak, I thought I’d take on making another piece of molding, this time a piece of trim for a drawer front. Unlike the last molding, this was much smaller — 3/4″ by 9″ — so I was a little nervous about recreating this profile with the router.

Just as I started to get to work on it, my colleague, Bryan, says he has something he wants me to try. He tells me what he wants me to try and I uttered a perplexed, “What?

I wasn’t going to make this molding out of wood, he wanted me to make it out of epoxy wood putty.

“Say WHAT??

Ok, now I’m perplexed, curious, excited and nervous. I was familiar with the epoxy because they had taught me how to use it to fill voids in furniture, but I’d only used it for fairly small pieces. I never even thought about using this stuff to create pieces. Here’s what he taught me.

(Roll over the image to see caption. Click on image to go to slideshow view.)

Today was a true day of learning. What fun.



My second turn at woodturning: A simple spindle

The boss picked out a chair for me to work on this week, a chair with a broken spindle. The spindle was pretty simple — not Shaker-style simple, but for my second time at the lathe, even simple isn’t that simple. Maybe I should say it was straightforward.

This spindle was about 2 ½” wide and 14” long. That length meant two meaningful things to me: I wouldn’t be able to turn from one end to the other without moving the tool rest, and there was a good chance I’d have to stabilize the spindle in the middle.

Having a long, symmetrical piece is almost like making two pieces, mirror images of each other. The stabilizer also cuts the piece in two, you can’t work through it, you have to work one end of the spindle then move it to work the other end.

020618 spindle 1

Roughing out the replacement spindle, including marking the center, the ends (tenons) and a few key places in between. Roughing is done at low RPMs and a spindle roughing gouge. This is the scary part for me because of occasional chatter with the tool.

020618 spindle 2

A little further along, starting to finalize the shape and smooth it out. This work is done at much higher RPMs and with round-nose scraper, which was really easy to use.

020618 spindle 3

The spindle in its rightful place on the chair. I was very happy with how it turned out. I also had to drill the hole for the tenon of the middle spindle. That was done with a forstner bit on the drill press. The green tape labels the pieces for the reassembly. It’s easy to get confused when you break down the chair.

020618 spindle 4

Can you tell which is mine? Finishing the job included staining the spindle to match the rest of the chair and adding the top coat. Color matching often means blending several colors. I used three toners on this piece. (The right one is mine.)

Adventures in upholstery: Hundreds of staples and staple fatigue

The first step of reupholstering a chair is to take off the old fabric. Easy concept but sometimes it’s crappy work to do.


Yes, this is what I pulled out of just one chair.

There are few easy ways to remove old staples and tacks, so it’s a slow, physical job with a staple remover, tack lifter and pliers. Each layer of material was held in place with about 75 staples and/or tacks, so one chair amounted to about 300 of them.

011918 dust mask musty layers

This was an older chair, stuffed with grasses. All that dry grass — any possibly mold — is not good for the lungs. Sometimes I have to whip out the headlamp for dark materials or hidden staples. And I always where safety glasses — I can’t tell you how many staples and tacks bounced off of them while doing this. Norm Abram would be proud.


When an older chair comes Continue reading

Today’s lesson: Replacing seat cushion buttons

About six or seven years ago I wanted to have my 30-year-old dining room chair reupholstered. I remember having a hard time finding someone to do it and balking at the price once I had found him. Well, seems those two things go hand in hand.

upholstered cushion buttons

The upholstered buttons for the chair cushion. Each chair had five buttons.

Each week I’m reminded just how few furniture repair places there are these days. The guy who did my chairs worked out of a little shop attached to his house and I remember him saying he was always busy. We are, too, and we could do even more business if we had a full-time upholsterer. Since we don’t, I’m learning how to do some of it. I’ve reupholstered about 20 seats so far. Last week I learned something new:  buttons.

A customer brought in four chairs to have the joints Continue reading

Turning on the lathe: Another woodworking dream becomes reality

Two weeks ago a chair came in that needed three new spindles for its stretcher assembly. I saw my opportunity. These spindles would be about as simple as wood turning gets (except that they were rather long) so I wanted the opportunity.

chair spindle

Here’s my first turned piece on the lathe — one of three spindles for the stretcher of a chair. The spindle is the center part, the ends are waste material and will be cut off.

I had to make four to get three usable ones — I took too much material off the second one so it was too skinny. Thanks to my boss, Dayan Mossberg, who values learning and didn’t have a problem with me needing to use another 2″ x 18″ piece of oak.

Turning was fun and scary and I was hooked. There were no other turning jobs in the shop so I took advantage of a close resource. A tree right behind us was cut down and I decided to use one of the logs to turn a bowl.


It’s not as finished as I’d like because I got a bit scared working with the lathe and sharp tools, but what I made is kind of cute. The bowl is the top part. The middle is a possible pedestal for it and the bottom is the unturned part of the log I used. The background is the stump of the tree this log came from. The detail shot is the inside of the bowl and its very cool grain. It’s 3 3/4″ in diameter.

I have to get back on the horse and not let my fears prevent me from doing more of this work. Next week I’ll try a bowl from the side of the log, not the end grain. At some point I’ll turn something on dry wood again, not green, wet wood like this.

Is every chair in Des Moines in need of repair?

This really is the apprenticeship of 1,000 chairs

20 chairs
Every week our shop is filled with chairs. Dining room chairs, office chairs, recliners, rockers, and even a couple of “thrones.” As soon as we clear out this space, it fills up again with more finished chairs. How many chairs can there be in Des Moines??

When I interviewed for the job the owner casually called the job the apprenticeship of a thousand chairs. Of course, I thought he was being facetious.

I should have kept count. I’m sure I’m approaching 100. Ok, maybe just 40.

In my first week I worked on my first six chairs. Two weeks ago I did the same Continue reading

Replacing brittle, damaged cane chair seats

Caned chair seat

This is part of a caned seat, showing a typical kind of damage. On the left you can also see how the cane is secured to the chair. Notice how nice and uniform the weaving is.

Way back when, chairs were caned in order to save wood. Cane is thinly sliced pieces of rattan and comes in different widths. With industrialization came sheet cane, which was easier to work than strips of rattan.

Cane gets old, dry and brittle and breaks down and needs to be repaired. But hand caning is a dying art. In Des Moines there are only a few people who are doing it. It’s time consuming and expensive to recane chairs.

A customer brought in six dining room chairs to us, with not only caned seats

but caned backs. The woman we use is trying to retire from the business so she’s asking about $3 per hole, about $1 more than the national average. Each one of these chairs has nearly 200 holes — that’s about $600 per seat. Times six seats. Continue reading

Shifting gears again: putting my woodworking skills to use

At long last, I found a job I think I can stay with

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I’ve been messing around with wood for a long time. I got my first taste of woodworking in fifth grade art class, carving a wooden spoon, and something about it clicked. Though I pursued a career in journalism I kept woodworking as my most significant hobby. For me there’s something spiritual about wood — it just makes me happy to build functional things from it, to see the grain, to feel the smooth surface of a freshly sanded piece.

Functional has always been the key word for me, but other than that, there’s little rhyme or reason to what I make. I’ve made a variety of things from wood including a walnut Continue reading

Her things are not her


Shirley E. Mitchell

Shirley E. Mitchell

Living in mom’s house hasn’t always been easy. We are going to sell it so I’m slowly cleaning it out. Maybe I need to go fast instead because this feels like I’m slowly making mom disappear, which is hard and sad.

I’m not ready to clean out mom’s really personal stuff so I’m cleaning out her bathroom. Slowly making my mom disappear. Hurts a lot.

083016 curlers

Mom has used these curlers for as long as I can remember, from back before the days of electric curling irons. Look at the stains from her hair dye. The things are literally more than 40 years old, how is it that she still has them? Yet, how is it that I can throw them away?

Today I’m tackling her bathroom. Everything I touch to try to throw Continue reading

Does everything in life have a deeper meaning?

mom sudoku

Mom was able to fill in 10 of the squares in the Sudoku puzzle. At that rate, we’ll finish it in about four more sessions. Guideposts in a journey such as this are good.

Does everything in life have — or have to have — a deeper meaning?

This year I was hit with a series of events that I do believe have a deeper meaning: My job was eliminated, I moved back to Des Moines then my mother became very ill and I have been able to be in Phoenix to help her out.

Mom’s illness is now three months old and we are still learning just Continue reading