Epoxy wood dough makes great repairs but tests me to be both quick and patient

We get a lot of furniture that’s been damaged by teething puppies. This is a bed footboard with pretty bad damage.

This week I had another good and challenging lesson in working with epoxy wood dough. It was a big challenged — a bed footboard with a large section of dog chew, requiring a larger amount of wood dough than I’ve ever worked with at one time.

When doing restoration work, it’s impossible to get something looking perfect, no matter what the repair is. But in many cases we can make the repair all but invisible to anyone who doesn’t know the repair is there. This repair, though, was pretty extensive and just about anything in the Continue reading

Working on the lathe: Excuse me while I repeat myself

The value of repetition in wood turning

three feet on lathe

I practiced turning duplicates of the same piece. When turning I usually flow left to right, so not only did I practice technique but I also tried turning the piece from right to left. The right to left actually turned out the best. Hmm, interesting.

I’ve been on the job as a woodworker for 18 months and the past few months have been mostly repetitive. Some might find this boring but I find that I learn well through repetition.

As I mentioned before, my job has been called “the apprenticeship of 1,000 chairs.” One thousand might be too much repetition but 100 of different varieties is not. I’ve reglued and reupholstered a ton of dining room chairs, made new rockers for a handful of rocking chairs, hand caned a dozen cane chairs, and have worked on at least a hundred state capital chairs.

Recently one of those capital chairs came in needing a new foot on one leg, and I got to make it on the lathe. We only needed one but knowing we’d eventually need another, I took the opportunity learn by repetition and made several.

turned walnut feet

In the middle is the broken original, sandwiched by my four duplicates. As you can see, they are consistent in height (excluding the tenon) and the two parallel lines are in the same place. And there’s a lot of variation in other areas.

This was a good exercise for me and if I were grading myself I’d give a “C”. That’s not failing — a C is, after all, “average” which is what my results were. Not too bad for my first time, but lots of room for improvement. And uniformity.

Because I know I tend to be afraid of taking off too much material, leaving my piece “too fat.” I tried to avoid that and the result was the foot on the far left — close, but too narrow.

I also struggled with how to make the cove because we don’t have quite the right tool to turn fine details.

In the past I’ve struggled with the curve but this time I did that pretty well on each piece.

For the chair I ended up using the second from the left and saved the others for the next time. Fortunately they are all close enough to be used. But maybe before the next broken one comes in I’ll have a chance to try this again.

Practice pays off: Pretty good success on my first delicate reproduction

The new spindle, the most delicate spindle I'm made so far.

The new spindle, the most delicate spindle I’m made so far.

I was a bit anxious about the idea but I thought I was ready for my next step at work: turning a more delicate replacement spindle. It was my most delicate piece to date but I’ve been working on my lathe skills and figured I needed to just jump Continue reading

Turning without a chuck: I really need more practice. Or a chuck.

I’ve only done a little bit of turning in a short amount of time and I’m eager to know and do so much more.

I’m currently fascinated with the idea of making small items like vases and lidded boxes. I say the idea of it because we don’t have a chuck for our lathe. When what you make is largely chair spindles there’s not a need for a chuck. But for the things I’m interested in now, a chuck would make it much easier. (No, I don’t expect my boss to buy this, I’ll buy one if I decide I really can’t live without one.)

wood on lathe

I’m using longer branches (about 12 inches) and turning two small items from each log. Here I have the design for a small vase or lidded box.

I’ve been watching videos on various ways to turn without a chuck. This week Continue reading

Carving a wooden spoon: Using opportunities and supplies to practice and learn

It’s fun to work someplace with a lot of scrap wood. Months ago someone in the shop made something with a piece of oak and had a good sized scrap piece left over. He threw it away. I snagged it.

Wooden spoon combo

On top is the roughed out piece of wood with the bowl carved. On the bottom is the wood after being turned on the lathe. The proportions were a little off so I carved the bowl a little deeper. Because I didn’t start with the idea of turning the handle, the bowl and handle aren’t perfectly aligned.

This is a trait (or bad habit) that I picked up from my dad, LeRoy Mitchell. He was an art teacher in the Des Moines Public Schools system and found a lot of throw-away stuff Continue reading

Not everything we do is complicated: Learning an easy way to strip old finish

Some jobs that come in to the shop are intimidating for me. Ok, many of the jobs are intimidating. Today I took on one of them and was very pleasantly surprised at its ease.

rocking chair

This rocker came in with instructions to strip and restain arms to match the rest of the chair.

We work largely in older wooden furniture and this well-loved rocking chair is a good example. The owners wanted the chair reupholstered and even out the finish on the well-worn arms.

I knew we weren’t doing a chemical strip on it so I thought we needed to sand it. I’ve learned that a lot of the jobs we do are best done slow and steady — like hand sanding so that you don’t damage other parts of the chair with your power orbital sander. I also know that there’s still a lot I don’t know about this job and I was thinking this one would be tough.

062618 stripping 2 before arm

Part of the arm is the through tenon from the front leg support. It’s end grain, which absorbs stain differently.

Continue reading

A successful turning experience helps build confidence on the lathe

061118 leg1_edited-1

This is a non-broken leg, used as a pattern for the new piece. The broken leg was cut off at the joint at the top of the photo. This created a nice clean joint to attach the new piece.

I’m still fascinated with turning wood — and still very much a novice.

Two weeks ago, I was working with a skew chisel on the lathe and it caught in the wood, causing it to kick back and take a nice hunk of skin off my left index finger. It hurt and it scared me. But I grabbed the super glue and a bandage and went back to work.

Last week a new project came in — turning a new component of a chair leg. To add to the pressure, it was a chair from the Iowa Statehouse Chamber.

I was grateful to have a piece that wasn’t a 20-inch spindle. Instead, this was just a 3-inch piece. Working small was another new experience.

Given my past experiences, I tried to set myself up for success by doing a couple of practice pieces. The original leg has a gentle curve to it rather than an extreme taper, and I was having a hard time figuring out how to do it.

Here are my two practice pieces, which I did on Friday. The one on the left was the first. In the second try I was starting to get the hang of the shape.

Today, Monday, I thought I’d need another practice piece, but this time I was going to use walnut so I’d get a feel for the wood for the final piece. I also practiced using the tools that tripped me up last time and forced myself to work past those scary moments when the tool catches for a moment.

There’s nothing like a successful day at the lathe to make it a good day.

As luck would have it, I was able to get a good final piece out of that third practice piece.

AND — I did it without hurting myself or taking a big gouge out of the wood!

I’m smart enough to know that I might not be as successful the next time, which is why I’ve learned to celebrate success when it happens. With so much to be sad about in the world today, you have to celebrate success.

(By the way, I’ll be able to use those two practice pieces as finials for my next two walking stick projects!)

Six months on the job: A lesson a day keeps the boredom away

This post is in honor of my six months on the job. I’ve learned so much, including the fact that coming into this job, I actually knew more than I expected. It feels good to know what I know, to see what I can do, and to be learning more almost every day.

One of the best things about the job is that every day is different. Among the items in the shop now are three bar stools with broken backs (from a hotel), a caned barrel chair that needs new cane, two upholstered living room chairs with broken springs and a 16-drawer dresser with broken legs. Right now there are several repairs that I’ve never done before, so it’s a week of learning.

Something else I’m learning to do and that tells me that I’m getting better: Continue reading

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.)