Today 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.
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.)
This is the drawer with the missing piece of molding on its face. My job is to replace that missing piece. Bryan says, “Let’s cast it.”
2. There are three intact pieces of molding and it makes sense to use the piece on the other end. When you do the casting many of the details of the original are captured in the mold.
3. Here’s the putty in its stick form, a small piece before mixing and the mixed amount. Epoxy wood putty is a two-part putty that comes in a roll. You cut off the amount you need then knead the two parts together to activate it. Did you ever play with Silly Putty? This epoxy starts out as a similar consistency. Once the two parts are mixed together the putty generates some heat and starts to harden quickly. The working time is about 8-10 minutes, fast cure time is about 20 minutes. And it doesn’t shrink.
5. The putty applied to copy the existing molding. By covering including the corners it will be easy to cut to the right length. Before applying it you need to apply a heavy coat of paste wax so the cast will release from the original. The color of putty used for this step doesn’t matter.
6. The reveal! Well, the first reveal. This is now the mold for the final casting.
7. Don’t forget to apply the wax to the mold!
8. This is for your final, so do a good color match. You can easily mix up different colors of putty to get the color you need.
9. The final cast, dry-fit in place and before final touch ups.
10. We have a range of “color replacement” products to touch-up furniture. These products allow us to match color and draw in grain.
11. The finished piece, colored so it looks like it’s seen as much wear and tear as the rest of the drawer.
Today was a true day of learning. What fun.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.)
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.
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
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.
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.
This shows the bowl (upper third) and what has become a pedestal for it (middle third) and what’s left of the original log. The grain in this log is really cool. I turned from the end of the log (end grain.)
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.
This really is the apprenticeship of 1,000 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
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
These seatpans were made from ½” plywood, which is sufficient for most chairs.
The original seat was caned and has more than 100 holes along the sides that the cane is woven through.
A cleat is screwed to the chair then to the seatpan to secure it.
The chair before (left) and after, with the new upholstered seatpan.
This series shows several of the stages of caning. This was my first attempt at the craft.
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
At long last, I found a job I think I can stay with
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
Ninety-nine degrees at 9pm just isn’t fun.
I’m spending the summer living in Sun City, Arizona to help out my mother as she recovers from valley fever. (You can read more about her on CaringBridge
My older brother and his wife moved to Phoenix about 30 years ago and the rest of the family has lived in the Phoenix area since 2000.
It took me about 10 minutes in my first visit to dislike Phoenix, vowing to never live here. I have not changed my mind. But visiting for a week in December and living here for a summer are very different birds.