Saturday, June 25, 2011

Getting started on a break-fronted Art Deco style bookcase.

A customer has being doing a big renovation to her house, which dates from the end of the Art-Deco era. Tragically, too often these days the timbers removed from these older houses are disposed of, going into landfill - a terrible waste. This is Western Australia, so the timber in these older houses is almost all jarrah (Eucalytpus marginata). Fortunately, my customer Norelle had the sense and foresight to tell the builder she wanted to keep the timbers, in order to use them for other projects around the home. I count it a privilege to have been entrusted with the job of using these timbers to create a big break-fronted Art-Deco style book case for the new living room in the old house.  Nice.

Planning the job.
Having met with Norelle, and checked out the huge pile of timber under plastic in her front yard, we discussed ideas for the design and other important matters, like the dimensions and how to make the piece of furniture fit in with the rest of the house. I went home, did some research and drawing work, and a few days later presented the drawing to Norelle. She was pleased with the drawings, and gave me the go-ahead to proceed when ready. A couple of months later, I was ready to get started.


The concept plan with suggested measurements.
 Getting started.
I began by doing the sorting, docking, and de-nailing of the timbers in the front yard of Norelle's house, as I ratted through the timber pile.
The larger of the two piles of timber. My resource to work from...
The timbers are predominantly a mixture of: floor joists (4"x2"s), rafters (4"x2"s), heavier floor joists and verandah top plates (mostly 8"x2"s), and hanger beams (9"x1 1/2"). Working off a few sets of saw stools (have I ever mentioned how valuable these are?!), I did all the docking of the sticks just oversize, using a trusty panel saw. This would make the handling and machining of the timbers easier once I got the material back to my workshop.

Some of the nails and other metalwork removed from the timbers.
There was a lot of de-nailing of the docked timbers to do also. A wide variety of nails, mostly - plus some screws, bolts and coach-screws. Once back at my workshop, the sticks would be scrubbed down with a wire brush and checked for any further nails with my trusty metal detector - before being machined. This was not the straightest bunch of sticks I have encountered, telling me the timber had come from trees which where not the straightest trees in the forest. The bends and turns in the trunks of the trees, as reflected in the grain, is apparent in the timber which has seasoned over many years after construction, and dried with corresponding echos of those original twists and turns. Machining these was not going to be much fun.

The 8" x 2"s and 9" x1 1/2"s are far too wide for me to flatten over my beautiful old Woodfast 6 inch buzzer. While I have a 15 inch Thicknesser, the creation of the first flat side on these wider sticks has to be done by hand in the absence of a big buzzer. My trusty Stanley No.5 1/2 jack plane and I were working hard on the long 3.0m sticks, with the aid of a pair of winding sticks - but it worked a treat. Mind you, some of the more badly distorted sticks felt the bite of my old electric plane when I had to remove a serious amount of waste! The 9" x 1 1/2" sticks were so badly distorted, I would be unable to get a flat 3.0m length at 25mm thick, the required thickness pre-glue-up. So I had previously docked these into 1.2m lengths, ready to make into shelving. They were still really wild sticks! So to flatten them I made a cradle to which I attached by screws the ends of the short wild sticks, such that the twists and bows were suspended on the average. Creating a sort of lowest common denominator. The whole cradle was then passed through the thicknesser until a flat face was created. After being unscrewed from the cradle, each stick was then put through the thicknesser to the required 25mm. Most of these sticks made it, too. Their previous wild behaviour revealed the most beautiful figure and grain patterns in these nice boards. The cradle method was good for the wide 1.2m sticks, but would be no good for the 3.0m sticks. These would require lots of grunt with the jack plane and or the electric plane in order to establish that first flat face. Thankyou winding sticks! One thing about old painted timbers - it's hell on the machines' knives. After I had put all the big sticks through the thicknesser, it's knives were pretty shot! Time to sharpen those and the buzzer knives again.

Making the vertical ends panels.
Firstly the timber for each of the four end panels was selected, and the edges prepared ready for jointing. The front edge piece on each panel is a heavier section than the panel behind it, as these front edges are to have a nice art-deco type rounded profile shawed from them. All the edge butt joints were to be strengthened by the use of a 1/4" x 1" plywood tongue, with the grooves cut by a slot cutter bit in the router. They were then glued up using a heap of sash cramps and with the wonderful Titebond 3 glue.

One of the narrower end panels cramped up.
With the panels glued up, the next thing to do would be to create the nice curved front edges. With this done, the next step was to dock the end panels to length. The shaping of the rounded edges, with a 40mm raduis curve, is a story in itself, told previously in this post: Several steps to create nice a nice curved edge.
Some of the end panel off-cuts, showing the curved built-up front edges and the tongues.
The end panels were docked at 2665mm long - just under 9 feet long each.
Making the shelving. 
Meanwhile, the timber for the shelf panels were being made. The timber was selected with the aim being to match the colour, grain and figure as much as possible. Using the same tongue and groove method using those beautiful 1/4" ply tongues, the shelves were glued up.

Selecting the timber for similar colour, grain and figure. 
Three of the glued up shelves. Awesome timber, eh? Such nice wood!
The shelves are now glued up, ready for ripping to final width and docking to length. However, first the end panels would need to have their housings cut ready to take the tops, bottoms, and fixed shelves. That story will be told in a future post.

Keep an eye out for further posts as this project unfolds...

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