Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Developing the Crowning Glory for the Bookcase.

The final piece to make for the big Art Deco Style Breakfront Bookcase I am building is the crown mould.
In the original concept drawing, the crown mould was going to incorporate a big scotia profile. This concaved moulding would reflect the curved ends on the top of the original door architraves in the house, which would give the profile a 60mm radius. However as I built the cabinets and lived with them, I was thinking about creating a more classic art deco feature as the crowning glory of what will be a stunning feature in the living room. So I emailed Norelle (my client) and suggested a change.

She agreed, so I proceeded with the construction of my idea. Being in total over 11 feet long, it would be made in 3 sections and fitted together on site once the three cabinets have been fixed together on top of their plinth.

The process for making the crown moulding.
1. The primary material was prepared. Lengths of jarrah machined to 70mm x 22mm in section.
2. The grooves were cut, ready to house the square beads. The waste was removed first over the table saw, and then cleaned out to accurate size with a slot cutter in the router.
3. Mitres were cut ready for making the curved corners, which will have an external radius of 62mm.

Extending the grooves to house the joining splines. The saw tangent is about 45 degrees.  
4. The extended grooves will be used to house splines to strengthen the corner joints, so first these had to be cut  ready to house the jarrah splines. Cut on the table saw, the saw was elevated so that the kerf was about 45 degrees on the tangent.
The seven pieces made ready for glueing up with their splines.
 5. The splines were put into position and glued in place when the mitres were assembled.

One of the joints glued up, with the splines a nice snug fit.
 6. When the corner joints were dry, the 62mm radius external curves were drawn onto the corners, and the curves cut using a bandsaw, then sanded to shape using a bobbin sander then a random orbital sander.
The outer curve has been shaped using bandsaw and bobbin sander.
 7. The inside curve on each of the four corners needs to be changed from 90 degrees to a 40mm radius curve. For this some infils were made and glued into position.
Making the infills for the lower corner curves.

Glueing an infill into place to create the inside curve.
8. The residual spline material then needs to be removed from the grooves in the outside face of the curves, using the router with the slot cutter on the same setting as used previously.
Grooves extended around the external curve by routing out the residual spline material.
9. The straight square beads were machined up, at 9.5mm (3/8") thick to match the width of the grooves, by 17mm (+5/8") wide, which will result in a 7mm projection once they are glued into the grooves.

10. The corner curved square section beads were made, with a 52mm inside radius and a 70mm outer radius. Eight of theses needed to be made, as there are 4 corners. 
Marking out and making the corner beads.

11. Firstly the corner curves were glued into position, then the long straight bead sections were cut to length and glued into position. With the glue dry, the corners beads were then cleaned up on the bobbin sander. The three crown mould sections will come together with the bead "fingers" on the sides inserting into the gaps on the centre sections. All done with careful planning, measuring and marking.

One end of the centre crown mould section.
12. After cleaning up any excess glue with scrapers, each section got the fine abrasive paper treatment.

13. The first coat of polish went on, with the second coat being applied the next day.

First coat drying. Lookin' good!
 With each of the three sections cleaned up and wearing their first coat, I was pretty happy.
Now there's a nice bunch of crown moulding. 
I am glad I suggested to my client that we change the profile of the crown mould from the original concept drawing. These certainly look more classic Art Deco. There was plenty that could have gone wrong in the making of the three pieces, but happily it was smooth sailing all the way. Nice.

As total completion of the job draws nearer, I am looking forward to putting it all together. I reckon this crown mould will really finish off the whole piece, and help establish the bookcase's sense of time and place in the living room of Norelle's home. 
Stay tuned for the next post on this extended saga... installation day!

Monday, July 25, 2011

Making a plinth which is up to the task.

Work on the Art Deco Style Breakfront Bookcase which I am building continues. The three cabinet carcasses are all completed now that the lining board backs have been fitted. They look awesome with the beautiful colours in the recycled jarrah panelling in the backs, and the amazing array of nail holes, bolt holes and other reminders of the former life of those timbers from which panelling and the whole of the structure is made. Nearly all of the adjustable shelving has been made, and last things remaining to make are the plinth and the crown mould.

Planning the plinth face dimensions.
The four front vertical corners of the bookcase each have a 40mm radius, reflecting the wonderful rounded curves that were common in art deco furniture. The three sections of the bookcase are each 1100mm (3' 7")wide, and will be screwed together on site. The middle section protrudes 100mm (4") forward of the sections on either side - hence the term "Breakfront". The plinth, on which the whole cabinet will sits, is 105mm high and will follow the shape of the bookcase front and ends, recessed back 20mm (3/4") all along. This means the four corner curves of the plinth are also set back 20mm, so they needed to be made with an external face radius of 20mm.
You can never have enough clamps. The plinth cramped up with glue drying - all 11 feet of it. 
 The foundational nature of plinths.
Plinths are as essential to the structure of a piece of built-in furniture as the foundations are to a building. Errors in the foundations transfer all the way up through the rest of the building. With built-in furniture, the essential thing is that the plinth is level both along its length and across its width. This cabinet is over 2700mm (9 feet) tall, so an error in the front-to-back level of the plinth will either have the cabinet leaning into the room or leaning into the wall behind. Fully loaded with books, the former is very dangerous and the latter puts stress onto the wall - which my client is concerned about. A high single brick wall, my client specified from day one that she did not want a lot of stress to be placed on this wall behind the bookcase. Hence the objective is to have the plinth correctly level, ensuring the bookcase is plumb when sitting on it. For safety reasons, the top of the bookcase will be attached to the wall, just to ensure the bookcase cannot fall into the room if someone was to climb up the front. A standard requirement. Of course, there are few walls (old or new) which are plumb and flat, and few floors which are perfectly level over a 3.3m (11 foot) length!
Glue dry, clamps off, then curved corners cut with 20mm radius router bit.
 Allowing for anomalies in the wall and floor.
So how do we ensure the top of the plinth is totally level, despite the floor? If the wall leans into the room, or has a bulge which keeps the plumb bookcase forward of the wall at floor level, how do we still ensure the front of the plinth is still 20mm behind the face of the bookcase? There lies the challenge!!

Well, it's all in the planning ... and allowing for a range of as yet unknown possibilities.
There is a 90mm skirting board around the wall, which will be left in place - just in case sometime in the future my client left the house and wanted to take the bookcase with her. So the ends of the plinth will be scribed to fit around and over the skirting. Hence the ends are made "overlong" to give plenty of room to do this scribing once the forward position of the plinth has been determined on site. The back of the plinth has been made to be set 10mm off the skirting, in the event that the wall is plumb or leaning backwards. It will be leveled, packed and fixed in place. The scribing of the base of the plinth to fit the floor is done by setting it up levelled on packers, in position. From the highest point above the floor, a line is then drawn parallel to the floor. Cutting the plinth along the scribed line will then ensure that, on removing the packers, the plinth sits beautifully on the floor (even if it is wildly undulating) while the top remains beautifully level. The plinth is then fixed to the floor and wall to make it rock solid, fixed through packers as required. It's a piece of cake, so long as careful preparation is made to fit this foundational plinth.

The plinth is made heavy duty, in order to be able to withstand considerable weight and transfer this weight to the floor. It is a solid piece of joinery in itself. A couple of coats of oil/varnish polish and its completed, ready for installation day.
Never mind the backdrop... it's the completed plinth we're looking at here!
 Of course, this is the old fashioned way of doing plinths. Very different to those nasty adjustable plastic risers behind plinth facades you see in modern laminate kitchens and built-in furniture these days. Oh well, I am in the heirloom business. There is a lot of wisdom in traditional techniques - and satisfaction too.

Now to get on with making the crown mould...

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Rejuvenating an Old Prayer Desk.

It's such a delight when I get to play with beautiful old furniture. I had an urgent job to do for a customer. An old prayer desk needed some attention. It had spent many years in an undercroft under the Rectory, until my customer had taken custody of it. After looking after the prayer desk for a few years, she felt the time had come to hand it back to the church from whence it had come, as a new priest was coming soon who wants to have use of a prayer desk. Time to give it a serious birthday!

I advised against us trying to strip it back and re-polish it, as antiques lose their value and lose their wonderful "story" when we remove the imprint of that story. I suggested a good cleaning, and we agreed it would be worth replacing the missing carving on the front. With the task defined and the deadline given, I loaded it into my ute and took it away. Oh, what a nice piece of furniture!
Front view of the prayer desk.

Rear view.

Plenty of built up grime visible in the carvings.
 There is a small brass plaque on the top. I Googled the name to find about this person. It would appear the prayer desk was made in honour of Melina Florence Parnell, who was the Principal (and owner) of the Claremont Girls High School for 30 years from 1895 to 1925. We don't know if it was made around 1925 when she retired or around 1944 when she passed away. When she retired she sold the school to the Anglican Church, who renamed it Saint Hilda's Girls School, which still operated today.

The prayer desk is made from Jarrah (Eucalyptus marginata), which means it was made here in Perth, Western Australia. That's why it is so heavy! Jarrah is a beautiful material, and I know it well. However, after all these decades it was a bit dirty and stained. My task was to clean it up. I started by cleaning it with orange oil. A toothbrush helped shift the layers of dirt built up in the carvings and corners of the joints. Some 0000 Grade steel wool helped the orange oil shift the spider poo spots and other caked on gunk. The old stains in the original finish on the kneeler, presumably caused by spilt communion wine, would remain, still telling their story. The cleaning process worked a treat. I later applied a coat of furniture wax to rejuvenate it further.

Cleaned up and looking like new!
Yep, it looks good from the side as well...

 The etching on the plaque is very faint now, after many years of being polished (and worn away) with Brasso. The tell-tale sign  is the Brasso stain in the polish around the plaque. Fantastic. This piece of furniture oozes stories.

The plaque is much easier to read now it is has been cleaned.
The piece is in very good condition really, given its age and the fact that it spent some years in the corner of an undercroft before going into the care and custody of my client some years ago.   However, one small carving was missing from the front of the piece. That was the next challenge - to make a replacement carving. It is safe to assume it would have been the same as the existing one on the opposite side.

The missing carving would be the same as this one.
The three carvings across the front edge were originally glued into place. This was a common practice. However at some point the glue has come unstuck, maybe under impact, and the carving long gone.

That's the spot. One carving, gone missing.
 I started the process by cutting a piece of jarrah the right dimension but "overlong" to aid cramping on the bench. I then drew the centre flower and started carving.

Getting started...

Still rough, but it's taking shape.

The scroll saw being used to cut the outline before carving the outer leaves.
The carving is 2.5 inches long. The back of it had to be shaped to fit into the curve of the scotia behind it. A good fit will be important to obtain a good glue joint, so a contour gauge made that task easy. I didn't expect to make a perfect replica, but to get a close match would be OK. In fact, small variations in a piece of furniture are the hallmark of it being hand made. The completed carving was glued in place, given a coat of shellac, and then treated the same way as the rest of the piece during the rejuvenation. The resulting colour match was pretty good.
The replacement carving now fills the void.

Loaded back in the ute ready to be returned - job done.
The photo above shows how good the piece looks now that the missing carving has been replaced.

I'm pleased with the finished job, and so was my customer. It was certainly a pleasure and a privilege to be given the task of bringing this beautiful piece back to life. I confess I'm not that excited about contemporary furniture - especially the modern minimalist stuff. It's the older furniture which bears the marks and sweat of the craftsman who laboured over it which really makes my heart sing...

While working on it, I often wondered about the person who originally made this piece. Saw marks, chisel cuts, and other subtle reminders of the process they underwent to craft this prayer desk all spoke to me across the years. I hope I did 'em proud by my efforts, and acknowledge their skill and craftsmanship. I also enjoyed learning something about the amazing, Melina Florence Parnell, in whose memory this piece was originally commissioned and dedicated. A vibrant woman and educationalist who was ahead of her time.
Yes, and it's nice to know this beautiful piece, so laden with stories, will soon be used again for the purpose it was originally intended...

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Ten Steps to Making Your Own Vee-Joint Lining Board.

I am currently working on an Art Deco Style Break-front Bookcase. My client has supplied all the timber - jarrah salvaged from the recent renovation of her home which was originally built in the Art Deco era. My task is to recycle these timbers and produce what will be a significant feature in the living room. More about the project here.

The bookcase is being made in three sections, each 1100mm (34 inches) wide and just under 2700mm (9 feet) high, and the rear of the whole bookcase will be panelled with Vee-Joint Lining Board, running vertically. All I have to do is make the stuff, polish it, and fix it in the backs! Here's how it is done...

Step 1: Start with suitable timber.
To create lining boards with a 75mm (3 inch) cover, I'll first be making sticks which are 80mm x 12mm. These will be rough cut to 2.7m (9 feet) long. I'll need about 45 of these to panel the whole back of the bookcase. The starting timber needs to be able to produce these 80 x 12mm sticks 2.7m in length.

Don't be fooled by the old paint and grime - it's all quality jarrah under there.
Yes, this material pictured is suitable! They are primarily 4"x2"s, mostly rafters and floor joists in their former life. When the original house was built 80 years ago, all of the timber used was green jarrah. That was standard practice. Green (unseasoned) jarrah was heavy, being full of moisture, but was much easier to nail and cut than dry (seasoned) jarrah. Over the last 80 years this timber has been seasoning. So it has been air dried, but the roofing timbers like the rafters and ceiling joists are very dry due to the heat and dryness of their environment. As well as being bone dry, these sticks always have an amazing range of colours within. Someday someone will be able to explain to me how come these old sticks which have seasoned in situ within the buildings have obtained these amazing colours inside. Kiln dried and normally air dried jarrah does not obtain this colouring.

When cutting up jarrah logs, the sawmills used the standard dimensions as nominal measurements. There was always some variation, and further variations later in the shrinkage during drying and the grain orientation in each stick. Hence salvaged 4"x2"s can vary in actual width from 3.5 inches to 4.5 inches, and in thickness from 1.5 inches to 2.3 inches. These actual dimensions - particularly thickness - will impact on the recovery rate, as will the straightness or otherwise of each stick! Ideally we want to start out with straight sticks which are also a "fat" 2 inch. These will give the highest recovery rate.

Step 2: Select and dock the sticks to length.
A fat 2" will enable me to rip three boards out of each stick if it is straight enough. That's ideal. Each stick was de-nailed, checked with a metal detector, and scrubbed down with a wire brush. Then the best 2.7m length possible was docked out of each piece of timber. Too much bow, spring or wind, and it would be rejected for the purpose at hand. Likewise for unacceptable defects like big shakes, shattering, and other bad damage. Nail and bolt holes are OK. They'll add to the character.

Step 3: Machine a flat face on one side of each stick.
Using my trusty old Woodfast buzzer ("Buzzer" is the old Australian term for "planer"), I machined a flat broad face on each stick. Flat means no wind (twist), bow (bend in the face), or spring (bend in the edge). This flat face would later be placed against the fence of the table saw.

Step 4: Rip the boards from each stick.
Ideally, if starting with a fat stick, and not having to remove too much material in order to flatten the initial face, the aim would be to get 3 boards from each stick. That's maximum recovery. The table saw was set to cut 15mm rips from each stick. Some would give me 3 boards, others would only give me 2.

The pile of 15mm thick boards growing...
The machining process is pretty straight forward, working from the original flat face then off the new cut face, etc. Straightening the edge and ripping to width will take place later.

Step 5: Machine the boards to the required 12mm thickness.
With the pile of sawn sticks machined up, it was then time to dress the sticks to the desired 12mm thickness.

Running the sticks through the thicknesser.
 The machine used for this process is the thicknesser. I have a 15 inch machine which is plenty big enough.

Step 6: Straighten one edge and rip to width.
With the sticks run to the finish 12mm thickness, it was now time to run them to width. An edge was straightened over the buzzer, and then this straight and square edge used against the fence of the table saw to rip the sticks to the required 80mm width. The result was a nice pile of straight sticks ready to get the tongues and grooves machined on the edges.

Step 7: Cutting the grooves.
The fence of the table saw was set up to create a saw cut down the centre of the buzzed edge. A piece of MDF was cramped onto the table up against the fence, and the rotating saw blade wound up through the MDF, to the required height. In this way a zero clearance was throat was created. Additional pieces of timber were cramped in place to create a temporary jig, which would ensure the sticks remained vertical and hard up against the fence.
The jig set up on the table saw for accurate cutting of the grooves.

One of the sticks having the groove machined.
In order to create a groove wider than the with of the saw kerf, each stick is "end for ended" so that the cut is made from each face on the same edge. This edge being grooved is the buzzed edge on each stick.

Step 8: Cutting the Tongues.
Cutting the tongues is a two stage process. In order to get a nice clean shoulder, firstly a shallow cut is first made square from the faces, to define the base of each tongue.

Set up for machining the base of the tongues.
 The fence is moved and the sawblade set to give a 75mm wide cut. The is MDF re-positioned as well as the temporary guiding jigs, to ensure each stick stayed hard to the fence, ensuring accurate machining. The blade is wound up to the required height, and each stick is passed through twice - once from each face.

With these base cuts made, the second stage is to define the thickness of the tongue, by machining in from the sawn edge. We are effectively machining two mini-rebates from each side! 

Second stage in machining the tongues, cutting from the edge.
 The whole jig set up on the table saw is shifted again to acheive this, but the outcome is some very nice accurate machining. The tongues on these boards are 5mm long, and the grooves are 6mm deep, giving what's called a "75mm cover", from the 80mm wide stock.

Step 9: Creating the Vee Joints.
Vee Joints are a wonderful visual tool. The Vee joint visually hides any variations in the facial planes of adjoining boards, visually hides gaps between the edges of adjoining boards (eg. in shrinkage) and creates a nice tidy look. It is a winner, and has the added advantage of allowing for the expansion and contraction of  timber panelling over big (and small) areas with changing moisture content in the environment. 

The tool for the job is the rusty block plane. I used two block planes, one set fairly course, to remove material quickly, and the other set fine to do a nice clean finishing cut. It's pretty straight forward. Holding the plane at 45 degrees, you cut a chamfer. In order to make the chamfer consistent, work consistently. I did two full length cuts with the course plane, and one full length cut with the fine set plane. Three runs for each champfer. As the back of the panelling will be against a wall, I only did the face of each board - one on the groove edge of the face and one on the tongue edge of the face.

You get a good system going with the plane swapping. A nice pair of No.110 Block Planes.

There it is... a pair of lining boards freshly made. 
 Step 10: Sand and pre-polish the finished boards.
Using a belt sander with a P120 belt is the quickest way to sand 45 sticks 2.6m long! After I belt sanded each face side, I then finished the process by hand sanding each board with 180 grit paper. These boards will be in the back of the bookcase, so there is no need to go finer to P320 or P400 in this case. With the finish sanding done, it was time to polish the boards. 

The importance of pre-polishing each stick is to seal it (it is winter here at the moment) and to ensure there will be no strips of light coloured un-polished timber visible if there is shrinkage during summer. Seeking a nice a low sheen finish, I used Cabot's Danish Oil, brushed on and wiped off - two coats, one day apart. The back must be coated as well to ensure the boards are sealed properly.

A few of the lining boards drying after polishing.
Lucky it was a couple of fine sunny days in the middle of winter! Laying these 45 boards out to dry takes up a lot of room.

 It helps to have a bunch of outdoor directors chairs to act as trestles for drying the boards in the back yard! Some of those 45 boards pictured here. Isn't the colouring awesome!

Following these ten steps is a great way to readily create beautiful Vee-Joint Lining Board from any timber on hand. Starting with that ugly looking pile of floor joists and rafters, you would never know such a thing was possible ... unless you've done it many times before as I have.