Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fuming... (Oak, Not Mad)

Of the six boxes I currently have in progress, four of them are made with some of the reclaimed white oak I got from an old house on our family farm. Having been a while since I'd done any fuming, I thought I would take the opportunity to pull out my supply of Ammonium Hydroxide and make some chemical reactions happen.

Before I begin, I would like to offer a few words of caution...

Ammonium Hydroxide is a seriously dangerous chemical and should be handled with caution. As the warning on the bottle says, don't allow it, or the fumes, to come in contact with eyes or skin and don't ingest it. I'll add to those warnings that if you have any open cuts exposed to the air, you should make sure and cover them, as well.

I never work with ammonium hydroxide in a closed environment - always out on the patio or my driveway. I use full-coverage chemical-resistant eye goggles and a partial-face respirator rated for organic vapors (my mask uses 3M's 6001 filter). This is not the kind of respirator filter you will ever find at Home Depot or Lowe's (read the warning labels on the filters - they all specifically say they are not rated for organic vapors), though you can get them on-line easily enough. I happen to be married to a woman who has to have one just in case she is sent to a site for groundwater sampling that requires it, so... mine was free. I use the blue nitrile gloves because they are chemical resistant (and because I'm a cuticle biter and my fingers BURNED the first time I tried this without using nitrile gloves, hence the additional warning about cuts exposed to the air).

That said, woodworking is full of dangerous tools. If you don't take the time to become familiar with the tools you're using (whether they be mechanical or chemical), then you should fully expect to receive some time of injury at some point in your woodworking career. Have respect for and an understanding of your environment and you will decrease your chances of getting hurt. Now back to the blog...

My basic fuming setup is simple. I don't bother with wooden frame and plastic sheet tents. They're too easily damaged and something you don't want is a leak in your fuming tent.

Instead, I use an old Igloo chest cooler (which became obsolete after I purchased one of those wonderful 5-day coolers several years ago). It has an air-tight lid and is plenty big enough to fume several boxes at once.

It came with an open mesh basket that sits on a lip at the top of the cooler. I pour my ammonia into a plastic sour cream container, set it into the bottom of the cooler, and then turn the mesh basket upside down and place it over the container. That allows me to set boxes directly on top of the basket and not worry about tipping the container over.

I always fume several cutoffs from the same boards I used to make the boxes. These become test pieces for determining what finish I will use later on.

Once I get the ammonia inside and cover it with the basket, I place my boxes on top of the basket and lean my sample pieces against the side. Then I close it up tight, put a few pieces of painter's tape across the lid and tape a note on top that indicates I am fuming wood inside (to prevent me or my wife from accidentally opening the cooler). In order to get the best results, the container should be kept in a warm or hot environment. In the summer, nothing is hotter than my garage. Yesterday and today have been notably cool, so I was a bit concerned with how it would turn out.

It was, however, wasted emotional energy. As you can see, after 24 hours in the fuming tent the oak has darkened quite a bit. The wood in the lower part of the picture to the right is un-fumed white oak from the same board; in the middle are my sample pieces; at the top are my two boxes.

This image is also useful to point out how heartwood is affected by the ammonia much more than sapwood. Had I used sapwood in either of the two boxes I fumed (I specifically did not fume one of the four boxes based on a small amount of sapwood in one side), I would have some creative fixing to do with dyes and stain when I reached the finishing stage.

Before I do anything else with these boxes, I have to let them off-gas for at least 24 hours. After that, I'll work with my sample pieces to see what finish works best. I have some idea as to what I want to do, but I always test it out on sample pieces because each batch of wood can react differently to the ammonia. But generally, it involves a coat of BLO (boiled linseed oil) and a few light coats of amber or garnet shellac, depending upon how dark I want it to look in the end.

I will most likely spend some time with an inlay or two in these boxes, however, so I have some time before I worry about a finish.

Maybe while I'm in the fuming mood, I'll run some sample pieces for you to show you what other kinds of wood I've fumed and take pictures of what these woods look like fumed and un-fumed.

If you plan on trying to fume a woodworking project in the future and have any questions, let me know. I'll be happy to share whatever knowledge I have with you.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Prepare to be jealous...

Today was a productive woodworking day and I haven't even put edge to wood yet (hopefully I'll do some of that later this evening).

Before we start with what I did this morning, we have to go back to last night, when I got a phone call from my little brother (who happens to also be a woodworker). He informed me of a tool and wood sale going on down by our older brother's house. It is part of the estate of a woodworking mentor of ours, Pops, who passed away a few years ago - his wife is finally able to let go of some of his stuff.

This morning, I left the house a little later than I wanted to and didn't end up getting there until 10:00 a.m. After spending some time visiting with his widow, I helped her price a few more things (I provided her with the list of prices for most of the woodworking tools she had for sale) and bring some of the heavier objects out of Pops' shop to sit outside in the driveway.

And then I was finally able to poke through the shop and pick out a few tidbits for myself. I ended up walking away with a #51 Spokeshave (for my friend, Alex, who'd asked me to keep an eye out for a spokeshave), a Richard Kell dovetail marker, an older brass bevel gauge from Woodcraft (for determining the angles of chisel and plane blade bevels), a pair of older Stanley #4 trammel points, a very sweet looking Stanley (?) 3" square with a rosewood handle, a quality hardbound sixth printing of James Krenov's The Fine Art of Cabinetmaking, a hardbound edition of Michael Dunbar's Restoring, Tuning, and Using Classic Woodworking Tools, and a Swiss made carving chisel.

While I was in the area, I couldn't miss out on the chance to visit with my older brother and my niece and nephew. Even though we only live 40 minutes apart, I don't get to see enough of them these days. It is something I want to try and change, though, because I miss seeing them.

I headed back in the general direction of home. On the way, I made a stop over at Alex's house to drop off his spokeshave - he seemed pleased.

Upon pulling into the driveway, however, I noticed a package sitting on the front porch. I was fully expecting it within the next few days and pleasantly surprised to see it had already shown up. After parking my truck, I grabbed the package, ran inside, and opened it to reveal...

The latest book by Chris Schwarz, Handplane Essentials. I paid the slightly higher full price and ordered my copy from Lost Art Press. John and Sharon provide the greatest customer service and I enjoy supporting such practices by purchasing from them when I can.

But as you can see, I also received a bit of a bonus (here is where you should prepare to be jealous...). Not only is the book signed by Chris Schwarz, it is also the one and only copy that is artistically decorated by his daughter, Katy, with a drawing of her sock monkey. I do believe this makes the top of my list for the week.

Alas, I had to put my blog entry on hold for a few hours while we had supper, went for a nice long walk and enjoyed some freshly cut watermelon, so I wasn't able to get into the shop and work on the boxes as I wanted to. That will be my task for first thing tomorrow morning. And I've taken some pictures of a few techniques I wanted to share, so I'll post something on those ideas, as well.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Working Together...

I've spent some time over the last two weeks working on some boxes. I have two at a "joinery completion" stage and four more with the pieces just dimensioned. One of the boxes has the intended purpose of holding my up-and-coming Christmas present - a custom set of four dovetail paring chisels from Blue Spruce Tool Works. They all have curly mahogany handles (wood supplied by me) that match the carbide burnisher owner Dave Jeske made for me a month or two ago. They arrived two weeks ago and Dana let me see them just long enough to take some measurements before she secreted them away for the next six months. We ordered them a bit early to take advantage of a 10% discount Dave was offering and to get one of his Blue Spruce Tool Works t-shirts for free.

(And by the way... isn't my wife just the greatest?)

The other boxes don't yet have specific buyers but they are all intended to hold sgian dubhs. Well, dimensionally they would all serve that purpose, anyway. I'm making them for two reasons, one of which I can't really divulge right now. But the other reason is simply because I want to have some boxes on hand that I can offer as "immediately available" so I don't always have to bust my butt with a custom box when someone contacts me and says they need a box in three weeks. I'll take some pictures and post them along with some of my design ideas as I get a little further along in the process later this week. I had an idea or two that coincided with the Guinness 250th Anniversary that I wanted to play around with...

They are all sliding lid boxes with rabbeted butt joints. From a design point of view, the joinery is relatively easy to cut on the table saw with a flat tooth rip blade. Some of that challenge is in making sure the saw cuts are accurate. Over the past few days, I've learned some tricks for making these cuts incredibly precise - all without using any measuring devices. Again, when I start on the joinery for the next four boxes, I'll take some pictures and share with you.

But what has me more excited than anything is how I've quite naturally started blending hand tools with power tools into a true power tool/hand tool hybrid shop - the two halves are now working together. For example, the other day when I was working on the sliding lid for the chisel storage box, I had a board that wasn't exactly thicknessed properly (it was the last board from a bunch of resawn lumber); it was just a bit thicker on one edge than it was on the other. Without a second thought, I went downstairs to the workbench, marked the board thickness on all the edges with my circular marking gauge, grabbed my #604 1/2, and started planing the slight high side down to size.

Later, when I needed to cut dados and rabbets on the edges of the lid so it would slide in and out of the grooves in the main part of the box, I pulled out my Record 043 plough plane instead of trying to make the cuts back on the table saw. Wow. That was more satisfying than planing a board flat! After just a minute or two of careful setup (and scoring a line on the cross-grain cut to prevent tear out), it was just a matter of planing until the blade stopped cutting.

Finally, when I was cutting the panel for the second sliding lid, I had a board with one side far, far from straight (it was a raw edge with bark on it) and the opposite edge ended up not being a terribly straight line, either. Again, I headed back downstairs to the workshop, put the board on edge in a vice, and took about 15 or 20 strokes with the #604 1/2 (it was too short for the #7) to make the not-so-straight-edge perfectly jointed.

A great benefit to using more hand tools is that I can plug in to my MP3 player and listen to some Grateful Dead or Cat Stevens or Jim Malcom while I'm working - certainly something that helps my creative juices flow.

I'm starting to approach every part of the project with the question, "How can I do this with hand tools?" It is very freeing. If you haven't yet tried it, I would highly recommend at least making an attempt at it the next time you find yourself in the shop.

Monday, August 3, 2009

A Sinking Feeling...

This blog entry is dedicated to Fred and Brian. Without their hard work, my wife would never have been motivated enough to prod me into action...

On Friday, the taper/mudder finished with my workshop walls! Apparently, the fee I paid him didn't include cleanup-after-sanding, though, so I have a bit of a mess on my hands still. No matter - it feels good to almost have this part of the process behind me.

I thought I would be able to get down there on Sunday and do some cleaning and wipe down the walls in preparation for paint, but I was wrong. Apparently, recent trips to my sister-in-law's house (Fred and Kate) and some friends in Lawrence, Kansas (Brian and Belinda), got Dana itching to have a few more items checked off of my "Cinderella List". The first one that came to mind was replacing the kitchen sink.

We'd actually purchased a replacement sink over a year ago (closer to two, honestly), but were putting off the installation because we wanted it to coincide with new cabinets and a counter top, as well. Alas, we are financially responsible people and so are waiting until we have the money saved up before we perform our big kitchen renovation. It will probably take another two years to save up enough money - this was apparently too long.

So on the way home from church this past Sunday, we stopped by Lowe's to pick up a few necessities I knew I needed, made our way home, changed clothes, and got right to it.

Taking out the old sink was satisfying. It was acrylic and probably 20+ years old - the faucet was rusted and the coating had scraped off the bottom in several places, so it didn't easily come clean.

It was so light-weight that I had to remove nine clips holding it to the counter top before I could take it out. Here is a picture of the sink as it sat in the garage post-removal. I kept the plastic wrapped tight for over an hour after it stopped moving, so I felt safe in uncovering it to snap a few pics for you.

Take note of the ever-present stains in the left side and the absence of any glossy acrylic coating in the right side. It's removal was a triumphant moment, indeed.

Of course, once the tools came out, Teeters the Helping Cat made her presence known. She used her acute sense of observation to determine exactly what tool or part I needed next and did her best to thwart me by batting it away. But look at how cute she is - you can't be mad at that innocent face for long!

You might also notice the white knobs on the doors in the first and third photos. Dana started working on replacing those while I was working on the sink. Again, we'd already determined what kind of pulls and knobs we wanted - we really just wanted to put them on new cabinets. You'll see the change later on...

Nothing is ever easy in my house. Because the new sink had a different drop to it, I had to adjust pretty much every piece of PVC under the sink. I suppose I shouldn't complain - it could have been chrome.

Teeters once again made an appearance at this point. You'll notice, however, that I refrained from any displays of PB as I finagled the pipes into place. As a joke, I did have my pants pulled down just enough before this picture was taken, but quickly yanked them back up as Dana reached for the camera. Normally I wouldn't have minded, but I hadn't grown my Hulk Hogan mustache back yet and it just didn't feel proper, you know?

You can't see it in that last picture, but I believe at this point my back is broken in two separate places - a result of trying to crawl around under the sink attaching the plumbing back up. You also can't see the hernia I narrowly avoided trying to lift the new sink into place. Did I mention the new sink is cast iron and weighs in at just around 130 lbs?

Here is a shot of the new sink in all it's glory - it is called a Smart Divide Sink by Kohler. It has a half-divide separating the two sinks, making it easier to wash such things as cookie sheets and cutting boards without trying to wedge them into one bowl. (Here you can also see the results of Dana's hard work - the new pulls are going to look great when we have new cabinets on which to mount them, but I think they look pretty good on the old ones, too! Good job, sweetie!)

I'm of the school of thought that if you're going to do something, go ahead and do it right the first time. In this case, it meant spending a little extra to get drains that matched the new faucet.

Once again time eluded me, but I need to hurry up and find the time to get down to the basement and do some sweeping. When I came home from work today, I was greeted by Teeters, the Black and White Shop Cat - black on her right side and white on her left side, where she had been laying down in drywall dust. Parts of the house looked like David Caruso's team had just finished dusting for finger prints.

So while I didn't get to spent Sunday working on the new shop like I wanted to, and the closest I got to woodworking was knocking out the two support blocks in the front of the cabinet with a hammer so the sink would fit, I still feel my time was well-spent. After all, marriage is all about comprimise, right? Plus, putting in a new sink made my wife happy, and that means a lot to me, too.

Unfortunately, we spent a lot of time staring at the surrounding cabinets and appliances this weekend. I know it reminded me that I still haven't changed out the old dish washer with the new one (sitting in the cardboard box in the garage). Let's hope Dana was temporarily blinded by the dazzling sparkle of her new sink, at least until my back heals...