Finishing

This Present Distraction – Finis

With the two halves of the Kindle case ready, I glued on band of leather to bring the two of them together.  The gluing was only to the faces of the case with the back edges unglued so that the case could be folded open with the two halves face-to-face.

Once the two halves were put together I took some scrap felt from my rag bin and glued that into the cavity holding the Kindle.  That was a nice effect, except for where I slipped with the razor blade while trimming the felt and cut off some of the cypress veneer.  I hate when that happens, and will repair it when I get a chance.

With everything together and complete I spent a little time padding on some more shellac.  I will probably repeat this periodically to build it up a bit more, but I wanted the case to get to work.  I stuck on some velcro dots at the two corners to hold it together when not in use and called it “finished.”

Old School Pumice “Sanding” Block

A few days ago blog reader (and the Lou Gehrig of the woodworking blogosphere) RalphB asked about my use of the pumice block to smooth the surface of my parquetry Kindle case.  The use of pumice blocks is well documented in historical accounts, although explicit or specific details are often missing.

I use a pumice block from the plumbing section of the hardware store (I order them by the case).  Normally they are used for deep cleaning of porcelain and enameled fixtures to remove mineral deposits and stains.  They work equally well for evening out irregular wood surfaces such as those found when assembling parquetry or marquetry from sawn veneers, where regardless of the care in the initial veneer sawing a fair bit of irregularity is manifest.

I generally use a pumice block as the step following the toothing plane/Shinto rasp, moving the block in a circular fashion on the substrate, yielding a fairly smooth and even surface about what you might expect with 60 or 80 grit sandpaper.  Following the pumice block with a card scraper and polissoir, the result is quite pleasing.

This Present Distraction 4

Once all the veneerwork was finished and the banding in place it was time to flatten all these irregular surfaces.  Using a variety of tools, including a toothing plane and a Shinto rasp, I soon had things even enough to use a pumice block to smooth everything out.

With my tacking iron I impregnated all the show surface with a generous application of molten Blend 31 wax to serve as a grain filler and foundation for a little bit of padded shellac yet to come.  Using a fresh single edge razor I gently scraped off the excess wax to get down to the smooth surface, which was evident when I buffed the scraped surface with a piece of linen.  Little places of voids were filled in with more molten wax after the buffing revealed them.

The two halves of the Kindle box are different because I was mostly trying to use leftovers from other projects.

Sandpaper Box

In the aftermath of my “attempted suicide by lawnmower” I spent the afternoon in low intensity activity in the shop.  Most of that time I spent finishing off the negoru finish on my sandpaper box.  I cannot exactly recall where I found this box years ago but it suits my need perfectly for a place to house the 1/8th sheets of sandpaper that I use for most of my work.  In the past few weeks I’ve been using this project and others as diversions to recharge my batteries when I get tired of writing.

For the past several few years the box has been performing its tasks while only partially dressed, wearing only a nice coating of my favorite primer called “Sanding Putty” from Fine Paints of Europe.  Crazy expensive but worth every penny.  In the past few weeks I’ve been using this project and others as diversions when I get tired of writing.  I’m sorry I do not have a picture of the box at this point, the project was just a whimsy at the beginning.   I have another box I am likely to use for the same finish, and when I do I will document it more carefully.

After sanding the primer I laid down two coats of Schreuder Hascolac red paint to provide the chromatic foundation for the final presentation.  This also comes from Fine Paints of Europe but I think they have changed the product nomenclature since I bought mine.  Like the Sanding Putty these paints are simply incomparable to anything else I found in the market.  I wet sanded between coats with 600 sandpaper.

Once the foundation was ready (I usually wait a week between each coat of this oil paint) I wet sanded again and added a single coating of the Schreuder black paint.

Then using 400 wet-or-dry sandpaper I abraded away most of the black to an appearance I liked.

 

This was followed by several applications of Epifanes Spar Varnish, a European analog to Waterlox Original Gloss Varnish.  I had never used Epifanes before but it is highly regarded in the architectural restoration world and I had some so I thought I would give it a try.  It certainly does lay down nice.  As before I gave it a nice sanding between coats.

Once it was all done and the varnish was hardened, always an issue with spar varnishes as they are formulated to not get as hard as regular varnishes, I set out to polish it up.  This began with a wet sanding of 1500 grit sandpaper, followed in turn with 1 micron and .05 micron agglomerated microalumina abrasives.  For flat surfaces such as these I use homemade blocks of 1/2″ soft-ish felt glued to a thin plywood backing, with mineral spirits as my slurry liquid

All that is left is the very final polishing with whiting on my dampened fingertips, a maintenance coating of Mel’s Wax, and it will be done.

Not bad for just a time-killing whimsy.

Negoru Boxes

Today I wrapped up (mostly) three of the “rubbed through” boxes and have put two to work to hold some of my smaller Gragg sculpting tools.

This one is black-over-red.

This one is red-over-black.

I did both of these with pigmented shellac with lemon shellac as the film forming component.  I added Bone Black and Vermillion Red powders to taste, then three or four clear coats over the top after composing the pattern with wet sanding.  Since these will get jostled at least if not outright “beat up” I have no plans to bring them to a mirror surface.  I might rub them out with some Liberon steel wool and Mel’s Wax once the surfaces get really hard in a few weeks.

It is nice to have most of my smallest brass spokeshaves in the same box.  I bought four sets of the ones offered by many tool merchants 35(?) years ago and am delighted to have them on hand.  With duplicate sets I have total freedom to modify them as needed.  These tiny tools are amazingly productive but it takes strong finger tips and a good “feel” for using them.  Fortunately Mrs. Barn lets me massage her feet for a couple hours most evenings so my hands are up to the challenge.

Utilitarian Distraction

Very often in the midst of a lengthy undertaking I need a brief diversion to recharge my batteries.  Given my current work on building Gragg chairs and recording the process for video and the seemingly endless work on A Period Finishers Manual I’ve been finding myself sitting at the finishing bench for an hour here or there to continue my exploration of the Asian lacquerwork aesthetic by other means.  The particular projects are inspired by the Accidental Woodworker’s frequent exercises building small boxes for his tools, combined with my need to keep better track of the multiple small spokeshaves and spoon-shaves I use when sculpting a Gragg chair’s edges and shape.  I’ve also got my sandpaper box that has been primed for years and awaiting its final decorative surface.

I am particular taken by the lacquerwork aesthetic of the negoru finish, or “rubbed through” surfaces, almost always executed in red and black.  Rather than building boxes from scratch I used some of the paulownia or pine boxes from Michael’s that I have acquired over the years as teaching projects for japanning classes.  In this case I was working black-over-red, but also had some red-over-black boxes that were never finished.

For the sandpaper box I used oil paint, for the others I used shellac.  I have yet to complete a box with polyester but will soon.  Some day I’ll post a blog series on these decorative options.

Fumes

In my ongoing efforts to replicate Asian lacquerwork without the use of urushiol, the resinous sap from the poison sumac tree that is refined into the coating material, I have been trying a number of alternate options including epoxy, oil/resin varnish, shellac (of course!) and varieties of polyester coatings.  The air flow through my studio is controllable and just about perfect for any non-spray finishing from a clean environment perspective.  However, virtually all of the polyester products produce noxious fumes when the coating is reacting.  Not enough to be hazardous to my health, but plenty stinky enough.

To deal with the problem I have dusted off my old favorite respirator, the 3M EZ Air that fit my head and face perfectly and is comfortable enough that I can wear it for hours.  Naturally since it was such a satisfactory product it is no longer available on the market.  The organic vapor cannisters are available so this will remain my “go to tool” for respiratory comfort when working on the polyesters,

Though a satisfactory solution for ambient odors I also came up with another one for scrubbing the air inside a curing chamber.  When I can, I place the newly coated object in a box along with an air scrubber I made just for those occasions.  The unit starts as the jar containing activated charcoal flakes, normally used for aquarium filters.

I cut a hole in the lid and affixed a compewder fan and a screen, and drilled a series of small holes in the bottom of the PET jar.

I sifted the activated charcoal to remove any powdered charcoal dust, something I do not want blowing around inside the drying chamber with a wet coating in the immediate vicinity.

I placed the clean activated charcoal flakes back in the jar and closed up the whole system.  Now I can coat the object the the polyester, flip a large cardboard box over onto it to enclose it, and turn on the scrubber.  By sucking in the air gently and blowing it through the container of the activated charcoal (which adsorbs the organic molecules off-gassing from the polyester) it removes the odors and I cannot really even notice them while I am at work nearby.  When the coating is cured I remove the object and the smell is negligible.  I find that if I leave it all in over night there is barely any odor at all.

When the air scrubber or respirator are not in use I leave them in sealed containers to extend the working life of their filtering components, whether activated charcoal flakes or organic vapor scrubber cartridges.  The fan scrubber goes into a gallon-sixed freezer bag and the respirator into a little sealed box.

Fauxrushi Inspiration

With some of my major time-gobblers finished or at least with the ends in sight — the gunsmithing partner’s workbench, the cedar siding, refinishing the dining chairs, the book manuscript (still a lot to do but at least the train is moving steadily down the tracks) — I am refocusing on a small handful of interests in the shop, including my efforts to replicate Asian lacquerwork.

I am noticing that with increasing age my general allergy sensitivity is getting worse so I am not likely to try using genuine urushi, it being the refined sap of a poison sumac tree and all.  It is not impossible, but unlikely given the toxicity of the emulsion.  Still the performance of the final finish is such that it has been the theoretical model of “the perfect finish” for decades or even centuries.  Anything that can be applied and polished to a mirror surface while being impervious to anything other than boiling nitric acid or long term UV degradation is a finish to not disregard entirely.

My allergic sensitivity is being driven home this year as we had a late, cold, wet spring (we had snow flurries three weeks ago!) so the “early pollen” and the “late pollen” are emerging back-to-back, resulting in the Mother of All Sneezefests.  I’ve been breathing through jello for almost a week now with the resultant gurgling loveliness.  Rather than compounding my miseries with liquid poison ivy (the same toxic allergen, urushiol, is present in poison sumac, poison ok, poison ivy, and mango skin)  I am instead going to be employing a variety of alternatives to accomplish “fauxrushi” objects.

I have already written about West System 105 Epoxy and the variations of their catalysts as the basis for my fauxrushi (Popular Woodworking April 2017) and I am currently looking at three different polyester compositions as a test comparison.  Polyester is reputed to be tougher and harder than epoxy but I have never used it for anything other than laying fiberglass fabric.  It does have the distinct disadvantage of being much stinkier that West Epoxy but that is not an insurmountable problem.

My little menagerie includes Asian lacquered pieces ranging from contemporary to probably 17th/18th C, and 19th C English japanned paper boxes (the two round pieces on the left).

I think this is my oldest piece, it is certainly the most complex. Red and black urushi are applied in alternating layers and then carved to reveal the layers. Urushi work is dominated historically by those two colors with the occasional blue piece with other colors even more scarce.

From time to time I pull out my own meager collection of genuine lacquerwork for inspiration and instruction, and delve into my library on the subject.  These sources spur me on to explore this art form, and when the resin base, whether epoxy, polyester, or even urushi, is combined with silver, gold, ad pearl, the sublime can emerge under the eye and hand of a master.  I am hampered by the near-complete absence of artistic talent but I nevertheless intend to stride down this path either until I lose interest (unlikely) or simply cannot physically do the work.  My hands are still steady so I am hoping it will be a long journey.

This modern bowl has a molded fabric core, and remains one of the most beautiful artworks I have ever seen.

Another Section Off To The Races

This afternoon I emailed the second of a great many sections of A Period Finisher’s Manual to my initial reviewers.  I am trying to send them texts in their proper sequence even though that is not how I write them.  This one was the introductory soliloquy on Surface Preparation (of wood).  The surface preparation during the application of the finish will come much later.

My plan is to send another section every week or ten days, probably longer than today’s 1300 words.  I know that the next one, the conclusion to Surface Preparation, is several times longer.

Many tens of thousands of words to get into the hands of the readers.  I got my Eames Chair knockoff repaired so I’m good to go in massaging all these parts together.

The Rolling Ball

A couple weeks ago I blogged over at Lost Art Press about the initial distribution of manuscript pieces for A Period Finisher’s Manual to my first-tier reviewers, four hearty volunteers who have pledged to stay with me to the bitter end.  I assure you they will be just as tired of the project as I will be by the time it makes it into print.  Thanks again Bill, Bob, Gina, and Josh for your yeoman’s work to make this esoteric topic into an engaging and informative volume.

The first broadside was the “Introduction,” a non-technical roadmap for the project.  Later this week I will be sending them at least part of (maybe the whole of) the first section, “Preparing the Surface.”  There is nary a drum sander or jitterbug to be found.

I look forward to their feedback.  Once it gets integrated into the manuscript text, that “final” version will be winging electronically to my second tier reviewers Bill, John, Len, and Mike for any final thoughts before the whole pile lands on The Schwarz’ desk.  I have only so many words in me, so periodically I fall silent here as I restock the lexiconic inventory.

The only current unexpected  hurdle is that a bolt on the rocker mechanism for my Eames knockoff chair broke on Friday so I have to get that fixed pronto.  It’s my writing nest in The Waxerie, where I spend part of every day massaging words.