veneer

Plywood-in-Waiting

 

Over many years due to some fortuitous opportunities, including the generosity (?) of fellow woodworkers cleaning out their stashes of stuff, I have managed to acquire an awful lot of veneers.  Those that are unusual or rare go one place in the barn, but the large majority is mundane and gets stacked on a pair of cot bases on the floor directly overhead of my studio space.  There is nothing special about this pile of veneers other than the fact that for the most part this is vintage, heavier weight material than you would routinely find today.  Most of it is in the range of 1/20″ to 1/30″, in poplar, walnut, maple, ash, cherry, and birch.

Even If I was manufacturing furniture, I would never use all this up.

So, what to do?

I’ve been contemplating making small, elegant boxes, mostly with either parquetry/marquetry or fuaxrushi presentation surfaces.  Some of the boxes would be straightforward cubic shapes, others bombe’.  What better foundation for these decorative techniques than ultra-high-quality veneer-core plywood?  I have long believed that a static substrate of high-quality plywood is superior to a dynamic solid wood substrate with its inexorable rheological response to environmental moisture change.  I could spend the big bucks to get marine or aircraft plywood, or I could just make my own.

So, I will.  I have had excellent success in the past making small epoxy/veneer plywood panels for little projects and will now make that my SOP for fancy little jewel boxes.  For larger pieces, say 12″ x 18″ or maybe a little larger, I will need to make a veneer press.  For bombe’ panels I will need to construct forms and devise a vacuum press.

In the end, it is all just more fascinating stuff to do in the adventure that is life at the barn.

 

Ebonizing

One of my initial design/aesthetic choices for the standing tool cabinet was to make the prominent detailing to be black, along with the entire interior.  In the former case it was to set off the comparative blandness of the oak veneer, about which there will be exhaustive posting in coming weeks, and in the latter it would serve to set off the tools themselves.  As to the ebonized stringing in between the parquetry I am not yet fully convinced — I may instead go with rosewood which will serve the primary purpose equally well, although it will not tie-in with the interior well without further design– but ebonized interior is already a fait accompli.

The ebonized stringing for the proof-of-concept parquetry exercise representing the outer skin began with a piece or two from the pile of 1/4″ tulip poplar I had on hand, itself a raw material for yet another proof-of-concept for some fauxrushi I am prototyping.  Using water soluble shellac as my coloring medium, a/k/a India Ink, is a method I use frequently.

The big box store pieces of tulip poplar fit a flower pot tray perfectly, so I used the tray as the immersion bath for the board.  After soaking it all night the surface was really black.

Even then when ripping the bards on the bandsaw it was apparent that the interiors were not well dyed, so I repeated the tray and India ink step again with the strips.  The result was a pile of 1/4″ wide ebonized stringing strips.  That might sound a tad wide to you but remember, the front presentation of the cabinet as 4-feet-by-3-feet.

As to the interior, I noted that the soaking of the plywood with India ink yielded a very desirable surface, black-ish but still retaining the character of wood, a result not really possible with something like gel stain or il paint.

*Not* Burl Ives

Within view of the barn parking pad, where I process all my firewood, are two nice trees with mature burls.  Those trees will likely suffer fatal injuries soon.  Whether I make them into turnings or veneers waits to be seen.  I’ve got lots of ideas for both options.  One of my favorite pieces of furniture is Ruhlmann’s burl veneer cabinet with inlaid ivory bubbles.  Hmmm.  I’ve got a bunch of ivory, real and artificial, so…

This tree trunk is roughly a foot in diameter. The odd shape has me wondering how to saw up this one once I get it on the ground and in the shop.

This burl is almost a three-foot ball, so my creative glands are pumping out juices big time.

In addition to these two beauties, I’ve culled some very large forks from cutting up the big walnut tree we felled last year.  Gotta be some outrageous crotch/flame grain inside them.  I’m hoping to get up the mountain and harvest the firewood for winter 2023-2024 within the next month or two, and it would be a good time to process all of this stock.

Clean-up “Christmas”

One of the aspects of having a humungous Fortress of Solitude like the barn, four stories of 40′ x 36′ space, is that there are a multitude of nooks and crannies into which things can be tucked, stuffed, crammed, lost, and re-discovered.  I call these instances my own “Clean Up Christmases,” when I come across treasures I had forgotten, or at least misremembered.

Such has been the case recently when prepping the classroom for this coming weekend workshop Historical Wood Finishing.  As the first class there in over two years, the space had, shall we say, devolved.  That pesky Second Law of Thermodynamics; they tried repealing it but it just didn’t take.  It has taken me over two weeks to get it ready for the group on Saturday.  The level of “rearrangeritis” (full credit to James “Stumpy Nubs” Hamilton for coining the phrase to describe an all-day travail when moving one thing in his crowded shop) has been monumental, and monumentally rewarding on several fronts.  It has also given me time for contemplation about future projects, a topic I will address in numerous upcoming posts.

At the moment I am mostly reveling the rediscovery of two caches that were set aside for some future completion.  The first is the two sets of brass Roubo-esque squares fabricated before and during that workshop more than two years ago; all it will take is a day or two with some files and Chris Vesper’s sublime reference square to get them up and running.

A second trove is the pile of French oak scraps from the multiple iterations of the FORP gatherings in southern Georgia.  I brought them home in order to turn them into veneers, probably oyster shell style, to use on some as-yet-unknown project.  That “unknown” identifier is becoming more “known” as the days go by.  Then, much like my shop being the only one in the county with two c. 1680 parquetry flooring panels from the Palais Royale in Paris, my tool cabinet will be the only one with veneers from some c.1775 oak trees from the forests surrounding Versailles.

Who knows what other “Christmas” presents I might find during the never ending effort to impose order on my space?  Stay tuned.

Beautiful and Bittersweet

Recently my brother visited and dropped off a box I made for all the cards our parents received on their 50th wedding anniversary in 1993 (my older brother and his wife celebrated their 50th a couple weeks go and Mrs. Barn and I celebrated our 40th anniversary recently).

My memories of the project are a bit hazy, but I am pretty sure the core substrate is 1/2″ baltic birch plywood with walnut veneer for the sides and an unidentified figured veneer for the top.

The trim woods were tulipwood (dalbergia) and macassar ebony.  It’s had a few bumps and bruises over the years but my mom had it displayed prominently in her bedroom during her final years.  In retrospect I still find it a beautiful reflection of a loving marriage that ended with my dad’s death only a month before their 60th anniversary.  Every time I cast my eyes on it I will celebrate their years together, and ours as well.

Mrs. Barn’s Kindle Case Finis

Given the nature of the smaller Kindle case I was making for Mrs. Barn’s 5×7 Kindle, as opposed to my earlier book style case for my own 8×10 Kindle, the assembly and finishing took a different path.  Her smaller Kindle led me to create a “calling card case” style container into which the Kindle would be inserted, rather than the bookcase for my larger Kindle, into which the Kindle would be closed within folding panels.

This meant that the process for completing the assembly was entirely different as the interior had to be finished before the case was assembled, rather than after assembly with my case.  Making sure the two halves of the case fit precisely I then glued the interior felt lining in place, leaving the case gluing margins clear.  However, before I glued in the felt I glued a piece of thin polypropylene foam to the wood panels to assure a gentle pressure on the Kindle once it was slid in to prevent it from falling out due to too loose a fit.  Dry fitting the pieces together with the Kindle in place to make sure I had the spacing correct, I then was able to glue the two halves together with PVA making sure to not have excess glue squeezing out into the interior space.

A little trimming and sanding followed by shellac and wax, the case was ready for Christmas and use as she travelled back and forth to the West Coast.  Given the unfolding circumstances ex poste, namely the death of her dad in mid-January and our own family Christmas taking place in late February, the case may never be used for its intended purpose of frequent coast-to-coast travel.  Nevertheless it was a pleasant and instructive exercise.

Kindle Case #2, Part 2

The design of the new Kindle case for Mrs. Barn’s smaller Kindle was a bit tricky as my idea was to create a version of a Victorian card case, in which the Kindle would reside.  This meant that the tolerances for fitting it were closer than with mine, although that is a snug fit, but this one needed to slide in and out of one end of the case without being too loose or too tight.  Armed with my home made plywood panels and a precise tracing of the Kindle I set to getting the pieces cut to size.

 

From there I began laying out the veneer patterns using some left over scraps from other projects. Unfortunately my first effort was a catastrophe as I failed to tape the elements in place before gluing them down under free weights.  I tell myself that I was trying to keep too many Christmas gift projects in the air at once, but the simple fact is I just forgot to do what I should.  Thus, the veneers shifted during gluing and were in the wrong place.  Since I was using PVA the effort to remove and re-start would have been odious so I just tossed that piece and started that panel over.

I made sure to get it right the second time as I was almost out of the sawn rosewood veneer.

The second panel was done with sycamore, its bold fleck providing some real dynamism to the composition.

I made sure to tape the veneer compositions in place this time, and they turned out as they should.

Next time – assembling and finishing.

Kindle Case #2, Part 1

In recent years Mrs. Barn had been traveling to the West Coast several times a year to attend to her dad in his failing health.  Normally she would not even carry any luggage beyond a small carry-on bag, so she left her laptop at home and just took her small Kindle.  After making my prototype Kindle case last year I decided she needed a nice case to protect her smaller Kindle during her travels, so it was on my agenda for Christmas.  I got it done just in time, but then we had to postpone our family Christmas for three months due to a variety of circumstances, not the least were my mother’s funeral, my father-in-law’s death and funeral, my son-in-law’s inadvertent exposure to someone with the ‘Rona, my daughter’s need for self-quarantining for work travel…

As with the first case I started by making my own veneer-core plywood using the abundant ash veneer from my stash using West System epoxy as the binder, under the dead weight of a stack of fire bricks.  I am becoming even more smitten with this type of sheet good and may try to figure out how to make larger panels to employ in other projects.  I have used Baltic birch plywood as my “go to” for years, and still rely on it a fair bit.  But the veneer-core plywood is just something special.  I guess I’m gong to have to make a large veneer press to make it happen.

Rookie(?) Mistake

Much of the goings-on in the shop are Christmas-gift related and therefore must wait a while before recounting them on this page.  But one recent veneering exercise revealed the foibles implicit in being distracted by other activities, and what happens when you (by that I mean me) lose your concentration.

I was creating a fairly simple pattern from some rosewood veneer and everything went well and I managed to assemble the pattern with one little scrap I had to use.

When I glued down the veneer to the substrate I simply forgot to anchor the composition into the correct place on the panel, and lined it up free then placed the caul and clamps.  Of course the whole thing shifted under the weigh pressure and I saw the next day that everything was out of whack.

I tried to lift the veneer by soaking it with acetone, but it was too set for that to work.  All I accomplished was tearing everything up.  It was off and that was that.  Now it’s off to the trash can.

Now my only question is, was this simple rookie mistake or a geezer mistake?.

Truing a 30-60-90 Triangle

 

In many instances, cutting dovetailed open mortises through a Roubo bench top for example, a 30-60-90 layout gauge only has to be “close enough,” however you define that term.  All one layout line has to do is match another layout line, and as long the two lines are struck with the same tool off the same reference plane all is well.

During last year’s workshop we all made one or two of these triangles, and like I said above, they work just fine.  Laying out the hypotenuse with dividers was all that really needed to accomplish (the hypotenuse of a 30-60-90 triangle is exactly twice the length of the short leg), using my Chris Vesper sublime refence square for the 90-degree corner.

But what happens when you have to create a series of lines coming from different places, and they establish the perimeters of pieces that must match each other precisely?  That is exactly the case of laying out a basic “starburst” or “dice” pattern parquetry composition.  I used to be content with simply laying out a sawing jig using a small plastic triangle from a middle school geometry class set, but since I have moved to shooting the edges of all the lozenges to minimize the joints even more, I needed to make myself a truly precise triangle square to set the fence for the shooting board.

Starting with one of the brass triangles left over from the workshop two summer ago I determined to make a 30-60-90 square that fit the bill.  Once I had the angles perfect I could then solder on the shoe to the short leg of the triangle.

Tomorrow I will show how I did just that with a bench top geometry version of a Covid/PCR test, using a piece of paper and two popsicle sticks.