Here's a short video showing me chopping out a mortise for a cabinet door hinge.
Applying paste wax to furniture is part of most furniture maker's process. For closed pore woods, such as cherry or maple, clear paste wax is usually used. But when finishing furniture made from open pored woods (oak, mahogany, walnut), it is a common practice to apply a colored paste wax as a final step. Usually a black or very dark brown wax. For the Arts & Crafts / Craftsman / Mission pieces I have built using quarter sawn white oak, I've done it on every piece. It is a standard part of my finishing regimen. Recently, I finished up a commission to replace some worn painted plywood doors on a mid-century modern credenza with mahogany veneer doors, and I used dark brown wax there as well. Let's look at the effect...
In these quarter sawn white oak door frames, the wax adds definition to the pores, and gives the wood more richness and depth. The overall color darkens slightly, but it is more about emphasizing the pores and corners.
In the case of the credenza, I used the wax to match the existing finish on the outside of the case. In this piece, the mahogany veneer on the body had already been finished by a factory finishing process. I suspect it was a dark colored glaze (sort of a "wash coat" that only leaves colors in the pores & corners) topped with a tinted top coat. However, the doors I built were starting from bare mahogany. So instead of trying to do a glaze (something I don't tend to do) and applying a tinted top coat, I approached it differently. After several rounds of testing, I found that first applying a coat of amber shellac, followed by several coats of clear wipe on polyurethane, THEN a final waxing with dark brown paste wax, resulted in a match for the original finish quite well.
Once I had the formula, I applied it to the finished piece...
With any final coat of wax, you can buff it to the desired sheen, from shiny to matte. I usually apply it using fine (0000) steel wool to knock of any dust nibs as I go, then buff with a cotton rag. The result is a smooth, deep finish with the sheen tailored to your taste. So if you're new to finishing, or just new to wax, try it out (ON TEST BOARDS) and see what it can do for your finishes.
After I completed the build of the prairie style sofa and love seat, we needed a coffee table. For the fancy photo shoot of the sofa & love seat, we temporarily drafted an antique Korean sea chest as a coffee table stand-in. You can see the original table's matching pieces as the end tables. The old coffee table was a hand me down from my parents, from a set they bought used in 1964. But it was worn out, had done it's service, didn't match, and this 50's factory set was way beyond retirement age.
At first, I thought the design of the new table was obvious; some variation on the ubiquitous "mission coffee table". I'd imagined one of those in my living room for quite some time. But with the sofa and love seat in place, that design bothered me. It seemed clear that putting another rectalinear piece with square side spindles next to the sofa and love seat was style overkill. That form is what makes the sofa and love seat so strong, and piling it on with another piece in front of them would diminish it. So I was stumped.
But after thinking about it, and seeing some nice material at my local hardwood dealer, I settled on the idea of contrasting the rectalinear prairie style with a very organic live edge table. With a live edge top, the form is 180° in the other direction from the sofas, with the look of finished wood tying them together. But I wanted to tie them together even more. I knew I wanted a live edge top, but that needs a base. It would be easy to make a very modern base for the slab, and the result would be 100% contemporary piece (the table) next to two 100% traditional pieces (the sofas). The base was the place where I could connect the two styles, literally and stylistically.
At first, I tried to design a very mission style base, with square ends and long stretcher and through tenons. But the form didn't flow, and I was trying to design the base before seeing selecting the top slab I was going to use. So I stopped designing, and went out to get the actual slab.
I ended up with a nice little walnut live edge slab. At first, I felt it was a little small, but soon realized it was just about perfect. It was only after looking at the slab that the design began to reveal itself. The slab I got was a crotch, so it had a stubby "Y" shape to it.
There were a few checks (cracks) as is normal for these slabs, but it was largest on the underside, and wasn't going to be a problem. It was an opportunity to use butterfly keys/dutchmen/bow ties, and epoxy. One thing that was nice about this slab is that it needed almost no flattening, other than a few passes with a plane here and there.
I went through the steps of removing the bark, and refining the shape. I had to remove a bit from one of the branches of the "Y" to get a more pleasing shape, and then I fit the maple butterfly keys to control the checking.
At last, I could see the final shape of the slab, and was able to get on with the base design. Right away, I was drawn to the "3-points" aspect of the top, and started playing around with a three-legged base. After several variations, I hit upon a two legged, three "foot" design. I added a cant (slope) to the legs, and an arch for the stretcher. This was starting to look pretty good, so I tried out some plywood and nail gun mockups to really see it in 3D. I took a lot pictures from a lot of angles, and thought about it for a while longer.
I was mostly on target, and except for a few proportion changes, that was the more or less the final design. The largest change was extending the stretcher to have through tenons, secured with wedges. What I liked about this design is that is had some classically arts & crafts styling to it: the wedged through tenons, the gentle arch of the stretcher, and the steeper arch for the wide foot, while still talking to the organic shape of the slab crotch. Maybe not earth-shatteringly profound, but a nice solution.
I was then free to build the base, and finish the top. I did an epoxy fill of the cracks, and only had a few epoxy bubbles to deal with before smoothing the whole thing out. The base was a simple build, which I attached to the slab with cleats. The whole table was finished with a wipe on polyurethane.
And in practice, the design works great in place with the contrast to the other pieces in the room. This was my first live edge project, and it was a lot of fun.
I posted this over on the Midwest Woodworking School blog...
I've been woodworking intensely for the last five years. building, reading, learning, watching, doing. In that time, I've built a shop, an (almost) complete set of tools (ok, there's NEVER a complete set of tools), a workbench, furnished half of my house with custom period furniture (and still going), built projects and furniture commissions for customers both locally and at long distance, and more. And while I still feel new to the craft (and probably always will), when looking back at all I've done, I have to acknowledge my accomplishments. I've built solid skills. I've done my homework, learned from great sources. I completed many difficult and challenging projects. I've marketed, sold, and delivered furniture to customers. I've gone from a newbie -- being unsure, confused, and sometimes struggling, into a pretty efficient woodworker, knowing the steps I need to take, knowing the time and effort and attention required to do them, and applying those to projects that get completed. I know that simply knowing those things vs. executing them over and over again, are not the same. The first leads to the second. To improve my work, I need that experience, and I'll get that with each day I spend woodworking. I'm aware of both my strengths and weaknesses as a craftsman. And so it was with mixed emotions that I began to entertain the idea of teaching woodworking to others.
It all began a couple of years ago, when I was approached by Dave Coulthard, a woodworker from England, living in Des Plaines, a suburb of Chicago, about helping him realize his dream of starting a woodworking school. He had found me online through my website and other places where I had posted my work, and liked my craftsmanship and writing. And in his eyes, my background in IT didn't hurt either. We met and discussed his plans, and how I could help him (setting up tech/IT stuff at first, teaching classes and helping run the school later). As our talks progressed, I was flattered that Dave, a 36 year veteran of professional woodworking, classically trained in the apprentice system as a joiner, loved my work and craftsmanship. But I felt understandably insecure about teaching to to others. How could I presume to teach?
But I had taught before. I had taught a few one-on-one sessions in my shop, for hire. Those classes were exhilarating and rewarding, for myself and the student(s). And last spring, building the Morris chair was actually a tandem build with my friend Brett. I was sharing my shop with Brett that year, and he had been commissioned to build a Morris chair for a friend, and as that was on my bucket list, I couldn't resist building it along with him. Brett was a newer woodworker, and the build ended up being an extended, multi-week tutoring session, where I spent time helping him through his build as I did mine. As I wrote at the time, helping him was an equally big help to me. It reinforced the lesson that teaching is a great way to learn too. I'd also been a woodworking student on many occasions from excellent teachers, and saw how they worked, and how they paced their classes. I recall watching them teach, taking notes, and imagining myself doing the same.
"OK, OK", I felt ready to teach. I knew I had woodworking skills, experience, and passion to share with students. I knew I would be learning from Dave, and learning from my students. And it was an excellent chance to add more woodworking into my daily life. Dave and I worked on the plan for the school for months, getting together the facility (Dave's space in Des Plaines, IL), putting together the classes, the website & registration system, the social media stuff, the marketing materials, etc etc. It was all a lot of work, but unlike a lot of work I've done in my life, it didn't fell like work. I was so excited for the outcome that I just dove in and did what needed to be done.
So here we are, finally, and the doors are open. I hope this new chapter will become a big part of my life. If you're anywhere in the Chicagoland area, and would like to learn woodworking in a great environment from passionate, experienced people, please take a look at what we have to offer. Classes start in a few weeks!
I will be blogging over there, as I continue to do here. So even if you can't attend classes but enjoy my ramblings, keep an eye on the blog over there for my writing.