Friday, March 29, 2013

Zelli Bar Progress - Sanding/Layout

We have successfully completed a second day of work on the Zelli Bar and, believe it or not, it's already looking like a bar!

Yesterday was a day of glue-ups and sanding at the shop. Because nature doesn't always hand you exactly what you want, adjustments must be made sometimes. In this case, the planned width of the bar top is longer than the width of the walnut slabs that this particular tree provided. How to fix such an issue? Glue!

Given the wider walnut slab (to the left in this photo), we needed to find a narrower walnut slab to glue to it to create the additional width. A very careful selection process was carried out by Jeff to find a narrow walnut live edge that matched the grain of the original slab.

In the photo, you can see, we jointed the edges of both slabs and left their outer edges as nature created them so the Zelli's can enjoy a bar with live edges on both sides. The pieces were attached with biscuits and glue. After creating 12 unique cauls to fit each part of the curvy outer edge, we were able to hold the boards together without damaging the live edge with the clamps.

After the glue dried, we laid out the big slabs to get idea of what the bar top will look like. See what I mean about it already looking like a bar? Exciting!

So far, the surfaces of the slabs were run through the planer and belt sanded so they are nice and flat. The grain can really be seen now and it's beautiful is as it curves and swoops throughout. I am particularly a fan of the subtle humps created by the live edge toward the corner of the top.

As you can see here, the corner of the bar has to be custom fitted. I created a rough layout from cardboard so we could see what the corner piece will be cut to look like.

To keep in accordance with the curves and humps of the live edge, we have decided to make the corner of the bar curved as well it creates a natural flow from the straightaway pieces to the corner. The walnut slab that will be used for the corner has been carefully selected as well to ensure the grain flows nicely. And, if I am not mistaken, work on that piece may even start today.

An ongoing discussion of which drink is the most fitting to enjoy at a live edge walnut bar has begun at the shop. We're having a hard time making one decision. Perhaps it will come to us as the bar begin to takes form. Any thoughts, readers?

So, now, we jump into Friday. As we work hard, get our hands dirty, and make functional, beautiful wood furniture pieces, Joie takes a nap. I'd like to think she is subtly reminding us that it's almost the weekend but, in reality, I think she is tired from chasing the chickens.

From those of us at the shop, and a lazy Joie, I wish you all a wonderful Friday and upcoming weekend. For those of you in the north east, I hope you plan to enjoy the 60 degrees and (mostly) sun as much as I do!

Tuesday, March 26, 2013

Zelli Bar Progress - Epoxy

The live edge pieces have been chosen, the scale drawings have been made, and we are officially on the move to make the Zelli Bar a reality!

The majority of today thus far has been spent concocting epoxy resins that would later be used to fill in any natural gaps or cracks in the wood. We must, after all, ensure that the bar has a nice flat surface for the drinks to be slung.

We, of course, want the substance we fill the cracks with to match perfectly to the rest of the bar's surface. Because the surface of the bar will be made of two live edge walnut slabs, to ensure that the final product is as natural as it can be in all respects, we used the bark from the walnut pieces to mix with the epoxy to fill the cracks.
Starting with a chisel, we shredded chunks of bark into sizes that could be ground into a finer dust. The finer dust was sifted to separate the bigger pieces from the sand-like particles. We then hooked up the shop vac to the belt sander and sanded more walnut bark into an even finer dust of the same color. Eventually, we had three different grain-sized collections of bark to mix with the epoxy. Because of the varying grain sizes, when they're mixed together in the right proportions, they form a substance that looks exactly the same as (and for the most part is) natural bark.

As the walnut bark dust was being prepared, I was working to fit longer strips of the same bark into the larger cracks. I took the stronger bark with some grain still in tact and sanded it down to fit tightly into the cracks. Although this is only possible for the larger cracks in the slab, with these longer, whole bark pieces we were able to fill most of the negative space with parts of the same tree.
And, finally, it all came together. We mixed up the epoxy with four small scoops of each grain-sized bark and began to fill in cracks. In the picture to the left, you can see Rob using the epoxy (that is now the color of natural walnut bark) to glue the fitted pieces into a larger crack in the slab.

We were very careful to be sure that the epoxy filled the entire crack, all the way through the slab. It was pressed carefully into each crevasse and around each fitted piece of
bark. As you can see in the photos, the epoxy was not used sparingly. The epoxy shrinks as it starts to dry and harden so, we want to make sure there is enough there to fill the cracks to the point that they are even with (or above) the surface of the rest of the slab. It is actually our goal for the epoxy to dry proud of the surface of the slab so that it can be sanded down to match that surface perfectly.

This is not my first interaction with epoxy since working here but, it was my first time getting to mix it to be the exact right color. I can safely say that all the projects completed at Lohr Woodworking maintain every natural quality they possibly can throughout the repairing, building, and finishing processes. I am forever impressed by these tactics I am learning to make the most of what nature hands us. Keep your eye out for more updates on the Zelli Bar!

Thursday, March 21, 2013

Dirt Delivery

Today's entry will be short and sweet; "sweet", of course, meaning "awesome".

Last week, upon returning to the shop after the wall hanging installation, we received a special delivery from a construction site up the road. Three massive loads of dirt were dropped off via an even more massive yellow truck.

You may ask yourself, "why is getting a large amount of dirt dropped off in your driveway awesome?" And I will answer with: because it means we're able to fill in the ramp to the upstairs portion of the building where the saw mill lives.

Again, why is this awesome? Because when it's warmer outside, we get to start work on converting the upstairs into a beautiful apartment. First, I am excited to work when it's warm outside. Second, this plan has been in the works for years so I am excited to be a part of it's progress. Third, I am excited to be a part of the building of an apartment space so I can see the inner workings of a home. Did I mention that I can't wait to work when it's warm outside?

If you have never visited the property here at Lohr Woodworking, you've missed out and I hope for your sake that you can/will visit in the future. Regardless though, the acres that sprawl behind the houses, shop, and barns are stunning and filled with all sorts of creatures to watch. With that in mind, I am going to thoroughly enjoy working my summer away admiring the view from the deck that perches so perfectly outside of the second-floor doors to the future apartment. It will serve as a nice contrast to the hustle and bustle of the city that I go home to at the end of each day. And, that, ladies and gentlemen, is why a dirt delivery is worth writing about.

Until tomorrow, I bid you all the happiest of Thursdays.

Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Drawing to Scale

Studying to be a math teacher in college meant solving a mountain of problems dealing with scale drawings. Whether it was testing right triangles in the context of a ladder leaning against a building or estimating the distance between two fictitious towns on a equally fictitious map, I can assure you that will never be a shortage of scale drawing problems in a high school math curriculum. However. last week took my experience with scale drawings of fake cities on a fake map into the real world.

We were recently commissioned to build a live edge bar for inside a home. The top sketch was what Jeff had prepared based off what he saw when he visited the house. I watched intently as Jeff took the dimensions of the rough sketch and translated them into a clean, crisp drawing using the 1" scale. For those that are like I was until last week, the 1" scale means that for every inch of the drawing, there will be a foot of life-size length. Then, it was my job to take the new drawing (on legal-sized paper) and scale it down to the 3/4 inch scale to fit on 8.5" x 11" paper.

What a wondrous tool the architectural scale is. The ruler has 6 sides and 11 scales on it. With the trifecta of the architectural scale, a triangle, and the drawing board all working in my favor, I managed to resize the drawing to it's new 3/4" scale. By measuring each dimension on Jeff's drawing using the 1" scale, I was able to flip the ruler to convert relatively easily to 3/4". The most fun was realizing that if you draw a line at 90 degrees from the corner of one drawing, you can easily reflect those dimensions over the line to draw a different view. It sounds like gibberish in words but, it's awesome. Do you have any idea how gratifying it is to measure each part of a drawing you finished and confirm that those measures converts perfectly to the length it should/will be in feet when it's life-size? No? Well, trust me when I say it's one of those moments when you breathe a sigh of relief knowing you don't have to erase and start over.

The next step was to take a sheet of tracing paper and copy only the essential lines using a thin-tip pen. Jeff told me to leave out anything too specific because the smaller details may change as the piece is built but, the basic dimensions of the case and bar top will remain the same. When I had traced those essential lines, Jeff explained the reasoning for the trace and it was simple; we can now have endless [photo]copies to pencil in and toy with ideas for the more intricate design. Brilliant... of course.

Since the completion of those scale drawings, we have drawn out the dimensions of the bar using the normal, 12" scale on a huge sheet of paper. Just to give you an idea, one side of the bar will be ~74" and the other will be ~70" so this scale drawing is currently taking over two work benches in the shop. Why draw such a big scale drawing? So that you can put the actual pieces of wood you want to use on it to see exactly what it'll look like. Brilliant... again.

Don't fret, details and photos on the life-size scale drawing to come! Until then, have a warm and happy Tuesday!

Friday, March 15, 2013

The Brown Oak Wall Installation Installation

Not only was yesterday Pi Day (for my fellow math fans) it was also Hang the Wall Installation at Brian's House Day!

After a morning of resenting snow flurries as we climbed in, on, and around the bed of the truck wrapping the slab in blankets and bungee cords, we headed to Brian's house to mount it on his living room wall. Before leaving, Rob took the time to make a story stick/board of sorts carefully mapping where the mounts were on the back of the slab as well as its dimensions. Because the shape of the slab is far from straight, the mounts couldn't be placed perfectly centered on the back thus making the story stick even more imperative. This way we could hold a thin, light piece of wood up in the air instead of the 9ft long, 100+ pound slab itself as Jeff perched on the ladder marking where the mounts would have to be drilled.

With the help of some blue masking tape, Jeff was able to mark the center of the wall. Paired with Rob's story stick, he drew accurate lines where he would drill the mounts.
As you can see from the photo, the mounts on the wall were essentially wedges facing upright with a solid base. The corresponding pieces were attached to the back of the slab and were identical with the exception of the wedges facing downward. There was one mount at the top of the slab and another near the bottom. When the slab was lifted above the mounts on the wall and slowly lowered down, the wedges slipped into each other like puzzle pieces and held the weight of the piece securely.

Naturally, we hit a stud during the first attempt to drill the first mount into the wall. But, because I work with woodworking pros, we had planned for such an event. Altering the plan a bit from relying on toggle bolts to hold the mounts, we moved on to screws and washers instead.

Like installing any piece of art, it takes a bit of trial and error to get it to look just the way it should. After stepping back to check for straightness, we unanimously decided it needed to shift just a few inches on the bottom. Reaching for the blue masking tape again, we marked where the edge of the slab should be adjusted to hang. Exercising my arm muscles a bit, I helped Rob lower the slab off the wall and we adjusted the lower mount accordingly. Eventually, the hanging was straight and we all stepped back to admire the work.
And soon, my first visit to a client's house to deliver a completed piece was over. To step back and see all the hard work we had put in over the course of the past couple of weeks hang so beautifully was fulfilling. The color of the wall and the straightness of the banister really brings out the piece. And, just the same, the length and detail of the slab add so nicely to the height and sharp corner of the ceiling/wall.

I am still in awe over the fact that such an intricate and detailed pattern found in burl exists in nature.

After admiring the installation as it fits so nicely into Brian's beautiful living room, we headed up the road to visit Spacht Sawmill. An entry about that adventure is to come. My first client delivery and my first visit to a saw mill all in the same day made for one of the greatest Pi Days known to man.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Making a Mirror

Somewhere amongst making wall installations, school store cabinets, and helping during the courses, I was taught how to make hand mirrors. It was no big surprise to me to realize that I love making hand mirrors. They are small projects but functional and beautiful (as is the Lohr Woodworking way).

We've all owned hand mirrors. Most of them are brightly colored plastic heaps that we glance at to adjust our hair before we run out the door. But, the mirrors that come out of our shop make me stop to admire the mirror itself more than my face being reflected in it. I had only seen Lohr Woodworking mirrors in pictures (like the one to the right) so I was excited to attempt one myself.

The process started with the design of the mirror's shape. Jeff sat me down with a piece of planed cherry, a circular cut mirror, and a set of traditional French curve templates. He told me to draw out a hand mirror that would be practical and comfortable for someone to hold while being aesthetically pleasing and interesting.
From there, I used the plunge router to hollow out the sunken space for the mirror to be glued. Lucky for me, Eoin had created a template for the router to ride on so, it took me nothing but a few minutes and a bit of double-sided tape to router out the circular space.

You can see the template as well as all the other assorted tools I used to start off this project in the picture. Notice that the holes in the template gradually get bigger so that base of the router always has something flat to ride on.
I used relatively simple curves since it was my first attempt. I cut the basic shape out using the band saw and then took to the belt sanding machine to shape the edges into smooth curves. I took special care to make sure the curves were symmetrical and that they were conducive to being hand-held. At that point, the shape was roughly what I wanted it to be but, there were still sharp edges to deal with.
Using a combination of files, sanding sticks, block planes, and sanding bits in the drill press, I rounded the edges down. My favorite of the new tools I got my hands on was the rasp; that thing can tear wood up like crazy.

Eventually, the mirror looked like a rough version of the image to the left. But then, although the edges were rounded, they were a mess from being torn up by the rasp. So, I took to them with a file and sand paper.
The sanding process is always longer than I anticipate but, eventually it looked smooth and I managed to get most of the marks out. Then, it was finishing time. For this first mirror, I was on a time constraint so Jeff recommended that I finish it with lacquer so that it would dry quickly. After a few coats of lacquer, I wiped it down with mineral oil and a steel wool pad. The final stage was to take to it with some Rottenstone soaked rags. The Rottenstone makes the surface incredibly smooth and dyes your hands an awesome dark brown color if you don't wear gloves.

Finally, I used a special mirror adhesive to glue the mirror itself into place. Because we make practical pieces here, the mirror is completed with a leather loop attached at the bottom of the handle making it easy to hang/store. Although it's far from perfect, I am pleased with the final result. And, I can say that I finished my first (of many, I'm sure) mirror!

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Brown Oak Burl Wall Installation Part III

Another day at the shop means another day working toward the completion of Brian's brown oak wall installation. Last time I wrote, the beautiful live edge slab had been routered, sanded, and the bark chiseled to perfection. Then it was flooded with boiled linseed oil and we saw the natural colors pop.

By today, the oil has dried which means only one thing: time to starting finishing! Now, I had been told myths of this spray finish room complete with bright overhead lighting and an exhaust fan but, until today, I had only know it as 'the back room where we put things we don't have a place for at the moment'. In most cases, we apply finish with a brush or rags but, on a piece with such rough and uneven detail, the spray method is best to ensure the finish covers every crevasse.As a result, this morning I was lucky enough to see the spray room and spray finish process in action!

Here you can see how the slab looked after the oil had had the week to dry completely. The colors are so much more vibrant already and we haven't even started the layers of finish yet. We brought in some horses to hold the slab as Jeff explained to me the settings on the air pressure spray gun.

Fully equipped with a gas mask and the massive exhaust fan to remove some of the particles and smell from the air (and our lungs), Jeff took to the edges of the slab first. He told me to always start with the edges and then cleanly and evenly spray the top.

In this case, Jeff is spraying a clear wood finish lacquer. He chose lacquer because it is rubbery enough that it will allow the wood to swell and contract with the weather and moisture without the finish cracking.

Earlier this morning, he requested that I keep the fire rolling extra hot. I learned quickly that this was in order to maintain some heat in the shop when we opened the windows and fan for ventilation. It's astonishing how quickly the bitter, cold Pennsylvania outdoors sucks the warmth from inside.
As you can see, the spray can is attached to an air compressor so the strength of the stream can be adjusted as well as how much finish liquid is pushed out. Jeff showed me how this particular spray can allows for a horizontal fan, vertical fan, or cone of finish to be sprayed from it.

Alternately, we have another can that allows for more of a mist to be sprayed. For this piece, because the surface is flat, the fan and/or cone can was preferred because there aren't any corners to have to sneak into (like there would be on a chair or table). Setting the nozzle on the can to spray a vertical fan allowed for easy coverage of the jagged edges as well as even and smooth coverage of the flat top surface.

And now the brown burl oak slab has it's first of three coats of lacquer. Later today, we'll move on to layer two!
Meanwhile in the shop, Rob stands on tables. Didn't you know that to qualify as a dedicated woodworker, you need to exhibit your balance and gymnastics skills at least once a month?

Rob is working on a bench to match a dining table he had built for a client. Here he is carefully drilling tapered holes into the bench that will eventually be the home to some legs. He told me about how the long extension on this drill allows for a clearer sight down to the hole so that he can match the angle he wants more precisely. That v-shaped piece of wood at his feet is serving as a guide for that angle so, he can sight the long arm to match that wooden guide piece.

I'll be sure to keep you readers posted on the progress of Rob's beautiful bench. You can come see his fine wood work in person at the Philadelphia Furniture Show in April.

I'm off to clear my lungs of lacquer and continue work on getting the lathe running. Photos of the inner workings of our vintage Powermatic lathe and my first attempts at working with metal to come!