Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Learning the Secrets of Traditional Design

I recently ordered a DVD on furniture design, which came in yesterday's mail. It's Unlocking the Secrets of Traditional Design, produced by Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and featuring George Walker. Of course I couldn't wait to watch it.

The hour-long production is divided into three parts. The first segment emphasizes the importance of learning to see proportions and design elements in furniture and architecture. Though beautiful and interesting, this is merely an introduction to the real meat of the program, which comes in the second and third parts.

The second part, which addresses the use of proportions in design, makes up the gist of the presentation. The key message I took from it is that most traditional design, in both furniture and architecture, makes use of simple, whole-number ratios of one design element to another. Using a drawing of a 18th Century Philadelphia chest as an example, Walker breaks down the design into a series of squares and rectangles and then shows how the elements of the chest are simple proportions of each other. Through the use of highly effective communication aids, he illustrates how the proportions can be used to establish symmetry, contrast and punctuation in designed pieces.

Armed with an understanding of how simple proportions can be employed in design, Walker turns in the third segment to application of these princples to furniture design . He draws plans for a simple chest, half of it in traditional form, the other half contemporary, with both halves based on the same design elements. As he does so, he shows how to create simple tools to help in applying various proportions to drawings of furniture designs.

For anyone interested in learning fundamentals of good furniture design, this DVD is well worth the $25 purchase price. It is professionally produced and Walker communicates in an articulate and easy-to-follow manner. The program will find immediate application in my own work developing the proportions for the mission-style table I am preparing to build. I highly recommend this DVD.


A Trip to the Lumber Yard

Yesterday, I took a trip to Herbine Hardwoods in Lucketts, Virginia, just a few miles north of Leesburg and not far from the Potomac River that separates Virginia from Maryland. My goal was to lay in a supply of 4/4 quartersawn white oak for a mission-style table I am preparing to build. I came with a cut list calling for 19 six-foot boards. But Rick, the owner-operator, had only boards in eight and ten-foot lengths so I refigured on the spot. I came away with 13 planks, plus a wide, planed 8-foot poplar board for the table innards. The total was 53 board feet of oak, eight of poplar. The load, once hoisted on top of my Subaru, seemed like a lot of wood for one small table. Perhaps it is. If so, I will have some left over for another project later down the line.

Next on my list is to get the wood into the basement and sticker it (separate the boards with slips of wood to help it acclimate to my basement's humidity level). Then, while I'm waiting for it to acclimate, I will develop detailed drawings of the table which will enable me to select and cut the boards to rough length before jointing and planing. And that means taking the time to learn more about Sketchup, the free computer-aided design (CAD) program provided by Google. Sketchup has the potential to eliminate some of the tedium of making drawings by hand and produce scale plans that can be used in actual construction. Learning to use it is one of my goals for the year.

More on the table later as I progress in building it.


Sunday, June 14, 2009

Dust Collection

One of my long-term goals has been to install dust collection in my woodshop. I bought a Delta 1-1/2 hp. dust collector from my brother-in-law in North Carolina last November. But he wasn't able to deliver it to me until March. Since then, it has sat in a corner of my basement waiting to be connected.

It wasn't idled for lack of need. As the photo shows, my machines were turning out sawdust piles that were making it hard to move around safely. It also shows some of the tubing I acquired to help solve the problem.
Over the last few weeks, with the help of a friend, I installed a 4 inch main line along one wall of the shop that runs behind my larger machines. Then I installed flexible tubing to connect each machine to the main line. I finished making the connections this morning and tested the system. It works great and will help keep my shop clear of sawdust.
Some work still remains. The smaller tools--router, spindle and belt sanders and drill press--will be connected later via 2-1/2 inch hose that will reach down from a 4 inch line strung overhead. But these machines, with the exception of the router, don't generate as much sawdust and so I feel able to handle them separately. Still, I'll try to get it done in the next couple of weeks, once I get the needed supplies.

A Successful Show

Friday and Saturday, I participated in a Lie-Nielsen demonstration of their outstanding hand tools held at Exotic Lumber in Gaithersburg, Maryland. I was there to help take orders, for which I was paid in credits toward Lie-Nielsen tools. I had a blast! I had never done retailing before and I found that I liked the interaction with the customers, chatting about the tools (about which I learned a lot during the show) and about woodworking in general. All told, I was there and on my feet 10 hours and never even thought of getting tired! I estimate that I sold somewhere in the vicinity of $10,000 worth of tools during the two days, my two biggest orders being $1,340 and $1,175.

I also made some purchases. My first was not from Lie-Nielsen but from Exotic Lumber, whose space we were using. They have an amazing array of special lumbers from around the world, especially Africa. Though it is a long drive for me, it will be a good place to go for special needs in the future. I bought a nice zebrawood board with straight and pronounced grain that I think will make a pretty box. I also bought a burnisher for my card scraper from Czech Edge Hand Tools; it has a beautiful kingwood handle, but what I really liked about it was the size and feel of the handle, which was better, in my opinion, than the Lie-Nielsen version.

At the end of the show, I made a few purchases from Lie-Nielsen. The major items were a low-angle adjustable mouth block plane, which was paid for by my earnings, and a 15 ppi (points per inch) dovetail saw. Lie-Nielsen has offers two dovetail saws, the one I bought and a progressive pitch model, with teeth that run from 16 ppi to 9 ppi. I tried them both on a piece of cherry and much preferred the 15 ppi model; the progressive pitch model was actually harder to start and tended to slip out of position on the first stroke. The photo shows my new acquisitions.


Wednesday, June 3, 2009

Another Jig Completed

I've been working on this one for a couple of weeks, off and on--a jig to cut box ends at a 45-degree angle. The basic jig wasn't all that hard to build--a base out of Baltic birch plywood, runners out of UHMW to fit in the miter track of my table saw, and front and rear fences out of soft maple. The real trick was to get the front fence squared up at exactly 90-degrees to the saw blade.

I tried several techniques before I got it right. First, I used my Wixey electronic digital protractor to try and measure to the angle to the blade. This proved to be highly inaccurate, given that the blade was leaning at the necessary 45-degree angle to the base. Then I tried cutting boards to measure the resulting angle by trial and error. At first I used a narrow board but found that too inaccurate also. Finally, I used a 5-inch wide board and after many tries was able to get the fence adjusted spot on to 90-degrees.

The plan now is to make tissue box covers using some highly figured quartersawn sycamore I was able to get hold of. That'll be the test of just how accurate the fence really is. The good news is that I can always make more adjustments if I need to.

Before I start on that, I want to hook up my dust collection system, now that my hoses and connectors have come in. But who knows, I may not be able to contain myself from building an actual project before I get that done!