Saturday, January 30, 2010

Buying Curly Cherry

Jeff Fleisher and I made a trip the other day to Willow Run lumber yard in Harrisonburg, VA, in the Shenandoah Valley. He was looking at some highly figured walnut boards as a possibility for the Winchester desk he will be making in the class we are taking. I wanted to look at curly cherry. Jeff drove us from his place in New Market in his bright yellow pickup truck with the license plate BMBL BEE. Willow Run is just a half hour from his place.

The walnut boards Jeff was looking at were matched, cut from the same log, and had a beautiful figure to them. But Jeff isn't certain yet whether he is going to use solid wood or veneer his desk. He said there is some really pretty veneer available and he might use that.

I pawed my way through a large bin of curly cherry and after that another pallet of it. There was a lot to look at, mostly 8-10 foot boards. I pulled out a dozen and took them for the outside of the case. Some of the boards are shown in the picture. Only one was what I would call spectacular and I could not find a matched set to use for the four drawers, which I would like to have the same pattern to them. I'm going to look elsewhere for four boards cut successively from the same log and that have a special curly figure to them.

When we got back to Jeff's place, I tied the load to the top of my Subaru and away I went up I-81 to I-66 and back home. The boards rode well.

When I got home, I put them inside on a shelf I had cleared, stickering them between small lengths of thin board to allow them to acclimate to the humidity level in my basement shop. In a couple of weeks, I'll begin crosscutting them to rough length after marking them up for the parts they will make up. I'll talk more about that process as I get into it.

For the rest of the cherry, I may have to make a trip into Pennsylvania. There are some good lumber companies there that have Pennsylvania cherry I may be able to use for the drawer fronts and slant front and writing surface of the desk.

More later.


Thursday, January 21, 2010

Plane Talk

I was once quoted, and not all that long ago either, as saying that I didn't think I'd have much need for planes in my woodshop. I expected to do the vast majority of my work with machines. While my love of machines has not diminished and I intend to use them for productivity, the possibility of enjoying the older methods of woodworking has been growing in me. I'll need to learn the proper use of chisels to hand cut dovetails for the Winchester desk I'll be building. That much I expected. But now I find myself fascinated by handplanes.

I think my burgeoning love affair with planes began when I picked up Chris Schwarz's Handplane Essentials. It's a wonderful collection of essays on various aspects of the choice and use of planes. Since then I've gotten Garrett Hack's older volume The Handplane Book and I'm working my way through it from front to back.

But anticipating work to come, I've also started to collect some planes to use in my shop. The largest of these is the Lie-Nielsen No. 7-1/2 bevel up jointer plane, which I'll first use to flatten a nice wide piece of curly red oak I'm planning to use for a pair of cutting boards. Don't look for this plane on their web site; it isn't listed and may not be offered any longer. Pity, because the bevel up feature will be good for highly figured wood like the curly red oak.

I also have a pair of planes to use for smoothing the surface of the wood--on the cutting boards and later on the drawer fronts of my desk--a No. 4 Lie-Nielsen corrugated sole smoothing plane and a Veritas low-angle bevel up smoothing plane. The latter will be especially good for avoiding tearout in highly figured wood, again like the curly red oak and the curly cherry I'm planning to use for the desk front. The corrugated sole on the former is intended to make it easier to move the plane across the wood.

Other planes I've acquired are the Lie-Nielsen No. 97-1/2 small chisel plane, which I'll use for removing glue from joints and evening the ends of dovetails, the Lie-Nielsen medium shoulder plane for evening up tenon shoulders, the Veritas edge plane and the Lie-Nielsen No. 60-1/2 adjustable mouth low-angle block plane for working the end grain of boards.

Now that I've built up my collection of planes, I feel that I can handle just about any situation required of them.

Now if I only had them fully sharpened and set up for use, I could start on that curly red oak today. Well, perhaps I will!


Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Starting Out With a Lathe

Late last year, I got turned on to the possibilities of making bowls on a lathe. I did some investigation and decided that the Nova 1624-44 would be the right one for me. It's not a variable speed lathe so it requires moving the belt to change speeds. But that cut about $500 off the cost. It has a reasonably long bed that can be extended another 24 inches with an optional bed extension. The headstock rotates so it is possible to turn bowls as large as 29 inches in diameter, much larger than I'm likely to be turning. Nova is a New Zealand company and is well-respected. All-in-all, then, my new lathe is a multi-purpose machine that should serve me well for many years.

As the above photo shows, there are already a lot of chips on the machine. I started out not with bowls with pens, which is, I think, a good way to begin learning how to use the lathe. I've now turned 30-40 pens of all types, giving them as Christmas presents to many family members and friends this year. The photo below shows the machine set up with wood blocks ready for turning into a Slimline pen.

The process is fairly simple. I select a chisel and with the lathe turning at about 1400 rpm I round off the blank, working in from the ends. Once it's round, I can cut more aggressively to narrow the blocks to closer to their final size. After that, I begin to shape the wood to the configuration I want. In the case of the Slimline pen, I want it to be voluptuously curved in shape, coming to its narrowest points at each end and in the middle, where a ring will be attached during the final assembly. Once fully shaped and sized, I sand in ascending grits from 150 to 600, then polish with EEE cream before applying friction polish for the final coat. It takes only a few minutes to shape a pen and I find it to be good therapy.

Kits for pens and pencils, as well as wood and acrylic blanks, come in a variety of sizes and are available from a number of sources, including Woodcraft. So far I've concentrated on the Slimline and Wall Street II models so there are many more for me to explore.

I'm planning on selling my pens at some point, perhaps on the Web, and at craft shows with a friend. But before I can do that, I'll have to build up a large enough stock to merit the effort. Sounds like I need to spend more time in the woodshop!


Sunday, January 17, 2010

Preparing to Build the Winchester Chippendale Desk

Recently, I've turned my attention to preparing to build the Valley of Virginia Chippendale desk I wrote about previously. I'm taking the class in June and July from Jeff Headley and Steve Hamilton, who teach at the Woodworking Workshops of the Shenandoah Valley, located in Berryville, not far from me.

The first task was to estimate the lumber I will need to build this desk. I'm going to use cherry for the casework and will probably use curly cherry for the drawer fronts and lid. The drawer sides and bottoms and other interior parts will be poplar. I happened upon a program called CutList Plus, where you enter the dimensions and type of wood for each part. The program then calculates layouts on the boards I'll be using and from that I'm able to estimate the amount of lumber I need to buy.

I hauled in a first load of poplar the other day and have it on the lumber rack and stickered. It should be ready to begin processing in a couple of weeks. Tomorrow I'll call some hardwood suppliers in the region to see if they have curly cherry in stock. My plan is to check it out in the next couple of weeks so it too can be acclimating to my workshop humidity level.

Although the course does not start until June, I'm counting on it taking me weeks to joint, plane and cut to size all the pieces for the desk. This all has to be completed before the class begins. I've put together a schedule that will allow me to do all this without rushing and so far I am on or slightly ahead of schedule. But I'll have to be diligent in order to keep it that way.

In addition to preparing the wood, I'll need to learn some new skills. The case is constructed with hand cut dovetails, so I'll need to learn how to cut these before the class starts. I've never yet cut one. And, some of the pieces of the cherry will need to be hand planed because of their size and in order to avoid tearout. I've purchased a good set of Blue Spruce chisels and several Lie-Nielsen and Veritas planes, so I have the tools in hand. Now I need to learn how to use them well.

I'll be updating my progress as I go along on this ambitious project.