Friday, March 14, 2014

A Cutting Board and the Satisfaction of a Proper Wood Finish

Woodworking is an exercise in patience. For roughly 95% of the time you're working on any given project, it will look - to the untrained eye - like malformed, randomly assembled sticks of wood. But to the trained eye, promising results lurk on just this side of the horizon.

Case in point: my new cutting board.

Not a pretty picture is it? Dirty clamps, raw strips of wood oozing with what would seem to be an overdose of wood glue, and a surface covered in a dirty plastic sheet. Surely a lost cause, some of you may be thinking.

A different view, showing some of the linear beauty. Admittedly, it is still scarred by the clumps and bumps of wood glue, but a certain promise is beginning to reveal itself.

But here is that 5% I was talking about. Once I was done sanding it - 60 grit, following by 120, 220 with the orbital sander, and a little hand scrubbing with some ultra-fine 320 grit left the cutting board surface as smooth as any "professionally" made cutting board. Then came the seasoning it with food safe mineral oil.

This is the moment why a woodworker does what he does: to see the finished product, with all the deep and lustrous grain of the wood exposed, to have created a beautiful and functional piece of woodworking. This is the 5% us woodworkers strive for and achieve if we're lucky.

Built by James

Monday, March 3, 2014

Bench Redemption

Where I live is a land known for its sunshine, flashing lights, and lands of styrofoam and fiberglass. And, to a lesser extent, it is known as the HQ of the Holland Woodshop. Today I bring the tale of a bench's journey: from a $2 yard sale investment to a complete transformation that netted me $30 just  yesterday. I don't care where you live, that's good taco money any way you cut it.

Here's the bench as purchased. Note the light, waxy, putrid pine finish that even through the assuaging filter of a photograph makes me throw up in my mouth and rethink my taco plans this evening. It was scratched, it looked pitiful, but this trained restoration eye could see it had potential.

The first attempt:

A total failure. I would have probably abandoned this project immediately, chopped it into spare parts, but hell, that simply is not in my nature. I plugged in the orbital sander, slapped some 60-grit paper on, and got back to work, MacGyver-style (interesting side note: I knew a girl in elementary school named MacGyver on account of her dear mother's love of the show).

The finished product.

Like I said, I sold it yesterday for 30 tacos...or for the more financial-minded, $30.

A Holland Woodshop Restoration

Thursday, February 13, 2014

The Colossus (or, How I Nearly Went Bonkers)

Welly welly welly's been about a fortnight since last I wrote (I have no idea what length of time a fortnight constitutes nor do I feel like Googling it, but it seems so suitable in that sentence I shall leave it) and much has happened in the meantime.

Before I go any further, however, I feel I must address those folks who are employed by the woodworking programs they show on PBS here in American. I loathe them. Not in a casual way, like how I loathe mustard, but in a truly visceral, bood-boiling (albeit non-violent) hatred.

In order to stress the level of my contempt for these gentleman, I will name them: Roy Underhill, Don Peschke, and Bryan Nelson. Scott Phillips of American Woodshop is okay, mainly because he has a female sidekick who he has to constantly look after and save from slicing off one of her fingers. And let me be absolutely clear: these men are all excellent woodworkers and possess a skill I will never have. Their work is admirable. It's just that I find their on-camera presence abhorrent. Absolutely skin-crawling, odious detestation. Other than that, I'm sure we would get along fine and even enjoy a jar of cider.

Whew! Now that I got that out of my system, on to the birdhouse du jour, which I nicknamed the Colossus:

Yes, that is technically a birdhouse, smart aleck

View of the rear

Detail; if I my be so pretentious, it has a whiff of MirĂ³ about it

Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The Holidays & a Picasso Birdhouse

We are officially in the very midst of the holiday season. For some, it is a time of warmth, of seeing loved relatives, of seeing annoying relatives, of gifts and large feasts. For others, it is a time of gazing out at a cold landscape of an empty life and tenderly revising the old suicide note.

To the latter, I say, "Chin up, cowboy/cowgirl. I new year holds promises you have yet to imagine possible. Hang in there. You're not alone and it always gets better. Always."

To the former, I say, "May God have pity on you and all that time you have to spend around your relatives."

At the Holland Woodshop, spirits have remained high and so we decided to bring in 2014 with a birdhouse inspired by the abstract paintings of a fellow Spaniard named Pablo Picasso. Perhaps you've heard of him before.

I would divulge my constructing methods, but they're really not that complicated and I'm sure you can figure them out for yourself should the spirit move you.

View, left

View, right

So to all, I say, "Happy holidays, have a great 2014, and we'll see you right back here at the woodshop very soon."

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Keepsake Box: Redux

Regular readers of this little blog might recall a project a built some months ago, a small keepsake box with a carving of a Right whale on the lid.

Truth be told, I was not too happy with it. The whale seemed off-kilter and out of place. Luckily, my brother, who lives in Costa Rica, bought me a small change purse from a street market that featured a taxidermic frog head.

No matter which side you take when it comes to taxidermy, you have to admit it looks a darn sight better. I took the scissors to the coin purse, prepped the top with a black veneer, and super glued the frog head in place.

I like to tell people that if they try to open the box without proper authorization, the frog will shoot out its tongue and lick their hand.

Designed and built by James

Saturday, October 26, 2013

Call Me Ishmael

There are two breeds of readers in this world: the first breed is a wide-ranging and voracious reader, a consumer of texts whose literary interests knows no bounds: biography, experimental fiction, mystery, young adult, romance, nonfiction, science fiction, and many other genres all fall under their purview.

And then there are the other readers who enjoy a relatively small range of reading material but excavate those texts for all their worth. I would put myself in the gray area of the two. In other words, if you were to place me on a desert island with four of my favorite books, I would be happy as clam; those four books being 1) Walden; or, Life in the Woods by Thoreau, 2) The Three Musketeers by Dumas, 3) Adventures of Huckleberry Finn by Twain, and 4) Moby-Dick; or, the Whale.

In honor of my last selection, I built this little wooden bin:

I don't have a use for it as of yet, but I'm sure something will come to mind. In all likelihood, it will end up being used as a storage for books, a fitting use for a literary-inspired wooden bin.

In a fit of inspiration, I painted a geometric pattern on the underside of the lid. Not many people will ever see it, but I've always liked hidden compartments or partially hidden treasures like that.

A sturdy box made of six different types of wood and decorated with Ahab's White Whale...what more could you ask for in a wooden bin?

Built & designed by James

Friday, September 20, 2013

Refinishing a Coffee Table for Profit

This was an old, beat up coffee table I recently procured from a curbside. The above picture will have to serve as the "before" stage of the piece. Truth was, this table was in such urgent care, I set to work with the orbital sander before I remembered to take a picture of the table in it's original curbside state. Rough though it is in the above picture, you can take my word that it looks a smooth-sight better than its original state.

The piece, you see, intrigued me. The slab is solid wood. The two front drawers are divided into seven little faux drawers. Novel, to say the least.

Above is the finished product. I painted the lower portion a neutral cream color and stained the top a deep red mahogany. The majority of the original knobs were not there. I, however, fortunately collect old, vintage knobs and went positively eclectic in their arrangements, giving this funky coffee table just the right sort of flair.

This piece was sold recently, and the young woman who purchased it couldn't have been more happy with it. She even sent a photo to me of the table situated in her living room. It looks grand. It will be appreciated and it looks like this coffee table has found its forever home. This is why I refinish furniture: to take pieces of wooden furniture bound for the landfill, breathe new life into them, and find them loving homes does something good for the soul. It is incredibly rewarding. The $80 I sold it for - $80 of pure profit, mind you, since I found it on the curb - is just the icing on the cake.

Note the variety of knobs on this corner. The original knock-about 
salvaged piece was missing about 1/2 of its original knobs. Luckily, I have been
collecting vintage knobs for a few years. My client swooned over the assortment of 
antique knobs. She even sent me a  picture of it in her living room. Not to toot my 
own horn, but this coffee table compliments her home design wonderfully.

Refinished and sold by James

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Transformative Refinishing

I bought this cabinet from a shop that was going out of business. I didn't particularly want it, but the guy had posted signs that explicitly stated that he would not bargain or make any deals. This, of course, was an open invitation to me to settle in for a nice bit of haggling.

There was a Danish modern style night table I was really interested in that he was asking $25 for. I offered him 20 clams even. Shaking his head, he stated that the price was the price. I glanced around his shop and spotted the little wooden cabinet above, also priced at $25.

"Tell you what," said I to the shopkeep, "I'll take these two cabinets off your hands, that Danish modern and this little wooden cupboard deal, for $40."

With a small amount of grumbling he agreed. I refinished the Danish modern piece and sold it soon after for $40, effectively breaking even on the deal. But where was the profit? I tried selling the wooden cupboard above as was for $30, then $20, then $15. Not a whisper of interest. That's when I decided to give it the old Holland Woodshop touch:

What was once a humble, frumpy cupboard fit for the home of an Amish family was transformed into a funky, bohemian wine cabinet.

This past weekend I sold it for 80 semolians, thereby tripling my initial investment. All it took was a little time, a little sweat, and a love to rebirth old furniture. And making some sweet greenbacks on the back end makes it all the much sweeter.

Refinished by James

Saturday, August 10, 2013

An Old School Credenza

I was paging through a book on Danish Modern furniture and lighted upon a picture of a 60s-era credenza. At first I was a little confused. It wasn't tall enough to be a table or desk, wasn't designed for the seating of buttocks, and yet it look damned harmonious and utilitarian. That's when I did a little investigative work and discovered that it was a credenza.

Credenza is an Italian word, which is one of the fanciest languages in all the lands, you know, so this piece of furniture, I reasoned, must be pretty damned fancy. So I had a look at my wood stockpile and decided I had the materials necessary and built one.

I had the main rectangle knocked together pretty quickly, using mainly dowels and glue, and then I decided that instead of putting in wimpy sliding cabinet doors like a fancy lad from Italy or Denmark, I would build me some good old fashioned American Craftsman-style drawers. This turned out to be a mistake.

Do you know how hard it is to build a two-drawer system, especially when you have no idea what you're doing? Let me tell you, cabinet and drawer makers are a class unto their own and they deserve our respect. That little top drawer up there probably took longer for me to build than the entire rest of the credenza combined. The Saga of the Little Drawer, is what the history books will call it. The knob alone and its installation is worthy of a ten volume set from Time Life Books.

Ah, but you know what? It wasn't a mistake, cuz look at the finished product. Looks pretty good to me! Professional? No, not really. Homemade, slightly quirky, and chock full of old fashioned charm? You bet your goddamn boots. I imagine a modern stereo system sitting atop, some books and records in the main open storage below, and a few hidden treasures in those drawers. And the drawers open and close smooth, too. Booyakashaka!

Taken during the Saga of the Little Drawer

Built & designed by James

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Techni-Wood Dream Table

I was watching a daytime public access channel some weeks ago and the guy and gal hosting the show were building a tabletop for a kitchen island. The tabletop was composed of several diagonal lengths of wood of varying grain and hue. It turned out beautifully. This got me thinking: could I, in the humble confines of my woodshop, replicate such a visual feast of functionality?

I set about the task with my trademark methodology. I rummaged about my wood supply and came up with a few boards of varying degrees of color, texture, thickness, and overall essence. Undeterred, I glued a slab of them together using bar clamps and came up with a tabletop:

This picture was taken after the slab had been liberally assaulted with my trusty jigsaw (equipped with a 101B U Shank Blade, if you please) to the slab and had carved out a nice, wavy pattern that reminded me of the rolling, receding tides of the sea.

Then I had to build the table frame.

The frame wasn't so hard, as I had four salvaged table legs knocking around the shop. A few bits of strips of Ikea-ripped pine connected them nicely.

Again, the centerpiece (the black dots in the corners are the dowels that hold the entire thing together; I eschewed screws and nails on this table):

Built & designed by James

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Wild Oak Bookends

I was out for my regular evening constitutional a few weeks ago - around the lake, past the folk museum, up over the small hill, and out of the cul-de-sac - when I noticed one of the large oak trees lining the sidewalk had been split in half by a bolt of lightning.

Pity, since it was a good old oak, full of dripping Spanish moss and that peculiar root system we get here in the sandy climes where the roots actually grow up out of the ground at places before diving back into the earth.

The next week I was strolling past and a crew had been out to chop it up and cart it away. In the mound of sawdust left where the stump was, however, I noticed some sizable chunks of wood. I picked them up, carried them along my merry way, and left them in the woodshop.

I decided to sheer the big chunk in two. What I was left with were three bookends:

They weren't heavy enough on their own to hold back the weight of a line of books, so I drilled four holes in the bottom of each, inserted some lead plugs, patched the holes, and glued some green felt over the bottoms.

Now they're weighty, unique, and really fascinating to look at. The lightning bolt that fell the tree left some fascinating scars on the wood. Pretty cool, huh?

Designed by Mother Nature, built by James

Thursday, June 20, 2013

A True Shaker Style Bench

I take pride in the fact that all the stuff I churn out of my woodshop comes from reclaimed wood: bits of plywood found on the curb, old sections of wooden fence, the occasional bit of oak cut just right for a bookend from a fallen tree. But never in all my days of salvaging wood have I come across a score such as the one I did two weeks ago.

Some local yokel a few blocks from my house was tossing out his waterbed. I don't know about you, but my knowledge of waterbeds is limited to the fact that there are actually people in the world who enjoy sleeping on a pool of cold water.

I know, it shakes me to my core, but such is the splendorous diversity of the human species.

But now I know that some waterbeds, such as the one I came across dismantled on a local curbside, are framed in solid pine boards, 2x6 boards, if you please, five of them, each made from a single slab.

Oh, I was in heaven! I disregarded my doctor's orders and loaded these cumbersome boards into my trusty Volvo S70 - even making two trips - and set them up in my woodshop. Then I sat back on my stool and pondered.

These planks of beautiful wood demanded from me a level of craft I wasn't sure I had. But then the idea of building a Shaker style bench hit. I pulled out my tape measure, hemmed and hawed, and sure enough, I realized I could make one complete Shaker style bench from a single board. I sawed off two short lengths from one and fashioned the two legs.

The Shakers - despite what their rather spirited name may suggest - were a conservative group of Americans who believed in simple, yet comfortable design. Simple: now that, I was confident, was definitely in my wheelhouse. I took a gander at some pictures of Shaker benches on the web, spent a couple of weeks in my off-hours sawing, sanding, hammering, drilling, cursing, despairing, and eventually rejoicing at the finished product.

No screw or nails were used in the bench. And I can assure you, it is the single most solid bench in existence on the entire planet.

I went with a light stain so the natural grain would show through
Dig that old school wood joinery, will ya?
Designed by the Shakers; built by James

Monday, June 10, 2013

Pencil Holder

A Holland Woodshop pencil holder. Made with a hammer, a chisel, and a block of wood.

Simple. Utilitarian. Built to last. Currently resides on my desk at work.

Built & designed by James.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

The Pueblo Deco Fiddle

Well, the news on the TV and web just seems to get worse and worse (Oklahoma, London, etc. etc.), which only seems to drive me more and more into the good old woodshop.

This week I made this strange take on the fiddle. Yes, a fiddle. Not a violin, not a dilruba, not even a regular fiddle, but a true original: a Pueblo Deco Fiddle. Boom. Copyright, yours truly.

Humble origins

Finished soundbox; it was a real pain because of the angles and 
my general lack of basic mathematical skills, but did it get done? 
You better believe it. 

Precision neck surgery

At this point I wasn't sure if it would be another cigar-box guitar but I quickly realized that the size of the bit of wood I was going to use for the neck (which I managed to liberate from a heap bound for the garbage trucks despite being run off by an old timer with a ZZ Top-style beard - a story unto itself) was too big for a guitar. Also, I had to insert that wedge you can see up there to level it off, and that would make it too thick for a man's hand to wrap around. A gorilla, perhaps, or an orangu-tang could play it guitar-fashion, but not a man.

More neck surgery


Adding a touch of class - inspired by this book I got at the library 
about the Pueblo Deco school of architectural design

The tuners were salvaged from an old guitar found under the bed and that's a cello bow I sometimes play on my regular, store-bought guitar. All that's left is to find some strings.

A tune is sure to follow soon.

Built & designed by James