A Man Has To Feed His Family On Something, Or Wood Project Number Five: The Dining Room Table (Part One)

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For the first time since I finished my speaker boxes back in, let’s see, December, I’ve built something for myself. A month ago. Well, more by this point. I just haven’t had a chance to document it. The lady-friend and I were moving at the beginning of May and were awfully short on furniture, so I figured I’d make us at least some of what we needed. Then we got a puppy, hence the lack of documentation…

She's much bigger than this by now, though.

She’s much bigger than this by now, though, although from the lack of scale you’d never know what she’s was like at this point anyways.

I started with something I’d been mulling over for a little while: a dining room table. I’d seen a neat design in Fine Woodworking Magazine that I wanted to cop a little bit from. I didn’t take the whole design, as I wanted to go a different direction with most of the piece, but one main design element was lifted from that table in that issue.

I also took some inspiration (to put it mildly) from a coffee table built by the father of some kids I occasionally babysit. Then I added a bit of my own ideas, sized everything according to how big the internet told me a table should be, and went from there.

The first step in the process was to glue my table-top together. The main body of the table I made out of 3/4″ birch plywood leftover from building the stereo cabinet for my father. For reasons that will become clear, I needed to put a border of pine 1x3s along the edge. So I 45 degree angle cut the end of the 1x3s to fit in the corners, then applied some (a bit too much, in fact) wood glue and clamped the thing together overnight.

Next came to shape the support structure underneath the table top. This was also made using 1x3s. To start with, I angle cut the ends to match up with the future bevel on the edge of the table. I also had to cut the notches for the lap joint, as the supports were designed to cross each other inside the legs of the table.

Unfortunately, I put the lap joint on the wrong side of the wood. So a simple re-draw and second cut and things are all better.

Except wait…

By the time I’d broken off three out of the four ends on the short beams, I decided I’d best get some more 1×3. So I did. This time I made sure to cut the ends a little better, using an improvised jig on the table saw to hold the angle right. Then, with the long beams completed in much the same style (with different dimensions, of course) I laid them out and checked my work, which ended up being pretty okay.

Next came the table legs, which were cheap, standard-and-better fir 4x4s to begin with. First I drew up and cut out, using the band saw, the finger joints at the top of the leg, where the beams cross through. Then I cut out the shape of the leg, first a little thicker, then thinner. In the end I would have gone back to thicker if I could, but not the exact shape it began with.

IMG_1006Alas, this process wasn’t without its own casualty. As I was cutting the fourth leg, I realized I was getting a bit off my line on the not-waste side. So I stopped, leaned back, pulled out the blade, etc. I didn’t want to run the blade all the way back into the cut, so I thought: “Hell, I’ll just cut horizontally across to take off the length of the cut from the waste side.” So I proceeded to cut off the part I needed instead.

But I got a new length of 4×4 and cut a new leg, and all was well again. With the general shapes carved out, it was time to do some cleaning. For the finger joints, I had to do quite a bit of clearing out using a chisel and sand paper to get them to shape. Then some serious planing to smooth out all the rough edges from the saw, followed by more sanding.

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And so, four legs. Still somewhat rough, but shaped, and with the finger joints pretty well cleaned out.

(To Be Continued…)

And They Said The Theatre Was Dead, or Wood Project Number Four: “Travel Home” (Part Five: The Fire Box)

The Photography of Russell J Young

The final piece of the series is the centerpiece, in a way. Although only appearing on-stage for the opening and closing scenes, the fire box was deemed sort of the spiritual center of the story. Given this importance, I figured the light box was the one where I had to get some nice wood and give the design a bit more intricacy.

IMG_0904Above, you can see the materials for the fire box, consisting of four pieces of 2×2, a number of 1x3s, some aluminum foil, and a battery-powered fake-fire bowl.

The first step in the process, after all the pieces were cut to length, was to bevel cut the appropriate edges. This was to give the 1x3s clean, 45 degree meetings with all the pieces in contact. For some, that meant just the ends, while the top and bottom slats required the long edges as well.

Then the 1x3s were attached to the 2x2s, perpendicular, with the 2x2s serving as vertical columns. All the screws I used on this were inset, to make it look nice, yes, and because that’s a good habit to get into.

Next was the lid, which was the same deal, except with the 1x3s connected to another 1×3 down the middle, rather than 2x2s at the end. This, of course, is because there weren’t 2x2s going down the ends. As you can see, everything was the right size, which is mainly because I had good tools to work with, finally, having moved the whole operation into the shared workshop. I can’t imagine how shoddy this would have looked if I was doing all my angled cuts with a free hand jigsaw. *Shudder*

Next I used some of the 3/8″ ply I had left over from other set pieces to make a floor and a false floor for the fire box. The first was so it had something to rest on on the bottom of the box. The second was so the cheap-looking, black plastic “bowl” was not quite so visible. This was accomplished with the help of a few small pieces of 1×3 that I used to hold the false floor at the proper height, since I had no desire to try and drill holes into the edge of the ply.

So that left me with something that, not turned on, looked like this:

IMG_0926Which, you know… is pretty good. The woods nice and all, but what’s up with that yellow cloth in the bowl?

Well, turn on that fire bowl and bam! You get:

IMG_0927Okay, that’s a little better. That looks a little bit like fire. But it’s lacking that oomph. Let’s see what it looks like in the dark:

IMG_0928Much better.

To enhance that glow, we layered the interior with the aluminum foil, to catch and reflect some more of the light and color. Then the outside got a blue paint job, which ideally would have been a little darker blue, closer to a night sky shade, but we were limited in our paints at hand, and the black (if you’ll remember from the table box) didn’t like to play nice.

IMG_0946Then it got some white stars painted on it, which you can see in the final shots at the top and just below:

The Photography of Russell J Young

And that was that. Those are the pieces I built for “Travel Home.” It was a really great experience, something that was both interesting and challenging, and although I didn’t make enough money to retire on, I got to practice with wood on someone else’s dime while helping some very nice people put on a show. Not too shabby.

The Photography of Russell J Young From left to right: Rafa Miguel (Director), Lily Warpinski (Writer/Actor), Rob Lauta (Actor), Garret Conour (Set Design and Construction/Me), Mishelle Apalategui (Actor), Edwin Galvin (Actor), Nadav Hirsh (Lighting Designer)

And They Said The Theatre Was Dead, or Wood Project Number Four: “Travel Home” (Part Four: The Dinge Box)

The Photography of Russell J Young

Because “Travel Home” is a show that deals with the homeless, it made sense to have a box that felt like something you’d find on the streets. Not pristine lumber, discolored, maybe a little broken, and certainly not just a cube.

The construction of this box was fairly straightforward. It was, in fact, thrown together in probably 45 minutes as I rushed to be home from the shop by a given time for I don’t remember what. Every piece was scrap I’d already collected, so the design was very much influenced by the pieces I had. I was inspired to do the two-tier design after watching a rehearsal. They were using folding chairs as prop stand-ins, and Michelle, the actress most connected with the piece, gave her speech with one foot on the seat of the chair, and the other atop the back of it. So both levels needed to be load bearing, which was no problem.

For decorations, we didn’t want to paint it as well as the others. The plywood surfaces, with white splotches already on one of them, made good candidates for some more white. The red-brown walls got some more red-brown paint on it to make it look a little less like wood, texture-wise, along with some splotches of sickly green. The top level also got a nice pile of red-brown, which tried hard into a strange lump.

Then we added some accoutrements, to give it a kind of personal feel. These included the stuffed bird, which stood in for the character’s imaginary seagull friend “Billy,” an old orange bag, a sprig of fake plant, and an old clock chain. The chain actually came off of a clock I inherited from my grandparents. The wood glue, very very old, had failed, and the chain no longer attached to the clock itself. I didn’t want to throw it away, so it was great to find a use for it that would keep it alive and ticking (so to speak). The chain was also great for a scene in which Michelle dragged the box across the stage in the dark, using a string run through two drilled holes. As she pulled it, it scraped the ground and thumped, clanking in the chain, and making things a bit eerie.

And yeah, that’s all for that one.

The Photography of Russell J Young

And They Said The Theatre Was Dead, or Wood Project Number Four: “Travel Home” (Part Three: The Chest… Box)

The Photography of Russell J Young

“So what is this one going to be?” I was asked by another gentleman at the workshop.

“Well, still working on the set. This one’s a fake chest.”

“Isn’t it just a chest?” he asked.

“You know, I guess it is.”

 

So yeah. This box is actually a chest. But it also ends up being a couch too. And a refrigerator. Fake ones. But a real chest.

 

Anyways…

I’m not sure why this piece is so poorly documented, but I’m going to throw you in part of the way here. The frame of the chest is made out of 2x2s cut to size. I built the end squares first, then added the long connecting pieces from there. The plywood is 3/8″, which is, as it was with the others, the cheapest, thinnest I could get. The dimensions are 2’x2’x4′, which, in retrospect, was much too big. Something closer to 16″x12″x4′ or something like that would probably have been a little better. I think the size as it was worked well on the stage, but made for unwieldy transitions for the actors.

Then I finished skinning the long edges, although I only have a picture of the first edge.

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Next was to put a band of 1x3s along all the edges, to give it that trunk-like, leather-edge kind of look, and to hide the edge seams of the plywood. So these were 45 degree angle cut on the connecting edges to hide all the end grains, which you can kind of see in the first picture in the slideshow.

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Next was to put handles on the ends and one on the lid for carrying and opening respectively. I cut those out with a jigsaw after having drilled starter holes (no starter for the handle, course).

Then, using a very conveniently left-behind hinge that was lying around the workshop, I attached the lid, simple as that.

Then we painted it. The “leather bands” were black, because that’s how I always think of chests, and the sides were brown, because of the same. The lid we painted the sickly motel green, for when it needs to be a fridge.

You can probably make out in the very first picture of the post that a black pillow was attached to the underside of the lid for couch mode. This was a stand-in for dress rehearsal until we found more suitable ones. Which we did, but not in time for fancy pictures.

The Photography of Russell J Young

And They Said The Theatre Was Dead, or Wood Project Number Four: “Travel Home” (Part Two: The Table Box)

Part Two: The Table BoxThe Photography of Russell J YoungThe Table Box is so named because, natch, it was a table. But it also served the unlikely second role of a car. The front of it, at least. The rest was left up to the imagination. Hence the curved shape, which made it slightly more car like, and helped give some variety to an otherwise very square collection of set pieces.

The Table Box was, for the most part, a fairly simple build. The frame is build from scrap. Mostly 2x4s but also a couple, uhm, 2x6s maybe? Four vertical pieces and a square at the top and bottom. I didn’t quite have long enough scrap pieces for the fourth leg, so I rigged up a connecter for two pieces of wood to become one leg. Ideally smaller pieces would have been used, as it didn’t really require the stability of 2x4s, but it wasn’t quite as unwieldy as the Wall Box turned out.

The table top is a piece of, I believe, 1/2″ plywood. The other sides are all 1/4″ ply. All of that was, again, scrap. I did what I could to use as much scrap as possible to cut down on costs as I was working with a $200 budget. Because of the size of pieces I needed, scrap didn’t work for everything, but some things, at least.

I don’t have pictures showing this in an unpainted state, but I did put a matching curved piece on the back as well as rectangular pieces closing in the sides.

For the painting, we used a few colors. In table mode, we wanted it black, so one curved side and the top are painted in black. The black paint we had caused some problems, as it was thick, incredibly sticky, frighteningly noxious, sloooowwww to dry, and once dry: very shiny. A careful look at the almost obscured by paint label revealed that this was all likely because the pain was a machine enamel, rather than wood paint. Oops. It gave the thing a nice, laminated smoothness once dry though, and even the shine worked out okay. The side panels were white, for no particular reason. The car side was red, because red is a bitchin’ color for a car, of course.

If you’re wondering what the hell’s up with the tap lights, well, they’re headlights. The car-ness was further enhanced by the addition of a rectangular, uneven metal “grill,” which can be seen in the action shot below of the finished product.

The Photography of Russell J Young

And They Said The Theatre Was Dead, or Wood Project Number Four: “Travel Home” (Intro and Part One: The Wall Box)

The Photography of Russell J Young

One advantage of having done something once is that it makes it easier to convince people to let you do it again. That is, as far as I can tell, the only sensible reason why someone would have hired me to build the set for their play. As I may or may not have mentioned in the intro post on this blog, I spent several months last years volunteering at a local high school helping build the set for their fall play. I was able to parlay that experience and, I guess, my natural charm and striking good looks, into a job designing and building the set for a small production here in Portland, “Travel Home,” an original play written by Lily Warpinski and directed by Rafael Miguel, who together make up the group The Honest Liars.

The set consists of five stylized boxes that, along with a couple chairs, stand in for all the required objects. Because of the size of the project, I’ll break it up into five posts, one for each box.

Box One: The Wall Box

The Photography of Russell J Young

The Wall Box had two initial purposes, then had a third one added in during tech week. Obviously, one of those purposes was to be a wall that someone could lean against. The second purpose was a bed, on account of its shape. The third purpose, which is more of a second and a half purpose, was to be a sideways wall to be sat on.

Because the bed role meant the Wall Box had to be load-bearing, I built the frame out of 2x4s. This made it crazy heavy, unfortunately, but the actors (who had to run the set changes) handled it pretty admirably. That process, shown in the slideshow immediately below, was fairly straightforward, the only semi-noteworthy aspect probably being the beam across the middle, which was needed to have the 2x4s no more than three feet apart.

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The next step was to skin the wall with plywood. On the top, I went with 1/2″, again because of the load bearing. I had to add a bit of support underneath one half though, as I needed to use two pieces of plywood for the surface and had a seam that caused considerable bending.

The left side, facing the wall, took a bit more work than simply skinning with plywood. But it was more fun. To work the bed angle a bit, the producers wanted me to use two panels they’d picked up at a scrap store. Those are the pale-green rectangular guys you’ll see in the pictures below. To fill the space between them, I decided to built a replica panel. This was made out of 1x3s cut to size for the frame, and a piece of scrap 1/4″ plywood I had lying around. I used a table saw to cut the slot in the 1x3s that the plywood slips into. Then I attached the four pieces straight onto the frame without connecting them to each other in any way, which was enough to keep everything in place and correctly shaped. A pair of small wooden knobs were attached later, and can be seen in the action shots if you look closely.

The back I left open, to save on weight and cost and make it a little easier to grab. The other three sides (top, bottom, and right [facing the wall]) were 3/8″ plywood, the thinnest plywood I could get for cheap at the hardware store I was frequenting. I also cut handles into the two vertical sides to help with moving. Later, during tech, I added handles to the other two sides as well.

So that left me with the constructed but naked finished product you can see from all angles here:

For painting the wall, the most important thing was for the face to be brick. To do this, I painted a rough white grid across the front. Then we put painters tape over top the white and painted the brick-like “Mexicana Brown” (or something) on top. Once the tape came off: voila, bricks. For the “fake” panel, we conveniently had a shade of green in our free, scavanged paint collection that was exactly the same green that the panels had come already painted in. So we used that. The other three sides are a gray paint with some green and yellow mixed in. I don’t have a good picture of just the finished front brick, but you can see it in the action shot near the top.

The Photography of Russell J YoungThe last matter was attaching a curtain of black cloth that would fall over the front to hide the brick when the Wall Box was either on the side of the stage or serving as a bed, which didn’t always work perfectly, but well enough, I think.

 

 

And that was that for the Wall Box.

The Photography of Russell J Young

 

 

Deigning To Speak To Me, or Interview Number One: Joshua Winkley of Maple Tree Cabinetmakers

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Let’s just say that you actually read the “About” section of this here blog. First off, thanks. Even I didn’t read the “About” section. Second off, on the off chance that you remember what it said, you may very well be pissed at me. “I was promised interviews and researched essays!” you shout at me, because you’re a very passionate fan, you.

Well I’m sorry that I let you down. But now I’m going to remedy at least part of that as-yet-unfulfilled promise I made to you. I present below the inaugural interview here at Dovetail Joinery.

chester_ct_plumbing_services_and_plumbersThe subject: one Joshua Winkley of Maple Tree Cabinetmakers, who plies his trade in picturesque Chester, Connecticut. The two of us connected via our shared love of an oft-maligned improvisational rock band from Vermont as expressed in a blog comment section. I mentioned my burgeoning hobby in the comments, in the hopes that people might be interested in checking out the whole thing I’m putting together here. Josh mentioned his own status in the trade and I reached out for an interview, which he graciously agreed to. So I emailed him a number of questions, which he answered. Those answers are below. My questions are in bold, because I’m more important.

1. Starting at the very beginning, when and why did you get involved in woodworking?

I had always dreamed of being an architect.  But when I chose a liberal arts college that did not offer an architectural, I went for the practical route of economics.  Well I hated it and ended my senior year with the only sense of direction being as far away from an office or banking as possible.    My older brother, who had been building things with wood since he was a young kid, was a self employed carpenter and landed a nice addition that summer.  So I figured what the hell and went to work with him.  I never thought I would work with my hands for a living but loved the experience.  At the end of the summer, we had to build a set of maple kitchen cabinets for the addition.  We had a makeshift shop in my parents garage.  My brother gave me the job of building all the doors.  I had no clue what I was doing.  And my brother wasn’t much help as he tackled the boxes, face frames, and drawers.  But we pushed through and got it done.  It was around this time that I stumbled upon Fine Woodworking magazine.   I realized quickly that working with wood was what I was going to do for a living.  I just didn’t know in what way.  So I played carpenter for a few years with my brother, volunteering for every built-in or kitchen I could.

row_house_kitchen_022. What was your “career arc,” so to speak? At what point did you decide you were ready to do this for a living, and how did you know you were ready?

Well, I loved being a carpenter but was mesmerized by the amazing works of art I saw in Fine Woodworking and other magazines.  I wanted to learn how to cut dovetails, make mortise and tenon joints by hand, tune a plane, and shape wood.  But it was not a practical job for me at the time.  My brother and I were rolling pretty good with his remodeling business and I saw an opportunity for a decent living as a carpenter.  But as time went on, I was drawn to the shop.  After a couple of years as a carpenter I said screw it and quit my job.  I figured at that point I had to go for it or stop dreaming.  So I applied for every decent job in a woodworking shop I could find.  I landed in a custom shop that built all kinds of cool stuff.  My first experience in a real shop and I loved it.

3. What’s your procedure like for working on a project? Where and how do you get your ideas? Do you find you create/change your ideas in the drawing process? How much planning/drawing do you do before you start actually handling wood? Do you find you have to or want to change your plans in the middle? How often do you run into unforeseen problems in your plans?

My ideas come from everywhere, literally.   Pictures on the internet, magazines, past experiences, other woodworkers, friends, family, etc…  I mostly design and build custom kitchen cabinets and built ins, which means the projects need to fit a specific space and serve a unique need.   Every project I do is tailored to the clients taste, their home, their budget, and whatever other parameters are present.  So my design process starts with those parameters.  I have a basic set of guidelines I use for my projects and try not to reinvent the wheel every time, but i end up doing so more often than I’d like.  I used to design just by hand sketching and then onto hand drawing.  But now I hash out concepts quickly by hand and then go right to a program called CabinetVision.  It is a solid modeling program that enables me to engineer my projects 3 dimensionally and then present drawings utilizing typical CAD tools. The great thing about the software is that it gives me cutlists and material needs.  For a kitchen that has hundreds of parts of all shapes and sizes, I find it essential.  I have an extensive design process with my clients.  Once we agree on what is being built, I finalize shop drawings and that is it.  We are off to the races.  I try hard to hash everything out before I build and make sure all site conditions are taken into account .  Carpenters usually work off of my plans to prepare the site, so the plans need to be spot on or else we all suffer.

4. How do you feel about the differences in doing projects for yourself versus doing projects for customers? Are there major limitations or benefits either way?

I struggle to build stuff for myself.  I can’t make up my mind.  I love having a problem to solve for other people.  Much easier.  I have too many ideas and am too much of a perfectionist.  I have sketchbooks filled with curious ideas that I’d love to build some day.  I guess that is what retirement is for.

Limitations to working with a client would be budget and their tastes.  But those are also benefits.  They force me to be creative and solve problems, which I love doing.  I find designing solely for myself to be somewhat of an empty process to be honest.  Like Phish playing to an empty house.    Yet I have some crazy ideas that no customer would even know they want unless I built it first…

5. What are your favorite kinds of projects? Presumably you work mainly in cabinetry, but are there other types of things you enjoy building as much or more?

I love designing and making kitchens.  They are the heart of the home and what people use every day.  I get a kick out of helping people create meaningful spaces for their families.   Aside from that, I like building just about anything in the shop.  If it challenges me, all the better.  If it has beautiful wood, bonus.

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6. What project would you point to as being your “best”? That could mean the process or the product.

Three years ago I completed an extensive project for a home that included a kitchen, vanities, living room built-ins, bedroom built-ins, and architectural millwork.  The project was designed by an architect and had a very modern design.  Lots of veneer work, no room for error.  It pushed me to the limits, both skill and sanity.   Up to that point I had never worked with veneers, and this one had it everywhere.  I also had to design custom knife hinges for all the doors.  Modern designs look simple but of course are the most difficult to carry out.  Life changing experience for me.

Here is a link to some pictures of the kitchen.
7. Conversely, what project would you point to as being your “worst”? Again, that could mean the process or the product, but I’d probably be more interested in the process. To put it another way: share a horror story.

Interestingly, that project I also considered my worst as I lost my shirt financially and it damn near drove me insane.  I ended up closing my doors for a year right after.  Working 80 hour weeks for 2 months doing the most technical work of my career to meet an unreasonable deadline that I agreed to will do that.
It culminated in a 36 hour straight work stretch where I had to get a set of cabinets ready for installation so countertops could be templated.  Otherwise, more delays.  During this stretch, I fell asleep at the wheel of my truck while towing my trailer.  Thankfully, I only blew out a couple of tires with minor damage to the truck and trailer.  Thankfully I did not have any cabinets in the trailer either.
But it all worked out, I was just a little freaked out.

painted-colonial-style-corner-cabinet--Mjk4LTY5MzAuNDE5NjU=8. What project(s) are you working on right now?

Cool thing is I am in the middle of phase 2 on the above project.  The master bedroom suite – beds, deluxe vanities, closets, cool built-ins, etc.

9. What project(s) do you have planned for the future?

Busy year for me.  I have 4 kitchens on the books, a credenza, a set of living room built-ins, and another master bedroom.  I feel fortunate if not a tad over booked.

10. Do you have any advice for someone who is just starting to get into woodworking?

The best advice I could give is to constantly challenge yourself.  Choose projects that push your limits.  Those are the ones that teach the most.  You are doing another bit of advice that I would give,  which is talk to other woodworkers.

11. Are there any woodworkers out there whose work you particularly admire?

Hank Gilpin has inspired me more than any woodworker.  Hands down.  I could go on and on about his furniture and why I love it.  But the most endearing aspect of his work is his sole use of local woods – any and all.  What he does with them is mesmerizing.  His work is also very subtle, doesn’t hit you over the head but when you really look close the details are striking.  All kinds of influences in his work, yet very unique.  Good old fashioned joinery, no veneer, and enough flair to make it real interesting.

12. Do you have a favorite wood?
Today it would be Walnut.  I love the color, the workability, the character, and the way it takes a finish.

13. What about a favorite tool?

My Lie-Nielson low angle block plane has been with for many years.  I use it for everything…
As far as power tools, I am falling hard for my Festool Domino.  Really versatile, one of a kind tool.
A260574258And that’s all he wrote. It was a pleasure chatting with Josh, and I, at least, learned something. Buy something from him, just to make this whole thing worth his time. Again, his website is here. Hopefully I’ll have more interviews to present soon.