Saturday, July 6, 2013

Like to have YOU follow my NEW BLOG

     I've checked out my stats on the new Wordpress platform I'm now using for my blog and website.  When I compare the number of followers I had on this site to the number on the new one I'm feeling lonely!  I'd love to see all 35 followers from Blogger sign up to follow the new site at:

     I've been pretty involved in getting everything organized for our Craft Show application but will resume more active blogging soon.  Thanks all -- John

Monday, June 24, 2013

I'm Moving !!

Well, I'm not moving physically but my blog is:

Please keep following me on Wordpress, my new blog address is:

     This is post number 408 that I've made using the Blogger platform.  It shows that I have 35 followers on here and this makes me feel pretty darn good!  I really enjoy writing this blog and sharing my passion and experiences with you.  I always welcome your questions and thoughts.  So maybe you're thinking; Why move?
     There are a couple of reasons but here's the main ones:

  • Lots of spam has been coming across the Blogger site, everything from diet to sites I'd rather not see linking to mine -- you can imagine what I'm talking about!  Daily I need to weed out 5-6 of these things
  • I want to put everything on-line at one address, the one above.  Anyone should be able to put Woodworks by John in a search engine and have me pop up
  • My goal is to not only have the blog at Wordpress but also my on-line portfolio of previous work and projects rather than having a separate website to showcase my work
  • Your comments and requests for custom work can be accessed from this one site
     I'd really appreciate it if you would visit my new site and click on the "Follow Blog" button on the right hand side.  It's a work in progress but I'll keep on top of it.  Should you run across any problems on the new site please contact me to let me know.  Also, feel free to offer any suggestions to make it user friendly.  Diane has been great in helping me set this site up, couldn't do it without her!  Here in Las Vegas it's been getting pretty darn hot -- predicted highs for the end of the week range from 110-114 so once the shop hits 100 or so I'm heading in doors!  That's supposed to be my computer time so I'll work on the new site then.
     In the meantime, thanks for following me all these years and I hope you continue to do so on the new, Wordpress site.


Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Craft Fair Display Shelves

     In my last blog I gave a tutorial on how to make the torsion box shelves we'll be using in our display for the craft fair we're hoping to be juried in to this fall.  One of our main concerns is  making them light in weight and easy to get from the parking area to wherever our tent is located.  Here's a picture of one of Diane's units temporarily set up in our living room!

Clamps, no Hinges!
Glued & Clamped
     The framework is made of 3/4" Baltic Birch plywood so the height is five feet.  This is a totally utilitarian project and the emphasis was on being able to construct them quickly without a lot of fuss or time.  For that reason I chose to use biscuit joinery.  There are a total of 4 of these units that measure about 20" wide by 5' tall and 2 units that measured 20" wide by 30" tall.  As always in my desert shop, heat is a big consideration when it comes to gluing or finishing.  I had enough large bar clamps to assemble two of these at a time so that was the first step of the past couple of days.

Oh boy, do I dislike power sanding and especially MDF!  It leaves a super fine dust all over the place.  I figured that since I will be spraying these at the side of the house I may as well sand them there too.

Wish Those Sawhorses were Taller!

     This is the west side of our house, notice the sun on the fence?  It's around 7:30am in this picture and the sun is just beginning to light up the tops of the wall.  As you can tell, with all of the pieces that go into this project there's a lot of sanding to do.  Ditto for spraying on the waterborne lacquer I'll be experimenting with.  The specs for the General Finish lacquer suggest a temperature no higher than 85 degrees, our predicted lows are in the mid to upper 70's so it's an early spray session to be sure!  Look at the sun on the wall around 10:30,

     I'm starting to feel the heat already as it's reflected off of the wall.  Thankfully the lacquer will dry very quickly so I'm hoping to apply the initial coat on everything, allow it to dry, and then sand with 320.  If all goes as hoped, I should be able to shoot a second coat on everything and then move it into the garage to bake; uh, I mean dry for the remainder of the day.  Then the next morning will see the third and final coat and we should have this phase of the shelving complete.  I had to order a smaller needle to spray the lacquer and it's scheduled for delivery this afternoon.  All of the wood will need to have the grain pre-raised with a spray of water then block sanded to be ready to apply the lacquer first thing tomorrow morning.  Glad my next door neighbor is out of town so the sprayer won't disturb his sleep!

Monday, June 10, 2013

How to Make a Torsion Box Shelf --- Not Unplugged!

     In my last blog I talked about the drudgery of doing work on a production basis.  For the life of me I could never understand why the junior high school shop curriculum suggested we incorporate a mass production project in our classes.  With my classes limited to a semester in length I never included a mass production unit in my curriculum.  I always thought it was better to challenge my kids to be creative and explore what the tools could do rather than limit them to being the second sander on the third shift --- boring!
     That being said, to produce the required number of shelves needed for our craft fair display, mass production was the only way to go.  Here's the start of the process:

Parts is Parts
     These are the required pieces to make two displays that will be 4' wide and 5' tall.  The Baltic Birch pieces on the right side and top are for the hinged ladder assemblies that will hold the unit together but more on that in another blog.  For this blog we'll concentrate on making 8 shelves, 11" wide and 47" long.  They'll be made of the MDF you see on the left side.  A number of years ago,  Larry of  A. G. Yule and Sons Custom Woodworking here in Las Vegas gave a demonstration at one of our monthly meetings on how to make a torsion  box.  These are great ways to make light weight and stable shelves or table tops.  The process is similar to how wings for airplanes are constructed.  You'll see some pictures of my assembly tables which I made after his demonstration.  This was the perfect solution for what we needed; fairly quick, fairly cheap, light in weight, and stable.

     Here's the process to make one shelf, many people are always curious to know how long a process takes.  I didn't bother keeping track of the time required to cut all of the pieces to size but a couple of hours would be a good guess.  To assemble and clamp one shelf took less than 10 minutes so it's not bad at all.  First up was to glue/nail one long piece to the edge of the shelf skin.  It helps to secure that piece between bench dogs, you know how slippery the glue can be.


   After that, the end pieces were glued/nailed on one at a time. It helps to have the back of the skin supported, I used the other long rib you can see at the lower left.

     Part of the initial preparation was to layout the locations of the crosspieces (inner ribs) on the outer edge of the long pieces.  Those lines are drawn on the face of the shelf:

     The next problem was how to hold everything in alignment while gluing and nailing those inside ribs to the shelf skin.  I solved that by drawing the center line for those pieces on the underside of the shelf skin.

Then glue was applied to the rib and "eyeballed" to center on that line.  


     This is probably not OSHA approved but by putting pressure on the inner rib against the long rib already attached to the shelf skin and positioning the gun as shown I was able to set that first nail.

   Once the first nail was shot in, the whole assembly is laid flat on the bench and the remaining nails are shot in.   This process was repeated until all three of the inner ribs were attached.

    Next up was adding the final long rib to this assembly.  Again, it helps to clamp that between the bench dogs.  Once the glue is applied things get pretty slippery!

      Finally, the entire piece is flipped over and the lines locating the inner ribs are drawn on the face of the second skin.

     Glue is applied to every rib.  I tried to keep the glue line closest to the inside of the structure to (hopefully) control some of the squeeze out.  Thankfully, it just got into the low 90's this morning so I had plenty of time to nail things down before the heat caused the glue to skin over.  As insurance though I decided it would be prudent to clamp every one of the shelves together as soon as they were nailed up.  This meant removing the clamps as each new shelf was complete but I believe this will help everything stay glued.  It was good to see fresh glue ooze out of the seams as the clamps were applied.

It Is Finished!
     Here you can see my assembly table also made torsion box style.  The beauty of having two of them is not only that they're lighter but mainly having the flexibility to separate them as needed for clamping is great.  This also comes in handy when you're clamping a face frame to a cabinet box.  No nails in my work!
     Well, hope this helps you should you ever need to make light weight shelves.  These are going to  be paint grade so MDF was a good choice for the skins.  You could use the MDF and veneer them if able to do that technique.  Another option would be to use a good grade of cabinet quality plywood to make these.  To clean up the edges these will be run on the tablesaw, that way I can true them all to the exact, same size.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Almost a Production Shop (Yikes!!)

     Let's start with the end product of the production work and go from there:

Di's Rag Dolls, My Display
     I may have mentioned that Diane and I are gearing up for a Craft Fair that's held here in the fall.  The location is fairly close to us, they will allow two people to share a both, and since we've always considered giving this a try we're on our way!  Diane's RagDollsRising with the emphasis on her new line of eco friendly dolls and my boxes and exposure for furniture work in the future will be the theme for our booth.  Diane has done tons of research on the internet regarding displays and this is the smaller prototype for what I'll use for mine.  I'm in the process of making two units for her that will be about 5' tall by 4' wide.
     The requirements we decided on were portability, light weight, easy to store, and, of course the cost.  What you're seeing are materials that I had and it turned out to be just enough for what was needed for my display.  Right now we have a 10'x10', Easy-Up display tent sitting in our living room --- doesn't everybody do that?  Part of the process of getting juried into the Craft Fair is that you need to submit photographs of your booth.  We decided that rather than setting it up outside in the wind and current temps of 110+ we'd just push some furniture aside and set it up.  We're hoping that we'll be able to get decent pictures indoors.  If not, we'll need to disassemble and set things up outside for the photo shoot.
     The display you're seeing consists of two, hinged, ladder like pieces made of Baltic Birch and simply biscuit joined together.  The shelves are torsion  box design made out of strips (1" wide) of 3/4" Ultralite MDF and some 1/8" Birch ply I had.  Worked well so we decided to buy the same type of material and make the units for Diane.  That's were the production process came in!

Ready For Assembling 
     First up was to rip the MDF into 1" wide slats to form the inner structure for the shelves.  These were then cut to a length of 47 1/2" and the required measurements for the cross pieces were laid out on them.  For eight shelves that means 16 of those.  Next were the cross pieces, each shelf requires 5 so that meant 40 of those about 9" long.  Then I ran into a snag!  The 1/8" Birch ply which is an import was pretty waffly but I thought that by cutting the sheet into pieces approximately 12" x 48" things would be fine ---- WRONG!

Waffled, Imported Plywood (yecch!)
    I called a friend of mine and he suggested weighing it down which I accomplished with a building block and a bucket of water.

Somewhat Better
Yep, almost 95 at 10:35am

     I had hoped that this would flatten them out enough so that after each shelf was assembled I could clamp it to the assembly table with cauls and all would dry square and flat.  The picture above shows my assembly table so what I did was separate the two halves and securely clamp the shelf in eight locations.  Did I mention it's hot?  Because of that I knew I needed to move as quickly as possible.  The process is to first glue and nail one long edge and the two end pieces to one of the skins.  Now, the three remaining ribs are attached one at a time followed by the second long edge.  Now it's crunch time as every piece needs the glue spread so the second skin can be attached.  Because the Birch ply was so warped it was impossible to lay things down tight, it was like fitting a leaf spring!

     After a struggle things were assembled and taken to the assembly table to be clamped down.  The idea was to clamp the first one with cauls and then the other shelves would be clamped on top of the stack until all were done.  Since I was having such a difficult time of it decided to just complete the one and see how it turned out.  Well ----- not too good:

Part of the Edge

Warped & Waffled End

      When I was talking to my friend about the plywood he mentioned that Peterman Lumber has 1/8" MDF sheets that he uses for patterns.  Gave them a call, lamented about the quality of the Birch, and yes, they do stock the 1/8" MDF.  Unfortunately they closed at 11:30 today but it's too hot to work any more today anyway.  Monday morning is soon enough!

Monday, June 3, 2013

The Question is not ……..

    …….. what's it worth?  Rather it's this:  what is the public willing to pay during these economic times?

First Coat of Watco
      This morning I did the final sanding and applied the first coat of Watco to the four boxes in the current Lidded Finger Joint series.  The wood is Macacauba and I really think it contrasts nicely with the brass pins in the corners of the joinery.  Here's a close up of that feature:

Brass Pinned Finger Joints
     I've been involved in a forum thread about how to price your work.  Even a small run of boxes such as these take an enormous amount of time to produce.  Add the hardness of the wood and the time it takes to complete the joinery you're looking at boxes that should sell in the $300-$500.00 price range but the question is, would there be a market?  Prior to 2008 or so I would say definitely yes.
     On the pricing forum there is much information and formulas for calculating your overhead, material costs, and then paying yourself a salary for your efforts.  Even if you have a  home shop and don't have a huge overhead for that like me, you'll still be hard pressed to sell an item like this and make tons of money!  On Etsy these will be around $200.00 and the same at a craft show I may participate in this fall.  The disposable income that craftsman such as myself could tap in to before seems to have dried up!  I haven't had a furniture commission all year and marketing attempts have not resulted in any leads.  The past two months have seen the Etsy market slow as well and it's not just me.  Others on the various teams and forums report the same thing.
      So, what's a guy to do?  I can't lower my quality standards -- couldn't live with myself then!  Use cheaper materials -- wouldn't have the same market appeal.  Sell out to an off-shore concern (China) to produce my work at a pittance and then just market it?
     Neither of these are options in my book so I imagine I'll just keep on doing what I'm doing.  Stretch my creativeness and produce furniture and boxes that hopefully will sell.  I know I have the abilities, getting that Sapele Hall Table accepted into the Design in Wood show seems to prove that out.  I suppose it's just a matter of waiting it out, things are bound to get better aren't they?

Saturday, June 1, 2013

Lidded Finger Jointed Box Assembled

     One of the things that sets these boxes apart is the brass pins in the fingers.  These are quite time consuming but I think, they're worth it.  The process begins with pre-drilling the fingers on a special jig I made for the drill press.  After the box is glued up and assembled those pre-drilled holes have brass screws put into them.  This can get tricky!  The screws need to be inserted far enough to completely conceal the threads but not so far that they break off.  Inevitably, if they break it'll be below the surface -- don't ask how I know that!  That requires carefully drilling out most of the screw and then putting in a new one.

Two Down -- Thirty-Eight to Go
Almost There


      Next is to clip off the heads from each of the screws with a pair of nippers, notice how it leaves quite a pointed end sticking up.  This can't be sanded so a file is used to work each screw until it's almost flush with the surface.  If you try to sand the pointed piece you'll not only tear the paper it will also ruin your sanding pad!

Yes, That is a Power Tool!

     Those of you that follow my work know that I pride myself on the hand tool usage but also that I'll refer to myself as a Hybrid Woodworker.  In other words, although hand tools are preferred there are times a power tool does the work much quicker and more efficiently.  Hard enough to make a decent hourly wage on these as it is!  I'm using a Bosch, 6" random orbit sander which is a fantastic machine.  I initially purchased it in the late 1980's to wax a fiberglass boat we had at the time.  It's probably the best r/o tool out there.  A hand tool choice would have been a plane to flush the ends of the finger joints but the addition of the brass changes that.  I begin with 100 grit on the r/o, then 150 grit on a finish sander but do hand sanding with 220 and a cork block prior to applying the finish.   That's work for tomorrow as it approached 93 degrees and I was starting to sweat on the wood!
     I was able to set the power tools aside to cut the chamfer on top of one of the lids.  This is for the box that "flipped its lid" and had to be modified.

Chamfer on End
     This is an example of that quiet hand work.  Simply draw a line for the width of it, hold the block plane at what seems like a proper angle, and plane until you hit the line.  Always do the end grain first as it'll have a tendency to split.  After both ends are done you can do the edges.  The angle I chose was just one that looked right to me. Instead of using a protector to lay it out I locked my hand to the angle I felt was "just right" and chamfered each edge.

Meet at the Corner
         Once the lines meet at the corner that's your clue  telling you that you're done!  The object is to have a single chamfer all the way around the edge of the lid.  A router bit would probably do it quicker but, in my opinion, it would need to be planed smooth to eliminate the chatter marks so why bother setting up the router and creating all of the noise and dust?