Building Bradley’s Crib Part 5 — Choosing the Right Finish

How do you choose the right finish? That is a question I’m often asked. In this final installment related to the 3 in 1 crib / toddler bed / adult bed building project I will walk through my own through process for how I picked the finish for this project.

Setting High Level Project Parameters:

Customer input — in this case, my wife Alyssa. We wanted something in that warm amber to medium brown color and tone range. She wanted something to potentially match a darker rocker and changing table we had and I wanted something more on the natural side given this wood was of higher quality and thought it would be a shame to hide all that figure.

I chose Cherry wood for this project as I like cherry’s grain, workability and warm tones once it has time to age. Given that the project is for my newborn son I wanted a child safe finish that would be durable. (So that has me think of shellacs, low or preferably no VOC finishes that cure to hard film that will protect the wood and be easy to clean)

Freshly milled cherry has a light, almost pink finish so I likely will dye or stain the project to get a jump on the aging process and even out the tones of the wood.

Cherry also has a tendency to blotch, so I always want to seal it with shellac as a sanding sealer to try and protect against blotching.

Color Sample Chips:

With some high level parameters in hand, I first take a look at the color chips and samples I have on hand.

I have a real nice collection of General Finishes samples that I use in my teaching and they are one of my go-to finish providers as I’ve found their products to be high quality and reliable.

Finish and color samples

Finish and color samples

PRO TIP: Whenever you test a sample on a cut-off or similar piece of wood, label it with the finish — maker, type, color, date, #coats and wood species. I keep a box of these sorts of samples in my shop and they can often help in this process as my samples are larger than the standard chips that are usually on paper or small bits of veneer plywood. As the samples age they provide that much more information on how the pieces you make will age with a given finish.

From looking at the chips in a few different lights and in the baby’s room we decided on the following three samples:

Cherry stains we liked

Cherry stains we liked

Test your top 2 or 3 choices:

In the photo below the wood is set up in pairs. The left piece of wood is raw cherry. The right piece of wood had a wash coat of blonde shellac applied to see how it would reduce the amount of blotching in the cherry.

Trying out the dye and gel stains I liked. Left samples are raw wood, right samples have a coat of shellac under the stain.

Trying out the dye and gel stains I liked. Left samples are raw wood, right samples have a coat of shellac under the stain.

 

PRO TIP:
You can help jump-start the cherry aging process by exposing it UV light. With the above samples I kept them on a sunny window sill in the shop for a few weeks to get a feel for how the finishes might look as the project ages.

 

I didn’t love the results from the above experiments, I wanted a warmer tone, so I decided to mix up a batch of garnet shellac (described here) and continue my experimentation. On my next round of sample boards I experimented with a few coats of garnet shellac to see what I liked best. The garnet shellac alone did a fairly good job of warming up the cherry.

Trying my favorite stain from the last round, but trying it out with garnet shellac

Trying my favorite stain from the last round, but trying it out with garnet shellac

The experiments continued with several pieces of wood scrap from the project to see how the recipe of garnet shellac and dye stain looked on knots, different grain orientations etc.

Testing the recipe with a range of woods on the project

Testing the recipe with a range of woods on the project

In the end my wife and I both liked the same samples, so in the end I wound up going with two coats of garnet shellac with the second coat having a small amount of dye stain in the second coat. All of the above experimentation was well worth the time as I would not want ruin a project like this with a poorly executed finish.

Top coat:

I decided to go with General Finishes High Performance Water-based Polyurethane Top Coat in a Semi-gloss.  I like this finish as it’s easy to apply by hand or via sprayer, low VOC,  it’s UV stabilized and once cured is a durable child safe finish. For fine furniture when it comes to a top coat I adhere to the mantra of ‘if I wanted it to look like it was made out of plastic, I would have made it out of plastic’, but for this crib it’s very nice but not super fine furniture and from what I know about babies the ability to quickly and easily clean off any accidents makes this higher gloss sheen all the more worthwhile.

Crib outfitted with mattress, sheets, skirt and of course stuff animals

Crib outfitted with mattress, sheets, skirt and of course stuff animals

For this project I applied the poly by hand using a folded up lint-free white cotton rag. I worried the sprayer would cause too many drips around the many slats and after all the work I put into the project I didn’t want to foul it up in the finishing room.

I’m very happy with how this project turned out and look forward to seeing how the cherry ages in Bradley’s very sunny bedroom.

If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project please check out this link here.

Take care,
-Bill

P.S. How do you choose your finishes? Feel free to share your thoughts and tips in the comments section below.

Categories: Children's Projects, Made In The USA, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building Bradley’s Crib Part 4 – Final Assembly

Molding plays with light and shadow, it blends transitions and it can be pleasing to touch. I’m glad molding has so many positive features as I had to make a LOT of it to finish off this project. Below is a quick walk through of what it took to complete the woodworking on this project.

Making Molding:

Sampling of the MANY moldings

Sampling of the MANY moldings

As you can see from the photo above a had to mill a lot of stock and produce a lot of profiles to produce all the moldings necessary for this project. I won’t go into the minutia of each profile, or how to create molding using a handheld or table mounted router as that has been covered to death elsewhere. I will talk about a few of the things I do to help get consistent results when using a router.

1.) Make sure your router bits are clean and sharp. Make sure to use a bit cleaner to remove any pitch left on the bits. A diamond card or file can also be used to tune up a bit that is not cutting as well as it used to.

2.) Feather-boards. Whether they are store bought or shop made a feather-board is a great way to help keep stock where you want it. This project required many thin moldings with several different profiles on the same piece of stock. To ensure that the stock stayed exactly where I wanted it I used feather-boards to keep the stock pressed firmly against the table top and against the fence, both before and after the cutter. Without this seemingly heavy handed setup the stock could flex and you’d have to run it a few times. A push stick is also nice to have nearby. For this project the blanks were 2 to 6′ long so I was able to safely move the stock through the cutter with my hands kept at a safe distance from the cutter by virtue of the feather boards.

Extensive use of feather-boards on the router station

Extensive use of feather-boards on the router station

3.) When possible, try to be aware of the grain orientation when passing it through the bit to minimize tear-out

Profiled sanding blocks

Profiled sanding blocks

4.) After coming out of the router I hand sand the profiles to remove any scallops left by the bit. For tight or very complex profiles I will also use a profiled sander (a bit of formed rubber (shown above), piece of dowel or block of wood) that will help me get the sandpaper into the portion(s) of the profile I want to sand.

Molding profile details

Molding profile details

5.) Use the right tool for the job. For the cap moldings above I used a dado set on the table saw (with feather-boards there as well) to create the dadoes, and round-over bits in the router table for the round-overs. (You certainly could use a straight bit to cut the dadoes on the router table, but it would involve taking a few passes which takes more time and could introduce error).

Assembly:

Gluing up the bed rails

Gluing up the bed rails

With the moldings all milled, sanded and cut to size it was time to glue up the various assemblies. Shown above I am gluing up the top and bottom molding onto the adult bed rails.

Shop made jig for drilling centered holes

Shop made jig for drilling centered holes

After the glue dried overnight on the rails it was time to drill holes for the through bolts using a shop made jig constructed out of plywood. This made it very easy to line up and drill consistently centered holes on the ends of the rails. I also made use of some of the stopped drilling techniques outlined here.

Clamping each section using extended bar clamps

Clamping each section using extended bar clamps

Next up was gluing up all of the large sections of the bed — head-board, foot-boards, side panels etc. Given the width of this project I had to break out the Bessey K-Body rail extenders which allow me to bolt two K-Body clamps together to effectively make an even longer clamp. The connector section also works as an extra set of feet to keep the clamps level. I used hot hide glue again for its long open time and compatibility with finishes. Once in the clamps I checked everything for square, adjusted as needed and let the section dry overnight.

Attaching the cap.

Attaching the cap.

Once the panel was dry it was time to glue on the top cap/hand rail. Next I cut the cove molding to size and glued it in place with the help of some dowel cut-offs.

 Installing the slats:

Cutting spacers on the cross-cut sled

Cutting spacers on the cross-cut sled

I milled and test fit the slat spacers when I produced the molding above. I gently eased the corners with some sandpaper and cut them to length using my crosscut sled on the table saw and a stop block that was clamped in place against the rear fence of the sled. My OCD side also kept them in order so the grain matched across each panel.

Installing the slats is a bit of challenge so I did a full dry fit/test run before doing it for real with glue. You start from the center slat which you mark with center lines on blue tape (that way you can remove the lines easily as they are only on the tape) on the slat and the panel and install at an angle to insert the slat and then straighten out when it is firmly in the top and bottom slot. I then install spacers to the left and right of the slat and repeat the process. When I get near the end of the assembly I install the last 3 slats at once (otherwise there would not enough room to angle them into place), move them to where they need to be and finish gluing in the spacer blocks.

Installing the slats

Installing the slats

When laying out the slats in the dry run I also examined the individual pieces and laid them out so that the completed piece had even grain patterns and tones. I also made a few extra slats so I could swap in grain I liked etc. Some of those extra pieces were recycled into a baby blanket display rod here.

Slats installed

Slats installed

Once I completed all the assemblies, I test fit the bed in all three configurations. (You can see several photos of that process over on my public Facebook page here.)

Test fit

Test fit

Now it was time to pick a finish and head out to the finishing booth. To cap off this series, I’ll be talking about choosing and using a finish.

If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project as they get posted please check out this link here.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Made In The USA, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Building Bradley’s Crib Part 3 – Stopped Drilling and Hardware Finish Modification

When we last left our woodworking hero he completed the legs and was heading into the home stretch — installing the hardware. But wait….some of these things are not like the others. The bed bolts in the hardware kit were ordered in a nice antique bronze finish. The bed frame has a nice enameled finish in a similar dark brown metallic color. The threaded inserts and bolts that hold up the bed frame were a bright silver zinc finish. I worried these shiny bits would stand out like a sore thumb.

Then I remembered a trick I learned from my friend Chris Schwarz that he used on his Anarchist’s Tool Chest. I soaked the zinced hardware in a bath of citric acid for a couple hours, then brushed them off with a brass bristle brush, rinsed them in water and dried them off. I then applied some ‘Super Blue Liquid Gun Blue’ to the hardware with a Q-tip and rinsed the hardware in water and dried it off to complete the process. The Super Blue creates a chemical reaction that creates a nice patina on metals. In this case it made a dark brownish color that gets the threaded inserts into a color spectrum very close to the rest of the hardware. (Check out the photo below to see the before and after). I’m very happy with how that color treatment went.

Modifying the hardware's finish

Modifying the hardware’s finish

Next up I had to drill a large number of stopped holes for the various bits of hardware this project included — threaded inserts, bolts and barrel nuts. To accomplish this I made use of some of my favorite methods for drilling a fixed depth hole. The quickest and dirtiest way to drill a hole to a consistent depth out in the field is with some blue tape wrapped around your drill bit. When the excess tape wipes away all your shavings you know you reached the depth you set out to drill.

Blue tape depth stop

Blue tape depth stop

Next up is using a fixed metal stop collar. This gives a more precise stop, but if you press too hard the collar can mar the surface of the wood, so I mainly use the collar with a dowel centering jig (As the collar stops when it hits the jig) or in places where the wood rubbed by the collar will not be seen.

Metal Collar Depth Stop

Metal Collar Depth Stop

When I have the luxury of a drill press at hand I can make use of the built in quill depth stop (left side of drill press in photo below). When buying a drill press make sure you get a heavy duty depth stop and easy to use depth setting mechanism. Even with a nice stop I don’t trust the scale on it other than for macro level adjustments. For checking hold depth with a higher level of accuracy I use a depth gauge.

Drill press depth stop

Drill press depth stop

A depth gauge can be as simple as using your combo square with large holes, or a piece of dowel in smaller holes used to determine how deep the hole has been drilled. For real tiny holes or times I want a very high level of precision I use an old Starrett Machinist Depth Gauge I got at a tool show years ago. I like this gauge as it has its own macro and micro adjustment which is a very nice and completely overkill feature. :-)

Old Starrett Depth Gauge with Micro-Adjustment

Old Starrett Depth Gauge with Micro-Adjustment

I set the gauge to the depth I want as shown above. I then place the gauge in the hole, as shown below, and tweak my drilling until I reach the depth I am going for. It’s a quick and easy process.

Depth Gauge In Use

Depth Gauge In Use

With all the holes drilled I was able to install all of the threaded inserts into the posts. As the natural cherry ages it will become a golden brown color that will blend in with the brown colored hardware.

Completed Legs With Hardware Installed

Completed Legs With Hardware Installed

I’m very happy with how the hardware came out, and as you can see in the photo below, even on this freshly completed piece the hardware, and the threaded inserts and bolts in particular blend in quite well.

Mattress frame installed

Mattress frame installed

Next up in this series I’ll be talking about final assembly and finishing.

If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project as they get posted please check out this link here.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Made In The USA, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , | 2 Comments

Building Bradley’s Crib Part 2 – Tapered Legs

Today I’ll be talking about what it took to build the legs — 3 pairs — for Bradley’s crib and cover some of the more interesting techniques employed. This project was more of a ‘modern woodworking’ project compared to the period furniture and architectural details I am normally working on, but as I’ll show below there is a place for both styles of woodworking and they complement each other well.

Milling stock for 3 pairs of legs

Milling stock for 3 pairs of legs

Rather than having massive posts from a solid piece of cherry that needs to be mortised, this set of plans called for laminating up the stock from 4/4 pieces that were milled down to 3/4″ thick. For this project I tried to mill as many pieces as I could at a time, so for quite a while in the shop there were a lot of small piles of wood that would migrate around the shop as they were ripped, jointed and planed. I’m pretty sure my wife thought I was just moving the wood around like a child moving vegetables around on a plate to make it look like they are eating them. I’d mill things a bit heavy and let them sit stickered for a few days to acclimate further to the shop and mill to final size just before I’d use each piece.

Laying out in bulk

Laying out in bulk

By ganging blanks of the same type together I was able to mark them all at once saving layout time and helping to ensure they are all consistent.

Used a dado set and miter gauge with sacrificial fence to cut dadoes

Used a dado set and miter gauge with sacrificial fence to cut dadoes

By using a dado head cutter in my table saw with a zero clearance insert and a heavy duty miter gauge with a sacrificial block to help limit tear-out I am able to quickly create what will become the mortises in the laminated post. This not only saves some time, but produces a nice clean mortise bottom. Make sure you make your mortises a tiny bit deeper to allow room for glue, any crumbs and a tiny bit of wood movement in the post. Given that the panel is cherry veneer plywood it will not move much.

Making sure the rails have a nice tight fit

Making sure the rails have a nice tight fit

The goal is a nice square fit, and since the panels were already sized during the earlier ripping operations — see Part 1 – you could test fit them as you go.

Laminating the legs

Laminating the legs

With the mortises all cut, it was time to laminate up each leg. In picking the stock for the legs I was careful to choose the best grain orientations for the faces you’ll see. The pieces are all a little bit long and a little bit wide so the excess could be cut off after the glue dries. You want to be careful with your glue application, I applied warm hide glue to the both sides of the center piece of the lamination to make sure I didn’t get glue in any of the mortises.  I also shot a couple of finish nails into the inch or so of waste on each end as that helps stop the pieces from sliding around when clamping up the lamination and it will be cut off later.

You can never have too many clamps...if I had more I would have had more baking at the same time

You can never have too many clamps…if I had more I would have had more baking at the same time

I glued up as many legs as my clamps would allow. You want to use nice strong clamps like the Bessy K Body clamps shown above to eliminate any voids in the laminated pieces. After the glue cured overnight I cut the legs to length — thus getting rid of the nails that helped keep things aligned. Next up I jointed and planed each leg to thickness and laid out the tapers on each leg — the two inner faces were tapered to give the legs a slightly lighter look.

Legs after tapering the bottoms

Legs after tapering the bottoms

I tapered the legs on the band-saw and then cleaned up the mill marks with a hand plane. The plane made quick work of that task and yielded better results than a disc sander would be able to produce.  Then using a palm router I rounded over all the appropriate edges using a 1/8″ round-over bit and cleaned up any mill marks from the router with 220 grit sand paper.

Completed Legs

Completed Legs

Next up in this series I’ll be talking about modifying and installing the hardware, followed by final assembly and finishing.

If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project as they get posted please check out this link here.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Made In The USA, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Building Bradley’s Crib Part 1 – The Curved Headboard

As promised I’ll be making a few posts covering some of the more interesting aspects of building the 3-n-1 crib, toddler bed and adult bed I recently finished for my son. In today’s installment I’ll be talking about what it took to make the curved headboard.

The first step in the process was to make the template and bending forms. For bending forms you want stock that is stable, cheap and dense — won’t dent when a template router bit passes over it (MDF would be too soft). So in this case I used 4’x8′ sheets of particle board.

Ripping Heavy Sheet Goods Straight From The Truck -- Saves space in a tight workshop

Ripping Heavy Sheet Goods Straight From The Truck — Saves space in a tight workshop

These sheets are heavy and make an incredible amount of dust when you cut into them so to save myself some headaches and shop cleanup I ripped the sheets to rough width right off the back of my pickup truck, through my job site table saw and onto rollers. Thankfully my wife Alyssa was on hand to help handle the offcuts as I pushed the stock through the saw. It worked out great.

Rail Saw made quick work of some long thin rips where I wanted to control veneer tearout and grain orientation

Rail Saw made quick work of some long thin rips where I wanted to control veneer tearout and grain orientation

For ripping out cherry veneered plywood panels I used my rail saw to ensure accurate cuts, minimize grain tear-out and control grain orientation.

Using a fairing stick to lay out the curve for the headboard and templates

Using a fairing stick to lay out the curve for the headboard and templates

I used a fairing stick to lay out the curve on one of the bending form blanks. A fairing stick is a thin, flexible piece of wood that allows you to lay out a curve. (And if you thin out one or both sides you can adjust how it bends and thus change the curve to suit your project) With the fairing stick clamped in place I could trace the curve onto the stock. The next step was to cut out the curve on the band-saw and use belt and/or disc sanders to even out the curve and split the layout line. With that first pattern in hand it was time to work more like an assembly line. I’d trace the template onto the next blank, rough saw it out on the band saw and then clamp the two blanks together and use a router with a pattern bit quickly and easily produce another template. Once I had 4 templates in place I lined them up and screwed them all together. With the bending form all in one piece I cleaned things up a bit more with the disc sander, added center and end lines to the form and the bending form was now ready to go.

Completed bending form

Completed bending form

To create the curved headboard panel I followed the same procedure I used for creating templates — traced the curve, rough band-sawed out the blank and used the form and a template bit to create a panel that exactly matched the bending form.

Using the form with a templating router bit to copy the curve

Using the form with a templating router bit to copy the curve

The next step was to re-saw a single cherry board into three 1/4″ thick strips for the cap, being careful to minimize any waste as I want the side and end grain to match up as close as I can get it in the laminated and curved headboard cap. The strips are left a bit longer and wider to allow for easy cleanup after the lamination process.

Gluing up one of the curved blanks

Gluing up one of the curved blanks

I used Old Brown Glue (Hide glue) warmed up in my double boiler to glue up this lamination. I used hide glue because of its long open time and friendliness to finish — I’m far less likely to see any hide glue in the finished piece when compared to PVA glue which sticks out like a sore thumb. With the glue applied to the lamination I started clamping it to the bending form working out from the center towards each end and let it sit in the clamps for 24 hours. Once removed from the clamps I was able to joint off any glue squeeze out and round over the edges using my router table and hand-held router with varying sizes of round-over bits.

Using dowels to help with clamping of the curved cove moldings

Using dowels to help with clamping of the curved cove moldings

With the completed head-board cap in hand I was able to glue and screw it onto the headboard frame assembly. The screws were located at the ends of the cap and bite into the solid wood posts/legs. They’re set into countersunk holes that were plugged. I made the plugs from the same piece of wood I made the cap from and made sure to orient the plug grain direction to match the cap. The plugs blend in well. Next a nice cove molding is installed under the cap and after cutting it to size and matching the 10 degree angle on the ends there was a mild challenge of how to clamp it in place. The solution was to use small pieces of dowel stock to help transfer the clamping pressure from the clamp pad onto the molding — it worked out well.

Completed Headboards and Footboards

Completed Headboards and Footboards

Overall I am very happy with how this process of cold bending cherry to make a curved headboard cap went. I made two caps just in case one got messed up in the process, and I’m happy to report that both turned out well, so I have a second curved cap ready to go if I ever have to make another crib for a second baby.

Next up in this series I’ll be talking about the challenges of making the legs and modifying the hardware.

If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project as they get posted please check out this link here.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , | 4 Comments

Bradley’s Crib

The past few months out in the workshop I’ve been building a crib, and a toddler bed and a full size adult bed for our new baby — Bradley. The story of how I wound up building this crib is an interesting tale about baby furniture in America today…

Completed Crib

Completed Crib

With a baby in the house, we had a clear need for a crib. I wanted to build a crib, but with everything going on in our lives — our work, my teaching, writing, preparing the house for the baby etc my wife Alyssa and I were all set to buy a crib for the baby before he arrived. We went to all the usual baby stores — Baby’s R Us, Baby Depot, Buy Buy Baby, Target etc — all the cribs were poorly made imported junk that looked terrible on display and were more than I was willing to pay for such junk. Then we tried all the usual furniture stores in the area and while the price tags went up exponentially the quality was only marginally better and I could not find anything I was willing to buy at any price. Eventually we found a brand and product line we liked by ‘Young America’ —  a company that specialized in higher end youth furniture, made in the USA from American Woods. With a 25+ year history in the marketplace and long running product lines you could keep adding pieces as your child grows — all things I liked. It was expensive, but I found a way to get it at a reasonable price via a buying club my parents were part of. We were all set to place our order and the week we finally went to enter the order the manufacturer said it was no longer accepting new orders. From searching online we found out that the parent company Stanley decided to shut down the factory (and with it eliminate about 400 jobs).  If only I placed my order a week earlier…

Toddler Bed

Toddler Bed

So it was back to the hunt. If I couldn’t find anything American, maybe a European brand? Some friends recommended Bellini — an Italian company with a good reputation that specializes in baby and youth furniture. They had some nice designs and pricing was a little higher than that of Young America — but from reading reviews and looking at the current product line I learned that recent years the furniture was no longer made in Italy, but made in Asia and had a decrease in fit and finish quality – yet the prices remained just as high as ever. If I am going to pay European prices I at least want it to be made in Europe. Quickly running out of time and patience I decided the only way I was going to get a crib that made me happy was to build it myself.

Adult Bed -- Full Size Mattress

Adult Bed — Full Size Mattress

After a lot of searching I finally settled on a set of plans from Wood Magazine — the 3 in 1 bed which you can find here. The cheap Yankee in me liked the concept of these three in one cribs/beds and figured it would mean less furniture to store in the attic. It starts out as a crib, then converts into a toddler bed and finally converts to a full size adult bed by way of some nice hardware (decorative metal bolts and barrel nuts). The hardware — bolts and nice heavy metal bed frame are made in the USA and available from Products America here. The folks there are friendly and they produce hardware used by other baby furniture manufacturers.

Crib outfitted with mattress, sheets, skirt and of course stuff animals

Crib outfitted with mattress, sheets, skirt and of course stuff animals

I modified the design a bit by making the short side sections slatted — just like the front and back — being careful to adhere to government safety guidelines for cribs. I’m happy I did as I really prefer this look and the baby seems to like the extra light as well. I built the bed from Cherry instead of the maple you see in the article. I hand selected the cherry to have nice looking grain patterns and even tones. It took longer to build than I would have liked, as life, the birth and other obligations got in the way, but I am happy I finally finished this project and Bradley has a nice place to sleep. I am also happy with how rock solid this bed feels compared to the models we saw in the stores which felt flimsy in comparison.

A note for Bradley

A note for Bradley

On the bottom of the headboard is a small note — “For Bradley M. Rainford — Love Dad” for Bradley to find someday when he’s older.

Bradley enjoying his new crib

Bradley enjoying his new crib

Now the trick will be getting the baby to sleep in it — it’s only been a day or two and he loves playing in the crib more than sleeping in it, but he’s used to sleeping in the master bedroom. Thankfully the bed will be there waiting for him to play, grow and eventually sleep.

In a couple of upcoming posts I’ll talk a bit about how I built this project and some other modifications I made (baby safe finish, hardware patina modification, jigs) and other interesting construction challenges. If you’d like to read some other posts related to this project as they get posted please check out this link here.

Now its time to build him a dresser….

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Finishing, Made In The USA, Traditional Woodworking, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 9 Comments

3ft Invisible Paper Towel Holder

In August my wife and I had our first baby — Bradley. And with his arrival we went out and bought him all kinds of baby stuff to get his room ready. One of the key pieces of decorating his room was picking out his bedding. We picked a nice comforter set that coordinates his window curtains, changing table, pictures etc.  The funny twist is that young babies should not have a comforter in their bed with them, so you spent all this money on a comforter you can’t use right now, what do you do with it?

Don’t worry the marketing folks were on top of this — sort of. They sew a nice loop in the back which is designed for a curtain rod or similar device to hang the comforter on the wall, but nobody makes one sized for a baby. The curtain rods look ridiculous as they keep the blanket too far off the wall, I refuse to use two binder clips handing from nails, and standard quilt racks/shelves are all way too wide.  I guess the baby marketing team was too busy selling us wipe warmers, bottle sanitizers of all sort, teething chew toys and novelty onesies.

Then one afternoon as I was gathering up my scraps from building the crib a workable solution came to me…

Paper Towel Holders on my NYW Sharpening Station

Paper Towel Holders on my NYW Sharpening Station

I’d use the same simple mechanism I used to hold my paper towels on my New Yankee Workshop Sharpening Station. It’s a simple solution that makes use of a dowel and two corner blocks to hold the dowel in place. One of the blocks has some wood removed so gravity will keep the dowel in place, but downward forces keep the dowel secure. To remove the dowel you lift that side straight up and it comes out via a path you have cleared for it.

36" Wide Baby Comforter Holder

36″ Wide Baby Comforter Holder

I used a 1 1/4″ diameter 36″ long cherry dowel and some cherry scraps (extra crib slats) to make the holder. The dowel is only about 3/4″ off the wall, so when the comforter is in place it hangs very close to the wall the way I wanted it to look.  The corner blocks are carefully glued and screwed through the back. The holder is affixed to the wall via some countersunk screws that are hidden by the dowel when it is in place. Since I was using scrap wood, I used the thin 3/8″ cherry stock I had on hand, but if I were to build this project again I’d beef up those blocks some more. I used a Forstner bit in the drill press to drill out for the dowel and for the open ended side used a chisel to remove the extra wood.

Finish set to match other pieces of baby furniture in the room

Finish set to match other pieces of baby furniture in the room

The finish is garnet shellac, followed by several coats of medium brown gel dye stain and finished with a few coats of semi-gloss poly-acrylic. When the comforter is put in place it completely covers the holder.  The comforter is 2 inches wider than the 36″ pocket in the back so once on the wall the holder disappears.

Bradley in front of his new wall hanging

Bradley in front of his new wall hanging

All in all it was a quick and easy project that solves a problem the baby marketeers haven’t gotten around to yet. Bradley seems to enjoy jumping in his jumparoo and looking at all the animals on his comforter so I consider this project a success.

If you wind up making your own version or have solved this problem in another way, let us know.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Children's Projects, Design, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , , , , | 3 Comments

From Flakes to Finish, Mixing Shellac

Shellac is one of my favorite finishes and sanding sealer. It’s goes on well, dries quickly and  is compatible with many other finish types. Many folks new to woodworking seem to be afraid of it for whatever reasons — bad experiences using stale shellac from a can, association with antique or high end furniture, fear of a water ring or simply not knowing much about it the finish, where to get it or how to use it. I’m hoping to clear the air a bit and encourage more folks to try out this versatile finish.

The most common way most folks have accessed shellac is via a can of Zinsser ‘Bulls-Eye’ shellac which is available from most big box and hardware stores. There is nothing wrong with this product when it is fresh, but it does have a shelf life, so make sure to read the date on the package and get the most recent jar you can find — after 1-2 years on the shelf the canned shellac seems to deteriorate, and even faster once you open the can. You can dilute the canned finish by adding more denatured alcohol to it, thus making it into a lower cut and thus a thinner/lighter finish.

I prefer to mix my own shellac from flakes which is a straightforward process and ensures I always have fresh shellac on hand and of the ‘cut’ I want. (More on shellac ‘cuts’ in a bit..)  When kept in a cool dry place shellac flakes will last for years. Once mixed shellac generally will stay fresh for 6-12 months in a tightly sealed container.

Supplies needed to prepare shellac

Supplies needed to prepare shellac

Where do you get shellac flakes?

Thankfully we are living in a modern hand tool renaissance wherein it seems more and more cottage industries keep popping up with high quality tools and supplies. In recent years I’ve purchased de-waxed shellac flakes from Hock Tools, ToolsForWorkingWood.com, Liberon, Rockler, Woodcraft and Shellac.net .  Sometimes there are seasonal shortages as shellac is a natural product that mostly comes from India and similar parts of the world and in recent years the price of good quality flakes has risen as the result of decreased output due to environmental factors. I most often use blonde or super blonde shellac on lighter woods and as a sanding sealer as it imparts very little color to the wood. I used darker shellacs like amber and garnet on cherry and walnut and similar woods where I want to warm up the color of the wood.

How do I mix up shellac?

With some fresh shellac flakes in hand I will measure out by weight the amount of shellac I want to make. For this example I want to make a pint of 2lb cut of garnet shellac. In order to do this I first needed to weigh out 4oz of shellac. (Remember to zero out your scale taking into account the weight of your empty measuring cup)

Weighing out for the cut you want

Weighing out for the cut you want

Next up I measure out 16oz of denatured alcohol by volume and put it in a re-sealable jar. I like to use glass jars with a rubber seal around them, often made by Fido and similar companies. I usually can get them in good sizes for very reasonable prices at places like ‘The Christmas Tree Shop’ and other discount retailers. The clear glass allows me to see how far along the flakes are in terms of dissolving and how much I have left at a given time.

Flakes dissolving in the alcohol

Flakes dissolving in the alcohol

Before adding the flakes to the alcohol I like to grind them up as much as possible being sure to remove any large lumps. By breaking up the flakes I am increasing the surface area of the flakes thereby helping the shellac to dissolve faster and not leave as many or any clumps in the jar.  In the photo below on the left you can see the flakes as they came from the supplier. On the right are the same flakes after I broke them up. Breaking of the flakes is a quick and easy process. I put the flakes in a strong container where the neck narrows a bit and I crush them using the bottom of my hammer handle. (Wood handle and clean) As I crush a bit of what I measured out I put it into the alcohol to start dissolving.

Shellac as it arrives (Left), Shellac after being broken up (Right)

Shellac as it arrives (Left), Shellac after being broken up (Right)

For the bigger lumps I use the head of the hammer to break them up, again trying to do this in or on a container that will not allow the pieces to fly all over the shop.

Breaking up the chunks

Breaking up the chunks

Once I have all the ground up shellac in the alcohol I swirl it around in the jar and then let it sit someplace in the shop near where I am working. Every so often I give it a quick shake until all the flakes are dissolved. Usually takes about a day and the finer you grind the flakes the better it dissolves.

Keep shaking until dissolved

Keep shaking until dissolved

Once you have your batch of shellac ready to go I usually decant the volume I want to use into a smaller container and filter it during that operation. The smaller paper filters can be found at better finishing supply houses (used a lot with auto finishing) or medical suppliers. I first heard about them at medical suppliers when I had a kidney stone and learned more that I ever wanted to about filtration.

Samples

Samples

When applying shellac by hand I normally make a rectangular rag from old (clean) white undershirts folding the rag to be the size and thickness I want and dip it into the shellac and apply via motions that are similar to using a paint brush. You want to avoid leaving streaks and making sure to take strokes that go from end to end on the piece. You’ll also want to sand between coats with 200+ grit sandpaper, 000 or 0000 steel wool or my new favorite — synthetic steel wool like Mirka Mirlon.

What ‘cut’ is right for me?

A ‘cut‘ or ‘pound cut‘ is the term used to describe the number of pounds of shellac dissolved into a gallon of alcohol. If you want a specific pound cut but don’t need a gallon you simply maintain the same ratio of flakes to alcohol. The table below will show you the most common cuts:

Alcohol (Vol.) 1 pound cut 2 pound cut 3 pound cut
1 Gallon (128 fluid oz) 1Lb. (16oz.) flakes 2Lb. (16oz.) flakes 3Lb. (16oz.) flakes
1/2 Gallon (64 fluid oz) 1/2Lb. (8oz.) flakes 1Lb. (16oz.) flakes 1.5Lb. (24oz.) flakes
1 Quart (32 fluid oz) 1/4Lb. (4oz.) flakes 1/2Lb. (8oz.) flakes 3/4Lb. (12oz.) flakes
1 Pint (16 fluid oz) 1/8Lb. (2oz.) flakes 1/4Lb. (4oz.) flakes 1/2Lb. (8oz.) flakes
1 Cup (8 fluid oz) 1/16Lb. (1oz.) flakes 1/8Lb. (2oz.) flakes 1/4Lb. (4oz.) flakes

I normally start off with a 2lb cut and thin it if I need a lighter cut.

Shellac.net has a nice description of some basic uses for common ‘cut’s of shellac:

In general a “2 Pound Cut” is a good place to start. Several thinner coats are often easier to apply and finish than few heaver coats. work methods, tools, weather, and environment will dictate your ‘pound cut’ preference. A 3 pound cut is generally reserved for priming or sealing of stains, and sap, or knots prior to painting, especially on softer woods. Always use a Dewaxed Shellac as a primer under paint or as a seal-coat under clear finishes.

And ‘Natural Handyman’ has a nice description of the most common uses of shellac here and the relevant snippet for common cut usage would be:

1-lb. – Pre-stain sealing, French Polish finishing
2-lb. – Pre-finish sealing; general wood finishing
3-lb. – Floor finishing; sealing knots & sap streaks
4-lb. – Sealing tough knots & sap streaks, stains

I hope the above has de-mystified some aspects of mixing and working with shellac and I hope that you will incorporate it into some of your own projects.

Time for me to get back out into the shop.

Take care,
-Bill

Categories: Finishing, Woodworking Techniques | Tags: , , , , , | 9 Comments

Building a Budget Spray Booth

I don’t like to sand. It is my least favorite part of woodworking. I use sharp hand tools and scrapers to cut down on how much sanding I need to do, but like death and taxes, for the woodworker sanding is a necessary part of the woodworking lifecycle. This summer I saved up some of what I made from teaching and bought a nice HVLP system. (FujiSpray Mini-Mite 4 with Gravity Fed Gun — more on that in a future post). With a nice HVLP I figured I could cut down on the amount of time I spend sanding a finish as each finish coat will generally go on faster and flatter with the spray gun. I figured I could just setup some cardboard or spray outside, but the New England winter set in and I had a LOT of finishing I need to take care of this season and too much stuff in the shop that I don’t want to get any overspray on so I decided I needed to build a proper spray booth in the basement that would not break the bank and could easily be taken down when I need the space back.

Formufit PVC Spray Booth Kit

Formufit PVC Spray Booth Kit

When looking online for some inspiration the main things I found were — tiny kits for model makers, spray corrals or zip fit walls or full blown industrial car painting booths — none of which really met my needs. I eventually found a company called ‘Formufit’ that sells a kit of specialty PVC connectors that would allow you to build a 7’x7’x7 PVC cube with a hinged door. It looked like a good design to start off with. I also wanted to add filtered air to help deal with overspray.

For Christmas this year I bought all the supplies I needed to build a nice home spray booth — thank you to my wife Alyssa for letting me buy them — and I’ll walk you through the process here.

Supplies

Supplies

The PVC fittings kit cost me $65.00 with shipping and you can find the Formufit Spray Booth Kit here. Below is a rough list of materials I put into this project. I had the tape, 2x4s, pine and screws on hand but added them since not everyone may have that on hand.

Spray Booth Materials List

Spray Booth Materials List

The total I arrived at was $264.62 which is a reasonable price considering how big this booth is and what it can do. I put together a nice time lapse video you can video by clicking here or via the image below.

Spray Booth Time Lapse Video

Spray Booth Time Lapse Video (Click photo to view video)

I’m quite happy with how the booth turned out and bet it will see a lot of use this winter.

If you attempt build your own here are some additional details which may help you along the way:

  1. Covering the floor — for $4 I bought a two pack of disposable painter drop cloths. The upper is paper that can absorb drips and below it is plastic to stop bigger spills. It was good for the price, but if you are not careful can easily be ripped so I found myself taping up some holes I made. Next time out I might get something heavier duty.
  2. Lighting — add some extra lighting above the booth so you can see what you are spraying. In my basement I added three 48″ 2 bulb flourescent fixtures with daylight color temp bulbs I had on hand and they did a great job illuminating the booth.
  3. Finding box fans in New England in the dead of winter is not easy. The only place I could find any was ironically at Walmart via the webpage pick up in store option. I bought 3 ‘Galaxy’ 20″ box fans which use 0.8amps and amazingly are made in the USA. They cost me $16.88 each. Even with the filters in place they are pretty quiet and move a good amount of air.
  4. I built a frame out of 2x4s to house the box fans and allow me to stand them vertically. The 2xs are attached with 3″ ceramic deck screws. The box fans are attached to the frame via #14 x 3/4″ pan head screws. I used holes already in the bottom of the fans to attach one side.
    Fan Housing

    Fan Housing

    On the other sides I used a starter punch to make a dent and then drilled through the sheet metal into the frame. That method worked great. When making the frame make sure you leave enough space for your hand to get to the control knob on the fan. The bottom is left long to function as feet and keep the bottom fan above the bottom PVC of the booth. I also zip tied the wires together and used a 3 way splitter to connect them. This way I can control the fans via a single extension cord. I also screwed on some wood scrap legs/supports to keep the fan enclosure standing upright on its own.

    Fan Housing

    Fan Housing

  5. Plastic Sheeting — get the thickest stuff you budget will allow. I bought 10’x25′ rolls of 4mil plastic which you can find in the roofing section of a large building supply store. I put one roll over the top and left and right side of the booth. From the second roll I cut out 9′ sections to make a front and back. I used the remainder of the roll to cover the fan frame and allowing overlap. Once stapled to the fan frame I cut out circles to direct the air flow and seal the booth. I used medium sized spring clamps to hold the plastic onto the spray booth frame.
  6. 1-1/4″ PVC was a little harder to find at the store, but once you had it in hand it cuts easily on a chop saw with a carbide blade. Cutting the pieces to length was easy via the plans that came with the kit. I could measure and cut one piece then use that as a template with a sharpie to transfer it to the others and cut off the sharpie line each time. Use a rubber mallet or arm strength to seat all the pipe pieces in the fitting. The only joints that were glued were the small pieces holding the hinges together. Everything else can be broken down or altered to fit your space.
  7. Filters — buy the cheapest filters you can find that looks like they’d actually do some filtering. Some were so cheap and thin you could see them. I bought two 3 packs of 3M filtrete filters that cost $7.99 for each pack and have some wire to help stiffen the filter as well. On the fan housing I tacked on some wood blocks that allow me to tape the filters in place. When the fans are on they hold themselves on so the tape really just keeps them from falling when the fans are off.
    Fans ready for testing. (Filter holding blocks in place)

    Fans ready for testing. (Filter holding blocks in place)

    For the intake air frame I just pocket screwed together some scrap pine I had in the shop being careful to tightly fit the opening to the size of the filters. I then tape the filters in place from the outside. This frame was hung from that PVC frame via a small bit of chain and some ‘S’ hooks.

    Frame for intake air filters

    Frame for intake air filters

  8. For the door make sure to use some double sided tape (or looped tape in my case) to keep the plastic on the door frame and make sure there is overlap so you can have some level of seal when the fans are on.
  9. Integrating the filter and fan frames. I put the wall sheeting in place, then places the fan frame where I wanted it. I then cut in like how you’d cut house wrap for a window and then stapled the plastic onto the wood frame thus making a good overlapping seal. The intake filter frame was hung up first, then overlaid with plastic and cut in, in a similar manner. With the door closed there is a pretty good amount of suction — you’ll see the plastic on the walls and ceiling suck in a bit, but that is good news and shows the power of the fans. (The clamps on the frame will keep the plastic from coming down on your head or your work.)

This was a fun project to build and I look forward to finally getting some more practice in with the spray gun.

Take care,
-Bill

IMPORTANT NOTE:
See safety disclaimer for the website here. The fans used here are not rated for flammable materials. I am only using this booth to spray water based finishes and a ways from the filters. If you plan to spray flammable materials you should do so outside or with a setup that includes a spark proof fan. Information provided on this blog is without warranty, so please use common sense when trying anything like this at home. If anything feels dangerous, do not do it. Also make sure to wear proper eye, ear and lung protection when working with finishes.

Categories: Finishing | Tags: , , , , , , | 5 Comments

Drafting a great last minute Holiday Gift

It’s that wonderful time of year —  after Thanksgiving and before Christmas — where the Black-Friday and Cyber-Monday frenzy has died down and last minute shoppers are coming to the realization they’ll have to visit a brick and mortar store or start clicking on expedited shipping if they want their gifts to arrive in time for holidays.  It’s also the time of year where bloggers offer their holiday gift guides, last minute project ideas and holiday drink recipes.

Fear not, I’m willing to attempt the holiday blogging trifecta with this post.

Sharpening a lead

Sharpening a lead

Gift Idea for the Woodworker In Your Life — Learn the basics of Drafting by hand

Earlier this year I made a 2 hour video ‘webinar’ for Popular Woodworking titled “Hand Drafting Skill Builder” wherein I talked about the basic tools and techniques required to draft by hand. I started with a terminology and supply overview, then walked through several samples and discussed appropriate practice exercises.

From the course description:

With the basic drafting skills covered in this course you can quickly and efficiently communicate ideas and generate working plans.With a solid set of plans in hand, your woodworking in the shop will benefit from all the design details you worked out on the drawing board, where changes are easier to make. Your wood rack and your wallet will also benefit from the decreased waste.

Course Highlights:

  • What constitutes a basic drafting tool kit
  • How to layout a good working drawing with standard elevations, scales etc.
  • How to properly draw lines and make use of line weights
  • How to dimension a drawing
  • Basic lettering
  • Correcting mistakes
  • Where to find more information

The recorded version of this course is now available online and you can learn more about the course and see a sample video here on ShopWoodworking.com

Drafting Scales

Drafting Scales

The above content is also available as part of a 9 piece bundle called ‘9 Key Tools For Better Furniture Design’ which includes a lot of other great resources for anyone interested in stepping up their furniture design skills and sells for half off of what the 9 items would cost individually. This bundle can be found online here.

Both of the above are digital download content so there is no waiting or shipping necessary.

Last Minute Holiday Project Idea — Cutting Boards

I bet you have a lot of scrap around your workshop — most woodworkers are also wood hoarders. A cutting board is a great way to use up some of that scrap stock that has been haunting your woodpile for way too long. It’s also a great way to make room for the next project.

Holiday Drink — Gløgg

This classic warm Scandinavian holiday drink is great at a party and everyone seems to have their own recipe for it.  Here’s a good starting recipe.

With the holidays quickly approaching it’s time to don the holiday sweater, have a warm drink and a snack and start drafting the next project.

Happy Holidays.

Take care,
-Bill

 

 

Categories: Popular Woodworking, Writing | Tags: , , , , , , | 2 Comments

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