Butler Desk 1

On the last day of September, in the middle of one of the most colorful and durable fall seasons, an inquiry email came from Barbra Butler. It turns out that she had a friend who came to the MCC Relief Sale in Goshen a couple weeks earlier, and mentioned seeing some work I had donated to the sale. She took a look at the website my son-in-law Danny made for me, and used the submission form to email me.

We discussed some questions on the phone and arranged for her and her husband Jim to come to the shop and check it out in person. The following Saturday, they took a 2 1/2 hour road trip to my home. We took a house and shop tour, looking at design ideas and construction techniques. It was a pleasant and rewarding conversation heading the same direction toward a desk and work station.

The first step was redrawing a desk that is on my short list of all time favorites, to meet the proportions Barbra was wanting.
The first decision was the wood type and Rift Sawn White Oak was picked, for the most straight grain and least medullary ray figure. These 9-10 footers fit the bill perfectly.
With the design and dimensions in my mind, I began laying out the pieces for the most important parts, the tops. For the 27 x 60 top, one wide board was able to be cut into two 60” halves and flank the middle in a most pleasing arrangement. The trio turned out to be 3/4” too narrow, so I spent considerable time with the other boards for another suitable match. In the end, nothing else struck my fancy, so I went with the eye over the tape measure.
This is the lay out work on the shorter top, 30 x 48. The focus does not do justice to the harmony of arrangement which will show up as the piece comes together. These pieces are set aside to be sanded through a wide belt sander at my favorite wood supply, Nisley’s Sons in Goshen.
Next was leg making. The heavier proportion called for dimensions not possible to find in Riftsawn White Oak, and it was not uncommon for the best of Prairie and Mission Styles to have hollow legs. In the past, I have used a 45 degree locking miter, but I wanted to have part of the middle solid for the best holding of the dowel joints. So I decided for a center fill of soft maple.
After the sides were glued, a groove was routed out, and a cap piece made. This is to give the best grain match all the way around the leg.
The caps were about 3/8” thick, so I used 7/8” support boards on each side. The Jorgensen clamps are 30 years old, and still pulling their weight with amazing strength.
Here is the leg after some basic machining to dimension, with the caps on the sides. The difference between face and edge grain can be easily seen. However, it nearly disappears when the corner is routed with a 3/16” round over. Then the eye relaxes, and the hand is comforted with the sharp edge is gone. Next up, making skirt, cross pieces, slats and slat bases.

Sofa Cabinet

In a beautiful tall living room overlooking Sweetwater Lake are stunning views galore, and eclectic design touches near at hand: the counter tops, the antique doors, the contemporary lamps and the real life boat functioning as a bed overhanging the balcony above. The room is generous in proportion as an invitation to a crowded party, and a large sofa sits facing the window side, leaving the back exposed to the entrance.

Why would you not put a long low cabinet to balance the back of the sofa, and give it room for the mandatory games, an oversized travel book maybe, and an elegant light or two? And why would you choose any style besides chevrons for the theme of the piece?

A few sketches boiled down to this one, and the final construction drifted to the right side.
Walnut was the wood of choice, and to give the best chance of a long enduring life, many dowels were used to make strong joints. There was a knot on this board which was laid out on the inside of the bottom skirt board, never to be seen, but I couldn’t resist drilling it out and replacing it with a solid face grain plug.
The back frame is being joined to the bottom, with biscuits to align the edges.
Now the front face and legs are being assembled to the case, using sixty-four dowels.
Clamping a cabinet that is 8’ long presents some special problems, with clamps hooked to each other or to middle face frame dividers. All the joints need to be tested without glue, to make sure they go together well, and then finally clamped with glue. The second time is the more nerve racking as there are only a few minutes working time.
The lower angled braces served to add a bridge arch design element, but also adds two more dowels at the post ends, and more vertical strength. The basic case is complete.
The cabinet ends and doors were designed to have chevron patterns. I picked a board with interesting grain, and cut it in 3” widths, and then sliced those in half to have enough chevrons all from the same board. They were routed with a lap joint, cut to angle, and glued to the panel center line. The assembled panels were then installed into the door frames.
After a few decades of messing around with wood, I still failed to fully account for the personality of walnut, as it presents with a bit more variability of sheen and color, depending on the orientation of the individual piece and the light source.
Back from the finish shop, with handles installed. Overall, I find this piece sophisticated and elegant, strong and graceful. Maybe it is just how life goes, we all like to be seen in the best light.
Waiting for the move to a gorgeous living room, and to get filled with games, fun times and memories.

Charcuterie / Kitchen

Wood is a friendly and warm surface to touch and look at in a home, and it finds special places in the kitchen. Over a lifetime of woodworking, I have done many projects for kitchens including coasters, trivets, cheese boards, cutting boards, and now Charcuterie boards.

Looking for all of the interesting pieces of wood left over from projects along the way, and too small to become a piece of furniture made this collection: White Oak, Curly Maple, Cherry, Mahogany, and Walnut.
The fun thing was arranging them in pleasing combinations.
As I looked at the boards, such personality seemed to emerge, that I began naming them, and the names were eventually engraved on them. This is Rippling River, of curly maple, walnut and cherry. The others were After Glow, Sunburst, Northern Lights, Elegance, Exuberance, Harvest Party 1 & 2, Hearts Desire, Joy Overflowing, Ribbons of Grace, Waves of Grace, Early Dawn, First Light, Mahogany Morning, Golden Tassel, and Rolling Thunder.
Another series of Charcuterie boards were done for sister Anne’s Christmas list. In this case I found an interesting plank of walnut, and sliced it down the middle to make book matched pieces.
The first coat of finish really lit up the grain!
Last but not least was the group of wire cheese slicers I bought and assembled into some left over, even smaller treasures of spalted maple. They take cheese to a whole new level of sophistication.

Thompson Transom 2

After all the wood repair was complete, and the holes filled with new wood and epoxy to last another generation, I called Scott at Lake Effect Marina to see if we should just paint the back end because the corners were not in good shape. He said that the owner was really hopeful that the same Mahogany look could be retained.

I asked about the corners and the bottom, and finally Scott said, “Dave, I have seen your boat. Just do this the way you would do it for yourself and I am sure it will be good.” Well, that settled it and made it clear how to proceed. it was time to add the pretty Mahogany layer.

The top piece was the most time consuming, trying to conform the the rub rail as closely as possible.
Then the pieces were epoxied and held in place by screws with wood washers, to prevent a large hole made by the head of the screw.
Usually, the transom wood goes first, and the side planks overlap the back. In this case, the corner was worn and chipped some, so the fairing epoxy was added to restore a strong and clean corner. That was how I’d do it.
Cutting away the extra 1/4” veneer, and shaping epoxy fairing compound involves some tricks. The roughest cutting was done with the American and Japanese saws, with the ends taped to protect against scratching the side. The rasp and chisels did more refinement, and the trusty orbital sander finished the job.
Yes, now the the side and bottom are now ready for paint touch up. The corner line is now accurate and will be beautiful.
The next step was to consider how to fill the small holes left from the screw clamps. The way I would do it is was with some elegant face grain plugs. So I did it that way. . . I cut off the end of a mahogany board, and made saw kerfs on both end. Then I used the band saw to cut the 1/4” square rods which have face grain on the ends.
The fragile cross grain rods are chucked gently into the drill, supported by the forked holder, and spun into a dull pencil shape.
The boat needed around 60 of these small face grain plugs.
Here are a couple of them, glued in.
Voila, the plugs nearly disappear even to a close inspection. Sanding started with a 80 grit long board for fairing, and then went through 120, 180 and 220 grits to prepare for varnish to be sprayed on. The beautiful iridescence will be showing soon, and I can imagine a boat name appearing near the top.
Jay from Lake Effect Marina came to pick it up, and kindly removed a snow pole rather than running over it. I hope to see the old Thompson when the project is finished.

Thompson Transom 1

Last summer when I took my wood boat for spring fire to Lake Effect Marina in Union, Michigan, the service tech Todd, asked me if I would some transom repair on an old wooden boat they were rebuilding. I thought about it a bit, and then said something like, “Um, well, I don’t know.” Todd took that for a yes, and escorted me to the storage building where it sat in sad circumstances.

I looked at it and mentally compared it to the size of my walkout basement shop. It still did not register yes. I said that I work pretty slow, so if he has another option, he should probably take it. Todd said that he had no other options, and that in the next couple of weeks he would clear the transom for me to rework.

A few weeks went by, then a couple of months, and relief was starting to settle in. Then, in October, I took my wood boat back to the marina for winter maintenance. The topic came up again, and this time Scott, the service manager, also talked about the 1962 Thompson.

This time I said I was about ready to start a boat of my own, so that them in a hustle to get first in line. Around November 15, Jay from the big office, brought it out to my house, and expertly backed it toward the garage door. The windshield would not clear the header, until we figured out that the canopy support frame was in the way. We rotated it down and then we backed her in with an inch to spare.

It filled up my shop, so I figured the only solution was to get to work. I picked up a 4 x 8 sheet of Okume Marine plywood, and some epoxy supplies at Johnson’s Workbench in South Bend, Indiana. The Mahogany came from Nisley and Sons east of Goshen.

The first task was adding an inch of thickness to the transom, on the inside of the boat. The existing framework required that the pieces be cut so I staggered the joints for the best strength. Each piece was glued in place and held with screws until the epoxy set up. The the screws were removed so there is no metal in the way of the future installation,, and each hole injected with epoxy.

When the inside was in place, I painted on a couple of coats of varnish and started to repair the back side.
A large hole needed a custom fit plug.
Another hole needed a round filler, so I rough cut it on the bandsaw and finished it by spinning on the sander.
The large hole marked by blue tape had some undercut decayed wood, so I made a router jig to cut out a rectangular hole to make a fill piece.
For smaller holes where I had drilled out some decayed wood, I made 1/2 inch face plugs.
Eventually, all the holes were filled, and sealed up, and the previous motor hole filled.
Epoxy filler was added to hollow areas, and sanded smooth to fair the surface in preparation for the new mahogany.

Fixing A Broken Screw

With furniture old and new, occasionally a screw breaks off under the surface and hides contentedly. The most common fix is to drill another hole beside it and put a new screw in there. The problem is that either the new screw will pull the hinge out of square, or more likely, the screw will go in at an angle. Then the screw head usually sticks up, which can interfere with the easy closing of the hinges.

This time, I decided to fix it right and remove the half screw. I first drilled a 1/2” hole with a Forstner bit close the the metal shaft. Then, several 1/16” holes were drilled around the screw.

A little picking around it with a needle nose plier gave a purchase point, and I reversed the screw out of the hole. Voila!

After drilling more deeply into the hole with the same 1/2” bit, I cut a 1/2” plug from a section of walnut that matched fairly well, and glued it into place.

A little clean up with a sharp chisel, and a touch of finish makes as good as new, and ready for a new screw hole to be drilled. It’s just another one of those things buried into the construction of a furniture piece, that should never to be seen again. Sometimes the toughest test of craftsmanship is recovering from the inevitable and unexpected detours.