Monday, August 31, 2009

Heritage Door Update

Getting into the Oak

The door build is getting back to it's before summer pace and things are coming along as planed. For anyone following this project (Dan!) I should apologise for not updating sooner...wanted to get some of the summer project down first. I left the door frame seven weeks ago with the tenons sawn and mortises chopped, nothing was fit, no haunches or shoulders cut or dressed...this is what still needed to be done to complete the main frame and get on with the panels. This is where I started to get back into the Oak.

A frequent reader commented on the amount of moisture in my basement shop over the summer and was asking if and how much the wood swelled up these past few weeks. I had been thinking this same thing during my time out East and was surprised to discover that nothing seemed to really change. My moisture content was still between 9 and 11% which is ideal in my work and the wood looks as straight and flat as when I left in late June. This is a good thing...a really good thing.
I use a Wager Extended Range Moisture meter, I purchased it at Lee Valley a couple of years ago and it was one of the smartest investments I ever made. Because I use as much reclaimed and salvaged lumber as I can in my work it's a practical tool in the wood shop. Here is a pic I borrowed from the Lee Valley website along with a little blurb about what they say about the unit.

This non-invasive meter uses advanced electromagnetic wave technology to accurately measure wood moisture content without damaging wood surfaces. It instantly scans an area measuring 1-1/2" x 2-1/2" to a depth of 3/4", computes the average moisture content for the area, corrects for the specific gravity of the species being worked and then shows the result (from 5% to 30% in 0.1% increments) on the large digital display.

Its continuous scan ability allows measurement of numerous board feet within just a few seconds. For testing in hard-to-reach areas where you can't read the display, a handy "hold" feature lets you take the measurement and then remove the meter to read it. The specific gravity correction is push-button programmable within the 0.20 to 1.0 range in 0.01 increments, making it suitable for use with domestic and exotic wood species.

So to get back to the door procedures I have to say that it's a real bonus being able to work these shoulder cuts with my new Bad Axe back saws. They make quick work of the hardwood and I move on to some fine tuning and removing the small waste left behind from my cuts. I try to keep this process as simple as I can while maintaining as close to perfect execution when cutting to my knife lines. When we stop and think about this concept it can really be as easy as it sounds; make a nice deep knife line and cut down to it. Never past it and never leaving a trace of fat on top of it...simple enough right? Certainly sounds like it could be but care and patience must be taken when removing the wood from these joints. A small slip with a chisel or a few too many passes with the shoulder plane can quickly turn a tight fitting joint into a loose one. (and who enjoys loose joints right?)

I start of with one of my long paring chisels at the lower shoulder line and carefully place the tip into the still visible knife line. I pare away the waste leaving a clean and polished shoulder. A small combination square quickly tells me things are as they should be and I can move onto my medium shoulder plane which is presented in the top picture of this post.

This small shoulder in turn becomes a perfect fence or perhaps guide is a better word for my plane to ride against. With the shoulder plane I remove the waste from each cheek of the tenon careful not to pass my scribe lines and then I'll switch over to a small low-angle block plane to get the end of the tenon to size. ( I think the Rabbet Block plane Lie Nielsen manufactures is somewhere in my not so distant future...a close friend in Cape Breton has used one for a few years now and swears by it) A quick chamfer on the leading edges and I'll test fit the pieces.

This door design has a lower rail, a locking rail, a header above the window and finally a top rail. Four rails in all with slightly different mortise to haunched tenon configurations in each. Why make them all the same right? That would just be so boring! Seriously though, a bit of research into the history of door making through books like The Practical Woodworker by Bernard E. Jones and Modern Practical Joinery from George Ellis were quite indispensable and really helped me when deciphering my options in exterior door examples from the past. My joinery options are all pre-determined by the history laid out before me.

Because I'm building a door for a 'Heritage' home I cannot in any way deviate from the original design. This was kind of a painful aspect for me through this project but is turning out to be a kind of pleasure as well. It's all there in front of me, the information I need. Solid, living examples all through this historic neighbourhood we call Cabbage Town. I strolled through the street like a man with a purpose, knocking on doors asking if I could take a 'closer look' at things. Some faces seemed to fill with fear and others a little skeptical of me on their door steps asking if I could 'look at their doors' (at least I wasn't building a heritage bed or bathroom project) A few of my clients neighbours were welcoming and forthcoming, curious while I studied a few of the doors that are still in use. A few are in rough shape (potential future clients I hope!)but some look as if they were build in the last 20 to 30 years. We're talking about doors that are over 100 years old here! A great testament to the true power of solid wooden joinery. Standing through these Upper Canadian winters and then the sweltering, humid heat of these Southern Ontario summers- they're perfect in their use and beautiful in purpose through design.

When I mentioned that this process could be a bit on the painful side for me it's mostly due to the fact that my shop has a working footprint area about 12' x 12'. The door is in the 3' x 7' ball park and is already gettin' as heavy as sin. This is the frustration in my small basement shop. I'm thinking ahead to my final assembly, the glue up, the finishing-my back is starting to ache! My dining room is calling me up from this space. Sounds funny I know but sadly I'm not kidding. Hey, a drop cloth and some saw benches, a nice thick sheet of some 3/4" plywood and I'll have a make shift work surface to get this project finished. Speaking of finishing, once I had all of the tenons dry fit I dis-assembled the frame and started to lay out the dados for the door panels. The panels are a full 1" in thickness but will have rabbets all around bringing the edges into the 1/2" range. The panels are flat which may also be a surprise to some. I test run and pleaded with the old plough plane I've been tuning but sadly the results are not up to par.

I have the small plough plane made by Veritas which I really like using but this plane only offers a 3/8" iron as it's widest. I went to visit Dan Barrett before the summer began and he hooked me up with some irons and a wedge for this great old plough plane I had been trying to get back into working order.(Dan makes incredible wooden planes at his shop here in Ontario...DL Barrett and Sons link on the side bar)

It was really my hope to be able to use this antique plane to carry out this part of the build but the fence is still just a bit too finicky so I decide to go ahead and use the small plough plane. Having to take a few extra passes (almost double the amount of work) I also used my side rabbet planes and my large router plane.

All in all the dados went really well taking a few extra hours of my morning and I'm able to move onto the panels. Another dry fit and I cut and dimension a few scraps to test fit the corners of the dados. This is getting exciting as things progress onwards.

Cross cutting the panels is a real pleasure with my old saw and this Oak. I've been working with this wood now for awhile and it can still stop me dead in my tracks and reminds me to consider just how lucky I am to be working with it. These 1" by almost 9" quarter sawn planks for my panel stock is truly an amazing specimen; straight and clean with a nice blend of rays throughout the panels I find myself staring at it while I work and drifting away down deep into the wood grain. (maybe that's just the funky cream in my coffee talking?)

At any rate I'm jointing two thin strips onto the pieces to make up the width needed for the openings. I'll have lots of room for wood movement underneath the heavy mouldings that'll come to wrap the panels.

Most of the heritage door examples in the area all show me that the builders back then did this very thing; nice wide panels, no visible joint lines all made up from solid timber.

I'm sure they moved and they shrank-they slammed and they welcomed. The quarter sawn Oak is one of the more stable woods and I'm confident there will never be an issue with it. So I'm onto the hand plane routine again, from surface to shooting board I get four panels all to size, flat, square and true.

Again the wood shavings quickly pile up and the sweat falling off of my forehead these past few days is giving me a nice raised grain effect!

So here I sit at my computer tonight, writing instead of working this wood-
I have two of the four panels fitted and the frame structure suddenly went from really heavy and strong to-'brother, this thing will be around for another 100 years!' Really, the panels add so much integrity to the frame, just a real solid feel and all sitting nicely with an even gap around the edges. Lots of room for movement without any danger of exposed seems due in part to the mouldings that'll cover the jointed edges and the large rabbets. I'll get some shots in the morning and keep going on the other two bottom panels. My double-thermo glass panel is scheduled to be in this Thursday so it'll be onto the mouldings early next week. In another two weeks time, depending how the finishing goes, we'll be driving over to the nice part of town to install.
More to come...

Sunday, August 30, 2009

Unplugged Summer Part Three

Building a Stand for the Dovetailed Box

With the dovetails dry fit I'll take some of my scrap wood and try to get a sense of the weight and dimension the stand should be for the piece. I want things to be slight and skinny, with a modern sensibility about it. The exposed joinery on the box will also be reflected through the stand joinery but first I'll have to dimension some stock.

This 16' long plank of Khaya would be a dream to most but sadly it's so warped and twisted that getting a 30" length out of it without any kind of hollow or wind proves to be a real challenge. (now what's that about building myself that new 16' work bench?)

I'll continue on with some cross cutting and ripping followed by some more surfacing, shooting and then smoothing until I have all of the components needed to make up the stand.

The Tite-Mark is again in high demand around the wood shop and the stock thicknessing is a slow but pleasant affair. I'll scribe one side of the long narrow leg and then over to the bench for another round of surfacing...
The process is repeated again at my make shift saw bench.

Above you can see the nice deep scribe line I'll be able to cleanly plane to; the round blade and body of this style marking gauge makes it easy and accurate to 'roll around the edges of the work piece.

With the legs silky smooth I'll go ahead and glue together the box. Once dry I can finish plane it and then start fitting the legs to snugly wrap around the dovetailed carcass. I'll lay things out on the bench with clamps and knife in the joinery lines.

The top corners of the frame will be simple bridle joints with some mortise and tenon joinery for the cross stretchers and feet. This is a good half day of work getting the lower frame dimensioned with the joinery laid out. I'll leave it there for today and start sawing the corner joints and chopping the mortises in the morning...

5 a.m. and I'm up to get the early worm. Some coffee and a fire will clear away yesterdays shavings and I'll begin the joinery. In the next shot you can see I've laid out the mortises but I totally gapped on any shots of the bridle joint sawing.

The pieces are clamped securely down to the bench to with my surface clamp and a scrap oard so I don't bruise the freshly planed surfaces. I'll carefully chop out the waste with my mortise chisel and go ahead sawing the tenons. This process continues on from mortise to tenon, bridle to bridle.

I find some days that these early morning wake up calls can get the brain on auto-pilot and before I know it I'm dry fitting the front lower assembly.
I say front assembly because I've decided to make two upright frame sections for the stand; a thinner front assembly with an identical rear frame slightly larger than the first. This will add to the modern effect I'm looking for, almost cosmopolitan or a reflection of the city scape I've left behind a few weeks ago.

The shot above shows the front assembly clamped into my shoulder vise with the rear assembly piece balanced to see if I like where I'm going. Again the design evolves as I work and I allow the wood to dictate the forms as they develop into this small frame assembly almost alien in nature holding up the small structure.

The rear frame components follow the same pattern as the first only with slightly larger pieces and joinery. I'm moving along and am excited to get the feet started so I can stop rigging things up with clamps on the bench top. In the last shot you can see some of my Cabinet Master clamps acting as feet to hold the work tall and proud, this will again assist me in delivering a verdict on this design.

I'm happy with the way this piece is progressing and I'll rough out some stock for the feet. I decided to add another lower cross stretcher giving some more stability when the carcass gets pushed a little further 'through' the frame opening and cantilevers out a little bit more. The front left leg has a wild twist in it; I didn't notice it until the four legs are together around the carcass. I think about removing it but later choose to let it stay where it is. It gives the piece a strange kind of movement, almost a sense of waiting, perhaps on a journey somewhere?
I've got the feet to chop for the leg tenons and then I can do some more shaping. This will have to wait a few days; we have some summer company coming to visit and there's a list as long as my arm of things needing to be done around the house. I'm off to the timber frame pile next to the shop to cross cut some planks for my daughters bed. We just set up a nice old sleigh bed for her and it seems to be missing the cross rail supports that'll lie underneath the mattress. So with my panel saw and a framing square I have about 32 cross cuts to make in some old planks. It feels good for the soul to be outside under this summer sun working wood again.

Stay tuned...