Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Mystery Wooden Object

Straight off I should say that I love a mystery. Puzzles and riddles too. I especially like them when they are connected to real objects. I’m not sure why. Maybe it is a quest for small truths. Or just intellectual curiosity. Maybe it is wanting to discover the secret clues to how each small part of the story fits together as the whole.

Or maybe – wait, I think I am doing it now – the mystery of the mysteries! Aaagh! Well, I guess I do fit my sometime nickname of “Mr. Theory”.

Anyway – here’s one I have been thinking about. If you like this kind of thing then enjoy – and feel free to speculate or poke holes in my theory. If you don’t – well, it’ll probably bore you to tears and you might want to stop now – but take a look anyway, because maybe you have some ideas about this…

Item: Mystery Wooden Thing

Known History: Not much. The woman at the store didn’t know anything about it, but said she bought it because she really liked how it looked and felt in her hand. I agreed and ponied up.

Front View: (Hand included for scale…)

Rear View:

Side View:

Detail View of Bracket:

Features I’ve noticed:

Faceted, rather than true curve on outside.
Thickness varies somewhat – not uniform.
Strange square insert in back – could be cut off tenon or just a patch.
Bracket opening at bottom (just feels like bottom…) shows wear pattern on inside.
Besides rosette, there are fainter decorative lines carved on the bracket.


It had a purpose. Seems overly complex to just be a “doodle”.
It was handmade. Way too much character for anything else.
Something went through that bracket – a cord maybe? Functions like a pulley?


Why the square mortice? Wouldn’t boring a round mortice be faster? I can think of two reasons. First, if this was used as some sort of pulley it would need to resist pivoting back and forth from the friction of the cord being pulled through it. Square mortice and tenon clearly better here. Second, maybe he/she didn’t have an auger big enough, or even a brace. Could this thing be entirely carved with a knife?

One of a kind, or a lone wanderer from a set?

What type of wood is it?


Okay, time to take a crack at it.

Here’s what I think: It is a pulley or bracket that was hung on the wall by way of the square mortice, now plugged by the tenon cut off when it was salvaged, and it’s use was somehow connected to window treatments. Handmade by the owner.

Theory Weaknesses:

Tons. Primarily, that the “cut off tenon” is very smooth and has similar surface quality to rest of piece – does not look like a recent salvage job…


I don’t know what it is but I think it is a great example of how form might follow function, yet is not tied to it. I don’t know the function, but I really appreciate and love the form. Someone put a lot of time and energy into making this, and I love it for its form alone – I just wish I knew more about it. Any ideas?

Monday, July 21, 2008


Well, blogging continues to take a backseat to the ongoing bamboo floor project. I cannot believe how time consuming it is! My only consolation is that it sure looks great! But man-o-man, slow, slow, s-l-o-w! Glad I didn’t really know about this ahead of time – I never would have started…

One unexpected bright spot was actually getting to use my Stanley #70. This did not start out as a good thing – it’s amazing what a carpet and pad can hide. The plywood sub-floor was all over the map in terms of flat and smooth. I spent a lot more time fixing it than I anticipated – “I’ll just tear this carpet up and put down the bamboo. Simple.” Yeah, right. Anyway, some high spots were okay after screwing them down tight, but some were not. A few sheets of the plywood were thicker than the others (Apparent motto of the original construction guys: “Can’t see it from my house!”) and the abrupt edge had to be eased into a wide bevel that the flooring could cope with. Enter the #70 – “Plane-On-A-Stick!”

I had bought this years ago. Didn’t really need it, other than some vague idea it might be usable for Windsor chair seats. But it was in great shape at a good price, and it looked lonely and unloved. It has been sitting on the shelf in the shop waiting to get in the game, and now its day had come. And what a champ! Worked perfectly! Almost made the flooring job fun. Almost.

The plane end rotates, and can be used both pulling and pushing.

Cool! But after this job is done, it’s back to the shelf for a long while. The bamboo for the kitchen floor is on hold whilst I rebuild my depleted store of motivation and a team of chiropractors and physical therapists straighten my back.

Wednesday, July 9, 2008

Milk Paint

Just some thoughts, comments and advice on using milk paint based on my (limited) experience so far:

I have only worked with Real Milk Paint – I love their products (look at their Soy-Gel Stripper and Citrus Solvent too) but there are other companies out there…

I highly recommend the Anti-Foaming agent. With our water, things ended up more like milk paint mousse until I started using this stuff.

I like using quart sized, wide-mouth mason jars for mixing and storing the paint.

If you just mix the powder and the water by shaking, you get a much more textured (gritty) paint that has a very interesting look, but will need some work (rubbing down).

If you use some kind of blender/mixer (I use a mixing wand – corded no less! I am so ashamed…) you get a very smooth and even paint.

Remember to stir the paint often as you use it – there tends to be a subtle shift in the color/consistency as you use it up. I probably extenuate the situation by always trying to mix up “just enough” to get by – sort of like Kramer and the fuel light.

It dries fast! You can do a second coat or top coat with oil/wax in about 3 hours! Love it!

Non-toxic! Yes!

Low, low odor! Sort of a pleasing wet cement-ish smell to my nose…

Normal mix 1:1 (powder:water) for opaque (two coats) or 1:2 for a wash.

Very easy to mix colors to create new hues.

Get the Color Sticks - way better than the computer monitor for judging final results.

Keeps in the fridge for a good while.

Cleans up with good old water!

Dries FLAT! Which some people find attractive – but I like it much better after the oil/wax hits it.

I usually make a test board or two and play around with the paint and oil combos. Sometimes I like the Tried and True Danish Oil (cradle) and sometimes I prefer the look of the Dark Tung Oil that Real Milk Paint also sells. On the latest project (chest) I just went with my own mineral oil/beeswax mix – also looked great.

Here’s a (totally staged) shot of my paint kit:

Monday, July 7, 2008

Simple Chest

Well the storage chest for the shop is finished – and tomorrow it’s back to work on the bamboo floor. This was a fun project – if not as short and quick as intended.

First, I jointed the 1x10’s and glued up the width I needed. I always try to pay attention to grain matching, but as I knew this was going to get the milk paint treatment, I didn’t worry too much about it (fairly obvious from the picture). After cutting the parts to length, I smoothed them – again, not being too particular. On all non-face sides, I just wanted to clean-up the glue line and make the panel tolerably flat. These sides just got hit with the jack plane. Faces received a follow-up with a smoother (#3, #4 or #4 ½ depending on the wood and my mood…).

As this was not a fancy chest, the joinery was my favorite simple choice – rabbeted butt joints. These I cut with my Record 778, which I prefer to the Stanley 78, owing to its larger and more stable fence. It did have two problems, one of which I fixed and one I fudged.

The fix was sharpening the cross-grain spur correctly. I don’t know what I was thinking when I sharpened the first of the three spurs sometime in the past. I sharpened the wrong side! More correctly, I sharpened both sides - which of course meant that the spur was no longer flush with the side of the plane/blade. The result was a very rough shoulder with a lot of tear-out. Stupid mistake – easy solution: sharpen another of the spurs the right way. No sweat – clamped it in the Vise-Grips and after a short trip to the Scary Sharp™ bench it was ready to go.

The fudge was remembering to account for the odd angle of the inside face of the fence when I was setting the fence for the width of the rabbet. For some reason, the fence face isn’t perfectly perpendicular to the sole of the plane, it leans in a bit. So if I set my rule flat on the plane’s sole and measure over to the fence from the edge of the blade, everything looks fine, but the rabbet will be cut too narrow when the bottom edge of the fence contacts the stock first. Stupid problem – easy solution: hold the rule on edge so that it contacts both the blade, and the closer lower edge of the fence. Just have to remember to do this every time, until I really fix it by adding a wooden face on the fence and adjusting it to perpendicular. Another day.

If you are a sharp-eyed, detail person, you probably caught my stupid lay-out mistake in the last picture. Yep, I wasn’t paying attention and ended up having to cut the rabbet right through a knot. Here’s a closer look at how I was saved by a very sharp blade…

After the rabbets, it was assembly time – clamps, dry-run, glue-up, blah, blah, nails (What? You got a problem with that?), adding the plinth and lid edging, filling the nail holes, blah, blah, planing, hinge mortises (just knifed them) blah, blah, blah and it was done.

Time to paint. Have I mentioned that I love milk paint? I do! A quick wash coat of yellow ocher and then a rub-down with wax. I make my own concoction of mineral oil and bee’s wax. Simple to make, use and it smells great! And of course, non-toxic.

I love how the look and feel of the painted wood changes when the oil/wax is rubbed in.

I was kind of going for a Shaker look and I think I got it pretty close. I think it will improve with time or maybe I'll just stop focusing on all the mistakes I know are there...

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Sticking Board

Well, I squeezed in a little shop time during a lull in the ongoing "War of the Bamboo Floor" – a war in which I am forced to admit defeat. Well, at least defeat of my anticipated schedule. And schedule Plan B. And Plan C. Utter, utter defeat.

But my time in the shop was much more successful and enjoyable. I’ve been trying to create more storage space – particularly for some items I don’t like looking at. So I decided to make a simple chest to hide them. I had it started and rolling along smartly – until the floor project exploded. The next stage of the chest was making some mouldings to spiff-up the base or plinth.

I pulled my long dormant sticking board out of its corner and got to work. My sticking board is very similar to Chris Schwarz’s board – I don’t remember basing it on his, but it is so similar that I probably did after reading his blog (he posted about it around 1 year ago…).

The board is just a 2x6 with a 1x2 screwed to one edge (jointed straight first of course). Two sheet rock screws with sharpened heads are the stops – they can be raised or lowered as needed. The whole board is held in place by trapping it between a bench dog and the vice dog in the end vise.

For this moulding, I needed ¾ by ¾ sticks and I had some likely volunteers in the scrap bin, but they needed to be cleaned up and sized correctly first. I was about to reach for the marking gauge when I realized that I had a perfect jig sitting right in front of me! I just put the oversized stick on the sticking board, grabbed a #5 jack and planed down until the strip was flush with the sticking board fence. Very simple, no layout or extra steps. I just had to remember to rotate the stick before it reached its final size if I wanted to clean up additional faces – once it was sized in one dimension it was too late to work on the opposite face. Doh!

After the sticks were the right size, it was time for the molding plane. This is a 5/8 ovolo made by Brown & Barnard (British) somewhere about 150 – 200 years ago. I love putting old tools like this back to work!

Like a lot of moulding planes, this one is “sprung”, which means it is tilted over at an angle in use (the spring lines on the toe of the plane guide you with this). This spring makes the blade profile much easier to shape and allows for the mouth of the plane to remain tight. (There is a great web page out there somewhere that explains this with pictures – I’ll post a link if I can find it again.)

One of the great things about using old tools, is that they can teach you old ways of working. This old plane was about to teach me another reason for springing a plane. The plane has two stops – one lateral, which I have always thought of as a fence, and one for depth. The problem I have always had with this plane is that the “fence” is very tiny, and I have struggled to keep it aligned while planing. I kept thinking “Why did they make it this way?” and “Wouldn’t a larger fence be better?” The break-through came when I changed my assumptions and thought of the fence as a stop. Rather than starting with the “fence” riding on the wood, I tried starting with the curved section of the blade on the corner, or arris, of the wood (I tried to show the difference in the next two photos - click on them for larger images). Wow! Faster and much, much easier! The plane cuts directly in along the spring angle until both stops engage and that’s it. I didn’t have to mess with both holding the spring angle and also applying pressure vertically – I just sprung the plane and applied pressure at that angle. Very cool.

Once I had enough moulding cut (or stuck), it was time to miter it and apply it to the chest plinth. I was about to put the sticking board away and get out the miter box when inspiration struck again! (Twice in one day? What gives?) Why not just modify the sticking board fence and turn it into a miter box? Five minutes later, success!

(Oops! Uncle Henry has a tree growing out of his head! The thin strip of wood sticking out perpendicular to the fence in the photo above is a planing stop on the bench in the background – it has nothing to do with the sticking board…Funny how the human eye and the camera see things differently…)

Hopefully, this chest will be finished soon – but the floor war awaits…