Thursday, January 31, 2008

The Roycrofters, Elbert Hubbard

Get happiness out of your work or you may never know what happiness is.
Elbert Hubbard

In a small village named East Aurora in upstate NY just outside of Buffalo in 1895 Elbert Hubbard founded the Roycroft community of crafters. The community reflected the Movement's ideals of art and craftsmanship as instruments of social reform in its organization as well as in its products. The high quality and unique artistry of the Roycroft creations made them very popular. But it was the business acumen and charismatic personality of its founder, Elbert Hubbard, that made Roycroft one of the most successful artistic enterprises of the Arts and Crafts era.
Hubbard was a very successful salesman that became part owner of the Larkin Soap Company in Buffalo, NY. He sold his interest in the company and retired to East Aurora to persue his interest in writing. On a trip to England he visited William Morris and his Kelmscott Press, Hubbard was intrigued by the philosophy of the Arts and Crafts Movement and decided to start his own handicraft press in East Aurora. He set up a print shop and published a magazine called "The Philistine" which contained his interpretations of the craftsman ideals. The magazine, along with other philosophical pamphlets and publications, became popular and helped to bring Hubbard and the Roycroft community to national attention while supporting their activities at the same time.
The press led to the establishment of a bindery where Hubbard's books as well as classics from literature were bound in leather, this led to a leather shop and a metal shop, finally a furniture shop was added. The handicrafts were sold throughout the country advertised in magazines and in ''The Philistine" and due to Hubbards accumen as a salesman soon the Roycrofters were known throughout the country. He was at heart a businessman and salesman and he succeeded in selling not only the Roycroft products but the Roycroft concept and even himself as an American Ruskin or Morris to an ever-growing segment of the American public. People flocked to East Aurora to meet the man, to buy Roycroft handicrafts and to live and work at the Roycroft community. Hubbard built the Roycroft Inn in 1903 to house the large number of visitors and filled it with furniture and wares from his shops. The Roycrofters, as the craftsmen were called, published catalogs featuring leatherwork, copper wares, leaded glass lamps and their version of the popular Morris chair. Both the inn and the catalogs fostered an increased demand for these handicrafts which resulted in an increase in the number of workshops and people employed at Roycroft.
As Roycroft grew, Hubbard set up a community that was to be self-sufficient, based on pre-industrial agrarian ideals where artisans and their families lived and worked in healthy, idyllic conditions. Housing was provided in the form of Bungalows in the craftsman style. In the small shops, the emphasis was on hand-crafted items. The artisans worked in their own areas of expertise but were encouraged to apprentice themselves to other craftsmen to develop new skills. Pay was low but this was offset by the living and working conditions and the opportunity for creative artistic expression. Local villagers were hired to train with the artisans and to work in the shops as well as in the gardens and fields. Housing and jobs were also provided for a few people and their families who came to the community disenchanted by life and work in the industrial society of the day. Hubbard, like the lord of a feudal estate, personally saw to the welfare of visitors, the community and the surrounding village, organizing intellectually and morally enriching activities such as musical concerts, festivals, and his own lecture series. Such benevolent touches as gifts at Christmas and playgrounds for children further cemented the Roycrofters' bonds of loyalty to their leader. Hubbard became a cult figure on both local and national levels.

Hubbard published many profiles of famous people in his "Little Journey's" series. From 1905 till 1915 Hubbard was one of the most sought after lecturers in the country, he was also in great demand as a writer and the Hearst Newspapers paid him hansomly to be a correspondent. Elbert Hubbard and his wife were travelling to Europe in 1915 to continue collecting interviews for his "Little Journey's" series, unfortunately there were sailing on the Lusitania when it was struck by a German torpedo and sunk. The community continued on under his son's guidance, but the great depression put brought it to a close, it was sold at auction in 1938.

Today, the spirit of the Roycroft community lives on due to a renewed interest in the Arts and Crafts Movement. In 1994, the Margeret L. Wendt Foundation bought and restored the Roycroft Inn with most of its original furnishings. The Roycroft meeting house, built in 1899, is currently the East Aurora Town Hall. A few of the original buildings remain on the campus and some are open to the public. For instance, the ScheideMantel house, once owned by a Roycrofter, was donated to the Aurora Historical Society and today houses the Elbert Hubbard Roycroft Museum. Various festivals, Roycroft handicraft auctions and exhibitions, educational programs and Arts and Crafts societies help to keep the memories and interest alive. In the 1970's the Roycroft Renaissance was born and using the principles of the Roycrofters artisans are juried and if their work meets the standards of quality and craftsmanship they are awarded with the title of Roycroft Renaissance Artisan and are able to use the double R Roycroft Logo, they are re-evaluated annually for three years and then may be awarded the title of Master Artisan. When you see the double R mark on a piece of work be assured that it is made with the highest standards of the "Head, Heart, and Hand".

Further Reading - The Roycrofters at Large - the webpage of The Roycrofters

One machine can do the work of fifty ordinary men. No machine can do the work of one extraordinary man.
Elbert Hubbard

Tuesday, January 29, 2008

The Wedged Through Tenon

The wedged through tenon is another type of through tenon used in Arts and Crafts Furniture. The process for making the mortise is much the same as the previous post, except that once you get the mortise on the bench to clean it up you must flair the outside ends of the mortise out about one eighth of an inch. This will allow the tenon to be spread by driving a couple of wedges into it, this gives the joint holding power against being pulled back through the mortise. Once the mortise is ready and the tenon is cut you need to drill a hole about a quarter of an inch from the shoulders of the tenon, this will keep the split in the tenon from spreading once the wedges are driven in. The next step is to make a cut from the end of the tenon down to the hole.

You should now cut wedges that are the width of the tenon, they should be just a little longer than the relief cut on the tenon and just a little wider than the slope you cut in the mortise. I prefer to use a contrasting wood as the wedges are an important part of the exposed joinery, but make sure that you are using a hard wood. Since I use quartersawn white oak I usually make my wedges out of wenge or ebony.

The tenon can then be set in the mortise with a coat of glue on the faces and shoulders of the tenon. You must be ready to move along because you have a limited amount of open time with the glue. Start one wedge in the relief cut a quarter of an inch then start the other wedge, using a small block to protect the wedges gently tap them in a little at a time, alternating one then the other. You should end up with an equal amount showing on each wedge when you are finished. Don't attempt to pound them in flush, once them stop moving stop hammering, otherwise you will break the wedge off inside the mortise. Once the glue has dried carefully trim off the excess wedge material and sand flush. You now have a very strong joint that is beautiful as well, a joint that is an integral part of your arts and crafts piece, rather than being hidden its there for the world to see, to celebrate the craftsman that took the time to create it.
Gustav Stickley's motto was "Als Ik kan" it translates from the German to "As I Can", or, more to the point, "To the best of my Ability". , a worthy goal for us all.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

The Through Tenon

The through tenon is probably the most important joint in the Arts and Crafts Style. One of the hallmarks of the style is that structural elements are used as decoration since the use of non-essential applied element are not used. Hence the use of of joinery elements to add a detail of interest to the piece of furniture. The through tenon can be cut flush with the surface and wedged, it can be left long and tusked, or in this example, camfered. The mortise is extended completely through the piece and the tenon is extended to protrude and then camfered to soften the edges. You will find this joint on everything from Morris Chairs to small cabinets, the example I'm working with here is from a Stickley small tabouret #603.

I am learning to use Google Sketch-Up, its a free 3-D design and drafting tool you can find here,, so I thought I'd give drawing up this joint.
The first thing I did was to draw the leg, 20" tall, 1 1/2"x1 1/2" square. I added the Mortise 4" from the bottom, 1/2"x2".
I made the stretcher 16 1/2" long, 2 1/2"x1", with tenons 1 3/4"x1/2", this done I added an 1/8" chamfer around the end of the tenon.

I combined the two pieces and put a peg through to hold the tenon in place. Now, this seems pretty easy and straight forward, but I have to admit that it took me longer to draw this out in Sketch-Up than it did to make the real through mortise. I spent many hours watching videos on the design, click, build blog at fine woodworking, and reading the posts there, I also spent a lot time at the Google Sketch-Up site.
Today it was time to make some sawdust and really make a trough tenon and mortise, I broke out my plan for the Stickley small tabouret and gathered some 8/4 quartersawn white oak and some 5/4 quartersawn white oak, luckily I had some cut-offs from previous projects so I didn't get into my inventory. As many of you know I build almost everything in quartersawn white oak so I keep a couple of hundred boardfeet of the stuff around.
The first thing I did was to plane the 8/4 stock down to 1 1/2", next I ripped 1 1/2" legs and cut them to 20". After marking the location of the mortises on the best faces of the legs I used my wheel marking gauge to mark the sides of the mortises and also to score a line into the face to help minimize tear out. You could also use a marking gauge or just a square and a knife.

Whatever method you use, the goal is to define the edges of the mortise on the outside face so you can start the cut from here instead of from the inside face like you would in a ordinary mortise.

There are many methods and techniques used to cut mortises, I'm not going to go into each one, just tell you the method that I have learned to be the most efficient for me. I use a hollow chisel mortiser to cut the mortises first, then I will fit the tenons to the mortises. I line up the marked location with the chisel in my mortiser and run a test cut in some of the cut-off from the leg stock. Once I'm happy with the set-up I can quickly and easily knock out the mortises on all four legs.

You can see in this picture that the chisel travelled all the way through the leg, I use a sacrificial scrap under the leg to protect it from blow-out. This leaves you with a pretty good mortise, but you still need to take it to the bench and smooth it out with a sharp chisel, this shouldn't take much more than a little paring and smoothing.

I took a few minutes to mark out the tenon on a cross stretcher so that I could set up the table saw. I raised the blade to pass through the line of the tenon and used the miter gauge's stop so that the blade would pass right at the shoulder line. I cut the shoulders on all four sides of all four legs.

Next I used the cheek cut to adjust the blade so that the blade passes just inside the cut without hitting the shoulder. I adjust the tenon jig by eye, close to, but not on the line. I know that this cut will be fat, but close, after cutting both sides I test it in the mortise. By eye I decide how much over the tenon is and adjusted the jig accordingly. I find that I can get dead on using this method in just a few cuts. This way is much more accurate and less likely to leave you with a skinny tenon than trying to measure it and setting the jig right off.

With the correct width set I cut all of the tenons and take them to the bandsaw to make the edge cheek cut, I set the fence at the correct distance and run all the stretchers through.

I like to leave my tenons a hair wide then take a couple of swipes off each side of the face cheeks with a shoulder plane this lets me get a fit that's snug, but not so tight that you have to force the tenon through the mortise.

Once the tenon is in place I like to check the extra length and mark it at the face of the leg so that the chamfer doesn't protrude into the leg.

I like to remove the material on the disk sander with the table tilted down to 45 degrees. You could use a block plane but be careful as this tends to have a little blowout since you are planing end grain.

The complete through mortise and tenon with chamfer, this is just a dry fit of course. When the cuts are finished for the table and everything is sanded I'll spread glue on the inside half of the tenon and on the shoulders and knock them in place. Once the glue is dry I'll drill a 3/8" hole through the center, careful not to blow out the other side of the leg and hammer a walnut dowel through with a little glue inside the hole. I'll cut the dowels flush and sand them smooth. The dowel adds another decorative element to the joint and helps to hold the joint tight if you have any shrinkage in the stretcher. I will complete the table in future posts and have more posts that focus on the joinery that is used in Arts and Crafts furniture.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

New Arts and Crafts Furniture Project Book

The staff at Popular Woodworking have done it again. They have delved into their vast pool of talent and treasure of articles from their magazine and have brought us a wonderful collection of Arts and Crafts furniture projects. The authors are all current or former editors and senior editors for Popular Woodworking Magazine. Robert W. Lang is not only a senior editor for Popular Woodworking, he also has published five books on arts and crafts furniture in his "Shop Drawings" series, which I have used extensively for building reproductions of some very nice Arts and Crafts pieces. The first two Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture: 27 Stickley Designs for Every Room in the Home , and More Shop Drawings for Craftsman Furniture: 30 Stickley Designs for Every Room in the Home, will give you a great variety of projects for every room in the home.
Christopher Schwarz is an editor of Popular Woodworking, and a contributing editor to The Fine Tool Journal, in addition to teaching traditional woodworking techniques he has recently published a fantastic book on workbenches, Workbenches: From Design & Theory to Construction & Use, which has been discussed to some length at The WoodWhisperer blog and chat room.
Steve Shanesy was an editor for Popular Woodworking and is now publisher of the magazine. Jim Stack is a senior editor or Popular Woodworking and also the author of eight woodworking books. Jim Stuard is a former editor of Popular Woodworking, and Kara Uhl is a former managing editor of the magazine. David Thiel is the executive editor of Popular Woodworking Books and a former editor for Popular Woodworking.
With this much talent on board this project was sure to shine. The Book includes 26 projects, a chapter on the history of Arts and Crafts Furniture and a chapter on techniques of of construction and finishing. There is also a CD included that has a PDF file with 10 additional projects and 10 articles on techniques from the archives of the magazine. Long time readers of the magazine will notice that most of these projects have previously appeared there, however in the book you will find that more detail and more photos have been included along with all new drawings. One thing that did disappoint me is that the book appears to be an updated and expanded version of their book Authentic Arts and Crafts Furniture Projects from 2000.
Each project chapter begins with a description of the project's origins and history. Included is a very detailed text description of the process along with a cut list. Drawings for templates that you will need and a list of supplies along with sources are included. Very clear and instructional color photos along with nice shop drawings and exploded views complete the chapter with enough information for novices to make a very nice piece of furniture. One thing that this book includes that many do not is upholstery tips and techniques that allow you to move from a nice woodworking project, to a finished piece of fine furniture. The projects range from the simple, Limbert Waste Basket, to the impressive, Byrdcliffe Linen Press.
In my opinion this is the finest book of Arts and Crafts Furniture projects to date, and I should know, I have bought them all over the years of my obsession with the style. I hope that you take a look at this book and enjoy making the projects in your shop and that your family and friends get to appreciate your skills combined with some amazing reproductions of original masterpieces. If you would like to purchase a copy you can do so from the link below.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Defining the Arts and Crafts Style

The aim of the Arts and Crafts movement was to simplify, to do away with the gingerbread and scroll work unnecessary to a piece. "Form follows function" was the tenet of these craftsmen, who produced simple, strong, and comfortable furniture that appeared hand-made, yet was affordable. Quartersawn oak and pegged joints are the hallmarks of Arts and Crafts furniture. Utilitarian and well built, Arts and Crafts style furniture honors, above all, hand craftsmanship and the beauty of wood. Its simple elegance and practical functionality combine to create a warm and nurturing environment. While the realities of manufacturing and containing costs required the use of machinery, even in the largest companies hand craftsmanship was still used.

"Given the real need for production and the fundamental desire for honest self-expression, the machine can be put to all its legitimate uses as an aid to, and a preparation for, the work of the hand, and the result be quite as vital and satisfying as the best work of hand alone" G. Stickley

Well, now that we have the concept, the machinery, and the craftsman, what do we need to create Arts and Crafts Furniture? Well, we need the material, the finest construction techniques, the correct joinery, essential design elements, the decoration, and the appropriate finish.

The following list is taken from an article by Graham Blackburn, Quintessential Arts and Crafts , Fine Woodworking March/April 2003. The pictures were added by me.

1. Material—Quartersawn oak does have much to recommend it: strength, durability, relative stability and an attractive figure characterized by the medullary rays not visible in flatsawn stock. Although a hardwood, oak is not excessively difficult to work—it is easier, in fact, to produce a crisp surface with a less than perfectly sharp tool on a piece of oak than on a piece of softwood. Oak is not toxic and may have a wide range of color—red, white or brown—depending on the species. The wood also takes stain well and can be fumed, a technique that can produce a wonderful aged look. Although most factory-built Arts and Crafts furniture was made of oak, many well-known designers have used other species, such as walnut, mahogany and cherry.

2. Construction techniques—Although cabinet construction with veneered surfaces is occasionally used for the body of an Arts and Crafts piece, the majority of authentic pieces are made using solid wood and frame-and-panel construction. Consistent with the directness and honesty that are the hallmarks of this style is the use of slats where a solid piece or a frame-and-panel section would be overkill. Unlike the furniture of the Gothic Period, turned elements are rare in Arts and Crafts designs. All of this is in keeping with the principle of using the simplest possible methods of work for the most honest and unpretentious result. Simple does not, however, mean sloppy, especially in terms of the construction of a piece. In fact, because the aim of the Arts and Crafts movement was to design furniture that the maker could be proud of, a nice execution, particularly of exposed joinery, is essential when building a genuine Arts and Crafts piece.

3. Joinery—Without a doubt, the mortise and tenon is the king of Arts and Crafts joints. Dovetailing, doweling, lapped and housed joinery also are used where appropriate, but in keeping with the demands of strength and honesty, the mortise-and-tenon joint plays a major role in the majority of Arts and Crafts pieces. Several varieties of tenons are used, including stub, blind, through and tusk, but each is used only when and where necessary for maximum strength without compromise. This means that if, for example, a through-tenon is the strongest possible form in a given situation, the design will make a virtue of the necessity by not attempting to hide or disguise the joint. This results in the ends of through-tenons being finished a little proud of the surface, often nicely chamfered and with any wedges thoughtfully arranged for a pleasing visual pattern and the most efficient use.

4. Design paradigms—In American Arts and Crafts pieces, whether of the mass-produced variety typified by Gustav Stickley’s Craftsman furniture or the higher-end custom designs of the Greene brothers, there is an immediate impression of squareness. This is most evident in the profiles of tops, edges and other flat surfaces, such as broad chair arms. Molding is almost completely absent, sharp edges are gently relieved but not rounded, and overhangs are kept to a minimum. Although many details are, in fact, square—such as in paneled framing, where a bottom rail wider than other frame members is rare, and in the design of glazed doors,where all panes are equally square—absolute squareness is largely illusory, and slopes and curves are common. It is not that the style is inelegant—many pieces can be found elegant design paradigms such as the golden rectangle -but the strength and utility of a piece always dominate. Both gently and boldly formed curves are common in skirts, chair rails and the lower edges of cabinet sides, but they are invariably simple and rarely compound, except for occasional tight cutouts on stool bases. Such shapes, including ogees and intersecting arcs, are nods to the influence of medieval Gothic oak furniture, much valued by leaders of the Arts and Crafts style for its craftsmanship and honesty. Curved yet square-edged brackets are another common feature of many pieces. One other detail that would seem to belie an apparent squareness and angularity is the frequent use of tapered legs. The tapers, however, are usually limited to a short section near the base. Tapering legs like this prevents the piece from appearing too heavy, but because the tapers are equally formed on all four sides of the leg, a general feeling of squareness persists.

5. Decoration—Despite a superficial plainness characterized by square edges, the lack of molding, the use of a relatively homogenous material and the flatness of panels, Arts and Crafts furniture often is decorated with a variety of techniques ranging from simple curved cutouts to delicate floral inlays. Reflecting a continuing sensitivity to other styles and fashion on the part of designers such as Harvey Ellis or Charles Rennie Macintosh, who are perhaps better known for their Art Nouveau styles, the influence of the more flowing, nature-based Art Nouveau style is felt in many Arts and Crafts pieces—for example, in the products of various “utopian”workshops such as the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony in Woodstock,N.Y.—in the form of pastel-colored painted sections, tulip inlays and lily patterns. Central to the principle of craftsmanship in this style of furniture is the use of other natural materials, such as reed and rush for seats, leather upholstery and hand-wrought hardware made from iron or hammered brass. The hardware often is as square and sturdy as the furniture it serves and stands in complete contrast to the elegant and finely wrought shapes found on 18th-century pieces or the overworked fantastic shapes common on much 19th-century furniture. A gratuitous form of in terms of structural function, but one that is consistent with the incorporation of natural materials, is the frequent use of a row of hand-wrought nails as an edge decoration.

6. Finish—It would be inappropriate to finish an Arts and Crafts piece with a glossy lacquer. But while natural finishes like simple oiling and waxing may predominate, other processes, such as filling, staining and fuming, are common. Careful surface preparation is most important. In the case of an open-grained wood like oak, a matching wood filler should be used. If oak is filled first, it then may be waxed or perhaps lightly oiled and then waxed. If wax alone is used, it should be colored so that the wax-filled pores in the wood do not show white. Fuming, the process of exposing oak to the fumes of ammonia, is a common method of turning oak darker without producing the irregular color that can result from careless staining. The popularity of fuming, especially among early proponents of Arts and Crafts furniture, resulted from the misconception that genuine Gothic furniture was extremely dark. That darkness, in fact, came from centuries of exposure to smoky atmospheres. When new, however, most Gothic furniture was brightly painted or valued precisely for its light golden color.

In future posts we are going to explore finishing, joinery, construction techniques, and decorative cut-outs, along with a lot of other aspects of woodworking for Arts and Crafts Furniture. There will be projects traced from start to finish, book reviews, articles on the "philosphy" of the Arts and Crafts Movement, and short biographical sketches of the creators of the movement. I hope that you are enjoying reading this blog as much as I am enjoying writing it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Limbert Umbrella Stand part 3, finish line in sight

It's time to finish this Umbrella stand. Now, I've been finishing arts and crafts style furniture for some time, and when I Started it was as simple as it gets, much like every woodworker in the beginning, stain and Poly. As I learned more about the style and wood finishing the technique progressed. I progressed to a danish oil and thought that I was saving time and effort only to find that the finished product was less than satisfactory. Then I came across several articles on creating an arts and crafts finish, these included everything from ammonia fuming to using roofing tar as part of the finish. What I landed on as my go to finish is a multipart process of a water based dye, a sealing coat of shellac, a dark gel stain, a few coats of thicker shellac, with a layer or two of wax to give the piece that antique feel.

I finish sanded to umbrella stand to 150 grit using a random orbit sander followed by hand block sanding. After blowing off the piece with compressed air I use a microfiber tack cloth to further clean the sanding dust from the grain. I have samples of quartersawn white oak that I have sanded and finished with different base colors and using these I decided that I wanted this umbrella stand to have a darker base than my chair and sofa, so I start with a medium brown dye diluted in water. Using a foam brush I flood the surface of the piece with the dye and let it soak in for ten minutes. If I see any areas that are under saturated I add some dye to these areas. After about 10 minutes I use a clean dry rag to wipe off excess dye and to dry the surface. I place the piece on supports to hold it off the table so that air can get to all sides of the stand. I found out the hard way that if you don't do this than the excess dye pools up on the tarp and wicks up from the bottom and discolors the base of the piece. I leave it to dry for a few days.

Once the piece has completely dried you need to lightly sand off any grain that has been raised by the water based dye. You could mix the dye in denatured alcohol to prevent grain raising but it has been shown that alcohol based dyes tend to fade over time. I use 220 grit sandpaper on a sanding block to eliminate any grain that has been raised making sure not to cut to deeply into the dye and not to lighten the edges too much. Once this is done I again use compressed air and a microfiber tack cloth to clean the piece.

I make a nice tight pad out of lint free t-shirt material and wipe on a sealing coat of shellac, this has been thinned to a 1lb. cut. (more on shellac cuts and the whole finishing technique in a future post) After this dries I give it a light rubbing with a 320 grit yellow sanding pad followed by wiping down with the microfiber tack cloth.

Now its time to add the real color, the base color will only be really visible on the ray flakes. I use brown mahogany gel stain, this stain will act as a coloring glaze for the main body and darker coloring into the grain. I use a foam brush to cover the surface with the gel stain, I only do one part at a time because there is a fine line between just right and too dry, if the gel stain gets too dry it will be very difficult to wipe off. When the surface of the gel starts to "flash", that is, starts to look dull, I use another clean soft lint free rag to wipe the gel off and rub it into the grain. This is what gives the finish the "hand rubbed" look, I rub with the grain to remove most of the stain, then across and in circles to rub it into the grain. I make sure that there are no blotches left, the gel stain if left to long resembles paint. After rubbing the surface until the cloth doesn't pick up any color I leave the piece to air and dry overnight.

The left side rubbed out, the right side just the base dye.

After rubbing out the gel stain.

The following day I wipe off any dust that fell on the stand overnight. Taking a 2lb cut of amber shellac I rub on two layers. One of the beauties of shellac is that you don't have to rub out the surface between coats, the denatured alcohol in the mixture melts the surface of the previous layer. Another nice thing is that if for some reason you do get a run or drip, you can take a cloth soaked in denatured alcohol and dissolve it. Once everything is dry and I'm happy with the build of the shellac and the finish, I wipe on a coat of watco dark liquid wax. I use dark wax because of the grainy nature of the white oak, if I had used light wax, once dry it would leave white residue in the grain that would detract from the beauty of the finish. Letting the wax sit for 30 minutes I then wipe the piece with a clean cloth and wipe on another coat of wax let stand, and wipe the surface clean for the final time.

After placing felt pads on the bottom to protect my hardwood floor the Limbert #254 umbrella stand is ready to replace that old umbrella stand that I never really was happy with. Now I am one piece closer to filling my house with handmade high quality furniture.

"Have nothing in your house that you do not know to be useful, or believe to be beautiful." William Morris

Saturday, January 12, 2008

That special wood

One of the most distinguishing characteristics of Arts and Crafts furniture is the use of quartersawn white oak, apart from the practical aspects, its strength, stability and color, the flakes caused by the medular rays not up taking stain as readily as the open grain gives the furniture a striking appearance. The use of oak for furniture goes as far back as furniture itself, the wood is exceptionally strong, and resistant to decay. Stickley writes in the Craftsman

Gustav Stickley (ed.) / The craftsman(July 1909)
Our native woods and the Craftsman method of finishing them, pp. 428-436
There are many varieties of oak in this country, but of these the white oak is by far the most desirable, both for cabinetmaking and for interior woodwork. One reason for this is the deep, ripened color it takes on under the process we use for finishing it,-a process which gives the appearance of age and mellowness without in anyway altering the character of the wood. There is no question as to the greater durability of quarter-sawn oak for uses which demand hard wear and also where the finer effects are desired, as in furniture. The distinguishing characteristic of quarter-sawn oak is the presence of the glassy rays, technically called medullary rays, which bind the perpendicular fibers together and give the oak tree its amazing strength. In quarter-sawing, the cut is made parallel with these medullary rays instead of across them, as is done in straight sawing, so that they show prominently, forming the peculiar wavy lines that distinguish quarter-sawn oak. The preservation of the binding properties of these rays gives remarkable structural strength to the wood, which is much less liable to crack, check or warp than when it is plain-sawn.

Now lets get into the details. What does it mean to Quartersaw? The photo on the left shows an example. When lumber is plainsawn, flat slabs are cut all the way through the log. When it is Quartersawn the log is cut into quarters, then a board is cut off, the quarter is turned 90 degrees and another board is cut, this process is repeated until there is not enough left to cut. However, only the first few boards to come off the log are truly considered quartersawn, that is, the growth rings are from 90-60 degrees from the face of the board, from 60-0 degrees from the face is considered to be rift sawn and while still very stable, does not exhibit the same degree of flake as quartersawn lumber. As you can see this leads to less wide boards, less yield per log, and is labor intensive. This explains why quartersawn white oak is more expensive then plainsawn white oak. In the example above, boards 1, 2, 3 and A, B, C are quartersawn, 4, 5, D, and E are rift sawn and 6 is waste.

What you end with is a board with tight growth rings perpendicular to the face, the medular rays visible as broad light colored flakes. This board is very stable with little tendency to swell or cup. The tight grain takes in stain or dye very deeply whereas the flakes do not. This contrast is enhanced by the methods we use to color it, ironically, this contrast was considered less than desirable by the original makers of arts and crafts furniture and the methods they used to color their furniture de-emphasised the flakes.

If you look closely at the picture to the left you will see the medular rays as light lines radiating from the center of the section towards the outside. When the tree is alive these rays are a transport system to bring water and nutrients from the core to the new growth. You can also tell that by cutting the boards with the rings perpendicular the rays will be shown as a flake on the finished board. You can also see the lighter sapwood near the bark and the darker, denser heart wood.

As a woodworker not only do you need to learn skills and techniques, but you need to learn about the medium you are working in. A working knowledge of wood, its characteristics and properties will make your projects a step better. If you were to build a perfect replica of a Stickley Morris chair, with tight mortises and perfect tenons yet used plainsawn red oak the result would be disappointing. Even when you use the correct wood, you still must take the time to pick the best piece of wood with the right grain for each part of your project. For a Morris Chair, I pick the best pieces with the grain for the arms as this is the most visible feature. I hope that this post has shed some light on this subject and that you are enjoying this blog.

Friday, January 11, 2008

The Craftsman

For 15 years at the turn of the 20th Century Gustav Stickley published a monthly magazine titled "The Craftsman". In this publication he discussed the Arts and Crafts movement. He wrote about the philosophy of the movement, added furniture designs and later home designs.
In the forward to the first issue Stickley wrote:

The United Crafts will labor to produce in their workshops only those articles which shall justify their own creation; which shall serve some actual and important end in the household, either by adding to the ease and convenience of life; or yet by furthering the equally important object of providing agreeable, restful and invigorating effects of form and color, upon which the eye shall habitually fall,as the problems of daily existence present themselves for solution. Thus, it Is hoped to co-operate with those many and earnest minds who are seeking to create a national, or rather a universal art, adjusted to the needs of the century:that Is,an art developed by the people, for the people, as a reciprocal joy for the artist and the layman.

Another object which The United Crafts regard as desirable and possible of attainment is the union in one person of the designer and the workman. This principle, which was personally put in practice by Morris, extended throughout his workshops; the Master executing with his own hands what his brain had conceived, and the apprentice following the example set before him as far as his powers permitted.

Stickley covers everything from which woods are best for what applications, to coloring those woods, to embroidering the curtains for the living room. Anyone interested in the Arts and Crafts movement will find a wealth of information here in its original format, but with the coming of the digital age, you can search the text, view it as an original image or as plain text. I have spent many happy hours reading through the editions and still find something that I'll go back to time and time again. Many thanks to the University of Wisconsin for their digital library. You can find the Craftsman collection here.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Limbert Umbrella Stand part 2, bottoms up.

Well I had come up with a way to fit the bottom along with the copper drip pan, but as they say about the best laid plans....
I did have some nice copper left over, but apparently I had used it last spring to make a guard for my bluebird house to keep the local snakes and rats out. What I had left was not wide enough to suit the purpose. Luckily, I had some copper left over from a clock face I made, this is much thinner and not good enough for a drip pan, however I could make a wood bottom and cover it in this thinner copper after its finished. From the original photos I decided that the bottom should be half way between the two cutouts. This came out to 3 inches above the base of the side. I installed the dado blade into my tablesaw at a width of 3/4 of an inch and set it at 4 degrees and 1/4 inch at the lowest. I moved my fence over to the left side of the blade and ran all four sides through.

Before I left the shop the other day I glued up a piece for the bottom, today I cut it at 10 1/4 inches square. I didn't think sending this small piece through the planer was a good idea so I got out my trusty Stanley No. 4 and took a few swipes across the board until it fit snugly but not tightly. Sometimes a well tuned hand plane works faster, and better, that a planer. The added plus is that I can keep listening to Woodtalk while I'm doing it.

The bottom slid nicely into the dado's, with just a little whack from a small dead blow hammer it fit perfectly.

I added the other two sides and checked the fit of the miters along the length. The fit was good and the bottom fit well, so one final sanding of the inside and it was time to glue it up. With a good covering of glue along the miters and inside the dado's I slipped the sides on one at a time making sure that the bottom was centered in the dado.

With some blue tape around the feet and the middle I stood up the umbrella stand. I used two 90 degree clamping blocks at the top to insure squareness and added a few clamps to hold the joints tight while the glue dried. Then I added a few more clamps, then a few more.... I wasn't really pulling the joints together as much as holding the sides tight so the opposing clamps didn't push them out.

I left it to dry overnight and this morning removed the clamps and gave the outside a good sanding to 150 grit with a random orbital sander and then touched up the edges with a sanding block also using 150 grit. The results were fantastic, I am really happy about how this is coming along. If you look at the picture below you can see inside the cutouts to the bottom. I think that I will use the thin copper to cover it after I'm done finishing it.