The Byrdcliffe wall cabinet completed with three coats of Watco Danish Oil Natural and one coat of Watco Liguid wax Light. The oil darkens the poplar and highlights the contrast in the grain.
My logo branded onto the inside of the door.
The inside of the cabinet with a stop block on the lower left corner.
The rare earth magnet inside the upper hinge.
A good view of the purple, black, and green colors of the poplar.
The complete project ready to be hung on a wall.
Another shot of the relief carved iris, hand colored and blended. This being my first hand carved project I think it came out really well. In the original the iris was just carved around the outline, I tried this at first using a small round burr on my dremel tool but I was not happy with the results so I decided to outline the flower and carve away the background leaving the flower and leaves flat.
Monday, February 25, 2008
The Byrdcliffe wall cabinet completed with three coats of Watco Danish Oil Natural and one coat of Watco Liguid wax Light. The oil darkens the poplar and highlights the contrast in the grain.
Friday, February 22, 2008
Once the glue up was all clamped I measured the height of the back panel and cut the boards to length. I then run a 3/8 inch x 3/8 inch rabet along each side of the back slats, one on the front, one on the back. This is called a shiplapped back, it allows for wood movement along the cross grain to long grain. The original piece has a solid back panel running horizontally across the back, and while this small of a piece movement shouldn't be too big of problem I've decided to follow the Popular Woodworking plan and use a shiplapped back running vertically. With the boards cut I lay them out in the rabet using a Quarter as a spacer between each board. I determine the width of the side pieces and rip them to size on the tablesaw. Laying the boards out one by one I glue only the tops and bottoms and hold them in place with 5/8 inch brad nails.
Once the glue has dried and the clamps removed I trimmed the door to size leaving a 1/16th inch gap around the door. I then used a black plane to bevel the inside of the knob side of the door. I installed the non-mortise hinges using a quick and easy method I read about in a woodworking magazine some time ago. I placed a mark at 2 inches from the top and the bottom and used two sided tape on the back of the hinges, lining them up I press the tape onto side of the cabinet. This holds the hinges in place while you drill the pilot holes and intall the screws.
Better the rudest work that tells a story or records a fact, than the richest without meaning. John Ruskin
Tuesday, February 19, 2008
His marriage annulled, his future uncertain, and exiled in Europe, Ellis developed a passion for painting that he would pursue for the rest of his life. His time in Europe was not long, and in 1872 he returned to his family, now living in Albany, NY. Family relationships were soon strained and Ellis moved to New York in 1875 where he was employed by an engineering office and studied architecture under Arthur G. Gilman. Dissatisfied by this static position, Ellis left New York in 1877 for Albany where he met and grew to admire the architect Henry H. Richardson, whose Romanesque style inspired Ellis's later work.
Ellis accompanied his family when they returned to Rochester in September, 1877. Shortly thereafter he and his brother Charles established the architectural office of H. & C.S. Ellis. The firm was quite successful and Harvey Ellis was able to spend his time designing while Charles Ellis attracted new clients. Many commercial and residential buildings were designed by the office, the most important commission being for the new Federal Building (now Rochester City Hall) built in the Romanesque style.
In 1885 mounting friction between the Ellis Brothers prompted Harvey to move once again, first to Utica, NY then to St. Paul, MN. In 1886-87 he was employed as a drafsman by the St. Paul firms of J. Walter Stevens, Mould & McNichol, and Leroy S. Buffington. Buffington claimed to be the originator of the metal skeleton frame that made building tall structures feisable and he took out a patent on the process. His claim to be the inventor of the skyscraper was refuted, but using the designs created by Harvey Ellis, Buffington is credited with playing a pivotal role in refining the new method of construction.
Ellis continued to design houses, churches, banks and pubic buildings (many never built) for Buffington and submitt renderings to architectural offices in St. Paul, St. Louis, MO and other Midwestern, and perhaps Southwestern, cities. He returned to Rochester in 1894 and rejoined his brother's firm. At some point he was married and lived in a rooming house on Lake Avenue with his wife. The economic depression meant fewer architectural commissions, but Ellis found employment decorating interiors.
Ellis's appreciation of the aesthetic principals of the Arts and Crafts movement is apparent in the designs he created during this period. He was a founding member and president of the Rochester Arts & Crafts Society, one of the earliest such organizations in the country. In 1894 he helped organize the Society's first exhibition, a display of Japanese prints and modern French posters.
In 1903 Harvey Ellis made the arrangements to display in Rochester's Mechanics Institute an extensive exhibition of arts and crafts decorative arts. The display was organized by Gustav Stickely and first shown the previous year in Syracuse. Following the exhibition Harvey Ellis, now separated from his wife, moved to Syracuse at the invitation of Stickley to write for The Craftsman. Ellis published several articles that included his designs for arts and crafts homes and interiors. Ellis's use of curves and inlays brought a more elegant and lighter style to Stickley's rectilinear furniture.
Harvey Ellis died on January 2, 1904 at the age of 52 due, in part to acute alcholism. He was buried in an unmarked grave in St. Agnes cemetery in Syracuse. A marker was placed on the grave in 1997 by the Arts and Crafts Society of Central New York.
In the death of Mr. Harvey Ellis, which occurred on January 2, The Craftsman lost a valued contributor to its department of architecture. Mr. Ellis was a man of unusual gifts; possessing an accurate and exquisite sense of color, a great facility in design and a sound judgment of effect. These qualities were evidenced in his slightest sketches, causing them to be kept as treasures by those fortunate enough to acquire them. As a teacher, Mr. Ellis was very successful, while many of his fellow students, among whom are several eminent painters of the country, have acknowledged their debt to him lying in the counsels and criticisms which he gave them. As an architect, Mr. Ellis showed style and distinction; his ability having received public recognition through the award of the first prize in the design competition for the tomb of General Grant. Mr. Ellis was, further, a connoisseur of Japanese art, the principles of which he assimilated and practised. Altogether, he is to be regretted as one who possessed thes acred fire of genius.
A little more persistence, a little more effort, and what seemed hopeless failure may turn to glorious success.
Sunday, February 17, 2008
Saturday, February 16, 2008
I placed a few samples of white oak in an airtight rubbermade container with a small plastic dish of aqueous ammonia, I left this to sit for 6 hours then removed one piece. I removed another piece after 12 hours but noticed very little difference in the color so I replaced it and left the rest for another 12 hours, 24 in total. You can see the difference here, with no fuming, 6, and 24 hours with not additional finish.
These are the peices finished with a coat of Brown Mahagony Gel stain, two coats of 2lb cut amber shellac, and finished with a coat of dark wax. I liked the results but I have to say that I like the way the dye/stain combination contrasts the ray flake as opposed to the fuming that tones the differences down. You can see in the 24 hour sample that the ray flakes are almost invisible.
One of the problems with fuming white oak is that the sapwood will not turn as dark as the heart wood, whereas dying lets you equalize the differences. If you look at the picture on the left you can see how much lighter the sapwood is in the left and middle picture compared to the sample on the right with no sapwood.
I think after this experiment I've found that fuming is no easier than dying wood and the toxicity of the ammonia makes me want to stick with the water based dyes. While I do have to sand the raised grain after dying and I wouldn't have to after fuming I think that the tradeoff of having to time the exposure to the ammonia is more inconvenient. My method may be less authentic but its also less toxic and easier to control the color. From what I've been able to find out I don't think that the Stickley factory uses fuming today to color their furniture either. Fuming may have been the state of the art in coloring wood in the 1900's but today we have other choices.
The true secret of happiness lies in taking a genuine interest in all the details of daily life.
"Thanks, Bebe! This is my first award so I'm quite excited. I'd like to pass this award along to Paula at The Beautiful Life, who inspires me with her creative needlework. Also to Brad, at Tree Frog Furniture, who always writes such informative and interesting posts on Arts and Crafts Furniture, and finally to Tracy, at Pink Purl, who always inspires with her creative posts."
Thursday, February 14, 2008
Some friends of mine were interested in a 1920's bungalow in Charleston and asked me to take a look at it for them. I really liked the layout and design and it was nice in that it had missed the remodeling craze of the 1970's. Not having alot of extra money they asked if we could make the kitchen cabinets instead of buying them, I'd made some cabinets before as a trim carpenter and fell into the research whole-heartedly. I checked out every book on making cabinets and on bungalows I could find in the county library. Now I had been a fan of The New Yankee Workshop and This Old House for years, so when I found Norm's books I was excited. I read these and thought "well thats not THAT hard". My friends ended up not buying the bungalow but it was too late for me. I checked out everybook they had on woodworking, doing this I discovered Gustav Stickley. That was it, I was hooked.
Now living in a house in an old single house in downtown Charleston is not conducive to fine woodworking, for one thing, no garage. What I did have was a one car wide gated driveway. I managed to collect a respectable collection of portable tools and plastic sawhorses. These I used as benches and workspace with the addition of 3/4 inch plywood. I purchased a plastic shed and a plastic closet from Lowes and made my storage area. I worked out in the heat under a 10 by 10 foot pop up tent like you see at the farmer's market. I had a serious case of garage-envy but I did manage to make some passable pieces there on Saturdays, when it wasn't raining, or too hot, or too cold....
This is where my skills started to build, I no longer had to completely take down my whole work area and put everything away in the little plastic sheds at the end of each day. I could leave my work and just walk away, come back when I had a few free hours or the next weekend and nothing would have changed. Its heated and air conditioned, keeps the humidity stable. Its got great lighting so night isn't a problem, and the door closes so the bugs don't eat you alive. I could finally buy some nice stationary tools, I could place my benchtop tools where I wanted them and not have to set them up on a saw bench whenever I needed them.
Do your work with your whole heart, and you will succeed -
there's so little competition.Elbert Hubbard
Wednesday, February 13, 2008
Monday, February 11, 2008
In 1903 Harvey Ellis made the arrangements to display an extensive exhibition of arts and crafts decorative arts. The display was organized by Gustav Stickely and first shown the previous year in Syracuse. Following the exhibition Harvey Ellis moved to Syracuse at the invitation of Stickley to write for The Craftsman. Ellis published several articles that included his designs for arts and crafts homes and interiors. Ellis's use of curves and inlays brought a more elegant and lighter style to Stickley's "mission" furniture. Ellis died in 1904 from complications of alcoholism.
Thursday, February 7, 2008
- Sand piece to 150 grit and clean with tack rag or vacuum.
- Wipe a good coat of dye on, be sure to cover all sides and keep dye from puddling in corners and at base. Leave to dry for at least 24 hours.
- Lightly sand to remove raised grain with 220 grit, avoid oversanding especially at corners and edges.
- Pad on a 1LB cut of amber shellac or sanding sealer.
- Using a 320 grit sanding pad gently rub surface, clean with tack cloth or vacuum.
- Apply Brown Mahagony Gel stain being careful to not cover too large of an area because once dry its very hard to wipe off. Once the gel starts to haze rub it off with a clean lint free cloth, I prefer old T-shirts. This gives you a warm rubbed in look. Let dry overnight.
- Pad on 2-3 2LB cut coats of amber shellac, I tightly fold a square of T-shirt material, then soak it in the shellac and squeeze out excess, rub it in until it starts to drag then let dry. The coat of shellac should dry in 30 minutes or less. Repeat until you get the build you want.
- Again, using 320 grit sanding pad gently rub surface, clean with a tack cloth or vacuum.
- Take a few minutes to go over the whole piece with your clean hand, checking the surface for any rough areas or holidays.
- Using a clean square of T-shirt rub in a thick coat of Watco Dark Liquid wax. Avoid plain or light colored waxes as these may leave white residue in the pores of the oak. When the wax is dry buff it out with a clean square of T-shirt.
Once the wax is dry you are done. This is my favorite time of a project, when you carry it in the house and place it in just the right spot, stand back, enjoy the view and accolades from a grateful family, and go start something else.
Tuesday, February 5, 2008
In my experiments, however, I decided that a far more pleasing and beautiful result would be obtained by softening rather than heightening the distinctiveness of the flake. So for months I persisted in my endeavor to discover a way by which I could "bring together," harmonize, as it were, these two markedly contrasting features in the same piece of wood. This was finally effected by the use of ammonia, either by direct application or by fumes. The ammonia combines with the tannic acid in the oak to produce a chemical change, and thus "tone down" and color the flake to the desired shade. As far as I know this is the only practically successful method yet discovered to cope with the difficulties offered by the ray flake. Pigment applied to the surface of the flake has no appreciable result, as it is almost as hard and impenetrable as glass. In what I have written above I would not have it thought, because of this somewhat lengthy description of my own experiments, that I make any claim to the discovery of the use of ammonia. Many others have used it, and still do so, and others may have produced the same results on oak, but in my case it was the outcome of personal experimentation.
Now this leaves me in kind of a dilema, my favorite finishing recipe are all centered around making the flakes "pop". I think that part of the beauty of the Arts and Crafts style if they distinctive look of the quartersawn oak. The method I prefer is dying the wood with a concentrate disolved in water, to give the base color for the wood, followed by a coat of shellac, a darker gel stain, more shellac, and finally a dark wax. But from the reading and talking to a few professionals I've found that the most authentic way to achieve an authentic Arts and Crafts Finish is by fuming the quartersawn white oak with aqueous ammonia (NH4OH), this is the method that Gustav Stickley popularized.
The fuming is not an especially difficult process, but it requires a good deal of care, for the piece must be put into an air-tight box or closet, on the floor of which has been placed shallow dishes containing aqua ammonia (26 per cent). The length of time required to fume oak to a good color depends largely upon the tightness of the compartment, but as a rule forty eight hours is enough. When fuming is not practicable, as in the case of a piece too large for any available compartment or one that is built into the room, a fairly good result may be obtained by applying the strong ammonia directly to the wood with a sponge or brush. In either case the wood must be in its natural condition when treated, as any previous application of oil or stain would keep the ammonia from taking effect. After the wood so treated is thoroughly dry from the first application it should be sandpapered carefully with fine sandpaper, then a second coat of ammonia applied, followed by a second careful sandpapering
Some pieces fume much darker than others, according to the amount of tannin left free to attract the ammonia after the wood has been kiln dried. Where any sap wood has been left on, that part will be found unaffected by the fumes. There is apt also to be a slight difference in tone when the piece is not all made from the same log, because some trees contain more tannic acid than others.
So with this in mind I'm going to attemp an experiment, I've obtained some aqueous ammonia from a local blueprint supply house and after consulting with my friends that us it, I'm going to fume some samples to different darknesses and finish them, then I'm going to compare them to my samples of the recipes I have been following and decide which is more, a. authentic, and b. more visually pleasing to the modern eye. Stay tuned for the process, details of each recipe, and the results.
Fine art is that in which the hand, the head, and the heart of man go together.
Monday, February 4, 2008
Byrdcliffe Colony was formed in 1903 by wealthy Englishman Ralph Radcliffe-Whitehead, a student of John Ruskin, near Woodstock NY. Whitehead, who along with his American wife, Jane Byrd McCall, attempted to establish the perfect environment for an art guild adhering to the ideals of Ruskin and the Arts and Crafts Movement. Whitehead, was influenced by John Ruskin's passion for Gothic art and his social reformist ideals. The views of the British designer-craftsman William Morris, a Ruskin disciple who pushed for the return of design to its intimate relationship with processes and materials, also had an effect on Whitehead's thinking.
Seeing art as a factor in the improvement of society, and wanting a purpose for his life, Whitehead aspired to build his own arts and crafts community. His ideas found an echo in those of a socially prominent American artist, Jane Byrd McCall, whom Whitehead met on a trip through Italy. A Ruskinite, too, she joined Whitehead in helping realize his project. He divorced his Austrian-born wife and moved to the United States, where he and Jane were married in 1892. After travel abroad, they built a luxurious Tuscan villa called Arcady in Montecito, Calif., where they lived while planning ahead. Their aims for the colony (called Byrdcliffe from an amalgamation of their middle names) were that it should support itself by selling beautiful handmade objects; offer classes in all the crafts so that it could perpetuate itself; and provide a healthy life on a working farm that would also help to support it. But it wasn't until June 1902 that Whitehead, after months of looking in other areas, was alerted to the possibilities of Woodstock by a close painter friend, Bolton Brown. In a gorgeous setting at the foothills of the Catskills, Woodstock had the added advantage of being close to New York City, rife with commercial opportunities.
At its peak between 1903 and 1910, Byrdcliffe had about 200 working artists and artisans. Some rented studio space and worked on their own, some worked collectively with others, and younger artists from the Pratt Institute, Columbia University and elsewhere flocked to Byrdcliffe for classes. In a beautiful, rural setting, Whitehead built first class accommodations to attract artists and friends. Artists from around the country converged at this Utopian setting where they created pottery, textiles, metalwork and some furniture while enjoying the company of other craftsmen. No more than 50 pieces of furniture were ever produced and most of these were kept and used at Byrdcliffe. Production of furniture lasted only until 1905. Financially, Byrdcliffe never was successful, but it’s importance in the history of the Arts and Crafts Movement is second to none.
As an experiment in utopian living inspired by the arts and crafts movement, the Byrdcliffe Arts Colony was built sparing no expense. Byrdcliffe was a wonderful setting for practicing the art of living through creative manual work. The arts and crafts movement stressed reform of social, environmental and economic conditions to combat the slums and degradation fostered in the industrial regions and Byrdcliffe's Woodstock site offered a pristine environment for the creation of Whitehead's utopian enclave.
Although the arts and crafts utopian experiment soon ran out of steam, the continuing magic of Byrdcliffe enthralled many notable persons including the educator John Dewey, author Thomas Mann and naturalist John Burroughs. Isadora Duncan danced at White Pines; Bob Dylan lived in a house at Byrdcliffe in the '60s and early '70s; Joanne Woodward was involved in the river Arts Repertory at the Byrdcliffe Theatre. After Whitehead's death in 1929, his widow, Jane, and son Peter struggled to keep the colony alive. After Jane's death in 1955, Peter sold much of the land to pay taxes and maintenance on the heart of the colony which he kept intact. The Whiteheads intended to preserve Byrdcliffe "for the purpose of promoting among the residents of Woodstock...the study, practice and development of skill in the fine arts and crafts, as well as a true appreciation thereof..." Byrdcliffe remains a vibrant part of the cultural life of the Catskill region thanks to the careful stewardship of the Woodstock Guild.
Byrdcliffe is also an important regional example of the movement to create various types of utopian enclaves in America. British reformers especially saw America as a fertile and cheap land for the creation of visionary communities. The horrors of the working conditions of the industrial revolution led Robert Owen to establish his New Harmony, Indiana, community in the 1820s. Owen had a wide influence in America and a score of communities patterned on his theories were founded including one in Haverstraw, New York, and another in Coxsackie, New York, although these were both very short lived. In the 1880s Thomas Hughes established his Rugby Colony in Tennessee, inspired by Ruskin and espousing creative manual labor. Other arts and crafts communities were also founded in America, including the Roycroft Community in East Aurora, New York, which was established in 1895 by Elbert Hubbard on the principles of the guild system and the aesthetics of William Morris.
It is estimated that about fifty pieces of furniture were made at Byrdcliffe before production stopped in 1905. Only a few pieces were designed specifically for use at White Pines. The rest were supposed to be sold to the public. It was not all made of indigenous woods, as John Ruskin decreed. It seldom had the exposed mortise and tenon joints that were the marks of honest joinery for Stickley. It was not made by the person who would ultimately use it, and it was very expensive, which meant that the common man, so central to democratic arts and crafts theory, could not afford it. Scholars today make the case that Byrdcliffe became an essential part of the arts and crafts story after the arrival of Zulma Steele and Edna Walker. This is because these women studied at the Pratt School of Design in New York City when Arthur Wesley Dow was teaching there.
Most Byrdcliffe cabinets have the same problematic proportions that plague the furniture Whitehead made for Arcady They appear ponderous and usually lack the details that might minimize abrupt transitions. By contrast the piece here is one of two known cabinets that are narrower than the standard two-door Byrdcliffe cabinets, which are sixty-one inches wide. In this case the span between the legs is short enough to allow a visual connection between the corner brackets. Finally, the cornice molding is more attenuated than that on the wide chests. Still, all these refinements to Whitehead's basic design would not have carried the piece without the panels of delicately tinted swirling sassafras leaves designed by Steele and colored by Jane Whitehead. The low-relief carved panels Steele designed are the most distinctive elements on Byrdcliffe furniture. Robert Lang reproduced this piece of furniture in the April 2007 issue of Popular Woodworking http://www.popularwoodworking.com/articleabstract?aid=14538, you can also find it in Popular Woodworking Press's recent book, Popular Woodworking's Arts & Crafts Furniture Projects: 25 Projects for Every Room in Your Home (Popular Woodworking)
Though Byrdcliffe brimmed with spiritual moxie - and fun, too, as attested by photographs of picnics, parties and such - its most important material product was the beautifully decorated Arts and Crafts furniture turned out by the colony's woodworking shop. This production spate lasted for only two years, from 1903 to 1905, because of cost factors and more efficient production and promotion by competitors, like the similarly ideological enterprises run by Gustav Stickley and Elbert Hubbard. Still, the 50 or so examples of furniture produced at Byrdcliffe, executed by workmen from artists' drawings, are superbly Arts and Crafts in their rugged but elegant design; their boxy, rectilinear build; and their dark wood tones and rustic finishes. They are simply adorned, with carved floral decorations taken from local plants, but some even have painted scenes.
This wall cabinet features an Iris design by Zulma Steele, unlike most Arts and Crafts furniture its made from Poplar, the original has a greenish stain with a relief carved iris. I also found this original drawing on Ms. Steele's iris motife. This cabinet is going to be my next project and I'll try my hand at the carving on the door