October 6, 2012

Them little critters will just jump up and bite you...

This has got to be the kookiest of warning labels. The protractor in this package is about 5" long. But you should wear eye protection! Lordy, what a flabby age we live in.

Protractor with warning label

WORD NOTE: My Army Reserve son has brought home Army slang: "Eye-pro" and "ear-pro." I've started to say the same. Short punchy terms are good things. And as a cabinetmaker, I say: "Wear your ear-pro and eye-pro. (For power tools I mean. Not protractors.) Nobody has tough eyeballs or ear nerves!"

Posted by John Weidner at 6:21 PM

April 8, 2012

Wildest thing I've ever built...

Since today is Easter, it is an appropriate moment to post about this recently installed project. It is a reliquary, holding a tiny fragment of the True Cross. (And to forestall the obvious question, I don't know if it is a true relic. But I don't see any historical reason to think such a thing implausible. I've posted some historical thoughts below the fold.) The actual fragment is too small to see here—it's a minute splinter at the center of the crystal cross you see.

Reliquary with True Cross

The design specifications were like nothing I'd ever even considered. I wanted piece of traditional-looking woodwork, that would also be secure from thieves, yet accessible so the relic could be removed for veneration on Good Friday. And lighted.

The projecting part you see below hides two steel cages (thanks to one of my sons, who can weld a bit). Sandwiched between them are windows of polycarbonate plastic (Lexan). The steel is sheathed in two layers of oak. An ugly tough layer with lots of steel screws holding it all in shape. And that layer was then covered in some thin veneers of very handsome White Oak. And all this was just invented as I want along. There are no how-to books to consult!

Detail of the Oak used to sheath the reliquary

White Oak is prized by people like me for its "ray flakes." Those are those pale lines that stripe the wood. (If you have heard the term "quarter-sawn oak," that is the sawing angle that shows the flakes best.) The flakes on the shield-shaped back of the piece are typical—fairly big and irregular. NOW, look at the oak wood in the projecting part of the reliquary. See the ranks of slender close-drawn flakes, which are an appropriate size for such slim components. Almost thread-like. You are seeing something rare. I've only seen them like that once. I starting building a piece of oak furniture for Charlene at least 15 years ago. But the project stalled, and I put some parts away to maybe maybe work on later. They cluttered my shop for years. And dozens of times I considered turning them into fire-wood. And each time I said, "Naw. Too pretty. Just can't do it!"

So, there they were, when their moment came!

Here's a bit of the construction process. I'm gluing and clamping strips of veneer onto the rough oak. Lordy, what contortions I went through. I often wished I'd chosen a different job.

Reliquary, glueing and clamping the veneers onto the substrate

Historical note... I'm a history buff, and have been thinking a bit about relics of the Cross. Here's something I wrote...

People in our culture tend to scoff at the very idea, but actually there's nothing historically implausible about fragments of the Cross surviving into our time.

The Empress Helena, the mother of Constantine, is said to have obtained the Cross and brought it to Constantinople. That she or some other worthy might have obtained the actual cross is not far-fetched. The Romans were exceedingly organized and meticulous in everything they did. It is likely that they had their crosses made to high standards under government contract, and then took very good care of them. I'd guess they painted numbers on them, and had inventory lists. Probably the Roman soldiers had to sign them out of a warehouse, and some fussbudget bureaucrat told them that any damage would be deducted from their pay!

And the Christians of the first couple of centuries would have been angling all the time to get their hands on that cross, and hide it. There were wealthy and influential people among them, and they were highly motivated. Bribery could accomplish a lot. If Joseph of Arimathea could obtain the body of Jesus, if Nicodemus could buy a hundred pounds of spices to bury him with... it would be more surprising if they didn't get the Cross!

Erasmus of Rotterdam famously stated that if all the pieces of the True Cross were gathered together, it would take a ship to carry them. But that was hyperbole used for literary effect in trying to combat supposed superstition. He didn't study the matter. Charles Rohault de Fleury published a study in 1870, analyzing all known Cross fragments. They added up to much less than any reasonable estimate for a cross.
Posted by John Weidner at 9:14 PM

January 8, 2011

A recent job...

This is something I just installed. The top part is a traditional shape called a "broken pediment." It's big; about 8' tall. It's too big to move as a whole, the whole thing comes apart, and was screwed together on-site...

bookcase with broken pediment.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:32 PM

December 18, 2009

Some recent work...

I built this for a couple who like to sit side by side in the kitchen in the morning with coffee and their laptops. What looks like a lower drawer is actually a slide-out printer platform, and its "drawer-front" folds forward to let the printer work....

desk for a kitchen

Below is a rendering of an earlier version of the plan, but it shows how the printer-drawer works...

desk for a kitchen

Posted by John Weidner at 8:48 AM

October 23, 2009

Some of my work...

These are some bookcases plus entertainment center I just finished. A clean simple look (which is harder to achieve than you would imagine) was desired, and I think I did pretty well. The decorative grille on the center doors solves the problem of venting heat from the audio/video components, and allows those infra-red gadgets to control the machines...

Bookcases and entertainment center

Posted by John Weidner at 7:43 PM

August 22, 2009

The challenge from my client...

Was to turn this triangular niche into a place to hang lots of clothes... (Girls need an amazin' amount of clothes. I've never received a good explanation for this.)

triangular closet space--before

Click below for my solution...

triangular closet space--before

This was harder than it looks. Especially since there were no studs in the right places. I'm relying a lot on construction adhesive!

Posted by John Weidner at 10:11 AM

September 18, 2008

How I've been keeping busy...

I just delivered these two tables this morning. They are made to look like several very fine 1940's Art Deco pieces my clients already own. That's a console table in the rear, and a Parsons table in front. (With a lower shelf, so it's a kind of modified Parsons table. The name comes from the Parsons School of Design, by the way, not the title of a clergyman.)

Art Deco tables

I veneered them all over in White Ash Burl. The originals are in Olive Ash, but I couldn't find any that looked right. So I had to dye White Ash to match. Pain in the neck. But the results are worth it.

Here's a closer look at the console table.

Art Deco console table

For those curious about the details. The veneer is paper-backed, from Oakwood Veneer. I built the cases, then veneered them using Heat Lock glue. Then cut the grooves for the corner trim. Got those pieces to fit just right, then dyed and shellacked them, and glued them in. Then dyed the veneer. Then rubbed with boiled linseed oil--that makes the grain stand out. Then sealed the oil with shellac, then sprayed with a clear lacquer.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:22 AM

July 5, 2008

Awesome new gadget!

I have a very exciting new woodworking machine, the Matchmaker, by Woodtec. I've made a little video of it in action.

I can't write an actual review, since I've just started using it. But here are some preliminary thoughts:

It's a nice solid machine. I like it so far. This didn't show up in my video, but I was moving that control stick using only my little finger!

I've had a little slippage of the stops that limit side-to-side motion. (But I'm working with very big boards.)

The router mounts by removing the base and guide-rods of a big plunge-router, then sliding the router body onto the machine's own rods. That wasn't clear to me when I bought it. Disassembling the router was a pain; I had to call Hitachi to ask how to do it. I'm pretty sure I will never remove the router to use on other tasks. So I'd say you should budget for a dedicated router.

The manual is adequate, but not great. (My experience has always been that the more expensive the machine, the more wretched the instructions. The cheap consumer-level machine costing hundreds of $ has, necessarily, crystal-clear instructions. Then I upgrade to a big professional contraption that costs thousands, and end up wasting hours figuring out stuff that could be explained in a single sentence.)

The video that comes with it is a VHS cassette! Good grief, is that a time warp, or what? I certainly can't watch it. Uh, guys, I really really appreciate your old-fashioned inventive iron-mongering genius, but there is this new thing called the Internet. With web videos. And, may I be so bold to suggest, FAQ's. Answering questions by telephone is SO Twentieth Century.

But these are quibbles; it's a grand gadget.

Also, I mis-spoke on the video; it's not a gate post, it's the stile of a gate.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:57 AM

December 30, 2007

Now I can start my Christmas....

I've been working busily over the holiday to get this ready, and I installed it yesterday. (It's not a good picture, sorry. It is actually very difficult to photograph such a dark piece.)

I'm in the conference room of a local corporation. There are recesses in each of the end walls, and they wanted shelves to match the ones on the other end of the room. Those white rectangles are cut-outs for electrical outlets--which should be inconspicuous once the shelves are filled with "product."

There are more details below the fold, if you are interested...

Here's the plan:

Construction details. I originally planned to make the top one 12' long piece, which would have been a bit risky and tricky. Fortunately the size of the elevators precluded this, and the join in the top turned out to be quite inconspicuous.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:39 AM

September 10, 2007

Something what's been keeping me busy...

I just finished installing this home office, in a very fine old apartment building here in the city. I'm pleased with how it came out, though there were times I wasn't sure I was going to make it. Especially just the problem of getting all the parts and tools into the apartment. There were many hassles with parking, elevators, cable car line, steep hills.... I love the city, but there are problems here no one in the suburbs even imagines.
Home Office for customer

* Update: Two more pix added.

It was hard to get back far enough to get a picture. Plus, one of the problems was that the room was full of stuff. Makes it awkward. 'Course I once re-did a home office that remained in use during the installation! That was fun.

Home Office2
The desk surface is Wilsonart color "Satin Stainless." Very nice, my customer found it...

Home Office3

Posted by John Weidner at 2:31 PM

July 22, 2007

A moment of concern...

We recently had an ecumenical service at the parish, and a very splendid thing it was...

CATHOLIC SAN FRANCISCO: Peace, reconciliation, unity are themes of June 28 event at St. Dominic Church
An evening of sacred music and sacred readings featuring themes of peace and reconciliation June 28 St. Dominic Parish was capped by exhortations from leaders of San Francisco's Roman Catholic and Greek Orthodox communities for their traditions to continue pursuit of mutual understanding and unity.

Following their remarks to a nearly full church, Greek Orthodox Metropolitan Gerasimos and Archbishop George H. Niederauer lit in unison the final candle of a candelabra which had served as symbol of growing unity during the evening. Between choral offerings, pairs of youngsters — one Greek Orthodox, one Catholic — would walk to the altar area and each light a candle on either side of the candelabra.
Titled "Litany for Peace: An Ecumenical Evening of Sacred Readings and Music," the program featured three choral ensembles — the Solemn Choir of St. Dominic Church and the choirs of San Francisco's Annunciation Greek Orthodox Cathedral and Holy Trinity Greek Orthodox Church...

Archbishop and Metropolitan Light Candle
Photo by Arne Folkedal
�2007 ArneFolkedal@gmail.com, used by permission. [Thanks!]

The little awkwardness for me was that I built that platform they are standing on. And all I had been told was that it was for the children, to help them reach the candles! Of course I had made it very sturdy, I know how to do this stuff. But still I felt a bit queasy when I realized that these two important guys were about to stand on it together... "The early 21st Century seemed to be experiencing a new dawn of ecumenism, until the catastrophic incident in San Francisco..."

"Random Thoughts Sundays"250

Posted by John Weidner at 6:32 AM

June 16, 2007

Fun stuff with a scroll saw...

As a matter of general info, there are lots of woodworking things you can do without a shop or expensive tools. One neat machine is the scroll saw.

My son was tasked with buying a toy alligator to go on the going-away-party cake of someone in the choir who is moving to Florida. We were about to go driving around looking, but I hate shopping, and I said, "We could just make one." And so we did.

Scrollsaw toy alligator
My scroll saw is a plain-vanilla Powermatic, that cost me less that $150. (Of course if anyone's looking for gift suggestions in the four-figures neighborhood, these babies are what I dream of. But don't really need.)

My machine has undoubtedly paid for itself many times over, just in making small gifts. Back when my children needed presents to take to a birthday parties, I used to make keychains by cutting the person's name out of a scrap of Rosewood, which can be buffed to a nice gloss. I probably did at least 30 of them over the years, which is a LOT of trips to Toys 'r Us avoided!

If anyone is interested, I made the alligator out out two pieces of smooth 1/2"-thick Poplar. I taped them together and cut out everything except the legs. Those were cut on each piece separately. Then I glued the two together. The color is green wood dye. The actual cutting took less than 10 minutes. It's about 12" long.

Posted by John Weidner at 1:14 PM

April 21, 2007

Rather cool cabinets...

...though it's I what says it. I installed these a few days ago. Unfortunately it's almost impossible to photograph them, because the space is too small to stand far enough back! (It's in a short hall branching off from another hall.) Also, they are lighted cabinets, but the electrician has not yet connected my wires to the line. I'll show you my sketch below the fold, so you can get the big picture...

Cabinet with glass doors and shelves

Cabinet sketch
(This is drawn with the formidable Google SketchUp Pro, without which I do not know how I ever lived. You can download a free version of Sketchup that does almost everything the pro version does, except it won't export as well.)

Posted by John Weidner at 5:03 PM

February 16, 2007

Job done...

I just finished installing these wardrobes, for a choir rehearsal room. I think they turned out well, but this project beat me up in a bunch of ways. A lot of them just because the two units are big! 7 1/2 feet high, and 5 feet wide. That complicates everything. For instance, there's no 1/4" plywood available wide enough to form the backs— I had to stitch two pieces together for each one. And once the cases were assembled, it's not like I could pick them up and move them about...

Wardrobes for choir room, St Dominic's Parish
However, it was for our own dear parish, St Dominic's, of San Francisco, and for its world-class choir, so it was a labor of love...

Choir wardrobes, St Dominic's Parish

* For any woodworkers who might be interested, those sliding doors are not really frame-and-panel construction (which would be pretty scary at that size). They are pieces of 1/2" Birch plywood (I was lucky to get some good-looking C-2 at a good price) with strips of 1/4" thick Birch glued on. It worked out well, but there were a lot of pieces to put together. They are lightly dyed to match some other wood in the room..

They are hanging on Hettich System 72222 tracks and wheels--very cool. But the little bottom guides sold with the system were useless--I threw them out and made some long guides of my own.

Posted by John Weidner at 2:41 PM

February 12, 2007

Maybe someone out there in the "Audient Void" knows the answer...

....To a minor dilemma I have. It's a little thing, but is starting to really bug me...

In my work as a cabinetmaker I frequently use a timer. For instance, I'll glue and clamp a piece, and then use a timer to make sure it stays clamped just long enough before the next step.

But I have been unable to find the sort of timer I really want. It needs to clip to my belt, be small, be simple to use, and be sturdy enough to take some knocks.

I've tried the two shown below. The first one hangs from a string, but the plastic loop that the string goes through soon broke. The second one is great, but the belt clip soon failed. (And worse, the clip is attached to the sliding battery cover. So a slight bump slides the timer right off, leaving only the cover on my belt!)

I may try this one next...

Posted by John Weidner at 10:33 AM

June 30, 2006

Another day, another dullard...

I just installed this little bookcase (inspired by this style), and all was well, and the customer was happy...except one tiny detail...

Bookcase in Maine Cottage Style
I fastened it firmly to the wall with three screws, two of which went right into the sliding pocket-door you see. Ooops. (Fortunately I was equipped with the necessary gear to repair the damage.)

Posted by John Weidner at 12:31 PM

April 28, 2006

Tall cases...

I haven't blogged much lately, because I've been rushing to complete this project so my customers can show it off at a big party this weekend...

Tall bookcases in Cherry
They have a few points of interest. The wood is cherry, darkened with a dye and finished with shellac. I used shellac because it dries quickly. But I relied too much on that, and stupidly left the shelves stacked up while I installed the cases. And they stuck to each other and left ugly marks in the finish! Fortunately shellac is easy to repair, because a new layer will melt into the previous one, so I could fix things with a brush.

Also they are about 9 1/2 feet tall, which added complications, like having to disassemble the cases to get them into the room. But unlike most of my jobs, this was a brand new building and everything was plumb. In fact I couldn't quite believe it, and made the base 1/4" short, expecting to shim it level over the ups and downs of the floor. But there weren't any!

Posted by John Weidner at 7:33 PM

March 24, 2006


I just finished this installation today. Big job, about 12' long and 10' high. Turned out pretty well, though it's I what says it. Maybe I'll have some time to blog now...

Bookshelves installed, 3-06
Here's a shot in mid-installation...

I should have brought a taller ladder!

Bookshelves during installation, 3-06
Posted by John Weidner at 8:16 PM

April 30, 2005

Garden furniture project update...

Here's the whole set finally finished...On my screen the Redwood looks more pink than it really is, and of course they will all soon be brown...

Some of my redwood garden furniture

Posted by John Weidner at 5:03 PM

April 5, 2005

A fun project...

I made this garden chair for Charlene. A little table will join it eventually. It's made of Redwood, and will soon darken, and eventually weather to the color of the fence you see in the background...

Redwood garden chair
This job was fun because I could be much more relaxed about the details than if I was working for a customer. I made no drawings and only took a few measurements from other chairs. And a lot of the wood was re-sawn from some 4x4 scraps I had lying around, which was very satisfying and parsimonious... (the plants are mentioned below)

The very large fern you see behind the chair is Blechnum chilense. Blechnums typically have upright fertile fronds, which are not green and which carry the spores. The shriveled-looking things you see standing straight up are fertile fronds. And behind the frond that the sun is shining on is another fern, Blechnum nudum, which has the charming common name of Fishbone Water Fern.

Those twisty branches you see against the fence belong to a climbing rhodie, Rhododendron fragrantissimum. (Whose flowers are indeed very fragrant.)

Posted by John Weidner at 7:34 PM

February 15, 2005

My site...

I've belatedly fudged up a web site for my cabinetmaking business. If you are interested, it's here. Feel free to comment or cricketize.

Posted by John Weidner at 11:56 AM

January 28, 2004

On eBay, very cheap...

The US is apparently now getting a lot of the counterfeit tools that have been a problem for a while in Europe. They look just like the familiar brands, sometimes with the brand name, like Makita, sometimes with a different name.

So if you find a brand new power tool cheap at the flea market, or are offered it under the table by a "company rep," (and maybe you think you are getting a deal on stolen merchandise), it's probably you that's getting ripped off.

My suggestion, always buy from a reputable dealer.

Posted by John Weidner at 7:35 PM

January 14, 2004

some of what I do for a living....

Once upon a time there was a tiny kitchen in a tiny house, where a nice lady professor loved to cook, in conditions of the utmost cramptitude. There was a sort of niche or alcove next to the stove, which wasn't very useful. So she asked me, and my collaborator Johnny Zanakis, to rip out what was there, (a long and dirty day's work in itself) and, in a space exactly 48.5 inches wide, and 23 deep, to build in a long list of kitchen desiderata. It's close to finished, we're just waiting for the blacksmith to make more hardware, and you can see the results.

kitchen niche with cabinets

Or some of them. Many are hidden. All those drawers, for instance, have removable partitions that can be configured many ways.

Number 1 indicates some French antique glass bins with handles, sort of like square measuring cups. (Charlene saw them and is ready to kill for some.) I made pockets to hold them. #2 is a traditional Hoosier flour bin. The round part on the bottom is a sifter�you put a bowl underneath and sift flour into it. #3 is a slide-out shelf that will soon have a marble slab on it, for pastry making and such. #4, to give you an idea how crazy this project has been, is where I pushed the opening back between the wall studs, to gain an extra 3 inches for the flour bin, and for the mixers and gadgets that will soon clutter that green shelf That wasn't cabinetmaking; more like sculpture....

Posted by John Weidner at 7:40 PM