Monthly Archives: May 2015

Inlay Experiment

The next step on the Blacker table has me worried.  It’s the inlay on the legs.  Now that I have the joinery done and fitting well, the leg ends shaped and everything otherwise ready to assemble it’s nice to know I have a fresh opportunity to screw things up.

I’ve done inlay exactly once before, it came out passable.  The tricky bit was routing the cavity for the inlay to fit, and part of the issue was using a tool that had some design issues.  More about that another time, but I’ve upgraded my inlay router base to one from Micro Fence and am very pleased with the new one.

So I decided to do another experiment with a similar design and the same materials as the Blacker table.  It’s a vine motif with Silver vines and Abalone leaves.  I don’t have a blow-by-blow on this as I’m still figuring out how to do this properly.  If I can get to a level of comfort with the process I’ll try to document my approach.

I started by cutting out the individual petals and super gluing them to a piece of Abalone.  I picked the least interesting of the shell pieces I had, and positioned the leaves so all four fit on one piece of shell.  On a real project I’d waste more shell, using only the most interesting colors and shadings.  In this case, I’d just use one leaf using that interesting blob of green in the middle.

Pattern for four leaves cut out

Pattern for four leaves cut out

Patterns glued down

Patterns glued down

I sawed these out on the Marquetry Chevalet, which worked OK, although I’m not sure that’s the best way as the piece of shell is small and hard to manipulate.  I’ll need to try this with a jeweler’s saw and see which works better.  I have something like 24 pieces to cut out like this, so I’ll get plenty of practice along the way.

I taped my vine pattern to the wood and routed it, and traced around the petals with a scalpel and routed them as well.  I wasn’t happy with how the process flowed and want to try some other options for doing this.  The main problem with routing the vines is getting a smooth shape, any little undulation shows up in the finished inlay.  It’s theoretically possible to make a template for this, but I’m committed to doing this freehand so I’ll have to develop the control.

I had trouble at every stage, surprisingly the “dots” were the biggest pain in the butt, that will be easy to figure out.  Trying to glue in 1/8″ long pieces of 1/8″ diameter silver wire was not fun.  Next time I’ll make the holes deeper and maybe sharpen the tip like a nail so it goes in easily and can bite into the wood.  Hopefully with a bit of practice I’ll get this figured out so it goes smoothly.

Finished inlay experiment

Finished inlay experiment

So let’s score this.  A few wobbles in the vines, -5 points for lack of control.  Gaps at the ends of the fines, -5 points for sloppy work.  I had to sand everything flush to get this to look good, I’d rather the leaves were flush and the silver was just slightly proud of the surface, another -5 points for stylistic failure.  But it works, and at arms-length it looks great, so although I guess I can live with a solid B+ for my first effort.

 

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Fixtures and jigs and clamps, oh my!

For whatever reason, I’ve been in slow motion in this project.  But yesterday I had a couple of solid hours in the shop and made great progress.

The goal for the weekend was to get the leg indents, leg tip rounding, and cloud lift details added to the skirts and stretchers.  There are two ways I could think of doing this, both start with roughing the shape in using a pattern and a saw.  From there it could be chisels and rasps and sandpaper to clean it up, or a router template.  On the sconces I’ve made I used rasps.  This time I decided to use fixtures.

I showed the leg indents yesterday, this is the fixture I used to produce them.  The fixture sits over the leg like a saddle, has a stop block to position the leg, and a spacer to set the leg at a slight angle so the routed cavity has a depth taper.  The leg fits into the fixture which I clamped in my end vise, then I just route the cavity using a 1/2″ bit and a 1″ guide bushing.

Leg fixture for the "blacker indent" and template for the pillowing of the foot

Leg fixture for the “blacker indent” and template for the pillowing of the foot

Practice leg, good thing I had screwed one up earlier so I could use it to dial in the process.

Practice leg, good thing I had screwed one up earlier so I could use it to dial in the process.

Next up were the skirts and stretchers.  It took some head scratching to figure out how to lay out and machine the fixture.  I ended up using stop blocks and spacers on my tiny router table to cut the details into 3/4″ MDF, then used 1/4″ ply to make the positioning spacers.  The fixture for the stretcher was a little fussier as I had to accommodate shaping two sides of the stretcher.

Skirt fixture

Skirt fixture

Two-sided stretcher fixture

Two-sided stretcher fixture

To use these fixtures I fit the part, traced the edge of the fixture to the part, removed it and sawed away the waste – just leaving the pencil line.  Then the part goes back in the jig and I used a pattern routing bit to machine the final contour into the part.  I was careful to make sure I had the parts properly oriented, it would have sucked to cut the detail into the wrong edge of a part!

In the end, it worked out fabulously.  Making the fixtures took twice as much time as producing the details, but the overall time was faster than a hand-tool-only approach.  And the results are more consistent, because of the interplay between the skirt and stretcher any little deviations would be more apparent.

One skirt and it's corresponding stretcher finished

One skirt and it’s corresponding stretcher finished

I test assemble the table to see how it looks, and to verify that I did everything right so far.  Looks good to my eye.

Table base test assembled

Table base test assembled

I also mocked up the top.  It needs to be trimmed and breadboard ends added, but this is roughly the finished proportions.

Mockup with incomplete top...and lots of missing details

Mockup with incomplete top…and lots of missing details

Unfortunately the only piece of Sapele I have left is a 14″ wide 8 foot board, I don’t want to cut that up to make the 2″ side breadboard ends.  And the wood store is closed today.  I’m a little unsure what to do next.  Sanding the parts is obvious, but not a lot of fun.  The next “big deal” is the silver and abalone inlay, and I’m really nervous about that.  I don’t have enough materials for that part of the job either (unfortunately? fortunately?), but I probably have enough to do a practice part.  That might be a good goal for today.

 

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Blacker Leg Details

I spent an inordinate amount of time prepping the blade in my # 5 1/2 yesterday.  In hindsight, It took forever to get the primary bevel dressed in flat, I think there was a slight difference between the factory grind and the angle I use.  I also had to flatten and polish the back — I’d been using it until yesterday with the factory blade setup.

Smoothing the legs

Smoothing the legs

I wanted to use this plane on the legs because it has the high pitch iron, and this wood has a lot of grain reversals.  An hour and a half to dress the blade, 10 minutes to smooth all four legs.  The shavings are thin and fluffy, almost scrapings.  The legs and smooth, but not glossy like a planed surface.  A light sanding will polish them up nicely.

Then I started the detailing on the legs.  As they are to start, the bottoms of the legs are blocky and not very appealing.  The Greene brothers had some nice styling details, and I really like the treatment I’m using on the legs.  First I made a jig and routed an angled notch into the bottoms.  Then I cut a very slight taper and rounding on the tips.  I think it makes a great improvement.  I still have to sand the legs, breaking all of the edges on the four corners and the notches, and the legs will be ready for the inlay step.

Progression from boring to interesting

Progression from boring to interesting

I like how this is starting to come together, but I’m moving slower than I’d like.  It’s going to take me eons to finish this table if I don’t pick up the pace.

 

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