Thursday, December 3, 2015

The Shy Dog Sub

            Some of the first serious cabinetry I ever built was incredibly utilitarian in nature, but helped pull me into deep end of the live music profession.
            As a young sound engineer, there were many days spent far away from the concert stage and huddled in the small garage that served as home base for my first employer, a local sound company based out of rural Maryland.  Those days were spent soldering microphone cables, pinning stage boxes, assembling road cases and…building cabinets.  Speaker cabinets, that is.

A speaker cabinet under construction.  Proper techniques and joinery are as home here as they are in traditional cabinetry.

            And so it is that I find myself years later finishing a project that I first conceived more than a decade ago to take advantage of some extra speakers and other spare parts I had laying around.  With our belated “wedding reception” fast approaching and me responsible for providing a sound system, this was the perfect time to finally augment my little acoustic bar PA with some subs!

A Pair of "Shy Dog Subs"  Not exactly appropriate for an arena, but hugely effective on a smaller scale.

            The single 15” ported sub is loosely based on a Yamaha design, with a few improvements, not the least of which is the material.  I eschewed the particle board favored by mass production facrories for 7-ply maple plywood that would be more at home in a world-class touring speaker.  All case joinery is done with dados, grooves and rabbets.  This not only adds a tremendous amount of strength vs. using fasteners alone, it also helps to airseal the box, which is a crucial step for speaker construction.  Sound waves are transmitted primarily via air movement.   As such, air leakage is to be avoided at all costs.  Seating plywood edges in glued grooves help provide the air seal.  For places where grooved joinery wasn’t possible, the wood was mated with a silicone adhesive to keep the air seal intact.

Air sealing the "handles" that are part of the cabinet with a silicone adhesive.

            Mini-subs like these are really meant to function on their own instead of in the large blocks of cabinets you’ll see in larger venues.  Keeping in mind that speakers like this are only going to be used in very intimate settings, I added a speaker pole mount to the top allows them to do double duty and replace the tripod stands that typically hold my hi/mid cabinet’s aloft.  Not only do the mini-subs augment the low end of my system, they lessen my footprint as well.  It’s a win all around!

A look at grooved and dado'ed construction.  It adds strength and air-tightness to this front-loaded scoop design.

            To complete the speaker, drivers are mounted with metal clamps and then covered with commercial speaker grill cloth.  The cabinets themselves are primed with an oil-based primer before being sprayed black and topcoated with a semi-gloss polycrylic, so they’ll look as good as they sound.

Friday, October 16, 2015

The "Tavernfest" Tavern Table

About a week ago, we were approached about a donation for the Monmouth County Historical Association's "Tavernfest" auction.  With my wife and I having just hosted our wedding reception at the historic Taylor-Butler House in Middletown, NJ - a venue owned and managed by the MCHA - we were happy to provide a donation for auction.

At first, our inclination was to give one of our completed pieces from inventory.  But, with a few open days in the schedule before the event, we thought it might be fun to craft something that would pair thematically with the event.  After a little brainstorming, we developed the idea of a tavern-style coffee table that would look to be right at home in the 18th century building where the auction is going to be be held.

For this project, we really wanted the piece to be sturdy and heavy.  Something a tavern owner would have felt comfortable using on a daily basis during the colonial period.  Something that would endure use (and occasional abuse!) with ease.  As such, ash was a natural choice.  It's incredibly dense and strong (some early car manufacturers built frames from it!) and has a grain pattern very similar to oak.  Provided they could get their hands on it, I'm sure my 18th century carpentry predecessors would have found it quite acceptable for use in this capacity.

Fitting the joints comes first, before final shaping

Construction-wise, it's a relatively uncomplicated piece.  While I was quite happy to use modern tools like a power jointer and table saw, none of the joinery used would perplex a furniture maker from 1750.  Legs are fitted into the feet and upper support with mortise and tenon joints while the trestle is joined with a simple (though very precise) half lap.  The hefty 1.5" table top itself is a glued up slab of ash fitted with what are known as "breadboard" ends.  The grain of these end caps run perpendicular to the main section and help keep the table flat through seasonal and humidity changes.

Fitting the breadboard ends.  They're left long and then trimmed flush to the sides later.

One of the things that separates heirloom furniture from a good deal of mass produced work is the use of solid wood throughout.  But using solid wood introduces the potential for movement, something that doesn't typically occur in engineered products like particleboard and plywood.  When attaching the breadboards ends, we accommodate wood movement by joining the wood with floating splines and tenons that are only glued on one side, leaving the other side free to "float" as the wood naturally expands and contracts.  Wood screws hold the pieces together by being sunk into oversize holes that allow for seasonal movements.  Precautions like this are why you may feel small ridges between joints based on the time of the year, but also why you should never experience cracking as a result of atmospheric changes.  Screws are eventually covered up with shop-made, faceted wenge plugs that give the table just a hint of ornamentation.  (In fairness, this is one of the few incongruous pieces of the table.  Most 18th century joiners would probably NOT have had access to sub-Saharan African woods like modern woodworkers do.)

Traditional splines (and modern floating tenons.)  Ok, so maybe 18th century joiners didn't have access to a Festool Domino...but I'll bet they would have loved it!

A structural screw that will end up hidden behind a decorative plug.
Shaping the wenge accent plugs

Plug ready for fitting

To give our table an aged look, the legs and base were dyed, sanded back to leave high contrast in the deeper pores of the grain, and then treated with a wiping stain to turn the very light ash into a deeper brown finished piece.  Once dry, the entire piece was coated with shop-mixed shellac, a finish that would have been right at home on an 18th century joiner's bench.  (Though in deference to our time constraints, we opted to spray it vs. traditional hand rubbing.)  The final step was a simple furniture paste wax to afford the piece some renewable protection.

(Photos by Susie Sefcik Photography)

Overall, this piece has a different aesthetic than the pieces that normally come out of the Shy Dog shop, but we're quite pleased with it.  It's built to last a lifetime and will hopefully find a good home while raising some money for a great organization! 

Monday, September 14, 2015

The "Casino Weekender" Outdoor Table and Hanging Bar

Here at the Jersey Shore, summer is what we do best!  When the weather warms up and the days stretch longer, the Shy Dogs and myself like to maximize our time outdoors... and our clients do, too!  With that in mind we've begun expanding the "Casino Weekender" series.

"Casino Weekender" Table

"Casino Weekender" Outdoor Bar

All of our "Casino Weekender" pieces are constructed of Sapele (an African Mahogany) and finished with multiples layers of a hand-rubbed, spar varnish/oil blend that is renewable for easy maintenance.  (A light re-application every 12-18 months is all it takes!)

The first piece designed for our series, the "Casino Weekender" Table measures 30" by 30" and comfortably seats four with plenty of legroom.  Our prototype spent the entire summer outside on the beach in Deal, NJ and still looks great.  The constant sun exposure yielded a beautiful deep reddish brown that nicely complemented the Purpleheart inlay that wraps around the entire edge.

Despite being well-used all season, the table still looks almost as good as the day it was built.

Just a piece of casual beach furniture...with a bit of Purpleheart Inlay

The "Casino Weekender" Hanging Bar is already one of our most-loved pieces.  Crafted from the same wood and finish as the companion table, the bar is the perfect addition to almost any outdoor space.  It has ample room for bottles, glasses and stemware and adjustable shelves, but the bar's best feature by far is its drop-down serving table.  With this outside your back door, you're only seconds away from summer evening relaxation with friend and family!  The simple magnetic latch makes clean up a snap!

Hang this by your back door for relaxation at a moment's notice!

Sapele only looks better with more time in the sun.

Put away your party in record time!

Both pieces are currently available for order.  Purchase a set to receive a "Series Discount!"

Tuesday, August 11, 2015

The "Berkeley" Awards Display

It's not all chairs, tables and built-ins you know.  Sometimes the Shy Dogs and I get really custom requests.  And as long as they're made out of (mostly) wood, we're very happy to help with almost anything!

A few weeks ago, a fellow member of the Sandy Hookers Triathlon Club (a group with whom I sometimes swim or ride) contacted us looking for something better than the awards displays offered by online retailers.

The result is the "Berkeley Awards Display."  Simple, but with a few touches to show off the wood and joinery.  The base is made from maple with a slight bevel all the way around to give the display some shape while the hooks and shelf are made from an African mahogany (sapele) and joined to the base with long, sliding dovetails.   Mounting holes are drilled 16" on center to allow the display to be hung on almost any wall.

Maple and African Mahogany joined with Sliding Dovetails

On these versions, there are ten medal hooks and a 20" shelf for holding trophies, but we've also got designs in the works for larger displays (you know, for those folks we see at races EVERY weekend!)

Race a lot?  Add more hooks or a bigger shelf!

The finish on this particular model is a shop mixed, hand-rubbed shellac, but the beauty of going custom means that these can be built woods and finishes to match almost anyone's style!  Pair with your cherry floors or hang next to your white oak dresser.   The "Berkeley" can be made to feel right at home!

Monday, June 29, 2015

The "6/26" Serving Tray Giveaway!

Inspiration in wood design comes from a lot of places.  Sometimes it's nature, sometimes it's architecture and sometimes it's the wood itself.  On Friday, the Supreme Court affirmed marriage equality for our entire nation.  And we were inspired. 

I came home to the shop with an idea.  (Sometimes the best ideas come when you're on two wheels. This one did!)  I wanted to make something to celebrate the decision and I wanted someone to have it, a gift from Shy Dog to our little part of the world.  When I had a look at our lumber stock, the wood itself confirmed my idea.  Bloodwood, Yellow Heart, Cherry... All the stock we'd need was already sitting on the shelf, asking to be used.

Bloodwood, Cherry, Yellowheart, Poplar and Purpleheart

And so, we've created the "6/26" tray as our small homage to the good news.  The outer portions of the tray are from beautiful, figured hard maple and the center stripes are crafted to match the Rainbow Flag in red (Bloodwood), orange (Cherry), yellow (Yellowheart),  green (Poplar heartwood), and purple (Purpleheart.)  Yes, I know I skipped blue, but finding naturally occurring blue wood is not exactly the easiest thing in the we'll just have to live with a tiny bit of artistic license. 

The whole serving tray sits on sculpted legs of Sapele and has been hand rubbed with multiple coats of beautiful blonde shellac.  I wish everyone could see the grain of this maple in person, it's practically three dimensional.

So, what do we do with this?  We're giving it away!  We want it to be a gift to everyone who supports Shy Dog and marriage equality.  As such, all you need to do is the share our giveaway post on your Facebook timeline or Twitter feed and make sure you "Like" our page  (  Once you've done that, your name is in the hat and you could win the serving board!  Drawing planned for July 15.

Best of luck to all and may the odds be ever in your favor!

Thursday, June 4, 2015

A Custom Game Console

Just like our last custom build, the "Esther" Table, this project came from a client who wanted something made that didn't exist anywhere else in the world...though that's pretty much where the similarities between these two projects end!

In this case, the client had already built a very cool custom game controller from vintage parts. The controller has the ability to play a whole host of old arcade games with the original joystick/trackball/paddle/buttons via a modern tower computer and screen.  The only thing missing was a permanent home that would complete the look and feel of full-size arcade machine.

In this case, the client had already mocked up almost exactly what he wanted the cabinet to look like.  He forwarded me a SketchUp file that gave me all the needed dimensions, then dropped off the controller and speakers so I could built to fit.
SketchUp file received from client

Overall, I made a few tweaks to the design to allow grooves and dadoes for strength and give it a few nice details (like a faux frame for the door) but the design stayed basically the same from the outset.

In terms of construction, this project was a lot closer to production cabinetry than it was to tradtional furniture.  As a small shop, we don't have a CNC machine.  Apart from being big (and VERY expensive) they're just isn't a lot of call for their capabilities when it comes to the type of furniture we typically build.  But it sure would have been nice to have here.  Once we finally got the cabinet carcase laid out and routed, it sure looked like it had come off a CNC table!

Some of the grooves routed in to the case side to accept panels.  Seating pieces in grooves and gluing adds a LOT more strength that using mechanical fasteners alone.

Test fitting the mating sides
Once the main panels were cut, we crafted top, bottom, front and back panels.  The front features a door-within-a-door with a traditional arcade coin slot.  The large door opens large enough to accommodate adding the full-sized computer that powers the games, with a long piano hinge adding strength.  The back panel features holes for cabling and routed slots for air cooling.  The bottom panel also has small holes to promote air movement through the case and cool temperatures for the computer.  Holes for internal speakers were added near the end of construction.
One fun detail was use of colorful, plastic T-molding along most of the exposed edges.  Not only does this afford a good deal of protection to wood edges, but it also completes the "arcade" look of the entire piece.

The controller itself sits over a keyboard drawer outfitted with Blum soft-close slides (my personal favorite for this application) and a discrete recessed grooved pull under the bottom lip.  Two stub tenons protrude up from the the shelf and mate with mortises routed into the bottom of the controller, locking it in place for gameplay.  There's also an option to add"butterfly" latches in the future for extra security if need be.

Finally glue up before sanding and painting.

Dry-fitting the controller.

Once everything was fit, assembled and sanded, we primed and sprayed with a semi-gloss black to match the existing controller and give it a look that would be right at home in a 1987 pizza parlor!

Sunday, May 10, 2015

A Farmhouse Table and Bench, Part II

Here's Part II: The Table!

(With special thanks to Susie Sefcik Photography for the beautiful installation photos!)

The "Esther" Farm House table finally installed!

When we started collaborating on this table, my customer had some definite ideas about how she wanted the legs to look.  The hardest (and most rewarding) part of custom building is finding a way to bring someone's imagination to life.  In the end, there were probably a few dozen tweaks and variations on the design before we reached the final product, but it was great working with someone who could give direction and examples of what she wanted.  And in the end we created a set of table legs that I feel confident doesn't exist anywhere else in the world!

The other great thing - as a designer/builder - about collaboration, is that it forces you to explore styles and forms that are outside your normal parameters.  Nothing makes you a more complete craftsman than finding ways to build things that haven't been built before in a style you don't often pursue.  With the great response we've gotten already, I suspect these sweeping, interlocking legs are going to become big part of my repertoire in the future.

Rough fitting of the curved half-lapped joint.  It's not so easy to make!

Finding an appealing curve was only step one.  Next was incorporating a stretcher between the legs that is much lower than normal, keeping it closer to foot rest height than you might see on a typical trestle table.  This meant moving the intersection of the legs down and adjusting their final angle a few times until it was just right.

Test fit of the lower-than-normal stretcher.

I'm really happy with the way these ended up.  From a technical standpoint, cutting and routing out the half lap joint was definitely a challenge, but it also made for the very best combination of strength and aesthetic value.  I love that the legs look like they've almost grown together and I think it gives the table a very organic feel.

A good, tight half-lap joint should make the pieces look like they've grown together

Attaching the legs to the feet and table braces required a riff on thru-tenons.  Normally, thru-tenons are something I like to show off as part of exposed joinery, but for this table they are purely functional.  They provide a large amount of structure to join the legs to other sections of the base.  We could have gone with heavy lag screws alone and been fine, but - for us - "good enough" is never good enough.  I feel that it was definitely worth the effort to have wood structure passing through each piece to really lock them together.  The extra time it took to make these mortises and floating tenons gives me total confidence in these joints lasting a long time.

Two-sided mortises with "loose" tenons.  A solid, tight fit, reinforced with heavy lag screws.

The stretcher between legs is held in position with half-glued floating tenons and "Zip-Bolts" from Lee Valley.  These are almost completely hidden from view when installed and help pull the stretcher tight when in use, while still allowing the base the be quickly disassembled for moving or storage.

The table top itself is nearly four feet across and almost eight feet long, plenty of room for a big dinner (or very elaborate and heated game of Risk!)  Relative to the base, it's built fairly traditionally, crafted  from solid ash, with breadboard ends.  Each of these end caps is attached with "loose" tenons and half-glued dowels.  The boards themselves help keep the table flat, while the dowels allow the center of the table to expand and contract across the grain with changes in temperature and humidity.  It's always important to allow for wood movement (because it's going to happen whether you remember to plan for it or not!)

Those elongated holes in the tenons allow for the dowels to move with environmental changes.

The top and legs received the same "distressing" as the bench, though we went a little lighter on the legs and a little heavier on the table, hopefully anticipating the right proportion of wear that each can expect to receive in the future.  And while the top got a stain to match the bench, the legs got a beautiful deep brown wood dye ("Espresso" by General Finishes).  Each was then followed with the same hand-rubbed varnish and paste wax buffing.

"Moose" likes it, too!

In the end, it's hard to say goodbye to this piece.  It was really enjoyable to build and I'm hoping it will be even more enjoyable to use.  (And just be sure, myself, my father and Fern - the original "Shy Dog" - gave it a quick test ride!)  I hope its new owners have a great time making memories around this table for years and years.

Finally in it's new home!

A family table for a beach retreat!

Saturday, May 9, 2015

Farm Table and Storage Bench for a Beach House

It may seem obvious, but the real joy in having furniture custom made is getting exactly what you want, even if that thing has never existed in the world previously.  Actually...especially if that thing has never existed!

So when a customer came to us with an idea for a variation on the traditional "farmhouse table," we were excited to collaborate and bring her ideas into reality.   Even better was the opportunity to build the table as part of a set that would also include a long seating/storage bench.  And all made from ash, one of personal favorite species thanks to it's blonde color and the olive oil fragrance that fills the air when you mill it.  (Seriously.  That's how it smells when cut.  What a great wood for a table!)

Milling the rough ash.  Just made it on the bandsaw!  This might be the year for one with a slightly higher resaw height!

We started from a sketch and some online photo inspiration as we honed in on the basic structure of the table, then moved on to working out curvature and details of the legs.  It took quite a few drafts and 3D CAD renderings, but through our collaboration with the customer we got to something that worked structurally and aesthetically.  Plus, the design was in a vein we don't usually explore.  It's always exciting when the real seed of inspiration comes from the people who will ultimately enjoy our work.

Relative to the table, the bench was a little more straightforward design-wise.  It's an inch taller than standard chair height (19" vs 18") to accommodate younger members of the family and it features a ton of storage beneath a pair of hinged lids that are fitted with Sugatsune soft-close lid stays to keep fingers and heads safe.

So, here's how it all came together!

Like almost all of our projects, the wood was purchased rough, then milled and dimensioned in-house.  With a project like this, doing our own milling lets us do things like make a nearly 7/8" thick bench top instead of the standard 3/4" and make bench legs as heavy as the rough stock allows. We also opted to use ash veneered plywood from fantastic local supplier Boards and Beams for construction of the basic bench carcases.  This gives the core of the bench strength and stability, while still keeping everything perfectly matched species-wise. 

Solid ash legs and edges were fitted around the carcases, while panel trim was actually milled up from scratch to match some existing design ideas and enable us to use the same wood species for every single detail, even when ash molding isn't readily available from suppliers.

Fine tuning the fit of legs with a chisel, the bench carcase and in-house ash molding

Gluing up bench edges.  Remember: You can never have enough clamps!!

To keep everything flush and neat, the bench tops are left long and trimmed after being fit with hardware so that everything lines up nicely in the end.  Once everything was fit, the entire edge was routed in a single pass with a large roundover for seating comfort. 

Bench lid with Soft-Close lid stays and full-length piano hinge

In any home, the family table is going to form the center of a relaxed and comfortable gathering spot.  As such, we hope it sees many, many years of use.  In order to allow table and bench to age gracefully, the customer opted to have us "distress" the wood before delivery.  No easy task with a wood as strong and dense as ash!  But, we were happy to oblige and the pieces will now arrive looking "well-loved" upon installation.

A few of the distressing mark along the edge of the bench

With the table and bench destined to for a house on the shore, a whitewash look was the preferred finish choice.  Below are some variations on that theme that we prepared to aid in deciding the final color.  Finishes pictured below range from darker oil stains to white pigmented liming wax, with a few shades in between. We even offer a natural aging solution that gives open-pored wood like ash a "driftwood" look that results from a chemical reaction with an iron/vinegar solution we make ourselves.  (That one is second from the bottom right.  Isn't chemistry cool?!)

A variety of stains, vinegar solutions, waxes and topcoats 
After all distressing, the bench was finished with a white, oil-based stain and top coated with a several coats of rub-on satin varnish before receiving a final buffing with white-pigmented liming wax and standard furniture paste wax.  Here's to hoping it provides seating (and storage) for its family for years to come!

Check back soon for Part II: The Table!