Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Some days my surname seems very appropriate...

When you think about it, most of what I do is take pieces of wood, make them smaller and then attach them to each other. Obviously, it's a little more involved than that, but - at its most basic - that's pretty much it.  And maybe the most overlooked step in the process is the first time you take rough lumber down to something dimensional for building with a process called milling.

While not the most exciting or enthralling activity, milling is really at the heart of all good woodworking.  It's sounds boring, but creating straight and square stock allows for a project to progress smoothly and with minimal surprise.  Think about how many times you've seen a warped 2x4 at Home Depot (I know.... EVERY time!) or a piece of wood that's been left outside in the weather that has twisted into a shape more akin to a piece of tagliatelle than a piece of lumber.  Now imagine trying to building a piece of furniture from that.

Wood doesn't grow straight and square.  After being felled, trees are roughsawn by huge saws into various dimensions for sale.  You've noticed how 2x4s are not really two inches by four inches?  Well, they actually WERE, when they were in their rough state.  (These are called the "nominal dimensions."  It's the same reason a 1x6 is really 3/4 of and inch by 5 1/2) By the time you see them, they've undergone a milling process that leaves them smaller, but hopeful straighter as well.  When it's sold in this form, it's known as dressed lumber.  And in theory it's ready to build with. 

Here at Shy Dog, we buy almost all of our lumber in its roughsawn state.  It doesn't look like much to begin with, but - just like people - the beauty is on the inside. 

But how do we get to that beauty?  It starts by allowing wood to acclimate to our shop.  Solid woods are natural products and react to temperature and humidity changes by moving.  The best furniture takes this into account by allowing for some wood movement in it's design.  We keep the majority of our lumber in its rough state until it's ready to be used.  

When wood is ready to become part of a project, it's selected for species, color and grain, then broken down into rough pieces, usually with the help of the bandsaw, miter saw or circular saw.  (Occasionally, even the hand saw!)  It's after this point that the milling process really begins. 

The first stop is usually the jointer.  Our jointer has spinning spiral cutter buried in its cast iron table.  As a rough board is passed over it, the cutter removes wood in a consistent plane, turning the surface into a perfectly flat one.  Once a single side is completely flat, the board is usually flipped on its side and run across the jointer against the fence to flatten the edge at a perfect 90 degree angle.  Look at that, one machine and we're halfway to square stock!

From the jointer, our next stop is the table saw.  Here we put out newly jointed edge against the saw's fence and rip a perfectly parallel edge on the opposite side.  Because it's parallel, we've got another 90 degree angle.  Nearly there! Our final stop is the thickness planer.  This takes our rough stock to it's final thickness and gives us our last two 90 degree angles.  

Just like that, we've turned this:

Into this:

 Is it hard work?  Yes.  Does every furniture maker mill their own stock?  No.  Do we feel it's worth the extra effort for the consistency and results it allows us to achieve?  You'd better believe it.

Wednesday, March 18, 2015

A Long Awaited Library

Gloria and Tom had always wanted a library added to the addition of their Interlaken home. Last year they finally got their wish!  Built-in book shelves sized large enough to handle their current collection...with room for more!
The scale of large built-ins can be challenging for a one man shop.  (It was this project that inspired me to finally replace my shop's overhead doors with swing-outs to reclaim some much needed overhead space!)  But to me, nothing looks better than floor to ceiling books.  I was excited to see these made reality.
After looking though several versions of designs mocked-up via 3D CAD, Gloria and Tom chose a receding and reducing form that draws the room and eye out towards their existing bay window.  At Shy Dog, things are very often designed from the floor up to suit the existing space.  The beauty of custom units is that they can be made to fit even the most challenging spaces.

The shelves, trim and crown moldings are all red oak, stained to match the couple's existing trim and finished with a satin water-based acrylic topcoat.  (One of my favorites.)  Every shelf is completely adjustable in two inch increments and still strong enough to support all of their books easily!  

Building anything into an existing spaces can be a challenge, but very often the rewards are worth the effort, especially when your favorite authors can live right next to your comfiest chair.

Hey, it looks like it's time for some new books!

Saturday, March 14, 2015

When you can't find an 11 foot sofa table...

Going with a piece of custom furniture means you aren't limited to what a store can provide.  Stock sizes are no longer an obstacle.  When Amanda and Michael needed a sofa table of unusual proportions, Shy Dog had the solution.

While no catalog has an 11 foot long table, that's only 15 inches deep, that's exactly what they needed to sneak in behind their extra long couch.  Taking a fairly standard design and stretching it to nearly twice the normal length, we created a double-length sofa table built to match the exact height of the back of their couch. 

Because it was a custom build, Amanda and Michael got to choose their style wood species and finish.  After seeing a few different versions mocked up in a 3D CAD program, they picked a Shaker-like leg design with true thru-tenons, done in walnut with an ebony stain under garnet shellac to give them a deep, rich color that would pair nicely with their existing hardwood floors.  The table is constructed with classic joinery that will allow movement and prevent cracking as the seasons and humidity change.  It can even be partially disassembled should the need arise.  (Because who wants to move and 11 foot table?!)

We hope Amanda, Michael and their family enjoy it for years to come!

Here are some of the custom samples I created for them to choose from...

True Thru-Tenons

And here is the final table. Before it left the shop on the left, and after install on the right...

Just in time to hold the buffet at the annual Superbowl party!