Saturday, August 5, 2017

Whaddya Gonna Do??????

Remember my last post? Yeah, that one....the one talking about some level of symmetry? The one that showed two "columns", one of which was a whole lot "skinnier" than the other one? Well, I made a decision to at least try to begin cleaning them up just to see how much rotten "skin" there was to remove on each one.

The fatty was first in line:

Just getting it set up so I could work on it outside was a challenge in, and of, itself. Those little garden carts do have some use after all!

The first thing I had to do was to modify the cart. I'd already set this one up to be able to do small rip cuts with a chainsaw by placing a pallet on the inside rails of the cart and adding some "sides" to the apparatus.

Because the spot I would be working on these pieces wasn't quite level, I thought adding some weight (cinder blocks...can't really see them in this photo, but they're me, they're there) might be appropriate in order to help stabilize the apparatus and keep it in one place. Adding another pallet over the "sides" to get the height just right for working on the piece worked very well, too.

I'm not sure, but I think that root system weighs a TON!

Next step was to start removing the grey matter with my angle grinder and carbide rasp wheel.

More work than expected, but still making progress:

Ok, stand it up to see whether it will actually have a flat enough backside to be able to get it up to the fireplace wall without it tipping forward (Alan and Mendon have small kids, and this thing would squash them flat if it fell on them).

Looking good:

Still looking good from a different angle:

(Editor's Note: The photo above is also the one that got me thinking of going in another direction. The symmetry just wasn't there)

Flat backside still looking good, but, DANG, that charred stuff is daunting!

Truth is, I got disillusioned!

Not only was there more charcoal "stuff" to be removed than I'd bargained for, but the photo below shows just one result of all that "stuff" being thrown every which way by the grinder.

Add the wind into that equation, and, well, you get the picture.

And, that doesn't even take into consideration the caking of charcoal on my clothes! Fortunately, I have a pretty good air compressor I used to blow off most of the charcoal residue before tracking it all over the house in order to take this photo.

The farther I went into that "stuff", the more I realized the core wood was still very good. That, in turn, led me to realize further that the symmetry was going to be "off" if I went with the whole log standing. That, in turn, led me to realize I needed to either find another root system with some symmetry to this one, or I needed to go in another direction.

Whaddya gonna do? WHADDYA GONNA DO?

In discussing this with Katherine, she expressed some concerns about whether or not the "skinnier" of the two columns would even be structurally strong enough to be able to handle the weight of the mantel. She made a very, very good point, for sure.

So, the decision was made to try and do a "Treebeard" type configuration.

This would involve cutting the "fatty" to a much shorter height (with Sampson's help, of course).

And then, finding another root system that had some symmetry comparable to the "fatty", and that could be turned upside down on top of the "fatty" to give it that "Treebeard" look.

This one had promise:

So did this one, but this one also had a LOT more dry rot.

It was then I realized I'd actually need THREE root systems, not just ONE additional system, to make my idea work! Boy, am I ever slow!

Back to the woodpile!

This one looked promising. But, again, a LOT of dry rot.

Rotten into the core.

Breaking off pieces that are cracked all the way through. Had to use a wrecking bar to do it.

Now, THAT one had some serious potential!!

And then there were two....

But now I needed two more:

This is the one I just wasn't too sure about. That dry rot actually goes all the way through the log....

Well, I'm gonna try it anyway. The mark on the log in this photo is the height I needed to get the log down to. I'd already done an eyeball type cut with the chainsaw to level it fairly well on the bottom. Just too tired to make that last cut today.....potential accident waiting to happen, so.....

Gonna stop here with this post. Suffice to say, I did find three more stumps I thought would work.

Next up....Peeling Me Some Pine Stumps!

Monday, July 31, 2017

Fireplace Mantel --- Root Systems That'll Work are Kinda Scarce!

So, how does one go about finding root systems that might work? Basically, one must go hunting....out on the the the up and down terrain....slipping and sliding on those slippery slopes.

The thing is, though, any root systems that might work are actually kinda scarce. Don't get me wrong. There are lots and lots of dead tree stumps all over the property. But finding something that isn't rotten all the way through, or that is the right height along with a good circumference and solid core? Well, those are few and far between.

The old Stihl 440 Magnum chainsaw and I certainly had our work cut out for more ways than one! That chainsaw and I had to cut some of the stumps to an approximate length right there onsite, load them in the truck, and then bring them on home to be further inspected. DAMN, but those things are heavy....much heavier than they look, even at only four feet long, for sure! Plus, this old guy (me) ain't no young whippersnapper able to do what I used to do without hesitation awhile back any longer. At this point, I'm beginning to think, after manhandling a few of them into the bed of the truck all by myself, that maybe this might not have been such a good idea after all.

Got 'em home (unloading was a whole lot easier than loading....whew!) and leaning up against some old cottonwood slabs outside the workshop. Now I need to take a really hard look at all of them. The stumps I did find that might....I say are shown below:

After sifting and sorting, turning and then turning some more, reality began to sink in....not too much "good stuff" to work with here. But that's actually a good thing because it sorta made picking and choosing the "good stuff" pretty easy when one comes right down to it.

In the end, I wound up with only two stumps that were solid enough all the way through to even come close to being able to least in the conceptual picture I kept seeing in my own mind's eye.

The first one had the right "stance", but I wasn't too sure if it was big enough around in order for everything to be symmetrical (I ain't too linear, but this project called for two columns that were roughly the same circumference).

The second one also had the right "stance", but is quite a bit bigger around than the other one.

First one:

Second one:

Now that second one is interesting, for sure. There's a lot of deep charring that tells me this tree got hit by lightning at some point in its life, and the end result is basically charcoal varying in depth from 1/2" to 1" deep into the wood virtually all the way around.

That's the bad news because this stuff is extremely dirty to work with what with all the soot that gets ground off in the smoothing process. Even working on it outside the workshop in open air doesn't prevent that soot from getting into everything including eyes and breathing passages if proper safety gear isn't being used. So, eye protection and dust respirator/mask are an absolute MUST!

The good news is that I know from experience working with other pieces like this one that the interior core wood is still sound all the way through. It'll just be a little more difficult to get to it, and to work with it because it's gonna be a virtual resin pit all the way through. If it ain't one thing, it's....

Let's set 'em up and see what we have, shall we?

So, here they are side by side in the kind of configuration I'm thinking would look pretty cool as two columns on either side of the fireplace opening.

Still not so sure about the symmetry. That one on the left looks kinda skinny, don'tcha think?

Next up....Whaddya Gonna Do?

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Fireplace mantel ---- Whose Idea Was This Anyway?!

This is the first in a series of blog posts not yet written except for some random not very detailed musings on my Dead Wood Renaissance Facebook page (gonna have to scroll a lot in order to find all of the posts) on the process used in making a big fireplace mantel, much bigger than anything I've tried....ever!

Now that this project is pretty far along in making it a reality, I'm kind of left wondering whose idea WAS this anyway?

It's certainly taking a lot longer than anticipated.

It's been hard on my tools (more on that later).

It's been hard on my back and whole body (more on that later, too).

And, it's been many, many, many lessons learned in patience and in getting every detail right, for sure. Some of those lessons have been good, and some have been, well, not so good (and even more on that later, too).

But, wait! I just was kinda sorta my idea with a lot of encouragement from good family friend, Alan Wahl....sort of. So, I can blame him, right? RIGHT?

Seriously, though, it all started out with Alan asking if I'd be willing to make a fireplace mantel for him and his family. I won't get into the genesis of his request, but suffice to say, this guy has done so much for us over the years, there's no way I could possibly have said no. It was the least I could do to try and give something back that he and his family could enjoy anytime they stepped into their family room.

The original idea was to just have a slab of juniper cut to thickness by Scott Shaffer, owner and operator of Wilfer Mobile Sawmill (yeah, the same guy I mentioned in a previous post about "To Mill or Not to Mill....That is the Question") on his handy-dandy sawmill. His website is The Log Yard.

That log you see in the first photo below kind of resting apart from the others? That log is a svelte 9 feet long! And that's the log that pretty much jumped right out at me as being "the one".

As a little aside, yes, that mountain you see in the background to the far left in a couple of the photos below.....that's Pikes Peak --- just a random thought for the reader to cogitate on. No reason, really, for pointing it out other than Scott's location was waaaaaaay out there on the Eastern Plains, but still within eyesight of America's Mountain. No wonder it's the landmark that it is!

In the end, the slab for the mantel was cut to a 3 inch thickness right from the heart of that log, and is about 11 inches wide.

If I had to venture a guess, I'd put its weight at somewhere around 200 pounds, and that would probably be a somewhat conservative guess. I know I can't lift it all by way, no how!

That was really supposed to be the end of it....cut a slab, sand it down, put a really nice finish on it, and help Alan install it in his home on.....the wall (Pink Floyd anyone?):

If there's one thing I don't like, it's seeing a straight cut on a mantel's backside placed up against an irregularly shaped wall like Alan's. Those gaps and voids in that kind of configuration just do not have any appeal.

Being the stone facing on the wall is so irregular in shape, my initial thought was to try to scribe the mantel slab to try to carve and shape the backside to conform to those irregularities....another thing I'd never tried to do before, but would be willing to at least try.....not a whole lot of confidence in my ability here. There simply HAS to be a better way!

Hmmmm.....if only the back edge could be left as a live edge.....the wheels began to very slowly turn.

Hmmmm.....after a couple of revolutions of those wheels, it hit me that it might just be easier to install the mantel using a couple of columns that it could "rest" on instead of trying to rebar that behemoth onto the wall, itself. That way, a backside "live edge" might just be possible, and those gaps and voids would be more natural because the front and the back sides of the mantel would also be more natural....a true "live edge" all the way around with the exception of the two ends, of course.

Yep! That's the ticket!

I wanted columns! Columns that would support the mantel! Columns that would be unique and special!

Thing is, my friend really liked the pedestal I'd done for our daughter, Jessi, for her TV stand, a pedestal that I liked to call "Treebeard".

Well, DANG! It's off to the far reaches of our property to find just the right root systems that'll fit the bill, that'll look sort of like the "Treebeard" pedestal, that'll have the structural integrity to be usable (solid all the way through with minimal dry rot), and that'll both look good when finished and also be able to support some pretty heavy weight.

Some pretty strict parameters, for sure.

Next up....Root Systems That'll Work are Kinda Scarce!

Monday, May 22, 2017

A Tale of Two Projects

The posts have been few and far between for awhile now. It all boils down to a combination of stalling, procrastinating, insecurity, surgery, the barn not being warm enough to work in, and Facebook being way too easy to share things on.

Oh, well.....

But it's definitely time to get back in the saddle again right here and right now.

To do that, I'd have to go way back to last year when this all started. Starting from that beginning simply isn't gonna happen because of Facebook posts I've been making sort of detailing what's been going on and how it's being done....redundancy don'tcha know!

I won't rehash the entire process I've used so far for either project, but I will provide the link to my Facebook page, Dead Wood Renaissance, for those who choose to catch up there and to follow along here from now on.

So, this blog post is basically the beginning that takes place kind of in the middle of two projects that are already underway. Make sense?

Project 1: Fireplace Mantel

A promise was made to a friend that I'd make him (and his family) a fireplace mantel....a really, really BIG fireplace mantel. That promise was made last year, and I'm now ready to get my butt back in gear and finish that sucker matter how long it takes, and it's taking a LOT longer than I thought it would!

Because the last post in this particular project took place awhile ago on Facebook, scrolling down on my page to find it will be necessary.

Project 2: Cottonwood Slab

All of the above goes for the second half of the two projects mentioned in the title, as well.

That part of it involves making a cottonwood slab for a coffee table and then turning it over to a friend I'm working with on this particular experiment.

I know my woodworking skills were severely tested in getting my part of this project ready for him to work his magic. I'm hoping he'll ultimately be happy with how his part of this project works out.

Time will tell....

Stay tuned!

Thursday, September 1, 2016

Starting Over - Part 6: Finished....Well, Almost Finished

I've never attempted an epoxy/resin glaze coat finish this large before. So, the "pucker factor" was elevated almost to critical levels! Environment had a whole lot to do with that, though, because the finish was being applied in an old barn converted over to my workshop. In other words, LOTS and LOTS of dust. In fact, we're talking about 40 years accumulation of dust because this was used as a horse barn before it became my shop, and you know how considerate and dust free horses are....riiiight!

Proper protection, therefore, was a must! The photo below shows the steps I took prior to pouring anything. The chipboard over the table was intended to protect it from anything falling from above from the rafters.

Before I could pour anything, the tabletop had to be wiped with denatured alcohol. Then came the seal coat.

As I was working the air bubbles out of the mixture, the unthinkable happened. A gust of wind blew through some of the cracks in those old walls, and a puff of dust wafted slowly, inexorably, inevitably downward in a heart stopping, breathtaking display of no freaking concern whatsoever, and landed smack dab where it least needed to be --- on the the pour! DAMN!

Get out the tweezers and dental pick and begin picking out as much of the dust as possible.

OK, that wasn't as bad as I thought it was going to be.

Keep working the air bubbles out (Harbor Freight heat gun...again, on the cheap, but very effective), but don't overdo it.

Let it cure overnight with the cover protecting it.

The next day sand it down with 220 grit sandpaper, wipe it again with denatured alcohol, and let it dry thoroughly overnight (with protective cover in place).

Prep for the "big flood pour". Get everything ready beforehand.

Parts A (resin) & B (hardener) --- check.
Mixing cup with volume measurements --- check.
Mixing stick --- check.
Disposable foam brush --- check.
Heat gun --- check
Courage --- Not so sure! Oh, well. Gotta do it sometime. Might as well be now.
Deep breaths --- check.

Begin the flood pour.

Waited 24 hours for the flood pour to cure before moving the tabletop down to the house where it will cure for an additional 72 hours, or so, before being delivered.

Overall, I'm very happy with the way this turned out. There are a couple of small blemishes I need to do some research on how to repair, but, DAMN, that finish really makes the juniper "pop". Hope the client likes this as much as I do.

Well, that concludes this series. Hope you enjoyed it, and on to the next project.

Starting Over - Part 5: Glue-up, Rough Sanding, and Slot Cutting

This one won't be very long, nor will there be a whole lot of photos. Glue just isn't that glamorous when one comes right down to it. Rough sanding and slot cutting are also included in this post toward the end.

On the original tabletop, I used dowels and didn't allow for expansion and contraction of the wood (my complete and total "bad"). After considerable research, I discovered most cracking comes when trying to place boards perpendicular to each other (breadboard ends with no expansion slots). Virtually no cracking occurs when all the boards are parallel to each other. So, this time around, no dowels will be used. Nor will there be any breadboard ends.

The only glitch, if one wants to call it that, in this entire glue-up process is trying to align the tops of every single plank with the one next to it as glue is applied. The thickness planer took them all down to the same thickness....after all, isn't that what a thickness planer should do? But when planks have a slight bow in them and others don't, there's gotta be a way to get them all flush and keep them that way as the glue is curing.

Enter my "solution":

First, only two planks at a time adding the next one only after the first two have cured so there won't be any additional warping. This takes a lot longer, but the results are well worth the patience needed.

Once the clamps were in place, the next step was to place angle iron on top and bottom to get the most pressure possible for the best alignment. Worked like a charm, too. As you can see, C-clamps were used because they have a pretty deep throat depth.

I also broke down and bought another set of pipe clamps (Harbor Freight has some good ones on the cheap).

The last part of this process was the most difficult because the table edges were left "live edge", and they slanted down and inward which made clamping them somewhat more difficult, but not impossible. The same angle iron process for alignment was used here, too. Only this time, I had to use a couple of other slide clamps for the angle iron to complement the C-clamps.

This thing is actually starting to look like a tabletop. To be honest, I had my doubts when I started all of this, but things seem to be coming together pretty well after all.

Now for the rough sanding using my 4x24 belt sander. It didn't take long to smooth things out in preparation for the random orbital sander that did the finish sanding (220 grit). I also used an angle grinder with sanding flap wheel to shape the ends of the table followed by a once over with inflatable sanding drum for the finish sanding....use your imagination cuz I didn't get any photos of that part of the process.

On to routing out the slots to accommodate the supports. This one was a little disconcerting because the overall thickness of this slab is about 1/4" less than the original. I knew the slots had to be routed to the same depth as the original, but I also knew I'd have to figure out something else for screws to attach those supports on the underside. Otherwise, the original screws were too long and might go all the way through....not something I want to have happen!

Set the correct depth on the router.

Used a spade bit instead of trying to plunge into the wood to get a starter hole.

Used some really heavy gauge square steel tubing as a guide in order to eliminate any "drift".

Off to the races!!

Once the slots were routed out, some fill work needed to be done on some cracks and knots. I'd generated a whole lot of very fine red sawdust already, so why not use that to accent the fill work?

CA glue in the bottom of the void followed by a pretty thick layer of sawdust did the trick!

And there ya have it....all glued up and nowhere to go. Well, not really because now I'm "going" to finish this project with an epoxy/resin seal coat followed by a flood pour and hope the client likes the finished project.