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.

Monday, August 29, 2016

Starting Over - Part 4: SIDETRACKED!

It had to happen sooner or later....getting sidetracked, that is.

Some time ago, I had the tools to do the work. Then came the realization the work could probably get done with other, smaller, less efficient tools. So, some of the bigger tools got sold.

Then came the realization that those smaller, less efficient tools needed work in order to work, and that's where the "sidetrack" came into being.

The reluctance to do so, however, was overwhelming. In other words, I had to at least try my circular saw, table saw, and even a two inch router bit with top guide for edging before accepting they weren't going to do the job adequately or to my satisfaction and doing what I knew ultimately needed to be done anyway. Well, as anticipated, none of them got the sides smooth or true enough to be able to joint these planks together. Simple as that.

So, sidetrack onto a tool gloat, or so I thought, of a Wright model jointer/planer vintage 1940's.

Problem is the tool was minus cutter knives that can't be replaced because the company is out of business. That one is going on the scrap metal heap and will be unceremoniously "retired" by the scrap metal guy when he comes for some other metal scraps. Hate to see this antique have to go this route, but truth is I couldn't even give it away. Oh, well....

Enter a little 4" Sears Craftsman jointer/planer daughter Jessi snagged from somewhere awhile ago.

Rust removal, clean-up underneath, and it was ready to go....except for the fact it had to be fastened to something solid and heavy to keep it steady.

Enter the stand from the Wright jointer/planer -- you know, the one that couldn't be used because it had no cutter knives? Yup...that jointer/planer had a stand that, with a little adaptation and ingenuity, could accommodate the smaller Sears Craftsman planer.

Here's how it got done:

Build a frame to support the tool....scraps sure do come in handy every once in awhile.

Align the frame in order to be able to attach it to the stand so the drive belt is open and accessible.

Fit the frame down over the stand and attach it.

Hinge a couple of pieces together to make a kind of free floating motor stand that will allow the electric motor's weight, when mounted, to take any and all slack out of the drive belt to run the jointer/planer.

Set the motor under the jointer/planer and make sure the drive belt aligns perpendicular.

Clamp the hinged motor stand to the stationary stand and try it out by plugging it in and keeping fingers crossed it won't burn up in the process.

Well, after a "pucker factor increase" wondering if this whole thing is going to work or not, I was very pleasantly did! And pretty durn burn well if I do say so myself!

The learning curve on using this thing with those size planks was a long one, though. It took quite a few passes to understand better how to run them through for best results.

Bottom line is even though the sidetrack took a few days to set up, the results were well worth the effort, something I should have known they would be right from the get go, but was just too damn stubborn to admit.

One other thing....give a huge shout out to friend and fellow woodworker, Mike Barrett for letting me use his thickness planer.

That tool made short work of planing the tops and bottoms of the planks mentioned in the previous blog post down to a uniform thickness for the tabletop.

The reason the thickness planer was needed was because I'd sold mine thinking the router planer would suffice. Problem is it cupped every..single..plank in the middle because of the weight of the router and the sled not being quite rigid enough to not allow that to happen (yeah, I know this photo is one I've used before, but it was the best one to help illustrate the problem).

Add to that the fact the table saw blade at its highest point (yeah, I was too stubborn at that point to call Mike and tried this last resort before finally swallowing my pride) still wasn't high enough to true up the tops or bottoms of those planks when they were turned on their sides, and it became a perfect storm of frustration and turning the air blue as a result!

Enter the MAN --- Mike Barrett! photos of this part of the project. Suffice to say the entire operation went "smoothly" and "uniformly".

Next up? Glue-up....

Tuesday, August 16, 2016

Starting Over - Part 3: Router Planing

The log shown below was one I didn't want to take a chance on ruining with my lack of chainsaw slabbing skills, so a decision was made to router plane it down to thickness....2" was the goal. But first, it had to be leveled on one "side", flipped over and leveled on the other side, and flipped over repeatedly to get to the desired 2" slab thickness.

Given the fact I ruined two slabs with the chainsaw, using this log became necessary. Originally it was going to be an old-timer fireplace mantel, but what the heck, eh? 

Slow work flipping it over and over and over, but this is the only way I have available to do this work. Hmmmmm....might a thickness planer work for this kind of job? Yup, but when I sold my brand new, perfectly good Ridgid 13" thickness planer, that option pretty much flew out the window (or drove off in the pickup of the person who bought it from me). Sometimes I gotta wonder about my own thought process....or lack thereof! Live and learn.

DAMN, but routing something this big in diameter down to thickness creates a LOT of sawdust, and this pile is just the beginning of what ultimately became kind of a "mini-mountain" of sawdust outside my shop door as I had to rake it out in order to be able to close the sliding barn door!

The log is 51" long and the router bit is a 3/4" straight bit that has to be moved crosswise back and forth, back and forth, back and forth until the end of the log is reached. Then it's back it up and start all over again to a depth of cut right around 1/2" each time (deeper than that is waaaaaay too hard on the router even though it a 2 3/4 hp beast....repetition like this will burn it out faster than using it for its intended purpose would for sure). Doesn't take a mathematical genius to figure out how long each pass takes when confronted with the numbers.

Boy, but this is taking a looooooong time! That horizontal mark is a little bit OVER the thickness I need (gotta leave some wiggle room).

Four down and one to go to get the desired 5 log width of juniper.

Still not sure about the final design, though. My first inclination was to leave all the live natural edges and "fit" the slabs together for a more rough cut look. That option didn't appear to be viable timewise for this project, though. So, each slab got a flat side using a circular saw. After that, the slab got run through the table saw with the flat edge up against the fence (a radial arm saw would have worked much, much better for this step, but I sold that, too....starting to detect a pattern here?).

After they'd all been run through the table saw, another decision had to be made....should douglas fir spacers be put in between each of the slabs as shown below and cut to the same thickness? Or should the juniper slabs be glued together and have two douglas fir edge slabs? Not to worry....plenty of time to decide. This isn't a command decision that has to be made immediately. Lots of other work to be done in the interim.

With the fifth juniper slab router planed to thickness, even though I didn't want to make a decision on the douglas fir immediately that's what I did....two edge slabs, and, yes, I did cut this log in half with the chainsaw, and, yes, you saw the photo in my last blog post, and, yes, the photo makes the cut look a whole lot better than it actually was. That being said, looks didn't matter....functionality did, and these were both very functional after they were planed to thickness.

Finally! All the slabs are router planed down and ready to be glued up!

Well, not really....first they need to be edge planed so the joints are nice and flush and smooth. That's what's up next.

Monday, August 15, 2016

Starting Over - Part 2: Slabbing With a Chainsaw (I still suck at it)

It was inevitable, I guess. Being sans a sawmill and not having it in the budget to take the logs for the replacement tabletop to Scott so he could mill them, I had to face the task of slabbing those logs with my chainsaw....something I ain't all that good at....never have been and probably never will be!

By now it should be a snap given all the experience I've had, but nooooo! I'm not even going to show the slabbing work in progress! No sirree! Suffice to say, my sorry attempt resulted in two usable logs becoming totally unusable logs! Oh, well.

The three slabs you see in the two photos below, while not exactly what I'd hoped for in cutting the center out of the log, were at least not going on the scrap pile.

The little Homelite chainsaw I started the job with might not be so lucky, though. I thought this littler saw might be easier on my back and easier to handle. It was. I also thought this job might be an overreach of its capability. It was.

Reality is the Homelite may not be cut out for this kind of work....ripping instead of crosscutting logs. It got so hot, it died out and wouldn't restart, and I haven't tried to coax it back to life since then.

When it came to slabbing the two outer edges for the table, the perfect log just happened to be an old Douglas Fir that would provide both side slabs if it was cut right down the center of the log....that is, if the chainsaw worked the way it was supposed to! That's a joke...ha, ha...get it? If, and that's a very big if, the chainsaw worked the way it was supposed to? That's right! Put the responsibility right square where it belongs.....on the CHAINSAW!

That log toward the back of the photo? That's the one referenced above. It's about 12-13" in diameter, so should yield two nice slabs if I do this right.

Well, it kinda sorta worked the way it was supposed to. The photo makes the job look a whole lot better than it actually is. 

Now it remains to put it all together and hope there's gonna be enough material to do the job.

Next up....router planing in earnest!