Wednesday, December 7, 2011

I've been busy...

I haven't abandoned my blog... just been very busy participating in exhibitions lately. Most of the work I have created recently was intended for these exhibitions so I'm not currently making much furniture to speak of. I like alternating between functional and non-functional work. The non-functional allows me to push the boundaries of my creativity as the work is more free-flowing and not restricted to formal designs. This particular work is primarily wall art as well as sculptural work. I can't decide which of these forms of art I prefer making :) Typically when I have a vision of a particular piece of art I attempt to create it within a short period of time so as not to lose the vision. Of course, I can work from sketches I have drawn but I need to seize the moment sometimes. I'm incorporating more curves in my sculptural work now as these sculptures evolve from my earlier work.

I'm also working with more colour in my wall art as I feel it brings out the beauty of the woods I use. I've been trying to work within a theme as much as possible.. for at least a few of my pieces. This makes the work more exciting to look at as opposed to a few random pieces of art assembled together. Since I am considered an emerging artist at this time, I'm still developing my style and voice. I can also get away with more experimentation. The exhibitions also allow me to meet many interesting people, artists who follow their passion. The talk is not of careers and money, but instead the love of creating art and objects of beauty and the pure enjoyment derived from this.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Sculptural art...

If you have perused my web site, you've probably noticed I also create wood art in the form of sculptures and wall art. Since this form of art is not quite as technical as creating studio furniture.. I can express myself through the creation of this free-form wood art. This is often a welcome break from the structured process of creating studio furniture. Recently, I have had the need to create two sculptures which follow a theme. These particular sculptures are different from one another but are related as to the theme and vision I am trying to put forward. With their small size and minimal need for materials such as wood, sculptures instead allow me to focus instead on the art itself. I select wood which has interesting graphics and a cohesive grain pattern. The wood blanks are typically large in dimensions, allowing me ample material to sculpt the components of the sculpture. Often the sculpting process can be somewhat of a challenge when I use compound curves.

When I create sculptural work I usually start with a sketch and move on to creating the sculpture directly from the sketch. I don't bother with maquettes or mock ups since at least for me, the sculpture is not too far removed from a sketch. The proportions are not critical as with studio furniture, they need to instead work to represent the intended vision.
Once I flesh out a design for a sculpture through a series of sketches, the fun begins. How to turn a sketch into a 3-D object. How to sculpt an object out of wood to represent an image without going overboard; without inserting too many elements into the design. The saying "less is more" often applies to sculptural work. How to create this sculptural work with minimal elements, only enough to put the image or vision forward. I often alternate between creating studio furniture and other forms of wood art, this keeps the monotony to a minimum and allows me to express myself with minimal structure and technical details... a very liberating feeling!

Thursday, September 15, 2011

Cabinet...(almost done)

I've often heard the last 5% of a build takes the longest to complete and I have to agree. I've slowly been applying finish to the now complete cabinet. Since my finishing process is classic thinned layers of shellac with subtle scraping between every few coats... it can become tedious. However, the beauty of the increasing lustre and the emphasized wood grain overcome the tedious process. The ambrosia maple is coming to life now and I am more than pleased with this selection of wood. Some other final adjustments and fitting have also been completed including the fastening system of the cabinet to the stand. Here I simply use a series of dowel pins which serve to both align the cabinet to the stand and to keep them attached together. This also allows the cabinet to be separated from the stand quite easily for movement of the cabinet. I install mechanical fasteners towards the end to combine the cabinet and stand into one unit once it is in its chosen spot.

The cherry is slowly becoming darker, which contrasts well with the cabinet. At this time I am installing the unobtrusive small latch for the right hand door. This will keep the door closed against the small door stop I had previously installed. The contrasting maple interior and ambrosia exterior of the cabinet is a nice touch, something I had never done before. The pale maple interior helps to naturally light the interior. The different interior and exterior woods also remove any monotony which might occur with too much of the same wood.

The interior of the cabinet harmonizes with the top and bottom panels leaving the exterior doors, side panels and back to flaunt the wild and colorful ambrosia graphics. With the doors open, the book-matched ambrosia back panels come to life with the surrounding maple. The cherry drawer fronts harmonize with the stand although the darkening of the cherry will occur at different rates but eventually fairly well match. Next I continue to apply finish with much lighter coats with scraping and polishing afterwards. Some shots of the fairly complete cabinet to the left and above. You can see larger, more detailed images by double-clicking any of these smaller photos. On another note, the crisp fall weather is in the air.. they're calling for some frost overnight. It was hot here only a few days ago.

Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cabinet stand...(completed)

When I last left off I was continuing work on the components of the cabinet stand. As discussed earlier I decided to lighten the upper rails and instead use smaller stretchers and rails towards the lower part of the stand. This effectively maintains the strength of the stand while reducing the size of the horizontal components of the stand. Since the stretchers are fairly small in dimension I decided to use dowels to attach the stretchers to the legs and to the lower shorter rails. The criticality of getting the measurements right cannot be stressed when creating these components. They need to fit together in unison at the time of gluing so dry-fitting becomes important. This I did. I also make sure to place a slight clamping force against each of the joints to reproduce the tightness of a normally clamped joint.

Transferring the upper spacing to the lower stretchers of the stand involves the use of large squares. The squares are used to confirm that all the lower components of the stand are perfectly perpendicular to each other. Once I have the top of the stand clamped I can begin to mark and measure the lower stretchers. The lower rails, on the other hand, are effectively the same length as the upper rails so this is not an issue. Once the components are cut I mark out the dowel holes and transfer these markings to the legs.

The criticality of all the dimensions for the stand are important since this particular design needs to be exactly the same in width and depth as the actual cabinet. Therefore, the leg dimensions need to be subtracted from the rail lengths. This is another step where some clamping pressure is necessary to reproduce the final tensioned assembly. In these photos, I have the components laid out, then the stand is clamped using fairly lightweight clamps to eliminate the introduction of any unnecessary tension in the stand while it is being clamped. I had earlier assembled and glued the sides of the cabinet stand first to minimize the craziness of clamping many components simultaneously. Those of you that have done this can relate. The cabinet stand is now complete and ready for finishing. I have confirmed the dimensions are correct and it is so nice when this works out well. The cherry is a light pink color now but while slowly become darker as the days go by, aging to that beautiful cherry color we are familiar with. This provides a great contrast to the lighter cabinet above.

Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Cabinet stand...(cont'd)

I've been working on the joinery for the upper rails of the cabinet stand. There aren't too many option for joinery for this cabinet stand since the stand is supporting the weight of the cabinet as opposed to coffee table legs for example. I decided on conventional mortise and tenon joinery since it is time proven and has the benefit of being a strong, mechanical joint and capable of any racking forces. My procedure is to mark out the mortises in each of the legs. Each of the legs will have mortises in two adjacent faces to be able to join a short and long apron rail. I also select which side of the apron rails I want to face outward at this point as well as orienting the legs in their most aesthetically pleasing faces.

The mortises are offset from the top of the legs some distance to maintain sufficient solid wood between the end of the tenon and the top of the leg. To offset the resulting, shorter tenon I offset the bottom of the tenon a smaller distance to the bottom of the apron rails. This allows for a wider tenon than if I had made the tenon symmetrical. I typically rough cut the tenons slightly larger than the mortise and then trim them to fit tightly into its mating mortise. Measuring and marking cannot be stressed enough for this operation, the final dimensions of the stand need to be exactly the same as the bottom of the cabinet in my design. The tenons of two adjoining apron rails meet in each of the legs at a right angle. To accommodate this within the mortise housing I saw a 45 degree angle out of each of the tenon ends. The result is two of the rails meeting at 90 degrees within the mortise housing.

The markings for these cuts can be seen in the top photo. In the bottom photo, I test fit all the tenons and mortises and can now proceed to the next phase of creating the bottom stretchers for the cabinet stand. I also have not cut the legs down to their final length quite yet, I will also be doing this next once I decide on a final height for the cabinet.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Cabinet stand...

I have begun to work on the cherry stand for the ambrosia maple cabinet in the past few days. This involves preparing all the components of the stand. I usually cut some blanks or components from one cherry plank and let the smaller blanks acclimatize and settle down over a period of a few days. This allow any hidden tension in the wood to be released. Over this time, I slowly dimension these wood blanks down to very close to their final dimensions. Another reason for sawing all the components for the cabinet stand is to maintain colour consistency throughout. Although the cabinet stand will be in cherry, black cherry varies considerably from tree to tree in colour and tone. This cabinet stand design calls for a set of upper rails mortised into the legs. If I chose to have these upper rails as the sole cross-support for the stand, they would need to be fairly wide and the aesthetics of this do not please me.

Rather than this, I have decided on narrower top apron rails and move some support to the bottom of the stand in the form of stretchers instead. The aesthetics of this are more pleasing to me, very much like dividing the load at the top and bottom of the cabinet stand.The leg dimensions remain the same, instead I divide the original upper rails into two components per rail and use the narrower component at the bottom of the stand. The strength and integrity of the cabinet stand should be maintained with this design along with more pleasing aesthetics, and more subtle, smaller components.

The leg blanks are cut to exhibit a rift-sawn pattern. This ensure that each face of each leg displays straight grain instead of a cathedral type grain pattern. I carefully marked out a large cherry plank to be able to accomplish this. The inner core of the plank will be used for the top and bottom rails. Since the plank was thicker than 8/4, I am therfore able to cut the rail pieces on edge therefore ensuring a quarter-sawn appearance. This ensure straight, consistent grain throughout. In the photos, I outline the grain pattern I will be using. Next, I will continue to prepare the stand components down to their final dimensions and then mark and cut the joinery for the stand. I should have the stand assembled within the next two to three days.

Wednesday, August 17, 2011

Drawer pulls...(cont'd)

After a few days delay I continued the shaping process for the pulls and fitted them to each of the drawers as well as the right-hand door of the cabinet. To maintain consistency and harmony I oriented the pulls in the same way, with the lighter color at the right of the drawers. Locating the pull mortises is an important step since the pulls need to be located similarly on the drawer fronts or it would be kind of obvious something maybe went wrong. At least this is my thinking. I carefully marked the mortises and checked their locations with the drawers in their respective drawer compartments. The pulls fit into the mortises with a snug fit as this is my goal.

Afterwards, I fitted the remaining pull to the right-hand door of the cabinet. To get away from absolute symmetry and to make more of the door graphics visible when looking down, I located the door pull slightly lower than center. After installing this door pull, I feel I have succeeded in this effect. A single door pull confirms that it is the right-hand door that needs to be opened first, as the door lip orientation demands this. Having a single door pull also creates a cleaner cabinet front and evokes uniqueness, mystery and a non-conforming design, since the large majority of cabinets in existence have two pulls. Next, I continue scraping the interior to a point where I can begin applying finish. As well, I need to create an edge treatment at the front of the tops and bottom of the cabinet. I had purposely left this until now in case I needed to perform any trimming of the front of the top and bottom. The edge treatment will be a small chamfer which is continuous with the sides of the cabinet. Any trimming is better determined with the doors in place.

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Drawer pulls...

I've been working on the drawer pulls since my last post. This involves designing the pulls, selecting the preferred wood to use for the pulls, deciding on a size for the pulls, laying out the pulls, and shaping them. I have to admit this is one of my most enjoyable processes. Pulls often add considerably to a cabinet both in aesthetics and design. The pulls are often a draw to the cabinet if they complement the cabinet yet impart a unique addition to the cabinet. The pull design I came up with is a rectangular one with a tenon extending out. The pulls are of mixed cocobolo so both heartwood and sapwood create a nice contrast in colors. The tenon has shoulders on four sides to overlay the drawer front. This tenon fits into a matching mortise in the drawer front. The mortise is marked and created using hand tools, namely small chisels.

Creating the tenon is meticulous work and I used a small, fine saw to delineate the tenon from the actual pull area. Once this is done, I use a skew rabbet block plane and some small chisels to shape the sides of the tenon. The important part of this sequence is to accurately mark the mortise to fit the tenon. A mistake here could ruin the drawer front or involve a re-design of the pulls to correct the error. The tenons of the drawer pulls fit tightly into the mortise and then glued in. I also take some time to orient the drawer pull graphics and orientation to match each other.

After completing and installing the three drawers pulls I proceeded to the right hand door of the cabinet. This door pull is similar to the drawer pulls to maintain harmony in the design. This design involves one pull on this door to distinguish this door as the one to open first. I've always liked the idea of having a single pull on the cabinet front, it just looks like a clean, minimalist design. This door pull is also slightly offset towards the bottom of the door to minimize any impact it might have on the door graphics as more of the door graphics are now visible above the door pull.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Drawer bottoms...

Creating and fitting the drawer bottoms was the last step for me in the drawer creation process for the cabinet. The conventional approach for installing drawer bottoms is to create a groove in each of the sides as well as in the drawer front. These grooves are carefully marked to maintain enough material below the groove while keeping the groove itself as low in the drawer as possible. Another consideration in the location of these grooves is to not affect the dovetail joint, or at least the visible part of the joint. Once this is performed I needed to create the drawer bottoms.

The drawer bottoms fit into the grooves in the sides and drawer front. The drawer bottom is accurately fitted so the grain orientation is from front to back. This allows the drawer bottom to remain tight in the grooves and instead any movement is directed towards the back of the drawer bottom. The thickness of the drawer bottoms is another consideration. I wanted to maintain strength in the bottom but at the same time make the bottoms fit into the narrow grooves. This is accomplished by rabbeting the drawer bottoms to fit the grooves while the rest of the drawer bottom remains thicker, in this case a little over 1/8 inch thicker. The rabbets are also created while maintaining a small reveal in the two sides and the drawer front. This can be seen in the above photo. The drawer bottoms are now strong, fit tightly, are replaceable, and are pinned to the back of the drawer. The drawer bottoms are loosely pinned to the drawer backs to allow for wood movement.

Next I will continue to fine tune the fit of the drawers into their respective drawer compartments and then I will create and fit the drawer pulls.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

Drawer fitting...

I completed the dovetails for each of the three drawers and began the meticulous work of assembling the drawers and fitting them to their respective compartments in the cabinet. Sometimes when I begin to saw and carve out dovetail joints I can go on and on, it is such a peaceful and fulfilling process. I never tire of staring at very good, tight dovetail joints. A few of the steps involved in assembling and fitting drawers are fitting the drawer sides to the drawer fronts. The sides need to be square to the fronts in two planes.

I created rabbets in each of the drawer sides as well as the fronts of each drawer. The back of the drawer has an opening which allows me to slide a custom fit drawer bottom in and pin it to the drawer back. This is a time-proven technique which allows me to replace the drawer bottom if necessary at some point in the future. It also allows for wood movement as the drawer bottom grain orientation is front to back and such is not placing any undue stress on the drawer itself.

The fitting procedure is a bit time-consuming as this is part of the process and a necessary one. I have a couple of the drawer dimensions ever so slightly oversize to allow me to tune the fit to the compartment. Better slightly oversized than undersized. I handplane the sides down to fit the compartment and lightly trim the top and bottom as well. One of the drawers to the right has a lower lip which also needs to be tune to the bottom drawer top, to create a minimal gap yet provide an allowance for wood movement. The drawer bottoms, which I have yet to create, will have rabbeted sides to fit the drawer grooves. This allows me to maintain a thicker drawer bottom yet rabbeted to fir the sides and front of the drawer. I'll continue on with this procedure and begin to give thought to the drawer pulls.

Monday, August 1, 2011


In the last post I had designed and created the three drawer compartments. Since then I have cut the parts for the individual drawers and begun the process of dovetailing the fronts to the sides of the drawers. Fitting of the drawers into their respective compartments can be a time-consuming process. Instead, by carefully measuring the parts to more precisely fit the compartments, much of the final fitting is reduced. This is my approach, I mark and measure precisely and then lay out the dovetails.

In this case I went a step further by creating a test joint using similar components as the actual drawers. I do this for a couple of reasons. One is to determine the best dovetail placement and spacing and secondly to prepare the two marking gauges and the divider I use to mark and create the dovetails. The dovetails are of the half-blind type, referring to the fact that the tails are hidden or set back in the pins. This type of dovetail hides the joint from the drawer front face and is more elegant than through dovetails.

Creating dovetails is an enjoyable process and a few precision tools are involved: different sizes of chisels, a fine dovetail saw, marking tools, a small block plane, etc. In one case, a drawer has a small lip overhanging the drawer divider so there is more of a challenge with this particular one.
There is little to no margin for error as the joints need to be perfectly fit.
The pin marking need to be offset from the bottom by the width of the overhang or lip. I make most of the adjustments of the dovetail joints within the hidden part of the joint.In the photo you can see one complete drawer, a smaller test drawer and the components of another drawer being prepared.

Thursday, July 21, 2011

Drawer compartments...

After tossing around different designs for the interior of the cabinet I decided on one particular layout. I had used this layout on a previous cabinet and like it. What I like most about it is that the drawers and compartments are equally divided between the left and right side of the cabinet. I can open the right hand door and have access to two drawers and the shelf above it. This cabinet is primarily designed as a showcase cabinet and I would imagine it to be used to display art objects, small sculptures, etc. With this in mind, I want to leave as much room above the drawers as possible, or maximize the open height of the interior of the cabinet.

The drawer compartments are pegged to the cabinet interior which ensures they will move with temperature and humidity variations. Since the cabinet sides, top and bottom panels are veneered they will hardly be any wood movement with these panels. The drawer compartments however are of solid wood and it is expected they move with the seasons. My approach is to simply peg them into the cabinet, attached at single points. This technique has worked well for me in the past, essentially separating the interior compartments from the exterior carcase.The top drawer on the right hand side will have a lower lip to overhang the drawer divider. The drawer fronts will be of cherry and dovetailed to the sides.

I just want to mention that the drawer openings need to be perfectly, or close to perfectly accurate in height and width. As well, these drawer openings need to be completely rectangular to be able to have the drawers fit well. I take extra time to ensure these parameters are met.

Monday, July 18, 2011

Door fitting...

I left off with having completed the mortises for the knife hinges, both in the cabinet doors and in the cabinet itself. The fit is very good with a consistent reveal all around the doors and from the cabinet sides. There are many variables with fitting the doors at the center where a lip and rabbet meet, so I usually just take these measurements after the doors are hung correctly. I had left some extra solid wood along the inside edges of both cabinet doors specifically to be able to shape them into a rabbet and lip. The lip will be on the right hand door as is fairly standard and the rabbet on the left hand door. The lip and rabbet combination work really well at keeping the gap between the doors closed as well as providing a stop for the right hand door.

In the upper photo I am creating a rabbet on the left hand door. I use a skew rabbet plane for this and it works very well in this application. There is a fence on this type of block plane which allows me to set the depth of the rabbet. I began by marking the center at which both doors meet and using that point as the center of the rabbet and lip joint. I typically work one door, mount it and then measure the opposite door. This process is repeated a few times to get everything just right.

The photo at the left shows the completed joint after some final tuning to allow for a small amount of door movement. I can't stress enough to plan before making any cuts, especially when creating knife hinges and fitting doors. Mistakes are all to easy to make and extremely difficult to undo. Not that I've ever made any, ha...

Next I develop a design for the interior compartments and drawers. I have had a design in mind and I'm going to pursue this. Once the compartments are laid out I can begin to plan the drawers. I'll be cutting up some maple for this part in the next day.

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Knife hinges...(cont'd)

Most recently, I've been working at creating the mortises for the doors. Accurate measurements are critical for this fitting and I typically measure and re-measure before even beginning to chisel out the knife hinge mortises. I dry fit the cabinet sides, top and bottom and then use a spacer I created as part of the fitting process to transfer the hinge mounting offset to the top and bottom panel. This is the offset from the side panels to the hinge in the door. As well, I transfer the length of the hinge in the door panels to the top and bottom.

Once I have this particular measurement marked out on the cabinet top and bottom for both doors I can use the hinge itself to mark the opposite, parallel side of the mortise. A short time later and the mortises are completed in the top and bottom panels. The next critical test is dry fitting the door panels and knife hinges into the cabinet. This part is successful. I have left a little extra in each door panel where they meet in the center to allow me to fit them so the rabbeted ledges will meet correctly.

I'm also very happy with the choice of graphics in the ambrosia maple veneers I have chosen. I need to perform some final fitting of the mortises, very small adjustments in the hinge placement withing the mortise itself. I had purposely left the length of the cabinet mortises a fraction of an inch short so I can dial in the placement of the doors. The very small reveal at the top and bottom of the doors needs to be perfectly parallel with the respective cabinet top and bottom panels. Once I have this done I will begin the cabinet glue up process.

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Knife hinges...

After the doors are fitted into the cabinet opening the next step is to layout and create the hinge mortises for the knife hinge pairs. Each door has one pair of knife hinges as they come in pairs. I use spacers and my small adjustable square to make certain the doors are spaced uniformly from the cabinet case. This is important as the door reveal all around needs to be uniform. After the hinges mortises are marked the process of creating the recesses is accomplished with a set of sharp chisels and a small mallet.

Once the hinges mortises have been created on the doors, the hinge markings are transferred from the doors to the cabinet to maintain accuracy.I do this with the use of a spacer. The spacer allows me to maintain the same reveal of the door from the cabinet sides. Creating the hinge mortises with hand tools is somewhat of a pleasant task although it can take a while. Care needs to be exercised with grain orientation as the grain is reversed depending on which corner of the cabinet is being mortised. I use both chisel bevel down and back down orientation to remove waste from the hinge.

The outline of the hinge and its offset from the edge of the cabinet and doors is fairly important, I usually mark this with a sharp knife, then with a wide chisel define the mortise using these fine knife markings. Once this is accomplished, removing material from the recess is fairly foolproof. I remove wood from the hinge recess in stages, exercising care not to go too deep in one pass of the chisel. To the left, a photo of the completed knife hinge mortise on a door, one of four to be completed.

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

Preliminary fitting...

When I last left off, I had trimmed and prepared the panels for the cabinets. With this task complete, the next step is to test fit the side panels to the tops and bottoms. I use a few loose dowels to assemble the panels together, just enough to keep everything rigid and square. I need to perform this step to both fit the back panel correctly and to fit the front doors.

The front doors need to be fit accurately as the knife hinges I am using do not allow much of a tolerance in the gap between the top, bottom and door. I am liberal with the use of blue tape to hold the doors together. This also gives me the opportunity to confirm that the grain orientation and the graphics of the doors are in harmony with the rest of the cabinet. The veneered top and bottom panels provided me the opportunity to make them thicker and in my opinion this adds to the aesthetic of the cabinet in a positive way. I feel good about this design and the proportions...the ratio of height to width I have chosen. I did work with limitations however... namely the available widths of the veneers I had resawn. I can now proceed with marking the knife hinge mortises and then begin the hinge installation process.

I've been away from this cabinet build for a while and hope to catch up quickly now. I've been working on a new endeavor and this has been somewhat time consuming but very enjoyable to me.

Monday, March 21, 2011

Dynamic design...

Over the past two years,I have come to use a new term in my design philosophy. The term, "dynamic design", allows me to modify a design to adapt to circumstances, for either technical considerations, or for purely aesthetic reasons. This is a term I have coined to describe how design doesn't necessarily need to be cast in stone but instead can be modified as a project progresses. The changes I refer to can be either subtle changes or large scale changes. One of the meanings for the word "dynamic" from the American Heritage Dictionary.

dy·nam·ic - Characterized by continuous change, activity, or progress.

As my wood art or studio furniture is being handcrafted, sometimes the design I originally envisioned can be improved at different stages, or the original design can remain as is. Having this flexibility provides a continuous excitement for the wood artist or studio furniture maker along with the benefit of improvising on the original design after seeing the wood art at various intermediary stages. An excellent example is the hall table design in my previous posts. I had chosen to invert the base of the table for both aesthetic and technical reasons. Not to say the original design of the maquette would not have worked, inverting it just simplifies a design dilemma for me and introduces a new aesthetic to the piece. After creating the maquette, I realize I needed to have a fairly stable, strong sub-base to be able to support the V-shaped arch, whereas inverting the base utilizes the points of the arches as legs. Often, we become fixated on a particular design and don't bother seeking out alternatives which often stare us right in the face.

Case in point, I have been creating a new design for a smaller wood object, and as part of my philosophy I strive to use as many materials in my possession as possible, without continuously sourcing new material for the components. Working with material at hand sometimes limits what I can do, but on the other hand challenges me to work within certain constraints, in this case certain materials. So here I have an instance of what I like to call "dynamic design", sometimes the beauty of a design is also in its simplicity. Simplicity is one of the tenets of the minimalism philosophy. I have to admit that I am a fan of "minimalism", and have read one book on the subject so far. You tend to gain a different perspective on design after being exposed to the philosophy of minimalism.

Sunday, March 20, 2011


I have the panels for the two cabinets ready for trimming now. They have been hand planed and scraped to a polished texture. This is a step I like to complete before beginning the assembly process as it is much simpler with the panels separate. The individual panels are marked and stacked to correspond to one of the two cabinets. I also fit the stopped rabbet to the back edges of the side panels to confirm the depth of the rabbet on both the top, bottom and sides are uniform. Fitting is to confirm all the panels are square to each other and the side panels are correctly set back in the top and bottom panels.

This part is important to not have any problems with wind in the doors. If, for example, the front edge of one side panel is slightly deeper than the other side panel, the front doors will need to be skewed a little and this is something to avoid, unless absolutely necessary. In the photo at left I am trimming the front edge of this side panel to have it exactly as wide as the other side panel to avoid any issues with the front edge of the sides that meet the front doors not being coplanar. Next I re-assemble the cabinets and begin fitting the doors to the cases. You will notice I take precautions and always sticker all the panels to prevent any possibility of warping due to uneven exposure to ambient air.

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Design update (1)...

The design process is an iterative process, with multiples sketches, drawings and just going through the process of fleshing out a design. This design change is a little more subtle in that I am changing one of the dimensions of two cabinet components, namely the thickness of the top and bottom panels. Not a major design change per say but maybe an update... since the major proportions of the cabinets remain the same. Sometimes, at least in my experience, you need to actually be partway through a build to form a subjective opinion of where the project is heading. If a part of it isn't satisfactory to the makers taste, it doesn't make too much sense to continue and and be displeased with the results. I normally create a small maquette or mock up the design to get a better idea of the proportions, but I'm not sure it would have made a difference in this case. The change is subtle and might not be readily apparent on a smaller scale. To the left, this is how the cabinet appears with the new top and bottom panels and a door temporarily mounted.

I left off with having created new top and bottom panels for the cabinets. I haven't finalized the edge treatment I will be creating on these panels, although I am strongly leaning towards simply chamfering one edge of each surface, the edge adjacent to the side panels and doors. As well, I'll likely slightly round over the corners a little and trim back the front length of these panels once the doors have been marked and installed. To the left is another set of side panels and newly created top and bottom panels for the second cabinet... ready to go. I only use two dowel pins for test fitting,, and these are not very tight dowel pins at that. I don't want to enlarge the holes any more than necessary for this phase, since the hole diameters are fairly important to how the dowels capture the surrounding wood.

To the left the second cabinet with new top and bottom panels temporarily installed for fitting of the back panel. The back panel fit this second cabinet without any need for taking a shaving off here or there. I'll need to work on the surfaces of the top and bottom panels a little more now since the fitting is successful in both cases... to plane and scrape them to a reasonable state. Once I have done this, I'll begin to work on fitting the doors and installing knife hinges.

Saturday, March 12, 2011

Design update...

I wrote something about dynamic design once upon at time.. about how there is nothing wrong with changing a design mid-stream through a build..and I needed to invoke this recently. After some deliberation, I found the top and bottom panels of each the cabinets a little thin with not enough substance. I've grown to like thicker top and bottom panels in cabinets, it's just more pleasing to my eye and in a second opinion I received. What I therefore decided to do was to increase the thickness of the top and bottom panels. This involved re-creating the panels using a thicker substrate than the one I used previously. I selected some maple from which to resaw veneers, selected the solid wood edging and went through the methodical process of cutting and slicing everything to size as well as preparing the surfaces.

I had a concern about the dowel holes and getting them to line up exactly as on the original top and bottom panels. This was easily accomplished however, since the dowelling jig I used is fairly universal as long as the dimensions of the new panels match the former panels. Another concern I had with the original panels was since the depth was less, the dowels had considerable less wood to attach to, the thicker panels solved this dilemma if in fact it was even an issue.

The steps involved in re-creating these panels were somewhat lengthier than anticipated including the re-creation of the stopped rabbets for the back panels, preparing the veneers, joining them, etc. I am definitely pleased with the results however.. the panels turned out well. The deciding test was to see if the back panels fit the cabinets as they did with the previous top and bottom panels. and they did , flawlessly. I must be getting better at doing all this..

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Back panels (1)...

The creation of back panel continues... I spent considerable time fitting each of the stiles and rails as well as the individual panels for each of the cabinets. There is hardly any room for error here so this is time well spent. There are different design options for the frame and panel back panel, namely the orientation of the stiles and rails. I could have chosen to extend the rails from end to end and instead have three shorter stiles, but I decided on the longer stile option. Often, my choices in the design of cabinets and their individual components is determined by the wood I have available as well as aesthetic considerations. In this case, the short rails, longer stiles are an alternative approach.

The selection and orientation of the actual panels within the frames was interesting to say the least. I like many of the choices in graphics, each one presenting an exciting view of the fantastic ambrosia maple figure. Unfortunately, the lower section of the inside of each cabinet back panel will be obscured however as I intend to install a set of drawers.. to be decided soon. With this in mind, I selected a particular area of each of the panels to be visible. Each of the photos both represents a different cabinet and a different view of the cabinet. Nothing is glued at this point, all held together with clamps and tape. Next, I begin to create the interior layout for the drawers I will be installing. As well, I will be final trimming the front door panels and installing knife hinges. I'll also probably mock up some cardboard drawer fronts to get a better idea of the layout I feel is right for these cabinets, possibly each cabinet will have a slightly different drawer layout.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Back panels...

In the photo at left, the doors for each of the cabinets are somewhat more trimmed than before and next need to be scraped. The capped outside edges are also visible in this photo. Moving on from the front of the cabinet... next I begin work on the frame and panel back. I milled the frame components, the rails, vertical stiles, center stile and created grooves in each of these components for the ambrosia maple panels. These panels will float within the frames. The frames are divided vertically to add rigidity to the back panel assembly and to create a more interesting aesthetic. I had the choice of dividing the frame horizontally but decided on this approach due to the limited widths of ambrosia maple I had available. I've also had success with this orientation in the past.

The frame itself is marginally larger than the recess at the back of the cabinet, this to allow for final trimming once the frame and panels are completely assembled and glued together for each of the cabinets. In the photo I mock up the frame and slip the panels underneath to get a better idea of how I want to orient the panels with each of the frames. I decided to work on one frame at a time to avoid any confusion and to be able to focus entirely on each frame and panel assembly.
I will be spending some time with this part of the cabinets as I want to be confident that everything fits just right and the panels with each of the frames are oriented to the best of my ability.

Capping the doors...

To fulfill the desired seamless wraparound ambrosia maple aesthetic, I decided to cap the outside vertical edges of each set of doors. Carefully matching some narrow remnants of ambrosia maple to both the side panels and the respective doors for each cabinet, I think I succeeded in this endeavor. The cap edges are a little thicker and wider than necessary, but this is simply to allow for trimming with a hand plane afterwards.
Another reason for thinner cap edging is to not present a grain conflict with the door fronts. Thinner cap edging are not very noticeable from the front whereas they present a full graphic when viewing from the side of the cabinet. In the photo, I am judiciously hand planing the extra width I allowed for each of the cap edges. I use a smaller hand plane to allow me more control of the highs and lows of the cap edge without disturbing the front skin of the door.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The doors...

Since I now have the cabinet case temporarily assembled I took the opportunity to create the door panels. The doors are also veneered both front and back, the front is ambrosia maple whereas the back is a soft maple which matches the interior of the cabinet. There are a few steps involved in veneering as I mentioned when I created the side panels, namely applying bake-ins to the substrate, levelling these bake-ins to match the level of the substrate and applying the veneers. Not quite so simple in reality though... the door panels need to be accurately measured to accommodate the bake-ins and the center part where the doors meet. There is an overlap here and it needs to be done correctly, hopefully I got it right.

Once the substrates are prepared and accurately measured, I spend a little time reviewing my choice of ambrosia veneers for the fronts of the doors. I place them in different orientations to confirm my original choice is correct, and if not change it around. This part is actually fun and I also managed to get a second opinion from someone else. Afterwards, some trimming of all the veneers to slightly overlap the substrates and off to the vacuum veneer press. A few hours later the first of the door panels is ready, aside from the next phase of trimming. At the very least I can begin to visualize how part of the cabinet will look like once completed. I'm confident I have the aesthetics right for each of the cabinets. I can safely say that a veneered cabinet can easily take twice the amount of work to create, in this case these cabinets are sort of hybrids, some solid panels, some veneered panels. You can see some of the tight curl exhibited in the front panels. It's kind of unusual to find figured wood with both interesting graphics and colours as well as other elements such as tight curl. The highly figured woods became veneers and in my small way I make very efficient use of some rare and not so rare woods by using them sparingly throughout the cabinet.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Test fitting...

I spent some time creating the rabbets for the frame and panel backs. These rabbets run along the inside rear of the side panels as well as along the backs of the tops and bottoms for each of the cabinets. The rabbets for each of the tops and bottoms are stopped, this to create a rectangular recess in which to fit the frame and panel back. I typically use the router to create these rabbets and I need to square the ends of the stopped rabbets to fit the vertical rabbets which run in the side panels. A picture is worth a thousand words here and the picture at the left provides the best explanation for what I am accomplishing.

Once I have completed this I was anxious to test fit the components of each of the cabinets to physically see what the cabinet begins to look like. I assembled the sides and tops and bottoms for each of the cabinets carefully marking each component for both orientation and to associate the component with the correct cabinet. You can see I am a big believer in liberal use of markings. The issue isn't any confusion while one is in the studio but rather when one comes back after a day or two and then trying to remember which part goes where.

Everything is fine at this point and next I temporarily clamp each of the cabinet components together. This temporary clamped state will remain for a while as I now begin to take exact measurements for the next set of components. I begin with the cabinet doors. These doors will also be veneered and I need to determine the size of each of the substrates while allowing for bake-ins and top and bottom edging. I also need to allow for the door rabbets, the ingenious method of having cabinet doors close onto themselves through the use of a lip and rabbet. This temporary clamping also allows me to begin measuring the frame components for the frame and panel at the rear of each of the cabinets.

I also now have the opportunity to better match the ambrosia maple door fronts with the ambrosia side panels, while seeking continuity in grain, graphics and also colour variations. The top and bottom edge treatment I have not decided on yet, this will likely be a very small chamfer around the periphery of the cabinet. There is an alternative approach to all this.... to create the doors first and build the cabinet round the doors. I've never done it this way, but it's like any other process, a matter of becoming familiar with it...much like the tails vs. pins approach to dovetail joinery. Next I create the substrates for the veneered door panels.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Cabinet joinery...

I tend to use dowel joinery for this type of cabinet. This is to allow for any overhang of the top and bottom of the cabinet over the sides. I'm also a close follower of Krenov principles of furniture design and construction and James Krenov was an advocate of this type of joinery for small cabinets. At first it can be intimidating to get all the dowel holes perfectly lined up on both the vertical sides and the horizontal tops and bottoms of the cabinets, but over time this process becomes less threatening and I should dare say enjoyable. As with most types of joinery, one needs to be extremely methodical, develop a process and be very liberal with developing a marking strategy for the individual components and their orientation. This combined with a good ruler, long straightedge and sharp pencil is all that is needed really.

In the photos I use a small jig I created for these cabinets to drill the dowel holes and transfer the same holes to both the sides and the top and bottom components. No problems were encountered but I needed to re-drill the holes in one side since the jig skewed a little on me, I did this after plugging a few of the holes. I have all the cabinet case components drilled and ready to go now and am currently creating the rabbets at the back of each of the cabinets to house the back panel. I also assembled the cabinet sides and top and bottoms to determine if everything is fitting well together as well as determining if the aesthetics of each cabinet is pleasing. I'm happy so far, I will be even happier once I create the doors and view them as part of the cabinet. My goal is to have visual cohesiveness of the side panels and the front doors for each of the cabinets.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Side panels done...

I've gone ahead and applied the veneers to the side panels for both cabinets. The process I use for this is vacuum veneering. I used to use a large mechanical assembly with many vertical threaded rods and a series of horizontal cauls, but moved on to the vacuum press as it is somewhat more convenient and versatile. I still use the small mechanical press for very small flat veneer panel work, but the vacuum press excels at larger flat panels and curved veneering. It is important to mark and orient everything before correctly placing in the vacuum veneer press because once the glue is applied there is not much open time to sort things out. The process needs to be planned beforehand. The vacuum veneer press applies pressure uniformly so no worries about this aspect of veneering.

Once the veneering for each of the side panels was complete, I applied vertical ambrosia maple caps to the sides of each of the panels. They are a little fatter than the intended size and this is intentional to allow for trimming in both thickness and depth afterwards. I also orient the grain of each of these caps to follow the grain of the ambrosia and soft maple veneer, this makes life so much easier since any reversed grain issues are eliminated. After a little hand planing to bring the cap surfaces down to the level of the veneer, I scraped the complete surface of the front and back of these side panels. The ambrosia maple surfaces look seamless now and this is the ultimate goal. You can see the pink hues I was referring to earlier in this panel at the left. You can also see the layers and components which comprise these side panels; the substrate, veneers, bake-in, caps. The remaining operation for the side panels is to trim them in length, but I have yet to come to a decision on the exact length so they will remain a little long for a while. Next I am preparing the tops and bottoms for each of the cabinets.