Wednesday, July 13, 2016

About the Oil

I get asked a lot about the oil that I use, and over the years I've used many different types. One mix that I've often returned to is a spar varnish, raw tung (or linseed) and mineral spirit mix. The next question that I get asked is usually about the proportions, which is perfectly natural.
But the answer that I feel compelled to offer isn't as easy as a the question. I think that it's more important to understand that each of these three components play a role and depending on where I am in the finishing process or the environment that I'm working in, I might change it up a bit.
First, the spar varnish. This is the tough flexible finish that dries to form the shine and water resistance. But, left alone, it is way to sticky, thick and fast drying. So to slow it down to the point that I can lay on a thin layer, I add the raw oil, which goes on smoothly but if applied alone would take way to long for my patience to build and dry. But mixing these two together gives a mix that is akin to the thickness of honey, so I add mineral spirits to make it flow. If it's the first coat and my goal is to flood the oil on and have it soak in, then a generous amount of mineral spirits is a good idea, but for later coats that I pad on and wipe off the surface quickly, then a thicker mix works fine. Often, I'll burnish the chair before the final coat and use more raw oil in the last mix to get a "softer" look. I don't wax my chairs because I've seen trouble with body heat causing clouding, but maybe I just don't know how to use it or have used the wrong stuff.

So as far as I'm concerned, there is no magic mix. I suppose that the simple way to put it is that whatever you do, you are gonna end up with a basic finish made up of cured oil, and using the different elements is simply an opportunity to guide the process. I usually start with leaning towards too much spar and fill in the other elements to get the consistency and time that the project and weather call for. I always check my rag to see how long it takes to harden, if it isn't hard after a night of drying, add more spar.

And of course, dispose of rags in a safe way to prevent spontaneous combustion!!!

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

A Fine Time

I just returned from the Lie-Nielsen open house in Maine and, as usual, I can't say enough about the host and all the other makers. It's the one show that I go to every year and it's a great chance to see my friends and get feedback on new work. I highly recommend going.
 Here is a rocker that I finished in preparation for the show. I fumed it in ammonia as you see in the tent below.
Here is the before and after. I went darker than usual, just to see what the results would be like, I think it suits the design nicely.
Here is one of my favorite details. I've been wanting to make a crest like this for some time, and I think it will be appearing in my chairs more often.

Here you can see the oil going on over the fumed wood, I don't think the video will play, but the image say it all.  I fumed it overnight to get this color with regular household ammonia.

Sunday, May 22, 2016

New Toolbox!

I've definitely noticed that I have had trouble transporting and organizing my tools when teaching. My bench is always jammed with tools as students return them and I usually spend a great deal of my time stowing and retrieving them from an array of boxes and bins that travel with me. In a moment of frustration, I decided to have my friend Eli Cleveland build a traveling toolbox for me.
Here's the end result. There are three components that stack and the top one fits in front of the middle one when rolling it around on the wheels. There is room for all the tools I need for a class, including multiples of reamers, travishers, drawknives, drill bits, carving tools, spokeshaves, layout tools, mirror jigs, bevel squares, sharpening gear, glues, saws etc...
It changed my teaching experience more than I expected. Not only was my bench clear for the entire class, but every tool was accessible for both me and my students. Dan, who was in his third class taught by me, mentioned repeatedly that it was making a difference in not only the organization, but the tone of the class. I have to agree. Every time a student just walked up the the box and grabbed the tool they needed, or returned a tool to the box, instead of on my bench, it felt like a little victory.

I know that tool storage and use has been a topic of discussion for a long time, one of my favorite books is Tolpins toolbox book, not to mention the Anarchists Toolchest, but I must admit that I never thought that it would make such a profound difference in the way I worked. When I got the box home, I rearranged my shop and organized it so that I could work out of the box myself. I have even taken the time to paint it!
Only the saw drawer has been oiled. I recall that sad feeling that came over me when I realized that I didn't need any more tools and that the types of tools that I wanted to work with were very much settled. But on the bright side, it made investing in a tailored toolbox and tricking it out with dividers a lot of fun. Of course, I still dream of taking the time to build a lovingly crafted unit like Greg Penningtons, but, for now, I'm still an itinerant teacher and utility is the name of the game.

One funny realization came after posting the pic of the chest on Instagram, it got 1785 "likes", which is about 4 times as many as I've ever gotten showing my chair work...hmmmm