Claremont Designs


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No Wonder Walls Are Never Straight

Shop work finally shifted away from Edison lamps this past weekend.  Step 1 of the new project is to build some legs.  Ultimately, I’m hoping that the legs will be 2″ x 2″ x 30″.  The first challenge I have is that I don’t have any boards thick enough to get a 2″ x 2″ leg.  I could go and buy some 8/4 walnut, but still challenges…  By the time I get the boards flat and square I’m unlikely to still get 2″ x 2″.  Beyond the size issues, it is unlikely that I would get 4 good looking faces to the legs.

The approach I like to take is to build a core out of cheaper lumber and veneer the blank with the same lumber that will be used for the rest of the piece.  The process started by laminating together 2 pieces of lumber.  I like to just use 2″ x 4″ studs available at the local home store.  In this case, I used the highest quality studs available.  Even still, none of the boards were flat / straight (no wonder walls are never straight).  As a result, a significant portion of day 1 was spent jointing, planing, and dimensioning the lumber (the photo below shows the blanks marked up so I can make sure that I’m getting completely surfaced lumber).  This step is important as it both helps to keep the legs straight and it gives me a good flat surface to glue together.

Next posting (if it isn’t another Edison lamp post) will discuss cutting the walnut veneers for the legs…

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3 New Lamps Have Left DC

I’m still working to get this blog in sync with actual activity happening in the shop, and it is now close. The photos in this post show the last 3 lamps that have been shipped off to customers. Nothing too unique about these builds, other than one lamp was shipped off to Canada (little pricey and a lot of paperwork) and one of the walnut lamps was done in just boiled linseed oil (wanted a slightly different finish than normal). Currently in the shop are 2 more lamps (one in walnut and one I’m trying out of lacewood) and a bunch of walnut strips that I’m turning into cutting boards.

I’m guessing now that the next post won’t be that meaningful either. Hopefully by the end of October I’m back with posts that highlight the build process as much as the finished goods.

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Doubling Down on Edison Lamps

This update is coming from the Acela en route to NYC.  It’s been ages since I last posted a meaningful update to the blog, and trips like this are primarily to blame.  I targeted this update a few weeks back, but it’s not until today that I can make an entry.

The orders from Etsy still come in.  And when I’m lucky they come in at the same time, so I can be as efficient as possible with shop time.  In this case, I had two orders for 3 bulb lamps.  I thought that the build was going great.  I was so proud of my progress that I took the first photo below to show the nice looking grooves for the top panel in each piece.  From there I worked to get each lamp glued up.  What I didn’t mention, until now, is the process of cutting the dovetails.  It appears that I grabbed the wrong piece for my jig.  I’m guessing I grabbed a 9 degree instead of an 11 degree piece.  The result is that I have 2 lamp boxes that can’t be used.

So it was off to round 2 of the build.  Trust me that I was considerably more careful this time around.  Everything turned out as planned and I had 2 unfinished lamps; one in cherry and one in walnut.

In the spirit of doing everything a second time, I also decided to revisit the first lamp I ever built.  It was minor, but I must have been too aggressive with my sanding of the top front edge of the lamp.  The result was a little “dip” on the top.  Well that lamp was back in the shop to correct that mistake.  While I was tackling that issue, I decided it was time to upgrade the lamp to a full dimmer switch and some higher quality light sockets.  In the second picture below, the original prototype lamp is sitting on top of the new unfinished lamps.

So doubling down on Edison lamps…  lots of multiples this time (2 lamps, built them twice due to my error, and bringing the original prototype into the shop for a tune up).  Ultimately, the 2 unfinished lamps will be off to NYC and Canada; the improved prototype should be destined for Etsy.

grooves

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Fitting Non-Mortise Hinges to a Sideboard

I’m finally getting to some of the final steps of finishing off the sideboard base that has been occupying one of my workbenches for the better part of a year. In the previous post, I described how I wrapped the doors with a thin strip of walnut to improve the gap that surrounds the doors on either side of the buffet. The last challenging step in the build is to align the hinges. I almost always use non-mortise hinges, so the only real challenge is to locate the screw holes as perfectly as possible – easier said written than done. I start by installing the hinges to the base of the cabinet, and then I transfer reference marks to the door. The marks don’t go directly where I will drill a pilot hole, so it is a little more complex.

To start the process I locate the door in the opening, with the hinges completely open. I also make sure to use a spacer, so that there is a gap at the bottom of the door. I then “close” the hinges so they rest against the face of the door frame. From here, I mark the holes in the hinge. Next it is a lot of work with a square and a depth gauge. First I mark the top and bottom of the hole and then I transfer those reference marks to the side of the door. I then go back to the hinge and use a sliding depth gauge to determine the front and back reference mark for the hinge hole opening. Because the hinge allows for a little adjustment, I should be good as long as I get the pilot hole somewhere within the opening, but I take an extra step. I connect the corners and draw an X to locate the center of the hole. Ultimately this is where I will drill my pilot hole for the screw.

The photos below show all of the reference marks and the doors installed to make sure that no other adjustments are required. Next step is to finish the 220-grit sanding, break all of the sharp edges, install the knobs and pulls, and apply several finish coats of an oil urethane blend.

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Improving the Fit of a Cabinet Door

One of the first posts I ever made here was related to a sideboard that I was building. That was a little over a year ago. It’s still not done… It’s not complete for 2 reasons. First I have been busy with other projects and paying customers. Second, there are just a number of extremely frustrating components to this build. Many, many months ago I worked to stiffen up the cabinet. It was a minor fix, but frustrating to have to do. I’ve also spent countless hours perfecting the fit of the drawers. I’ve finally dialed all of that in and now the only thing left is the doors. The doors haven’t been easy. Slightly out of square openings (related to the earlier need to stiffen up the cabinet) led to a very difficult fit for the door. The challenge with doors is to get the proper gap all of the way around the door (this is even harder when the opening isn’t perfectly square).

After lots of hand planing and sanding, I had an even gap around the door. Unfortunately the gap was too large. Originally I considered rebuilding the door, but ultimately I decided to work with what I had (this piece is more of a prototype and learning experience than something I’m selling to a customer). To build up the width and height of the door, I have glued thin strips of walnut to the outside of the perimeter of the doors. To create the strips I took thin pieces of resawn walnut and passed them through my wide belt drum sander until each strip was less than 1/8″ thick.

The final pieces were glued on today. The picture below shows the final step in the glue up. The challenge with the doors, is that I like to cut the sides at a 5 degree angle (it helps in opening and closing the door). Cutting the angle isn’t hard, but clamping it up and keeping the glued on strip from slipping while maintaining enough clamping pressure and keeping the center panel from buckling was not easy. I’ll be curious to see how this dries up. Hopefully it comes out well; otherwise I will be building 2 new doors on the next trip to the shop.

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Designing New Concert Poster Frames

On a brief shop trip today, I shifted away from the world of Edison Lamps. I spent most of my time designing some new concert poster frames. Most posters have standard proportions, but they don’t all. When I can, I try to build my frames to a standard outside dimension of 29 1/2″ x 23 1/2″. Most of my work today was limited to the design side of a concert frames. 2 of 3 I designed will be able to keep the standard dimension. The images below show the sketches for new frames I’ll be building. The sketches help me determine the amount of lumber I need for each frame. Shockingly, it is quite a bit of lumber. The ideal frame would be built from a single board. The board needs to be over 100″ long to build a single frame. I wish I could include some pictures in this post of the build, but unfortunately the heat wave in DC was too much for me. By the time I left this afternoon, the temperature was 98 degrees, and the only thing I completed was the jointing of 4 boards. Hopefully the next posts will feature some wood and not just sketches on graph paper.

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What Does Handmade Mean? Please Ask…

So I’m a little late in writing this post… I guess that “late” is a relative term. In one sense I meant to write this 2+ weeks ago when I took the photo below. At the same time, I think that the topic is more timely than ever. And timely in the sense that it won’t be answered here, tomorrow, or frankly anytime soon.

If it’s not clear to people that occasionally read my blog posts, I sell things on Etsy. I don’t sell everything on Etsy, but I do sell some items. And I definitely consider them “handmade.” Etsy marginally mentions the term handmade on their site, but I would guess that in the consumers’ mind, the term “handmade” is much more prevalent. That’s okay; I’m not trying to say it is bad…

But it is a different context than I think some people consider… For me “handmade” has meant many things. In some case it might mean literally that it was built by hand. Or should it mean that it was created with tools that require no power? Or maybe somewhere in between as long as there was a human touch at some point? For some people, handmade means that there are flaws that should be excused… This is where I’m most conflicted… When you are dealing with real world supplies, there are defects. You may want it to be 100% perfect, and that is possible…

But frankly if you are building to enough scale that you can’t reach out to customers to ask if you like a certain look to a piece of wood or not, that means you are not handmade…

I don’t mean this in a negative way. I mean this in a descriptive way. Many of the designers that I admire don’t adhere to this mindset, and I don’t ascribe any lesser value to their designs. But I do assume that there wasn’t a human helping to guide every crucial design decision…

So there is my long convoluted description of what handmade means to me… it only took 4 “paragraphs” and I don’t pretend that it is crystal clear as a result… My only request is that if it means something to you as a buyer, please ask the people you are buying from what “handmade” means to them… In some cases you will be more than willing to do business with them. In other cases, the exact opposite holds true…

Anyway back to me (because everything must eventually come back to me)… The photo below is for an end table that I’m building. It is essentially, 3 through dovetail boxes with a floating top. The photo shows one of the last steps in the process… before this step I cut and joined the 3 through dovetail boxes shown in the picture. Although, the boxes were made with same jigs and lumber of the same dimension, they were not identical within 1/16 of an inch…

What’s happening in the photo, is that I’m clamping the three boxes together so that I can ease the transition from one piece to the other… It was definitely a handmade piece (in my terminology). Each piece wouldn’t be perfectly identical… In fact I would eventually round over the corners of each piece, so they couldn’t match perfectly. For me exact duplication, would mean that it was machine made. But if near duplication might mean that it was made by hand and matched to the clients’ needs… That’s what I was doing here… Ultimately, I sanded all of the joints of the boxes flush in the photos. That doesn’t mean that I did everything by hand, but it does mean that I was there with tools controlled by hand that did not depend on mechanical accuracy to get the final look.

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