Claremont Designs


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Finishing the Ambrosia Maple Box

In a recent post, I was showing how to flatten an ambrosia maple board with a strategic cut before employing the jointer and planer.  Since then I have finished assembling the box.  As with the Edison Lamps that I make, the box features through dovetails.  The ambrosia maple has such dramatic coloring that it is crucial that the box is cut all from the same continuous piece of lumber.  I made passing reference to wrapping the grain around the corner in that previous post.  The photos below show why that is so important.

From a woodworking perspective this box is nearly identical to the Edison Lamps that I’ve been making, but there are a few differences.  The minor differences are the lack of holes for a lamp cord or a dimmer switch (this piece will be illuminated from the inside by a string of battery powered LED lights).  The major difference is the top of the piece.  On an Edison Lamp, I take a 1/4″ thick piece of lumber for the top of the piece.  In this case, I replaced the wood top with a sheet of rice paper (same concept that is used in shoji lamps).  Because I could anticipate this being used as a modern table centerpiece, I didn’t want the rice paper exposed.  I wanted to be able to clean this piece without worrying about ruining the paper.  As a result, I sandwiched the paper through two pieces of glass that I had cut at the local hardware store.

I still really like the concept, but I’m not positive I like my approach to the rice paper.  As of right now, everything looks like it will work just fine, but I’m not sure I love the quality or coloring of the rice paper I used.  And by sandwiching it between sheets of glass, it can’t ever be replaced.  This one will be permanent as-is.  For future versions, I think I’ll keep the glass on the top to protect it / keep it easy to clean, but I’ll find a new way to install the paper.

The photos below were taken in my shop before a first coat of finish was applied.  Usually, I do WIP photos at lower resolution, but I do like the ambrosia maple, so I kept this full resolution.

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Overcoming a Bowed Ambrosia Maple Board

Building unique pieces is fun. The “unique” part of that statement can be defined in many ways. Sometimes it’s the design. Sometimes it’s the raw material. Sometimes it’s the finish. In this case it was definitely the raw material. I’ve always really liked the look of ambrosia maple; actually I’ve always called it spalted maple, but it seems like everyone has been more specific recently with the term ambrosia. Plenty of other places on the internet describe the ambrosia aspect, so I won’t bore you with stories of beetles…

On the last trip to the lumber store there was a really nice looking piece of ambrosia maple that everyone seemed to be ignoring. It wasn’t priced outrageously. It wasn’t abnormally short or narrow. But it was badly bowed. The board was ~40″ long but about 1/3 of the way down the board, it was bowed about 1-2″ (I’m probably exaggerating for purposes of the story). No one wanted it because it would be difficult to use in most applications. The photo below shows how large the bow was.
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I don’t mean to imply that I have some magical fix for the board, but I was able to use the board with a strategic cut around the bowed section. I was building a box and was able to locate the primary cut just to the side of the worst part of the bowed section. After cutting the boards they weren’t instantly flat. They still required more work (couple of passes over the jointer and through the planer), but the waste from this one board was minimized. The photo below shows the 2 boards now “flat”.
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I decided to make a variation on the Edison lamps I’ve been making so many of. Actually, this “lamp” will be the opposite of an “Edison” lamp. Rather than featuring the light bulbs that give those lamps their unique look, this lamp will just have a sheet of rice paper sandwiched between 2 pieces of glass. The interior of the lamp be wired with strings of LED lights powered by a battery – great news for me (no light sockets, wiring, switches, etc.) – all of the time consuming steps of the Edison build are avoided. This will be my modern take on a shoji lamp.

When doing the dovetailed boxes, I insist on getting at least the front and sides of the box out of one continuous piece of lumber. The primary reason I do this is that I want the grain to wrap around the piece. In the case of highly figured lumber (e.g., this piece of maple) it is even more important than ever. You can see in some of the photos below how the grain and coloring will wrap around this piece (side note: I’m not sure why, but I decided to keep my new cherry napkin holder in the photo). If all goes according to plan, I should be getting this piece into the finishing phases next weekend. Hopefully, all of the effort associated with this bowed board will be worth it.
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