I'm not going to lie to you, sometimes a project comes along that juuuuuust seeeeems to taaaaaaaaaaaake foreeeeeeeeeeeeeeever.
This is one of those projects, mostly due to it's reliance on clamping for just about every operation and assembly. I have a lot of clamps, but I'd need literally 4 times what I currently have to really speed this up any. As it is, the best I can do is get things glued and clamped, and have other work to fall back on while the glue dries. It makes for sort of a herky-jerky project, with so much dry time involved.
All that said, now that the pieces are starting to get assembled, I'm really proud of how they're turning out. Maybe proud isn't the right word, maybe excited is more appropriate.
I designed and redesigned these things maybe 4 or 5 different times. I wasn't changing the design, just double checking (and triple checking, and quadruple checking, etc.) the math involved. These things need to hug the windows as well as essentially mirror the existing window trim on the original windows, and with all the radii involved, not to mention the number of pieces that have varying thicknesses and width, I'm still - after all the checking and rechecking - a little nervous that they won't fit the way I want them to.
That said, so far, the dimensions of the components and final assemblies are just about dead nuts what I designed them to be, which is pretty awesome, all things considered. So, where'd I leave off last time? I think I'd gotten up to marking out the upper and lower radii on the main trim bodies.
Once I got the shapes of the radii marked out with tape, I spent a lengthy amount of time at the bandsaw doing a rough cut. I can't overstate just how much time this took; those blanks were about 4.25" thick, and my little bandsaw had a difficult time with the cuts. I knew it'd do it, I also knew it'd take forever, and it did.
Bandsaws generally yield a pretty rough surface post-cutting, so the next step was to build a jig that I could attach the router to and clean up the cuts. The jig was nothing more than a piece of 3/8" plywood I had laying around, the plunge router base fixed at one end, and holes at the other end. The holes were located very, very specifically, corresponding to the radii that I needed for the curves. I had a fixed pivot point that I'd screwed down to my work bench, and by placing a nail through one of the holes I'd drilled in the jig and into the pivot point, I could cut very, very specific radii. It probably sounds a lot more complicated that it really was.
Once the radii were cut, I fabricated the lower bent laminations, which consisted of 5 strips of 3/16" thick Douglas Fir. It's pretty tough to bend anything thicker than that without a steam box, but I didn't have any issues.
The upper bent laminations, those were a little trickier. They were much, much wider than the lower bent laminations, and even though they were thinner, bending the upper ones inward was definitely a lot squirrlier than the lower ones, which I was bending outwards. Regardless, they all turned out fine. I'm not sure that ratchet straps are a traditional woodworking clamping method, but sometimes ya have to do what ya have to do.
With the lower and upper bent laminations knocked out, I could disassemble everything, cut all the pieces to the appropriate lengths and widths, and then reassemble.
Once the big, bulky parts were put together, all that was left was to fabricate some trim. This didn't take a whole lot of time, but installing the trim, which involved more bending, more gluing and more clamping, that took forever.
But...I got 'em finished. Threw a little primer on them and got started on the installation...
As always, progress has been made...but it's not as much as I wanted to make. I had hoped to be a littler farther along than I am, but all things considered, I feel like I'm off to a pretty decent start. I'd be farther along if I simply had more clamps, but I'd need another 50 to make any significant difference in the timeline of this project, so it all kind of is what it is.
The first order of business was fabricating the main block of each window trim set, as all the smaller, auxiliary pieces sort of play off of it. These blocks ultimately need to be about 4" thick, 3-5/8" tall, a hair over 3' long, and have radii of 36-7/8" (lower) and 40-1/2" upper; I chose to make them out of a series of individual parts and pieces to maximize strength.
I started with Douglas Fir 2x6s, and after doing a silly amount of math, cut them to the exact lengths and angles that I needed. The miter saw generally doesn't do a real great job of yielding glue-line cuts, so I rough cut everything with the miter saw and made the final, clean cuts on the table saw. Once those were done, I cut mortises in the ends of the pieces so they could receive a spline or floating tenon, which would be used to join to individual 2x6 pieces together. Then I cut some floating tenons, making sure to orient the grain in the proper direction (perpendicular to the joint, in this instance).
The dry fit went well, as it's not difficult to cut splines that are a hair too loose, or a hair too snug and everything's borderline impossible to get fully seated. For each blank that I needed to make, the thought process was to sandwich a 3-piece segment between 2-piece segments, which would ensure that the joints were staggered and provide a rock solid base that the bent laminations going on the upper and lower sides of the main block wouldn't be able to pull on and deform.
Getting the things glued up individually was a time consuming process. Ideally, the best way to clamp a joint is by applying force perpendicular to the joint, but with angled joints this can something be a challenge. To overcome the challenge of the angled joint, I added some little temporary blocks to each piece in order for the clamps to have something to grab onto. That said, having another 10 or so bar clamps would have made a huge difference; as it was, I could only glue up 5 2- and 3- piece segments at a time.
When those had dried, I went ahead and glued the 2-piece segments between the 3-piece segments giving me 5 blanks. When those had dried, I started working on cutting the upper and lower radii.
As I mentioned previously, those radii really do need to be dead on or - my absolute biggest fear with this project - the things won't hug the window like everybody wants them to. That means every cut, every everything, needs to be pretty much perfect. In those instances, drawing a big fuzzy pencil line and trying to follow that with a bandsaw is no good, so instead I opted for the tried-and-true blue tape and razor blade method.
I started by making a couple quick and dirty wooden compasses of sorts. They're nothing more than a couple scraps I had, with a hole in one end so they can pivot on a nail, and then from that nail I measured and cut the scraps to the exact length - or radius - that I needed. I used that to first draw a pencil line where I needed to cut, then laid down blue tape over that, and repeated the process except instead of marking a line with a pencil, I scored the tape with a razor blade. By removing the tape on the outside of the cut, I was left with a very crisp, very clear line to follow.
The next step will be to cut those just a hair proud of the tape line, although I have my doubts about using my current arsenal of bandsaw blades so I'll probably have to go get a new one. Cutting through 4" thick anything is a tall order for my little bandsaw; it'll do it, but it sure helps if everything is as crisp and clean and sharp as possible. After that, I think I'll probably slop together a router jig - sort of a bigger version of the compasses I made for laying out the radii - so I can pivot the router off that same nail and get those curves cut super cleanly and smoothly.
Once the radii are finish cut, I can start preliminarily bending the pieces I'll use for the bent laminations. The plan is to soak the thin strips I'll need to cut in hot water for a few hours, then bend them into shape without any glue. Once they dry, I can then disassemble everything, do any sanding or clean up that's necessary and then repeat the assembly process, and add (a boatload of) glue.
After all that's done, I get to fabricate some ogee-profiled trim. I definitely have a lot of work left on these, but getting the main blocks close to knocked out has me feeling pretty good about how to rest of this job'll go...
We're not talkin' about regular ol' window casing here, we're talkin' fancy-pants stuff, and I've got my work cut out for me. The goal is to replicate the arched window trim seen here:
This stuff was made in 1858, with hand tools, so I really have no excuse for not being able to come up with something pretty close. I have 5 of them to make, and each one consists of a large block, a smaller block, a cap, and then 6 pieces of trim. That doesn't sound like much, but the large blocks, I'm making each one of those out of 7 individual pieces of Douglas Fir (everything will be Douglas Fir so as to be period correct). The small blocks and caps will probably be bent laminations, so 4 pieces each. Then the trim, which I'll mill myself because the local custom trim shop gave me an insane price to make it, it'll require a number of passes across the router table. In total, each chunk of trim will be 21 individual pieces for a grand total of 105 pieces of wood assembled into 5 chunks of arched window trim.
I've got the design worked up and fabrication has begun. I figure if I can knock out the big blocks successfully, everything should sort of fall into place after that. Installation isn't going to be a picnic, at least not on the 2 that go above second story windows that are about 400 feet off the ground, but I'll cross that bridge when I get to it...
I'm not gonna lie to you, shipping products to out-of-state clients is pretty cool in a somebody-from-far-away-digs-something-I-built sort of way, but the actual logistics of shipping things can sometimes turn into a fiasco. The reclaimed wood and steel bar stools, they were a fiasco.
But, after a couple hours getting everything boxed up, and after 4 separate trips to 3 different post office branches, all 6 are on their way to their new home in Arkansas. I'm pretty excited to both get an order completed and move on to the next project.
The stools all turned out pretty well. On one of the stools I had a little hiccup with the steel finish I was using, which required a bit of rework, but otherwise things went relatively smoothly. The feet all fit snuggly and I didn't make a giant mess with the epoxy used to hold them in place, I didn't accidentally drill any pilot holes clear through the seats when attaching them to the frames and I had an appropriate quantity of clear coat on hand to complete the job (I almost always run out of clear coat mid-project because I tend to get a little carried away with it...but hey, better safe than sorrt, right?).
As usual, I did everything I could to preserve as much of the wood's character as possible while making sure nobody would get a handful of splinters if they touched the stools. It's not always easy to know when to put down the sander, or to keep going with it, but I've done this enough times that I like to think I have a pretty good feel for the happy medium between too much and not enough.
The steel finish I used was a blackener. I don't know the science behind how it works - in the bottle, it looks like blue dish soap - but the warnings about it burning skin during application are plenty legit. Regardless, when it was all said and done, I really like how it looks. It's hard to tell in the pic, but the stuff ends up making the steel a uniform, sort of antique black with little hints of rust or age. I wish I had taken a picture of a joint that was welded a little more cleanly, but the truth is when I go back to grind the welds flat, I don't try to make them all 100% perfect. The corners are always a little tricky to deal with, and I think the stools would look a little funky if every last bit of the welding cleanup was dead nuts perfect; the seats have a little character and very obvious marks left by the milling process 100 years ago, I figure the frames ought to follow suit.
Anyhow...they're out the door and headed south. On to the next job...
I know, grammatically it's not correct, but "feets" is kind of a funny word so I ran with it.
Anyhow...bar stools are just about done. Seats are carved out and shaped, welding is complete, feet have been made...just need to get the wood parts poly'd and the steel parts blackened. I'm hoping for a real productive Monday to get it all banged out.
I recently received an order for six reclaimed wood + steel bar stools, which I was super excited about. I'm still excited about building them (they're close to being finished), but man...6 stools ---> 72 pieces of steel ---> 384 little 1" welds (and that's if all my welds are 100% perfect on the first try...which never happens). To say it gets a little tedious is a pretty fair statement. And, I've run out of welding wire on this project...twice. Never had that happen before on a job.
But...the stools are coming along pretty well. I only get a chance to weld maybe once every few weeks, so every time a project calls for some welding, the first hour or two is spent sort of shaking off the rust. After that...it's like riding a bike.
I got started on the project by putting together the seat blanks, which are made from reclaimed 2x4s that came out of a house in Fox Park, a neighborhood in St. Louis, MO named after the Fox Brothers Manufacturing Company. There's a decent amount of work involved in putting the blanks together, starting with denailing the lumber and then using some combination of the jointer, planer, miter saw and table saw to get everything ready for glue.
When assembling the blanks, the only thing I really try to do, appearance-wise, is make sure the left and right sides of each blank have some sort of visual interest. Some reclaimed 2x4s are more interesting than others, and given that I'm partial to the plaster marks, anything with oxidized nail holes and plaster marks is a prime candidate for being an edge piece.
After getting the reclaimed 2x4 chunks in the above pic glued and into the clamps, I started dicing up 1" steel tube. The dry cut saw makes pretty quick work of cutting the steel, but grinding the to-be-welded surfaces clean, that takes some time over the course of 72 pieces of steel. Regardless, with the steel cut I went ahead and made a welding jig; with the bones of each side of the stool frame being identical, having a jig makes repetitive work pretty efficient (provided the steel is cut accurately). I also made a template for outlining where, on the seat blanks, I'd need to carve out a butt recess.
Then...I welded. And welded. And welded. I'm still not done - only because I ran out of wire late enough in the day that going to get more didn't make a ton of sense - but I'm close. I don't have a great process ironed out for all the welds these things require; the template makes the preliminary tack welding pretty simple, but once all 4 sides are tacked together there are a lot of corners and whatnot that can be a little tricky to reach comfortably. Similarly, given that it's not a great idea to weld a whole bunch in any one area at any one time (don't want to overheat and warp anything), it's pretty easy to weld a little, rotate the frame, weld a little, rotate the frame, weld a little...and wind up missing a weld or two, which doesn't get noticed until it's time to grind all the welds flat.
Anyhow...I'll have the welding done tomorrow. In the meantime, since I was without welding wire late in the day today, I started carving the seats tonight. 3 of them are done, 3 more to go; the carving process isn't real complicated, but sloppiness with the carving can lead to a silly amount of sanding, so I try to be halfway methodical with how I go about using the grinder and carbide cup. Those seat blanks are made from old, reclaimed pine, and it doesn't take a whole lot of false moves with the grinder - which spins stupid fast - and carbide cup - an ultra aggressive wheel that spins on said grinder - to gouge the wood pretty good.
That's where things stand...like most jobs...lots of things partially knocked out...and alllll the loose ends will get tied up in one marathon work session tomorrow...