Whenever I make something, I always try to incorporate some new skill so that I can learn while creating. This time I went a little over board. My daughter was in need of a lap desk to replace the dollar store plastic one that had an untimely death when she used it for steeple chase practice in the living room… My father made my brother and I two such desks when we were kids, except that he simply used three pieces of plywood and some piano hinges (in hindsight, not a bad idea to be honest…). I decided I was going to go much more upscale!
My mid century modern inspired lap desk started out as a way to practice bending plywood. I made the apron of it from several layers of 1/8″ baltic birch plywood that I bent around a form. Then I attached it to the top which I decided to veneer with some walnut I had lying around. I was using the white glue and iron technique which unfortunately led to a few large cracks. This meant I needed to do some inlay to cover up these cracks. The legs were made using angled bridle joints, and finally the top was coated with an epoxy finish. Did I mention I had never done any of these skills before?
The final piece is not something I am truly proud of, there are many “first time” mistakes which I have learnt from and will be better able to handle next time. It’s only failing if you aren’t learning after all right? I do like the design, and some of the techniques I’ll try again (bridal joints), and some I won’t use (vacuum press veneering would lead to a much better finish). There should be more furniture pieces showing up on the blog throughout the spring, so stay tuned!
I’m the first to admit that I’m a bit of a perfectionist, and I don’t take failure well, which is a bad combination. Things are never perfect and I’m rarely satisfied unless they are. It doesn’t really matter if it’s my first attempt at something, I still expect myself to do it perfectly. The problem is I’m not perfect and things don’t always work perfectly, which leads to me getting down on myself.
The other day I started work on a small lap desk for my daughter. My dad made me one of these when I was little, only he made it out of three pieces of plywood and a couple of piano hinges. My design consisted of bent ply lamination, veneer pressing, and through tenons on the legs… Were all these aspects necessary? Of course not, but they are all things I wanted to try so why not do them all in the same project?
I started with the bent ply. First attempt, the 3mm baltic birch snapped on the third of four corners. Second attempt, same thing but on the fourth corner. I gave up for the night. The next morning after some cheering from friends on Instagram, I gave it a third try and the bend worked. Normally I give up on the first or second try, sticking out three times is a new record for me, and an example of the patience I need in order to improve my woodworking.
This desk isn’t going to be a beautiful piece that people will lust after, but it has taught me some patience as well as improving some of my techniques. They are far from perfect, in fact some aren’t even good enough to sell, but I’m getting there, and it’s the only way I’m going to improve…
Probably should have called this post “Tool of last week” since I’m a couple of days late… Anyways, had a hard time deciding on what tool for this week. I absolutely loved working on the lathe. I hadn’t a clue what I was doing, but I seemed to figure things out and the progress is so much faster than building say a cabinet! In the end I chose the vacuum bag. This is the setup I used to make my curved panel door (made from wiggle board and mahogany veneer). It’s pretty simple, basically a vacuum cleaner attached to a bag. As the air is sucked out of the bag it exerts even pressure everywhere, making it very easy to clamp a piece of veneer to a curved surface. The door was left in the bag for about 3 hours while the glue (regular carpenters glue) cured. The possibilities with this setup are just about endless, I’d love to buy one but they cost about $1000 for the vacuum and large bag. Lee Valley sells a small manual version made for skateboards, it’s about a tenth of the cost, so it might be worth some experimenting.
As week 5 drew to a close I asked Ron what we were doing in week 6. He replied that normally week 6 is when we wrap up all the uncompleted parts of the various projects we have tackled over the past 5 weeks. The only problem here is everything was finished. That’s right, we were so far ahead of schedule that we had a full week of extra time. Ron suggested I look over the 12 week course and if there were any skills/projects that I’d like to tackle I could do it in my final week. I’ve always been interested in bending wood, and while I’ve had some experience with steam bending and laminating on a form, I had never done anything with a vacuum bag. With that in mind, we tackled the “Bow Front Cabinet”. A small wall hung cabinet with a bow front door.
To the untrained eye, the cabinet looks fairly simple. It’s not too tall, only has two shelves, has a simple profile routed on top and bottom, and a curved door. But it’s the curved door that throws everything for a loop. While the top/bottom and sides are made from solid Mahogany, the front and back are made with plywood covered with Mahogany veneer. I had to resaw the veneer myself and laminate it onto the plywood in order to hide it’s true makeup. For the door front, two pieces of wiggle board (bendable plywood) were laminated with a piece of mahogany veneer in the centre. This was all a very time consuming process (especially slicing the veneer on the bandsaw). The laminations took a long time as well as each step had to setup for 3 hours in the vacuum bag before we could proceed to the next.
The final bit of trickiness was fitting the door to the cabinet and making sure that there was a small but constant gap around it on all sides. This took a lot of finicky work with a hand plane but the end result was well worth it.
I managed to finish this project by Friday at lunch, so with an entire afternoon left, I decided to get some more time on the lathe and turn a simple bowl. I picked a scrap piece of walnut that had incredible figure, but also happened to be full of cracks and checks. It turned quite well considering the state of the original piece of wood. I put a few quick coats of shellac on before packing up the car with all my projects and heading home.
Next week I’ll give a quick wrap up on all my thoughts about my time at Rosewood Studio.