Material Spotlight: Black Walnut

From Wikipedia:

Juglans nigra, the eastern black walnut, is a species of deciduous tree in the walnut family, Juglandaceae, native to eastern North America. It grows mostly in riparian zones, from southern Ontario, west to southeast South Dakota, south to Georgia, northern Florida and southwest to central Texas. Wild trees in the upper Ottawa Valley may be an isolated native population or may have derived from planted trees.

 

Oh walnut, you’re expensive, you turn my hands purple and you usually have some sort of gnarly knot or grain pattern, but despite all that I love you.

Walnut is a wildly popular species of wood used in furniture production.  It is recognizable easily by its chocolatey brown color which is largely the reason it is so popular.  Everytime I show my wife something I made out of walnut she almost always says “I really like the color”.

The contrasting sapwood of walnut is a wonderful “coffee with milk” color that looks great when implemented into a piece of furniture properly.

The dirty little secret about black walnut is that the majority of the wood you see is actually steamed.  When the wood is being dried steam is introduced to make the color more consistent and uniform throughout the wood.  This is done a lot for large scale commercial builders/cabinet makers.  

Steamed walnut is beautiful within itself but unsteamed walnut has a character all its own.  The colors will span from browns, blues, purples and even some yellows.  When used properly it makes for a beautiful and character rich piece.  

Woodworkers love walnut for its color but also for its workability, it is a easily worked wood but can be a little onary due to its grain that has a tendency to dip and dive.  This wild grain can be dealt with practice and experience and is a small price to pay.  And if you’ve ever applied oil to raw walnut and watched it transform and come alive you’d understand the love affair some of us have with this species.  

So with all that said, thank you walnut, I love you.

The Jantz Bookcase

Sometimes a design goes to places that you never intended them to.  The Jantz Bookcase started out as a different take on a blanket chest.  I wanted to design a modern blanket chest that stood taller rather than the traditional bench with a lid that is traditionally thought of when someone mentions “blanket chest”  

As I sketched and brainstormed and brainstormed and sketched it slowly devolved from blanket storage to a universal storage that could be used to house just about any item and could find a home in any room in your house.

This was a wedding gift for my younger cousin and her new husband.   I took the opportunity to make something a little more meaningful that they could take with them through their new life together.  Tara and Steve have an incredibly designed home with a mid-century, modern rustic feel(is that a thing?) and I wanted to make sure that it would fit in with the style they have built.

The Jantz Bookcase is a free standing bookcase/storage console that has two fully dovetailed drawers and one adjustable shelf.  

The entire case piece is dovetailed, even the divider that separates the drawers from the upper shelf area is made with a sliding dovetail to keep the solid walnut sides flat.  This thing is heavy and with the joinery used it is bombproof so Tara and Steve will be able to pass it down to their children someday.

The back of the case is ship lapped white oak and so are the drawer cases.  I left all of the oak raw, it keeps the smell of finish out of the drawers and the back will not be in contact with much of anything so finish isn’t necessary.  Plus I like the way it looks.

The drawers slide on wooden runners and no metal or mechanical drawer hardware was used.  I do this whenever possible because with the exception of kitchens and bathrooms I don’t like the way metal drawer slides look and also I love the sound and feel of a wooden drawer sliding against a wooden runner.  

The brass pulls were outsourced and I’m really happy with how the look on this piece.  Before deciding to go with metal knobs I turned a number of different ones and there was just way too much wood.  The piece needed some contrasting texture and the brass does just that.  

There isn’t much I would change about this piece; like most of my pieces I kept the design simple and let the walnut speak for itself.  The bookcase fits beautifully in their home and I can’t wait to see it age as time goes by.  Furniture has a way of becoming more beautiful as it wears.  

Woodworking 101: Dovetails

Dovetails may be the most well know woodworking joint to those that are not actually woodworkers themselves. My wife loves to point out dovetail joinery on drawers whenever we are looking at furniture.  They have become a standard for quality when it comes to furniture and cabinet making.

Amongst woodworkers this joint has become somewhat of a proving ground as to your worth as a woodworker.  You’ll find woodworkers touting how fast they can dovetail by hand or how tight their joints are.  While this is an incredibly useful joint I'm not sure it deserves the clout that it receives.  It’s merely a method of joining two pieces of wood together, just like any other woodworking joint, it has its place.

There are a lot of different types of dovetails and I’ll go over them in later posts but for now let’s just name them.  There’s the through dovetail, the half blind dovetail, the hidden dovetail and the sliding dovetail.  (Among these there are even more variations, such as the mitered dovetail, full blind mitered dovetail etc. but that is going a little too deep for our purposes here.)

All these dovetails have time and a place where they are best used but they all serve the same basic purpose.

There are two key components to the dovetail joint, the pins and the tails.  Want to get into a really boring conversation? Ask a woodworker which they cut first, the pins or the tails and why?  But either way on the pin board the angle is on the end grain and on the tail board the angle is on the long grain.

What makes a dovetail great is its mechanical strength combined with the strength when glued.  The wedged design makes it incredibly tough when pulled and pushed, that’s why it’s the go to joint used on drawers, I have vintage pieces of furniture where the glue on the dovetailed drawer completely failed and it still remains intact and strong.

That being said the large amount of long grain to long grain contact makes for a great glued joint.  Long grain to long grain glued joints are extremely strong while end grain to long grain or end grain to end grain are very poor. Don’t believe me?  Try gluing two pieces of wood end to end and then try and break them apart.  You’ll find they come apart easy.  Then glue two pieces edge to edge and try and break them apart…pretty tough right?....I thought so.  That’s because the end grain sucks up glue like my kid sucks up a glass chocolate milk.  This fact is a large reason we need any joinery in the first place. 

There are probably hundreds of ways to cut dovetails, everyone has their own way, I use a combination of the table saw and hand tools but this isn’t a lesson on how to cut dovetails, it’s explanation of the methods of construction that make furniture last forever and will hopefully serve you in being able to identify quality furniture over the knock down flat packed stuff.  

A Simple Oil and Wax Finish.

One of my go-to finishes is Tried and True Original Wood Finish.  This finish is just a mix of polymerized linseed oil and beeswax; there are no solvents and no VOC's used, making this finish completely nature made.  I use it on my stools, cutting boards, rolling pins, etc.   Anything that needs to be food safe or does not need a huge amount of protection gets this finish.

This oil and wax mixture is super easy to apply, it’s all natural and food safe, safe for the environment and does an amazing job of bringing out the natural beauty of the wood.  Walnut and cherry look especially awesome with a few coats of this stuff.  This is not a top coat, the oil actually absorbs into the wood which keeps it from having the plastic look some other finishes might give you. 

The downside is that it takes a long time to apply and cure and it is not extremely protective, but it is renewable, meaning that if the wood starts to look a bit dull or you get a scratch and need to repair it, just add another coat of oil to it and boom, as good as new.

So here is the process:

1. Sand and prep the surface.

2. Apply a thin layer of oil/wax over the entire surface of the piece, rubbing it with the grain of the wood.  Sometimes certain areas (i.e. end grain) will absorb the oil right away and I’ll add some more finish to that area

3. Let sit for at least one hour.

4. Rub any excess oil off and let cure for at least 24 hours.

5. Buff entire piece with a piece of brown paper (a paper bag from the grocery store works great here). 

6. Repeat the process until the wood stops absorbing the oil after that hour or so wait.

It’s a simple but time consuming process but no other finish I’ve found give the depth and richness to walnut like this so I think it is time well spent.   

How to Care For Your Wooden Kitchen Utensils

If you have a wooden serving board, cutting board, spoon, etc., then you'll want to keep it clean as well as keeping it looking it's best. Here's a few simple steps to make sure it lasts a long time and stays beautiful.

1.  Keep away from extreme heat, or placing hot items on it! Extremely hot pots and pans can scorch the wood, while its repairable you’ll have to spend a lot of time sanding to remove the burn marks. This goes for any wooden furniture too, use a coaster for crying out loud! 

2.  Keep it out of the dishwasher! Wipe it down or hand wash it with a warm soapy towel/wash cloth and pat dry.  Let it air dry, prop it up on your back splash to allow even drying if possible.  Never allow excess water to sit on your serving/cutting board.

3. While using a knife on any of the boards will leave marks, it also adds to it's character, but you may eventually want to sand it with 220 to 320 grit sandpaper to rid it of any marks.  After sanding wipe it down down with a very lightly damp towel to remove any dust.

4. After sanding or if you just notice your board getting a bit dull looking, give your board a coat of food safe oil.  Any food safe oil will work, if you buy something off the shelf be sure to follow the manufacturers instructions.  A homemade mix of mineral oil and bees wax is a easy and popular way to keep your things looking their best.  Click Here for a "How To" on making a quick and easy home made wood finish.

A Table For Charity

I recently finished this low side table that will be added to a raffle for The Lupus Alliance of Long Island/Queens during their 3rd Annual 5K Run taking place at the Central Islip High School.  It was an honor to create something for them and to help out an amazing cause.  Go support them on May 7th, have a good time, support a great cause and maybe win this table!

The table is a take on the traditional 3 legged stool design, made of oxidized walnut and has maple bow ties.  There are two basic ways to lay out the stretchers on a three legged stool and in the past I've utilized the 2 stretch "T style" method but decided to take it in a different direction this time when making this table.

The table top is 17 inches in diameter, it was first cut into a circle on the bandsaw and then turned on the lathe.  I put a simple rounded profile on the edge of the top, trying to keep the majority of the usable surface area flat.  The bottom was beveled to match the angle of legs which allows the tenon shoulder on the leg to meet flush with the  bottom of the table top, this also gives the top a "lighter" look to it.

I used some boards that had some sapwood (that lighter strips of color) on the top to give it a bit of character, this really stood out when it was oxidized.  Also I added two butterfly keys to stabilize some a knot and a crack in the top.  

All the legs and stretchers were hand turned on the lathe and are made of solid walnut.  They are held together with traditional mortise and tenon joinery.  The legs are joined to the seat using exposed wedged mortise and tenons.  If I were to build this again I wouldn't have these exposed in the top, I don't think it adds much to the look because the oxidation process blends the exposed round end grain in with the rest of its surroundings.  

The oxidization process is a somewhat simple one but I won't go into too much detail here.  It is iron oxide created using steel wool and vinegar.  This reacts with the natural tannin in the wood and causes that dark black color.

Everything was hand turned on the lathe and finished with a hand rubbed polymerized linseed oil and then finished with a coat of black furniture wax.

Wood Planet Magazine Feature

I recently had the privilege of being featured in Wood Planet Magazine.  Wood Planet is a magazine based in South Korea and they feature furniture, artwork, architecture, spaces,  etc.  My live edge claro walnut coat rack was picked to be featured in the March issue.  It is a beautifully produced magazine and the people who work there are incredibly friendly.  Check out my feature below.  Now if only I could actually read Korean......

WoodPlanetCover
CoatRackFeature

The Darker Side of Joinery: Cam Lock Fasteners

So we discussed mortise and tenon joints and how powerful they are at joining two pieces of wood together but now let’s talk about a bad way to join two pieces of wood together.  The cam lock fastener.  We all know that silly little disc partnered with a long, knobbed screw (As seen above); it is the bane of many a homeowner's furniture assembling experience. 

Cam Lock Fastener

But it's so simple and quick, how could a fastener relied on so heavily by Ikea and Target be so evil?  Well, while it may be quick and simple, which is debatable, it doesn’t do its job well.

It starts with a screw driven into a pre-drilled hole in OSB particle board.  Oriented Strand Board (OSB) sucks. It is a sheet good made up of compressed wood shavings held together with adhesive and it won’t hold a screw securely or permanently.  Any sort of racking force on said screw will loosen it and eventually tear it out completely.  This does not make for a lasting piece of furniture. 

OSB

While this fastener does pull that crappy butt joint tight, the major weakness is the butt joint itself, this joint is the low joint on the totem pole.  Usually reserved for construction or middle school shop class, it consists of two boards connecting at a right angle with nothing but a mechanical fastener or glue holding them in place.

Now this cam screw has another point of failure as it eventually will come loose.  But you can just tighten that right up, no?  Yeah sure you can, I love doing a weekly service routine on my dresser, sounds like a great way to spend a Saturday evening.

Cam lock fastener diagram

In an earlier blog post we spoke about how beautiful a mortise and tenon joint can be when exposed?  Not so much for the cam lock fastener, they are ugly, that’s why the manufacturers go to great lengths to keep them on the inside, backside or underside of cabinets and furniture.  And they aren’t' fooling anyone with those plastic caps they use to hide them either. 

The strength and stability of these fasteners can be demonstrated by the ever present wobble in the piece when pushed on. 

Don’t get me wrong, flat pack furniture has its place and I’ll be talking about that in the near future.  But I don’t speak about the pit falls of this kind of furniture only from a furniture makers perspective, but more so as a homeowner having both furniture built with traditional woodworking joinery and the flat pack Ikea stuff in my house.  The the short life expectancy of flat pack furniture is one of the reasons I started this journey of furniture making in the first place.  The goal was to build something that would last me a lifetime instead of a few years, but that's another topic for another day.  

....ok snobby woodworker rant over, enjoy our weekend.  

Woodworking 101: The Mortise and Tenon Joint

 

In hopes to educate the non-woodworker, furniture-buying public this will be the first in a series of posts that will explain the use and implementation of joinery and other woodworking techniques.  Hopefully this will give you a better understanding of what to look for and what questions to ask when buying a quality piece of furniture; or at least make you sound smart to your friends.

The mortise and tenon joint is one of the fundamental woodworking joints in all the world of woodworking joinery.  When used in the proper situations and executed correctly it is a solid joint that will last lifetimes. 

There are an unlimited number of ways to make and apply a mortise and tenon joint but the basis of it all is a slot or whole in one component (or the mortise) and then another piece which is cut to fit snuggly into that hole (the tenon).  This creates two large areas of long grain surfaces of wood meeting internally in the joint and when glue is applied, this makes for a rock solid bond. 

This joint is so powerful that, with some variations and situations, it can be utilized without any glue at all.  A draw bored mortise and tenon consists of a offset whole drilled through the mortise and tenon so that when a peg is pushed through that whole it pulls the joint tight and keeps the tenon from backing out without the use of glue at all.

You can do this method without offsetting the hole to give a bit of "belt and suspenders" to the joint but the offset makes it extra solid.

Another popular and solid version is the wedged tenon.  I’ve been using this joint a lot lately in joining my stool lets legs to the seat.  The wedged tenon has a slice cut parallel down the middle of the tenon in which a small wedge is driven into in order to spread the tenon out in the mortise making it almost impossible to remove and gives a great deal of stability.

Now I can go on and on about the different versions and variations done with this joint, tusk tenons, blind or exposed, haunched and so on but these are some of the most popular examples and ones that I’ve been using a lot lately due to my current stool obsession.

 

Both of these joints are being used in my three legged stools.  You can see the three circles with a line through them on the stool seats.  These are wedged tenons that join the legs to the seat.  That line made of contrasting wood is the wedge.  This ensures a strong and long lasting connection between the most important mating of the piece.

The stretchers are done using pegged mortises.  I use a solid brass pin to keep the round stretcher tenons in place in the leg.  This also adds a subtle and beautiful detail to the joinery.

That is the great things about this type of joint, it can be hidden and unknown from the end user or be highlighted as a design element in the piece.  Exposing joinery within a piece can be a subtle nod to traditional joinery; time tested methods used for generations that can be made to look an embellishment.  So next time you see a circle or rectangle with a line though it or a small dot where two pieces of wood meat you can impress your friends with some riveting facts about woodworking joinery.

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A Case for the 3 Legged Stool

I've been working on my rendition of a 3 legged stool for a while now.  The simplicity, function and beauty of their design are what make this style of seating so wonderful.  Having three rather than four legs is to this stools advantage, it will stay balanced on uneven services unlike it's four legged brethren. (For all you dorks, see it actually mathematically proven here, Click here to read more)  

Stool Parts
 Photo Credit: Wikipedia

Photo Credit: Wikipedia

The origin of the 3 legged stool is unknown, it's thought to be one of the first renditions of modern furniture known to man.  Because of it's stability and simplicity, more or less consisting of 3 spindles and a single board, one could have been easily made out of few materials.  There are many version of this stool through out history, ranging from the incredibly ornate to 3 branches jammed into a slice of log.  

What I love about this stool is its simple and functional design.  When it comes to furniture, function should become before fashion, if it doesn't do its job, and do it well it, doesn't matter if it's pretty or not.   Also with such a simple design subtle changes in its execution can change the look and feel of it tremendously.  I've played with a few leg angles, seat designs and methods of construction before I got to where I wanted ours to be.  The outcome is a piece that is functional, beautiful and that will be able to be passed down for generations.  

 The first rendition of the Seventy Five Stool (right) had chunky legs that didn't have enough splay which made it unstable. The through tenons on the legs were clunky and the seat was completely flat and lacked character. The second version (middle) was better but I wanted to lighten the legs a bit and do away with the through tenons on the stretchers. The final rendition (left) had a thinner profile leg, with tenons pinned with solid brass pegs in the legs. The seat has a beautiful contour which makes you want to run your hands over it. The exposed wedged tenons on the seat always look beautiful on these stools so I stuck with that throughout the design. The result is a light yet stable and strong stool that will last for years to come.

The first rendition of the Seventy Five Stool (right) had chunky legs that didn't have enough splay which made it unstable. The through tenons on the legs were clunky and the seat was completely flat and lacked character. The second version (middle) was better but I wanted to lighten the legs a bit and do away with the through tenons on the stretchers. The final rendition (left) had a thinner profile leg, with tenons pinned with solid brass pegs in the legs. The seat has a beautiful contour which makes you want to run your hands over it. The exposed wedged tenons on the seat always look beautiful on these stools so I stuck with that throughout the design. The result is a light yet stable and strong stool that will last for years to come.

DIY: How to Rehab A Wooden Cutting Board

Have you noticed that your wooden cutting board has gotten that not so fresh feeling?  Well there's good news, it's easy to get it back to it's fresh off the workbench status. Take good care of your cutting boards and they'll take good care of you. 

What you'll need:

Sandpaper: Start with 220 grit, 320 grit and 400 grit if your a badass. 

Sanding block or random orbit sander: The random orbit sander is optional but can speed things up a bunch. If you don't have a electric sander use a piece of scrap wood to wrap your sandpaper around when sanding. 

Mix of oil and wax: this is easy to make at home, check out my tutorial on this here. 

 Easy to find materials you'll need to rehab your cutting board.

Easy to find materials you'll need to rehab your cutting board.

THE PROCESS: 

1: Sanding:  Start with 120 or 220 grit depending how much work your board needs.  If you using a wooden block and sandpaper, wrap the paper around the block and sand in the direction of the grain.  If using a random orbit sander just take care and move slowly.  Move through the grits up to 320 or 400, take your time and wipe the board down with a dry cloth after each grit.  This is the most important step, the better you do this step, the better the result.  

2: Raise The Grain: After your last grit, spritz some water on both sides, just enough to moisten the wood, this will raise the grain and prevent that fuzziness later on down the line.  After it's completely dry, lightly sand with your highest grit again, just enough to knock the fuzzies off.

3.  Apply the oil/wax: Give your board one last wipe down with a dry cloth to get any dust off.  Now with a clean cloth, apply the oil and wax mixture all over the board. (Homemade wood butter direction here)  Let the finish absorb into the wood for 5 to 10 minutes and then wipe off the excess and buff to a shine.  Repeat this process 1-3 times as you'd like.

Tip: Keep a jar of this oil/beeswax mixture in the kitchen and reapply once or twice a month.

 Take your time sanding through the grits, making sure to wipe the dust off in between.

Take your time sanding through the grits, making sure to wipe the dust off in between.

 Apply the oil/beeswax mixture.

Apply the oil/beeswax mixture.

 Now get back to the kitchen.

Now get back to the kitchen.

Milton's Long Island

I recently had the opportunity to create a piece for one of my longtime friends Joe Milton.  Joe asked for a 5’ wall-hung Long Island for his apartment.  I wanted to do something with a little more interest than just a cut out shape of Long Island.  I took the idea and ran with it a bit. 

I was able to get some number two common black walnut from my lumber supplier which would provide the piece with a lot more interest than just a nice clear piece of wood.  I picked pieces with knots and cracks;  using these natural imperfections in the wood I was able to put dutch patches and butterfly joints to give the piece a bit of interest.  

 Butterfly joints stabilized a bad knot and crack. Patches cover up other imperfections.

Butterfly joints stabilized a bad knot and crack. Patches cover up other imperfections.

 Utilizing square and circular patches I was able to fix any defects. I also used brass rod to mark where my friend grew up.

Utilizing square and circular patches I was able to fix any defects. I also used brass rod to mark where my friend grew up.

I ended up attaching Fire Island and the Long Beach area with 1/8" brass rod which in my opinion really brought the piece together.  I finished the piece off  with a few coats of all natural polymerized linseed oil and a final coat of wax.  I also offset it from the wall a bit with 5/8" mounting brackets to give it a floating affect.  I'm really pleased with the way it came out and I think Joe and his girlfriend Andrea are too.  

I've gotten great feedback from this piece so I've decided to include it in my store.  Each piece that is made will be unique and one of a kind to its owner.  

 Drilling the holes for the brass rod that attaches the barrier islands.

Drilling the holes for the brass rod that attaches the barrier islands.

Handmade Long Island Wall Art

How To Make a Quick and Easy Food Safe Wood Finish

When you find your wooden kitchen items looking a bit dull it's time to butter them up.  All of our kitchen items get 3- 5 coats of Tried and True's oil and finished off with a coat of this homemade wood butter. The Tried and True oil is great, it's all natural, completely food safe, it has no metal dryers added and adds a good layer of protection.  The down side is it's a bit expensive and it has a long curing time.  Enter wood butter....This home made, food safe wood finish is a great way to keep your wooden goods looking their best.  Here's how to do it.

A homemade mix of food safe mineral oil and bees wax is a quick and easy way to keep your wooden kitchen goods looking like new.  

Ingredients:

  • 1 1/2 cups of Food Grade Mineral Oil (can be found at the local pharmacy or online, it's used as a laxative so don't drink it unless your looking to have a toilet party)

  • 2 3/4 ounces of bees wax.  ( Get it online or ask a local bee keeper)

How:

  • Pour the oil into a pot (I use an old one I got at the thrift store)  Put the pot on the stove on low.  Some people use a double boiler for this instead.

  • Add The bee's wax to the mix and stir every few minutes until all of the wax is completely melted.  The result should be a thickish yellow oil.

  • Remove the pot from the heat and let cool for a few minutes before pouring into a jar.  After pouring into a jar let it cool until it gets completely solid before sealing it up in the jar.  

This recipe makes about 2 cups of wood butter, I store mine in a wide mouth Ball Jar.  You can add more or less wax and oil to get different consistencies but I've found this ratio works great.  So churn some butter and keep it in your kitchen. Rub a bit into your cutting boards and utensils with a clean cloth to keep them looking fresh.