Sunday, September 6, 2015

First you build the chair, then you build the finish

Recently a client asked me to take process shots of his chair being finished, so here they are.
Painting chairs has long been a sore spot as a maker and teacher. Yes, I agree wood is pretty on it's own, but in the service of furniture, sometimes there can be more done with it than swooning at the "figure". Part of what forms the aversion to painting chairs among new makers is the fear that the extra process will lead into unknown territory and problems, which is a legitimate concern, especially because the process is yet another that requires real effort to master.

Here you can see the stained chair in all of it's dull glory.
This chair needs paint!
 I covered this in my book, but it is worth restating, you can't expect a finish to look right until it's done. Just like a single spindle doesn't look like a finished chair. But you can learn to recognize when each step is complete and looks "right" even when "right" is truly homely.
yes, the pine stains terribly
Here are the steps to completing the finish, first the stain, a mix of alcohol soluble dyes from Lockwoods. I change the mix depending on the topcoat of color. For more bluish colors I shift the stain to a complimentary orange and for black over red I keep it relatively brownish.
first coat of red

The first coat of red is knocked back with burlap, steel wool and sandpaper, each used where called for. I want to keep the paint layer thin and smooth but still fully covering, so if the smoothing process makes it too translucent, I paint and smooth it again, usually just using burlap or mirka mirlon gold pads.
The red burnished

Then the black coats, smoothing inbetween again and then finally multiple coats of oil. I start with a penetrating thin oil and then subsequent coats of thicker oil to build the finish.
First coat of black paint
Smoothing the first coat of black with burlap
Oil on the seat after the second coat of paint and burnishing
The warmth of the red helps draw attention to the lower parts that are usually in shadow

Now here's where I might go too far for some gentle readers. Lately, I've been making chairs with butternut seats intended for paint. Now hear me out. I know it is beautiful, somewhat rare and certainly expensive, but it has some qualities that I want in some chairs for strength and scratch resistance. The seats below are destined for continuous armchairs that will live in the Lie-Nielsen showroom and, as public seating they will take a beating from the every joker who carries their keys in their back pockets, you know who you are....
That's right, a butternut c arm
I've used poplar in the past for this role, but it is a dull homely wood even under the paint. I really like  the lovely grain pattern visible when using the white pine, and was concerned that the subtle grain of the butternut as well as the rich color wouldn't shine through. But after making some samples I can see that it does! So no, I have no problem painting butternut and if I wasn't allergic to working with walnut, I'd paint it too.
Maybe paint could even make me want to use some of that horrendous curly maple that I've been meaning to get rid of.

Monday, August 3, 2015

It's a Letter to a Woodworker, conclusion...for now

I just found out that a student for the August class at North Bennet Street had to cancel and even though the class has plenty enrolled to run, I thought that I might entice someone to jump on the spot with some news. Tim Manney has offered to teach the class along with me. If you aren't familiar with Tim, you should visit his blog. You will soon know more about Tim as he has a number of articles in the pipeline and as far as I'm concerned is one of the best woodworkers around. Tim and I taught together recently in Washington state and I am positive that the students benefited from his keen insights and skills.

Here is the final installment of the Letter to a Woodworker Series. Thanks for all the feedback that you've sent, it's been an interesting time of reflection for me and I certainly hope that some of it has been useful.

So many times as I've met woodworkers, they've expressed interest in transitioning their craft into a business, either in retirement, where it will be a fun endeavor, or in full blown lifelong pursuit of income. I can see in their eyes as they look at me that they think that I'm "livin the dream". There is one factor I suspect that they miss, which is that woodworking is, and always has been a blue collar trade. To me, this means that the making of the objects is what I get paid for.
If I'm not working, I'm not earning.

Of course, this is obvious, but what is tough to predict is how you will feel when the thrill of learning is replaced by the need to quickly and repetitively perform a task. I try not to dwell on it, but it is a job that bills hourly and the pay rate is tied to market value of what you produce in that time.

 So much of what I enjoy about woodworking is constantly learning new tasks and techniques, but developing a business where constant learning is in the plan is not a good bet. To create an object at a reasonable price point while actually getting reasonably paid requires a predictable means of production and well developed skills, which in most cases means that the joy of discovery must sometimes take a back seat. This is the battle between jigging up to make objects with a market value versus residing on the more risky end of things where you can "find" solutions as you go. Looking back, I personally found that chairmaking is engaging enough in the means of production and design potential that I can always find a place to keep myself challenged even while producing certain designs that I've made hundreds of times. Meanwhile, I am always cooking up some new design, process or understanding.

This doesn't mean that chairs are the be all end all, just that they have provided me with a happy medium to exercise my mind as well as body. Why do I hang on this point? Because I've never had an employer paid holiday,  sick day or insurance since I started and the rewards of showing up every day start to wear thin if you don't consider a ways to take the joy of discovery and keep it alive in your day to day. Sure, sometimes you just have to crank it out, and that has it's rewards too, but don't be too shocked when your motivation is waning and you are faced with a task, or hundreds of them that don't carry the luster of the first time you learned or performed them.

 So I finish this series with where I started, which is urging a deep honest look into yourself to find what it is about this pursuit rings your bell. I believe that there are many paths to success, but there are usually a number or failures along the way and it's vital to have an understanding of your interests and expectations and a good plan for keeping them hour at a time.

Monday, July 20, 2015

The Shop is Hummin' Now

In case you missed the Lie-Nielsen open house, here are a couple of pics.

The folks who run the show at Lie-Nielsen are fantastic hosts and make spending a weekend in Warren a great time!
Here's Tim Manney throwing an axe, of course this kind of fun happens after the kegs come out!

I'm back in the shop and working on chairs for clients, as well as working out some ideas that have be stewing for some time. Here is a rocker that is nearly done.

I've been lucky to work with some white oak armbow blanks that I got from Dan Monsees recently. You may have seen this already on my Instagram account (you can follow me at petergalbert). I've been helping Dan get logs recently and he is letting store my own supply and dip into them when I need. It's a great arrangement as I don't have the space and he gets to use and sell some super stuff.
I've updated my website teaching schedule so that you can see where to find me at the end of this year and into the next!