Dock Chairs, last of the season

Hey Folks,

Last summer, I finished four dock chairs too late in the season to sell them.  So they were stored away until summer rolled around this year, then they sold right away.  We’ve been traveling a lot this summer and once again, I’m only now getting around to finishing up another set.  These will likely be the last of the season as I have other projects waiting to get started that will take me into the autumn.

So, here we have Peggy Tzu and her friend, Pugsley modeling our latest dock chairs in Acapulco Blue, Fearless Red, and Sunshine Yellow.  In addition, I have one yellow and one red nearing completion.  After that, you’ll probably have to wait again until next year.  I say probably, because I have enough seat slats to make another chair, but no legs.  It turned out that I over estimated the yield I would get from the stock that I bought for the legs.  I was hoping to make six chairs and got five.  So if I end up with extra time later on, I might be induced to make a set of legs, but don’t count on it.fullsizeoutput_3e0



Get a Grip!

Who amongst us hasn’t heard that before?  Well, after posting about my recently finished  knob end walking stick, my friend Mitch commented that he prefers a crooked handled stick.

For everyday use, I have to agree that the crooked handle is very practical and convenient, if not very ergonomic to my hand, …enter the ergonomic “derby style” handle.


Like the previous knob end, this handle is also made of holly.  The characteristic features of the derby shape are the horn and the hook.  What makes it an ergonomic derby is the shaping of the handle to optimize the grip for specifically either the left or the right hand.  As I have a bum left knee, I chose to shape it for a right hand grip.


As with the knob end stick, the parts are bubinga, water buffalo horn, holly and silver hardware.


The catalogs claim that the ergonomic derby handle is as comfortable as a handshake.  Personally, I find that a rather dubious analogy as I have had some very awkward and painful handshakes in my time.  Although I am pleased with the appearance of the handle, I’m not sure that it’s exactly what I want yet.  The more I use it, the more critical of it I have become.  It curves up a bit too much, and it lacks heft toward the hook end so that it fails to fill my hand in a way that satisfies my arthritic fingers.

Fortunately, I had the rare foresight to install the handle using 5/16″ threaded steel “ready rod”, without glue.  So when I get fed up with it, I can unscrew it from the stick, sculpt a replacement, and start the process all over again.


I should have listened to my Ol’ Man…*

Pop once told me that the surest way to make an ass of yourself was to use “seat of the pants” engineering.  All puns aside he was usually right, and as a mechanical engineer he  generally considered all the angles (sorry) before proceeding.  Unfortunately, I decided to  wing it when building a steady rest for my lathe.


When turning the walking stick, I had some problems with whip stocking.  Whip stocking is when the work piece starts translating (orbiting) instead of simply rotating.  It usually causes tool chattering and can easily ruin the work.  Using a steady rest keeps the piece in line and cutting smoothly.

So I decided to build a steady rest.  I grabbed up some leftovers I had laying around the shop and went to work.  Well, I had it more than half built before the wheels showed up in the post.  When assembled, the wheels are so large that the size range of adjustment is only about 2″. Duh


For walking sticks, that’s fine, but I was hoping to build a more useful tool.  For now, I’ll leave it be, but I think that I might also build a larger ring to accommodate the other parts. I probably won’t make a drawing first though, … sorry Pop.


*Apologies to Sir Elton (Goodbye Yellow Brick Road).

A Rare Beauty in Bloom

It’s Spring in Seattle and the dogwoods are in bloom.  The Pacific Dogwood (Cornus nutallii) is endemic to the west coast and is sadly threatened, in part, due to a fungal epidemic of Athracnose  (Discula sp.) .  Pacific Dogwood is an old growth understory plant* and like others of its type is also threatened by over harvest of old growth forests and modern logging practices.  The good news is that fungal resistant cultivars are being bred which will help reduce the spread of the disease.


*Yes, this tree is over sixty feet tall but compared to a mature douglas fir or western red cedar that is an understory plant.




“Stick” it to The Man

Although in this case, “The Man” is me.

A few years back, I managed to tear the cartilage in my left knee, while at the same time dislocating my knee cap.  While I only suffered two of the three symptoms of a classic “blown knee”, surgery was required and long story short, my dancing days are over.

On days when it is difficult to walk, I’ve been using a drug store cane as a mobility aid.  As you might guess, the drug store cane is pretty ugly, so I decided to make myself something more suitable for a gentleman wood worker.


I selected a piece of straight grain bubinga that was left over from Kris’ rocking chair.  I trimmed it out with some silver rings, a piece of water buffalo horn, and a piece of the holly, for which I sacrificed the extensor tendon of my right thumb.  But that’s another story.


A few hours on the lathe, some trial and error to get the length correct, and the finished product is ready for an afternoon stroll.



Playing with finishes

Hey Folks,


When making repeated iterations of the same item, it’s often difficult to keep focused on the process; even when the goal is to improve both the product and the process with each course.  I’ve been alternatively both busy and burnt out with building these little shaker bentwood boxes, and at times I’ve struggled to remain motivated.  The solution is to mix things up a bit without significantly changing the manufacturing process.

Once built, the boxes are essentially all the same.  The only differences are size and materials.  Some are made of cherry, some of walnut or maple, etc. Top and bottom plugs can be Douglas Fir or pine, but in general, they all look alike.

Enter the finishing process.  Finishing can make an enormous difference in the appearance of the final product, and offers the opportunity to add some real variety.

Traditionally, bentwood boxes were painted with milk paint, then finished with either oil or soft wax (usually beeswax softened with turpentine).  Over time, the beeswax would darken with collected dirt and pigments, and a distinct patina would develop.  I have tried to emulate this process by lightly distressing a milk painted box, then buffing it with dark brown wax to give it an aged appearance.


Most of my boxes (so far) are made of maple, because it’s relatively plentiful, easy to bend and finish.  But maple is a bit bland to look at, so most of them are painted.  Cherry, on the other hand, ages slowly over time to a beautiful dark red.  So my cherry boxes I’ve finished with a few coats of blond shellac.


Of course, you can also combine the two finishes for an impressive effect.


Shellac also lends itself well to tinting with soluble dyes, so now you’re only limited by your imagination.


Keeping it fresh can occasionally be a challenge, but sometimes changing only one thing will provide you with a entirely new perspective.