Wednesday, December 30, 2009

The Making of the Tenzin Sake/Tea Set: Part Two: Instant Sake/Tea Set!

Okay, NOW, without further ado, the making of the Tenzin Sake Tea set.

1.  This small slab of wood came from one of the logs mentioned in Part One of this odyssey of wooden madness. Buahahahaha!

2. Each piece of lumber that was cut with the MOAB (mother of all bandsaws) was painted with water based paint on the ends (to keep the edges from drying too fast and the wood splitting) and then dated and marked (this is number 3 in a series of "bookmatched" logs--meaning if you split a piece of wood, lengthwise, in two, each piece would mirror each other when you "opened" them up, like a book, hence the term, "bookmatched).  Hard to believe this has been drying for eight years.  I will not use any wood before its time (and until I can come up with something that I think is suitable for such beautiful wood).

3. The  board on the chopping block.  It was there for a few minutes before I could get the courage to cut into it. 

4. The first cut is the deepest (at least that's what Sheryl Crow says, and she knows...I have know idea why I just said that.  I don't even know Sheryl Crow or her music).

5. With my thorough, scientific technique of measuring (I eyeball it until it just "feels" right), I cut the first piece which will eventually become the pouring vessel of the set.   I feel good about the cut too.  Nothing worse than wasting nice wood you worked so hard to make useful.

6. The sections of the slab that will be used for the drinking cups.  At this point, they seem to me like they should be smaller than the pouring vessel; lighter and smaller and more delicate. 

7.  So, I cut them down and drill the holes.  There.   Much better.  And then, after some sanding, shaping, finishing (by bathing them, in food safe oil), and putting them out in the sun to dry and mellow, Voila!

Instant Sake/Tea Set!

Well, if you consider 8 years from start to finish as being instant, then yes, Voila!

Instant Sake/Tea Set!

If you would like to see more pics of this set in my Etsy shop, click here and thanks for reading my blog!  Tenzin Sake/Tea Set

The Making of the Tenzin Sake/Tea Set: An Odyssey in Two Parts

Part One: Let's go back in time...waaay back...

The Tenzin Sake/Tea set is the first in a series of limited edition, handmade objects for the home, made from a couple of wide logs of a walnut tree that I split myself (using only an ax and a couple of log splitters) almost eight years ago.

My then neighbor had a few big sections of a walnut tree she had chopped down.  Why you would chop down a walnut tree in your backyard is beyond me, but hey, I'm not complaining, since I ended up with a nice little harvest of beautiful walnut.  It did take some effort though (a lot, in fact).  I had to bring over the logs to my yard using a furniture dolly (I figured the logs would end up as furniture so I thought it was appropriate to use that--also, the logs, which were still wet after sitting for a few years, probably weighed about 250 pounds each).

I was only beginning woodworking back then so, once I had "transported" (in quotes because each of the logs fell off the dolly at least three times on the way and the effort required to put them back on the dolly felt like I might as well have just carried them) the logs back to my yard, I thought to myself, "Huh...?..." as in, what the hell do I do with this now??

After learning the hard way that you cannot split a 3 foot wide log, Abe Lincoln style, with just an axe (unless you like the feeling of your hands and arms ringing like the Liberty Bell--or unless you're Paul Bunyon), I read up  on splitting a log the proper way (which is probably what I should have done in the first place, I know--but I like to get myself into trouble first and then figure out creative ways to get out of it).

Four days, all of my muscles sore and ten pounds of weight loss later, I had successfully split the logs the proper way, using the other side of the ax head (as a mallet), a few log splitters and some blood, sweat and (probably) some tears.

But the sections I had cut still had to be cut down into smaller, useable boards and then air dried for god knows how long to actually be useable (1 year per inch of thickness, I later found out is about the standard).  Instead of massively wide logs that were only useable as a place to put your drink down outside, I now was the proud owner of smaller (yet still massive--to me, anyway) chunks of wood.

"Hmm..." I thought to myself, "what the hell do I do with these?"  They were too big and chunky to make furniture out of.  And even though I like "rustic" furniture, any furniture made out of these meteorites of wood would only be suitable for hobbits, forest creatures or  wood nymphs.

So, like a good Wile E. Coyote that I am, I put my visor and sleeve garter on and went back to the proverbial drawing board.  That's where I learned about the wonders of the bandsaw.

If I could get a big enough bandsaw (I told myself, foolishly), I could cut down these chunks into useable planks or slabs and maybe even some boards.  Problem was I didn't have any bandsaw.  (I later discovered, by the way, that I probably could have taken this to any decent sized cabinet making shop or small mill, and for a reasonable price and very little effort on my part, they could have easily cut down my massive logs into slabs, boards or hell, veneer! for all they care, and done it in a fraction of the time and energy that I expended.--That being said, however, I have discovered in my life that timely, useable knowledge comes to me in the form of a very slow, often erratic, crosstown bus, driven by an older, nearsighted fellow who goes around in circles until he eventually arrives at his destination, not always, but often, more worse for the wear.  But I digress...  If I could just get a bandsaw, I thought to myself, then I could make these logs useable.  I just had to find out what an actual bandsaw looked like, as I had no idea.

Eventually, I saw a bandsaw listed in the local Pennysaver (this was before Craigslist's hostile, corporate takeover of the local classifieds market).  The owner of said bandsaw lived in the tony section of San Marino, in Pasadena.  When I met him, I was kind of surprised, by him and the beautiful place he lived.  His house was old, like, REAL old.  Tuscany old.  The house was made of stone and the grounds were beautiful.  Here was this young guy, casually dressed (can't remember his name now) who didn't look like he had made his fortune on Wall St. (which he would have had to in order to afford such a place), living in this beautiful stone house that looked like an old mill or something.

It turns out it was an old mill, The Old Mill, in San Marino,  a Historical site in California (you can read more about it here: and he was its caretaker.

He gave me a private tour of the place and told me about its history (all of which I've forgotten, naturally, because I have the retention skills of a sopping wet sponge) took me to his living quarters and in the back he had a little workshop that looked like it had been built by hobbits or a whole lot of gnomes (Mmm...No, it was more likely hobbits.  Gnomes are dilettantes by nature and therefore have no use for work).

There, in all its glory, with a halo of light surrounding it, was this massive (bigger than any of the logs, that's for sure) bandsaw...for cutting meat.  It was a meat cutting bandsaw.  (It kind of looked like the one below except not as nice--I ended up selling it later, which is why I don't have a picture and which was a lame ass move on my part, I know, because I wish I still had it).

"A meat cutting bandsaw?  Really??  They make those?"  I thought to myself, followed by, "Wait, does this guy think I'm a butcher?...Is he a butcher?..."

I then looked at him and thought, "Are you the killer?"

Turns out he was a very nice young man (and not the killer) and had taken this meat bandsaw and converted it into a wood cutting bandsaw (see, I made it scary for a minute but it turned out not to be so scary at all).

300 bucks later, and some muscle delivering it to my garage (he was nice enough to deliver it in his truck [because it wouldn't fit in my Ford Explorer--which I later sold, without regret] and help me put it in my garage).

I had the mother of all bandsaws in my possession and now it was time to get medieval on some woods (that's how I talk when I get medieval, in non-sequiturs).  Anyway, you get the picture (This post has turned into  a novella and I have to get to the shop and actually make stuff so I'm cutting this "short" here--TOO LATE!).

Part Deux next...

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Sunlight Candleholder, first in new series of handmade housewares, now up on Etsy!

This is the first in my new series of nature inspired objects for the home, The Sunlight Candleholder!  Check it out!  (Click on the title of this article to see this item on my Etsy page and Thanks for looking!)  More to come...

Monday, December 28, 2009

The Making of a Dovetail Cubby

I don't like to waste things.  In fact, if I can reuse something to make something else, that's even better.  Sometimes though, thinking about what to make out of something is often harder than the actual making of the new thing you're trying to make.  The Dovetail Cubby was one of those things.

I had acquired some beautiful but thin walnut boards (only about 3/8ths of an inch thick) from a man in Pasadena who was looking to get rid of a whole bunch of prized hardwood and some tools.  His father, a life long woodworker, had passed on a few years back and left behind a treasure trove of lumber, much of which he had cut himself from the actual trees and a few old, but very well made tools.  After some negotiating and some interesting history about his father, I drove away with a truck full of wood, an old, cast iron lathe (something I had always wanted) and a front seat full of clamps, hand tools and doo dads.  He gave me a good deal and I promised him that I would make good use of the wood and the tools and not let any of it go to waste.

I wanted a simple, small cubby on my living room wall to display some of my favorite books, candleholders and art.  So I thought of this simple yet elegant design: a box, with no back, with the top overhanging just a bit (I like things a little off center) and a rough, or "live" edge on the front.

I decided I would make it out of the thin walnut I had acquired, as I wanted it to appear light, like it was floating in the air.  I was excited because after two years of looking at the beautiful wood sitting in my shop, I found a use for it that I thought was worthy of the all the old woodworker's time and effort.

I liked the design immediately but the problem was the wall I wanted to hang it on only had one accessible stud that I could hang something from and the dimensions of the cubby weren't wide enough.  I could have made it really wide (to reach all three studs) but at that length the thin boards would look flimsy and would eventually bow due to the extra weight sitting across its length, which would amount to the material being practically wasted.

So I stuck to my guns and figured a way to keep the aesthetic and function intact.  I came up with an idea to fasten a thin, dovetailed board to the wall stud horizontally and cut two notches into the sides of the cubby so that once the dovetailed board was fastened the cubby could slide right on.

The result marries function and form.  This design also makes the construction extremely sturdy as when the back board is fastened to the wall, it bows forward slightly, actually pinning the sides of the cubby closer to the wall, making it fall proof.  Who knew one screw could be so strong?

The following series of photos shows the process of making a dovetail cubby (actually three) from start to finish.  This series of cubbies was made from wood that came from the sides of drawers of a vintage oak filing cabinet.

Step 1: Gluing up the drawer sides together to make the tops and bottoms of the cubbies.  You can see that the original, badly marred finish is still on the wood at this point.

Step Deuce: The now wide boards have been planed down to strip the original, plasticky finish (yechh!) and to get them ready to be cut.  The finger joints of the boards are still attached (but not for long).

Step 3: The boards are then cut to finished size and put together (without glue) to make sure I didn't screw up.  If everything looks good then I cut the joints and hope I don't screw those up.

Step 4: No screw-ups means quick glue ups!  This is where I carefully glue the boards together and clamp everything.  Did I mention this design does not include any nails?  Just good old-fashioned joints and glue.

Step 5: This is where the boards go into my medieval torture device/brundle fly machine to be squeezed into becoming one piece of wood (well, one piece of furniture made from four separate boards).  I clamp these overnight so that the boards can really bond (and I mean that literally and figuratively) and just in case there are any boards that are resistant to being part of a team.  Remember, wood is alive and each individual board has its own personality.  I have seen boards not bond to others simply because they didn't want to, not that I have anything against individuality.  To those boards I say, go on and be free my little wooden beatnik.

Step 6:  The transformation is complete.  Brundle has become Fly and vice versa.

Step 7:  As a reward for the boards coming together, I then give them a nice bath in Danish oil (my own secret recipe which I cannot divulge [because it's secret]) and let them sit out in the loverly California sunshine.  This literally tans the wood and gives it a nice, mellow patina, which will only get darker as it ages, kind of like Pam Anderson.

The result is a trio of cubbies that despite being sliced, diced and bathed in oil, all seem to be very happy together.