Modern Woodworker’s Association Part II

For those of you familiar with the MWA’s typical show format you probably noticed that the episode I was interviewed in did not include their famous five questions. That’s because we were running long and Tom had to be somewhere. As a result Dyami and I continued talking and did the questions. He released the clip as an additional episode. You can listen here!

Five Questions

Construction Lumber for Fine Furniture?

When I started woodworking I began with tutorials you find on different DIY websites. All of these sites advocated for the use of construction grade lumber or SPF which stands for Spruce, Pine and Fir. You know, the stuff you find at your big box store, 2×4’s and 2×6’s. The same lumber that was used to frame the walls in your home. Honestly, at the time I didn’t realize there was a significant difference between wood species and types.

Dauglas_fir_lumber

As I continued woodworking and gained more knowledge I soon realized that SPF was not the ideal lumber to use for building furniture. Although there is something to be said for buying your lumber that is already dimensioned to a specific size. That makes building a project around those specifically sized pieces of lumber pretty easy. SPF, while kiln dried, is not dried to the same standards as rough cut hardwood that you’d find at a lumber yard. Typically SPF has a moisture content of around 25% or so. The ideal moisture content for furniture construction is around 6% or 8%. This is a HUGE deal. All wood moves, it expands and contracts but wet wood moves SIGNIFICANTLY more. It cups and twists and bows and bends. That relatively flat table top you just built from 2×10’s will not be flat in six months. That thing is going to look like a potato chip.

So, once I realized this I stopped using SPF for furniture. Now I build from hardwoods, mostly oak, maple, mahogany and walnut. I can’t help but think about the old SPF though from time to time. It’s easy to work, readily available and very inexpensive when compared to hardwoods. You do give up some durability. It is much easier to dent, ding and scratch SPF than it is oak.

So, my first thought here is this. Can you even build a piece of “fine” furniture from SPF. That depends on your definition of what fine furniture is. To me, generally it means a piece that was built with traditional joinery, think mortise and tenon and dovetails and the like. It also has to be built from good materials. Now, the joinery isn’t an issue with SPF. Pine will join together just as well as the most expensive pieces Purpleheart will. But what about the quality of the material? I’m not 100% convinced that SPF is up to par. That being said it can be finished beautifully if it’s done right. But that is not an easy task to undertake. The biggest hurdle is the blotching you get when you try to add color to SPF. I suppose that SPF is durable enough, certainly not the most durable but we build workbenches out of it, a piece of “furniture” that is meant to take abuse. So for the sake of argument, lets say that SPF is choice enough for furniture construction.

How do you get around the moisture issue? Well, you could buy it and let it sit in your shop for months and dry it out. Who wants to have a lumber rack filled with SPF though? Not me. Are any of the boards off the big box store rack drier than others? Well, only a moisture meter will tell you that. I have read that buying 2×12’s that are 12′-16′ will give you the driest SPF in the store. But that negates any convenience of buying dimensioned lumber because you’ll have to cut your pieces out of all those 2×12’s. Not necessarily a bad thing but it’s something to consider. Does SPF warrant the extra work that you’d put in to building a piece from walnut?

I began this post by saying that I’ve built several pieces from SPF.  Some I still use today.  This is my coffee table and it’s one of the first pieces that I ever made.  It’s built from nothing but a bunch of 1 by lumber.  It’s several years old at this point and I intend to build a new one in the future.  All in all it’s held up pretty well.

IMG_6941
SPF Lumber coffee table
IMG_6942Here is another photo showing how much the table top has contracted since I’ve built it though.  This is because the wood has dried out and is physically smaller than when I bought it and built this piece.  It has shrunk about 1/8″ on each side.  Not exactly my idea of “fine” furniture.

I do feel like SPF could be a viable material for furniture.  Would I call it fine furniture, probably not.  But it could certainly be a way to let those who can’t afford a custom built walnut piece enter in to custom, handmade furniture.  I’ve certainly considered offering it as an option for my clients.  I haven’t as of yet though.  Perhaps I need to get myself some 2×12’s and do a few experiments.

What are you thoughts on SPF and fine furniture?  Do you build furniture from SPF, do your customers care or even know the difference?  Have you had issues with SPF moving dramatically on you after building a piece?  Let me know in the comments.

Thanks for reading.

Turning a Harry Potter wand

I love being a woodworker. Primarily because it allows me to make things. This morning my Son asked me if I’d make a Harry Potter wand for him. He is very interested in making movies and he is always trying to come up with different props for his films. Personally I think he is more interested in collecting the props (read: toys) than he is actually making the movies. He has only completed a few stop motion Lego movies.

At any rate, I knew that I had a scrap piece of Walnut in the shop that would be perfect for this quick project. So I went down to my shop, chucked the wood in my lathe and turned out this wand.

I get a great sense of pride knowing that I can whip something up really quickly that my children will have fun playing with for a long time. Even if he breaks it tomorrow, I can always build a new one and the new one will probably be better than the last. It makes me wonder if Makers had the same sense of pride when they made something 100 years ago, when most kid’s toys were made at home. Perhaps it was so common that they thought nothing of it. Now it might be more of a novelty sensation. We live in a “throw away” society. Most people buy furniture designed to last 2 years at best that is made from particle board and screws. In my house that stuff is luck to last 6 months. I’m pretty happy knowing that this wand will be around long after he has lost interest in playing with it.

Standard iPhone Lens vs. Wide Angle Lens for iPhone

I’ve been making YouTube videos since January and I’ve decided I’d like to step up my game a little.  Unfortunately I’m not in a position to spent a few thousand dollars on professional video and photography equipment, so I decided to give something else a try.

Currently, every video I’ve posted has been shot on my iPhone 6 and edited in iMovie, Apple’s fee video editing software.  I think the quality is pretty decent considering my experience level with making videos but it could always be better.  The standard camera on the iPhone is pretty good but it has its limits.  Particularly when it comes to the options available by different lenses that can be purchased for DSLR cameras.  So, I found some lenses that will work on my iPhone.  I purchased this set on Amazon.

610U4vnLQ7L._SL1000_ It comes with a wide angle/macro lens and a fish eye lens.  I have no idea what the fish eye lens does but I’ll play around with it and see if it’s something I can use.  Either way the price was right for the set so I decided to give it a try.

The video above shows two different clips.  One using the iPhone’s standard camera lens and another using the clip-on wide angle lens.  They were both shot from the same angle in my shop from the same distance away from the subject.  Originally I thought that I’d use the wide angle lens all the time, as I do with the standard lens on my iPhone.  I just use the same settings all the time on the iPhone.  Probably because there are no additional settings.  After viewing the clips side by side I now think that the wide angle lens will be something that I’d use for specific shots.  Definitely for shots that will require a larger view of my shop when I’m working on larger pieces.  Plus using the different lenses for different shots will add some variation to my videos.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.  Have you tried these clip-on lenses before?  When should a wide angle lens be used compared to a normal or standard lens?

Thanks for reading!

iPhone Charging Dock

A year or so ago I built a pretty crude charging dock for my phone. It was meant to be kept in my shop to prevent me from dropping my phone all over the place. Because it was more like a piece of equipment or shop furniture it didn’t have to be pretty. 

Ever since building the first one I’ve wanted to build another. I have this vision of charging docks and stations strategically placed throughout my house. Recently I built these charging stations to act as a central hub for the main living floor in my home.  One holds and charges our 4 phones. The other holds and charges our iPads. 

 

Here’s a video I made showing how I built these charging stations. 

I also had to do an update video for the charging station because my original plan didn’t work as I thought it would. 

After building the charging stations I decided to build a bunch of single device charging docks. While I was at it I built some to include in my shop for sale. This batch is made from walnut. I used Apple’s lightning cable which means these docks are compatible with iPhones 5, 5S, 5C, 6 and 6 Plus. These docks were much simpler to make than the multi device stations but essentially the idea is the same. For this reason I didn’t produce a video for these docks. 

   
     

The phone pictured in the above photos is an iPhone 6 to give you an idea of the scale. If you’d like to purchase one of these charging docks, head over to the Shop section of my site to place an order. 

Thanks for reading and I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below. 

Make It Forward Project

A few weeks ago I became involved in the Make It Forward Project.  Essentially, six of us on Twitter decided to build a project together.  The first person builds something and sends it to the next.  That person adds to it and sends it to the next and so on.  When the project is completed we plan to auction it off and donate the proceeds to charity. There is no set thing being built from the beginning so we each have freedom to do what we wish with the portion of the project that we receive.  This is what I did with my portion.

You can follow along with the project on Twitter @makeitforward.  The six participants for this round are:

Mark Dolan: @markspens

Brian McCauley: @mccauleysdesign

Sean Rubino: @seanrubino

Jimmy DiResta: @jimmydiresta

Improbably Construct: @imprblconstruct

Kip Vanover: @ironface077

Be sure to follow all of them for great builds on Twitter.

I was the second person in line for this project.  Mark was kind enough to send me two checker board pieces.  One was 16″ square and the other was 12″ square.

IMG_6471

My first thought was to use the large board for the top of a case and the small board for the bottom of the case.  This would require a compound mitered case, sort of like making crown moulding.  I also planned on incorporating a drawer.  After seeing the case I built my loving wife told me it was crap and that I needed to come up with something else.  So, it was back to the drawing board.

My second idea was similar except that the case would not be angled and have half blind dovetail construction.  I’d use the large board as the top and the smaller board as the bottom of the drawer.  This is what I ultimately decided on however it wasn’t without it’s issues either.  I originally built the case and drawer from Maple.  Unfortunately when cutting the dovetails I make a mistake and the case was not salvageable.  The drawer was just fine though.  At this point I had run out of Maple so I decided to make the case again but this time I used walnut.  I think in the long run this looks much better.

Here are some photos of the final piece.  At least as far as my portion goes.

Choosing Lumber for your Furniture Piece

Often times it seems the most difficult part of helping design a piece of furniture for a client is choosing a lumber type. Your average Joe off the street doesn’t know the difference between Oak and Walnut and honestly probably doesn’t care. They just know how they want their piece to look when it’s finished.

I always advocate for choosing lumber that is the color you want the finished project to be. So if you want a dark color I suggest walnut.

Walnut
If you’re looking for something with more red tones I suggest Cherry or Mahogany.

Cherry
Mahogany
If you want a lighter color Oak or Maple is a good choice.

Oak
Maple
I always suggest choosing a lumber that is the color you want because adding color to lumber isn’t very precise and it’s difficult to always get exactly what you want from it. The bottom line is that you can’t stain a piece of Oak with dark walnut stain and make it look like Walnut. It just doesn’t work that way.

Additionally, it’s my opinion that staining a piece of wood really reduces its natural beauty. Here is a photo of an oak table top and then the same table top after it has been stained. Personally I prefer the natural look of the oak over the stained look.

Natural Oak
Stained Oak
I certainly don’t mind staining lumber for my clients. The results are always just disappointing to me.  For example, Here is that same stained Oak table compared to a naturally finished Walnut table.

Oak stained with Dark Walnut
Naturally Finished Walnut
To me there really is no comparison. The naturally finished walnut wins every time.

So why would someone want to stain a piece of wood instead of just buy the wood that is the appropriate color?  Price. It’s that simple. Maple and Oak are relatively inexpensive compared to other types of lumber. In my area walnut costs about 3 times as much as oak.

When clients realize the price differences between different types of lumber we start talking about staining.   Staining is fine and in most situations your average person doesn’t care if their table is real Walnut or some other lumber type that was stained to kind of look like Walnut. The most important thing to realize when choosing to stain lumber over initially going with lumber that is already the color you want is to know that Oak is Oak, Maple is Maple and you cannot make them look like anything other than Oak or Maple by adding color to them. Unless of course you paint them!
Thanks for reading!  I’d love to hear what you think in the comments below.

Safety Day 2015

This post contains an image which depicts a woodworking injury. 

In the spirit of posting something safety related on this day, May 15, 2015 dubbed safety day I’d like to share a close call I had in my shop last summer. 

I was learning to use my lathe. I had turned a spindle or two as well as a Harry Potter wand for my son.  Naturally I figured I’d try turning a bowl. The result left me with a bloody forehead.  

 

This happened because I wasn’t using my lathe safely. I wasn’t supporting the bowl with the tail stock and my tools weren’t sharp. Mostly because I didn’t have a grinder to sharpen them with. Additionally I wasn’t wearing a face mask. Also leading to the injury, I hadn’t properly formed the mortise in the bottom of the bowl for my chuck grab. 

Long story short, my gouge caught the work and it flew off the lathe and hit me in the forehead. You can see in the photo where the bowl was ripped out of the chuck and the catch that caused it. 

 

It was nearly a year before I touched my lathe again. I regained my confidence after making some carbide lathe tools. After the accident, I still wanted to learn to turn but I needed better quality tools than my harbor freight chisels and something that was easily sharpened. I didn’t want to purchase carbide tools so I made my own. Here is a video I made of the process. My first YouTube video. Check it out if you’re interested in doing the same. 

Since making the tools I’ve learned proper safety technique and how to safely use my lathe. As a result I’ve turned a few more bowls. These ones didn’t leave me with a bloody forehead!

   
 

The moral of this story?  Be safe in your shop, know what you’re doing when you use a new tool. Most importantly, don’t let an accident stop you from getting back into your shop!

Thanks for reading!

I Started a Blog

So, I’ve decided to start a blog, which is a little foreign to me to be honest.  I’ve never really gotten the idea behind a blog.  I know it’s 2015.  I guess I’m just getting old.  But now that I’m producing some videos on YouTube and people are actually watching them and commenting on them I thought it might be a good idea to write an article or provide additional information about the videos and projects I make.  So, a blog it is.

I guess this first entry will be a quick and simple introduction.  I’m Brian McCauley of McCauley’s Design.  I build furniture.  Most of what I build are dining room tables.  That seems to be what the vast majority of my commissions are however I’ve built furniture for just about every room in a house.

I’ve been woodworking for just about 5 years now.  I’ve set up a shop in my basement, much to my wife’s chagrin.  It’s small but I get by with the room that I have.  Someday I’d love to build a dedicated shop.  Unfortunately that is difficult living in a townhouse.

I did a quick video introducing myself a little while ago so I thought it might be appropriate here.

If you’d like to keep up with me you can follow me on Twitter @mccauleysdesign or on Facebook at Facebook.com/mccauleysdesign.

Thanks for stopping by!