Ice Cream Cart

I was recently hired to build an mobile ice cream cart by BRICS, a locally owned ice cream shop here in Indy. They were looking for something that could be used at shows and would support the weight of a fully loaded ice cream scooping chest. We began the process by creating a 3D model of the idea in SketchUp.

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The SketchUp plan of the proposed cart design.

Once we had agreement on the design, I purchased the materials and began construction.

Once the build was complete, I had to figure out a way to create a barnwood / distressed / antique look. I was really reluctant to use a stain because of the extremely artificial look that these can sometimes produce. I did some research on the web and came up with something that looked intriguing, iron acetate, basically steel wood dissolved in vinegar… yep, sounds weird but I was determined to give it a shot…

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Steel wool pads slowly dissolving in white vinegar. The surgical gloves have holes in them to avoid the gas that is produced from the mixture from blowing the tops off.

After 4 days of stewing in the jars, the finish was ready to test. Here are the initial results.

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An unfinished board on the left, the individual pieces used in the project each finished to see how they might react.

It was a pretty solid result. I thought that with some oil finish applied over the top it just might work. The client gave the go ahead and it was on to the point of no return… applying the finish to the cart.

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The finish created a fairly nice result.

With the build and finishing completed, it was time to deliver the project. This is the most stressful part for me usually but I was happy that it was received well.

It was really great working with such a great client and I hope we can work together in the future.

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The completed cart with ice cream chest and company logo installed.

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Completed Jewelry Box

I recently completed solid cherry jewelry box for a very special girl’s 5th birthday. The box is smaller version of my toolbox that I built earlier this year and is based on that design.

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I used the toolbox project as the basis for my project and modified some of the proportions and layout details to fit the stock I had on hand and to include a single drawer rather than a double drawer design.

The finished box is around 16″w x 20″L x 7″H and includes a single drawer and a hinged top.

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The drawer is dovetailed with poplar and includes a custom made pull.

The project took just over 4 days from start to finish. It was nicely received by its new owner. I am hopeful to make this into a retail design that can be sold locally River’s Mist Gallery in Stevensville, Montana and possible something that could be shipped across country if needed without costing a fortune.

I have include some build photos for those interested. I hope you like the overall design.

Back from my absence…

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Well, it’s been quite a while since I posted anything and I can’t believe it’s been since May of last year since I created a post. Our daughter is now 3 years old and between taking care of her and woodworking in any spare moments I can scrape together, it’s been pretty hectic to say the least.

I will try to catch up on the things I’ve been working on since I dropped off the face of the planet, starting with the mahogany coffee table.

We had been making due with various terrible tables / combination of tables / and no tables for our living room for quite a while. I knew I wanted a pretty wide top so it could serve as a central focus for drawing, homework (in the future), writing (like I’m doing right now for this post), and general domestic activities.

After balancing all of the wood options out there and thinking of jointing and gluing up numerous boards for the top, I just broke down and went for the African mahogany since I could make the top with a single joint down the middle. It turned out to be a pleasant choice as mahogany is quite nice to work with hand tools. Other than dealing with the interlocking grain that is characteristic of mahogany, it is quite a nice wood for working with hand tools.

Unfortunately, the legs are also of mahogany but from a different tree and were harder than any oak I’ve ever worked combined with being incredibly abrasive due to the hard resinous inclusions in the wood. Mortising through them for the rail turned out to be a less than enjoyable experience. In the end, it turned out okay, but the amount of work involved for the mortising and planing the legs was significant.

I’ll probably work with mahogany again in the future, most likely for another toolbox I’m planing to make, but will make sure to test out the boards at the lumber yard to ensure the wood is workable and not extra dense.

Woodworking and hand tools

Things have changed quite a bit for me over the last several months. I’ve been busy taking care of my 11 month old daughter full time and have had to find ways of fitting in my work around that busy schedule. I haven’t been drawing much except as it relates to my woodworking, which is a fairly new and serious endeavor for me. I started out building a new changing table, then moved on to refinishing some chairs, crib, dresser,

Cherry Dresser

footstool, table, traditional tool chest,

Traditional Tool Chest

and most recently a new toy box for my daughter.

Toy Box

I thought it was time to update folks on how things have been going and what I’ve been doing.

I started out doing most of my woodworking with machines but Montana winters drive you indoors and in my case into the basement to do the work. I found myself being very hesitant to use the router table, circular saw, or even the jigsaw because of the noise, the fairly limited working space, and the clouds of unhealthy dust they created. I started looking around for some non-powered options which led me to start using hand tools.

One thing led to another and I am now doing all of my work with hand tools and really not missing the power tools at all. Sure I still want to plane a board to a specific thickness or run a long board through a table saw now and then, but the majority of my work is done quickly, quietly, and fairly dust-free with hand tools and I’ve never enjoyed it more.

I am about to start on a new project, a smaller computer desk / organizer for our dining room so we can have a mobile station upstairs for occasional work and for storing writing materials, power plugs, etc. Over the next week or two I’ll update my blog with photos of the last few projects and some new material on the desk project.

It’s been a while since I had the urge to post some photos so I hope there is some interest out there in this turn of events and hopefully I can help being an appreciation to some of the hand tool skills that I am rediscovering in the process.

Here is a parting shot of two my my hand saws that I recently refurbished.

My refurbished 12" and 14" Disston backsaws.

Chair refinishing is… finished!

It took a while for this project to come to an satisfactory end. I was working on these chairs between other projects and ran into some unexpected literally last-minute setbacks, but the chairs are completed and they turned out really well.

One of the refinished chairs, complete with Thumper

As I mentioned in a previous post, these chairs have sentimental value for me. They were my paternal grandmother’s chairs and I can remember rocking away in them as a young boy on Christmas morning waiting until everyone arrived to open gifts. I remember sitting in one of them as an adolescent chatting with my grandmother and trying to relate to a woman who had literally built a business with my grandfather including the shop and their house and had survived a depression and a World War. I remember sitting in one of these chairs after hearing that she was dying from brain cancer.

I inherited these chairs after my grandmother passed away and they have waited patiently for me to do something about their condition. Although the worn arms and tattered fabric had a bit of nostalgia to them, they really didn’t represent the dignity that my grandmother deserved. It was important to return them to a state that respected their era, style, and “look”. These chairs were built in Indiana in 1959 (according to the furniture tag located inside the chairs). and you really can’t find chairs like them anymore. They’re small and relatively light weight and the swivel rocker design is simply perfect for rocking gently with, say, and newborn in your arms.

After stripping the finish from the arms, I applied a deep red chestnut oil stain, sealed that with a coat of garnet shellac, applied several coats of gel mahogany stain to get the deep rich brown color, before sealing that with shellac once again. A few coats of polyurethane and the wood was ready for reassembly. I took the chair seats to Bailey Enterprises here in Missoula where he reupholstered them and replaced one of the broken serpent springs in the seat. Once he had the fabric on, it fell to me to get him the finished wood so he could reassemble the arms before adding the back. This is where I made a classic mistake!

On delivering the arms to Paul at Bailey Enterprises, I was ascending the concrete steps of his shop with the arms in a burlap drop cloth. As I was opening the door to enter, I felt one of the arms slip… the next moment was frozen with the stomach-churning sound of wood bouncing down concrete! I looked in horror as one of the arms bounced a final time before coming to rest at the bottom of the steps. I was mortified… I slowly lowered the other three arms onto the shop floor and made my way down the steps. The arms was topside-down and didn’t show much damage, but as I slowly picked it up and turned it over, my spirits sank as I saw the dozen or so dings, scrapes, and gouges exposing the bare wood in places.

I climbed the steps to where Paul was trying to console me in my moment of despair. “They should be okay. I’ve heard of people steaming out dings like that in furniture.” He was trying to be kind. You don’t steam out gaping holes of bare wood in a finished arm. I knew that I would have to refinish the arm’s top completely and hope that it wasn’t too obvious when compared to the others. Paul indicated that he could finish the first chair and get the other ready to go for when I got the arm refinished. It was the Wednesday before Easter and we arranged to have the arm back in his hands by Monday.

The re-refinished arm...

I went home and showed Angie the results of my idiocy. She tried to look less than mortified and managed pretty well. I went downstairs and began the process of stripping the arm to prepare it for refinishing. After two days, it looked passable and a couple more days of fine-tuning it, it looked like a new arm again. The following day, I placed it in the back of the car and made my way to Paul’s shop. I carried it (with both hands!) up the steps and delivered it safely to his workbench. He said that he could most likely have the chairs ready for the following day. True to his word, they were ready the next morning and I dropped by and picked them up. I installed the bases once I was home and scooped up Maddie before giving them the first trial rock.

The arm prior to refinishing

The "before" image

The new changing table I just completed

I’ve been busy over the winter learning furniture construction. I recently completed a new changing table for our nursery. It’s made of red oak and finished with a blonde shellec top-coated with water-based polyurethane. I was fairly pleased with how it turned out. I chose a lighter finish to keep the furniture from feeling too massive. I’ll be moving on to a convertible crib / full-sized bed design this weekend.

New changing table installed in the nursery.

I also made the letters on the wall above the changing table. I found a nice font I liked on my computer and printed out huge versions of them which I transferred to a sheet of MDF using a carbon-transfer paper. I then cut them out with a jigsaw, sanded them smooth and coated them with acrylic spray paint. I tried using liquid acrylic but the yellow and blue were far too transparent.

The photo below shows a closer look at the table with one of the hand-painted knobs that I purchased for the drawer pulls.

Closer view of table.

One of the wonderful animal-themed drawer pulls.

I picked up the drawer pulls from Carolina Hardware and Decor who have a great selection of decorative pulls and knobs, many surprisingly still made in the USA. I used a mouse, bunny, bull, pig, lion, and tiger for the dresser.

Refinishing my Grandmother’s chairs

chair prior to the start of the process

I inherited two identical chairs from my grandmother’s estate when she passed away several years ago. They have been in need of a refinishing job since we obtained them and I am finally nearing completion on the work. I decided to refinish the wood myself and have a professional upholsterer work on the fabric since I had no idea where to even start on something like that.

The arms were in desperate need of refinishing

The well-worn arms with years of happy use.

The chair was ready for disassembly. After “carefully” removing the upholstery from the back, I disassembled the chair into the components.

The disassembled pieces.

The swivel-rocker component from the chair base.

Once the components were disassembled, I deployed the random-orbit sander for some tough love.

The sanded components.

A closer view of the arms, legs, and base.

Here are some photos of the progress as it stands today. I’ve managed to strip both chairs down to the raw wood and reapply an oil-based chestnut stain to give a pleasant reddish tint to the wood. I then followed this up with a sealing coat of garnet shellac before applying a liberal glaze of mahogany stain. This step was crucial to the overall look of the arms and require several days of fine-tuning the final look. I then sealed this layer with several (probably 5-7) seal coats of garnet shellac before finishing the job with three coats of water-based polyurethane. I was able to use water-based poly over the previous coats because I allowed 3-4 days of drying time for the oil-based finishes and then used shellac, which provides a material buffer between coats.

The first seal-coat of garnet shellac is applied.

A better view of the shellacked arms.

The re-finished arms, legs, and base from the second chair.

My goal was to stay true to the original finish while bringing out the natural grain in the wood a bit more (less of an opaque glaze with this application) and keeping that deep, rich finish I’ve always loved about these chairs. I should be getting the seats back from the upholsterer in the next week or so and can’t wait to see how the fabric we picked out looks with the new finish.