Category Archives: Millwork
Anne Cutler, news reporter for WGNO and author of the Hammer and Heels Blog came by and shot a story on the Prince of Wales Building Skills Summer Program, with an appearance by yours truly. Check it out: Prince’s Foundation News Story
You can also see Anne’s blog post on the program here!
I was asked to teach the woodworking portion of the Prince’s Foundation Summer Skill Building Program here in New Orleans, and was tasked with both giving a lecture summing up the importance of joinery as well as educating the students in my workshop for two days. For the workshop section, I decided to give them a taste of both the old and new tools of woodworking, and split the day into two parts to do so. They spent the first half of the day learning how to use the modern machines that I use everyday in the shop to make architectural items such as doors and windows, focusing on what it would take to run a production shop: drawings, cut lists, safety, and machine operation and technique for dimensioning of lumber. In the latter half of the day, the students were given a schematic of a simple lap joint frame that i drew up and were told to cut and assemble the frame by hand, using the dimensioned lumber from the first section of the class. Though the lap joint is one of the simplest joints to cut in woodworking, it can be quite a challenge to cut a straight and square cut with a hand saw if you are not used to using one. The idea was to not only challenge the students and let them get their hands dirty, but also to instill the appreciation for the skill involved in woodworking, particularly in millwork that was made before our current, modern improvements in tool technology. Though tool mechanization has made the life of the craftsman easier, without the basic skills needed to do a task without a modern tool, the craftsman can become complacent and lose the understanding of the art and finesse that are the differentiating qualifiers between fine woodworking or plain old carpentry. Plus, what do you do when your power goes out and you can’t use your table saw? Or when you are asked to restore a historical piece that can’t be done any other way than by hand? The students rose to the challenge, and each ended up with a handmade frame that will fit the certificate they’ll receive upon completion of the program. For more information on the Prince’s Foundation for the Built Community visit http://www.princes-foundation.org
From the Princes foundation website: “Our crafts and architecture Summer School teaches how traditional building repair techniques can be applied to meet the challenges of the twenty-first century. It’s an intensive three-week course, one aimed at architects, planners, developers, builders and craftspeople. Through a series of lectures, workshops, drawing and building exercises and field trips, our Summer School participants develop an in-depth knowledge of traditional building and repair techniques and how these can be applied.”
It is said that applying a finish to a piece of woodworking can take equally as long as the time spent building it. There have been books and books written about the subject of selecting and applying finishes, and some woodworkers make their own (Sam Maloof’s mixture is quiet famous and many swear by it). When I first started building furniture, I went to The Green Project (new orleans’ best construction salvage supply store) and bought up as many types of finish as I could get my hands on to test out. polyurethane, varnish, shellac, wax, tung or linseed oil…what’s the difference? There is no simple answer to this question of course (though you can go to lumbetjocks.com and listen to woodworkers argue endlessly on the subject), and to compound the difficulty of selecting a finish, the brands of each finish need to be considered, as some work better than others, and you’re local big box store only carries a hand-full of selections that most pros thumb their noses at. But finishes are expensive, and having to mail order your preferred finish adds the expense of shipping, so I tend to focus my finishing choices on what I can get locally. I mostly build tables out of antique long leaf pine, so I looked for a finish that is good that particular species of wood. though this may seem obvious, testing the finish on the exact type of wood you are working with is important, as each wood has a different grain structure and absorbs the finish differently. One of the finishes that I liked best in ease of application and resultant look us Watco Danish Oil. Locally available at Lowe’s, no special ordering is required, and application could not be simpler: flood the surface with the Danish oil and spread it around with a brush or rag. The change is immediate, richening and deepening the tone of the wood.
What is also great about Danish oil is that it is a finish unto itself and does not necessarily require further protection after application. It has a natural satin sheen, which looks great on its own. Because this particular project is a table top, I am going to add several coats of water-based polyurethane (I like the new Rustoleum line). So if you have some thing that needs a finish and you don’t feel like testing out a wide range of products, I’d give Danish oil a try.
The lath table commission progresses, and today I cut the Italianate arc on one end. The method for this is simple: a router attached to a board, pinned on one end so that the other end swings in an even curve. To make the cut easier on the router bit, I first cut away the excess lath with a jig saw. The distance between the pin and the router proscribe the severity of the arc. This arc was cut to match the existing shapes of the arched doors and windows in the house. The cut-off area looks like a city skyline, so i’m going to make a base for it and give it to the guy who commissioned the table.
Experimenting with new table top designs, utilizing wood lath as usual, I built this end table with spiral top. Don’t stare too long or you might lose your sanity.
I’ve been commissioned to build a giant wood lath dining table top, whose final dimensions will be 32” x 6’10. I estimated I need around 200 strips of lath to pull it off. I’ve got most of the stock milled and ready to go, now I just have to lay it all out and glue it up. I’m figuring it’ll take five rounds of gluing to put the whole thing together. Patience is paramount in a project like this!
Last week I finished the Lath Console Table I was commissioned to build by a very important client (my dad). Similar to the Lather’s table I built for the Salvations Design Competition earlier this year, the project relied heavily on salvaged materials and the slow process of lamination (gluing wood together). The client (pops) wanted me to do a little write up explaining the process of making the table as well as the story behind its inception and parts, so if you are interested in reading that, it is below the pictures. Overall, I like this table better than the first one I built, though they are a completely different design so direct comparison is difficult. With this one, i used the skinny part of the wood as the table top surface instead of the fat (how’s that for proper woodworking terminology!) and I really dig the bowling lane/hardwood floor effect it achieves. I came up with the general design idea for this table while I was building the last one, and after building this one, i’ve got six more designs i’d like to try, all relying on lath. Oh to have all the free time in the world to build furniture… Anyway, here are the pics. Let me know what you think or if you have any ideas for other ways to use lath strips, i’d love to hear them. P.S. – The first lath table I built is featured in the Reader’s Gallery of the current issue (Sept/Oct) of Fine Woodworking Magazine, page 77 I think. Checkitout!
“The Lath Console Table”
John Robert Portman 2011
Laths are long slender pieces of wood that are nailed horizontally between the studs of a house leaving narrow gaps in between strips so that the plaster of the walls and ceiling have something to adhere to when applied. Lath and plaster work is a specialized building trade that is very labor intensive and requires considerable skill. Since the invention of gypsum board, which is faster and cheaper to install than plaster, the use of lath and plaster in residential construction is very rare, even though its durability and quality is far greater than that of drywall.
As New Orleans is an old city, most of its houses were originally built with lath and plaster walls. Since Katrina, the first thing a renovator does to a flooded home is to gut out all of the plaster and lath and discard it in a dumpster. Because plaster is water resistant, the wooden lath behind the plaster is still in nearly the same condition as when it was installed, and thereby still usable. A standard gutted shotgun house yields hundreds of wood lath strips. This table is made from approximately 100 laths that have been fished out of dumpsters from all over New Orleans and re-purposed into a one-of-a-kind piece of furnitiure.
Built using traditional joinery, there are no nails or screws or fasteners of any kind holding the table together, only wood-to-wood connections. The top is made by process of lamination, in which each individual strip is planed smooth and glued to another strip and another and so on. The table top is connected to the legs via a through-wedged dovetail mortise and tenon joint, in which wedges are driven into slots cut into the end of the tenon. The wedges expand the tenon within a trapezoidal-shaped mortise, thereby locking the tenon in place permanently (which is why this is also called a “suicide” joint).
The lath shelf underneath is connected to the legs by a square peg running though the legs and into a square hole chiseled into the shelf. Even the pegs are made out of lathing strips. The only non-lath part of the table are the legs, which are made of light-colored cypress in order to contrast the rich dark browns of the pine lath.
I was recently commissioned to build another lathing strip table and work is well under way. The picture below is of the top of the table. More pics to come upon completion in about a week!
I had to make some copies of existing brackets that were damaged on a historic home in the Irish Chanel in New Orleans. I made them out of spanish cedar to resist moisture and cut them out on a scroll saw.