Tuesday, March 17, 2009

My Current Project

This is how a project starts. A simple sketch. I don't use CAD because I can do this faster, it has a human quality, and it conveys the idea at least as well as a computer generated drawing can. My customer needed interior doors as well. I've had the thought that there should be a hierarchy of detail that lavishes the most elaborate detailing on the exterior door. The interior doors should echo the front door but should be more simple. Like this....

Even the drawing is simpler. The customer liked the design for the exterior door, and although one of the consequences of the ravaged economy was to postpone the exterior work on the renovation, they chose to use the more elaborate design for the ten interior doors.

My shop is small and an order for multiple doors takes a good bit of planning and careful utilization of space. Storing enough lumber for ten doors takes some consideration. In order to complete this project efficiently, all 120 parts had to be put through each phase of fabrication together. This not only adds efficiency, it's the only way to insure accuracy. I don't want to have to set up a tool for an operation more than once. It tempts fate and invites error even if miniscule.


I buy a lot of my lumber from Cramer Lumber, a large outfit in Hickory, NC. They have three large yards on the east coast with many hundreds of thousands of board feet of inventory. Much of their business in Hickory was supplying a large and thriving local furniture market. Outsourcing has made a lot of that business go away and Cramer has had to adapt to a shrinking market. This has been good news for me in that they welcome my small orders of 200- 500 board feet of lumber at a time. I'd order more but storage space in my shop is limited. The guys at Cramer have done a great job of making me feel like a real customer. That goes a long way toward building customer loyalty with me.

The pictures above and below show the 600 board feet of cherry for the set of interior doors. Below is a bunch of it jointed, ripped, and planed to thickness. The above picture shows how the lumber arrived, random widths of rough cut boards. I pass the rough boards across the jointer to get one surface flat. The planer cuts the other surface parallel to the jointed one and then shaves the board down to the desired thickness.

The wood in the rough state can be quite irregular. The surface can cup in the kiln during drying, a board can bow or warp along its edge. The jointing process is critical for creating a flat surface in irregular lumber. If the irregularity is severe, you can remove a lot of material on the jointer before you achieve flatness. You have to start out with rough lumber thick enough to leave you with the desired thickness after jointing and planing. These boards were about 1 5/8" thick in the rough state when they arrived. That gave me about 1/4" to get flat and parallel at 1 3/8" thickness. It proved to be enough, although I had to pick through the pile to find pieces flat enough for the longer stile pieces (the vertical parts). The advantage here was that I didn't have to spend a lot of time getting the boards down to the proper thickness. It didn't take too many passes through the planer and the planing resulted in a minimum amount of waste.


Setting up a tool for a specific operation can take far more time than the actual milling of the part. To be able to run ten or twenty pieces through a single operation adds a real economy the production process. Here the door parts have been milled, except for the panels. I check for fit before proceeding with the mortise joinery. A good bit of hand work comes into play as I prepare to mortise, cleaning up joints and making sure the components are tight. Once I have a good fit and the mortises cut I go ahead with the glue up. Glue up is a little stressful in that you have a limited working time once you apply the glue, depending on the type of glue you use. I always make a dry run with tenons before gluing. I don't want to be interrupted at this point and have been known to bark at the unexpected visitor who happens to stroll into the shop during a glue up.

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