Monday, March 26, 2012

What I learned from Paul Schürch

Good grief, where to start?  That should give you a clue of the awesomeness of this class.

Paul Schürch came to Phoenix to teach a 5-day seminar on decorative veneering and marquetry.  For those of you who don't know who Paul is, he's a marquetarian who can do the classics, but excels at playing with the classics to make them come to life.  His break-through piece was the ribbon cabinet that caught the judges off guard by draping the ribbon throughout the piece instead of staying in the confines of the filetti.

The photo to the left is his spinning cabinet, one of three.  Click the photo to get to his gallery for it.  Nice stuff :)  He had this design rolling around his head for 7 years before committing it to a blueprint and ultimately build it.  Glad I'm not the only one with projects swimming around in my head forever.

The class started with getting familiar with the tools we'd use; the key being a veneer saw.  That's mine sitting on two of his booklets.  It's a common Two Cherries veneer saw.  While it seems perfectly obvious after the fact, the start of the class is correctly sharpening that saw.  World of difference.  The saw came in a kit of tools sold for the class along with all the boards and veneers we'd use.  Someone couldn't find their saw.  Paul said to look around for a saw with blue tape on it... because in every class, people put a bit of blue tape on their saw to mark it... guilty!

The first project was a marquetry panel based on one of several patterns he brought to class.  These are simple as far as marquetry projects go since the petals can have some cut drift or over-shading and still look pretty good.  This photo is of my panel; it has only had a minimal sanding and needs more before a shellac finish.  I'll be finishing it later along with my second panel described below.

While simple, the project takes you on a fast tour of everything needed for marquetry: 4-way bookmatch background, mitered filetti (the border), packet cutting all the part veneers at once, sand shading to express a light source, and all that is involved in assembly, gluing, repairing, sanding, and finishing.  By the way, 'fast' is appropriate: Paul keeps a very good pace; nobody gets left behind, but you won't find yourself yawning much either.  Very much appreciated.

Repairs are inevitable in any project, but with thin veneer or burls with voids, you have repairs to do as a natural course of work.  What made the seminar so much better was Paul's constant demonstration of how to fix problems in a number of ways.  He's a funny guy so the demo would usually go, "how are you going to repair that void?" "what void?" Whack! as the chisel comes flying down to put a monster hole in your project "that one?"  Best part? he'd immediately get down to showing you 2-3 ways to fix that hole then went ahead and fixed it in record time in front of you.  After the first panels came out of the vacuum press, we went back to find the repairs; though we knew where they were, they were next to impossible to find.  Any instructor who makes a point of showing repairs or how to fix a project when something goes wrong scores points with me; Paul went well beyond that.  I may be biased because I never received a surprise chisel whack, tear of my border, intentional removing of my glue as it went into the bag or any of the other surprises... or did I? hmm...

Though commercial raw veneers are just 1/42" thick, Paul's more than a little rough with it.  Previously, I always handled it gently, but once the stuff is properly flattened (day 1 topic), it's quite pliable and resilient to abuses.

Paul taught us packet cutting for creating the marquetry; in a nutshell, sandwich all the veneers properly aligned in a packet bound by paper chipboard and cut everything at once.  You aren't cutting individual pieces to be placed later, you are cutting both the void in the background and the part that fits it from stacked veneer.  Very fast.  Both of my projects were very comfortably cut with a single packet.  If you don't have many veneers in a single project, you can make duplicates by stacking multiple backgrounds and veneers for the parts and cut them at once.  Very useful for production work on, say, small gifts like I'd make or for semi-repeating marquetry borders Paul puts on tables.

Speaking of semi-repeating marquetry: Paul spent a great deal of time describing what the eye sees and what it ignores.  Keep these in mind and you can speed your work.  For example, a table with a complicated leaf-n-vine border was created as a number of different patterns, but some patterns were repeated on the table.  If you divide the table top into, say, 5 instead of 4, the eye has a difficult time locating or noticing the duplicate.  If you do it in 4ths, it seems the eye can catch the repetition.  Further, when cutting multiple of a pattern to repeat on the border of a table, Paul is able to sometimes place a leaf over the filetti (the border) or place it under by knifing in the piece of filetti that was cut from the packet.  Makes for an excellent way to reduce the cutting labor in a project without compromising the variety of the pattern.

Another interesting tidbit: at Marc Adams, Paul has a 36" diameter table with a radial match intentionally off center.  Even when telling students to find what is intentionally wrong with the table, most struggle awhile before noticing.  In this case, the radial match's center is off by 1.25".

Speaking of labor, I found it interesting that for Paul's average piece, the marquetry is only 5% the effort.

The second project was to be student designed.  Some class members grabbed sketchbooks for existing drawings or kid's coloring books.  All are good sources of simplified drawings that can be moved to marquetry easily.  I had a goofy idea in my head of trying to use the filetti as an element.  I drew up something... I can't draw!  At lunch, I drove up the street to work and asked the graphic designer to clean up the sketch.  Damn, took Evan all of 3 minutes to draw a perfect comic picture after I struggled for an hour and killed two erasers!  (thx, Evan!)

As you can see, I chose a bird for my subject :)  The numbers are part numbers for keeping them in order (I think I left most unnumbered as I later realized).  The copy framed in blue tape is the bottom of the packet; I used the copy of the drawing to place the veneer accurately.

This is the packet loaded with veneer, edges, background.  Pieces are blue taped in place.  By the way, you will go through an amazing amount of blue tape doing marquetry.  Same with gum tape (the white tape in the dual dispenser above the packet); gum tape is a white paper tape with hide glue adhesive that you wet with the dispenser (or lick it if you like that rustic BBQ taste :)

Topped the pile with another copy of the drawing attached to paper chipboard then hit the scroll saw.  The box to the right is just a partitioned parts box; I put numbered parts in each box.  Some numbered parts had tiny parts near them so I'd toss them in the same compartment (e.g., the shoe and ankle... kinda easy to tell apart).

I did this packet at night in my shop and cut it until 4:30am (didn't feel like it, but I'm a night owl!)  I wanted to do it on my own instead of in the class for a couple reasons: sink-or-swim and not so crowded. You think your projects can occupy all available horizontal space? Try marquetry! :)  ...and don't sneeze.

That saw is really nice.  An Excaliber 30" scroll saw.  Paul had mixed experience with Excaliber before, but the new design intrigued him so the store owner brought in the 30" for him to (literally) whack around and burn out blades to see how well put together they were.  I believe you'll be reading a full review later in FWW, but let's say I'm betting there's one in his shop now to replace his 21" scroll saw.  I grabbed the saw he abused; got it signed :)

So Paul's daily saw is (was?) a 21" scroll saw, but he has access to a 9' scroll saw.  Yes, 9 feet.  It is built as part of the shop that houses it with a spring on the ceiling beam and reciprocating unit under the table.  When you are packet cutting a large dining table, you effectively have the skin of the dining table in your packet (good grief, think of the blue tape...) Apparently some artisans in Italy he visits use an equally large scroll saw daily.  One brother maneuvers the packets while the other gives "driving directions" looking at the blade.  Can't imagine that.  I think if it was me, I'd use the webcam and flat-panel in my shop to put the blade on the screen and steer directly.

Back to the saw, many of us hadn't used a scroll saw before so we all have a cut-test to pass before we can cut our packets.  Consists of a lot of tight straight lines, 90º corners, then weaving curves all on a space the size of a postage stamp.  Takes some practice; my personal panel helped a lot with that as some angles were more acute or required swinging through the oblique angle to keep pressure off a small piece of keeper veneer.  What is interesting is that packet cutting works best with at least 4 layers in the packet; less than that and you'll get drift more easily.

Ah, yes, my panel... this is what it looked like before going into the vacuum bag to be veneered to a Medex panel.  It has some placeholder veneers.  The guy's eyes and 'gator's teeth will be routed out for mother of pearl inlay.  Once that's done, I'll route out the pupil of all the eyes ('gators', too) and fill them with black epoxy to get a nice glassy look.  I'll post details when they're done.  It'll end up on the shop wall :)  Some of the things to note in the picture are the change in grain direction to really enhance something; look at the guy's pants and you'll see the Poplar grain flowing with the leg through the knee.  I think if you didn't do that, something would look 'wrong', but not be immediately obvious.

The above picture was the glue side; the back is covered in gum tape to hold the pieces together during glue-up assembly and gluing.  This is the panel assembled.  The tape comes off easily enough with a sharpened scraper especially after soaking in water.

As fine luck would have it, Paul has an article "World-class marquetry made easy" in the April 2012 Fine Woodworking magazine (number 225).  I got him to sign mine; that modified picture of him? yeah, he looks like that right before plowing a chisel into your project :)

That article is a great whirlwind tour of doing a nice marquetry project.  It turns out that specific project is covered in great detail on his Marquetry DVD that comes with a 35-page booklet you can use in the shop rather than trying to use the DVD as a shop reference.  It's volume 2 with volume 1 being Decorative Veneering (also with a 46-page booklet).  The two make a great set.  They are well produced and I've watched them both at least twice already (had them long before the class).  They are easily among the best woodworking DVDs I have.  The tool/veneer kit we purchased for the class is also available on his site and is enough to do at least a couple panels like the ones shown in the DVD; it would be the second best way to learn this second only to taking his class.

Speaking of taking his class, if you get a chance, I highly recommend taking a seminar with Paul.  Rumor has it that he will be teaching for two days at WIA'12 in Pasadena.  If you are going, sign up early for this class.  It's a lot of fun.

By the way, we had a contest for best marquetry panels based on different criteria.  My 'bird' panel won the humorous category.  It was a grueling competition in that category... I was the only one :)  My prize was a copy of his Practical Furniture Design book along with a nice drawing set.  The book is a bit of a misnomer.  Sure it talks about design, creativity, and several project studies, but it also covers custom furniture orders, pricing, shipping, and designing with shipping in mind.  I'm not all through it yet, but so far, it looks like a very worthwhile read.

Thanks, Paul!  (and thanks to the Arizona Fine Woodworkers Association for bringing him here)

(Gave him a bottle of Arizona wine as a thank-you, from Cochise County; fortunately he looked happy because in his other hand is the 'void maker' chisel!)

Saturday, March 10, 2012

Some new shop accessories

Last weekend, I went to Los Angeles for a family function.  I stayed an extra day to see a woodworker friend of mine, hang out, and bounce some ideas off him (he's notoriously creative).

We went to Eagle Tools for what he said was an errand.  That place was a total toy shop.  I've never seen a bigger fully stocked area of Festools ever; every accessory, every size Systainer, even oodles of pads for the RAP polisher (to show how even the obscure stuff was piled high).  When my eyes popped out, my friend said, "see, payback, this time I'm gonna get you spending on tools".  Makes that sound like a bad thing!  :)

The back warehouse had about every tool imaginable setup for touching.  The back was a store room for Inca tools and parts (so, if you're an Inca fan, this place has you covered).  The bandsaw area had Agazzani saws of all sizes right up to a 36" behemoth.

While not an obscure accessory at all, I did pick up 2 Bench Dog push pads.  -yawn- how un-exciting is that?  But I have to say, I never looked at those before and they are hefty, great hand grip, and the pad underneath is noticeably more grippy than the generic ones the chain stores sell. I tried them on freshly planed Maple from all kinds of angles and pressures... never slipped even after getting them dusty.
So if your generics look like mine, I think you'll like these.

I also spotted a micro-adjuster for a rip fence that was installed on a General table saw.  It said it worked on a number of other fences including the SawStop fence.  Well, kinda.
I screwed in a small piece of scrap and put the fence anchor piece on the scrap as the sides of my rip fence don't project out far enough to just pop it on.  Super trivial modification.

The way it works is simple: when you want to micro-adjust, flip down the part on the handle (the part that says General)... it has a strong magnet in it that holds it to the fence rail.  Unlock your fence then turn the knob for micro-adjust.
When you are done with it, just flip the magnet back up; it may look like it is in the way of reading the measurement, but that's the camera angle as it isn't in the way at all.

I was using it tonight for sizing some shims for T-track for the drill press table and it was easy to use and nicer than the ol' tap-tap-crap!-tap-tap routine.

Funny story time: my friend wanders by while I'm looking at the micro-adjuster. "What's that?" So I explain.  He gets a serious look, "oh, you're gonna make me buy it; now you're getting me back again!"  ha ha!  He has Inca table saws so he went and dug around the back of the warehouse to find a new-in-the-box micro-adjuster from Inca.  Told you, the place is crazy.

Other interesting side story: the SawStop's design is based on Inca's table saws.

The last day of any trip to Los Angeles always includes a shopping trip to Marukai Market in Gardena.  It's how I exit the city on the 91, which starts by the store :)  I love cooking Japanese food and though locally I can get more than I could years ago when I started going to Marukai, it is the CostCo of all things 和風の料理.

The kitchen section usually has some interesting finds and this time I found a few things that are for the shop and work really well.

Naturally, a package of bamboo skewers; I use these a lot in the shop for cleaning glue nozzles, dropping glue in drilled holes, stirring satin varnishes, scraping off dried varnish from jars, and sometimes I make yakitori with them.  Chopsticks are also immensely useful in the shop and at about $1 for a bazillion, you should stock up!

I also grabbed 2 plastic Norpro scrapers; these should be useful for scraping off squeeze-out when it's snotty.  Glue won't really stick to these so that's nice.  Also, scraping a utility knife on the edge sharpened them up for better scraping.  These are easily found in kitchen shops.

The bowls are called silicone pinch bowls.  Normally any small bowl is a pinch bowl in the kitchen, but these mean you can literally pinch them.  You'll see the frontmost one has Titebond 3 in it.  I rolled it around so the sides were all covered because I wanted it to dry in the bowl as a test.  The surface tension on that silicone is so high that the glue just ran to the bottom and wouldn't surface the sides.  Very nice.

I left it in the bowl for 2 days.  Here's the play-by-play of removing it:

I'm going to like that!

The bowls are from Trudeau.  (With the exception of Tremblay, no name is more French Canadian than Trudeau!)

Okay, writing this up has me hungry from some sakura mochi.  nom nom nom....

Tuesday, March 6, 2012

Well, that was no fun...

If you'll recall, nearly two months ago I transferred my domain and hosting to a new provider for a variety of reasons including more storage and bandwidth for much less... Short version is that the transfer stayed in limbo until today when I got charged by my old provider, so i noticed the transfer never happened. Why? I dunno. Anyway, it happened today with all the rocky bumpy cussing-out-loud needed to get it back online after a nearly half-day blackout.

-sigh!- that sucked :)

Anyway, the site is back up and propagating nicely. I'm actually in LA this weekend for a family function but also getting a design review from a friend for the next project starting this week. It actually started awhile ago, but I need the mock-up completed first; you really don't want me trying to describe this one with hand waving or -gasp- drawing (my drawing in particular!). If you ever felt like dabbling in compound angles, this project is for you!

Thanks for reading! More videos coming soon!