Archive for ‘Splinters in my mind…’

I prefer hammer…

By , 18 May, 2012, No Comment

There are some days in the shop that I can do no wrong. Every cut is dead on. Every measured mark is exactly where I need it to be. Motion is fluid and efficient. On those days splinters turn away before me, sawdust parts around me like Moses in the Red Sea (or Charlton Heston, depending on your background), and crooked lumber will straighten itself with merely a touch. I can turn a stack of plywood sheets into three dozen precisely cut, rabbeted, dadoed, shelf pinned, pocket-holed and sanded parts in the blink of an eye.

Today was not one of those days. My knuckles are bloody from cuts and scrapes. I spent the day turning mis-cut, messed-up, splintered scraps into smaller pieces of mis-cut, messed-up, splintered scraps. I have slivers in my eyeballs and dust two inches thick on my tonsils.


Ah, well. Sometimes you’re the hammer. Sometimes you’re the nail. Time for a beer.

Shop updates

By , 26 November, 2011, No Comment

Well, it seems like forever since I last posted. It’s not because I’ve been lazy. Quite the opposite, in fact. I’ve been buried with projects for the last several months… the total for this year stands at 29 separate projects covering 52 individual pieces. Excuses, excuses, I know.

I came across an article recently in Dwell Magazine about contractors that I thought you all might enjoy. Well written and good info, so I’m going to link to it below and let you read it for yourself. Enjoy!

An Introduction to Contractors

Architect-author, Dan Maginn of El Dorado Inc., in Kansas City, Missouri, gives us the inside track on one of his favorite subjects: contractors. Learn what makes them tick, how to work with them, and how to keep all your fingers.

Contractors fascinate me. They always have. They are fundamentally different from other people. They have their own language of sorts and their own curious customs and mannerisms, like Klingons, or French people. They have cool belts and cool stuff (multitools, wee little anodized flashlights, and other things that would be handy to have) fastened to their cool belts. They look different, and they smell different. They smell like work getting done.1 In this perhaps, contractors are not so much like French people.

Read more:

They don’t make ‘em like they used to…

By , 24 April, 2011, 4 Comments

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One of the things I love about woodworking is the tools.  That probably comes as no surprise, especially to my wife, who has endured my tool lust for many years.  But I don’t just mean any tools.  I mean GOOD tools.  Tools that work exactly the way they are supposed to, time and time again.  And it’s not just new tools.  I have my favorites, sure, and I don’t know how I would survive without my cordless impact driver or my Multimaster, but there is something about an old tool that is just, well, solid.  I suppose that’s because only the well made tools survive long enough to be passed along and used for years.  The cheap ones, like anything, don’t last that long.

A good friend of mine, Paul McCune, was asking about my shop recently, and wondered if I had a shaper.  A shaper is a stationary power tool that is often used to cut profiles for mouldings, railings and raised panels.  Most kitchen cabinet doors and drawer fronts spend alot of time running through a shaper when they are being constructed.  I told Paul that, “No, I have a big router table and cute little Williams and Hussey Moulder, but no shaper”.

“Would you like one?” he asked.  Like asking a kid if he wanted candy.  Seems he had one sitting in his shop that was just collecting dust.  It belonged to his Dad, who had used it for many years.  So he gave it to me.

Long story short, several months and a good bit of research later, I have a new addition to the shop: a 1951 Delta 43-205 Heavy Duty Shaper.  Just sounds cool, don’t it?  I spent a good bit of time cleaning and checking everything over on the machine before putting it to use.  It only has a 1 hp motor, but what a motor it is!  This thing starts with a lunge and levels off to a growl that you feel more than hear.  I swear I can even feel the concrete floor vibrate from ten feet away.  The motor is reversible, although why you would want to do that is beyond me.  It weighs over 300 lbs and is nearly every part on it is some shade of Delta gray with the exception of the fire-engine red switch plate.

The original shaper was designed with a spindle shaft onto which you installed large cutters relevant to the task at hand.  Somewhere along the line, Paul’s Dad (I think the guy was a genius) decided he wanted to mount his router bits in this machine, so he made (!) a spindle with a 1/2″ router chuck on the end.  I was rather leery of using that particular attachment at first, but when I got around to putting a micrometer on it, turns out it’s true to within 3-thousandths of an inch.  So, I use my router bits in it.

Most modern tools are disposable, with plastic parts and cheap metal covered with a few stickers and fancy paint.  Not this one.  Nearly every part is cast iron, even down to the independently adjustable fence and solid hand wheel.

I can’t thank Paul and Judy enough for this gift.  This is a tool with a history and tons of good karma and I promise I will put it to good use for many years to come!


The problem with a wall bed…

By , 30 January, 2011, No Comment

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Of all the wallbeds that we’ve built in our shop, there seems to be a common concern that arises again and again.  I’ve found that most of our clients are good consumers.  They do their due diligence.  They carefully weigh all the options and design elements and make the choices that best suit their needs.  I’ve not yet had a client that is not pleased with their project, but still this one concern continues to come up.

Their guests stay too long.  They invite family and friends over for a weekend that turns into a repeat the following weekend.  A two day vacation turns into three- and four-day getaways.  It seems that their guests are too comfortable.  In order to address this concern, I’ve compiled the following list of temporary modifications that might help to encourage your guests to take their leave.

Any of the following items, carefully placed within the bed between the mattress and platform might prove to be the straw that broke the camels back (or, in our case, the crick that sent them home to their own bed):

1.)  Golf clubs.  Start with a thin putter and work your way up to the larger drivers as the days go on.

2.)  Umbrellas.  Ideally ones that don’t have a pushbutton to open, as the resultant eruption could put them on to your tactics.

3.)  Canes.  Similar in result to umbrellas, but be careful of the ones that have four feet and can stand on their own.

4.)  Ironing boards.  Perhaps the most versatile of the list, as they can be placed right side up, upside down, horizontal or vertical.  Probably best to leave the legs folded down, but use your discretion.

There are, of course, countless other methods and means to discourage the persistent guest.  I would encourage you to use your imagination and explore all your options.

In the event that the above methods do not prove to be successful, you could simply entreat them to leave your furniture alone and have a wallbed installed in their own home.  My number can be found on this website.

Long road to a short answer

By , 19 January, 2011, 1 Comment

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Once upon a time, when you read “Made in the USA” you knew what it meant.  You knew that somewhere in the United States, a company and it’s employees spent some time and effort creating the thing you were looking at.  It may have been a Matchbox car (Do they even make those anymore?) or a real car.  It may have cost a little or alot, but regardless of the price it was made in the US.  Somewhere along the line, other phrases started popping up: “Assembled in the US”, “Made in XYZ of US parts”, and “Designed in the US, built in XYZ”.

So I became curious about the labeling that I was seeing.  Of course, the go-to source for information on all things regulated is the US Government, specifically the Federal Trade Commissi0n.  Big mistake.  The FTC published a handy guide to marketing and advertising your products in the United States.  It contains 40 pages.  It talks about implied and implicit advertising, qualified and unqualified labeling, percentages of manufacturing, raw materials and how far from the source the final product is before it hits the market.

To be fair, I suppose all of those things are necessary to deal with the diverse situations that arise with imports and such.  But I was really just looking for a simple answer.  And I found it.

If you really want to know if a product is made in the USA, just hire someone local to build it for you!

Nobody wants stinky furniture

By , 4 October, 2010, No Comment

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I’ve mentioned in past blogs how we use a formaldehyde-free plywood material in the shop and how we try to be careful in our selection of other sourced raw materials.  The wood that we build with is only one of several components of furniture and cabinetry that can pose some health risks, however.  In fact, the amount of formaldehyde that outgasses from plywood is fairly minimal compared to the nasty odors put off by the finishes that are applied to most furniture.

When I first began in the industry, I was lucky enough to work in a shop that sprayed primarily waterborne finishes.  Waterbornes have been around for a long time, but were not widely used in the industry due to some difficulties in application and the durability of the end product.  In the last ten years or so, the waterborne finish side of the industry has made tremendous strides and now those finishes are just as durable if not moreso than their solvent-based counterparts.

So what, right?  Well, there are a couple of things you need to know about furniture and cabinetry finishes.  Namely, VOC’s and HAP’s.  VOC stands for Volatile Organic Compounds and everyone knows what they are (they just don’t know that they know).  VOC’s are any organic compound that readily evaporates into the atmosphere at room temperature.  Gasoline, for instance, emits VOC’s.  It’s the smell.  And breathing VOC’s is not good for your health.

The second thing is HAP’s.  That stands for Hazardous Airborne Pollutants, and everyone knows what those are as well (and, yep, they still don’t know that they know).  HAP’s are toxic and are carried on the air in a small particulate form.  Asbestos is the one that everyone knows about.  Nasty stuff.  Don’t want to breathe it.

VOC’s and HAP’s are similar in their adverse ill health effects, the difference being that one is a gas and the other is a solid (albeit a very small solid).  Both of these things can make you sick, give you cancer or otherwise ruin your day.

Which brings us back around to waterborne finishes.  The finishes we spray are ultra-low VOC and zero HAP’s coatings.  Which means that they are not only friendly for us to use in the shop, but they are good for you in the home.  Being water based instead of mineral spirit based, they do not evaporate into the atmosphere like solvent- based finishes do (so they don’t stink).  And since they contain no HAP’s, or airborne toxins, I don’t have to worry about what I’m breathing.

The issue of safe materials, whether wood or paint, goes beyond the shop.  These products that we build end up in your homes.  You live with them.  Your family and friends sit at them, eat on them, sleep on them.  We pride ourselves on high quality furniture and cabinetry and believe that means more than just using the right wood.  It means using the best materials, in the right design, with the right construction methods and the right finish.  Because your home should make you happy, both inside and out.

Plywood is plywood, right?

By , 25 September, 2010, 1 Comment

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Wood furniture and cabinetry is built of, you guessed it, wood.  And while all wood comes from the same basic source (trees), that is where the similarity ends.  Logs are milled into hardwood lumber boards, sliced into veneer, chewed up and pressed into engineered panels, and even cooked down into paper.  I don’t build furniture from paper, so we can drop that category right there.  Engineered panels offer some advantages, but I don’t use them much either, and that is an entirely different post.  Most of the projects that I design and build utilize hardwood lumber boards, or blanks, and hardwood plywood veneer panels.

Everyone understands what hardwood lumber boards are.  Hardwood plywood veneer panels, however, need a bit of explanation.  These panels consist of several inner layers of wood glued together at right angles and then faced front and back with a nice thin slice of the chosen species.  For example, a sheet of Walnut plywood has the same core as a sheet of Cherry plywood, which has the same core as Maple plywood, etc…  The only real difference is that the outer layer, the one that we see, is the preferred species.  Still with me?  The core plies in any hardwood plywood are the same basic material.  But there are some critical differences in plywood.

First of all, the glue used to bind these plies.  I specify Columbia Forest Products PureBond plywood for most of my projects.  Why?  Easy.  It’s made in the US and uses a formaldehyde-free glue.  So, no off-gassing of urea formaldehyde in the final product.  Better for me in the shop, better for you in your house.

The second major difference is tied closely to the first; quality.  Plywood that is manufactured in the US is held to a higher quality standard than those made overseas.  The wages for the employees are higher, the workplace is safer.  I like these things.  And I support those things in what little sphere of influence I  have.

Several years ago I was asked by a client to build a project for as cheaply as possible.  Their budget simply did not allow for a higher quality material and I was hungry for the work, so I agreed.  We used an imported plywood that was to be painted.  Several of the sheets deformed once they were cut.  Usually this happens because the lay-up from the factory is not balanced in layer thickness or moisture content, or both.  Since these deformed into roughly the shape of a rainbow, I would guess both.  When this happens it is always a quality issue.  But what really turned me off imported plywood was the one sheet that I cut into only to find that two of the inner plies had no glue between them at all and the panel immediately delaminated.  But even that was not the worst of it.  The worst part was that inside that delamination was what looked like blood and hair.  I swore off imported plywood that day and have not used it since.

I realize this may be more than you ever wanted to know about plywood, but if you’re considering having some cabinet or furniture work done, it may be of interest.  Different manufacturers will have different reasons for using the products they do and some of those reasons may be valid.  But make sure you know what you’re buying before you toss down a stack of cash.  A bit of time spent now in education could save you alot of heartache later when you find that what you paid for and what you have are not the same thing at all.

Greenhouse gasses, oh my!

By , 8 September, 2010, 3 Comments

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Okay, time to get scientific.  There’s a lot of talk about greenhouse gas emissions right now, and people are looking at ways to reduce their “carbon footprint”.

Wanna know the easiest way?  Build with wood.  The production of any building material causes greenhouse gas emissions, mostly CO2, or Carbon Dioxide, which is a result of burning fossil fuels.  We have to burn fossil fuels to harvest trees for lumber, dig up iron ore for steel and mine limestone and stone aggregate for concrete.  Then it has to be processed into a product, another fossil-fuel burning process.  Not done yet… it still has to be transported to market on, you guessed it, fossil-fuel burning vehicles.  All of these processes result in CO2 emissions.

But here’s the really cool thing about wood:  you can actually REDUCE CO2 emissions by simply choosing to build with wood.  Blasphemy, you say?  Stick with me here.  Trees are known as “carbon sinks”, that is, they consume CO2 while they grow, storing the carbon and releasing the oxygen back into the atmosphere.  A good thing, right?  When a tree is harvested, that carbon is trapped in the final product INDEFINITELY.  So, over the life of a tree, it actually takes more CO2 out of the atmosphere than is created in the process of harvesting, milling and delivering to market.  The net result of building with wood is the removal of about 3/4 of a ton of CO2 emissions on average per cubic meter of product.  Concrete, on the other hand, adds about half a ton of CO2 emissions per cubic meter of product.  And steel?  Steel adds about four tons of CO2 emissions per cubic meter of product.

So, bottom line is, using wood is better for the environment than concrete or steel.  But, to be fair, not everything can be made with wood.  The real key is balance.  Without steel, I wouldn’t be in business.  Without concrete, my shop would be sitting in the dirt.  If you’re planning a building project, learn everything you can about your options.  Educate yourself.  And then choose the one that best fits your needs.  And if it’s also the best choice for the environment, all the better!

For more information, or to just be overwhelmed with the science, go here:

Dear HGTV…

By , 18 August, 2010, 2 Comments

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We love you out here in TVLand. We like the shows, the personalities and the ideas and inspiration that seems to flow non-stop from your creative little brains. You have singlehandedly given rise to an entire movement of do-it-yourselfers and, as a contractor, I’m okay with that. I like to see people tackling some of the projects around the house on their own.

On top of that, you give people great design ideas that they can pursue with local contractors to build their own dream home. I’m sure that there are countless stories from all across the nation about a home renovation or construction project that was inspired by HGTV.

The point of my letter is to thank you for the recent offer to appear on one of your prominent weekend shows and the chance to put my work in front of millions. When I got the call I have to admit that my heart was beating pretty quick! I was really excited to know that you would consider my work to be up to the high standards of HGTV.

But then you told me that it would only cost me several thousand dollars to give you my work free of charge and as a thank-you I would get a line of the end-credits all to myself. In small type. And scrolling fast. Oh, and bragging rights. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed and felt like I was being hustled by a snake-oil salesman.

Could you please create a show that gives people a realistic idea of what a project will cost? Homeowners need to understand that they really can’t remodel an entire house for only a couple thousand dollars and have it all done in a week. Projects like these take time, planning and money.

Rest assured, I will continue to watch your programming. But from now on, I’m paying alot more attention to the end-credits.

Jason Frantz
WoodShop Artisans

Contractor Tango

By , 13 August, 2010, No Comment

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I don’t dance much.  I’m a white boy from the Missouri backwoods and dancing was just not something I did much growing up.  I could buck hay bales all afternoon, build fence and drive the tractor, and I managed to keep up with my chores reasonably well, but dance?  Not interested.

But I find myself dancing on a fair number of shop projects, oddly enough.  Not the kind of dancing you’re thinking, I’m sure, but dancing nonetheless.  It usually starts like this:

“So we’ve talked about what kind of project you have in mind, how you want it built, what you plan to use it for and when you need it.  Do you have a budget in mind?”

Somewhere, music begins to play…

“Well, not really sure… Do you have any idea what it will cost?”

I might as well be wearing a tuxedo with a rose in my mouth as we take turns chasing each other around the room…

“The cost for any project is really in the details.  The more detail there is, the more labor is involved and that drives the cost up.”

Here, have a rose.

“We understand that, but we’re just trying to get a ballpark number for planning purposes.”

Is that castanets I hear?

And so it goes.

The funny thing is, I completely understand where the client’s coming from.  In their mind, if they tell a contractor how much they can spend then suddenly the project comes to that exact amount or higher.  If you lowball the budget, the contractor gets offended, but if you go too high, you risk paying more than you should have.  I know because I’ve done the same thing with contractors in my home.  Nobody wants to get ripped off.  Instead, we dance.

What it really boils down to is trust.  The best advice I can give to someone looking for a contractor is to find someone you can trust.  Talk to friends and neighbors, past clients, or just go with your gut feeling.  Believe it or not, finding someone you can trust is the easy part.  The hard part is actually trusting them.

Sit down and lay out your budget.  If you’re honest with your contractor, he’s much more likely to be honest with you.  When I know what a client’s spending limits are, I can usually tailor the project to meet those constraints.  That requires a bit more work on my part, but is usually worth it for a satisfied client.  And I would expect a client for a large project to interview and get estimates from several contractors.  Find the one you are most comfortable with and can trust.

Keep in mind that trust goes both ways and a contractor should be willing to trust you as well.  I’m always willing to share with clients the breakdown of an estimate.  I’ll lay out labor, materials and overhead so you know where I’m getting the numbers.  Not all contractors will do that, but it’s worth asking about.

Of course, you’re always welcome to dance.  Just don’t come crying to me if you get your toes stepped on.