Saturday, December 26, 2009

Not Actually Dead

Just into the winter months. I've not been bone idle, either. I've three more blocks cut and ready to be printed.

Hard to tell what they are at this point, I know. Once I get them printed, it should be easier to tell what the images are. I hope. Boy, I really hope so. Be bloody awful, otherwise.
I've also picked up some stuff called "Mask-Ease" from Opus. It's a quick mask for silkscreening. I've cut one, but still have to mount and print it.

This is it half-completed. It's planned as part of a series called " Vancouver Buildings" (yes, highly inventive name), but that may change if I don't like the results.
The Mask-Ease is nothing more than sticky-back vinyl. You cut it and remove the positive. But then you apply another sticky-back vinyl over top of the positive and use it to transfer the image over to the screen. Its the transfer vinyl that really makes the product. We'll see how well it works.

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Bad Habits

I have a habit, when looking for books at the library, of browsing through the stacks around whatever I'm looking for. Or of just browsing the stacks. This is how I found Berserk: My Voyage to the Antarctic in a Twenty-Seven-Foot Sailboat, the story of three guys sailing from the southern tip of South America to Antarctica. I was looking for some book the other day when I stumbled across Magdalena Muldoon's book, Metal Embossing Workshop. I had bought some copper sheet for another project, and I came across some cheap embossing tools in Opus, so I decided to give it all a try.

I have a small stack of printed images waiting to be transferred to lino blocks for printing, so I dug through them (all six maybe) and found a tree I liked the look of. I tranferred it over to the copper with carbon paper--although that really didn't work. It left only the faintest of lines, so I faked my way through the copying, coming up with a satisfactory tree that almost resembles the original image. I used a small metal tool with a ball end to trace the lines from the back, raising a line on the front of the copper sheet. Then, with a couple of wood tools that basically looked like they'd been run through a pencil sharpener, I turned the sheet over and retraced the image from the front--this time just outside the lines I'd already made. I then flipped the sheet back over and filled in the trunk of the tree and the wider sections of the branches. Then back to the front to push back the rest of the surface, ensuring the tree stands out from the whole plane of the copper sheet.
Stephanie, who has done pretty much everything I want to do, usually more than once and always better than I can ever hope to do (no, seriously. Check out her work), had warned me that the copper sheet I was using was too thick. But then, it was the only copper sheet I had, and I already had it, so I used it anyway. And she was right. I was stopping every couple of minutes to shake out the strain on my arm, as embossing was taking a lot of strength. But I did manage to do it, which excites me. Magdalena Muldoon's book has a number of different ideas for embossing (geometric figures, art nouveau patterns, etc.), several of which I hope to try. The nice thing is that the tools most likely to wear out or break are easily replaceable--I can make them (and others) out of scrap wood in the shop.
So now I've got something new to play with--a very bad habit. I really need to concentrate on one thing for longer, but here am I, busy learning about new stuff.

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Friday, August 28, 2009

What I'm Doing During The Day

Basement renovation, that's what. Above is the basement with one bit of wall removed. You can see it's dark and miserable. The two closets and the wrought iron railing on the right of the photo went out to the side-walk with a free sign on them and the closets were gone within ten minutes. The wrought iron railing took a little longer, but was gone within 24 hours.

After tearing out the walls, things were a lot more open and bright. Well, the open garage door didn't hurt.... But it looks like the space will work for what the client wants--a small suite. Though the wall behind the closets in the first picture is now going to have to leave as well.
Not the easiest project I've ever taken on, though easily the largest I've done for someone else.
I laid out my thoughts on the room break-up today--trying out various things by laying lumber on the floor and getting a feel for how the space will break. The client has already come up with some new ideas for what she wants, so this was a chance to see how those would play out.
Thankfully, with a day of resting, my arm seems to have recovered most of its strength and usability. I have to say I was scared I'd done permanent damage to it the other day. But I seem to have dodged that bullet....

In Progress

A quick shout out to Stephanie, for letting my use her table the other day. Printing does take up a lot of room--I'll have to design and build a collapsible or storable rack for drying prints.
The prints of "Ferns" drying here (and a proof copy of "Bottomed Out" in the lower right of the photo--showing a little at least of the Khadi paper I used for the proofs I plan to keep) were printed in an acrylic ink, but still took a long tome to dry. I ended up interleaving the prints with rice paper and then separating them again once I got them home. Good thing I did both those things--the ink was still a little tacky and would have contact printed to the back of the print laying on top of it. Not end of the world, but messy and unnecessary.
It's weird--I really like the look of the exposed sunken boat in "Bottomed Out" on both the scan and in this photo. But when I look at the original, I don't see anything of what I see here.I just see a mess of lines that fail to communicate.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Smash and Grab

Since I got into furniture construction and restoration, people have insisted that This means I must be able to do construction. Now, true or not (and, as it turns out, true--I've worked in the field and also had some formal training), furniture and construction aren't the same thing. One is intense shop-work and the other, well, isn't.
Well, apparently I've embraced my inner carpenter, because I've taken on the project of renovating a basement. Today I started, and I started by tearing out the crap that was in the basement. Used as both bedrooms and an indoor garage, I had to tear out cobbled-together walls and pull out nails by the kilo.
Clearly the basement was used at some point by teenagers, as one of the things that turned up under some other stuff, was a very small and very well-used hash pipe.
Bashing things up went pretty well; by 2:00 pm I had most of it taken down and was starting to de-nail and stack the waste. My lower back was indicating that I hadn't used it in this way in a while and it was starting to get tired of swinging a hammer and wrecking bar. Most of that was done, so I was fine with that.
And then about 3:00pm, I was unloading some of the wast sheet goods when I felt the muscles in my right arm go. I'm not sure what I did, but there was pain. And, most frustratingly, it didn't go away. And didn't go away. And hasn't gone away. I really hate this--pain is supposed to happen, you stop what you're doing, and the pain goes away. At the moment, I'm having trouble straightening my right elbow, and muscles are complaining all the way up to my shoulder. But primarily it's my elbow. What the hell is next? I'm getting pretty tired of breaking down just when there's things I actually want to do.


Managed to get some printing done yesterday. Not sure how I feel about the final results, though. I tried a few different things, mostly papers. the end result? I still printed "Ferns" on watercolour paper for the main series and on the Khadi for the proof print I'll frame. But the results on rice paper? Ferns

This was just laid on the scanner, and you can see that there's a certain amount of crinkle-age...
The rice paper is some I picked up marked "Calligraphy practice paper" and I bought the cheapest for the most sheets (there were three or four different packages of at least two different weights). I bought it for a separate project which requires me to upgrade my Sumi-e skills, but after (I think) Kathy suggested I try printing on rice paper, I decided to give it a try.
This was cut on a different lino, as well. Instead of the Speedball pre-mounted I had (a grey coloured lino mounted on particle board), this was a light brown lino that I mounted myself. I was surprised at the difference. The brown is coarser, grain-ier, with a little more tendency to crumple. The image was difficult to cut; I kept confusing field and ground.
I also pulled a proof print or two of a second block.
Bottomed Out

This proof was also pulled on rice paper. I'm not sure how I feel about the image; I may go back and cut a new block to try and improve it. And you know, both images look better in the scans than they do on paper.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Restoration--Just Another Day

I think the biggest crime against furniture has to be nails. Most places that a builder would use nails can be eliminated during the design process. That leaves nails to people doing really bad repairs.
The chest of drawers that I'm currently restoring is full of nails; in the moulding, holding the feet on, fastening the back to the frame. There's just bloody nails everywhere.

Don't get me wrong--nails have their place, it's just not in furniture. And not the way most people just bang them in at random. Most of the antique chairs that I've restored have had nails in them--it seems to be the answer to a glue failure in a mortise and tenon joint; bang a nail into the joint to hold them together. It doesn't work. Nails almost never work.

The problem is that wood moves and nails don't. Not that crap about wood having to "breathe" or needing to be "fed." Wood naturally moves over the course of a year, swelling when the average humidity goes up, shrinking when it goes down. It moves in very specific ways; less in thickness and length, more in width. If you imagine a fence, with a 150mm wide board nailed to a 50mm x 100mm (2"x4") cross member, if you nail the face board to the side of the cross member with 2 nails in the face, you are ultimately condemning the board to split.

The board will, over the course of each year, expand and contract over the same plane that the nails are holding it in a fixed position. By the end of a hot summer, the board may be 15% or more narrower than it was in the spring. The two nails, on the other hand, haven't moved at all. And then, heading down from the nail holes, two cracks. A board hung from a single nail top and bottom, on the other hand, will last so much longer, as the natural movement of the wood is not being resisted by the nails.

Movement differs between thinner and thicker wood, wider and narrower, but all wood is going to move. Movement is slowed and moderated by finishes like paint and varnish, but again, only slowed and moderated, not stopped. Wood always moves, just like gravity always wins.

After pulling nails out of the chest of drawers, I tossed a handful on the scanner. I've found three different kinds of nails: the earliest are the square-shaft nails you can see above. These were originally used to attach the back boards to the carcase. Since then small finishing nails have been added to the mix, and what look to be wire nails from an air-nailer. The latter have clipped rather than pointed ends--although they may have been finishing nails hand-clipped, I kind of doubt it from looking at them.

The front feet are proving to be the biggest problem in this restoration. At "A" in the above shot, you can see where, when the feet were being built, the 45° joint was "strengthened" by a nail. But because it was nailed into the end grain, it actually weakened the wood by forcing the fibres apart. Coupled with really crappy construction, it pretty much guaranteed problems down the line--and, as both front feet failed at the same point for the same reasons, I can feel pretty confident in saying that.

The feet were not made at the same time as the rest of the chest, pretty clearly being added later. Why is less clear--perhaps the originals were lost or destroyed, or possibly the piece is a made-up, being re-purposed later from a larger piece. But the quality of the work in the chest is streets ahead of the workmanship of the feet.

The ogee shape of the feet have been bandsawn out of some 25mm oak, reducing the thickness of the board to ~15mm at its thinnest. This thinness is why feet are usually made out of 50mm or thicker stock. The finish is much worse on the feet than on the rest--the feet are badly sanded (if at all) and covered with a stain so thick as to be paint rather than the beautiful colour and figure of the rest of the chest.

You can also see in the picture above that the pad which backs up the feet on the bottom of the chest has 2 screws holding it on--and three big nails at "B". There are also nails in random places inside the carcase, which I've removed, re-gluing pieces where necessary.

The bottom shows some of the problems furniture faces over the course of surviving a century; the holes above the crack are from wood-borer beetles, who dug into the unprotected wood and built galleries. These bore holes weakened the wood, and contributed to the crack that you can see. Inside the crack are the exposed holes, where the wood has been turned into Swiss cheese (except less tasty and more brittle).

A long life also loosened the dovetails on the carcase--but here is where good design helps. The dovetails don't allow the sides to move out and because the lifted piece is actually the bottom (the carcase was resting on its top when I took the picture), it doesn't generally move either. So even though the glue had failed at this point, the piece of furniture didn't fail, and, in fact, wasn't even damaged by the failed glue joint. So some hide glue back on the pins and tails and once again the carcase is stiff rather than loose, but other than that, not much difference will be noticed.

This shot actually shows the joint between the side and the top--again, the carcase is resting on its top rather than its feet. This shows a lot of the construction techniques used by whomever built this piece. The carcase itself is built out of softwood boards, edge-joined and then veneered on the outside. The inside is left unfinished (who's going to look?), and the corners are joined with dovetails which were then covered with moulding to produce the look of a solid hardwood chest.
It also shows where the anti-drop board was. This is just a filler piece that prevents the drawer from dropping its leading edge as it is pulled out of the chest. The top back corners try to go up and run into this filler piece. It makes for a nicer experience using the drawer, and is usually unnoticed--until its not there and the drawer drops.
But here there are four pieces of wood glued edge to edge to make up the top of the chest, and the anti-drop board is glued in across them. As the wood cycles through the seasons, swelling and contracting, it eventually breaks this glue bond, as the cross-grain board doesn't shrink and swell in the same direction. So every few years or decades, you have to glue it back in place. Not a mistake or a problem, but what I consider normal maintenance, like renewing the wax over the finish every so often.

The same construction techniques were used on the drawers, but instead of the double-bead moulding being applied, cock-beading was used around the outside of each drawer. Imagine an upper-case "D" rotated 90° counter-clockwise and the left edge aligned with the left edge of a lower case "L", so it looks like a hat hanging off one side. When you put this on the side of a drawer, the "l" covers the side of the drawer-front with the same type of wood, and the "D" covers both the top of the "l" and the edge of the veneer on the drawer-front, making a little bump all the way around the perimeter of the drawer. Looks really classy and takes quite a beating over time. And, as in the photo above, it often gets nailed back on. I removed the nails and re-glued the cock-beading with hide glue.

Hide glue is exactly that; a glue made from (usually cow) hides. The pearls, the dried glue, is re-hydrated and melted (I use an electric wok that heats a metal mixing bowl full of glue in a water bath). Hide glue, being almost pure protein, is wood-friendly, environmentally friendly, stainable, and, most importantly,reversible. If a joint breaks, it can be reheated and moistened and will reset the glue. Joints don't have to be perfectly cleaned, as hide glue happily bonds to old hide glue.
The downside? It stinks. A lot. Whoo. Now, I've been using it outdoors, so not so much a problem. But the smell of hot hide glue can be pretty nauseating. Also, being an organic product, it spoils. And when it does, it often makes hot hide glue smell appetising by comparison.
Hide glue also doesn't have long open time. As it cools, it very quickly becomes less tacky and more of a jelly. In wood-heated shops, the wood to be glued was often kept near the fire so that it would be warm when glued, lengthening the open time of the glue and improving the bond.
But in antique restoration, reversibility is a good thing, something to be strived towards. Everything I do to this chest I want to be reversible, non-damaging, and as close to the original methods as possible. If everyone who touched antiques took the same approach, well, there'd be a lot more antiques around. But people whack nails into them and use unsuitable glues that mean if you make a mistake, there's no way for someone else to fix it without massive damage to the piece of furniture.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Furniture Day

Not printing today. Instead, I'm working on restoring a chest of drawers for Louise. It's a lovely piece (I'll post photos later) but it's clearly showing its age and travel. Pieces are falling off, the front legs have broken, and chunks of cock-beading have come loose. Also kind of nice to be working on furniture again. This is something I know how to do. Although I could probably live without the smell of hide glue; good thing I'm working outside.... But after 2.5 hours of fiddly dicking about, my ADD kicked in and I needed a break. Besides, Karl and Steph are due home this evening, and I have to finish dishes and laundry before they get here.

Sunday, August 9, 2009

Still trouble

Stopped by Opus today and got a different transfer sheet--white and waxier than the carbon paper I've been using. Still no luck, though. There is the occasional tiny bit of transfer, but I risk tearing the paper original if I press hard enough. I think I'll have to pick up some more of the pre-mounted lino and/or some of the tan fibre-backed stuff in order to keep this series running. So the answer? Don't focus on the problem. Instead, move sideways to find a solution.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Touble, right here in River City

Okay, not River City. Victoria is an ocean city, as the kayaking blog points out. But trouble nonetheless.
I've been using a grey lino mounted on 19mm board for the last two days. In the meantime, I mounted a black lino on some 19mm board and trimmed it up for use today and into the future. But I can't get my images transferred onto the lino; it doesn't take the carbon paper. Not sure what to do.....

Friday, August 7, 2009


Pulled "Dinghy" today. Same as "Paula"--20 copies on watercolour paper. Artist's proof on Khadi handmade paper. I'm pleased that this one turned out as well as it did. I'm fairly happy with the detail that came out.

Thursday, August 6, 2009


Finally got this linocut printed! Taking care of my brother-in-law's place for a few days, and that means having enough room to lay out drying prints and suchlike. As Stephanie (his significant other for the last 25 years) is an artist, this kind of behaviour won't raise any eyebrows.
I printed 20 copies of "Paula" on 300gsm (140 lb) watercolour paper I cut into 215mm x 130mm (8.5" x 5") pieces. not a typical size, but should suit my plans for the prints: I hope to finish a series of ten or so prints and bind them into small books. The artist's proof (scanned above) was pulled on 150 gsm A4 Khadi handmade paper, which I haved mounted on a piece of foam-board and dropped into a frame--this leaves the deckle edge exposed and looks pretty neat, if I do say so myself.
The lino was 100mm x 150mm and mounted on 19mm board. I printed with Speedball block printing ink and a Japanese-style palm leaf baren. It's great to be printing again, after so many years away from it.