Archive for January, 2011

Back to the Future, and it’s still here!

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

The photo on the left is of a digital veneer caliper measuring a thickness of 1.65 mm (0.0649”). The piece being measured is sawn French walnut veneer. Yes, I saw my own veneers, or purchase veneer from Patrick George in France (I have that URL on my links page).

When my clients step up to the plate and make the decision to invest in a piece of my art, (yes I wrote art) they want the damn thing to last. I hope they want it to last, this is what gives fine objects increasing value. A decorative art piece should be able to be handed down from one generation to the next.

Now your thinking: “What does this have to do with sawn veneers?” Lemme splain… For furniture pieces, and I mean furniture pieces, sawn veneers or antique veneers are what “should” be used in the construction, that’s my judgment.

If one is going to veneer wall paneling in a hotel lobby or an office, of course I recommend commercially sliced veneers. What’s the difference between sawn and sliced? Cost for one, nor will it ever be feasible to surface large areas with sawn veneer. The hotel or the office will be in a person’s lifetime gutted and dumped in the nearest landfill.

Let’s go back in time, about two-hundred-fifty years, to a furniture workshop in Stadt Neuweid, Germany. We’re at the workshop of David and Abraham Roentgen. From 1672 through 1760 the father and son worked together. Roentgen employed fifteen cabinet makers, this number swelled to an impressive two hundred at one point. These men created some of the worlds most sophisticated and mechanically complex pieces of furniture ever seen — for a very important clientele.

These exalted pieces of furniture were veneered with incredibly colorful marquetry, created with exotic wood veneers sawn to 1.5 to 2.5 mm thick. All woodworkers understand that wood changes color (fades or darkens) with exposure to ultraviolet light. The Roentgens knew this as well, for clients would call periodically to have a piece returned to the shop to have the faded marquetry scraped. By scraping only three or four thousands of an inch, all the brilliant colors would return. This process could be repeated many times throughout the life of the piece.

Back to the Future! One can see the Roentgen’s furniture in museums the world over. Why? Simply because the thickness of the sawn veneer propelled these pieces far into the future; our today, our children’s tomorrows.

The photo on the left shows a piece of commercial sliced veneer crumbled by my hand like a potato chip. The veneer’s thickness is 0.018” or 0.4572 mm straight from the mill. When glued to a substrate, it’s sanded, now it is even thinner. Imagine this piece somewhere in the future being refinished.

The probability of the veneer being sanded through to expose the substrate is really, really good. So, I try to find veneers that were sliced at least twenty or thirty years ago. Of course there are “certain” times that using sliced veneers is unavoidable, and I do use them — from time to time.

Making Swarf, sometimes…

Sunday, January 23rd, 2011

We’ve all heard the cliché “One door closes, another door opens.” The door closing was that of Sony in Rancho Bernardo, CA. Sony had a liquidation sale of machinery, tools, metals, and the kitchen sink. My friend Alan picked up just a “few” items.
One such item Alan acquired was a “newer” Bridgeport type vertical knee milling machine.

I have known Alan Schmidt for about ten years. Alan and his wife Beth own Horseless Carriage Restorations and Restoration Supply Company; where Alan keeps the automotive past alive. He’s had me work on a few of his client’s projects; the wooden parts of course.

I love metals though, always have. Clamping a dull piece of metal to a milling machine’s table, flipping a switch, watching the swarf flying off to expose a new and bright surface — I love it.

Over the last ten years I have visited Alan’s shop many times, it’s just down the road. Under his watchful eye, he’s allowed me to use his milling machine. There have been enough times over the years where I had to, or wanted to, make something that I couldn’t create with my drill press, I required a mill.

Surfacing 4340 steel with a fly cutter.

Alan would periodically encourage me to get a milling machine and retire my drill press. He would tell me of all the things that I could accomplish on a mill, and I knew it. My response was always the same: “I don’t have the room.” This went on for years, then Sony closed their doors here in Rancho Bernardo.

Alan owned two milling machines and made me an offer I couldn’t refuse on the one he was replacing. Moving this 3200 pound beast into place took some doing, and ruined my back for six weeks; it was all worth
it to be sure.

The main reason for getting this machine running was to turn cow horn into veneer, it makes the job much easier than what I’ve done in the past. However, making veneer from cow horn plates is still a smelly, dirty and laborious job. I may have some horn veneer on the website as a product, ready for antique restorers and furniture makers to use. More on this later…

My new machine has seen better days and I didn’t expect to achieve excellent results. I surfaced a piece of 4340 steel with a fly cutter over a twelve inch length by three inches wide. To my amazement, surface deviation was only about +0.0001” from one end to the other. So it’s safe to say it does an awesome job on cow horn.

You may be wondering what the heck swarf is. Swarf is the chips, shavings, turnings, or filings produced by the process of machining metal, as seen above. Swarf is metal debris, and only metal.