Ambry on Stand – Part 5


With the major construction on the cabinet portion complete, it was time to get to work on the stand.  After all, this can’t very well be an ambry on stand without the stand part.

The challenge of this part is the quantity of bent laminations.  The only straight pieces are on the front / back aprons and then the internal bracing.  The apron sides are straight forward curves, shaped to match the curve of the cabinet sides.  I’m doing all the glue ups with DAP Plastic Resin glue which is a sort of middle brown color and should not creep.   The lack of creep was evident when I pulled the pieces off the form; there was zero spring-back of the shape.  Yeah.  You do have to be careful not to breathe the powder when mixing it up; a dust mask and some care seems to be sufficient.


Next are the legs.  The trick here is that the leg is tapered.  So I built a sled for the thickness planer which was basically a shallow ramp; I think the differential was about 1/32″.  I don’t often use a dial caliper in woodworking but for this it was critical.  As the piece went through on the sled it became thinner at the end.  It worked well except that the planer ate a few pieces and I had some blanks that ended up too thin when I resawed them.  That was discouraging but in the end it worked out OK.  For this form the left end had a block and wedges to cinch the bottom of the foot tight – that worked nicely.


So here are the 8 parts ready to mortise and tenon.  I chose to use machines for all of the mortise and tenons.  I wanted super tight joints; the tenons aren’t as long as I would like and the whole thing was fussy.


In fact I had a major oops on the side pieces; I managed to forget I planned to cut an angle on the legs which shortened the appearance of the sides by something like 3/4.  So I ended up making the side aprons twice.  I pulled out the ancient Delta mortising attachment for my sad little drill press.  Once I worked out the work holding after the angles were cut,  it worked ok (note to self: must buy a proper drill  press some day).  I went to the table saw and tenoning jig for the tenons.  All the tenons were straight; the mortises were angled for maximum strenght.  Some hand work to fit everything.  The tenons were mitered inside where they met.  Tenons were  pinned with square pegs.


This is the dry fit.  It needed just a little coaxing to be square but it was close.  Next I made the knee braces which I wanted visually and I hope they add some lateral strength.  These are more bent laminations, though fairly tight.  These are made of (8) pieces 1/16th inch thick.


There are 8 of these.  Shockingly none broke; I think due to the outer compression strap I used (in this case 1/8″ bending ply).  Metal would have been better but I didn’t have anything that worked so well and the ply seemed to do the job.  My first bending test in free air, just between my hands, snapped it two.  That outer compression band really makes a difference keeping the fibers from breaking open.  The knee braces are screwed and glued in place, straight through the knee brace.  I then followed up with a piece of veneer covering the screw heads and then trimmed to fit.  With all the angles I had to add some some shims behind the braces in 4 places and fuss around to make the corners work out right but I achieved the look I planned.  I think I got structural stability and it looks OK.  Thought I later realized it would have been really cool if the pieces on the sides were continuous.  But it was too late to be clever like that (and with the curve it would been tricky).


And here it is ready to be prepped for finishing.  The lighter colored diagonals are cherry which I hope sort of ages along with the underside of the cabinet (There is some chance these will be visible from the audience since it’s on a raised platform).  Those diagonals will be the attachment point for the cabinet and add a lot of stiffness.  I considered more complicated joinery but later decided this would be stronger.  First thought was a dovetail into the sides bet I decided better if I didn’t cut into the laminated apron sides.  Glue and screws were perfect for this and I think appropriate for this kind of piece. It’s certainly dead simple.

Sunday morning I was able to do some last little fussy bits, adjusting the lock, making the door flush on both sides and fixing the hinges so they work better.  Sunday afternoon I sanded down to 320 grit, all by hand.  Boy did that make my fitness tracker go nuts.  No machines any more as I wanted to avoid tell-tale swirls and other marks.  And then I cleaned the shop and mixed up some shellac.

The plan is to use Boiled Linseed Oil on the cabinet to bring out the birds eye maple figure.  Then the cabinet goes outside for a tan (to darken the cherry) for a day.  Then shellac, shellac, shellac followed by rubbing out.  I picked up some Super Blonde for the cabinet and a Dark Jethwa for the base, but I think that will be stained darker to hide the color differential in the laminations.  Glass for shelves and the door is on order.

So the next time you see this, it should be done.  Wait for it.



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Ambry on Stand – Part 4 Assembly time


Previously on Ambry on Stand, I finished the marquetry panels on the side.  So smooth sailing, right?  Wrong.

Somewhere along the way, the side panels were out of square and I didn’t know it.  I dutifully did a dry fit up and I didn’t notice it.  In fact I didn’t notice it until I’d done the glue up of top/bottom/sides and I tried to install the back.  That’s when I realized it wouldn’t pull square no matter what I did.  I measured and checked and could not find the problem.  Stupid.  Finally I realized that the one thing I thought was dead square, wasn’t. And there was no hiding that mistake.


So after ripping it apart carefully I trued up the sides, rebuilt the top and bottom frames and got on with assembly.  That was a waste of many hours I won’t get back.  So, do as Norm says.  Measure twice, cut once.  I would make an excuse but I don’t have one.  Stupid.

But I recovered.  So I have that.

Here’s the top/bottom and sides assembled and the back now in place.  You can see my inner frames aren’t quite as nice as before, but they will be plenty strong.


And here I’ve installed the inner panels.  I used small thin pieces of wood as “spring spreaders” to push the inner panels into place and glue them in.  It works really well in places where it’s impossible to reach a clamp inside a cabinet.


Apparently I forgot to shoot a picture of the attaching the face frame and the also the top/bottom trim.  Sometimes I get going and forget to snap a picture.  Ditto making the inner door panel marquetry.

So this weekend I was able to do a lot of assembly; hang doors and install the lock.  Things are looking up.


View from the left quarter.  The light is temporarily installed.  The cherry top and bottom will look better (darker and richer) after some light exposure.  I’ll accelerate that when the time comes.  I got clever and thought it would be fun if the grape leaves extend beyond and above the moulding; now I’m not so sure.  It looks like a mistake maybe.


View of the inner panel door.  There will be two shelves and the idea is the bottom vessel will sit on the circle inlay. Walnut lettering on a light birds eye maple, a simple banding and cross-banded maple.

SC: Sacred Chrism

OI: Oil of the Sick

OC: Oil of the Catechumens

The rest of the weekend was spent milling walnut to make the base.  I have six bent laminations to make.  With any luck – knock wood – major construction could be done as early as next weekend.


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Ambry on Stand – Part 3 (Marquetry)

Catching up again as always.  It’s always easier to make progress on the project than to write about it.

The marquetry should be the fun part of this project.  I sort of changed my plan after some testing and realized that plan A was not going to work.  Plan B turned out to work pretty well.  I started by developing a sketch.  Initially I thought I would make a precise sketch and follow it exactly – I later realized it made more sense to simply let the work “grow” as I went.  In essence the left side would look like the right, more or less.


Once I had the basic sketch I did a small section of testing.  That’s when I developed Plan B.  I started by laying in the branches and stems in walnut.  I made a couple of templates to run my little Dremel along, starting with a 1/32 end mill bit as if I was doing simple stringing.  That template was clamped at both ends.  I loosened the clamp at one end and shifted it a little to widen the branch at one end.  I repeated the process until I had a tapered groove.  I did change from 1/32 to 1/16 to reduce the odds of breaking the bit.  I cut in the individual leaf and grape stems next.  Then I stuffed it with 1/32″ veneer laid on edge.  Start at the narrowed point and add more veneer as I progressed.  After the glue dried (Elmer’s White) I lowered the walnut flush with the background.




Next it was time to cut out lots of grape leaves and grapes.  Stupidly I timed myself.  I had 32 leaves to make, and I cut them in sandwiches of two leaves (a stack of 2 pieces of veneer in a packet).  From cutting the first leaf to the last, it only took me 2 hours.  Once you get into the groove it goes quick.  Since I was only cutting the outline I used an aggressive 2/0 blade on the fret saw.  The Knew Concepts saw is amazing and worth every penny.



IMG_1514For the bunches of grape I planned to cut those out in the same way and assemble into a bunch.  That went badly.  The mahogany I was using was very splintery and the grapes looked a little too irregular and funky.  I needed a new way.  I realized if I used a piece of 1/2″ EMT I could fashion a punch to create the grapes.  I ground and filed the outside until I had a sharp cutting edge, then I slightly crushed it in the vice to give the grapes an oblong shape.  The grain runs in a variety of directions on purpose, and I didn’t mind a little space between grapes.  I can fill that in later with asphaltum.


IMG_1542 After I had all the pieces it was time to start cutting them in.  I tacked down each leaf or grape bunch as desired on the branches and traced around it carefully with a very sharp pencil.  My old drafting lead holders and sharpener did the trick nicely, giving me a close sharp point.  Then I followed the line with a small 1/32″ end mill in the Dremel and base. A little water and heat pulled up the rest of the background, giving me a recess to drop in the element.  The last pictures below are after scraping off all the hide glue and accumulated crud.



There’s more to do later, as I do the finishing.  I’ll scratch in some leaf veins, just to add some interest and fill that with asphaltum.  But that can’t be done until finishing is partially complete.

So it turned out OK.  Next step some assembly finally.  That’s when I had a little – OK big – surprise.

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Ambry on Stand Part Deux

The holidays are over and the new year has begun.  Very little progress over the holidays, much to my dismay, but things have picked back up again.  My self-imposed deadline of Easter looks near impossible, so I think May will be the best I can do.  What can I say?

This is mostly a catch up post.  I’m further along than this, into the marquetry portion of the project, but I’ll write about that in a few days.  Some of that hasn’t gone so well but I think we are now on track finally. Let’s just say we are on Plan B for marquetry.

When last we left the project, the carcass was fit out with sides and a top.  Next was to build the back and innards.  The back is a simple frame and panel with a bird’s eye veneer panel. Some time was spent aligning the center stile with the center divider that is not actually on center (on purpose!)


Once the back was in place, I could move on to fitting the interior panels.


This will eventually just glue into place.  The center panel is veneered on both sides with nice clear maple, then the interior sides and bottom/top lock it into place.  The center panel is let into a dado in the back panel and a dado added to the center front divider.


Here the front boards are all fit in.  Not shown is that the top and bottom of this are all mortise and tenoned into the sides.  It would have been simple(r) to just plan to nail and glue but I really want this whole thing to be well joined up and durable.  When I got to this point I felt pretty good.


Also not shown is the panel hiding the lighting kit transformer.  In the middle of the narrow section is a false back panel held on with rare earth magnets; push in the bottom and it pops out to access the electronics once the back is glued in place.  Not exactly hidden but we’ll call it concealed.  The LED down light is mounted in the top of the narrow section and I placed an inlaid circle of walnut stringing to mark where the bottom oil vessel will sit.  The two shelves will be thick glass which I need to have made.  I think the lighting effect should look nice; the LED looks pretty nice down on dimmer and pick up the color of the maple (even raw).

Finally I built the door.  Again, mortise and tenon construction with a bird’s eye maple show panel.  Glass will be in the other side, set into a rabbet.  I inlaid some heavy stringing of XP (Chi Rho) which is similar to the symbol on the existing ambry.  With some finish the stringing should pop nicely


That was as far as I could take the cabinet, as the next step is to do the marquetry on the side panels.  That’s where I’ll pick this up in the next days.  This will be where the fun really begins….

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Ambry on Stand Part 1

I had the last two weekends to get started on this project.  It will be unlike anything else I’ve ever done, so some new skills to learn and use.  I’ll be making my first attempts at using a vacuum bag, I’ll be building torsion boxes to provide a lightweight but stiff, substantial structure, and I’ll be using bent laminations more than usual.  It should be fun.

Usually I build from solid woods and use traditional techniques.  I’ll use some of that but there will be a lot of plywood too.  I first thought about how to build this using solid wood and quickly realized the number of challenges and sheer weight I would be dealing with.  Plywood torsion boxes are the way to go.  And since I’ve got some curves, I decided using a vacuum bag would help.  It is sort of contemporary after all.

I did my drawings by hand at 3” = 1’-0” scale.  For figuring out the joinery I simply took a piece of MDF and sketched and worked out the sections through the joinery.  I felt well prepared and like I had solved all of the problems before I cut any wood.

So the first step ended up being building a vacuum bag setup.  I spent some time researching this, but in the end I didn’t want to spend a lot of money on a setup I may not use frequently.  I could see the usefulness though.  I ended up with a homebrew setup from using a Venturi Pump.

IMG_1433It’s a clever system that uses a compressor (I have a small Porter Cable pancake compressor) to create the vacuum.  I built it over two evenings and it worked the very first time, without any messing around.  I’ve already veneered several panels and the system works well.  I don’t do endorsements but this thing works and seems well thought out.



I started by building the side ribs and frame around which the side panels will wrap.  I built the top and bottom frames and worked out the joinery.  I’m probably the only person that uses dovetail joinery for this sort of design but it’s a pretty strong joint and I like it better than just nailing or screwing.  The joints between the top/bottom and sides will be an over-sized splined joint.  In testing I’m confident this will be a very strong joint and will be completely hidden.


Next I laid up the curved outer panels on the sides.  I used ¼” cabinet grade plywood and urea formaldehyde glue.  I wanted the rigid glue line and no creep.  I debated using the vacuum bag but decided it would be simpler to just use clamps and cauls.  Here you can see my assistant (My dad works for Turkey on the day after Thanksgiving) helping with the clamping.  Easy Peasy.


So here’s where I am after about 9 days of occasional work.  Next up the back panel and interior panels.

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No, really, I’m back

Yes I’ve been gone for a long time. My day job has kept me busy for quite a while. Since this summer I’ve been working on opening several theatres, every one of them not exactly on schedule (not my fault!). Anyway the “CA” and commissioning portions of most of those projects are complete and new design projects are in progress. So for the foreseeable future I have a reasonable amount of paying work in the pipeline. That’s great news.
So my hobby / avocation / passion has suffered a bit. Throw in the usual work around the yard – there are still a lot of leaves to move yet – and it’s hard to get a lot done. Happily I’ve got three personal woodworking projects on my own personal list, and I think all of them will happen in due course. So I’ll talk about them a little bit.

The first project is a commission I’ve had for a long time but we had to organize a couple of people and come up with a design. Finally it all came together and it’s now a “real” project. I’m designing and building an “Ambry” for a catholic church. The ambry is a cabinet, usually secured, holding three sacred or blessed oils. The current ambry in the church is sort of non-descript, hidden and apparently no one has the key, so it goes unused. Do a Google image search on “Catholic ambry” and the variety is remarkable. My patron, who wants to remain anonymous, wants something better. We debated for a long time and I did some sketching, considering a wall cabinet with glass and more interest or a free-standing piece of furniture. I sketched for a while when I had time, first coming up with ideas that I thought meshed well with the church architecture; things that looked stout and secure. Those were rejected (in the nicest way possible). I heard “lighter” and “more artistic”. I showed my patron some images of James Krenov’s (or at least his disciples) work and that was the right direction. So I took some of those concepts and developed a chest on stand, with glass and a fair amount of marquetry that is up my alley. I’ll write more about the project as I finish the drawings and get started. I’m sort of excited about it even though it’s not a style or construction method I use often. Time to stretch out my imagination.


After that project, in the spring, will be a long-delayed remodel of our family’s family room fireplace and mantle. I’ve always hated what was built by the previous owner. I can only describe it as “fugly”. It’s nothing more than brick and a warped slab of wood as a mantle on built-in brick corbels. Utility at its worst. The fireplace is a wood-burning insert. My plan is to cover nearly all the brick with a frame and panel design, columns and a new mantle, with a large marquetry panel over the fireplace. I’ve done some preliminary design work and now that will be shelved to work on the ambry project.

The last project is perhaps the most exciting, and even though it’s likely a year off, it made a great leap forward in October. I’ve had my eye on a piece of furniture at the Museum of Early Southern Decorative Arts in Winston-Salem. I don’t want to say too much yet, but when I first saw pictures of the piece I was gob-smacked and knew I had to build it. Last month I spent about 5 hours with it, photographing and measuring it, and that only piqued my interest – no my NEED – to make it. It’s going to be a fun, long and expensive project – I must find some wide cherry planks to do it right – but I can’t wait. I’ll document that piece well.

The two original projects are helped by my efforts at improving my design eye. I’m no George Hepplewhite or Thomas Sheraton, but I feel more confident. Walker & Tolpin’s books “By Hand & Eye” and their workbook “By Hound & Eye” (there’s a pun there and it’s a little silly but there’s great information in those books) from Lost Art Press have been a huge help. Those books have reinforced things I learned long ago and forgot how to use. The information is in a fresh format that’s been great. I’ve been to George Walker’s presentations – he’s frequently at my local SAPFM meetings – and there’s always something old that’s new to learn. Read their stuff and that sentence makes sense.
The last thing I’m doing differently is using pencil and paper for most of the design work. In the past I’ve used AutoCAD because I find it easy and I’ve been fairly successful due to my familiarity. But I was trying to improve my eye and proportions – the key to everything – and it’s true that dividers and some basic geometry are better tools than a computer. I’m on the fence and may do my construction details in CAD, but my original designs will be hand drawn from now on. It was fun to work with vellum and pencils again.

That’s the update. Tune in next time to see how I make the ambry. I’m going outside my experience with traditional techniques because that’s what the piece wants. We’ll see if it works. Torsion boxes anyone?

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I’m back….

I couldn’t keep a diary either.  Life gets in the way.

Since my last post I’ve completed two legitimate projects.  I’ll show finished photos below.  I was working on some self-imposed deadlines, so I tended to work and not document too much.  So if you were looking for step-by-step descriptions of the work or process photos, you will be disappointed.  Sorry.  I hope to have a couple of projects in the fall that might encourage me to write more.  But of course now we are in landscaping and house renovation season.  My tools will be shovels, paint brushes, etc…  Boring but we like the outcome.

First, a completely contrived tray.  Not a period piece, but the marquetry is straight out of the recent translation of Roubo’s To Make as Perfectly as Possible.  I made two versions of this tray.  This is the crazier of the two.  The other was our family contribution to the street’s Yankee gift exchange and used only mahogany for the cubes, relying on grain direction, so it’s a bit more subtle.  Tray sides are mahogany.  Substrate under the veneer is 1/4″ MDF since I wanted it to be very stable.  I departed from my normal finishes and used many coats of polyurethane.


Next is something a bit more period-like.  I struggled with what to make but I needed something to do.  I settled on a tea chest as it was a small but focused project.  As usual I did a bit of research and quickly discovered that tea chests are not really an American thing.  Apparently that whole tea party (18th Century, not the more current version) and throwing out the Brits was influential.  Personally I have a cup of Lipton’s finest every morning when I’m home, but coffee has been more popular in the US for centuries.  Tea Chests are a place where you can kind of go crazy with veneer, so I did.  As I was working on it I came to call it the “bling box”.  Could have also been “pimp my tea caddy” but you get the drift.

The design is not based on any one box.  It’s somewhat influenced by Rob Millard’s box at but I didn’t want to copy it exactly.  The basic box came out of Montgomery’s American Furniture: The Federal Period and I came up with my own design after that.


The box itself is sugar pine and mahogany.  The box is a reinforced miter joint.  All the adhesives are hide glue except where I use white glue to make up my paterae and bandings.  There are a lot of wood types: Anigre, East Indian Rosewood, walnut, cherry, holly, mahogany and probably some things I forgot.  I made up all the bandings and paterae in my shop.  Hardware is from Horton Brasses.  The french feet and aprons are applied with hide glue and glue blocks to be sort of traditional.  Inside I added a touch of class with some handmade marble paper (the internet is a wonderful thing).


It’s spring now and there’s been a lot of woodworking meetings and events.  Three weeks ago was the Ohio River Valley Chapter of SAPFM meeting at Rio Grande.  The following week SAPFM had a booth for the Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event at Popular Woodworking here in the Cincinnati area where I showed a few pieces and talked to a bunch of folks. Also my local group Cincinnati Woodworking Club had Ron Herman in for a Saturday seminar which was great.

Coming up is the SAPFM mid-year in Knoxville which I’m looking forward to.  And of course before that is the Handworks event in Iowa and related Studley Toolchest exhibition in Cedar Rapids.  An exciting spring.

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