Phase One of Fireplace

Phase One is complete and there will be a hiatus before I can get to the marquetry at the top of the panel.  Lots of other priorities, including 1) vacation, 2) work, 3) prep for an upcoming presentation for Cincinnati Woodworking Club with a working title of”Dovetails: put away that router”, and 4) building Tevye’s house as a centerpiece for an upcoming HHS SRO benefit – theme of “Fiddler on the Roof”.  Not necessarily in that order.


This looks so much more finished to me after looking at that awful brick monstrosity for so many years.

The wood is all poplar, painted of course.  The upper panel is temped in and has no finish yet; I will remove it to do the marquetry later.  The LEDs are from Lee Valley, with a dimmer.  I’m not crazy about the glare directly below the LEDs and may need to see if I can take some of the gloss off.  The really bizarre part was the lower brick section wasn’t wide enough for this concept to work, so I “extended” brick by a course on either side with wood, covered it with Durham’s Rock Hard Water Putty (this stuff is amazing), formed up some mortar lines and it blends right in.  I’m a theatre guy so a little fakery is OK…If they can’t see it from the first row…..

The design is my own.  I used my design training with a refresher from George Walker and Jim Tolpin’s excellent books from Lost Art Press.  I stayed away from the computer, using pencil, dividers and a drafting table to come up with the proportions and layout.  I’m not displeased.  It was never going to be really fancy – I wanted it to be a little casual – the marquetry panel will (I hope) give it just the right touch.

I think Maryanne’s clock has a much better home now.

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I hate my fireplace


When we bought this house nearly eight years ago, I knew I hated this fireplace.  It was poorly executed.  The brick work is pretty poor, with chipped bricks along the edges.  The insert is OK and certainly does heat the room.  The mantle was a rough timber that was twisted a little and held on with two drywall screws and fender washers.  Appalling to say the least.  First world problems for sure, but I wanted something better.

Finally, I had enough and I thought for a long time about what to do about it.  I thought about just adding a nicer mantle and trying to hid the brick supports somehow.  That evolved into covering most of the brickwork – first with panels, then an integrated bookcase.  Then an idea struck me as I was working on some marquetry.

So the fireplace will be painted casework, with some lights in a new cornice.  Above the fireplace, replacing the cheapo art print, will be a large marquetry panel depicting a branch of our beloved/cursed sweet gum tree.  OK, we have two sweet gum trees and we kind of hate the spikey “SDB” (Stupid Damned Balls – of Stupid Dumb Balls to our daughter).  The tree is also sort of fragile too, losing limbs in the slightest breeze.  But, it provides shade and we’ll never have such a large tree in our front yard in our lifetimes if we take it down.  One of the things we loved about the street was the shade provided by all the mature trees.  Sadly there aren’t as many as there used to be, so I’m determined to hang on to this as long as we can.

In a few days I’ll reveal the end of phase one (when it’s done).  It’s all constructed of poplar.  The LEDs are on a dimmer and light the upper panel nicely.  The panel – which will contain the marquetry in phase two – will come along probably this fall.   I found a piece of rotary cut birds eye maple plywood which should pop nicely when finished. Stylistically it will be close to the ambry marquetry work.

So stay tuned

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Ambry on Stand Final


Ambry on Stand

St. Catherine of Siena Church

Fort Thomas KY

Maple, Cherry and Black Walnut.  Shellac and wax finish

Donor: Anonymous


I installed the piece last Tuesday when all involved had a small window of opportunity.  Fr. Stef was there and seemed pleased and was a big help unloading and installing.  My patron was very happy too, though it wasn’t the first time he/she saw it.  Had a bit of a scare with the stand but it turns out the terrazzo isn’t completely level (whew!).  We were in such a hurry I ran out of time to take a photo of the interior.  The interior door is below, during finishing:


All in all this was an interesting and rewarding project.  It was a long road and a lot of fun too.  I was able to exercise my design muscles a little bit.  Here’s where we started last November, though in reality this project started many months before, developing the concept.


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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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