Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Cross Grain Molding

A Good Day's Work
©Antique Refinishers, Inc.

When I was a young cabinetmaker, I did not have a lot of money.  Actually, I still don't have a lot of money.  However, I do have a lot of clamps.  I was joking with my wife today and said that if I just sold all my clamps for a dollar each, we could pay off the mortgage.  Almost.

I was fairly smart back in the 1970's to invest in tools and clamps.  There was a store, which was way before WalMart, Costco, or any of those "big box" stores which cover the landscape these days.  It was called "Fedco" and you needed to be a member to shop there.  The prices were great, and since I was employed part time as a teacher at the local colleges, I was eligible to join.  Something like $25 or so, as I recall.

We bought everything there, from kitchen sinks and paint to cameras and film.  One of the most important acquisitions I was able to find there was a beautiful woman in the Kitchen section, who was kind enough to become my wife.  But I digress...

Each time I went there to get something, I budgeted $25 dollars on clamps.  They had a neat hardware section, and the large iron "C" clamps were $3.99 each and the Jorgensen Pony clamps were not much more, depending on the size.  So I always returned with 5 or 6 clamps, no matter what.

Over the years, I eventually got hundreds of clamps.  One of the nice things about clamps is that they don't need sharpening, hardly ever break, and make money.  I used to tell my clients that they could pay me $75 to glue their broken chair or $5 per clamp, which would actually cost more.

From time to time, other cabinet shops in my city would go out of business, due to the economy.  I would show up at the sale of tools and watch as all the other woodworkers rushed to buy table saws, routers, sanders, drills, and diverse power tools.  I went straight to the clamp pile and immediately staked my claim.  Often they were sold as a lot for $1 each.  Gee, I wonder if I could pay off my mortgage?  But I digress...

The past few days I have spent some time preparing the molding for the Lecount clock.  Since the grain of the molding is usually cross grain on clocks from this period, it is usual to cut the stock and glue it onto some long grain backing.  I know what you are thinking.  Cross grain and long grain will eventually come apart.  Exactly.  Take a look at any late 17th century clock or cabinet in any museum.  If it hasn't been restored, there is always a gap between the edges of the short grain molding elements.  That's authentic work.

The reason they used cross grain was so that the wood grain would be vertical and add a visual height to the design.  It was also because they were a little crazy about doing things the most complicated way possible.  Note that with a complex molding profile, and cross grain wood, you cannot use standard molding planes to make the molding.  You must carve it by hand and finish off with a shaped scraper.  Take a look at the first clock I made, a copy of the Tompion clock at the Metropolitan Museum.  All the molding was hand carved.  I earned my stripes on that job.

This clock has much more simple profiles, and the olive is contrasted with ebony molding, which will naturally be done long grain.  There is no reason to use ebony short grain, since it is absolute black and you cannot see the difference.  With the olive, the figure is so strong, it becomes a very decorative element.

So I cut a lot of olive into short grain elements, and used Old Brown Glue to press these onto oak sticks the proper size for each of the molding lengths.  Each stick had a single clamp to pull the pieces together and individual clamps for each piece to hold them in place. Using the OBG allowed me the longer open time I needed to get everything properly positioned.

Rolling Work Table with Clamps
©Antique Refinishers, Inc.

The next day I removed all the clamps and put them on my rolling work table.  Just a note here about the table.  I have used this table during my entire career.  It is just one of the most practical "tools" in the shop.  It is low and on wheels.  The top is covered with a rubber linoleum which has survived 40 years of abuse, glue and chemicals.  I use it to hold work while I upholster, sand, glue, finish, or clamp.  Then I use it to hold all the clamps, so I can push it around as I place the clamps back on the wall.  You need one of these.

Cross Grain Molding Blanks
©Antique Refinishers, Inc.
Here is a shot of the molding elements, roughly cleaned up.  They will now be shaped to the final profile and cut to fit the case.  There are three of each profile.  The long one is for the front and the two shorter ones are for the sides.

It is a good day at work when you run out of clamps.


Joshua Klein said...

Patrick, I'd love to see some pics of the carving process for these moldings. That sounds tedious! Looking forward to the rest of the process being documented for us!

W. Patrick Edwards said...

I don't have any photos of that work. I still find it hard to put down the chisel and pick up the camera.

However, the chisels need to be sharp. You need clear scribe lines to follow and you need to use a skew cut across the grain.

The final trick is to take a metal file and shape a cavity in a good scraper which fits the profile of the molding. Then you clean up the chisel marks with the scraper.

Easy, huh?