American Flag Tree

I don’t get many custom orders as I’m usually too busy with my day job and restoring antique tools to do them anyway. However, my wife’s friend asked her if I could make him some American flag trees. She showed me a picture of what he wanted and it seemed simple enough, so I told her I could make them for him.

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These trees were offered by Martha Stewart a few years ago on her website but, have since been discontinued. The only thing I had to go on was the fact that they were about 20″ tall. Assuming the whole tree was 20″ tall, I figured the largest diameter of the post was probably 1 1/2″ in diameter. I glued some maple together and created 2″ square stock to turn on my lathe. I then used my Peter Galbert calipers to turn the stock to 1 1/2″ in diameter down the whole shaft.

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Studying the photo, I eyeballed the shape of the post, cutting the bottom of the vases to 1″ in diameter. I cut a little finial on the top and a cove and bead detail on the bottom that kind of looks like an old cast iron pot. Again, all eyeballing with no plans. Just imagining things in my head.

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At the bottom, I turned a 3/4″ diameter tenon. This will fit in a hole I will drill in the base with my drill press. I use a 3/4″ open end wrench to turn the tenon the perfect size.

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After about an hour on the lathe, I turned all four posts and pads for the trees. They are all similar but, none of them are an exact copy of one another.

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The tree has four rows of flags with six flags on each row. In order to mark the holes in right spot, each hole would have to be 60 degrees away from each other (360 degrees / 6 = 60 degrees). Instead of grabbing my protractor and trying to mark every 60 degree angle, I took my compass and set it to the radius of the post. I then walked around the circumference of the circle marking it at every spot. That left me with six equal segments that were perfectly spaced from one another.

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I did the same thing on the other end of the post starting at the same point. I then drew lines down the post and took a straight edge, lining up the lines on each end of the post marking where the holes would go on the top of the vases. I only marked on the first and third vase for those marks. On the second and fourth vases, I marked a line in between the first and third marks so that the flags on the tree were more spaced apart.

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Even though I figured out where the holes went on the tree, I still wasn’t comfortable drilling my holes in the final piece. I took a scrap post and did all the markings again and used a 1/4″ drill to drill holes in the post at a 60 degree angle. After I drilled all the holes and stuck the flags in, the sample turned out well.

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When it was time for the real drilling, I took my time. Putting the post back on the lathe, I lined up the marks of the post so they were perpendicular to the lathe bed. This way I only had to worry about the angle of my drill bit as I knew I could sight down the bed of my lathe keeping the bit drilling straight down the shaft. I drilled about an inch in using a brad point drill bit.

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After drilling all 24 holes and giving the piece a light sanding, I drilled a hole in my base and glued the post into it. This is a simple project that I can bang out in case my wife’s friend wants more than the four I made him.

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Replacing a stretcher bar on a stool

My wife was considering picking up this stool at an antique mall the other day and asked me if I could replace the stretcher bar in the middle. I told her more likely I could so she should go ahead and buy it.

The old stretcher was completely broken off and only the ends remained in the holes where it was attached. I took an 1/8″ drill bit and drilled a pilot hole in the middle of the holes on each end.

I then took a 1/2″ forstner bit and drilled out the hole cleaning it out. The pilot hole served as a guide for the point on my forstner bit so it would not wander off the center of the hole.

I then found a piece of scrap wood around the shop, measured how long the stretcher needed to be and then turned it so the middle was 1″ in diameter while tapering each end to 1/2″ in diameter.

Once the turning was done, I checked the fit of the stretcher at the hole. If the stretcher was a little tight, I shaved off some of the wood with a spokeshave so that the stretcher would fit in the hole nicely. I also had to loosen the legs a little bit by taking out the screws that held them to the frame to give me enough room so that the stretcher would pop into place. Once in, I screwed the screws back into place.

 A half hour of work and a piece of scrap wood, the stool had a replaced stretcher. Now it’s my wife’s turn to finish the stool.

When good chairs go bad

So I’m sitting at the table one night with my wife when I hear a loud crack and a thud hit the floor. A look over to my right and my wife is sitting on the floor with a dumbfounded look on her face. Seems the windsor chair I made seven years ago finally gave in and failed. No way was I about to blame it on the cheese cake she ate 30 minutes earlier so I quickly grabbed the chair and noticed where I made my mistake. I turned to her with a red face and apologized. Talk about embarrassing.

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It was the tenon on the leg where it attached to the seat. I made the mistake of not tapering the leg all the way into the seat but rather, I turned a 3/4″ tenon at the end instead. At the time I was building the chair, it was an easier thing to do but that tenon created a weak spot in the joinery and the years of use as well as the changes in humidity in the seasons finally made the joint fail.

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I didn’t want to throw the chair away since the top half of it was still good so I decided to lick my wounds and make new legs for the chair. This time the right way and not the half-ass way.

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I drilled relief holes in top of the seat where the legs popped through and removed the remaining tenons from the seat. Next I took the four holes and tapered them with a tapered auger and some files and rasps.

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Then milling up some stock, I turned four new legs and three stretchers. Using my shaving horse, I trimmed the corners of all the parts before I turned them on the lathe.

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Once the legs were turned, I fitted them into the new tapered holes of the seat for a nice fit. Trial and error was key here as I constantly had to check the hole for the proper taper.

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Once all four legs were dry fitted I measured the distance between the legs and turned three stretchers. Two on the side and one in the middle connecting the two. Then I used hot hide glue and glued all the parts together. Hide glue gives me a lot more open working time than yellow glue and is the glue of choice for a lot of chairmakers.

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The chair was back in business. I just needed to clean up the top of the legs that poked through the seat and drive a wedge on top so they won’t move in the joint.

Then it was time to trim the bottom of the legs flush with the floor. Since the chair rocked a little bit from the unevenness of the legs, I took a piece of sandpaper, laid it on my table saw and sanded the longer leg even to the rest of them.

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All I have to do now is sand and repaint the chair and it’ll be good as new. Oh.. and remake the legs for five other chairs.

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