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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Chairmaker’s Notebook: The Best Chairmaking Book on Earth

A few weeks ago I stopped by the home office of Popular Woodworking to go to their Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event. It’s always fun to take a break out of my day to play around with their tools. While I was there, I tried their No 5 1/2 jack plane that cut such nice shavings it almost got me thinking of quitting restoring my old Stanley planes.

Along with Lie-Nielsen, Lost Art Press was there selling their books and apparel. I took a peek inside one of their newest offerings, “Chairmaker’s Notebook”, to see if it was something I wanted to open my wallet for. I love books about making chairs. I’ve read over a half-dozen of them over the years including John Alexander’s “Make a Chair from a Tree: An Introduction to Working Green Wood” as well as Drew Langsner’s “The Chairmaker’s Workshop”. In fact, if I was ever a professional woodworker, I’d probably be a chair maker. So, I decided to bite the bullet and purchase the book. Needless to say, I’m glad I did.

I read a few chapters a night as I wanted all the information to absorb. What I love about this book is that it takes you through all the aspects of building a chair. From buying a log at a sawmill, to setting up a chairmaker’s workshop, to modifying and sharpening your tools, to assembly and finish. Peter even gives you a scaled model of a “sightline ruler” so you can photocopy it and make one yourself. It’s by far the most complete woodworking book I’ve ever read. Absolutely nothing was missed when writing this book.

As an example of how well this book is written, in the beginning, Peter talks about buying a log from a sawmill and what to look for when picking a log. He tells you not to buy the veneer logs as they tend to be too expensive and go for a premium. He says you should ask for “veneer rejects” because those logs will work just fine for building chairs and will be a whole lot cheaper. He then goes on to recommend that you bring a chain with you to wrap around your log so that the guy on the forklift can gently lower it down on your trailer instead of slamming it down breaking your trailer in half. It’s first hand stories like this that really sets this book apart from other books I have read.

A few years ago I made a few Windsor chairs of my own, but I used kiln dried lumber because I had no idea how to go buy a log. Regretfully, had I owned this book at the time, I would have made my chairs a whole lot better.

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Along with the excellent information in the book, Peter is also one hell of an artist as he drew all the pictures in the book. In fact, the pictures are so well drawn, that you know exactly what he is describing in his illustrations.

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If you have ever been intrigued with building a chair, then I highly recommend that you add this book to your library. You can buy it from The Lost Art Press.