Monday, February 16, 2015

stuff you can do with a cnc router

in conjunction with my exploration of the possibilities/virtues of machine work vs handwork that i wrote about in a blog post last month, i have put together a slide show entitled 'stuff you can do with a cnc router'  ... here's a link to that slideshow...  within those photos there are links to my website or blog where further information is available .. there are also many post in the category trevor's cnc projects.  that link would be for the diehard curious, as there are over 40 blog posts there.  we've had access to this technology since 1997, and have had our own full size, 50" x 100" multicam since 2005.  prospective clients almost always stop to ask when they see it on the way to my office, 'what do you do with that?'  i've decided that it is easier to show than to tell them .. 230 example photos .. most with blog links in the caption .. 
it might take 15 minutes or less to scroll through them all ..

our standard technology quote is:
"technology ... it almost works" . 

we often use that quote when things don't go perfectly, but, in general, with the right operators and proper attention to drawing details and machine maintenance, this technology is incredibly efficient and reliable.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

slow learner .. the definitive design fee policy post

Back on Sunday, May 31st 2009, I wrote a post about a client I had just finished working with on the design for a custom coffee table with dragonflies and reeds inlayed in the top of it. Here is a link to that blog post. Let's just say it didn't go well for Dan.  In case you don't want to read my whining, here's a brief excerpt from what I wrote after that experience, summarizing my then and current thoughts on design fees:

"Here’s what I’ll do for free :

Have a meeting or two of reasonable length, say an hour or so, at my shop or at their house close by …. No Charge …. More than ½ hour travel time from my shop, meetings MAY involve travel time reimbursement. The client will be informed in advance and the charge will be assessed at my discretion, probably depending on how the meeting seems to go.

Provide concept sketches and one CAD scale drawing … No Charge

If design is ‘close’ but not finalized, I’ll provide a non binding ESTIMATE of the project’s cost including shipping and installation. No Charge

If we move on from there without, at that time, a formal agreement, I will request a non-refundable design fee that seems appropriate to the project at hand. (Our current design rate on 2/14/15 is $75.00/ hour)  If that fee is used up, we probably have a problem, and we’ll have to take it from there with a new, written and accepted, design fee agreement ….

I hope this is clear and that it will help both me and my customers to understand that design is not something that just 'happens' but is a sometimes complicated and time consuming process. And, time is really all we’ve REALLY got.. "

I don't think I would change much about that summary today.  And, until this past December, I have not had to request any design fees since 2009.  I will say though, that every time in the future that I do request a design fee, which is really, really only when I think it necessary, I will make sure that if someone gives me a design fee, that they understand my stated position on this. 

The prompt for this current posting was from a potential client who asked me to consider building for them a 'Greene and Greene' style kitchen with all the bells and whistles. Their budget, at first, seemed sort of reasonable, but since we had no drawings to bid from, and the drawings their kitchen designer provided were 'not what they wanted', if I wanted to consider doing the job, I would have to make drawings to bid from.  They offered a $1000. design deposit, which I thought was reasonable, and which the husband, obviously, took to mean I was totally committed to their project, would love their site and their contractor, and could do whatever design they wanted, whenever they wanted it, within their budget.  Well, after quite a bit of drawing time and back and forth by email, and a site visit to Boston to meet their contractor and actually see the space they were going to remodel, for a variety of reasons I will not go into here, (I'll invoke Will Rogers who once said "Never miss a good chance to shut up"),  I decided to withdraw.   Since I had spent quite a lot of time just understanding the space, which was very tight, and producing drawings and a quick model for the design meeting, and to estimate a total cost, I offered to settle for just the deposit, which was about 1/2 of the time I had spent on the project, not counting the overnight trip to Boston.  We had already discussed at our initial meeting that I do kitchen work only on a 'cost plus basis'.

The wife was fine with that, but the husband, not so much .. I spoke with the wife, and followed up with some post meeting suggestions to smooth the project execution, and didn't hear anything until almost a month later, last Wednesday night, when i received the email below:

Hi Dan,
     Sorry to take a couple of weeks to get back on this -- busy digging out.  We're not as good at dealing with so much snow as Vermonters!
     Let's focus on where we agree, i.e., that this won't be settled over email.  Glad for any thoughts you have on a resolution mechanism.  Is there a local trade group or business association up there that offers mediation or arbitration?  The default is filing a claim in Bennington County small claims court, which itself may be a good option all around -- inexpensive, informal, local for you.

' inexpensive, informal, local for you '  ... Love it!  So breezy and informal !! and the snow!  
After fuming for a bit and talking to 'my closest advisors', I decided to return the client's entire $1000. deposit and get on with it.  Anything else seemed like a lose/lose from a business standpoint.  Taking a design deposit in the future?  I will list all the contingencies I can think of, have a reading of my policy above, and feel better about my chances of getting paid for at least some of my efforts, regardless of whether the project proceeds or not.

What I had to bid from, plus some 'not what we want' sketch up pictures.
The cad drawings I prepared for the meeting in Boston .. The model is at the start of this post.
Before picture ....
Live and Learn ...

Thursday, February 5, 2015

yes, we do repairs

i've always felt that a craftsman should fix stuff.  particularly stuff that is important to people who really like the stuff that is broken.  it might be a family piece, like this one, and have sentimental value, or it could be just a nice piece of furniture with a problem here or there, looking for the good life.  also, as a 
craftsperson, where else are you going to get to work on pieces like this one if you automatically just say
"i don't do repairs"  .. i mean, check this out .. fantastic unrestrained inlay work .. probably 18th century?  definitely english, as its owner is.  anyway, this was an onsite job, particularly enjoyable because we have been discussing fixing it off and on for, literally, years. click the photo to enlarge it.
all done today ... check that one out.  ready for the next hundred years.
we've had a run of repairs lately .. here's a shaker like cabinet that had no pulls, a funky fastener on the latch, a big water streak down the front of it and some shelves inside which we removed and replaced with a rod for hanging clothes.  it's got some charm now.
and how often do you see a paper mache tilt top table?  never knew there was such a  thing.
love the scrap abalone oval, what would you call it?,  an applique?
this one had a painting fall on it .. that broke the paper base where the column screwed in. we also added a new catch where before the hinged block was screwed together so it couldn't flip up
technically, this wasn't a repair.  we just made a new base for the top.  the center of the table is a square of reclaimed french parquet floor.  the real thing!  hand hewn from solid wood, with a clever, rustic, mechanism that changes it from a 44 " square to a 62" round
here you can see the mechanism and the 'hand hewn' nature of the original floor
tah dah!  the top is darker, and the base is lighter, in real life ... overhead florescent lights ..
another nostalgic funky family piece .. had a big crack in the side and back, and the two front feet and one of the back feet were loose and had to be removed and reset.
haven't seen it yet with all the drawers.  only one drawer needed work
and this piece ... holy moly !  braziliab rosewood danish modern, damaged in shipping.  another onsite repair
cool piece ..
loved the interior bar detail and and way they cut the doors with the angles on them..
only the left one is open enough to see that.
better now, not perfect, but better
and we recently did six of these .. removing worn out brass casters on the front legs,
and turning new balled feet for the front legs
this is the connector from the trestle table below

as you can see in the photo below, the wedge grounded out on the edge of the hole before the table tightened up.  we squared up the inside edge and made new wedges.  it's solid as a rock now.
we also added a foot to each end to make it a 12' table
and we're working slowly on the doors below ... engineering a frame to hang them .. interesting challenge. they are too short, and too wide for the hole.  i have a plan ...
and we've got a very cool 12 foot walnut table going too .. more on that later

almost forgot this one ... it had a very clever sliding dovetail joint between the back leg and the 1/2" thick top rail.  had to trim off one side and reglue .. should be fine .. it's part of a daily use kitchen set ..

Wednesday, January 28, 2015

some sapele slab stuff

one of our clients purchased a sapele slab from hearne hardwoods long before he started the house he's finishing up right now ... it was about 51" wide at the narrow end and must have been at least 60" or so at the wide end.  if my math is correct, it was about 17' long before they cut it.  it had a long natural crack down more than half of its length, and the plan was to have it cut into three pieces before shipping.  one piece was to be the bar top above, about 25" wide and almost thirteen feet long when we got it. 
click the photos to enlarge them ...
the other half of that part of the slab, we cut in half lengthwise to make the top of a +/- 60" wide by 6' long island cabinet in the kitchen .. gluing up two slightly cupped +/- 30 inch wide 200+ pound slabs of wood proved to be quite a challenge for us.  we ended up setting the 7" high fence on the jointer at a slight angle and then handplaning the two slabs to fit and clamp up more or less flat ... the wood is extremely  tough, heavy, and dense, and unlike narrower boards, we weren't going to bend them much to make the pair come together .
pretty proud of that glue joint in the end if i do say so myself .. i had to use the old long jointer hand plane.  sometimes the old tools are the best tools ..

and the piece you might typically refer to as the 'drop' or the 'cutoff', was 38" long and 51" wide after we squared it up and cut off some of the sharp points.  we had to flatten that one on the cnc as it was cupped by about 3/8ths inch across its width.  sam welded up a variation of our 'criss cross' steel base, and we were good to go.  we finished it with one coat of gloss and a topcoat of 'dull rubbed' lenmar varnish by ben moore, our new favorite poly top coat.

and moday, before the big snowstorm (hah, hah ,,, 6"?? maybe?) chris and i went to the house and started the finish process on the slabs we installed back around christmas .. we had no place to finish them at the time as the finish room was jammed up full, and the client wanted to use the house over the holidays.

beautiful wood .. i have never used it in slab form before and have only purchased it in the past as narrower, quartersawn boards, when it is known as 'ribbon stripe mahogany'.
so here they are now above, all nicely in place like they were just perfect right off the truck ..
you'll notice in the bar top photo that the 2.5" thick 12' 8" long slab wraps around and fits between two fir 8 x 10's that were part of the framing, long before the heat went on .. one was nice and straight, and one was cupped about 3/16th across its face .. we needed to cut the notches in the shop where we had the right tools, so we made a 2 piece, full length, mdf template that we fitted on site ahead of time ... we had to leave enough room to be able to slide the salb in horizontally, but still have it fit the slightly curved beam on the right end.
all's well that ends well, and we didn't have to modify the notches onsite .. both of them took at least 4 or 5 people to move around .. glad they are in place and looking good. here are the ijg photos ..
 fitting them up on site .. this beam was straight as an arrow across its face.
 the other end, not so much ... the bar top had to overhang the backsplash by 3" so the notching cut was actually about 13" long ...a tough cut ..
plus we first had to lay out the straightening, paralleling cut before we could start the notching .. i'll tell you, that is some tough wood.  i actually burned out my favorite skilsaw making that 12' rip cut.  we'll be back to do more work at the house there and i think i need a shot from the balcony above once the counters are all done.  maybe friday ..
 upstairs balcony .. railings by sam
railing to the upstairs .. ditto
update 1/30 // photos from the balcony above, below

Sunday, January 18, 2015

handwork? machine work? does it matter?

blow this one up and have a closer look at it ..we made these in 1997 ...
pretty classy, eh?
they are based on a half round federal card table in the clark art museum that we got permission to measure and flip upside down earlier that year.  we also used a copy of  'the work of many hands: card tables in federal america 1790-1820', a weighty tome for sure.   these tables are also our very first cnc project.  each leg, if you count each separate little piece has 90 pieces, some of which we obviously glued up in blocks and sliced like baloney.  the ovals were custom made by dover inlay in maryland, but the little satinwood bell flower drops and the larger oval satinwood panels were cut on my friend richard's cnc. the rest we did 'by hand'.  there are 43 blog posts regarding cnc work in the category to the right,
'trevor's cnc projects'

on the fine woodworking website today, there is a debate over the distinction between 'handmade' and 'assembled from machine cut parts', 'digital manufacturing, friend or foe', a false debate in my humble opinion.  turn on the table saw and you are no longer 'handmade'.  in the comments to the post, where i, in fact, left my own two cents, i particualrly enjoyed the opinion of belchior, from brazil:

 "Since it's almost impossible to produce something from wood using bare hands and teeth, let's suppose that tools are considered acceptable, for the purpose of this discussion."  perfect !!  

so, onward.  we make stuff.  we use the tools we have to do the parts of the job we need to do, be they hand, electric or digital.  we go forward, exploring the process, which in the end is, hopefully, where the pleasure lies.  here i give you some 'before cnc'; 'with cnc'; and 'after cnc, but not using the cnc', images. 
you be the judge ...
friend or foe?  click the images to enlarge them ...
before cnc, about 1992  ... cherry lacewood, burl, rosewood, milk paint
  after cnc .. 2010 .. much technology here, both cnc and waterjet.. blog posts here
cad/photo design, cnc cut lathe duplicator templates; hand finished turnings; hand carved turnings, steel, copper, aluminum, and brass waterjet cut inlays; etc. etc.see end of this post ...
before cnc; about 1990
after cnc, but not using the cnc  blog post here  .. 
we did use our duplicator to turn the legs, a tool for sure, but not digital
way before we knew what a cnc was.. 1983 .. the cnc would have been  
extremely helpful on this project though.

all handwork ... 2012 .. blog post here  .. 
could have used a cnc but it was faster to do this by hand
1989 .. this table would be a lot easier with a cnc, but we did it all by hand ... slowly and carefully
with holman studios ... 9' x 26' , 88' radius on the edges. all parts, including templates for the granite and the base parts on the cnc.  design, veneer work and finishing by steve holman; call parts cut on the cnc by dcf ..
can't imagine doing this table by hand, though the guy who cut the radiuses on the granite cut them freehand with a handheld 4" angle grinder with a diamond saw blade ..
granite cut here .. no cnc
about 1990 .. all by hand ... a wonderful, fun project
all cnc  a room screen from 2006
with the table above 1992 .. all hand work ...
so, the question is: can we make furniture that appears handmade and combines handwork with digital fabrication?  yes is my answer.  is the digital process good?  is it bad?  does it matter? can we call a truce?

i hope so .. the digital part is not going away, and, in my humble opinion, it shouldn't.  imagine ...