Thursday, 5 September 2013

How To Apply Varnish For Excellent Finishes

Finishing can be fiddly. Sprayed lacquer is good, but spray guns are expensive and so is the stuff to put in them. Plus you can forget about breathing in your workshop for a few hours after each spray session. Applying a wax coat is quick and easy, does bring out some of the lustre of a wood, but it's easily damaged and needs reapplication regularly.

Somewhere in between is this technique for applying standard off-the-shelf varnish to get a tough, durable, glassy smooth finish. It takes a little time, but mostly just waiting for each coat to dry. If you have somewhere dust-free you can leave pieces to cure, you can get on with other things in the meantime. Like with most things, don't rush it, be careful, practice a bit and you'll be able to get awesome finishes every time.

Here is a piece of teak, which has been cut, shaped and sanded until perfectly smooth and ready to be finished. It's a nice shape, and it's pleasing to touch, but it doesn't look as good as it could. So it's time to apply a finish.

OK, so this is pretty easy. Grab a nice lint-free rag - old, well-washed t-shirts are perfect for this, and a handful of cotton wool. Ball the cotton wool up in the rag so you have a soft, smooth pad.

Told you this was easy. 

Next stage, get a little varnish onto your pad, and just wipe it on to the wood. It's that simple. Work gently and smoothly in the direction of the grain, making sure you cover it all evenly.

I'm using Ronseal's Quick Drying Gloss varnish here, which is water based so it's a little easier to handle, but use whatever you prefer.

Immediately it'll start to look more awesome. You're aiming to get a thin, even layer of varnish onto the wood, and then build up these layers with more and more coats until you have the finish you want.

Now put it somewhere safe and let it dry properly. For a quick drying varnish like this one in a hot sunny workshop, that's about 20 minutes, but you could be looking at overnight depending on conditions and choice of finish.

The next stage is the one beginners can feel strange about. I certainly did, it seems counter-intuitive. But now you sand it. Yup. You sand it.

Use a high grit paper and be gentle, you're not aiming to get the varnish off the wood and undo all your hard work. What you're doing is twofold - you're smoothing out any imperfections in the previous coat, and you're roughening it up a bit so the next coat has something to 'key' onto.

This photo is from later on in the process where I'm using 000 grade wire wool rather than sandpaper, but the principle is the same.

That's almost it, buff the dust from the sandpaper or wire wool off and you've finished your first coat. Just repeat that process a few times and you're done. Make sure you use a fresh area of the rag each time so the pad is still nice and soft and smooth. If you want, you can use a disposable applicator like a bit of kitchen paper for the first few coats, and only move to the rag+cotton technique for the last couple.

Don't sand the final coat, unless you want a satin finish - in which case do!

How many coats you need is dependant on a few things, but I find at least eight is good, usually a few more. The gif below shows 12 coats, just so you can see the difference, but experiment and find what works for you and the wood you're working with.

Once your final coat is on, give it a quick buff, add a finishing wax if you want that little bit of extra sheen and fire up your lightbox to take a showy-off photo of the finished piece.

This piece is a stand for a bit of metal I found on a beach known for occasional bits of WW2 wreckage. Who knows, perhaps it's part of a Spitfire!  Polished and mounted I think it looks pretty good, but importantly compare the warmth, lustre and sheen of the teak to how it looks in the first image. 

Sunday, 28 July 2013

Easy Vietnamese-style Coffee Ice-cream

Not so much a jewellery or woodworking howto, this, but frankly my south-facing workshop has been insanely hot the last few weeks - over 40C on some days! - so personal cooling is important.

This is really, really easy. If you can make a cup of coffee, you can make this. You don't even need an ice-cream machine although it does make things easier if you do.

The 'secret' ingredient is fresh mint. Sounds daft, but roll with this one, it really works.

Gather some mint. Chuck it in your cafetiere or drip filter or espresso jug (so the coffee ends up on the mint, not in with the coffee grounds).  If you don't have any mint, don't sweat it, the end result will still be tasty. Luckily our garden has bushes of the stuff.

While that's brewing, nice and strong, pour a tin of sweetened condensed milk into a jug. Opening the lid of the tin is probably the hardest step of this whole recipe.

Add your coffee, stir well. You can go 50/50 milk to coffee, or more, or less, whatever you like. I probably wouldn't put more than twice as much coffee as milk because then the fat/sugar content is going to be getting a little low and the ice-cream may end up a bit grainy. Still delicious, of course, but at 50/50 this makes a near-foolproof smooth and soft confection.

That's it, into the ice-cream churn it goes. If you don't have an ice-cream maker, put it in a container in the freezer and take it out for a good stir every fifteen minutes or so until it's set.

Serve in alluring soft-focus with whatever you fancy on the side. As this is basically just coffee, it's entirely OK to have for breakfast if you want. Yes, I just gave you permission to have ice-cream for breakfast. That's the great thing about being a grown-up.

With all the time and money you've just saved, when not head over to my Etsy store and buy yourself something nice.  Because it would hardly be a blog post without at least a tiny advert..

Thursday, 11 July 2013

How to Make a Wire-Inlaid Wooden Necklace

I know in my last post I said I'd do some epoxy inlay stuff, but I just finished a run of epoxy inlay and have been doing some wire inlays recently instead. So, wire inlay it is today, epoxy inlays another time.

A simple wire inlay on a carefully chosen piece of wood can create a beautiful piece of jewellery which will last for years. This tutorial will cover a very simple, single wire inlay, but the principles for doing more complex things are the same.

First up, choose some wood. Lets assume we've gone through the standard rough-cut, shaping, sanding montage and go straight to selecting from some wooden pendant blanks.

Left to right I have Purpleheart, Padouk, Douglas Fir, more Purpleheart and the one I've chosen, a piece of American Black Walnut. It doesn't look too jazzy now, but when we're done it'll be really nice. Walnut is quite an understated wood, but it's definitely got class.

So, first things first - mark where you want your inlay to go in pencil, then score it with a sharp knife. I'm using a scalpel but a stanley blade or craft knife will do. A few gentle strokes are better than one heavy one. If you want it to be straight, which is easier to inlay, then definitely use a ruler or straight-edge here.

Next, take a small file. This one is triangular, but a square or flat file is fine too. Run it along the score you made with the knife to open out the gap to the width of your wire. Again, repeated gentle strokes are better than powerful ones.

Check you've made it wide enough. This is half-round - also called "D" wire because of it's shape in profile - sterling silver wire, and it's 0.6mm diameter. The curve of the D is going to sit in the groove we've made, so the flat side is flush with the wood.  Once you've got it the right size, cut your wire to length - slightly longer than the groove you've made.

OK, so here comes the fiddly part. To make it easier, I've shaped the wire to roughly the profile of the groove in advance.  If you're doing a curved inlay, doing this is much more important. Time spent here will be repaid later on when your piece is covered in glue.

Cyanoacrylate (superglue) is a great glue for this - it's strong, it sets fast and any spills are easy to remove. Just be careful that you don't glue your fingers together!

Fill your groove with glue. Don't worry about overspill, that's going to happen and you'll deal with it later on. Because superglue is so enthusiastic about sticking to skin, I like to use a pokey tool (technical term) to push the inlay in.  Start at one end and work your way to the other, adding more glue as required.  There aren't many photos mid-inlay as I didn't want glue on my camera!

Here you can see I'm using the tip of a file to just hold the wire in place while the glue goes off. It only takes a few seconds, especially if it's a warm day.

Once you've got everything glued into place, it's time to sand off the excess glue and get the ends of the inlay flush.  Be very careful here, you don't want to catch an edge and pull the inlay out. A gentle touch is the order of the day, but it doesn't take long to get everything nice and smooth and tidy and flush.

Above: before and after, on the left sanded, cleaned and ready to be finished.

In my experience walnut is quite good at soaking up varnish, so it might well take a few coats of before you get a nice finish on there.

Something like Padouk will be lovely and glossy with only one or two coats, but this piece took five - albeit very light - coats of polyurethane and then one acrylic topcoat.

A few more details, a nice silver chain and we're done. This walnut inlay pendant and other modern wooden jewellery is available to buy on my Etsy store.

This is just one very simple inlay, but the principles are the same for more complicated stuff. Why not try some nice smooth curves, other patterns or mixtures of different metals, like in the photo below.

Friday, 21 June 2013

How to Make a Copper-Gilded Wooden Necklace

This tutorial will show you the basics of how to make an attractive, modern, wooden necklace decorated with a layer of pure copper.  It's not too hard, but as always don't rush, be careful, check your details and always always always measure twice, cut once.

Things you will need

Some wood! Hardwoods are often more exciting than softwoods, check out your local timber yard or online to see what you can find. Because you don't need much, offcuts are good - and can be picked up very cheaply.

Tools. I use quite a few here, because I have them - but all you really need is a drill and a saw. You'll need a small drill bit so you can hang your pendant (I use 3mm) and a bigger one to make the hole for gilding.  A range of sandpapers is needed as well, you'll want to go quite fine to get the finish nice and smooth.

Gilding size and your choice of metal to gild. I use copper because I like the colour but you can use gold, silver, platinum, brass - whatever you want.  Many suppliers offer starter kits which contain everything you need to get going.

Some sort of chain to hang the pendant on, and a varnish or lacquer to finish it with.

Handmade Gilded Necklace Tutorial

First, get some wood. I'm using sustainably sourced African Blackwood here because I love how well it contrasts with the colour of the copper.  Measure and cut a piece of the size you want your pendant to be - cut slightly large because we're going to do some sanding.

Now would be a great point to imagine some kind of speeded up montage of workshop sounds as the wood is cut and then roughly sanded to get rid of the saw marks.

OK, cool.  That's a Japanese pullsaw in the second photo there, they're great for this kind of small work, and make very smooth cuts. I got mine from Woodwork Projects UK who also supplied the excellent little guide to make sure I cut nice and square.

Onto the power sander to get the rough edges off, and then it's on to the drilling. 

The first hole to drill is a narrow one through the piece vertically, this will be where you thread your chain or thong.

Make this one really carefully.

Then a nice big hole in the face of the piece, which will be where the copper will go.

Once you've got your holes drilled, give it a good sanding with a fine paper - this is 320 grit - until you're happy with the finish. It should be at a stage where it's ready to be lacquered, with all the dust removed - unlike in the photo above!

Now, it's time to gild.  The glue used for gilding is called "size" and you want to carefully apply it wherever you want the metal to end up. Make sure you get a nice, even coat of size on. Blackwood is happy to be gilded direct onto its surface, but other woods might need sealing with sanding sealer or a thin coat of lacquer.  Let any seal dry all the way, and rough it up a bit with sandpaper to make sure the size can adhere.

It's very important to let gilding size dry a bit to "tack" so this is a perfect time to get on with one other vital task in this process.

A nice cup of tea. Don't, whatever you do, rush this.  Maybe grab a biscuit too.

After a while - how long depends on temperature and what sort of size you're using, the one I'm using takes about 15 minutes - the size is ready to take the gild.

Close the doors and windows. You don't want any breezes during this process. If you're a bit dusty, wear clean cotton gloves. Feel free to have a little rave at this point as well.

Applying the gild to the size is fairly easy. Just lay it on, carefully and smoothly, making sure you cover the area you want gilded. On a flat surface, brushing it on with a soft brush is a good technique, but I've found with these inside-hole gilds I get better results using my little finger.

Once the gild is on, it'll look a bit untidy round the edges. Use a brush or a sponge to gently remove the excess. A tiny bit of sanding to tidy up any unruly gild which might have spilled over the edge onto the face could be needed.

You're almost done!  Finishing touches now. First it's into the spray box to get a coat or two of lacquer.

You might prefer to paint a varnish on or some other finish.  While the natural wood will be OK unfinished (although it won't look as good), the gild will need some sort of protection otherwise it will rub off with time.

A few coats later, a bit of time to dry, some extra trim and a nice chain - behold! A finished necklace.  Look at how wonderfully the grain of the wood comes out with the lacquer.

This piece and many more like it are available to buy now on my Etsy store.

So that's my first tutorial. I hope it was useful to someone.

Coming next, how to do epoxy inlays, so you do effects like this one, and more.

Wednesday, 12 June 2013

Obligatory first post style first post.

Having a blog is a good idea if you sell on Etsy, people say.  I have found myself wanting to post longer form things with photos and so on a bit more.

So that's what I'm doing. I've got some ideas for potentially useful stuff to go on here - tutorials, backstories on some of my ideas, pieces and so on. Hopefully I'll manage to make more than one post!

Some links to stuff: (pre re-branding url, Facebook doesn't let you change them)