Rub it in

By Rhonda (shhh!) Iovino

Tom is busy in the shop, so I thought I’d take a minute to fill you in. The bed… our new bed… MUST be manufactured. There is NO way that Tom could have made it so quickly and painlessly. Usually with a huge build like that, there is debate, discussion, defeat, followed by denial and eventually acceptance. (There is no “d” word for acceptance. I checked.)

But that didn’t happen. Yet our new bed is perfect. Can’t be. But I checked all recent credit card purchases and I didn’t see any big payments to Ethan Allen or American Signature. Still… the project is perfect. But he didn’t rub it in.


This weekend, Tom and I did finish the bed with the same lack of dissent. “Ember” was the color he came home with in an all-in-one water based stain and finish, and Ember it is. And I love it. The whole process was simple and practically odor-free.

Bag o rags

First, we got out a bag of rags, and I donned some rubber gloves. I definitely recommend the gloves. Not only did they save my freshly-painted blue manicure, but they kept me from standing at the sink for 10 minutes. Tom scrubbed and scrubbed, but the stain was stubborn. Eventually, he got it off his hands. But it wasn’t until the next day. I didn’t rub it in.


To apply the stain, we dipped rags into the stirred quart. I took lots of care to avoid dripping onto the floor. I hate clean-up. It’s not the fun part. As we wiped on the first splash of stain, the wood soaked it up. It looked like we’d need more. but in the end, as we rubbed it in, the dresser fronts didn’t need as much. So we worked our way to the footboard and finished that too. We even had some left over in case we needed to do touch-ups. Now the wood is warm and homey and even more professional-looking.

finished bed

I couldn’t be happier with the bed and just one day after the staining, which only took one coat, there are NO smells. I would know. I have a sensitive sniffer. But if you know something I don’t about how Tom made that bed so fast and so efficiently, you’d better tell me. I promise I won’t rub it in.


MicroJig Art

The weekly plan

The Design Confidential’s Chesapeake chaise lounge

So, anyone tired of winter yet? Word on the street in Boston is that we are just about – if not at – the snowiest winter on record. Cheer up, however, because I am assured that at some time in the future, spring will actually arrive, and the snow will be gone.

A chaise built from the plans

Since y’all are waiting for that magical day, why not take the time to build a piece of furniture that will see some heavy use once the temperatures rise? This simple chaise lounge can be built from home center cedar to resist the ravages of weather while providing a comfortable place to chill out during those warm summer days.

Link of the week

Colosseum: Roman Death Trap

One night, I was having a hard time falling asleep, so I turned on my local PBS station and – wow – that’s something I should never do. I caught the start of this NOVA presentation on the Roman Colosseum and how the ancient Romans were able to make the bloody spectacles happen – using woodworking!

The Roman Colosseum

The video chronicles the work of archaeologists who, with just remnants of where the wooden structure existed, were able to recreate the mechanism that raised wild animals to the Colosseum floor and made them appear seemingly out of nowhere.

This video is offered by PBS as is free to watch online. I guarantee that when it is over, you will have a new found appreciation for woodworkers who plied their trade nearly two millennia ago.

Go with the grain

Nope. There’s nothing quite like grain. Sometimes, I like it fermented into a lovely carbonated adult beverage to be enjoyed on a hot Florida day after mowing the lawn. Other times, I like it distilled into a warming spirit, fun to sip on a cold winter’s night.


Wait, wrong blog.

What I meant to say is that wood has a grain, and grain is good. Sometimes, it’s not very pronounced, giving a subtle look to a project. Maples, alders and some other species have this look. Other times, well, gosh, the grain is the board. Southern yellow pines, oaks, walnut – they are all about the grain.

Pronounced grain of red oak

Wood grain is fun to work with, but as with anything in woodworking, it has to be selected with care. Let’s face it, there are plenty of times when grain selection can make or break a project.

Think for a minute about gluing up a few boards to make a panel. Sure, you can grab any two boards you want to, true up the edges and make them foursquare and glue them together. And, I’m willing to bet you will end up with a board that’s plenty strong and durable for your project. If you plan on painting the project and you do that, heck, you have saved yourself a metric buttload of time. Go inside and have one of those aforementioned adult beverages and call it a day.

However, if you want to finish those boards in something other than an opaque finish, selecting the right boards to make the piece look aesthetically pleasing will be a completely different matter. You see, the grain from different boards can look wildly different. One board may have a wild, wavy grain pattern while the other is straight and true. Put those together, and, well, yuck.

A great example of grain decision from Kreg Tools

A great example of grain decision from Kreg Tools

The same goes for places where boards may come together at right angles – say the joints in a framed cabinet door. Finding a harmonious blend of where the grains meet can pose a challenge, especially when you have to put a pair of doors next to each other on a cabinet.

The first woodworker I ever saw agonize about grain selection was Gail O’Rourke. She jointed and planed stacks of boards, sorting and shifting them on the workbench as she laid out the pieces for a project she was building. At first, with unfinished boards, I could barely tell what the heck she was doing. But, as I watched her work, and eventually when she finished her projects, the careful attention to grain orientation and appearance came through loud and clear.

Gail O'Rourke

How do you work with wood grain? Well, I still make mistakes on projects, but the best way to do things for me is to carefully mark boards I am working with, especially if I am ripping wide boards down to narrower ones. This way, I can use boards with similar appearances to make things look good. Plus, think about what the show face of your project is going to be. If it will be the doors on a large cupboards, that’s probably where you will want to take your time to choose boards that look the best.

Also, a quick swipe with some mineral spirits will definitely make the grain pattern pop on the boards, giving you time to evaluate your choices before it evaporates without raising the grain like water does.

Once you can get this one down, grain will become your new best friend.

Next up…

OK, so it’s been a crazy few weeks for me.

First, there was Get Woodworking Week, which I am certain has been praised in song and story. Then, there was this little thing I did called leaving my job of 21 years to take a new position, and I am working on wrapping things up before taking this new promotion that will take me across Tampa Bay to the neighboring county.

I also got onto eBay and picked up a copy of an old favorite book written by an old TV friend. This was one of the first books I had ever checked out from the library when I was just s young beginning woodworker. There’s something about the work – especially the early works of Norm – that is just comforting. Before flashy ads and high-end post production, Norm was out there, helping dolts like me to get their foot in the door to build projects of our own.

One of the projects in this book will be my next one. and it will be very important to me. I can’t yet say what it is, but believe me, I have the lumber…

The cherry boards ready for workAnd, I have a special piece of wood that I was given which has been saved for years and handed to me recently for inclusion in this very project.

roundWhile this will be very similar to some projects I have built in the past, I am looking forward to using some of my new tools – my table saw, my router table, my MicroJig push blocks – to do a safer, more accurate and better job than I ever have before.

Time to make some new memories.

The weekly plan

Fine Woodworking’s Cherry Chest of Drawers

OK, it’s the first day after Get Woodworking Week 2015, and after the huge after party, I had to nurse one wicked hangover.

Just kidding.

However, yes, this plan is a little late, but it’s a good one for those of us who may have – ahem – bought several chests of drawers from the giant Swedish furniture importers to only watch our children bust them up by trying to jam every single t-shirt they own into them.

drawersThis bombproof plan, brought to us by Christian Becksvoort of Fine Woodworking should not only outlast the Scandinavian pressboard, but should be able to be handed down through generations.

Oh, and as you might imagine, a few more Get Woodworking Week articles appeared in my inbox, so be sure to check these babies out!

Get Woodworking Week 2015: Friday

Holy smokes!  You turn your back for one minute, and before you know, it’s Friday of Get Woodworking Week!

I hope you are all out in your shops, encouraging others to follow you to learn the craft or building projects for others.

You know, one of the best things about woodworking for me is that unlike what the Rolling Stones claim, you can always get what you want. As I look around my home, I couldn’t possibly imagine life without some of the projects I have built. The kitchen pantry and banquette have become critical in our food and serving ware storage. The entertainment centers I have built have swallowed up so many different things that would have had absolutely no place to go otherwise. The new bed – just needing a coat of finish – has already been filled to the gills with all manner of items that needed to find homes.

Tom And Dom

But, what I will always remember most about my projects are the moments I have spent with my family building them. This picture, from February, 2000, was of me and my oldest son Dominic before his second birthday helping me build a set of bookshelves over a never-used bar area near my kitchen. Today, it houses tons of cook books, woodworking magazines and reference books, but it also houses so many memories of the two of us working together on this project. It seems impossible for me to believe that he will be 17 in a few months.

Other projects around my house, while maybe not designed for storage, hold so many memories I will treasure forever. And, that’s why I love woodworking, because it helps me get what I want.

We have a few more awesome entries for Get Woodworking Week 2015, and here they are:

Again, my monkey sits and waits in rapt anticipation waiting for your article submissions. So, if you want to send one my way, be sure to shoot it to, and the monkey will be sure to get them listed!