Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Please Consider Switching

       Hi. I'm writing today to ask you a favor. If you enjoy reading this blog, would you please become a follower to my other blog site, which is:  http://tallminiguy.blogspot.com.
        I took a friend's advice in creating this George the Mini Guy blog address. It has always been a mirror image of the original blog (tallminiguy.blogspot.com). You and 23 other kind individuals have followed this version of my blog.
       I have stopped adding new material to this version of the blog, but I have continued to add content to the tallminiguy one. I really, REALLY would love to have you become a follower on the tallminiguy blog instead and remain one of my followers there. (I know a few of you have followed both blogs.)
         Thank you for following and reading this blog. I hope I can write about things that will keep you interested in  reading my blog for many months and possibly years to come!

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Work on the Walnut Project Has Begun

I know I was accused of being a tease when I posted pictures of blank wood. It's been about a month since I posted that picture. I didn't mean to keep you waiting this long. I just didn't have much to show you. I still don't, really.

This is one of those projects that will take me several months to do. Considering all the other projects I have going right now - both large and small.  The intensity of my work has been heightened lately, too. It could be a very L-O-N-G time before I have something in a finished form to show you. But at least, it's started.

By the way, the turning on the lower right was the first thing I've actually turned on my new lathe. Yeah. I know. I need to practice. That turning may not end up being my finished product... The two pieces to the left of the turning are parts of the wood that came off of the unit on the far left. I just love making cabriole legs! It's kind of like a chocolate covered caramel - there's something extra special on the inside!

Friday, January 1, 2010

Finishing Miniature Furniture

Debbie S. posted a nice comment and a question about finishing materials for staining and varnishing minis. She had a House of Miniatures finishing kit, which included a stain, glaze and varnish. I used the  House of Miniatures finishing materials on my Victorian bookcase. (See my March 12 blog for photos of the bookcase.)

When I purchased the finishing kit, the varnish had already gone bad; so I only used the stain. I wasn't sure how to finish it, though, until I attended a miniature show in Chicago. One of the professional furniture builders there recommended I use Deft semi-gloss. He noted that it dries quickly and goes on thin enough that it doesn't overwhelm the delicate work piece. I've used Deft ever since on all of my minis.

As far as stains go, I've used a variety of them. However, I don't use and don't recommend using water-based stains. The water-based stains raise the grain of the wood. Oil-based stains don't. Miniaturists don't need to be afraid of using commercial, oil-based wood stains.

Sherwin Williams used to sell small cans of stain that were about a half-pint volume. For miniatures use, they were perfect, since I didn't need very much of it. Now, however, I can only get their stains in quart containers. As long as you seal the can thoroughly, you can make one of those quart sized containers last a l-o-n-g time! (The stain doesn't dry out nor does it get a skin on the top of it like paint and varnish do.) If you have some friends in the hobby, you could by a quart of the stain, stir it up thoroughly, pour it out into a bunch of baby food jars, and share it with them!

The main thing to remember when using these stains is that you will need to stir the can (or jar) thoroughly each time you use it, because the dark pigments often settle to the bottom of the can. Also, if you're working with a wood grain that doesn't take the stain evenly (like pine wood), it's advisable to get a can of clear stain and apply that first to reduce the stain's uptake into the grain. This is especially important for end grain parts of the wood. They can become extremely dark, because they absorb too much of the stain - far more than the top and sides of a piece of wood.

Many of the paint stores will have displays showing the various colors of stain they have available. The display will often show how their stains look on various kinds of wood including pine, birch and sometimes oak. You'll get a sense from that display which color may come closest to meeting your needs. The commercially available stains may not offer a deep or dark enough color for your preferences. For example, I have not found a stain that matches the dark reddish furniture stain that Bespaq miniatures come in.

If you want to match the Bespaq stain, you may want to go to a paint store where the clerk is willing to work with you on customizing the stain. I found a nice, locally-owned paint store nearby that has worked with me on some of my paints and stains.  A mom and pop store may be more willing to help you than some of the big paint or DIY stores. The paint store can add extra pigment to the stain, which will make it more opaque, but it will also darken it to a color you may prefer. Keep in mind that the darkened stain won't show as much of the actual wood grain as a lighter stain will.

Take a raw sample piece of the wood you used for making your mini when you go to the paint store; and start by experimenting with a dab of the various stain colors they already have. (Most paint stores will allow you to test a tiny amount of the stain at no charge.) If you're staining a kit, most of the dollhouse kits use bass wood. You can find that kind of wood in most hobby stores in the U.S. (I have no idea about other countries - sorry for my ignorance.) You can also mix and match stains, putting on one coat of a color and then adding another after the first one has dried.

If you want to have the wood grain show through and you're using a wood such as Walnut, then you don't even need to use a colored stain on the piece. You can use a clear, oil-based stain on it. This will darken your wood slightly with just that application alone. Let it dry a day or so before you apply any finish.

Before you do any staining, though, make sure you have sanded your piece to a smooth finish. (Start with 120 grit paper, then use 150 grit and then finish off your work with 220 grit.) I sometimes keep on advancing to finer grits. 3M makes an open coat paper (it's yellow in color) that comes in 320 and 400 grits. If I really want to smooth my wood, I'll go to that level of sanding.

When I build a furniture kit or make something from scratch, I usually sand the individual piece of wood first. I'll set the sandpaper down on a smooth, hard surface. A good, Masonite or plastic clip board with a smooth surface is ideal for this. The clip holds the paper in place and the smooth, flat surface under the sandpaper won't distort your sanding. I hold the wood piece by its middle and move it over the sand paper in the direction of the wood grain. After about 10 to 20 strokes, I reverse the direction of the piece in my hand and sand the same number of times on that same side of the piece of wood. That way, if my hand is accidentally applying more pressure on one end than the other, I even out the amount of material removed from both ends.

Once you're done with the sanding, make sure to wipe the piece down thoroughly with a tack cloth. Then you're ready to stain. I have applied my stains with a facial tissue; but some tissues can leave stained pieces of paper dust on the surface. If you have an old T-shirt or other cotton fabric you don't mind destroying, cut a small piece of that fabric and use it to wipe on the stain. With minis, a little goes a long way, remember!

Once the stain has dried, wipe the piece with a clean cloth to knock off any colored tissue dust (or regular dust). Next, spray it with Deft. Try to find a room that doesn't have a lot of sawdust in the air or thoroughly vacuum up your workshop before you begin to spray. No matter how clean your room, you'll still likely get some dust in the finish. I usually do a couple of coats with the Deft.

In between sprays, I gently wipe down the surfaces with 0000 steel wool. This removes most of the dust imperfections. You'll be able to feel any imperfections on the flat surfaces of the piece.  I wipe it down with a tack rag after I've used the steel wool. Rub GENTLY with the steel wool - especially along any edges of the wood. It can cut clear down to your bare wood very quickly. If you want to add some luster to the piece and help protect the finish, you can also add some furniture paste wax to the piece. Be sure to thoroughly rub out the wax, though, after you've applied it to your mini.

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Captured in Ink

I wrote an article this fall about how to matte digital photos using Microsoft PowerPoint or Word. I'm delighted to report that the January/February issue of Dollhouse Miniatures has a four-page spread of the article, starting on page 28.

For some reason, the pictures on page 31 are slightly out of focus. That may because the matted pictures you see on that page were in a PowerPoint slide.

The magazine's artist pulled them out of the slide, added some shadows behind them and overlapped the images. It makes a nice collage, but the pictures lose a little in clarity.

If you're curious about the photos in the collage on page 31 of the article, I took all but one of the pictures myself. Starting at the top left and going clockwise they are: Prospect Park in Brooklyn, NY; the Bundy family circa 1900 (this is the only one of the grouping that I did NOT take!); a view on Mount Lemon near Tucson, AZ; the Maroon Bells near Aspen, CO; my girls a few years ago; and downtown Chicago on a foggy night.

I've written a follow-up article, which is coming out in the next issue of the News with more information about how to do the matting with ovals and shapes. I hope you find the instructions clear and easy to follow. Since you're already a computer user and reading this blog, you may find it easier to do the matting than some of the other DH readers.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Let Your Imaginations Take Flight

Want to guess what this block of walnut wood is going to become? (Hint: It won't become just a pile of sawdust or ashes in my fireplace!)

Having enough of the "right" tools makes miniature-making a lot of fun. If I succeed in using some of my tools skillfully, this block of wood will evolve into something quite interesting.

I wish I could say I am so skillful that I won't have to use any more than this 4" by 9" piece of wood. I might have to go back and cut another 4" piece to finish the job. We'll see...

It will take several months for me to get this done, since I've been extremely busy lately. I'll post a few photos along the way and see if anyone can guess what it's going to become. If you've been following my blog over the past months, you may be able to guess at least what part of this wood will be transformed into.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

More on Table Saw Safety

Following Evelien's comment to my previous blog, the two of us had an off-line email conversation about what might cause saw blade kickback. I ended up contacting Micromark to see what suggestions they might have about how to prevent this.

They recommended using a featherboard to hold the wood against the blade and fence. Of course, they sell such an item. However, it's a great add-on tool for the table saw, and one which I've written about before. I'd recommend it to anyone who needs to cut a number of pieces of wood that are the same width. It's a bit of a pain to have to keep resetting it each time you rip a board, but if safety is your number issue, then it's worth the time.

The folks at Micromark also shared a link to an excellent article, and I thought I'd share that same link with each of you: http://www.waterfront-woods.com/Articles/Tablesaw/tablesaw.htm

So, here's to safe and happy ripping on your miniature (or full-size) table saw.

By the way, for those of you who want a full-size, table saw that is extremely safe, I saw one demonstrated last week. It was invented by a lawyer. The number one tool for causing injuries in workshops is table saws - probably because it's one of the most common saws found in workshops. Anyway, the blade in this saw carries a slight electrical charge. As soon as human flesh comes into contact with the blade, it shorts out the saw, the blade instantly stops and snaps down below the table top. The demonstrator placed a hot-dog on top of the board he was cutting. As soon as the wiener touched the blade - BANG! And the casing of the hot-dog wasn't even cut! Now, the saw isn't cheap. Even a contractor version of this saw costs about $1700. But if fear of getting hurt on a table saw has kept you away from getting one, well, there is now a VERY safe one out there!

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Table Saws Are a Valuable Tool

When I think about the number of times I use my table saw in woodworking, I realize it's the tool I use the most. In fact, in my tiny workshop, I have a table saw sitting on a table saw! The smaller one gets the lion's share of use; but occasionally, I am forced to turn to the larger contractor's table saw that takes up the largest amount of space of any tools in my workshop.


Whenever I have needed to cut crown moldings, I have always turned to my table saw to do the cuts. When I need to make a compound cut -- where the saw blade is at an angle and the miter gauge is also at an angle -- the table saw is a great tool.

For those of you who know the story about the shingles on Sara's dollhouse, I cut all 1200 of the shingles on my Dremel table saw. I also have made many of my floors by cutting regular pine, walnut or cherry wood boards into thin pieces, which I then glued together to create the floors that are now in the house. A good orbital sander helps me smooth the rough surface down to a velvety finish very quickly. For furniture making, such as the Victorian bed? Much of that was also done on the table saw.

I realized a couple years ago just how much sawdust my table saws crank out. We had a plumber come in to fix a clogged kitchen drain. The pipe comes down alongside the wall of my workshop. As he got to work in the room, the plumber said, "Wow. This room must never get used. Look at all the dust in here." I didn't bother to set him straight. Since that time, though, I've begun to be far more conscientious about using my shop vacuum to suck sawdust from the table saw! (I've also started running an air purifier just outside the door to help pull more of the finest particulate from the air.)

I have cut so much wood over the years that I totally wore out my little Dremel table saw. I went through multiple belts. Then Dremel stopped making the saw, and I had to buy my belts from a vacuum cleaner store in town. The motor finally gave up the ghost, and that's when I decided it was time to get a new saw. I've liked the Micromark saw. It's a direct drive system unlike the belt-driven blade with the Dremel. With the Dremel, if I was cutting a lot of wood, I inevitably had to stop and put the belt back on the drive after awhile, because it would slip off.

The Dremel customer service rep told me that they discontinued making the saw because they had encountered too many lawsuits. People thought of the Dremel table saw as a toy. I can tell you in no uncertain terms: neither the Dremel nor the Micromark saws were or are a toy! I treat them with the same respect as I do the larger table saw. Here are some of the rules I follow:
  • I have my saw attached to a heavy MDF board which extends several inches in every direction from the saw. I use those extended sides to always clamp the saw in a stationery position when I make a cut. (The last thing I want is for a "live" saw to start sliding away from me while I'm in the middle of a cut - YIKES!)
  • I use push sticks to move boards through and past the blade. (That's what the big, ugly piece of plywood is that's sitting on the saw in the picture above.)
  • I turn off and disconnect the saw if I plan to change the blade.
  • I always make sure that only the length of a blade tooth extends above the surface of the wood I'm cutting.
  • I stand to the side of what I'm cutting so that if there is ever any kickback, the items don't get thrown into my face.
  • I always wear safety glasses when I use the saw.
  • I roll up my sleeves so that no clothing can catch on the saw blade.
  • I have the saw plugged into a power block up on my workbench. It's always turned off when I leave the workshop. It's also up and away from little hands - should my nephews ever wander in and accidentally push the start button.
On a couple of occasions I have had a piece of wood bind up on the blade. The wood flew out of my hands and smacked the door of my workshop with a loud thud. Had I been standing in its line of trajectory, I would have had a nasty bruise or cut from the board smacking me in the face.

So, would I recommend getting a miniature table saw? If you plan to make any scratch-built pieces of furniture or dollhouses, my answer in a heartbeat would be "Absolutely!"