Greene & Greene Inspired Towel Rack

First month of the calendar, first project completed – not that I expect to keep that pace up for much longer this year! A few months ago, my wife bought some old faucet knobs


with the intent of using them as the hooks on a towel rack. When she asked me for help with how to mount those knobs, I had an idea for some Greene & Greene details to frame out those knobs. I had a nice piece of 4/4 walnut picked out for this project


A couple of years ago, I took a Greene & Greene details class with Darrell Peart. Along with the experience of several different G&G details, I also brought home an MDF template for a simple cloud lift, which I used to layout both ends of the board.



With the cloud-lift layout complete, I could start working on the indent detail. The indents are a detail from the Blacker House dining room chairs. I’ve decided to widen that idea for each end of this rack. If I were making many of these indents (like multiple legs on a set of chairs), I would build a router jig to remove the waste. Since I’m only making this twice, I decided to handle it with my chisels.


I started by defining the baseline (as seen above), shallow at first and then deepening the cut. Once I had the depth where I wanted it, I started paring my way back toward the center of the board. After a few hours of chisel work (and some sanding), the detail on both ends was complete.


With the indent details complete, my next trip was over to the bandsaw. I cut just outside the lines to remove most of the waste. With the rough shaping complete, I reattached the template to the board with double-sided tape and finished the cut with a flush-trim router bit.

With the decorative shapes all in place, I had to work on the practical parts of the piece: how I will mount the knobs and how I will hang the rack on the wall. Mounting the knobs was the easier of the tasks. I knew I wanted the knobs evenly spaced across the board, so I marked lines one quarter, half, and three quarters the way across the board. At each of these marks I bored a hole with a forstner bit to bury the head of the machine screw that will hold the knobs. In the center of that hole, I used a brad point bit to drill a centered hole through to the other side.

To mount the towel rack, I took the opportunity to acquire another tool – a keyhole router bit from Whiteside tools:


The key (no pun intended) to using this bit is to only make it cut the hidden part of the hole. To setup up that cut, I first drilled a couple of holes. The first hole is the same size (or just slightly larger) than the diameter of the keyhole bit. Above it I drill a hole that’s the same size as the router bit’s shaft’s diameter. I cleared out the path between the two holes with some chisel work. With the path clear, I can now route up into the joint, using the carved path as a guide for the shaft of the bit.


Note: that is not a mistake next to the right keyhole; it’s a knothole in the board.

Now that all of the major sawdust was made, we were down to the finishing. I progressively hand sanded through 120, 150, 180, and 220 grit paper. Normally I would use my random orbit sander, but the indent detail required hand sanding, so it wasn’t much more work to sand everything by hand.

For the finish, I decided to follow the recipe prescribed by The Wood Whisperer in his step stool finishing video:

  • A seal coat of shellac
  • Several coats of 1:1 polyurethane:mineral spirits
  • Light sanding between coats
  • “Buffing” out the final coat with mineral spirits

After everything was dried, it was time to attach the knobs. I thought I had purchased properly sized machine screws to hold the knobs, but it turns out they were just a little to small. Rather than searching for the perfect screws at the hardware store, I decided to close the gap with two-part epoxy. A few drops in the knobs and on the threads kept the screws secured. A couple of hanger bolts in the wall and the towel rack is ready for use:

InSituFinalInUseEven though I started this project in December, it still feels good to finish the first project of the year so early in the year. It was an interesting challenge because it was a sculptural piece of sorts – there was no joinery, just removing the parts of the board that didn’t look like a Greene & Greene inspired towel rack.

Design a Week – 26/52

On the last day of 2010, my final design to share is an angled frame:

I first flirted with this idea back in March, initially thinking of it as a picture frame. The more I look at it, the more I think of it as a decorative edging for a frame and panel section of some piece of modern furniture. I haven’t come up with the correct application yet, so I just have this frame. There is definitely attitude in this frame, a little aggressive, so it will need the perfect fit.

As I’m posting this on the final few minutes of 2010, let me take a few lines to reflect on this challenge. Obviously, failing to post 52 designs means I didn’t get to “a design a week.” By getting to 26, I did manage to post a new design every other week. For having never done any serious sketching in my life, I think it is quite the accomplishment despite not reaching the initial goal.

I want to thank everyone who has dropped in during this exercise. I couldn’t have made it this far without your encouragement, suggestions, and feedback. Make sure to check back for more crazy ideas, designs, and challenges in 2011. Happy New Year!

Layout and Dimensions

This has been a highly productive week, where I got shop time Monday (took the day off to recover from WIA), Friday afternoon, and today. Those shop sessions gave me enough time to prep and dimension almost all of the stock for this project. I started on Monday with the 8/4 purpleheart for the outer legs of the table:

I was so excited that I had fit all four legs on the width of the board, I went right to cutting the board in half, so I could fit each part on the jointer:

It was only after making a few passes on the jointer that I realized my mistake. First, if I wanted to double-up the cuts and make two legs from one blank, the layouts would need to be aligned in both height and orientation.  Second, either the blank would have to ride on the curved surface I just created or I would have to layout the template on that curved surface. I was not convinced  with my ability to do either safely or repeatably, so I needed to readjust. Thankfully I over-bought stock for this project and I could still use these two blanks to make one leg each.

Friday afternoon/evening was spent mostly at the jointer and table saw. Right now, I only have one 220V outlet in my garage, so there’s some plug swapping between the jointer and the planer. For this reason, I made a concerted effort to do all the dimensioning up to the point of needing the planer. So by the end of Friday night, I had a lot of hard maple and purpleheart that was S3S. In addition to that stock, I had a lot of confusion; I wasn’t sure how to proceed.  This led me to spending a decent amount of time creating a checklist for each part that I was going to work on today. This was hugely beneficial, not just for the direction I was giving myself, but also for the mental exercise of thinking about each piece without standing over a tool.

With a clear plan for this afternoon, I was able to crank through my steps and complete a ton of the prep work for my challenge entry.  I got my head on straight and created the blanks for the table legs:

I also dimensioned most of the hard maple that will make up the sides and the shelves for the outer drawer assemblies:

Here’s the glue-up for the sides of the inner drawer assemblies.  The plan is to make the curves out of this 8/4 walnut:

but I’m still undecided on whether I’ll make those cuts at the bandsaw or nibble away at the tablesaw, changing the height of the  to create the curve shape. I’ll cross that bridge later; if anyone has a strong opinion about it, leave a comment.

I also glued-up the three panels that will comprise the top. First, the two wings made of curly maple:

And some more walnut for the center:

Tomorrow I foresee a lot of work at the bandsaw cutting the curves in this design.  After the Bears game, of course ;-)

Tick Marks to Templates

Design sketches – checks. Materials – check.  Now it was time for some serious shop time.

For the complex curves that I had in several places on this piece, I knew I would need a few steps between my initial sketches and putting a blade to the wood.  My first step was to make some larger scale drawings of individual parts of the piece. From there, I wanted to create some plywood templates to ensure consistency in the repeated forms. I don’t know of anywhere that sells 1/4″ plywood with gridlines printed on it, so I had to make my own.

The grid lines provide two things: 1) a measure of distance – I spaced the lines 1/2″ apart, and 2) a way to transfer my previous drawings, one grid square at a time. My scale on the larger sketches I did was the same as these grid lines, so transferring the shapes to the plywood was a snap:

Some quick work at the band saw and I had several templates cut and ready for primetime:

In addition to getting these templates created, I started doing some layout work on the 4/4 maple board I have. It will be used for the outer drawer assemblies, so the primary shape I wanted to orient was the side pieces (lower left, above). I noticed on the maple that there were a few spots with some interesting cathedral grain near the center of the board. I’ve marked those areas for the outer sides, so the rising grain follows the sloping curves. It’s hard explain, so I’ll make sure to get some pictures as soon as I get the boards planed.

I did some shopping this weekend as well, picking up some SealCoat shellac and Transtint dye, so I can get the grain on the curly maple I’m using for the top to pop. One thing I still need to pick up is a white pencil, so I can mark up the walnut and purpleheart and still see the lines!

Hopefully, I’ll get some of the real wood cut before Woodworking in America next week.

Build Challenge Materials

Last weekend I went to my favorite hardwood dealer and purchased the majority of my lumber for the Build Challenge:

In this picture we have:

  • 4/4 & 8/4 Walnut: The 8/4 walnut will be used for the center of the top and the curved sides of the center drawer assembly. The 4/4 walnut will be used for the center drawer front and shelf
  • 4/4 Maple: This maple will be used for the outer drawer assemblies
  • 4/4 Poplar: This poplar will be used for the drawer boxes and supports
  • 8/4 Purpleheart: This is easily my favorite board I bought that Saturday. I just love purpleheart, especially an 8/4 slab such as this. This board will become the leg assemblies.

Unfortunately, Vienna Hardwoods didn’t have much in the way of curly maple and not a whole lot of 8/4 maple in general. This led me to what is becoming my second favorite hardwood dealer, Northland Forest Products. The only thing keeping them from being my favorite is their lack of exotic species (did you see that slab of purpleheart?!?).

In their stack of “8/4 Curly Soft Maple” I was able to find this beauty:

Check out the curl on this baby:

I only really needed about half of the board for this project, but I couldn’t bring myself to ask them to cut it in half.  I’ll just have to think of some other project to make from that beauty!

Design a Week – 25/52 – Build Challenge Idea

This entry is officially subtitled “Biting Off More Than I Can Chew” given it will easily be the most complex project I have attempted to date. I guess that’s why it is called a challenge!

This piece is a design for a hall table. The piece I build for the challenge has size constraints, so this will be a to-scale version that can fit inside a 32-inch cube. On to the sketches:

If you have followed the previous two design entries, then you’ll likely notice a few elements of this piece that did arise from those designs. Up first, the table top:

The curves on the ends of the table top came from what I thought was a superfluous surface on the first Entry That Wasn’t. I think the subtle curves on the ends are a simple way to dress-up an otherwise square table top. I’ve been reading a lot of George Walker’s work, both on his blog and in Popular Woodworking Magazine. A big theme of his lately has been echoes within a piece. This top is the first place that you’ll see me echo a design feature in this piece.

The radius on both the inner and outer curves in each half of the top are the same. Those inner edges are sloped out from the center, similar to the business end of the blades on a cigar cutter. For these outer wings of the top, I’m thinking of using tiger maple. If I can’t find tiger maple specifically, I want to use some type of figured or spalted maple. These parts of the top will be the focal surface of the table and key in drawing attention to the piece.

The center of the table top will be slightly smaller than the wings, both in its depth and its thickness. The bottom of the center section will be flush with the bottom of the wings. With the difference in thicknesses between the center and the wings, there will be a slight relief from the top of the wings to the top of the center. Right now I’m leaning towards using walnut for the center section.  Part of me thinks it could be cool to find a really gnarly burl to center in the top; the other part of me worries that might be too much activity for the top. Maybe I’ll consider it if I can’t find tiger maple for the wings.

On to the drawers hung beneath the table top:

The center drawer is another element from my first Entry That Wasn’t. While the drawer itself will be square, it will be bracketed by curved sides. Those sides will sit beneath and echo the curve on the inner edges of the table top wings. At the bottom of the curved side supports there will be a horizontal shelf. The space between the drawer and that bottom will be empty. To keep continuity with the center of the top, the drawer front and side supports will also be made of walnut. I’m currently undecided on what species I’ll use for that bottom shelf. I’ll probably stay with walnut for the whole center, but might use hard maple here.

The outer shelves show the one design element I have incorporated from the second Entry That Wasn’t. While it is slightly compressed, the curves on the drawer supports mimic the curves on that unused design’s vertical spine. I like how these outer drawer supports feel square, but still have curves that soften the shape. Like the negative space beneath the center drawer, the space above these outer drawers will also be empty. I will construct the outer drawers and their supports from hard maple.

Now to what will likely be the most difficult parts to construct on this design, the legs:

The front-most and rear-most legs curve towards the center of the piece, stretching from the table top to the floor. The middle leg, wider than the outer legs, runs from the cross brace down to the floor – curving away from the center. That cross brace not only connects all of the legs, but it also will provide support beneath the outer drawers. The outer most drawer support will sit in a rabbet on the inside edge of these cross braces. It’s not evident in my perspective drawing here, but the curves on the Y-axis of the legs is meant to echo the curve in the outer drawer supports above. I want to make these legs out of purpleheart. If I end up with a spalted maple table top instead of tiger maple, the purpleheart could really tie things together nicely.

So that’s what I’m going to create for this year’s build challenge. I applaud and thank you for making it to the end of what is easily my longest post in this design exercise. What do you think? Leave your impressions in the comments.

Design a Week – 24/52

Tonight’s entry is another entry that came out of my initial brainstorming for the Build Challenge. I call it the sequel to “The Entry That Wasn’t”

If you’re wondering why I haven’t shown more than one drawing, it’s because I don’t have one. This isn’t a totally flushed out design. Normally I wouldn’t want to post a half-baked idea, but that’s as far as I’ve gone with this branch of brainstorming. I thought out enough to get a generic form, but didn’t go further.

I think of this as a contemporary night stand or valet. The curved spine running the height of the piece is also the absolute back of the piece; the shelves are anchored to it. The vertical lines between the base and the shelf is actually a support bracket with a curve similar to the back spine. I see the back spine as some type of figured maple, with a complementing species for the shelves.  I also think you could forgo the base and wall mount the piece.  Actually, I think I like it better that way.

I know – a lousy excuse for a design idea. I’m just trying to document my entire process for the build challenge.

Design a Week – 23/52

With the start of this year’s The Sawdust Chronicles Build Challenge, I started brainstorming as I was first listening to the kick-off podcast. This sketch was the first idea to come to full fruition. However, this isn’t what I plan to submit for the challenge. Thus, I present the first “Entry that Wasn’t”

With this challenge’s focus being “Surface,” my mind immediately jumped to creating a piece that had multiple surfaces to it. I wanted each surface to also be accessible, despite the stacked orientation of each level. This led to the telescoping nature of the levels. From a materials/finish perspective, there would be a wide variety. I would want a different species of highly colored wood (paduak, purpleheart, etc) to make up the horizontal surfaces. To further highlight those woods, I would paint all the vertical surfaces black, with an exception for the drawer front. Note: this wouldn’t be permissable in this bulid challenge – no paint allowed.

There are a few design elements that I like in this piece. The middle level has a round top. To support that, the side walls beneath the circle are curved themselves, something that isn’t readily evident with my currently skills in drawing.

The arched stretcher on the lowest supports was a late addition to the design that I enjoy. Originally I drew this piece with all of the “legs” purely vertical.  When I redrew on something nicer than a napkin, I realized that the lowest supports would offer little lateral support – something that wouldn’t work on the base of a piece. This led me to cant the legs out slightly, which should support the piece side to side. To add strength to the front-to-back axis, I added the stretcher.

I’m unsure about the lowest platform. I like the curved end profile, but for what really is an end table, I don’t think you really need that board. If there was another wood species you wanted to highlight, that might be enough of an excuse – but I don’t really see it in hindsight.

Overall, I find this was an interesting exercise. It was definitely worth the time spent, as there are a couple of elements that I plan to put into my build challenge entry. Which ones? You’ll have to stay tuned to find out ;-)

Design a Week – 22/52

I did a lot of housework this weekend, which has left me fairly tired. Appropriately, tonight’s design is a for a bed:

When putting this design together, I wanted an interesting pattern without the heavy feeling of highly ornament sleigh bed. The main frame would be of a medium-toned wood, maybe cherry or a mahogany. The lighter inside pieces are a web of boards with plenty of open/negative space, lightening the hefty feeling of the bed. They would be a lighter species of wood.

The thickness of the web of boards would also be slightly thinner than the main frame. I think the offset will add a nice shadow to the headboard and footboard. I don’t know if it would be better to center those boards on the outer frame or to have them flush with one side. I also may think about moving the vertical parts of the web slightly closer to the center; I would have to play with that more to see how that might work out.

If only blogging about it meant it was built – I’d go crash right now!

Design a Week – 21/52

Tonight’s design entry involves another first in this exercise – an upholstered ottoman:

First of all I want to mention that I’ve had the beginnings of this sketch for some time now and its shape in no way represents my excitement for the upcoming NFL season! I envision this ottoman being fairly long, more appropriate for a love seat than a standard stuffed chair. The criss-cross pattern in the sketch would be the stuffed and upholstered portion of the ottoman. I’m imagining a medium blue (maybe something cornflower), but not necessarily a pattern – the criss-cross is really just to indicate the area of upholstery in the pencil drawing.

As for the trim around the top, I’m torn between two similar ideas for the detail:

As you see on the right, it is a choice between actual dowels and a negative space where the dowels would be.  In either instance, I would want that are to be a contrasting wood. That might be a little difficult to do with the negative space idea (some seriously bent veneer?), but maybe doing half dowels (not drawn) could work as a middle ground.

As for the base, I’m thinking a different wood than the edge of the top. It could be the same as the dowels/negative-space or it could be a third species.  That base would also be mostly hollow, allowing for storage beneath the lid/top.  As for the feet, I decided to keep them simple – considering they are mostly hidden and not terribly contributing to a piece such as this.