Robert Serb's Woodworking

      NEW FOR APRIL 2008
      Another Footstool
      Last year I made a lovely and intricate footstool with curved legs. But then some big, heavy guy came and SAT on it, tilting it back and forth and rocking it and BREAKING ONE OF THE LEGS!
      I was so distraught at the loss (once I’d picked myself up off the floor) that I determined to make another, better stool, one solid and sturdy enough to use as a seat as well as to rest your feet. Here’s the result…

New Curved Leg Foostool
New Footstool

      I made a template from a thin board of the curve I wanted the legs to follow, and used it to cut out the leg shapes on the scrollsaw (a very long process that broke a lot of the scrollsaw blades) Then to give added support to the legs I added the braces, using the same template to cut them out, but making them much longer than they needed to be. Then with my whittling knives I slowly cut away the excess and curved the ends of the braces until they neatly matched the corresponding curve of the legs. Finally I drilled angled holes in the ends of the braces and sides of the legs and attached them using pegs to hold them in place and give added stability. Last of all I attached the top.
      Although this was a very lengthy and complex project I’m quite pleased with it—and it’s strong enough to sit on, lean back and forth and tilt without as much risk of it breaking.

New Footstool from the side
New Footstool

New Foostool, detail of legs and braces
New Footstool

      Over the past year I've also done a couple of other woodworking projects; most notably a bookcase with pencil drawers at the top, but I don't have any photos of that to post yet.

Did you want to see or read about my:

My Woodworking

      Though small, this footstool turned out to be a very complicated and time-consuming project. I used the scrollsaw to cut out the basic shape of the legs, then carved off the corners and rounded everything. The hardest part turned out to be cutting notches for the rails; once the legs were carved they wouldn’t easily go through the router, so I cut the notches by hand with a drill and chisel. The result; the stool isn’t quite level, but felt feet attached to the legs will take care of the slight wobbling.

Footstool with curved legs

Detail of the footstool legs

      Kid's bookcase: I wanted to make sure it wouldn’t tip over when he tugged or leaned on it, so I used a scrollsaw to curve the sides and make the top shelves smaller, so the weight would be at the bottom. I also made small book catch ledges on the back of each shelf, rather than give the entire case a back piece. As you can see, it's already been put to good use.

Kid's bookcase

Panel #2
Kid's bookcase

      When I was in junior high school my parents bought me a desk, which I didn’t like. My father’s comment when I complained was, “So do something about it!” I think he was suggesting I find a desk I liked, at some thrift store where it could be purchased cheaply. Instead I dug out a hammer and tore the top off the desk, adding a piece of plywood for a new top and building a hutch with a series of shelves above it. This was my first “Do it yourself” carpentry project. Since then I’ve made most of my own furniture, sometimes building it to suit the particular living space I had at the time. To date, the list of woodworking projects I’ve made include:

      I haven’t yet made my own chairs, because they involve not only lots of joinery, but intricate curves cut into the wood, or bending the wood, which is a novelty for me. The small footstool with curved legs was an experiment along those lines, which convinced me not to put a lot of effort into curving chair legs…though thoughts about a rocking chair keep coming to mind.
      The biggest problems I’ve run into while woodworking has been finding space to store my tools, and where to actually do the cutting, gluing, carving, etc. On occasion I’ve kept my tools in my apartment, and scattered sawdust all over, prompting ire from the neighbors at the noise, and from roommates at the mess. I’ve also kept tools at my parents’ house and my brother’s garage, and dirtied the driveway in nice weather while running a power cord out the window.
      The most common danger in woodworking is from splinters. Also, I’ve cut myself on saw blades (fortunately not deeply enough to require reattachment of fingers) and other sharp tools. The most common problem I’ve had has been cutting wood imprecisely; even with a table saw you need to measure things carefully, using a T-square to mark perfectly square corners and perpendicular lines. Nothing is more frustrating than carefully measuring and cutting two pieces of wood, only to find out that they weren’t quite right and don’t really line up. Even a tiny gap between boards will make for a weak piece of furniture, as well as being an obvious error.

      My woodworking tools, scattered among my apartment, my parents’ basement, and my brother’s garage, include:

Here are some pictures of some of my woodworking projects:

My desk
I designed this to fit into
a narrow space beside my bed
since I often have insomnia and stay up late writing
My desk

The desk has a wide keyboard drawer
which was actually tough to design and make
since the front had to fold down
yet stay closed when not in use
My desk

Queen-sized bedframe I made
NOTE: This isn't my bedroom it's sitting in
It's my parent's basement
AKA large project construction area

Bench I made for the foot of my bed
(Please ignore dusty old shoes under bed)
My bench

Four Portable display stands
I made these for a friend's art fair
though I cheated and bought the tops pre-made
Portable Display stands

A different shot of the portable display stands
Portable Display stands

A Rocking Chair Pincushion
I made this for my Mom; It's about 5 inches tall.
I copied the design from an antique pincushion from the 1880's
Rocking Chair Pincushion

My Blanket Box
I made this piece, then woodburned designs on 3 sides.
It took months, but it's my best piece so far
Blanket Box

The panels I woodburned on the Blanket Box
I took these designs from a woodburning book by Walnut Hollow;
they seemed appropriate for a blanket box
(For more info on woodburning, scroll down)
Blanket Box

Panel #2
Blanket Box

Panel #3
Blanket Box

Panel #4
Blanket Box

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My Woodburnings and Carvings

      Woodburning, or pyrography, is the art of burning a design into a piece of wood (sometimes leather, or even gourds, are used) using a hot metal tool. It originated in ancient times, when carpenters or builders would use hot iron pokers to burn their initials or the date into a piece of furniture they’d made. In Victorian times it became popular to burn intricate designs featuring flowers or geometric patterns into boxes and other wooden articles.
      I became interested in woodburning after spending some years on woodworking. A variety of specialized tools and patterns are sold at Craft Stores for woodburning. Here's a picture of a typical electric woodburning pen:
      Woodburning tools First, a piece of fine-grained wood is chosen, and sanded smooth. Basswood is the preferred medium for woodburning, because it has a very light grain. Unfortunately, Basswood tends to become discolored when stained or varnished. I’ve also used pine, aspen, and white maple for woodburning—wood with a pronounced grain like oak, cherry or walnut should be avoided, because the hot iron will burn the soft wood between grain lines much more than the harder wood at the grain lines.
      Next, a design is drawn on the wood using pencil or charcoal. I prefer to make designs on paper first, and then use a piece of carbon or graphite paper to transfer the design onto the wood. I then use an electric woodburner to trace over the design, scoring it into the wood. The woodburner can be fitted with several different tips, depending on the type of design or lines I’m making.
      After the design is burned into the wood, the wood is sanded lightly to remove grease and dirt, without harming the design. Oil pastels or pencils can be used to highlight the design and add color to it. Finally, a wood stain or varnish is applied, to seal the wood and protect the piece from moisture and dirt.
      The main problems I’ve encountered with woodburning are:

Here are photos of some of my woodburnings; click on the image for a larger view.

Victorian Lady
Victorian Lady

A different angle of Victorian Lady
Victorian Lady

When I decided to host a booth at the Custer Street Art Fair
I spent some time woodburning a sign to let everyone know who I was

The sign included woodburnings of a few of the pictures of me throwing clay, which you can see in the "Ceramic Notes" section of this site.

Sign Design 1
Sign Design 1

Sign Design 2
Sign Design 2

Here's a Link to the website, which has other pictures and info on woodburning:

You can also take a look at Walnut Hollow, a company that makes a lot of woodburning and other craft supplies:
Walnut Hollow Home Page

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