Friday, July 1, 2011

Building a Shutter

The last time our old house underwent a serious renovation was in 1971. That was when it got a nice new set of exterior window shutters. Forty years is about as long as these items will stand up in our climate, and all of ours have been showing their age for some time. From time to time I have tried to repair and stabilize them, but this spring it got to the point where one shutter was so rotten it was beginning to fall apart. Something had to be done.
Not too many people make wooden shutters anymore. I called around and finally found a company (some distance away) that still builds them. I phoned them up. 'Give me a ballpark price' , I asked. 'Send us your specifications and we'll quote', they said. Well, I thought, by the time I write all that out I could be well on the way to building it myself. So I thought I'd give it a try.
I had the idea that it would be a complicated job, so I pulled apart the old shutter to see how it was put together. It proved quite simple actually. Through mortises and tenons hold the rails and stiles together - shouldered at top and bottom, full width in the middle.

Before putting the frame together you must cut diagonal slots in the inside faces of the stiles which will hold the louvres in place. I used a dado set to cut these slots a quarter of an inch wide, at 45º. Not having a mortising machine, I chopped the mortises by hand, which proved a tedious task, especially when dressing them to try to get the tenons to fit. Since the stiles are only 2¼ inches wide, next time I will set up a jig and rout them, going halfway in from each side. Now I glued up the frame, wedging the tenons for greater strength and integrity. I used a one-part, powdered resin marine grade glue, which is mixed with water, is very strong and becomes fully waterproof in 48 hours. When the glue had cured, I ran a rabbett down the inside of what was to be the central edge of the shutter, so as to provide a neat overlap with its opposite number when closed. On the outside of this same vertical edge I ran a simple bead as per the original, to dress it off. You can see the rabbett in the photo which shows the trial installation of louvres below.

Next I had to make some trim, which goes around the two apertures, front and back, mitred so as to line up exactly with the inside edges of each louvre aperture. I wasn't able to exactly match the original, so I made a ½" wide by ¼" high cloverleaf profile using my old Sears molding head on my equally ancient radial-arm saw.

At this stage the trim is applied to only one side of the shutter frame, using finish nails and the marine glue. Now the shutter is turned over so as to fit the louvres, which will be prevented from slipping right through the slots by the side pieces of trim, which retains them underneath.

Having first cut the slots, it was now easy to plane the stock for the louvres to the exact thickness for a perfect fit. Using an extra-thin ripping blade, I resawed one-inch pine stock (19mm thick) exactly in half. This gave me two thin planks about 8.5mm thick. My slots actually turned out at 6.7mm wide, so it was a quick and easy job to finish plane the louvre material to this thickness.

In the nature of things, there were subtle differences in the actual precise length of the 39 louvre slots, so I now cut the louvres to length and laid them up in a trial fit, numbering them lightly in pencil. In cases where a louvre was slightly too tight or too loose for the slot I had cut it for, I would find another slot where it would fit just perfectly!

Until this point I had left the louvres slightly oversize in width. They are designed to sit slightly proud of the frame on each side, just about to the level of the upper surface of the trim. In practice, the frame stock being 1¼ inches thick, this meant that the louvres were to be two and one eighth inches (54mm) wide. I quickly accomplished this by clamping the louvres together in batches of thirteen, and running them through my 13" Delta planer on their edges as a block.

Remember now, that the louvres are held in place by the trim, yet stand proud at their edges. So now I cut tiny 45º shoulders on both sides, both ends of all the louvres. You can see in the photo how I batched this process also by laying a 45º support block against the fence of my saw, then stacking a whole bunch of louvres against this support. To ensure the shoulders were exactly the required length despite the variation in louvre length, I also fenced out at 90º on the table on the side I was cutting. This is hard to see, but also illustrated in the photo.
Now that the louvres were precisely fitted and shouldered, it was time to round them over, which I did with my newly acquired Lee Valley one eighth inch radius rounding over plane. What a little gem of a tool that is! One pass down each long corner of the louvres and the job was done.

I glued in the louvres, not so much for strength but for protection. I had noticed that these thin pieces of wood had decayed more at their ends, where damp could penetrate more easily; so putting on a generous coat of waterproof resin glue should extend their life considerably.

Almost finished now: all that remained was to apply the trim on the second side so as to hide the shoulders of the louvres, and lastly, to pin all the joints with wooden dowel.

I was reluctant to use commercial dowel for this purpose, feeling that an unknown species of wood might not survive so well as if I used the same cedar out of which I had built the frames.

It shouldn't be that hard to make enough dowel to pin six joints; and it wasn't. I split a cedar offcut to first get a stick about half an inch square. Then I whittled it with my pocket knife until it was more or less round and roughly 12mm in diameter. I puzzled over how to achieve a precise three-eighth round dowel from this. There is a tool, but I don't have it. It is a metal plate with serrated tapered holes in it. You drive a stick such as I had made through the appropriately sized hole. I looked around the workshop, and my eye fell upon the old handsaw that was one of the first tools I acquired, back in the late sixties. These old handsaws have holes in the tip end of the blade, so that you can hang them up on a nail. Sure enough, here was a three-eighth hole in a piece of hardened steel! I laid the saw flat on my bench with the hole over a benchdog hole and drove my stick through it with a wooden mallet. A mite rough to be sure, since the hole hadn't been made for purpose and sharpened, but a true round dowel. The job was done.

Monday, May 30, 2011

Problematical Pussytoes

I got on my bike in good time this year. I wanted to catch the early wildflowers along the Niagara Trail, which follows the length of the Niagara River. I live in Niagara-on-the Lake, at the north end of this trail, so my usual route takes me out past Fort George to the river, then southward towards Queenston. At the top of the high, steep west bank of the river, almost within sight of Fort George, is a wide swath of small plants displaying a most curious flower. Each plant carries a single stalk about sixteen inches high, which curves gently towards the sun. At the head of the stalk is a cluster of between ten and twenty little white florets. The florets are cone shaped with rounded heads, and composed of silky whitish hairs surrounded by tiny purple bristles and a ragged pale green calyx. The cluster looks just like, yes, pussytoes.

I took out my trusty Newcomb Wildflower Guide and quickly found that Pussytoes belong to the genus Antennaria. Another common name for these flowers is Early Everlastings. But now comes the tricky bit: which, of a number of species, is this plant? Newcomb precisely describes six different species, but goes on to say that there are about a dozen species altogether in the area ( Northeastern and North-Central North America). They are, he says ‘… very similar in appearance and difficult to identify.’

The species growing here in Niagara appears to share attributes of a number of the varieties described by Newcomb. Firstly, the largest leaves are fairly broad, about 2” long by 7/8” wide, with three main veins beneath. With these attributes we have 3 varieties listed . We can dismiss A. solitaria because we are working with several flower heads. I think we can dismiss A. parlinii (Smooth Pussytoes) because it is reported to have bright green and nearly smooth basal leaves. Our leaves are slightly woolly on the topside, and a quiet sage green in colour. That leaves us with the Plantain-leaved Pussytoes, which is good as far as it goes, but – there is no mention of basal shoots in the description, and the basal leaves illustrated have fairly rounded or blunt tips. The plants I am studying here have vigorous basal shoots which turn up strongly at their ends, and the leaves are decidedly pointed. Basal shoots are only mentioned in connection with a group of varieties that have rather smaller basal leaves, with one prominent vein! Field Pussytoes (A. neglecta) is reported to have basal shoots very slender and prostrate, with small leaves that only overlap at the tip of the shoot. Pity. Our leaves overlap considerably all along the shoot, and the shoot is not prostrate. Smaller Pussytoes (A. neodioica) fits the bill nicely, shootwise, carrying a note that the ‘….basal shoots (are) short, with overlapping leaves, and turned upward at the tip. Lower leaves end in a tiny abrupt point. Yes they do! But wait a minute – we’re only supposed to have one main vein, but we have three. Canada Pussytoes (A. canadensis) is similar but the upper surfaces of the leaves is bright green and smooth.

So, what variety is this? I should be so pleased to find out, and hope someone may tune in here and help with their expertise.

Allow me to summarise the features of this interesting plant. Maximum height 19”. Flower heads several, with purple external hairs. Stem leaves very narrow and well-spaced. Basal shoots are vigorous and thrust strongly upward at the tips. Basal leaves overlapping, dull green and slightly woolly on top surface, very pale, almost white and heavily woolled underneath, with tiny abrupt points. Largest leaves are about 2” long by 7/8” wide with three prominent main veins.

And now for a further complication. A few hundred feet further along the embankment I came upon a very different variety of Pussytoes. These plants were much smaller than those I have just described, with a maximum height of stem of about 9 inches. Instead of appearing white, the flower heads had an overall appearance of dark red, due to the bristles being much stronger and more prominent. The flower heads averaged far fewer florets each, usually between five and ten; the whole flower head therefore having a width of only about 1.5cm, versus 3cm or more for the previous variety. The flower heads match the profile of ‘Smaller Pussytoes’, as illustrated by Newcomb. Basal shoots and leaves are virtually identical to the variety already described, except for being only half the size, the maximum leaf size being about 3x1.5cm. The tiny sharp tips are present on the leaves. Except for the overall flower colour, I should categorize these as ‘Smaller Pussytoes’ A. neodioica. I am rather lost here, but I shall for the time being label this latter variety then as A. neodioica. The plant first described I shall simply call “Larger Pussytoes” for the moment.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Designing Dollshouse Wallpaper

I have for the last little while been engaged in designing and printing off some dollhouse wallpaper. This exercise has taught me quite a bit about ‘Photoshop’ that I didn’t know before, and has (I believe) produced some interesting results. This enterprise was provoked because we could not seem to find on the Internet the type of wallpaper we needed with which to decorate the grand Georgian style dollshouse that my daughter has been building. We needed some striped wallpaper for the halls, and could not find any. So I set to work and soon had a few templates set up from which to make several varieties of striped paper. Here are some of the results.

At first, I opened a simple blank canvas, about an inch and a quarter wide and ¾ inch high, 300dpi. I set the rulers to ‘pixels’ and drew some vertical lines at intervals which might produce a good effect. I then coloured in the bands of various widths which had been produced. The result looked a bit like your grandfather’s war medals. Next I dragged those ‘template’ forms onto a bigger canvas and pasted them in side by side to make a wide horizontal array. Then I ‘flattened’ the image, rendering it all into one background layer. Using ‘Free Transform’, I ‘stretched’ the image vertically, to produce a page of stripes. All that remained was to select colours for the stripes of different widths, so as to achieve a pleasing effect.

To dress the paper off nicely I needed a frieze to paste along the top, for use in case we didn’t have a molded plaster cornice in the area in which we were working. For this I made another template, this time with horizontal stripes. After blocking out the various bands with colours to match the already made wallpaper, I was left with a central field needing some decoration. In this area I inserted elements that I had designed and created years ago for a totally different project ~ a photo of a plaster urn, a roundel, and a swag that I had made in the Georgian style to decorate a fireplace. I photographed the details of this fireplace and extracted the architectural elements. After enhancing them in Photoshop, I cut and pasted them in at intervals to produce a long band.
Last fall, having anticipated a need for pictures of floral elements, I had taken a number of photos from stems taken from a bunch of yellow roses. Now I worked with those pictures to assemble a variety of ‘Rose Stripe’ papers.

Some other papers I produced by photographing existing old wallpaper from the Victorian era and ‘restoring’ it by cleaning it up ~ in effect repainting an area of the paper, then re-assembling a page from the restored illustration.

As I proceeded, I began to learn new techniques, such as working with layers and textures. Ultimately I found myself able to build completely original paper designs that looked to me very professional. With a little more effort, I think we shall be able produce some finished papers which may be enjoyed for generations.

I have posted more pictures on my ‘Flickr’ photostream, showing aspects not illustrated here.

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Experimenting with a Different Style.

Here is a watercolour I have been working on. Not quite finished yet, so I am not posting it on Flickr just now. I am also putting in here a reference photo of the Japanese style garden which inspired me to do this picture, and an experimental try at Japanese writing. The writing attempt was done with a brush on the bark of the Kolkwitzia tree (otherwise known as 'Beauty Bush') I should have used a pen instead of a brush, and obviously, I should take lessons before I try such things.
I do not wish to explain this blog any further at the moment. It is here now specifically so someone can take a look and help me with it.