Branching Out Wood

Modern Functional Home Decor by David Wertheimer

Furniture Rendering Software

David WertheimerComment

I've used a few software modeling and design packages over the years to help with architectural drawing and furniture design, starting first with Claris CAD on a much-earlier Mac in the mid 90s in high school!

Though I considered myself an expert on that, having taken a few semester-long classes on it, and continuing to use it for personal projects in the years just after college, a few computer upgrades, and operating system changes, combined with a multi-year hiatus from woodworking (and the related drawing), meant that I had to start over whenever I needed to draw since then.

I've never spent enough time with any other packages in the intervening years to consider myself even just "proficient", dabbling in AutoCAD, LibreCAD, QCAD, and SketchUp when a need to produce something more precise or complex arose. But when I added the CNC machine to my shop - see more about that here - I knew I needed to learn something that could send commands to that tool.

The XCarve CNC comes with a free subscription to the web software Easel for exactly that purpose, but while Easel is incredibly easy to learn, it's also incredibly limited in it's capabilities. After reading a lot of reviews - and focusing on three key criteria of free, Mac-compatible, and XCarve compatible - I came across Autodesk's Fusion360 software.

I'm still no expert in this software. Indeed, its so powerful it seems like folks might spend years working with it, and still only know one small area in depth. But it's become my go-to tool now not only to drive the CNC, but for rendering commissions.

This isn't a tutorial - I'm far from knowledgeable enough to even consider that, and there seem to be hundreds of great sources for that already. But rather, this is just an opportunity for me to share a few of the different renderings I've done for clients.

Entryway Shelf & Mirror

Though the design wasn't complex enough to require a rendering, as the client considered different woods for the surface, this really helped them finalize the walnut and maple combination.

For far more details on this piece, check out this post.

Oval Mirrors

A commercial client refurbishing a carousel in Irvine needed 24 oval mirror frames, each of which was comprised of 4 pieces end-joined with tenons. While this may have traditionally be cut with a template, I found it much easier to do with the CNC. So here, the drawings were only necessary as a way to control the CNC.

Sun Catcher

Sun Catcher.png

An in-progress addition to my catalog, a pair of these wooden pieces will sandwich nine stained glass tiles. This also gave me opportunity to learn and take advantage of constraint-based modeling, wherein instead of defining a model by the length of each line, the model is defined by relationships between the lines such as "perpendicular" or "equally spaced", so if I want to change the size of one side, or the size of the glass inserts, rather than redrawing the entire piece, I can just update one number and see the entire model update.

Nixie Clock

The body of the long-in-progress Nixie clock I just recently completed was first attempted via manual milling with my drill press; this was the initial impetus for the CNC. This used the CNC in th places: milling out the wooden block; drilling out the control panel; and then engraving the logo and the control panel labels.

Cable Box

A request came in for a decorative box to hide a cable box and media devices and cables, with a built-in shelf and ventilation holes that I designed to double as handles. This was never built.

Cable Box.png

Boathouse Shelf

This oddly-shaped shelf is for a kitchen counter of a boathouse in Emeryville; the rendering helped her understand the final product. I also took advantage of the capability to produce projected dimensioned drawings very quickly from a model; as I updated the model, the projected drawing also automatically updated, making it much easier for me to build the final product.

Screen Shot 2018-04-09 at 5.33.53 PM (2).png

Entryway Tray

The original request to feature a purpleheart stripe led to the rendering at left, which helped refine the design to what I ultimately created at right.

Kitchen Bench & Built-in Storage

This client had a firm idea of what they wanted for the kitchen, but was a bit more nebulous on the wall of bookshelves & desk for the study. Regardless, as both pieces were fairly substantial, a detailed line drawing, and a rendering in white paint helped advance the conversation.

Fusion360 Plug

OK so I'm obviously quite new to the modeling (as opposed to drawing) world: wow, it automatically produces projection drawings for you? This was probably news fifteen years ago! And I'm just barely scratching the surface of the software's capabilities - for instance, I could do a structural analysis of anything I model as well!

Not bad for free, eh? So long as you have under $100k in revenue - or use this for academic purposes - it's free. So check it out, or share your thoughts on what software you know and love!

And... if anyone has software to open those 1990s-era Claris CAD drawings I did way back when, let me know! I'd love to see what crazy (or probably quite mundane) designs I was coming up with back in my teens.

2018 Show Schedule

David WertheimerComment

2017 was a year of learning what shows might work, and which ones I needn't repeat. So I'm super excited for my 2018 show schedule, with the new ones in bold:

  • May 5 & 6: Mountain View a la Carte
  • Jul 14 & 15: Los Altos Arts & Wine Fest
  • Jul 21 & 22: Menlo Park Summerfest
  • Aug 18 & 19: Burlingame on the Avenue
  • Sept 8 & 9: Mountain View Art & Wine
  • Sept 15 & 16: Mill Valley
  • Sep 22 & 23: Oakland-Montclair Village
  • Oct 6 & 7: San Carlos Art & Wine Fest

Dropped from this year are Lafayette, Novato, and Alameda. Also, I'll probably end up at at least one of the monthly Treasure Island, Oakland Jack of All Trades, or Oakland Museum of California events, though none are yet booked.

Come visit!

CNC & Torsion Boxes

David WertheimerComment

I've really enjoyed working with my CNC so far, though I'll confess, I've been doing mostly prototyping - and one giant commission of twenty four oval mirror frames - with no finished products in my catalog yet to show off. But a lot of the time I've been spending with the CNC has been setting it up just right.

As mentioned in an earlier post, many of the next posts will be about the nuances of getting this thing set up, and with the first in the series, I'll talk about "torsion boxes". A torsion box is just a fancy word for a common construction technique where two thin layers of material are applied to either side of a lightweight core.

Flat, Light, & Strong


The most common example that we interact with every day is a "hollow core" door, that is, probably the type of door inside your house. They're super flat, fairly light, and yet very strong. If you were to peel back the thin wooden skin on one side of that door, you'd see a grid of material perpendicular to that skin made of something light and cheap- thin wood, or perhaps even cardboard, depending on the door quality. But they're also used in ships, furniture, some bridges, and many other places as well.

A few months ago, I bid on a kitchen cabinet project that included some 2" thick 15" deep shelves edge mounted on the wall. A 2" thick shelf, if made of solid wood of any variety, would be really heavy and expensive. For instance, a walnut shelf that large would be 0.7 pounds per inch of length, or 25 pounds for a 3 foot section. Mounting three of these on the wall with hidden hardware would be challenging to say the least. Solid wood also expands and contracts with moisture and temperature, making it more challenging to use for large solid wood furniture - see this blog for some more details about that. However, if made with 1/4" veneered MDF (medium density fiberboard) - a very smooth engineered product used as the core within a lot of furniture - the weight would be cut by more than half, to about 12 pounds for that same shelf.

Gaining Extra Height

Now let's return to the world of the X-Carve CNC. I added some extension brackets that allow me to work with much thicker blocks of wood with the machine, up to about 4.5" thick. But the X-Carve z-axis only goes up & down about 3", so that means that for the more common thinner stuff that I'll be cutting and carving, such as a cribbage board or a customized cutting board, the cutting head wouldn't be able to reach the material.

 You can see one of the silver brackets giving my machine an extra 2" of height in the lower left

You can see one of the silver brackets giving my machine an extra 2" of height in the lower left

Here's where the torsion box comes in. By adding another 2" layer to the bottom - kind of like a high chair for my CNC - that negates the effect of those brackets, so that I can work with standard-height materials again. But it's critical that the surface be perfectly flat, so that it doesn't introduce any errors into the CNC.

Bonus: Vacuum Clamps

 Instant 60 pounds of clamping force

Instant 60 pounds of clamping force

One other great bonus of this setup is that I can now easily use my vacuum clamps. The vacuum pump I purchased is great for veneering, but with a vacuum, you can also easily clamp flat items - like that cribbage board, cutting board, or a sign - if the underlying surface is also flat.

In fact, every square foot of clamping surface exposed to these vacuum clamps produces about 1300 pounds of clamping pressure. The vacuum clamps aren't a square foot - they're closer to 2.5" x 2.5", which produces only about 60 pounds of clamping force, but that's still huge - especially given that they do not mar the surface of what you're clamping, provide complete access to the top of the item, and are nearly instant to insert and remove, with the aid of a foot pedal.

The X-Carve "waste board" - the gridded board you see in some of the pictures - is perfectly flat. But it also has about one hundred holes drilled into it, so that you can use screw clamps. You can see those in that picture above as the green and blue plastic inserts sticking out of the board. They're very useful in their own right, but they limit the use of the vacuum clamps since, unless they are very carefully placed, the vacuum just goes right out the other side of the board, through those holes.

Wrapping It Up

So there ya have it - now you know what a torsion box is, and you could even make your own door if you so desired! But if you'd rather have me make the doors - or anything else for your home or business - look me up! I'd be delighted to explore your project with you.

How to Build a Cabinet in Ten Easy Steps

David Wertheimer1 Comment

I’ve been fortunate to get a number of commissions, both large and small, in the past few months, which has kept me from making a more recent post up, but it has also given me a bit more to write about.

Today, I’ll drill into one of those commissions in detail, share the construction considerations, and show some of the steps along the way.

Interested in discussing a piece? Send me an email or give me a call!

Entryway Shelf & Mirror

The request from the client was for hanging entryway shelf for their recently completed remodel, to fit between the angled walls. After a little more discussion about what woods might look nice together and complement their decor, they decided on walnut and birdseye maple, and for a wall-mounted mirror frame above.

The client provided a template for the top and the desired width. We had to go the template route - rather than me personally taking detailed measurements - as the piece would be installed in a condominium in Florida. After going through a few more detailed questions about design - top surface overhang, depth, etc. - I was able to produce this rendering that the client signed off on.


Veneer or Solids?

There are two main construction techniques that were possible here: solid wood, or veneer. As touched on in an earlier post, though solid wood has some advantages, for something of this size - especially as it will be installed in a home in Florida - would deteriorate over time if made of solid wood with glued joints. Not to mention finding or joining together boards of that size would be either a lot of money, or time, or both. So that steered me towards a predominantly veneered MDF (medium density fiberboard, an incredibly smooth and stable engineered wood product made of wood fibers glued together under considerable heat and pressure) construction technique for the large top and bottom.

However, the front edges would not be great as veneered: as they would get a bit more abuse from bumps, I decided to use a thin strip, approximately ⅛” thick, of solid walnut as the “edge band”, and for the veneer to cover the top and bottom of that as well so that it would be indistinguishable as an edge band. Much thinner than ⅛” , and it might as well be veneer; much thicker, and you run the risk of “telegraphing”, where that edge band of solid walnut “moves” (expands and shrinks) with the changing temperature and humidity, but with the more stable veneer and MDF glued on the top and bottom, gets stretched.

I also decided to make the three vertical uprights of solid wood, for a few reasons. As they were much smaller, I had neither the challenges of cost of availability, or weather stability, of the top and bottom. And I decided to remove about half of the material on the outer edges of the two sides to make fitting to drywall that might be bowed slightly, much easier. This removal of material would pose problems for veneered MDF, such as significantly reduced strength in comparison to solid walnut, and the fact that you typically need to veneer both sides of a board to prevent stresses from the veneer from warping the board over time but yet veneering such a shaped piece would be a lot more challenging.

The drawer fronts and drawer boxes would also be of solid wood, walnut and poplar, for appearance and durability, and similarly, because as much smaller pieces, they would not have the same cost or stability problems as the top.

Drawer Boxes

Finally, the drawer boxes and slides posed a little bit of a challenge: given the shape of the drawer fronts and overall cabinet, I could do either rectangle drawer boxes with conventional drawer slides and overhanging drawer fronts that would significantly reduce the size of the drawers, or trapezoid drawer boxes that would have to use simpler undermount slides. The conventional side-mounted slides would allow for very high quality soft-close slides, and “push to open” slides, that a lot of clients like, but the client here opted for the trapezoidal larger drawer boxes with these wooden drawer slides.

So there we have the logic and thought process in the construction and material choices. Now let’s get to work!

Construction Steps

The rough step-by-step is below, with a few steps where I learned a bit more via trial and error, or to explain more nuance, covered below. But first, some pictures along the way!

  • Cut the the ⅛” walnut strips, and glue them to the long edges of an MDF panel; sand to make sure the top and bottom of the MDF-and-walnut piece is still perfectly flat
  • Measure & cut the trapezoidal MDF panels for the top and bottom
  • Cut the veneer pieces for the top and bottom

Three of the four pieces were simple trapezoids of walnut veneer, cut about 1/4" larger than the MDF surface, and so very quick to prep. However, the top had the five pieces of veneer joined together to form the principal element of the design, so I spent a lot more time cutting this out precisely. As I cut each piece, I verified that it would fit seamlessly with the previous pieces cut so far, and then used painters tape to temporarily hold the pieces in place.

However, the painters tape would not work in the vacuum press: though it peels off quite easily under ordinary usage, when clamped under 1000# of pressure for a few hours, some of that adhesive transfers to the wood and is very tedious to remove. So once the cutting was complete, I then used veneer tape - very similar to brown kraft paper tape - to keep the set together.

  • Veneer the solid walnut field of the bottom of the top piece and the top of the bottom piece
  • Trim - via a router with a flush-cut trim bit - the edge of that oversized veneer
  • Route out the back edges of the top & bottom pieces so that the back - attached as the last piece - can fit flush inside to give the piece additional stability and strength
  • Cut the three uprights (left, center, and right), and route out the outside edges of the left and right uprights
d Uprights Routed.jpg

This detail - which you can see at right here - came about in discussion with the client after following up with the template in detail. In particular, the angles and some of the lengths written on the template did not perfectly align with the angles and lengths of the template. Which were correct? We decided to follow the template, but in case there were minor deviations - or the drywall bowed out - I would a) route out the sides so that if the cabinet needed to be sanded down to fit, there was much less material to sand, and b) provide 1/4" radius quarter round solid walnut trim pieces for the top to allow for the opposite possible error, that the shelf was too small. Fortunately, the concern ended up being moot: the shelf fit perfectly requiring neither further sanding nor the quarter round.

  • Install the drawer slides on the bottom of the shelf - much easier to do precisely now before the top gets permanently attached
  • Assemble - via glue and screws - the uprights to the top and bottom, making sure the screw heads are below the surface of the MDF
  • Cut and install the drawer slides

  • Use wood filler and sand paper to make those countersunk screw holes disappear; now the “interior” of the shelf looks like solid walnut
  • Veneer the top of the top, and the bottom of the bottom

This was my "oh shit" moment in the assembly. The veneer glue I use has roughly a 20 minute "open time" - that is, I need to be applying the clamping pressure within twenty minutes of mixing the glue or I run the risk of the glue not holding. This is more than enough time for a small piece, still easily manageable for the unassembled top and bottom, but a bit more rushed for the outer surfaces of the assembled piece, both because the piece was heavier and thus harder to maneuver in the vacuum bag, and also because the top had to be placed precisely so the "joints" of the four walnut borders intersected with the corners of the top.

So, I was scrambling a bit, but breathed a sign of relief when I closed the bag and flipped the pump switch at about minute 15. The bag started contracting as expected, I started to clean up the mixing bowl, ... and then...


The vacuum bag burst! And while you can think of this as just a giant ziplock bag, they're a bit more expensive: this one cost $300!

The sharp corners of the trapezoid, combined with the thickness of the assembled shelf, popped the bag, as the vacuum press stretched the material across the edge. This isn't a problem for simple panels - like the unassembled trapezoids - because that stretching is only over about 3/4", and the polyurethane bags have more than enough give for that. But they don't have enough give for a 7" thick shelf!

In retrospect I should have put some spacers in the bag, or skipped the bag altogether, but I didn't have time to think through it now or even find the hole: I had about four minutes left of glue open time! Fortunately, I had plywood laying around already cut to about the size of the surface, heavy woodworking cauls handy, and enough bar clamps to clamp down on something that size. Not quite as ideal as a vacuum press, which provides far more even pressure over the entire surface, but - unless I wanted to potentially start over with cutting the outer veneers and lose a day or two sanding down the glue that would dry on the surface, I made do with the equipment I had on-hand.

Fortunately, it indeed worked out pretty well. Now we have a delicate piece of furniture with veneer / finished surfaces on the exterior, which means work has to proceed much more carefully as I can no longer sand out or as easily repair any blemishes that I might introduce as I move the piece around.

  • Trim - via a router with a flush-cut trim bit - the edge of that oversized veneer
  • Make the drawer boxes with poplar & walnut-veneered lauan bottoms
  • Cut and install the drawer slides to the drawer boxes, notching out the bottom rear rail of the drawers
  • Cut and attach the drawer faces to the drawer boxes
  • Cut and install the back
  • Finish with three coats of spar polyurethane
  • Pack, ship, and wait!

The crate alone was about 20 pounds; fortunately, the size and weight of the crated furniture fit just within FedEx's limits, so I was able to drop it off at my local carrier without too much hassle!

OK the title of this post was a little misleading - there were more than ten steps, and while a few of them were easy, most were a bit more involved. Nonetheless, I hope this gives you a better sense of what's involved in designing and delivering a custom piece of furniture, and so when you talk with a craftsman about their trade, there's a lot more that happens behind the scenes in delivering a beautiful finished piece than just a little sawing and gluing!

Other Commissions

Since the beginning of the year, I've done a handful of other commissions, including:

  • A pair of modern replacement drawers for an antique heirloom cabinet
  • A solid walnut shelf for a boat house in Emeryville
  • A set of 24 oval oak mirrors for a carousel refurbishment at the Spectrum Center in southern California
  • An entryway tray featuring purpleheart, walnut, and maple

Is yours next? I'd love to hear about a project you're considering!

Shop Tour: Part IV - Cutting & Carving

David WertheimerComment

Probably the last for a while in new workshop highlights, as - while there's always more or larger equipment to add - my shop is essentially out of space! Every wall has either tools hanging or a large machine pushed up against up; even all the ceiling space is claimed, between wood storage, a platform for my CNC, and air handling equipment!

Finding space to build those large commissions or occasional kitchen cabinet jobs that come in is a battle, so unless, or until, I move to a larger shop, pretty much any major tool that comes in will be only to replace something going out!

CNC Milling and Laser Carver

One of the things I've been eyeing for a while is a CNC carver. However, very few of my current designs would benefit from it, and part of me feels like it's "cheating" to use a machine to do the cutting and carving for you.

However, I was finally won over by the realization that it actually opens up a lot more capabilities, rather than replacing what I currently do "by hand". And even more specifically and immediately, by my need to make a clock "body" from the solid block of wood that I hope to start with for the Nixie clocks I've been working on.

Let me back up first: what is a CNC Mill, often just CNC for short? CNC stands for "computer numerical control" - imagine a wood cutting head that can move left and right, forward and backward, and up & down with incredible precision. That would be a three-axis (x, y, and z) milling CNC. That wood cutting head is typically a router, into which you can place different size and style carving tools. Or if you replace that router with a laser, you have a CNC laser, great for cutting more delicate materials or doing light engraving.

3-axis vs. more axes machines? For the technogeeks among us, the more axes, the more degrees of freedom over which the machine can move to carve your item. 3-axis machines let you cut and carve two dimension objects, as well as what are called "2.5d" - basically, by using a cutting head that always points straight down, you can cut really complex shapes, so long as all the pockets can be reached from straight above. As soon as you want to cut pockets that can only be accessed from the side, or another angle, you need more axes.

A 3-axis machine can also typically be modified so that one of those axis becomes rotational, making it essentially a computer controlled lathe, opening up even more possibilities such as carving 3d faces or columns, but still not quite true 4d or 5d geometries. This is a great article describing all the different axes, or these pictures may help you visualize.

 3-axis CNC mill can do the design on left, but cannot reach the "undercuts" in the geometry on the right.

3-axis CNC mill can do the design on left, but cannot reach the "undercuts" in the geometry on the right.

 A CNC lathe, converted from a traditional 3-axis XYZ CNC.

A CNC lathe, converted from a traditional 3-axis XYZ CNC.

 This wood Transformer can only be done with a true 5-axis CNC; note the angle of the carving tool, which is a 4th axis.

This wood Transformer can only be done with a true 5-axis CNC; note the angle of the carving tool, which is a 4th axis.

 A three axis machine typically has X, Y & Z movement, but one of X, Y, or Z can often - with extra hardware - be converted to A, B, or C, giving you a - say - A, X & Z machine to do CNC lathe-like carvings.

A three axis machine typically has X, Y & Z movement, but one of X, Y, or Z can often - with extra hardware - be converted to A, B, or C, giving you a - say - A, X & Z machine to do CNC lathe-like carvings.

A 3-axis CNC can easily cost thousands (or tens or hundreds of thousands) for large commercial or industrial machines. But with the maker movement, consumer grade machines - especially for those willing to do some assembly and configuration themselves - have recently become affordable. So I added an X-Carve 1000mm (about 3 feet square), with a removable Opt Lasers 6w laser, to my shop.

I'm still in the process of setting it up; though the machine itself has been built for nearly a month, I need to finish the torsion box, the automatic ballast for the ceiling lift, and the laser power supply, which I'll detail in future blog entries.

But here it is, in all it's glory! This is mounted on a retractable ceiling lift so it can easily get out of the way. But that lift has only two cables - one in the middle of the left and the right sides, rather than one in each corner - so I also need to build in a balancing mechanism so that the platform doesn't tip too far to the front or back. Also, check out the silver brackets on either side that allow for a higher-than-normal gantry to carve extra-thick surfaces (2-6" deep); this also means I need to insert a perfectly flat and smooth spacer - or torsion box - for when I'm milling normal-depth surfaces (0-4" deep). In future entries, I'll talk about each of these, as well as the laser - see the laser mount on the left of the yellow DeWalt spindle in the middle.


In a future entry, I'll also provide some more detail about my first few milling projects, but here's a little preview of what I plan to carve out first.

 Body for Nixie clock, to mill out of a solid walnut and maple

Body for Nixie clock, to mill out of a solid walnut and maple

Miter-Fold Blade

This "miter fold" blade is really nifty, cutting a slotted V-groove in a board but not going all the way through, leaving just a tiny bit of wood remaining so that you can essentially just fold the wood to create a solid joint with a little glue.

While it allows me to make boxes really quickly from just a large flat single piece of wood that both allows for quicker construction and really cool and guaranteed continuity of grain over the joint, my more immediate use of it is to make an even better version of my simple shelves. I'll be trying out a few new designs here that now, which this blade, become much easier to make.

 Miter fold blade profile...

Miter fold blade profile...

 ... and blade output

... and blade output

  One of the shelves  that will benefit from the blade for the right angles

One of the shelves that will benefit from the blade for the right angles

  The other shelf  that will benefit, ... but I also will be trying a few variations on this shelf which now become much easier with this blade

The other shelf that will benefit, ... but I also will be trying a few variations on this shelf which now become much easier with this blade

Compound Bevel Sliding Saw

Since I have such a nice table saw, I've never considered getting a radial arm saw for my woodworking. But I recently helped a friend with a small remodel that included cutting and installing crown molding, and suffice to say, that is a PITA to cut correctly by hand with nothing but a plastic miter box. Given that I'll be starting in on another remodel for myself soon, I figured I'd give in and get something to help with these construction projects, a compound bevel sliding saw.

While it's been great for those projects, I didn't expect it to be quite as handy in the shop for my wood working. But having had it for a few months now, I can't imagine how I got by without it! My table saw isn't that great for cutting a few feet off a long plank in that it requires me to push a 8 or 12 foot long board, weighing 30 - 80 pounds, through the blade, and it requires me to make sure there's enough clearance around the saw.

But with this new saw, it's always set up to cut across boards, and also much easier as the blade slides, rather than the wood. Plus, with a 12" blade - vs. the 10" I have on my table saw - I can tackle thicker boards and blocks, for instance, easily slicing down the 4" thick glue-up I made for a custom project.


A Shop Tour: Part III - Furniture

David WertheimerComment

I had thought the shop was full before, what with wood stacked on the floor and all the wall space covered with machines. But creative reuse of space has allowed me to invest in a few new tools to expand my capabilities, which I'll cover in the next two issues.

Since I had the key woodworking tools already (see Part I and Part II), these are more specialized tools used less frequently, but that allow me to create even more unique pieces and furniture. Some of these will get one (or several) posts in the future, delving into both the nitty-gritty of the tool, and some of the pieces I've made with it, but until then, I'll get into some of the motivation for each bit of equipment, and of course, what it is.

Veneering Equipment

While all my small pieces are made with solid hardwoods, occasional larger furniture grade pieces I build are veneered. I'll confess I started as a veneer luddite: "Sure, veneered furniture can be cheaper because you can use crappy interior wood and cover it with a nice sticker, but all real furniture is made with solid wood".

But first: Why Veneer?

My naïveté here was dead wrong on several counts. First, veneer has a long history, dating as far back as the ancient Egyptians, over 5000 years ago (source).

 A prototype coffee table base made of multiple pieces of hardware, joined only with glue, cracked by moisture and temperature variation - see more details  here .

A prototype coffee table base made of multiple pieces of hardware, joined only with glue, cracked by moisture and temperature variation - see more details here.

Second, veneered pieces are necessary for many designs. Typically, veneered furniture is built with a more temperature-and-humidity stable underlying base - such as with medium density fiberboard (MDF) - so that it will have a much longer life than similarly constructed hardwood furniture. You can see an entertaining story and pictures of an example of this from someone who started from a similar place of naïveté as myself here.

Or, if you want a thick shelf - some recent kitchen cabinetry I bid on called for a 2" thick shelves - even though solid piece of lumber might be available and may be within the your budget, it may be too heavy to easily wall-mount. A veneered torsion box (i.e.: hollow-core construction; more on these in a future edition) may be a much better way to go.

Sure, well-made tenon-and-mortise construction or dovetail joints will last forever. But if you're not going to the trouble of those, or don't want the style of those, you're left using glue, biscuits and screws. Yet you still need to consider wood movement with a larger piece, so the easiest way is indeed with unattractive but stable MDF, and then by making it look nice (or amazing) with a veneered surface.

Third reason to consider veneers: you can use a far wider range of woods, far more affordably, and get the appearance of far wider boards than are commercially available.

 If there's no waste and the boards are perfectly sized, this table would cost about $70 of solid wood in oak (as pictured here), $200 if walnut, $400 if zebrawood or wenge, or $800 if teak. Keep in mind 1) there is waste from board sizes not being perfect matches to the furniture you're building, 2) there's hardware costs, and - most importantly - 3) there's labor and shop costs. Veneers make those more expensive wood finishes possible more affordably, as well as opening up all sorts of unique designs, as well as making the finished piece more stable to environmental changes, which is critical if the joints and construction doesn't allow for wood movement.

If there's no waste and the boards are perfectly sized, this table would cost about $70 of solid wood in oak (as pictured here), $200 if walnut, $400 if zebrawood or wenge, or $800 if teak. Keep in mind 1) there is waste from board sizes not being perfect matches to the furniture you're building, 2) there's hardware costs, and - most importantly - 3) there's labor and shop costs. Veneers make those more expensive wood finishes possible more affordably, as well as opening up all sorts of unique designs, as well as making the finished piece more stable to environmental changes, which is critical if the joints and construction doesn't allow for wood movement.

For some price comparisons, a square foot of 2" thick rough walnut is approximately $19 at my local distributor (or $8 for one square foot of 1"), but wenge or zebrawood is twice as expensive as walnut, and teak is twice again. So a 1" desk similar to what I just made of solid oak for a client would cost - for the wood alone - at least $200 per desk if walnut, at least $800 if teak, albeit only about $70 with oak. But with veneers, almost any wood would be achievable with about $100 or so of raw material (albeit with a lot more labor with veneers).

So if you want to feature more exotic wood grains, the only way to do it affordably is with veneers. This is also where the cheaper (and sometimes not so cheap) manufactured furniture comes in - sometimes that "veneer" may not actually be wood, but rather, its a simulated wood plastic laminate, or even just a cheap sticker. But if it's a real wood veneer, it will still give you warmth and range of color and grain.

Finally, you can do beautiful things with veneer that you can't do with hardwoods, such as this amazing cabinet done by Scott Grove, an award-winning woodworker; this piece was also written about in detail in his book, Advanced Veneering & Alternative Techniques.

Scott Grove Cabinet.png

Finally, the Veneer Toys!

With the motivation for veneering clear, let's get into the necessary - or at least very useful - for it I recently added to the shop.

Vacuum pump: As the name implies, this produces a vacuum, but not for cleaning. Rather, it's a stronger (but typically lower volume of air flow) than a vacuum cleaner. A veneer is just a big thin sheet of wood; to attach it to the MDF, you use a thin evenly applied layer of glue. But you need to evenly clamp that veneer to the substrate while it dries.

The vacuum pump enables you to apply even clamping pressure across a large piece. Basically, you put the glued-up veneered panel in a big plastic bag, attach the vacuum pump to the bag, and turn it on. With a vacuum inside the bag, the weight of the entire atmosphere above pushes down on the veneer - you can typically get the equivalent clamping pressure of up to 1800 pounds per square foot. And unlike a giant mechanical press - it works just as well for curved shapes as flat surfaces, so long as you have a big enough big!

 The Excel 5 vacuum pump I picked up.

The Excel 5 vacuum pump I picked up.

  Wendell Castle's  massive mechanical clamping press. There are hydraulic and other types of automated presses as well, but vacuum is the most common in a small shop.

Wendell Castle's massive mechanical clamping press. There are hydraulic and other types of automated presses as well, but vacuum is the most common in a small shop.

Of course, in addition to the pump, you also need some giant plastic bags that can attach to the pump, open at one side to insert the thing you're clamping. But these are not particularly interesting to look at when not in use, as they're just giant sturdy ziplock bags.

Edge bander: While the vacuum press will allow you to veneer a table top, it isn't that great for the side of a panel; a more specialized tool comes in handy here that allows you to apply an "edge band" of veneer. Basically, you use a heat-activated adhesive on a roll of veneer, and then some tool to apply even heat and enough pressure to bond the veneer.

A larger shop that does a lot of this might have a full-sized floor mounted tool; at the other extreme, many a piece have been finished with your common household iron and lots of care. I added something in a middle, a dedicated handheld tool from Grizzly. It'll still take some practice, adjustment, and care, but I look forward to using it on my first piece early this year.

 The handheld edge bander I now have, with a roll of banding. This can apply rolls as wide as 2", which come in just about any wood species (as well as a variety of melamime colors).

The handheld edge bander I now have, with a roll of banding. This can apply rolls as wide as 2", which come in just about any wood species (as well as a variety of melamime colors).

 A floor-mounted edge bander far beyond the reach (and needs) of my current shop!

A floor-mounted edge bander far beyond the reach (and needs) of my current shop!

Giant Clamps

 The six foot clamps are taller than my dust collector!

The six foot clamps are taller than my dust collector!

I earlier spoke about bar clamps and how critical these are for any shop. But my shop previously maxed out with 24" clamps, with just a pair of 4' clamps. Well, this ain't really any new and exciting technology - sometimes you just need a bigger version of the same thing!

I picked up four 6' clamps to allow me to complete the pair of commissioned solid oak desks. At about 15 pounds each, they're tough to maneuver, but when you need them there's no way around them! The joint on the top is a standard dovetail, but the shelf immediately below the top of the table is joined to the legs via biscuits, and thus needed a lot of force clamping the legs to the shelf while the glue dried.


Dovetail Jig

A dovetail is a very common and traditional woodworking joint that gives a wide range of appearances and is incredibly strong. It's best explained with some pictures.

dovetailjigs_illustration 1.jpg

While these can all be cut by hand - and traditionally, have been! - I'll confess I do not have the patience (nor anywhere close to the skill) to do that. Fortunately, they can be cut quite easily with a router, a specialized jig, and specialized cutting bits for the router. Though there's many dovetail jigs on the market, I opted for a very flexible Leigh jig that allows you to create not only the more traditional dovetail joint, but also some really unique more curvy joints Leigh calls "isoloc" joints.  Look for these isoloc joints to be featured in some coming hardwood clipboards I have in process.

 Examples of the unique "isoloc" joints that accomplish the same joinery effect as a dovetail, but with a more organic form.

Examples of the unique "isoloc" joints that accomplish the same joinery effect as a dovetail, but with a more organic form.

While I've already used the dovetail jig on the table I built above, I neglected to get good photos of the finished product, but you can see the joint on this practice box I built.


Perfect Valentine's Gift

David Wertheimer2 Comments

Looking for the perfect gift? Check out these novel bulbs in a silky-smooth polished walnut lamp. In early November, I came across these bulbs that folks seemed to love so much that I could hardly keep the lamps in stock!

 Roses, birds, sunflowers, love, and peony metal sculpture bulbs with walnut base

Roses, birds, sunflowers, love, and peony metal sculpture bulbs with walnut base

I just finished a batch of the lamp fixtures, and hope you find them just as cool as I did! You can get the lamps - with any of these five bulbs - here.

More Info

These are fluorescent bulbs, filled with argon or neon gas.  The metal sculpture "filament" inside is coated with different phosphors to produce the different colors. When off, that sculpture is just black, or black and white.

They use 3w of power, run at 120v - standard US power - and are rated at 1000 hours. And they're easily replaceable - I'll provide a link to the distributor with the order. Though these bulbs work best on full power, all the fixtures have full range dimmers so that you can later replace with any dimmable bulb as well.

Amazing Installation Technological Art

David Wertheimer2 Comments

My regular readers have probably observed that I am a huge fan of things that combine technology and art in novel ways. This issue will be dedicated to a event my boyfriend and I attended mid-December at Pier 70 in San Francisco, co-hosted by The Midway, Pier 70 Partners, and Marpi, where that sort of thing was on display.

It felt a little like what some of the artistic installations I imagine Burning Man must have, but without the sand, hours-long drive, or the thousands of dollars of investment it would take to attend the event.

I'll confess: between the beverages we imbibed and the music we enjoyed, we didn't have too many (or really, any!) in depth conversations with the artists or creators, but I'll share a few photos and videos, and brief descriptions of what I understand these creations to be, and I welcome anyone's further thoughts on the exhibitions.

Laser and Fog


This was quite simple in idea, but very well done in execution: a laser illuminating a single "layer" of fog (provided by a nearby fog machine), so that the complex shapes and air currents can be visualized.

Lit-Up VW Bug

There ain't too much more to say about this one. It's a vintage VW Bug. With lots of lights on it. In some sense, not particularly sophisticated, but certainly attention grabbing!

Dancing Avatars


Have you ever wanted to be rendered as a dancing dinosaur, or as the Rock Monster from Galaxy Quest? Or dance against a psychedelic background that changes every time you swat at an imaginary globe hanging just about your head? A pair of installations enabled exactly this, by combining the Microsoft Kinect sensor with some clever software (and taking advantage of the great DJs in the background, and plenty of alcohol-fueled participants).

Rotating "Screen"

Though the physical implementation was quite clever and far beyond my skill set, in some sense these rotating arms with full color LEDs was not in itself particularly original. Though much larger in size and color palette, I had a toy version of this from RadioShack in the early 90s. However, the artist paired his far more sophisticated version with some pretty amazing software which he custom built, allowing him to start with an image or an abstract geometric pattern, and then morph it gradually in a variety of ways creating a mesmerizing display that looked like a circular TV screen - a screen that might lop off your arm should you run into it!

Rotating Picture.jpg

Building as Art

The pier itself was an impressive but dilapidated WWII-era corrugated steel building - more history here - worthy itself of being photographed. But one installation took advantage of a projector and custom-built software to highlight the steel trusses and beams supporting the structure, integrating the art and it's location in a novel way. I've added a few exterior shots from the evening as well so you have a sense of the environment.

And One Parting Thought...

Holiday Gift Edition

David Wertheimer2 Comments

OK this is probably a little late to come in with some of these holiday gifts, but I've always thought the best gifts are those that are both really cool and yet at the same time, things you would never get for yourself, these three items deserve a special mention. OK - maybe I might get myself a gift this season, and pick up one of these!

Levitating Lamp: Flyte

Well, I guess it is a desk lamp, so it isn't totally useless. This piqued my interest as a combination of a using electromagnet force to levitate (and spin), and electromagnetic induction to power the lamp without wires, packaged beautifully in something that looks nice enough to go on a coffee table or in a nice office.

Levitating Lightbulb.png

Admittedly, this is by no means a completely unique product - you may have seen cheap versions with the levitating piece for years on Amazon or in the in-flight Sharper Image catalog. However, in my humble opinion, upgrading it from cheap plastic to a wood (veneer) definitely ups its classiness.

Of course, there are similar beautiful designs available for a levitating planter, bonsai tree, "crystal" lamp, and all sorts of similar products. The prices range from $40 for the globe in the picture below, to $350 for the lamp on top. This is definitely something to consider for the person who already "has it all".

Floating Shelf: RockPaperRobot

If your budget is in the $350 range, and you know the recipient is in the market for a small shelf (and the more affordable shelves like this and this that I build aren't in the running!), check out RockPaperRobot, a Brooklyn firm with a floating shelf, and some other really amazing furniture as well.

RockPaperRobot is an engineering and design company specializing in shape-shifting and connected furniture. ... Celebrating the wonder of physics, our invention ethos draws inspiration from nature to create pieces that are as much experiences as they are objects. Our work redefines traditionally static stuff into dynamic platforms that reflect our appreciation for increased functionality, applied technology, and individual style.

Though just about all their pieces are really novel and worth checking out - such as a full-size kitchen table that stores like a piece of art on the wall, for those who suffer compact living in San Francisco or elsewhere - the one that really caught my attention is their floating shelf.

It is enabled by carefully-positioned rare earth magnets that provide the force to repel the cubes, counterbalanced by the steel rope to keep the cubes in place. (Yes, all these pieces I really admire feature embedded rare earth magnets as a core component of their functionality, including the Sisyphus sand plotter of Bruce Shapiro featured earlier).

And while the engineering alone is pretty cool, of course you want to be able to display it in your home. The one that really caught my eye has a beautifully-done continuous grain walnut veneer - but it's also available in black, chrome, and other finishes.

Time in Words: QlockTwo

This one doesn't feature wood or even wood veneer, but is nonetheless a beautiful watch (or wall or nightstand clock) that looks like a mysterious piece of art when not lit up. It tells the time in words ... but rather than try to explain it in words:

If you look closely, you'll see that the text only get it to the nearest five minute interval, but it has some very intuitive ways to narrow that to the minute, and also to represent seconds, as well as the date.

Credit to my brother for introducing (and gifting me with) one, and to a fellow mentor at the iMentor organization where I volunteer who works at Frog Design and introduced me to the other two.

Nixie Clocks, Wall Sculptures, & More!

David Wertheimer2 Comments

As the summer festivals have slowed down and I've gotten some breaks between commissions, I've had time to work on a few new unique designs.

Wall Art

I enjoyed making - and showing off! - the textured wall hanging, but I wanted to do something even bigger that could be a perfect mantlepiece, or perhaps go above a headboard.

 Thanks, George, for the photo!

Thanks, George, for the photo!

I had just started sketching a few simple geometric patterns when I visited a remodel-in-progress of a friend in San Francisco's Laurel Heights; though they had yet to refinish the floors, I was blown away by the workmanship in the solid-oak original hexagon-patterned hardwood floor.

Thus, we have this first triptych, highlighting the rich contrast between maple, wenge, and walnut. Cutting and fashioning this into each hexagon gave me newfound respect for the workmen installing that floor, as I presume it was done with far fewer power tools when that house was built over 80 years ago!

And on a similar theme, I built this square triptych, with the same woods.

Check both of them - and the "Lenticular" textured piece as well - in the store here

Table Lamp

I had started the woodworking for a table-top lamp back in early March, but it sat half-finished since due to a lack of knowledge of the compact lighting parts with which to complete it. This is the second time I need to give credit to Konrad Jarausch of Sunlight Inside, who pointed me in the right direction both for the form factor and a few suppliers of high-power low-voltage compact LED lights. (Check out that earlier post about LED lighting here).

I paired that with a large heatsink and satin-finished acrylic tubing to create this light, which can be configured from two to five layers for a desktop lamp 6" to 15" tall. You can see this in the online store here.

Twisty Lamp 5 - b.JPG
Twisty Lamp 5 - d.JPG

Nixie Tube Clock

Several customers have expressed interest in a "Nixie" clock. The first time I was asked, I didn't know what I was, so I started reading up.

Excerpted from Bad Nixie:

The name Nixie is expanded from Numeric Indicator Experimental (NIX); it is a product of the mid 50's to early 90's and is no longer manufactured. Nixie tubes are the predecessor to the light emitting diode (LED). They look like vacuum tubes, but are in fact a form of neon lamp filled with a mixture of Neon gas and a small amount of Mercury or Argon. Inside the tube are ten successive formed wire digits as cathodes, and a wire mesh anode. Each cathode digit and the common anode has a pin at the bottom of the tube. To light a digit you simply apply voltage between the common anode and the digit pin; when energized the digit illuminates with the warm glow of neon.

Though these tubes are no longer made new, there are probably hundreds of thousands of "new old stock" - which despite the apparent contradiction, is not a typo. These are decades-old spare of warehoused inventory that was never used, and in many cases, in the original packaging. The old stock is primarily located in Eastern Europe, though there are a few American supplies as well.


I've been unable to find a lot of pictures of original hardware using these, though I did come across this calculator - which apparently had a fairly short sales life due to the small time window before the introduction of the much cheaper LED-based display. However, now they show up primarily in artistic and steampunk clocks, or occasionally in a unique one-off pieces like this impressive Sudoku game!

Though I hope this doesn't linger unfinished nearly as long as the lamp I just completed, it may take a while to finish: the circuit boards are from UK; the Nixie tubes just arrived from Ukraine. I just completed the assembly of the first circuit board, though it still needs some troubleshooting. And I'll need to design and machine a (wood, of course) enclosure that has tight tolerances for all the switches and tubes.

Perhaps this is the final motivation to get a CNC, which will also allow me to carve some of those mazes and geometric patterns? Regardless, as I make progress here, I'll share a few updates & photos.

 My partially-assembled circuit board with IN-8 tubes

My partially-assembled circuit board with IN-8 tubes

Political Rant and Call to Action

David Wertheimer2 Comments

Your regularly scheduled programming on art, woodworking, lighting, and the like, has been replaced with a brief rant on our current politics and a call to action for increased civic engagement.

There's a range of political discourse and views with which people of good conscience can disagree, and that can form the basis of animated or even heated debate. But the lack of decency, and disinterest in demonstrable fact and science of the current administration makes me scared for our future and for our democracy.

Here's the rant... feel free to skip past this section...

Economic grabs by the 0.1% disguised as tax "cuts" and "unburdening" business. Demonizing science and scientific discourse, and transforming "career bureaucrat" into a slur when its this expertise and knowledge that keeps, among other things, our drug supply safe and rivers clean. Undermining civil rights for minorities of all stripes, whether via attempting to ban transgender in the military, gutting Congressionally-authorized federal oversight of police, or trampling on voting rights of disenfranchised communities. Singleminded focus on coal as the world shifts in other directions for both economic and environmental reasons. Appointment of agency heads whose professional mission prior to running said agencies was the dismantling of that agency [Pruitt] - or who have zero knowledge in that agency [Carson]. Reveling in divisiveness and holding campaign rallies, all for ratings and press coverage, without even attempting to provide a moral backbone, showing at best, disinterest in, and at worst, contempt for, uniting the nation.

I could continue with more statements, each one of which you could find a hundred well-written articles by those with deeper knowledge than myself, great historical context (such as this blog written by my good friend, Noel Cilker), and more specific thoughts on how to respond.

... continue reading here.

At a lunch in late September, a friend and former colleague asked me what I'm doing about my concerns, which reminded me that, in addition to my nightly YouTube dose of Trevor Noah, Stephen Colbert, and Seth Meyers, we should make sure we're engaging in more constructive activities, and encourage our friends and family to do the same.

So put your time and money out there to make the world a better place! If you are already engaged in one (or many) ways, thank you! If you're not, there are so many different ways to engage that can best make use of your time, energy, skills, or whatever you can offer up.

Engage with your community directly via Meals on Wheels delivering food and social interaction to homebound seniors. Help build homes or provide necessary repairs for disadvantaged communities with Habitat for Humanity. Participate in domestic microlending via an online platform such as Kiva. Amplify your voice with your local congressman or senator with an appeal to refocus on the interests of the 99%, environmental protection, civil rights, etc. Donate to the disaster relief efforts of the recent hurricanes in Puerto Rico or Houston, or to the SPCA. Do a spring cleaning of your old clothes and give them to Goodwill, or your dusty and useless foreign coins to Unicef, or your battered old cell phones to the National Network to End Domestic Violence.

There are so many worthy organizations into which to channel your energy, your money, your unwanted but still useful possessions. And for hundreds of more volunteer ideas, check out Volunteer Match.

What am I doing?

Since the beginning of this year, I have directed thousands of dollars towards net new solar projects across the U.S. - much of this enabled by your business, as I've committed to spending 10% of my revenue in this way. Additionally, I've just installed 4kw solar system on a building I own, and am investigating installing about 20kw more in Arizona.


I have volunteered about 50 hours this year with Habitat for Humanity and Grid Alternatives to build houses and install solar for low income communities (and about 250 hours last year). I am mentoring a student who aims to be the first in his family to make it to college.

And for something a little more unique, I have shared a few hundred of these cards with friends and family.  Want one? I'm happy to send you a few for free - just reach out on email - or if you want several, they're available inexpensively here.

I'd love to hear about unique (or not-so-unique) actions you've taken to make the world a better place, to take a stand for decency, and to oppose the destructive and self-dealing directions of this administration. Share in the comments below, or feel free to reach out directly.

Edison Bulbs & LEDs

David Wertheimer2 Comments

I covered the basic questions about the Edison bulbs I use a few months ago in this blog. But the bulbs I focused on then are incandescent, and I've gotten a pang of guilt when customers ask me why I don’t offer LED-based Edison bulbs with the light fixtures I sell, given my parallel focus on clean energy and energy efficiency.  The short answer I used to give is that there just is not yet an attractive LED Edison bulb. But is this true?


Lighting consumes about 10% of electricity in the United States, and about 15% worldwide. If you haven't already, replacing old-fashioned incandescents with more efficient compact fluorescents (CFL) or - even better, LEDs - is one of the simplest and cheapest upgrades you can do to reduce your own energy load and thus, reduce carbon emissions (and save a few bucks).  For example:

  • 40w incandescent can be replaced by an 8-12w CFL or a 4-9w LED; running 3 hrs a day for a year, at average California electricity rates (18c/kwh), an LED will save you over $6/yr per bulb. If it's in a location that runs 10 hours a day, that becomes $22/yr
  • 100w incandescent can be replaced by a 23-30w CFL or a 16-20w LED; similarly, if replaced with an LED, running 3 hrs a day, that will save you $16/yr or at 10 hrs, $54/yr.

Indeed, nearly every light bulb in my own home is an LED, and in a recent remodel I completed, I used all LED-based lighting fixtures so that the home would be more efficient from the get-go. Those who read my earlier blog about my commitment to renewable energy both on a personal level with Branching Out Wood - 10% of my revenues are directed towards net-new clean energy projects - and with another business I started, Branching Out Solar, know that take I take this seriously.

 All four of these bulbs are LEDs, reducing this lamp from consuming 160w to about 16w. Or if you run it 3h a day, that will save you $28/yr!

All four of these bulbs are LEDs, reducing this lamp from consuming 160w to about 16w. Or if you run it 3h a day, that will save you $28/yr!

Back to LED Edison bulbs: what's actually missing, and if you are willing to sacrifice a little, can you use the bulbs that are out there now? Jumping to the punch line, there actually are good enough Edison LED alternatives for many - but not all - of the fixtures, and due to your questions, I now have a limited quantity available at shows. Or if you are ordering online and would prefer these bulbs, reach out on email, and I'll work with you to see if they're available for the lamp your interested in.

For the nitty gritty on what you might have to sacrifice, and some side-by-side comparisons, keep reading below.

What’s Needed For a Good LED Edison Bulb?


The “warm” light one usually gets from a traditional incandescent light bulb is around 2700K, and fortunately, this is one attribute that LED lighting can check off.  LED bulbs are available in 2700K (and both warmer and cooler temperatures as well).  In fact, some more-advanced bulbs allow you to control the temperature, or automatically adjust the temperature based on other environmental factors.

 One of a variety of color charts available comparing different reference points and manufacturers

One of a variety of color charts available comparing different reference points and manufacturers

For the geeks among us, according to Wikipedia, “is the temperature of an ideal black-body radiator that radiates light of a color comparable to that of the light source”. For the rest of us, just think that as that campfire cools down, you go from yellow flames to glowing red embers.  Or where it gets super hot, you might see some blue.

Color Rendering Index (CRI)

This indicates how well a light source is at rendering color and how well subtle variations in color shades are revealed by that light. It is an index that measures how evenly across the visible spectrum the light bulb produces light, or if you want to go really deep, you can see the ten step process for measuring it here. The max score is 100, with halogens and incandescents receiving that score; at the other extreme, those notorious sodium vapor lights that are the most common street light get a negative score.  A good score for an LED used to be 85, but now 90 or even 98 is available; anything above 90 is pretty darn good, so LEDs can check this off as well.

 Representative spectrum coverage by a particular supplier of high-CRI LED lights; daylight is shown with the dashed line, and the high-CRI light is shown with the heavier white line just below it

Representative spectrum coverage by a particular supplier of high-CRI LED lights; daylight is shown with the dashed line, and the high-CRI light is shown with the heavier white line just below it

cri - pencils.jpg
cri - apples.jpg

Warm on Dim

When you dim an old fashioned light bulb, it gets less hot. When it gets less hot, it emits less light, but the light it emits is also at a lower temperature, producing warmer (more reddish) colors.  This happens “automatically” due to the way an incandescent produces light, via heat; the light is actually secondary. When you dim an LED, however, the color stays roughly the same, since the color is a property of LED rather than of the heat produced. This was considered the “last frontier” of LEDs back in 2013, but has since been conquered with a variety of products that combine multiple colors of LEDs in a single bulb and change the mix of colors as the power to the lamp decreases.

However, note that while this is a feature that is available in many LED lamps, by no means is it available in all - the typical dimmable LED bulb that you might pick up at Home Depot or Lowes does not have this feature, as it adds complexity and thus cost to the product. And - at least as of now - no Edison filament LED bulbs have this. You can, however, find this feature in some bulbs at speciality lighting stores or online. 

Filament Appearance

The real beauty of the Edison bulb is the decorative filament, whereas most LED bulbs have frosted glass (or plastic) globes to hide the actual light producing elements. However, there are a few attempts at creating an Edison filament with LEDs:

 Ikea's Nittio bulb

Ikea's Nittio bulb

  • Ikea’s Nittio bulb: Kudos to Ikea for selling only LED bulbs as of the end of 2015; this was a bold move that has had a real impact. The Nittio has a pair of LEDs hidden in the base that light up a plastic filament - you can see a tear down of the bulb in this video. Though it this nifty implementation provides a lot of flexibility for future filament styles, it falls short on many other properties; it’s not even dimmable (so forget “warm on dim”).
  • Stranded Edison LEDs: Several manufacturers, such as Bulbrite, have developed Edison LEDs that look much better when on, are dimmable, with a high CRI, but they appear a bit clunky close up and when off. Their limitations are that they do not (yet) have warm on dim capabilities, and many - like some dimmable LEDs in general - are a little finicky with certain types of dimmers.

So They Do Exist!

Those bulbs right above look pretty darned close, so I went out and purchased a handful in different styles, meeting these properties:

  • 40w equivalent (380-450 lumens), but consuming only 3-5w per bulb
  • CRI above 80, but in a few bulbs, above 90
  • Dimmable
  • Color temperature of 2400-2700K

The Good News

 The right-most bulb is incandescent; the other three are LEDs. The difference in filaments and type is quite visible.

The right-most bulb is incandescent; the other three are LEDs. The difference in filaments and type is quite visible.

As an accent lamp, the relatively high CRI - though not as good as an incandescent - looked pretty good, though the noticeably thicker "filament" of the LEDs is clearly visible when the lights are off, and to a lesser extent, when they're off.

The LEDs all worked with the dimmer switches I use, which was a pleasant surprise given all the warnings and incompatibility lists I've seen.

An unexpected advantage of the LEDs over incandescents is that, at very low brightness, an incandescent sometimes gives off a barely perceptible high pitch whine, while the LEDs are completely silent. Who would have thought noise would be an observable property of a lightbulb?! And for most people, and in most environments, this would be a non-issue. But as a desk lamp in an otherwise silent room, on a low brightness, you may actually hear the incandescent!

And of course, in consuming less power, the LEDs all produce much less heat.

The Bad News

The LEDs all lacked the "warm on dim" feature, where incandescents in general, and Edison bulbs in particular, excel. I tried to capture this difference in these pairs of photos, though it did not come out as clear as I had hoped. And while I noticed it because I was looking for it, you may not be as cognizant of this. In talking this through with a few customers at the San Carlos show I did in early October, it wasn't something they noticed or were cognizant of.

The LEDs had a slight flicker as you rotate the dimmer, though they do not flicker at all when the dimmer is set at a particular level. Perhaps more relevant, however, is that LEDs can not get as dim as incandescents - when set below a certain level, the LED just shuts off whereas an incandescent still gives a nice glow.

LEDs were only available in a more limited set of shapes and styles compared to the full range of incandescents. For instance, I could only find about ten LED bulbs that met the minimum criteria I listed above, whereas incandescents have closer to twenty. And the half-reflective bulbs great for some of the desktop lights are available in silver, but not gold.

Even further limiting the range of shapes for those particularly keen on their lighting, the ten I found had a color range of 2400 to 2700K, but that 300K color difference was noticeable (but not jarring) in the multi-fixture lamps when the bulbs were side by side, whereas there is no color difference between adjacent styles of incandescent bulbs. So if you're particularly finicky about these sorts of things, you'll want to make sure all the bulbs you get are exactly the same temperature, reducing the variety of bulbs you can get for a multi-lamp fixture further.

Finally, of course, there's the incremental cost of about $5/bulb over incandescent. As noted in the intro, that pays for itself in electricity savings, but it raises the cost of some of my fixtures to a point that makes the lamps unaffordable. For instance, this lamp, with six bulbs, would cost $30 more, but if used 3 hours a day, would save you over $130 per year.

The Verdict

LEDs are pretty darned good, but - largely due to lack of full range of shapes and higher initial cost - not yet perfect for me to include them on every sale. However, I will start stocking a few and making them available for an extra $5/bulb at shows, and using them myself in the art festivals (since readers of this prior blog entry know that keeping the lights on at the booth is an ongoing challenge for me).

Want them in a lamp you want to order online? Just email me for a custom listing.

Thanks to my customers for challenging me on this point. Your questions both gave me the inspiration to dig deeper here, and the impetus to change my practices in making LEDs available with my products.

And further thanks to Konrad Jarausch for initiating me to the the very basics of the technical vocabulary for thinking about comparing LEDs and incandescents. For more on what he’s doing, check out Sunlight Inside, which develops and sells nifty tabletop lamps that automatically generate the light color that you would be seeing outside if only you weren’t stuck inside all day, for all sorts of health and well-being benefits.

Computer-Generated Circular Art

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Computer-Generated Circular Art

In place of the regularly scheduled blog about handcrafted woodwork, this week I'll share some details about a recent project in enabling a computer to create "art" automatically.  From the recent "Artists That Inspire" post, you may recall my description and admiration of Bruce Shapiro's Sisyphus creation: a robot that draws beautiful geometric patterns in a sand bed embedded inside a coffee table.  Before he launched his Kickstarter to make this commercially available, I thought I'd take a stab at creating one myself.

For a sense of what this Sisyphus thing might look like, check out the photos here, or go to

One of the many pieces I had to develop was software that could automatically generate continuous line circular art.

I developed two types of continuous line drawings: circular mazes, and geometric patterns. Though I no longer have any need to draw this in sand, I can imagine these becoming future wood creations, perhaps as trivets, or as toys. The mazes in particular can be customized, with versions that could stump the most persistent puzzle master, or that would be of interest to those with a little less patience.

I recently dusted off the software in developing a proposal for a mass-customization product for a potential corporate client, and thought I'd share some of the images and puzzles that came out of it.

If you're mathematically inclined or enjoy algorithms, the details below might interest you. Or just take a gander at the images and let me know what you think!

Circular Mazes

Start at the red dot on the perimeter and end at the center; like any good maze, there is exactly one solution.

Did you have fun trying to find the solution?  (If not, you can find the solutions here). Would you find it fun - or maddening - to do that in a toy with a marble?

How to Draw a Maze

These mazes are randomly generated - the only inputs I provide are the outer diameter, the inner diameter, and the number of concentric rings. The logic to create a maze is actually quite simple: you can read about a variety of approaches here. A circular maze only required rethinking the concept of what maze “cells” are adjacent to each other.

Astute readers may wonder if there isn’t a fourth input, how many cells are in each ring, or at least, how many cells are in one particular ring? While this could be an input, I decided instead to define this somewhat algorithmically, so that the cells in that innermost ring are roughly squarish, and that there are a power of four cells (i.e.: 4, 8, 16, ....). I'll skip over the geometric details of this, but it goes back to highschool geometry and trigonometry, secants and radii and the like.

Then as you go to outer rings, as the growing circumference means you can squeeze more squarish cells into that ring, the number of cells periodically doubles. Note that the fact that outer rings can have more cells than an adjacent inner ring makes tracking cell adjacencies for the maze algorithm a little more interesting, though it doesn't change the underlying approach.

Geometric Patterns

These patterns are also randomly generated. Would this make an interesting trivet or decorative wall hanging that you might enjoy?

These are created in one of two ways. The pattern on the left is created by starting with a simple polygon, like a hexagon. But rather than simply drawing it, each of the lines is rotated slowly and with a pen that gradually drifts outward, so that that shape is "fully" drawn, it's actually left slightly open.  Then the the next hexagon starts where the last one left off, but repeats those same transformations, so it's rotated slightly more, and slightly larger.

The pattern on the right is slightly more complicated: imagine a spiral, but then, instead of drawing it with a straight line, draw it with a repeating geometric pattern, such as part of triangle. In both cases, the pattern is random: the simple shape to start from, how tightly packed the spiral or rotating shape is, etc. And so you have an infinite array of geometric patterns.

Drawing with Two Pens

Because these were intended for a polar plotter, that plotter could actually have a pen on each side of the arm, drawing with two pens simultaneously, allowing for an even greater range and complexity of patterns. In each of these triplets of pictures, there’s the single pen version as above, and then two multi-pen versions. The second pen is drawn in red. Can you figure out the pattern relating each of the two multi-pen versions?

If you imagine a polar plotter with a pen on each side, the second pen can be mechanically joined to the first pen in one of two ways:

  1. Both pens could keep the same distance from the center, so that when the black pen is near the center, the red pen is also near the center but on the opposite side; or
  2. Both pens could be a fixed distance from each other, so that while the black pen is at the center, the red pen is at the outer edge.
 My (unnecessarily complicated) polar plotting mechanism, sporting two independently controlled "pens"

My (unnecessarily complicated) polar plotting mechanism, sporting two independently controlled "pens"

 Bruce Shapiro's Sisyphus far more elegant production-manufactured polar plotting mechanism

Bruce Shapiro's Sisyphus far more elegant production-manufactured polar plotting mechanism

Think any of these patterns would make interesting projects? Or have your own randomized drawing approach to share? I'd love to hear about it from you.

Artists That Inspire

David Wertheimer2 Comments

There are a number of artists and technologists whose work I admire or from which I have drawn inspiration and ideas. I’d like to take a moment out from my regularly scheduled post to highlight a sampling of them.

Modern Cellar: Tim Krablin & Melliza Taipe


I’ll start with a company who speaks the most closely to both my style and my craft: Tim Krablin and Melliza Taipe of Modern Cellar. They built beautiful, predominantly solid walnut, small and large wine racks and wine cellars, and developed quite a following with projects commissioned by both vintners, custom remodeling, and art festivals.

Unfortunately, however, they closed up shop in 2010. I first stumbled across their products at a furniture store in San Francisco in 2007, and have since recreated one of their wine racks from memory, as well as developed a few things that draw from their style.

The Art of Motion Control: Bruce Shapiro

Bruce Shapiro has spent many years developing “the art of motion control”, applying this typically industrial technology to artistic expression.  Have you ever seen a robotic arm doing a ribbon dance? Or pictures created by the carefully timed release of bubbles in test tubes? He’s your guy.

I’m impressed by the way he brings together multiple domains to create unique and in-motion art: there’s clearly the artistic and creative vision, but there’s also the highly-mathematical programming, there’s the physical elements of valves and motors, and tying those pieces together. And of course, there’s the craftsmanship of “making it beautiful,” hiding all the technology in an artful way.

I first saw Bruce’s work at the San Mateo County Maker’s Faire in 2015, where he was exhibiting Sisyphus. This is essentially a table that supports a bed of sand, under which is hidden a rotational plotter that drags a steel ball through the sand via magnets to draw mesmerizing geometric patterns in the sand. Though at the time, he had built just a few of these for exhibitions, in late 2016 he announced a KickStarter with a $50k goal; it achieved $1.9m in pledges of which I was one of the first twenty to commit.

Inspired by Sisyphus, before he launched his KickStarter, I took a stab at building a version of it myself. I developed software to create nifty randomized geometric patterns for a rotational plotter, learned the Arduino system and the basics of a Raspberry Pi to control it, and started procuring stepper motors, power supplies, gears, and the like from all over (well, mostly China) to try to make it a reality. Let’s just say I’m glad Bruce decided to commercialize it - he saved me a lot of time and money, and I have confidence that his piece will display far better in my living room than what I was developing.

Phuze Design: Orfeo Quagliata

I came across Orfeo Quagliata’s work at a show in San Francisco about a decade ago. Though he works in a number of mediums - and even studied furniture design at the California College of the Arts - the pieces that I was particularly impressed was his glass work, and in particular, the “barcode” collection. However, all his work is just amazing, typically lighting uniquely formed glass to highlight the interplay of colors. He’s also a partner in Phuze Design, which highlights several glass artists, each with a unique and impressive style.  If only I had the space (and the budget)…!

Though I’d be the first to admit that they pale in comparison, my backlight glass block nightlights are inspired by Orfeo’s work.


Is there an artist that inspires you, that bridges amazing design and excellent craftsmanship, perhaps with a streak of modern technology, whose work you admire? If so, I’d love to hear about them!

It's a Tradition!

David Wertheimer5 Comments

It's hard to believe the year is over half gone, and I'm over half done with the festivals for this year. But this makes for an opportune time to look back! And by looking back, I mean both since I embarked on this endeavor, and with a slightly longer gaze, over 30+ years ago to the beginnings of my experience in retail.

The Past Year

At the beginning of the year, I was struggling with a very basic question of storage: where to put all the pieces in my shop with limited shelf space for the first two product lines.

 An early panic: where am I going to put everything? For how that was solved, read up  here !

An early panic: where am I going to put everything? For how that was solved, read up here!

I now have over 20 distinct products, most with several varieties, for well over 100 lamps and small items ready to go!

Shortly after addressing the storage issue, I was prepping for the first show: designing price cards, ordering fitted table cloths, and figuring out how to power the lamps without a generator. I got it all going at the one-day show at the DeAnza Flea Market, with a four hour setup (with help) and a two hour break down for three modestly populated tables.

 DeAnza in March - no walls or pendants, overly busy yet still sparse display

DeAnza in March - no walls or pendants, overly busy yet still sparse display

 Novato in June - shelves, grid walls, ... and my mother helping out!

Novato in June - shelves, grid walls, ... and my mother helping out!

And now, I've gotten the display figured out, what with a more fully stocked booth, with walls, shelves, and better table cloths! Though it's a lot more involved than the original setup at DeAnza, setup and breakdown goes much faster with a little practice. And the product line has quadrupled since the initial launch, with even more pieces and designs still in the works.

Family Tradition

With my Mom helping out at the latest show, its the perfect time to look back even further. A few friends have been surprised I enjoy the retail customer action part of the job. It's certainly a lot different than the last twenty years or so of my career in the technology field at the likes of Google, Oracle, and Microsoft. But my Mom had a retail business herself where I spent many holidays or weekends pitching while growing up in upstate New York.

She sold Judaic and Israeli gifts, starting out first by manning the temple gift store at our synagogue in Pennsylvania, then growing to a home-based business doing sales for the holidays and other events when we moved to Rochester, and finally graduating to her own retail shop.

 My Mom, on the right, running the Chanukah bazaar in the late 80s.

My Mom, on the right, running the Chanukah bazaar in the late 80s.

 Tradition's 2nd storefront, at the Twelve Corners Plaza.

Tradition's 2nd storefront, at the Twelve Corners Plaza.

Though I helped at a few of the festivals, I spent many more afternoons helping out at the register, ringing up sales, answering the phone, helping customers, and yes, occasionally building (or destroying) something alongside my Dad, who built many of the fixtures in the store himself.

I also have vague memories of feigning a cough and holding the thermometer against a light bulb to stay home from school in the dead of winter, curling up in a sleeping bag under the table in the storeroom. And my best memories of New York City - a good six hours from Rochester - are roaming the aisles of the New York International Gift Show Javitts Center, with millions of square feet of every possible gift under the sun, available to anyone with a business license, so long as you're buying a gross at a time.

 That's me in the front in red, and my Dad on the right, in 1987, pitching in on some demolition at Tradition's original location.

That's me in the front in red, and my Dad on the right, in 1987, pitching in on some demolition at Tradition's original location.

 A busy Chanukah in the early 90s at Tradition, with me just vaguely in the back left, in the dark green shirt, manning the cash register.

A busy Chanukah in the early 90s at Tradition, with me just vaguely in the back left, in the dark green shirt, manning the cash register.

My Mom closed Tradition with her retirement in 2007 (read about the closing pg1 pg2), but her 25 years in business gave me plenty of time to pick up an appreciation of and enjoyment for retail.

Keeping the Lights On

David Wertheimer4 Comments

I figured I'd address here one question I get often at the festivals: "How do you power your lights?", or "What is that solar panel on your tent?".

First, why I have this at all, as it adds a few pounds and a bit more complexity to my booth setup: about half of what I sell are light fixtures that require an outlet to work, and I totally understand that some customers would be skeptical of buying something electrical for $60+ without seeing it work first. Plus it just makes everything look much cooler: the Edison bulbs are works of art themselves, and the LED & cut glass lighting just ain't that exciting if its not powered up.

So I need a power source, and almost all of the festivals enumerate in their rules that 1) they don't provide power, and 2) generators are not allowed. That leaves you with a battery.

I used to have a UPS (uninterruptible power supply) for my computer, and initially looked at those. But those are not really designed for full drain / charge cycles, more to level out brief sags or power outages. In my searching, I stumbled across a few batteries that would work, and bought the least expensive 400Wh well-rated device, the PowerOak / Suaoki device.

And to make sure it has enough juice to run through the full day, I am also continuously recharging it with a matching 100w solar panel.

Getting the Size Right

If you're looking at doing something like this for yourself, make sure you get enough power!

For some electrical basics, a Wh - pronounced as "watt-hour" - is the number of watts a device uses multiplied by the time it is one. So a 40w bulb on for one hour would use 40 Wh. I have dimmers on all my lamps, but they still need to be bright enough to be seen in the daytime bright sun. So the bulbs use about 25-30w. And I want to have 3 or 4 fixtures on to grab attention - so that's 75-100w.

The 400Wh rating is the rating of the battery, and batteries produce DC power. So it needs to be converted to AC power before the lamp can be plugged in. There is power lost in that conversion, so it's probably only about 350Wh AC. That would power my booth for about 4 hours.

The solar panel, in "peak sun" (a bright cloudless cool day with the panel mounted directly facing the sun) will produce 100w. In practice, it ranges from about 10w to 70w - there's clouds and other shade; the day is warmer, and its a fixed panel, not always facing the sun. So it probably averages 35w over the day. So that offsets the 75-100w to be 40-65w on average. Now I can get closer to a full day at the festival with one battery, as 350Wh / ~50W = 7 hours.

Mounting the Panel

I initially started with the panel mounted to the front table of the booth, but this had two main problems: too much shade / not facing the sun, and too much conversation, attracting questions from folks who had no interest in my booth but for the solar panel.

 The panel dominates the front of earlier iterations of the booth; now its rarely noticed, hiding on the canopy

The panel dominates the front of earlier iterations of the booth; now its rarely noticed, hiding on the canopy

Maybe I'll revert to this setup when I table in promotion of my sister business, Branching Out Solar? But in the meantime, I needed to attach the panel to the top of the tent without putting holes in the water-proof canopy.  So I picked up a set of these nifty magnetic hooks, and used rare-earth magnets on the other side. Problem solved.

A Shop Tour: Part II

David Wertheimer2 Comments

Continuing from last week's post to answer the questions about "what's in your workshop", this week we'll get into the smaller power tools, jigs and accessories, and then the shop itself including ventilation and lighting.

Small Power Tools

I have the regular complement of hand held drills, screw guns, sawzalls, etc., but I'll touch on just a few that are particularly relevant for the small home decor and custom furniture work.

Biscuit Joiner

Though its rare that the smaller lamps and other pieces I make use the biscuit joiner, most of my larger pieces take advantage of this tool to "edge join" two boards to make a wider board. I might need to do this because a piece of furniture calls for a wider-width board than is available, such as this bench top which joined a narrower board with the edge detail to a longer board of maple plywood, or this wine rack with wider-than-available solid walnut top and bottom.

 The bench top in this bench has lots of biscuit joints, both edge joining the routed piece of pine and the flat piece of maple, and then joining the two sides to the back piece.

The bench top in this bench has lots of biscuit joints, both edge joining the routed piece of pine and the flat piece of maple, and then joining the two sides to the back piece.

 There are also lots of biscuit joints here, both to create larger planks, but also to create clean corner joints.

There are also lots of biscuit joints here, both to create larger planks, but also to create clean corner joints.

 The tool itself has a retractable 4" blade that pushes just partially into a board, creating half of an oval slot; you use it on both edges to be joined to create

The tool itself has a retractable 4" blade that pushes just partially into a board, creating half of an oval slot; you use it on both edges to be joined to create

 That oval slot on two opposing pieces of wood is then filled with a biscuit; they come in a number of standardized sizes

That oval slot on two opposing pieces of wood is then filled with a biscuit; they come in a number of standardized sizes

 Putting it all together, you can use this technique to do both edge and end joints

Putting it all together, you can use this technique to do both edge and end joints

Circular Saw

A circular saw ain't too unique, and it certainly earns its keep in a number of the home remodeling / construction projects I do. But its also useful for furniture making or even for prepping boards for the smaller pieces. In particular, when working with a long and thick (or at least heavy) board that i might want to "rip" (i.e.: cut into two narrower but just-as-long strips), it may be physically difficult to run that heavy board over my table saw.

In the absence of supporting "in feed" and "out feed" tables, an easier approach is to use a straight edge clamped to that long board, and then run my circular saw along that straight edge.

 Oh it would be nice to have the space for something like this! The wood table allows much larger and heavier boards to be more easily maneuvered on the table saw.

Oh it would be nice to have the space for something like this! The wood table allows much larger and heavier boards to be more easily maneuvered on the table saw.

 This may be something I can build in the coming months and would fit on my equipment and in my shop: a retractable or folding table extension for the table saw.

This may be something I can build in the coming months and would fit on my equipment and in my shop: a retractable or folding table extension for the table saw.

 This is the one picture in this section of something I actually do have!

This is the one picture in this section of something I actually do have!


Not power tools, nor even really considered hand tools, but still critical to the smooth operation of a shop, are a few other "accessories".


There are a lot of non-power tools I use as well that most folks are familiar with. But one area that is often overlooked is clamps - there are never enough of those! You can see a few in use in this earlier blog entry, where I described the process of laminating different planks together for an Edison lamp.

They come in bar form, and the heavier and stronger pipe form. And they come in forms that allow you to clamp corners for right angles.

Featherboards & Pushsticks

 Those knobs raise and lower rare earth magnets near to the polished steel table tops, locking the featherboard in place without leaving a scratch on the surface or requiring awkward clamping

Those knobs raise and lower rare earth magnets near to the polished steel table tops, locking the featherboard in place without leaving a scratch on the surface or requiring awkward clamping

In order to make clean cuts, you need to be pushing the wood up against the "fence" or holding it down tight against the tool surface, all while slowly pushing it forward into the blade. You can imagine that some of that pushing might occur with your hand very very close to the blade itself, which is why we woodworkers use featherboards and pushsticks to make sure the fingers stay far away from the blade.

Featherboards are wood (or plastic) devices with lots of slots cut to give a springy feel to what is left, providing pressure to hold a piece tightly. I have a few of these magnetic featherboards, which are perfect for ripping a plank or resawing a board.

And pushsticks are exactly what they sound like - they are "sticks" of wood or plastic that allow you to push the board into the blade, but if they get nicked by the blade, no harm!


There are "jigs" - some homemade, a few purchased - that make building lamps in a repeatable fashion possible, or that allow holding and positioning tools in certain ways much easier and faster. I have a few Kreg jigs to drill "pocket holes" for near-hidden fasteners for mid-range cabinetry, to drill holes for adjustable shelving pins, and to drill holes in just the right spot for drawer slides.

And I've built a few jigs to make some of the more complicated lamps, such as this jig which holds three pieces of the hexagon lamp in place during the gluing phase.


Of course, there's the standard tape measure, square, and carpenter's square. But - especially for setting tools and angles, I thought it worthwhile to invest in a few more specialized devices to help.


You already saw much of the storage of the longer and heavier hardwoods on the floor in this earlier post, and the baking racks of finished and in-process pieces here. But I also have a few hundred board feet* of 4/4** walnut and other species hanging from the ceiling here:

Why so much sitting in the shop? A few reasons: deals I couldn't pass up such as for the 18" wide 8/4 walnut; minimum orders for delivery; and convenience of not having to go shopping for more. Somehow, however, I always need a species I don't have laying around!

* What's a board foot? It's the standard unit of measure for purchasing lumber. It's one square foot of lumber one inch thick, or 144 cubic inches of wood. A 1-inch thick piece of walnut 8 feet long by 6 inches wide is 4 board feet. A 3-inch thick piece of walnut 8 feet long by 8 inches wide inches wide and 8 feet long is 16 board feet. Lumber is priced by the board foot, though with some differences by width or thickness. For instance, for a given grade of walnut, 1" boards may cost about $12/board foot for 1" thick, $16/board foot for 2" thick, and $18/board foot for 1" thick if it's wider than, say, 10".

** What's this 4/4? Wood thicknesses of raw lumber are usually described by how many quarters of an inch thick they are. There's a more detailed article here about why, but essentially, these are rough measurements rather than exact thicknesses as sawmills try to maximize their yield from an organic and varying material, so a 5/4 board may be a little more than 1.25" in some spots, and a little less in other spots, all in the same board. Hence the value of a surface planer!


Spending all this time in an enclosed space can be horrible on the lungs. Even if I could leave the space open to the fresh air all day, that would still probably be about as bad (or worse) as being a regular smoker - if you are up for an academic paper on the topic, check out this CDC article. Or just trust me on this, having worked too many days without protection (or from my days working in a dusty home improvement warehouse).

So any time I'm in the shop using a tool for more than just a few minutes, I use multiple levels of protection to keep me breathing.

Dust Collection

This is for all the bulk sawdust that comes off the planer or the table saw, keeping those tools clean and clear. Actually, it's attached to all the large floor-standing power tools except the drill press. It's just a giant 2HP vacuum cleaner with a 50 gallon collection bag; that bag also acts as a filter.

But that built-in filter-in-the-bag isn't actually that great a filter - it blocks much of the dust, but lets the fine particulates that are really bad for you go free...

Air Filter

So I also use a two-stage electrostatic air filter hanging from the ceiling. This captures all the much finer dust in the air, and at 1000CFM, in theory it goes through all the air in my shop every three minutes.

Face Mask

But that still ain't enough - even if the shop air is turned over every three minutes, if I'm standing close to a tool, it will put a lot of dust in the air to be filtered by my nose before that air filter picks it up. So you'll usually find me in this as well to provide that final layer of protection.



And finally, something not to be overlooked, we have a lot of high efficiency LED shop lighting to keep everything illuminated - about 12 fixtures altogether for both ambient lighting or focused lighting on specific tool work areas. I want to be able to see any surface defects in the finished product before you do!

Wrapping Up

Wow! I thought this would be a few paragraphs, maybe a few pictures, but the post quickly grew out of control! Obviously, you can get started with a lot fewer tools - I certainly did! - but also obviously, I enjoy adding to the workshop nearly as much as I enjoy working on new pieces!

And I hope you enjoyed this tour as well. Of course, I welcome any questions, comments, or suggestions on the next tool or jig to add! Or if anyone needs to get rid of their larger planer, or some scrap lumber, I'm happy to help out!

A Shop Tour: Part I

David Wertheimer2 Comments

In response to a pair of questions that often comes up at the shows, I used last week's post to share some detail about the Edison bulbs I use in most of my lamps, and I'll use this and the next post to give a little tour of my shop.

I had originally planned to do this "shop tour" post in combination with a product offering to take a hands on class, or to build your own lamp. But my good friend and lawyer - whose former professional job it was to say "no" as a pharmaceutical compliance counsel - repeated that mantra of "no" when I posed the idea to him.

So you'll just have to follow me around on a virtual tour. This week, I'll touch on the "big" floor standing tools; next week, I'll cover smaller tools, ventilation, lighting, and other random shop investments.

Big Tools

We'll go roughly in sequence of my favorite and most used tools to those that I infrequently touch or are just taking up space!


Also called a surfacer or power planer, this takes off a thin layer - up to about 1/8" depending on the width and hardness of the wood. I use it to make a near-mirror smooth surface on the raw lumber I start with, since the raw dimensioned lumber starts very rough.

The model I have is a 13" wide DeWalt DW735 planer which has been a workhouse over the years, but from time to time I wish I had something a little larger as I work with wider or longer boards.

 Raw dimenionsed lumber before (on the left) and after (on the right) going through a surface planer.

Raw dimenionsed lumber before (on the left) and after (on the right) going through a surface planer.

 The DeWalt DW735 13" wide surface planer I use.

The DeWalt DW735 13" wide surface planer I use.

Table Saw

This is also a workhorse in my (or any) shop, and it was the first big tool I purchased after building my first piece of furniture using a junky $99 table saw that bogged down with the smallest pieces of hardwood. In contrast to that, the Grizzly (G1023SLWX) saw I replaced it with is over five hundred pounds, with a 5 HP motor on a 30A / 240V circuit!

This "rips" 3" maple or "dados" a 1" wide by 1" high channel, all without breaking a sweat, and save for an occasional blade sharpening or screw tightening, it has not provided a single problem. Just like the planer, I occasionally wish for a larger saw, but here it's more about the infeed and outfeed tables to make working with large boards a lot easier.

 Rip cut is cutting along the grain, like on the left; cross cut is cutting across the grain, like on the right. They require different blades and types of fences, though some blades are "combination" blades good for both.

Rip cut is cutting along the grain, like on the left; cross cut is cutting across the grain, like on the right. They require different blades and types of fences, though some blades are "combination" blades good for both.

Belt / Disc Sander

Though there's still a lot of sanding done by hand, no shop would be complete without some sort of belt sander to ease the tedious but ever-so-critical finishing stages. This combination belt sander and disc sander (JET 708598K) is great for that purpose, but it throws off a ton of dust so I've attached it (and every other big tool) to a dust collection system I'll describe later.

The disc has fairly coarse sand paper attached semi-permanently, so it's great for taking off a lot of material quickly. On the other hand, the belt allows you to swap in any grit paper you want, and I frequently find myself working with three or four grits in a session (100 all the way to 400 for fine polishing).

One challenge with a belt sander and hardwoods, however, is that many of the hardwoods are so hard that they burn easily with too fine a grit or too much pressure, so you always need to be fine tuning and adjusting.

Drill Press

Though I had a much smaller drill press for many years, drilling out the holes for the sockets was incredibly challenging with such a short vertical "travel" (and a smaller motor). So my most recent addition - and one tool I cannot imagine outgrowing for many years - is the hefty Nova Voyager 18" drill press. Weighing in at over three hundred pounds, and with a six inch travel and two horsepower motor, it can easily do the dozens of 1-1/2" wide 2" deep holes I drill regularly for the lamps.

It is a rather unique drill press, with a variable speed direct drive motor, without any belts typical of drill presses to slip, create vibration, or swap around as you need to change speeds. In fact, it has a speed chart built into it so that you can simply indicate the bit type and size, and the material you're drilling into, and it selects the right speed, from 50 RPM to 3000 RPM.

Speed is really important so as to not burn the wood, to make clean cuts, and to not prematurely dull the drill bits. And as for those drill bits, I typically use "Forstner" bits to cut the 1-1/2" to 3" holes for the lamps, backlights, and vases.

 Nova Voyager DVR drill press

Nova Voyager DVR drill press

 Forstner bits produce very smooth-walled and flat-bottomed holes

Forstner bits produce very smooth-walled and flat-bottomed holes

Band Saw

I use the band saw for two types of sawing: cutting out unique, curvy, intricate shapes, and "resawing" thicker boards into thinner boards. The first type of cut is something I think most folks who know of bandsaws are familiar with, allowing you to create the traditional "bandsaw box" among many other complicated pieces.

 Bandsaw box I made of solid wenge a few years ago.

Bandsaw box I made of solid wenge a few years ago.

Resawing is another bandsaw technique that allows me to create, for instance, the thin 1/8" bottoms for the backlights without wasting a lot of other wood, or slimming down a board of walnut into two planks for a more delicate hexagonal lamp. Like with the table saw, however, the challenge in my shop in running a long board through the bandsaw is the support for the board beyond the comparatively smaller table - I need a bigger machine, or at least a bigger table!

 Typical resaw technique with a standard bandsaw.

Typical resaw technique with a standard bandsaw.

 The G0513 Grizzly Bandsaw that I use, with a 17" throat.

The G0513 Grizzly Bandsaw that I use, with a 17" throat.

Router Table

A router table allows you to run a straight edge of a wood up against a uniquely-shaped bit, to create slots, grooves, and other neat patterns into the wood. I've used it to cut the channel to hold photos in this shelf, as well as the grooves that make this art so unique. And, of course, for wiring channels in the underside of these Edison blocks.

Three-Spindle Shaper

In building my first custom cabinet using "rail and stile" bits, I discovered the motivation for this three-spindle shaper (or essentially, a three router spindle router table).

Depending on the door frame style, there are at least two and sometimes three bits that all need to be perfectly aligned in order to create a door, and it's quite tedious to check the alignment of one bit without being able to simultaneously cut with the second or third bit. Of course, changing between bits to make just one more face, or to verify alignment only means that you have to then realign the first bit again!

However, I was not prepared the drop over $5k or add a 1200 pound tool to the already-crowded shop. But on one of my too-frequent perusals of the Craigslist used tools section, I stumbled across someone closing down his custom cabinetry shop, who had built a three router table modeled after the Grizzly version. It was missing a few fences and a few motors, but with some patient shopping on eBay, I got it fully outfitted with matching Freud fences, Porter Cable spindles, and variable speed controls, and I inserted a few channels for easy use.


Oscillating Spindle Sander

Now we're getting on to tools I've been using less frequently. The oscillating spindle sander is great for sanding curves, and in particular, inside curves, with a dozen or so interchangeable drum sizes (and with a range of grits available for each drum. However, at least as of present, there aren't too many curves in my pieces, so it's largely been sitting idle waiting for a purpose!


Finally, my jointer gets very little use; it's kind of like an open-face surface planer described above, allowing you to run the edges of a board over the spinning blade to clean up that edge. But I use it infrequently because the same effect can be produced more safely and easily, with higher quality results, using a ripping blade on a table saw.

This may also be a good place to introduce some terminology that you may have heard buying raw lumber yourselves; excerpted from this site:

The SxS designation simply refers to how many sides have been pre-surfaced. S2S= surfaced two sides, S3S = surfaced three sides and S4S = surfaced four sides.

S2S –  The board has been run through a planer producing two flat faces, but the edges are left rough.

S3S – The board has been surfaced S2S first, then one edge is ripped straight (also known as SLR1E or straight line ripped one edge).

S4S – The board has been surfaced on both faces (S2S) and received a rip on both edges, resulting in a board with two flat and parallel faces and two flat and parallel edges. This is the stuff you usually find for sale in the hardwood section of the big box stores like Home Depot and Lowes.

To be continued...

There's just too much stuff to list in one week! The next post will detail all the other stuff that goes into a shop beyond the big 500 pound tools.

Edison Bulbs

David Wertheimer2 Comments

There are two questions I've heard a number of times at the festivals: where can I get those light bulbs, and tell me about your shop? I'll cover the first one here, and the one about the shop next week.

Where do the bulbs come from?

The light bulb question has come in a few varieties:

  • Do you make the bulbs?
  • Where do you find them?
  • Do they last?
  • What will I do when they burn out?

In turn: no; online; yes; get a new one!

Or, with a little more detail: they're really easy to buy. A few of the shapes and sizes are available at Lowe's or Home Depot, but for the variety and volume (and convenience), I get mine online, primarily from, and Amazon.

They're all new, and not terribly expensive, costing anywhere from $4 - $12 per bulb, so while it would be amazing to develop the skills (and workshop!) to make them myself and I definitely have some curiosity about that process, that's not really high on my list!

They are all rated for 2000 hours, and when lit at partial brightness which would be typical for the mood / ambient lighting you would often be using the fixtures for, should give you far beyond that!

The only challenges with them are that, with the very long and fragile glass arms holding the tungsten filaments, motion (such as loading and unloading for a show) can easily damage them - but once installed in your home or business, it's just like the life (and only marginally above the replacement cost) of a regular bulb.

 Original carbon-filament bulb from Thomas Edison.

Original carbon-filament bulb from Thomas Edison.

Their History

Lifted from the Wikipedia entry here:

Carbon filament bulbs were the first commercially viable electric light bulbs to hit the consumer market in 1882. In 1904, a tungsten filament was shown to be more efficient and longer lasting than the carbonized bamboo filament used previously. The introduction of a neutral gas to the glass envelope (or bulb) also helped to improve lifespan and brightness of the bulb. To produce enough light, these lamps required the use of extremely long filaments, and remained so until the development of more efficiently wound tungsten filaments.

While the intricate filament design never fully left, innovations in energy efficiency outpaced the highly inefficient design quickly. Still, 51 years after more efficient designs had come into play, “Edison-style” or vintage lights saw resurgence in restaurants wanting atmospheric lighting or vintage themes. The demand for bulbs has increased since the Energy Independence and Security Act (EISA) ban on low-efficiency lighting. Edison-style light bulbs are not included within the ban and are listed under “specialty lighting.”

Reproductions of the antique bulbs were started in the 1980s by Bob Rosenzweig. He began selling the vintage-style light bulbs after watching a salvage operation. The reproductions sold mostly to collectors and prop houses up until the turn of the century when new energy efficiency laws pushed for use of compact fluorescent lamps, at which point demand for the vintage bulbs increased since they are listed under the new EISA regulations.

Modern "Edison light bulbs" are designed to replicate the same light color and bulb shape to offer a more energy-efficient version of the popular vintage reproduction bulbs. These bulbs also maintain the same “exposed” look to further preserve the vintage reproduction style. The desire for more authentic reproductions has led to the development of LED filament bulbs, which recreate the appearance of multiple light-emitting filaments within the glass envelope. LED filament bulbs are substantially more energy-efficient and produce less heat.

Wrapping It Up

So don't fret when shopping for these lamps - you can easily get a wide variety of replacement bulbs! And if anyone here makes their own lightbulbs, reach out to me - it's something I'd be curious to see in person!

Shameless (Cross) Promotion Part: Stained Glass & General Contractors

David Wertheimer3 Comments

I like to think that I make nice stuff, but I obviously don't do it in isolation. I want to take a few moments to acknowledge two small companies with whom I've done a fair amount of work: a vendor who does beautiful cut glass and finished pieces, and an honest and helpful general contractor who does amazing remodels.

Stained Glass: Bradstreet Glass

While I have done a modest bit of glass cutting for my own stained glass projects, it certainly is not my forte, nor do I have the shop for it; switching between wood working (with steel tool surfaces, loads of dust, and 50-pound boards) and delicate small sheets of glass just wasn't working. So I went searching for a glass supplier, and came across Bradstreet Glass on Etsy, a small business run by Debbie Koenig, based in Florida.

Debbie was first exposed to stained glass as a teenager, learning with her aunt:

I had to attend a session of my aunt’s stained glass class after school, and I had brought a book since she warned me I would be bored.  I was not at all artistic – math and science were where I was most comfortable.  But I was drawn to the process: cutting, grinding, foiling, soldering…and I gathered a lot of my aunt’s scraps from the table, arranging them together like puzzle pieces.  She let me use her supplies, and by the end of the session I had made the ugliest sun catcher in the whole world.

After high school, Debbie entered the Air Force and became a Contracting Specialist, both in the service and afterwards, with a number of roles in procurement and contract management in Texas. But the jobs were incredibly demanding, always forcing her to put her family and any personal interests second, and she found herself developing health issues as a consequence.

It all came to a head when her last manager asked her to put a deadline above her daughter's visit to the emergency room; with that conversation, she was ready to make some changes about her priorities.

Remembering how much I enjoyed making that hideous suncatcher when I was 16, I went online and ordered a whole stained glass workshop: grinder, cutters, breakers, foil, solder, solder iron, flux, brushes, and a box of stained glass. I set up everything, and I decided to take a week or two off before I looked for another job – preferably in another field, I really had no idea...I thought it might come to me.  And I started making sun catchers.

The next week was great, listening to music in my garage, drinking vodka and red bull, and thinking up designs, patterns, teaching myself techniques and learning something brand new and different.  I had never even tried to work with my hands before.  By the end of the week I had made several things and was teaching my husband, Allen.  He loved it and had a ton of ideas himself. 

I really wanted to keep spending my time this way.  So I figured that if I sold some of these things, I could stretch my money out longer and do this for a while.  I created the Etsy shop, “Jodeliece Bradstreet’s Glass House” – I don’t know a Jodeliece, or a Bradstreet, but the name had come to me in a hot shower after said vodka and redbull, and I decided it was good.  And my friends started telling me about local markets where I could sell crafts.

Debbie's business plan has evolved from there, selling supplies, glass sheets, and precut glass for other artists like myself, and more-involved but amazing finished panels. She's since moved to Florida, and ultimately hopes to open a shop that can also serve as both her own studio and as a place to teach stained glass to others and feature other artists work.

Debbie's commitment to quality and customer satisfaction is second to none. I could share many anecdotes to illustrate this, but perhaps the best one is in fulfilling a recent order for some custom glass, the pieces she sent me were 1/32nd of an inch too large, which - though I had a 64th of an inch I could expand into, made the piece too big by a 64th.

 Commissioned panel by Debbie

Commissioned panel by Debbie

Now - keep this in mind, my loyal readers - if anyone ever tries to return something to me for a dimension off by that much (errr... that little), I'd probably start screaming! But Debbie accepted the return, ground the glass down to spec, and returned them less than a week later. And all with a smile!

So should you ever need stained glass supplies, cut glass, or a beautiful finished panel (she also does commissions!) - I implore you to give Debbie a call!

The pieces that feature Debbie's work are my night lights and backlights, and a few more unique pieces to come - check them out here.

General Contractor: MEMGC

It may seem a little odd to be listing a contractor here, but keep in mind I also do commissioned pieces, both as freestanding furniture and for built-ins. I've done two jobs for Mike Miranda, the owner and contractor behind MEMGC, most recently a breakfast nook storage bench for a high end remodel in San Francisco.

 24" deep storage drawers on breakfast nook; Mike of MEMGC did the overall remodel

24" deep storage drawers on breakfast nook; Mike of MEMGC did the overall remodel

I'm definitely grateful to Mike for bringing business my way, but were that the extent of our relationship, I would not feel comfortable making a public and personal recommendation for a general contractor.

But he has also done several jobs for me as well, including replacing a failing structural beam in my own home. So I have personal experience with him as a customer, in which he stands out as honest and professional, delivering quality work at a reasonable price. And extra bonus he's always on time for our appointments, a rarity in the contractor world. For that alone, he's worth a gander!

 Moment frame, overkill for a small residence!

Moment frame, overkill for a small residence!

Replacing a 24' beam is a project far beyond my capabilities - I don't even know where to begin. I had bids ranging from a few thousand dollars to over forty thousand, with no understanding on my part of what was necessary or required and little explanation from the contractors providing the bids about what was involved, until I was connected with Mike. Mike outlined the range of possibilities that the city might require, everything from a "simple" brace & replace, to a trenching for a full moment frame. Rather than bid outright, he suggested I look up past permits to verify the legality of the existing work, and then talk to the building department to understand their requirements.

The half hour conversation with Mike and two hours of investigation with the city saved me tens of thousands of dollars, as the city confirmed they only needed a simpler type of repair. It was during this job that Mike saw my workshop and few of the pieces of furniture I had completed, which then lead to him engaging me for some custom work on his larger projects.

His honest advice is a pattern: as he has come to understand my capabilities for home repairs, he has advised me on other pieces of work I've considered, offering to bid on it, but freely giving me tips on how to do it should I want to do the work myself, and so I've done some both ways, tackling larger jobs than I previously thought comfortable due to his expert guidance, but engaging him on a few other projects where my tools, time, or confidence was just not there.

Finally, I would be remiss if I didn't also mention that as I was contemplating my next career move when I was still at Google, Mike met me for breakfast, entertaining my many naive (and perhaps a few more insightful?) questions about the day-to-day of his career and his career path. I am very grateful to Mike for taking the time out of his morning for that conversation.

Should you ever need any work done, roughly Berkeley to San Mateo, whether its a seismic reinforcement, a whole house rebuild, or a kitchen upgrade, I unreservedly recommend a call to Mike at MEMGC.