Wednesday, July 9, 2014

Fancy Tea Light Holder

Since I earn my keep as a teacher, the end of the spring semester can be quite chaotic; add to that a rapidly growing first child, and (as I've said before) my shop time is often quite spread out.

One of the projects I actually managed to get done this spring was a Mothers Day gift for my mom. In one of those sudden and unexpected dashes of pure inspiration (motivated by the fact that Mothers Day was only 48 hours away), the design popped into my head after my wife casually suggested that I make a candle holder.

I started out by determining a good scale for the project. Tea lights, those tiny little candles many people put in jack-o-lanterns, are about 1 1/2 inches across and about half an inch high, so I figured I'd space them about half an inch apart and add a half inch around the outside. I decided that three candles was all I needed, so this gave me my length and width: 6 1/2" by 2 1/2", give or take.

I grabbed some of my black walnut stock and cut two pieces to a little over size, with the intent of laminating them with a piece of red oak between. I drilled a hole for each candle in the top board using a Forstner bit, stopping the depth to match the candle height. Once I stacked the pieces up, though, I was troubled by the total thickness. I also didn't like the little divots at the bottom left by the brad point on my drill bit.

Ultimatlely, I wound up resawing the top board so that the red oak was visible at the bottom of each candle socket. This created a pleasing look, allowing the two wood species to contrast more (even though the oak bottoms of the sockets will be covered by candles), but just as important, it reduced the blockiness of the piece and created three layers with distinct thicknesses.

The magic of chamfer bits. And hand sanding.
I then hit all the edges with a chamfer bit on my fancy new router table setup. A light chamfer everywhere but the bottom edges, where the chamfer was a full half inch. I sanded everything up to 220, and then I embarked on my first experience with spray lacquer.

I referred to Steve Ramsey's instructions for applying spray lacquer, and I must say, this process produces fast and satisfying results -- despite my apparent efforts to screw it up. A hint: if the lacquer begins to run because you've sprayed too much, try rolling the piece over -- DO NOT try to wipe off the excess, or you might end up having to sand the entire surface again and start over.

The end result was fabulous -- my mother loved it, my sisters are jealous, and my wife asked me to make an even bigger one for our house. Which I did:

...but this one wasn't quite as smooth sailing as the first. More on that later.