Wednesday, November 30, 2011

When Sparks Fly

Hello PORC fans.

Today we're talking a bit regarding the crazy laminating I did this summer for a reception desk.  "The Big Green Greetin' Machine" as it was named.  In the same office there were also some nice fir cabinets I'll show, and lastly I'll hand out a bit of marriage advice.  That's right.  I'm going there.

No point waiting, keep reading for the pretty pictures.

I was lucky enough to get a call to build a large reception desk for the college just up the road from the shop.  I know most people think that working with laminate is a curse and far cry from "woodworking."  Well, I'm here to tell you that your basically right.  HOWEVER, laminating is a difficult skill and requires a tremendous amount of knowledge and know-how.  Is it fancy ebony or bubinga?  No, but let me tell you... when you're sticking a piece of special ordered laminate that is 5' x 12' in size, that ripples with a slight shift in wind or cracks if you look at it wrong, you are walking on pins and needles.  To me, it feels just as stressful as working with a nice piece of curly maple.

I only had about 4 days to put it all together, but was lucky to have any extra set of hands in the shop to help. What became amazingly fun were all of the challenges involved with sweeping curves, using bender-board, and steam bending fir.

The largest hurdle to overcome with this project was plain and simple.  It was the color of laminate chosen by the architect. BOLD. Very bold.  That's the best word to describe this funky green.  Regardless of my own personal feeling about the color, I needed to produce a product that met the requirements set forth by the client.  It's always good to remember that I work for a client.  My personal opinions do not matter at times.  I don't have to love the design or materials.  My job is to build it beautifully. 

I started off making up a couple large forms to bend the outer shell around. I used some scrap plywood with some drilled holes for clamping during glue up.  The outer shell is put together with 2 layers of 3/4" bender board on the corners and 2 layers of duraflake (ie particle board) on the long strait runs. I had to make sure all of the seams weren't near each other.  It's held together with a case of liquid nails, and 75 pounds of fasteners.  The large radius is about 12", so we were able to make that bend no problem, however there was also a corner with a 2" radius that created a bit more of an issue. We put that one together with a block of solid wood and then shaped it by hand to make the 2" corner.

Bending the laminate was next.  No problem on the large 12" curves, however the 2" provided a bit of a challenge.  In order to make this turn, we needed to preform it to make the tight corner.  We did this with a heat gun and pipe to pull against.    One person heated, one person pulled on the laminate. Once we heated it up, (which took about 35 minutes) she bent like a dream and stayed in place all on her own.   There are 2 different thicknesses of HPL, vertical grade and post form.  Post form is thick and meant for nice flat surfaces.  Vertical grade is much thinner and easier to bend.  Sadly, due to the size, color and timeline, we had no choice but to use the thick stuff.  Next time I need to bend around 2" I'll insist on the thinner of the two.

The 2 pictures above are of a scrap we experimented with.  Keep in mind that the finished piece is 46" x 120" in size and had a wonky 90 degree bend in it as well.  There was no place for a seam in the finished laminate.  It took 3 people to stick the laminate to the substrate with contact cement.

The outer pieces of the desk have exposed VG fir.  No problem on the strait vertical pieces, however on the rounded top, I needed to steam-bend a 1/8" thick piece to make that same 2" radius.  With use of a handful of clamps and wedges, we got the fir edging glued in place before sticking more laminate on the top and bottom.  It didn't help there were no 90 degree angles anywhere.

We got it all assembled and ready to move.  We then took it back apart as much as possible. It took 8 strapping lads to move and install the beast.  Big, awkward, and very heavy, but we did it!  In the end, I really dig the green color.  It's pretty funky, but really works in the room.

Then I hopped onto a couple Fir cabinets to go in the same office.  Again, nothing standard, and all about solving weird little problems.  A few stainless steel rods and a plumbing chase didn't stop us from getting it just right.

Now, at the top of the post I promised some marital advice.  I would encourage any couple that is going to move forward into a remodeling project, PLEASE PLEASE PLEASE make sure you and your spouse are on the same page.  I ended up installing a stereo cabinet that did not receive a very warm welcome this summer.  I HATE that. I love installing something and having everybody say "WOW!" or "That's AMAZING" or "Jason, I love you."  What I DO NOT like is "Why did you put the shelf there????"  Sadly, that happened on this job.  Ugggg.  There was a communication gap between the two homeowners, and I went one way, and clearly should have gone another.  Both handled the situation and me very well.  My first reaction is to make sure I didn't screw up.  They both confirmed that I did what I was told, however they did not agree on a few key elements.  It all worked itself out in the end, but it was tense.  Very tense.  So, once again........  Jason's tip of the day.  PLEASE make sure you and your spouse are on the same page before things get too far along.  You will save a ton of money and maybe even your relationship as well.

BTW, the picture at the top (and below) is metal mesh that I had to cut.  Sparks are fun to see, however in a shop filled with piles of dry sawdust, I'm always a bit uneasy. 

That's it for this week!  Please feel free to chime in with thoughts or questions about anything you see!

As always....... thanks for reading!


  1. Its always so fun to see this after hearing the stories about it! So interesting that you bent the laminate on pipe!

  2. Thanks babe! I love how supportive you are. :)

    @James....... Jason like James. Thank you!

  3. What's the green machine in the back on the bench in the pictures?