Saturday, February 18, 2012

Wooden plaque

One of the first (well of only few) woodworking projects that I undertook. This was planned as a gift. It was three years in the mind and about six months to make as I worked on it in very small bits of time and redid it a few times.
It is a verse from the Bible (Psalms 33:11)
The base was Vengai wood (or Irulai wood), I do not remember. The wood was a little larger than 2x1 feet and 1 inch thick. I got it from a local lumber mill in Vellore. I got the surfaces planed in the mill itself. (The wood looked horrible initially and I was quite disappointed as this was my first wood purchase. The grain was revealed in all its beauty after planing). The curved edges were cut with a Skil Jigsaw. I somehow thought that curved irregular edges were more appealing.
The first thing that I did was to apply some pesticide like chemical that my local dealer told me about. I applied this with a brush.
I wanted a dark background and so I stained it with rosewood stain. This was applied with a bit of waste cloth in about two or three layers. The grain became more pronounced, but the finer details were lost. It however got a richer look.
I must mention that as this was my first project, I experimented a lot and had to redo things many times. One of the first things I did was to apply sheenlac wood polish over the stain. To my horror all the stain came off. So hey presto, I had to remove the whole thing and do this all over again.
I then tried some 'sealant' that someone told me to. The stain came off again. It was back to sanding (with a Skil orbital sander) and reapplying the stain all over again.
I finally used clear varnish. All my heroics were in the balcony of my studio appt, out of the sight of my kids and ensuring that the smell did not overwhelm the whole house.
I read off the net that one has to sand the varnish and reapply. So I faithfully did so. Varnished and sandpapered it. With fine sand paper 400 grit (the finest that I could get locally).
However a horrible problem that I faced was dust settling on the varnish. Dust, insects, leaves you name it all had an uncanny ability to land on the freshly painted piece. It actually looked better after the sandpaper. After sandpapering even with 400 grit the sanding lines were visible. I thought I would use some solid wood polish to get a final luster. However this did not provide the finish I wanted and after two or three layers of polish I realied that what I had was a finger print magnet. I wanted to remove the polish. I could not. So hey presto back to square one to my wife's disbelief. Sanded, and repolished etc.
Finally after about six or seven coats of varnish the base looked good. There were a few dust spots on it but I could never get a dust free environment. So the dark base was made.
To get the thin wood for the lettering I used a light colored pine veneer that another local plywood shop had a bit of. However this was too thin and the color was not to my liking. Besides the letters did not cut fine. I thus stuck a light colored laminate over it with fevicol. I had some left over pieces of this laminate from some carpentry work done in my parents house. This laminate plus veneer was thick enough and cut well.
Well now to the cutting. I always thought this would cut fine with a hand held 'U frame saw' or a 'fretwork saw'. I purchased one for about fifty rupees. But lacking a vice, and holding the piece of wood in one hand and trying to use the thread like blade to cut out a letter was almost impossible. It took me about half an hour for a letter, and the blade broke numerous times. It was frustrating. I wished I had done the letters first.
I looked up scroll saws. There was a Skil scroll saw available in the US for about 100 dollars. It was not available in India. The local hardware supplier did not have any idea what it was for. When I described what I wanted to do I bystander said that 'Sir, that is professional work, you cannot do it...' or something to that effect. This only furthered my resolve.
I finally got a workaround. I purchased some scroll saw blades in bulk from a hardware store, and converted my skil jigsaw into a scroll saw. To do this I drilled a large whole (about half an inch in diameter in a long plank of waste block wood. I dismantled the jigsaw and fixed it over the hole so that the thin blade would pass up and down through the hole. I then used this as a scroll saw. It was crude. The blade bent easily, broke easily but was way more effective than doing this by hand. I was able to cut the letters out with this arrangement and prepare them for pasting.
After all the letters were available I pasted them on with fevicol. I was aware the fevicol was just sticking the letters on to the last layer of varnish, and with time this would fall of, so these had to be nailed down. I used thin headless nails.
Now hammering a nail is an art. Every second nail bent. Some and to be broken halfway. A few of the letters split and had to be hammered individually. Eventually the whole thing was assembled. Two hooks behind and A GI wire between it helped to hang it up.
This piece was designed keeping in mind a similar piece that had been designed by uncle Ian Robson from Bangalore. He is one of the best professional woodworkers I know. I tried to copy his finish and his attention to detail. His carpentry has survived in our home for twenty years and is still as good as new. Literally. I have only childhood memories of him and the work that he used to do, and we have kind of lost touch, but hope to renew our friendship some time in the future. Thanks uncle Ian for these wonderful memories.


  1. Lovely piece of work and did you say this is your first few projects ?

    Really love the stained look... Which stain did you use ? You should post a tutorial on how to stain... While I have used stain for my projects, somehow not been able to get the correct method to do it...

    And I can understand your issue with the headless nails... I used to use a plank and practice hammering these headless nails... Quite a challenge it was before I got to 95% accuracy... I still have them bending when am hitting them on live projects.

    Now that am following you, will look for more such projects :)

    Somu (Woodooz)

  2. Thanks Somu
    I used sheenlac rosewood stain. I just went to the plywood shop and told him that I wanted to stain the wood dark. He offered me 'teak wood finish' and 'rose wood finish'. The original piece that I was modelling mine upon was similar to rosewood and so I chose rosewood. He is a nice guy and gave me advice on what to do. I doubt he is a woodworker himself but he did point me on the right path.
    Could you tell me what is OST (One side teak) that you use in your blog? Is it ply with a teak veneer finish or is it ply with a teak finish laminate?

  3. Hi Vinay, It is a veneer (4mm thickness) with teak finish... I use it because it is available at a very low cost (Rs 25/ sq feet) compared to the other veneers... Moreover I struck a deal with my plywood supplier and I get only that much sq ft of OST that I need for the project... The other veneers are usually available only in the 8ft x 4ft dimension... Let me know your E-mail id... I shall mail you the picture of OST, that might give you an idea. I usually stain on top of the OST which is glued and nailed onto the plywood !

    1. Hi Somu
      My email is As you say it is good to befriend a local plywood supplier.
      Looking forward to hearing from you,

  4. Wow. Its beautiful piece. Where can i buy that. Can please share the details. check more Plywood Prices In Bangalore & Plywood Dealers In Bangalore