Upcoming Class: Introduction to Marquetry, Sept. 15 – 17

Introduction to Marquetry | Heller and Heller Furniture

After the suc­cess of the pre­vi­ous Intro­duc­tion to Mar­quetry class, I am pleased to announce we are run­ning a sec­ond class in just a few weeks. I will be teach­ing this scroll-saw based mar­quetry class at Nova Labs in Reston (1916 Isaac New­ton Square W, Reston, VA 20190) on Sept 16 and 17th.

Introduction to Marquetry | Heller and Heller Furniture | students working on scroll saw marquetry during the course

We will cov­er design, cut­ting, lay­out, and glue up of pic­tures using the pack­et tech­nique. I will also intro­duce the use of French style assem­bly boards to pre­pare the pic­tures for glue up.

This will be the sec­ond edi­tion of this class in this loca­tion — Nova Labs and the Wash­ing­ton Wood­work­ers Guild co-host­ed the first ver­sion in April this year — and we’ve learned a lot from the excel­lent feed­back pro­vid­ed by our first group of stu­dents, so I am look­ing for­ward to try­ing out a stream­lined and improved les­son plan.

If you are inter­est­ed in attend­ing, sign-ups are through this link: https://​www​.meet​up​.com/​N​O​V​A​-​M​a​k​e​r​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​2​4​2​4​7​6​3​79/

If you aren’t able to make the course — or even if you are — on the Fri­day evening Sept 15 at 7 pm I will be hold­ing a free pre­sen­ta­tion on mar­quetry for those attend­ing the class or any­one else that is inter­est­ed. I’ll talk about mar­quetry through the ages, show some amaz­ing exam­ples, the var­i­ous tech­niques that have evolved as tech­nol­o­gy has changed and how those tech­niques are still rel­e­vant today. I will dis­cuss some of my own work in light of these tech­niques, and also cov­er a lit­tle design phi­los­o­phy for the week­end class.

If you plan on attend­ing this dis­cus­sion we’d appre­ci­ate you sign­ing up at https://​www​.meet​up​.com/​N​O​V​A​-​M​a​k​e​r​s​/​e​v​e​n​t​s​/​2​4​2​4​7​6​5​01/ so that we have some idea how many peo­ple to pre­pare for.

Introduction to Marquetry | Heller and Heller Furniture

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Furniture Education: How Wood Ages, Part II — Finish

Fine custom furniture | Dining Room Sideboard | Nesting occasional tables | See more at Heller and Heller Furniture
Today Dave is back with more on how furniture ages, and a little bit more on what you can do to achieve the look you want with finish selection.

Our last post talked about the ten­den­cy of wood to change as it ages, based on it’s inter­ac­tion with the atmos­phere: air and water.  Today we’re going to look at the biggest impact you can make on that change through con­trol of those two ele­ments in your home, and fin­ish selec­tion.

As we men­tioned last week: Wood is made from a vast array or organ­ic mol­e­cules. These mol­e­cules in wood react to heat, light, humid­i­ty, air, and all the things that touch the wood’s sur­face over the decades. A major pur­pose of fin­ish is to pro­vide a bar­ri­er to these things – it’s the “stain­less” equiv­a­lent for wood. The type of fin­ish and its sta­bil­i­ty in the face of those assaults change how quick­ly the wood reacts to its envi­ron­ment.

Let’s con­sid­er the envi­ron­ment first. Heat as a fac­tor by itself is only sig­nif­i­cant at extreme vari­a­tions, and oth­er­wise most­ly impacts humid­i­ty.

Humid­i­ty vari­a­tions make the wood swell or shrink, and this occurs nat­u­ral­ly as the sea­sons change the air from warm and humid to cool and dry. One of the biggest dif­fer­ences between high end fur­ni­ture and mass mar­ket fur­ni­ture is in care and under­stand­ing of wood as it han­dles humid­i­ty: prop­er­ly designed fur­ni­ture accounts for the fact that wood expands and con­tracts with humid­i­ty changes. So as long as your piece is built prop­er­ly, fur­ni­ture can han­dle changes in humid­i­ty, but cup­ping (curl­ing of flat boards across their width) is a fre­quent issue.  Humid­i­ty con­trol in your house is the best present that you can give to your fur­ni­ture: a humid­i­fi­er for the dry win­ter months, and a dehu­mid­i­fi­er or air con­di­tion­er if sum­mer humid­i­ty is high. My shop is humid­i­ty con­trolled at 40 – 50% year-round to ensure sta­bil­i­ty in my pieces as they’re being con­struct­ed.

There’s not much that can be done about air, oth­er than encas­ing the piece in thick plas­tic. That’s just ugly or means you live in a muse­um, so let’s not wor­ry about it.

Light we touched on briefly in our last post on this top­ic, but to reit­er­ate: light accel­er­ates the rate of change for wood tone because it con­tains UV rays. Because of the expo­nen­tial expo­sure to light that exte­ri­or woods face, exte­ri­or fin­ish­es often con­tain a UV inhibitor – a pho­tore­ac­tive mol­e­cule that pref­er­en­tial­ly absorbs the UV so that the wood under­neath doesn’t. That increas­es the longevi­ty of exte­ri­or wood but at the cost of a thick, very yel­low, sur­face coat­ing. That’s fine on your ipe deck, but not so much on a cher­ry desk with inlays.

For inte­ri­or fin­ished: some oils are also pho­tore­ac­tive – they dark­en with sun­light. Lin­seed oil is very pho­tore­ac­tive, boiled lin­seed oil less so. Tung oil is a lit­tle reac­tive also. Before 1960, var­nish­es were made with lin­seed oil, so guess what col­or they turn? That is one of the rea­sons old fur­ni­ture is so dark. It’s not actu­al­ly the wood, it’s in the fin­ish. Mahogany is red when fresh­ly worked. “Mahogany” col­ored mod­ern fur­ni­ture is stained to be the col­or of old var­nish on dark red wood, because that is now the col­or peo­ple asso­ciate with mahogany.

Cherry gate-leg table | Curly Cherry Federal Bookcase | See more at Heller and Heller Furniture

So how does this inform my work?  Since I make most­ly dec­o­rat­ed fur­ni­ture, I want fin­ish­es that are very pale: with as lit­tle col­or shift as pos­si­ble. Also, I pre­fer to use fin­ish­es that do not dark­en with time. I don’t use boiled lin­seed oil for both rea­sons. Oil based var­nish is almost unavail­able any­ways these days due to air qual­i­ty reg­u­la­tions that pro­hib­it some of the key sol­vents.  That is a sad thing for cus­tom fur­ni­ture, but a good for soci­ety.

That leaves us with my pre­ferred tra­di­tion­al fin­ish: shel­lac.  You may have heard of shel­lac in the con­text of a nail salon, but it is an excel­lent fin­ish with many desir­able prop­er­ties. Shel­lac ages pret­ty well, and also can be bought “super-blonde” – a very pale yel­low. Unfor­tu­nate­ly, water repel­len­cy isn’t one of shellac’s fea­tures, so I use it alone only when pro­tec­tion from water is not a require­ment. When it is, I top­coat the super blonde shel­lac with water based polyurethane. I know that purists don’t approve. It looks a lit­tle plas­tic, because it is plas­tic. How­ev­er, a thin coat­ing pro­tects the wood from water while min­i­mal­ly build­ing thick­ness. The lat­est prod­ucts are also “water white”: they add no notice­able hue at all*. They are quite an amaz­ing improve­ment from their 10 year old for­bear­ers.

In addi­tion to how the wood itself changes col­or over time, it acquires addi­tion­al char­ac­ter called “pati­na.” Pati­na is the result of the dirt and oil and dust and such that gets on a piece of fur­ni­ture, then gets caught in the paste wax that is the tra­di­tion­al pro­tec­tant for fur­ni­ture in the house. Tra­di­tion­al paste wax is a pret­ty good means of pol­ish­ing your fur­ni­ture – much bet­ter than aerosol based fur­ni­ture pol­ish­es that have sil­i­cone in them so that they lev­el bet­ter.  Fin­ish­es, by the way, do not need to be fed. That is pure mar­ket­ing gib­ber­ish. Clean your fur­ni­ture when it needs it, and apply wax when it looks dull, or every twen­ty years, whichev­er comes first.

Prop­er care of your wood fur­ni­ture, and under­stand­ing fin­ish selec­tion from the start, will mean that your piece will mel­low and acquire char­ac­ter as it ages, ready to grace your family’s home for gen­er­a­tions.

* A note: in hard­ware stores you may notice fin­ish­es adver­tised as “clear.” It should be not­ed, that this is NOT the same as “colour­less.”

William Brown - What prod­uct do you use for the water -based poly?



Jenn H - Hi Bill!  Thanks for your ques­tion — Dave uses Gen­er­al Fin­ish­es water based poly.  He uses the Enduro Sand­ing Seal­er, fol­lowed by the Enduro Clear Poly as a top­coat.  Both are spray appli­ca­tion only, but he has been real­ly pleased with the results — water white fin­ish with excel­lent lev­el­ing and quick dry time.  I hope this is help­ful!

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Furniture Education: How Wood Ages, Part I

One of the things we want­ed to address with this jour­nal was to edu­cate our cus­tomers, so they can make the best deci­sions as well as hav­ing a lit­tle more under­stand­ing of a mate­r­i­al we have all around us on a dai­ly basis! Today’s top­ic is a two-part series on a top­ic that comes up con­stant­ly: what hap­pens to wood as it ages? When you cre­ate a piece of heir­loom-qual­i­ty fur­ni­ture, it is a good idea to think about how a piece will look 20, 50 or even 100 years from now. There are many fac­tors that con­tribute to how wood ages, but today we’re going to look at the fun­da­men­tal ten­dan­cies, by wood species.

How different woods age

cabinet of curiosities | Art Deco Jewelry Armoire | Heller and Heller Custom Furniture

Fur­ni­ture looks dif­fer­ent as it gets old­er. Aside from the pati­na, which wood­work­ers joke is dirt mixed with wax, there are some chem­i­cal things going on that change the look of fur­ni­ture as it ages. As a Smith­son­ian Fur­ni­ture Con­ser­va­tor once told me, “all wood wants to be caramel col­ored”.  This is a reac­tion to light and air.

You can think about it in this way: Steel rusts and alu­minum oxi­dizes when exposed to air and water. Stain­less (!) steel is called that because the addi­tion of exot­ic met­als to iron pro­tects the met­al so that it ages more slow­ly by being less reac­tive.

Wood is made from a vast array or organ­ic mol­e­cules. These mol­e­cules in wood react to heat, light, humid­i­ty, air, and all the things that touch the wood’s sur­face over the decades. A major pur­pose of fin­ish is to pro­vide a bar­ri­er to these things – it’s the “stain­less” equiv­a­lent for wood. The type of fin­ish and its sta­bil­i­ty in the face of those assaults change how quick­ly the wood reacts to its envi­ron­ment, and we’ll talk about fin­ish­es with respect to aging in our fol­lowup post.

As you might expect from mate­ri­als that have dif­fer­ent chem­i­cal prop­er­ties, dif­fer­ent wood species react dif­fer­ent­ly to typ­i­cal con­di­tions. To extreme oppo­site exam­ples would be ebony and cher­ry — Cher­ry is in a hur­ry to age, ebony much less so.  No fin­ish can stop cher­ry from react­ing to light. Fresh cher­ry is the col­or of raw salmon – not a pret­ty pic­ture. In six months it is a medi­um red, and in two years it is a glo­ri­ous rich dark but vari­able red­dy brown. Ebony looks the same at five years as at five days.

Cherry Jewelry Box | Heller and Heller Furniture

Maple turns gold­en, as does ash and oak; wal­nut actu­al­ly light­ens with time. Most bright­ly col­ored woods soft­en: pur­ple­heart turns a mel­low brown after some decades. All of the old fur­ni­ture in the Lou­vre was once bright pur­ple and bright yel­low. A tad gar­ish by our stan­dards, but to 18th cen­tu­ry roy­al­ty, it was the ulti­mate sta­tus sym­bol.

Some­times peo­ple ask me to stain the piece I am mak­ing for them, to match their oth­er fur­ni­ture or just to be the col­or they want. I pre­fer not to, since the wood will change col­or with time, as will the oth­er woods that they may be match­ing to. Since the fin­ish­es are dif­fer­ent, as are the under­ly­ing woods, they will shift dif­fer­ent­ly than my piece.  The folks that sell kitchen cab­i­nets in 47 dif­fer­ent col­ors know that the cab­i­nets will change col­or with time, but that is not their prob­lem – it takes too long. Also, the whole room changes, so it’s hard­er to notice.

One thing that is very impor­tant with fur­ni­ture is to not leave an object on the piece for an extend­ed peri­od, espe­cial­ly at first. This is even more impor­tant if the piece sits in direct sun­light, and exceed­ing­ly impor­tant on cher­ry fur­ni­ture. The shad­ow mark from the object will be extreme­ly dif­fi­cult to remove – that doily pat­tern could be a per­ma­nent addi­tion to the table­top.

The oth­er piece to this puz­zle is the fin­ish selec­tion, and we’ll be back to dis­cuss it next week.

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Mothers Day in Charlottesville: What to do

Hiking Charlottesville | Heller and Heller Furniture

Mother’s Day is right around the cor­ner this week­end, and we thought we’d share some ideas for our favorite sim­ple things to do in Char­lottesville with Mom.

Brunch or Ice Cream on the Downtown Mall

This is a no-brain­er on a nice day, though it sounds like we’ll have rain for this week­end. The Down­town Mall has tons to do, so we thought we’d share just a few of our favorites:

Charlottesville Arts | A cooperative gallery | Charllottesville Artisans

Pho­to Cred­it — Kear­by Chen

  • There are dozens of food options on the mall, but we’ve been enjoy­ing Brasserie Sai­son as a great new selec­tion! The Bel­gian eatery has deli­cious fries that are 200% Owen approved.
  • Chaps Ice Cream is a sta­ple, with old-school treats and deli­cious cof­fee.
  • Vis­it the Cville Arts Coop for a last-minute gift, or let Mom choose some­thing she loves!  The Coop has hand­made goods of every sort includ­ing some fab­u­lous quilt­ed cards that come high­ly rec­om­mend­ed by Eliz­a­beth. You could also pick up one of our fine wood­en wares, as we’ve recent­ly restocked our most pop­u­lar items.
  • For oth­er cute gift ideas, we also love Rock Paper Scis­sors and Cas­pari. (as Eliz­a­beth put it: Moms love Cas­pari.)

Visit a Vineyard or Cidery

Mothers Day Vineyard | Heller and Heller Furniture

This fam­i­ly loves a good vine­yard pic­nic more than I can say. We’ve been to many over the years, so here are our favorites!

  • Ver­i­tas Vine­yard — this one tops many list for good rea­son.  The scenery is love­ly and the house cheese plate is tops. Wines are real­ly excel­lent, and there are plen­ty of spaces to pic­nic if you’d like to bring your own food and sit out­side.
  • Afton Moun­tain — a small­er vine­yard with excel­lent wines and friend­ly tast­ing staff.  They recent­ly fin­ished their enclosed patio area in addi­tion to their exten­sive pic­nic grounds, this one is absolute­ly a fam­i­ly favorite.
  • King Fam­i­ly — The Crosé is a won­der­ful glass on a warm and sun­ny day (or if you wish it were a warm and sun­ny day!) and they also have an excel­lent patio set­up.  The win­ery is absolute­ly packed dur­ing the polo sea­son (which kicks off Memo­r­i­al Day week­end) so now is a good time to vis­it when it is slight­ly calmer!

Bold Rock Cidery | Heller and Heller Furniture

  • Bold Rock Cidery — The cidery offers an excel­lent tast­ing, and the build­ing is beau­ti­ful­ly nes­tled with decks and ter­races, and lots of seat­ing.  This is def­i­nite­ly a fam­i­ly-friend­ly space!

Go for a hike

Hiking Charlottesville | Heller and Heller furniture

If your mom is into out­door activ­i­ties that are slight­ly more stren­u­ous, try a hike!  There are tons of trails are Char­lottesville — these pho­tos are from a fam­i­ly hike we did in 2013 at Crab­tree Falls (which is also dog-friend­ly!)


Hope you and your fam­i­ly enjoy an excel­lent Mother’s Day this week­end, wher­ev­er you may be cel­e­brat­ing.

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