handmade.pngHandmade Construction

From Bucks County Town & Country Living
Jim Musselman designs and builds flat wall cupboards, step-backs, some with a “pie shelf” and several different size corner cupboards. “I make pieces with blind or panel doors and several with either six, nine or twelve lights (panes of glass). Most of these are built in two sections, making them easier to handle. However, many of my smaller cases are in one piece,” he said, continuing, “I’ve always like antique furniture. So I make the most of the cases using classic joints such as mortice and tenons and dovetails.” He also uses books showing painted antique furniture in order to get some ideas for the decorations.Classic painting includes grain painting or faux graining. Since he has a good exhaust system, he doesn’t have a dust problem when painting. He began faux painting over 15 years ago explaining, “A woman showed me how. When I first saw a faux painted piece of furniture, I wasn’t certain I liked it. But, the more I looked at it, the more I liked it. Now that’s my favorite finish.”When talking about where he gets ideas for the painting, Jim showed pieces of wood with very interesting grains. These included “crotch grain” where two limbs of a tree joined. The grain in these areas is quite different from just plain wood graining. He uses these as examples, copying them, particularly when painting the panels in doors.Along with panel doors, some of his wall cupboards also have paneled sides. When constructing these, he doesn’t glue the panels within the framework, he explained, “Panels have to float or they’ll split when the woods dries in a warm house. This is especially true in the winter, when our houses are warm and dry.” In order to prevent splitting but still keep the panels more or less in place, he pins them. He places one pin though the top and bottom rails into the center of the panel end. This way, the center of the panel stays put, while the edges can move. They shrink a bit with dry and swell a bit with moist air.The backs or rear boards in his pieces are soil wood with tongue and grove joints. When the woods shrinks in this joint, the tongue prevents gaps from forming. “I like a ship lap joint. But, the lips would split here because I use thin wood in the rear to help keep the weight under control.”Jim looks and measures cupboards every chance he gets.”I’ve spent years looking at different pieces. I want to see proportions. To me, that is very important when a design a cupboard for a client. No matter how well the woodworking is, if the proportions are off, the piece just doesn’t look right.” Along with examining case pieces, he has reference books showing antique examples. “I also ask a lot of questions and listen. You can learn a lot by just paying attention. Everyone has something to offer. In addition, especially when it comes to painting, I’m not afraid to try something different.”When he’s ready to paint a piece, he first applies a base color, generally a hue that will look good under the next coat, which will allow the first to show through. Usually, the second color is applies with a dry brush meaning not much paint in the bristles. Depending upon the type of decoration he wants, the brushes could range from narrow up to rather wide. He also made a hard rubber comb for certain effects. “Actually, I use any number of things to get the decoration I want.” Once he’s pleased with the graining, he rubs though some of the paint to give the finish and old look. “I’m not trying to fool anyone. It just looks better that way,” he said. When he’s finished coloring and rubbing, he applies a final coat of clear acrylic to protect the paint and give the piece a finished look.Jim doesn’t just install the glass in doors until he unit is ready for delivery, saying “I use old glass in the doors. It’s hard to find and more brittle than new glass. That’s why I wait until the last minute to put on the glass.” When asked about the putty he uses, he replies, “I use a brown putty that dries very hard. It looks and feels like putty they used in the 18th and 19th centuries. It isn’t the same. But it looks good and works.”He buys most of his lumber locally, pointing out, I always looks for good, nicely figured wood. Sometimes, I buy green, newly cut wood and stack it here for a year or so to allow some air drying. By air-drying it first, the color seem to set nicely.
Copyright Musselman Cupboards. Site Designed, Developed and Maintained by Rebel CIO