Wednesday, June 14, 2017

Tiki build-along, pt. 7

At this point, I enter uncharted territory with my tiki build. A popular and common component of home tiki bars are carved baseboards and other assorted trim. I have a full-sized router that I've used on my office build, mainly to carve out dados for bookshelves, etc. It's large, however, and not entirely suitable for the more intricate design work of carving baseboards. So I went to Harbor Freight, that emporium of cheap tools imported from China, and picked up a super-inexpensive trim router using a 40 percent off coupon. This small router isn't nearly as powerful, and I doubt it will last as long as my other (15 years now) but it's nimble and better suited for detail work.

I picked up some 1"x6" Ponderosa pine boards from McCoy's (they were cheaper than at the other options, plus the boards had a smoother, more polished finish as opposed to the rough cut of other places). I designed a simple, common alternating triangle pattern using Photoshop and printed it out. Using an Exacto knife, I trimmed out the pattern then traced it onto a more robust piece of poster board. After trimming that out, I taped it to the boards and traced the pattern onto the wood. If that sounds like it's convoluted, or a lot of steps, well, it is.

One thing that's nice about the trim router is that it has a guide attachment that allows one to cut a groove at a set distance along any straight piece of wood. My big router doesn't have that, and to get straight lines I have to measure and clamp down a guide board that's both straight and long enough... it's a pain. This is much more effective, although I have to confess that on my first attempt I didn't bolt the guide tightly enough, and it came loose resulting in an irregular cut. But don't tell anyone.

Once the straight-line grooves were cut (I'm using a quarter-inch half-round bit at little more than an eight-inch depth, for those interested in such things) I set to work on the triangles. Each triangle is made up of six parallel cuts in progressively shorter lengths. As they're oriented at 45 degrees to the edges of the boards, setting up a dependable guide would be more trouble than it was worth. After a tentative experiment on a piece of scrap wood, I knew that I was not yet experienced enough to make the cuts freehand.

I ended up splitting the difference, so to speak, and used a short, straight piece of wood as a floating guide, holding it down with my free hand. This turned out to be remarkably efficient. I ended up taking about two and a half hours to rout the first 8' board, and only around an hour to do the second. This is one area where experience pays big dividends. The work went very much faster (with fewer missteps) as I progressed.

Next up, fire! On all the big home bar build threads over at Tiki Central there are references to artificially aging the wood used for trim, so it has a rustic, live-in look. The first part of this involved roughing up the carved wood with an angle grinder. Once again I headed to Harbor Freight with a 40 percent off coupon and picked up a cheap angle grinder. With the spinning heavy-grit wheel I gouged and grooved and scuffed the boards until they looked like they'd suffered 40 years of neglect in some out-of-the-way dive. Then I applied my little propane torch. I picked this up back in December to heat-tree the bamboo I'd started harvesting (which is something I've yet to discuss on this build-along. I will have to rectify that in the future). I wasn't sure what to expect. How much should I burn the wood? How black should it get? Am I going to start a huge fire and have to evacuate the neighborhood?

Fortunately, once you clear away all the sawdust (this is an important step, so don't skip it--sawdust is eager to burn) the wood is reluctant to burn as long as the flame keeps moving. It doesn't even have to move fast. I just brushed it back and forth like a gentle paint brush. Some parts of the pine darkened instantly, while others held onto their light coloration despite multiple passes. You're not burning the wood so much as scorching it.

At this point, I still wasn't sure if I was doing this correctly, or what the real point was. I applied a wire brush--the same type used to clean a barbecue grill, or used in welding if that's your thing--and rubbed down the scorched wood. The results were dramatic. The blackened, carbonized areas came off as soot, leaving the wood a much more uniform brown. But the biggest change was in the wood's texture. I've seen references to applying flame to "raise the grain" but didn't quite grasp what that meant. Give it more visual contrast? Expand it? Well, I'm here to attest that "raise the grain" is to be taken literally. Whether the grain actually rises or the softer wood between burns away is irrelevant--the end result is a wood surface with dramatically enhanced surface texture, akin to old barn wood that's been exposed to sun and wind and rain for 30 years. Only this way, you get the aged wood appearance without the cracks and rot that accompany exposure.

After cleaning away all the soot and sawdust, I stained the baseboards with Minwax Special Walnut and then applied a couple coats of Spar Urethane to protect the wood from moisture and the elements in general. I've posted so many dull stain and varnish photos for other projects that I'm not going to waste the space repeating. Just imagine several days have gone by and it's all dried nicely, okay?

Returning my attention to the back bar, the bar surface desperately needed trim applied to at least look complete. Since my intent is to match my original tiki bar design as much as possible, this meant getting some 3" moso bamboo clums from Bamboo Branch in Austin. Since I'd learned a lot more about bamboo than I did last year when I built my original tiki bar, I knew I needed to heat treat the culms to give them a richer color and bring out the contrast at the nodes. I have to say, burning 3" culms with my little propane (butane?) torch is a lot more time-consuming than the little 1.5" culms I normally work with. It takes more heat to reach critical mass and achieve the color change with the thicker wood. The result is very nice, and worth the effort.

The surface of the back bar, with the plywood base and laminate surface, is right around one inch thick. I took masking tape and, laying the culms straight, applied the tape to act as a straight cutting guide. Splitting bamboo in half is relatively straightforward, but cutting a strip out of a culm is more of a challenge. I haven't see how other folks do it, but I used a jig saw with a fine toothed blade to make my cuts. When I got to the solid nodes, I lifted the back of the saw to go into it at a 10-degree angle, and that seemed to work well. Once I got both sides cut and lifted the strip out, I used a small hammer to knock out the remaining node wood so the culm would fit on the bar top better.

I test-fitted the culm, and used the jig saw to trim away any areas that were sticking or in the way. Once I got the pieces going on the bar satisfactorily, I measured and made 45 degree cuts on the bamboo trim using my mitre saw for the corner joins. I used long paneling nails to attached the bamboo edging to my tiki bar, and honestly, that was a mistake. Those nails weren't strong enough to hold the bamboo steady, and there's been progressive shifting ever since. This time, I saw no other option than to use heavier wood screws. This meant drilling a pilot hole, then using a bigger bit to cut out a countersink hole.

After attaching the bamboo culms with the wood screws, I covered them with wood putty. The next day, once the putty was dry, I sanded it smooth with 220-grit sandpaper and applied some Minwax Special Walnut stain. The screw-holes are less obvious, but still not invisible. I'll apply some dark walnut when I have time and see if that helps it blend in better with the scorched area of the nodes.

One big downside of how nice this bamboo bar trim looks is the fact that the trim on the tiki bar--which I built before learning about scorching bamboo to bring out color and contrast--looks dull and dowdy in comparison (as can be seen to the left in the final photo of this post). I don't relish the thought, but as some point I'm going to tear apart the original bar, sand down and scorch the bamboo trim to give it the same pop as the back bar.

With the bar trim in place, I was ready to install the baseboards and bamboo tambour panels. You know, show some actual visible progress. A sticking point is the siding on the patio--it's overlapping fiber cement, which is nice and durable but not conducive to flush application of veneers. To compensate, I bought several 8' furring strips and sliced them lenghtwise on my table saw at a 4 degree angle (give or take). The thick end of each trimmed strip is about a quarter inch thick, which matches up with the overlap end of the siding. The 4 degree cut, when attached to the siding, presents a vertical surface upon which I can apply far more interesting veneers. I coated all the cut strips with Flood CFW-UV for added protection, even though they won't be directly exposed to the elements. Furring strips are notoriously non-durable, and I don't want them rotting out on me.

I attached the baseboard using a 1.5" exterior grade wood screw, drilled through a pilot hole into the backing furring strip. I need to go back with dark brown paint and cover up the gray screw heads, which draw the eye. I'm not going to caulk this, because there may be some reason in the future to remove the baseboard and/or wall covering. Not that I plan to, but that's the approach I plan to take.

I remember now that I forgot to mention one thing when discussing the routering of the baseboards above--on the backside of the boards I cut an eighth-inch deep, half-inch wide groove along the top side of the board. Why? To serve as a pocket into which I shall insert the lower end of the bamboo tambour panels. I placed a cut furring strip against the siding corner nearest the top end of the tambour panel (I'm fastening the strips to the wall with exterior wood screws, if you haven't guessed) and then did a test fitting of the tambour. Unfortunately, the bamboo slats in the tambour are fairly thin, and bulged out in the middle, which necessitated a second furring strip in the middle. Once everything lined up, I stapled the tambour into place, taking care to fit the staples between the slats. This is the same process I used on the back bar itself, although I coupled that with glue. Glue is not practical in this situation, and even if it were, I'm making the wall coverings so that they can be removed fairly easily if necessary. At some point I'll come back with tan paint and a fine-tipped brush to disguise the handful of staples that are visible, but for the most part they can't be seen unless you're actually looking for them.

This is a little out of place, but I forgot to include it in my earlier installments. In addition to the wall coverings being removable, I also built the back bar to be removable. It's solid and not going anywhere on it's own, but since I plan on adding a sink, I don't need any accidental shifting disconnecting the water or drain lines. But I didn't want to permanently affix it to the wall with nails or screws. I settled on eye hooks on either end. The anchors are small but surprisingly solid. The back bar's not going anywhere, but it was a snap to pull it away from the wall to facilitate the installation of the tambour panels.

And this is the end result, kinda sorta up close. I like that I decided to go with the tortoiseshell pattern. It adds visual interest. And by cladding the back bar in tambour, it looks of a piece with the wall.

And here's a slightly wider view, placing the back bar in the larger context, with the tiki bar front left. Before the tikification began, there were quite a few elements of the patio that we either didn't pay attention to, or thought were kinda neat on their own. As my upgrades continue, those elements are starting to clash badly. Case in point: That round porthole window. We thought it cute when we moved in, but it's damn ugly in context now. The Wife and I discussed this last night. We like the concept, but the execution is pretty bad. I'd thought to put that off for a good long while, but now I think I'm going to have to tackle it sooner rather than later. Complicating matters is the fact that it's a really large window, and available nautical-styled portholes, be they authentic or fake, are generally quite a bit smaller than needed here. I'm sure I'll figure something out, but nothing is ever easy...

Now Playing: Stan Getz The Bossa Nova Years
Chicken Ranch Central

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