Wait a second… Is it really a commissioned work? Maybe not. I agreed to make the cross, but I decided to not charge them for it (ehhh… it isn’t something I really want to put in my Gallery of Finished Pieces, you know? It’s more like a favor than anything. Ultimately, it comes down to the fact that I would feel weird about charging a friend for this piece. Hey, when its a hobby, you can afford to do that.)
In any case, I got hit square in the face with one of the challenges of doing a commissioned work.
To recap the events that have transpired so far, a friend of mine needed a temporary cross for his father’s grave site. He and his mom were given a small plastic temporary marker to use until the ground settles and they can set up the granite headstone (six to nine months). But they were less than happy with the temporary marker they were given, so he asked my wife if I’d be able to make them a better temporary marker.
I agreed to do so and then set about trying to figure out the best dimensions and methods, etc. I decided upon a cross shape, with a total height of 36” and a total width of 24”. My first major concern was that Frank wanted me to put his dad’s name and dates on the cross. I’ve yet to carve numbers and letters by hand and didn’t think someone’s cross would be the first time to attempt it. I don’t own any sign making router jigs and wasn’t sure I could get letters small enough to fit on a cross bar that is only 4” wide (high) and still have it look good. And to be honest with you, I don’t know how often I would route out letters and numbers into a piece in the future. It isn’t something I envision myself doing, so I don’t think it would be money well-spent. I thought woodburning the information wouldn’t look proper for such a project and wasn’t really sure where to go from there when the solution hit me. I needed to figure out a way to get the name and date information onto the cross using a method I knew and was comfortable with, so I suggest that Frank get a 3”x5” brass plaque made up with whatever information he wanted on it and I would then inlay the plaque into the cross! He thought that was a brilliant idea (as did I) and called his mom to order the plaque.
The next step was to figure out what kind of wood I wanted to use. I recently picked up some pieces of Santos Mahogany (which isn’t really a mahogany, if you didn’t know…) that was already dimensioned to 5/8” thick and had rough widths of 3 1/2” to 4 1/2” with plenty of length. This wood has a Janka hardness of 2200 and is insect and rot resistant, so I thought it would be a good place to start with a piece that was going to be exposed to six months of Missouri elements, starting in November.
I selected the two boards I wanted to use and trimmed them to final dimensions. I then laid them out for half-lap joinery (err… sorry, no pictures). I cut the half-lap joints on the table saw and glued the pieces up with some exterior-rated PVA glue.
At that point, I was waiting on the plaque before I could continue. My wife delivered it the next day when she returned from her work (Frank is her co-worker). I opened the box to find… a ceramic plaque – green, with gold lettering. Man, oh, man, that’s not what I was expecting. With the prominent reddish-tint of the Santos Mahogany, this thing was going to look like a Christmas cross! I asked Dana to confirm with Frank that he wanted to use a green and gold plaque with the reddish wood before I inlaid it into the cross. She checked with him the next day and said they were happy with that arrangement.
Not my first choice, let me tell you, but… that’s what they wanted, so I agreed to do it. On Saturday I measured and laid out the inlay area, marked it with a marking knife, and routed out the majority of the waste with my palm router and a 1/4” straight bit. I set the depth to about half the thickness of the plaque, so it would sit proud by 1/8” or so. Then I came back in with a 1 1/2” chisel and one of my lignum mallets (dang, that collection has actually grown a bit!) and cleaned up the edges. When I was done, I held my breath and set the plaque into the recess. It fit like a glove! I was very happy. I did notice one small issue; the plaque had a bit of a bow to it, so when I set it into the recess, it rocked from end to end. I sliced off two super-thin shims of santos and set them at either end of the recess and tried it again and the plaque was rock-solid.
I wanted to put the finish on before I epoxy’d the plaque in, so I had to figure out the best solution for that… I decided on Thompson’s water sealant for wood, actually. It is a deck sealer, and I figured it would be the best solution for a piece made to be out in the elements. I’ve already applied one coat; I’m debating as to whether or not I should apply a second. It says one coat is sufficient, but I’m thinking about applying a second coat just to be extra careful. I figure two coats of water sealant plus the natural resistance of the wood should be adequate enough to keep the cross well-protected.
Now my only problem is in how to place the cross at the site. I’ve pondered that issue for several weeks now and haven’t really come up with a good solution. The requirements are only that it be easily removed for mowing.
When I get home this evening, I’ll take some pictures of the cross and the plaque together (but not quite glued up).
-- Ethan, http://thekiltedwoodworker.com