Thursday, 31 May 2012

A good place to arrange your collection

Remember a post a few weeks ago where I was talking about the jewellery cabinet I was making.  Good news, it is all finished and actually delivered to the clients.

Normally I take photographs of pieces in the workshop, but as you can imagine it is a bit of a kerfuffle.  The floors are dusty, the walls dusty, everything is dusty. So sweep up, let the dust settle, sweep up again and then unroll a white photographic backdrop. Umm. Dust on that now. And don't even talk about light set-up! So that is why for this piece I had a change of tactic. I had pictures taken for me by a photographer.

I really like the pictures and I think the show the piece off really well. So a thank-you to Peter Hughes for taking them.

At the moment I haven't added this piece to the gallery on my website, as the whole site is going through a bit of a rethink.  But once it is done, I am sure I will post an update on this blog!

Monday, 21 May 2012

Living in my 'fridge

I do other things than make furniture.

I like to make things, I always have done.  I used to be a computer programmer. That is making things, but something most people can't see - only use.

One thing I like to make is bread.  Why?  I like to know what is in it. All I put in my bread is flour, water, salt and some kind of yeast. No bread improvers. No chemicals and additives that get 'destroyed' during the baking so they are not listed in the ingredients. Just flour, water, salt and some kind of yeast.

My yeast, or rather sourdough leaven lives in my 'fridge. It isn't that old. I only started it on 29th December 2011.  I remember its birthday. All the leaven is really is a living culture of yeast. People have these cultures that are many many years old. And I am talking 30, 40, 50 years old.

When I make sourdough, I use this leaven instead of dried yeast.  It takes a bit more work, but not that much more, but the bread does really taste good.

To start the process going, a couple of days before I want to bake (normally baking day is Saturday), I take the leaven out of the 'fridge and let it warm up for a few hours. This is what it looks like:

The leaven lives in a clip lid box in the 'fridge
Bit scary, isn't it?  Don't worry it is fine. It has a fermentation/sour/beer smell. This is normal, and is what adds flavour to the bread. I can't just use the leaven as is, it needs to be fed a couple of times to get it nice and active. It eats flour and water. So I mix up a 2:3 flour/water mix and feed it. Probably a couple of times over a 24 hour period.

Once the leaven is nice and active, I can start to make the sourdough. The first stage is to make something called a sponge. Basically it is a flour and water mix to which a ladle full of leaven is added. This sponge is then left ferment overnight, while the leaven can go back in the 'fridge till next time.

This is the sponge after an overnight ferment.

The 'sponge' after fermenting overnight

It has a very light and bubbly texture and smells very beer like. Reminds me of being a kid (probably about 12 years old) and when I got into home beer making. Now that is another story.....

Anyway. Back to the bread.  I take the sponge and then mix it with the rest of the flour and some salt. I may sometimes add a tablespoon of oil. Sometimes I don't. I then shove all this in my mixer and give it a right good ten mins of kneading. Yes, I know I could do it by hand. But I don't as I have a nice mixer, so I use that.

A KitchenAid mixer. What a gadget!

After the kneading process, I end up with a firm dough that is not wet or sticky.

The mixed dough hanging on the mixer dough hook

Now I have to play the game of letting the dough rest for an hour or so, and then shaping it into a tight ball. I will do this four or five times. During this time, the yeast will convert the flour proteins into gluten, and by making the dough into a tight ball, the gluten strands are being pulled and stretched. This has the effect of giving the dough strength and helps keep the dough in shape.

A shaped ball of dough

After this repetitive ball making process, the dough can then be shaped into the final shape for baking. It can be a stubby cylinder, a ball, turned into rolls or even a baguette. Toppings can be added, for example oats, poppy seeds, sunflower seeds or just a dusting of flour. Then once again the dough is left for an hour or so for final proving.

Then madness. It all happens so quick. Slash the top of the bread to release some of that tension built by the gluten, spray with water to help form the crust, transfer the bread onto a hot pizza stone, put in an oven set to the highest temperature possible and pour a good slosh of boiling water into a tray placed at the bottom of the oven. Close the oven door. Stand back, relax and enjoy the smell of the bread cooking.

After ten mins, the oven can be turned down a bit and the bread baked for another 30 - 40 mins, until the crust is firm, has a nice colour and the bread sounds hollow when tapped.

The finished bread.
And there is the final bread. The one on the left is the sourdough, while the one on the right is made with dried yeast. Both use the same amount of wholemeal flour, same amount of water and the same amount of salt. Both went in the oven at the same time and were cooked for the same amount of time. But for some reason, the sourdough always comes out with a much darker crust.

Both taste great though.

Next time, back to woodwork!

Friday, 4 May 2012

Making of a jewellery cabinet

Remember I was talking in my last post about a project I was making, then came along the cold weather and put a halt to it.....

...let me pick it up from when it got warmer and I had finished the little jewellery boxes.

So this cabinet is based on an existing piece of mine - the drinks cabinet I made last year. The couple I am making the jewellery cabinet for saw the drinks cabinet on my stand in a show. They wondered if I could make another, but this one with drawers. Of course I can.

Building the carcass followed the technique of I used for the drinks cabinet (read  my blog from early last year to find out how).

This cabinet has drawers, and drawers always mean loads and loads of bits of wood. Twelve drawers with two sides, a front and two backs (yes, too backs). Add a few spares and you have a right good pile of wood!

Normally when I am making a piece of furniture that has drawers, machining the wood up for them is one of the first tasks I do.  Wood for drawers needs to be dry and stable. By machining the wood as early as possible, allows it to dry and move. Then it can be machined down to final dimensions when you are ready to make the drawers. Doing this gives a fighting chance of getting good stable components.

So I wave a magic wand....and 'hey presto!', here is a set of drawers.

The drawers 'hang' in the cabinet on runners that are fixed to the sides of the cabinet. A slot is made in the drawer side that fits snug to the runner.

As this cabinet will be used to store jewellery, nine of the twelve drawers will have drop-in lattice dividers in which the jewellery will be stored. The dividers are sized depending what will be stored in the drawers. So small dividers for rings, larger one for larger items! You get the idea.

I will tell you about the dividers in the next blog post.

For more information about me and my furniture, please visit my website.