View Full Version : French Easel Mods X-Post

Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 07:48 PM
I do a bit of woodwork as a hobby (as well as metalwork and other stuff), and I've been gradually modifying my French easel to make improvements where I feel there's a need. This series of posts documents the changes so far.

All of the wood that was used was beech or plywood, and all finishes were boiled linseed oil of the DIY variety. Some of the mods were quite easy and needed minimal tools, others were more involved and made use of my milling machine, which is primarily a machine for working metal but cuts wood pretty well while being much easier to control precisely than a hand held router.

The first mod is these bits of wood on the fronts of the canvas holders...


Oblique view...


Note that they don't get in the way of the metal hooks. They make a small, but arguably worthwhile change to how the canvas is fitted to the easel when it's being carried. I like to fit the canvas like this, with the painted surface facing inwards to prevent damage...


...but the problem with this is the distance between the inner edges of the canvas holders and the metal hooks. When the wet paint touches the canvas holders, the area gets smudged, and this is so big that quite a large strip of the painting at each end gets marred.

The little strips of wood all the canvas to be held with much narrower strips at the edges exposed to the canvas holders.





Another advantage to fitting the canvas like this is the big gap between the painted surface and the easel parts on the outside of the lid. If the middle of the back of the canvas was pressed, it has a long way to go before it hits the easel parts, so virtually no risk of smudging. This can be done whether the strips of wood are fitted or not, of course, but at the cost of the aforementioned wider smudging at the edges due to the canvas holders.

Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 07:48 PM
Anyone that's got a French easel is probably aware that the palette isn't the best if you want to hold it in your hand. It's a big rectangular thing which doubles as a lid for the drawer and, as a result, doesn't balance very well. I also found that it was just a bit too thick to allow some of my bits to fit in the drawer - my dippers are just a bit too tall.

So, I got some thinner plywood and made a replacement lid for the drawer...


...and then made a new palette from some more plywood, which balances far better than the original one...


The next step was to work out a way to hold the new palette in the lid, rather than using the lid to clamp the palette onto the drawer. The length of the palette was carefully chosen, and some bits of wood added to the lid.

At the bottom, near the hinge, a thin strip...


The gap between the added strip of wood and the inside of the lid is a little larger than the thickness of the palette.

At the top, I added two bits of wood and a spring to make a little latch. This is it in the relaxed or closed position...


And one part moves to the right when the palette is being fitted or removed...


The part with the two slotted screws has an L-shaped profile. The screws pass through one side of the L, which is thick, and the other part of the L, which is thin, holds the sliding component in place. The height here needed to be done carefully because the space that the latch occupies in the middle block of wood is where the back edge of the drawer goes. If the latch was too thick, the lid wouldn't close.

If you look at the square block part on the right, near my finger, there's a shadow where a recess has been cut into the wood. When the palette is in position, this effectively acts as a hook that stops the palette falling away from the lid.

Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 07:49 PM
here's the bottom of the palette in place...


...and at the top with the latch doing its thing...


Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 07:49 PM
When I was out doing my first plein air in oils, I found that my big filberts didn't like being precariously balanced at the back of the easel - they kept rolling about and one of them made several bids for freedom and landed on the ground. I resolved to make a brush holder and cam up with this...

First, something to fit it to...


It's a bit of beech screwed to the side of the box. It was fitted while the legs were folded and the lid was down - that way I knew it would all work later. Note the two narrow slots near the ends.

Here's the brush holder itself...


It's a bit of wood with lots of holes in it, and two brass tabs that match the slots in the bracket screwed to the side of the box. The hole sizes took a bit of planning. Not only did I want a variety, I wanted them to match the brushes I typically use. In particular, the row of holes nearest the tabs are sized to suit what I call my 'Van Gogh' brushes (a set of Rosemary & Co No0 long flats), and in such a way that they don't drop through too far. The reason for this is that if I used the easel as a table top box and thus didn't have the legs extended, the brushes would drop into the holes, hit the leg, and wobble about, getting paint on each other (I use multiple brushes at the same time). It also means that they're the tallest brushes and I can get to them easier if there are other brushes in the other holes.

All of the other holes are outside of the folded leg, and the holes are sized to allow the brushes to drop down further (just shy of the table top if I'm using it on a table). The next long row suits another set of R&Co brushes (No1 and No2), and the rest are basically matched to various filberts and brights, with the small holes at the far edge for little soft brushes.

Here it is fitted to the easel...


Only used it once so far (indoors, at a painting class), and it worked a treat. Can't wait to try it on my next plein air outing.

Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 07:50 PM
While at the aforementioned painting class, I had one of those moments where I realised that something was missing, knew exactly what it was, and started thinking about how to make it.

The missing thing was a little shelf between the drawer and the lower canvas holder. It came about because I had nowhere to put dirty palette knives - like the wayward filbert, they had a tendency to slide about in the main drawer, depositing paint on tubes, etc. I'm learning glazing at the class and I also wasn't happy with where to put the ceramic palette I was using.

I sketched out the concept for this in 3D CAD software at work, and then made it over the weekend from memory. Here's how it turned out...

Top view...


The width is a little greater than the width of the easel. The two blocks at the ends have brass hooks on them which fit into the channel that the lower canvas holder clamping screws slide up and down in.



The thin strips that form the walls at the top are glued on, while the two end blocks extend to the underside. The edges of the plywood bottom go into slots in the blocks.

Close-up of an end...


The block is held in place by the brass pin on the left, and the spring on the right pulls the other end towards the end of the wall on the right. The expansion spring has loops at the ends, and at the block, it goes into a hole and is held in place by a small pain that comes down from the top (the end is visible near the spring).

Note that the brass hook is angled, as is the right-hand end of the block. When I set up the easel, I tend to have it tilted back about 10, so these angles match that, which means the shelf is more or less horizontal when fitted. This might not always be the case, which is why it has walls at the front and rear edges (the walls also add stiffness).

The block hinge at the brass pains, like this...


Note the little rubber pad glued to the inside face of the hook. These add friction when the shelf is fitted - the overall width was sized very carefully to ensure that the relaxed positions of the end blocks resulted in a distance between the rubber pads was a bit less than the width of the easel. The springs were chosen because they're quite strong and thus help to keep up a good amount of friction.

Here it is fitted to the easel...


Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 07:50 PM
Part 6

Nomad Z
10-18-2016, 08:57 PM
And a final shot of the shelf with some stuff on it to get an idea of scale and capacity...


It feels really good. The space between the ends of the blocks and the hooks has to be a bit bigger than the thickness of the bit of wood they're hooking around - if they were sized snug, the rotating motion of the end blocks would mean that they would bind when being fitted. This also means that the shelf has a little upwards tilting motion, but in practice it settles into position and is very stable - no wobbling or looseness, and it doesn't slide down.

The brush holder and shelf were both sized to fit into the under-drawer storage in the easel and they actually fit when they are stacked on top of each other. Alternatively, the ceramic palette I'm using at the painting class will fit with the brush holder as one stack, with the shelf on the other side with other bits on top of it.

That's it for now. The brush holder and shelf are the most recent, and I'm really pleased with how they've turned out.

10-19-2016, 03:42 AM
Wonderful work, adaptations to fit your exact needs.

You may wish to cross post this in the Woodcraft forum.


Nomad Z
10-23-2016, 09:21 AM
Thanks Doug. I'll do the cross post when I get a moment (with some editing of typos). Will I need to upload the photos again? (Never done a cross post here.)

10-23-2016, 09:28 AM
Normally yes, but if you wish I will copy the whole thread over to woodworking and then you can post the mods there.


10-23-2016, 11:47 PM
If I ever needed an easel, yours would be it.

10-24-2016, 12:18 AM
Lovely work. For what it's worth, I built an easel from scratch ... the thread is in this forum. It's nice that you made changes to suit your needs - no easel ever seems just right from the beginning. I designed mine myself and even with that it could use some mods but I'll get to them when I can.

Nomad Z
11-10-2016, 08:03 PM
Thanks folks.

I later realised that I preferred having the brush holder on the right (I have no idea why I put it on the left, but it seemed to make some sort of sense at the time). Rather than move the bracket, I made another and fitted it on the other side, which means I now have the option to make something else which could fit to the left. Some sort of rubbish bag holder springs to mind, but I haven't clarified it in my mind yet (there's half an idea lurking...).

I've been using it at the painting class and everything seems to work well. The shelf has been really handy for holding a multi-well ceramic palette when glazing - easier to do details without holding the palette.