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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 2 hours 48 min ago

One Implication of Hide Glue “Gram Weight Strength”

Sat, 02/06/2016 - 4:42am

So there I was, mixing up a new batch of traditional gesso to use as the ground (primer) on some japanning samples I was preparing for an upcoming video shoot at Popular Woodworking.  The first step is always the soaking of the glue in order to cook it twice before adding the calcium carbonate (a/k/a whiting or pulverized chalk) to the mix to create the ground.


I was using 444 gram weight strength (gws) glue for the mix because I could not put my hands on my jar of 512 gws granules.  My working process has always been to put dry gue granules into the bottom of a jar filling approximately 1/10th of the height, then adding water to let it hydrate in preparation for the cooking.  I usually let this sit overnight.


As always, within minutes the glue began to swell as it adsorbed water into the dry protein coils, and expand until it was fully hydrated after a few hours.  This visual reminder in turn caused me to reflect on an important truth about hide glue and how we use it.

Now, the relative tensile strength of glue is a fairly linear function of its gram strength fraction, so logic would lead us to conclude that the highest number of glue fraction would yield the highest bond strength.  (Tensile strength, the ability for a material to resist being pulled apart, and shear strength, the ability of a glue line to keep two adherends together while they are being puled apart parallel to the glue line, are fundamental factors in glue performance.)

Higher gram weight strength glues result in the best performance, right?  After all they have the higher tensile and shear strength.

Not so fast!

The water uptake for total hydration is also a linear function and I could show you the data I derived in my testing, but my lab notebook for glues and their manipulation is somewhere in the remaining boxes of books awaiting unpacking.  But the point is this: the higher the number of the glue grade/fraction, the more water is required for complete hydration.  Coincidentally, my testing confirmed that the viscosity of all grades is the same at total hydration, but the amount of water uptake for total hydration can vary dramatically as the longer protein chains of the higher grades need a lot more water.

In other words a low number glue and a high number glue can have the same hydration ad viscosity despite the fact that the solids content percentage for the higher number is only a fraction of the solids content percentage of the lower grade.

What does this mean?  Well, for on thing the higher glue grades require a lot more water to achieve the same working properties of the lower grades (there are many other considerations, but this is an important one).  And, all the water that goes into the hide glue system has to come out in order for the glue to achieve its maximum performance.

Seriously, what does this mean?

What it means is that the “stronger” higher gram strength glue may not yield the strongest glue line.  Since a higher glue grade has to take on more water to be used, it will in turn lose that water in curing, and that water loss is accompanied by shrinkage of the glue mass, or, more likely, the in-building of internal stresses (sometimes breathtakingly huge) into a glue line, setting the stage for glue line fracture and eventual failure in the future.

I used to use 315 gws glue a lot, sometimes even 379 gws.  However after some simple testing my strategy has changed pretty dramatically such that I now use 192 gws glue (or even lower) for most of my routine joinery applications and leave the higher gram weight strength glue for other applications.

Excellent Book, Nice Resume’ Enhancer

Fri, 02/05/2016 - 6:28am

I got a package from FedEx today with an Ottawa, Ontario return address.  Had I ordered something from Lee Valley and forgotten about it?  That potential is not outside the realm of possibility.


Instead of a hand tool, it was a brain tool.  In fact, it was a really good book that had been in the works for a decade or longer.  It was published by the Canadian Conservation Institute, a renowned research and preservation treatment entity within the Canadian government, and edited by my friend and colleague Jane Down (who may be the best adhesives researcher on planet).  It will be a tremendously useful resource for anyone interested in the subject of adhesives and their use for a wider range of artifact types.  I expect to use it with some regularity.


The Table of Contents reveals the breadth and depth of the concepts, materials and practices covered.  Were I still interested in such things, being invited to contribute would be a very nice resume’ enhancer, but at this point in my life I am just trying to live out my friend Mike’s dream to “do interesting projects with good people in great places.”  Of course, for me that “great place” is The Barn.


More Pics From the Man Who Must Not Sleep

Thu, 02/04/2016 - 3:37pm

cScreen shot 2016-01-31 at 3.07.08 PM

JimM has been doling out images to me in regular increments.  He is perhaps just extending my time of admiration for his workmanship and vision in replicating the HO Studley Tool Cabinet.


With his permission I am sharing them with you.


Pursuit of the Ultimate Decorative Surface

Wed, 02/03/2016 - 5:59am

We live in a generation that is seeing perhaps the most remarkable renaissance of woodworking in history.  After decades of professional scholarship revolving around historical furniture-making technology, I think that we might be living at a time when more good furniture is being built than at any time in history.  Much of this is production is driven by passion rather than commerce.  I recall a presentation by Adam Cherubini some years ago when he posited that the future vitality of woodworking was in the hands of avocational craftsmen rather than vocational artisans.  In this proposition I am in complete agreement.

Yes, vocational woodworking is flourishing in a manner I thought I would never see.   But this pales in comparison to the tens and hundreds of thousands of enthusiasts who are, in particular, often pursuing historical hand tool skills, or like me adopting a hybrid approach of using hand tools and machine tools in concert to produce exceptional furniture.  Precision joinery, exquisite wood selections, and generally orthodox forms are the hallmark of this new movement.  And evangelists like Chris Schwarz, Paul Sellers, Mike Siemsen,  and a multitude of others (especially in New England) are providing the cheerleading.

Further, there have been many modern explorers of the lines and forms of furniture, based on views to the past and into the future,  including in recent generations folks like CR Mackintosh, Alvar Aalto, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Gerrit Rietveld, Charles Eames, followed by a crew of our almost-contemporaries including James Krenov, Sam Maloof, and George Nakashima, who undoubtedly inspired many of you along with me as they attacked the boundaries of design. Our own contemporaries include luminaries like Peter Galbert, George Walker and Jeff Miller who are merging the past and future in teaching us to be better aesthetes in wood.  The roster of crazy-good artisans currently working is astoundingly large, and I admire and respect them immensely.


I am fully capable of executing competent joinery and employing superb woods (as I blogged earlier, 2016 will be the Year of Making for me), but in truth my furniture-craftsmanship affinities lay elsewhere.  My own creative inclinations furniture-wise reside vaguely at the crossroads of Krenov and the Ming and Tokugawa Dynasties.  Whether by native temperament, imprinting during my first real job in the furniture restoration trades (42 years ago this week), or simple curiosity (read: contrariness) I have long been intrigued by technological/craft/materials science innovation, but even more by the artistic expressions generally un-explored by most of our contemporaries: the decorative surface.  I intend to expand my facility by continuing my trek down the road of surface decoration and exhort others to join me on the journey over the coming decades.

This journey will have two simultaneous paths.  The first is marquetry, in particular, parquetry.

c286-5 c290-9


The appeal of exquisite marquetry representations in  Andre Roubo’s L’Art du Menuisier eventually grew into our ongoing efforts to bring this monumental treatise to English language audiences.  In an amusing ex poste exchange, Lost Art Press Publisher Chris Schwarz confided that I was presenting the Roubo volumes exactly backwards from the woodworking publishing perspective.  By starting with the information that interested me the most — marquetry and finishing — I was standing the series on its head by bringing to press first the sections of least interest to my fellow woodworkers.  So sue me.


My affection for 18th century French veneerwork artistry has been incorporated into my own craft vocabulary for almost thirty years now, itself sprouting from my exposure to dozens, maybe hundreds, of examples of the real thing in mansions of Palm Beach when I was just starting in the trade.  Though comparatively dim at the moment, the torch of marquetry is still being carried by a few gifted men right now, including my long-time acquaintance Patrick Edwards (whom I have known since before he went to France the first time), Silas Kopf, whom I met only last year, Paul Schurch whose acquaintance I have yet to make, and Craig Vandall Stevens (ditto).  What makes their artistry most interesting to me is that their artistic techniques differ from each other, and none of them do it the way I do.

c290-10 c286-6

Now that I have finished with Henry O. Studley and I am fully mobile I can hardly wait to expand my adventures in this decorative surface technique.  Even by simply copying the Roubo syllabus faithfully the palette is nearly inexhaustible.   And this is just the beginning as I have a lot of parquetry ideas awaiting birth.  Think Galle meets Riesener with seasoning by Ruhlmann.


Next time: the second route to the ultimate decorative surfaces, which itself splits into three separate paths

Portrait of A Man Who Must Not Sleep

Mon, 02/01/2016 - 7:01am

I have mentioned in the past that the quantity of hard facts we know about Henry O. Studley is so sparse that the only personality profile we have of him is his ensemble of the tool cabinet and accompanying workbench.  Anything more is at this point speculation.


On the other hand I am acquainted with JimM a bit, I know we have met and chatted at an SAPFM meeting last summer when I was speaking about Studley and presenting a demonstration on replicating aged, historic surfaces.  I’d heard through the grapevine that he was replicating the tool cabinet as precisely as possible, including the contents, and we corresponded a time or two about details of the cabinet.c tool set

And then he sends me the pictures posted inside this blog entry.  Though I know the barest minimum of facts about JimM, I can see clearly from these images that this is a man who must not sleep much.


With this project JimM has set the bar very high for that multitude of you in the lignosphere who are equally captivated by the virtuosity of Henry O. Studley.


Well done, JimM!  As the monomaniac who completed his homage to Studley the first, I will have to think of an appropriate prize for you.

A Captivating 40 Minutes

Sun, 01/31/2016 - 2:22pm

My varied curiosities take me to peculiar places on the web.  Last night I found these three videos demonstrating the fabrication of Chinese brushes.  While I have no particular interest in Chinese watercolor brushes per se, I do find the topic of brushes fascinating, and found the 40 minutes spent watching this master brush maker do his magic to be captivating.

I have been trying my hand at making some Chinese laquering brushes, and will blog about those in due time.

The Chrestomathy Expands

Fri, 01/29/2016 - 6:53am

Like most long-time woodworkers I am asked occasionally by an aspiring or nascent woodworker, or more often their friends and family, “What should I (they) study to get them going?”

Though each instance may have its own idiosyncrasies, in recent years my answer has been to steer the inquisitor towards three sources: Chris Schwarz’ “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest,” which gives an excellent foundational overview for the complete furniture making enterprise, “The Naked Woodworker” video by Mike Siemsen, providing an innovative seat-of-the-pants indoctrination to getting started cheaply, and one of the James Kernov Trilogy as sheer inspiration as it was the source for much of my own early exploration.


A recent addition to my library demands that I add a fourth citation to the chrestomathy for learning the language of woodworking: “The Minimalist Woodworker “ by Vic Tesolin.  The subtitle and rear cover title say it all.  “Essential tools & smart shop ideas for building with less,” and “Keep it simple.  Build more with less.”


Tesolin’s writing is spare, concise, yet wonderfully descriptive.  The photographic illustrations accomplish that which I know to be exceedingly difficult at times (and often poorly in craft technique books), it communicates exactly what the author is trying to convey and precisely what the reader needs to learn from it.  In my opinion there is simply no way any earnest reader could peruse this book and not comprehend fully what the book means to teach.

I was hooked on the first page of the Introduction, containing some superb evangelism.

The truth about woodworking is that you don’t need a single machine or power tool to woodwork.  There, I said it.  What you do need is about 40 square feet of space for a workbench and some hand tools.  

He follows this with a section “Woodworking vs. Wood Machining,” a dichotomy I have been contemplating for a long time.


After a review of spaces needed, a list of the minimalist’s tool kit, and a review of sharpening — a skill I increasingly contend is THE gateway skill for everything wood-craft related — Tesolin walks the reader through a series of simple projects that will not only outfit the shop with vital accouterments but will also outfit the reader with the skills to make almost anything furniture-wise.  Making a saw bent (saw horse) and saw bench, making a shooting board/bench hook, making a wooden mallet, making a workbench, and finally building a small shelf for your tools.

No book is flawless, but The Minimalist Woodworker comes awfully close.  Clearly Tesolin’s emphasis is on preparing the reader for a lifetime of skilled craftsmanship in the rectilinear world as there is little discussion, or tools for that matter, in developing a facility for creating curvilinear and serpentine forms.  It’s all about the fundamentals of flat, true, and smooth.  I believe that the mere inclusion of one tool and its use, the spokeshave, would have addressed this lacuna.  Perhaps that will be in a subsequent title.  Could there be a “Minimalist Furniture Maker” in the works?  I certainly don’t know, but if there is put me down for several copies.

I made my first crude piece of furniture almost fifty years ago and have been earning a living in furniture restoration for more than forty, and “The Minimalist Woodworker” brought me nuggets to add to my treasure trove and motivated me all over again.

Kudos, Vic Tesolin.  Kudos.

Beeswax Processing, Part 3

Thu, 01/21/2016 - 2:34pm


With  substantial stock of purified beeswax in the kitchen, Mrs. Barn jumps into action.


Using a standard cooking pot, she drapes a fine weave linen into the pot as one last filter medium then places the beeswax chunks inside to melt them in preparation of making the blocks.


We currently have five silicone molds for making the cast blocks.  One of these days I will need to make some more molds of the original carved block we use as the model for the final product.



Using a dedicated set of tools, Mrs. Barn fills each of the rubber molds to the level she has learned to be the quantity of 1/4 pound.  It takes about a half hour to get the cast blocks cooled and removed from the molds.


Literally each block is weighed to confirm the weight at 1/4 pound plus 3 or four percent, making sure that every block is a fair product.  If they are not, their weight is adjusted as necessary.



The stack of cooled blocks is individually wrapped in packaging we designed and are very happy with.

And that’s it!

Processing Beeswax, Part 2

Tue, 01/19/2016 - 4:00pm

With the water soluble contaminants dealt with and the multitude of bee carcasses and large particulate matter screened out, and the smaller particulate matter concentrated into a thin layer at the bottom of the slab of cooled beeswax, it’s time to turn the half-cleaned raw material into a purified and pristine mass for Mrs. Barn to work her magic.




With a common bench knife I scrape off the thin layer of grit that formed on the bottom of the molten block as it was cooling.



The remaining slabs are broken into smaller pieces and put into the cooking pot to melt them.


Once the clean(er) material is melted, I prepare the larger sieve through which it will then be ladled.  In this step I use the common blue shop paper towels as my filter.  This material works perfectly: it is inexpensive, so I do not hesitate to swap it out with every new flat I am pouring, and it does a remarkable job of filtering out the last remaining particulates.  I learned early on to have a dedicated set of pots, ladles, and sieves for both the dirty preliminary steps and this final clean step.  It makes all the difference in the world!


Scooping up a ladle full of the cleaner molten wax, I pour that into the sieve and, through the filter paper, a clean aluminum baking tray.


The performance of the filter paper, at a few pennies per flat, it what makes this all possible.


The golden transparent (and thus pure) molten beeswax in the flat is a joy to see.  Like I said, I swap out the filter paper with each new flat being poured.  This used up  filter paper is not wasted, it becomes fire starters for the wood stove in the shop.


The result?  judge for yourself.


At the end of each day of wax rendering I break up the thin, pure slabs, place them in large freezer bags, and carry them down the hill to be turned into the blocks we make available to you.

Next time: making a packaged product.

Processing Beeswax From Beginning to End – Part 1

Sun, 01/17/2016 - 4:09pm


Around Thanksgiving I got a note from Chris Schwarz as he was assembling his annual list of a dozen Christmas gift recommendations for his legion of blog readers.  His question to me concerned the availability of our hand-processed beeswax.  Fortunately we had a large inventory on hand, probably 150 or 175 units.  Good thing as those enthusiastic followers pretty near cleaned out the cupboard.  In fact, they did clean out the inventory of polissoirs, but that’s another topic.

We received wonderful feedback on the beeswax, along with the questions about how we process it.  I’ve blogged about it before, but this time I wanted to cover the topic in a fairly detailed manner.  I could say that we rely on an expensive, state of the art “High Pressure Reverse Osmosis Turbo Encabulator” but that would be a falsehood.  The highest tech component in the process is probably the pasta strainer.


I order raw beeswax several hundred pounds at a time, directly from the honey processing plant.  I want it raw as I can achieve the product I want, unmodified from the original bee product except for the removal of contaminants.  As such, it comes pretty well infused with propolis, honey, and bee carcasses by the gazillion.  Getting rid of this is the first step.


Since much of the contamination is water soluble I melt the raw beeswax into a large crock pot with water, with proportions about 1/3 water and 2/3 bulk beeswax.  The heated water bath dissolves the honey out of the dirty molten mass.



Also once the pot-full is completely liquid the bee carcasses float to the top of the stew, to be scraped off the top with a pasta screen.



Once that is done I ladle the hot dirty wax/water stew through another pasta screen into an aluminum lasagna pan.

I make sure to not agitate the pan while the mess is cooling.  I am counting on the water soluble contaminants remaining in the water phase that separates out underneath the wax as it cools and solidifies on top of the pan.  In addition, the water-insoluble particulate contaminants settle to the bottom of the wax block.



This simple approach results in several near-simultaneous accomplishments; it removes the bee carcasses, it dissolves and removes the honey and any other water soluble materials, and it separates the non-soluble particles.

Up next: yielding purified wax.

2016, A Year of “Making”

Mon, 01/11/2016 - 1:51pm

A review of 2015 is easy.


First half – all HO Studley book and exhibit, all the time.  Turned 60, meaning I have only 40-45 good years of woodworking left.  Better get cracking!


Second half – busted hip; Roubo on Furniture Making; conserving tortoiseshell


Lots of miles, lots of presentations.

2016 (and beyond) is destined to be different for many reasons, not the least of which are 1) my commitment to travel much, much less, and 2) for the first time in my life I will be concentrating on making furniture for an extended period.  Up to now I’ve mostly been repairing and conserving furniture to the detriment of making it.  My fascination with historic techniques of artistry and artisanry have yielded a fairly broad and deep vocabulary; the time has come to take that lexicon and transform it into real material culture, not simply a stack of sample boards and a library to die for.

When I read the woodworking blogs that interest me (I generally avoid woodworking discussion forums as I cannot spare any intelligence or knowledge, and I observe that these sites make you stupider and less knowledgeable by the minute, but I might not frequent the right ones), I am awestruck by the productive output of some woodworkers.

Take Joe McGlynn, whose apparently now-inactive blog McGlynn on Making made me wonder what in the world he was eating.  It seemed that he was making a new piece every week.  And the Accidental Woodworker?  I am becoming convinced that Ralph is a zombie/vampire hybrid because he must never, ever sleep.  No other explanation suffices for how he can get so much really good work done.  And blog about it!   How about Jonas Jensen?  He makes more (and better) furniture with a hack saw in the machine shop of a ship bouncing around the North Sea, using wood salvaged from crates down in the cargo hold than 99% of woodworkers can accomplish in a perfect woodworking studio.

These will be my heroes on a daily basis as I have already begun a regimen of making perhaps as many as a dozen pieces this year.


The first clients in line were the two who commissioned Gragg chairs.  I would like for this to become a yearly affair as I find these so challenging that I cannot imagine getting tired of them for many years.  Especially since they are such fertile soil for adaptations.


The next project is from a client who commissioned me to make a replica of an early 19th Century mahogany desk, similar to one I worked on a few years ago.  The excellent mahogany has been obtained, the templates made, the turning has begun, and the first (full blind) dovetails will be undertaken in a fortnight or so.

Finally (last on this list, but not in the priority) comes several pieces commissioned by Mrs. Barn for the cabin.  Most will be made from salvaged chestnut and white oak, beginning with a simple shelving cabinet for the kitchen to get warmed up, then some nicer book cases for the living room, moving on to a pair of modified Schwarzian Dutch tool chests as bedroom cabinets.  And maybe a coffee table for the living room.  And those four cherry chairs for the dining room suite…


What Every Deck Screw Yearns to Become

Sat, 01/09/2016 - 2:38pm


This week I received a very special gift from my friend Derek; a titanium lag screw typical for hip reconstruction surgery.


We suspect it is very close if not identical to the ones in my hip.


I was especially struck by the mean looking business-end of the screw, and the fact that it is hollow on it full length. At one time in my life I was a patternmaker for a foundry that manufactured dredging machines, and this looks strikingly similar to the cutterhead on a dredge excavator.

This baby is definitely going into my Hall of Fame and Shame.

Oops, Forgot a Pic Last Night

Fri, 01/08/2016 - 3:34pm

In recounting the progress of the conservation of the domed lid tortoiseshell box with a pair of cracks, I forgot to include the picture of the underside with the tissue paper backing.  Sorry about that.  The compewder undoubtedly did what I instructed it to do.



The backing in the lower left is a single layer of high-strength Japanese tissue paper fully encapsulated in hide glue.  Since this fracture remained essentially “in plane” a single layer of backing support was adequate.

The lower right section is a double layer of tissue paper which needs a second saturating application to make it less visible.  Since this fracture was not “in plane” the second lamina of the glue/tissue composite was necessary.

Tortoiseshell Conservation Series – A Domed Box With Cracked Shell (Part 4)

Thu, 01/07/2016 - 4:51pm

With the outer “cast” in place I could progress to adding an inner support behind the crack (it turned out there were two cracks; I dealt with them identically).


Three of the materials tested: fine linen (L), tight fine nylon (R), and loose nylon “sheer” (B).

I knew I would be using 192g hot animal hide glue for the support, and spent a little time testing several support fabrics to evaluate them for both performance and appearance.  I had expected nylon sheer fabric to be the best, but it was not.  In the end I went with Japanese tissue paper with variable fibers.  Three layers of this affixed to an area slightly larger than the fracture ended this chapter of the treatment.

A quick note on using tissue paper for such a repair.  It is much better to tear the edges of the patching paper rather than cutting them.  This allows for a tapered edge on the patch, which both looks and performs better.


Up next: removing the outer “cast” and inpainting the inner support.

A Charming Video

Wed, 12/30/2015 - 3:40pm

I might be the last guy to see this, but I found this video link while plowing through a mountain of old e-mail.  It is a delightful little feature on Leonard and Robin Lee of Lee Valley Tools who have helped lighten my wallet immensely over the years.  I have yet to meet Leonard, but consider Robin a friend and an aces guy.


In fact, the contemporary world of woodworking tool makers and purveyors is densely populated with wonderful guys too numerous to mention individually here, with only the occasional stinker.  (My 98-year-old mom, a devout woman who raised five devout children, is of such a sweet and Godly temperament that profane or even particularly critical utterances are simply beyond her.  When she once described — with great verve — a co-worker as “a real stinker” I knew he must have been the Spawn of Satan.)

Tortoiseshell Box Conservation Series – A Domed Box With Cracked Shell (Part 3)

Wed, 12/30/2015 - 6:02am


After creating a properly shaped caul for the domed lid, the next step was to bring the pieces of the top into the closest proper conformation I could.  The end point for this process would be an applied backing support to the underside of the fractured area, but first I had to get the pieces in place with an outer “cast.”  By placing the caul on the underside, with gentle clamping (pressing it with great force would in the end accomplish nothing beneficial; as it is working with tortoiseshell is risky enough), I was able to get the two sides of the cracked shell into very god conformity.


Knowing this, I cleaned the affected area and glued on a small piece of linen to the outer surface with hot hide glue. This step was hard to photograph but here is the final result; a very stiff, hard sheath on the outer surface to hold in in place while additional work progressed on the inside.

One exciting development in this step was the design and creation of some new clamps that fit the bill perfectly and will become an indispensable part of my conservation tool kit.  I’ll blog about those in a few days.

A Tipping Point

Thu, 12/24/2015 - 4:32pm

Previously I have mentioned my mostly-antique lumber inventory, and adding to it via building demolition and salvage, lucky finds, and whatnot.  Last Tuesday brought a figurative and literal tipping point in my “management” of this mass of lignen-cellulose composite macromolecules.




A view of the stash about three months ago; it had grown considerably in the time since.

About two weeks ago I visited my friends Mr. & Mrs. C about ninety minutes away.  Mr. C had been harvesting and lumbering trees on his farm for some time, and I had arranged to acquire a truck load of mostly white oak and butternut from him.  And I did.  Shoehorning the purchase into the vintage chestnut log barn was a chore, but I got it done.

Then I went back to our old home and loaded another full pickup load to bring back with me, again destined for the storage barn.  As I was progressing with the transfer, one of the stacks started moving.  Then  the one next to it also moved in response to the movement of the first one.  Before long every stack in the storage barn was tilted westward at a 45 degree decline.

The result was a full week of work to get it fixed.

I first spent two days pulling out the inventory from the barn and stacking it out in the yard.  Once that was done I began building a proper lumber rack similar to those I see in lumber yards, that is, back in the day when lumber yards stored and sold lumber properly rather than stacked out in open weather.



Four days later I had accomplished as much as I could.  The space, being less disorderly, has much greater capacity for storage.  I was pretty surprised at the amount of vintage and salvaged chestnut I own, but learned a critical fact.  Last weekend when dining with my daughter and her boyfriend I mentioned that I really did not care for chestnut and had no desire to make anything with it.  To which Mrs. Barn replied somewhat tartly something like, “Well, some people who live in the cabin really like chestnut and would like some furniture to be made from it!”  I’ve now got five or eight pieces of furniture on the list for this coming year.

I was also surprised to find a fine lot of lumber underneath the pile that pre-dated my time here.  The best discovery was several hundred linear feet of 8-inch eastern white cedar ship-lap siding.

Now I have to make sure I have enough room for the remaining six truck loads of lumber still back in Maryland.  If not, I may have to sell some lumber.

Nah, that’s just crazy talk.

Tortoiseshell Box Conservation Series – A Domed Box With Cracked Shell (Part 2)

Wed, 12/23/2015 - 2:57pm


Given that the cracked domed lid was essentially two problems, the first being the loss of structural integrity as a result of the fracture, the second being that the two adjacent sectors on either side of the fracture were no longer aligned with each other, I had to approach the problem from two routes to address the two problems.

The first route, and the theme of this post, was to create a means by which the two sectors could be brought into alignment.  To accomplish this required a form that could be used as a caul to force the two misaligned parts into alignment.  There were in turn a number of material techniques to creating the form, including most commonly employing plaster, auto body filler, and silicone putty.  I selected the last one.


Silicone molding rubbers can be used to create the most intricate molds that reflect the character of the surface at a microscopic level.  I didn’t need that, all I needed was a wad of reacted silicone putty that was in the right shape.


So, I made the form by first draping the exact opposite corner of the lid with cling wrap, not worrying too much about getting a smooth fit without folds and creases.  All I wanted was something that could protect the substrate from the silicone, and the putty could assume the general shape of the domed lid.


Using the two-part silicone putty, I kneaded a wad the right size and pressed it against the cling wrap firmly enough so that I could leave it in place with a perfect support form as the result.


I worked.  I trimmed it a bit after it cured, but I was left with a form I could use going forward.


Next time, repairing the crack in the right profile.

Tortoiseshell Box Conservation Series – A Domed Box With Cracked Shell

Thu, 12/17/2015 - 8:01am

One of the more problematic considerations from tortoiseshell objects is found when the shell itself has been formed under heat, moisture, and pressure to a desired configuration for the object.  As a plastic polymeric material — and in the English language the word “plastic” is ambiguous, although in this context I am speaking in the materials science lexicon meaning the material can be deformed by thermoplastic forces and will retain that new shape once the forces are removed — tortoiseshell remains susceptible to fracture and other entropic phenomena.


This box has a lid that was made from a prepared tortoiseshell scute (plate) had been steamed then pressed between heated cauls (or dies) to establish its shape.  As a protein macromolecule the crosslinking bonds in the protein network has be reoriented by heat and moisture, and then reform once the heat and moisture are removed.  Thus once the pressed scute cools in the die-press and dries/hardens into its desired shape permanently.  The stresses from the forming process remain at bay for a while, but like I said is subject to cracking and distortion.


And that is what happened with this exquisite little box.  Stay tuned as I walk you through my treatment of it.

A KD Innovation That Knocked Me Down! (figuratively)

Sun, 12/13/2015 - 1:15pm

In the lexicon of contemporary furniture manufacturing, the identifier “KD” means “knock down,” or basically furniture that comes shipped disassembled so as to take up less space in transport.  This is fairly common, perhaps even dominant, in case pieces like shelving and entertainment centers, etc.  Until recently I was unaware how deeply this concept had become ingrained in the industry to the point that it even has become manifest in seating, even upholstered seating furniture.


Recently we were visiting our daughter for Thanksgiving and went to the thrift store to find a sofa, which we did, but even better found a swivel rocking chair that demonstrated some amazing (to me) innovations that actually worked well!


The first of these was the feature that the back of the upholstered chair was detachable and installed via a pair of vertical steel rods onto which the back was installed by lining up some round mortises in the back with the steel rods projecting upwards from the primary seat rail onto which the seating platform was constructed.



The fitting was smooth and tight, and even imparted a tiny bit of springy-ness to the back when the chair was in use.  It was, truly, among the most comfortable chairs I’ve ever occupied.

A second feature that impressed me was that the swivel and rocking functions of the chair were not active until there was adequate weight on the sitting platform to compress some mechanism inside the chair.  This means that the chair was stable and robust when setting unoccupied, and could be handled and leaned on when passing by.  Given my slight instability, diminishing over time but still present some times, it made for a more pleasant landscape when navigating around the living room.

The chair was not marked with any tags or stamps anywhere, but whoever made made it really impressed me.