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The Barn on White Run
Following the recent Groopshop gathering at the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking I stuck around to teach a couple of one-day workshops. The first was “Veneer Repair” wherein I presented a group of techniques I’ve learned or created over the years. Having looked at an awful lot of historic furniture in my career, I think it is safe to say that the challenge of dealing with veneer damage and loss has been beyond the skill-set of a great many folks in the business. This is a topic of great interest to me, and since I’ve taught it many, many times, including last week, there seems to be interest in it. I am currently scripting out a video to shoot here in the coming winter with a young videographer living nearby.
My first order of business, a month before the class, was to make a set of near-identical “problem” boards for the students to work on. These were fairly good representations of the types of problems they will encounter.
For most losses a technique I created involves tracing precisely the damaged area onto a small piece of mylar or acetate that is taped to the adjacent background. Then I select and locate a piece of veneer that matches the surrounding background as best as possible. (I apologize for many of these pictures, I discovered ex poste that the camera was having a bad day, or perhaps it was the camera operator…)
The outline is transferred to the veneer via a piece of carbon paper (these are obviously not the same problem piece, but I think you get the idea)
The marked veneer is then mounted on a backing board with stick glue, and cut out with a jeweler’s saw.
If all goes well you get a perfect fit from the git go.
But sometimes the back side of the joint edge needs to be feathered with a small gouge to make it fit perfectly.
Once you have the grain and fit correct, you slather on some glue, overlay with a piece of cling wrap or mylar, and clamp with a plexi caul and the veneer repair is pretty much done. There is finish work yet to come, but that is another subject for another time.
A number of other techniques were taught, but I was so busy teaching that I forgot to take pictures of them. You’ll have to wait for the video, I guess.
I’m in the final week of a project that in some respects highlights my idiosyncratic nature, and truth be told I sorta revel in not fitting in. (I’ll be blogging at length about this project starting in a week or so, and it will take several dozen postings to get it all.)
My first sense of not fitting in with woodworking came on November 9, 1980, when I attended a weekend workshop in Atlanta taught by Ian Kirby. I remember it so precisely because it was in a classroom at Georgia Tech, and that was the day that Tech tied the #1 football team (Notre Dame) in the country and the campus went wild. The subject of the workshop was ostensibly mortise-and-tenon joinery, but I seem to recall him spending an inordinate amount of time extolling the virtues of a new power tool, the biscuit joiner. Of course I bought one, and of course it has remained unused for the past 46.99 of the intervening 47 years. I’m soon sending it off to my friend Pete who can put it to good use.
As is often the case at weekend workshops, regardless of the setting or instructor, there is the opening ritual of the attendees introducing themselves to each other. At this particular weekend the attendees were a mixture of doctors, lawyers, accountants and such. When I introduced myself as a finisher by trade and that I loved finishing, I could almost sense the rest of the students recoiling as though I was some alien creature whose spaceship was parked out on the lawn. Despite that, and despite the fact that I was the youngest participant by two or three decades, at every break and every meal I was peppered with questions about the mysterious and un-knowable world of finishing.
I’ve heard that surveys of the populace reveal that the single greatest fear is the terror induced by the prospect of public speaking (I have no such trepidation, probably because I do not care if the audience agrees with me or not). During that student introduction I was left with a distinct impression that has become cemented over the decades that some/many/most/virtually all woodworkers are as terrified of finishing as they are of public speaking.
Which brings me to my current project, as this week I am rubbing out and detailing the finish I have been so lovingly applying for the past 40 or so hours of shop time. Not only has every moment of the surface prep and application been something to savor, the bringing of the piece to exquisiteness through the finishing process is simply an embarrassment of riches to me. Sure, I found it amusing to make the piece from scratch using almost exclusively early-19th Century technologies as specified by the client, including resawing the lumber, cutting all the lumber and joinery by hand, carving all the moldings, hand sawing and assembling the veneerwork. But to me they were simply the appetizer.
Finishing is the feast, and the whole point of the making. Which I guess makes me a polisher luxuriating in my own peculiarity.
I was saddened to learn last week from Brian Meek that Lee “The Saw Guy” Marshall had passed away. Lee was the creator of the Knew Concepts company that produced the finest jeweler’s saws and coping saws known to man. My friendship with Lee (and Brian) had grown continually since we first met many years ago at a Woodworking in America event, and ever since we had picked each other’s brain on many occasions. In some respects our friendship must have been an odd one, and more than once Lee remarked, usually with a chuckle, that he was surprised that a “Santa Cruz lefty” got along so well with someone who thinks that 1964-era Barry Goldwater was a moderate.
Our relationship grew into me being an enthusiastic collaborator with Lee and Brian as they continued to invent and refine new versions of their products. Our correspondence was frequent and I reviewed countless design drawings that Brian sent me for comment, and I have many Knew Concept prototypes in my shop, and will continue using them until I hang it up. Lee was always curious about augmenting his own experience with that of others, and for several years we combined Lee’s aerospace machinist mindset with Brian’s background as a bench jeweler with mine as a woodbutcher. Many was the time I would explain precisely how it is that woodworkers used their tools, and before long I would see some new understanding become manifest in their tools.
In many respects Lee was a model for me to follow. An octogenarian whose good cheer, unfailing generosity and insights were never diminished by some serious injuries he had suffered many years ago, rendering him officially “disabled,” Lee was simply one of the most inventive and hard working men I have ever met. His brain never turned off, working diligently until the end, creating and inventing with many projects in development at the time of his death. Brian assures me that they will be carried to completion.
To his wife and family, and all who knew and loved Lee I extend my sincere condolences and offer heartfelt blessings in the sorrow of his absence from us. He is greatly missed.
The events that are Groopshop are filled with levity and camaraderie, perhaps unlike any I have been party to (admittedly I might not be the best judge of this as I was the guy at high school pool parties who was sitting in the corner reading the encyclopedia). On the second night of Groophop we usually have a delightful evening of fun in the guise of “Refinishing Jeopardy” followed by “Mike’s Mostly Honest Auction,” when we raise money for the operation of the organization through selling and buying each others’ shop surplus supplies.
During the former event I was the off-screen judge for the answers, perhaps risking a conflict of interest as one of the categories was titled “Decoding Don.”
Apparently they think I am in love with arcane words and esoteric technical terms, and this was the chance for the contestants to try and figure some of that out. I may have been a little strict with Freddy Roman during the judging, but I sent him a box of shellac flour as an apology.
Following “Refinisher’s Jeopardy” the auction commenced, and the bidding was spirited and the lots were enticing. I bought some sheets of veneer, loose abrasive powders, and some more stuff I cannot recall at the moment. One of the most vigorous episodes was for some lumber AlL brought. I bought a lovely pair of matched Spanish Cedar boards, but was outbid for a spectacular piece of Swietenia mahoganii by JohnC. It was a real beauty.
But the real heartwarming surprise came the next day as I was in CVSW setting up for my workshops the following day, and found the John had left me the board as a gift. I was truly moved by the gesture, and since no good deed goes unpunished I am considering appropriate packages to send him in return. The board was perfect for turning into sawn veneer for an upcoming project.
That’s the kind of group Groop is. You should join us, but only if you want to learn, exchange information in a friendly environment, and have fun.
The program for this year’s Groopshop of the Professional Refinisher’s Group was an embarrassment of riches, with wide ranging presentations and demonstrations that were edifying to all in attendance.
As was the usual for our events, the several dozen folks in attendance were held in rapt attention as every single session provided nuggets of knowledge for us present.
Golden Artists Colors technical guru Mike Townsend gave a reprise to his presentations at the very first Groopshop almost two decades ago with two spectacular demos on color theory and airbrush techniques. I am a bit of a color theory maven myself and found Mike’s presentation of the idea and practice of color decoding and matching to be superb. He has a real sense of how to connect to an audience of varying experience, and his own background as an artist really comes to light when he is discussing appearance. He provided blank panels to everyone and we followed right along as he showed how color interact with each other.
His no-nonsense demo of airbrushing was a huge hit, and as is often the case with Groopshop demos the audience was soon crowded around him trying all the things he was showing us. One of the highlights of the session was his use of an almost century-old mini air compressor to drive his airbrushes.
John Coffey also had two sessions, sharing the lessons of several decades’ worth of successful experience. His first session was an excellent discourse on dealing with curvalinear and heavily carved surfaces, and his second was a demo of gilded borders on leather tops. To say the least the interest was high for both of them, and he found himself in the center of a mosh pit.
Len Reinhardt was attending his first Groopshop and absolutely stunned us with a recently completed project of conserving a pair of giant valances from a famed historic mansion in Nashville. It really was a first-class project and presentation.
Dan Carlson regaled us with the mostly-unsuccessful fad of repainting countertops in situ, along with many other home remedies for damaged furniture. Given that many in our cohort will be called on to deal with these failures it was timely instruction.
Mike Mascelli and Tom DelVecchio somehow snuck in some discussion of caring for and preserving aged upholstery. Tom is the inventor of The DelVe Square that is made by Woodpeckers, and one of my very favorite tools.
John Szalay and Christine Grove were given an open mike for the after-dinner session on the first day, and as usual had our jaws hanging open with the inventive amazingness of their projects, ranging from furniture restoration to restoring vintage soda machines to casting metal parts for vintage motorcycles to rebuilding vintage woodworking machines. Jon is better known to the outside world as “Jersey Jon” from the American Pickers” television show. Christine has a passion for old-time machines, and of course high fashion.
Al Lopez recounted the progression of his shop from small furniture restoration outfit to a large project, mostly architectural restoration enterprise. I was so busy listening to his talk that I forgot to take pictures. Sorry Al.
Other presenters who I also failed to photograph were Mark Faulkner and Val Lennon from Besway/Benco, briefing us on new regulations about solvents and chemical safety and disposal. (I took advantage of their proximity to pick their brains about my upcoming dive into the production of Mel’s Wax.) Freddy Roman evangelized us by cataloging the role of social media in his business plan. His talk was simultaneously awesome and terrifying to a sixty-something minarchist like me. I gave two shorter talks, one on our recent adventures in ripple moldings, and one on the technology of emulsions and the design of Mel’s Wax. I distributed free samples of the latter with the extracted promise that everyone who took a sample was required to give me constructive feedback, which has begun to flow in.
Even with all of this I m sure I forgot to mention some of the learning opportunities there, and for that I apologize.
And the fun was not over yet.
This post is presented annually on this date – DCW
As we consider the world around us it is worth reflecting seriously on the document encapsulating the ideas that founded the greatest nation ever known to man (the US Constitution WAS NOT a founding document for the nation, it merely established the rules for its governance [admittedly now generally unknown and ignored] which is not the same thing). I pray you will read and reflect on the ideas expressed by men who pledged their lives, their fortunes, and their sacred honor to pursue the path of liberty. Reading it is like reading the Minor Prophets of the Old Testament; more up-to-date regarding the human condition than tomorrow’s headlines.
IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.
The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,
When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.
We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.
He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.
In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.
Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.
We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.
The 56 signatures on the Declaration appear in the positions indicated:
Thomas Heyward, Jr.
Thomas Lynch, Jr.
Charles Carroll of Carrollton
Richard Henry Lee
Thomas Nelson, Jr.
Francis Lightfoot Lee
Robert Treat Paine
Almost two decades ago a crusty but brilliant fellow named Alan Marriage, a self employed furniture restorer in the hinterlands of Idaho, began an internet forum named The Professional Refinisher’s Group, mostly so that he would have someone to talk to about the trade. “Groop,” as it is affectionately known, is open to anyone interested in becoming a member (I think membership is about $60/year, with moderated email exchange five times a week every week year-round).
At the time Groop began my portfolio of responsibilities at the Smithsonian included public education, and our fifteen year run of the Furniture Conservation Training Program was winding down so I was looking for some new avenues for introducing the principles of furniture preservation. (FCTP may be unique in the annals of Federal projects in that it had an explicit set of goals, and when those goals were accomplished the program was terminated. As someone once said, “There is nothing so permanent as a ‘temporary’ government program.” This explains the special WWII-era tax on rubber products that remains in place and you pay every time you buy a set of tires today!) “Groop” seemed like a perfect venue and I signed up immediately.
I’ve been an active participant in this web-based community ever since, and soon it evolved into a periodic two- or three-day gathering of members for fellowship and learning. Most recently we were hosted by the Connecticut Valley School of Woodworking. What was once a trade meeting of strip-and-dip shop owners has matured into a remarkably sophisticated exchange of technical (mostly finishing and restoration projects) and business information (virtually all of the members are self employed) that is first rate.
So once again we gathered for a couple days of presentations, fellowship, learning, and teaching.
Up next – The Program.
Our last two days of Ripplemania 1 were spent in trying to fine tune the older machine into a real working tool, and tinkering with the design for the new one into a working device.
While John and Travis and I were fiddling with the new machine, Sharon was trying out the new cutter on the old machine. She was able to raise a huge pile of shavings, but the wear between the pattern rail and the follower bar (the rod protruding from the cutter head in order to allow the latter to rise up and down, cutting the ripple pattern in the work piece) was getting too bad to bring about a satisfactory result.
Meanwhile we were trying to perfect the carriage and cutter head for the new machine. In the end we got to within an eyelash of getting a ripple molding to completion, but we definitely had “proof of concept.”
John and Travis fabricated a carriage that was compatible with ripple patterns (up and down), wave patterns (sideways motion), and even a simultaneous ripple/wave action.
In order to test the carriage and cutterhead, we had to have a pattern to work with, so I dove into that undertaking. I was rethinking the need for a metal pattern rail in favor of a wooden one, so I began by assembling a long rail sandwich consisting of southern yellow pine on its length as the outer laminae to serve as the backing for the pattern and bearing surface, with end grain black cherry as the contact surface.
With the pattern rail sandwich assembled it was time to cut the ripple chatter pattern into the rail. Using half round rasps, floats, and carving gouges we were able to create several feet of pattern on the blank sandwich.
I ripped the sandwich on the table saw, resulting in a matched pair to install on either side of the box to induce the pattern on the workpiece via the undulating cutter head. (I will certainly give it a try to have a CNC machine create any new pattern rails).
With the pattern installed, we gave it a try. It sure looked like it was working, but still we had some hurdles to jump in order to make it a reliable high-function machine. Cranking it by hand was interminably slow even though the movement at the point of cutting was fine. We decided to motorize the device to take it to the next level so we attached a motor to a stool and hung a belt around the motor shaft and the pulley we made for the drive screw on the machine. The motion was certainly accelerated without any obvious loss of performance, although there was the issue of an unprotected motor and belt drive.
Travis demanded a protective cowl for the drive unit, so he installed one. We found this to be much safer.
Like I said earlier, in the end we came within an eyelash (or a half day) of getting the new machine to operate with efficacy. Given my continued and growing interest in the capacity to produce ripple moldings for clients I will certainly expend more energy to make it happen.
With the “proof of concept” established for the first ripple molding cutter it was time to launch into Model #2. I had my own ideas about its configuration and welcomed similar thoughts from all the others.
Our first step was to install the 8-foot thread screw which was the driver for the moving cutter-head to go up and down the rails. While Travis and John were working on the rails/frame Sharon was drilling and tapping the lignum vitae “bolt” that was attached to the underside of the cutterhead carriage.
In short order we had as assembly with a set of tracks for the cutterhead to ride on, and a platform for the cutterhead centered in the frame. The error in this concept became readily apparent once we started to lay out the bed for the workpiece and the cutter head itself. There simply was not enough room for everything to fit there.
Back to the drawing board, which we flogged constantly throughout the week.
In short order we determined that an off-center location for the drive screw was going to work just fine and once again we were off and running.
While this was ongoing Sharon got the bug to make a new cutting iron to match one of the samples she found most fetching.
Meanwhile I was attending to a problem that became apparent when we were trying to get things working — the legs needed to be splayed in both directions, so I spent some time re-cutting the shoulders of the legs.
With that we were looking forward with excitement to making the new machine run like a champ.
As Day Two convened of the inaugural Intergalactic Ripple Molding Association, with Cor’s ripple cutter “in working order,” the day was spent fiddling and adjusting to make it cut some real moldings.
One of the first things we encountered was a broken part, the threaded collar that allows for the cutterhead to be raised and lowered, or better said, raised and released to allow the coil springs to push the cutter down on to the workpiece. Rather than ordering another identical part, which would have cost us a day (the free market is GREAT; if I order a part from McMaster-Carr or MSC Direct before lunch, the part is invariably on my porch the following morning. Even here in the Land Time Forgot!) we dove into my stash of lignum vitae and fashioned a new one, courtesy of my salvaged set of oversized taps and dies. Keeping a slab of lignum around to make collars, bearings, etc., is a real boon in the shop. Works like butter, wears like iron.
With the new part installed the fine tuning of the machine began in earnest. While we already had what Rippleista John called “proof of concept” what we wanted was a machine that could crank out the linear feet of moldings ad infinitum.
In a short time we had further refinements becoming manifest.
And once we were able to produce this molding, thanks to the delicate ministrations of Rippleista Sharon (she actually measures stuff. What’s up with that?) we knew we were on the way to ripple nirvana. However, the machine is fussy to the point of truculence, requiring adjustments almost between every pass. There is indeed great room for improvements in this machine and the likely model I will be building myself. First among these will be a Norris-type advancing mechanism for the cutting iron.
One highlight of the day was Rippleista Travis showing off his tool chest. All were duly impressed.
While the others were fussing with the Winterthur machine I was wrapping up making the box for the new machine that we were about to undertake fabricating. I was making a long, narrow box from 2×6 stock.
The first-ever gathering of the Intergalactic Ripple Molding Association (IRMA) convened at The Barn recently. In the fortnight preceding this I was wondering how to accommodate the many folks who at one time or another said they were coming to this free event. Not to worry. Of the dozen or so who expressed an interest in joining me for the week, three actually did. It turned out to be the optimal attendance, allowing for a perfect number of collaborative participants to brainstorm, design, fabricate, problem solve, debug, and finally produce moldings on both an old machine and a new one (or at least get to the point of “proof of concept” for the new one).
Our first two days were spent deciphering, assembling, tuning, dismantling, repairing, reassembling, and finally producing some moldings on the Winterthur Museum Felebien/Moxon machine built by my long-time friend and colleague Cor van Horne.
This machine was the one described by Roubo, sort of, and was a moving-workpiece-fixed-cutterhead style with a rack-and-pinion setup for bringing the cutter and the workpiece together.
The phrase, “Now exactly how does this work?” was muttered countless times through the day.
By the end of the first day we had it assembled and working, after a fashion.
A couple of weeks ago Daniel the Stone Magician completed the fitted dry-stack wall leading to the root cellar and defining my usual parking space. Watching him shape and fit 500-plus pound rocks with the patience and skill of a surgeon was an awe inspiring moment.
I am not sure if 15 tons of rock can be considered “lovely,” but if so this would certainly qualify. It is a new focal point for the homestead, and when I get the arched bridge done across the two creeks that convene there it will be pretty spectacular.
Mrs. Barn has her eyes set on the soon-to-be-finished plateau above the wall for dwarf pear trees and wild flowers. Meanwhile I have to level the ground in front of the wall with a pick-axe and shovel.
The summer is actually winding down schedule-wise, and here’s what’s left of my calendar for The Barn.
August 11-13 Historic Finishing – My own long-time favorite, we will spend three days reflecting on, and enacting, my “Six Rules For Perfect Finishing” in the historic tradition of spirit and wax coatings. Each participant should bring a small finishing project with them, and will accompany that project with creating numerous sample boards to keep in your personal collections. Tuition $375.
This class has one opening remaining.
September 4-8 Build An Heirloom Workbench – I’m repeating the popular and successful week-long event from last year, wherein the participants will fashion a Roubo-style workbench from laminated southern yellow pine. Every participant will leave at the end with a completed bench, ready to be put to work as soon as you get home and find three friends to help you move it into the shop. Tuition and Materials $825 total.
This workshop has two openings remaining.
If any of these interest you drop me a line here.
For several years the item that kept trying to percolate to the top of the pile was the making and selling of Mel’s Wax, a nearly effortless-to-use archival high-performance furniture maintenance polish. This is something we created during my time at the Smithsonian, and was patented by my late friend and colleague Mel Wachowiak, Jr. For years we simply created our own finishing and maintenance products as we needed them for our own use. This formulation was the pinnacle of our success in this regard, and one wax polish manufacturer declared it to be the finest product they had ever encountered.
One of the hurdles to the further development of this undertaking was finding a steady, affordable source for shellac wax, one of the ingredients integral to the formulation. After many moons of searching and corresponding I found an excellent supplier, and had a sample arrive directly from India. It looked very good at first, an observation that was strengthened by melting it, examining it again in the molten state, and then one more time after it re-solidified.
If wax can be scrumptious, this was scrumptious.
I was ready to buy enough raw material to assure a substantial pipeline of material to allow for uninterrupted making and selling of Mel’s Wax. I was delighted to learn that an order was merely expensive, but not stratospheric. It caused a deep breath and a little tingling, but not cardiac arrest. (My first inquiry into purchasing shellac wax from another dealer resulted in a quote of $3000 plus shipping for a 50-lb container.) Fortunately this supplier is grounded in reality.
It was a bit unnerving and required a leap of faith, as they had no mechanism for purchase that I was familiar with. No Paypal, no credit card set-up. After coming to agreement on our terms I went to my bank and authorized a very sizable and irrevocable bank-to-bank transfer from a li’ol Virginny bank to a big British bank in India. I gulped and signed it over.
Two weeks later my order of 200 pounds arrived, delivered to my door by Rich the UPS driver. Since I was not at home he drove up to the barn and took it inside!
Coincidentally the next week he brought my order of this year’s supply of raw beeswax , which thanks to bee-hive colony collapse had doubled in price from last year. I now have in-hand the supplies to go into production later this summer. Mrs. Barn wants that to be her domain, and I am more than willing to have her conscientious laboratory scientist self doing it. I have several other wax formulations in the pipeline as well.
As a warm-up, and in preparation for Groopshop I made a batch of Mel’s Wax using the new shellac wax and beeswax. Magnificent. I will be giving this away at Groopshop, but it comes with strings attached. Everyone who takes it must use it up, not hoard it, and must write a review of it for my personal use in fine tuning the formulation or the product literature.
So, this might be a monumental year at The Barn, taking us to infinity and beyond. Or it could amount to nothing more than an amusing sideline, in which case we would concentrate on reveling in the upcoming nuptials of our second offspring unit.
Two years ago in the immediate aftermath of the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench exhibit in Cedar Rapids IA, my brother and his son came for a week’s visit at the cabin. As is almost always the case we had a project outlined for our time together. That year the candidate was the dismantling and salvage of an old shack (1920s?) up on the hill about 100 yards from the cabin.
So we went at it. It turned out that all of the roof structure, including sheathing, was chestnut in remarkably good condition. I am not a huge chestnut wood aficionado, but it is a local favorite so into the barn it went. By contrast the wall structure and sheathing were white oak. Primo! The lap siding was also chestnut, and we saved that.
Then I decided to quarrel with a gravel-filled wheelbarrow, and you know the rest of that story.
Flash forward 18 months. Late in winter Mrs. Barn mentioned that she really liked chestnut, and that for her birthday she would REALLY like some custom made frames for the mylar-encased matted art photos we had sitting on the mantle for several years. I said, “Uh-huh,” and left it at that. She of course assumed I had forgotten the incident and request entirely.
What she did not know was that I had retrieved a 2×4 from the lower barn, milled it, and fabricated frames to fit the photos. Some fussy miter jig work on the table saw followed by a little polissoir and wax action and then shellac and steel wool and the deed was done. Then while she was at Bible Study and yoga one day I finished their framing and glazing and replaced them on the mantle. The next day she had not noticed them so I casually pointed them out.
She was pleased.
From derelict shack to place of prominence; not bad. I’ve still got big piles of chestnut and oak from the salvage project, so who knows what will be coming next. Well, she did give me a list…
As with its previous iterations, Handworks 2017 was a remarkable event and experience, and there is no way to adequately express my admiration and gratitude to Jameel and Father John Abraham for keeping the flame of hand craftsmanship alive. I know that my particular little corner of the event was crowded almost all of the time, and several of the visitors extended very warm thanks and remembrances for the Studley Tool Cabinet exhibit in 2015. Often this was accompanied by exclamations about the magnificence of Jim Moon’s recreation of it, and I was pleased to have played some small part in it being at Handworks.
As I said earlier, there was great interest in traditional finishing and I must have demonstrate wax and polissoir technique roughly 100-150 times. It was heartening to hear the reactions as folks saw and felt the results.
One surprising thing to me was the decided lack of interest in my Roubo First Edition prints from L’art du Menuisier. I would have thought this was the perfect audience for them, but I was no more correct in that presupposition than I was when I predicted John Glenn would be President. I sold only three of the prints during Handworks, and two more outside of the event. Oh well, they will not go bad in their archival sleeves.
I did manage to come home with a few things myself. First was a stash of barrette files Slav Jelisejevich had among his intoxicating selection of new old stock files. I have no idea what sort of old file underground he is part of but I cannot cross his path without leaving a goodly pile of money behind.
Next was a criss-cross leg vise from our hosts at Benchcrafted. I have not yet decided on which bench to install it. I’m almost afraid to, knowing that if it becomes integral to one bench it might have to be obtained for several others.
Finally is a simple box that that was a gift from Jim Moon. Jim is currently salvaging lumber from an ancient grain mill, and the lumber for my box came from the inside surface of one of the grain chutes. Billions of grain seeds over many decades wallowed out the early wood of this southern yellow pine, leaving an exquisite surface that Jim exploited to its fullest. It is now part of my treasure trove, and the only thing I have left to do is decide whether to make it an artwork on display or a traveling box full of polissoirs and wax.
And that wraps up Handworks 2017.
This is my commandment, That ye love one another, as I have loved you. Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.
The tree of liberty must be refreshed from time to time with the blood of patriots and tyrants.
For that multitude of heroes I have never met, who like my cousin wrote us a blank check and signed it with their blood, I offer my profound thanks and humble honor. — DCW
Make no mistake, Handworks is one of the most important evidences that hand craft is alive and well. Participating as an exhibitor or as an attending aficionado cannot but help to influence you.
As I walked into the barn at about 9AM both days I witnessed this scene of eager attendees already in line on a cold and rainy day.
By Friday morning everything was set in the venues, or at least in the Festhalle where I was (and I heard similar stories to mine throughout the village).
In the Festhalle there was time for some last minute fellowship among the exhibitors,
some last minute shopping at other exhibitors’ booths,
and finally, the entry of a crew of highly enthusiastic woodworkers.
And more woodworkers.
Until it became a mosh pit around us throughout the entire day. I know I was entirely surrounded on all sides until just before closing, standing and greeting and explaining and demonstrating polissoir-and-wax finishing at least 100 times.
Saturday was abuzz with anticipation of The Roy Himself as our featured presenter. The festivities began with Mike Siemsen’s stirring rendition of the National Anthem.
Then came Roy, and of course the crowd loved him.
Throngs to the front of me,
throngs to the back of me (I chatted with one family whose daughter had undergone an appendectomy less that a week before, but she insisted on coming to see Roy Underhill), and even afterwards the affable Mr. Underhill was unfailingly generous with his time and energy visiting with the collected posse throughout the remainder of the day.
At 5PM we broke down the exhibit, disassembled and packed the Roubo benches, and were on the road home by 5.30
Once I got done setting up my little station for demonstrating polissoirs and beeswax finishing, I headed out with my friend Ben to see the other venues for Handworks around Amana. The expansion of Handworks has been astounding, the first one four years ago was confined to the Festhalle, this year included jam packed exhibits and demonstrations at a large room adjacent to the furniture-making shop, the former blacksmith’s shop, the former millwright’s shop, and the open air space for green woodworking and similar.
Our first stop was at the furniture shop, host to carver Mary May, the SAPFM Ohio River Chapter, Mike Siemsen, Jim Moon and his amazing Studley tool cabinet replica, and at least a couple more folks. There wasn’t much going on there just yet. Besides, I forgot to take pictures of the set-up.
The blacksmith’s shop was starting to fill, with Bad Axe Tools, and Mortise and Tenon magazine. Not all of the exhibitors had arrived.
Moving on to the millwright’s shop found more activity as a variety of folks were already set up, and some, like me, were out strolling the village.
I’m not sure what the story was with this freestanding great wheel, but I would have definitely found a place for it in the barn.
The final stop was the open air space for timber framers, chair makers, and best of all the crew from Norway demonstrating the amazing skottbenk planing beam.
A year ago I did not even know what this was, now thanks to their blog I have to have one! They were the most cheerful group imaginable, happy to be at Handworks and especially to be away from Norway for a while. The snow back home was still nearly knee deep, so they were reveling in the comparitive tropical paradise.
They’d even found a vintage skottbenk at Amana and had it on display at their space.
This very showy windlass from a bow saw was from their tool set.
We wandered back to the Festhalle for a final look as things were coming together. This is one of my favorite images of the day, from left Rob Lee, Chris Vesper, and Ben Hobbs chatting.
It was our last breath of calm prior to departing for home on Saturday evening.