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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 2 hours 11 min ago

Sample Boards As Inspiration

4 hours 53 min ago

For much of the past month I have been working on a set of sample boards for an upcoming address to a luncheon banquet of folks involved in mostly architectural interior finishes.  It reminded me once again how much I love finish work, and caused me to ruminate on undertaking my long-desired magnum opus.  I’m now committed in my heart to finally put pen to paper and create that mammoth manuscript I’ve been mulling for a long time, beginning next autumn, extending perhaps into the following two years.  It will be part finishing room bench manual, part materials science treatise, part historical review, part aesthetics, and a large part recipe book.


The sample board set included things like glazed panels, limed panels, burnished shellac/wax, shellac pad polishing (aka “french polishing” even though the French probably call it “English polishing”), waxed French polishing, raw polissoired surfaces, fumed oak, japanning foundation, and finally a piece of true “bog oak” salvaged from a dismantled antique dam.

Now all I have to do is my part in getting Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley 100% done (I’m going today to get the page proofs printed in color to finish my review), Roubo on Furniture Making revised and into the Lost Art Press production pipeline, and the Studley tool cabinet exhibit done.

Tilting Fretsaw Fixture

Sun, 03/01/2015 - 2:17pm

My friend BillF asked me to post the image and plan of the tilting saw bench I use for cutting marquetry with a jeweler’s fret saw.

tilting bench pin copy

Okay Bill, here they are.  I’ll see if we can get the PDF of the plan on the Writings page.

tilting sawing bench

I think I first saw this tool in a c.1900 book on fretwork, and have since seen it many other places and books.  I made a passel of these at one time, and have used and gifted them for years.

A Thrilling Day!

Sat, 02/28/2015 - 2:22pm

This morning Chris Schwarz emailed me the complete set of page proofs from VIRTUOSO: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley for my review.  I am nearly lightheaded with delight.

page proof

Forgive me while I crawl into my easy chair and spend the evening ogling the book with a red pen in hand.


Parquetry Tutorial – Trimming and Banding

Fri, 02/27/2015 - 4:16pm

I am earnestly trying to wrap up some frayed threads in the blog posts, and this one and two more will complete the tutorial on simple parquetry, which I will combine, edit, and post as a downloadable document.



Once the parquetry composition has been assembled such that the area completed is larger than the field of the composition as it will be presented on the panel, the time has come to trim it to the exact size you want.  But before that, you have to decide exactly how large you want the central field of the parquetry panel.  I tend to work my way in from the edges of the panel as determined by the sizes and proportions of the furniture on which it will reside, then subtract a symmetrical border and a symmetrical banding.



Once I have done that, I simply re-establish the center lines of the parquetry assemblage and precisely mark out its perimeter, and saw it with any of the veneer saws mentioned earlier.  The desired end result is a rectangular and symmetrical composition.  Once I have the field trimmed to the proper size, I re-mount the unit on a second, larger sheet of kraft paper using hot glue.  It need be adhered only at the perimeter.


I tend to make my own banding, frequently making a simple stack of veneer faces with slightly thicker centers, assembled and glued between two cauls until they are set.  Then I just rip of as many pieces of banding as the assembled block can yield.



Once the banding is available, I cut them then trim the ends with a plane and miter shooting jig.  Once the first piece is ready to apply, I place the entire composition on a large board with a corked surface.  Then just like Roubo, I glue the banding  down on top of this second piece of kraft paper, tight against the cut edge of the field, and “clamp” it in place with push pins, similar to those illustrated by Roubo.  By the time I get all the way around the perimeter of the field, cutting then trimming each of the banding pieces, the piece is ready to set aside for a bit.


For the outer border, I tend to use a simple approach, often employing some of the original veneer stock in either the long-grain or cross grain orientation.

Once the banding is set I remove the pins then hammer veneer the borders in place, and the assembling of the parquetry panel is complete.

Up next – Gluing Down the Parquetry

Current Conservation Projects – Lotsa Tortoiseshell

Thu, 02/26/2015 - 5:26pm

As I mentioned recently I have been blessed with a rich buffet of challenging conservation projects.  While not all of them are tortoiseshell, it does seem to be a recurring theme.


This project is a two-part carved tortoiseshell vessel (it has a inner, smooth cylinder to hold whatever it is supposed to hold) I believe to be a brush or writing implement holder, but I could be wrong on that.  There are several sites on the outer carved shell that are missing some carving, and a number of other locales where the shell is fractured.  It is a challenge to be sure.


This place is missing the carving.  It is roughly the size of the fingernail on my pinkie.  Good thing I know how to do this stuff.


A second and perhaps even more challenging project is this molded tortoiseshell box with a split in the top.  What makes this project so problematic is that the margins adjacent to the split are not aligned, so there is some fundamental material manipulation involved.

As the project moves forward I will be updating you on both what I am doing but why I am doing it.  Amusing that a sheer nylon drapery is integral to both solutions.

Of Studley Slabs abd African “Mahogany”

Mon, 02/23/2015 - 6:11am

The slab for the Studley work bench top is all glued up and trimmed to size, and slid off my workbench onto a pair of horses for further ministrations, and just in time as I need my bench space to finish up a large group of sample boards for a luncheon presentation I am making soon for an architectural/decorative arts finishes assembly.


I have a lot of clamps, but not enough for me to affix the final top lamina of the bench in one step, sot I first glued on the first half, then a day later the second half.

The slab is a beast, and I would estimate its weight at about 175 pounds.  My version is about 1/8″ thicker than Studley’s, giving me a little bit of room for planing and finishing.  The edges will be installed once the wheel-handled vises are attached for the exhibit, which will turn the top into a 500-pound behemoth.


From this point on I will be planing and finishing the top.  Due to the time and budgetary constraints on my side, I selected something called African “mahogany” as my face laminae over the white oak core.  As I mentioned earlier, it looks beautifully similar to the true mahogany that Studley used for his tool cabinet and work bench, but works like a composite that would be the result of making “wood” out of straw and donkey dung.  It is the nastiest stuff I have ever worked, and I can state with a fair degree of confidence that this will be the first and last project to employ this “wood.”

Planing it is a challenge.  I touched it with my “go to” low angle smoother and got horrific tear out.  That took me back on my heels.  Hmmm.  So, I switched to my favorite toothing plane, and got tear out with the toothing plane as well!    I mean, I have never had tear out with that toother.  I backed off the blade a bit and had some success, and today I will touch up the toothing blade and proceed, but it will be slow even though the surface needs very little work.

The next challenge is to resharpen my smoother to use after the toother, or conversely just tooth it overall and go straight to the scraper for the final surface.


Sty tuned.

View Out the Window

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 10:47am

Normally I can stand at my bench and gaze at the mountains, late afternoon especially as the barn falls into shadow and the mountain crest ablaze in sunlight.  Not so today.  I can barely make out the log barn only forty yards away.



We’ve got near white-out conditions, so my only practical means of transport is simple perambulation up to and back from the barn.  Though the temp outside is brisk, it is cozy in the shop as the wood stove and kerosene heater combine to keep it nearly 60 degrees.  I’ll glue up the last face board on the Studley benchtop in a bit, then work later today to compile my information on how much protection extortion I owe GovCo.

Slabbing Studley

Sat, 02/21/2015 - 5:21am

With three of the four lamina glued up for the replica Studley workbench top, I got the assemblage flipped over and moved onto my bench for planing the oak core surface for the final lamina, the top (African) mahogany boards.  I must say that even now this hunk weighs a ton.  I can barely flip it over by myself.


I like to use a toothing plane to work surfaces like this, and using my favorite toother I went after the surface this morning.  My care in the assembly to this point paid off as it took me only about an hour to get it ready for the final glue-up.

Once the final lamina gets glued on, I will trim the unit to size, fit the vises to it, then work on the edges.

Stay tuned.

Ultra Cheep Lapping Plates

Fri, 02/20/2015 - 6:07pm

Cosmologists assert that the four phenomena holding the Universe together are 1) strong inter atomic forces, 2) weak inter atomic forces, 3) gravity, and 4) magnetism.  Which shows how little they know, as somehow they overlooked 5) duct tape, and 6) shellac.

What has this got to do with The Barn?

Well, nothing actually, but it does lead me to another fundamental phenomenon of the Universe, namely inertia: a body at rest tends to stay at rest, and a body in motion tends to stay in motion.  For the purposes of this post Chris Schwarz and Joe McGlynn fall into the latter camp, I in the former.  These two guys seem to be the very definition of peripatetic.  I am, shall we say, more contemplative.  Yeah, that’s the word, contemplative.  (“Lazy” was so much less mellifluous).

One of the things I really like about my studio in the barn is a dedicated sharpening station, and thanks to the inspiration of plane makers Konrad Sauer, Raney Nelson, and Ron Brese, and inventive scrounging genius Mike Siemsen I have long recognized the utility and hence have desired an elegant lapping plate for that work station.  Recently I was at the building recycling center and saw a stack of granite splash boards, probably from a kitchen where the users finally came to their senses and had the granite ripped out in favor of some nice butcher block wood slab counters.


Anyway, I selected two pieces that fit my needs, and they were a whole fifty-cents apiece.  They are 4-inches wide and 24-inches long, which makes them a perfect fit for 4×24 sanding belts for a portable belt sander.  yes, I do own one; I have found no better way to sharpen lawnmower blades.


Using the polished granite surface as my base, and spray adhesive as the binder, I first tore the sanding belt once crosswise, then applied it to the granite.  Voilay!  An instant lapping plate.  Given my two pieces of back splash, I can mount four different grits of sanding belt simultaneously, so regardless of the delicacy of the task I am ready to roll. Or lap, as the case may be.

Upcoming Presentation

Thu, 02/19/2015 - 5:57pm


March 14 I will be presenting “Historical Finishes” to the Tidewater Chapter of the SAPFM.  The meeting will take place at Somerton Ridge Hardwoods (http://somertonridgehardwoods.com) in Suffolk, VA.

Hope to see you there.

Where’s my Ticket?

Mon, 02/16/2015 - 3:29pm

Studley_Event-Posrcard-4x6 (1)

Lately I have received several emails asking about the status of the tickets for the upcoming HO Studley Tool Cabinet Exhibit.  To boil them down, each of the inquiries asked, “Hey man, where’s my ticket?  I bought it eight weeks ago (or ten or fifteen) and have not received it yet.  What gives?”

I was bewildered, as I recalled that the web site selling the tickets indicated that the process was for the tickets to be distributed to the attendees at the exhibit itself, which in fact is the case.  But I was wrong in thinking that information was on the web site; it must have been in our earlier blog announcements.  I am sorry for the confusion.  We are not sending you a ticket when you purchase one, but rather you go into our list as someone who purchased it and will be given the physical ticket at the exhibit.

Simply come at your appointed time, get your ticket, and go in to the exhibit hall and spend the requisite hour ogling this masterpiece.

We will add a passage to the web site reiterating that, but be assured that if you bought a ticket and received confirmation of purchasing the ticket, we know about it.

For anyone who does not know, the exhibit of the tool cabinet, its contents AND Henry Studley’s workbench, will be coincident with Handworks 2014, and only 20 minutes away from HW’s Amana, Iowa location, in the beautiful Scottish Rite Temple in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the next town away) from May 15-17, 2015.

Tickets are still available here.

The 80-Minute Nicholson Workbench

Sat, 02/14/2015 - 12:45pm

Like many in the woodworking universe, I am a benchaholic.  We revel in the design, construction and use of exquisitely elegant workbenches:  Roubo, Nicholson, torsion boxes, Moravian, Scandanavian, etc.  Sometimes I fear that our fascination with these remarkable tools can be off-putting to those who are just starting out in furniture making, or at least do not yet have such-and-such a bench.  I have spoken with folks who tell me something like, “Well, I would like to begin serious woodworking but I’ll have to wait until I get the time I need to build a (fill in the blank) bench.”

I’m probably guilty of promulgating this mythology to some degree, as I have waxed ecstatic about this or that response to workbench design, building, or using.  If I have done so and you have found it a hurdle to your work, I apologize sincerely.

Two recent developments for me have been a brisk wake-up call.  First was watching Mike Siemsen’s brilliant video “The Naked Woodworker,” which is now part of the ensemble of references I steer all new woodworkers towards (along with “The Anarchist’s Tool Chest” and James Krenov’s “A Cabinetmaker’s Notebook”) and the companion  Siemsen youtube video on using the bench he builds in the video.  Folks, they are solid gold.  Mike is such a down-to-earth guy that his persona often inadvertently obscures his own giftedness at the workbench.

Second has been the recent revival of my own conservation projects, some of which are taking place in my old studio in my daughter’s house basement (which has been nothing short of total dishevelment for the past year).  Of course, when I transferred the contents of my workshop from there to the barn, I left myself with only the barest of bones regarding tools and supplies necessary for maintaining a house, not for building or restoring furniture.  Among the voids in the space was the hole left by the workbench that is no longer there.  Increasingly I found myself frustrated by not having any real workbench to use.


With Mike’s inspiration fueling me, I took a new look at my workspace and the assets there.  No, I did not have a workbench, but I did have this crude work-table along the wall.  Built after supper one night several years ago, its only real function to this point was to hold stuff.  I had a Zyliss vise on it, and it served my needs for the tasks of house-work.


Today these needs and Mike’s inspirations prompted me to retrofit this table, making it into a spare but fully-functional Nicholson bench.  The best part of the whole venture was that it took only about 80 minutes of work to accomplish the transformation, using a couple of boards from my stash in the lean-to shed.  Cleaning the bench off took nearly as long as the new construction.


I first laid down the old table on it back and screwed a 10-inch wide apron on the front.  Ideally I would have used a 12-inch wide apron, but there wasn’t a 2×12 out in the shed.  So, with my battery drill and decking screws a new apron was in place.  The step of planing the top overhang to be even with the apron surface took the most time of the whole project, and was really an unneccessary step had I been building this from the start.  But I wasn’t, so I had to plane off 1/4″ of excess overhang.  I suppose I could have sawn it, but I just set up the fore plane to cut pretty aggressively and knocked it out.

I added a 2×8 backing board behind the apron to allow for use of holdfasts, which are the key to the use of a Nicholson-style bench.  I drilled a dozen holes for holdfasts on the front then flipped the bench onto its top.


While upside-down I took some 2×10 scraps and screwed them to the underside of the 2x top, for the same purpose as the skirt backing board – it allowed the utilization of holdfasts.  Also while it was upside down I screwed new 2×4 skids under the legs to raise the bench height a little.  I prefer my workbench height to be taller than a lot of folks, to be even with the top of my wrist while my arm is hanging down, it’s just the way I work most comfortably.


After turning the unit back into its upright stance, I drilled holes in the top for holdfasts.


Then I got to work.  I still need to install a crochet on the apron and a planing stop through the top, but for now I need to get back to my projects.

Even if you count the time I spent construction the original table, at this point I have a simple and highly functional woodworking workbench for less than three hours (!) and a few pieces of wood from the shed.  Now I’m trying to figure out how to make the presence of this bench a “selling point” if this house ever goes on the market.

Replicating Studley’s Bench Top 1

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 6:22pm


The time had come for me to render the truck load of lumber into the replica of Studley’s workbench top.  For the base I am  going to construct a (hopefully) mostly invisible stand for the exhibit, since I simply do not have the time to replicate the base that is part of the bench currently.

The first things I noticed when preparing the stock were 1) the white oak from Iowa is some of the hardest material I have ever seen.  Even taking only 1/64″ cuts with my DeWalt planer, it was just about killing that machine.  It is almost a shame to bury such magnificent lumber inside the core of a laminate slab, but that’s what I get for replicating the unit as precisely as I can determine.  I should note that this construction is based on my many hours of examining the original; the owner would not let me cut up the original to confirm my premise.  2) by working character, density, and odor, I found the “African Mahogany” to be nearly identical to Spanish Cedar, and were it not for the interlocked ribbon grain I would have sworn that was what the lumber was.


In assembling the slab I reverted to an old gluing technique from the pattern shop, where we often glued complex constructs together by clamping the pieces with nails or screws, then removing these fasteners when the glue had set.  Not having enough clamps of the correct size, and not wanting to build a press to accomplish the task, I did the same this time.  It didn’t really matter for the core or the underside of the slab, but gluing the top lamina was a bit more of a challenge as you will see in a coming post.


Using my planing beam I first cleaned up the edges of the oak core boards and started to glue them together with yellow glue.  First I pre-drilled holes the size of the screw threads about six inches apart throughout the entire length of the boards, then screwed them together with deck screws and washers,  The efficacy of the tactic was apparent with the fairly even glue squeeze-out.


I made sure to make the boards off-set to add even more strength to the completed structure.




Once the two core lamina were assembled, the structure was exceedingly strong and heavy.  Almost immediately I began with the underside face of the slab.


Repeating the same steps as before, after removing the screw-clamps I glued and screwed the African Mahogany boards in place, shooting the edges by hand first.  It was long past dark when I headed down the hill for supper, but the first three of the four 3/4 inch layers were in place.  Already it weighs a ton.

Sty tuned.





New Conservation Project – Italian Sculpture

Fri, 02/13/2015 - 1:17pm

After almost two years of diminished activities in decorative arts conservation, I am now ramping up for a fertile period of activities with many new projects on the menu, and some already underway.  Otherwise I don’t have much to do except finish the reviewing of the Studley book proofs as they emerge, reviewing the edits of the Roubo on Furniture Making manuscript, fabricating the elements for the Studley exhibit, a multitude of chores around the homestead, another year’s worth of organizing in the barn, etc.


Last weekend I picked up a nearly life-sized wooden sculpture attributed to 19th century sculptor Valentino Besarel.  The details of the treatment, including the strategic thinking behind my decisions, and the execution of those decisions, will be recounted as the project unfolds over the coming months.


There is some disassembly/reassembly, some structural compensation, some flexible fills, some sculpting of missing elements, some visual integration…

Folding Portable Workbench – Making the Torsion Box Grid

Tue, 02/10/2015 - 10:59am

The core of the folding portable workbench functionality — light weight combined with high stiffness — calls for the “slab” to be in reality, a slab-like torsion box.  To combine these two seemingly irreconcilable features, I constructed the torsion box from 1/4″ baltic birch plywood faces and grid, with 1/2″ baltic birch plywood perimeter.


Using a power saw and a clamped-on rip fence I cut the 1/4″ faces to size, then cut the 1/4″ grid web elements and the 1/2″ perimeter exactly the same width so they would establish a planar surface when assembled.  Once these strips were cut I clamped them together and planed them to be perfectly identical.  The ultimate strength of the bench depends on it.


For the grid itself, I simply divided the spaces inside the torsion box into the units I desired, then cut sough of the grid web elements to that number.  For example, since the torsion box top is 20″ x 60″ I used a roughly 5″ increment for the grid, meaning that I needed three long web elements and 11 short elements.


Laying out the grid to this number of units, I took the three long elements and clamped them together and marked out the spacing for the half-lap/slots that would allow for the perpendicular elements to cross over each other, then did the same thing for the eleven short elements.


Since the “joinery” at the cross-point need not be joinery at all — the two elements simply need to fit past each other, as the true strength of the beam (torsion box bench top) is established only by the character of the glue line of the web element to the faces of the box — I used my recently acquired miter box and a 1/4″ chisel to quickly chop rough openings for the intersection.


Up next – laying out the screw holes for the vise and assembling the grid.


Gestation Ending Soon

Sat, 02/07/2015 - 2:35pm

Thursday was a banner day in the Highlands as the first test pages for Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley appeared in my email.  It is an indescribable feeling to see the seemingly endless labors being expressed with such visual elegance.

c test page


I look forward immensely to the coming days in anticipation of seeing Wesley Tanner’s magic bringing my words and our images to life.  Especially if he continues to show my best side!

I am truly thankful to those of you who have offered encouragement over the past four years on this project, and expect your patience will be richly rewarded in only a few short weeks.

Increasingly I am turning my focus to crossing the “T”s and dotting the “I”s for the upcoming exhibit of both the tool cabinet AND the workbench, which has never before been seen in public.  Given the concurrence with and proximity to Handworks, perhaps the greatest celebration of contemporary woodworking tool making ever, it will make for an unforgettable weekend.


Ramping Up for the Studley Tool Chest Exhibit

Wed, 02/04/2015 - 4:41pm

With the maneuvers for the upcoming exhibit of the HO Studley Tool Chest only three months away, the activities in the background are coming to a fever pitch.  Just this week the last of the wheel vises I am borrowing for the exhibit arrived.  I must admit I was a bit amused to see a 110 pound crate with a cast-iron vise marked “Fragile.”


(Actually there is one more vise I would like in the exhibit, but the owner has not responded to my repeated requests.  I guess it won’t be there.)


The setting for this collection of vises is my interpretation of Studley’s work bench top.  I expect to finish assembling the slab of that top tomorrow.  Here’s a small mock-up illustrating what I believe to be the construction of the bench top.  Astonishingly, the owner of the Studley Collection would not let me chop up the original to see if my conclusion was correct!

Once the benchtop replica is finished I need to make an exhibit stand for it, then move on to the next of the 6, 487, 326 things on the exhibit check list.


There are still tickets left for the exhibit, but I see that some of the sections are beginning to close out.  If you want to join me in this once-in-a-lifetime event, I would be delighted to share it with you and chat with you at the exhibit.

Upgrading a Machinist’s Lathe

Tue, 02/03/2015 - 5:33am

Not too long ago I wrote about the new antique lathe now residing on the main floor of the barn.  My friend Jersey Jon took it on himself to get the beautiful unit tuned and running.  It is good to have friends like that.


One of the things that Jon stressed was the value in using a new power source for the old lathe, and it is a sermon I have taken to heart.  It causes reflection on the fundamentals: to power many kinds of machines, like lathes and milling machines, for example, you need a lot of torque and the ability to alter the speed of the cutting tool.  Hmmm, where to get a simple system of high torque variable speed power source.  Why clothes racks, a/k/a treadmills, of course.


Last month I was downtown at the electronics store and walked by the thrift store for the animal shelter and there it was — an aged treadmill on the porch of the thrift shop.  I asked, and they had no way of knowing whether or not it worked but they wanted it gone.  I made that happen with a small donation.

Back in the shop I also had no way to know if it worked until I made a new key to replace the broken one for the unit, put new batteries in the control panel, and made sure that the breaker switch was set properly.  I got all that done today and turned it on.  Yes indeed, the thing works!


What prompted the precise timing on this was spending a couple of days working down in the machine room/foundry, trying to impose some semblance of order there, as it has been sitting essentially untouched for more than a year.  I’ve got this wonderful Atlas machinist’s lathe, but the drive mechanism has this monstrously huge 3/4 HP motor (literally much larger than a basketball and about 50-60 lbs) and a whole set of pulleys and such that were such a pain to work with.


Depending on my schedule, I hope to swap out the old drive system for the new one by the end of the month (it is not the highest priority at the moment…).  I dismantled and removed the old one this afternoon, so I have passed the tipping point.  I suspect I may start scouring yard sales and thrift stores for more such clothes racks.

Stay tuned.


Wind-ter in the Highlands

Mon, 02/02/2015 - 2:58pm


Many times I’ve been in weather that was blustery enough to blow the hat off my head.  But today was the first time I have ever experienced that my spectacles were blown off my face.  This weather has been the most schizophrenic I have seen.  Tropical sunshine one minute, white-out the next.  It makes for a dynamic view out the window, that is for sure.

Supercharging a Wood/Coal Stove

Sat, 01/31/2015 - 4:12pm

So far I’ve talked about two-and-a-half of the three legs of the stool I am sitting on in order to cope with a cold shop: 1) Isolation (reducing the drafts and minimizing the heated volume), 2) Insulation (via fixed thermal windows and a cocoon of R-43 XPS panels) and 3.1) Generation (of heat with a kerosene heater).  Today I want to close out this blog arc with the 3.2) Generation of heat with a wood/coal stove section.


My cast iron heat stove is a Coalbrookdale Severn unit, a 500-pound British product that is no longer being manufactured.  I mentioned this in an earlier blog about heating with coal.  There is a lot of chat about this stove on-line, and there seems to be widely divergent opinions about it — its owners either love it or hate it, no one is ambivalent.  My pal Tony scored this one for me during a renovation project he was doing, where the client wanted this stove removed and the preceding fireplace rehabilitated.  Tony’s crew installed this in my barn basement last winter.  I decided to put it there for several reasons.

First, I did not want to sacrifice floor space in my main shop to the wood stove, which if used perfectly safely and some amount of fuel storage would have consumed more than 10% of the available shop space.  So, it was just a preferential space expression on my part.  Second, having an open flame heat source in the middle of a woodworking shop was something my insurance company was hesitant about.  On that point keeping it in the concrete block basement with a packed gravel floor made sense.  Another reason is that the space in the basement is not to be an unused space, in fact it will be my machine shop.  Nothing is colder than handling tons of freezing cold iron, so having the main heart source down there is a big plus.  Finally, heating that space will keep the floor in my shop warmed, so I won’t be standing on a cold floor all the time.

Using the stove, especially for coal, is a bit tricky.  The firebox is really small, so if I am burning wood I need to tromp down stairs every 90 minutes or so to put more wood in.  I am still trying to get the hang of using coal.  There must be a special technique for igniting anthracite, of which I have some inventory, but once it gets going it goes gangbusters.

Still, I was wrestling with the fact that the heat distribution from the stove was pretty much passive, and would take almost all day to get the studio warm enough.  I didn’t want a complicated, dynamic distribution system that would need a lot of gadgeteering and monitoring/maintenance, but I definitely needed to find a better way to get the heat from the firebox into the studio a lot quicker.


I recently acquired and installed an accessory to enhance the wood/coal stove dramatically, namely this heat recovery unit that fits in line with the stove pipe.  It has been thus far a remarkable addition to the heating system for the shop.  Once the stove gets heated up, the thermostatically controlled fan in the heat recovery unit kicks in and it starts gently blowing hot air into the shop space, and if I keep the fire in the stove going, it keeps the shop warm enough that I generally peel off my vest in short order.


So, my typical shop day heating cycle begins with me lighting the kerosene heater when I first get there, then trekking downstairs to start building up the heat in the cast iron stove, then back up to the studio to start working.  Before I know it, the fan for the heat reclaimer comes on and I soon turn off the kerosene heater as the temperature climbs quickly to about 60 degrees, which suits me just fine.  With a little fire maintenance throughout the day I am entirely comfortable working in the studio.  Once I get the real hang of the coal fire, I can probably cut down on the fire maintenance to once in the morning and once at night.


by Dr. Radut