Hand Tool Headlines
The Woodworking Blogs Aggregator
This "aggregator" collects all of the woodworking blogs I read every day - or try to anyway! Enjoy!
Thank you to everyone who contributed towards Walt Quadrato's battle against cancer! Their fundraising goal was met. Our prayers are with you, Walt!
The Barn on White Run
Last week I finished writing my latest article for Popular Woodworking, titled, I think, “Decorative Wire Inlay.” Tomorrow morning I will finish the photography for it, then move on to the next projects in the shop, the list of which is formidable.
I demonstrated the techniques of decorative wire inlay in my presentation to the Washington Woodworker’s Guild last autumn.
Last Friday on my way to the annual banquet of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers at Colonial Williamsburg I took the opportunity of my foray into “civilization” (or is it “out of civilization?”) to make a number of stops purchasing materials and supplies for ongoing and upcoming projects.
Perhaps the most important of these stops was at Virginia Frame and Builders Supply in Fishersville, just a hundred yards or so from I-64. Virginia Frame is renowned for having large, long, and lovely lumber in stock. I bought some 24-foot long southern yellow pine 2x12s, mostly clear and some even select. Since my pickup has a 6-foot bed, the folks at Virginia Frame cut the 24-footers into 8-foot sections and we stacked and strapped them into the bed for the long ride to Williamsburg then back to the mountains.
This September I will be hosting ten members of the on-line forum Professional Refinishers Group, a treasured mostly-virtual community to which I have belonged for many years, for a week of workbench building. The lumber from Virginia Frame will serve as the raw stock from which I will make a Roubo prototype and a Nicholson prototype, to work out all the bugs in the fabrication process. Once I do I will order the same lumber as necessary for all the workbenches being built in September.
There was rain on my trip, so when I got back Saturday afternoon I spread out the boards to let them dry, then yesterday morning I stacked them to allow them to sit properly before I build the benches in February and March. I love working with southern yellow pine, and these boards are magnificent.
But first I have to make a replica of the Henry O. Studley workbench top for the upcoming exhibit.
For the past couple of years as I have been struggling to move into and assemble the new workshop in the barn, I have been plagued by one corner, right inside the entrance to my studio. I am not by nature a neatnik, and the corner wound up being the repository for odds and ends that I didn’t know what to do with. It wasn’t situated well, nor was it large enough for a “real” workbench as the total space was about five feet square. About the only good feature of the corner is that it was a natural home for a large trash can.
Thanks in part to the inspiration of Jonas Jensen, whose blog is one of my favorites and often features immensely ingenious and impressive projects he makes from scrap materials in his spare time in the mechanical workroom of the ships on which he works in the North Sea, I realized there was no excuse for this state of affairs. Combining Jonas’ creativity with both a very limited improvised space and salvaged materials, along the impetus resulting from a recent visit to my friend Bob’s cozy gunsmithing shop, I was spurred on to action so that this very valuable real estate was reclaimed from being consigned to be nothing more than a junk-catching corner.
This new initiative, combined with a little salvaged Sjobergs workbench, resulted in a work space that is destined to become a favorite. I had originally deposited the tiny workbench in the barn’s classroom because even though it was wholly inadequate for full-scale furniture making, I had worked it over enough that it was now a pretty good little bench (after my rescuing it from the trash many years ago). Guess what? I measured it and it fit into the corner as if it had been made for it.
After finding new homes for the stuff in the corner, and acquiring a new rectangular trash can to fit in with the newly positioned workbench, I now have a delightful work station for doing my “fussy” work that is so frequently part of my projects, including carving, jewelry-type fabrication, filing, sawing and the like. My two bowling-ball-and-toilet-flange vises used for carving, engraving, and checkering are now there, along with my stereomicroscope, myriad dental tools, die maker’s files and rifflers, checkering tools and carving chisels. There was even space for a few books overhead, and a permanent (read: rememberable) location for the First Aid kit.
The final steps to the conservation of the chairs was the reassembly, which first required me to replace most of the screws that were in the chair when it arrived on my door step.
I’ve got a can of miscellaneous screws that accumulate over the years. You’ve probably got one too. I know the guy who worked on these chairs before had one too, because it looks like he just poured it out on the bench and used the first few dozen screws that were within reach with no effort to match screws to each other or to the tasks involved.
I tried to carefully match the screws to the tasks they were executing, and within that function, matched the screws to each other. It was not much of a problem really, as I am the kind of guy who, when he needs a screw or two, goes to the hardware store and buys a box of the size he needs. Because of that I have a pretty good hardware store shelf under the shop stairs.
One of the problems I found in a handful of locations, and which I encounter with some regularity since I spend so much time working on old furniture, is the wallowed out screw hole, where the damage is such that any reasonable sized screw will be ineffectual. To solve that problem I use the following strategy.
First, I establish the depth of the screw hole, usually with a bamboo skewer, then cut a strip of 100% linen rag stationary paper so that the width of the strip of paper is equal to the depth of the existing hole. The I roll up the strip into a curl, so that it fits snugly into the wallowed out hole. I press the rolled fill into the hole, then wick dilute hide glue onto the rolled up paper fill so that it becomes pretty well saturated, then I set the piece aside overnight to let the glue penetrate and harden. When I return to the task the next day, I find that the proper sized screw fits and bites perfectly. If anything goes wrong, I just dampen the fill and gently remove it all with the pointed end of the skewer or a dental pick and start it all over again. It’s a high strength, high utility archival repair. What’s not to like about it?
I returned the chairs to the client’s home where they were placed alongside her exquisite Breuer leather and chrome chairs, where they complete the living room ensemble with real class.
Before I did anything else, I had to consider carefully what the chair itself needed, in order to fulfill the user’s needs. Since I could not disassemble the chair without inflicting even more severe damage, this meant that I had to impose into the original fabric of the chair in situ and remove a substantial quantity of the original material, then augment that original element with new material unrelated to the original construction of the chair. Through consultation and discussion, both the client and I affirmed that route, so I dove in. (Both chairs were treated in essentially the same manner, which was a good move strategically. When disassembling the second chair I discovered that it too had broken in the exact same place, but the damage had not yet become manifest at a gross level.)
The first thing was to get the broken and displaced cross-member into the correct configuration, in short, put it back to the exact shape it was before the damage. So, I disassembled the buckboard spring assembly by detaching it from both the seat underside and the cross member and setting it aside until final reassembly. I introduced hot hide glue into the fracture and clamped the cross member so that it was straight, and allowed it to sit overnight. No, this was not a structural repair, it was rather a reclamation of the proper shape so that a structural compensation could take place.
I learned an important fact during this step, namely that the grain of the wood was really squirrely, much too figured for the stresses placed on it, and the wood was very brittle. This confirmed my proposal for the treatment process.
Since the cross member was not square in cross section, and since the wood was so brittle, I could not use a power router to excavate the opening for the new enhancement. Instead I placed the new aluminum barstock spine on the underside of the cross member and scribed a mark, which I made quite deep with a knife.
With my diminutive slotting plane I cut as deep and long of a ¼” wide furrow as possible, then switched to a ¼” pigsticker mortise chisel (it was just the best tool for the job) to finish the excavation.
I made sure to fit the excavation and the new spline to each other. Just before inserting the spline, I drilled several holes through it so that the bedding epoxy would go not only around it but through it, locking everything in place.
Using West System Epoxy with the slowest setting catalyst, I used a disposable paper cup to apply the epoxy on the spline and allowed it to flow down and around the new element, repeating as necessary until it was clearly full. Then I set up four clamps to hold everything in place and went down the hill to supper.
The next morning I saw that the results were exactly as I had hoped, and filed off the excess epoxy and smoothed out the underside, making no effort to disguise the presence of the new addition. Being on the underside it was not visible to the user unless she flipped it over to look at it, and knowing her as I do, she probably will show it off to her many friends in the artifacts world.
With that, the chairs were ready for reassembly, wherein I ran into some fairly typical problems — mismatched screws, and wallowed out screw holes.
The approach to solving the problem afflicting these two chairs highlights a method for decision-making about artifact care that I derived more than twenty years ago, a model that has served me without fail ever since I established its framework. It is a method by which I self-consciously attempt to balance the all the stakeholders in the drama: the chair itself, historical integrity, the user and their needs, and the possibilities and limitations of reality.
I use this graphical representation to help remind me in steering my thinking. (You can download a printable version of this here).
In this case I was faced with a well-artistically-designed piece of furniture that could no longer function properly, primarily I believe due to ill-advised fabrication. If it was merely a prototype to demonstrate a form that never made it to production, or some other reason (as near as I can tell it never did make it into production), the fact is that it has become a treasured albeit utilitarian object whose dual purposes are to 1) look beautiful, and 2) keep the occupant off the floor, comfortably.
As I said earlier there was simply no way to disassemble the chair to get to the offending element without inflicting catastrophic damage on the chair, so that was out of the question.
In the end I decided on a path analogous to a treatment I had devised and executed two decades ago for a cane bottomed painted chair from around 1800. The side seat rail had been broken and repaired numerous times, and since the structure was both visible and hopelessly compromised, AND it could not be disassembled to enact the compensation needed, my fundamental commitment to the historical integrity of the piece — i.e. keeping the original fabric entirely intact and leaving it as unchanged as possible — had to be considered and reconsidered a great length.
For the c.1800 painted chair I settled on excavating the underside of the seat rail and inserting and unobtrusive spine into the broken element in order to make it function properly (the chair was one of a set that was still used on a daily basis). It worked perfectly.
With the confidence of that successful project, for this pair of chairs I decided to do much the same thing. The underside of the primary cross-member that had suffered complete failure and collapse from the stresses exceeding its functionality, and need to be reinforced with a stout and robust new element. In this case I determined that the element needed to be a piece of metal bar stock, and the embedding material was to be epoxy.
Next time I will walk you through the execution of the treatment.
Often when telling folks, woodworkers who replicate historic styles especially, that I have been a furniture and wooden artifacts conservator and restorer for more than four decades, they usually get dewey-eyed and exclaim something like, “Oh, it must be so great to work on furniture from the old days, when it was still good stuff.” True enough, I have worked on some old artifacts, the oldest wooden object was at least five or six centuries, but I often find the most challenging and inspiring projects and objects are more or less contemporary. Further, I recognize that my liking or disliking an artifact’s design does not make it good or bad. Still, I find some of the most fascinating furniture emerged from the minds of creative designers pushing the boundaries of design and fabrication. (Truth be told, a lot of the “great” furniture of centuries past was unimaginative replication, as social standing was much more involved with “keeping up with the [English or French] Jones'” than it was with good artistry or craftsmanship).
The 20th Century hosted the creative design genius of a multitude of awe-inspiring designers whose work I find much more engaging than their much older predecessors. Charles Rennie Mackintosh, the Greene brothers, Eileen Grey, Alvar Aalto, Peter Behrens, Charles Eames, Emile-Jacques Ruhlmann, Josef Hoffman, and Louis Marjorelle are but a few of the multitude of artists who made wood and surfaces express exuberant beauty.
It is noteworthy that many of the great modern designers were not artisans, and in fact some did not have a firm grasp on the details of how things were made. Thus, many times when the sketches were brought to reality the pieces of furniture they directed to be created had, um, shortcomings.
Such is the case with a pair of mid-century modern chairs I was asked to conserve recently. The client, a scholar of the arts, thought that these might have been prototypes from the mind of Milo Baughmann. It makes sense to me; they are reminiscent of some of Baughmann’s other work, and the construction details for the chairs were not the best resolution to the structural requirements for their use. Alternately, the chairs could be the product of the imagination for an acolyte of Charles Eames. Whatever the source, neither I nor the client have ever seen another example of this specific chair form (I like it so much I am trying to devise the making of some myself.).
The main problem with these two rocking chairs, well, one in particular, was that the cross member that bears virtually the entire weight of the sitter was 1) too weak to resist the forces of sitting adequately (especially since it was both undersized and much more figured that is appropriate for the location and requirements of the element), and 2) integral to the structure of the chair which simply could not be dismantled for the offending piece to be replaced without inflicting catastrophic destruction on the chair.
Over the next three postings I will describe my decision-making for resolving the problem and returning the chairs to full service, the execution of that plan, and finally note about the reassembly and a solution to dealing with the problem of wallowed out screw holes.
As they say about many things in life, timing is everything.
With winter setting in here in the Allegheny Highlands, I’ve been trying to time the winter shutdown of the hydroelectric system in order to avoid the carnage of last winter, as lengthy sections of the pipeline to the turbine froze and shattered. I planned for the shutdown to occur at dusk today. The system has been performing brilliantly, even with several consecutive nights with lows about 10F.
Today we took a trip across the mountains to get some lumber and groceries, returning just before dusk so that I could walk the line and shut the system down. The day was cold but sunny, between 15 and 20F as we headed out, and the turbine could be heard doing its little turbine work. As we pulled up on our return five hours later, parked, and got out, a sickening silence cut through the air. The gentle whine of the turbine was missing.
After quickly unloading the groceries (the lumber can stay in the back of the truck) I headed up the hill to see what the situation was. The situation? I waited one day too long. The water in the pipeline has frozen in place, and all I can do now is wait for the pipeline to thaw to determine the level of damage and make the repairs. Surely some will have to be replaced, but that might have to wait until spring. Had I closed the system down yesterday, I could have resumed it on the warmer days here. Now? Probably not until late March at the earliest. Good thing we added the extra solar panels last September. In the morning I will brush off the snow and get back to work on the various projects around here.
I also need to re-examine every part of the pipeline system, to get it perfect. Clearly, it is not so now.
It is now just past dusk here, and even though they are predicting a low of 2F tonight, it was already 1F a half hour ago. I suspect the air temperature will get to minus-5F or maybe even minus-8, and with winds gusting to almost forty miles an hour, that will yield a wind chill of around -40F.
If you come across any anthropogenic global warming crackpots (but I am being redundant) whack them with a snow shovel.
Winter is settling in here on the homestead, with a couple of inches of snow today and sub-zero temperatures due in a coupe of days, no telling what the wind-chill will be if the breeze gets up to the 40 mph range that is not uncommon out here. Although the weather is increasingly brutal and the pace of activities remains high, I wanted to take a minute to walk you through the wax works in Chez Barn.
I render the raw beeswax into purified material as I described here and then I turn it over to my wife for final processing. As a former experimental scientist she is pretty scrupulous about here approach, which has helped me a lot. She solved a problem I had been having in getting minute specs of debris in the raw material, and she observed the way I was working and straightened me out.
She takes the slabs of purified wax and melts it in a dedicated crock pot (the solar oven is not an option in winter here) and fills the silicone rubber molds “just right” on the kitchen counter. Once the blocks cool and are popped out of the molds, they move to the dining table where she weighs them each on a digital scale to make sure they are all 4.1 ounces. Then she cuts each printed label page in half and wraps the blocks, glues their end flaps, and sticks them in a box to be put on the inventory shelf in the living room closet. She can produce about 25 blocks on a good day, but less when she is busy with things like cooking, which she loves to do and I love her cooking too!
Then you order it and I send it to you.
We’ve recently debuted a new style of polissoir, based on the one depicted in and described by the accompanying text for Roubo’s Plate 296. Not too surprising, I have dubbed this the Model 296 polissoir. The Lie-Nielsen website featured it in their “Tom’s Toolbox” page of episodically available specialty tools.
This polissoir as close the original as we can make it, using full length broom straw bristles and ultra-heavyweight waxed linen cord wrapping to accomplish the overall diameter of somewhere between 1-3/4 and 2 inches. It is somewhat looser than the woven 2-inch polissoir, but not really enough so that you can sense any difference in how it works.
This polissoir is available from both The Barn On White Run and Lie-Nielsen Tools for a retail price of $36. They are also carrying our 1/4-pound hand processed beeswax for $10.
I am delighted to take note of the recent Gift Catalog from Lee Valley Tools, which I believe offered the Original 1-inch Polissoir from The Barn On White Run, and the accompanying 1/4-pound block of hand processed beeswax. Yes indeed, our interpretation of Roubo’s finishing magic has gone international, and I am truly appreciative of the vote of confidence from Rob Lee! I don’t know if it will remain a specialty item for them or migrate into their standard catalog, so check it out.
Their retail prices are the same as mine, $24 for the polissoir and $10 for the block of wax. So, you now have two sources for the same wonderful products.
Go forth and polish.
What a wondrous time of family conviviality this week is.
Thanks to the unerring taste in Christmas presents by my wife and daughters, I was gifted with the LAP hooded sweatshirt and te new LAP book Calvin Cobb, Radio Woodworker. In addition, with some Christmas currency I have three LAP videos coming my way along with the 2nd Edition of the Moxon.
A time of loving celebration in the bosom of my family, beautiful weather, and toolish gifts along with the thermal socks and undershirts I asked for. Does it get better than this?
I am not a Christmasophile (the season, I fully imbue the true sentiment), but I do so enjoy the good excuse to play Handel’s Messiah two or three times a day for a month.
I am especially struck by this libretto taken from the Book of Job:
I know that My Redeemer liveth, and that He shall stand at the latter Day upon the Earth, and though worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh I will see God. — Job 19:25-6
There is great comfort in the message of the entire work, as I simply do not have enough faith in irreproducible speculation to be an existentialist cosmological accidentarian.
I wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas if you celebrate it, and if you do not, I still wish you a Blessed and Merry Christmas.
In the past I have waxed eloquent on the utility of elegantly simple humble items in the shop, like clothespins and bricks. Well, I have just finished a project where three painfully prosaic supplies were of immense help, things I keep around the shop and use daily without even thinking about it. So now I am thinking about it.
The first item is kabob skewers from the grocery store. I use them as mixing stirrers, especially when I am preparing some small batches of viscous epoxy for adhering or filling something, as reaming cleaners when I want to clean out a small hole, especially a threaded hole, when I do not want to inflict any damage to the threads, and even is pins for temporarily aligning parts or even as mortise pins for small frames. I go through a bundle of skewers about twice a year.
Next is a bundle of tapered shims, the kind used by trim carpenters especially for framing out or installing doos and windows. I work on a lot of antique furniture, and one thing that is fairly self evident about antiques is that they are, well, old. And lime you and me, as furniture ages it often gets warped. Almost nothing irritates me more in the shop than artifacts wobbling on the bench while I am working on them. Whether it is a chair on top of the bench or a cabinet on the floor, odds are pretty good that will not sit precisely and perfectly solid on the surface. A quick application of a tapered shim under the offending corner or leg addresses the problem, and gives me one less thing to get cranky about. Given the precarious state of Western Civilization in he hands of our perfidious “leadership” I already have enough to be cranky about. Pairs of shims do wonders as expanding clamping blocks, too.
Finally, we have the often-overlooked container of petroleum jelly. Among other things it is a superb screw lubricant or easily removable masking agent. I use it more as a masking and parting agent when I am making silicone rubber molds, which I do fairly frequently. It can be thinned with mineral spirits or naphtha as needed, and easily removed with the same fairly benign solvents. I never know where to keep mine, so I have small containers of it scattered around the shop.
With the Virtuoso manuscript out of my hands until the page proofs sometime in the coming weeks, and Roubo on Furniture not requiring my all-day-every-day reviewing just yet, I have begun to spend more time outside and in the shop. Since I haven’t even unpacked all my tools yet, much less arranged them in an orderly fashion, it feels good to be up the hill puttering and actually doing productive work on projects.
It has been a fairly mild December thus far, which is a nice break after the brutal November. One of the primary issues for the barn workshop is, of course, heating my work space in a locale with bitter winters. Last winter my pal Tony installed a cast iron stove he’d found for me on one of his remodeling jobs. It was a Coalbrookdale Severn stove, a bi-fuel Brit import no longer being made as far as I know. Despite its compact footprint it weighs in at just under 500 pounds.
Since I was pretty busy with a lot of other things last winter I did not spend much time in the barn shop, so I only used the stove a few times because it takes so long to build up enough heat to be useful to me, while the kerosene heater gets the space warm in just a few minutes.
Now that I will be working out there more, and for longer stretches at a time, I have been playing with the Severn stove. Yep, once it gets going, it is a terrific heat source. But, its firebox is fairly small and I found myself going down about every hour to stoke it (it is in the basement underneath my shop, and the heat radiates nicely up to my space above). I was talking to some of my wood harvesting pals about the use of coal as a fuel in this stove, and Bob said he had a pile of hard anthracite coal for me to try with. I fired it up with coal yesterday and love it! It takes a long time to get up to temperature, but once it does it burns long and hot, usually 8-12 hours per charge. Even though I have not yet mastered the nuances of the stove — starting a coal fire is more complex than simply starting a wood fire, in fact the latter must precede the former — its performance is pretty impressive. Yesterday it had the shop in the high 60s, which is a good 15 degrees more than I need.
I’ve seen the future, and it is black. At least the “heating the barn” part. I’ll burn my way through Bob’s coal pile then for next winter order a couple pallets of bagged anthracite to heat all winter long. Soon I will add an in-stovepipe heat exchanger to extract even more heat from the pipe running up through the shop. With January soon upon us, and the locals talk about January with a mixture of warning and respect, I hope to be ready.
As you may recall, this past July I attended the annual Martin J. Donnelly toolapalooza warehouse cleanout auction, when more than three thousand lots of tools in less than twenty hours of auctioneering. My old friend Jon was there with me, it was his first time there and it blew his mind. At his strong suggestion I bid on and won a superb vintage Lamson machinist’s lathe, to bring back to the barn and add to my inventory. To sweeten the deal, Jon offered to tune up the headstock and outfit the unit with a new drive mechanism.
Recently Jon dropped by the barn on his way home from a vacation of vintage motorcycling with his pal Mike from the Pickers television show (I believe Jon was one of the brains who came up with the show’s idea) and brought with him the refurbished headstock and the attached new drive motor. He had done some bearing work and scavenged a DC motor and control from a treadmill, his favorite source for machine motors.
We spent a few hours assembling the lathe and getting it running, which was very exciting. Watching the first hot curling chips come off was quite a thrill.
Jon will return in a month or so to finish the tune-up, as only someone with almost two dozen lathes can.
Together we will try to decode the thread cutting chart on the lathe.
After the obligatory portrait of a fashionable man with his retro-fashionable lathe, we bid each other farewell as he raced for home to beat the coming snowstorm.
Jon’s account in the Bank of Don is full to overflowing.
I’m emerging from more than a week of radio silence. I’m not apologizing for it, as I was feverishly selecting, identifying editing, and captioning somewhere close to 500 pictures for VIRTUOSO: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley. This was from an inventory of over 6,000 photos in my computer, which does not include the ton of pictures Chris took nor the ones Narayan was not happy with. I would guess that if you gathered all the files from each time we snapped a picture it would number somewhere north of 10,000. I had begun the process about the time I submitted the written manuscript a month ago, but it resumed in earnest once Chris had the manuscript edited for me to work with two weeks ago.
This does not include the glamor shots or other photographs that will be employed as galleries or visual punctuation as Chris Schwarz, Wesley Tnnner, and Narayan Nayar hammer out the final design and layout for the book. It would not surprise me in the end if the book has up to 600 illustrations. I’ll have to look it over one last time, but we have had enough conversations that I am certain they know what I want it to look like.
For tomorrow afternoon I have a handful of photos to shoot (literally, less than a dozen) then I will let the manuscript sit unstirred for 24 hours and read it one final time before washing my hands of the whole thing as I send it to land on Chris’ desk with a plop on Monday.
Good riddance, I say. Come next week I will be free from my chair to work on the firewood pile, the new door for the root cellar, trying to impose some sort of order in the barn, continue reviewing Roubo 2, working on the preparations and marketing for the exhibit of the Studley collection…