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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 37 min 19 sec ago

‘To Make as Perfectly as Possible’ Named one of the ‘50 Books of the Year’ (repost from Lost Art Press blog)

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 5:45am

From Chris Schwarz’ blog:


The deluxe edition of “To Make as Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Marquetry” has been named one of the “50 Books of the Year” for 2013 by the Design Observer, in association with AIGA and Designers & Books.

Wesley Tanner at work on his bench during the French Oak Roubo Project.

Designed by Wesley Tanner, “To Make as Perfectly as Possible” is the most beautiful modern book I have ever held, much less worked on. Wesley, a fine woodworker himself, did justice to the immense years-long translating job by Don Williams, Michele Pagan and Philippe Lafargue.

You can see all of the winners of the competitionhere.

This “50 Books” competition is the oldest continuously operating graphic design competition in the United States, starting in 1922.

Please join me in congratulating Wesley on his prestigious award.

— Christopher Schwarz

P.S. We have about two dozen copies of the deluxe edition for sale in our store. Once they are gone, they are gone forever.

WIA Day 1

Fri, 09/19/2014 - 5:37am


WIA began with a sumptuous breakfast courtesy of our hosts, the good folks at Popular Woodworking magazine.  I had been kibitzing with friends and acquaintances down in The Marketplace and was a bit late for the start and Editor Megan Fitzpatrick’s comments, but there was still bacon and eggs and lots of fruit when I got there so all was well.




We then moved en masse down to the same Marketplace, where the money started flowing from the guests to the vendors, and there were many fine vendors selling exquisite tools.


At the appointed time I dashed upstairs to sit in on Patrick Edwards’ excellent talk on the history and range of French Marquetry, which given my investment in the Roubo franchise should make my interests pretty clear.  Patrick and I first met 32 years ago, and have remained acquainted ever since.  We invited him to contribute the Foreward to To Make As Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Marquetry.

Patrick did a terrific job of covering an immense amount of material in his allotted time.


That session had gotten off to a rousing start with stand-up comic Roy Underhill introducing Patrick with a wild story of their first meeting at the Great Brine Shrimp Roundup in The Great Salt Lake of Utah, and how Patrick somehow saved the day in diffusing a brine shrimp stampede that threatened any and all who were nearby.


Immediately thereafter I was next door feverishly setting up my session, “Secrets of Period Finishing.”  It was well attended by an enthusiastic audience that frequently led me down rabbit trails with their insightful questions.  I really have to watch myself about that and remember to stay on course.


I am now thinking that a four-hour session is too long in that it actually encourages me to divert from the main theme, and that a three-hour session would impose a certain disciplinary constraint.  I’ll have to talk to Megan about that.  Still, a large number of folks stuck it out to the very end.


The day concluded with a festive gathering at Martin O’Brien’s eerily tidy shop, where fellow Groopsters were joined by Phil Lowe and Will Neptune.

WIA Day 0 – An Exhibit and Setting Up

Thu, 09/18/2014 - 6:04am

Since we were planning on taking all my stuff to WIA late in the afternoon, we decided to follow our hosts’ recommendation and view a local museum exhibit of Chairs at The Reynolda Museum on the north side of Winston Salem.  Unfortunately they did not allow photography, but it was a terrific exhibit.  We were accompanied by old friend and brilliant furniture maker Freddy Roman.


Later in the afternoon we navigated the clogged pathways of the WIA Marketplace in the convention center to get all my demonstration supplies up to the room I was using for teaching, and noted several things along the way.


First, I must admit it was quite a kick to see the video front and center in the Popular Woodworking bookstore.  I had actually only seen the released version two weeks ago; it was not terrible.


Second, even though I have given scores (hundreds?) of talks it still is a bit of a jolt to see my name listed on the room schedule.  I don’t know why, it just does.


Third, there were a lot of great folks exhibiting mighty fine tools in The Marketplace.  Somehow I managed to emerge from the weekend with zero dollars spent.  Not that I wasn’t tempted…

We wrapped up the day with some good old North Carolina barbecue and bluegrass music a Prissy Polly’s, a renowned local eatery a few miles away in Kernersville.  Ummmmmmmmmmmmm.

I see that according to WordPress this is my 200th blog post.  Who knew I had that much to say about anything?  I mean besides anyone who actually knows me.


WIA Day 0 Minus 1 – Chris Vesper

Tue, 09/16/2014 - 3:26pm

On the eve of departing for Woodworking in America we were delighted to host a brief visit from Chris Vesper, toolmaker extraordinaire whose handiworks are simply the standard in my opinion.  Chris wrote me about a month ago saying he was flying into Richmond as the terminus for his flight from Australia, and after 36 hours in the Williamsburg area we saw his headlights peeking up the driveway.  His navigation was mighty good as we are pretty much beyond cell service, but apparently not beyond satellite.  I need to remember that fact…


Chris had an amazing tale of woe relating to his two suitcases of tools being confiscated by the Customs clowns in Dallas.  He hoped but did not know for sure the tools would show up in time to set up his booth.  As you can see from the picture above, in the end it did work out although he had to pony up some pretty serious unexpected express shipping fees.

After dining we set about to commencing to talk, and it was well past midnight when we turned in.  the next morning we toured the barn and then he headed off for Winston Salem.  We followed him a couple of hours later, arriving just in time for a late supper with the friends we were visiting.

Making Tortoiseshell, er, Tordonshell

Fri, 09/12/2014 - 4:49am

We’ve got a weekend workshop on Boullework Marquetry coming up at The Barn the first weekend of October. Recently I made a batch of artificial tortoiseshell for us to use in that workshop, with at least two pieces for each participant.  One of the exercises for the weekend will be to make another batch so that each attendee can make their own once they get back home.


My method is described somewhat in an article I will post next week in the Writings section of the web site, but here again is how I did it this time.  Start with a flat clean surface with a sheet of mylar on which to cast the artificial shell on.


Cast out the material on the mylar,


then create the pattern.  The upper row of scutes is made to mimic “hawksbill” turtles, and the lower row “greenback” turtles.  Once that is firm, cast a second layer of polymer on top of the pattern to complete the composite, and you are done.

PS  –  I purposefully left out all the chemistry stuff.  It’s in the article

PPS  If you are interested in joining us for the course, drop me a line through the “Contact” function of the web site.


Wed, 09/10/2014 - 6:41am

We all have quirks, but one of mine is the irrational fear of running out of stuff to talk about whenever I am making a presentation.  Notwithstanding the fact that I have never run out of words before the end of my previous two hundred presentations, I still try to prepare such that I can “wing it” if ever I do.


So, in preparing for the upcoming presentations at WIA I have been working assiduously for both the historic finishing and gold leafing talks.  Just the supplies and examples for the historic finishing talk seems somewhat overkill, but don’t bother to argue with me.  It’s what I do.


I even hand-planed some boards from the lumber pile,


and made a couple of parquetry panels to make sure I had things to work on while the crowds are watching.


I might’ve gone even nuttier with the gold leaf demo, starting with mixing up traditional gesso by putting 10% glue granules in a jar,


Adding water until full,


and soaking over night.


I cooked it,


added calcium carbonate/whiting,


and started preparing step-by-step examples so that I can walk the attendees through the entire process from start to finish, ending with the toning of the newly applied 23 karat gold leaf..

If you are at WIA make sure to say “Hi” and tell me you read the blog.




A Peek Into the World of Henry Studley

Tue, 09/09/2014 - 10:54am

Now that the rough/first draft of VIRTUOSO: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley is in the computer I can now focus on those areas of the manuscript that need beefing up.  One of those areas was the dearth of description regarding the possible daily activities of Studley in the Poole Piano Company when he was building the tool cabinet and work bench.  That information has been very hard to find.


Fortunately I came across a shop in Charlottesville, two hours away, that was dedicated to the restoration, preservation, and care of fine old pianos.  Owner Tom Shaw (right) and historical piano specialist Randolph Byrd (left) were a tremendous source of encouragement and information.  Their framed poster of the Studley cabinet is jut out of sight on the right.


What made me excited to visit them was the breadth of their activities, plus the fact that Tom’s grandfather was a piano craftsman in Boston beginning in 1907, in other words, a contemporary of Studley’s.  Here Tom is proudly showing me his grandfather’s piano tool kit, which his grandfather made himself.  It put food on the table, and you can’t ask for much more than that.


The one and only known portrait of Studley depicts him as an “action man” at the Poole Piano Company.  His task would have been to assemble a kit like this one (this is for a grand piano, but you get the idea) into a perfectly functioning mechanism that would produce beautiful noise whenever the keys were pressed down.



I even got to see the working of one of the tools identical to Studley’s for adjusting some part of the action mechanism.


One of the final steps before assembling the action is “sighting the hammers” in order to make sure they are aligned and evenly graduated.  While this is for a grand piano action, the process for an upright would be conceptually identical.

Gentlemen, thank you for pushing back the boundaries of my ignorance considerably.  A copy of the book will wing its way to you when it is available.

Power System Upgrade Complete

Sun, 09/07/2014 - 7:24am

This week was a time of delightful camaraderie and productivity around the homestead as the firewood pile grew immensely, thanks to the ministrations of my  Bible-study friend BobK and his mondo chainsaw (back in the ‘burbs my Stihl was the Beast of the East, but out here it is just a toy.)  With Bob’s help we felled a number of locust trees on the perimeter of the front yard, and removed the sections of the raggedy old walnut overhanging the power system.


Following that came the arrival of my dear friends Bill Robillard and Dave Reeves for a few days of fellowship and power system upgrade as the new bank of solar panels was installed.   Immediately on arrival Dave and I spent an hour at the wood splitter processing the two truckloads of firewood Bob and I had compiled.  But as soon as Bill arrived the next morning the power work began in earnest.  The current bank is almost perfectly oriented for summer power, but the new bank will be much more amenable for winter power production as it is inclined several degrees.  if that is not adequate I will raise that angle to be more efficient with the low winter sun.


However, even prior to their coming I had to dig out and inventory all the parts and supplies I had purchased for this project last year.  Fortunately I was able to put my hands on everything on the invoice.


Installing the framework to hold the panels to roof was fairly straightforward measuring, drilling, caulking, and bolting.  And of course, it was the hottest, sunniest day of the summer.  Handling the panels and the tools was at times unpleasant due to their heat, but we got it done shortly after lunch.


We then draped the older bank of panels and shut the entire system down so there would be no risk of shock to Bill as he integrated the two sets of solar panels and upgraded the electronics connections in the power closet.  His career as an electro/mechanical engineer has certainly been a tremendous resource for me and all his friends.


Combining this improvement with the new gargantuan 192-pound batteries I installed last spring should bring the system up to snuff.  Perhaps over the winter I will get the second hydroturbine built downstream about 100 feet from the current one, gaining perhaps another 30% electricity from the hydro function.

When I first became interested in off-grid living more than four decades ago, efficient solar and microhydro electricity were pipe dreams, and I remember an article titled something like “Will Solar Panels Every Break the $10/Watt Barrier?”  My panels are now six or seven year old technology, and they were in effect about 70 cents/watt, and the microhydro thurbine about a dollar a watt at maximum output.  Newer ones are even better, of course.  I can only imagine what the inventive American spirit will accomplish in the future out of necessity as the current knuckleheaded political establishment ramps up its obstruction to efficient industrial-scale energy.  Come 2015 and 2016 as the War on Coal begins shutting down 3/4th’s of the nation’s electricity output…  I decry the duplicity of political figures, but wouldn’t you know the one time a national politician keeps his promise, it is to fulfill a vow to send the energy costs skyrocketing.

On Friday bill and Dave and I even had a bit of spare time to 1) solve the world’s problem, which we did with insightful alacrity, and 2) allow me to demonstrate to them my technique for sharpening edge tools.  They seemed to appreciate it and went home with another skill set in their quiver.

I’ll know how much of an improvement this was to the system when the sun comes out later in the week.  Until then I will just have to wait and anticipate.

Thanks guys, your accounts in the Bank of Don are full to the brim.

A Simple Solution to a Common Problem: Replacing a Rocker

Sat, 09/06/2014 - 3:18pm

Some friends have a century-old painted wicker rocker that is a prized accent on their front porch, and one of the rockers broke.  Several times.


I find that many of these old rockers are made from “run of the mill” lumber which can be good or bad, and when they are bad there is just no fixing them.  So, I made a new one.


I began by tracing the remaining sound rocker on a piece of 2x framing lumber and band sawing the  bottom profile into the 2x and ripped a number of strips from the same 2x board to build up a new laminated rocker (the only time I have used the table saw in a couple of months).


Using the just-sawn contour as the form, I laminated a four-ply rocker from the strips using yellow PVA as it was going to be exposed to the porch environment.  I clamped it all together, wrapped in wax paper to make sure it comes apart as it should, and let it sit until the glue was hard.  A couple days later it popped free just fine.


Pinching the rough laminated piece in the four dogs of my vise I planed and shaped it in just a few minutes.


My first step was to clean up the glue squeeze-out with a plane which took 30 seconds per side.


Once that was done I traced the original rocker again to determine the front to back taper.


With a spokeshave I achieved the desired taper line in a few minutes.


Getting the holes of the right size in the right place, I finished off the project with some final shaping with spokeshaves and rasps, and it was ready to be sent home.




FORP II: The Anticipation Begins

Tue, 09/02/2014 - 5:29pm

The Benchcrafted folks opened the registration for the November 2015 reprise of the amazing French Oak Roubo Project I was privileged to to participate in last year (and no, my own bench is not yet finished.  It has been languishing for the past 14 months while other things have been closer to the top of the “Get This Done Now!” pile).

c mondo dovetail

I will once again be part of the teaching-and-helping team, along with Jameel Abraham, Raney Nelson, Chris Schwarz, Jon Fiant, Will Myers, Jeff Miller, Ron Brese, and our incomparable host Bo Childs.

c slabs galore

I was outside working all day today, and just now saw the posting for the registration being opened, and the posting indicating that all the slots were filled.

My only sage advice is to make sure to wear clothes you do not mind getting stained.  This oak was so rich in tannins that everything I wore then still has a faded black tint to it, but given my wardrobe that’s no big deal.

Between Roubo 2, VIRTUOSO, The Studley tool cabinet exhibit, and probably Roubo 3, 2015 looks to be a mighty exciting year.

Studley Research Whirlwind Trip Part 2

Sat, 08/30/2014 - 2:28pm


cIMG_6814Ninety miles from the Studley-era piano maker’s workbench was the finest Studley-inspired tool cabinet I have seen.  No, it wasn’t Studley, nothing else is, and it is not yet finished as there are still many tools destined for it, but I cannot imagine any serious woodworker not wanting this hanging on the wall above their bench.

The  maker is a tremendously skilled fellow whose other projects revealed that like Studley, he enjoyed making intricate and complex things.

Oh, and all the screws are clocked.  He wouldn’t bite on my suggestion that this revealed he was anal-retentive/compulsive, he merely replied that it was attention to detail.  He was a great sport about the whole thing, and I truly enjoyed my time with him and hope he will make it to the exhibit next spring.


Yup, it’ll be in the book too, in far greater detail and length.

Back home now, and finishing the first rough draft of the whole book tomorrow!

A Different Kind of, um, Woodworking

Fri, 08/29/2014 - 3:35pm

This will be our first full winter in the Virginia Highlands, where it gets “upstate New York cold.”  For the past few weeks the sound of chainsaws and log splitters has been a constant drone in the background of the valley atmosphere, as the locals are getting ready for intense global cooling.  Me too.  In addition to the firewood already stacked in the storage shed next to the cabin, other piles of split wood are growing around the homestead.


Last winter was perhaps the coldest in a century here, and the woolly worms, walnut trees, and Farmer’s Almanac are all projecting an even colder winter this time around.


Walnut trees?  Yep, by mid August they were already turning yellow and the leaves are now falling in a constant wave.   Hence, concerns for an even worse winter.  That would be pretty brutal, as at least on three occasions last winter the dusk to dawn temperature here in the holler was 20 degrees below zero.


Given the cold-nature of my bride the need for firewood and lots of it is riding high at the moment.  Yesterday was one of those times when I hunted and gathered firewood.  In the morning I went to my friend Mike’s farm and he cut down two trees, one maple and one beech and helped me load my truck to the gills.  I’ve never bottomed-out my 4WD s10 before, but it was yesterday.


When I finished splitting that (our altitude lets split wood dry really fast!) I went up the hill to work on a giant maple that fell last winter.  So far it has yielded two truck loads and will probably get another two by the time it is all done.  For scale, the log on the ground is 16″ by about 15 feet long, and the larger of the two trunks still on the root ball is about 24″.  It’s stretching my 14″ Stihl chainsaw to the limit.  It might be time to get another, larger one.  But for now as long as I keep the chain sharp it is doing okay.

How much wood do we need to keep the home fires burning non-stop for five-plus months?  We will find out, but the other night at Bible Study one of the fellows indicated that he had put up 19 cords of wood.  I certainly hope he needs a lot more than we do.  Otherwise I am only about 1/3 of the way there.  Fortunately(?) I want to clear more space on the south side of the barn for more winter light, so a bunch of trees will be coming down next week.

Studley Research Whirlwind Trip Part 1

Thu, 08/28/2014 - 5:35pm

Monday just after dawn I hit the road for a longish drive into the Heart of Dixie to see a workbench.  The owner had contacted me through the Lost Art Press web site indicating he had a really fancy Studley-era piano makers work bench.  So of course I had to go see it.


He was right.  It was spectacular.  Other than Studley’s, all the other piano maker’s benches I had seen were at least in part “store bought.”  Not this one, it was all craftsman-made.  By a mighty good craftsman.


With its burled veneers on the drawers, delicate a whisper tight dovetails, superb cast drawer pulls, and the really neat tool rack, it was a work of art.

And yes, it will be featured in the book, in a Gallery of Piano-maker’s Benches.

Parquetry Tutorial – Laying Out the Pattern

Wed, 08/27/2014 - 5:45pm


Once you have sawn a great pile of equilateral parallelograms with the jigs from the last post, you need to arrange them into the final pattern.  Next post will go through the nuts and bolts of assembling a finished parquetry panel to adhere to a substrate, but for this post I want to diverge for just a few minutes and talk about the pattern layout itself.  I feel justified in doing this because I have yet to teach a workshop where everyone does not make some layout mistake that has to be undone, often with great damage to the glued up pattern or at the very least loss of a lot of time and a raised level of frustration.

The key is to remember that in most instances, this exercise included PARQUETRY IS A REPEATED PATTERN.  In fact, this simplest exercise is really about a dozen patterns superimposed on each other, and you must be mindful of their construction in order to avoid catastrophic mistakes that might deter you from finishing or continuing.

The pattern Roubo illustrates in the plate above, Figures 4 and 5, is simple and to my aesthetic taste, garish.  I prefer to adapt it to my own preferences by using all the same wood for all the lozenges, and establish the shimmering pattern only through the changing grain patterns of the lozenges via laying them out.

parquetry 4

The simplest unit of the design is the cubic die.  It is repeated ad infinitum until the panel is complete.

parquetry 5

All you have to do is make sure you lay out each and every one of them with the grain pattern like this.

parquetry 7

Or perhaps more simply, just remember to make it a whorl like this.  But in truth, this is like George Costanza getting hypnotized by a poster on the wall of the bathroom.  Hopefully you do not proceed only partially robed.

parquetry 6

Such would be the risk when you realized suddenly that the dice overlap each other, and your eyes start to spin around.  Let’s see if there are other approaches that might help.


parquetry 10

Another, second set of patterns is the pinwheel with a center point.

parquetry 13

They are simple to lay out, just make sure that each opposing pair of lozenges is aligned to each other and the overall pattern.   Like this,

parquetry 12

and this,

parquetry 11

and this.

parquetry 9

Unfortunately, the pinwheels also overlap each otherand there is the risk of visual confusion.  Arrrrgh!

There are a third set of simultaneous patterns at work on the panel that are easy to keep in mind, running always in the background like a security system on your computer.  It is the most straightforward pattern set, and this is often where I begin, laying out a horizontal row of lozenges tip-to-tip, each with the same grain orientation.

parquetry 1

But, since we are working with a six-sided form, there are two additional complimentary patterns identical to the first one, each of these two off-set by 60-degrees.

parquetry 3

Like this,

parquetry 2

and this.

So, you can see the advantages of thinking about complex complimentary rows.

If you keep all these things in mind while you are assembling your panel, success is at hand.




Mark Your Calendar: French Oak Roubo Project Part Deux (cross post from Benchcrafted)

Thu, 08/21/2014 - 2:41pm

An announcement from Jameel Abraham at Benchcrafted.


The arrangements have been made. Contracts signed. Wood procured. We’ve even struck a deal with the local meteorologist to all but guarantee comfortable weather.

The French Oak Roubo Project will happen again the week of November 8-14, 2015.

We’ve been working out many details over the summer and can say with assurance the following:

1. The original crew will be back. Chris Schwarz, Don Williams, Raney Nelson, Jeff Miller, Ron Brese, Will Myers, and Jon Fiant will all be back. Of course Bo and I will also be there, although I can’t promise you won’t find us fishing in one of Bo’s ponds for lunker bass.

2. We’re making room for more. There are eight benches in Plate 11. Since this is FORP II we’re going to double that. We’ll have 16 spots available for participants. We actually built 16 benches last time around, but this time the original crew will work on everyone’s benches, in the hopes of getting more accomplished during the week.

3. Another huge bench. Bo complains that one 16′ Plate 11 bench isn’t enough (some people!) So we’ll try to build another one for him while we’re there. We had loads of fun getting Bo’s bench put together last time. Lowering the top onto the base with the fork truck was thrilling on the last day. I want to duplicate that.

4. Schwarz will talk Sunday night during a meet and greet about bench history, the art of the green bean casserole, and how to live without a modern sewage system. There will be refreshments (no casseroles though.)

5. Lunch. Catered lunch everyday from a local chef who studied in France and at the CIA (the other CIA.) Some of you might end up staying at her B&B. Excellent. We may also break out the grills in the evening if we feel up to it.

6. Hardware from Benchcrafted, Lake Erie Toolworks, and Peter Ross. Same as last time.

7. Personalized letterpress labels from Wesley Tanner

8. Pig Candy.

As for price, it will be a little more. Some of our costs have gone up in the past couple years. It won’t be a deal breaker for anyone, promise.

We’ll open registration on Tuesday, September 2 at 10am CST (we’ll do a blog post then to announce.) To register you’ll simply send an email to jameel@benchcrafted.com saying “I’m in” and we’ll send you all the nitty gritty. To be fair, it will be first-come, first-served only.



Tue, 08/19/2014 - 12:22pm

Periodically to take a break from sitting and writing, I get out of the recliner and hike up the hill to spend a little time puttering in the barn.  I am getting much faster at writing over time — I penned the thousand-word introductory essay for the new l’Art du Menuisier: The Book of Plates in about two hours, but still it is simltaneously exhilarating and tedious.  Since I know I have to get back to work to stay on track, my times in the barn are short and the activities brief and episodic for several more days.


In addition to periodically loading the solar wax melter to purify more beeswax I grab a scrub plane to continue the flattening of a maple slab I glued up several winters ago.  It is destined in short order to become a Roubo-hybrid bench in my barn studio, perhaps even under the east bank of windows.  The “hybridization” of the bench will be in the form of another Emmert K1 vise, a tool I consider unsurpassed in the bench world.

The 18″-wide maple slab was out-of-flat by more than a quarter inch and I do not own a power planer that large and the darned thing is just too heavy to take to a friend’s shop where a planer that large sits.  A few minutes of scrubbing here and a few minutes of scrubbing there adds up, and now the slab is flat enough to start laying out the legs.


Ten feet away my old Roubo bench I built for my conservation studio at the Smithsonian, where the climate control was perfect all theim time,  developed a 1/2″(!) crown once I moved it to the unregulated environment on the south side of the barn.  I will also will be taking a whack at that as a vigorously physical respite from writing.

Another fortnight or less and the first draft of VIRTUOSO will be done.

Not Quite Radio Silence…

Fri, 08/15/2014 - 7:23pm

… but certainly blogging quietness.

I’m in the midst of the critical phase where I am weaving the final threads and honing the organization of the VIRTUOSO manuscript.  I spent yesterday and today working into the night on the chapter on Studley himself and the winding path the ensemble took to arrive to us today.

That means I have completed the first draft of the introduction, the biography and provenance, the tool inventory with commentary (well, mostly, I have some questions to answer with the microscope in a couple of months), the chapter on the bench and vises is more than half done, the section on Studley’s Masonic heritage is due in a day or two from Spider Johnson, I have a good start on the woodworking-popular-culture chapter, and the conclusion is finished.

I hope to have the first draft complete enough in a week or so that I can send it to Narayan so we can start 1) picking out the mere multitude of pictures from the book from among the bazillion we have, and 2) outline the photographic and informational needs we have for the upcoming final trip.

Stay tuend.

Solar Beeswax Melter Processing

Wed, 08/13/2014 - 9:43am

I’ve been able to build up my inventory of raw beeswax enough to begin planning for processing it by the boat load for sale as 1/4 lb blocks, and to use in the making of Mel’s Wax.  In the past I’ve done processing with a variety of electrical cookers, CrockPots and the like, but I wanted to try something else.


Following the copious information on the internet — and if it is on the internet it MUST be true — early last week I built a fairly typical solar oven to give it a try.  Using some of the scrap 3″ XPS rigid foam insulation I’ve got laying around along with a glass panel from a long-dead storm door and some construction adhesive, I built a prototype to give it a try and see if it worked.

Boy howdy, did it ever work.

I took my remote sensor for the thermometer (it’s the unit I place out in the unheated part of the barn to tell me when I am inside the heated part how cold it is “out there”) and placed it inside the solar oven.  Before long the interior temperatures were 130F, 140F, 150F.  I set up a wax batch and it melted in less than 90 minutes, not a whole lot slower than I would get starting from cold with a Crock Pot.  Plus, since the entire volume is at the same temperature the wax flows through the filter much more easily.

I filtered the raw wax through metal window screen to get out the bug parts then a disposable shop towel for tiny particulates, and let it drip into a pan of water to dissolve out any remaining honey or propolis.  The resulting wax is beautiful, ready for remelting and casting into rubber molds.


Last Tuesday the sun was bright and mostly uninterrupted.  My peak temp was 162F, which was hot enough to not only melt the wax easily but also melt the case of the sensor unit and actually the solar oven began to melt itself!  Clearly the XPS was not the ultimate answer.


I grabbed some 2″ foil faced polyurethane sheet insulation and built another one.  That should do it.  If not, I’ll switch to foil faced fiberboard insulation, but the idea is definitely solid.  From now on I expect that every bright sunny day will find the solar wax purifier hard at work.

Now I just have to wait for a warm sunny day.  It’s been grey and cold(!) the last several days, but I have hope for this afternoon.

Stay tuned.

Historic Finishing and Gold Leaf at Woodworking in America

Mon, 08/11/2014 - 4:34pm

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It’s hard to believe that Woodworking in America 2014 is only a month away!

Once again I am honored to be a presenter.  My main frustration is that there are so many great presenters that I will be unable to see nearly as much as I want.


On Friday afternoon I have the remarkable luxury of having four solid hours to talk about and demonstrate historic finishing.  I have presented this at WIA several times before and it always seems to be a crowd-pleaser.


Last year the audience was especially enthusiastic; the facilities crew tossed us out sometime close to 7PM.


Then,  mid-day Saturday will be a new WIA topic for me, Gilding.  I don’t do much large scale gold leafing anymore, but I do use it a fair bit in my japanning work.


I hope to see you there.

(Re)Commencing Conservation at The Barn

Sun, 08/10/2014 - 7:48pm


After a lengthy hiatus due mostly to the upheavals of moving, writing several books simultaneously, planning and hosting a gathering of fifty people at The Barn…, I am resuming my practice of conserving furniture and decorative arts, with the primary activities now being conducted in The Barn.


With likely projects including a pair of mid-century modern chairs, 19th Century tortoiseshell boxes, an 18th century long rifle, a 17th century Italian sculpture, a pair of mirror frames., a 19th century gilded French clock… I expect to be busier than ever soon enough even though R2 is off to editing and out of my consciousness for a moment and the Studley manscript will be off my plate in about three months.

Provided my clients give their consent, I will be posting about these in-studio projects as they unfold.


by Dr. Radut