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The Barn on White Run
Recently I was invited to speak about the HO Studley project to the Frederickburg (VA) Woodworker’s Guild. My friend SteveD was my host and a grand time ensued.
While at Steve’s I got to see a bed frame he had been working on in recent weeks, and about which we had corresponded regarding the finish being used. This bed was commissioned by the organization that is recreating George Washington’s childhood home near Fredericksburg. Much of the recreation is based on rigorous and ongoing archaeology. The Washington family domicile being readied for the public is all new construction, but there is solid evidence that it is a very faithful interpretation of the original.
Steve has been commissioned to create a number of beds (and perhaps other pieces?) for the site, and this bed is a stunning one.
The audience at the Guild meeting was large and enthusiastic, Steve said it was about twice normal. And you gotta admit, the tale of Henry O. Studlew is a compelling one. The group meets in a semi-industrial space which suited me just fine.
The audience was very attentive and engaged, asking excellent questions throughout the presentation and staying after to discuss all manner of Studley and Roubo topics. They promised to invite me back, and I look forward to that event.
En route back to Shangri-La following our excursion into deepest Flyover Country we stopped to see the progress of things at Lost Art Press. Mrs. Barn had never seen the new World Headquarters and since they were within a mile of our route, I checked to make sure we could stop.
As usual Chris was hard at work in the shop and on the shop, but he took a few minutes to visit and relax.
During that brief visit I sat in the Mother of All Stump Chairs that Chris has been chronicling. I cannot say I could sit there for an entire evening but it was more comfortable than I expected and looked pretty cool too. All I needed was a bearskin vest and a grog of mead and I would have looked right at home.
We also toured the new machine room emerging from the renovation of the carriage house out back, and Chris had just hung and caulked his hand-made doors before we arrived. I definitely approve.
I join Chris in celebrating the establishment of the new headquarters, and even his dream of living in this vintage high density neighborhood. He likes having neighbors nearby, I like having neighbors on the other side of the mountain.
While visiting Mark Harrell recently our conversation returned to a topic we had engaged in previously, namely that of the repertoire of saws in an 18th century Parisian workshop. Whatever they had, Mark wants to try to make it.
The literary evidence is pretty clear that the workhorse saws in these shops were frame saws for much of the heavy dimensioning (ripping) work and bow saws for the rest, including joinery. (Roubo makes no references to back saws) We might tend to see bow saws as a northern implement, coming from Scandinavian and Germanic traditions, but Roubo places inordinate emphasis on their use and utility in the Paris of his time.
The variations within this theme are many, but at present I am trying to brainstorm about adapting Roubo’s images and descriptions to the tasks of a workshop in 2018. I am starting from the premise that the saw plate Mark developed for the frame saw should serve equally well in a bow saw with the plate fixed parallel to the plane of the frame. With that in mind I have been noodling the designs and begun replicating at least one of a pair of Roubo bowsaws (the other being a compass or “turning” saw, so noted as having a shallow blade that can both follow a curved cut and be rotated in the bow handle for greater facility) in time for demonstrating at CW next week.
Hoping for success. Wish me luck.
This giant banner at Bad Axe Toolworks made me laugh out loud. You know Roubo is catching on when the yardstick for a tool is its ability to cut the dovetailed leg tenons for a Plate 11 workbench.
My recent trek around Flyover Country included an intersection between my path to my home town in southern Minnesota (the tropical part) and LaCrosse, Wisconsin, home to Mark Harrell and his ambitious enterprise Bad Axe Tool Works. I’ve been collaborating with Mark for some time on the development of a frame saw/sash saw with the promise that he would put one in my hands.
As the owner of two c. 1800 four-foot frame saws I was delighted to share the particulars about them with anyone who wanted to know. Their details are spectacular, from the hand forged hardware to the forged plates in near-perfect condition. (by that I mean there are no kinks or missing teeth, there was plenty of surface rust and the teeth needed touching up)
Like other saw makers, Mark contacted me some time ago and I took the time to talk with him at length about the vintage saws I have, in addition to the diminutive version I made for myself. Mark was particularly interested in a model halfway between my vintage big ones and my new smaller one, and we worked out the details over many emails and phone calls, an interchange I welcome from any tool maker who wants my two cents worth. To this point my only fee is that I get one of the tools in question if they ever go into production. I think Bad Axe might have had this model at Handworks 2017, but I was so busy I could never get to their station once they got set up, so this was my chance.
Accompanied by The Oldwolf, Derek Olsen, we arrived late-morning. And the saw geek-dom commenced. Behind this modest door and awning is a buzzing hive of saw making.
Mrs. Barn and I got a quick tour of the facility, getting the opportunity to meet and greet each of the the sawmaking elves there.
I was especially impressed with the classroom they have set up there for saw making and sharpening workshops. Mark definitely has the leads for mondo saw sharpening vises and setters.
Then we got down to the real fun as Mark brought out several models of saws for me to play with. I already own two Bad Axe saws, including a custom made dovetail saw I commissioned and that has now become ensconced in their product line. Under Mark’s watchful eye the playing commenced, and it was glorious!
Our exploration of the topic continued almost non-stop and we were torn between talking about saws, and sawing.
Then came the “official” purpose of the visit, taking delivery of my own Bad Axe frame saw based on Roubo, my old saws, and my new one, with a bit of Bad Axe special sauce tossed in for good measure.
It performed perfectly right out of the box and will be integrated into my shop work as soon as it gets home.
More about the visit in the next post.
A recent trip to the Midwest for a variety of family gatherings provided a chance to drop in on Derek Olsen of Oldwolf Workshop fame. Derek’s is a fairly recent entrance into my orbit, but our friendship is fast and strong. He was first among the multitude of friends who volunteered to help with the 2015 HO Studley exhibit, and his account in The Bank of Don is brimming.
The stop for fellowship was a delightful one as you might expect.
Derek proudly showed his impressive library of furniture history books, his shrine to Studley, and his still-in-development shop in the garage next to where he and Mrs. Oldwolf moved in recent years.
After our time there, we headed down the road (actually only a few blocks) to some time of saw geek-dom at Bad Axe.
But that’s for the next post.
I blogged recently about visiting my friend, Mister Stewart, and his ensemble of the Henry Studley tool cabinet and workbench. One of the purposes of the visit was to get a better picture of the molding profile on the cabinet, but Mister Stewart did one better than that. During his fabrication of the new workbench base he replicate exactly the moldings from the tool cabinet and gave me one of the scraps from that enterprise. I finally got a chance to take a picture, and here it is.
If you would like a better resolution picture of the cross-section, drop me a line here.
Here’s a list of the Barn workshops I’ve pencilled in for this year. I will blog in greater detail shortly.
Historic Finishing April 26-28, $375
Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400
Boullework Marquetry July 13-15, $375
Knotwork Banding Inlay August 10-12, $375
Build A Classic Workbench September 3-7, $950
Notwithstanding the fact that I believe we are living in The Golden Age Of Woodworking Tools, the precipitous decline and apparent imminent demise of Sears/Craftsman is a cautionary tale, although I remain uncertain of its ultimate meaning. As a devotee of Joseph Schumpeter’s “creative destruction” premise, I do not mourn Sears/Craftsman’s passing as much as I celebrate the role going to the Sears tool department played in my early life. The tool department was large, the shelves fully stocked with high quality products, and the sales folks knew what they had and how to use it. Really. That is probably incomprehensible to anyone going to Sears now, but it was true in 1970.
The trips there with my Dad were too numerous to recall, and were equal parts utilitarian errands and incalculable treasure hunts. Our bond of toolism and tinkering was foundational, continuing until the day he took his final breath and we parted with no unfinished business. In fact that bond remains as after his funeral my brothers and I divvied up his tools, some of which get used in my shop now.
The first tool I ever bought with my own lawn-mowing money was this pocket knife, still in use 49 years after its purchase. (full disclosure — I could not lay my hands on mine at the moment, it is probably in a pair of pants or overalls that I have hanging on some hook in some closet. This is an identical one I saw on ebay.)
My first power tool was this 3/8″ Craftsman drill, still going strong after 47 years. It’s a low-speed, high torque unit that can just as easily spin you around if used carelessly. The only changes from the day I bought it are a new power cord and Jorgensen chuck.
I still have many other wrenches, sockets, and screwdrivers from the same store bought around the same time. None has ever given me a lick of trouble.
But recently my mondo Craftsman Shop Vac gave up the ghost, after only 44 years of faithful service. Or at least I inferred that it was dead based on the acrid smoke shooting out of the motor casing moments after it ceased operating with a snap, crackle, and pop. I did not even bother with an autopsy, merely cutting off the power cord and taking the canister lid to the dump (I never throw away a good power cord). I saved the rolling base, it still serves as a receptacle for scraps.
On the way home from the dump I stopped at our local farm coop and hardware store and bought a successor model. Given the current state of Craftsman products, I guess I will only get 30 years or so from it. I can only imagine how cranky I will be shopping for a new one at 92.
Right after the conclusion of the Parquetry workshop at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking I dove in again with three days of Historic Finishing (reminder to self — DO NOT do this again. The logistics of changing horses mid-week is a headache you can do without). This class had more than a dozen students, and the enthusiastic feedback had led Marc to ask me to develop an expanded week-long workshop on the same topic, which we will do in 2019.
I’ve pretty much got this workshop dialed in, as I do with Parquetry, so there is a fairly fixed syllabus here. The emphasis is on processes and work habits rather than having a “completed” project at the end, concentrating on shellac spirit varnishes and beeswax applications.
The starting point is this 24×48 panel building up multiple brushed applications of 1-1/2 pound cut shellac to about 18 layers over the first day and a half. Getting this to “done” allows us to explore the detailing and polishing of the surface.
We used polissoirs for preparing surfaces and applying wax, and filled the grain with molten beeswax. Then we made and used polishing pads for applying spirit varnish.
Each student got to address the problems of finishing undulating surfaces,
applying pigmented wax grain filler,
and even making historic sandpaper.
The giant panels were polished out with a variety of period-appropriate abrasives,
and one quadrant was glazed with asphaltum.
All in all, it was a great time of fellowship and learning. How could it not be, we were finishing!
I recently spent a week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, teaching two three-day courses. I believe this was an experiment on Marc’s part, road testing some new scheduling concepts such as a three-day workshop during the week as opposed to only on weekends.
The Parquetry workshop had three enthusiastic attendees (plus a most excellent teaching assistant), a number the Marc told me precludes any repetition of the topic. This is an entirely fair conclusion on his part as he has a huge footprint to support. With several classrooms in simultaneous use I’m guessing he needs somewhere between 35-50 attendees every day for six months to make it work.
In fact our merry little band was in a huge, well equipped classroom with twenty (?) workbenches. The spaciousness was both unnerving and delightful as the students could spread their projects as widely as they wanted.
This workshop is somewhat unusual for me in that there was a finished project at the end, while I tend to prefer teaching a skill-set rather than a project.
But skills and processes were taught and practiced, including the making of sawing and planing jigs,
sawing veneer stock for making the patterns,
the assembly of the patterns,
fabricating and integrating simple bandings,
and gluing them down to a substrate.
In the end they were cleaned up with toothing planes, files, and scrapers making them ready for the finishing process.
Though I will not be teaching this workshop again at MASW, I will not completely set the general topic aside. I am hoping to have a workshop on knot-work banding perimeters there in 2019.
My recent trip to Indiana to teach for a week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking coincided with one of the monthly “open houses” at the World Headquarters of Lost Art Press in Ft. Mitchell, KY. I had a grand time there, visiting with many fellow woodworking enthusiasts.
I was especially delighted to cross paths with Dr. Mike, a specialist in hand and wrist injuries, who has been advising me on my rehabilitation following last year’s broken arm. The location and severity of the break made its manifestation a wrist and hand issue. The radius had snapped about an inch above the wrist and the broken-off tip had rotated considerably. Fortunately the setting went perfectly. (Note to self: don’t fall onto a stone walkway any more) The resulting cast was necessarily quite snug to keep everything in order, and the posture of the hand was not straight but rather considerably bent to keep everything in proper alignment during the healing. One result of this arrangement was that all the swelling was pushed down into my fingers, which for several weeks looked like kielbasa. As a result of all this, the directed swelling really aggravated the arthritis in my hand, which x-rays confirmed infest every single joint therein.
After getting the cast removed I undertook a rigorous regimen of physical therapy emphasizing flexibility and movement and downplaying the regaining of my hand strength. I attacked the problem, which seemed to be resistant to my best efforts at resolution.
Enter Dr. Mike.
At last March’s Lie-Nielsen event on Covington KY he examined my arm/wrist/and and declared that I was being too diligent in my exercises; I was working the region so hard I was essentially inflicting as much inflammation as I was alleviating. He proposed a new exercise routine for me, which I began the next day. The beneficial results were almost immediate, but still the road to full recovery had many miles to go. We corresponded regularly as I provided updates and he provided further counsel.
Flash forward to the LAP open house, when he gave an exceeding thorough evaluation of the damaged flipper. We were both every pleased at the progress, and changed the emphasis to the return of ultra-fine motor skills in the digits. With a new set of exercises to address this we parted and I have been engaged in additional finger flexibility routines ever since.
At this point the overall status of the ensemble varies on a day-to-day basis of somewhere in the 85%-95%+ range. My arm bone is fully healed and needs no more thought. My wrist flexibility as close to 100% of that which was expected. My finger micro-dexterity is somewhere north of 75% depending on how my arthritis is acting up. Some days it exceeds 90%. My hand strength is in the 80-90% range and slowly getting stronger with ordinary shop activities.
I recently wrote a note to Dr. Mike celebrating my use of chopsticks for the first time in over a year. Indeed I mark the progress by the little things I can do again; remove the gas cap from the car without discomfort, pull the starter cord for the log splitter, handle the chain saw, hand plane and hand saw with impunity.
As the day in Ft. Mitchell wound down the stragglers mostly gathered to watch Chris work on a chair seat.
Finally it was just a handful of us, as we ate pizza and then I hit the road.
Recently I was reviewing the manuscript for Joshua Klein’s great new book about polymath and furniture maker Jonathan Fisher for Lost Art Press as I had been asked to write the Forward. The book is an excellent reading and learning experience, and one of the descriptions of Fisher’s day-to-day life caught my particular attention. In addition to everything else he had to do was the onerous task of obtaining many tons of firewood requisite for each Maine winter.
My friend Bob, who is a lifelong timberman, came for couple hours a few months ago and felled more than a dozen large ailing trees that had been damaged over the years. His help is incalculably important as I simply do not have the experience necessary to fell very large trees with confidence, while he has felled literally tens of thousands of trees and manages to drop them safely right where they need to go. Among this year’s prizes was a wonderful old oak with a long, straight trunk, that had been damaged in a storm last winter. I’ll be splitting and riving that one in a few weeks, I hope. More about that later.
Sometimes we just go where the trees are, but I am particularly interested in thinning the woods to the south and southwest of the barn to perhaps extend the daylight portion of winter days by an hour or more. Currently I lose direct light by about 3PM and I aim to push that to 4 or 4:30. That will be the best I can hope for unless we remove the crest of the hill occupying that space.
Once the trees are on the ground I can then return at my leisure to cut them into bolts and haul them down the hill. Inasmuch as I have the same objective as Jonathan Fisher, gathering tons of firewood each winter, I am more than delighted that almost a century ago the good folks at Stihl, Dolmar, and Festool worked independently to provide us with what we now have as the modern chainsaw. Ditto whoever combined a gasoline engine, hydraulic piston, and steel wedge to create log splitters.
With the side crib completely full with a double course of wood and the front porch filled with only a walking path to the front door we are ready for winter. I’m now working on my firewood pile for next winter with hopes of eventually getting a couple of years ahead. It’s the mountain way.
For unto us a child is born, unto us a son is given: and the government shall be upon his shoulder: and his name shall be called Wonderful, Counseller, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, The Prince of Peace.
The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.” Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God. You will conceive and give birth to a son, and you are to call him Jesus. He will be great and will be called the Son of the Most High. The Lord God will give him the throne of his father David, and he will reign over Jacob’s descendants forever; his kingdom will never end.”
Isn’t this the carpenter’s son? Isn’t his mother’s name Mary?
And I heard a great voice out of heaven saying, Behold, the tabernacle of God is with men, and he will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God. And God shall wipe away all tears from their eyes; and there shall be no more death, neither sorrow, nor crying, neither shall there be any more pain: for the former things are passed away.
I pray for you to have a blessed time with loved ones, and that you are celebrating the Incarnation, through whom we can be reconciled with The Creator.
A while back I had the opportunity to visit some old friends, namely Mister Stewart and his remarkable collection of artifacts including the tool cabinet and workbench of HO Studley. My impetus for the visit, beyond the obvious, was to examine the newest element found and integrated into the workbench. The rear shelf completed the composition of the bench.
It was unusual for the form in that it was not pierced to hold tools, the typical arrangement for such shelves, such as this analogous bench and shelf.
Perhaps the function of this shelf on Studley’s bench was to simply look pretty?
Another element of the visit was documenting more fully some of the molding profiles on the cabinet. Though I did not have a profile gauge with me, Mister Stewart gifted me with a piece of the molding he made when he fabricated the new workbench base. Once I get that photographed I’ll post that as well.
Now that we are on the verge of big time heating season I can reflect on the new hearth pad I made for the wood/coal stove in the basement of the barn. In the past, due mostly to the fact that the stove was installed in the dead of winter with near-zero temps, the pad for the stove was simply loose firebricks laid on top of the plywood sub-floor. It had remained that way for four years until I revisited the situation over the summer.
I removed all of the loose firebricks except for the four underneath the stove feet and a row around the perimeter and hand-poured a concrete pad (reinforced with hardware cloth) in its place. I don’d know if it will make any difference but it makes me happier to have it done.
It is pretty clear from the results that I am not a mason or concrete specialist. Regardless, it is ready to go and provides a permanent foundation for the 500-pound stove for as long as the barn is standing.
With the new Juncus polissoir made I took a minute to examine and characterize it, and give it a quick test drive. As I said earlier, it took a lot more of the rush to compress to the same density of the sorghum polissoirs I have made for me.
My immediate impression of the Juncus polissoir is that is softer and more fragile than the sorghum. The working surface just seemed softer to my fingertips and fingernail, and the fibers around the perimeter of the working tip were much more easily damaged and broken off. My deduction is that this tool could not be used vigorously as a dry tip, unlike the sorghum. Yannick Chastang implied as much when he indicated that this tool is always used with wax, although Roubo is less clear on the subject (Roubo could be a frustrating writer, often accomplishing the nearly impossible feat of being simultaneously effusive and laconic).
Due to time limitations, at that moment my only side-by-side apples vs. apples comparison I could make was to use a dry (unwaxed) sorghum polissoir and this new dry (unwaxed) Juncus polissoir on a prepped board.
Both accomplished glistening surfaces in a matter of seconds.
The visual result was pretty much indistinguishable, but there was a definite sensory difference; the Juncus polissoir seemed much softer to the surface of the wood. Even though the fibers of each were compressed as tightly as possible, the sound of them tapping on the workpiece differed; the Juncus had a much softer, more diffused sound than the sorghum. Deductively this implies that the sorghum polissoir was more efficient to Juncus in burnishing (compressing and smoothing the surface of the workpiece), yielding a “brighter” surface, but the Juncus might be superior in polishing (smoothing via rubbing abrasion) and also more forgiving. Neither strikes me as “superior” overall at this point, they just have unique characters that differ. I do suspect also that the sorghum polissoir is more robust and long-lasting than the more fragile Juncus, but that may or may not be true, and might be mitigated through wax impregnation.
As time allows in the future I will test and compare these tools further in the future, but for now that is what I have to report.
Once the Juncus dried enough for me to play with, I trimmed a large hank to length, about 4-inches.
Just to make sure it was really dry I placed it in a glass canning jar on top of my coffee warmer glue pot for 24 hours. Then I started to make a polissoir as I have done many times before, albeit with sorghum broom straw.
One thing that is immediately apparent is that Juncus is much less dense and more fragile than broom straw. This is not a surprise give that Juncus is a hollow rush, essentially a tube structure. When assembling the fibers for constructing the polissoir I did something I had not done before, I flipped half of the fibers and then shuffled them for a fairly even distribution.
Grabbing a handful from the case of hose clamps I keep on the shelf for maintaining the hydroelectric penstock, I lined everything up and started tightening. And tightening. And tightening. The hollow feature of the Juncus meant that the collapse of the bundle was dramatically more than the broom straw. While the broom straw compresses about 10-20% under clamping, in my gross observation (I did not measure it in advance) the Juncus compresses 50-75% to achieve the same density as the corn straw. In other words, Juncus compresses somewhere between 2-1/2 and 7-1/2 times more than sorghum.
Once the bundle was tightly bound in the hose clamps I began to wrap it with heavy waxed linen cord until it was complete and tied off.
One one end of the polissoir I trimmed the tip with a Japanese knife; on the other I used a fine saw to cut off the excess.
Now it was ready to put to the test.
I rarely post about something that is current, but I found a package on the front porch when I came down for lunch yesterday. Inside was the new issue of American Period Furniture, the annual journal of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers. I have been a member of SAPFM for many years, and served a couple terms on the Society’s governing body.
Last year I was invited to be the banquet speaker for the annual Working Wood in the 18th Century conference at Colonial Williamsburg. Since the SAPFM always holds their annual business meeting and banquet at this conference there were plenty of members in the audience that evening.
They must have liked the banquet talk because I was immediately asked to turn it into an article for APF. I did, and it arrived this week. I forget whether this was my third or fourth APF article.
I will be blogging about each the 10 exercises in the talk and article at greater length in the near future.
One day at lunch last spring I mentioned to Mrs. Barn my correspondence with Yannick Chastang and my subsequent interest in finding some Juncus rush to experiment with making a polissoir from this fiber. Where, oh where, could I find this exotic plant?
“Out back, it’s all over the place,” says she. “We have some here along the pond.”
Immediately after lunch we went together to walk around the pond and she pointed out the few immature clumps of this spikey plant. This was one of the hundreds of wetlands grasses, in our case Juncus effusis. After looking it up I concluded that its geographic growth range is limited to planet Earth. Apparently it is almost universal in its growing. Maybe even the river banks of Paris?
Cheered, I went back to work and after some more correspondence, knew I had to wait until autumn to harvest it.
Flash forward a few weeks to my chatting with stonemason extraordinaire Daniel as he was creating our new stone wall.
“Come over to my place, ” he said. “I’ve got a ton of it around the pond. Help yourself. It’s just a weed the cows won’t eat.”
Now I was getting really jazzed.
Flash forward again, this time to September when my friend JohnH came to help teach a workbench-building workshop. Since no one showed up to build a workbench we spent most of our week in great fellowship working on the ripple molding cutting machines, which he and I will be demonstrating at the upcoming Colonial Williamsburg Working Wood in the 18th Century shindig, we took time to go to Daniel’s and harvest a pile of the “weed.”
We spread it out to dry in the sun for three days, then I bundled it up and moved it inside to finish seasoning.
Before long it was ready to work with.