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The Barn on White Run
During last month’s foray into the alien planet known as Newengland I stopped in South Portland to visit MikeM, who had emailed me about a wheel-handled vise he found at a flea market up there.
Since I have been on the hunt for piano makers’ vises for several years, and since he was literally less than a mile off the interstate, stopping to check it out was a no-brainer. The vise itself was a head-scratcher.
It is definitely in the same vein as all the others I have seen, and no two have been identical thus far, this one was a real outlier.
The general configuration certainly conformed to the style, but the travel of the face was quite short, and where in the world did that five-spoke wheel come from?
One thing that definitely made me smile was the factt hat he had taken my advice and made some polissoirs himself from whisk brooms. I was honored to add to his collection with a genuine Roubo Polissoir from Don’s Barn.
Thanks Mike for sharing this peculiar tool with me. I will look fine alongside all the others in the book.
Tomorrow night at 7PM Eastern Time Matt Vanderlist will post a video interview he did with Narayan Nayar and me on the upcoming doings of the Studley enterprise. Chris Schwarz blogged about this the other day, and I have borrowed this picture from that blog (it is very difficult to take a picture of yourself while appearing on camera.)
It was great fun to chat with Matt and we enjoyed the experience and the discussion immensely. You will no doubt notice my well-coiffed and sartorially splendid self, looking like I was at the end of a long slog, For me it was the pleasant near-culmination of a week wrapping up my research on the tool cabinet in preparations for polishing the manuscript, which is ongoing at this moment.
We also shot another ten minute special segment on the workbench, which I believe Matt made available to his patrons for the web site, but I understand that segment will not be posted on the general site.
I watched both of the videos and thought they looked like fun.
For the most part I try to keep this blog focused on artisanry and homesteading, but every now and then I veer off course. This is one of those times.
My post-adolescent life has seen me plagued with sleeping problems, mostly that I had difficulty falling asleep when I was supposed to be going to sleep. Three or four hours of tossing and turning was not uncommon, one or two hours was the norm. (I did get a lot of extra reading and writing done, though.) One thing that helped me a fair bit was to listen to the spoken word as I was trying to get drowsy. For some reason music did not work as well, so from the time of my teens I would listen to radio to sop up the extra brainwaves or something.
In recent years late night radio has increasingly irritated me, mostly the 1:1 ratio of programming to non-programming like commercials, news, promos, public service announcements, etc., so instead I’ve switched to downloading old-time radio shows especially of the detective variety, which work like a charm. One delightful recent discovery was a contemporary Toronto radio theater troupe that creates hilarious over-the-top homages the the hard-boiled detective genre, in the character of Black Jack Justice and his sidekick, Trixie Dixon, Girl Detective. Though I am no longer plagued by sleepless nights, the habit is hard to kick and at times I still find myself listening and laughing out loud as I drift off to sleep.
Totally unrelated, a biographical documentary has been released recently for my long time friend, economist Dr. Walter E. Williams. I have not yet seen it but will soon, but it is unlikely that I will be surprised after three decades of camaraderie and lengthy dinner conversations chewing the iconoclastic philosophical fat. I am proud to call him “friend.”
Tomorrow, back to woodworking. I have about 20 blog posts in the can, and just have to parcel them out as the final grind for Manuscript Studley takes control of my life for a fortnight.
My two-week-long trip to make on-site exhibit arrangements and a final examination of the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench began with a long day’s drive from the Virginia mountains to Cincinnati. I remain convinced that Google Maps employs aspiring NASCAR drivers to ascertain driving times.
About an hour out of Cincy I drove through a storm cell that almost certainly contained a tornado or two, or so I deduced from the building parts flying past me on the road. I’ve driven through rain so intense that I could not see the road in front of me, but this was the first time I have ever been in rain so fierce that I could not see the road beside me. I pulled into a gas station as soon as I could see well enough to navigate, but immediately noticed two things. First, the gas pumps were scattered around the lot, some on top of cars. Second was the unmistakable smell of gasoline. I moved on as soon as I could get turned around.
As I write this I’m in Fort Mitchell visiting Chris Schwarz for the evening, reviewing the recently returned page proofs for the Roubo l’Art du Menuisier Book of Plates and working through some of the details for the soon-to-be-submitted manuscript for VIRTUOSO: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley. We spent a fair bit of time discussing Chris’ vision for the physical manifestation of the latter. To tell you the truth I am ambivalent about some of these details; I just want the book to be as compelling as Lost Art Press can make it. Given their track record, I have nothing to worry about in that regard.
A special treat was to be a fly on the wall as Chris and Megan Fitzpatrick discussed an upcoming PopWood article (November, I believe) about a cabinet with some spectacular Gothic tracery Chris is finishing.
And I cannot deny the little tremor of pleasure I experienced when noting this image.
Recently I was asked if I was ready to wash my hands of the Studley project, both the manuscript for the book VIRTUOSO and the upcoming Studley exhibit next May. I had to think for a minute, because the truth is I am a bit weary from the pace of working around the homestead, wrapping up Roubo 2, and completing the Studley manuscript and making all the plans and arrangements for the exhibit.
But no, I am not tired of H.O. Studley. How can you get tired of contemplating and exploring things like this?
Once you have cut an adequate number of equilateral parallelogram lozenges, take a piece of heavy paper larger than the finished field onto which you will create the pattern field from the lozenges as has been illustrated previously.
Mark the center lines of the pattern on both axis and the outer perimeter of the pattern field (one helpful step is to draw all the lines entirely to the edges of the paper; it will come back to assist you very soon!) begin to assemble and glue down the pattern with hot hide glue
Take care to periodically check the pattern against the pattern system making sure to always get the correct orientation of each lozenge. Otherwise there will be wails of anguish when you discover something out of proper orientation, resulting in aggravation, discouragement, and perhaps abandonment of the technique. That would be unfortunate as it is such a powerful and useful design tool.
When you get enough lozenges glued down so that the entire pattern field is obscured, set it aside and let the glue harden prior to the next step of trimming the field.
Recently I ran into someone who expressed dismay that the upcoming exhibit Henry O.Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench was sold out.
“Where did you get that idea?” I asked.
“I tried going in to buy mine on the second day they were available and had no luck, so I figured it was sold out.” Convinced of the unavailability he had never returned to see the status of the exhibit or its web site.
I reassured him that this was an artifact of the total meltdown of the web site in the first hour of tickets going on sale several months ago. If he returns to the site, all is well and functional.
It occurred to me that others might be thinking the same thing, hence this post to remind everyone.
The truth is there are still plenty of tickets available, and you can order them now. I do not have the spreadsheet in front of me right now, but I am pretty sure there are still time slots that could accommodate a woodworker’s guild or any other groups who wanted to purchase tickets and make it a shared experience.
Spread the word.
Our final day for the recent Boullework marquetry workshop included wrapping up our sawing,
assembling the finished patterns,
and gluing them down to supports.
For small compositions I am a big believer in using bricks as free-floating dead weights to hold them steady while the glue sets. I think these will be used as project starters in the future.
The students also had time to examine their tordonshell they made on the first day, which had air dried until the end of the second day and then spent the final night and day in the dessication chamber. Thus they had their own pieces to take with them, along with the leftovers from the pieces I’d made for the workshop. They’ve got plenty of tordonshell to experiment with several new projects.
I also allowed them to practice with two important tools. First, the chevalet,
and second, the Knew Concepts precision saw (full disclosure — I often collaborate with Knew to give my two cents about developing new tools and uses for those tools).
A grand time was had by all, and I enjoyed it immensely. I look forward to the next time I teach this workshop.
I unpacked the new silicone rubber mold and wooden pattern for the new beeswax mold, then tried it out with some molten beeswax I had previously processed. Success!, and I am pleased with the outcome.
Production has now begun. Thus far I have orders for about 300 1/4-pound blocks. I should be caught up with these orders in less than a month.
If you would like any of this hand processed beeswax, drop me a line at the Contact portal of this site. The slightly-more-than-a quarter-pound block is $10 plus shipping. This is the beeswax I use myself when doing Roubo-style finishing, and demonstrate using it in the new video Creating Historic Furniture Finishes that PopWood released a little while ago.
Once the Studley book manuscript is submitted in about a month I will turn my attentions to many new projects, including the creation of new finishing products including pigmented waxes and “Mel’s Wax,” the revolutionary high-performance furniture care product invented in my lab at the Smithsonian.
We hit the ground running at about 9 this morning with the review of Boulle-work, and then assembled packets for the first sawing exercise, whose only real function was to get newcomers comfortable with the tool and technique of sawing at this scale. Boullework is essentially a fret-sawing technique, and I started everyone off with a copy of their initial to saw in three parts; copper, pewter, and tordonshell.
The first step was to cut all the pieces in the packet the same size,
then score one face of the metal pieces to serve as a cleaner gluing surface. This meant that all the work was being done in a mirrored pattern to the final workpiece.
We assembled the packets with 1/8″ plywood as the bottom face, followed by the copper layer, followed by a piece of waxed paper (as a sawing lubricant), then the piece of tordonshell followed by another piece of waxed paper, then the pewter layer and finally another 1/8″ plywood face.
Veneer tape wrapped around the corners held the packet together, and the pattern was glued to the face of the plywood with stick glue.
Everyone used the same type of saw, a traditional German jeweler’s saw, fitted with 6/0 blades.
Getting the teeth in the right orientation was a challenge, given the near-microscopic size of them. I prefer these tiny blades as they allow for more detailed cutting, and leave such a tiny kerf.
A hole drilled with an eggbeater drill gave entre’ for the blade to be inserted through the packet,
and sawing could begin.
The scale of the sawing is tiny, and so is the saw dust.
The results of this introductory exercise was gratifying.
We then made some tordonshell, with everyone getting their hand in the process.
The second, larger packet was assembled, and the sawing began on the more complex pattern.
Here is how far we got today. More tomorrow.
In previous years our sporadic presence in the mountains often meant that we missed autumn, which comes and goes pretty quickly. The trees reached full color only a week after beginning to turn, and will be gone in another week. When the sun is shining the maples are practically neon.
I continue to chop up trees, and this is maple the first large tree I felled completely by myself. It was about 60’tall and 18 inches at the base. I definitely need a larger, more powerful chain saw. The firewood inventory continues to increase, the local habit is to have next year’s firewood pile sitting and seasoning through the coming year. I’m thinking I may be approaching that point fairly soon.
Also I am moving the tree line back to the southwest of the barn. In winter the trees, even though devoid of leaves, are thick enough such that I loose sunlight by about 2.30. I’m hoping that by moving the tree line back 100 feet I can extend that by an hour.
This coming Friday through Sunday I will be teaching a three day workshop on the Boulle technique of marquetry at The Barn. This is something I very much look forward to. So, for the past few days I have been punctuating my days by preparing the classroom space for the event.
One of the parts attendees seem to enjoy the most is the making of tordonshell, and here is a batch I have prepared for them to use. They will make their own to take home.
Come Sunday afternoon they will have some finished panels, the number and complexity depending on their interest and the time it takes them.
I still have an empty slot for this, so if it interests you drop me a line at the Contact portal for the site.
A week ago Saturday we attended the Maine Organic Farmer’s and Grower’s Association annual “Common Ground Country Fair,” a weird amalgam of passionate foodies, sensible homesteading and rural stewardship, self absorbed yuppie/hippie types who likely shed their costumes and returned to their Ivy-League lives by Monday (I can only hope they didn’t stay that way in perpetuity, although I don’t know what those old balding men will do with their pony-tails), skilled craftsmen, pagan mythology, eco-hysterics, some pretty cool gadgeteering, and some stuff that simply defied description.
And of course, fabulous food. And friends.
I especially enjoyed the skilled trades and crafts on display and being demonstrated, including hewing,
ash sapling peeling for basketry,
furniture making, woodlot and forestry managing,
a huge range of primitive skills like starting a fire with a bowsaw setup and making archery bows (I wanted to take the fellow’s drawknife and sharpen it proper, because he was basically chewing his way through the wood), spectacular sheep dog exercises,
stone carving humble,
and spectacular, and a whole bunch more.
It definitely supplied this year’s quota of human contact, although that one gal with the black make-up and a hardware store’s worth of accouterments in/on/through her face makes me wonder about the human part. I really wish I had taken a picture. I simply do not understand the appeal of self mutilation.
It was pretty clear that the patron saint for the event was Karl Marx, and the omnipresent hectoring of the unctuous enviros made me recall this observation of CS Lewis.
Of all tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It would be better to live under robber barons than under omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber baron’s cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.
Still, a grand time was had! I only wish I had yelled out, “Hooray Monsanto!” or “Fracking now!” just to see the tremors sweep through the crowds.
The second stop on the New England Tour 2014 was the homestead of Joshua and Julia and Eden, and what a delightful stop it was. Aside from the fellowship we encountered an overload of learning and experiencing
On our way to dinner the first evening we stopped by the Jonathan Fisher House museum, where Joshua is engaging in a lot of important research and recreation for his upcoming book on this rural Maine polymath. There was simply too much to see in such a short time, and I am eagerly awaiting the results of Joshua’s research on this remarkable man who was part parson and part inventive genius furniture maker.
Of course one notable item in the collection is this Roman style workbench,
while another is the windmill powered lathe that Joshua is currently reassembling after two centuries of non-use.
Miraculously many of the original turning gouges are still in the collection.
Fisher was many things including an accomplished artist, as these prints from his woodcuts will attest. I fully expect Joshua to paint a compelling picture of rural inventiveness and creativity from the Maine frontier of two hundred years ago.
This year’s just-completed whirlwind blitz through New England began with a day of photographing Ben’s bench in central Rhode Island.
It turns out that Justin, the son of some dear friends here in the mountains, knew a guy with a piano maker’s workbench. The upcoming book on HO Studley and his tool cabinet and workbench will include a gallery of similar benches and vises, and Ben’s was certainly worthy of inclusion.
The bench featured a number of exciting revelations, not the least of which was the number “15” stamped perfectly on three of the adjacent parts. I can only conclude that there are (or were) at least 14 other units of the same manufacture somewhere.
What was best about the visit was that Ben’s bench is still a working tool to this day. He was apologetic about some of the accretions, but I was thrilled to see it still helping a guy make a living.
The motley crew, with Ben in the center and Justin on the right.
Thanks to the generosity of attendee BL I can post a number of images from the WIA Saturday afternoon session on gold leaf.
The preparation for either perfect polychrome or gold leafing is essentially the same, requiring good gesso and application techniques, along with attentive treatment of the surface at every step as each successive step amplifies the quality f the previous step like a blinding spotlight.
I test the first application of dilute gesso by making a drop in my hand; I want it to look like skim milk.
The really great things about the small audience were the ability of everyone to get really close to see what was going on, and the chance for almost everyone to try their hand at applying good gesso so they would know what it looked and acted like on the brush.
Once the gesso is built up on top of the carving it needs to be “re-cut” or re-carved since the gesso will obscure the detail as it gets built up. I generally use dental scrapers and chisels for my re-cutting. In gilding shops of old, the re-cutter was usually the highest paid guy in the shop.
Often the final step in the gesso and bole stage is to briskly rub the surface with a piece of linen, which creates the polished base on which the gold leaf is applied.
Here I am just showing the cutting of gold leaf on the gilder’s pad. Since modern gold leaf is somewhere around 1/100,000th of a inch thick, a delicate touch is required.
Prior to the start of the two-hour session I brushed some quick-set oil size on a painted and polished surface, and at the end of the session I laid the leaf. Here I have just set the fragile gold leaf on top of the hardening oil size and am pouncing it down.
Brushing of the leaf reveals the areas that had been sized and those which had not been sized.
Water gilding is a whole ‘nother cat. Here I had just wetted the surface with my gilder’s liquor and laid the leaf on it while it was still wet, allowing the water to draw the leaf down to the surface as it soaks into the gesso and bole.
Water gilding, done.
At a specific point in the process for water gilding the ground dries to the perfect point where a polished stone burnisher can be worked on the surface, bringing it to a mirrored shine.
All in all, not a bad amount of demonstrating for a complex process and only twp hours to show it.
Since I am ramping up for mega beeswax production (about 500 pounds to process and pour into blocks for sale), I thought I should make a new rubber mold more to my liking. My previous mold design was a spur of the moment sorta thing that I needed in a hurry. It has served me well for a while, but I never really liked it all that much. So it was time for a new one.
The new one is based on a poured-wax block of 1/4 pound, whereas the previous one was approximately 6 1/2 ounces, not exactly a nice round figure. Once I determined the new mold size of 4 inches long by 2 inches wide and 1-3/4 inches thick, I needed to make a design to match the size of the face. I settled on a background of the barn with the word “BEESWAX” overlaying it.
I printed out the pattern I created, and using spay adhesive glued it to some 1/8″ mat board,
then glued that to a wood block.
With a scalpel I incised the completed design,
then dipped the whole thing into molten wax since the edges of the paper were a tad ragged in some places.
When the wax hardened I re-carved the master pattern to show some various relief levels in the design,
and readied everything for pouring the rubber mold by first mounting it to a piece of cardboard using hot melt glue.
Then I built the cardboard dam around it (I could not find my molding clay and Lego blocks I normally use),
and filled the flask with RTV silicon rubber.
Done! I can’t wait to see how it turns out.
My recent presentation on “Gold Leafing” at WIA was the most I could cover in a short period, but it was still woefully shy of a thorough understanding. I hope it was a solid teaser. We were able to complete the entire process in the compressed time of two hours, ending with laying gold leaf by both oil size and water gilding, with a little burnishing tossed in. (If you were at the presentation and have some of the pictures to share with me, I would be delighted).
I emphasized that the truths about finishing in general became stratospheric when that “finishing” was with gold leaf. Namely, each step of the processed is conveyed clearly in the following step, so you’d better make sure to get it right every step along the way. Integral to gilding in my opinion is the making and using of traditional glue-based gesso as the primer built up to the point where the surface was ready to apply the gold leaf and it would look good. While I will not go into detail on the techniques of each step here, I do want to take a minute to talk about how I make and use gesso. I do not know if it is the “right” way, I only know it is how I do it and it has been working fine for me for more than four decades.
I start with an empty jar, and place dry glue granules in the bottom to fill about 10% of the volume. My preferred glue for this is either 379 or 444 gram weight strength glue, but I have had fine results with glue as low as 192 g.w.s.
I fill the jar with clean water and let it soak overnight, then cook it to make it a homogeneous solution. THIS DILUTE GLUE IS THE CORE OF THE GESSO MIXTURE, AND IS NOT MODIFIED FROM THIS POINT ON.
I use this as my glue size and binder for the ever thickened gesso and I NEVER add more glue to the solution. The ideal is to progressively dilute and make the glue weaker, to render a leaner and leaner admixture as you build up the gesso ground. You always want gesso to be getting marginally softer as you apply additional layers of this ages old primer to your workpiece.
I first brush on a generous application of the dilute glue size to the wood surface, and allow it to dry thoroughly. (see center section of the sample)
When that is dry, to the heated glue solution I add enough calcium carbonate, sold as “Whiting” by art suppliers, to make the jar seem like it is filled with skim milk. Here I am preparing to add the amount of whiting to the glue solution.
I brush this on to the surface and allow it to dry. In the follwing steps, I make note of how much whiting I added to the glue size to render this first “skim milk” solution, and I add that same amount for the next iteration, which I also brush on and allow to dry. Then a third portion of whiting,and a fourth, and as many as is necessary until you get to the point where the heated gesso acts like heavy cream. Make sure to “pounce” the gesso in the early stages with a coarse brush to make sure it fills all the interstices if there is carving.
Here is the progression of the applications and the built-up surface ready for abrading and re-carving as needed. In this case I could have stopped after the sixth application and it would have been fine.
And as I said, the addition of more and more whiting serves to dilute the glue portion of the mixture. Also remember to stir the heavier gesso as you use it because the whiting will settle to the bottom without agitation.
This is as perfect a primer as I have found for my work whether gilding or japanning. How much you build up depends on how well you prepared the wood to begin with, and where you want the surface to end up.
At some point over the coming winter I will work a surface through from beginning to end so you can get the detailed blow by blow. Until then you can go to the Writings page of this blog and read the article I wrote on Japanning, which gives a good summary of the process.
Last Saturday found me first at Peter Galbert’s talk on rocking chair design, which I found very helpful as I contemplate some efforts in this area, and merely heightened my anticipation for his up coming book
Following that I hustled to my room to set up for the gold-leafing discussion and talk, from which unfortunately I have no pictures as I forgot to ask anyone to take pictures on my camera. If you were there and would like to share some of your pictures with me, please let me know.
Our assembly for that was wonderfully small, perhaps two dozen, so I just had everyone gather around the workbench while I worked and talked and demonstrated. The size of the audience allowed for much more participation than normal, as everyone got to try brushing good home made gesso, etc.
Following that was the chairmaker’s roundtable. Again the discussion was enlightening and helpful to future work in that area. Notice how cleverly I placed the banner for the upcoming Studley exhibit.
We had a quiet delightful dinner with our hosts, then sped home the next morning to reload out suitcases for another whirlwind research trip to New England.
More about that anon.