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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 5 hours 37 min ago

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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

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

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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.

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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.

 

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

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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,

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and this,

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and this.

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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.

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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.

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Like this,

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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.

 

Flatness

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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I hope to see you there.

(Re)Commencing Conservation at The Barn

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

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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.

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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.

Was It A Howard Carter Moment?

Fri, 08/08/2014 - 4:28pm

 

 

Howard Carter is the British archaeologist who first excavated King Tut’s tomb.  Imagine what it was like to be him and rediscover a treasure that had been unseen for three thousand years.   I wonder if that was what is was like for Sandor Nagyszalanczy in 1988.

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Earlier this week I had the pleasure of speaking with Sandor Nagyszalanczy, prolific author and former Senior Editor of  Fine Woodworking.   I’d been trying to find someone who could provide that institutional/historical context for the emergence of the tool cabinet when it burst onto the woodworking scene in 1988.

It tuned out that Sandor was the guy.

It was he who took the original phone call when the owner of the Studley Tool Chest was casting about trying to figure out exactly what it was that he had.  Sandor made arrangements to go visit it.  When he opened it, it was, and I am quoting Sandor, “Jaw dropping to floor!”  He set up to take the photographs that eventually entered into our consciences on the rear cover of that magazine.

When Sandor returned to headquarters, it had the same effect on them as it did on him, and plans were immediately put into motion to get it into print as soon as possible, which turned out the be the rear cover for Issue 71, June/July 1988.

As fate would have it, that issue of FWW contained the one and only article I ever did for them.

Goose-bumpy, huh?

To complete the circle, when I first got permission from the current owner to write a book, of course I immediately approached Lost Art Press editor/publisher Chris Schwarz about it, Chris asked me what I wanted the book to be like.  “A combination of Charles Hummel (“With Hammer in Hand”) and Sandor Nagyszalanczy (The Art of Fine Tools),” I replied.  No kidding.

This account of Sandor’s adventure and pictures from that first encounter will be one of the many threads in the tapestry of the book VIRTUOSO, the manuscript for which I am rounding the turn toward the home stretch.  I was happy to share much of my research fruit with the man who was the first outsider to learn of the iconic artifact.

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For more information about the upcoming exhibit of the Studley tool cabinet and workbench, go here.

Parquetry Tutorial – Sawing and Planing Jigs

Wed, 08/06/2014 - 1:49pm

247 For virtually any of the parquetry patterns described by Roubo, one or several sawing and planing jigs would be used.  For a shop doing a variety of intricate parquetry, an inventory of dozens or even hundreds of jigs would not be unexpected.  Quite literally every single shape for a parquetry pattern would require its own jig(s). In the simplest configuration that I am describing here, the cubic hexagon or “dice” pattern, also known as a “sunburst or pinwheel” pattern, a large number of identical 60-120-60-120 rhomboids were required, the number ranging from several dozen for a drawer front to a couple hundred for a door or even a couple thousand for a complete piece of furniture.  Quick and accurate fabrication was and is integral to the success of this endeavor. IMG_6283 Fortunately it requires only the simplest jig and fairly careful layout and execution.  I make a mitering jig with parallel fences on front and rear – the wider and thicker the better — with the space between them slightly greater than the width of the veneer strips being cut into rhomboids. IMG_6279 Using a 30-60-90 triangle establish a 60-degree angle on your bevel gauge, then set that gauge against the rear edge of the back fence and cut the kerf.  It is critical to get this angle correct, it must be 60-degrees.  Not, 59, not 59 ½, but 60 (well, 59.9 might work). When engaging in a fairly large scale project I make new kerfs somewhat frequently to mitigate the compounding error of wallowed out kerfs in the fences. DSC_7525 Since the width of the veneer stock can vary, for each run of parquetry a new spacer block needs to be placed for the rhombus being cut.  To do this, simply place a piece of stop block stock in the saw and cut a small piece to be used as the angled stop block.  Then take a piece of the veneer strip in the jig and saw off a small section at the 60-degree angle. Leaving the saw in place, fully embedded in the jig, rotate and flip that off-cut so that the recently sawn edge is now against the rear fence, and the side formerly against the rear fence is loosely against the saw blade.  Place the spacer block against the edge of the off-cut and tack it in place, and you have a setup for making perfectly identical “lozenges” for composing the pattern. parquetry 4 To check the accuracy of the set-up cut three pieces of the veneer strip stock and place them in the “dice” pattern.  Make sure that the angles meet perfectly in the center of the pattern.  If they do not, you need to lay out and cut another kerf until you get it right.  Also, make sure that the sawn edge of the rhombus is EXACTLY the same length as the un-sawn edge.   If it does not, tap the stop block towards or away from the saw a tiny bit until you get the dimension right. IMG_6287 Another very useful jig is a dual shooting board with one fence at the 60-degree angle to adjust any lozenges (as you progress, it is almost inevitable that some inaccuracies will compound and need to be rectified) and a second fence at 45-degrees, to make perfect the ends of the banding where the pieces meet at the corner.

MJD Toolapalooza Final Thoughts

Tue, 08/05/2014 - 3:38pm

Among my recollections and acknowledgements from the recent MJD auction is to thank again Martin Donnelly himself for encouraging me to spread the Studley Exhibit gospel among the attendees.  From the auctioneer’s podium at the initiation of activities, he announced the exhibit, pointed me out by name, and encouraged attendees to speak with me about it.

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Martin also welcomed the stack of announcement post cards I’d brought with me, and they were right next to the sign-in station the whole weekend.  (If you would like some to share and help promote the exhibit, just drop me a line via this web site’s “Contact” function and I will try to get you what you need.)

Like I said in a previous post, there are an awful lot of great folks in the tool world, and Martin Donnelly is certainly royalty in that world.

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After having been shut out for the first 4/5ths of the auction I managed to snatch two lots late on Saturday morning.  I’ve already mentioned the  Lamson machinist’s lathe I got but I also garnered this nice lot of Japanese planes and a really neat bamboo divider.  The largest plane had never been used, but the others were well polished, both wood and cutting edge, by multitudes of handlings.  I can’t wait to get them all up and running and integrated into my activities in The Barn.

As always you leave events like this with a mixture of aggravation at not getting what you wanted and exhilaration at getting some things you didn’t expect.

Behold, the Humble Brick

Mon, 08/04/2014 - 2:30pm

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A recent visitor to the shop noticed a stack of bricks next to the door.

“What’s with them?” he asked.

Actually I find nice clean bricks to be useful in a multitude of ways in the shop, but perhaps none is more valuable than acting simply as a clean, dense, dead weight when I need to glue something but don’t need any more clamping power than to simply hold something in place while the adhesive dried.

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Here is a small irregularly shaped piece of broken iron that I am epoxying back together.  There is no real way to clamp it even if I wanted to, so simply aligning it on a sand bag and letting the brick hold it steady and all is well.

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Or, when assembling a large-ish panel, they do the trick wonderfully; just hold everything steady for a while.

Bricks also are a source of nearly identical spacers and I use a brick or several at least one time a week.  An old friend actually glued felt on the sides of bricks and used them as weights ween on finished surfaces.

A final use that warms me, literally, is to sit a pair of bricks on top of the kerosene heater in the winter.  They get hot and radiate heat wonderfully into the space, increasing the output efficiency of the system.

I’m partial to firebricks myself and am still using the pile I bought twenty years ago.

 

MJD Toolapalooza – Josh Clark and Jon Szalay, Gentlemen and Scholars

Fri, 08/01/2014 - 8:57am

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This year at Martin Donnelly’s annual warehouse-clearing auction of 75,000 tools in 3200 lots over 20 hours of auctioneering, I sat in a cluster with new friends Martin from Dayton and Jim from Boston, along with older friend Josh Clark from Hyperkitten Tools and my long time friend Jon Szalay, one of the very smartest guys I know.

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Josh’s business of buying lots of quality tools needing some TLC, tuning them and then reselling them for a modest prices is a tremendous boon to woodworkers coast-to-coast. He was having as successful an auction as mine was not.   Time after time he would get a solid lot of tools, each one containing some, sometimes very many, tools that would fit nicely into his inventory.

Fortunately for me, on occasion these box lots contained items he did not really want but I really did, so plenty of sub-rosa horse trading was going on.

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The first item we transferred from him to me was a horned scrub plane for my friend Dave, who has caught the hand-tool bug with a vengeance. I’ll tune that up and send it to him next week.

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Next came a snazzy but weird layout template which features 90-45-30-60 degree angles, perfect for my use in making simple French parquetry.

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It bears a remarkable resemblance to the marking template featured in Roubo’s Pate 14. Hmmm.

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Also in the same lot was an excellent little Japanese-style bevel gauge, the smaller version of one I already had. Josh felt this tool was outside the interests of most of his customers, so I bought it to include in my traveling tool kit.

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Finally, Josh implored me to take a very nice Stanley miter box off his hands so he would not have to pack it up. Being a generous sort of fellow, I accepted it. Just to help him out.

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Spending those days aside Josh was a delightful interlude of good-natured tool chat and tale telling, and I strongly urge you to follow his web site and patronize his business. You will not be sorry.

Thanks Josh!

 

photo courtesy of Joshua Klein

photo courtesy of Joshua Klein

Jon Szalay is someone I’ve known for many years through our membership and participation in the Professional Refinisher’s Group, an online forum that is part of our every day surfing. His presence was prominent in our recent Groopstock ’14 gathering at The Barn.

 

Jon is one of the most talented and inventive guys I know, he’s an antiques dealer, machinist, vintage motorcycle expert (he’s renowned for taking a 1911 Harley motorcycle on a transcontinental road trip, “Fix and repair hourly” he quips, and is the “go to” guy for the American Pickers crew), metal caster, carver and artist, the list goes on and on.

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Jon had a booth at the tailgating section, and was somewhat overwhelmed by the scope of the auction. “I don’t know where to begin!” he said on more than one occasion.

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What eventually drew his eye was a mid-19th century machinist’s lathe, and with his encouragement I bought it for us to restore together (unlike most lots, it went for WAY under the estimate). We’ll get together this fall at The Barn to complete the task and for him to help me set up my blast furnace so metal casting can be part of the ongoing activities there.

H.O. Studley, Artist

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 7:22pm

My recently departed friend Mel Wachowiak said something that resonates with me often at the moment as I am assiduously putting meat on the bones of the manuscript that is becoming VIRTUOSO:The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.

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What Mel said was this:

Whenever something is made that is more beautiful and more expressive than it has to be in order to function, then you have art. 

Oh yeah, H.O. Studley was an artist alright.

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For more information on the upcoming exhibit of the H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench, you can go to the exhibit’s web page here.

The (Nearly?) Perfect Portable Workbench

Thu, 07/31/2014 - 6:31am

Portable Bench

Recently my friend Bill wrote me to ask if I had any thoughts about portable workstations, as he was about to embark on a project requiring him to work in the gallery of a museum.

photo courtesy of Joshua Klein

photo courtesy of Joshua Klein

I was able to help him, and in fact together we built a new bench for him to serve his purposes. I enjoyed it so much I built myself yet another one and am documenting it in great detail here.

 

Note: Like the “Parquetry Tutorial” this entire series of blog posts will be edited and packaged for download as a complete PDF once I have finished it.  WordPress is being obstreperous about the spacing of this post, but it will be corrected in the PDF.

 

Working as a furniture conservator requires me to frequently work “on-site”, that is, I go to the furniture rather than bring it to my studio. There are many reasons for this; the legal liability of transporting very valuable objects, the cost of renting a truck and hiring someone to help out (I usually work alone), the ability to call it quits at the end of the workday, etc. Regardless of the reason, I often found myself working in unfamiliar, and usually unequipped, surroundings.
Thus, several times a year I would move lock, stock and workbench to a new location. Loading and carting big sawhorses, plywood sheets and cardboard boxes full of supplies to the new site is a truly odious activity. Over the years of scraped knuckles and bashed shins carrying sawhorses and plywood up or down three flights of tight, winding stairs, I vowed to find a better way of setting up a temporary work station. Obtaining the perfect portable workbench was my original goal, but by the time I finished it turned out to be just one of several aspects to my quest.
In the end, that process of finding a “better way” resulted in the design and fabrication of a new workbench to make the task of working in a portable studio more manageable and productive. Through several generations of prototypes over twenty years I have it now refined to the point where I am not sure what more there is to improve.
What did I want?

 

The only thing I was sure of was that my sawhorse and plywood routine had to go. But what arrangement was to take its place? My first step was to acquire a suitable workbench. Being a lazy fellow, my first actions were to look around at the market to see if any of the available “portable” workbenches were suitable. I discovered only two real options; a small version of the European-style butcher-block-top bench, or a Workmate. I looked at a couple of the former, and own one of the latter.

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I found the portable Eurobenches to be too small and unsteady for my use (and quite frankly, too “cheezy”). In addition, they still weighed-in at over 100 lbs., simply too heavy.

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I tried my Workmate on a couple of projects, but it wasn’t exactly what I really wanted because it was too top-heavy and the work surface was too small. My search for a manufactured bench to suit my needs wasn’t exhaustive, but nevertheless, in the end I decided to design and build my own portable workbench.

 

The process of attempting to procure a new portable workbench began with the question of exactly what I wanted out of the bench, regardless of its source. When I decided to make my own, I had only to review those requirements and build to fit them. But back to the original question; what were my specifications for the bench? The answer was simple; 1) the top had to be perfectly flat and at least 2′x4′ (any smaller and I might as well stick to my Workmate), 2) it had to have an integral large capacity vise sturdy enough to take a modest beating, 3) the bench had to be very light, compact, and easy to set up and take down because I didn’t want to have to assemble a kit each time I moved, and 4) it couldn’t cost a fortune in time or money to acquire. It was also important to remember that the bench wouldn’t have to stand up to immense weight or stress, since the pounding necessary during general joinery is rarely required in a conservation project. Any heavy work dictated by a particular treatment would still have to be done at home.

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The bench I ended up with was not an example of exquisite handworked joinery, but it did require precise machine woodworking .

In the next episode I will begin to walk you though the step-by-step process of making one for yourself.

MJD Toolapalooza – Lots Lost (sort of)

Wed, 07/30/2014 - 5:29pm

Through the first half day of the auction Thursday afternoon, there were several lots that went to the next highest bidder after I dropped out of the running.  I tend to be pretty disciplined about setting a bid ceiling and sticking to it.  I was beginning to suspect an Govcom conspiracy but thanks to Josh Clarke I was not being caught empty handed (I will detail the coolness of sitting alongside an active successful bidder tomorrow).

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Friday morning at about 10.30 came the item I drove there to get, the Emmert Universal Benchtop Toolmakers Vise.  I’d looked it over carefully on Wednesday and Thursday (twice) and it was both a beast and a beauty.  Astonishingly, bidding started at $5, indicating there were no absentee (internet) bids.  I jumped in, hard.  At about $300 there was a lull and I could feel the thrill of victory rising in my chest.  Then another bidder jumped in and the price soon chased me off.  No, I did not win the bid, which was an out-the-door price of just under a grand.  The disappointment was bitter.

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However, all was not lost as my friend Jon found a pristine sales brochure on that very tool out in the tailgating section and gifted it to me as a very nice consolation prize.  It was a truly thoughtful and generous gesture I will recall for a very long time.

I’ll keep looking, but so far this tool has eluded my wallet.  If someday I find one in good condition for a fair price I will get it.  If not, not.

The patternmaker’s chest also came and went above my limit.  At the end of the day I saw the buyer examining it and I congratulated him on it.  He knew nothing of the contents, and I spent several minutes explaining what each of the tools inside was.  In the end it was apparent he cared only for the chest, and I was only interested in the contents, or more specifically, the Buck patternmaker’s chisels with the interchangeable handles, shafts, and gouges.

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He offered the set to me for a very modest price, and in moments I had them in a box and was toting them off to show my friends.  These high-chrome steel chisels are made only for gentle pushing to finish the surfaces of wooden patterns for foundry work, and I now have a pretty complete set as these joined my previous acquisitions from years past.

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One last forlorn visit to say farewell to the Emmert on the buyer’s pallet (he was buying A LOT) and then we headed for the line to the pig roast.  Roast pork is the near-perfect conclusion to almost any kind of day.

Tomorrow, finally some winning bids and horse trading with Josh.

 

MJD Toolapalooza – Part 1

Tue, 07/29/2014 - 6:38am

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One of the highlights of the galoot’s annual calendar is the warehouse-clearing summer sale by Martin Donnelly at his place in Avoca NY.  If you have never been, you should go for the experience if nothing else.  This auction of 3200 lots containing perhaps 75,000 tools is a place where tubs of tools exchange hands.

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This year three lots drew me there.  First was an Emmert die-maker’s bench vi$e which I have $ought to purchase for many year$, thi$ one wa$ I believe the large$t of the line (it wa$ approximately the $ize of a bu$hel ba$ket).  Next was a Veritas MkII sharpening unit, essentially new in the box, and third was a craftsman-built patternmaker’s chest with tools.  More about them tomorrow.

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The tools weren’t the most important things, though, that would be the fellowship with tool comrades including my long time pal Mike who dropped out at the last minute because of an inflamed sciatic nerve that was so bad he could not sit in a car to drive it there.

Instead I had the good fortune to sit next to Josh Clark, purveyor of the vintage tools through his wonderful site.  There are many people in the tool world, most of them a pleasure to deal with, and certainly Josh fits this description.  He is simply aces.

I was also joined by another long time friend Jersey Jon who was making his first foray to this auction.  He was nearly overcome with the shock of seeing tent after tent filled with fully loaded tables and hundreds, no, thousands, of tools to rifle through and gawk at.

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If you were in the market for anvils and swage blocks, this was the auction for you.  I almost wish I was in the market, as the prices turned out to be dirt cheap.

The tale continues tomorrow.

Old Friends Depart

Mon, 07/28/2014 - 2:42pm

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Recently I got the call that the last of our gerontological felines had departed for the Great Catnip Patch in the Sky.  18-year-old Calico Girl, or “Callie,” featured recently in Popular Woodworking,  died while my daughter was at work, and she buried her alongside our others.  Another old gal, “Baby” also 18, had died only a fortnight earlier (all these are natural deaths of ancient cats simply fading away.)  They were all rescued cats who lived long and much-loved lives.

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This picture of me editing Roubo in about 2011 was a pretty typical image on a cold winter’s night, when even though we kept the house heated the cats knew it was cold outside and wanted to suck as much body heat out of us as they could.  From top to bottom they were Lazy Boy (d. 2012), Toby (d. 2011, he adopted us out at the cabin in 2001), and Baby.

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This is one of my favorite pictures of Toby curled up in the void of a modern sculpture I was restoring.  If ever there was a person in a cat costume it was Toby.

We are now cat-less for the first time in more than 30 years.  As a cat person myself, it feels a little weird.  I know cats have a reputation as being aloof, but their indifference to me makes them all the more appealing companions.

I think I’ am in the market for a barn cat…

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by Dr. Radut