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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 54 min 52 sec ago


Thu, 04/13/2017 - 7:15pm

I appreciate magnificent artistry regardless of the medium or context, and thanks to RichardB for forwarding this video of Romanian egg painting to me.  I was spellbound.


@Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print #238

Wed, 04/12/2017 - 7:26am

Today’s offering is another of Roubo’s many Valentine’s Cards to Geometry and layout, “How to Draw a Full-scale Pattern of the Curve of a Seat.”  Without the use of digital calculators and computerized plotters it was necessary to compose an x-y exercise in order to obtain curvilinear shapes from which the patterns and templates for sinuous forms could be derived.  Deriving the text for these plates was a bear, but the images themselves are elegant in a spare, modernist sorta way.  I particularly enjoy seeing lines from the construct being shown outside the boundaries of the image.

The print has a crisp plate mark and is in excellent condition, with one very minor stain near the upper right corner, and was been removed from the First Edition bound volume with comparative care.

It was both drawn and engraved by Roubo.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Benches for Handworks 1, 2, 3

Tue, 04/11/2017 - 6:49pm

That’s one guy, two workbenches, in three days.

With Handworks barreling down the calendar at breakneck speed I knew I needed to get at least one workbench out to Amana since the space I would be occupying was just an empty square of real estate in the Festhalle.  Plus I had lurking in the back of mind an observation and an unrelated goal.

The first was that the guys who came to the workbench-building workshop last fall found that the system for making the workbench allowed the legs to be installed after relocation home, and de-installed as needed.  Second, I did want to make a workbench to donate to the Library of Congress rare book conservation group.

The self-evident answer was to make a couple of laminated Roubo benches.  Simple, easy, and interruptible while in-progress.   I had to do all the work around the other things going on on the homestead and in the shop, and in the end it took me about 15 hours working alone.

On Day One I spent the morning ripping a stack of 8-foot 2×12 SYP lumber into the pieces I  needed for both the tops and legs.  Normally I do not miss my 3hp Unisaw sitting in the basement of the barn, not yet wired into the electrical system, but this certainly was one of those times.  My smallish 9-inch saw works for about 95% of my needs but this one was at the limit.

Since I now keep my rolling planer stand in the basement I loaded everything into the pickup and drove to the back side of the barn.  I spent most of the afternoon planing all four sides of the lumber to remove the ripples from the industrial sawmill and get the lumber ready for gluing.

I loaded everything back into the truck and hauled it back up to the second (main) floor and brought it in.

A second set of hands would have definitely cut the time for these tasks by at least 1/3, but it was just me.  On to the glue-up.

@Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print #234

Mon, 04/10/2017 - 5:05am

Today’s offering in the l’Art du Menuisier First Edition inventory I will have at Handworks 2017 is Plate 234, “The Manner of Determining the Desired Centers for All Kinds of Seats.”

In the days prior to CAD/CAM computer programs, i.e. 7th Grade Drafting Class with Mr. Teft for me, the ability to use geometric constructions to lay out your projects was integral to their fulfillment.  Back in Roubo’s day this included intricate and sometimes arcane exercises of which Plate 234 is one.  A cursory browse through the Book of Plates reveals that this was to Roubo what Price Theory is to me; something that keeps us awake at night and our brains perilously close to hyperdrive in contemplation; he included around five dozen of these exercises in l’Art du Menuisier.

The print has a crisp plate mark and is in excellent condition, notwithstanding a bit of a jagged left edge from the original assault of barbarism when extracting the page from the First Edition bound volume.  It was both drawn and engraved by Roubo.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Exciting Piano-maker’s Vise Discovery

Sat, 04/08/2017 - 3:32pm

Through my explorations of all things Henry O. Studley many mysteries have made themselves known, like details of his personal, financial, and craft life.  Another one that I have made known as far and wide as I can has to do with the art form of piano-maker’s vises, which based on my observations are uniform in concept and performance but individual and slightly idiosyncratic in their construction details.

I am truly delighted to have contributed t the growing interest in the question and have been contacted many times over the past few years with folks regaling me with their own speculations and discoveries themselves.  (Such contacts, if serious, are always welcome).

Here is one such communique from last week, which I present to you as completely as I can while respecting the privacy of the correspondent.

You may recall that a) we spoke briefly during your trip to New
England when you were researching vises, and b) that about a year and a
half ago, I found & acquired a piano maker’s bench in Worcester.

I have been rebuilding the bench, and writing about it on OWWM.org

I am aware, both through your work (book) and conversations with **** ******, that to date, none of the vises found have had any maker’s mark
on them. As I cleaned and repainted my vises, I did not find any such
marks either; only some numbers stamped on some of the parts. I had not
yet removed or cleaned the back plates, though, until this week.

The other day, while cleaning & measuring the plate for the front vise,
I found a number stamped on one long edge, & gave it little thought.
Yesterday, though, I was working with the tail vise plate, and out of
curiosity looked to see whether I’d find a number on that as well – and
instead, what I found was a maker’s mark! This was stamped along what
was the bottom edge of the plate, which was covered in rust, grime and
paint drips. I then checked the other edge of the other plate, and sure
enough, there it was, though this time it was on the top edge, and more
obscured by dents & dings, as well as the rust, etc.

The maker is J.S. Wheeler of Worcester, MA. Wheeler was a maker of
machinery, mostly for metal working, and was known for it’s metal
planers – which makes some sense, as we both have noted that these vises
were machined on planers.

Anyway, thought you’d like to know, and would love to hear your thoughts.



This is indeed exciting news to me, and revives my hope that more Studley-type information will continue to flow my way.  On a related subject I got another recent email from a friend who was discussing the possibility of acquiring a reciprocal metal planer himself.

Finally I will note with a bit of irony that this growing body of information and an enthusiastic cadre of acquisition probably means the only way I will round out my set is to get off my kiester and get underway with making them with Jameel.

@ Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print 224

Fri, 04/07/2017 - 10:20am

The next print in the l’Art du Menuisier First Edition inventory I will have at Handworks 2017 is Plate 224, “Many Types of Folding Stools and Their Development/Variations.”  I find prints of this type to be particularly charming as the copper intaglio plate and the page were not aligned when they went through the roller press, resulting in an image that is askew.  This phenomenon is not uncommon and gives further proof that this was a hand printed image on hand-made paper.

The print is in excellent condition.  It was drawn by Roubo and engraved by artist Pierre-Gabriel Berthault, whose name appears frequently underneath the images of l’Art du Menuisier.


A Ripple-y Day

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 6:56pm

Last month my long time acquaintance RichardB organized another field trip to JerryR’s shop and examine again the ripple molding cutter his dad Irv made a jillion years ago.  Both Irv and Jerry made/make exquisite clocks and incorporate(d) the moldings into their designs.


A selection of the moldings Kurt made on his machine.

Jerry’s sample board.

The catalyst for this gathering was the visit of KurtN who has built his own version of such a machine and was, like me, continuing research on the topic.  We were also joined by tool historian and collector extrordinaire BobR for a grand day of fellowship and exploring the elegance of craft technology.

I found it useful to once again spend time with the machine, as it was extremely helpful in formulating and refining the strategy for the upcoming gathering to manufacture a ripple molding machine at The Barn late next month.  In fact we have enough folks coming that we might try to divide into two working groups to make two machines.

Here’s a gallery of the day.

Jerry’s machine features a traveling cutter head carriage with free weights on it to to provide the downward cutting/scraping force.

I could not tell if the up-and-down patterns were made from Delrin, HDPE, nylon or whatever.

The machine is set up to cut up-and-down patterns and side-to-side patterns. I hope we can incorporate the same features when we make ours next month.

The underside of the carriage with the cutting iron, fashioned in this case from an old file.

The electric worm drive motive power was a feature I definitely expect to incorporate into ours, although for demonstration purposes we may make it hand-powered as well.

We took a few minutes to tour another shop building Jerry has set up to document his family’s woodworking over the past several generations.  Yes, that is a ten-foot Moravian style workbench.

A collection of mantle clocks Irv and Jerry made, with copious ripple moldings.


Some of Jerry’s recent and current work.

Stay tuned.


Handworks 2017 Countdown – Original Roubo Print # 222

Thu, 04/06/2017 - 5:34am

As I blogged earlier I will be selling many original First Edition 1772/1774 Roubo l’art du Menuisier prints at the upcoming Handworks 2017.    I bought these prints at an auction featuring a huge inventory from an antiquarian bibliophile who had mutilated scores of exquisite ancient books by cutting out the print images from the bindings. As unfortunate as this act of barbarism was, it did bring these masterpieces to the marketplace.

The only other option for me to examine them closely would have been to purchase a complete set of First Edition l’art du Menuisier for perhaps $10-15k or travel to Ft. Mitchell KY to see Chris Schwarz’ excellent set.  Since the latter remains an option to me for the foreseeable future, I’m jettisoning most of mine.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling my prints to Handworks attendees on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.

Roubo was the draftsman for all the prints, and the engraver for a large number of them.  All these were hand-printed intaglio prints on hand made rag paper, almost certainly personally overseen by Roubo himself.

This is the first of the prints which I will be presenting in the order of their print numbers,  Plate 222, “Illustrations of Many Ancient Chairs.”  This image of chairs from the 7th Century through the 15th Century was both drawn and engraved by Roubo himself.  The print is one of the rougher of those I purchase, with the left edge being pretty irregular as the removal from the binding was, shall we say, inelegant, and the page itself stained especially around the perimeter, reflected in the price of $100.

If you have any questions about this print you can contact me here.

Sharpening the Itty Bitties

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 4:33pm

I’m nearing the tail end of a long term project involving in part the sawing and preparing, and ultimately using, mahogany crotch veneers.  Given my skill is not yet Roubo-esque I sawed the veneers to a fat 1/8″ because I had no room for error, in other word I would have to begin all over again with another piece of lumber if I could not get this to work out right.

The weight of the veneer made it a delight to work with, that is until I had to thin it down to the final thickness.

Working squirrely wood like this is less amusing than you might think.  The grain was so wild I came down to only two real options; aggressive toothing plane work, which I did plenty of, or using a handled luthier’s palm plane.  This latter step was immensely helpful once I got the tool tuned up.  It reminded me of a lesson from the foundry pattern shop; to really hog off material in a hurry, use a small convex spokeshave that is sharper than sharp.

The tool in question was probably cobbled together but had real possibilities.  The iron was adequate for nibbling at straight grain wood, but needed to be upgraded considerably in the sharp department.  Given that the iron was barely larger than my pinkie fingernail I spent a couple minutes trolling in the shop for help.

Then I found the perfect tool, my jeweler’s hand held vise.  With the tiny iron securely held in its jaws I could sharpen it effortlessly just like it was a narrow iron four inches long.  Piece of cake.

It sharpened to a brilliant mirror and uber sharp cutting in literally three or four minutes.

Putting it to hard work was a pleasure.  It hogged off stock like a pro, and all it took afterward was some time with one of my toothing planes to get it ready for application.

And all because I went shopping for just the right holding device in my own toolbox, allowing me to get the teeny iron sharper than sharp..

Handworks 2017 Countdown – Restocking

Wed, 04/05/2017 - 5:58am

Starting top left and working clockwise: Model 296 ($42, sold privately and through Lie Nielsen only); 2″ Original ($42); 1″ Turner’s Model with 1/4″ bristles ($24); 1″ Carver’s Model ($24); 1″ Original Model with 1/8″ bristles ($24).

Yesterday I got my first polissoir inventory reload in the lead-up to the upcoming toolapalooza in Amana IA.  I’ve asked the broom maker to just keep cranking them out until I say “Stop.”  This is the first installment to make sure I have plenty for Handworks, and I intend to have sample boards to play with during demonstrations there. One of the things I want to emphasize there is how to prepare and tune up a polissoir for use.

You can also order them from me here.

Fortnightly Reminder of 2017 Courses at The Barn

Tue, 04/04/2017 - 5:26am

Here is the full slate of activities upcoming.


May 23-27 Making a Ripple Molding Cutter – this is less of a workshop than a week long gathering of fellow galoots trying to design and build a machine to allow us to recreate ripple and wave moldings.  Material and supplies costs divvied up, no tuition.


June 16-18  Make a Nested Set of Brass Roubo Squares – This is a weekend of metal working, as we fabricate a full set of nested brass squares with ogee tips, as illustrated in Plate 308 of l’art du Menuisier.  The emphasis will be entirely on metal fabrication and finishing, including silver soldering with jeweler Lydia Fast, and creating a soldering station for the workbench. Tuition $375, materials cost $50.


July 24-28  Minimalist Woodworking with Vic Tesolin – This week long session with author and woodworking minimalist Vic Tesolin will begin with the fabrication, entirely by hand, of a Japanese tool box.  Who knows where we will end up?  I am looking forward to having my own work transformed.  Tuition $625, materials cost $50.


August 11-13  Historic Finishing – My own long-time favorite, we will spend three days reflecting on, and enacting, my “Six Rules For Perfect Finishing” in the historic tradition of spirit and wax coatings.  Each participant should bring a small finishing project with them, and will accompany that project with creating numerous sample boards to keep in your personal collections.  Tuition $375.


September 4-8  Build An Heirloom Workbench – I’m repeating the popular and successful week-long event from last year, wherein the participants will fashion a Roubo-style workbench from laminated southern yellow pine.  Every participant will leave at the end with a completed bench, ready to be put to work as soon as you get home and find three friends to help you move it into the shop.  Tuition and Materials $825 total.

Since some recent research revealed the attention span of Americans to be eight seconds, I’ll re-run this periodically.

If any of these interest you drop me a line here.

Handworks 2017 Countdown – First Edition Roubo Prints For Sale

Mon, 04/03/2017 - 5:50am

As I blogged last year I was fortunate to purchase at auction two lots of prints that had been sliced out of a First Edition of l’art du Menusier by Andre-Jacob Roubo in the 1760s and 1770s.  These are remarkable artifacts, printed by hand on hand-made paper.  Roubo was the artist for every image, was the engraver for a great many of the plates, and almost certainly was personally overseeing the production of the volumes.

As fate would have it all the prints I acquired are from the portions of Roubo that Michele, Philippe and I have completed after about 10-12,000 hours work thus far, and the hearty souls at Lost Art Press have already published.

Plate 296, the one which lit my fire for this project more than 30 years ago. This treasure will feature prominently on the wall of our home.

Among the prints I bought was the very one that inspired me to head off down the path to our ongoing project to bring to the Anglophone world our annotated Roubo translations.  Plate 296 whetted my appetite more than three decades ago, and as soon as I get a frame made it will be occupy a place of honor in our home.

I have already gifted two of these prints to my LAP collaborator colleagues, chief-cook-and-bottle-washer Chris Schwarz, who received Plate 279 featuring “the German Workbench,” and book designer and artisan printer Wesley Tanner who seemed delighted to get Plate 327 featuring the printing press.

After culling the dozen-or-so prints of greatest meaning to me I have decided to sell the rest from my purchase because I do not have the appropriate wall space to display them (about three dozen); it is not a complete inventory by any means, but there are some pretty good ones.

Over the next several weeks I will be posting here all the individual prints I will have for sale in Amana.  Terms will be cash, check, or Paypal.  Prices will probably mostly fall between $150-$500 with a couple of outliers, but if you ever wanted a piece of genuine Rouboiana this is your chance.  In addition to the Roubo prints I got a number of original, similarly excised plates from Diderot, all concerned with the manufacture of ship’s anchors.   The Diderot plates will be considerably less.

There will be no advance reservations, this is a special first-come sale for Handworks attendees.  If any do not sell there, I will offer them for sale through the blog afterward.

A New Generation for the Golden Age

Thu, 03/30/2017 - 4:43am

One of the great delights of attending the recent LNT event in Covington KY was to witness the overlapping of the generations of contemporary woodworking and woodworking tool makers.  This atmosphere will be replicated to a logarithmic degree at the upcoming Handwork 2017 where there will be several dozen exhibitors in Amana rather than the half dozen in Covington.  The ultimate irony is of course that the generations of modern craftsmanship, and the populations within them, have almost no relationship to the calendar.

There were of course the godfathers of the modern woodworking and toolmaking universe: Lie-Nielsen Toolworks (in truth Thomas Lie-Nielsen could be be considered one of the progenitors of this new world of high-quality tools at an approachable price), Chris Schwarz, Pop Wood, Matt Bickford.  The middle generation was represented by Raney Nelson and Scott Meek, whose creative energies in the direction of tool making are probably now in their second decade.

But what drew my attention was the presence of The New Generation in the persons of Mateo Panzico (top) and Steve Voigt, two brilliant toolmakers whose emergence in the marketplace over the past caouple of years has been noteworthy.

Both makers were at last year’s LNT Covington event (in fact my only picture of Mateo was from last year) and I was this close (thumb and forefinger a fraction apart) to coming home with some of their product but miraculously I resisted the temptation.  The same could not be said for this year.

The two men are working in wildly different styles; Mateo is developing a creative vocabulary in infill planes, and his stylistic beginnings were a bit steampunk-ish but evolving into somewhat smoother, not-quite-organic forms.

Steve is tacking close to the winds of tradition with his double-iron beechwood body English designs.  Notwithstanding my inventory of toothing planes, I am considering commissioning him to try his hand at the form.

Both makers are producing exquisite tools that are at the very highest levels of performance.

This year I came home with two smoothing planes, one from each fellow.  In truth part of the reason I made the decision was my desire to get their tools before these makers become so well known and in such demand that I could no longer afford their tools.  As a free-market absolutist myself, I will not object to their growing success in the least, in fact I will celebrate it, but I was simply making a rational decision to buy before they ascended to a point where I could no longer consider obtaining them.

The best part?  Mateo and Steve are but the tip of the iceberg.  There are literally dozens of new and nascent toolmakers seeking to fulfill your desires and demands in the marketplace.

Thanks to Lie-Nielsen Toolworks and Handworks 2017 for nurturing this new generation.

LNT Covington KY Walkthrough

Wed, 03/29/2017 - 5:45am

At almost the last minute I decided to attend the Lie-Nielsen event in Covington, in great part due to it being a sorta “release party” for With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture, (or simply “R2” for those of us living inside that particular bubble) which was arriving that very morning.  Also in the equation was the fun I always have at these gatherings.

The exhibitors at the event confirmed my premise that we are living in a Golden Age of tool making and woodworking.

Beginning in the front corner window of the brew pub was Raney Nelson, plane maker extraordinaire and principal in Crucible Tools along with Chris Schwarz and John Hoffman.

Raney did have some of his planes in hand, but most interesting to me were these new plane-adjusting hammers he’s been noodling lately (I came home with one).

Next to Raney was the space for Lost Art Press.  Since the second Roubo volume had arrived that very day, there was quite a bit of traffic.  It was the first time any of us had seen the book in the flesh, and Chris (and I) spent a fair bit of time browsing through it.  We are not displeased.

I used Chris’ staked table, I think this was the one with the soap finish, as my station for signing all three of my LAP books and promoting and demonstrating polissoirs and beeswax finishes.

I had a lot of traffic from friends old (Studley book collaborator Narayan Nayar on the left) and new dropping by for a signature and some chat about old ways of finishing.

Directly opposite me was the work station for the Ohio River Valley chapter of the SAPFM as their workbench was humming with activity all weekend, extolling membership in SAPFM, an organization that is near and dear to my heart.

Rounding the corner was the large offering from Popular Woodworking with lots of books and videos, and opportunity to interact with Editor Megan Fitzpatrick and other PW/F&W staff, including video producer Jake Motz (in the beard and glasses) with whom I worked on two videos last year.

Turning into the bullpen at the center rear of the brew pub was Matt Bickford with a great selection of his molding planes and dozens of lumber blanks into which contours could be made.  Immediately adjoining Matt was Scott Meek, whose magnificent planes are both high performance tools and sculptural artworks.  Unfortunately I failed to get a decent picture of Mateo Panzica of Lazarus Tools who took his station between Scott and Steve.

Along the back wall was my almost neighbor  Steve Voight (he is a music professor in nearby Harrisonburg VA), whose traditional style beech bodied planes are a fairly new, and most welcomed, entry into this world.

Finally we come to the sainted patron for this and many more events of this type, Lie-Nielsen Tools.  Daneb Puchalski and the LNT crew are remarkable in their teamwork — imagine if you had to both coordinate the entire event and set up AND take down your display every day — and their welcoming of fellow craftsmen and toolmakers is a model of evangelism at its best.

Mastering the Cast Iron Stove

Tue, 03/28/2017 - 7:35am

Now that the last bluster of winter is in the rearview mirror, it was a pleasingly and comparatively mild winter, and spring is in the headlights (we hope) it’s time to reflect on the utility of my cast iron bi-fuel stove for the barn.  Finally, after three winters of trial-and-error I think I have it down to the point where it is the reliable workhorse heat source I had always hoped for.

To recap, the unit is a smallish British wood-and-coal stove probably of the 1970s vintage.  Though smaller than the cast iron fireplace insert for the cabin, it is considerably heavier (the barn stove weighs in at about 525 pounds) due to the need for a firebox that can handle both wood and coal.  I went on line to retrieve both the owner’s manual and to view youtube videos on the operations of such stoves. That was not the least bit helpful.  In fact, I believe the owner’s manual was written by people who eventually became computer software instruction manual writers; neither had any usefulness for the end user, being written only by and for someone who already possessed full mastery of the “information” contained therein.  Of course, it is possible that there is a contextual implication and perhaps those inculcated with the cultural norms of Britain are predisposed to operate such a device.

The stove is not located in the studio, it is in the basement directly underneath it.  Thus it requires a long, steady heat in order to get the warmth up to my work space.  Following the instructions on youtube served only to frustrate me, and I had to re-invent using this stove myself.  Once that was done the use of this heater became a pleasure.

Here is the routine I have devised after scores of attempts, and is one I find to provide steady and constant warmth to my work space.   A typical cycle for heating with the stove is 48 hours, by which I mean I can keep it running steadily but must clean  out the ashes and clinkers every other morning.  It usually requires 1-1/2 buckets’ worth of cleanout.

With the firebox emptied, the building of an effective heating fire can begin.

I  begin this process by laying down about a roughly 2″ layer of nut coal as the bed for the fire and the foundation for the roaring heat to come.

On top of the bed of coal I place a single firestarter.  If you are sharp-eyed with a good memory, you will recognize the firestarter as a piece of paper towel I used for the final filtering of our beeswax upstairs.  I use one new filter for each platter of molten wax, so I’ve got a good (if not excess) inventory of this aid.

Next comes the whole reclusive woodsman skill set in constructing the kindling/firewood conflagration.

Each layer of fuel gets more massive.

Finally the firebox is completely full of dried maple, locust, and oak awaiting a flame.

Then, the flame.

Once the flame is going, I close the left door completely and close the right door to about 1″ opening to maximize the air flow.

10-15 minutes later I check back on the fire to make sure it is doing what I want it to be doing.

If going well, and a this point of my experience it always is, I place the iron fences at the front of the firebox to allow “banking” of the coal throughout the day.

Within a half hour the stove pipe is plenty hot, and upstairs it radiates heat into the shop.

From this point on I add fuel to the fire every hour or so until early afternoon.  At the 1-hour point I add about three pieces of firewood along with three scoops of coal, at the 2-hour mark two pieces and four scoops, at 3 hours one piece and five or six scoops, and just after lunch another half dozen scoops of coal with no new firewood.  I close the doors both firmly and make sure the flues are wide open (the gates are right behind the ceramic panels in the doors) and can usually hear whistling sound of the combustion air being drawn through.

As I wrap up the day at 6PM I pack the firebox as full as I can with coal, close the doors and tighten the latch, and close the gates halfway.  Next morning when I arrive in the shop at about 8.30, the pace is still toasty warm and the fire is glowing red.  I do a partial clean-out of the firebox by agitating the movable grates and emptying the ash drawer underneath, and spend the second day just shoveling in coal every few hours.

On even the coldest day of the winter — temps in the teens and nearly gale force winds — the workshop space was a cozy 64 degrees all day long (cozy because I am dressed for winter, after all).  On such a day I will use 1-1/2 50-pound bags of nut coal, on a milder day 3/4-1 bag will suffice.

While I am not anxiously awaiting the next winter, I now know I can keep my own workspace cozy and amenable, and I still get to look out at the mountains any time I want.



Handworks 2017 Countdown – 52 Days to Go

Mon, 03/27/2017 - 4:10pm

Over the next six weeks I will be blogging about Handworks 2017 a lot, or at least my preparations for it to be sure.  I think we are at T-minus 52 Days before departure.

Over the winter Mrs. Barn prepared two full cases of packaged beeswax in anticipation of the event.  If all goes well I will not bring any back home.    One thing down, a bazillion to go.

I intend to demonstrate wax and shellac finishing during the event, so come by and say “Hi.”  I’ll be in one of the center aisle booths at the Festhall.

Bookboards II

Fri, 03/24/2017 - 6:58pm

The task for the second day of training at the Library of Congress rare book conservation lab was for each of the specialists to emerge at the end of the day with a perfectly prepared matched set of oak bookboards in order to create their own model of the art form.  Considering that this was an assembly of gifted folks with near-zero woodworking experience, that is no small feat.

Re-sawing in the vise, crosscutting, and trimming on the bench hooks was what consumed the entire day.

I let them try any number of re-sawing methods, ranging from my vintage 4tpi carpenter’s rip saw, my own bow saw or their bow saw, a range of Japanese saws they had in-house, my French style frame saws, etc.  I have to say that by nearly unanimous confirmation the Japanese saws came out the favorites.

Following the re-sawing, and the flattening of one face of each of the two bookboards, I asked them to mark the desired 1/4″ thickness with a gauge and shoot a rabbet around the perimeter for the final thicknessing by hand plane.

Off they were to the races.  After the boards were to the proper thickness they were sawn to width and length on the bench hook with back saws or Japanese saws, and all four edges shot also on the bench hook, mostly with either block planes of small bench planes (most of the book boards were in the 5″ x 7″ range).  The final step was slightly beveling the edges.

As I packed up at the end of the second day I think everyone was well on the way to having their own pair of boards ready for making their model book.

It was an unmitigated delight to introduce them to the tools and processes of making their own bookboards and I look forward to getting reports of them applying their new skills to projects in the future.  The virus of hand toolism was planted, and some of them even went to the recent PATINA tool sale two weekends later.

Now I just gotta see to fixing their orkbench problem.

Bookboards I

Thu, 03/23/2017 - 7:15am

Some time last year I was contacted by the ancient book caretakers of the Library of Congress (LC) to inquire about some in-house training they needed in woodworking.  Yes, that’s right, ancient book caretakers needed to know about woodworking.  Actually I knew that because many, many years ago I had helped a colleague in the same department with a project having to do with  very large format book (about the size of a Roubo original edition) that was having problems with its bookboards, or cover boards, which were made of oak.  You see, the the world of old books, especially those from about 1500 and older, wooden book covers are simply part of the equation.  While the specialists at LC were expert in the care of the paper contents, and their bindings, they were a bit hazy on the details and practices of fashioning the wooden boards.

Having participated in a number of collaborations with LC over my career, they asked if I could come and teach them.  Of course the answer was “Yes” and we began the Dance of the Conflicting Calendars.  Combined with the political brinkmanship that is endemic to Mordor on the Potomac it took many months for the training to occur last month.  One of the items looming overhead was the sub rosa blustering about “shutting the government down” to accomplish some partisan goal or another.  (My own attitude on that matter as a skeptical non-partisan Strict Constructionist Declarationist I wished the government would shut down, or at least retreat to its Constitutionally mandated activities, which by my count means elimination of ~90% of FedCo.)

The goal of the two-day session was to impart the knowledge and implant the muscle memory so that each member of the ancient book posse could fabricate a technically faithful book model as a practice exercise in preparation for the next time one of the ancient wooden board books needed re-binding.

So, on a bitter cold and blustery February morning I pulled up to the doors of the elegant LC Jefferson building, my CRV filled to the brim with tools and materials for them to use under my tutelage.  In a caravan of carts all of these were wheeled down to the book conservation space underneath the Madison Building across the street, and I set up shop.

Only one of the crew had experience in woodworking (the fellow using the bow saw in the picture below) so I needed to start at Point Zero to review the nature of wood, tools, and the processes used in planing, sawing, etc.  I brought plenty of 5/4 white oak to work with, and we got down to bidnez.

The first assignment was for everyone to use the bench bench hooks I made for them to saw a single piece to the size they needed for their book model’s boards.

Then came the flattening of one face of that board to provide a reference surface for the resawing.  Given the human scale involved (this crowd was for the most part more petite than a typical woodworking gathering) they were particularly pleased with #4 planes, which are too small for my routine use.

With the flat reference face completed, next came the resawing.  I’d made a Fidgen-style kerfing plane to leave with them, and they took to it like me and bacon.  The final product was to be a 1/4″ thick book board, so I made the kerfing plane to create a 3/8″ thickness.

One of the more serious challenges for the exercise is that as a book conservation unit they were not well equipped for woodworking in the bench category.  Their only bench was an ancient and wobbly Sjoberg hobby bench.

I have one exactly like it that I got out of the trash many years ago.  Frankly if I had to use one like this every day it would end in the trash too.  I completely remade mine, mounted it on some 4″ slippers to get it to a decent working height, and screwed the entire thing to the floor, resulting in a very nice and oft-used work station.  Mine is currently ensconced in the corner, perhaps not coincidentally closest to the propane furnace, and is dedicated to the finer work of decorative objects conservation, gunsmithing, etc.

I will do my best to address their lack of a decent workbench, hoping to make and donate a mini-Roubo in the coming months.  But for now, all we had was a wobbly little bench and some mobile work tables.


Then the resawing began with a variety of saws, and thus endeth Day One.

Dedicated Kerfing Planes

Mon, 03/20/2017 - 5:57am

My next step in the Great Kerfing Plane Saga was to go where I think kerfing plane evangelist Tom Fidgen started – kerfing planes with a fixed fence to produce a set width to the cut.  My most typical use of resawing by hand is making hand-sawn veneers, so I decided to make my first kerfing plane part of that equation.  Since I am not yet as skilled at veneer sawing as the craftsmen in the 18th century Parisian ateliers, who routinely harvested twelve sheets of veneer per inch of stock, I struck a more realistic task of cutting eight per inch.  Thus, my need was for a dedicated kerfing plane set to 1/8″.

Falling back on my old habits and routine, I made the body of my plane from 13mm baltic birch plywood.  I had first made a pattern for the tool, one I could use repeatedly.  I derived the pattern template from a backsaw, which I traced onto 3mm plywood and cut out.  The template now hangs overhead off a joist in the shop, awaiting for new kerfsaw-making urges to strike.

I traced the new kerf saw pattern on the thicker plywood, and drilled out holes where they would make the sawing the most amenable.  I accomplished this with my coping saw in a couple minutes.  Once I was done with the sawing I worked on the profiles of the handle with rasps and files so that it was comfortable in my hand.

I made a 3mm rectangle to be glued to the heavier plywood to provide for the cutting spacing.

The assembling continued apace with another scrap of bowsaw blade and a piece of scrap brass barstock to serve the retaining element to hold it all together.

The completed tool is a delightful amalgam of lightness with robustness for vigorous use, combined with comfort and precision for repeated cutting of veneer.

The test drive was perfect!

I followed up on this kerfing plane with one for some teaching I had upcoming, where the ultimate objective was to derive prepared oak boards of 1/4″ thickness from 5/4 stock.  In this case I made the fixed cutting distance 3/8″ since this was the closest scrap I had handy, and in recognition that the folks I would be teaching had no woodworking experience and a bit extra waste would be advantageous.  I will soon recount that tale, confirming the tool removed a huge potential hurdle to them completing their assignment and future task.

Thanks again Tom Fidgen for leading me down this path of simplicity for the sake of precision and efficiency.

Kerfing Plane III

Sat, 03/18/2017 - 5:24am

With the initial endeavor into making a Tom Fidgen-ish  kerfing plan resulting in a functional tool, I needed one last step to make it worth keeping on the shelf.  Since the body of the plow plan was so short, the tool had a tendency to try to flip forward as I was using it aggressively.  So, I fashioned a handle for it based on tracing one of my favorite hand saw handles.

Like a lot of things I make in my shop, especially when prototyping, the handle was from a scrap piece of wood from the scrap box, cut with a coping saw and in this case simply glued to the body of the plane with yellow glue since I did not want to whip up a new jar of hot hide glue just for this.

I got the orientation of the handle a little high, angle-wise, but it lengthened the profile of the plane so that I could really get to it.  With a new blade in its proper orientation (not pictured) it works like a charm and sits in a handy place right over the planing beam.

It was a great introduction to the tool and I thank Tom Fidgen for introducing it to me.  The plow plane starting point was a good one for me, but the final result was a bit clunky in my hand even thought it preformed exceedingly well.

But I wasn’t done yet.