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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 47 min 49 sec ago

Williamsburg Snapshots – Replicating a Walker Corner Chair

Mon, 02/27/2017 - 4:35pm

In addition to serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the Working Wood in the 18th Century event, Anthony Hay shop master Kaare Loftheim took to the stage to show us the developments of the corner chair made up the road in the Walker shop near Fredericksburg.  This iconic chair form, perhaps most notable for the thunder mug contained underneath the upholstered slip seat, provided inspiration for many other chairmakers of the period.  Maybe while they were sitting… oh, never mind.

Kaare was particularly struck by the stylistic variations of the form within the same shop.  He spent considerable time pointing out the salient details from the version of the chair he was replicating in black walnut.

For the on-stage demonstration Kaare did the layout and carving in basswood so it would proceed more quickly and we could get his points in a hurry.

I am pretty sure that “working in a highly detailed artistic and technical exercise while an audience watches the results a 100x magnification” fits at least some definition of fearlessness.


Most of the structural creation had been accomplished prior to the event, but it still had to fit together properly.  It did.

Prior to the last year or so I was only barely acquainted with Kaare personally, and it has been a true delight to get to know him better over that time and I look forward to the next time our paths cross.

Williamsburg Snapshot – Make A Chair From A Book

Fri, 02/24/2017 - 3:52pm


Anthony Hay cabinet shop journeyman Bill Pavlak bit off the challenge of making a chair illustrated in Chippendale’s Director.  Given the vagaries of historic images when compared to the structure of chairs, it was indeed something to wrestle with.

Bill engaged in one of the most innovative didactic exercises I’ve seen as he walked us through the evolution of the Chippendale chair by fabricating a display form on which he could attach full scale depictions for each of the major evolutionary steps in the design heritage.  I found this to be a brilliant approach that should be employed everywhere for anyone interested in the subject.

Since much of the character of the chair is contained in the carvings, that is where Bill spent his time.

I must admit that I missed some of Bill’s presentation as I was 1) talking to someone out in the vestibule about some SAPFM bidnez, and 2) snuck out to go with my wife and some friends to an organ recital at the nearby Wren Chapel on the campus of the College of William and Mary.  Sorry Bill, no disrespect intended.


Williamsburg Snapshot – Making A Late Baroque Chair

Thu, 02/23/2017 - 4:18pm

In the next four  postings I will be highlighting the contributions by the CW craftsmen to the Working Wood in the 18th Century gathering.  They work under the burdensome (?) expectation of excellence on our part, as for years they have not only put on the show as the impresarios but are expected to be stellar in their on-stage performances.  It’s a lot of weight on their shoulders, and they pull it off every time!  You can tell they are comfortable with audiences, I don’t mind folks watching me work, but the contant interruptions they endure must be maddening.  It disrupts any work flow and extends a project’s timeline by a logarithmic factor.

First up of the Colonialista soloists was Brian Weldy, demonstrating the steps to designing and building a late Baroque (aka “Queen Anne”) chair in walnut.  As with all the presentations I found much to be learned from the project, although it is unlikely I will ever build one.  Nevertheless Brian’s dealing with the sumptuously curvilinear form was instructive.

His layout of the serpentine center splat was particularly of interest to me as I have a pair of 16th Century Chinese horseshoe chairs on my bucket list.

He called on Kaare to provide a second pair of hands for the assembly of the chair seat rail and legs.  I was fascinated by the wooden blocks left on the serpentine seat rail to provide striking anf clampning surfaces.  These would be carved off once the assembly was completed.  I thought it was an ingeniuos and efficient solution to a problem.  Maybe everyone else already knew it, but it is a technique now residing firmly in the memory bank.

With the chair assembled Brian addressed the seat construction and lofting, and his time was done.

New in the Mail

Wed, 02/22/2017 - 5:17am

I’ll interrupt my jaunt through the CW confab to mention some new things in the mail.

First off is the catalog from the Marc Adams School of Woodworking which includes this page describing the two classes I will be teaching this fall, Parquetry and Historic Finishing.

Yesterday saw the arrival of the new Popular Woodworking with some intriguing contents.

In addition to an excellent article on bench chisels from The Schwarz Hisownself there is a wonderful piece by my pal Jameel Abraham on making and using plywood.  Solid.

And immediately subsequent to Jameel is my latest article, which was about the most fun writing I have ever had.

To top it all off I received a sample of some shellac wax from the producer in India.  It is excellent and I am going shortly to the bank to make the bank-to-bank transfer to order several hundred pounds.  This steady supply will allow us to begin manufacturing Mel’s Wax shortly.  Stay tuned.

Williamsburg Snapshot – Watching A Rock Star At Work

Mon, 02/20/2017 - 5:28pm

Of all the thing I learned at the recent Working Wood in the 18th Century shindig, two come into clear focus: 1) Peter Galbert is a rock star, and 2) even though I am not a Windsor chair sorta guy I somehow have to figure out a way to budget the time and finances to attend a workshop he is teaching.

While I am not even a chair builder per se, Samuel Gragg chairs notwithstanding, I had been awaiting this presentation with great anticipation since I learned of it.  Pete’s book on chair building was a thing of great beauty and erudition; the highest compliment I can give it is that I wish I had written a book this good.  When reading it I found myself smacking my forehead with every new nugget of enlightenment, which meant every couple of minutes or so.  In much the same way as Krenov’s original trilogy,  Chairmaker’s Notebook is a snapshot of the craftsman’s soul.

And here he was on stage, unfolding his methods of work.  As my friend MikeM remarked, Pete’s performance was perhaps the most amazing example of cogent non-stop talking and non-stop working either of us had witnessed.  Next to both “peripatetic” and “loquacious” in the dictionary is a picture of Pete, and with great elan he walked us through the processes he uses to build his chairs, and his reasoning behind them.  It was a beautiful thing to see.

Beginning with the splitting of the green stock needed for the fashioning of the steam bent pieces and finishing with the assembly of the chair’s elements, I found this to be as grand a learning experience as any I have encountered in furniture making.

Along the way he showed how he lays out the geometry of the chair spindles and legs, steam bent the continuous arm/crest rail (I was too engrossed in watching to remember to take pictures), and even turning the green wood legs on a treadle lathe, he did not miss a single note.

His assembled base with the arm attached was a great hit with the attendees as it was on display out in the vestibule of the auditorium.

Well done, and thanks Pete.

Williamsbug Snapshot – Chairmaking Intro

Fri, 02/17/2017 - 2:30pm

Recently I attended the annual Working Wood in the 18th Century shindig at Colonial Williamsburg.  I’ve been to many of these gatherings over the years, but this was my first since moving to White Run, and also my first entree as a speaker.  The theme this year was chairmaking, and the presenters were Kaare and Ted, along with Brian Weldy and Bill Pavlak, the journeymen from the Hay shop and Ted’s crew of interns from the Joiners shop, along with Windsor chair maker Peter Galbert and moi.

The general format for these has always been hands-on demonstrations by the CW craftsmen, usually from the Anthony Hay Cabinetmaker shop, currently mastered by Kaare Loftheim, and the Joiners shop, under the tutelage of Ted Boscani.

The setting for the conference is the Hennage Auditorium of CW, with each of the presenters engaging in actual hands-on work while engaging in soliloquies of discourse on their particular topic, on-camera with live microphones.

First up with the evening lecture on the opening night was Tara Gleason Chicirda, the long time Curator of Furniture for CW, presenting Craftsmanship of the American Chair.  Tara possesses a breathtaking range and depth of knowledge about the things we care about, and I have never been disappointed by the many lectures I have heard from her.

The next morning was started by a “three-ring circus” as Kaare, Brian, and Bill took the stage for near simultaneous expositions on their projects with a session titled Chairmaking Fundamentals–Three Chairs which set the stage for the exhilarating ride to come.

More abut each of their projects in coming posts.

Periodic Reminder for 2017 Courses at The Barn

Wed, 02/15/2017 - 1:49pm

Here is the full slate of activities.


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.

Konrad and Riley Take the Torch

Fri, 02/03/2017 - 8:14pm


Konrad Sauer blogged today about my passing a torch to himself and his son, the “torch” being the restoration of a classic 1968 Volvo P1800 (the “Saint” car) I bought more than thirty years ago with the intention of restoring it into my every day car.  Well, life intruded and it sat in my shed for all those years until I gave it to them last summer.

It should be an ultra-cool project, and Konrad promised me a visit to The Barn on White Run with his wife once the project is done.

Can’t wait to follow the tale and to welcome them to the mountains..

Prepping for Williamsburg

Wed, 02/01/2017 - 5:48am

Last weekend I spent putting the final touches on my Saturday evening banquet address for the Colonial Williamsburg conference Working Wood in the 18th Century.  My after dinner talk is titled “The Old Ways Just Might Be the Best Ways,” and is a brief travelogue through the world of blended woodworking, using power tools when they are best, but especially using hand tools when they do the job better than any other approach.

Earlier that afternoon I will be demonstrating oil and wax as finishing materials.  I hope to see you there.

Gotta go finish packing all my stuff now.


A Favorite Tool Back On The Market

Tue, 01/31/2017 - 3:00pm

I’ve blogged before about the DelVe Square from Woodpecker’s, a tool I count among my very favorites and when I am in the middle of fabricating stuff it pretty much lives in my hip pocket.  The tool was a “One Time Only” tool but apparently it has such a following that demand has led them to manufacture another run of them.

I got an email from Woodcraft for the tool, although it may be available elsewhere as well.  I recommend this to you without hesitation.  I’m going to get  couple more myself.

Do I really need the disclaimer that I do not derive any benefit from the stakeholders?

Rescuing a $15 Infill Smoother, Finishing Up

Sun, 01/29/2017 - 6:06am

With the necessary new parts fabricated and the performance determined, it was time to prettify the tool.

This was a pleasantly brief undertaking.  Since the wooden infills were already beat to death I sanded them down to bare wood, then ebonozed them with India ink slathered on and allowed to soak well in.  Even then the color is not like something painted black, it has the varieties of surface that are especially pleasing to me.  Following the ebonizing I brushed on a coat of Tru Oil cut 50/50 with naphtha and allowed that to sit for an hour or so, then would have wiped off any excess had there been any (there was not).  Once the surface was completely dry to the touch I applied a coat of full strength Tru Oil, and once that was dry I sanded out any nits and applied the final coat of Tru Oil.  A week or so later I buffed that with Liberon 0000 steel wool as I did not want a mirror finish on the wood in this case.

Once that new finish was cured I reversed the masking and gently scrubbed the steel body with FFFF pumice to remove the accreted gunk and brighten it up a bit, but not enough to make it look new.  One thing that remains undone at the moment is the heel of the plane, with both the metal and wood sections having been damaged by hammer abuse in the past.  Once my Round To-it arrives I will fashion a new brass plate to extend from the sole to the top of the heel to provide a better surface for adjusting the iron.

Giving the plane a test drive on a flat board is a joy.  Having never owned one before I was struck by how useful the mass of the plane is.  Though on the smallish side, it weighs a lot given the steel body and hardwood infills, thus reducing the vibration and chatter as it cuts though the wood fibers as an almost self-dampening feature.  With everything tuned up, and the iron nearly to the point I want it, it effortlessly spews gossamer shavings and leaves behind a surface that is unbelievably smooth.  Huh, maybe that’s why they call it a smoother.

Given the starting point and cost, I was not displeased with my first honest to goodness smoothing plane.

Salvaging a $15 Smoother, Part 2

Fri, 01/27/2017 - 6:23am

As I do with many vintage tools, before I undertake any meaningful pretty-ing I make sure the tool will work well enough to incorporate into my inventory.  With the J.Quick smoother I followed a well established routine of first lapping the sole on my granite-and-sanding-belt rig,

then sharpening the blade with my diamond stone-ceramic stone sharpening regimen followed by honing on my micropolish impregnated plywood strop.

In this case I also had to fashion a new wedge, which I did from a piece of mahogany from the scrap bin.  Once I got it to fit the body and iron perfectly I started to play with my small Auriou model makers rasp, shaping it so it would be a bit interesting.  I was not entirely pleased with the wedge after a while of working on it, but at least it worked well in holding the iron on the bed.

I assembled everything and gave it a test run.  Magnifique.

Salvaging a $15 Infill Smoother, Part 1

Wed, 01/25/2017 - 4:38pm

The good/bad point of the past several weeks is that since my recuperation was underway but not complete, I could spend time in the shop but my arm/hand was not yet flexible and strong enough to undertake real work at the bench.  I did have enough capacity to putter in the barn, so I did.

This past summer I returned to the nirvana of ancient tools, namely Martin Donnelly’s annual warehouse emptying auction, wherein over three thousand lots, with perhaps more than fifty thousand tools, are auctioned in two-and-a-half days.  In addition to the wondrous fellowship of friends old and new I managed once again to score some treasures.  Shabby and bedraggled to be sure, but treasures nonetheless.  Well, maybe “treasures in waiting.”

One that totally caught my eye was this infill smoother of unknown lineage, bearing a single stamp of “J.Quick” although I have no idea if this was the maker or the owner.  The tool , in the words of my pal MikeM, “looked like a stretch of bad pavement.”  There was no denying it was a “project,” but being in a box lot of tools I got for about $75, its $15 price tag made it worth a bit of risk, imagination, and time.

Notwithstanding my friendships with infill plane makers of the highest repute like Konrad Sauer, Raney Nelson, and Ron Brese (although almost certainly due to the fair prices for their creations their planes are generally well beyond my means) my inventory of infill planes has been pretty scarce.  One, to be exact. I addressed this lacuna at Donnelly’s, both in the auction and out in the yard of tailgating.

This sad little smoother was sorta intact, but not really.  Neither the iron nor the wedge were original, or even fit the body.  Getting a good iron was no more complicated than going to the drawer in the cabinet with the spare tool parts.  I found a very nice old tapered laminated blade that was about 1/128″ too wide, a situation resolved in about a minute on the diamond stone.

The wedge took a little longer, refurbishing the body even longer still, but in the end the results were pretty nice.

Stay tuned.

Now THAT’S Some Carving

Tue, 01/24/2017 - 6:20am

Some years ago I became acquainted with artist David Warther, the astounding sculptor who fashions historic ship models in ivory and ebony.  Adjunct to his artistry David dealt in documented heritage ivory (pre-ban “estate” ivory) to clients far and wide.  Thanks to enviro-hopesters inhabiting the swamps of DC in recent years virtually all commerce in ivory has been deemed icky and thus illegal, ultimately redounding unfavorably to elephants  (and I say this as a lover of elephants, but history is a powerful instructor about the results of declaring something to be contraband, but then enviro-hopesters prefer wishful thinking to empirical observation).

Nevertheless David’s unparalleled artistry continues with materials he already held in his personal inventory, and he sent me a new video about his work and the museum featuring it.

The new video is not yet on-line, but here is the previous one for your viewing pleasure.


Quick Quiz About Ivory

  1. Which of these two animals is native to North America, bison or pigs?
  2. Which of those two animals is more abundant in North America now?
  3. Why?


Back At It!

Mon, 01/23/2017 - 6:46am

After four months of greatly reduced activity during recuperation, the last two months in nearly constant travel (family friend’s wedding in Maryland, family and friends in Minnesota, family Thanksgiving in Nebraska, family Christmas in California, interviews for articles, my Mom’s 100th birthday in Florida, etc.) this week I am returning to the shop, nearly full time and nearly fully two-handed.  Except for some very brief times out into the great big wide world I expect to be there about every day for many months ahead instead of the occasional forays of the recent past.

I’ve got a boatload of interesting projects there and will strive to blog three or four times a week, unless I really get up a head of steam.

It is good to be back home.