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Joel's Blog
Updated: 1 min 19 sec ago

Ruthless Efficiency And The Perfect Pencil

Wed, 05/22/2024 - 4:00am
Four lead pencils in a craftsman's pocket. The caps are color coded to know which color is whichFour lead pencils in a craftsman's pocket. The caps are color coded to know which color is which
Pretty much everybody I know who works in a shop gets into the habit of keeping stuff in the exact same place all the time. The goal is not to spend 5 minutes looking for stuff. It's just a waste of time and makes woodworking less fun. If you're someone who works on site, your pockets get assigned to various things: the pencil pocket, the phone pocket, the wallet pocket, etc. But even if you're in a shop, knowing that your pencil is in your back pocket on the left saves a lot of time. When I'm going to a meeting, I keep my pen in my breast pocket. I'm an engineer, so people expect that. (If on the other hand, when I wear a shirt that doesn't have a breast pocket I get thoroughly confused. And people wonder what's happened to me and suggest that maybe it's time I retired.) I've also hooked pens in the "V" of my shirt. But that's never felt exactly quite right.
We have sold Blackwing pencils for a long time because they are probably some of the best pencils ever made. The lead quality for drawing is wonderful. They write very smoothly leave a dark black line. They're great pencils with one fatal floor in a shop: If you put them in your pocket, you're going to break the point and also mark up your pocket. And when they're new, they're a little long for a pocket.
Meanwhile, we've noticed that many of our customers are big fans of Pica pencils. If you come into our showroom and we get to chatting, we may ask you about products you wished we carried. Sometimes there are some very practical reasons why we don't carry a given product, but sometimes we just need a nudge to get us motivated. This is what happened with Pica. What sets Pica apart is not just that it's a quality pencil (though it really is a quality mechanical pencil - the lead writes smoothly, it's great). What sets them apart is every pencil comes in some sort of holster. So you want a red pencil, blue pencil, thin line, thick line. Markers or long nose markers. For writing on dry wood, greasy metal or materials that will be exposed to the elements. Whatever. They all have their holsters and the number of people who walk into our store with four of them sitting in a pocket is not small. See the picture above.
Pencils and their sharpenersPencils and their sharpeners

When I'm doing drafting or drawing, I typically want to use a .5 or a 0.3 mm lead. I actually prefer regular pencils that get sharpened with a fine tip. That's where Blackwing and their long point sharpener come it. But when laying out something on wood, the 0.3 and 0.5mm are really too fragile for use on anything other than a really smooth surface. Fortunately Pica makes a 0.9mm which is a game changer. But a lot of people don't like even a .9mm and they go for a regular size lead holder. And a lead holder makes it possible to use shorter leads so the holder fit in a pocket properly. Fortunately all Pica lead holders contain built-in sharpeners. Which is brilliant. Pica also makes different colored markers for different things. They even have accessory caps like in the photo above at the top so you can tell which color lead is which.

When you get into the habit if keeping the pencils in the same place or pocket, you don't waste time looking for it. And more importantly perhaps, when you have the right tool at hand like a pencil and a sharpener, your layout will be consistent and accurate. Having the right color at hand also helps you not cut on the wrong thing that you thought was a line.

Ruthless Efficiency And The Perfect Pencil 3
The pencilsThe pencils, markers, and gel Signal Markers come in different color cases
The XL markers are long for easy layoutThe XL markers are long for easy layout
The gel Signal Markers have their own sharpener built into their casesThe gel Signal Markers have their own sharpener built into their cases

Semi-Annual Salmagundi Club Benefit Auction

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 4:00am
Semi-Annual Salmagundi Club Benefit Auction 1
When I write about art, it's usually in the context of an auction or exhibit of expensive stuff bought as much for its appearance as its collectability and investment value. But I have a favor to ask. As a resident artist (photographer) member of the Salmagundi Club I spend a lot of time with working artists who are doing pretty much the same thing artists have been doing for centuries. That is, producing art to hang on somebody's wall because that person likes it. The club itself specializes in realism, and most of the artists are figurative painters. Sometimes figurative artists get to paint landscapes or things that the spirit moves them to capture, but a fair number of them routinely work on commissions of portraits people and pets because people want a portrait to remember somebody by to preserve the moment. I mention this because the Salmugundi club is having their semi-annual benefit auction.

While some of the club members have national reputations and their work is collected, most of the art at the auction is bought for the basic and compelling reason that someone likes it. If you have a choice between displaying a poster or copy of a famous picture in your living room versus something original and unique, many people would opt for the original art. But they simply don't know this is an option. Like all the exhibits at the club, the art in the auction is vetted by a jury. At least in my view, the standard is pretty high. I submitted two photographs and one was accepted for inclusion in the show. It's my first acceptance to a show at the club so I am all excited! The show is currently hanging at the lower level of the clubhouse at 47 Fifth avenue (12th St.) in Manhattan. If you're in the area, I think you'll find it worthwhile. The galleries are open to the public every day from 1 PM-6PM. While there is no pressure to bid, if something catches your eye it would be great for everyone if you put in a bid. Prices are very reasonable because it's a fundraiser.

You can bid on-line anytime but the real value of seeing the pictures in the gallery is you can see the frame and what the picture looks like on the wall. You are also invited to come to the actual auction which is spread over two nights on Thursday, May 23rd and Friday, May 31st. The auction will be a lot of fun even if you are just there to watch.

You can also view and bid on anything online. All the pictures, by the way, are sold or framed and ready for hanging. I know that for a fact, because I'm one of the volunteers who hung the show. And let me tell you after you've pounded a hundred nails into the wall you get good.

Remember as craftspeople, furniture makers and woodworkers, we have an appreciation for the skill and the making things. Having unique art hanging in your office or home is just as satisfying as having unique furniture that someone made for you being part of your house.

My picture in the show - top row on the leftMy picture in the show - top row on the left

Semi-Annual Salmagundi Club Benifit Auction

Wed, 05/15/2024 - 4:00am
Semi-Annual Salmagundi Club Benifit Auction 1
When I write about art, it's usually in the context of an auction or exhibit of expensive stuff bought as much for its appearance as its collectability and investment value. But I have a favor to ask. As a resident artist (photographer) member of the Salmagundi Club I spend a lot of time with working artists who are doing pretty much the same thing artists have been doing for centuries. That is, producing art to hang on somebody's wall because that person likes it. The club itself specializes in realism, and most of the artists are figurative painters. Sometimes figurative artists get to paint landscapes or things that the spirit moves them to capture, but a fair number of them routinely work on commissions of portraits people and pets because people want a portrait to remember somebody by to preserve the moment. I mention this because the Salmugundi club is having their semi-annual benefit auction.

While some of the club members have national reputations and their work is collected, most of the art at the auction is bought for the basic and compelling reason that someone likes it. If you have a choice between displaying a poster or copy of a famous picture in your living room versus something original and unique, many people would opt for the original art. But they simply don't know this is an option. Like all the exhibits at the club, the art in the auction is vetted by a jury. At least in my view, the standard is pretty high. I submitted two photographs and one was accepted for inclusion in the show. It's my first acceptance to a show at the club so I am all excited! The show is currently hanging at the lower level of the clubhouse at 47 Fifth avenue (12th St.) in Manhattan. If you're in the area, I think you'll find it worthwhile. The galleries are open to the public every day from 1 PM-6PM. While there is no pressure to bid, if something catches your eye it would be great for everyone if you put in a bid. Prices are very reasonable because it's a fundraiser.

You can bid on-line anytime but the real value of seeing the pictures in the gallery is you can see the frame and what the picture looks like on the wall. You are also invited to come to the actual auction which is spread over two nights on Thursday, May 23rd and Friday, May 31st. The auction will be a lot of fun even if you are just there to watch.

You can also view and bid on anything online. All the pictures, by the way, are sold or framed and ready for hanging. I know that for a fact, because I'm one of the volunteers who hung the show. And let me tell you after you've pounded a hundred nails into the wall you get good.

Remember as craftspeople, furniture makers and woodworkers, we have an appreciation for the skill and the making things. Having unique art hanging in your office or home is just as satisfying as having unique furniture that someone made for you being part of your house.

My picture in the show - top row on the leftMy picture in the show - top row on the left

Advertising 101

Wed, 05/08/2024 - 4:00am
Advertising 101  1

Should we take some cues from this guy? I admit I took a picture of his sign (above) - he plastered the neighborhood - and I wasnt too shocked that he got coverage on CNN when the event happened. I dont know if he kept his mask on; perhaps he didnt want to be revealed as the Marketing Senior VP at a large corporation. He does know how to grab attention (and snacks).

I might like to spend most of my time designing tools, organizing the manufacture or tools and researching the history of tools, but I understand that unless we attract customers to buy tools, we don't eat.

Ultimately a sale depends on having the right product with a winning combo of price and performance. It helps to be a company that people want to deal with. But as our cheese ball fellow shows: getting new customers in the door is an essential skill.

Almost all of our architectural cabinet--maker customers rely on a small network of architects and contractors for all of their work. These are networks that take years to build. For a new person entering the market, it takes a while to get enough of a reputation to be included in a bid list.

Furniture makers have a far more complicated problem. You are not just selling a chair or a table, you are selling your take on how these items should look and function. And of course there are only a very small number of people who can afford bespoke furniture in the first place.

The International Contemporary Furniture Fair (ICFF), which describes itself as North Americas leading platform for contemporary furnishing design will be held next week. Furniture makers and other designers from around the world show off their wares; it's comparatively an expensive show at which to exhibit at but people do it. I do not know how effective the show is in a practical sense. The point of the show is that decorators come see your stuff and eventually have you make stuff for their customers. It is not an end user retail show. When I have gone in past years I have routinely seen a bunch of our customers exhibiting. I just don't know if after six months or so they feel it was worth it - although many have told me they have met a lot of interesting people.

But this is the problem for everyone. How do you find and inform potential customers? Pretty much everyone I know has a website and most people either have an Instagram account or feel guilty that they dont - but with varying success. The plus of social media is at its simplest it is free, and but requires a lot of hands-on labor. A trade show like the ICFF is expensive in actual cash flow but will expose you in a hands-on way to a very targeted, already motivated audience of buyers.

Unfortunately there arent too many shortcuts. Folks know that it isnt enough to create a social media account - they must constantly feed it, ideally with a consistent supply of charmingly crafted and engaging videos, something that even our customers with filmmaking experience balk at doing. But at least I can recommend a few classic books that helped me understand marketing - and are also enjoyable to read.

The first is "The Book of Gossage, by Howard Luck Gossage, aka the Socrates of San Francisco, a compilation that includes "Is there any hope for advertising?" Gossage was a wizard of an ad copywriter in the Mad Men era, who understood that you had to engage the customer. And the customer wasn't stupid, but rather just needed to be engaged. Engaged meant being presented with interesting and amusing ideas, not being swindled. I think Gossages wordy and plot driven approach is very appropriate to the modern age of internet marketing.

To address the visual side of things, Forget All the Rules You Ever Learned About Graphic Design: Including the Ones in This Book, by Bob Gill. Gill was not only a designer, copywriter, design professor and design agency founder, he was an impresario who (for better or worse) brought us Beatlemania. As his NY Times obituary described him, Gill was an irreverent graphic designer who helped transform his profession from its decorative roots into a business of ideas. Forget All the Rules definitely encourages you to distill your message.

The third book is "How I Raised Myself from Failure to Success in Selling " by Frank Bettger. Bettger was a washed-up baseball player in his early twenties who needed another livelihood and found it in sales. This is a book, published in 1949 and still in print, whose hardcover version had a groovy look and a blurb from Dale Carnegie, Bettgers mentor. (The paperback version, not so much.) The book is full of insights about high-end personal sales. If your plan is to close the deal - the step after successful marketing gives you the opportunity to do so - its helpful to understand sales as well.

Even big names understand the importance of getting the word out in a cost-effective way. Last year Erykah Badu advertised her shows with billboards plastered across the city. I'm not particularly a fan but wow - did that poster grab my attention.

Advertising 101  2
By the way, marketing does not need to be original to be effective. Our cheese ball friend got his message out with a compelling easy to spot sign plastered on a parking permit machine. Great eye-catching graphics are important. But in NYC, signs are everywhere. Cheese Ball was competing with (among other things) a far less effective sign promoting an EP stuck a few feet away on a mailbox.

Advertising 101  3

In case you are curious: while the cheese ball guy did it all himself, there are companies in NYC that would be happy to paste up your poster everywhere. The rules are, you can put stuff up on construction sites covered in plywood barriers but not over real stuff that isn't temporary.


And if youre in the NY area, I thoroughly recommend a visit to the Poster House Museum. Each exhibit is a master class in art and design, and in distilling a marketing objective.

A random display of billboards plastering a SoHo construction siteA random display of billboards plastering a SoHo construction site

New Gramercy Tools Hand Cut Riffler and Rasps

Wed, 04/10/2024 - 4:00am
New Gramercy Tools Hand Cut Riffler and Rasps 1
As many of you already know from experience, hand-cut rasps cut smoother and faster than machine-made rasps. For nearly 20 years, we have been selling hand-cut rasps to a great reception. The range we have offered, however, has been pretty static for a bunch of years. The Gramercy Cabinet Rasps and Modeller's Rasps cover most cabinetmakers' needs. We have also added a couple of sets of riffler files for smaller, more detailed work. The only real innovation has been the Saw Handle Maker's Rasp, which is both bent and then toothed on one side, so that you can shape the inside of a handle without accidentally damaging the material opposite.

Over the years we have gotten suggestions and requests for other styles. In the last few months I've been thinking about new permutations of rasps that might be useful to woodworkers and wood carvers. For example, riffler rasps are doubled ended with complementary shapes on each end. The theory is that you can do one operation with one end and then do a complementary operation with the head that is on the other end - you just flip the rasp over in your hand. The actual complementary pairs of shapes are traditional and date from when the biggest use of rasps was in shaping wooden patterns for the foundry industry. The hand shaped wooden pattern is mostly a thing of the past, but the shapes and pairings of the rifflers remain. So we wondered: what would happen if we took two very useful ends of a rifler that are typically on different rifflers and put them together on one rasp? So that's where the new Fine Riffler design comes from.

The second new rasp is simply a longer, thicker Gramercy Tools Rat Tail rasp. I find rat tails espeically handy for decorative work, and a longer, thicker one simply made sense. So there's the second design.

The third new rasp is a customer suggestion - actually the suggestion of several customers. The original Saw Handle Maker's rasp wasn't my own idea; it came about from a suggestion by Larry Williams, the acclaimed planemaker. Its design makes it really easy to shape the inside of a handle or anything that has an opposing surface close by, because the curve is bent up so you don't hit the other side (and even if you do, only one side of the rasp has teeth). We had requests for a narrower version of the same thing. With an narrower rasp, you got a tighter radius on the half roundness of the file. This translates into a freedom to do tighter curves. And in certain situations, the narrower rasps fits the space better.

We are very pleased to announce these new rasps and we have more still to come. They may help solve a specific problem that some of you are working on today, and going forward we hope they open up new possibilities and capacities for fabrication. And that is very exciting indeed.

It Was 25 Years Ago Today!

Mon, 04/01/2024 - 4:00am
It Was 25 Years Ago Today! 1

In 1996, I quit my job and with a partner started a computer consulting company. In 1997 we set up the Museum of Woodworking Tools as a demonstration of the websites we could build for clients. We picked tools because we needed content for our demonstration site, and this was a subject for which I could do a deep, deep dive.

In 1998 we added a very primitive e-commerce portion to the site to show that we could also sell stuff, aka the Museum's gift shop. By the end of 1998, my business partner and I decided to split up the business. I took full custody of the museum in the breakup. In January 1999, my girlfriend (now wife) Sally talked me into a trip to Vietnam, and that was pretty exciting. When we got back in early February, I knuckled down and redid the primitive store to something professional (including a museum exhibit about Vietnamese woodworking). And 25 years ago today, April 1st 1999, Tools For Working Wood went live.

Initially we mostly sold books about tools and a few brands of quality traditional tools. Above is a snapshot of our first page courtesy of the Wayback Machine. By today's standards, it's pretty primitive, but to be fair, back in 1999 most websites were pretty primitive. The fact it worked at all was pretty amazing. The first order for which I have a record for came in on April 6th for four books. The second order came in the next day, April 7th, also for books. Then it was two days more before another order came in. At that point we just didn't have that many tools. I still had a regular computer job, so I would go to work during the day and then in the evening I would work on the website and then pack the occasional order. Once in awhile I would have to go the next day to the post office. As the business expanded throughout 1999, more tools arrived. Some were stored the bedroom closet, some went under the sofa in the living room, some just got piled in the corner (hopefully no one would notice them). Sally and I moved to our current apartment and got married in early 2001 and I started working full time for Tools for Working Wood. By summer of 2001 I was basically making a daily trip to the post office with a little shopping cart full of packages. But I also finally had a deal and FedEx came to my apartment to pick up more packages. We had no venture capital. Sally kept her day job and without this financial support and emotional encouragement I would never been able to get out of the starting gate.
In 2002 we moved to our first real location, an office on 20th street not far from Gramercy Park (memorialized in our the name Gramercy Tools). The place had shelving left over from the previous tenant. Over a weekend or two we moved all the tools to the new place using a big shopping cart and many trips. It was great to get our home back to being our home. The next few years were ones of intensive growth, and the beginnings of making tools. We outgrew our Manhattan office by 2007 and found affordable space in Brooklyn. The move to Brooklyn was when I started this very blog. Here is the first entry about the move. I am happy to say that a quarter century after we started, we are older but still going strong. I can't tell you what the future will bring. I know that woodworking has changed over the years. Certainly activities like spoon-carving and chairmaking are more popular than ever. Our customers are increasingly building modern furniture, but the talent we see in traditional skills continues to amaze me.

Manufacturing tools was always my dream, and we started with our holdfasts, which had to outsource because of the size of the press needed. But even in Manhattan in our tiny little space, we started making our first tools. And that's always been exciting. I've seen our customer base grow up, retire, change, and new people come into the business. It's all exciting. I don't think I'm ever be tired of seeing new people start making things. Or the excitement people get when they get some new tool or toy. It's been 25 years. We owe a lot of debt to friends of ours who helped us in the early days and vendors who sold to us for no reason other than we seemed reasonable. Also we have a great debt to the staff members here, who make the tools, design the tools and packaging, pack the tools, sell the tools. Many of our the employees have been here for years. Without their efforts we would have a fallen apart years ago. And finally I've got to thank our customers. Customers who have the faith that we would follow through. Loyal customers come back again and again and again. Without customers we wouldn't have anything.
Happy anniversary!

It Was 25 Years Today!

Mon, 04/01/2024 - 4:00am
It Was 25 Years Today! 1

In 1996, I quit my job and with a partner started a computer consulting company. In 1997 we set up the Museum of Woodworking Tools as a demonstration of the websites we could build for clients. We picked tools because we needed content for our demonstration site, and this was a subject for which I could do a deep, deep dive.

In 1998 we added a very primitive e-commerce portion to the site to show that we could also sell stuff, aka the Museum's gift shop. By the end of 1998, my business partner and I decided to split up the business. I took full custody of the museum in the breakup. In January 1999, my girlfriend (now wife) Sally talked me into a trip to Vietnam, and that was pretty exciting. When we got back in early February, I knuckled down and redid the primitive store to something professional (including a museum exhibit about Vietnamese woodworking). And 25 years ago today, April 1st 1999, Tools For Working Wood went live.

Initially we mostly sold books about tools and a few brands of quality traditional tools. Above is a snapshot of our first page courtesy of the Wayback Machine. By today's standards, it's pretty primitive, but to be fair, back in 1999 most websites were pretty primitive. The fact it worked at all was pretty amazing. The first order for which I have a record for came in on April 6th for four books. The second order came in the next day, April 7th, also for books. Then it was two days more before another order came in. At that point we just didn't have that many tools. I still had a regular computer job, so I would go to work during the day and then in the evening I would work on the website and then pack the occasional order. Once in awhile I would have to go the next day to the post office. As the business expanded throughout 1999, more tools arrived. Some were stored the bedroom closet, some went under the sofa in the living room, some just got piled in the corner (hopefully no one would notice them). Sally and I moved to our current apartment and got married in early 2001 and I started working full time for Tools for Working Wood. By summer of 2001 I was basically making a daily trip to the post office with a little shopping cart full of packages. But I also finally had a deal and FedEx came to my apartment to pick up more packages. We had no venture capital. Sally kept her day job and without this financial support and emotional encouragement I would never been able to get out of the starting gate.
In 2002 we moved to our first real location, an office on 20th street not far from Gramercy Park (memorialized in our the name Gramercy Tools). The place had shelving left over from the previous tenant. Over a weekend or two we moved all the tools to the new place using a big shopping cart and many trips. It was great to get our home back to being our home. The next few years were ones of intensive growth, and the beginnings of making tools. We outgrew our Manhattan office by 2007 and found affordable space in Brooklyn. The move to Brooklyn was when I started this very blog. Here is the first entry about the move. I am happy to say that a quarter century after we started, we are older but still going strong. I can't tell you what the future will bring. I know that woodworking has changed over the years. Certainly activities like spoon-carving and chairmaking are more popular than ever. Our customers are increasingly building modern furniture, but the talent we see in traditional skills continues to amaze me.

Manufacturing tools was always my dream, and we started with our holdfasts, which had to outsource because of the size of the press needed. But even in Manhattan in our tiny little space, we started making our first tools. And that's always been exciting. I've seen our customer base grow up, retire, change, and new people come into the business. It's all exciting. I don't think I'm ever be tired of seeing new people start making things. Or the excitement people get when they get some new tool or toy. It's been 25 years. We owe a lot of debt to friends of ours who helped us in the early days and vendors who sold to us for no reason other than we seemed reasonable. Also we have a great debt to the staff members here, who make the tools, design the tools and packaging, pack the tools, sell the tools. Many of our the employees have been here for years. Without their efforts we would have a fallen apart years ago. And finally I've got to thank our customers. Customers who have the faith that we would follow through. Loyal customers come back again and again and again. Without customers we wouldn't have anything.
Happy anniversary!

Three of Thirty Six Views of Mount Fuji

Wed, 03/20/2024 - 4:00am
Mount Fuji from the mountains of TtmiMount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi
Christie's auction house is currently exhibiting one of the few complete sets of woodblock prints known as "Thirty-six Views of Mount Fuji" by the Edo-period master woodblock artist Katsushika Hokusai. The set, which was printed in 1830-1835, is Hokusais "most iconic print series," according to Christie's. The complete set actually consists of 46 prints because Hokusai added 10 prints to the series. If you're thinking of adding the series to your own walls, bear in mind that Christie's has set the estimate between 5 to 7 million dollars. These prints were made by printing from multiple carved wooden plates, each with a different color. This is hard to do. The prints' detail and complexity show the work of a true master of the craft. Of the set of forty six prints, three are of special interest to woodworkers.

The first of the three prints (above), "Mount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi," shows two sawyers slicing up a giant beam with a gentleman at the bottom sharpening up a saw. I find it interesting that they are each using a one man saw, and cutting different kerfs. In the West, this would have been done with two-person saws, on a horizontally laid log, one sawyer at the top, another at the bottom. The log also seems to be pretty huge, and I don't know if this is reality or an exaggeration for the print - which could explain the absence of a two-person saw. In Toshio Odate's "Japanese Woodworking Tools" Odate shows a one-person timber saw, exactly like the one in the print, but no two-person saws. I do not know if two-person saws were a thing in Japan. While all the prints are fairly small, the detail in them is amazing. These close-ups are at most an inch across.

Mount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi - Detail of Saw FilerMount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi - Detail of Saw Filer

For any big sawing job, you would naturally want a saw filer sharpening saws as you worked so that you could switch to sharper saws during the day. This saw filer is focused on his job with his left hand steering the file and holding the saw steady, while the other hand pushes the file. The handle of the saw has been removed, though I do not know why.
Mount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi - Detail of Top Man SawingMount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi - Detail of Top Man Sawing
While the tooth profiles are draw in all the saws in the print, they seem more stylized than accurate. But both sawyers are putting their back into it and exerting a lot of effort.
Mount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi - Detail of Bottom Man SawingMount Fuji from the mountains of Ttmi - Detail of Bottom Man Sawing

Fujimi Field in Owari ProvinceFujimi Field in Owari Province

The other two images were ones I'd never seen before. In "Fujimi Field in Owari Province," we see a bath maker at work (I am pretty sure it's a bath, not a large flat barrel). Baths are made essentially the same way you would make a large barrel, by tightly fitting the staves of the sides together. The maker is using an early predecessor of a Japanese plane called a Yari-Kanna to smooth the inside areas in which the bathers would lean against. This operation would probably not have been needed on a barrel.
Fujimi Field in Owari Province - DetailFujimi Field in Owari Province - Detail

Honjo TatekawaHonjo Tatekawa, The Timberyard at Honjo, Sumida
Finally, we have "Honjo Tatekawa, The Timberyard at Honjo, Sumida." On the left side of the print, there is a huge pile of wood, carefully stickered and stacked to dry. A guy at the bottom of the pile is throwing a sawn board up to the man at the top of the pile to continue stacking. On the right another man is sawing more lumber into thinner boards. He has already started a few kerfs at the top so he won't have to move the board again past the support until he has sawn all the boards. Notice the little wedge stuck in the top of the kerf he is working on. It also seems that once he is done they tie together boards from the same log so customer can get matching grain if they want. It initially struck me that in both prints of sawyering that having the board on an angle, not flat, would be annoying and dangerous, but after a bit of a think it makes a lot of sense. The sawyers are all bending over to work but if the board was horizontal they would have to pull their saw straight up, which would be physically a lot harder. Having the board at an angle makes the sawing a lot easier on the back.
Honjo TatekawaHonjo Tatekawa, The Timberyard at Honjo, Sumida - Detail

PS - for information on the process used in creating these prints there are many great YouTube videos. But for a book - here is a book from 1916 on the subject of printing using Japanese block printing techniques.

School of Painting for the Imitation of Woods & Marbles

Wed, 03/13/2024 - 4:00am
Faux MahoganyFaux Mahogany

If I had to pick the most spectacular "how to" book in my collection, it would have to be "School of Painting for The Imitation of Woods & Marbles / as taught & practised by A.R.van der Burg & P.van der." The original edition was published in 1875; my edition is 1887. While thin, it is huge - medium folio (18 inches or 47 cm) tall. Not only is the book huge, it is filled with samples of work that are printed in fabulous color via the chromo lithographic process. Color of this quality and quantity was rare for any book at the time - and for a book on craft technique, nearly unique.
Faux wood and marble patterns had a real heyday in the 19th century, and this book goes into significant detail on technique and the tools. I don't do graining, but I can appreciate that this is the most comprehensive book on the subject that I have ever seen. I would guess that the reason for its size is to present the color plates in samples big enough so you can both emulate the pattern and see the detail.
closeup of the faux Mahogany plate abovecloseup of the faux Mahogany plate above
You can actually take a look at the entire book on line at the Yale library. The Yale scan doesn't really give a sense of scale and majesty of the original book, but it is complete. My copy has a later binding, but the contents are the same. Here are a few pages to give you a sense of what it is about.
You can see in the closeup of the Mahogany (above) that the detail in the graining is amazing. The two plates for both materials show the original graining and then another layer of detail and depth.
Faux St. Remi MarbleFaux St. Remi Marble

In other news, I will be giving a talk at Makeville Studio this Friday, March 15, 2024, at 6:00PM on Rasps in the Woodshop. It is free and you are all invited.

N.B. I apologize for sub-optimal alignment of the pictures, a result of the book not opening flat. Rumor has it that this may not be the week for experimenting with Photoshop editing without causing an international scandal.

A Visit To Doyle Auctioneers & Appraisers

Wed, 03/06/2024 - 4:00am
Set of Four Roberto Lazzeroni for Ceccotti Collezioni Fruitwood Dining ArmchairsSet of Four Roberto Lazzeroni for Ceccotti Collezioni Fruitwood Dining Armchairs, Estimate: $700 - $1,000, along with two Jean Prouve for Vitra Metal and Plywood "Standard" Chairs, estimate: $700 - $1,000

This past weekend Sally and I visited Doyle Auction Houses to see their "Doyle and Design" show. Doyle, whose main branch is on the Upper East Side of Manhattan, specializes in furniture, jewelry, decorative art and artwork. A lot of their customers are dealers, and a lot of the furniture they sell on a fairly regular basis is made by famous makers, but not in pristine condition. While I love going to fancy auction houses like Christie's and seeing a $50,000 chair, it's also fun and instructive to go to Doyle and see iconic, semi-iconic and interesting workday furniture that you can actually envisioning using in a home. This sort of stuff is found at Doyle on a regular basis. Prices usually range from what I will term "a lot more expensive than IKEA" to the far less expensive than what solid, well-made furniture costs new.

There are auction houses like this all over the country that sell normal, working stuff that is designed for use, not collections. And maybe that's really the executive summary here. Doyle specializes in usable items rather than collectibles. (Although to be fair some of the stuff is collectible, and especially if it had a little TLC it would be even more collectible). This is why prices at Doyle's are lower than you'd find at Christie's or Sotheby's. Dealers routinely shop here for stuff that they are going to resell at great markup, possibly after some restoration. For example, the set of four Roberto Lazzeroni chairs with arms have an estimate of $700 to $1,000 for the set. A set of table and eight chairs sold on 1stdibs for $11,000. Now eight of anything gets a premium. But if you're looking for modern furniture this could be a pretty good deal. The Jean Prouve chairs, with the estimate of $700 - $1,000 for the pair, cost over $1000 each new on Design Within Reach and other sites. I asked one of the Doyle reps about their pricing and he said if Doyle has previously sold similar items, the estimates take the history into account. But for everything else, they use an estimate of 10% to 15% of what a new copy would go for. Of course, as long as they have at least two bidders, the market will figure it out. My guess is that the set of Lazzeroni chairs will go for more than the estimate.

Pair of Mira Nakashima Walnut Mira StoolsPair of Mira Nakashima Walnut Mira Stools, estimate: $2,000 - $4,000

This particular auction also had pieces by Nakashima, his daughter Mira, Wharton Esherick, Tiffany, Roycroft, and others.
We were here for the same reason we go to a lot of auctions - because here we can open the drawers, sit in the chairs, and learn about design. Whether or not you're planning to build furniture, these mid-priced auction houses are a really wonderful place to get quality stuff at an affordable price. Just a note: what is usually posted on an auctioneer's website after an auction is the hammer price - the price the auctioneer calls out at the auction and says "Sold!" Lots of auctions have buyer's premiums, sales tax, etc. And in the case of large pieces of furniture, there may be some hassle as you figure out how to get it home.

I think my favorite piece was the Quistgaard desk (below). I sat in the Mira Nakashima stools and thought them very comfortable - perfect for a home bar or kitchen island.

 $2Silvio Cavatorta Chromed Metal and Walnut Sideboard 1950s. Estimate: $2,000 - $4,000. Eames Chairs, Estimate: $1,500 - $2,500

 $1Jens Quistgaard for Peter Lovig Nielsen Rosewood Flip Top Partner's Desk. Estimate: $1,000 - $2,000

Paul Roman

Wed, 02/28/2024 - 4:00am
Fine Woodworking Issue #4 - my first issue - and the latest issue FWW #309Fine Woodworking Issue #4 - my first issue - and the latest issue FWW #309
In the latest issue of Fine Woodworking, there is a very nice obituary for Paul Roman, the founder and publisher of Fine Woodworking since its first issue in 1976. Although I never met Paul, he was very influential in my life and my development as a woodworker - and perhaps in yours as well. I've had a subscription to Fine Woodworking from Issue 4 continuing to the present day. A long time. I remember getting an advertisement in the mail announcing this new publication and I was really excited. This was the first woodworking publication that didn't scream at you and was done in an elegant text that looked nice. The subjects it covered were not really about building one more entertainment center for your den. And most important, it covered a lot of the interesting techniques that I'd heard of, but understood very little. At the time I knew almost nothing about woodworking. I was a veteran of my high school woodworking class and I built models. I wouldn't call myself a total woodworking neophyte but my status was just past that.

So I subscribed. This was a big deal because I was a teenager living at home and and I needed to convince my parents to pay for it. It's hard to explain to young people who have grown up with the world of knowledge at their fingertips because of the internet, but if you wanted to know something in 1976, your options were limited. If it wasn't common enough knowledge to be found in your local library, and you didn't know a guy to teach you, you were screwed. Magazines were the lifeline. They had articles about stuff you didn't know existed, you could even write to them and ask a question and get an answer. They were the community. And here was a community that seemed to welcome me as a member. My subscription began with the fourth issue - which I still have, along with decades of issues.

One of the articles in the issue was about exotic woods by Bob Stockdale. The magazine was then in black and white, so the pictures were not as spectacular as they would be now but it was still such an eye opener. Who knew that you could get such amazing bits of wood and how exciting a turned bowl could be?

Paul Roman 2
The issue also had an article on ornamental turning by John Kelsey that I mentioned a few weeks went when I wrote about Frank Knox.

The issue's cover, which you can see above, showed it to be different from other woodworking magazines - it was a pretty arty picture of a workbench, actually a clamp belonging to a workbench. The workbench was by none other than Tage Frid. Tage Frid was a Danish cabinet maker who taught woodworking and furniture design at the Rhode Island School of Design (RISD) and his article was of a traditional European bench that wasn't dumbed down or anything. I wanted one. I didn't actually build this bench, but a few years later I built something similar - a left-handed version of Frank Klausz's bench as featured in the Fine Woodworking/Taunton book "The Workbench Book" by Scott Landis, which has since been reprinted by Lost Art Press. (And many thanks to LAP for the reprint - it's a wonderful book and the workbench is the most important tool in your shop, as Landis proves.) Tage Frid became a frequent and important contributor to Fine Woodworking.

Paul Roman 3
This issue also had an article by James Krenov. Not only is the furniture as elegant is all his work, the pictures made them something special. Fine Woodworking in those days was not just about showing you it could be done, it was showing you that you could be better than you thought you could.

Paul Roman 4

About 10 years after I started subscribing to Fine Woodworking, I began to study woodworking formally at the Craft Students League. I said at the start of this post that I never met Paul Roman. But wow, what an incredible impact he had on me.

Paul Roman 5

International Shipping and Globalization

Thu, 02/15/2024 - 4:00am
Joseph Smith's "Explanation or Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield" C. 1816
Joseph Smith's "Explanation or Key to the Various Manufactories of Sheffield,"also known as Smith's Key, is one of the earliest tool catalogs. Originally published in 1816, The Key is simply a collection of tool engraving showing many different tools and style. Pretty much all the manufacturers made the same products. Smith, a printer, would print the engravings and the manufacturer, dealer, representative, or salesperson would assign their own prices.

The EAIA (Early American Industries Association) reprinted a copy of the Key in 1975 (a different copy than the link to the scan) and included the only surviving price list connected to the key - a printed price list from James Cam, a Sheffield manufacturer, complete with hand-written Spanish translations of many of the categories. The theory is that this particular price list and key was used by a salesman in Spain or another Spanish-speaking country to take orders. Think about this: in the 1820s you could be nearly anywhere in the world and order from an English tool company. And eventually your tools would show up! This is globalization in action, at a time much earlier than we tend to think of global trade. As technology changed, we went from a guy taking orders and money, and sending a letter by ship, and then waiting months, to Sears and Roebuck, and then mail order tool companies, and then the internet (and us). What made the mail order business grow (and in my view, the trigger for the entire Industrial Revolution) was that the English government recognized early on that in order for international trade to grow, it had to be reliable. So the English established and guarded safe sea routes, and kept standards to trade that enabled demand to skyrocket. And reliability in global international trade has dictated the way business works around the world since then. Sadly, from a retailer's perspective, since COVID the world has gotten smaller. And it's really unfortunate.

I mention this because I am sorry to report that we have once again suspended international shipping. Before Covid, we shipped a lot of orders all over the world. We had some challenges from time to time - I'll always remember a hand-scrawled note of "No Sharp Knives" written on a return-to-sender shipment of rasps to Buenos Aires that the USPS claimed could have been written by anyone, including the Argentine pilot - but service was acceptably reliable even if not great. During the height of Covid, most international shipments were suspended and even when service resumed or quasi-resumed, shippers backed away from their commitments and guarantees to actually deliver the packages. Post-Covid, two things have happened: the first is that the actual cost of shipping has skyrocketed. What used to cost fifteen bucks now costs fifty. The second thing is that both in the EU and England VAT taxes are supposed to be collected by the shipper. This has complicated matters tremendously.

During Covid we had to turn off international shipping. Since then, we have been slowly resuming international shipping. We addressed the VAT issue by using Global Post, which takes care of taxes and other paperwork concerns. The company uses a combination of services that starts with USPS but includes a managerie of independent carriers for other parts of the international journey. They seem to use whatever is cheapest for them.

We were initially delighted to offer a service that was strikingly less expensive than the USPS International service. But unfortunately we have discovered it loses about a third of our orders. Actually, of that number, probably only half are truly lost (we'll call this group "if we're lucky"). The other half is temporarily lost in that the trail disappears. Sometimes they decide the order is undeliverable even if it's going to an address that's been confirmed six ways from Sunday. Those orders eventually come back to us. If they lose the order, and we're lucky and spend a lot of time on the issue, we might get a refund that includes the cost of the postage. If we're unlucky, we'll get a beat-up package months later returned to us as marked undeliverable, with no refund of anything, especially not of the postage. By then, of course, we have refunded the customer. A scheme that loses so many shipments is not sustainable. It is also it's a time sink. In order to track down where the order might or might not be, we might have to deal with three different vendors, with no automated coordinating system in any of them, with all of them offering variations on the theme of "Hey it's not us, it's the other guy." Needless to say, since we're only billed by one company, if the package was lost by the other two companies there's no incentive from anyone to help us.

So that's why we feel forced, very regrettably, to shut down international shipping.

Some of our products are available in Europe from Dieter Schmid (Germany), Baptist (Netherlands), and in Canada from Lee Valley.

If the situation improves, we will revisit this. If you have currently an international order in process, fingers crossed that it arrives. Otherwise email us and we will figure it out.

N.B. If you page through the tools in the copy of The Key that I link to above, you'll see are all B+W engraving, but the tableware listed later in the catalog is hand-colored and is just amazing.

A price list to The KeyA price list to The Key

An Update on the Gramercy Tools Treadle Lathe

Wed, 02/07/2024 - 4:00am
The lathe folded and about to be set upThe lathe folded and about to be set up

Last September, we took the first prototype of the Gramercy Tools Treadle Lathe for a public outing to the Handworks show in Amana. It was a smashing success - but only a step in the project's development. After one dramatic breakage and lots of user feedback, we went back to Brooklyn with tons of ideas for the second prototype - and more importantly, the road towards production.

This is the first folding treadle lathe ever made. Here is a quick slide show going from folded to assembled.

The actual lathe is pretty light and aluminum, but the flywheel is cast iron and very heavy by design. That does make the lathe a little harder to start, especially when you are first learning, but once you get used to it, the heavy flywheel lets you power through real work.

The first prototype had a welded frame, but all the hinges and accoutrements were bolted on. This added a lot of wobble, which we needed to address. In addition, the forces upon the treadle bar that connected the power drive to the crank and the flywheel were way higher than we had initially thought, leading to a break at the Handworks show. Fortunately we got it welded together at the show so we could continue using the lathe, and the welded treadle was a massive improvement over the original bolted version. We saw that the power transmission over a solid weld was much better - so much better that we decided to make the next version entirely welded. Welding is actually the reason it has taken so long to get to this point of the second prototype. In order to weld, we needed to redesign a bunch of parts; learn how to weld aluminum; and then set up a vented area for the actual welding in our rather packed shop. Fortunately we already had a large vented area over the heat-treat department, so we put all our heat-treat kilns on wheels and moved them out of the way. Then we ran a 220 line for our newly acquired welder, and got proper screens to shield the rest of the shop. That took much longer than we hoped, but the end results are (1) we can produce nice clean welds and (2) the entire design is actually changed for the better.

The weight of the cast iron tool rest and tailstock was also a problem for folding. So this version has both an aluminum tool rest and tailstock. We are liking these fabricated versions. Production will have cast aluminum tailstock, toolrest, and headstock.

We did other stuff as you would expect with a project of this size. There are still a few odd and ends that need final approval, but the big news is that the flywheel and pulley castings have been approved for production, so we are going forward on that. Other casting and parts we hope to get moving this week or next.
Once we have prototype production parts, we will open up pre-orders.

The first prototype that we took to Amana has been taken apart to enable this second prototype. We hope to have the third and final prototype as soon as production parts start showing up.

Click here for more information about the lathe and you can also add you email if you wish to the update mailing list for the Lathe.

The new lighter tailstockThe new lighter tailstock
The headstock and new tailstockThe headstock and new tailstock
 Unfolding.... Unfolding....
 In use. In use.