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Dealing With Book Acquisition Disorder

My name is Don, and I have Book Acquisition Disorder.  In the midst of relocating for the first time since finishing college, this is a pretty weighty and voluminous problem.

just a few boxes of books

I am of a generation and tradition that likes to possess books, lots of books, and to actually read them.  (Well, I used to read a lot, before my eyes started going south I would typically read 200-500 pages a day.)  To make things worse (?) whenever I head off down another rabbit trail — I am not ADHD, I am merely hyper-curious — I make a point of obtaining as much as possible that is written on the subject.  The result?  An estimated 2,000 books (?) about artistry, craftsmanship, chemistry and materials science.

When emptying my office in December after almost three decades working in the same facility it required four pickup truck loads to transport all those books the The Barn.  Add to that inventory the huge pile of my books from home, probably even more than at the office, and you get a sense of the scale of the headache.

Compounding the problem is the fact that Mrs. Don has the affliction to the same degree but on entirely unrelated topics for the most part, so between the two of us we have a big problem on our hands.

The only practical way of dealing with this particular challenge is to transform a chunk of the barn into a full blown library, more precisely, the entire south third floor balcony.  When finished the space will include almost 300 feet of shelving for books, with a single-slab trestle table measuring 16’ x 30” x 2” in the center of the space made from a ~150-year-old Eastern White Pine board I’ve been saving 30 years for just this moment.

Creating the Barn Biblioteca will take several months and many blog posts, so stay tuned.

The Bones of Samuel Gragg (or at least his chairs)

cDSC01206cOne of the dreadful things about moving after three decades of living in the same place is the oppressive mass of tonnage that has accumulated, sometimes simply tucked away in a “special place” so it would not get lost.  This is simultaneously distressing – it means just that more clutter to sort, dispose of or pack and move – and invigorating because every session is a new day of discovery.  In cleaning out my basement shop, which even the few close friends who ever saw it tell me is claustrophobic, I have rediscovered several stashes of special wood I had set aside for unique projects yet to be built.

This blog entry is not really about all of that. (I may be violating some fundamental tenet of DSC01448cthe blogosphere, yeah, I am sure to lose sleep over that)  Instead it’s about several treasured bundles of recently harvested oak splits I had stashed out in the shed and will be on their way to The Barn this weekend.  These will become Gragg elastic chairs over the next several months.  I found replicating the Gragg chair to be the most challenging construction project I have undertaken, while being both aesthetic and seating delights.  The chair design accommodates the human form in a broad range of configurations; I am comfortable in a Gragg chair, as is my pal Tom at 6’ 6” and my protégé Daniela at about 5’ 3” (Daniela is the artistic magician who adds the exquisite peacock feather on the center splat of the all-painted chair)  Making Gragg chairs is so satisfying I intend to keep making them, and perhaps teaching the making of them, until I get tired of doing so.

DSC00017cI now have two new Gragg chair commissions and last spring I worked with my pal Tom S. to harvest DSC00759csome oak logs from Tom’s place and my neighbor’s yard.  As I described in my article for American Period Furniture, the journal of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers, I achieved success in replicating the technology and form of Gragg only after I harvested the raw materials from the tree with my own hands.  Or with Tom’s own hands.

Sawing to length, splitting with wedges, re-splitting, re-splitting again and again, and again, and finally riving them to manageable sizes for shaving and planing later on.  Follansbee would be so proud.  As long as I work them within a year or so I have found no problem with manipulating them.  Since they are air dried, I could probably wait even longer if I re-moisten them but I will play with that one purposefully in the future.   (By the way, if you have a source for flawless oak boles, about 24”+ in diameter by 5’ long, drop me a line)


Anyhow, these oak splits will become Gragg chairs the next winter, and their tale will be chronicled here.  I hope to cut down the time required to fabricate a chair such that I can offer a course in Gragg chair-making at The Barn (I will first need beta-testing volunteers to run through it with me), and perhaps offer in The Barn Store a detailed construction and decoration manual along with full-sized drawings to establish the bending forms required to created the mostly steam-bent chair.

As soon as Tom and his family get back from a summer of frolic at their Alaska place we will get back DSC00888cinto the woods, to build up an inventory so I can keep cranking out this elegant and challenging piece of furniture.

Stay tuned.


PS  If you are interested and nearby, or even if you are not, I will be demonstrating the steps of making the Gragg chair at the October meeting of the Washington Woodworking Guild.

Other Ways of Doing – Glue Pots, Coffee Warmers, and Potpourri Crocks

I don’t know if I am cheap or frugal, or even if I am a tightwad (probably not, given that while I hate shopping do not mind spending) but I am almost always interested in different ways of doing almost anything.

One specific example of this is my use of hot animal hide glue, and the means of cooking it.  Glue is available at most woodworking retailers, but I buy mine in bulk from Milligan&Higgins in 50lb. bags, thus saving about 75% over individual 1 lb. bags.  Properly repackaged and sealed, dry granular bulk glue is good for a very long time.

glue potsWhen it comes to cooking glue, commercial glue pots are available for upwards of a hundred bucks but I am disinclined to buy them when perfectly serviceable options are available cheaply.  In fact, I prefer these methods to the commercial glue pot.

My source for all of my glue cooking implements is a variety of flea markets, thrift stores, and yard sales.  Crock pots, especially the smallish ones used to stink up the house with potpourri, are darned near perfect as glue pots.  They certainly get hot enough to cook the glue without making it too hot, their ceramic shell is a great reservoir of heat allowing you to take the pot to the work if needed without losing all the heat at once if you have to unplug it, and they are cheap.  I have several, and make a point to buy more whenever I find them.  I’ve never spent much for one, and mostly they are in the fifty cents to $2 range.  The only time I spent $5 was as a donation at the Humane Society Thrift Store.

Another wonderful option for preparing very small amounts of glue is the coffee cup warmer, which comes complete with a ceramic cup at many dry goods stores, but are also available from the same places I buy my mini-crock pots.  A small glass jar with glue can be heated directly on the warmer, which works just fine for doing the small scale gluing I need for most restoration projects.

A third tool for cooking glue is the fondue pot.  I have a couple and like them very much.  Fondue pots have the advantage of getting a little hotter than either the potpourri crock or the coffee cup warmer, plus the cheese pot is usually just sitting on the heater coil and can be easily moved for working elsewhere in the shop.

The mini-crock, the coffee cup, and the fondue can be used to heat glue directly or with a water jacket with the glue in a second container.  In fact my most frequent method is to prepare my glue in a small canning jar and place it into a crock filled with hot water.

One thing I do after acquiring a yard-sale cooker is to plug it in with a container of water inside and wait for it to reach full heat, then measure the temperature of the cup of water it has heated.  I write that temperature on the outside of the cooker so I know exactly how hot my glue is getting.

A Most Excellent FORP Video

Jameel Abraham, the godfather of the French Oak Roubo Project, posted this excellent video of the event.

This link should work.


FORP 2013, or “How I Spent My Summer Vacation Working Like a Dog and Sweating Like A Horse”



c slabs galoreI’m back home again after an exhausting and exhilarating week of “vacation” in Barnesville, Georgia, a guest at the remarkable millwork and lumber brokerage facility of Wyatt Childs, Inc.  The purpose of the visit was to participate in the much-touted “French Oak Roubo Project,” or FORP for short.  The event was the brainchild born from a chance intersection between vise-manufacturer and all-around smart guy Jameel Abraham and Bo Childs, with plane maker Ron Brese as the matchmaker.

The enthusiasm and excellence on display were indeed (and will no doubt remain) a critical c don and fredmotivating force in my own quest to become a skilled woodworker.  I encourage you to find folks like this to hang with on your own path to excellence.  A genuine highlight of the week for me was to get a visit from my oldest mentor, who has retired just north of Atlanta.  He is the best woodfinisher I ever met, and  “To Make as Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Marquetry” is dedicated to him and his father, the man who first introduced me to Roubo.

Several of the participants have blogged excellently already – Jameel and Ron, Chris Schwarz, Justin Leib, and Jeff Miller – so my remarks are decidedly brief.

I believe FORP 2013 may be viewed some day, and that day is not far off, as one of the seminal events in the renaissance of the modern/historical “blended” woodworking movement.

c prepping stockAll week the attitude was not whether we were rich or poor, famous or anonymous, etc., but rather that we were all woodworkers, accomplished and passionate about our activities.  And we were all doing, not merely hearing or watching.  While it was not a worship activity, there can be no denying that it was a profound fellowship experience.

Thanks Jameel and Bo for making this happen.

Shellac Archive Addition – J.E. O’Connor’s 1874 “Note on Lac”

This week’s addition to the Shellac Archive is a portion of an 1874 Calcutta-published small book by J.E. O’Connor, about whom I know nothing.  The full title of the little book, and I’ll be you can deduce the portion I omitted here, is “Note on Lac and Vanilla.”  I have no idea why the two were lumped together in this delightful natural history and commerce account of the bug and resin.  I note with interest that in the decade of the 1864-1873 India was exporting 5 ½ million pounds of shellac per year.  Clearly I have some catching up to do.


PS  I had never encountered the word “ebullition” before and had to look it up.

Old Time Ways, Old Time Words

micheles dictionary collection 2As we approach the long-awaited debut of To Make As Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Marquetry, (my first documents for this project are over six years old!) it is worth reflecting for a minute on the unsung heroes for our completion, the tools that were integral to the whole project.  Those tools were Michele Pagan’s lovingly assembled collection of French dictionaries going back more that 200 years.  Notwithstanding the fact that French was one of the first Western languages to be standardized, the usage of words and expressions has changed over the decades and centuries.  One phenomenon that Michele noticed was the change in dictionaries over time.  In some early editions, the definition of a word would rank the likely usages in a particular order, but in the ensuing editions over 250 years, new usage emphases emerged while others receded and some disappeared altogether.


Once our remaining Roubo projects are finished in four or five years, it is unlikely that these precious word repositories will be retired.  Michele now has a taste for the hunt for words, and she will keep on translating old time words on behalf of collaborators passionate about old time ways.

We Hold These Truths To Be Self Evident

Insights for the ages…


IN CONGRESS, July 4, 1776.

The unanimous Declaration of the thirteen united States of America,

When in the Course of human events, it becomes necessary for one people to dissolve the political bands which have connected them with another, and to assume among the powers of the earth, the separate and equal station to which the Laws of Nature and of Nature’s God entitle them, a decent respect to the opinions of mankind requires that they should declare the causes which impel them to the separation.

We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.–That to secure these rights, Governments are instituted among Men, deriving their just powers from the consent of the governed, –That whenever any Form of Government becomes destructive of these ends, it is the Right of the People to alter or to abolish it, and to institute new Government, laying its foundation on such principles and organizing its powers in such form, as to them shall seem most likely to effect their Safety and Happiness. Prudence, indeed, will dictate that Governments long established should not be changed for light and transient causes; and accordingly all experience hath shewn, that mankind are more disposed to suffer, while evils are sufferable, than to right themselves by abolishing the forms to which they are accustomed. But when a long train of abuses and usurpations, pursuing invariably the same Object evinces a design to reduce them under absolute Despotism, it is their right, it is their duty, to throw off such Government, and to provide new Guards for their future security.–Such has been the patient sufferance of these Colonies; and such is now the necessity which constrains them to alter their former Systems of Government. The history of the present King of Great Britain is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny over these States. To prove this, let Facts be submitted to a candid world.

He has refused his Assent to Laws, the most wholesome and necessary for the public good.
He has forbidden his Governors to pass Laws of immediate and pressing importance, unless suspended in their operation till his Assent should be obtained; and when so suspended, he has utterly neglected to attend to them.
He has refused to pass other Laws for the accommodation of large districts of people, unless those people would relinquish the right of Representation in the Legislature, a right inestimable to them and formidable to tyrants only.
He has called together legislative bodies at places unusual, uncomfortable, and distant from the depository of their public Records, for the sole purpose of fatiguing them into compliance with his measures.
He has dissolved Representative Houses repeatedly, for opposing with manly firmness his invasions on the rights of the people.
He has refused for a long time, after such dissolutions, to cause others to be elected; whereby the Legislative powers, incapable of Annihilation, have returned to the People at large for their exercise; the State remaining in the mean time exposed to all the dangers of invasion from without, and convulsions within.
He has endeavoured to prevent the population of these States; for that purpose obstructing the Laws for Naturalization of Foreigners; refusing to pass others to encourage their migrations hither, and raising the conditions of new Appropriations of Lands.
He has obstructed the Administration of Justice, by refusing his Assent to Laws for establishing Judiciary powers.
He has made Judges dependent on his Will alone, for the tenure of their offices, and the amount and payment of their salaries.
He has erected a multitude of New Offices, and sent hither swarms of Officers to harrass our people, and eat out their substance.
He has kept among us, in times of peace, Standing Armies without the Consent of our legislatures.
He has affected to render the Military independent of and superior to the Civil power.
He has combined with others to subject us to a jurisdiction foreign to our constitution, and unacknowledged by our laws; giving his Assent to their Acts of pretended Legislation:
For Quartering large bodies of armed troops among us:
For protecting them, by a mock Trial, from punishment for any Murders which they should commit on the Inhabitants of these States:
For cutting off our Trade with all parts of the world:
For imposing Taxes on us without our Consent:
For depriving us in many cases, of the benefits of Trial by Jury:
For transporting us beyond Seas to be tried for pretended offences
For abolishing the free System of English Laws in a neighbouring Province, establishing therein an Arbitrary government, and enlarging its Boundaries so as to render it at once an example and fit instrument for introducing the same absolute rule into these Colonies:
For taking away our Charters, abolishing our most valuable Laws, and altering fundamentally the Forms of our Governments:
For suspending our own Legislatures, and declaring themselves invested with power to legislate for us in all cases whatsoever.
He has abdicated Government here, by declaring us out of his Protection and waging War against us.
He has plundered our seas, ravaged our Coasts, burnt our towns, and destroyed the lives of our people.
He is at this time transporting large Armies of foreign Mercenaries to compleat the works of death, desolation and tyranny, already begun with circumstances of Cruelty & perfidy scarcely paralleled in the most barbarous ages, and totally unworthy the Head of a civilized nation.
He has constrained our fellow Citizens taken Captive on the high Seas to bear Arms against their Country, to become the executioners of their friends and Brethren, or to fall themselves by their Hands.
He has excited domestic insurrections amongst us, and has endeavoured to bring on the inhabitants of our frontiers, the merciless Indian Savages, whose known rule of warfare, is an undistinguished destruction of all ages, sexes and conditions.

In every stage of these Oppressions We have Petitioned for Redress in the most humble terms: Our repeated Petitions have been answered only by repeated injury. A Prince whose character is thus marked by every act which may define a Tyrant, is unfit to be the ruler of a free people.

Nor have We been wanting in attentions to our Brittish brethren. We have warned them from time to time of attempts by their legislature to extend an unwarrantable jurisdiction over us. We have reminded them of the circumstances of our emigration and settlement here. We have appealed to their native justice and magnanimity, and we have conjured them by the ties of our common kindred to disavow these usurpations, which, would inevitably interrupt our connections and correspondence. They too have been deaf to the voice of justice and of consanguinity. We must, therefore, acquiesce in the necessity, which denounces our Separation, and hold them, as we hold the rest of mankind, Enemies in War, in Peace Friends.

We, therefore, the Representatives of the united States of America, in General Congress, Assembled, appealing to the Supreme Judge of the world for the rectitude of our intentions, do, in the Name, and by Authority of the good People of these Colonies, solemnly publish and declare, That these United Colonies are, and of Right ought to be Free and Independent States; that they are Absolved from all Allegiance to the British Crown, and that all political connection between them and the State of Great Britain, is and ought to be totally dissolved; and that as Free and Independent States, they have full Power to levy War, conclude Peace, contract Alliances, establish Commerce, and to do all other Acts and Things which Independent States may of right do. And for the support of this Declaration, with a firm reliance on the protection of divine Providence, we mutually pledge to each other our Lives, our Fortunes and our sacred Honor.