Archive: » 2014 » April

*Not* Buyers Remorse


I have never suffered much from the pangs of “buyer’s remorse.”  Perhaps it is a result of me being such a studious financial choice-maker, but the truth is that my spending interests are fairly narrow, relieving me from a lot of this risk.  There are simply a lot of areas of contemporary life where I make no outlay.  No tobacco.  Virtually no alcohol.  I do not tend towards gastronomic excesses (other than bitter chocolate).  Fashion?  Right; since I have a lumberjack’s store and a shoe store bookmarked, I spend almost sixty seconds a year buying my wardrobe, and  then get only what I want.  Luxury goods?  Pshaw.  Indulgent vacations to exotic places?  To me this sounds like something akin to Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell.

The two areas where I do often purchase extravagantly are books and tools.  Addiction therein is too strong a word, probably.  Since books always contain useful information, even if they do not possess the snippet I was searching for I recognize their ability to contribute to my breadth and depth of knowledge.  Tools?  Since they have the inherent character to increase my skills and capacity for production, I have never regretted buying a tool, even if it is surpassed by a tool more capable than the previous one.

Which brings me to the item of this post – a beautiful ebony and boxwood scrub plane I did NOT buy recently.  You see, I am more inclined towards “Didn’t Buy It” remorse.

That miniature set of playing cards made from engraved ivory, housed in a carved tortoiseshell box.

The 5 1/2 acres next door.

That ’64 Chevelle SS, all original with 30,000 honest-to-goodness little-old-lady miles.

This ebony plane might be close to that camp.  On our way from Kansas City en route to, eventually, Cincinnati recently we stopped at an isolated antique mall, and there it was.  A classic horned scrub plane, identical in form to my beech model resting on the shelf.  Only this one had a body of a SOLID BLOCK OF GABOON EBONY, with the horn of carved boxwood.  At $120 the price was more than fair.  But the fact is I did not NEED it, so I passed it by.  (But I did buy a NOS Stevie Ray Vaughan-style felt Stetson for $35 in the original box, which I gave back to the antique mall as space was too tight in the truck.)


Over time this ebony plane may take its place alongside the ivory and tortoiseshell playing card ensemble, the ’64 Chevelle, the acreage next door.  But in the end I decided that the one I had was perfectly serviceable, and got back into the truck and hit the road.

No, I will not tell you where it was just in case I change my mind.


Since I announced the expansion of the polissoir line about six weeks ago, word has gotten around and stuff’s a-poppin’!  It really does help to have enthusiastic support but it is quite a shock to wake up and find your email box stuffed with requests for information about them.



There I was , smoothly sailing along with five or ten orders a week, with a buffer of a month’s inventory at that pace.


In the blink of an eye my inventory was purchased, with multiple quantities in line behind the initial orders.  Fortunately I was able to pick up another three dozen last weekend and expect to get another few dozen within a fortnight.  I am a bit surprised at the popularity of the large 2″ polissoir, but perhaps I should not be.  It gets a lot of spectacular work done in a hurry.  I expect to have all the orders filled in about three weeks.

A few things have emerged from this recent chapter.

1.  I need to blog about the structure and nature of a good polissoir.

2.  I’m thinking about some new polissoir styles to compliment the ones already extant.

3.  I need to blog about the properties, technology, and use of natural waxes; beeswax, shellac wax, and carnauba.

4.  I need to blog about preparing and tuning up a polissoir.

5.  I need to blog about using the polissoir in greater detail, especially how it fits with combined finishing strategies.

Will do.


Greatest Hits (well, some of them)

During my recent trip to the Midwest for a variety of projects, including teaching the Parquetry Workshop for the Kansas City Woodworker’s Guild I was asked to present a public lecture at their facility Friday.  At their request, I reflected on the final decade in my career as Senior Furniture Conservator at the nation’s attic.  I tend not to obsess about the past, but it was a pleasant reminder of what a wonderful run I had there for almost three decades.  It was indeed an honor and privilege to contribute to the longevity of the aggregate cultural memory.

There was no way to include everything I did over a ten year span, but there were a number of projects about which I was especially pleased.  Ironically this particular menu included mostly projects for clients outside the Institution. The enthusiastic audience endured my fond reminiscences for almost two hours, then kept me captive with their queries for another hour before we all departed for the evening.  The KCWWG guys did seem to appreciate my 14-hour day on their behalf, since I was busy setting up the workshop before 8AM and wrapped up the evening’s festivities just before 10PM. In addition to the giant Chinese picture frame, which I included in the talk, and the Chinese pavilion model, which I did not include, I discussed these projects.  This posting is a necessarily brief account, mostly just the “Before” and “After” pictures; you will have to fill in the blanks rom your imagination or listen to me give a similar presentation some time somewhere.


First up was the artifact known as The Roosevelt Globe as it was Teddy Roosevelt’s when he was in Washington.  It currently reside sin the ceremonial Office of The Vice President.  The globe has suffered spoke damage during the fire at the Old Executive Office Building just before Christmas 2007.  The request for my services came directly from the Office of the Vice President of the United States (yes, my “client” was Dick Cheney, although i did not deal with him directly), not normally in my chain of reporting but our government relations office thought it would be a good idea for me to say “Yes.”


Here is a picture of the globe after I finished conserving it.


Next up was a cabinet by the French-born 19th century New York cabinetmaker Alexander Roux.   A gift to a Smithsonian museum, it needed a new base fabricated to reflect the original base — the original base had rotted off and been replaced poorly — so the project included  high-level woodworking and also designing and fabricating new bronze mounts that I cast in my home foundry.


This is the cabinet now on display in Washington DC.

Untitled-1 copy

A project prototype was the design and construction of minimally intrusive upholstery for this Victorian frame, which clearly needed a little TLC.

Untitled-2 copy

In the end we achieved a fully functional but also fully removable upholstery treatment that is a feast for the eyes and benign for the frame.  I hope to post the article about this one in the “Writings” section soon.


Another interesting project for a non-Institutional client was the finishing of a replica of the Daniel Webster Desk in the US Senate. Here is the original on the floor of the Senate, festooned with several of my sample-color panels.


The Senate cabinet shop built a remarkable copy of this desk, but requested the Senate Majority Leader to  invite me to execute the finishing of it.  I accepted in the invitation. and here is the result.


The final project I presented was conserving The Mace of the House of Representatives.  Next time you watch C-SPAN note it on the left side of the television screen.  Once again my client was extra-institutional, in this case The Speaker of the House.  C-SPAN made a segment for a documentary (the segment is in the second part), so everything was under the scrutiny of the camera.



After it was finished, I was photographed with it (as was my entire family) and I had the opportunity to shake the hand of The Speaker.  It’s pretty hard to top that one.

Like I said, it was a pretty remarkable three-decade-long run.

Roubo Spoof – FABULOUS!

Lee Valley spent a lot of time and energy  to create this April Fools treatment of Roubo on their web catalog.  It is fabulous!  Seriously.

 They even got in a sly crack at Studley.  Bravo!
I am indeed honored.