Archive: » 2014 » November

Not An Optimal Day For Solar Power


We had a heavy overcast with more than a foot of snow today.  No solar, but hydropower is working fine.  Actually it was nice having the power house under a foot of fluffy snow as it made the soft turbine whine evaporate altogether.


The view out the dining room window was pretty impressive.


I ventured out only long enough to pick up my new computer, onto which all my old files were transferred without a hitch.  Tomorrow morning I will finish setting it up with the printers and get my nose back to the Studley manuscript grindstone.


Highland Woodworker Episode 16


Charles Brock of the video series Highland Woodworker visited me a few months ago to film at The Barn, and the episode came out today.  They did a nice job of making me seem sensible.  It was an ordinary day in the shop, I didn’t get all dressed up or anything.

New compewder tomorrow.  They were able to save the files on the hard disk, so it looks like all is well.


Compewder Craptastica

I’m not seeking radio silence on the blog, but have been working on reviewing the edits for the manuscript and adding the necessary revisions, and selecting, editing, and captioning the almost 500 images for Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.  It is way less glamorous than it sounds.

I normally back up  everything at the end of the day, but  for some reason I had not done that since Saturday.  So of course this morning was the moment my laptop fried.  I mean sparks and all as I plugged in the printer USB cable.  The geeks are trying to copy the hard disk, provided it did not get damaged. I will get their verdict in the morning.  So, I am consolidating and duplicating files by the boatload using my indestructible but antique Dell 1525 with Windows Vista(!) and my three external hard drives (we do not have the connectivity required for Cloud backup).

At worst I will have to reconstruct three days worth of work.  At best it will all be there.  Either way I need a new laptop. It will not be another Compaq/HP.

Until everything gets resolved I will be a bit quiet.


Video Loop for the Studley Exhibit

One of the common questions I get regarding the upcoming exhibit of the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench is, “Will you take the tools out of the cabinet so I can see everything inside?”  The answer to that is “No.”  A second question is, “Do we get to handle the tools ourselves?”  Apparently the folks who ask this question have never been to museums or artifact exhibits.

This is not to say that the visitor experience will be to view a static and lifeless exhibit.  I’ll be making sure the exhibit is a rich and rewarding experience through a couple of avenues, one of which I address here.


One of the final tasks for the recently completed work session with the Studley tool Cabinet was to film a real-time session of me removing the entire collection of tools from the tool cabinet, one at a time.  In doing this the video reveals every single tool in its place, and how that relates to the adjacent tools and the cabinet as a whole.  This video will be running on a loop on a giant screen at the end of the exhibit hall at the Scottish Rite Temple in Cedar Rapids.

You can find more information and purchase tickets for the exhibit here.

Readying For Winter

One of the front-burner activities over the past couple of months was getting ready for our first full winter in the Allegheny Highlands, where winters are essentially identical to those of upstate New York or central Michigan.  Having spent my formative years in Minnesota, admittedly in southern Minnesota, the more tropical part, the upcoming winter in the mountains is something about which I am fairly sanguine despite three decades in the Mid-Atlantic. However, since my bride of 34 years is from Southern California the angst is running high; my task of keeping the cabin warm and toasty is priority #1.


The assembly of gigantic firewood piles has continued apace.  Virtually all of the available spaces around the cabin are filled to the brim with cut, split, and mostly well-seasoned wood (I especially have sought out dead trees on the hoof).  This picture is of the cabin front as of last weekend.


We’ve even loaded up the side deck with firewood.


On top of this stash, my pal Mike told me he had a bunch of dead and risky trees he wanted removed from his farm, so for the past several days I’ve been working with him to accomplish that.  The result for me has been five heaping trucks-full of mostly already-seasoned firewood, now awaiting splitting and stacking into giant piles out the the lower barn.  The local tradition is to always have two full years of firewood on hand.  We literally see firewood piles the size of garages here.


Add that to Mrs. Donsbarn’s efforts to get the gardens prepared for spring, including the nurturing of greens in the front raised bed with a plastic hoop house (her goal is to have fresh greens for Thanksgiving) and things are shaping up here at the homestead.

Washington Woodworker’s Guild Presentation

Recently I presented at my home woodworking posse, the Washington Woodworker’s Guild.  I have been making presentations there for almost thirty years, since I first moved to the DC area, and even though I no longer live quite so close I enjoy it enough to keep coming back.  I think this was either the 12th or 13th presentation for them.


A couple of old friends came; Tom, my Wednesday night woodworking pal for many years, and Daniela, one of my furniture conservation proteges and the gifted hand holding the brush for the peacock feather on my Gragg chairs.


My topic(s) for the evening were pewter inlays, about which I am completing an article for an upcoming Popular Woodworking, and the progress of The Studley Project.  That book is now in editing, and development of the accompanying exhibit of the Studley Tool Cabinet is progressing nicely.  There are still plenty of tickets available, and the combination of it with the Handworks tool extravaganza in nearby Amana, Iowa, makes for a memorable woodworker’s weekend.


Next Thursday evening I will be presenting an overview of The Studley Project for Central Virginia  woodworkers Guild in the Lynchburg area.

The Longest Drive Ever

As I write this, I have just completed my longest day of driving ever.  I turned the ignition key at 7.30 this morning, well, yesterday morning to be technically accurate, and exactly 16 hours and 999.4 miles later, I turned it off.  That’s the distance from Topeka, Kansas, to my Fortress of Solitude in the Virginia Highlands.  Three refills of gas, four chili cheese-dogs from Pilot, a handful of celery and carrots and two apples, and here I am.

If I could stand up straight I would have a bit of a strut.

Little did I know last year when I agreed to make a presentation to the Washington Woodworker’s Guild it would be the day following this trip, but I am not about to shirk my commitment.  They are my woodworking peeps, after all.

Now, on the the hard part of tying up all those loose threads from Henry Studley’s apron.

“We’ll Know It When We See It”

So there we were, basking the the typical glamorous dining in the aftermath of a long hard day of working with the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench.  In this case it was pizza and beer, well I had the pizza, in a local eatery that was by this time of evening pretty much deserted.  Our typical day of working with Studley began about 0830 and wrapped up twelve hours later.

The ongoing dinner discussions revolved around the visual presentation of the book, most specifically the covers.  Tomorrow was the day Narayan was dedicating to the last few glamour shots and the cover art possibilities, a task that would take all day if everything went well, and we did not want him wasting time going in the wrong direction.

We did not share a common vision for the image portraying the tool cabinet on the cover, and the discussion was spirited as we each made a pitch for our favorite concept.

Once it was clear that no one was going to actually win the argument, Chris stated simply, “We will know it when we see it.”

He was right.

Studley Final Exam – The Documentary


Once Chris and Narayan arrived the dynamic of the week would change completely.  In the preceding three days, I was alone in the room studying the portions of the tool cabinet and workbench I needed to confirm my notes, images, and observations from visits over the previous five years.  Did I get the description of the bench top correct?


And the tool nests in the elegant little drawers?


I am pleased to say that I had it all right, but it is never a bad thing to get confirmation.  Now I could return home and do the final polishing on the manuscript.


At times I found myself sitting quietly, just staring, and thinking, “Who was this guy?”


With Chris and Narayan present, the tenor of the work changed to follow strictly a “shot list” we had compiled during the last year as I was writing the manuscript, and we needed to make the shots that wee missing from the final portfolio needed for the book.  The time working together is great, filled with raucous good spirit and some generous helpings of humor in bad taste and great micro-brewery pub food.  With his artist’s eye, photographer’s skill, and premium equipment, I think Narayan could actually make Rahm Emanuel seem warm and trustworthy.  Making Studley look good was a walk in the park compared to that.


When we were here last year we filmed a documentary about the project (since it was all digital, do we now say we “electroned” a video?) but a technical malfunction rendered it mute.  The video was great, but unless we were going to create a silent movie it was not the ideal.  So, we shot the whole thing again.  And again.  And again.  It took us almost a full day.

I’m not sure where this documentary will be shown, but at least it is in the can, er, SD card.  It will almost certainly be part of the exhibit programming, and Chris mentioned that the documentary he and Narayan shot of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest was a very popular enhancement to that project.  Stay tuned here or at Lost Art Press for more details.

Studley Tool Chest Final Exams – The Mallet

This was the final opportunity I had to examine the H.O. Studley ensemble prior to submitting the manuscript.  The next time I encounter Studley in person will be after the book is out, and I show up to pack it for shipment to the exhibit.  With that in mind I showed up for a full week of final exams, complete with many pages of notes and hints of things to check out.  Armed with my measuring tools, lights, camera, notebooks, microscopes, and laptop I set to work.


I had three days to myself with the chest before Chris and Narayan showed up on Wednesday night for the final “formal” photography and video sessions.  Highest on my “Things To Do” list was to examine as closely as possible the tools I believed were the product of Studley himself.  Sure, I already had thousands of photos in my camera and dozens of pages of notes, but are these ever really enough?  Did I overlook anything?

Sure enough, even at this late date after two dozen days of examination prior to this episode, I discovered some jaw dropping stuff.

For example, the head of the mallet is a single piece of sand cast brass.  A. Single. Piece.  Folks, that is just showing off.


The moldings on the faces and around the collars are integral to the casting, not pieces brazed on.  Being from the patternmaking/metalcasting trades myself I know how he did it, and that makes it all the more spectacular.


One of my goals for this final trip and this coming winter was to document tools enough that I could replicate them and have those replicas in the exhibit “The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.”  I had already mapped out the strategy, workspace, materials, and a series of blogs on the subject of cutting, brazing, finishing, and assembling this magnificent tool.

I still have that plan, although now all I have to do is change my strategy, workspace, materials, and the concept of the blog.

Henry, Henry, Henry, what am I going to do with you?