Archive: » 2019 » April

The Metaphysics of Lost Socks, Revisited

A comment on the original post reminded me of a humorous story.

In fact I have followed Sylvain’s strategy for many years and restricted my everyday sock inventory to a couple dozen pairs of gray insulated socks of the lumberjack variety. While they are not all identical in every way they are definitely close enough to pass muster most of the time.

Which brings me to the story.

Late in my tenure at the Smithsonian I was charged with the task of installing and de-installing an exhibit of a solid red sandalwood 1/5 scale model of one of the pavilions from the Forbidden City in Beijing. This project continued even after my departure so I was on board as a contractor for three or four more venues before the tour ended (the logistics and assembly were such that I was the only one who knew fully how it went together and came apart). At one point the pavilion was being installed in Flushing, Queens NY. In order to complete the project I recruited a number of friends to work with me as we assembled the almost-thousand pieces of the one-ton 3D jigsaw puzzle.

The specs for the exhibit required the hosts to construct a raised carpeted platform for the model. At the commencement of the installation I reminded my compatriots that we were in a museum space, and that there was a code of etiquette to follow in the situation. Part of that protocol was that we would not be wearing our shoes up on the platform. So, when the time came we all doffed our shoes and flitted around in our stocking feet.

As the assembly of the 10-foot x 10-foot x 10-foot model was nearing its conclusion the host institution had arranged for press visits for me to be interviewed for a story in the coming weekend art section. When the reporter arrived we were all deep in the work with a couple of us, me included, pretty much inside the bowels of the model so she stood observing us work while I extricated myself from the inside.

And her first question? “What’s with all the gray socks?”

It turned out that every one of us had the same sartorial strategy of wearing insulated gray socks, and she was bewildered by it. All she could see was a group of middle aged men writhing around the platform, each wearing nearly identical thermal gray socks. We assured her with straightest possible faces that these were the uniforms of our rank as master artifact caretakers. I’m not sure if she bought it, but we all had a great time as the ice was broken.

All because of identical gray socks.

The Metaphysics of Lost Socks

One of the undeniable truths of the cosmos is that if you own  pair of socks for long enough, one of them will disappear into some alternate universe that is accessed only through a worm hole masquerading as a dryer vent hose.  (A second undeniable truth, below, is the follow-up to the first truth.)  When this missing-sock episode happens to you, like me you will probably wait some seemingly interminable period awaiting for the return of the sock.  Then comes the day you mournfully dispose of the remaining sock.  It is only at that point that the original missing sock suddenly navigates its way back through the worm hole and suddenly you once again have an un-mated sock.

Admit it, you know this is the truth.

Given the unified synthesis of metaphysics there is an inexorably linked correlated truth.  And that is the metaphysical certitude I am banking on right now.

My workhorse camera in the shop is a Canon G16.  Sometime in the last few weeks I misplaced the battery charger; it is simply not in any of the usual places I might keep it.  At the moment the camera hangs forlornly in its usual place.

In keeping with the modified Law of Lost Socks I ordered a replacement battery charger from ebay, knowing that the day after the new one arrives the “lost” one will navigate its way back from the Place of Upside Down Things.  The arrival of the new charger will be Tuesday, I expect to find the old one on Wednesday.  Then I’ll have two, so one will live in the barn and one will live in the cabin.

A Reader’s Adventures With Gelatin Molds

I got this note recently, and it encouraged me immensely. This is the fellow who planted the seed in the first place in some correspondence going back to last autumn. We have continued to communicate with our respective tinkering with the process.

Hi Don,

I’ve been meaning to follow up with you on my experimentation with the gelatin molds.

In short, at least for now, I’ve changed my expectations for the gelatin mold. I have had excellent results but have changed my goal of utilizing the gelatin mold for “mass” production. Rather, I think these molds work well for making a few casts.

While the gelatin may not last for years like a silicone or urethane rubber mold, it’s key advantage is that it can be melted down after use and reused. Given the cost of quality silicon and urethane this is noteworthy.

I ended up with a basic formula of 2 parts liquid hide glue to 1 part glycerin (by volume). I bought some hardener but haven’t used it.

I enlisted the help of my 6 year old daughter. We started with making a mold of a quarter and then making a cast in chocolate.

Then during Valentine’s Day she made a clay sculpture and then we made another chocolate cast

Then I moved on to a simple wood carving. The gelatin mold worked well here. Unfortunately I seem to have deleted the picture of the cast. Detail replication still very high.

I have kept my recycled gelatin mold material in my refrigerator for about 3-4 months and there has been no sign of spoilage.

More experimentation to come. I’ll keep you posted on the results.


The Real Deal Coming Soon To A Web Store Near You – First Edition Roubo Prints (c.1765)

Recently I came across the pile of prints I have from a First Edition of Roubo’s L’Art du Menuisier. These were a lot I purchased at auction some time ago, primarily because it contained the core prints that started me down the Roubophile path decades ago. Though not a complete set of the volumes’ prints, they were and are spectacular even though we have access to them only because some barbarian cut up the original volumes just to have the individual prints.

These are hand-printed on hand-made linen paper, and Roubo almost certainly provided some level of direct supervision in their making (beyond doing all of the illustrations and engraving most of the plates himself). There is an almost tangible connection with him as you see the impressions from the engraved plate on the not-flawless paper from more than 250 years ago.

As soon as we can get the formatting complete they will go onto the Store page of this web site and be available for you to acquire for your own workshop wall or wherever you want them to hang.

Here is the inventory I will have for sale. Up through Plate 297 these are images of the actual prints I have, after that they are an image from Chris’ First Edition. I’ll make sure I have the genyoowine pics on the Store page.

224, Many Types of Folding Stools and Their Development
234, The Manner of Determining the Desired Centers for All Kinds of Seats
238, How to Draw a Full-scale Pattern of the Curve of a Seat 

245, The Way to Draw Extended Curves Used on Bed Canopies

248, Illustrations of a Turkish-style Bed and its Developments

249, Plan and Elevations of a Campaign Bed with Its Developments

251, Diagrams of a table and a camp bed with their Developments
256, A Continuation of Description of a billiard table and the Instruments that are Necessary to this Game
259, Other Sorts of Game Tables with Their Illustrations
260, Diagrams and Elevations of a Desk With Its Developments
263, Further Developments of Roll-Top Desks and Other Writing Tables
271, Various Sorts of Shelves and the Profiles Appropriate for Armoires
273, Developments of the Buffet Represented in the Previous Plate
274, Plans and Elevations of a Common Commode
282, The Way of Preparing Frames To Receive Veneerwork
283, The Ways to Cut Veneers
297, Elements of Perspective Necessary for Cabinetmakers
298, Method of Creating Perspective Images With Wood Veneers
321, How to Add (Hardware) Fittings for Cabinetry
322, Portable Embroidery Frame with Its Developments
323, Continuing with the Movable Frame and Another Small Frame
332, Necessaries and Other Types of Boxes    

Last Call For Alco-, er, Free Studley Postcards

I’ve still got a few left, awaiting new homes. If there are any more in a week I will just put them in my traveling store and hand them out at upcoming woodworking events. – DCW


Thrashing around my “mail” closet I came across a stack of leftover postcards I had printed in 2014 to promote the then-upcoming exhibit of the H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench I was creating for the following May.

Rather than simply throw them away or use them for notes to myself, I decided to make them available to you for free until they are all gone. I guess I could make some charge, but that seems like too much trouble to me.

So, if you would like one of these cards to post on the wall next to your tool cabinet just drop me a note and I will send you one for free (make sure to include your mailing address!). If you feel compelled to compensate me you can buy me a cup of tea or a brownie the next time our paths cross.

A Pile of Ilex

Last autumn our Maryland friends Karl and Nina had a large holly tree cut down next to their house. (The area is rich with large holly trees; the yard of my daughter’s house has several gigantic trees with trunk girths up to nearly six feet with many more with a girth of three feet!) The tree had become a hazard to the house and had to go. I knew the tree and asked if they could keep the trunk and stump for me. They agreed, and several weeks ago I was back in Mordor and spent some quality time with a chainsaw in their yard. The harvest was almost three truck loads of wood.

Even though much of the wood was unsuitable for woodworking, the good stuff was a considerable pile. I now have enough holly to build many dozens of veneered Federal pieces with holly stringing. This is a the portion of the haul I brought back to my storage barn, the longest piece is about 5-1/2 feet.

Next trip back I will harvest the crotch, and somehow cut that into veneer or turn it into some spectacular bowls.

Workbench Wednesday – #16 (2018) Full-Size Laminated Roubo

With great pleasure I spent the end of 2017 and beginning of 2018 preparing for my upcoming presentations at Colonial Williamsburg’s Working Wood in the 18th Century conference, and annual soiree of the highest caliber.  It was a tremendous honor to have been invited to take the stage to give two presentations, one about historic wood finishing and one about the workings and accoutrements of an 18th Century Parisian atelier.

Things were progressing swimmingly until just before Christmas 2017, when I corresponded with Anthony Hay Cabinet Shop master Kaare Loftheim about the logistics of moving Colonial Williamsburg’s Roubo bench to the stage of the auditorium.  His reply, which I should have expected, was that they did not possess a Roubo bench.  I smacked my head.  Of course they would not have an 18th Century French workbench since Williamsburg was essentially a 17th century English town!

It was time to rethink my strategy as I would need to arrive with my own c.1760 Parisian workbench.  I already had three that would serve the purpose nicely but they were so ensconced in their places that it was easier to build a new one for this demonstration.

I began with a selection of SYP 2×12 framing lumber stacked underneath the lathe.   I ripped in half as much material as I needed to make the bench and legs and loaded the ripped lumber into the truck to cart downstairs to the planer.

After running it through the 10″ Ryobi planer to get clean surfaces on both sides and then carting back up to the main floor I set them out spaced in my barely heated shop for a few days to equilibrate.

After spreading some plastic on the bench I glued up the core laminae using yellow glue to skirt any temperature issues.  Previously with 3-3/4″ stock I assembled the bench tops in two pieces so I could run them through the planer once assembled, but since this was 5-1/2″ stock I was going to have to plane everything entirely by hand.  No, I was not going to be slinging these slabs around to feed them through a planer.


I had not yet finished fabricating Roubo’s panel clamps, which could be scaled-up to work perfectly for this process, so I wound up using practically every clamp I had of this size to get things glued.

The next day I came back to glued up the outer laminae with the mortises, using 5″ decking screws as the clamps.  The resulting slab was right at the weight limit I could handle by myself.

Next week – Legs and vise

Eyeballs, Meet Alligators

For many, many moons I have been restoring tortoiseshell boxes for one particular client, with whom I have become a good friend over the many years. Lately I have been on the home stretch for a group of boxes on which I have been working for a very long time. One complex tea caddy in particular has kicked by behind in every way a project can fight you. I cannot recall ever having such a troublesome project in my nearly fifty years in the trade. I took on that project thinking it was a straightforward one, bidding it at 20 hours of work. By the time I finished I was well up over 300 hours (I just quit counting a long time ago).

As Bob Ueker might say, “Just a bit outside.”

Still it has been a fascinating learning experience as literally everything that could go wrong has gone wrong, and by the time I finished it I had removed and re-adhered literally every single piece of tortoiseshell veneer on the box, and fabricated numerous pieces of “tordonshell” for the places where the tortoiseshell was missing. I developed several new techniques for tortoiseshell conservation during the time spent with this project, and look forward to the next one.

I will surely blog about these projects at length once I get past them a fair distance.

Between this and some travel, the teasing days of spring drawing us to work outside yet interspersed with the tenacious winter weather, really knuckling down to wrap up the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, and an article for American Period Furniture I have been up to my eyes in alligators for many weeks and I’ve been slacking on my blogging lately. I’m hoping that gets back to normal very soon.

PS – I still have not figured out how to use this !@#$*&^#$ new and “improved” WordPress template to include videos. I’ve got the next five in the Veneer Repair video series ready to go, but thus far the new stinking template remains obscured to me. I truly detest platform designers improving something that was working perfectly before, all because the idiocracy wants some new look. I get new clothes every other decade, and want my compewder programs to be updated as frequently.