Barn News

“Hollywood Don” Update

I recently reviewed the initial undertaking of the video franchise, a 6-minute introduction to the whole enterprise.  Other than my face being on the screen too much, it seems just fine.   It’s 99% complete, needing only a fifteen second segment to be shot and inserted, which we will do perhaps as early as next week.

The first full-length spectacle, “Veneer Repair,” is in the can, and I am reviewing it for content and continuity right now.  I’ll blog about that soon.

I have decided that since this is our first full-length offering we will post it for free watching, with a “Donate” option for those viewers who found it useful, and a “Get a 100% refund” for those who did not.

Our second video, “Making A Gragg Chair” will begin filming as soon as we can get our calendars and the weather in sync.  We are expecting several episodes of possibly substantial snow over the coming days, and since there will be a fair bit of the filming “on location” (read: outdoors) while I harvest the oak stock, we are at the mercy of larger forces.

Stay tuned.

PS  my video collaborator Chris Swecker is absolutely first rate, and I am blessed by his return to the hinterboonies where he grew up.  I truly hope this can mature into producing the dozens of videos I have in mind.

Jumping in The Deep End

Acknowledging three truths, namely that 1) folks have been generally resistant to coming to The Barn for workshops (I cancelled three workshops last summer due to lack of interest but am more optimistic for this year), 2) I think I have something to offer to an interested audience based on my 45 years of experience in woodworking and furniture preservation, and 3) I am comfortable and can work very efficiently when making presentations/demonstrations without a lot of wasted time.  Given these three things I’ve decided to jump into the deep end of a pool already crowded with other swimmers.

I’ve made a great many videos before with Popular Woodworking, Lost Art Press, C-SPAN, cable networks, and dozens of live interviews and such for broadcast television.  I am fairly familiar with the process and recently have begun what I hope is a long-term collaboration with Chris Swecker, a gifted young videographer who has returned to the Virginia Highlands after college and some time served as a commercial videographer out in Realville, to create a number of videos ranging from 30-45 minutes to several hours.  Obviously the longer videos can and probably will be cut into episodes.

In concert with this endeavor has been the ongoing rebuilding of the web site architecture to handle the demands of streaming video (and finally get The Store functional).  I believe webmeister Tim is in the home stretch to get that completed.

Beginning last autumn I turned the fourth floor of the barn into a big (mostly) empty room suitable for use as a filming studio.  It is cleaned up, cleaned out, and painted with some new wiring to accommodate the needs but I have no desire to make it appear anything other than what it is, the attic of a late 19th century timber frame dairy barn.  It is plenty big enough for almost anything I want to do.

The only shortcoming is that the space is completely unheated and generally un-heatable, limiting somewhat our access to it.  This issue came into play very much in our initial effort as our competing and complex calendars pushed the sessions back from early November into early December and the weather turned very cold during the scheduled filming.  We had been hoping for temperatures in the mid-40s, which would have been just fine especially if the sun was warming the roof above us and that heat could radiate down toward us.   It turned out to be cloudy and almost twenty degrees colder once the day arrived and we set up and got to work.  We had to do our best to disguise the fog coming out of my mouth with every breath and I had to warm my hands frequently on a kerosene heater just to make sure they worked well so we could make the video.  Yup, this will be a three-season working space for sure.

The first topic I am addressing via video is complex veneer repair.  Based on my experience and observations this is a problem that flummoxes many, if not most, practitioners of the restoration arts.  It was a challenge to demonstrate the techniques I use (many of which I developed or improved) in that this requires fairly exacting hand dexterity and use of hot hide glue, and the temperatures were in the 20s when were were shooting.   It was brisk and oh so glamorous.

The electrons are all in the can and Chris is wrapping up the editing and post-production, so I am hoping to review the rough product in the next fortnight or so.

Paying for this undertaking remains a mystery and leap of faith.  I will probably make this first video viewable for free with a “Donate” button nearby, but am still wrestling with the means to make this at least a break-even proposition.  I do not necessarily need to derive substantial income from the undertaking  (that would be great, however) but I cannot move forward at the pace I would like (5-10 videos a year) with it being a revenue-negative “hobby” either.  I want to produce a first-class professional product, and that requires someone beside me to make it happen, and that someone has to be paid.  As much as I am captivated by Maki Fushimori’s (probably) I-pad videos – I can and have watched them for hours at a time, learning immensely as I do – this is a different dynamic.

I continue to wrestle with the avenues for monetizing this just enough to pay for Chris’ time and expertise.  I’ve thought about “subscriptions” to the video series but have set that aside as I have no interest in fielding daily emails from subscribers wanting to know where today’s video is.  Based on my conversations with those in that particular lion’s den, subscription video is a beast that cannot be sated without working 80-100 hours a week.  Maybe not even then.

Modestly priced pay-per-view downloads is another option that works for some viewers who are mature enough to comprehend the fact that nothing is free.  For other viewers who have come to expect free stuff it does not work so well.  I am ball-parking each complete “full-length”video at $10-ish, with individual segments within a completed video a $1.  Just spitballing here, folks.

A third option is underwriting/advertising, but I find this unappealing as a consumer and thus unappealing as a provider.  I have no quarrel with companies and providers who follow this path but it is not one I want for myself.

Finally there is always the direct sales  of physical DVDs, which remains a viable consideration.

If none of these strategies work for me I will make videos only as often as I can scrape together enough money to pay for Chris.

At this point I have about 25 videos in mind, ranging from 30 minutes to several hours long.  Our next one will require some “location” filming as I harvest some lumber up on the mountain.

Here is a potential list of topics for videos.

Making a Gragg Chair – this will no doubt be a series of several 30-45 minute episodes in the completed video as the project will take several months to complete, beginning with the harvesting of timber up on the mountain and ending with my dear friend Daniela demonstrating the creation of the gold and paint peacock feather on the center splat.

Roubo’s Workshop – L’art du Menuisier is in great part a treatise on guiding the craftsman toward creating beauty, beginning with the shop and accouterments to make it happen.  I envision at least three or four threads to this undertaking, each of them with the potential of up to a dozen ~30(?) minute videos: the shop itself and its tools; individual parquetry treatments; running friezes, etc.

Making a Ripple Molding Cutter – A growing passion of mine is the creation of ripple moldings a la 17th century Netherlandish picture frames, and building the machine to make them.  This topic is garnering a fair bit of interest everywhere I go and speak.  I want this video (probably about two or three hours) to be compete and detailed enough in its content to allow you to literally follow along and build your own.

Building an Early 1800s Writing Desk – One of the most noteworthy pieces of public furniture is the last “original” c.1819 desk on the floor of the US Senate (home to a great many sanctimonious nitwits and unconvicted felons).  All the remaining desks of this vintage have been extensively modified.  This video will walk you through a step-by-step process of making one of these mahogany beauties using primarily period appropriate technology based on publicly available images and descriptions.

Oriental Lacquerwork (Without the Poison Sumac) – To me the absolute pinnacle of the finisher’s art is Oriental lacquerwork.  It is created, unfortunately for me, from the refined polymer that makes poison ivy, poison oak, and poison sumac, well, poison.  Driven by my love for the art form I am creating alternative materials employed in nearly identical work techniques.  Tune in to see a step-by-step demonstration what can be done.

Boullework with Mastic Tordonshell – Very early in my career I loved to carve and gild, but that passion was re-directed more than thirty years ago to the techniques of Andre-Charles Boulle and his magnificent tarsia a encastro marquetry with tortoiseshell, brass, and pewter.  Once I had invented a persuasive substitute for the now-forbidden tortoiseshell, a process demonstrated in exacting detail in the video, the sky was the limit.

Metalcasting/working for the Woodworker – This is the video topic I am most “iffy” about as many/most folks will be trepidatious of working with white-hot molten metal.  But I just might give it a try to show creating furniture hardware and tool-making.  It’s possible/probable I might make this  a series of specific projects to make the topic more consumable.

Ten Exercises for Developing Skills in Traditional Furniture Making – Based on my banquet presentation at the 2017 Colonial Williamsburg Working Wood in the 18th Century conference this series of very approachable tasks for the shop will de-mystify a lot of historic furniture making for the novice in a very non-intimidating manner.

The Compleat Polissoir – starting at the point where Creating Historic Furniture Finishes left off this would be an in-depth exploration of the ancient finisher’s tool kit and will be expanded over the Popular Woodworking video (about which I am still very pleased) with a boatload of information gleaned from my in-the-home-stretch Period Finisher’s Manual for Lost Art Press.

I’m sure there will be more ideas popping into my fertile brain, or maybe that’s fertilizer brain.

As always, you can contact me with ideas here and once we get the new web site architecture in place, through the “Comments” feature that was disabled a lifetime ago to deal with the thousands of Russian and Chinese web bots offering to enhance my body or my wardrobe.

Stay tuned.

Barn Tuneup – Front Door

As the depths of winter set in out here in the mountains I decided to do something about the problem of early fading light, especially in the great room of the barn’s main floor.  On a typical January day I lose direct sunlight by about 3:30, and the darkness creeps in from that point on.

I decided that a big hurdle to solving the problem lay in the fact that the two oversized doors to the barn were visually solid, and that a solution might be to pierce them with large panes of glass.  Fortunately I happened to have just one such piece of glass leftover from the original construction a decade ago.  It is a piece of salvaged thermal glass  from an unremembered source but it was sized as though it was made for the task being contemplated and it seemed as though the project would be easy to undertake and complete.

So I did.

Since I was using the panel of glass essentially as a piece of sheathing the “framing” of the new window was a simple batten screwed to the door so that the panel would have  someplace to seat.  After the batten frame was in place I sawed out the opening for the window, lifted the new pane into its seat, and added some more temporary battens to the rear side to hold it in place until spring time when the warmer weather will allow me to caulk it in place permanently.

Until then I am enjoying both the doubling of the external light present in that work space, and celebrating the fact that this was one project that turned out to be as simple and quick as I had first imagined.  I would like to find another panel the exact same size for the other door, and will keep scouring the salvage yards until I do.

For now, I simply enjoy being able to work in the great room until almost five o’clock.

Barn Tuneup – New Hearth Pad

Now that we are on the verge of big time heating season I can reflect on the new hearth pad I made for the wood/coal stove in the basement of the barn.  In the past, due mostly to the fact that the stove was installed in the dead of winter with near-zero temps, the pad for the stove was simply loose firebricks laid on top of the plywood sub-floor.  It had remained that way for four years until I revisited the situation over the summer.

I removed all of the loose firebricks except for the four underneath the stove feet and a row around the perimeter and hand-poured a concrete pad (reinforced with hardware cloth) in its place.   I don’d know if it will make any difference but it makes me happier to have it done.

It is pretty clear from the results that I am not a mason or concrete specialist.  Regardless, it is ready to go and provides a permanent foundation for the 500-pound stove for as long as the barn is standing.

Arched Bridge – Day One

The root cellar on the homestead is just across the creek from the cabin, about 100-feet from the back door.  Well, technically, it is across two creeks, one coming from a series of springs way up the hill and the other emanating from the spring that is about halfway between the root cellar and the cabin, and used to provide the drinking water for the cabin until the artesian spring was discovered 350 feet up the mountain in the 1980s.  For the past dozen years or so the access to the root cellar was across two increasingly rickety plank bridges, and I had become increasingly concerned about the footing there as Mrs. Barn is usually the one retrieving vittles from the cellar.

The time had come for an updated structure to (re?)establish ease and safety for the trek.  Since I’ve made a number of curved beam structures before, both bridges and arbors, this was the route I chose to take here.  The total span of the space being covered was 25-feet, and one of the issues for the logistics was rendered irrelevant by the choice of an arched structure; the two end points were not level with each other.

With my long time pal Tom visiting for a few days, I decided that the time had come.  I ordered some sweet 1x6x16′ pressure treated lumber, and it turned out to be nearly “Select” grade.  We ripped each of the 1x6s in half, then used them to build the laminated arch in place.

With each end point determined by the site of the creek banks, I used concrete blocks in the center of the span to define the apex of the gentle curve and establish the form of the arch itself.  Placing dead weights on each end of the laminae as we built them up, a near perfect arch was formed and replicated with each new layer.  By off-setting the 1x3x16′ pieces when we glued and screwed them together, the arch was well accomplished.

Each lamina was attached to the preceding one with decking screws @ 6-inch spacing, and excess Titebond III weatherproof glue.

The result was right on target.

The goal for the first day was to finish each beam to a bit more than half height, which we did.

Heating Upgrade

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After much consideration I decided to upgrade the heating in the barn studio.  While my existing system of a premium wood/coal stove in the basement combined with a kerosene heater in the studio provided plenty of heat, two problems needed addressing.

For starters, the kerosene heater consumed about 1-1/4 gallons of kerosene for a full day’s heat, at a cost (last winter) of about $5/day.  Not a killer, but not irrelevant.

Second, and more significant, was that I have never perfected the knack of keeping the wood/coal stove in the basement burning all night. Thus even though the shop space is super-insulated, every morning when I arrived in the shop, given the usual howling winds here its temperature would be close to the outside ambient temperature.  This meant that a great many mornings the shop was in the single digits, and it took a very long time for the stove and heater to get the space and its mass of contents up to an acceptable temperature.  My late afternoons were cozy and comfortable, toasty even, but the mornings were mighty brisk.

With that in mind I selected a heavy duty Empire three-panel radiant heater, fueled by propane.  It was installed last week, and on its test run made the space uncomfortably hot in short order.  The propane service fellow (actually a good friend of mine named Brad) thinks that given the volume of the space and the super insulated walls and ceiling, I should be able to make through the entire winter on a single 80-gallon fuel tank, or about $175 worth of fuel.  This works out to about $1.25 a day.  My strategy is to keep the propane heater set at about 40 degrees, just enough to keep the space warmer than freezing and much easier to heat up with the wood/coal stove in the morning.

I’ve also purchased a bunch of transparent shower liner curtains to close off one end of my shop, a space where I do not need immediate access most days.  Reducing the volume of air being heated by 25% should have a beneficial impact on the micro climate.

Since the heating season in the mountains will begin in about a month, I should be able to report back on the efficacy of the new arrangement soon.

Stay tuned.

Right Tool(s), Right Place(s)

My studio space in the barn is a work in progress.  It has been so since the first day I put a single, raggedy workbench in there several years ago even before all the walls were up, and the process will continue as long as I work there.

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I find that the fluid nature of shop organization is one of the threads binding craftsmen together, and a source of celebration when we gather together.  Fortunately for me, I do not have the urgent requirement for maximized cash flow velocity generation from my work space, since my primary source of income these days is in the crafting of words while sitting on my recliner.

And, since I have been limited in the scope of my activities recently I have been reflecting on, and to some degree changing, the spatial flow for the studio.  One of the advantages of this long lead time of several years of working there is to evolve a better sense of what the space should be to best serve my needs.  And now I am making those changes, albeit slowly as there is only so much you can do on one leg.

I’ve already written about the reconfiguration of one corner to more optimally serve as my bench for doing the “fussy” work I encounter frequently in the conservation and restoration of decorative artifacts, and increasingly the repair of vintage gun stocks.

Other issues have nagged me, and are now in the process of being resolved.  The first of these was my inadequate space in a single location for the residence of my hand planes. I liked the space I had chosen, directly over the planing beam, but I needed to consolidate all my inventory, which involved several steps.

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First, I started undertaking a serious evaluation of many of the planes marginal to my work, deciding what to keep and then tossing aside planes that took up space but were not part of my working regimen.  Down they came and out they will go.

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That cleared some space, but not enough.  So, I added more shelving without adding more shelves.  How?  By simply doubling the depth of the shelves in situ.  Why I did not do this from the git go remains a mystery.  Then I removed the silly brackets holding my Stanley/Bailey planes and hung them on the wall.

Presto!  The result is twice as many planes in the same visual space.

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The next move was the consolidation and moving of my Japanese tools from a nearly inaccessible place on the east wall to a cabinet in the remaining niche over the planing beam.  With saws on the outside and more saws, chisels, planes (and space for more on the inside) I am pleased with the result.  (You needn’t scold me that I have the planes upside down in storage — I do not care)

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Two final (?) issues to be resolved are the rat’s nest of a space halfway down the long north wall,  which had become nothing more than a pile of stuff, some good, some less so, but all in the wrong place.  This hodgepodge will be replaced in October when I build my Nicholson bench prototype for the rescheduled Refinisher’s Group bench-build (probably May 2016).  This can serve as another work bench and my sharpening station.

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And I keep asking myself: with such a wealth of windows, why do I keep covering them up with stuff?  Without a good answer other than, “Because you are an undisciplined slob,” I have begun to deliberately move many of the tools that were blocking the view to somewhere else, like alongside the overhead beams.  That one will take a fair bit of trial and error to bring to fruition.

But I am determined to travel much less in the coming year or more, and pouring my time and creative energies into the barn and homestead.  This will allow much in the way of improvements and I am anxious for them to unfold.

Recycling the Exhibit Parts

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When closing down the HO Studley exhibit, one of the things I had to do was remove all of the exhibit paraphernalia from the exhibit hall, including the exhibit case for the tool cabinet, but also the platforms for the workbenches.  This required me to rent a large cargo van to fit it all in for the drive back home.

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I haven’t figured out what to do with the exhibit case, but the platforms are already recycled into terrific assembly tables.  Inasmuch as they were exceedingly stout well-buily 4×8′ platforms with 12″ skirts, all from cabinet-grade tulip poplar faced 3/4″ plywood, they were easily transformed into these new accouterments in the barn.

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For each platform-now-table I took a single 8-foot 4×4 and cut in into four identical sections to serve as the legs.  At each corner I screwed a leg into the two converging aprons, then affixed big casters to the bottom of each leg, flipped it over, and viola, a new and lovely work table!

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I moved one into my main workshop to serve as a workstation for either conservation or assembly projects, and the other is currently  against the wall in the classroom.  But since they are both on wheels, it is 100% likely that they will simply be moved from place to place depending on the needs of the moment.

It sure made me glad I am no longer bound by the 220 s.f. footprint of my former shop in the basement of the Maryland house.

Turbine Whine

Yesterday was a gorgeous cool spring day, and I was comfortable enough with the progress in preparing for the Studley exhibit that I took 90 minutes to to make some repairs to the hydro power waterline and get it up and running after a fashion.  We are not expecting any more hard freezes here, although there is the expectation for some snow flurries tonight and probably a couple more weeks of frost concerns for the garden, so the time was auspicious for the reactivation of the system that had been down since it froze solid in mid-November.

Once I get recovered from the exhibit I will tie it all back together (the top 300 feet of pipe is not yet attached and the intake now is simply laying in a trough at the bottom of the stream, with a head of about 100 feet) to maximize the power output, although I don’t really even need the power right now since I am not doing much in the way of electricity intensive work.  But next month I will be building the prototypes for the workbench build in September, and that will require some wattage.

For now, I have the system running and the soft whine of the turbine is just barely audible above the vigorous flow of water running by.

View Out the Window

Normally I can stand at my bench and gaze at the mountains, late afternoon especially as the barn falls into shadow and the mountain crest ablaze in sunlight.  Not so today.  I can barely make out the log barn only forty yards away.

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We’ve got near white-out conditions, so my only practical means of transport is simple perambulation up to and back from the barn.  Though the temp outside is brisk, it is cozy in the shop as the wood stove and kerosene heater combine to keep it nearly 60 degrees.  I’ll glue up the last face board on the Studley benchtop in a bit, then work later today to compile my information on how much protection extortion I owe GovCo.