Barn News

Summer 2019 Workshops at the Barn

I have settled on the topics and approximate schedule for next summer’s classes here in the hinterlands, with three of the four classes emphasizing toolmaking.  I will post about them in greater detail in the near future.  One minor change I’ll be instituting next year is that three-day workshops will now be Thursday-Friday-Saturday rather than Friday-Saturday-Sunday as before.

June’s class will be a metalworking event, Making A Nested Set of Roubo’s Squares.   The objective will be for each attendee to create a set of four or five solid brass footed squares, the sort illustrated in Roubo’s Plate 308, Figure 2.  The special emphasis will be on silver soldering, a transforming skill for the toolmaker’s shop.  The tentative dates for this are June 6-8 or 20-22, $375 + $25 for materials.

July’s class will be my annual offering of Historic Wood Finishing.  Each participant will complete a series of exercises I have devised for the most efficient learning experience to overcome finishing fears and difficulties.  Of particular importance are the aspects of surface preparation and the use and application of wax and spirit varnish finishes using the techniques of the 1700s.  Probably July 11-13, $375.

In August we will continue the pursuit of Roubo’s tool kit, this time Making and Using Roubo’s Shoulder Knife.  I have no way to know exactly how prevalent was this tool’s use in ancient days, but I suspect more than I can imagine.  Each participant will fabricate a shoulder knife to fit their own torso, so its use can be both the most comfortable and the most effective.  Probably August 15-17, $375.

The final class for the year will be a week-long Build A Ripple Molding Cutter.  As I have been pursuing this topic and blogging about it, fellow ripple-ista John Hurn and I have settled on a compact design we think can be built by every attendee in a five-day session.  Together we will be teaching the process of ripple moldings and fabricating the machines that make them.  September 23-27, $750 plus $200 materials fee.

Save the dates and drop me a line for more information.

With Apologies To Ray Bradbury

Something wondrous this way comes.

Thanks to months and years of work on the web site new things are beginning to appear, with even more to come.  Other things which do not show are also manifest, including moving the entire website to both a new server and a new software platform.  This require Webmeister Tim to migrate almost 4GB worth of files then checking each one to make sure it did its part.

The Don’s Barn Store is now up and running!  Well, we think it is running but have not yet had any new orders so I cannot promise that for sure.  But the Store Page is up.

 

For now it has a few of my finishing and video products but will expand to include rare First Edition Roubo prints, registration for classes at The Barn, links to my books, and new finishing products as they come on line.

I have begun inputting information and maintaining the calendar of Barn Classes, my presentations, and other events that might be of interest to you.  It will become my routine and habit to keep this as up-to-date as I can.  This stuff is still not natural to me so please bear with me as I ease into the 20th Century.

The Comments function has been up for several weeks now, and is thriving(?).  About 99% of the Comments are spam that the filter catches.  I had no idea there were so many folks thinking I was interested in fake Air Jordans, Russian girlfriends, and support for updating site content with vague and breathless praise for the site while offering new content for only a dollar an article!  Call me skeptical if not downright suspicious.

The immediate future holds the revival of the Shellac Archive (I have already scanned thousands of pages with many more thousands to go), uploading of all my articles from the past few years (at least the two dozen or so I can find), and the initial postings of our nascent video enterprise.  I’m even thinking about vlogging once I can figure out how to capture and edit video snippets from the workshop.  Maybe if I get far enough along with my furniture conservation thriller novel I can start serializing that as well.

And the blog will be featuring new arcs as metalworking, toolmaking, and furniture making grow in prominence at The Barn, and the foundry and machine shop all come more on-line.  The visitorship stays stubbornly loyal at an average of about 375 hearty souls a day (I check my stats on occasion without actually understanding them well, and my traffic this year is identical to that of my first year of 2014 so at least it is not declining).  Thank you all for following the adventure on the homestead.

Stay tuned.

Black Swan Update – 3 is 2…

With all the disruption of two robust independent electricity producing systems going belly-up at the same time I decided to add another producer into the mix, is essence to modify the “two is one and one is none” rubric for logistical planners into “three is two, two is one, and one is none.”  In the absence of the hydro and solar electron hamsters I relied on my gas powered generators and a bunch of extension cords.

I decided to contact the local electrician to see if he could wire the generator into the service panel of the barn, and he suggested instead wiring it into the power system at the bottom of the hill, alongside the electrons provided by the hydro and solar units.  I got a quote, smacked my forehead and said, “Of course!”, and authorized the work.  Plus, since there was already a buried cable from the powerhouse to the cabin, could he perhaps also wire that into the system?  Sure, he sez.

The day came when he and his son, also an electrician, arrived to do the work.  The first step was to clear the work area, which translates into “ripping off the raggedy shelter over the electronics closet.”  I’d been wanting to do this anyhow in order to build a more proper enclosure for all these components so this was the time.

In no time flat they were abuzz with work, installing a new sub-service panel to provide for vastly improved current distribution.

After a bit of time they separated so one was completing the sub-service box to serve as a new router for the electricity and the other was making the modifications to the service panel inside the cabin, alowing it to be powered by the same auxiliary system.

By lunchtime they were finished and I test drove the system in all its iterations available at the time: inverter/battery bank power to the house or barn, gas generator power to the house or barn.

Brilliant!

I spent a couple days making more proper housings for the system electronics and the generator and this chapter was complete.

Black Swan Update – Hydro

This is a rare blog without pictures as there is literally nothing to show.  It’s almost like Claude Rains telling you to move along because there is nothing to see.  But it is not without exciting information (to me, at least).

The return of the hydro turbine core last week was a time of great celebration.  I am delighted that I decided to return that unit to the manufacturer for the replacement of the rotor bearings; I did not want to be learning-on-the-job by trying something I had not really done before – replacing the bearings on an expensive, high-stress high-precision delicately balanced machine.  I know that come a zombie apocalypse I will have to do it myself or find someone locally who can, so I purchase two extra pairs of the sealed bearings necessary for the task.  Given existing performance projections that gives me another 25-30 years of functionality to the unit.

Reassembling the turbine unit took almost no time, 10-15 minutes or so.  Reinstalling it into the system took about the same amount of time.  Tracking down the location of the breached water line from unrelated storm damage that had occurred since I dismantled the turbine took the longest.  A tree branch had fallen and cracked the penstock (the 2″ PVC pipe from the water capture to the turbine) disrupting the water flow to the turbine, and once the damage was found the repair took only a few minutes.  I keep a good inventory of repair parts on hand since my water line is above ground, snaking through the forest for almost 1200 feet.  I would love to have the water line buried but with our climate, topography and geology it would require digging a three-foot-deep trench a quarter mile in rocky sub-soil.  Until I inherit a new family tree with gobs of money I will make do with the status quo.

Once the system was all together and running I knew instantly that something was dramatically different.  For starters, the turbine unit was so quiet I turned it over just to make sure it was running!  For the previous nine years ever since the system was installed, when the turbine was operating under full load it produced a whine that was distracting for quite a long distance.  Since it was that way from Day One I had no idea it was not supposed to be so.  But now?  Eerily quiet, just barely audible even at the stillness of dusk.  Although I know what to listen for I still have to strain a bit from the front porch to hear it working.

A second observation was that the output of the unit had increased a fair bit.  I have not yet installed the new digital metering unit for that part of the system, but I can tell the difference in the integral monitor which is nothing more than a blinking light indicating the input current to the charge controller.  All I can say is that it was blinking about twice as fast as I had come to expect for that particular water flow.

I wrote back to the fellow who replaced the bearings with these observations, and asked him if he noticed anything during his work (he succeeded the previous owner of the company since I purchased my unit a decade ago).  He confirmed that he noticed one of the bearings was not seated properly  and he took special care in aligning everything correctly.   It appears that the misalignment caused both a whine in the turbine in operation and also some substantial drag on the turbine rotor shaft.  Hence the “new” turbine is both quieter and more efficient in operation.

Who knows?  Maybe the properly aligned bearings will last 20 years instead of 8-10.

Needless to say I am thrilled with this outcome, and await the developments in the solar panel controller malfunction situation.

Ripple Soiree #2

Sometimes you get lemon peels, sometimes you get lemon meringue pie.

Thanks to a clearing on the calendar we’ll be convening the second Ripple Molding Soiree and Camp Out at The Barn the week of September 3.  As before the agenda will be to explore the theoretical and practical aspects of making ripple moldings and their machines.

I think all of last year’s participants are coming, including at least one newly completed ripple molding machine in tow.  For this year I know one of the participants is feverishly interested in making a bench top molding cutter to produce diminutive moldings and I am going to work on my prototype from last year and another Felibien-esque c.1675 model vaguely similar to the one we resurrected last year.

As before there will be no tuition fee, this is a mutual learning experience rather than a teaching/classroom event.  We’ll share whatever material costs are incurred and pay for our own meals (normally for a workshop I provide or pay for the mid-day meal).  If you are interested in participating feel free to drop me a line.

PS if this goes well my pal JohnH and I are hoping to teach a “Make A Ripple Molding Machine” workshop some time in 2019 and also make an instructional video on the same topic.

Black Swan Events, or 2 is 1, 1 is None

Among the few public observers to whom I pay attention, Nassim Nicholas Taleb has a place at the table if for no other reason than his monumentally insightful book The Black Swan: The Impact of the Highly Improbable.  Now, change gears to the old insight from the military logistics and supply realm, “Two is one, and one is none,” an exhortation on the value of redundancy for important operating systems and supplies.  Well, that particular old black swan bit me in the nether regions recently as I found that I’d better start with a bigger number for electricity supply.

Since becoming my own Power Company for The Barn there have always been hiccups; a connection or section of water line breaks, storm debris clogs the hydro system intake or turbine nozzle, even a nearby lightning ground blowing the fuses on the solar array.  In these cases the interruption of one or the other power source is not an activity-stopping hurdle, although it can be a bit of a nuisance and interruption to address.

 

In essence my system is a hybrid of the microhydrolectric turbine generating power 24/7 through much of the year, along with the array of six 235-watt solar panels cranking out juice whenever it is daylight and they are not buried under snow.  When you are your own public utility, maintenance is never far from the “To Do” list.

My two electron sources are tied together in a complex control system designed and installed by Rich at Nooutage.com and my friend BillR, a retired electrical engineer with a robotics specialty.  For the past half dozen years or so it has been humming along, providing all of what I need in the barn for general usage.  Even in the dead of winter, when I have the hydro system mothballed during the coldest weather, the solar panels keep the batteries charged and I can operate pretty much normally if I am the least bit attentive.  If I know I need to use a lot of electricity with a machine or a heating coil (processing beeswax in cookers, for example) I know I need to wait for a nice sunny day.

When I have a particular need for ultra high wattage consumption, like my smelting furnace of kiln, I have to fire up the smaller (3500w) of my two Coleman Suburu generators for that isolated need.

Flash forward to three weeks ago as we were spending a day in the studio recording another session for the Gragg Chair video.  I had checked the system the night before as I do routinely, and it was working fine.  Batteries were topped off, solar panels pounding out watts, hydro puttering along.  (On a normal day each of the production components produce somewhere in the neighborhood of 5kwH, higher on a sunny summer day).  Just as I was coming to the end of a session of steam bending some chair parts the room went dark.  Quickly I hustled down the hill — I do not run any longer since breaking my hip three years ago — and saw that the system had shut itself down for no apparent reason.  It booted back up manually, but still the work for the recording session was lost.

I was leaving town the next morning for a week so I put off conducting the investigation of the hiccup until I got back.

what it should look like

what it did look like

On returning I was able to confirm that the solar panels were contributing zero to the system performance.  It.  Jjust.  Went.  To.  Sleep.  The hydro turbine was still working as it should so the overall system function was adequate, but several days of chasing down the solar inactivity proved fruitless, despite numerous emails and phone calls with BillR, who assigned me several detailed troubleshooting tasks, and literally hours on hold with the tekkies at the solar control module manufacturer.

In the end the tekkies told me there was some sort of hardware failure and I needed to disconnect the solar control unit and send it to them for their ministrations.  So I did.

As all of this was unfolding, the hydro turbine suddenly (literally overnight) developed the growling rumble of worn out bearings.  I took it off-line as soon as I noticed this, dealing with two $15 bearings is one thing but letting them run to destruction might have damaged the $2k turbine and that was not high on my list of risks to take.  After speaking to the turbine manufacturer I decided to remove the turbine core and ship it back to him for new bearings.  Replacing the bearings myself was not really an option as I do not possess some of the specialized tools required for the job, although I will have to address that shortcoming in the future.

Quick as a bunny I was without any power system input to the barn and things ground to a halt, including cancelling/rescheduling the Boullework Marquetry workshop that was slated for this weekend.

For now all I can do is wait on the turbine manufacturer to return the turbine core with then new bearings and hear back from the solar control module manufacturer for a report on that unit, and contact the local electrician to come and wire in my gas generator to the system.

I clearly need for “2 is 1” to become “3 is 2,” or maybe even “4 is 3.”

Stay tuned.

In a true Black Swan event both my redundant power sources failed at the same time.  Maybe I should have called Nassim Taleb first.

“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.