Classes

Historic Woodfinishing Workshop Day 2

The primary work of Day 2 was building up the finishes in preparation for the rubbing-out and toning of the final day.

The first task was to scrape the large shellacked panels with disposable razor blades to get them smooth as silk for the final application session to follow.  True enough, disposable razor blades are not historically precise but scraping is, and using the disposable blades is the best way I can get the process integrated into the workshop.  If done carefully the resulting surface is pretty much a flawless ground for the final layers of varnish.

We then moved on to some tables legs to get a little time in on working with “in the round” components.  These are often a challenge for inexperienced and old-time finishers alike, but one key to success in this regard is a light touch and the right brush.  I’ve found that a rounded-tip brush, sometimes called a “Filbert mop” with good bristle drape results in a near-perfect application every time.

The fellows worked so fast we had time to insert a couple of exercises, one being the use of molten wax on tables legs.  We let a hair dryer substitute for a red-hot poker, but the results were acceptable.

Raised panel doors are also a sometime headache, but once you get the hang of the routine it works out pretty well.

Finally it was time to start on the spirit varnish pad polishing, a/k/a “French” polishing.  Each of the students constructed their own pad from cotton wadding, then charged it with the spirit varnish.  (This led to a fairly involved discussion about the fabrics that are best suited for which tasks in the finishing room.  I asked my long time friend and Roubo colleague Michele Pagan, a textilian for as long as I have been a woodfinisher, to write a blog post on the topic.  I will post it probably next week.)

By tapping it on their palm they knew when it was ready to go.  And, it gives a lovely sheen to the palm.

The boards they had prepared on Day 1 were partially wax-filled and partially raw-but-burnished wood.  Since so much of spirit varnish polishing is “feel” there was not much to do but turn them loose.

Before long there was a-glist’nin’ all over the place.

Another exercise that frankly I have never been able to get perfect was to fill the grain with beeswax and powdered colorant, pressed in to the wood grain with a polissoir.  I need to work on this concept a little more, although Roubo promises success.

And with that we were done with Day 2.

New Tool For Making Backsaws (And Much More)

Six years ago when I wrote my article in American Period Furniture on making my own dovetail saw I had the advantage of access to an ultra-sweet 12-inch Houdaille precision shear and a matching 12-inch brake.  I loved those tools and have been looking for the pair ever since I left Mordor, preferably for a modest outlay.  Alas, even used these run about $2k for the pair, with the new showroom price north of  $6k.  If I ever find them for next to nothing I will still pick them up, but that is an unlikely occurrence.  I believe Houdialle is now re-branded as Di-Acro but I cannot be certain.

Many moons ago I got a notice from Micro-Mark that they were discontinuing the very tool I wanted, and it was on sale at a very deep discount.  The tool in question was a mini-shear/brake for sheet metal, precisely the kind of tool I could use when making, or teaching the making of, petite dovetail saws.  The width capacity of the tool is 8 inches, which pretty much defines “petite” when it comes to saws.

I recently unpacked it and gave it a try.  Very, very nice.  I am fairly certain that this unit was manufactured by Baileigh, as theirs seems identical in every way.

The uses of this tool are many, from cleanly cutting spring steel coils to length and width for the saw plates, to bending brass backs for the saw structure.  I make saws with a folded 1/16″ back, which is a bit stout for this little tool, but if I anneal it first there seems to be no problem.

I’ll be using the tool in the near future as I build another saw in practice for the upcoming workshop Making A Petite Dovetail Saw, June 8-10.  I’ve got one opening for that class, so if it interests you drop me a note.

Historic Woodfinishing Workshop Day 1

Recently I hosted my almost-annual three-day Historic Woodfinishing workshop at The Barn.  Due to family medical emergencies three of the five registrants were unable to attend.  This, combined with some seasonably chilly weather (holding this the final weekend of April was an experiment that will not be replicated), led me to relocate the event into my heated workshop rather than the unheated classroom space.  That actually added to the intimate atmosphere of the session.

My syllabus for this workshop is pretty well established after this many iterations.  Given the brevity of the schedule I restrict it to only two major finish materials, shellac and wax.  Next year I am penciled in to teach a longer workshop at MASW so we can explore the topic more broadly, but for now this is what we cover.  As always my objectives are to 1) present finishing as a structured enterprise, to familiarize the participants with my approach to finishing and remove any hurdles of intimidation, and 2) provide some hands-on/muscle memory experiences to impart confidence for once they are back home.

One of the foundational exercises is to brush shellac spirit varnish on a 24″ x 48″ plywood panel that is straight from the bin at the lumber yard with only the most cursory preparations of sanding with 220 paper for a coupe minutes.  The objective is to build up enough finish in three sessions, two on Day 1 and one on Day 2, to provide a great base or polishing out on Day 3.  Each of the three sessions results in about a half dozen applications of varnish.  In between the first two application sessions on Day 1, the dried varnish is lightly rubbed with dry pumice to remove and nits that are there.

Other Day 1 exercises include burnishing a mahogany panel with a polissoir, with a polissoir and wax, and applying a layer of molten wax to fill the grain and serve as a final coating.

Thus endeth Day 1.  Now on to Day 2.

Nicholson Prototype Cut List

Since one of the goals for my Traditional Woodworking workshop in Arkansas this summer is to efficiently build a workbench for and by each participant, I actually did something I rarely do — make a cut list.  Each workbench will consume six 8-foot 2x12s, and be accomplished in less than a day working in concert.

In case you are inclined to follow along and make one for yourself, here is a diagram of the cut list.  Ideally the edge of each piece would have a crisp square edge, but since my big table saw is not yet set up I wound up planing them square ex poste and in situ part way through the construction.  Each of the pieces ripped to “six-inches” is in reality simply the maximum width of a pair of boards you could render from the 2×12, so they turned out to be more like 5-5/8″ wide.  Also, the 48″ x 12″ piece in the lower left corner should be ripped to approx 1-1/2″ and 10″, providing for a backing board for the front apron and a shelf nailer for the rear single-thickness apron, on which the top’s battens can be affixed.

After getting everything cut, the next step is to assemble the front and back halves, affix the ends, and incorporate the two 48″-long elements I just mentioned.

Stay tuned.

Always On The Lookout

 

While preparing for the upcoming “Historic Finishing” workshop at The Barn the last weekend of this month I was struck by my good fortune in acquiring an excellent inventory of vintage finishing rags.  This pile was particularly peculiar as it came from an antique shop twenty miles from town, out in the prairie of Nebraska.  The main emphasis for the establishment was rural and agricultural collectibles, but in my browsing I came across a large box of muslin feed sacks.  These had been carefully — almost lovingly — washed and folded, and were in astonishing condition.  No holes, no stains, and a wonderful nap of both sturdiness and suppleness.  In short, perfect for the finishing shop.

I bought the entire pile of these wondrous rags, I think for about 20 dollars. There were about 60 complete feed/seed bags in the box, which means a price of 33 cents apiece.  I’ve seen similar items going for up to $10 at shi-shi antique boutigues (seriously who “decorates” with feed sacks?).

Students in the upcoming workshop will get to give them a test drive as each will make several polishing pads, some for applying spirit varnish, some for abrasion polishing with pumice and tripoli.

So always be on the lookout.  You just never know when you might come across a box of treasure.

2018 Barn Courses Fortnightly Reminder

The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule, which I will post every couple of weeks to help folks remember the schedule.

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Historic Finishing  April 26-28, $375

Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400

Boullework Marquetry  July 13-15, $375

Knotwork Banding Inlay  August 10-12, $375

Build A Classic Workbench  September 3-7, $950

contact me here if you are interested in any of these workshops.

2018 Barn Workshops Reminder

The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule, which I will post every couple of weeks to help folks remember the schedule.

************************************************

Historic Finishing  April 26-28, $375

Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400

Boullework Marquetry  July 13-15, $375

Knotwork Banding Inlay  August 10-12, $375

Build A Classic Workbench  September 3-7, $950

contact me here if you are interested in any of these workshops.

Barn Workshop – Build A Classic Workbench

And speaking of workbenches, you’ll have the opportunity to work with me at The Barn building your own version of either a basic Roubo or Nicholson bench in Southern Yellow Pine.  Thanks to my adapting David Barron’s innovative system for building laminated Roubo benches, and the elegant simplicity of the Nicholson bench, you can arrive empty handed (except for your tools) on Monday and depart at the end of the week with a bench fully ready to go.  The only likely hindrance to this outcome is if you spend too much time simply looking at the mountain vista on the horizon.

The finished bench does not include holdfasts or vise mechanisms; if you want those you can supply your own or I can order them for you separately.  And if you prefer a 5-1/2″ slab for the Roubo bench rather than the 3-3/4″ slab, there will be an additional $100 materials fee.

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The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule:

Historic Finishing  April 26-28, $375

Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400

Boullework Marquetry  July 13-15, $375

Knotwork Banding Inlay  August 10-12, $375

Build A Classic Workbench  September 3-7, $950

contact me here if you are interested in any of these workshops.

Barn Workshop – Boulle Marquetry

Since seeing my first piece of antique furniture decorated with tarsia a incastro, or “Boulle work,” I have been captivated by both the art form and the technique.

This ancient method of  using a minuscule blade in a frame saw, usually a jeweler’s saw in our time, for cutting patterns in two or three layers of material comprised of the shell of a sea turtle, a sheet of brass, and sometimes a sheet of pewter, remains captivating to this day.   The result is the same number of completed compositions as the original number of layers in the stack.

Due to the prohibition of trade in turtle shells I invented my own very convincing replacement material I call Tordonshell.

So these three days will comprise of making your own piece of Tordonshell (I will have some pieces made in advance for the workshop) and sawing patterns from packets we will assemble for cutting.

Though we will be cutting them vertically to begin, there is a chevalet in the classroom and anyone who wants to give it  try is welcome to do so.

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The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule:

Historic Finishing  April 26-28, $375

Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400

Boullework Marquetry  July 13-15, $375

Knotwork Banding Inlay  August 10-12, $375

Build A Classic Workbench  September 3-7, $950

Barn Workshop – Make A Petite Dovetail Saw

In recent years my projects and inclinations have guided me towards more diminutive work in thinner stock.  This makes cutting dovetails somewhat of a challenge when using a standard saw, which is often too aggressive and thus harder to control effortlessly.  As a result of that I began exploring the prospect of fabricating my own petite dovetail saw.  I wound up making several with good-to-excellent results.  We will replicate that process and send you home with your own.

If you have a particular piece of wood to use for the handle (tote) feel free to bring it to work with.  Otherwise I will provide all the materials for this workshop.  We’ll aim to fold and finish the back, taper and insert the plate/blade, fit and fashion the handle to your hand, and file the teeth.

The tool list for the workshop is a short one and will be sent to attendees well before the event.

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The complete 2018 Barn workshop schedule:

Historic Finishing  April 26-28, $375

Making A Petite Dovetail Saw June 8-10, $400

Boullework Marquetry  July 13-15, $375

Knotwork Banding Inlay  August 10-12, $375

Build A Classic Workbench  September 3-7, $950