decorative surfaces

Veneer Repair Video Episode 3

You can find the background on this initial offering by Barn Attic Productions/Seed and Fruit Media here.  I am working on getting an archive for all these videos on the site.  Be patient with me, I am of an age and disposition that I still expect flames to shoot out of the compewder if  I hit the wrong key.

In this episode of my recitation and demonstration of the techniques I use to undertake sensitive veneer repairs — sensitive to the artifacts, not your feelings —  such that the compensation (that’s museum-ese for “repair”) is visual harmonious while leaving the maximum of the artifact fabric intact, I demonstrate my low-intensity method for cutting my own veneers on a bench-top bandsaw.  I use this method frequently for a variety of applications, whether I need that one special piece of figured veneer for a repair or if I am cranking out veneer strips for doing French parquetry.


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“Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell” Monograph — New To The Archive

Recently while working to impose order to the library of the Barn I came across a pile of articles needing scanning and formatting for posting to the web.  “Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell” was my contribution to a 2002 conference that required travel to Amsterdam for the presentation itself, in complete disregard to one of my personal mottoes, “If I ain’t at home, I’m in the wrong place.”

The scanned article is now in the “Conservation” section of the Writings section of the web site.  There are two versions, one about 4.5 megs and another about 1.5 megs.  I’m still working through the idiosyncrasies of my scanner and compewder, figuring out what settings work best.  If I can get this better I will upload that version later.

Gelatin Molds For Plaster Casts

A couple months ago I was sent a question about using gelatin molds for casting architectural plaster.  I had seen references to the technology in several of my old books but did not possess any that provided a decent description of the material or the process, so I noodled it a bit.  I’m not an architectural historian per se, so there might be plenty of old books with the exact information.

For the past almost forty years I have relied on silicone RTV molding rubber and never saw the need to broaden that horizon, but this question prompted me to undertake some exploring.  I am awfully glad I did as I now have another potent arrow in the quiver.

Of course at issue were several considerations.

  1.  The gelatin (hide glue) would need to be used in the semi-cured state, in other words after it had gelled and had not yet lost enough water to enter the more solid phase of a dried, cured mass.
  2. The gelatin mold had to be firm/flexible enough to actually cast plaster into it, then have the casting de-molded ex poste.
  3. The mold needed to be robust enough for repeated using.  The literature references using the molds dozens or even hundreds of times.
  4. Finally, the mold needed to remain viable while not becoming a giant fur-ball of mold.

Thanks to a timely failure of a tordonshell batch I gleaned the path to success, when combining that experience with some noumena from my wanderings into materials science.  The ultimate result was a high performance molding material that was also cheap.

The trek included a number of face palm moments in discovering new ways of working.

Stay tuned.

Boullework Class – Day 3

By the third and final day everyone was charging ahead, in the groove, and making great progress on the second exercise, a three-part composition of tordonshell, pewter sheet, and brass sheet.

Again, the critical thing given the assembly of our packets was to begin sawing in the center of the design and working you way out systematically.  As things progressed it was very exciting to see the composition(s) taking shape.

Honestly there is not a lot to say verbally, so I’ll just let the pictures do the talking.

Boullework Class – Day 2

Day 2 was a time to really get down to business with sawing the first exercise, a two-part tarsia a incastro composition with each person doing a decorative rendition of their own initial (in reverse).

Soon everyone was adopting their preferred sawing posture.

Unfortunately we got Gwen’s initial relationship to her sawing station wrong, and before too long an old neck injury reared its ugly head.  Even after adjusting her posture and sawing height, the damage was already done, limiting her experience considerably.

Before long the compositions of the mirror representations for their initial were taking shape.

By the end of the day we were all moving on to our second exercises, a three-part composition requiring three layers of media, pewter, brass, and tordonshell, and two supporting bookends of 1/8″ plywood.

Drilling a tiny hole near the center of the pattern for feeding the saw blade through, And we were off and running with the new project.

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.

Boullework Class – Day 1

Every three or four years I teach my approach to Boullework, a branch of marquetry technically known by its original Italian title of tarsia a incastro (literally “interlocking inlay”) that was so prominent in the 17th and 18th Centuries .  This identifier probably comes from the fact that all the elements of the composition — positive, negative, and sometimes additional accents — are cut simultaneously and do in fact “interlock” with each other.  I always cut my marquetry vertically by free-form rather than horizontally on the chevalet, due to the fact that I have almost fifty years of muscle memory doing it the way I do it.  This approach also has the advantage of allowing newcomers to begin work with only a flat board as a sawing platform, a frame saw, and some tiny saw blades, investing very little resources to begin.

My approach also has the component of using a persuasive imitation tortoiseshell (nicknamed “tordonshell) I invented several years ago to compensate for the fact that true sea turtle shell is a proscribed material as a result of the world-wide adoption of the Convention on International Trade in Endangered Species adopted in 1975, essentially forbidding any commerce or other transactions involving the two species of turtle shells integral to Boullework.

That is where the three-day workshop begins, with a brief chemistry/materials science lesson on protein macro-molecules and their polymerization and the morphology of tortoiseshell.

Using materials I prepared in advance, and the addition of ingredients at the moment, the attendees begin the lengthy process of making their own to take home with them afterward (this recounting of that is condensed from work over the three days).

First they cast out a film that would become tordonshell, then created the pattern endemic to the material.

After watching me make a piece they set about to making their own.  The results were gratifying.

The process took them the three days to get finished, in part because the chemistry was fighting me.  In all the times I’ve made tordonshell I had not wrestled with the fundamental exothermic nature of the polymerization, but it was sure rearing its ugly head this time.

We then assembled 4″ x 4″ packets to saw (I was working alongside the attendees, I find they like me to be working on the same type project so they can peek over my should if necessary), consisting of a 1/32″ annealed brass sheet, a piece of tordonshell, and a 1/8″ plywood support.  All of this was wrapped with veneer tape and the mirror-pattern of their initial was glued on to the surface with stick glue.

This approach requires beginning the sawing at the center of the composition, so a tiny hole had to be drilled with my ancient mini-eggbeater drill.

Once that was completed the saw frame was set-up and a 0000 blade was fed through the hole and the frame tightened down.   this can be a frustrating task the first time, requiring four hands until you get the hang of it.. After that, no problem.

After waxing the backside of the blade the sawing (and blade breaking) began in earnest.  There is a real “touch” to sawing like this, so indeed the blades were snapping right and left.  Not a problem, I was expecting it.  I provided the tools and blades for the most part, but John had recently purchased a new Knew Concepts saw and was giving it its first road test.

Joe had an intriguing saw from Green Lion, I only wish I’d had a chance to test drive it myself but Joe kept it busy.  I think I may have to get one, just to round out my inventory.  For the most part the others used Knew Concepts saws from my collection.

The sawing continued apace until Mrs. Barn called us to supper.

And that was the end of Day 1.

2nd Annual Ripple Molding Soiree – I

We recently convened our second Ripple Molding Think Tank at The Barn and great progress was made.  The aggregate objectives were both vague and simple, to explore the world of making machines to fabricate ripple moldings.   On an individual context I was looking to build my own version of a 17th century machine, as was Travis.  Sharon wanted to start fabrication a petite version suitable for bench-top mounting and produce diminutive moldings for her own artistry.

Since last year’s confab John had already built a fully functional wave/ripple molding machine and wanted to improve its design and performance.

Starting first thing Monday morning Travis and I started cutting up some of my pile of SYP into machine structural parts, stopping to assist John in assembling his unit.  By lunch time we were constructing our machine bases, both generally in tune with my First Edition Roubo prints depicting Roubo’s interpretation of a machine he had never seen.

Meanwhile John was deep into squeezing that last 10% of performance from his machine built in the aftermath of the International Ripple Molding Association first gathering.  He had already nailed the ripple effect (up and down), now he was trying to dial in the wave effect (side to side).

Sharon arrived late on Day 1 just in time for dinner of Mrs. Barn’s outstanding cooking, and we were able to hit the ground running even faster on Day 2.

The first thing we did then was to record John giving us the walk through of his design ideas and manifestations.

He was effusive in extolling the outrigger arm he integrated into the cutter head, stabilizing the front-to-back flexing inherent in the cutting, and a robust drive with a drive gear and a rack mounted to the underside of the moving platen.  That was an unbelievably useful exercise as we were able to get the big picture in a linear fashion as to his working and thinking about the problem, which in turn informed and directed our labors through the week.

Once everyone got back to working on their machines I began devising a system for creating the scalloped patterns that were necessary for cutting the ripple moldings.  First I cut a dozen identical 8-foot strips from 1/2″ baltic birch plywood to use as the stock, then double-impregnated one edge with dilute epoxy to provide for a cleaner edge when the patterns were made.

I came up with a handy jig for making the precision patterns on the drill press.

Meanwhile machines were beginning to take shape all over the place.

Knotwork Banding Workshop – Day 2

The day began with the unveiling of the parquetry backgrounds glued up just before stopping yesterday.  A bit of water on a sponge allowed the paper backing to be removed easily and quickly.  The hot hide glue had congealed nicely but was still pretty green so we placed them in front of a fan to help dry faster.

Then it was on to trimming edges, laying out the knotwork inlay and excavating the channels for the banding.

Much of the incising as done with utility knives, but Brint in particular took a liking to my shoulder knives.  He gave both of them a long test drive and had definite preferences for them.  So much so that he encouraged me to have a workshop next summer to allow the participants to make one (or two).  We will get together over the winter to work out any bugs for that workshop.

Meanwhile I was noodling around and found a donkey-dumb simple way to lay out the knotwork pattern with pieces of the banding itself as the measuring devices.  Palm meet forehead.

For Brint and John, once the excavations were far enough along it was time to create the template block for the individual pieces of the composition.

Following the guide of Roubo they took blocks of walnut and created right-angle and 45-degree channels for the banding to be sawn and planed, then placed pieces of the banding as stop blocks in the channels.  This allows for limitless production of identical elements and very fast work in creating the knotwork pattern.

And knotwork corners became manifest on the boards.

Thus endeth Day 2.

The Week Before Ripplemania II

The second annual gathering of Rippleistas convenes a week from today, and I am readying the barn classroom and main room.  I’ve heard back from all three of last year’s participants and they hope to be here, along with one other person who will drop by if he can.  I’ve had no other confirmation of attendees wanting to join us even though the event is open-invitation and tuition-free so perhaps the charm of ripple moldings is less than I thought.

Although I no longer have the Winterthur Museum ripple molding cutter here, it having been made functional and returned, I know that one of our posse wants to experiment with a bench-top version of a ripple molding cutter, another will be perfecting his own machine built since last year, and two of us will no doubt be working on a new machine and revisiting my own machine design from last year.

I’ve ordered a pile of the nece$$ary hardware from McMa$ter-Carr so we should have everything we need to have a week of productive fellowship and undulating creativity.

Stay tuned.