decorative surfaces

More Boullework Adventures

As I continued preparations leading up to last Saturday’s Boullework presentation to the SAPFM Blue Ridge Chapter I was able to make good progress once I discovered the cause of my earlier frustrations.  Which was, as I realized once the initial center cut was completed and the material removed, that the first blade break resulted in a small fragment being embedded in the kerf.  Every succeeding blade was damaged by encountering this fragment, continuing the sawing difficulties.  When you’re talking 0000 blades it does not take much to throw them off.

Getting a little more sawing done and assembling the demo materials was pretty straightforward.

I even made a scute of tordonshell.   Fun, fun, fun.

PS  Since I am on the home stretch for reviewing the Gragg chair video (probably about a dozen finished half-hour-ish episodes plus a bonus episode or two) and creating the edit sheets for the project, I am casting my brain forward to next winter.  I am thinking about a shorter series on Boullework, Don-stye.  Or at least revising and updating my original monograph from my presentation in Amsterdam.

Some Days The Magic Isn’t There

It’s been quite a while since I 1) did any Boullework and 2) made a public presentation.

The last week or two I’ve been going through the exercises I’m demonstrating this coming Saturday to the SAPFM Blue Ridge Chapter, everything from making tordonshell to cutting some new Boullework panels.

When I assembled the metal and tordonshell packet and set about to sawing, the magic just wasn’t there.  On a normal day once I get in the rhythm I can go for an hour or longer per saw bade, sometimes even half a day.  But not this particular day.  Sigh.

I was snapping blades like I was trying to break pasta.  It took me four hours to saw a 1/2″ circle (and a pretty raggedy one at that) and I broke more than two dozen blades in the process.  When I swept up the pile was truly impressive, but my camera was not handy.

Bad posture?  Bad lot of blades? (it really does happen some time)  Packet too thick?  Rusty antiquated shoulder?  Vision problems?  (well, that is a given)

Some days are just like that.  I’ll aim to get the bear tomorrow.

Ebonizing

One of my initial design/aesthetic choices for the standing tool cabinet was to make the prominent detailing to be black, along with the entire interior.  In the former case it was to set off the comparative blandness of the oak veneer, about which there will be exhaustive posting in coming weeks, and in the latter it would serve to set off the tools themselves.  As to the ebonized stringing in between the parquetry I am not yet fully convinced — I may instead go with rosewood which will serve the primary purpose equally well, although it will not tie-in with the interior well without further design– but ebonized interior is already a fait accompli.

The ebonized stringing for the proof-of-concept parquetry exercise representing the outer skin began with a piece or two from the pile of 1/4″ tulip poplar I had on hand, itself a raw material for yet another proof-of-concept for some fauxrushi I am prototyping.  Using water soluble shellac as my coloring medium, a/k/a India Ink, is a method I use frequently.

The big box store pieces of tulip poplar fit a flower pot tray perfectly, so I used the tray as the immersion bath for the board.  After soaking it all night the surface was really black.

Even then when ripping the bards on the bandsaw it was apparent that the interiors were not well dyed, so I repeated the tray and India ink step again with the strips.  The result was a pile of 1/4″ wide ebonized stringing strips.  That might sound a tad wide to you but remember, the front presentation of the cabinet as 4-feet-by-3-feet.

As to the interior, I noted that the soaking of the plywood with India ink yielded a very desirable surface, black-ish but still retaining the character of wood, a result not really possible with something like gel stain or il paint.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Honing (skills, not tool edges)

When it comes to workshop skills, perhaps like some (?)/many (?)/ most (?)/all (?) of you I think of myself deficient in every respect, certainly compared to where I want to be.  Some of the skills I intend to practice more in the future include engraving and checkering.  The checkering is pretty straightforward, the tool kit is small and all you need is a workpiece and a vise to hold it.  Got those.  Oh, and dozens/hundreds/thousands of hours at the bench doing the repetitions that impart skill.  By the way, none of these pathways require talent, a good thing since I am sparse in that category.  But skill? I can do that especially since so many of the practices in my shop are inter-related and cross-re-enforcing.

Just do it, stoopid.

Engraving is a little involved since it requires freehand facility at the micro scale.  In addition to my pretty compete set of hand gravers I also have a first-generation Lindsay Air Graver, one of the most astounding tools I have ever encountered.  Think of a road construction jackhammer.  Now miniaturize it down to palm sized, and instead of an asphalt splitting tip it has a precision engraving tip.  Now you have a Lindsay Air Graver.  I bought a used one and its companion Silent Aire Compressor almost twenty years ago for a couple of conservation/replication projects that would require enhancing some well-worn engraving, and they sufficed brilliantly.  I never became fully facile with the tool, the project did not require full-range ability but rather simply tracing some worn lines, and to be truthful I did not have the time to dedicate at the microscope to make my lines fluid.

My first step down this path was to get my compressor tuned up and ready to go.

Done.  The beauty of this compressor is that it is literally so quiet it can reside in the shop next to the bench.  It’s about as loud as a refrigerator and is frequently used in dentist’s offices.

The next pathway is checkering, to me a much simpler enterprise than is engraving.  Still, I need to spend more time working at full scale/full speed on gunstocks and tools for it to become second nature.

Some years ago my friend Tred deposited a classical French marquetry chevalet in my space, and I played with it a bit.  I simply need to spend more hours in the seat using it to become good at it.  The kinesiology of the tool is foreign to me as I have spent the past 45 years cutting marquetry in the up-and-down motion.  That much muscle memory is a challenge to overcome.  If I am going to have a variable-speed, hand-powered machine take up more space than a table saw, I’d better make use of it.

I do not pretend to even aspire to follow the masters well, but I can certainly and earnestly be inspired by them.

Finally, for this post at least, I come to the area where talent would be a great help — drawing and decorative painting.  In order to most fully exploit my efforts at replicating urushi laquerwork I need to be able to draw and paint much better than I can now.  I hope that more hours of practice will yield a more amenable result, even if it is simply copywork.

I think I am able to reach that level of competence: this is an unfinished class exercise, a pastiche of a Johannes Vermeer painting I executed in college almost 40 years ago.

Armed with my stack of pattern books I will head down this path and hopefully not wind up in the ditch.  Good thing I am planning on working in the shop another 35 years.

Clean-up “Christmas”

One of the aspects of having a humungous Fortress of Solitude like the barn, four stories of 40′ x 36′ space, is that there are a multitude of nooks and crannies into which things can be tucked, stuffed, crammed, lost, and re-discovered.  I call these instances my own “Clean Up Christmases,” when I come across treasures I had forgotten, or at least misremembered.

Such has been the case recently when prepping the classroom for this coming weekend workshop Historical Wood Finishing.  As the first class there in over two years, the space had, shall we say, devolved.  That pesky Second Law of Thermodynamics; they tried repealing it but it just didn’t take.  It has taken me over two weeks to get it ready for the group on Saturday.  The level of “rearrangeritis” (full credit to James “Stumpy Nubs” Hamilton for coining the phrase to describe an all-day travail when moving one thing in his crowded shop) has been monumental, and monumentally rewarding on several fronts.  It has also given me time for contemplation about future projects, a topic I will address in numerous upcoming posts.

At the moment I am mostly reveling the rediscovery of two caches that were set aside for some future completion.  The first is the two sets of brass Roubo-esque squares fabricated before and during that workshop more than two years ago; all it will take is a day or two with some files and Chris Vesper’s sublime reference square to get them up and running.

A second trove is the pile of French oak scraps from the multiple iterations of the FORP gatherings in southern Georgia.  I brought them home in order to turn them into veneers, probably oyster shell style, to use on some as-yet-unknown project.  That “unknown” identifier is becoming more “known” as the days go by.  Then, much like my shop being the only one in the county with two c. 1680 parquetry flooring panels from the Palais Royale in Paris, my tool cabinet will be the only one with veneers from some c.1775 oak trees from the forests surrounding Versailles.

Who knows what other “Christmas” presents I might find during the never ending effort to impose order on my space?  Stay tuned.

An Upcoming Distraction – Fauxrushi

During his recent visit to help set up for next August’s Gragg Chair Workshop my pal John presented me with these three little vessels for me to experiment with as I build an inventory of fauxrushi experience.  I can hardly wait to get to them.  John has a Rose Engine Lathe and is always looking for new avenues of artistic expression with it.  I made sure to send him home equipped with several wood chunks with which he can play, including a bolt from a holly tree, some tulipwood, and others.  I await the results of  explorations from his end.

This Present Distraction – Finis

With the two halves of the Kindle case ready, I glued on band of leather to bring the two of them together.  The gluing was only to the faces of the case with the back edges unglued so that the case could be folded open with the two halves face-to-face.

Once the two halves were put together I took some scrap felt from my rag bin and glued that into the cavity holding the Kindle.  That was a nice effect, except for where I slipped with the razor blade while trimming the felt and cut off some of the cypress veneer.  I hate when that happens, and will repair it when I get a chance.

With everything together and complete I spent a little time padding on some more shellac.  I will probably repeat this periodically to build it up a bit more, but I wanted the case to get to work.  I stuck on some velcro dots at the two corners to hold it together when not in use and called it “finished.”

This Present Distraction 3

In laying out the first of the parquetry patterns I was finding peace and solitude while listening to an audio book rather than news or similar podcasts.  As always I laid out the patterns on kraft paper, gluing the pieces in place with a dab of stick adhesive.  Once I had built the pattern beyond the boundaries of the field I flipped it over and glued it “face down,” this time with PVA since I needed an adverse-environment-resistant construction.  Using a foam sheet between the paper and the plywood caul assured the pieces would conform intimately with the substrate.  Their irregularities on the surface are irrelevant as the surface will be smoothed to a finished foundation.

Using a straight edge and my Japanese mortise saw I trimmed the field to the designed size.  I noted with interest the amount of curve that was introduced to the homemade epoxy/veneer plywood through the use of the water-based PVA emulsion to lay down the parquetry.  Fortunately that cupping diminished in about 72 hours.

It was then time to saw the simple banding strips from a block I made long ago, fitting the corners with a 45-degree shooting board, then glued them in place along the perimeter of the field.

I have found the best method for holding the banding in place during the gluing is essentially the same as described by Roubo — wide head pins.

The next day I laid the edge decoration, which was just thin, cross-grained pieces of the sawn veneer.  Once those were done I began the process of removing all the thickness variations and creating the perfect foundation for the finished surface.

Sandpaper Box

In the aftermath of my “attempted suicide by lawnmower” I spent the afternoon in low intensity activity in the shop.  Most of that time I spent finishing off the negoru finish on my sandpaper box.  I cannot exactly recall where I found this box years ago but it suits my need perfectly for a place to house the 1/8th sheets of sandpaper that I use for most of my work.  In the past few weeks I’ve been using this project and others as diversions to recharge my batteries when I get tired of writing.

For the past several few years the box has been performing its tasks while only partially dressed, wearing only a nice coating of my favorite primer called “Sanding Putty” from Fine Paints of Europe.  Crazy expensive but worth every penny.  In the past few weeks I’ve been using this project and others as diversions when I get tired of writing.  I’m sorry I do not have a picture of the box at this point, the project was just a whimsy at the beginning.   I have another box I am likely to use for the same finish, and when I do I will document it more carefully.

After sanding the primer I laid down two coats of Schreuder Hascolac red paint to provide the chromatic foundation for the final presentation.  This also comes from Fine Paints of Europe but I think they have changed the product nomenclature since I bought mine.  Like the Sanding Putty these paints are simply incomparable to anything else I found in the market.  I wet sanded between coats with 600 sandpaper.

Once the foundation was ready (I usually wait a week between each coat of this oil paint) I wet sanded again and added a single coating of the Schreuder black paint.

Then using 400 wet-or-dry sandpaper I abraded away most of the black to an appearance I liked.

 

This was followed by several applications of Epifanes Spar Varnish, a European analog to Waterlox Original Gloss Varnish.  I had never used Epifanes before but it is highly regarded in the architectural restoration world and I had some so I thought I would give it a try.  It certainly does lay down nice.  As before I gave it a nice sanding between coats.

Once it was all done and the varnish was hardened, always an issue with spar varnishes as they are formulated to not get as hard as regular varnishes, I set out to polish it up.  This began with a wet sanding of 1500 grit sandpaper, followed in turn with 1 micron and .05 micron agglomerated microalumina abrasives.  For flat surfaces such as these I use homemade blocks of 1/2″ soft-ish felt glued to a thin plywood backing, with mineral spirits as my slurry liquid

All that is left is the very final polishing with whiting on my dampened fingertips, a maintenance coating of Mel’s Wax, and it will be done.

Not bad for just a time-killing whimsy.

Negoru Boxes

Today I wrapped up (mostly) three of the “rubbed through” boxes and have put two to work to hold some of my smaller Gragg sculpting tools.

This one is black-over-red.

This one is red-over-black.

I did both of these with pigmented shellac with lemon shellac as the film forming component.  I added Bone Black and Vermillion Red powders to taste, then three or four clear coats over the top after composing the pattern with wet sanding.  Since these will get jostled at least if not outright “beat up” I have no plans to bring them to a mirror surface.  I might rub them out with some Liberon steel wool and Mel’s Wax once the surfaces get really hard in a few weeks.

It is nice to have most of my smallest brass spokeshaves in the same box.  I bought four sets of the ones offered by many tool merchants 35(?) years ago and am delighted to have them on hand.  With duplicate sets I have total freedom to modify them as needed.  These tiny tools are amazingly productive but it takes strong finger tips and a good “feel” for using them.  Fortunately Mrs. Barn lets me massage her feet for a couple hours most evenings so my hands are up to the challenge.