decorative surfaces

Fauxrushi Inspiration

With some of my major time-gobblers finished or at least with the ends in sight — the gunsmithing partner’s workbench, the cedar siding, refinishing the dining chairs, the book manuscript (still a lot to do but at least the train is moving steadily down the tracks) — I am refocusing on a small handful of interests in the shop, including my efforts to replicate Asian lacquerwork.

I am noticing that with increasing age my general allergy sensitivity is getting worse so I am not likely to try using genuine urushi, it being the refined sap of a poison sumac tree and all.  It is not impossible, but unlikely given the toxicity of the emulsion.  Still the performance of the final finish is such that it has been the theoretical model of “the perfect finish” for decades or even centuries.  Anything that can be applied and polished to a mirror surface while being impervious to anything other than boiling nitric acid or long term UV degradation is a finish to not disregard entirely.

My allergic sensitivity is being driven home this year as we had a late, cold, wet spring (we had snow flurries three weeks ago!) so the “early pollen” and the “late pollen” are emerging back-to-back, resulting in the Mother of All Sneezefests.  I’ve been breathing through jello for almost a week now with the resultant gurgling loveliness.  Rather than compounding my miseries with liquid poison ivy (the same toxic allergen, urushiol, is present in poison sumac, poison ok, poison ivy, and mango skin)  I am instead going to be employing a variety of alternatives to accomplish “fauxrushi” objects.

I have already written about West System 105 Epoxy and the variations of their catalysts as the basis for my fauxrushi (Popular Woodworking April 2017) and I am currently looking at three different polyester compositions as a test comparison.  Polyester is reputed to be tougher and harder than epoxy but I have never used it for anything other than laying fiberglass fabric.  It does have the distinct disadvantage of being much stinkier that West Epoxy but that is not an insurmountable problem.

My little menagerie includes Asian lacquered pieces ranging from contemporary to probably 17th/18th C, and 19th C English japanned paper boxes (the two round pieces on the left).

I think this is my oldest piece, it is certainly the most complex. Red and black urushi are applied in alternating layers and then carved to reveal the layers. Urushi work is dominated historically by those two colors with the occasional blue piece with other colors even more scarce.

From time to time I pull out my own meager collection of genuine lacquerwork for inspiration and instruction, and delve into my library on the subject.  These sources spur me on to explore this art form, and when the resin base, whether epoxy, polyester, or even urushi, is combined with silver, gold, ad pearl, the sublime can emerge under the eye and hand of a master.  I am hampered by the near-complete absence of artistic talent but I nevertheless intend to stride down this path either until I lose interest (unlikely) or simply cannot physically do the work.  My hands are still steady so I am hoping it will be a long journey.

This modern bowl has a molded fabric core, and remains one of the most beautiful artworks I have ever seen.

MOP…

…a/k/a “stuff that falls in my lap.”

Many years ago I was contacted by a lady who was cleaning out her late father’s garage.  In it was a box she thought I would find interesting and useful.  Apparently back in The Depression he owned a factory/warehouse building and one of his tenants, a pearl button maker, simply disappeared, leaving behind all his inventory.  She said it was a box of pearl button blanks and offered it to me provided I pay for postage which I gladly covered.

I arranged for the shipping through  parcel delivery service and waited for the arrival of what I figured would be  shoe-box size of who knows what.  Much to my astonishment two weeks later a two-foot cube of a box arrived filled with a couple hundred thousand pieces of mother-of-pearl!

I sorted it into storage containers which now fill three drawers of my large map case.  I haven’t done much with it other than that and using it for the occasional inlay, but perhaps the time has come for me to inventory it more completely and offer it through the donsbarn.com store.  There’s no way I can use it all.

MMXIX-I Completed and Delivered

With some degree of anti-climax the pinstriping was touched-up and the final coats of satin oil varnish applied, and all of a sudden after eighteen months of intermittent labor the replica Gragg Fully Elastic Chair number MMXIX-I was finished.

It went with me to Georgia as I traveled to FORP III, and on Wednesday delivered it to the new owner.  He graciously allowed me to display it during our evening open house, and everyone who wanted was able to sit in it.

The moment of my lodging hostess giving it a test sit was captured here, being watched by FORP student Andrew and his lovely wife Katie.

80 Yards of Pinstriping

One of  the true challenges for decorating the Gragg chair is that to be faithful to the original requires the commitment to execute almost 80 yards of pinstriping on curved surfaces often awkward to get to.  (Several areas of striping are multiple applications of adjacent lines).

 

Back in the day when I was doing commercial custom refinishing and such I was fairly good at striping since a lot of it was part of the equation when creating painted furniture finishes for beach front condos.  For years afterward I was seeing pink and yellow striped moldings in my sleep.  But that day was many, many moons ago.

I’m guessing that doing the pinstriping will take me three or four days.   Stay tuned.

Behold, The Peacock Feather Cometh!

After months of anticipation and labors the time had come for my friend and protégé Daniela to come and paint the peacock feather(s) on the chairs I was constructing for clients and for the documentary video we were shooting.   She had painted the peacock feathers for me previously and was able and willing to pitch in again.

We had only a very narrow window of time to work with as it was the weekend of the county fair, which is a VERY big deal in these parts; our county of 2100 people can see crowds twice that for the tractor and truck pulls.  Videographer Chris needed to be at the fair on duty for his day job by 1PM, so Daniela and I set up the night before and were on duty by 8AM on the day of the filming.  Actually she painted a full-scale feather on the back of the chair as a warm-up exercise during the set-up evening (I painted over it subsequently).

It was almost intoxicating watching her slowly build the design with the fine tools, confident eye  and sure hands of a trained decorative painter and conservator.

Fortunately the weather was wonderful so Daniela’s husband and children put in a full day of revelry at the fair while we were hard at work the following day with the cameras running.  Actually Daniela was hard at work, I was just watching her create magic.

And there you have the lovely chairs and the even more lovely lady who helped create them.  She is excited, as am I, to reconnect for the next round of chairs as I intend to include them in my agenda for the foreseeable future.  Daniela, being Daniela, refused my efforts to pay her for these labors but I did persuade her to take about $500 worth of 23k gold leaf home with her.

Daniela’s creative genius was all captured on camera and microphone (I was interviewing her almost the entire time she was working) and will be included in the completed video, which at this point is looking likely to be longer than Roots.

Painting the Gragg Chair

With the sanding putty smoothed I concocted the top coat of paint and applied three coats of it.  The base for this paint was 2 parts Zinsser oil-based primer and one part gloss Pratt and Lambert 38 varnish, tinted with yellow ochre powder pigments to match the color I wanted.  The remaining historic Gragg chairs have a range of base coloration somewhere in the same zip code, and it is pretty much the chromatic neighborhood where my chairs will reside as long as I make them.

The combination of flat primer and gloss varnish yielded a nice satin surface, smooth enough for further work but with just enough tooth to hold the pinstriping and peacock feather decoration yet to come.

Stay tuned.

Priming The Gragg Chair

Finally comes the time for priming the Gragg chairs, the foundation for the decoration to come.  In my earlier Gragg exercises I used a gesso base followed by pigmented shellac, but that was before the technical analysis of the original Gragg paint was conducted.  This analysis revealed his work to be almost entirely executed in oil paint.  I have revised my current procedures to reflect that newer knowledge.

My scheme for the early finishing schedule is roughly as follows:

Fill the most egregious voids with putty. I made my own putty my mixing some of the oil primer with additional whiting until I got a thick paste.

After sanding off any excess putty, prime the surface with a solid coat of Zinsser shellac-based white primer.

Once that primer coat is dry, apply two coats of Brushing Putty from Fine Paints of Europe.  I tinted this with a little yellow ochre.

Once these two coats are fully dried, sand the surface completely with 120 sandpaper.

Finally, apply two coats of flat white oil paint strongly tinted with dry yellow ochre pigment.  Somehow I failed to get a picture of this final prep, or it is on my other camera.

Unfortunately, due to the competition between my calendar and Chris’ calendar we did not get these steps on video camera.  We will have to film it on the next chair.

Rethinking, or, “State of the Barn Address”

 

It’s been almost thirteen years since the skeleton of the barn was erected, nine years since it was outfitted with the first of more than a dozen workbenches, and over six years since the first blog post.  Now safely ensconced in my 65th year, lately I’ve been contemplating the entire enterprise, reflecting on how blessed I have been and continue to be.  Whether it is good news or bad news, after serious consideration I have no plans to change the fundamental structure of activity on the homestead for several more years, but at some point life in the mountains will simply become too physically taxing and the barn and cabin will be in my rear-view mirror.  Until then, however, it is still full(?) speed ahead with a big smile on my face, albeit not necessarily in the exact same direction nor the exact same speed.  I’m working just as hard as I did when I was 30, but the output is demonstrably less.   My Mom is 102 and lucid so I’ve got to think about another forty years of engagement and productivity.

Here is a sketch of what future activities might look like.  No telling if it is accurate.

Conservation Projects

Early on I maintained a fairly vibrant furniture and decorative arts conservation practice but have no plans to continue much of that except for specific projects and clients.  Yes, I will continue to work with the private collection of tortoiseshell boxes that I’ve been working on for more than a decade.  Recently I was approached to collaborate on a couple high profile on-site projects and if those move forward, fine. I love it but at this point I’ve got other things I want to do on the priority list.  And I want to truly perfect my artificial tortoisehell.  And I want to explore new uses of materials in furniture preservation.  And invent new materials, or novel uses of existing materials.   And, and, and…

Making Furniture

I make no claim as a furniture maker of any note, but I hope to concentrate on making more in the future.  I would love to maintain a small output of Gragg chairs every year, and even modify them and take them in directions Samuel Gragg never went.  I also have enough vintage mahogany for eight more Daniel Webster Desks, so perhaps there are some clients who might want one.  Only time will tell.  I’ve always had a hankering to make some furniture in the milieu of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alar Aalto, so maybe that becomes part of the equation.  And I have these sketches for pieces representing a collision of Roubo and Krenov while they are sitting on the porch of a Japanese temple.  And Mrs. Barn has a list of things she would like for the cabin.  And exploring parquetry more intensely.   And finally get pretty good at woodworking in general.  And, and, and…

Metal Work

I’ve always had a interest in metalworking since my boyhood when I would spend time with my Dad in his shed, melting lead weights and doing a little brazing and welding.  Many of those skills have grown fallow but I am trying to get them back and take them to new places.  My love of tool making has been rearing its lovely head in recent times and I have every intention of bringing that focus closer to the bullseye.  And part of that has to include getting my foundry back on-line.  And tuning up all my machine tools like my machinists’ lathes and mill.  And getting really good at brazing and silver soldering, maybe even welding.  And, and, and…

Finishing Adventures

I remain committed to looking both backwards and forwards into the realm of finishing materials, ancient and super modern.  I truly believe Mel’s Wax to be a transformative furniture care and preservation product for which I have not yet discovered the key to marketing.  But I will keep at it because of my knowledge of its performance and my commitment to Mel’s vision for it.  And as for beeswax and shellac wax? Finishing with them may be among the oldest and simplest methods, but they can be extremely difficult and I cannot pretend to have mastered them.  And what about my fascination with urushi and its non-allergenic analogs and the beautiful things I want to make from them?  And what about the fifty bazillion things I do not know about shellac?And, and and…

Writing

My plate of writing projects is full to overflowing, building on a strong foundation of completed works.  Notwithstanding my current struggles with the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, due entirely to my having too much esoteric material to include in a reasonably consumable book (really, how much solvent thermodynamics does the typical woodworker need to know?), I enjoy every minute I am writing even when it is driving me crazy.  I’d better because my collaborator Michele Pagan is one full book ahead of me in the Roubo Series.  And there are two or three more volumes after that one.  And some day I need to finish the almost-completed manuscript for A Furniture Conservation Primer created with a colleague while at the SI and thus will be necessarily distributed for free via the web site.  And what about my treatise on the technology and preservation of ivory and tortoiseshell?  And the dozen mystery/thriller novels I have already plotted out?  And who knows how many short stories about the life of First Century craftsman Joshua BarJoseph?  And, and, and…

Web

My first of almost 1,200 web posts went up six-and-a-half years ago, which I understand in the world of hobbyist blogging, where blogs come and go like the tides, puts me as some sort of  Methuselah.  But certainly not in the same class as The Accidental Woodworker, who has been blogging daily for even longer IIRC.  Ralph, I tip my hat to you, sir.

I once thought the web site/blog would be a useful portal for soliloquies about my projects and things I’ve learned over a long and rewarding career, but now I am not so sure.  A while back I decided to make a concerted effort to blog at least five times a week for a year, and I think I came pretty close.  Surely this would increase my web traffic!  Well, not so much.  At the end of this effort my web traffic was 2% lower than when it began.  Despite fairly consistent blogging my visitorship has dropped by almost half over the past four-plus years.    So I just scratch my head.  I’m not whining, but instead recognizing that the flock who is interested in my musings is shrinking, not growing.  Oh well.  This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a thing, helpful in me making decisions about priorities.  I have no plans to really change anything about the blog, we’ll just wait and see where it goes.  When I am not somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, I will blog.

Recently I was chatting with someone who informed me that web sites and blogs are now passe and the currency du jour is the unholy trio of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Given that and my antipathy towards the latter two it is likely that I will undertake the former at some near date (yes, I know the relationship between Instagram and Stalkerbook) .  Something inside me rebels at the notion of validating the post-literate world, however.  Still, the economic treatise presented by Larry the Liquidator is not only dramatic but accurate.  Even the Professional Refinisher’s Group is moving forward, transitioning from a moderated email forum to a private Facebook Group, which will leave me behind.  But they will survive without me and I intend to maintain contact with that circle of fellowship regardless.

Trouble is, I am by temperament a bizarre mélange of buggy whip maker and hardline “emergent order” Hayekian.  Hmmm.  Not really sure how that works out.

Workshops

Integral to my vision for the barn was to have it be a place of learning.  As the facility was coming together, whenever I spoke to any kind of woodworking gathering the verbal response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The reality that unfolded was anything but.  I now realize that my vision was a faulty one and the enthusiasm was superficial.  Quite bluntly, almost no one wants to come to such an isolated location where local amenities are practically nonexistent, to spend a few days engaging in subjects I want to teach.  Fair enough, the barn is too remote and my topics are too arcane.  Like I said before, this is not a good thing or a bad thing, but just an instructive  thing to add to the equation.

As a result and in recognition of reality I plan to deemphasize workshops at the barn, perhaps even eliminating them altogether, notwithstanding that I created dedicated spaces for the undertaking.  Should a small group of enthusiasts approach me with the request to teach them, I will do so.  That is precisely what a quartet of guys have done for next June.  And, I might do an occasional blockbuster-type workshop (a Gragg chair class would be such an example, if that ever occurs; I had thought a ripple molding machine class might be such an event, but with zero response…), or I might travel a bit to teach but otherwise that part of the portfolio is likely to close.  Not definitely, but likely.

Videos

Hence my transition to teaching via video.  If I cannot get folks to come here perhaps my best strategy is to go to them.  I have a multitude of ideas (more than twenty full-length [>30 mins.]video concepts on the list) and a brilliant local collaborator to work with.  I am committed to this path to the degree that I have the time, energy, and resources.

Further I have decided that making shorter, self-produced and thus less polished “shop technique videos” might be a useful undertaking to post on donsbarn.com, youtube or Vimeo.  I will explore this avenue in the coming weeks and months.

The Homestead

With several buildings, several gardens, and a power system to maintain and improve there is never a shortage of things to do here on the homestead.  I want to build/expand more garden capacity for Mrs. Barn to spend time doing the thing she loves best.  And fruit and nut orchards.  And I want to finish creating a rifle scope for shooters like me who have lost most of the vision in their dominant eye.  And another hydro turbine downstream from the current one.

And, and, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

That is The State of the Barn Address, 2019.  To quote one of Mel’s favorite songs, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”  Yes it is.  I am living the dream.

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.


If your conscience is pricked by viewing this for no cost feel free to click on the “Donate” button, any proceeds from which will go toward enhancing the rapidity of producing new videos.  For those of you who have already shown that generous spirit, I am deeply appreciative.




“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.