Finishing

Always On The Lookout #2

Recently while en route to the SAPFM Tidewater Chapter meeting I stopped into a Michael’s store in search of one ingredient I wanted for my demonstration.   They did not have what I wanted but as is my habit I took a stroll through the art supplies to see what might be on sale.  My mouth probably fell open as I saw a deep discount on all their inventory of Robert Simmons Sapphire brushes, the sable/nylon blend bristles that for me are the standard by which all others were measured.

They did not have any 1″ brushes, but I bought all the 3/4″ flat wash and filbert mops they had.  In doing so I added another half-dozen to my inventory (since I do so much teaching of finishing, I can never have enough good brushes), saving myself a ton of money.  If I recall correctly these brushes are listed at about $70 apiece at retail, and I got these for about $10-12 each.

I do not know if this is a discount at Michael’s nationwide or if this was restricted to the one store I was at, but it would be worth your checking it out.

UPDATE:  I’ve been to several Michael’s stores and found each of them to have the same discounted offer.  They didn’t all have any inventory, but they all had the same discount.

Stripping Spindles Efficiently

One of the exercises I incorporate into the syllabus for the Historic Finishing workshop is finishing a baluster spindle or two, to get the feel for brushing finish onto an undulating surface.  Rather than spend a lot of time finding new ones for student use I just got a trash can full of them and recycle them as necessary.  I found a very efficient way to strip them in preparing for the next round of use, a solution that I think would work for anyone who has a similar task.

I had our local welding shop to fabricate two vertical stripping tanks (for about $80), comprised of a piece of steel pipe welded to a steel plate base.  One of my standing tanks uses a 2″ pipe, the other 2-1/2″.  This allows me to use (and lose) a minimal amount of whatever solvent I am using, whether paint remover for the initial treatment of painted spindles or denatured alcohol for recycling the shellacked ones.

The system works like a charm, I just put the spindle in the pipe and fill it with solvent, then place a piece of metal plate on top to hold the spindle down and cap the cylinder, and in a few minutes I extract the stripped spindle, allow excess solvent to drip off, and wipe it down with paper towels  It literally takes only 15-30 seconds of my time to get one done.  Over a few days’ of doing this I lose only about a half-pint of solvent to evaporation, and whatever additional solvent is absorbed into the film.

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.

Cool Pic

I set my bottle of padding varnish (1/2 pound cut of Lemon shellac) up in the window sill over the finishing bench, and did not return to it for many moons.  I thought it was pretty cool to see how, left undisturbed, gravity had separated out the fractions of this natural heterogeneous exudate in solution.  The clarity of the fully solublized wax-free fraction on top is a nice contrast to the partially solublized and suspended wax-containing fractions on the bottom.

Shellac: adhesive, varnish, dyestuff, condiment, pharmaceutical ingredient, cosmetic, pyrotechnic binder, and now, entertainment source.  Is there anything it cannot do?

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.

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.

WW18thC 2018 – Historic Gilding and Finishing

The last session at WW18thC was my presentation of Historic Gilding and Finishing, including a brief sprint through the application of gold leaf.  I described processes of gilding with a particular emphasis on building the surface (wood, gesso, bole) to make it amenable to the laying of gold leaf.  It was only a few minutes, but gilding is a topic that can be introduced in either ten minutes or ten days, nothing in between makes much sense.

As quickly as I could I changed gears to get to transparent finishing, relying as always on my Six Steps To Perfect Finishing, a rubric that has served me flawlessly since I came up with it a couple dozen years ago.  Not every one of the six points got the same emphasis here, that was not practicable given the time constraints, but the conceptual model was followed closely.

 

As always the starting point was surface preparation, including using toothing planes, scrapers, and pumice blocks that were integral to the finisher’s tool kit 250 years ago.

The final step in surface prep was to burnish the wood with polishing sticks or fiber bundle polissoirs.

I then moved into the no-man’s-land of filling the grain and building the foundation for the finish yet to come, employing the traditional method of using beeswax as the grain filler.  In some circumstances this is the finished surface, in others it is the foundation.

In olden times they would have used a fire-heated iron to melt on the beeswax, I use a similar shaped tool that is electric.  The molten wax is drizzled on to the surface then distributed with the heated iron unto there is excess.  After cooling any excess is scraped off.

When choosing the finish itself, an 18th century palette would have been based on four major families of finishes. From left to right they are shellac, linseed oil, beeswax, and colophony (pine rosin).

In this demo I used padded spirit varnish (shellac) to show the application of the finish over the beeswax grain filling.

 

And then my time was up and everyone went home.

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I’ll be offering my annual Historic Finishing workshop at the barn in late April.  Let me know if you would like to participate.

Teaching Historic Finishing At MASW

Right after the conclusion of the Parquetry workshop at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking I dove in again with three days of Historic Finishing (reminder to self — DO NOT do this again.  The logistics of changing horses mid-week is a headache you can do without).  This class had more than a dozen students, and the enthusiastic feedback had led Marc to ask me to develop an expanded  week-long workshop on the same topic, which we will do in 2019.

I’ve pretty much got this workshop dialed in, as I do with Parquetry, so there is a fairly fixed syllabus here.  The emphasis is on processes and work habits rather than having a “completed” project at the end, concentrating on shellac spirit varnishes and beeswax applications.

The starting point is this 24×48 panel building up multiple brushed applications of 1-1/2 pound cut shellac to about 18 layers over the first day and a half.  Getting this to “done” allows us to explore the detailing and polishing of the surface.

We used polissoirs for preparing surfaces and applying wax, and filled the grain with molten beeswax.  Then we made and used polishing pads for applying spirit varnish.

Each student got to address the problems of finishing undulating surfaces,

applying pigmented wax grain filler,

and even making historic sandpaper.

The giant panels were polished out with a variety of period-appropriate abrasives,

and one quadrant was glazed with asphaltum.

All in all, it was a great time of fellowship and learning.  How could it not be, we were finishing!

 

A Juncus Polissor – IV

With the new Juncus polissoir made I took a minute to examine and characterize it, and give it a quick test drive.   As I said earlier, it took a lot more of the rush to compress to the same density of the sorghum polissoirs I have made for me.

My immediate impression of the Juncus polissoir is that is softer and more fragile than the sorghum.  The working surface just seemed softer to my fingertips and fingernail, and the fibers around the perimeter of the working tip were much more easily damaged and broken off.  My deduction is that this tool could not be used vigorously as a dry tip, unlike the sorghum.  Yannick Chastang implied as much when he indicated that this tool is always used with wax, although Roubo is less clear on the subject (Roubo could be a frustrating writer, often accomplishing the nearly impossible feat of being simultaneously effusive and laconic).

Due to time limitations, at that moment my only side-by-side apples vs. apples comparison I could make was to use a dry (unwaxed) sorghum polissoir and this new dry (unwaxed) Juncus polissoir on a prepped board.

Both accomplished glistening surfaces in a matter of seconds.

The visual result was pretty much indistinguishable, but there was a definite sensory difference; the Juncus polissoir seemed much softer to the surface of the wood.  Even though the fibers of each were compressed as tightly as possible, the sound of them tapping on the workpiece differed; the Juncus had a much softer, more diffused sound than the sorghum.  Deductively this implies that the sorghum polissoir was more efficient to Juncus in burnishing (compressing and smoothing the surface of the workpiece), yielding a “brighter” surface, but the Juncus might be superior in polishing (smoothing via rubbing abrasion) and also more forgiving.  Neither strikes me as “superior” overall at this point, they just have unique characters that differ.  I do suspect also that the sorghum polissoir is more robust and long-lasting than the more fragile Juncus, but that may or may not be true, and might be mitigated through wax impregnation.

As time allows in the future I will test and compare these tools further in the future, but for now that is what I have to report.