Finishing

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.

Care And Feeding of Finishing Brushes

I was wandering around youtube the other night and stumbled cross this half-hour video we made as a bonus for my PopWood video on Historic Wood Finishing.  I vaguely recall making this but did not recall it was now residing on youtube.  I’m pretty sure I have not posted this video before, but if I did I’ve forgotten and you get it once again.

Enjoy (and I hope you laugh in all the right places).

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.

Historic Finishing Day 3

In one sense the learning velocity for Day 3 is the same as Day 1 and Day 2, but the psychological impact of everything coming together in a beautiful outcome is almost incalculable.  One thing I am mindful of is that most Day 3s of workshops are structured to make sure any meaningful instruction occurs by mid-day, as the typical impetus is for folks to start heading back home sometime in the afternoon.  Sometimes students will stay  until evening, but in this case all three had lengthy drives home (two to central NC and one to CT) and headed out mid-afternoon to get home before dark.


If I had to summarize the events of the third day it would be encapsulated in the word “rubbing.”  The central focus of that action was the very large panels that had been varnished with brushed shellac the previous days.  These panels were divided into four sections to be finished off with different rubbing protocols, including making and using abrasive pads for pumice and Tripoli/rottenstone, both with and without paste wax.   Another section was burnished/abraded with Liberon 0000 steel wool and paste wax.

Though I knew the results in advance the students did not, and their excitement at seeing the results of their own hand work was most gratifying.

One student even brought a sample panel from his previous finish work and compared it to the panels we completed during the workshop.  Needless to say the smile could not be wiped from his face.  I didn’t quite get the camera angle perfect but you get the point between the almist gritty, brassy smaller panel and his new lustrous, almost glowing surface.

Our final chapter of the workshop was shellac spirit varnish pad polishing, a/k/a “French polishing.”  As with the other pad-based processes, rubbing out with tripoli or pumice, they each made their own spirit varnishing pad.   All these pads were made with vintage linen outer cloths and new cotton wadding inner cores, and all these were theirs to take home in a small sealed glass jar.  These pads should serve them well for many years to come.

Spirit varnish pad polishing is very definitely a technique requiring an informed “feel” about how it is supposed to progress.  Even though this was an introductory effort for all three students, they really took to it with enthusiasm and excellent outcomes being the result.  It was delightful to see the smiles and satisfaction of accomplishment.

Though I failed to get a final photo of us all, along with their sample boards going home with them, I believe it was a woodworking-life-changing experience for them.  As I told them at the outset, my primary goal was to give them confidence at the finishing bench and dispel any intimidation they might have in that regard.  If their notes to me afterward were any indication, it was a success.

I want to thank for your “Historic Finishing Course” at the Barn last week.  It was over the top in how it exceeded my expectations; by the end of the workshop I was seeing the process you taught working to a superb result under my own hand.  A really cool result–and well worth three days of my time to learn it. 

And,

I want to thank you for an awesome class!  The fellowship was really great and I came away much more confident applying a lovely shellac finish.

 

 

Historic Finishing Day 2

[Yup, my compewder power cord arrived from South Carolina and I am back in bidnez. — DCW]

Day 2 included the continuation of previous exercises begun on Day 1 and the addition of some new ones to fill out the syllabus.

With the large panels having already been built with two innings of brushed finishing the preparation for the final application of brushed shellac was underway with the surface being scraped.  I find scraping to be a “lost art” among contemporary finishers for the most part, although it was a very common weapon in the quiver of an 18th century craftsman.  For convenience sake I/we used disposable single edged razors from the hardware store that I buy by the hundreds.

For the final application of the shellac varnish I had them switch from a 21st century nylon/sable blend watercolor brush to an oval bristle brush, much closer in style to that of 250 years ago.  This gives the students a variety of experiences for similar tasks.

I presented a very brief demonstration of using a pumice block to prepare the raw wood, which yielded a surface that was surprisingly (to them) smooth.

Then on to the molten wax portion of the program, wherein they prepared two sample boards for different purposes.  The first was to create a “wax only” finish which I think is the most difficult finish to do well, and secondly to fill the grain for a panel to be pad polished tomorrow on Day3.

While the wax was cooling the students moved on to a pair of exercises designed to give them facility at complex surfaces.  The first was to varnish a carved and turned spindle and the second a frame-and-panel door.

While they were doing that I was playing some more with molten wax finishes.  Like I said, it is difficult to get perfect.

Late in the afternoon we saw this “meal on wheels” right outside the shop.  Clearly they are terrified of human proximity.

Thus endeth Day 2.

Finishing With A Stick, or “When I Grow Up I Want To Be Maki Fushimi”

I am a sorta youtube.com junkie, in that a typical week finds me watching many (mostly instructional) videos.  I’m even thinking of starting my own youtube channel and posting short shop videos on it, but I have not yet pulled the trigger on that.

One of my truly favorite channels over there is that of Japanese Lacquer Master Maki Fushimi, whose inventory includes hundreds of videos, virtually all with only ambient sound, without any speaking.  They are just videos of his hands at work in the lacquerwork studio.  This a 60-part(!) series on making a set of bowls, and his virtuosity with a spatula always leaves my jaw hanging open.  I tried to make the blog link to video 45, titled HONKATAJI-WAN (45) but it keeps posting this video link.  In #45 he uses nothing more than a stick to do amazing finishing.  Give it a look.

Still waiting for my compewder power cord to arrive and for that part of the world getting back to normal.  For now I am stuck with an ancient laptop from at least a dozen years ago.

Historic Finishing Day 1

 

Last week was my almost-annual workshop in Historic Finishing, three days spent introducing the notions of systematic work with shellac and beeswax.  This year I had three students which allowed for a lot of great fellowship and one-on-one instruction and problem solving.

It began with a discussion of the strategy of finishing I developed many years past, emphasizing the Six Simple Rules for Perfect Finishing.  As always my goal is to not only teach and inform, but to change attitudes.  Usually woodworkers are indifferent at best and terrified at worst to finishing, and again this year I saw the students leave with a whole new level of confidence.  I cannot say they departed with my own mindset of looking forward to any finishing task, but at least they were no longer fearful of it.

After the opening lecture they got to working on the first of a dozen exercises I had devised for them.  This one was brushing shellac on a large panel, building up about a dozen coats in three application sessions, or “innings.”  Using only a one-inch brush this exercise develops excellent hand skills at applying a finish evenly over a very large area, and lays the foundation for some Day 3 exercises.

We then moved on to the means of preparing surfaces in general (the initial large panel exercise has to fall a bit out of order since it required three sessions to complete the applications; the start of Day 1, the end of Day 1, and the start of Day 2).  Thus much of the day was spent building up Popeye-like forearms, a/k/a using a polissoir.

I also demonstrated the use of a pumice block for smoothing wood.  This was a very common procedure in ancient days, an analog to our own use of sandpaper.

Preparing panels with the polissoirs and then a polissoirs-plus-cold-beeswax occupied much of that afternoon, followed by a light sanding of the large panel and re-application of the 2-pound shellac from the morning.

And thus endeth Day 1.

Ready For Class

Historic Woodfinishing workshop starts in an hour or so and I’m rarin’ to go.

the classroom is all set

some show-n-tell

my ultra-high-tech syllabus

Workshop Teaser – Make A Set of Roubo Squares

Every participant will begin with a slab of brass which we will cut on the table saw to yield the preferred number of graduated squares.

Once these have been cut and the corners cleaned up, they will be laid out for the graduated nesting sizes.

Ogees are cut and filed into the ends, and all the detailing is finished in preparation for the silver soldering of the shoe on the outside of the beam.

If this workshop interests you, drop me a line via the Comments or Contact functions of the site.  It will be June 20-22, and the tuition + materials is $425.  You will leave with a completed set of squares.

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Other workshops at the Barn this summer are:

Historic Finishing

Make A Roubo Shoulder Knife

Make A Ripple Molding Machine

Mel’s Wax Available ~January 24!

Wish me luck!  After years of product development and clearing the decks at the Barn on White Run, and finding reliable suppliers for some of the esoteric materials involved (still crossing my fingers on that one), I am thrilled to announce that Mel’s Wax will be in the donsbarn.com Store in the coming days and could begin shipping on or about January 24, 2019.

This is a hand-made ultra high performance archival furniture maintenance product, fussy to formulate and manufacture.  On a good day doing nothing else I can produce 40-50 jars.  But rarely is there a day when I do nothing else.

More complete information on the creation, properties and utility of Mel’s Wax will be posted here and at a currently-under-development web site dedicated to it, which will go live as soon as I can get all the documents created for it.  Eventually that web site will also include detailed video about using it and other related topics.

To give you a snapshot of this product I have posted below some testimonials and the text of the instructional brochure that will accompany each jar.

Mel’s Wax will be $49 for a 4 oz. jar, domestic shipping included.  A little goes a very long way.

***THIS PRODUCT WILL NOT BE SHIPPED TO CALIFORNIA.*** 

Do not complain to me, complain to your state gubmint officials and the environmental trial lawyers they are attached to.

 

Here are some of the comments by product testers over the past couple of years.

I do know that [name deleted] has used it quite a bit and likes it. I used it on one commission piece and it worked really nice. It went from really soft to remarkably hard like magic.

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I cleaned the [artifact] and retouched where necessary then as a final layer applied a very thin layer of Mel’s Wax.  She just came back one year later and [Mel’s Wax] helped substantially and though it needs cleaning again but does not have the hazy (ugly) look.  My client was very happy!  Thank you for giving me the tools and materials to think this through.

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The pictures I will send you are of a small table that I first polished out with extra fine polishing compound and a wheel buffer. Then I applied [Mel’s Wax] to half of the top, buffed it by hand and compared the two halves.  I see a difference between the waxed and un-waxed sides. The waxed side has more luster and gives the surface more depth. There is enough of a difference that would make me reach for the wax on a similar project.

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a really lovely 1889 German music box came into my life today and I used [Mel’s Wax] to clean and polish the original finish , which I suspect is shellac though I did not test it, the metal disc also had a treatment with [Mel’s Wax] and I really am happy with the performance of the wax.  It’s very very thin and I like that immensely, it dried very quickly in my 75 degree shop with about 70 percent humidity, and buffed to very pleasing sheen, using a cotton tee shirt scrap


 

[Buffing, Streaking, and Smudging] is where Mel’s Wax excels. My test case is the dining table in this home. It appears to be only a wax finish on the original parts of the top and getting an even shine is difficult. In the past, [another product] was my go-to wax for this job. Mel’s Wax eclipsed [the other wax] in both ease of application and speed in buffing. Best of all, it buffed smudge and streak free–the buffing took a fraction of the time I usually spent buffing out the [other wax].


 

I found Mel’s Wax to be excellent for prophylactic waxing, especially over already waxed surfaces. I would say that I cut my application and buffing time in half from what I usually spent using [other products] and got streak-free finishes. I still have my arsenal of other waxes for either, jobs not worthy of Mel’s Wax, or jobs where Mel’s Wax isn’t an appropriate choice. I think it would be an excellent household wax as I don’t think it could be “over-used”.

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The Mel’s Wax Instructional Brochure (will be included with every jar)

Mel’s Wax is a patented high-performance semi-liquid, easy-to-use furniture care product created by museum furniture conservators for their own professional use. Mel’s Wax is appropriate for priceless antiques, treasured family heirlooms, wooden objects d’art, and even architectural woodworking. Mel’s Wax does not need “elbow grease” for either application or buffing.

WARNING: DO NOT USE on food preparation surfaces or utensils. DO NOT USE on fragile or flaking furniture surfaces, or surfaces sensitive to mineral spirits or water.

DIRECTIONS FOR USE

1. Shake the jar of Mel’s Wax before using.
2. First perform this fast, simple test to make sure that Mel’s Wax will not harm the surface of your furniture.

Apply small dab of Mel’s Wax to an inconspicuous area with a clean, soft cloth or cotton swab, making sure that this area has the same finish and appearance as the rest the piece. Gently rub on Mel’s Wax, wait about 5 minutes, then wipe the area with a clean cotton swab or cosmetics pad. You may notice dirt and grime on the swab, but if the test area looks sound and a bit shiny, you can proceed.

3. Apply a small amount with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth in a well-ventilated area. A little goes a LONG way, less is better. After applying Mel’s Wax you should see an even, slightly glossy residue over the area being treated, indicating you have used enough Mel’s Wax. This gloss may diminish as the polish dries.
4. Wait until completely dry. Generally an hour is sufficient.
5. Gently buff the surface with a second, clean, soft, lint-free cloth. Thorough and gentle rubbing with the cloth is all that is necessary for the polish to produce its luster.
6. Store the sealed jar of Mel’s Wax in a cool place; Mel’s Wax contains natural and synthetic ingredients including petroleum distillate, but no preservatives or stabilizers. Do not let it freeze.

Your furniture is now protected and enhanced with Mel’s Wax and ready for storage, exhibit, or use.

ROUTINE CARE: For pieces treated with Mel’s Wax, ongoing care requires only periodic dusting with a clean, soft, lint-free cloth dampened with a few drops of distilled water. If the surface is dirty, put a few drops of a mild detergent in 8oz. of distilled water and use it to make a damp (not soaking wet) cleaning cloth. Then wipe using a second clean, soft, lint-free cloth dampened with distilled water alone, and finally wipe with a third, clean, dry, soft, lint-free cloth. For furniture in daily use you may have to re-apply Mel’s Wax every few months. If your furniture is not often handled or used, you may not need to re-apply Mel’s Wax for many years.

DISCLAIMER: Follow all directions above. Mel’s Wax is not a substitute for a furniture finish. It has been designed as a museum quality maintenance coating to preserve a wide variety of existing furniture finishes. It is not intended for high-stress surfaces like wooden food-preparation counters or utensils, or floors. If the surface still appears “parched” after buffing, the problem is likely with the artifact’s surface.

SAFETY/CAUTION: Mel’s Wax is a chemical product, not intended for human, animal, or plant consumption. Apply in a well ventilated area while wearing eye protection. Wear non-latex surgical-type disposable gloves when applying Mel’s Wax or wash your hands afterwards with soap and water. Keep out of reach of children. Dispose of any materials used for applying Mel’s Wax as you would any other household cleaning products.

What is “Mel’s Wax?”

This is an archival quality product which will protect the surface finish of your furniture, thereby preserving the finish while the furniture it remains in careful use. Mel’s Wax has proven to be an excellent product for furniture in typical domestic use. It provides a durable lustrous appearance, easily maintained with gentle dusting and cleaning.

Each ingredient of Mel’s Wax was selected after careful scientific review, and Mel’s Wax was formulated to enhance ease-of-use and reduce any harmful effects to artifacts that can be caused by many commercial furniture care products.

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***THIS PRODUCT WILL NOT BE SHIPPED TO CALIFORNIA.***