Marquetry

Spectacular Failure

Quoting the title of my least favorite song from probably my most favorite current band, I recently had a spectacular failure on something entirely mundane in the shop.

The locus of the action was my Kindle.  I love having a Kindle, the ability to download and have a multitude of audio and textual books in-hand on a wisp of a tool is intoxicating.  Plus, I can make the font size as large as I want, no small feature for someone with my eyesight.  However, the Kindle is not a particularly robust tool and I fractured the screen soon after getting it.  Nevertheless I continued using it without incident for a year until the design flaw in the re-charging port caused the unit to fail entirely and I replaced it.  Mrs. Barn is on her second Kindle for exactly the same reason.

When my new Kindle arrived it was instantly apparent that the geniuses at Amazon recognized the re-charging port problem and upgraded the hardware considerably.  Still, that would not really help me if I abused the unit physically to the point of breaking it.   So, I decided to make a lightweight rigid case to house it.  I had looked at a number of manufactured cases and even bought one but remained unsatisfied, hence my desire to make my own.  I might have used some 5-ply 1/8″ aircraft plywood but unfortunately my inventory of this esoteric and very expensive material was inadequate for the project.

Instead I tried making my own, an undertaking I had engaged in numerous times.  Over the years I have accumulated a sizeable pile of veneer sheets and this was a perfect time to consume a tiny bit of it.

Cutting several pieces from the long veneer sheets, I glued up some 5- and 7-ply panels using some PVA adhesive.

I stacked the wet panels on top of each other with a sheet of food wrap between them, as I done done many times before.  Since I do not have a veneer press I added flat cauls and a couple hundred pounds of firebricks on top and let it sit overnight.

What I found the net morning on disassembling the set-up was not what I wanted, to say the very least.  One of the plywood panels’ faces was perfectly flat, but the other was puckered beyond repair, or at least beyond any repair I wanted to spend my time on.  Besides, I have a lot more veneer to play with.

Indeed, this was a spectacular failure.

Back to the drawing board.  Stay tuned.

 

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.

First 30-60-90 Brass Triangle Finished

Given the prominence of 60-degree angles in the worlds of parquetry and Roubo benches, during the “Making Roubo Squares” workshop earlier this summer I made a couple of 30-60-90 brass triangles, as did the participants after I demonstrated the lesson they learned in seventh grade Geometry class: the hypotenuse is exactly twice the length of the base of this right triangle.

I finally got my first one ready for battle, albeit without the decorative flourishes I had been wanting.  I simply did not have the time at present but car return to add them when I do get the time.

I soldered on the lip for the base, then just cleaned up all the edges and surface and it was ready for action.

Get to work, you triangle you!

A Familiar and Amusing Road Sign

Recently while on my way to Greenville SC I stopped to have lunch with my friend (and frequent barn guest) B and his family.  The signage in his neighborhood was, shall we say, lacking, so to compensate for that shortcoming and to help guide my way to his home he parked his truck out at the street with a familiar item resting on the window.  He correctly surmised I would notice and recognize it and know to turn there.  I chuckled when I saw it and turned up the driveway for a wonderful lunch and time of fellowship before resuming my trip

This is the panel he made at last year’s class. 

Fruition

Many years ago when Knew Concepts saws burst onto the marketplace I met and was befriended by the gurus behind them, Lee Marshall and Brian Meek.  There are not many tools that can change the way I work, but their saws did.  As an outgrowth of our friendship I began to collaborate with them to refine their products and even begin down the road of developing whole new tools.

One of the tools I encouraged them create was a vertical oriented marquetry chevalet.  Yes, I know that traditionalist and purists might snort at me for that position, but let me explain to you how much I care about that.  (Cue the sound of crickets.)  You can find my tale of encountering their initial engineering design prototype here.

Now for a little more background.

I have been cutting veneers for more than forty years, almost always in the context of repairing or replacing missing marquetry or plain veneers.  I learned to cut it on a horizontal bench pin using a jeweler’s frame saw freehand in the vertical orientation.

Once I got to use a traditional chevalet, a hand powered machine that interestingly enough post-dates what many think was the Golden Age of Marquetry, my experience and muscle memory/work habits left me unimpressed with my own skill with the tool.  I have seen others use it in a manner that could only be described as magnificent, but I have never developed a facility with the device to make it my default tool.  (It might very well be the result of me not having thousands of hours behind the wheel, so to speak, with an intimidating task master peering over my shoulder.  By the time I got to use a full-scale chevalet I was long passed the point of being intimidated about much of anything.  Once you go nose-to-nose with a bind drunk idiot neighbor shooting a revolver in his back yard while my kids were playing in my back yard, everything else takes its proper place in the hierarchy of intimidation.)  Instead, I always reverted to my older method in which I had honed my skills.

Once I saw Steve Latta demonstrate his version of a bench-top horizontal action chevalet I built my own, and I got better results with that than with the full scale, sit down version.  Not yet great, but better.  Still, I could see some great possibilities based on my execution of the concept.

Back to Knew Concepts.  I was attracted not only to their jeweler’s saw frames but practically swooned once I learned of their Mark Series of fixed-orientation saws.  I had to have one!  I got one and again it changed the way I could work in the marquetry techniques I used, mostly Boullework style and double-bevel style.  The Mark Series saw made cutting small pieces of marquetry (about a 6″ size limit) practically idiot-proof, and sometime I can be a pretty high-powered idiot.

Lee and Brian and I continued to correspond and meet at various woodworking tool events, and eventually I convinced them to give it a try.  Our dinners together always seemed to result in a stack of napkins covered in design drawings and spec lists. Brian came to see me in DC, well actually he came to see my bench top chevalet — I was incidental to the trip (not really, I always thoroughly enjoyed my interactions with Lee ad Brian, both creatively and socially) — and he returned to Crazyfornia to begin designing a saw incorporating and fusing all our ideas.  Soon computer generated design drawings were flying back and forth across the continent.

Then came the Woodworking in America 2016 when Lee promised to “show you something special.”  I could practically see the twinkle in his eye just from the email.  As I phrased it at the time,

“I encountered the working concept prototype whose gestation was several years, and as I worked with the tool I felt, more than heard, a thunderclap.  Everything that had been was now no more.”

Shortly thereafter Lee fell gravely ill, and eventually passed away.  Brian took the helm of the enterprise and the process of transition took all of his time and energy, and then some.  We corresponded infrequently for a couple years, then a few months ago it picked up again and I asked him if the bench top vertical-cut chevalet was ever going to become a production reality.  Knowing how swamped he was I sorta expected a note of the “Man I am just too busy to think about it,” variety.  Imagine my delight when instead he wrote back and told me they were in the home stretch of the initial production prototype.

Last week a couple packages arrived arrived, and it is better than Christmas at the Barn on White Run these days.  A whole lotta time, energy, and ideas have come to fruition.

Stay tuned.

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.

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.

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.