New In The Shop – Scissors

One of the tools ubiquitous in most work setting is a pair of scissors.  Less common in a woodworking shop is a good pair of scissors.  Thanks to the evangelism of my pal Mike the upholsterer (thanks Mike!) I am always on the lookout for a good pair of scissors to add to the shop toolkit.  He has about 42 bazillion pair of scissors, each in top condition.

When I take note, it is surprising how often I grab for a good pair of vintage scissors to cut out patterns, make shims, or what not.

While at PATINA a couple months ago I was browsing through the tailgating flea market prior to the program and found a sweet, heavyweight pair in extremely good condition ($5 IIRC).  Once I got them in the shop and cleaned up they did not even need sharpening or adjusting.  The blades are six inches long and the action is smooth.

These scissors cut fabric, paper, cork sheet, leather, and lightweight carboard without breaking a sweat, and commercial veneers almost as easily (I use the veneers for shims, mostly).  Best of all is they do not take up much space.

So be on the lookout for similar tools for your shop and toss away the cheap scissors from the dollar store.  You will be glad you did.

The New Normal

Disclaimer — I am not now and never have been an ophthalmologist or played one on television, nor did I stay in a Holiday Inn last night.

Last Saturday, while vacationing in Florida to celebrate my mother’s 103rd (!) birthday, Mrs. Barn and I spent most of the day and evening in the Emergency Room of the Bascom-Palmer Eye Clinic in Miami, perhaps the nation’s leading institution of its kind.  The evening prior I had noticed a dramatic increase in “floaters” in my left (good) eye and during the night saw flashes of light also in that eye.  These are almost dispositive indications that a retina is becoming detached, almost being the operative word, and my concerns were pretty stratospheric.  Hence, the two hour drive to the clinic, the seven hour wait to see a doctor, and the two hour drive home.

Floaters are usually the tissue debris remaining from some physical disruption inside the eyeball.  They can be as plain as a tiny speck that moves around as your eye moves, essentially not a speck “in your eye” but literally a speck inside your eye.  I’ve had floaters of some sort virtually all of my life, but the number and size of this new batch had me concerned.  I had a new floater that looked like a Klingon warship, another that looked like a spider web covering about 1/5 of my vison field, and a multitude of tiny floaters resembling a swarm of bees, all of them bouncing around as my eye moved.  These last ones were the most concerning.

Floaters by themselves are not debilitating, but merely irritating as they are so spindly and translucent and do not disrupt vision in a meaningful way.  If I was a sniper it would be a problem, for a woodworker not so much.  But, I was experiencing a new type of floater I had never before seen, similar to a small cloud of fog moving around in the exact opposite motion as the particulate floaters.  That was very bizarre and disconcerting.  This (these?) were much like smudges on my eye glasses, only moving.  The problem is probably exacerbated by the fact that I have preposterously luxuriant eyelashes, so most of the time I have eyelash tracks on the inside of my spectacles with the resultant blurring to my vision.

Combined with the flashes of light in my eye, I was in fact experiencing the symptoms they tell you accompany a detaching retina and to get to the hospital immediately, so we did.  Having a base vision that is extremely myopic, about -12 prior to my LASIK, I was and reman at high risk for a detached retina.  Two of my siblings have already experienced detached retinas so my spidey-sense is quite high when it comes to this.

When we finally did get to see a doctor the eyeball examination was very thorough, and I was complimented on my cooperativeness.  And why not?  I’ve undergone a similar examination perhaps 150 times over the years.  I know where to put my head, how to hold open my eyes, when to blink, when not to blink, and to not be concerned about the tears coming out of seemingly every hole in my head.  (Hey, according to BC/BS I’ve had 22 eye operations and been fully asleep for only one of them.  When I put my head in the frame and am told to hold still while the doctor is closing in with a scalpel or a laser beam, I learned to hold still.)  Although I am certain I have shoes older than the doctor who examined me, I am experienced enough to know that he did an excellent job.

The bottom line is that I was not undergoing a detached retina but instead a detached viscera.  The viscera is the transparent protein gel that fills up the balloon that is your eyeball.  With age and genetics for some fraction of the population that gel begins shrinking and eventually pulls away from the surface of the balloon, releasing a lot of tissue debris in the process.  The phenomenon is accompanied by some flashing light in the field of vision.  So, I was correct to be concerned but my self-diagnosis was incomplete, fortunately.

My “new normal” for that eye is the presence of a great number of distracting floaters that my brain will eventually learn to ignore.  The cloudy regions, again not debilitating, are either the result of the changed optical properties of the viscera gel/retina interface or perhaps even the refractive index change in regions of the viscera itself, or they could be simply shadows of the floaters themselves.  All I can do is wait and see.

I have an appointment with my brilliant ophthalmologist in Charlottesville in a couple weeks.  It was a regularly scheduled appointment (I usually go four times a year), and after speaking to his post-doc yesterday I was assured that there was no immediate or urgent need for attendance.  I will know more soon, but it looks like this is just another thing to get used to.

As for my right eye, there is pretty much no reason for optimism there.  Two corneal transplants have failed to provide good vision, although I am told the “transplants look perfect.”  Not from my side they don’t.  Added to that was the subsequent cataract surgery resulted in a defective lens being implanted, so the vision in that eye is always distorted and hazy, like I am looking through a piece of plastic food wrap on a foggy day.  On top of all that was my glaucoma was not attended in a timely or diligent manner after it was diagnosed and not treated properly until the damage was mostly done, so I’ve lost approximately half of my vision in that eye altogether.

Now I wait to get accustomed to my new normal.

When my daughters were very young they asked me what I thought Heaven would be like.  I told them that for me it would be, in part, a realm where when I woke up, with my newly perfected body to fit this perfect place I could see the world around me perfectly.

I’ll stick with that.


One Of These Days… – Accessing My Hand Saws

About the same time I made the hanging wall “cabinet” for my Japanese tools I also made a similar cabinet for my hand saws.  It is fair to say that the second iteration of the concept was every bit as successful as the first.  I had this “cabinet” tucked into the corner above my Roubo bench.  Once again the cabinet door was so large (24″ x 36″) that almost everything (well, mostly the Gerstner full of layout tools) blocked it from opening fully, thus inhibiting the access to the inside contents of a dozen mostly vintage carpenter’s saws.  Plus, the combined inside depth was so shallow, ~4 inches, that I had to hang the saws flat inside, several to a peg.  That got real old, real fast.

The only part of the set-up that I liked was the holstered fittings for my back saws, which kept them visible and accessible.

So I pulled out all the saws from the interior and abandoned the “cabinet” on the wall.

Pulling out some scrap plywood I made two shelves to hold saws, one slotted for the top and one plain shelf for the handles at the bottom.  I attached these to the wall where my Japanese tool “cabinet” had resided previously.  The fit and location seem perfect.

I use the sides of the top shelf to hang surplus Japanese saws, and that arrangement also works very well.  I’m thinking that I will make a swinging panel on the front of the shelves to hang my back saws, but have not committed to that yet.  I have a bit more spatial arranging to do in the studio space before I get to that point.

Revisiting A Classic Long Rifle

In looking back over the projects of last year I realize that I never recounted my revisiting the classic c.1810 western Pennsylvania long rifle, made by well-known gunsmith David Cooley.  My previous effort was to simply stabilize it, but this time I got to dive in deep and repair it much more intensely.  Once I got it apart it was clear it had been damaged and repaired several times.

Here are a few detailed images to remind you of the exquisite workmanship of the tool.

Over the coming posts you will get the tale of making it more intact, not enough to shoot but certainly enough to handle and exhibit safely.   At issue was the through-and-through break running perpendicular to the length, right at the trigger mechanism.

Stay tuned.

Japanese Tool Box – The Trays

Rather than using the traditional tool rolls for any loose tools I decided to add two upper trays to the box interior.  One was dedicated to by bench chisels, or at least as many of them as I could fit in there easily, and the other for anything left over.

The trays themselves were made using left over pine stick from the box-fabrication, thickessed to ~3/8,” with 1/4″ Baltic birch plywood bottoms, all glued and pinned with brads.

To support the trays, which sit over the planes and are slightly cantilevered over the saw till, I glued and tacked thin support battens on the box wall and a divider of the same height between the planes and the saws.

I am likely to mount a few tools to the underside of the lid, like the square and other layout tools, but for now I’m calling this a former “one of these days” projects.

New In The Shop – Files and Rasps

When I was giving a recent presentation to the Richmond VA area MWTCA and RATS I was of course bound to browse the tool flea market and had some success.  My pal John Davis has acquired a goodly supply of NOS files and rasps and I picked up a couple from him.

At about the same time I got a pair of Nicholson patternmaker’s rasps and a pile of handles from Highland Woodworking in Atlanta.

These are valuable additions to the tool kit, and all of them are high performance tools well worth the space and expense.  I think the NOS files were a few dollars apiece, and the rasps were less than half the price of French ones and seem to be every bit as good,

Cockroach’s Cousin – Rainy Day Work

I don’t  mind working outside when it is cold, within reason, but I prefer to stay inside when it is cold and wet, as during a recent day.  Since there was work to complete on the insides of the affected windows that was not a problem.

In the living room I had a fair bit of re-installation to complete, mostly because I originally selected a convoluted trim scheme thirty plus years ago.  As a result I had to remove considerably more interior trim than would have otherwise been the case when I reconstructed the wall around the one window.  Me and my affinity to G&G detailing with select vintage woods…

But, it all went back together just fine.  A little patching and painting for the wallboard and it will be done.

The window in the piano room was more involved as that interior trim was infested and I burned all of that, so I needed to make all new trim from vintage walnut.  Which, fortunately, I have a fair bit.

Since my larger machines are 225 miles away in the mountains I had to use these two old reliable beauties from the 1950s, my Craftsman version of the Williams & Hussey planer and the little Homecraft tilt-top beauty that was the American version (precursor?) of the classic Inca 8″ table saw.  I have always really liked this little saw, and can see the time when I tart it up once it becomes my every-day workhorse in a smaller shop in the distant future.

I sawed and thicknessed the boards on the machines then finished them off with hand planes in the basement workshop.  Installed the new trim looks just like the old trim, which was the goal.

Japanese Toolbox – Getting the Height Right

Once the box was assembled and the tools placed inside it for reference, I knew the ~10″ height was wrong.  Fortunately it was too tall, an easily rectifiable situation.  Had it been too short that could also be fixed, but this was easier.

I estimated the necessary height by arranging all the saws and planes in place (this picture is after the cutting-down).  The latter was easy, just lay all the planes on their sides in the most efficient spatial arrangement running the length of the box.  For the saws I made a slotted bar saddle to hold them in place, alternating the handles for a tighter fit.  In the end I was able to fit in eight planes and thirteen saws on the bottom this way.

Measuring to the top of this assembled inventory I marked then sawed off the excess wood.  Much more better.  The final height of the box walls was just under eight inches.

Plus, I now have a right-sized tool box plus another shallow pine box that can be used for something else, all I have to do is nail on a bottom.

Fashion, or, An Opportity To Learn A New Skill

I’ve always liked the idea of having “branded” t-shirts for the barn, and even went to far as to work with my marketing specialist daughter to create the branding itself.  I found that the two orthodox options, ordering them from a regular printing company (required a minimum order of 25 shirts to get the unit price down to reasonable) or a one-off on-line producer (unit prices of $25-30) were unappealing.  Iron-on transfers were also problematic as most of the shirts I wanted were very dark color, and inkjet printers do not do “white”

Instead I watched a youtube video and painted my own silk screen and made a couple to see if I liked the idea.  I made a wooden screen frame, printed out the design at full size and then using screen masking medium I traced the pattern with the aid of a light box from back in the days of antiquity when we viewed things called “slides.”  It was a delicate balace, diluting the masking medium enough to paint ultra-fine details but not so dilute as to wick across the screen fabric.

I worked on the screen for a few minutes at a time over several weeks, then printed some out some practice tries on an old rag with the mayonnaise-consistency ink and a silk screen squeegee.  The results were okay, but I’ve still got to learn the “feel” of the process.

I may try again, simplifying the design details to make it bolder.

Some Self-instruction For 2020

I generally consider New Year’s Resolutions to be wishful thinking at best and sanctimonious posturing at worst, but I do find the practice of setting realistic goals to be a useful guide and reminder for the future.  Mine range from the mundane to the transcendent.  Here are a few of them, in no particular order:

Organize the pile of stuff in the barn (and get rid of that which simply occupies space unproductively).  The mantra for the year is Crap is Crap.

Think strategically about my long-term goal of consolidating my tools to the size of a cargo van.

Improve my skills at the bench.  All of them.  And add new ones.

Add some needed wiring in the barn, including a 220v circuit to the basement, thus bringing my larger machines on line.

Find new homes for machines and tools I do not need.

Come to a better understanding of the barn’s power system.

Complete  the Period Finisher’s Manual manuscript; quit overthinking every chapter, section, description, sentence, and word, and get something into the hands of Chris Schwarz.  Seriously, get over yourself and get it done.

Complete the glazed doors for the book cases in the library.

Build at least two more Gragg chairs.

Figure out how to connect Mel’s Wax with the furniture caretakers for whom it would be a benefit.

Become comfortable with, and bring on-line, YouTube and Instagram content. (Twitter and Facebook are not part of the equation)

Get my foundry up and running, leading to —

Complete the patterns and prototype for H.O. Studley’s piano maker’s vises and get production moving on his mallet.

Paint the barn, or better yet find someone who will.

Embrace and encourage (and listen to) my loved ones more regularly.

Get involved in public discourse.  The proper time to foster community and liberty and resist totalitarian collectivism and libertinism is always now.

Be less frustrated and angry about the effects of aging, like the inevitable loss of strength and flexibility, but especially my diminishing visual acuity.

And finally,

Be more impassioned, knowledgeable, discerning, gracious, and devout in living out my Faith in The Redeemer.