products

The Real Deal Coming Soon To A Web Store Near You – First Edition Roubo Prints (c.1765)

Recently I came across the pile of prints I have from a First Edition of Roubo’s L’Art du Menuisier. These were a lot I purchased at auction some time ago, primarily because it contained the core prints that started me down the Roubophile path decades ago. Though not a complete set of the volumes’ prints, they were and are spectacular even though we have access to them only because some barbarian cut up the original volumes just to have the individual prints.

These are hand-printed on hand-made linen paper, and Roubo almost certainly provided some level of direct supervision in their making (beyond doing all of the illustrations and engraving most of the plates himself). There is an almost tangible connection with him as you see the impressions from the engraved plate on the not-flawless paper from more than 250 years ago.

As soon as we can get the formatting complete they will go onto the Store page of this web site and be available for you to acquire for your own workshop wall or wherever you want them to hang.

Here is the inventory I will have for sale. Up through Plate 297 these are images of the actual prints I have, after that they are an image from Chris’ First Edition. I’ll make sure I have the genyoowine pics on the Store page.

224, Many Types of Folding Stools and Their Development
234, The Manner of Determining the Desired Centers for All Kinds of Seats
238, How to Draw a Full-scale Pattern of the Curve of a Seat 

245, The Way to Draw Extended Curves Used on Bed Canopies

248, Illustrations of a Turkish-style Bed and its Developments

249, Plan and Elevations of a Campaign Bed with Its Developments

251, Diagrams of a table and a camp bed with their Developments
256, A Continuation of Description of a billiard table and the Instruments that are Necessary to this Game
259, Other Sorts of Game Tables with Their Illustrations
260, Diagrams and Elevations of a Desk With Its Developments
263, Further Developments of Roll-Top Desks and Other Writing Tables
271, Various Sorts of Shelves and the Profiles Appropriate for Armoires
273, Developments of the Buffet Represented in the Previous Plate
274, Plans and Elevations of a Common Commode
282, The Way of Preparing Frames To Receive Veneerwork
283, The Ways to Cut Veneers
297, Elements of Perspective Necessary for Cabinetmakers
298, Method of Creating Perspective Images With Wood Veneers
321, How to Add (Hardware) Fittings for Cabinetry
322, Portable Embroidery Frame with Its Developments
323, Continuing with the Movable Frame and Another Small Frame
332, Necessaries and Other Types of Boxes    

(Some of) The Story Of Mel’s Wax

I often describe the practice of conserving artifacts as “applied materials science with a dash of fine art thrown in.”  Virtually every conservator I ever worked with had a foundation of both hard science and fine art.  In my case that included a triple-major of Art History, Chemistry, and Studio Art all of which came after my forays into Political Science, Economics, and Architecture; (it took me three tries and a dozen years to get through college).  I mention all of this to say that many conservators have multiple competences, both “left brain” and “right brain”, and when these are combined with a healthy curiosity and willingness to “push the envelope” amazing things can happen.  Nowhere is this more true than when creating new approaches to old problems, say, for example, dissatisfaction with commercially available products for a specific conservation application.

This is where Mel’s Wax came into the picture.

Part of the ongoing care for furniture is the careful cleaning and polishing of it, bearing in mind that every instance is unique and must be treated accordingly.  In the Furniture Conservation Lab of my previous tenure my colleagues and I frequently tested, albeit informally, a wide range of maintenance polishes for furniture.  This included almost every available manufactured paste wax and liquid polish we could find.  Some were better that others, and some were even quite good.  The hitch was that even good products often used ingredients we did not especially care for, and the recipes might change without notice.   A prime example of this would be a paste wax containing toluene or other aromatic hydrocarbon solvents, which make the manufacturing process more efficient, even if they do impart an ingredient that can be unexpectedly deleterious to aged coatings.  And a more subtle instance is the use of ultra-high-powered emulsifiers to excess, in order to facilitate manufacturing and extend the shelf life of liquid polishes.  We found there were a multitude of instances where using an off-the-shelf product was a sketchy proposition.

Both my colleague Mel Wachowiak and I had a passionate interest in formulating products that suited our needs more precisely for tasks such as consolidating and preserving degraded wood, gluing wood together, finishing it, and for maintaining the surfaces of historic artifacts.   As a result we often (almost always, actually) formulated and blended our own furniture surface care products.   It just became part of what we did.

Sometime early in our tenure together (1987-2012) Mel and I brainstormed about creating a much-improved furniture maintenance polish.  We probably even made a list of the properties we wanted, I would have to review Mel’s note book to make sure, but at first it seemed like an insoluble problem. We wanted a product  that was inherently benign to the furniture (“archival” or as close as we could get to that while recognizing the constraints of reality), easy to use, AND very high performance (providing a good look,  good abrasion resistance, protective in a variety of situations, comparatively stable, reversible), and did I mention “easy to use?    It seemed that components that contributed to one beneficial aspect did just the opposite for another, but Mel was undaunted.

Over time my administrative duties took me in other directions sucking away almost all my time so my role in any further developments was reduced to one of making a few suggestions here and there, ongoing reviewing project progress, and making sure I kept the deck as clear as possible for Mel to proceed in pursuing our goals by applying his own considerable creative energies and insights to the problem.  Fortunately for us, I was Mel’s supervisor so I could keep him armed with the necessary resources (read: time) and freedom to continue.  For me to have been directly involved in the developmental process alongside him would have been an administrative nightmare; as a fiduciary agent everything I did was subject to paralyzing scrutiny (as it should have been), so Mel’s taking the lead was a perfect solution.  And he did.

Mel undertook a systematic analysis of the benefits and drawbacks of every single component in a furniture polish formulation, looking at hundreds of possible materials and combinations, both experimentally and with literature reviews, even spending hours on the phone with chemists for dozens of material manufacturers.   Eventually the picture of a final product began to emerge, and Mel mixed numerous formulations, painstakingly adjusting the proportions of each ingredient and tweaking the processes incrementally until we were satisfied with the result.  Actually, we were thrilled, and integrated its use into our daily work.  Mel was soon granted a patent for the formulation and process.

To sum up a long saga, the resulting product was assessed for performance by several major product manufacturers and as I recall we got conflicting responses like: “It’s the best thing we’ve ever seen,” and, “We just cannot figure out how to produce it at a commercial scale.”

Skipping forward a few years and leaping past the bureaucratic sturm und drang, as I was one week away from retiring Mel and I shook hands (literally) on a deal to be partners in a venture for me to manufacture what I now call Mel’s Wax.  I started laying some of the ground work for that to happen in that first year of life out here in the hinterlands.

By the following spring Mel was gone.   The illness we thought had been stymied came back with a vengeance and took him far too soon.

In hindsight, I now realize how this wasn’t just a period of sorrow, it completely discombobulated much of my working life.  My closest friend from work and my partner in this new and exciting venture was not going to be there to share in the delight.   His memory is however very much with me, and I still have the Program from his Memorial on the wall over my work bench.

In planning for an exciting retirement, I had two relentless and unforgiving projects already on my plate, the second volume of the Roubo translation and the Studley project which involved a full-blown exhibition as well as the book Virtuoso.   These were simply higher, or at least more urgent, priorities and for a time the polish would have to wait.

Finally, last winter I began having the time to resume the project, to refine the process that Mel built experimentally, and by early autumn of 2018 I had settled on my own manufacturing regimen.  Given the very fussy nature of making this product, and my current pace of life and involvement with many other things I will never be able to produce “commercial” quantities of Mel’s Wax.  I am hoping to be able to produce 2,500 units per year if needed, but if the demand requires me to re-address the status quo, I will.

Mel is still my partner in spirit, and his widow will receive quarterly checks for his share of the proceeds, for as long as Mel’s Wax is being made.

A handshake is a handshake.

Now you know, (most of) The Story of Mel’s Wax.

There are only two important questions remaining in the tale.  First, is anyone else as interested in this as we are/were?  And, who will play us if they make this into a movie?

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.*** 

 

 

The Waxerie

My recent mysterious bout of vertigo (still ongoing but mild, I describe it as being “fuzzy around the edges”) limited my work in all phases, but in the latter part of the acute phase I could gently walk the driveway and putter in the barn.  One of the techniques I used was employing a long walking stick held diagonally across my torso, planting it solidly on the ground with every step in order to be a sturdy hand-hold as I wobbled my way up the hill.

One thing I could do was tidy up, put stuff away and clean the shop.  Since a hand-hold was never more than arm’s length away it went pretty well.  One of the chores I attacked was organizing the west end of the shop, a space opened up this year to remain heated all winter long and serve as my place to mix and make wax/finishing products.  I had an idea of the spatial configuration and it turned out to be terrific.  I also moved an 8-foot workbench in there to go with my six-foot folding table and the huge map case so I have plenty of counter space for my work there.

I know, famous last words.  Especially coming from my mouth.

Look at me being all science-y and stuff in my new lab coat.  I am not certain that my LAP cap is laboratory-grade, though.

I spent a couple days working out some production details for Mel’s Wax (a big announcement due SOON).

Shellac Wax Now Available in The Store

At long last, pure shellax wax is now available from the donsbarn.com store.  I know a few of you have already found it as I have the orders in my “Pending” box to go to the Post Office next time I am in town.

Shellac wax, extracted from raw stick lac, is the second hardest of the naturally occurring waxes.  Because it is so hard and tends to be brittle at cooler temperatures it is generally used as a blend with beeswax to render it more useful as a block wax.  It is especially useful for polishing turnings by placing the block of blended wax directly against the surface of the rotating workpiece to melt it into the surface, followed by burnishing with a polissoir. It is also highly prized as an ingredient in paste wax/grain filler used with a polissoir.

My shellac wax is imported directly from the factory in east central India and is further refined here by molten filtering and forming into quarter-pound blocks for packaging.

Shellac wax is $19/quarter-pound, domestic shipping included.  For foreign or overseas shipping please contact me.

“Are You Sure You Want To Do This?”

Those were the words of the manager of our locally owned bank as she held her finger poised over the compewder keyboard.  “Once it goes, you can’t call it back.”  I nodded, and she did it.

Turn the clock back several months prior as I was searching for a direct source for shellac wax in bulk.  It was a Goldilocks sorta thing, most of the bulk suppliers in India wanted to sell hundreds of metric tons, and  already-processed and packaged quantities here in The States were simply too expensive.  One quote I got for an intermediate amount of 50 pounds was $3000 plus shipping!  Earnestly I continued my search, even attempting to work through Alibaba.  Finally I received a response from a small-ish (by industry yardsticks) supplier whose web site included a “Contact Us” function.  What was intriguing about this response as opposed to the many others I received from similar information requests was that this came from a real person, not a bot.  In every other case, I got a bot response.

As a result of that initial correspondence I requested a sample of their product, which they promised to send.  Fully expecting disappointment, much to my delight a week later a sample with an analytical report arrived here in the hinterlands.  It was splendid.

I melted it, cooled it, formulated some blends and products with it.  It was perfect.

Further rounds of correspondence led me to the point of visiting my bank.  We had negotiated the price for several hundred pounds of shellac wax, but the supplier was not plugged in to the world of credit cards nor Paypal.  They dealt only in bank-to-bank direct transfers.  My bank manager did some research and found out that such a transfer required going through two intermediate banks between my bank and the supplier’s bank.  Since our bank was a locally owned enterprise it needed an American bank with international transaction capability, and the terminal bank at the other end was similar.  Their bank needed a domestic (to them) bank to import the money and send it to them.  It turned out that their funds transfer portal was a British bank based in Mumbai.

Finally those details were all ironed out and the paperwork was prepared and signed.  That’s when the bank manager asked me what she did.  “Are you sure?” she asked.  “You can’t get it back if something goes wrong at the other end.”  Given that the funds transfer involved several thousand of dollars flowing out of my account she was correct in making sure.

I took a deep breath and reflected on the risk.  With the experience of the supplier complying with everything I had asked and everything they promised, I nodded my assent.  She pressed the key.

Ten days later the UPS truck arrived with 500 pounds of shellac wax.  I was not even home at the time, so the driver unloaded the cases into the barn himself.

In a series of interactions that eventually rested on risk and trust and eventually having to put my faith in the person at the other end of the interwebz that they would keep their word, the reward was heartening.

Thus the Age of Shellac Wax at the barn was born.

Periodically my contact in India drops me a note just asking, and one of these days I’ll respond with, “Yes, please send me another five hundred pounds.”

So now you know the rest of the story.