Roubo

Bowsaws, The Next Frontier

While visiting Mark Harrell recently our conversation returned to a topic we had engaged in previously, namely that of the repertoire of saws in an 18th century Parisian workshop.  Whatever they had, Mark wants to try to make it.

The literary evidence is pretty clear that the workhorse saws in these shops were frame saws for much of the heavy dimensioning (ripping) work and bow saws for the rest, including joinery.  (Roubo makes no references to back saws)  We might tend to see bow saws as a northern implement, coming from Scandinavian and Germanic traditions, but Roubo places inordinate emphasis on their use and utility in the Paris of his time.

The variations within this theme are many, but at present I am trying to brainstorm about adapting Roubo’s images and descriptions to the tasks of a workshop in 2018.  I am starting from the premise that the saw plate Mark developed for the frame saw should serve equally well in a bow saw with the plate fixed parallel to the plane of the frame.  With that in mind I have been noodling the designs and begun replicating at least one of a pair of Roubo bowsaws (the other being a compass or “turning” saw, so noted as having a shallow blade that can both follow a curved cut and be rotated in the bow handle for greater facility) in time for demonstrating at CW next week.

Hoping for success.  Wish me luck.

Teaching Parquetry at MASW

I recently spent a week at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking, teaching two three-day courses.  I believe this was an experiment on Marc’s part, road testing some new scheduling concepts such as a three-day workshop during the week as opposed to only on weekends.

The Parquetry workshop had three enthusiastic attendees (plus a most excellent teaching assistant), a number the Marc told me precludes any repetition of the topic.  This is an entirely fair conclusion on his part as he has a huge footprint to support.  With several classrooms in simultaneous use I’m guessing he needs somewhere between 35-50 attendees every day for six months to make it work.

In fact our merry little band was in a huge, well equipped classroom with twenty (?) workbenches.  The spaciousness was both unnerving and delightful as the students could spread their projects as widely as they wanted.

This workshop is somewhat unusual for me in that there was a finished project at the end, while I tend to prefer teaching a skill-set rather than a project.

But skills and processes were taught and practiced, including the making of sawing and planing jigs,

sawing veneer stock for making the patterns,

the assembly of the patterns,

fabricating and integrating simple bandings,

and gluing them down to a substrate.

In the end they were cleaned up with toothing planes, files, and scrapers making them ready for the finishing process.

Though I will not be teaching this workshop again at MASW, I will not completely set the general topic aside.  I am hoping to have a workshop on knot-work banding perimeters there in 2019.

A Juncus Polissoir – I

The polissoirs I commission from a local craft-broom-maker employ the materials with which he normally works, namely broom straw (sorghum) and nylon twine, with woven outer sheaths.  It makes perfect sense given the scale that Polissoir, Inc. has become; he needs to use materials and techniques with which he is familiar and facile, and for which he has (for the moment) a sorta-reliable supply of raw materials.

The only variance from this is the Model 296 polissoir first commissioned by Thomas Lie-Nielsen for sale through his enterprise.  In this version, made as close to the original description in L’art du Menuisier as is practicable, the outer sheath is a wrapped linen cord rather than woven sorghum.

In reviewing the sorghum polissoirs (and To Make As Perfectly As Possible) marqueteur Yannick Chastang chided me for mis-identifying the fibers used in traditional polissoirs, asserting that the genuine article used a wetlands rush rather than sorghum, and that sorghum broom straw was an inferior material for polissoirs.   The first point is certainly a fair one, the second is a judgement/preference call I will discuss in a subsequent post.  It’s like saying a Ruger 10/22 rifle is superior to a Smith and Wesson .50 caliber revolver.  It depends on what you are trying to accomplish with the tool.

In the original text, Roubo uses the term “de jonc ordinaire” (common rush; the connection of “de jonc” to “Juncus” is not a great leap) for the plant fiber used in polissoirs.  Our dealing with that term highlights the difficulties of a translation project (and explains the reason this is a very slow writing process), especially when the primary meaning of words mutates over time.  Although French was probably the first codified modern language, it has changed little in the past three or four centuries, the hierarchy of definitions for words has definitely shifted.  Words for which the first definition might be XYZ in one time period might find definition WYZ to be the second, third, or even eighth-ranked definition in an earlier or later dictionary.  This is a struggle Michele, Philippe, and I wrestle with continually as we work our way through the original treatise.  Dictionaries roughly contemporaneous to Roubo declare that the word “de jonc” can mean reed, rush, straw, grass, hay and several other definitions I cannot recall at the moment.  But Yannick’s assertion that I chose the wrong word in English based on my editorial discretion is certainly not unfair.

With that idea in mind, I set out to explore the topic more fully.  One problem, though, resides in the question, “Which Juncus?”  After all, this is a huge genus consisting of several hundred species.

And, where would I find it?

Stay tuned.

Summer Workshops 2015

After long and careful consideration, I have concluded that I simply cannot host any workshops at The Barn this coming summer.  The combination of the Studley book and exhibit, brutal winter aftermath with a mountain of things to do on the homestead, projects that have languished in the studio, and the need to wrap-up Roubo on Furniture Making (almost twice as large as Roubo on Marquetry) leaves me with no time nor energy to dedicate to workshops at the barn.  I had planned on a historic finishing workshop in late June, but that will have to wait until net year.  In September I will host a week-long workbench build for my friends of the Professional Refinishers Group web forum.

This is not to say I will be entering my long anticipated hermit phase.  My presence and teaching elsewhere over the summer will be evident.  Check these out.

Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench exhibit – May 15-17, Cedar Rapids IA

Making New Finishes Look Old – Society of American Period Furniture Makers Mid-Year Conference, June 11-15, Knoxville TN

Gold Leaf and its AnalogsProfessional Refinisher’s Group Groopfest, June 24-26, Pontoon Beach IL

The Henry Studley Book and Exhibit (breakfast banquet address) and Roubo Parquetry (demo workshop) – Woodworking in America 2015, September 25-27, Kansas City MO

 

Polissoir and Beeswax Update 2

We’ve recently debuted a new style of polissoir, based on the one depicted in and described by the accompanying text for Roubo’s Plate 296.  Not too surprising, I have dubbed this the Model 296 polissoir.  The Lie-Nielsen website featured it in their “Tom’s Toolbox” page of episodically available specialty tools.

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This polissoir as close the original as we can make it, using full length broom straw bristles and ultra-heavyweight waxed linen cord wrapping to accomplish the overall diameter of somewhere between 1-3/4 and 2 inches.  It is somewhat looser than the woven 2-inch polissoir, but not really enough so that you can sense any difference in how it works.

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This polissoir is available from both The Barn On White Run and Lie-Nielsen Tools for a retail price of $36.  They are also carrying our 1/4-pound hand processed beeswax for $10.

Polissoir and Beeswax Update 1

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I am delighted to take note of the recent Gift Catalog from Lee Valley Tools, which I believe offered the Original 1-inch Polissoir from The Barn On White Run, and the accompanying 1/4-pound block of hand processed beeswax.  Yes indeed, our interpretation of Roubo’s finishing magic has gone international, and I am truly appreciative of the vote of confidence from Rob Lee!  I don’t know if it will remain a specialty item for them or migrate into their standard catalog, so check it out.

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Their retail prices are the same as mine, $24 for the polissoir and $10 for the block of wax.  So, you now have two sources for the same wonderful products.

Go forth and polish.

Beeswax Mold Success and Production Begins

I unpacked the new silicone rubber mold and wooden pattern for the new beeswax mold, then tried it out with some molten beeswax I had previously processed.  Success!, and I am pleased with the outcome.

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Production has now begun.  Thus far I have orders for about 300 1/4-pound blocks.  I should be caught up with these orders in less than a month.

If you would like any of this hand processed beeswax, drop me a line at the Contact portal of this site.  The slightly-more-than-a quarter-pound block is $10 plus shipping.  This is the beeswax I use myself when doing Roubo-style finishing, and demonstrate using it in the new video Creating Historic Furniture Finishes that PopWood released a little while ago.

Once the Studley book manuscript is submitted in about a month I will turn my attentions to many new projects, including the creation of new finishing products including pigmented waxes and “Mel’s Wax,” the revolutionary high-performance furniture care product invented in my lab at the Smithsonian.

Mark Your Calendar: French Oak Roubo Project Part Deux (cross post from Benchcrafted)

An announcement from Jameel Abraham at Benchcrafted.

 

The arrangements have been made. Contracts signed. Wood procured. We’ve even struck a deal with the local meteorologist to all but guarantee comfortable weather.

The French Oak Roubo Project will happen again the week of November 8-14, 2015.

We’ve been working out many details over the summer and can say with assurance the following:

1. The original crew will be back. Chris Schwarz, Don Williams, Raney Nelson, Jeff Miller, Ron Brese, Will Myers, and Jon Fiant will all be back. Of course Bo and I will also be there, although I can’t promise you won’t find us fishing in one of Bo’s ponds for lunker bass.

2. We’re making room for more. There are eight benches in Plate 11. Since this is FORP II we’re going to double that. We’ll have 16 spots available for participants. We actually built 16 benches last time around, but this time the original crew will work on everyone’s benches, in the hopes of getting more accomplished during the week.

3. Another huge bench. Bo complains that one 16′ Plate 11 bench isn’t enough (some people!) So we’ll try to build another one for him while we’re there. We had loads of fun getting Bo’s bench put together last time. Lowering the top onto the base with the fork truck was thrilling on the last day. I want to duplicate that.

4. Schwarz will talk Sunday night during a meet and greet about bench history, the art of the green bean casserole, and how to live without a modern sewage system. There will be refreshments (no casseroles though.)

5. Lunch. Catered lunch everyday from a local chef who studied in France and at the CIA (the other CIA.) Some of you might end up staying at her B&B. Excellent. We may also break out the grills in the evening if we feel up to it.

6. Hardware from Benchcrafted, Lake Erie Toolworks, and Peter Ross. Same as last time.

7. Personalized letterpress labels from Wesley Tanner

8. Pig Candy.

As for price, it will be a little more. Some of our costs have gone up in the past couple years. It won’t be a deal breaker for anyone, promise.

We’ll open registration on Tuesday, September 2 at 10am CST (we’ll do a blog post then to announce.) To register you’ll simply send an email to jameel@benchcrafted.com saying “I’m in” and we’ll send you all the nitty gritty. To be fair, it will be first-come, first-served only.

 

Parquetry Workshop Day 3

The day began with the excitement of seeing the glued-up panels.   We had slightly oversized 1/2 baltic birch plywood for each of the panels so that they could be trimmed precisely to size one the project is complete.

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The first step to getting finished from this point was to moisten and peel off the kraft paper that served as the support for the assembling of the pattern, banding, and border.

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It was a delicate balancing act, moistening the surface enough to remove the glued-down paper, but not so wet as to lift the veneers.  Once the paper is removed begins the tiresome task of dampening and scraping off all the glue left behind.

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A quick stint on front of the fan to dry them, and then we brought out the toothing planes, scrapers, and small planes to get everything flat and smooth.

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The conditions of the panels,

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and the floor indicated we were making great progress.

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In a normal 3-day parquetry workshop this would have been the final process,

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but these guys were working so efficiently we made it all the way through a finished project by the time they left.

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Using one of my panels, I demonstrated the simplest finishing approach to the parquetry, and they charged ahead.

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Burnishing with polissoirs came next,

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and then the molten wax treatment for the final finish.  The wax was first dripped on the surface, then trowelled around with the tacking iron.  Again it was important to use the iron delicately to melt the wax enough to impregnate the surface, but not to heat the surface enough to lift the veneer.

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Once the surface was fully impregnated the panel was set aside to let cool and harden, then the excess was scraped off,

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and the remaining surface was buffed with a linen rag.

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The results were eye popping, and demonstrated what can be done with very little wood in a short while.  If you snoozed on this one, you loozed.  Joe and Joshua now possess another important tool for their design and fabrication toolkit for the future, and when they get home they both plan to trim their panels and build a small table around them.

Great job, guys!

My Main Roubo Bench (for now…)

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This was my first Roubo bench, built from leftover timbers that were part of the original barn in Illinois. It’s been several years since I built it, and I never really did get the top finished all proper. Now it is.  Using my scrub plane on opposite diagonals I got it pretty darned flat. At that point I slathered it with some of the Schwarz bench varnish of 1/3 polyurinate, 1/3 tung oil, and 1/3 turpentine. I did it at this point because two of the timbers turned out to be eastern white pine and were a bit soft compared to the southern yellow pine; I hoped the softer timbers would be firmed up by impregnating them with the varnish. They did, but only after a week or so, which was way longer than I was willing to wait.

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I followed the scrub plane on the varnished top with a toothing plane, on opposing diagonals again, checking to make sure everything remained flat. I prefer the tightly checkered surface of the toothed top as it grabs the work piece a little better than a smooth surface.

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In the years since fabrication the entire unit has twisted a tiny bit, so I have a thin shim underneath one of the legs to keep it from rocking.

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I have not installed a leg vise, even though I have a vintage one ready to use. I’m just trying to see how long I can keep on using the bench as is, with my workpiece-holding functions solely with holdfasts.

Above the bench I finally built racks to hold a multitude of tools, mostly files, and am hanging saws and the like off the joists with nails.

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No doubt this may soon be supplanted by the group of in-process benches in line awaiting my ministrations, including a 5″ solid maple top with white oak legs bench; my French Oak Roubo Project bench, which is slowly being uncovered by the ongoing archaeology within the barn; a pair of Roubo benches also made from salvaged barn timbers (although I am almost certain to hang an Emmert K1 off one of them); a mahogany slab and black walnut legs Roubo bench (I was originally going to use this for a Studley bench, but have now decided to build a Studley bench the way Studley built it instead), and finally the true Studley bench.

I’m thinking I may need to install some of my existing or future benches up on the fourth floor.  That’ll take a passel of stout guys even with a compound block-and-tackle.