studio

De-mothballing the Foundry

Since escaping Mordor and relocating to the holler at the end of the road, most of my metal casting set-up has been piled in the corner, patiently awaiting my ministrations to bring it all back on board.  That status changed last week when I set aside a day to tidy up that section of the ground floor adjacent to the wood/coal stove, and unpacked all the foundry accoutrements and set it all up.  It was really satisfying to get everything out and get reconnected with my brain, eyes, and hands.  Now the only things left to do are drop a 220v line for the kiln (for firing the refratory molds used in lost wax casting) and to rebuild the doors to the first level adjacent to the foundry.

My plan is to roll my mobile foundry cart outside whenever I am casting; I’ve never had a foundry accident, but inadvertently spilling white-hot molten metal inside a 125-year-old wooden structure is a vignette that might not have a happy ending.  The doors at the opening were badly damaged in a terrific storm a few years ago and making new ones will be easier than repairing the old ones.

On top of that, in recent months I’ve made the acquaintance of a gifted Amish blacksmith who recently moved to Shangri-la and am giving him one of my smelting furnaces so together we can set up a larger foundry in his shop.  That endeavor will require its own set of postings, although I must admit that I have never asked him about photographing there and am not familiar with Amish custom in that regard.

Soon the Don’s Barn blog will regularly feature even more metal work, including detailed inventory of my foundry equipment, supplies, and processes.

Beginning probably next week I will relate the account of recreating some metal moldings and medallions for use in the conservation/restoration of a late 19th century cabinet that was missing its base along with the cast metal moldings and fittings.  I do not think I have told that tale here before (I’m at almost 1500 postings but much of that is not easily searchable, much less rememberable) , but if I did you get to see it again.

A Permanent Home For Serial # 001 (maybe…)

Going back many years I was an enthusiastic supporter of the concept of a vertical marquetry saw as an alternative to a horizontal chevalet, a machine I never got the hang of.  I’m not sure if I was the first person to raise the concept to Knew Concepts but certainly I was in there early with encouragement and specific concept and design ideas.  The development of the tool took many years and trips down many rabbit trails, not the least of which was the passing of our beloved friend Lee Marshall from Knew and the transition to Brian’s sole leadership and all the logistical and legal details that entailed.

Then came the day several months ago when the very first unit rolled off the assembly line and shortly thereafter arrived on my doorstep.  I assembled and used it just enough to get the sense of the tool, then put it away since I had so many other things in my pile of things to get done.  Well, I am finally returning to the tool.  The first thing was to find a permanent (?) home for it in the workshop.  At the moment that location is the end of my oldest and dearest friend in the shop, my Emmert workbench.

Time will tell if this is the final resting place for this magnificent machine, but for now it is working just fine.

Door Days

One of the foci for shop projects for this winter will be a series of projects addressing the “door” needs around the place.

This will begin with the completion of fashioning the doors for Mrs. Barn’s small clothes cabinet I built a couple years ago.  I’ve had the vintage chestnut lumber picked out ever since the cabinet was made, but somehow that task never percolated to the top of the pile.

I’ve also got another eight doors to make for the book cases in the balcony library.  Again, I’ve had all the stock prepared awaiting assembly, and now is the time for that to happen.  I’ve not observed any mouse damage to the books yet, but given enough time it would occur.

Finally, I need to replace the double-plastic-sheet doors to the workshop.  They do a surprisingly good job but the time has come for real doors with real insulated glass.

Once all of these jobs get done I will turn my attention to the door(s) into the machine shop/foundry.  These doors were damaged long ago during a fierce wind and will be replaced by  a configuration still to be determined.  At the moment I am leaning toward a single door with a removable glazed wall alongside it.

Stay tuned.

New Year’s Ritual

I believe that in some (many?) craft cultures it is a New Year’s tradition to bring all of the components of the tool kit up to snuff.  For the past several years, at least since relocating to Shangri-la, I have been dong some of the same thing and will spend this week so engaged.  Throughout the year I toss everything that needs major rehab into a box on the shelf awaiting the beginning of the year for attention.  Obviously this would not include anything truly critical to ongoing activities, that would be dealt with immediately by necessity.

This year there is an equal proportion of tools-to-be-made compared to tools needing a tune-up.  This includes a batch of infill mallet heads I sourced recently, another plow plane iron re-purposing, a new (to me) iron to be fitted into my infill smoother and a new wedge made for it, a new tool holder for my patternmakers’ gouges, and some tools being transformed from one thing into another like some gouges I bought for the explicit intent of turning them from out-cannel into in-cannel, etc.

And of course, this is a week that gives freedom to my “re-arrangeritis” impulses, not that I have much restraint in that area to start with..

It is going to be a very fun week in the shop.

Geetar Club

One of the aspects to living in a locale so isolated as Shangri-la is that it is populated by folks who are at the very least comfortable with isolation; for the “born here’s” it is simply the life they have always known, for many of the “come here’s” it is the life they actively sought.  If you cannot tolerate isolation, you leave.  I can speak truth to this, for about 99% of the time my only in-person contact is Mrs. Barn.  Going to the Post Office or feed-and-seed-co-op hardware store a few minutes a week hardly describes a life of social interactions — “social distancing” describes every day ending in “Y” out here —  and during this season of psychosis our only regular time of interaction beyond ourselves is at church.  (I am increasingly convinced that functionally Covid-19, while deadly to a miniscule slice of the population pie, is more of a psychological experiment in repression than a public health crisis; I will believe it is a catastrophic pandemic when the elites act like it is one rather than jetting about for vacations in Cancun or group dinners at fancy restaurants and when politicians and gubmint employees rather than small businesses lose their incomes.)

One of the things in which I have been long interested is finding other woodworkers here for fellowship and collaboration.  They are around but like me they mostly stick to themselves.  I’ve had some success in finding and interacting with gunsmiths, blacksmiths, metalsmiths, this smith and that smith, but thus far the woodsmiths have kept to themselves.  In recent months this has begun to thaw as one retired “come here” with whom I am on a local Board revealed he is a luthier, and lo and behold there is suddenly a critical mass of luthiery-ish practitioners in the county.  One is a newly arrived pastor/amateur musicologist, another is an actual full-time guitar maker who moved here recently and has a small studio in town.  (When your region’s largest metropolis has fewer than 200 people…)  Together we are in the gestational phase of starting a woodworking club with just the four of us working in my studio, the only space any of us has that would be amenable to the enterprise — plenty of workbenches in a heated work space.  I think the plan is for us to gather weekly to work on individual projects as our schedules allow.

Since I am in fact the only one of us four who has never built a guitar from scratch I will be the main hindrance to the overall performance level.  Still my enthusiasm for the effort is high, and not too surprisingly I expect to bring my own peculiar approaches to building a dreadnaught six-string guitar.  Eventually I will build a hammered dulcimer for Mrs. Barn, who has expressed a strong desire for one ever since listening to the pastor/musicologist play his at a local music program.   She never reads this blog so I will be able to maintain the secret surprise until it is finished.

Stay tuned.

Workbench Wednesday – It Only Took Seven Years…

… for my FORP Roubo bench to find its rightful home underneath the bank of northeast-facing windows.

As I’ve mentioned previously the spatial arrangement in my studio has been undergoing reorganization, or as James “Stumpy Nubs” Hamilton calls it, “rearrangeritis.”  In one sense I am living with the curse of too much space, thus I need not be particularly efficient with my shop layout nor unduly burdened by the necessity of tidiness.  I am trying to improve on both counts.

After completing the construction and assembly of my 2013 FORP workbench last year I planted it on the north wall of the shop, thinking that would be a good place.

I was wrong.  I back-filled the space around it with my favorite little two-sided workbench and some other stuff and before long the whole space was a chaotic mess.

Plus, that new space was so crowded it precluded me even installing the superb wooden screw leg vise that was part of the original design.   In the original configuration the four inch round block plus the three inch moveable jaw would have made the whole thing stick out too far to even walk past easily.  There simply was no room to  use it even if it were installed so it remained on the sideline.

After much cogitation I decided to move it underneath the large bank of windows facing east.  This was not done lightly — rasslin’ an 8-1/2-foot, almost 500 pound workbench by myself is not something to undertake on a whim.  I set aside a day to move the bench and the other nine things that had to be moved first in order to accommodate the move around the corner, but it was absolutely worth it.

This should not have been a huge surprise to me as it was the location for my first Roubo workbench built from timbers left over from the barn re-erection.  Truly, this was THE right location for the bench and I was an idiot for not recognizing this from the git-go.

I now have a sublime arrangement of my beloved first workbench sitting in the middle of the floor at that end of the shop with the Roubo a simple body-rotation away.  The arrangement continues to make every day in the shop an unfettered joy.

In addition to the move itself I finally finished the installation of the Roubo’s leg vise after first reducing the thickness of the jaw from three to two inches and reducing the size of the bulbous block that was exactly at knee height and stuck way out into the work space.

To reduce the number of times I whacked it with said knee I tossed the vise screw in the lathe and cut down the outer terminus block by an inch in length, moving the wrought iron collar right up against the handle holes and shaping the end, yielding a result much more to my liking than the knee-cruncher originally made.  In fact completing this feature was one of the motivating reasons behind the move.

Using an outrigger stand temporarily until I get the sliding deadman built the bench works just like it is supposed to.

The integration of the massive Roubo into the workspace has other meaningful implications as well, almost like the ripples radiating from a stone being tossed into the pond.  Not the least of these effects is the rendering of the planing beam as redundant, clearing up that particular space in the not-too-distant future.   I may use part of that space as home to the full-service standing tool cabinet I have always wanted.  If so I will have to find a new home for the exquisite vintage mahogany I have stored underneath the beam.  Some of the other re-arrangeritis is more subtle as I will build a small, low Roubo bench for the space where the giant Roubo bench used to be.  This lower bench will allow me to work for long stretches while sitting.  As I get older I find the Eastern tradition of working while sitting down is all the more attractive; I actually do not mind working while standing, it’s the bending up-and-down that wears me out.

All things considered I am thinking that these changes will result in higher shop production-ableness while reducing the total footprint of the space.

Stay tuned.

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.

Japanese Toolbox – The Wood

Finally I had a perfect use for some of the magnificent select 4/4 Southern Yellow Pine I obtained a couple years ago, and this tool box was it.  I grabbed  couple of the 10-inch wide boards and headed up the hill to get started.

My first step was to mill it down to 5/8″, there was no need reason to use it any thicker.  One of theo notable characteristics of a Japanese tool set  is how much lighter it is in the aggregate versus a European one of the same variety.  I mean, many, many pounds lighter.  So, even a fairly large box would be sufficiently robust at 5/8″ wall thickness, anything heavier would simply add unnecessary poundage.  I ran the boards through the planer, and in retrospect I would have instead re-sawn them rather than turn 3/8″ of prime SYP into shavings.  Next time…

I cut the boards to the rough lengths I wanted and ripped one of them to re-glue into the top and bottom panels after hand playing the edges.

Cleaned up with a Japanese plane they were ready for me to move forward.

One Of These Days… – A Japanese Toolbox As A Solution?

As I mentioned earlier I have reluctantly come to the conclusion that the hanging wall cabinet for my Japanese tools was not a successful solution.  I figured a traditional Japanese tool box might be the better path and browsed youtube for examples of folks making them.  None of those examples seemed to be exactly what I was looking for.  After referring back to the mother ship, a/k/a Toshio Odate’s monumental book Japanese Woodworking Tools, my copy of which is well worn, I was validated in his statement that the tool box is made to hold whatever tools were being housed.  Thus there are as many different sizes and proportions of toolboxes as there are craftsmen and their tools.  Duh.

With that level of freedom conferred I spent a couple days making the one that suits my needs perfectly, and will, I suspect, make the tools much more accessible and thus more integrated into my work routine.  Since Japanese tools seem much more kinesiologically sympathetic to my, uh, aging meat machine, it is likely that this method of work might become my dominant habit.  I’m all about cultural appropriation, baby, snowflakes be damned.

Were I to have a conversation with the 1970 Model of Don I would tell him, “You know, playing basketball on asphalt courts several hours a day is going to make your knees really ache some day.”  And believe me that day came a long time ago.

Stay tuned to follow along as I go down this path.

One Of These Days… – Access To My Japanese Tools

I’m pretty convinced of the efficacy of hanging tool cabinets versus a floor-level tool chest.  As I was setting up my studio on the barn I had a pile of large surplused drawers and made two of them into a tool cabinet for my Japanese tools.

A few weeks ago I finally had to admit, “Well, this isn’t working.”  Not only were the drawer/doors too big for easy access, the space in front of them was simply too convenient for me to pile stuff there, blocking the door completely and rendering the interior tools inaccessible.

Something needed to change, and it was a “one of these days” moments.

Stay tuned.