Studley

Now THAT’S Commitment!

It has been said that in characterizing the participants for a ham-and-eggs breakfast, the chicken is a contributor, but the pig is committed.  While it is not a perfect analogy, I am mindful of the commitment of the many hundreds of folks who took time and trouble to come and see the Studley exhibit.  I have a special warm place in my heart for the several dozen attendees who met me with greetings from foreign places around the globe: Finland, England, Germany, Italy, Austria, Mexico, Massachusetts, Canada, New Zealand, and Australia, which sent a substantial contingent.

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The poster child for this might very well be MattR from Melbourne, who reveled in the exhibit with a gregarious intensity that was infectious.  When I announced during his original time period of 11AM-noon on Sunday that given the sparse attendance expected for the final stretch I was going to extend visitor privileges on that final afternoon, he immediately bought another ticket for 3PM and stayed with us until the bitter end.

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Recently he sent a note of thanks and congratulations, and included pictures of his copy of Narayan’s poster and his exhibit admission ticket, matted and framed together, displayed prominently in his very cool shop.

Yeah, passionate aficionados like MattR from Melbourne made it all worthwhile for me, so thanks MattR!

Replicating Studley’s Alcove Arch, Part 1 – The Maquette

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One of my many goals  for the upcoming exhibit of the Henry Studley collection is to give the visitor a real sense of the details Studley lavished on his tool cabinet and workbench, including many that are hidden from view but some of which are almost “front and center.”  Among these prominent features is the arch and alcove, used as the home for his Stanley #1 plane, perhaps the only instance of this model I had ever seen with honest to goodness wear.  Thanks to the permission of the owner and equipped with silicone molding rubber putty I was able to get impressions of the top half of the arch.

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Once I returned home to begin the process of making castings from this mold I realized how inadequate my mold was and set out the create a maquette, or master wax model, from which I could make a second mold, and from that second mold cast replicas for the viewer’s interaction.

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The mold that I had made was okay,  as far as it goes, but it was not as complete as I needed for making three-dimension replicas.  To resolve that, I decided to embed the entire mold in a block of molten wax, then carve away the excess and essentially sculpt the maquette from the remains.

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I found a cardboard box a little larger than the original mold and lined it with aluminum foil, then filled it with enough pigmented wax to cover all the parts I wanted to work on.  I pigmented the wax just so it was easier for my tired old eyes to work it.

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Using common bench tools, mostly chip carving knives, I whittled away all the waste to get to the material left in and around the original mold.  The resulting wax casting was perfect for sculpting the maquette, so I did.

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Next time – casting the replica for display.

PopWood Twofer — Blessing and Curse

I’ve been a reader of Popular Woodworking for several years, and in recent times have enjoyed a very congenial working relationship with them.  I just got the latest PW Issue 218, which is a terrific and not just because I have two things in it.  There are several great articles including the cover project and a long insert.

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The magazine features my article on decorative wire inlay (bisected by the aforementioned insert) and the End Grain column about the Studley Tool Cabinet that ran on the Popular Woodworking web site a few days ago.

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Mrs. Barn glanced through the issue and said, “Very nice article. (I think she was talking about the Studley piece — DCW)  But when are you going to start making furniture for me?”

Ouch.  I guess I know what I’m doing after the Studley exhibit.

Chance Encounters, Camaraderie, and Blinding Insights (or, How To Make A High Angled Smoother In 30 Seconds)

While many artisans are content to work alone, as I am almost all of the time (an mp3 player loaded with podcast lectures and such is about all the social interaction I need during my work day), there are those magical interludes of fellowship around the workbench with a like-minded soul.  Such is the case with my pal Tom, whom I first met by chance at a flea market ten years ago (he was selling, I was thinking about buying). That led to hundreds of Wednesday nights in his first-rate shop where a multitude of tools were sharpened or made, mountains of shavings were made then swept out into the yard, and on occasion, the world’s problems were solved.

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Tom even accompanied me frequently on working weekends to the barn, where what we were working on WAS the barn.

Tom visited recently, and is often the case, he tossed out an offhand comment that was a thunderbolt.

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While he was making some tapered octagonal legs for a dressing table I had been wrestling with my HO Studley workbench top replica for the upcoming exhibit of the workbench and the accompanying tool cabinet.  The grain of the bench surface, African  “mahogany,” was just being, in the words of my ever foul-mouthed 98 year old mom, “A real stinker.”

Rob in Lawrence KS had offered his helpful observations, namely that I could use a high angled smoother tuned to a fever pitch.  When I mentioned this to Tom with the regretful statement that I did not own such a tool, and that I was going to set things up to make one for myself, he casually remarked that there was a simple way of making a high angled smoother that might serve my purpose.  When I tried it, I had to smack my forehead.  Hard.  The solution was both brilliantly insightful and mindlessly simple and best of all, easy.  Coordinated problem solving like this is what woodworking fellowship is all about.

The solution? why, flipping the blade, of course!

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I first tried it on a tiny coffin smoother that I had, which was set up to cut at 49 degrees, but when the blade was flipped the new cutting angle was a bit too steep at 74 degrees.  Yeah, a bit too steep.

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I then looked through my collection of bench planes to see which of them might be a good candidate for this modification.  I had a nice little coffin plane with a very shallow angle on the blade bevel.  It is set up to cut at about 45 degrees, and simply by flipping the blade over I got a 62-degree cutting angle.  Not the perfect setup, but way better than I had before.

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The new orientation turns the plane from a double iron bevel-down tool into essentially a single iron bevel-up plane.  Yes indeed, I transformed one of my bench planes into a pretty nice high angle smoother in less than 30 seconds.  For zero dollars.

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A couple minutes to touch up the blade on my 12000 water stone and the tool began its work.  It wasn’t pulling off long, gossamer wisps, but did I mention I was planing African “mahogany,” a/k/a braided broom straw?

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The result in the lower right corner of the image speaks for itself.  Following the smoothing with a bit of scraping yielded an outcome that was acceptable, especially since after the exhibit I will be surfacing the bench top with a toothing plane.  I remain committed to avoiding African “mahogany” in perpetuity, but for this one problem the result is in the right direction.

 

Coming Together (the Studley Benchtop Replica)

Now that Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley is actually in production, one weighty anvil has been lifted from my neck.  However, another anvil still sits there for another six weeks, that being the exhibit of the Studley collection.  From now until then I am all-Studley-exhibit-all-the-time as I continue work on the exhibit components and attend to the multitude of details that have to all fall in place perfectly.

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The replica workbench top continues apace.  I got the top smooth enough (more about that in a day or two) to seal it with my preferred benchtop finish of 1/2 tung oil with 1/2 mineral spirits, and about 2% japan drier.

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I like this finish as it soaks into the wood deeply and provides a nice robust seal to the wood.

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For the exhibit the top will be pretty smooth, but once it gets back home I will achieve my preferred top surface by cross-hatching it with a toothing plane, a technique I learned from my long-time friend and colleague, and Roubo project collaborator, Philippe Lafargue.  But for now it is nice and smooth.

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I fabricated the exhibit base for the top from three 1/2″ Baltic birch plywood boxes, fitted them to fastening battens, and temporarily assembled it in order to layout all six of the vises going on it for the exhibit.

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One of the beauties of this exhibit is that it may be the only time in their lives that patrons to a museum-quality exhibit will get the chance to touch and manipulate historic artifacts, namely the six vintage vises hanging from the new bench top.

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If you would like to experience the bench top in person, and oh by the way see the entire Studley Collection, there are still tickets available here.

 

Slip Sliding Away

Among the flaming chainsaws I am juggling at the moment, by far the weightiest is my interpretive rendition of HO Studley’s workbench I am fabricating for the upcoming exhibit of the Studley Tool Chest and its companion workbench, now less than two months away.  The purposes of this element of the exhibit are basically two-fold; to demonstrate the manner in which Studley built his bench top, and to have some place to hang the half-dozen piano-maker’s vises (which you will be allowed to play with).  I realize that not everyone is as interested in these as am I.  Heck, outside of Jameel Abraham, nobody is as interested in these as am I. Why do these vises capture my imagination so? Why is peanut butter and mayonnaise my favorite sandwich? Some things are just chalked up to the vagaries of the cosmos.

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I’d blogged earlier about my frustrations with the African “Mahogany,” and in return heard from my friend Rob in Lawrence, Kansas, with encouragement.  He had encountered the same problem, and instructed me on how to overcome it.  I will write soon about my adaptation of his advise –use an ultra sharp high angle smoother and take infinitesimally light cuts — in an upcoming post, but for now all I was wanting was to get the slab workably flat.

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For that I continued working with my newly sharpened toothing plane, which was doing its job admirably.  Still, the process was not without problems. I had the slab clamped to the sawhorses in the corners and worked regionally.  The issue at this point was the floor.  Yes, my southern yellow pine flooring has become “polished” through foot traffic, and at times the entire assembly of slab and sawhorses skidded across the floor. After extensive exasperation with this, I grabbed some of the open webbed non-skid padding I used under my sharpening stones, or when sanding on the bench or something like that, cut it up and tossed a piece under each foot of the sawhorses.

Problem solved. Next?

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I then got the slab on edge clamped to my planing beam with a new pair of holdfasts from Tools For Working Wood (they are fabulous and I will order three or four more pairs) and worked the long edges, which will eventually receive the edging similar to Studley’s.

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Caught Sleeping While on Duty

I’ was looking through the 5.500 photos in my “Studley” file and came across this amusing one.  Evidently I was waiting for the videotaping setup to get ready when we were making the documentary, and just… dozed…  off…

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Of Studley Slabs and African “Mahogany”

The slab for the Studley work bench top is all glued up and trimmed to size, and slid off my workbench onto a pair of horses for further ministrations, and just in time as I need my bench space to finish up a large group of sample boards for a luncheon presentation I am making soon for an architectural/decorative arts finishes assembly.

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I have a lot of clamps, but not enough for me to affix the final top lamina of the bench in one step, so I first glued on the first half, then a day later the second half.

The slab is a beast, and I would estimate its weight at about 175 pounds.  My version is about 1/8″ thicker than Studley’s, giving me a little bit of room for planing and finishing.  The edges will be installed once the wheel-handled vises are attached for the exhibit, which will turn the top into a 500-pound behemoth.

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From this point on I will be planing and finishing the top.  Due to the time and budgetary constraints on my side, I selected something called African “mahogany” as my face laminae over the white oak core.  As I mentioned earlier, it looks beautifully similar to the true mahogany that Studley used for his tool cabinet and work bench, but works like a composite that would be the result of making “wood” out of straw and donkey dung.  It is the nastiest stuff I have ever worked, and I can state with a fair degree of confidence that this will be the first and last project to employ this “wood.”

Planing it is a challenge.  I touched it with my “go to” low angle smoother and got horrific tear out.  That took me back on my heels.  Hmmm.  So, I switched to my favorite toothing plane, and got tear out with the toothing plane as well!    I mean, I have never had tear out with that toother.  I backed off the blade a bit and had some success, and today I will touch up the toothing blade and proceed, but it will be slow even though the surface needs very little work.

The next challenge is to resharpen my smoother to use after the toother, or conversely just tooth it overall and go straight to the scraper for the final surface.

 

Sty tuned.

Slabbing Studley

With three of the four lamina glued up for the replica Studley workbench top, I got the assemblage flipped over and moved onto my bench for planing the oak core surface for the final lamina, the top (African) mahogany boards.  I must say that even now this hunk weighs a ton.  I can barely flip it over by myself.

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I like to use a toothing plane to work surfaces like this, and using my favorite toother I went after the surface this morning.  My care in the assembly to this point paid off as it took me only about an hour to get it ready for the final glue-up.

Once the final lamina gets glued on, I will trim the unit to size, fit the vises to it, then work on the edges.

Stay tuned.

Where’s my Ticket?

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Lately I have received several emails asking about the status of the tickets for the upcoming HO Studley Tool Cabinet Exhibit.  To boil them down, each of the inquiries asked, “Hey man, where’s my ticket?  I bought it eight weeks ago (or ten or fifteen) and have not received it yet.  What gives?”

I was bewildered, as I recalled that the web site selling the tickets indicated that the process was for the tickets to be distributed to the attendees at the exhibit itself, which in fact is the case.  But I was wrong in thinking that information was on the web site; it must have been in our earlier blog announcements.  I am sorry for the confusion.  We are not sending you a ticket when you purchase one, but rather you go into our list as someone who purchased it and will be given the physical ticket at the exhibit.

Simply come at your appointed time, get your ticket, and go in to the exhibit hall and spend the requisite hour ogling this masterpiece.

We will add a passage to the web site reiterating that, but be assured that if you bought a ticket and received confirmation of purchasing the ticket, we know about it.

For anyone who does not know, the exhibit of the tool cabinet, its contents AND Henry Studley’s workbench, will be coincident with Handworks 2014, and only 20 minutes away from HW’s Amana, Iowa location, in the beautiful Scottish Rite Temple in downtown Cedar Rapids, Iowa (the next town away) from May 15-17, 2015.

Tickets are still available here.