Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Foundrywork


Now that I have the foundry set up on the first floor, I really have no excuse to not start metal casting.  Well, except for the need to refabricate the large entryway, allowing me to roll out the smelting furnace from the interior space.

It might be just fine having a thousand degrees worth of hot indoors with a wooden floor above, but I would rather not test that hypothesis as a starting point.  Perhaps if there is a streak of ultra-mild days upcoming (it’s been unseasonably warm thus far this winter) I can get that task done.

To be sure the first project on the slate for the foundry is to move forward with replicating the infill mallet from the Studley Tool Collection.  Having that prototype in-hand would be a great excuse to revisit the collection itself, to compare my replica with the original.  Obviously, Mister Stewart gets the first unit off the non-assembly line, should he want it.

Right behind the Studley mallet in the queue is my finger plane project, with its thus-far three models underway.  I started working on these models 15 years ago if the date stamp on the images is correct.  I do not need these tools from a utilitarian perspective, but I do need them from a creative one.

Once I get the foundry humming along as a routine activity there is no telling what I can imagine making.

Shiny vs. Finished

As my Year of Metalworking unfolds I am drawing on lessons from my far distant past.  About forty years ago I started a stint working with Don Heller, Silver Objects Conservator at Winterthur Museum.  A gruff, curmudgeonly fellow with a heart of gold, Don spent a lifetime as a traditional silversmith before coming to the museum.  While most of his job was caring for the stupendous collection of silver artifacts in the museum, a much smaller component was teaching the graduate students of the University of Delaware Art Conservation Graduate Program (I was the first recipient of the undergraduate degree from the same program).  Don was constantly vexed by a student or two who only wanted their projects to be, “shiny, not finished.”  By this he meant that they wanted to short-cut the process instead of working systematically through the time honored practices of moving deliberately through the steps of getting from Point A to Finished.  Instead they would simply make it “shiny” while leaving behind all the marks of the intervening processes, marks that needed to be removed in order for it to be “finished.”

I am once again reviving those lessons from Don in working the shell castings for the Studleyesque infill mallet heads.  When they arrive the side surfaces have been cleaned of their cast texture, but that is just the starting point for me.  (NB – My assessment of Studely’s original is that the surface is essentially straight from the sand mold, lightly cleaned.  Whoever cast the shell was a genius.)

Harkening back to Don’s instructions I step through ever finer abrasive papers to get to the point I want.  I do this by first using 80 grit working perpendicular to the pattern left by Bill Martley in his cleaning of the original casting.  When I get to the point that none of the original “direction” from Bill is evident I can move to the next step with a finer abrasive.

Then I switch to 150-grit paper, working perpendicular to my 80-grit pattern until all the 80-grit markings are eradicated.

Then 220-grit, perpendicular to the 150-grit until all the 150-grit tracks are gone.

Then 320-grit.

Then 400-grit.

Then 600-grit.  And all the evidence of the previous steps has been eradicated, but that absence is proof of their being executed.  Finished, not Shiny.

At this point the surface is ready for my final treatment of it.

New Infill Mallet Shell Castings – Initial Surface Work


One of the challenges to replicating Henry O. Studley’s incomparable mallet is obtaining the surface texture when it is all done and finished.  As someone who comes out of the foundry trade myself I can only shake my had in amazement at the shell he used in his mallet.  There is no hint of who produced the brass casting, all I know is that is was provided by a virtuoso.  Hmm, that sounds like a good title for a book about Studley.  When I originally saw the mallet in person I thought that it was like many of the “finished” casting for the foundry where I worked; the pieces were cut off the sprue tree, ground and filed, then tossed into some sort of bead blaster to achieve a final surface.

However, once I got really up-close-and-personal I realized that was an unlikely proposition as the shadow of the parting line from the casting was still evident, about 1/3 up from the bottom.  Abrasion blasting would have almost certainly removed that evidence.  Thus I am left with the possibility that the shell casting used by Studley was essentially straight from the sand mold, at least in regards to the surface texture.

As nice as the new castings from Bill Martley are, they are not of the same quality as Studley’s (to be fair to Bill I have never seen contemporary sand castings of the quality evident in Studley’s menagerie) and the surfaces need to be worked extensively by hand to eventually get to a similar place, at least aesthetically.

I already referred to establishing the cove profile with a 1/4″ chain saw file, and then cutting the flat edges of the same elements with barrette files I bought from Slav the File Pusher at Handworks last time.

I then proceeded to work on the top and bottom of the mallet shell around the square collar, an always challenging proposition when trying to achieve uniformity on a surface that is not uninterrupted.  The first goal is to get everything flat, working parallel to the sides of the rectilinear collar.  I did this mostly with a small-ish mill file on which I had removed the teeth on one edge to as not to continue cutting where I did not want to cut.

Once I got to flat I began to work with sandpaper sticks to begin reducing the tool marks left by the file.  I literally used them flat, “rounding the corners” on the shell surface, working my way from 120 grit up to eventually arrive in the neighborhood of 600.  The ultimate goal is to achieve a surface that has as little character as possible.

At that point the workpiece is ready for some additional contouring before the final surface treatment.  The real design/detail genius of the Studley Mallet is that the primary corners are sharp at the faces of the mallet but quite rounded at the center point of the arc where two planes meet.  I’m thinking that might be a seat of the pants exercise.  I also began to work on the openings for the infill and handle.

Next time – working the surfaces of metals to “done.”

Replica Studley Infill Mallet Castings

I was recently alerted to the ongoing project by foundryman Bill Martley to replicate the shell castings for the beloved mallet of Henry O. Studley.  Well, beloved to me at least.  Bill and I corresponded and I ordered the raw castings in his original alloy, a red-ish bronze.  You can tell the coloration difference between Bill’s castings and the brass shells I have worked on in the past.

The castings are quite nice and I am working through finishing them to make myself a mallet or six.  The amazing thing is that Bill got the pattern really close to the original, without even having access to the Studley book!  He said he was relying on pictures I posted on this blog.  I sent him a copy of the book as part of our transaction, so he can move forward with the definitive information in-hand.

Bill has been selling these rough castings through his Instagram page, mystic_pickers.  If you are interested in acquiring one of the rough castings from Bill you can contact him directly through the Instagram page.  If there are hiccups let me know and I will check with him to see if he wants me to post his contact information here.

Since the color of the alloy is wrong for me I have ordered two addition sets of castings from Bill with yellower alloys to see how they look and work.

At the same time I have been tinkering with my patterns for casting the mallet shells myself, just because.  (I am determined that 2021 will be a year of metal casting at The Barn with several projects in the pipeline)  Once I get the patterns to a point where I am satisfied I will cast them in both silicon bronze and brass in the barn.  Since I have the detailed information based on my many examinations and with the blessing of Mister Stewart I am confident that the end point will be successfully achieved.  (Let’s just keep it between ourselves, but my ultimate goal is to have finished “authorized” mallet replicas for sale at Handworks 2021.)

I’ll be recounting the project from my end as things proceed and I hope you will enjoy the ride.

Final Space Preps for Gragg Workshop

With all of the steam bending done for the Gragg chair workshop John and I spent a little time reorganizing the attic of the barn, now with only the months of waiting for the students to arrive.  One more workbench to move across the room and it’s all done.

Yes, we hoisted one and made two new benches and began to place them around the perimeter of the space.  At almost a thousand square feet it is a grand luxury for any workshop, and I have only Mrs. Barn to thank for it.  I had intended to leave the level of the barn un-floored, but she recommended, correctly, that if I did lay down  floor I would find it immensely useful  She was correct, again.

So, at the workshop every participant will have a fully outfitted bench plus half of a 4′ x 8′ assembly table on wheels, which are themselves re-cycled platforms for the long-passed Studley exhibit.

One final decorative touch was to tack the graphic panels from the exhibit over the benches.  Whether these inspire or intimidate is yet to be determined.


Last Call For Alco-, er, Free Studley Postcards

I’ve still got a few left, awaiting new homes. If there are any more in a week I will just put them in my traveling store and hand them out at upcoming woodworking events. – DCW


Thrashing around my “mail” closet I came across a stack of leftover postcards I had printed in 2014 to promote the then-upcoming exhibit of the H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench I was creating for the following May.

Rather than simply throw them away or use them for notes to myself, I decided to make them available to you for free until they are all gone. I guess I could make some charge, but that seems like too much trouble to me.

So, if you would like one of these cards to post on the wall next to your tool cabinet just drop me a note and I will send you one for free (make sure to include your mailing address!). If you feel compelled to compensate me you can buy me a cup of tea or a brownie the next time our paths cross.

FREE – H.O.Studley Memento (still got some)

I’ve still got some of these left so I am re-posting the offer.

Thrashing around my “mail” closet I came across a stack of leftover postcards I had printed in 2014 to promote the then-upcoming exhibit of the H.O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench I was creating for the following May.

Rather than simply throw them away or use them for notes to myself, I decided to make them available to you for free until they are all gone. I guess I could make some charge, but that seems like too much trouble to me.

So, if you would like one of these cards to post on the wall next to your tool cabinet just drop me a note and I will send you one for free (make sure to include your mailing address!). If you feel compelled to compensate me you can buy me a cup of tea or a brownie the next time our paths cross.

Workbench Wednesday – #12 (2015) Studley Replica (Top)

On my first trip to visit the HO Studley tool cabinet I was quite expectantly anticipating the absolute headiness of the experience of being in the intimate presence of this iconic artifact.  The drive was a test of restraint as it was a long one and I had to reign in my excitement or I would be exhausted by the time I got there.  It was all I could do to avoid the temptation of non-stop daydreaming that would splatter me on an underpass, or calling literally every woodworker I knew to ask them, “Guess where I am going?”

When I arrived and met Mister Stewart, and he ushered me into the room containing the tool cabinet, I literally felt tingles.  Indeed, the tool cabinet and its contents were as amazing as I had psyched myself up for, hoping that I would not be disappointed.  I wasn’t.  But, much to my astonishment I realized that the workbench was every bit the masterpiece that the tool cabinet was.  I won’t blow smoke up your shop apron and tell you I spent as much time examining and photographing the bench as I did the tool cabinet, but it was a lot more than I was expecting.

I cannot really see myself using a tool repository like Studley’s for my everyday work, but I definitely could see me using the workbench all day, every day.  It was as you might expect from Studley, both ingenious and exquisite and all I kept thinking the day I drove from Studley to Cincinnati for WIA 2010 was, “I gotta make me one of these.”  Eventually I worked through Chris Schwarz to acquire a slab of mahogany 4″ thick by 28″ wide by seven feet long to make the top.

I got the slab home and nestled into the barn awaiting the decks to clear so I could begin.

Imagine my surprise when on a later return visit to continue documenting Studley more fully and I was able to study the underside of the bench, and more particularly the holes into which the alignment pins from the under-bench cabinet fit, I discovered that the bench top construction was not what I had expected.  Suddenly I had a giant mahogany slab available for another function; Studley’s bench was a laminated construction.

With Jameel Abraham I went to a lumber dealer he patronized and bought what I needed for the bench top.  It was select white oak for the core and mahogany for the faces.  Notwithstanding the “mahogany” was no such thing, at least I had materials to begin the replica bench to include in the exhibit.

Lest you lose any sleep worrying about the abandoned mahogany slab (it was true swietenia, not the phony pastiche that is often sold as “mahogany”), fear not.  I have plans for it in the not-to-distant future.

Stay tuned.

Studley Tool Cabinet Molding Profile

I blogged recently about visiting my friend, Mister Stewart, and his ensemble of the Henry Studley tool cabinet and workbench.  One of the purposes of the visit was to get a better picture of the molding profile on the cabinet, but Mister Stewart did one better than that.  During his fabrication of the new workbench base he replicate exactly the moldings from the tool cabinet and gave me one of the scraps from that enterprise.  I finally got a chance to take a picture, and here it is.

If you would like a better resolution picture of the cross-section, drop me a line here.

Visiting Old Friends

A while back I had the opportunity to visit some old friends, namely Mister Stewart and his remarkable collection of artifacts including the tool cabinet and workbench of HO Studley.  My impetus for the visit, beyond the obvious, was to examine the newest element found and integrated into the workbench.  The rear shelf completed the composition of the bench.

It was unusual for the form in that it was not pierced to hold tools, the typical arrangement for such shelves, such as this analogous bench and shelf.

Perhaps the function of this shelf on Studley’s bench was to simply look pretty?

Another element of the visit was documenting more fully some of the molding profiles on the cabinet.  Though I did not have a profile gauge with me, Mister Stewart gifted me with a piece of the molding he made when he fabricated the new workbench base.  Once I get that photographed I’ll post that as well.