Tools

First 30-60-90 Brass Triangle Finished

Given the prominence of 60-degree angles in the worlds of parquetry and Roubo benches, during the “Making Roubo Squares” workshop earlier this summer I made a couple of 30-60-90 brass triangles, as did the participants after I demonstrated the lesson they learned in seventh grade Geometry class: the hypotenuse is exactly twice the length of the base of this right triangle.

I finally got my first one ready for battle, albeit without the decorative flourishes I had been wanting.  I simply did not have the time at present but car return to add them when I do get the time.

I soldered on the lip for the base, then just cleaned up all the edges and surface and it was ready for action.

Get to work, you triangle you!

Play Time – Infill Mallet 2

With the two halves of the mallet head shell soldered together I got to work making it into something resembling what I wanted (a la Studley’s mallet).

I began by trimming off the overhang from the soldering with the band saw.   One of the great things about working in brass, bronze, copper, and aluminum is that they can be worked with a variety of woodworking hand tools and virtually all woodworking power tools and machines.  Well, maybe not jointer and planer.

Once the trimming was done I cleaned and squared the head on the stationary belt sander.

Then, while everything was still square I drilled then filed the holes in the center of the top and bottom faces.  These holes allow for the handle to protrude all the way through the metal shell and the wood block infill.  Doing all this before shaping the head was the only way to get it right.

Up next – on to shaping the head.

Improving/Making A Curved Fishtail Gouge

One of the challenges when building Gragg chairs is that the short seat slats are half-blind dovetailed into the front and rear seat rails (well, the front of the continuous slat are too, but it is mor difficult for these ones).  As a practical matter this can only occur after the chair has been mostly assembled, so the work is in tight and awkward quarters.  I generally cut the mortise shoulders of the dovetails as deeply as I can to make waste removal as easy as possible with a narrow dovetail chisel, but then I have to remove the remaining waste very carefully so as not to damage the joint fitting.


A tool that is extremely helpful in this undertaking is a custom-made curved flat fishtail gouge.  I tried store-bought curved flat fishtails and although the are fine tools but they do not flare enough to be particularly useful.  Instead I took a 1/2″ curved flat fishtail and ground away the shoulders to make their flare much more pronounced, and that works just fine.   It allows me to reach way into the interior corners of the dovetail mortise and get them clean.

Still, it does make for a mighty long work session.

I have enough trouble keeping the joint shoulders intact without creating additional hurdles to jump.  At this pint of the project that light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

Stoopid Pencil Tricks

I’m certain I am not even the millionth person to transform a pencil into at tracing gauge, but it is a tool that I use whenever I am making the intermediate seat slats for the Gragg chair, transferring the shape from the steam bent unified bottom/back slats.

I prefer to start with a carpenter’s pencil, saw it in half length-wise, then shave off most of one side with a utility knife.

Then I plane it flat with a block plane to reveal fully the graphite core.

To keep the open graphite from smearing all over everything I simply place some transparent tape over it and burnish it to make it perfectly intimate with that surface, then trim the excess tape.  That way I can not only handle the new tool but place it directly on a surface to be traced without contaminating that surface.  I make the tip sharpened, leaving the graphite/tape side flat and beveling the other three facets and place the tape side against whatever contour I am trying to trace, transferring the shape onto the workpiece being made to fit that shape.

Yup, when fabricating the seat of a Gragg chair the most important tool was free and required almost five full minutes to modify.

A Tale of Fun With Hefty Silver Soldering – Infill Mallet 1

 

Of all the tools I’ve encountered that have seduced me Henry Studley’s infill mallet ranks at the top of the list.  To continue the unenviable task of keeping my probably ADD self amused I decided to play with making something similar, a project I could work on intermittently while some glue or paint was drying, or when I needed a distraction while I cogitate.  For the raw material I ordered 1/4″ wall thickness right-angle brass stock from McMaster Carr to serve as my starting point.  Since this was more a “proof of concept” exercise, the concept being proven being the silver soldering of very heavy stock, it seemed like a sensible approach.  Perhaps for a “proof of concept” exercise I should have started with aluminum rather than brass, but that’s where I started nevertheless.

With the measurements in-hand I chopped the requisite segments and set up a soldering set-up on my heat-work station (I think I will probably write a series of posts about setting up such a work station yourself as I hope you will all follow me down this rabbit trail).  My strategy was to simply overlap the two sections with each other as shown and fire up the torch.  Even though I could/would only do one seam at a time I slathered generous dollops of paste flux on both interfacial surfaces.

After heating the entire mass I concentrated on the seam joint and introduced the silver solder on the inside corner of the seam and let the torch heat draw the solder through the joint.

It worked perfectly.

Stay tuned.

Rethinking, or, “State of the Barn Address”

 

It’s been almost thirteen years since the skeleton of the barn was erected, nine years since it was outfitted with the first of more than a dozen workbenches, and over six years since the first blog post.  Now safely ensconced in my 65th year, lately I’ve been contemplating the entire enterprise, reflecting on how blessed I have been and continue to be.  Whether it is good news or bad news, after serious consideration I have no plans to change the fundamental structure of activity on the homestead for several more years, but at some point life in the mountains will simply become too physically taxing and the barn and cabin will be in my rear-view mirror.  Until then, however, it is still full(?) speed ahead with a big smile on my face, albeit not necessarily in the exact same direction nor the exact same speed.  I’m working just as hard as I did when I was 30, but the output is demonstrably less.   My Mom is 102 and lucid so I’ve got to think about another forty years of engagement and productivity.

Here is a sketch of what future activities might look like.  No telling if it is accurate.

Conservation Projects

Early on I maintained a fairly vibrant furniture and decorative arts conservation practice but have no plans to continue much of that except for specific projects and clients.  Yes, I will continue to work with the private collection of tortoiseshell boxes that I’ve been working on for more than a decade.  Recently I was approached to collaborate on a couple high profile on-site projects and if those move forward, fine. I love it but at this point I’ve got other things I want to do on the priority list.  And I want to truly perfect my artificial tortoisehell.  And I want to explore new uses of materials in furniture preservation.  And invent new materials, or novel uses of existing materials.   And, and, and…

Making Furniture

I make no claim as a furniture maker of any note, but I hope to concentrate on making more in the future.  I would love to maintain a small output of Gragg chairs every year, and even modify them and take them in directions Samuel Gragg never went.  I also have enough vintage mahogany for eight more Daniel Webster Desks, so perhaps there are some clients who might want one.  Only time will tell.  I’ve always had a hankering to make some furniture in the milieu of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alar Aalto, so maybe that becomes part of the equation.  And I have these sketches for pieces representing a collision of Roubo and Krenov while they are sitting on the porch of a Japanese temple.  And Mrs. Barn has a list of things she would like for the cabin.  And exploring parquetry more intensely.   And finally get pretty good at woodworking in general.  And, and, and…

Metal Work

I’ve always had a interest in metalworking since my boyhood when I would spend time with my Dad in his shed, melting lead weights and doing a little brazing and welding.  Many of those skills have grown fallow but I am trying to get them back and take them to new places.  My love of tool making has been rearing its lovely head in recent times and I have every intention of bringing that focus closer to the bullseye.  And part of that has to include getting my foundry back on-line.  And tuning up all my machine tools like my machinists’ lathes and mill.  And getting really good at brazing and silver soldering, maybe even welding.  And, and, and…

Finishing Adventures

I remain committed to looking both backwards and forwards into the realm of finishing materials, ancient and super modern.  I truly believe Mel’s Wax to be a transformative furniture care and preservation product for which I have not yet discovered the key to marketing.  But I will keep at it because of my knowledge of its performance and my commitment to Mel’s vision for it.  And as for beeswax and shellac wax? Finishing with them may be among the oldest and simplest methods, but they can be extremely difficult and I cannot pretend to have mastered them.  And what about my fascination with urushi and its non-allergenic analogs and the beautiful things I want to make from them?  And what about the fifty bazillion things I do not know about shellac?And, and and…

Writing

My plate of writing projects is full to overflowing, building on a strong foundation of completed works.  Notwithstanding my current struggles with the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, due entirely to my having too much esoteric material to include in a reasonably consumable book (really, how much solvent thermodynamics does the typical woodworker need to know?), I enjoy every minute I am writing even when it is driving me crazy.  I’d better because my collaborator Michele Pagan is one full book ahead of me in the Roubo Series.  And there are two or three more volumes after that one.  And some day I need to finish the almost-completed manuscript for A Furniture Conservation Primer created with a colleague while at the SI and thus will be necessarily distributed for free via the web site.  And what about my treatise on the technology and preservation of ivory and tortoiseshell?  And the dozen mystery/thriller novels I have already plotted out?  And who knows how many short stories about the life of First Century craftsman Joshua BarJoseph?  And, and, and…

Web

My first of almost 1,200 web posts went up six-and-a-half years ago, which I understand in the world of hobbyist blogging, where blogs come and go like the tides, puts me as some sort of  Methuselah.  But certainly not in the same class as The Accidental Woodworker, who has been blogging daily for even longer IIRC.  Ralph, I tip my hat to you, sir.

I once thought the web site/blog would be a useful portal for soliloquies about my projects and things I’ve learned over a long and rewarding career, but now I am not so sure.  A while back I decided to make a concerted effort to blog at least five times a week for a year, and I think I came pretty close.  Surely this would increase my web traffic!  Well, not so much.  At the end of this effort my web traffic was 2% lower than when it began.  Despite fairly consistent blogging my visitorship has dropped by almost half over the past four-plus years.    So I just scratch my head.  I’m not whining, but instead recognizing that the flock who is interested in my musings is shrinking, not growing.  Oh well.  This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a thing, helpful in me making decisions about priorities.  I have no plans to really change anything about the blog, we’ll just wait and see where it goes.  When I am not somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, I will blog.

Recently I was chatting with someone who informed me that web sites and blogs are now passe and the currency du jour is the unholy trio of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Given that and my antipathy towards the latter two it is likely that I will undertake the former at some near date (yes, I know the relationship between Instagram and Stalkerbook) .  Something inside me rebels at the notion of validating the post-literate world, however.  Still, the economic treatise presented by Larry the Liquidator is not only dramatic but accurate.  Even the Professional Refinisher’s Group is moving forward, transitioning from a moderated email forum to a private Facebook Group, which will leave me behind.  But they will survive without me and I intend to maintain contact with that circle of fellowship regardless.

Trouble is, I am by temperament a bizarre mélange of buggy whip maker and hardline “emergent order” Hayekian.  Hmmm.  Not really sure how that works out.

Workshops

Integral to my vision for the barn was to have it be a place of learning.  As the facility was coming together, whenever I spoke to any kind of woodworking gathering the verbal response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The reality that unfolded was anything but.  I now realize that my vision was a faulty one and the enthusiasm was superficial.  Quite bluntly, almost no one wants to come to such an isolated location where local amenities are practically nonexistent, to spend a few days engaging in subjects I want to teach.  Fair enough, the barn is too remote and my topics are too arcane.  Like I said before, this is not a good thing or a bad thing, but just an instructive  thing to add to the equation.

As a result and in recognition of reality I plan to deemphasize workshops at the barn, perhaps even eliminating them altogether, notwithstanding that I created dedicated spaces for the undertaking.  Should a small group of enthusiasts approach me with the request to teach them, I will do so.  That is precisely what a quartet of guys have done for next June.  And, I might do an occasional blockbuster-type workshop (a Gragg chair class would be such an example, if that ever occurs; I had thought a ripple molding machine class might be such an event, but with zero response…), or I might travel a bit to teach but otherwise that part of the portfolio is likely to close.  Not definitely, but likely.

Videos

Hence my transition to teaching via video.  If I cannot get folks to come here perhaps my best strategy is to go to them.  I have a multitude of ideas (more than twenty full-length [>30 mins.]video concepts on the list) and a brilliant local collaborator to work with.  I am committed to this path to the degree that I have the time, energy, and resources.

Further I have decided that making shorter, self-produced and thus less polished “shop technique videos” might be a useful undertaking to post on donsbarn.com, youtube or Vimeo.  I will explore this avenue in the coming weeks and months.

The Homestead

With several buildings, several gardens, and a power system to maintain and improve there is never a shortage of things to do here on the homestead.  I want to build/expand more garden capacity for Mrs. Barn to spend time doing the thing she loves best.  And fruit and nut orchards.  And I want to finish creating a rifle scope for shooters like me who have lost most of the vision in their dominant eye.  And another hydro turbine downstream from the current one.

And, and, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

That is The State of the Barn Address, 2019.  To quote one of Mel’s favorite songs, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”  Yes it is.  I am living the dream.

Seeking Japanese Veneer Saw

I am trying to find  source for this Japanese veneer saw.  Not only is it a fine saw for veneer it is simply the best tool in my arsenal for cutting the curved dado in the rear seat rail for the Gragg chair.  I probably bought this one ten or fifteen years ago and cannot find a source for them now.  If you know of a place that has them, or if you have one you want to throw away, let me know.   If worse come to worst I will give it a try to make one/five myself.  I have the materials, technology and skills but it’s sometimes easier to find them already made.

It is almost a sensate revelation when you encounter a task and a tool that are perfectly symbiotic.  This is one of those cases.  Yes, I have German, English, and French veneer saws and even a Japanese curved mortise saw, but this is the Gragg chair version of “Love is the drug and I need to score.”  (Stolen from Roxy Music without apology)

Resawing For Rick

Recently my friend Neal came to the barn to work on building a few shelving units, and his pastor Rick came by for a visit while we were working.  Rick brought two maple boards he needed resawn for the new hammer dulcimer he is making and I volunteered to do it for him.  Using my Tom Fidgen inspired kerfing plane and the Bad Axe frame saw I got to work.

It really was a pleasant experience and a very good workout!

After the resawing I touched up the kerfed surfaces with my Dutch-style scrub plane and returned them.

First Four Finished (Plow Plane Mortise Chisels, That Is)

With the big push to get the Gragg chairs assembled I was inspired to finish the first of the plow plane iron mortise chisels.  I got the four smallest ones to the finish line, or at least finished enough to actually use them on the delicate mortises of the chair.

The back splat elements are mortised into the crest rail with 3/16″ tenons.

The front bowed rung is inserted into the front legs with a pair of 1/8″ mortises.  These need to be accomplished fairly late in the assembly timetable so there is limited space to work.  These new petite chisels (roughly 6-7″) work like a charm.

One of the important things I learned was that the striking end of the chisel is comprised of two laminae of the wood cheeks and the fairly soft steel(?)from the plow plane iron that runs the full length of the tool.  I resolved this for the moment by using a brass mallet for pounding on them rather than a steel one.  I will add rivets near both the top and bottom of the handle to make them more robust, and may even add a metal striking cap at the top of the handle.

But they do indeed work exactly as I had hope they would

Parquetry Shooting Plane, Finis

With the wooden core and outer bronze shell fabricated it was time to combine all the elements together to see if the concept was viable.  Given the taper of the beveled side of the new plane shape and the resulting narrowing of the plane mouth I needed to cut one ear off the “T”-shaped iron to fit the smaller opening.  With my Dremel tool and a cut-off abrasive disc it took all of thirty seconds to do that.  Another minute on the diamond plate smoothed it all up and even the sharpening did not take long.

I decided to screw the bronze shell to the wooden body in such a manner that I was sorta working without a net in that if it did not work out correctly I was in for a lot of headache work.   Much like Chris Schwarz uses on the corners of some of his campaign furniture, I drilled and countersunk the screw holes such that the vast majority of the bronze slotted flat head wood screws projected proud of the surface by an amount greater than the slot depth, then file the area smooth.  I got my bronze screws from my favorite screw source, Blacksmith Bolt and Rivet Supply out in or near the Peoples’ Republic of Oregonistan.


Since the screw’s clamping force was so great the bronze shell deflected and I had to do a fair bit of abrasive flattening to make everything look good.  The first ones left me very optimistic.  A subsequent error resulted in less satisfactory results.

As I moved on to the other screws I mistakenly switched from using my brace and bit to cut the countersink to my battery drill and its countersink bit.  Big mistake, as the angle of the new countersink was incorrect, an error I did not realize until it was too late.  Clearly the bevel for the second countersink bit was shallower than the first bit in my brace, so the screws did not seat perfectly and there was a tiny line around the fastener when they were leveled off.

Drat.

That said, once I cleaned it all up as best I could the tool both performed magnificently but also fit my hand like it was designed for it.  For that reason I did not make and install a handle like was on Patrick’s plane.  I always have the ability to do that ex poste.

Some last minute clean-up and I declared it finished.  Since the purpose of the tool is to shave the edges of veneers (I use hand-sawn veneers pretty much exclusively for parquetry) I gave it an extensive test drive and I have to say that it is more than glorious, more than sublime.  It is gloriously sublime!  Or is it sublimely glorious?

 

I’d guess that I have somewhere around 8-10 hours invested in it, and I think it was well worth the effort.