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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.

More Pixels Captured

The Gragg chair is coming together and the process is being captured by the brilliant videographer Chris Swecker.  As a newbie to woodworking he is finding it immensely entertaining to watch a real chair emerging from a standing tree.

Here are a few moments in a recent day of work.  It really is looking like the final product will be more than a dozen hours long, as I remain convinced that the viewer would rather have redundancy rather than omissions.

One thing is for sure.  I need a haircut.

 

Finishing With A Stick, or “When I Grow Up I Want To Be Maki Fushimi”

I am a sorta youtube.com junkie, in that a typical week finds me watching many (mostly instructional) videos.  I’m even thinking of starting my own youtube channel and posting short shop videos on it, but I have not yet pulled the trigger on that.

One of my truly favorite channels over there is that of Japanese Lacquer Master Maki Fushimi, whose inventory includes hundreds of videos, virtually all with only ambient sound, without any speaking.  They are just videos of his hands at work in the lacquerwork studio.  This a 60-part(!) series on making a set of bowls, and his virtuosity with a spatula always leaves my jaw hanging open.  I tried to make the blog link to video 45, titled HONKATAJI-WAN (45) but it keeps posting this video link.  In #45 he uses nothing more than a stick to do amazing finishing.  Give it a look.

Still waiting for my compewder power cord to arrive and for that part of the world getting back to normal.  For now I am stuck with an ancient laptop from at least a dozen years ago.

“It Is A-live,” er, It Is A Gragg Chair!

In our most recent video session the Gragg chair really began to take shape as the front and rear seat rails and the crest rail tied together the sides, and the bent seat/back units were laid in place to begin that joinery.

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More to come as soon as we can synchronize our schedules.

7 More Gigs “In The Can”

A few weeks ago Chris Swecker and I spent anther couple days documenting the ongoing construction of a pair of Gragg Chairs I am building for clients, one a renowned furniture historian in Virginia and the other a historic architectural millwork contractor in Georgia.   (These clients have been most patient with the timeline of this project, which is why I have not made them pay anything until the chairs are delivered.)  Neither my bank account nor the other ongoing projects I have permit any faster pace of work, and we had to take a 5-month break over the winter due to the unheated-ness of the studio space.

As we were working the chairs began to take shape beyond merely the jumbled pile of steam bent parts.  Actually they were never really “jumbled,” but they were not truly assembled either.  It was exciting for Chris to see these former tree parts become chair-ish right before the camera.  Beginning with the dry assembled side elements I laid out the side rungs and chopped the mortises and cut the tenons.   Then I resembled the side units with screws and glue, just as Gragg had done 200 years before.

Then came perhaps the most visually appealing portion of the project to date as the two sides were connected with the lateral horizontal elements, becoming something that sorta looked like a chair.  This required a bucket full of spring clamps and a few diagonal struts to keep things in the right configuration while moving forward.

By the time the two days were done we had another 7 gigabytes of video recorded.  We are working so efficiently that I expect a yield of usable video to raw recording to be about 60%.  In reviewing the completed materials I am thinking the finished product to be in the 10-12 hour range.

“Make A Gragg Chair” Video Continued

A couple weeks ago we had two excellent days of videoing for my Make A Gragg Chair video.  As my pal MikeM observed, doing video slows everything down by at least three-fold.

We are now to the point of actually assembling the pile of bentwood pieces into a chair, beginning with the sides of the chair in an assembly jig (after attaching the side rungs via mortising them into the legs) and then starting to fit the cross elements.

One thing is for sure, it’s pretty important to have a large number of simple spring clamps and temporary bracing to keep everything together.

This is a really exciting project for me, and my earlier projections are falling by the wayside regarding the length and detail of the final product.  I’m sorta guessing this might be in the 10-12 hour range once we get all finished.

I am also getting a better sense of how to create a six-day workshop for making Gragg chairs.  I just might be able to pull it off.  When the video is finished I’m going to embark on a focused exercise to see if it is truly possible.

Stay tuned.

Gragg Chair Video Production Resumes

It was an exciting day in the Attic Studio of the Barn on White Run as we finally returned to working on recoding the video of making a Gragg chair.  We began the day with a pile of individual steam bent parts, and ended with some assembled side units.  It is not “precision” work but it is very fussy to compile a completed unit from a bunch curvy pieces that each seem to have a mind of its own.  I placed particular emphasis on the areas where I executed compensations for the flaws in the original design.

Tomorrow the adventure continues as I show the beginnings of a 3D chair that has nothing square about it.

If all goes according to plan the “principal filming” for the fabrication phase will be done in about two weeks (see how I went all Hollywood there?), with painted decoration and the special added video feature to add on.

PS  – we are thinking that the final video will be in the 6-8 hour range; I would rather err on the side of more information and demonstration rather than less.

Veneer Repair Video Episode 6

Our adventure continues, notwithstanding some technical glitches on my end (a self-flattering version of “I forgot how to do this!”) Actually the new WordPress template is a pain in the kiester, but fortunately Webmeister Tim managed to restore the previous version.  That is the best explanation I have for why it took months to get the next one posted.  I was simply too stoopid/ignorant/technophobic/compewderily iliterate to figure out how to do it in the “new and improved” platform template, and also why my blogging had declined.  It was just too miserable trying to figure it out.  At this point I have almost negative interest in learning new skills, I’m just trying to keep my existing skills intact.

Crossing my fingers hard.  It worked for me in the “preview” and I am hoping it works for you.

In this episode I cover the process of matching the veneer being used for the repair to the veneer that remains adjacent to the loss.

 

PS – Spring has sprung so video production resumes next week!

 

If your conscience is pricked feel free to click on the “Donate” button, any proceeds from which will go toward enhancing the rapidity of new video production. Future videos will also be available for purchase one section at a time (perhaps $0.99 – $1.99 per segment depending on the video) or $15(?) for the complete product. I am still noodling that and working out the logistics with Webmaster Tim. If this interests a large enough audience I hope to produce three or four 2-hour-ish videos per year. If not, maybe one or two at the most, one being more likely. In which case it will take me almost twenty years to get through the list I have already.

 

 

A Collaborator Goes “On-Line”

My video production collaborator Chris Swecker has created a web site to market his new-ish venture, Seed and Fruit Media. If you are in the Mid-Atlantic region and would like to explore video as an element for your work, Chris is an excellent option. He is especially great at seat-of-the-pants production, and I find him a delight to work with and the final product is exactly what I wanted; whimsical broadcast quality footage.

Chris definitely has the chops for first-class work. He spent a decade out in Realityville working on big-time projects, and fortunately for me he has come back home to the place where he was raised.

We will be resuming filming the Make A Gragg Chair video early next month once the weather warms a bit. This was a bitterly cold winter, so shooting in the unheated attic of the Barn was not an option.

BTW I hope to post the next episode of the Veneer Repair video on Saturday.

PS Imagine the possible communication confusion when two of your closest collaborators are both named “Chris S.”

Veneer Repair Video Episode 4


Our series continues with an episode focusing on the tools needed and the set-up for making visually harmonious veneer repairs to losses.




If your conscience is pricked feel free to click on the “Donate” button, any proceeds from which will go toward enhancing the rapidity of new video production.

Future videos will also be available for purchase one section at a time (perhaps $0.99 – $1.99 per segment depending on the video) or $15(?) for the complete product.  I am still noodling that and working out the logistics with Webmaster Tim.  If this interests a large enough audience I hope to produce three or four 2-hour-ish videos per year.  If not, maybe one or two at the most, one being more likely.  In which case it will take me almost twenty years to get through the list I have already.