Writings

Looking For A Few Good Manuscript Readers

Have you ever encountered an instruction manual that was so poorly written that it left you more confused and less knowledgeable than when you started to read it?  I have suffered through this experience many times, mostly with instruction manuals for electronics and compewder stuff.  Frequently I have wondered why this is the case, and reached the conclusion that the reasons may be many, including:

  1. The instruction manuals are written by the creators of the product, for whom communicating in standard English is not a highly developed skill set.  There is a reason why compewder geeks are stereotyped.
  2. The manual writers resent the task of creating an explanatory tutorial for their work, and expect the readers to be less intelligent than they and are thus held in contempt, unworthy of even explaining their work to the end-user.
  3. The manual writers are so familiar with their own product that they can unconsciously fill in any informational voids with their own working knowledge.  I have literally called “Help” lines when I could not understand something, and received a reply, “Oh yeah, I guess that [vital piece of information] really should be in there since the product will not work unless X, Y, or Z is done this way,” an informational nugget absent in the manual.  I do mean literally receiving this response.
  4.  The instruction manual is written by someone who is a competent writer but does not know the subject well enough to explain it, and there is no back half to the information loop whereby a technical expert reviews and corrects any mistakes.

What does this have to do with woodworking?

Well, I will soon be at the point in in writing The Period Finisher’s Manual where I am ready to begin sending out sections for review.  I have the back half of the review covered, with my erudite friends MikeM and LenR volunteering to look at it from a technical/wordsmithing perspective.  But they are highly skilled experienced finishers and are thus not the people to necessarily focus on what is not present in the text or visuals.

What I need is a small cadre of readers, preferably no more than two or three, who are literate but not so experienced in wood finishing that they can fall into the trap of Step #3.  I need to know if the verbiage I am creating is actually comprehensible and useful to the less experienced finisher, such that they can read and understand what I am writing with the result being their ability to integrate what is in the book with what they are doing at the bench.  Getting back to the compewder analogy, I encounter this whenever my webmeister or daughters give me some instruction for my laptop.  I recognize that they are using English words but have no comprehension of what they mean.

These reviewers would not be paid, and their commitment to the project must be such that they will read critically and comment back to me in a timely manner so that I can make revisions as necessary.  Creating a book is a long haul, often tedious and thankless.  All I can offer is my public and private thanks and acknowledgement in the book, along with a couple copies of the book itself once finished, and perhaps a nice gift basket of wood finishing swag from The Barn On White Run. Oh, and a substantial credit in the Bank of Don, previous beneficiaries of which I hope would confirm is not without value.

If this sounds like you, let me know.  If you have my email, use it.  If not, try the Contact function on the web site.  If that is being temperamental leave a Comment to this post, these remain private until I review and post them so you can leave your contact information with confidence that it will remain private.

Bringing Out the Major Mojo

Over the last few weeks I’ve been cleaning and  organizing/reorganizing my studio, resulting in a more compact spatial scheme and, thus a space for my secret weapon in writing.  Yup, I brought down my secret mojo into the studio to psyche me into attacking the completion of A Period Finisher’s Manual with gusto.

Sure, it is a raggedy third generation Eames knock-off (here draped in an old sheet to keep it clean-ish) but it is perhaps the most comfortable chair I’ve ever owned.  It would be interesting to know the dimensions of Charles Eames’ physique because the chair fits me as though it had been custom-made for me.  It’s sorta like a friend of mine, an armorer and devotee of Sig Sauer pistols, who tells me they fit him like a glove.  Indeed S-S are superb precision tools, but the secret sauce to that recipe is that my friend is literally the hand model for the tool — of course he thinks they fit him perfectly, because they were designed to fit his own hand!

Anyway, I have already begun to work on revising the APFM manuscript with  vengeance as I am simply tired of having it hanging over my head.  Michele has advanced far ahead of me on the Roubo front so I need to get this one done and turn my attention to catching up with her.

I’m hoping this mojo works as well as in the past, when I could work expediently on a manuscript in my chair (even with cats draped allover me while I was revising Roubo 1).

Very Nice

The latest issue of Chronicle, the journal of the Early American Industries Association, features the Studley Tool Cabinet on the cover and an extended excerpt from the book Virtuoso in its contents.  It is very nice to know that there is still interest in the cabinet and my book on it.  I will be speaking at the EAIA Annual Meeting this year about the tool cabinet.

Eau de Payreee, c.Roubo

Whenever I am working on a project and encounter an impasse I do not stop working, I simply work on something else for a time until I can get back in the groove for the original undertaking.  Such has been the case with A Period Finisher’s Manual, which has turned out to be much more of a grind than I was expecting.  Even when taking a break from APFM and blogging I do not necessarily stop writing, I simply write about something else.  Recently that “something” has been some fiction projects, one being some dalliances into Christological fiction regarding Joshua bar Joseph the young craftsman, and another being a panoramic thriller in which the Paris of Roubo’s time is a prime setting.  In researching that topic I began reading David Garrioch’s The Making of Revolutionary Paris.  Though not especially pertinent (yet) to my story line I found this passage compelling.  In it, Garrioch is describing the city’s odors that blind beggars used for navigational aids.

They cannot see and do not heed the summer sun shining on the tall whitewashed houses that makes the eastbound coachmen squint under their broad-brimmed hats.  Nor do they see the flowers in pots on upper-story window ledges, the washing hanging on long rods projecting from the upper windows, or the colors of the cloth displayed for sale outside the innumerable drapers’ shops in the rue de St-Honore.  But they are sensitive, more than other city dwellers, to the fragrances of apples and pears of many varieties (many that the twentieth century does not know) , of apricots and peaches in season: to the reek of freshwater fish that has been too long out of the water; to the odor of different cheeses — Brie and fresh or dried goat cheese.  The street sellers display these and other  produce on tables wherever there is space to set up a portable stall.  For the blind the smells are signposts, markers not only of the seasons but also of the urban landscape.  They recognize the pervasive sweetness of cherries on the summer air or the garden smell of fresh cabbages in winter, marking the stall of the woman who sells fruits or vegetables at the gateway of the Feuillants monastery in the rue de St-Honore near the Place Vendome.  The aroma of roasting meat from a rotisseur in a familiar street, the smell of stale beer at the door of a tavern, the sudden stench of urine at the entrance of certain narrow alleyways; these are the landmarks by which the sightless navigate.

In the early eighteenth century there was no escape anywhere in Paris from the pungency of horse droppings or the foulness of canine or human excrement.  Like human body odor, it was ever-present but normally unremarked.  Some quarters, though, were distinguished by other, more particular smells.  The central market — les Halles — was unmistakable, with its olfactory cocktails of fruit, vegetables, grain, cheese, and bread.  “It is common knowledge,” wrote an eighteenth century critic, that “the whole quarter of the Halles is inconvenienced by the fetid odor of the herb market and the fish market: add to that the excrement, and the steaming sweat of an infinite number of bests of burden.”  Even when the market was over the odors lingered.  The stink of fish bathed the arc of streets from the rue de la Cossonnerie to the rue de Montorgueil and St-Eustache.  To the south, rotting herbs and vegetables polluted rue de la Langerie, th rue St-Honore, the rue aux Fers.  Worse exhalations rose from the neighboring Cimetiere des Innocents, from the huge pits where only a sprinkling of lime covered a top layer of bodies already beginning to decompose.  In the summer only the hardiest inhabitants overlooking the cemetery dared open their windows.

Other neighborhoods had different smells to contend with.  Around the river end of the rue St-Denis were streets here the passers-by were overwhelmed by the smell or drying blood: “it cakes under your feet, and your shoes are red.”  The beasts once killed, the tallow-melting houses near the slaughterhouses produced even fouler and more pervasive odor.  Through the archway under the Grand Chatelet prison and along the quais of the city center the air was heavy (especially in the summer) from the effluent of the great sewers that oozed into the Seine between the Pont Notre-Dame and the Pont-au-Change.  Even in the otherwise pleasant gardens of the Tuileries, a witness tells us, “the terraces .. become unapproachable because of the stink that came from them … .  All the city’s defecators lined up beneath the yew hedge and relieved themselves.”

Ahh, Paris, the city of romance.

“Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell” Monograph — New To The Archive

Recently while working to impose order to the library of the Barn I came across a pile of articles needing scanning and formatting for posting to the web.  “Tortoiseshell and Imitation Tortoiseshell” was my contribution to a 2002 conference that required travel to Amsterdam for the presentation itself, in complete disregard to one of my personal mottoes, “If I ain’t at home, I’m in the wrong place.”

The scanned article is now in the “Conservation” section of the Writings section of the web site.  There are two versions, one about 4.5 megs and another about 1.5 megs.  I’m still working through the idiosyncrasies of my scanner and compewder, figuring out what settings work best.  If I can get this better I will upload that version later.

Coming Soon To A Digital Archive Near You

Recently I have been spending some time trying to impose order and completion to the Barn library, which might be a fancy way of saying I have been throwing away boxes full of paperwork from my career at the Smithsonian.  My departure was six years ago, and at this point I am pretty certain I no longer need any organizational files from that era.  As a result I have about a dozen cubic feet of fire-starting material.

An unexpected(?) result of all this commotion has been that I’ve (re)discovered a number of things I have written over the years.  Not Schwarzian by any measure, but a fair pile nonetheless.  Articles in magazines, chapters of books, handouts for presentations, and monographs for newsletters, etc.  While the Writings page of donsbarn.com already has a goodly number of these missives, there are even more that have not arrived there yet.  So I have set up my ancient laptop and scanner to capture these electronically and make them ready to post both on the blog and in the “Writings” section.

I should have the first one ready to go in a couple days, and hope to post a new one each week.

Oh, and I am working on readying some more material for the Shellac Archive as well.  I still have a full “banker’s box” of material to scan.  All tolled I have about 8,000 pages of shellac stuff.

Hot Off The Press

I rarely post about something that is current, but I found a package on the front porch when I came down for lunch yesterday.  Inside was the new issue of American Period Furniture, the annual journal of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.  I have been a member of SAPFM for many years, and served a couple terms on the Society’s governing body.

Last year I was invited to be the banquet speaker for the annual Working Wood in the 18th Century conference at Colonial Williamsburg.  Since the SAPFM always holds their annual business meeting and banquet at this conference there were plenty of members in the audience that evening.

They must have liked the banquet talk because I was immediately asked to turn it into an article for APF.  I did, and it arrived this week.  I forget whether this was my third or fourth APF article.

I will be blogging about each the 10 exercises in the talk and article at greater length in the near future.

Gonna Buy Five Copies For My Mother

About eighteen months ago I contracted with Popular Woodworking magazine to write a pile of articles, and the final one of that batch was featured on the cover of the current issue.

This article was the feature on Jim Moon’s recreation of the HO Studley tool cabinet and workbench, which was indeed masterful.

The image of that new treasure has been popping up in disparate places.  It deserves the widest possible dissemination.

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.

cIMG_0045

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.

cIMG_0046

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.

Smacks to the Forehead and A Lump in the Throat

Yes, I am “all Studley exhibit, all the time” for the next month, but that tedium (?) was punctuated by a banner week at the Post Office box.

galbert

First came the brilliant Chairmaker’s Notebook from Peter Galbert.  It arrived just in time for one of my periodic days at the ophthalmologist’s office (the periodicity depends on which of my eye diseases is acting up, and how severely) during which I had time to read a good part of it carefully and browse all of it to the end.  The book is only partly about making Windsor chairs.  In truth it is really about the way to think about, and the way to do almost anything of real consequence.

I am not a Windsor chairmaker and unlikely to become one other than as an amusement, my chairmaking runs from Point A, Gragg chairs, to Point A’, making slightly different Gragg chairs.  Still, Peter’s eloquence and deep understanding, and the exasperatingly skillful manner of conveying them, made me smack my forehead repeatedly with the silent exclamation,”But of course!” while simultaneously silently muttering, “Man, I wish I had written this.”

printers proofs

I also received the printer’s proofs from Virtuoso, and to tell you the truth, the combination of the sumptuous imagery contained therein combined with the realization that almost five years of work are nearing the end made a sizable lump in my throat.  It has been a project of passions — sometimes love, sometimes hate — as are most such undertakings, but it it noteworthy to celebrate its conclusion.

Finally, my good friend of three decades Dr. Walter Williams just send me a signed copy of his latest book.  A collection of scores of columns, it will make for enticing bite sized bits of common sense wisdom.

All in all, a good week at the post office.