Back In The Shop!

I do not normally post about current activities, but I was so excited about my vertigo beginning to subside and my getting back up the hill to the Barn yesterday I just wanted to do so this morning.  Under the watchful eye of my visiting brother I spent much of  yesterday puttering in the shop, tidying and setting up for some work in The Waxery, that dedicated “clean space” reserved for my mad scientist-y stuff.

Another couple days of improvement like the last two and I will be well on the road to normalcy, or at least what passes for a facsimile of normalcy in my life.  I’m still a tad fuzzy around the edges and must be very careful not to turn my head quickly (dizzeryness ensues) or use power equipment, but otherwise it was a most productive day.

I even got all caught up on shipping orders that had accumulated over the previous fortnight.

Just in time for Thanksgiving.

Carving Lesson

Recently I was called by a nearby acquaintance asking me for a lesson on carving egg-and-dart molding.  Sam is a talented restoration carpenter who is a whiz at saving houses old and new, but this project required him to flex a bit and branch out into carving some moldings needed for a fireplace mantle.  I said sure and we scheduled a couple of times for him to work in the studio.

Most egg-and-dart molding involves a very limited number of carving gouges, and the sample he needed to match fit that description.  Fortunately for him I had exactly the sweep and size he needed.  I sat down and showed him the steps of the procedure then turned the sample piece over to him to, well, practice.  I used to carve quite a bit, and there was a period 45 years ago I though about becoming a carver.  Not becoming someone who could carve, but someone who was a carver.  Big difference.  But the lure of the finishing room soon won out, and ever since I’ve only really undertaken carving to replicate missing pieces from my projects.

After a couple of sessions in the Barn, Sam was ready to execute the moldings for real.  The initial struggles he had with the fairly coarse-grained workpiece was alleviated the second time around, and the results were gratifying.

With him, I expected no less.

Building Gragg’s “Elastic Chair” — Harvesting Wood 4

After struggling with my previous attempt to harvest oak from my own mountain, disappointed by the fact that even those large trees, or at least sections of their trunks, yielded so little usable material, I had for the moment hope for two long, straight sections that I had not yet processed.  The tree from whence these bolts came had grown tall and straight in a very dense cluster of trees.  Those facts led me to my optimism.  So recently I headed up the hill with my implements of destruction in-hand.

Cutting up the long straight trunk produced the first two segments to be split.

I studied the first of them to decide where to place the first wedge.  I drove it in and immediately my heart sank when the split wandered off toward California.

With a deep breath and some impolite utterings under my breath I tried to salvage the situation by putting the second wedge in a place to continue or re-establish the split line I wanted in the first place.

It worked.


Carefully working down that line with more wedges, a nice split was established.

My only concern at this point was the interlocking that emerged but since it was restricted almost completely to only the pith it was no cause for hysteria.    A few whacks with the roofer’s hatchet, my “go to” tool for this task, and the problem was resolved as I hoped.  It was only a little loss to a region of the trunk I didn’t want in the first place.

Soon enough I had two halves of a trunk, then four quarters, and in the end, eight wedges.

I was pleased with the minimal amount of overall interlocking and wind.

My friends, there be some chairs.

GroopShop 2018 – Day 1

Recently we traveled to Greater Atlanta to attend this year’s gathering of the Professional Refinisher’s Group, a/k/a “Groop,” and online forum to which I have belonged for almost twenty years.  Though initially a “virtual” community, we started assembling almost annually for the past 16 years.

Our hosts this year were the cooperative known as Southern Restorations whose large enterprise is steered by Brian Webster.

Note:  If you have even a passing interest in furniture finishing or restoration, you SHOULD be a member of Groop.  For further information on joining click here.  If you attended the HO Studley exhibit in Cedar Rapids IA you undoubtedly met some of our members, as most of the docents were volunteers from Groop.

Once again GroopShop was an invigorating time of fellowship and sometimes idiosyncratic conversations ranging from surviving running a small business in an esoteric marketplace to arcane discussions of technical subjects and all points in between (virtually all the members of Groop are some version of small businesses).  I know my interest was piqued on a regular basis throughout the three days, sometimes so much I forgot to take pictures..

After opening introductions and such the first demonstration of the event was for a low-impact abrasive cleaning system that was especially appealing to our members who undertake architectural work.  Were I a younger man living near the city trying to build a business, this is a device I would certainly consider obtaining.  The results were impressive, and I brought home a cleaned table leg to see how it finishes up.

Next came an excellent presentation on recent advances in waterborne coatings systems.  While I do not use much in the way of these products, if I had a commercial refinishing shop in this age of envirohysteria, I would.

Next came Dan and Tredway demonstrating the process by which they mold and cast replicas.  I especially enjoyed this not only because I have done so much of this, but because they use a very different product line/technology than I do.  (They are Smooth-On guys and I am a Polytek guy)  Somehow I wound up with the fancy eagle, and will probably paint and gild it and perhaps put it in next year’s Groop fundraising auction.  In the mean time I will experiment with making a gelatin mold plaster cast from it.

RandyB gave another inspiring talk about life in the antiques preservation trade.  His creativity knows no bounds.  His many years of caring for collectors’ and dealers has left him with a wealth of experience and knowledge.  I first met Randy while teaching at DCTC decades ago.

BobC gave his paean to oil finishes.  Intriguing.  I think there could be an intersection between them and polissoirs.

After dinner we held our annual Refinishing Jeopardy tournament, with host MikeM invoking Sicilian rules more than once.  Like most things Sicilian it is best not to ask too much about them.  I served as the adjudicating judge for any disputed answers.  Thanks to some curious scorekeeping the hilarity was sustained to the very end.

And thus endeth Day 1.

“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.

Workbench Wednesday — Bench #11 (2014), Portable Bench 2.0, Part 2

With everything cut and fitted for the top it was time to git ‘er done and put it all together.  Following the layout of the grid already traced on the the underside of the first face, a glue line was rapidly distributed along the delineated route.

As soon as that was done the grid was set in place, and the top of the grid was also doused with glue and the second face of the bench top was laid onto it.

By my rough estimate this provided almost 50 liner feet of 3-inch deep I-beam construction for the whole thing.  It was not going to fail until there was enough stress placed on it until the wood literally exploded.

Using the sophisticated engineering for which The Barn is famous, the top assembly was clamped and the glue allowed to dry.

While that was occurring the folding legs were assembled and attached.  Nothing special, certainly no elegant joinery.  Just good precise work.

At that point Groopstock 2014 was done and Bill took the unit home to finish up.

Stay tuned.

Vertigo Bites

I’m not one to air my truly private business excessively on the blog (at least that is my intent overall), but this current aggravation effects everything I am doing in the shop, on the homestead, with work  on the store and web site, everything.

Vertigo bites big time.

I am now in my second week of this initial but inexplicable debilitating dizziness.  It restricts greatly what I can do, including essentially eliminating any mobility beyond that which is biologically mandated.  I note incremental improvement but nothing even close to functionality.  A visit to the doctor yielded no immediate relief although I now have some head manipulation exercises to hopefully mitigate the symptoms regardless of their cause(s).   Mrs. Barn helps with that and observes that my head is really heavy.  Hey, you put that many rocks in the same place…  At least I am not flat on my back as I was for three days last week.

Fortunately I can now work on my laptop for stretches provided I elevate the screen and hold my head absolutely motionless, but reading from an actual book is a challenge.  I cannot yet perambulate up the hill to the barn and fill the outstanding orders for polissoirs, wax, and shellac flour.  I’ll get them sent as soon as I can stand long enough to fulfill them.  I may have to rely on Mrs. Barn to take them to the Post Office.

Patience.  Good thing I like audio books, lectures, music, etc.

More later.

Shellac Wax Now Available in The Store

At long last, pure shellax wax is now available from the store.  I know a few of you have already found it as I have the orders in my “Pending” box to go to the Post Office next time I am in town.

Shellac wax, extracted from raw stick lac, is the second hardest of the naturally occurring waxes.  Because it is so hard and tends to be brittle at cooler temperatures it is generally used as a blend with beeswax to render it more useful as a block wax.  It is especially useful for polishing turnings by placing the block of blended wax directly against the surface of the rotating workpiece to melt it into the surface, followed by burnishing with a polissoir. It is also highly prized as an ingredient in paste wax/grain filler used with a polissoir.

My shellac wax is imported directly from the factory in east central India and is further refined here by molten filtering and forming into quarter-pound blocks for packaging.

Shellac wax is $19/quarter-pound, domestic shipping included.  For foreign or overseas shipping please contact me.

A Virtual Compatriot In Need Of Our Help

Yesterday I read the heart-wrenching report from Rob Hanson of Evenfall Studios, recounting the almost certain devastation to his home and woodworking/toolmaking shop in Paradise CA.  Fortunately he and family are safe, but all else is probably gone.

I contributed through Paypal and offered tools to him.  You should too.

Think about your shop and livelihood disappearing in a moment, then think of Rob.

Do it.

11:11, 11/11

A rare purely soapbox moment for this blog.

I am not one to take note of “mandatory” cultural celebrations, this one included.  My only exceptions to this are Memorial Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas/Easter.

It is no doubt the curmudgeon in me but I fear that in general public celebratory conformity diminishes the heartfelt expressions, reducing them to mere cloying sentimentality, pushing us to compartmentalize integral appreciation into momentary self-congratulatory sanctimony, but I am thus redundant.

For veterans, the reason I do not ostentatiously note November 11 is that I strive to express my appreciation to them every day: thanking soldiers for their service and willingness to write me a check and sign it with their life-blood; anonymously paying for the dinner of a soldier and their family sitting in the opposite side of the restaurant; quietly giving money through my pastor for an airman to fly home for a much-needed but un-affordable visit to his far-absent family.  Either such gestures are part of your life or they are not, the calendar does not dictate them.

I was never in the Service, even though my draft lottery number was #1.   I could not pass the physical exam due to my eyesight, which was very much compromised then as now.  Nevertheless I went through the advance process during my senior year of high school, taking aptitude tests and expressing my specialty preference.  I was provisionally green-lit for nuclear engineering school in the US Navy, I had taken a preliminary psych test for submarine service.  I was expecting to enlist right after high school but the vision thing  booted me out.  So be it.

Lest you think I am uncharitable in my (lack of) public celebrations, consider my attitude toward the Fourth of July.  Though it is one of four public holidays I note here, any fair-minded reading of The Declaration of Independence, which to me was the very pinnacle of civic human culture, could lead to a fair conclusion that its majestic premises were abandoned generations ago.  I revere the Declaration and consider myself a Declarationist first and a Constitutionalist second, but the public hoopla around July 4 rings hollow in a culture that ardently opposes its ideals across the partisan spectrum.

Even the two days most noted in faith, Christmas and Easter, do not resonate with me though I am a devout Follower of The Way.  If I genuinely believe in the Incarnation and Resurrection, it affects me in every way and on every day.  If not, not.  No “ceremonial days” can change that.

Just one of my many quirks.

Stepping down off the box.  Back to woodworking.