I realize with no small element of chagrin that between all the activities drawing on my time, energy, and concentration, I have been remiss in carrying forward the Shellac Archive (it seems as though I have posted only 10 of the documents from my collection, which at least volumetrically, leaves more than 95% to go). I will soon strive to make its nurturing a regular part of the Blog. My personal archive has now taken up residence with us in the mountains, so I can resume the scanning and editing of it for dissemination to you.
This reality was struck home to me this week as I was trying to find a particular picture I needed as I near the finish line for the upcoming HO Studley exhibit. As is my wont when I am weary, I just let my mind wander, and in concert with that began to browse the voluminous folders of images on my compewder. While doing so I ran across several hundred pictures I had taken many years ago, recording the pages of long forgotten academic theses from one of the nation’s great universities.
The titles are self explanatory, but the depth and breadth of the contents are not.
The Manufacture of Shellac Paint
Deterioration of Bleached Shellac With Age
Dewaxing of Shellac
Deterioration of Bleached Shellac With Age (different than the previous listing)
Some Studies on the Effect of Storage on Shellac
Plasticization of Shellac
A Study of the Methods for Determining the Properties of Shellac
A Study of the Solubility of T.N. Shellac in Aqueous Sodium Carbonate Solutions
I will post these theses, but not until tell you the amazing tale of how they came into my possession, thanks to the conscientious generosity of two determined archivists. It is a tale of worldwide fascist ambitions, flourishing scholarship in an unlikely time (ultimately abandoned and discarded), and finally the overcoming of a pronounced phobia to reclaim them.
You might be getting tired of HO Studley posts, but it is all I am working o these days so it’s pretty much all I have to talk about. It will all be over soon.
On my final visit to the Studley tool cabinet last October, with the owner’s permission I made a number of silicone rubber molds from the details Studley created and integrated into his masterpiece. My access to the elements was not perfect, it was an intact artifact hanging on the wall after all, so I chose two part silicone molding putty from Hobby Lobby. In the past I have used food grade molding putty by the bucketful, but for this project I needed just a bit and the hobby store package was just fine.
Using it is simple, just take equal parts of the two putties and knead them together until the color is uniform. Then, in the next 15-20 seconds press the wad against the surface you are trying to mold, sit back, and remove a finished and cured mold in a few minutes.
Given the spatial logistics of taking impressions from the tool cabinet, the molds were not perfect but they were useful. Once I got into the swing of producing the elements for the exhibit “The Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench” (tickets still available) I made some first generation beeswax castings from those molds just to see what was needed to come up with something exhibit worthy.
It’s fair to say that all of the castings in the upcoming exhibit were the result of several generations of molds and castings, with many hours spent in refining the representations of the elements under the microscope. On a project with more available time I might spend a week per element, but in this case I was lucky to carve out a day per element.
Much like picture from the Mars Rover, the whole is often a composite assembled from the disparate pieces. Even so, these are not perfect but they will allow the exhibit visitors to get a better sense of what Studley made to embellish his masterpiece.
In the end, using the molds for casting some pigmented West System epoxy and some mother-of-pearl I got results that will convey the grandeur of these elements up-close-and-personal for the exhibit patrons as this panel will be sitting on the replica workbench for touching and examining closely.
As time allows I will detail the process of refining specific elements, with observations about both moldmaking and casting materials useful to the decorative artisan.
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.
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.
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.
Integral to the in-production book Virtuoso and the upcoming exhibit on the same topic, I am striving to make it more than just a tool peepshow. You are gonna learn something even if you do not want to!
Part of that learning experience will be the exposure to the remarkable Studley workbench and vises (above), including a display of similar contemporaneous vises that have been loaned for the exhibit.
To carry the weight of these six vises (somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 pounds) I built a fairly faithful replica workbench top, sitting on a base made for the exhibit but which will be swapped out for a cabinet base at some point.
About the only semi-tricky part of the bench build was dropping the end vise dog slot with my 3-1/2 hp plunge router, the only power tool that makes me nervous.
With multiple measurements and confirmations, I cut the channel from above and below, and the vise and its dog yoke dropped into place cleanly.
Now I can put the router beast away until I need it again in several more years.
To increase the didactic function I left the front edge of the replica bench unfinished so you can see the core construction. As soon as the unit is back home the already-constructed front edge will be installed. Another thing to occur after the exhibit will be to dispense with the glossy finish applied for the display (four coats of Tru-Oil, then buffed) through the vigorous use of a toothing plane to leave the surface I prefer.
I don’t have any pictures of the finished bench with all the vises on it. I mounted them when it was upside down, but could not budge it to flip it right side up until I had removed all the vises. So, you will just have to wait on that visual for the exhibit itself.
photo courtesy of Narayan Nayar
It might be the fact that I am in the midst of what could be called Studley Silly Season, wherein my time and energies are focused entirely on getting the exhibit of the Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench done and over, but it seems that I see everything in the light of what old Henry had in his tool cabinet. One of his tools was this set of ultra precise measuring calipers (above).
Consider this intriguing micrometer I found in a vintage tool store in Connecticut a couple of years ago, and which I have found a useful addition to my tool kit. While it is functionally similar to the Starret vernier micrometer Studley had stashed back in his tool cabinet, this one is a more straightforward micrometer system mounted on a movable bar.
Made in Cranston RI at the Central Tool Co., this is unlike anything I had ever seen before, notwithstanding my years in a foundry/machine shop.
Just something for amusing contemplation on a beautiful spring evening.
Probably the simplest beautiful finish from a technological point of view is the French molten wax polish, which has but a few individual components yet yeilds a beautiful, lustrous presentation surface.
The first thing is a block of clean beeswax. I render my own from raw wax straight from the beekeepers after the honey is harvested.
Next comes a source of heat to melt the wax onto the surface of the wood. Historically something like a roofer’s soldering iron was used, these days I use an electric tacking iron.
I move the hot iron over the surface, spreading and melting the wax onto and into the surface until it is fully saturated.
Once the molten wax has been imbibed fully into the wood surface it is left to cool,
and once fully hardened it is scraped with a simple metal, wood, or bone scraper. If the scraper has a nice clean edge (no burr!), the resulting surface can be mirror-like. A little buffing with a piece of soft cloth like worn flannel or fine wool and you are done. This might even be enhanced with some spit polish.
The result is a high-sheen, non-toxic and easily repairable surface that is pretty robust against abrasion but utterly defenseless against heat or oily materials. I’m working on some formulations to make this finish a lot tougher, but it is increasingly one with which I am toying, and as I move forward with designing and fabrication parquetry panels, you can believe it is something I will employ.
My Team Studley compatriot and project photographer Narayan Nayar tells the tale of preparing hundreds of images for the book, which incidentally is about halfway through production. It is scheduled to be released the day before I start the installation of the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench Exhibit on May 13.
Am working on getting the exhibit finished all day, every day.
While many artisans are content to work alone, as I am almost all of the time (an mp3 player loaded with podcast lectures and such is about all the social interaction I need during my work day), there are those magical interludes of fellowship around the workbench with a like-minded soul. Such is the case with my pal Tom, whom I first met by chance at a flea market ten years ago (he was selling, I was thinking about buying). That led to hundreds of Wednesday nights in his first-rate shop where a multitude of tools were sharpened or made, mountains of shavings were made then swept out into the yard, and on occasion, the world’s problems were solved.
Tom even accompanied me frequently on working weekends to the barn, where what we were working on WAS the barn.
Tom visited recently, and is often the case, he tossed out an offhand comment that was a thunderbolt.
While he was making some tapered octagonal legs for a dressing table I had been wrestling with my HO Studley workbench top replica for the upcoming exhibit of the workbench and the accompanying tool cabinet. The grain of the bench surface, African “mahogany,” was just being, in the words of my ever foul-mouthed 98 year old mom, “A real stinker.”
Rob in Lawrence KS had offered his helpful observations, namely that I could use a high angled smoother tuned to a fever pitch. When I mentioned this to Tom with the regretful statement that I did not own such a tool, and that I was going to set things up to make one for myself, he casually remarked that there was a simple way of making a high angled smoother that might serve my purpose. When I tried it, I had to smack my forehead. Hard. The solution was both brilliantly insightful and mindlessly simple and best of all, easy. Coordinated problem solving like this is what woodworking fellowship is all about.
The solution? why, flipping the blade, of course!
I first tried it on a tiny coffin smoother that I had, which was set up to cut at 49 degrees, but when the blade was flipped the new cutting angle was a bit too steep at 74 degrees. Yeah, a bit too steep.
I then looked through my collection of bench planes to see which of them might be a good candidate for this modification. I had a nice little coffin plane with a very shallow angle on the blade bevel. It is set up to cut at about 45 degrees, and simply by flipping the blade over I got a 62-degree cutting angle. Not the perfect setup, but way better than I had before.
The new orientation turns the plane from a double iron bevel-down tool into essentially a single iron bevel-up plane. Yes indeed, I transformed one of my bench planes into a pretty nice high angle smoother in less than 30 seconds. For zero dollars.
A couple minutes to touch up the blade on my 12000 water stone and the tool began its work. It wasn’t pulling off long, gossamer wisps, but did I mention I was planing African “mahogany,” a/k/a braided broom straw?
The result in the lower right corner of the image speaks for itself. Following the smoothing with a bit of scraping yielded an outcome that was acceptable, especially since after the exhibit I will be surfacing the bench top with a toothing plane. I remain committed to avoiding African “mahogany” in perpetuity, but for this one problem the result is in the right direction.
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.
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.”
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.
After long and careful consideration, I have concluded that I simply cannot host any workshops at The Barn this coming summer. The combination of the Studley book and exhibit, brutal winter aftermath with a mountain of things to do on the homestead, projects that have languished in the studio, and the need to wrap-up Roubo on Furniture Making (almost twice as large as Roubo on Marquetry) leaves me with no time nor energy to dedicate to workshops at the barn. I had planned on a historic finishing workshop in late June, but that will have to wait until net year. In September I will host a week-long workbench build for my friends of the Professional Refinishers Group web forum.
This is not to say I will be entering my long anticipated hermit phase. My presence and teaching elsewhere over the summer will be evident. Check these out.
Henry O. Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench exhibit – May 15-17, Cedar Rapids IA
Making New Finishes Look Old – Society of American Period Furniture Makers Mid-Year Conference, June 11-15, Knoxville TN
Gold Leaf and its Analogs – Professional Refinisher’s Group Groopfest, June 24-26, Pontoon Beach IL
The Henry Studley Book and Exhibit (breakfast banquet address) and Roubo Parquetry (demo workshop) – Woodworking in America 2015, September 25-27, Kansas City MO