MJD Toolapalooza – Part 1


One of the highlights of the galoot’s annual calendar is the warehouse-clearing summer sale by Martin Donnelly at his place in Avoca NY.  If you have never been, you should go for the experience if nothing else.  This auction of 3200 lots containing perhaps 75,000 tools is a place where tubs of tools exchange hands.


This year three lots drew me there.  First was an Emmert die-maker’s bench vi$e which I have $ought to purchase for many year$, thi$ one wa$ I believe the large$t of the line (it wa$ approximately the $ize of a bu$hel ba$ket).  Next was a Veritas MkII sharpening unit, essentially new in the box, and third was a craftsman-built patternmaker’s chest with tools.  More about them tomorrow.

pattern box

The tools weren’t the most important things, though, that would be the fellowship with tool comrades including my long time pal Mike who dropped out at the last minute because of an inflamed sciatic nerve that was so bad he could not sit in a car to drive it there.

Instead I had the good fortune to sit next to Josh Clark, purveyor of the vintage tools through his wonderful site.  There are many people in the tool world, most of them a pleasure to deal with, and certainly Josh fits this description.  He is simply aces.

I was also joined by another long time friend Jersey Jon who was making his first foray to this auction.  He was nearly overcome with the shock of seeing tent after tent filled with fully loaded tables and hundreds, no, thousands, of tools to rifle through and gawk at.


If you were in the market for anvils and swage blocks, this was the auction for you.  I almost wish I was in the market, as the prices turned out to be dirt cheap.

The tale continues tomorrow.

Old Friends Depart


Recently I got the call that the last of our gerontological felines had departed for the Great Catnip Patch in the Sky.  18-year-old Calico Girl, or “Callie,” featured recently in Popular Woodworking,  died while my daughter was at work, and she buried her alongside our others.  Another old gal, “Baby” also 18, had died only a fortnight earlier (all these are natural deaths of ancient cats simply fading away.)  They were all rescued cats who lived long and much-loved lives.


This picture of me editing Roubo in about 2011 was a pretty typical image on a cold winter’s night, when even though we kept the house heated the cats knew it was cold outside and wanted to suck as much body heat out of us as they could.  From top to bottom they were Lazy Boy (d. 2012), Toby (d. 2011, he adopted us out at the cabin in 2001), and Baby.


This is one of my favorite pictures of Toby curled up in the void of a modern sculpture I was restoring.  If ever there was a person in a cat costume it was Toby.

We are now cat-less for the first time in more than 30 years.  As a cat person myself, it feels a little weird.  I know cats have a reputation as being aloof, but their indifference to me makes them all the more appealing companions.

I think I’ am in the market for a barn cat…

Floor Scraps, A Treasured Addition

While attending a memorial celebration of Mel’s life and work last week, I revived an old acquaintance with one of Mel’s long time collaborators, a renowned architectural conservator.  Our conversation was a winding one, reminiscing on our mutual respect and admiration for our departed friend.

Eventually we passed into the territories of our own projects, and he mentioned a gift he had for me out in his car.  In a couple minutes he reappeared with an envelope with two index-card sized pieces of wood.

“These are some of the parquet floor remnants from the Oval Office, removed during the renovation of about 1990.”



I do not know the configuration or pattern of the parquet flooring, and even if I did the pieces are so small I could not make sense of them.  Perhaps some day I will get a photo of the Oval Office flooring during this period and replicate it, but for the foreseeable future I will be content to enable these remnants to be prominently featured in The Barn alongside the c.1670 oak parquet flooring from the Palaise Royale in Paris.



So, in addition to sections of floor that may have supported  Thomas Jefferson and Benjamin Franklin, I have a scrap of floor that almost certainly bore the footsteps of Ronaldus Magnus.  How cool is that?

Now I just have to somehow find a piece of flooring from underneath the only truly great President of the past 200 years, Calvin Coolidge…

The Big Picture, I Mean the REALLY BIG PICTURE!

A few days ago I returned to Mordor on the Potomac for the completion and assembly of the c.1900 gigantic portrait of the Chinese Dowager Empress.  I was astounded at the change in the painting by my colleagues Jia-sun and Ines who, along with a legion of others, transformed it into a sparkling image.


My role in the day’s festivities was to affix the locking corner cleats I had fabricated for the frame.


I used double tapered cross battened cleats to make sure the corners do not come apart unless you want them to.





I beat a retreat as fast as I could back the the mountains.  It was a great project, and it is unlikely that I will ever be conserving a painting frame quite like this one again.


Parquetry Workshop Day 3

The day began with the excitement of seeing the glued-up panels.   We had slightly oversized 1/2 baltic birch plywood for each of the panels so that they could be trimmed precisely to size one the project is complete.


The first step to getting finished from this point was to moisten and peel off the kraft paper that served as the support for the assembling of the pattern, banding, and border.


It was a delicate balancing act, moistening the surface enough to remove the glued-down paper, but not so wet as to lift the veneers.  Once the paper is removed begins the tiresome task of dampening and scraping off all the glue left behind.


A quick stint on front of the fan to dry them, and then we brought out the toothing planes, scrapers, and small planes to get everything flat and smooth.


The conditions of the panels,




and the floor indicated we were making great progress.


In a normal 3-day parquetry workshop this would have been the final process,


but these guys were working so efficiently we made it all the way through a finished project by the time they left.


Using one of my panels, I demonstrated the simplest finishing approach to the parquetry, and they charged ahead.


Burnishing with polissoirs came next,


and then the molten wax treatment for the final finish.  The wax was first dripped on the surface, then trowelled around with the tacking iron.  Again it was important to use the iron delicately to melt the wax enough to impregnate the surface, but not to heat the surface enough to lift the veneer.


Once the surface was fully impregnated the panel was set aside to let cool and harden, then the excess was scraped off,


and the remaining surface was buffed with a linen rag.


The results were eye popping, and demonstrated what can be done with very little wood in a short while.  If you snoozed on this one, you loozed.  Joe and Joshua now possess another important tool for their design and fabrication toolkit for the future, and when they get home they both plan to trim their panels and build a small table around them.

Great job, guys!

Parquetry Workshop Day 2 (many pictures)

Our morning began with center sections completed and ready for trimming.




The weather was foreboding; the day was cool if not downright chilly (60-ish, in mid-July!), and the rain was threatening.  This was a theme for the day, and did impact how things progressed.


The first thing we did was select and prepare our materials for the edge banding around the center field, and glue them up into a “loaf.”


On a normal day these set fairly quickly, in an hour or so using hot hide glue, but the day being cold and damp we wrestled with this all day.  Next time I offer this course we will glue up the bandings on the first day.  Once they were set (mine hadn’t by the end of the day) we cut them into banding strips.


We trimmed the panels in order to cut and fit the banding.


Trimming the panels gave Josh the chance to show off his new Gramercy veneer saw with the “King Kong” blade for use on sawn veneers.  We were unanimous that it was a fabulous tool.


After trimming the center field, the parquetry was glued to another sheet of heavy brown paper an then fitted the banding,


gluing it in place using the aluminum head push pins from Utrecht discovered by a workshop student in Kansas City.


Then went on the outer edge, which could be either long grain or cross grain.


That done, out came the glue pots and the slathering began.


They are now all glued to their support panels and clamped up over night, awaiting planing, polishing, and finishing tomorrow.


As a reminder, all of this information (and actually a lot more) will be covered in my ongoing blog series “Parquetry Tutorial” which will be a single downloadable PDF once complete.

Parquetry Workshop Day 1

We had a terrific day creating parquetry panels in The Barn today.  Joe and Josh were on the spot at 9 AM sharp, and after introductions all around we got to work.  I quickly reviewed all the materials, processes, and tools, and within minutes we were underway. cIMG_6279 First, they glued up sawing jigs.  A bit later we layed out and sawed the kerfs for these bench-hook style tools.  I will blog about this process on Monday night. cIMG_6275 Then, we moved on to creating sawn veneer strips with my min-bandsaw, which is pretty much dedicated to sawing veneer for parquetry these days.  Joshua opted for some of my vintage and tight grained Bald Cypress, and Joe brought a piece of superb true mahogany. cIMG_6273 We ran it through the planer quickly to verify planarity, then sawed it up with the bandsaw. cIMG_6277 The we got to cutting parallelograms for the assembled pattern.  And sawed.  And sawed. cIMG_6281 It takes a pile o’ lozenges to create a completed pattern. cIMG_6288 After lunch I reviewed the working system for assembling the pattern (about which I will be blogging later next week) then fired up the glue pots and we were off to the races.  All three of us were creating parquetry panels; Joe and Josh were making small table tops, and I was working on one of four panels for an upcoming tool cabinet. cIMG_6289 By the end of the day each of us had completed the “field” of the panel we were creating. cIMG_6290 All in all, a very good day.

Roubo’s “Winding Sticks”


I’ve gotta say this about old Andre, he never stops larnin’ me.  Over the weekend I built another set of his winding-sticks-on-stilts as I call them, so that I could photograph them for an essay in the book.  I have been trying to incorporate them into my own work practices for the past several months, and doggone if I can’t already see how they will make my work so much more efficient than it was previously.  His approach to flattening rough stock is insidiously ingenious.

You can read more about these gems and how they are used in the upcoming To Make As Perfectly as Possible: Roubo On Furniture Making (Lost art Press, 2014?)

Impending Order

Even my little niche of a “hardware store” the barn is beginning to look like there is a guiding organization involved.  As a huge fan of Friederich Hayek and his mentor, Ludwig von Mises, it delights me any time order is emergent!



I have a few more parts cabinets to place there in the coming days, but I am not displeased at the progress thus far.

Sometimes, Just Because

I recently hung a couple of banners in The Barn, just because they make me smile.


First was the original Barn On White Run banner we had last year at Handworks in Amana IA.  I hung it off the bridge that connects the north and south balconies, and it is an immediate greeting once you enter the door.


As a total whim I ordered a 4-foot by 6-foot version of an image I am using to promote the Studley Tool Cabinet exhibit (tickets are still available), and hung it just opposite the door to my workshop.


At that size it is an unavoidable reminder of 1) how cool the Studley cabinet and workbench are, 2) how great the exhibit is going to be, 3) how great the upcoming book is going to be, and 4) that I should be scared out of my mind with all the work (and expense) still awaiting me in order to make #s 2&3 a reality.