Compewder Craptastica

I’m not seeking radio silence on the blog, but have been working on reviewing the edits for the manuscript and adding the necessary revisions, and selecting, editing, and captioning the almost 500 images for Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.  It is way less glamorous than it sounds.

I normally back up  everything at the end of the day, but  for some reason I had not done that since Saturday.  So of course this morning was the moment my laptop fried.  I mean sparks and all as I plugged in the printer USB cable.  The geeks are trying to copy the hard disk, provided it did not get damaged. I will get their verdict in the morning.  So, I am consolidating and duplicating files by the boatload using my indestructible but antique Dell 1525 with Windows Vista(!) and my three external hard drives (we do not have the connectivity required for Cloud backup).

At worst I will have to reconstruct three days worth of work.  At best it will all be there.  Either way I need a new laptop. It will not be another Compaq/HP.

Until everything gets resolved I will be a bit quiet.


Video Loop for the Studley Exhibit

One of the common questions I get regarding the upcoming exhibit of the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench is, “Will you take the tools out of the cabinet so I can see everything inside?”  The answer to that is “No.”  A second question is, “Do we get to handle the tools ourselves?”  Apparently the folks who ask this question have never been to museums or artifact exhibits.

This is not to say that the visitor experience will be to view a static and lifeless exhibit.  I’ll be making sure the exhibit is a rich and rewarding experience through a couple of avenues, one of which I address here.


One of the final tasks for the recently completed work session with the Studley tool Cabinet was to film a real-time session of me removing the entire collection of tools from the tool cabinet, one at a time.  In doing this the video reveals every single tool in its place, and how that relates to the adjacent tools and the cabinet as a whole.  This video will be running on a loop on a giant screen at the end of the exhibit hall at the Scottish Rite Temple in Cedar Rapids.

You can find more information and purchase tickets for the exhibit here.

Readying For Winter

One of the front-burner activities over the past couple of months was getting ready for our first full winter in the Allegheny Highlands, where winters are essentially identical to those of upstate New York or central Michigan.  Having spent my formative years in Minnesota, admittedly in southern Minnesota, the more tropical part, the upcoming winter in the mountains is something about which I am fairly sanguine despite three decades in the Mid-Atlantic. However, since my bride of 34 years is from Southern California the angst is running high; my task of keeping the cabin warm and toasty is priority #1.


The assembly of gigantic firewood piles has continued apace.  Virtually all of the available spaces around the cabin are filled to the brim with cut, split, and mostly well-seasoned wood (I especially have sought out dead trees on the hoof).  This picture is of the cabin front as of last weekend.


We’ve even loaded up the side deck with firewood.


On top of this stash, my pal Mike told me he had a bunch of dead and risky trees he wanted removed from his farm, so for the past several days I’ve been working with him to accomplish that.  The result for me has been five heaping trucks-full of mostly already-seasoned firewood, now awaiting splitting and stacking into giant piles out the the lower barn.  The local tradition is to always have two full years of firewood on hand.  We literally see firewood piles the size of garages here.


Add that to Mrs. Donsbarn’s efforts to get the gardens prepared for spring, including the nurturing of greens in the front raised bed with a plastic hoop house (her goal is to have fresh greens for Thanksgiving) and things are shaping up here at the homestead.

Washington Woodworker’s Guild Presentation

Recently I presented at my home woodworking posse, the Washington Woodworker’s Guild.  I have been making presentations there for almost thirty years, since I first moved to the DC area, and even though I no longer live quite so close I enjoy it enough to keep coming back.  I think this was either the 12th or 13th presentation for them.


A couple of old friends came; Tom, my Wednesday night woodworking pal for many years, and Daniela, one of my furniture conservation proteges and the gifted hand holding the brush for the peacock feather on my Gragg chairs.


My topic(s) for the evening were pewter inlays, about which I am completing an article for an upcoming Popular Woodworking, and the progress of The Studley Project.  That book is now in editing, and development of the accompanying exhibit of the Studley Tool Cabinet is progressing nicely.  There are still plenty of tickets available, and the combination of it with the Handworks tool extravaganza in nearby Amana, Iowa, makes for a memorable woodworker’s weekend.


Next Thursday evening I will be presenting an overview of The Studley Project for Central Virginia  woodworkers Guild in the Lynchburg area.

The Longest Drive Ever

As I write this, I have just completed my longest day of driving ever.  I turned the ignition key at 7.30 this morning, well, yesterday morning to be technically accurate, and exactly 16 hours and 999.4 miles later, I turned it off.  That’s the distance from Topeka, Kansas, to my Fortress of Solitude in the Virginia Highlands.  Three refills of gas, four chili cheese-dogs from Pilot, a handful of celery and carrots and two apples, and here I am.

If I could stand up straight I would have a bit of a strut.

Little did I know last year when I agreed to make a presentation to the Washington Woodworker’s Guild it would be the day following this trip, but I am not about to shirk my commitment.  They are my woodworking peeps, after all.

Now, on the the hard part of tying up all those loose threads from Henry Studley’s apron.

“We’ll Know It When We See It”

So there we were, basking the the typical glamorous dining in the aftermath of a long hard day of working with the Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench.  In this case it was pizza and beer, well I had the pizza, in a local eatery that was by this time of evening pretty much deserted.  Our typical day of working with Studley began about 0830 and wrapped up twelve hours later.

The ongoing dinner discussions revolved around the visual presentation of the book, most specifically the covers.  Tomorrow was the day Narayan was dedicating to the last few glamour shots and the cover art possibilities, a task that would take all day if everything went well, and we did not want him wasting time going in the wrong direction.

We did not share a common vision for the image portraying the tool cabinet on the cover, and the discussion was spirited as we each made a pitch for our favorite concept.

Once it was clear that no one was going to actually win the argument, Chris stated simply, “We will know it when we see it.”

He was right.

Studley Final Exam – The Documentary


Once Chris and Narayan arrived the dynamic of the week would change completely.  In the preceding three days, I was alone in the room studying the portions of the tool cabinet and workbench I needed to confirm my notes, images, and observations from visits over the previous five years.  Did I get the description of the bench top correct?


And the tool nests in the elegant little drawers?


I am pleased to say that I had it all right, but it is never a bad thing to get confirmation.  Now I could return home and do the final polishing on the manuscript.


At times I found myself sitting quietly, just staring, and thinking, “Who was this guy?”


With Chris and Narayan present, the tenor of the work changed to follow strictly a “shot list” we had compiled during the last year as I was writing the manuscript, and we needed to make the shots that wee missing from the final portfolio needed for the book.  The time working together is great, filled with raucous good spirit and some generous helpings of humor in bad taste and great micro-brewery pub food.  With his artist’s eye, photographer’s skill, and premium equipment, I think Narayan could actually make Rahm Emanuel seem warm and trustworthy.  Making Studley look good was a walk in the park compared to that.


When we were here last year we filmed a documentary about the project (since it was all digital, do we now say we “electroned” a video?) but a technical malfunction rendered it mute.  The video was great, but unless we were going to create a silent movie it was not the ideal.  So, we shot the whole thing again.  And again.  And again.  It took us almost a full day.

I’m not sure where this documentary will be shown, but at least it is in the can, er, SD card.  It will almost certainly be part of the exhibit programming, and Chris mentioned that the documentary he and Narayan shot of the Anarchist’s Tool Chest was a very popular enhancement to that project.  Stay tuned here or at Lost Art Press for more details.

Studley Tool Chest Final Exams – The Mallet

This was the final opportunity I had to examine the H.O. Studley ensemble prior to submitting the manuscript.  The next time I encounter Studley in person will be after the book is out, and I show up to pack it for shipment to the exhibit.  With that in mind I showed up for a full week of final exams, complete with many pages of notes and hints of things to check out.  Armed with my measuring tools, lights, camera, notebooks, microscopes, and laptop I set to work.


I had three days to myself with the chest before Chris and Narayan showed up on Wednesday night for the final “formal” photography and video sessions.  Highest on my “Things To Do” list was to examine as closely as possible the tools I believed were the product of Studley himself.  Sure, I already had thousands of photos in my camera and dozens of pages of notes, but are these ever really enough?  Did I overlook anything?

Sure enough, even at this late date after two dozen days of examination prior to this episode, I discovered some jaw dropping stuff.

For example, the head of the mallet is a single piece of sand cast brass.  A. Single. Piece.  Folks, that is just showing off.


The moldings on the faces and around the collars are integral to the casting, not pieces brazed on.  Being from the patternmaking/metalcasting trades myself I know how he did it, and that makes it all the more spectacular.


One of my goals for this final trip and this coming winter was to document tools enough that I could replicate them and have those replicas in the exhibit “The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.”  I had already mapped out the strategy, workspace, materials, and a series of blogs on the subject of cutting, brazing, finishing, and assembling this magnificent tool.

I still have that plan, although now all I have to do is change my strategy, workspace, materials, and the concept of the blog.

Henry, Henry, Henry, what am I going to do with you?

Bill’s Amazing Project

Wrapping up my business in Cedar Rapids with the successful connections for fabricators and lighting folks and printers, i parted ways with the beloved Abraham clan.  Since I was already in the Midwest, and since Wisconsin is right next door to Iowa, I decided to pop up to Green Bay and visit my dear friend a colleague Bill Robillard, furniture preservation practitioner extraordinaire.

bill 1

Bill is just starting a conservation project on an amazing artifact, which is sort of a cross between a velocipede and a teeter totter.  We’ve been corresponding about this project, and he thought it would really help for me to chat with the staff of the museum to help him outline the strategy.

I’ve included the article from a local news outlet, and you can see some video from the local station here.


Reposted from


PHOTO: Conservators William Robillard, rear, and Don Williams examine a 19th-century monowheel Wednesday at theNeville Public Museum in Green Bay. Warren Gerds photo

GREEN BAY, Wis. (WFRV) – A person would ride the object in the photograph. With hand power. The thing weighs around 100 pounds. It’s one of a kind. Hand made. Wood and iron. The thing is called a monowheel. It may have been made by someone from the Green Bay area. The object dates to the 19th century, maybe as early as 1869. The monowheel is about to head out on a big trip. In preparation, it is getting a new lease on life – restoration.

Through the end of the year, William Robillard, a restorer/conservator who resides in the Green Bay area, will spend hundreds of hours with his nose to the wheel at the Neville Public Museum of Brown County in Green Bay as he rejuvenates the piece. The monowheel will be on display through 2015 at the Wisconsin Historical Society in Madisonand the History Museum at the Castle in Appleton.

The object received extra attention Wednesday, when prominent conservator Don Williams stopped in briefly to examine the piece and put his head together with Robillard about fine points of the restoration.

Prior to retirement, Williams was senior furniture conservator at the Smithsonian Institution’s Center for Materials Research and Education near Washington D.C. He worked on many objects in the “nation’s attic” – the Smithsonian.

Robillard said, “Don Williams is my mentor and a dear friend. Don is in the area, and I asked him to stop in and give his advice on the project.”

Williams later kidded about being “in the area” but was clear about being enticed by the monowheel. How many has he seen? Answer: “Counting this one, it makes exactly one.”

The monowheel is owned by the Neville Public Museum.

“It’s part of our permanent collection,” said Louise Pfotenhauer, curator of collections. “It has been on exhibit in ‘Edge of theInland Sea’ for many years, and we’re taking it off (because of the loans).”

The monocycle has been at the museum since 1943, Pfotenhauer said.

“It was donated by Frank Duchateau, who was a major donor,” she said. “He gave us over 11,000 objects total.”

What’s the monowheel worth?

Pfotenhauer: “I can’t speak to value exactly, but, you know, there’s a collector for everything and the fact that it is a rare piece, of course, would make it more valuable.”

Robillard, who owns Encore Restorations, has worked in the past with the museum and Williams. In 2013, Robillard helped restore the dais of the U.S. House of Representatives. A feature on that is at

The monowheel has signs of being used. There is wear on the seat and the hand crank handle.

Robillard said, “I would define wear not so much as use but wear more in terms of its interaction with the environment and what’s happening. From that perspective, it’s wearing very quickly.”

Robillard gave a quick once-over report:

“If you look at the monowheel, it’s cracked around the periphery. This is very typical of oaks or ash woods. They tend to expand and contract and develop these cracks. We’d like to have the monowheel around for generations to come, and the way to do that is preserve it, put a coating around it – something like an M&M, if you will – that will protect the artifact now and into the future. The key to doing that is to do it properly. We don’t want to in any way impact the natural patina, so it’s really a lot of chemistry around how to create this M&M shell that protects it but does not cosmetically change it.”

The monowheel is one of a kind.

Robillard: “As you work through the artifact, you can tell this is a labor of love. This is all hand-crafted. Each panel is unique and hand-cut and on and on. It was put together with hide glue, which would have been used at that time, and decorated with some plant-resin paints, and you can just see the residue as well. It’s very much one of a kind.”

The monowheel is 67 inches in diameter. The woods are likely red oak and ash, Robillard said.

Robillard: “A fairly skilled woodworker would have built this piece. Not only are there the obvious cut-outs with the stars, but you see some bent laminations or bent wood. This would have taken many hours to build – a labor of love. They would have had to known something about steam bending and hand planning, etc., so they would have been a skilled woodworker, or woodworkers.”

The thing looks heavy.

Robillard: “It’s wood and iron band inside and out, so it’s relatively heavy. I would say we’re in the 100-pound area. Dedication. This is a labor of love, to build it AND to use it.”

Robillard supplied some imagination: “I think one sits in the seat and hand pedals. Perhaps you could use your feet but likely (you power it) with your hands, and the outer donut rotates around the cycler. One can envision a parade. Maybe it’s the Fourth of July. Let’s imagine this painted up with red, white and blue and somebody going through the street cycling this bike. That would have been quite an attraction.”

Williams and Robillard perused the piece in detail. They looked at it from every which angle. Nooks, crannies, cracks. Williams shone a flashlight in dark corners and crevices.

Williams said he saw some red flags – “Only because there are so many pieces. Literally, there are so many different pieces and elements of this, and a fair bit of attention has to be paid to all of the end grain of the wood because that’s where wood absorbs and desorbs moisture the most effectively. So Bill’s going to have to be very attentive. You see all the cut-outs and stars – all of those surfaces are going to need to be encapsulated and sealed from moisture exchange, because that’s the enemy of this thing. Moisture fluctuation is the enemy of this artifact… Once those moisture margins have been sealed – as long as it’s handled with careful thought – there’s no reason this can’t last centuries yet to come.”

A conversation with Don Williams swiftly turned colorful and humorous.

“Bill brought me to Green Bay. I’m putting together an exhibit in Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Since I was coming from the East Coast – you know, Cedar Rapids and Green Bay, they’re like right next door to each other – so I just popped on up yesterday (Tuesday). Bill had shown me pictures of this before, and it was really fascinating. In Cedar Rapids next May, I am doing an exhibit of perhaps the most famous toolbox+ in American history. Bill is going to be one of the people who is going to help me put the exhibit together physically on the ground there in Cedar Rapids. So that’s the connection. He was visiting me in my home last month and showed me pictures of this, and I said, ‘Well, you know, I’m only going to be one state away, maybe I should just come up.’ So I’m here for about an hour, and I have to head back to other appointments down south later today.”

The uniqueness of the monowheel attracted Williams.

Williams: “Bill and I were talking last night about the kind of projects I like to do, and they involve either really unusual objects or objects that have unusual problems. I’m not especially attracted to what I would call lifestyle of the rich and famous artifacts but objects that have really complex technical problems or were complex in their making. Those really get my headlights on high beam. And this is, indeed, a compound-complex object with some pretty serious issues to attend to. It’s actually in remarkably good shape given what it is and its history, but it is a very complex artifact made of hundreds of pieces of wood put together in a pretty… whimsical is too strong of a word… but if I were tasked to build this, I would probably build it a little bit differently. But at the same time, it’s amazingly charming. This is a charming object, and it is just a fun thing to deal with. Bill and I normally deal with chairs and tables and cabinets. This falls outside those boundaries pretty far, and delightfully so. So it’s a fun thing to engage in, and I’m really honored that Bill invited me to come and see it because he’s going to be doing, really, some fundamentally important work in stabilizing it… to see that this can emerge in decades and generations into the future as intact as is possible. The problem with artifacts is that they’re all going back to dirt. It’s just a matter of what does that timeline and slope look like. Our task is very often is just to flatten out that slope as much as possible. But, you know, at some point in time this will go back to dirt, and our job is to just make sure that it is slowed down and consumed as efficiently as possible along the way.”

Williams called himself a retired conservator and currently an author.

Williams: “I didn’t know what an author was, and now I are one. I’m in the process of writing nine books over a 12-year period. I write about preservation of artifacts and historical technology of creating artifacts. The big project I have right now is seven-volume set. I’m translating a monumental 18th century French treatise on furniture making known as ‘L’Art Du Menuisier’ by Andre Jacques Roubo. He’s the top of the food chain when it comes to writing about historical furniture making.”

+ About that toolbox, Williams: “It’s made and attributed to a piano maker named Henry Studley. In the woodworking world, it’s a pretty iconic toolbox, and almost every serious woodworker in the country has a poster of this toolbox on his wall… All hand crafted, built with precision woodworking tools, including some that Studley himself made, so it’s really an amazing thing that’s been mostly obscured from public eyes. Its current owner has very generously allowed me to make an exhibit of it. So it will be on exhibit only for three days. It’s a chance of a lifetime for a lot of people like Bill and me that have been longingly staring at this poster on our shop walls for 30 years.”

Are You This Good?

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I’ve been working my way through the thousands of images to select the several hundred I want in VIRTUOSO: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley (submitting the manuscript to LAP in a few days) and I came across this one Narayan shot last year.  It is the dovetail set on the edge of one of teensy ebony-front mother-of-pearl inlaid drawers at the top of the drawers section of the tool cabinet.


If you make it to the exhibit of Studley’s ensemble next May you can see it in person.  Almost this close.