Kalifornyuh Dreamin’ 1

Since my father-in-law died two days after my mom’s memorial service in January, we have been up to our eyeballs in alligators working to settle his estate and clean out his house.  As Mrs. Barn and I noted last night, even after almost four months it is still a shock to not be making a phone call to him every evening at 7:30.

Fortunately my sister-in-law is the executor and point of contact for all the estate stuff, but we have been actively involved in the house-cleaning-out process, spending almost a month in total on the ground and getting dirty.  It is a humungous task as my father-in-law was a child of the Depression who lived in the same house for sixty years in a SoCal suburb.  So, there’s lots of stuff.

Much of my time over a couple of recent weeks has been to clean out the garage, which had a tunnel for the car but I called the rest the Wall of Voodoo.  It was exhausting work as there were literally tons of junk to move out and stack for the disposal crew to remove, and to also sort through the Wall of Voodoo to separate the treasure from the trash.  In addition to the hundreds of used spark plugs, the dozens of carburetors and alternators, there were tools.  Lots of tools.  Mounds of tools.  He was a mechanical savant and a mechanical engineer, so the inventory of those implements was huge.  Among the treasure were a few things that I was able to ship home to the barn.  Here are a few of them.

A tool I have always wanted was a square broach style thread file.  Now I have one.

I’m so old that when I took drafting classes we had to sharpen our own wooden pencils with a knife and sandpaper.  It was in the “advanced” classes where the students were using retracting-lead pencils with precision sharpeners that could put a needle sharp tip on the lead.  Dick probably had this from when he went to engineering school back in the 50s.  Since I have saved or acquired a half dozen of these pencils, I rejoiced at finding this sharpener in a box of paperwork.

This is the year for bringing all my metalworking capacity on line, including  pair of machinists’ lathes and a horizontal milling machine.  To tune up these machines an indicator gauge in a requirement.  Now I have another, so that each machine can have one permanently.

Though I did not bring this home, I was delighted to find this can of an old, revered varnish.  The contents were still in perfect condition.  I left this at the house in SoCal but may try to figure out how to get it home to my menagerie here.

And, there are still more treasures, some en route from West to East.  I’ll report on them anon.

Kindle Case #2, Part 2

The design of the new Kindle case for Mrs. Barn’s smaller Kindle was a bit tricky as my idea was to create a version of a Victorian card case, in which the Kindle would reside.  This meant that the tolerances for fitting it were closer than with mine, although that is a snug fit, but this one needed to slide in and out of one end of the case without being too loose or too tight.  Armed with my home made plywood panels and a precise tracing of the Kindle I set to getting the pieces cut to size.


From there I began laying out the veneer patterns using some left over scraps from other projects. Unfortunately my first effort was a catastrophe as I failed to tape the elements in place before gluing them down under free weights.  I tell myself that I was trying to keep too many Christmas gift projects in the air at once, but the simple fact is I just forgot to do what I should.  Thus, the veneers shifted during gluing and were in the wrong place.  Since I was using PVA the effort to remove and re-start would have been odious so I just tossed that piece and started that panel over.

I made sure to get it right the second time as I was almost out of the sawn rosewood veneer.

The second panel was done with sycamore, its bold fleck providing some real dynamism to the composition.

I made sure to tape the veneer compositions in place this time, and they turned out as they should.

Next time – assembling and finishing.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 3

Given the “new growth” nature of the wood it took only  short time to get the bench slab flat enough to move on to the staked legs.

For the leg material I was able to recycle the hunk from the edge of the original slab when I ripped that to the width I wanted.  I made five leg blanks just in case.

To guide my tapering of the ends I made a quick template based on my tapered spiral reamer, bought for a song at a tool flea market.

I laid out the holes for the legs by insetting them four inches from the side and end, then angled out at 12-degrees on the diagonal.  I drilled 3/4″ holes all the way through from the underside, then reamed them with the spiral taper until the taper intersected with the top.  In retrospect I should have made the angle a bit more, perhaps 16 or even 20 degrees, but I think this will suffice.  If it does not, I will simply move the hole location and drill new holes.

Once I had the leg ends tapered with a drawknife and block plane I just drove them home into the reamed holes with a small sledge.  They seated with a crisp thunk.  I tried several heights for the bench with a series of mock-ups, and once I determined which height worked best for me I measured the legs and cut them off.

Rolling the bench over and putting it in place this step was finished.  Now it was time to begin tricking out the bench.

Always Idiosyncratic

Like Henry Studley, we do not know much about the personality of Samuel Gragg.  Obviously we can deduce from his Elastic Chair that Gragg was both aesthetically and technically adventurous.  While he made the Elastic Chair for only a few years before moving on to more typical chair forms (read: more profitable) even then he could be a bit outside-the-box.

Recently reader BrianA sent me a link to a current “For Sale” Gragg chair that is sorta Windsor, using that descriptor very loosely.

I’m thinking I would have liked this guy.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Bench 3

With the two timbers glued into one slab I pulled out my trusty scrub plane and started hogging off material since the wind was a tad pronounced.  I was able to get the initial pass finished out in the great room of the barn, and again put my mighty 10-inch circular saw to work cutting the slab to the 13″ width I wanted.  As with the initial timber splitting I was left with an inch or so to cut by hand.

Moving the sized slab onto my Roubo bench in the studio I employed the Roubo technique for achieving the flat plane of the slab.

First I shot a rabet down each edge of the slab, using two pillared winding stick to determine when they were perfectly parallel to each other.  My original Roubo winding-sticks-on-stilts were unavailable so I just used two hardware store aluminum bars sitting on identical blocks.  Once I had the parallel edge tracks established I grabbed the scrub plane and got the surface flat in about a half hour each side.  It’s worth noting that even though the wood was southern yellow pine, it was new growth SYP and much less dense than the timbers from the barn itself.

Next, it’s on to the staked legs.

Emmert K1 Vises Back In Production?

My first exposure to the existence of something called “a patternmaker’s vise” was in 1978 when I went to work in an actual pattern shop.  Although I had been engaged in woodworking at increasingly sophisticated shops for several years by that point, the Emmert vise was unknown to me.  My job at the pattern shop was a 7AM-3.30PM shift, which was a struggle for me since I am a night owl by nature and getting up to work on time was a challenge even though it was only a three minute bicycle ride to the foundry from my house.  But, that work schedule allowed me to have plenty of afternoon and evening time in the shop I built behind the house.

I was so entranced by the Emmert that I checked into buying a new one from Kindt-Collins, the Cleveland based foundry supplier who was by that time the manufacturer of the original Emmert K1 vise.  I cannot recall exactly whether the new one was priced at $1750, $2250, or $2750.  All I knew was that there was no way I could afford any of those price points in 1978.  I did obtain a pair of Emmerts right after Mrs. Barn and I married and went to Delaware for college in the beginning of 1982.  The Philadelphia Navy Yard had recently closed their foundry so there was a huge stash of Emmerts just up the road at a Philly machinery salvage outfit, and I think I paid $200 for my pair.

At least one of mine has always been installed and the center of my workspace ever since.  I  cannot really imagine a workshop of mine not having one.

Last week my pal JohnR let me know that the Emmert vise may have been rebranded as “the Hopewell vise” and back in production.  The information is at the following link.  Maybe this is already known throughout the woodworking blogosphere and I have just been too wrapped up in my own activities, but here it is.

CS Machinery (

If you have always wanted a brand new, incomparable patternmaker’s vise this could be your chance.  I have no connection to the new maker and have not encountered one of these vises, but I would love to know more myself.

As I once told an aficionado of workbenches, “If you have avoided using an Emmert before, do not start now because you will be black and blue from kicking yourself for not trying it earlier.”

De-mothballing the Foundry

Since escaping Mordor and relocating to the holler at the end of the road, most of my metal casting set-up has been piled in the corner, patiently awaiting my ministrations to bring it all back on board.  That status changed last week when I set aside a day to tidy up that section of the ground floor adjacent to the wood/coal stove, and unpacked all the foundry accoutrements and set it all up.  It was really satisfying to get everything out and get reconnected with my brain, eyes, and hands.  Now the only things left to do are drop a 220v line for the kiln (for firing the refratory molds used in lost wax casting) and to rebuild the doors to the first level adjacent to the foundry.

My plan is to roll my mobile foundry cart outside whenever I am casting; I’ve never had a foundry accident, but inadvertently spilling white-hot molten metal inside a 125-year-old wooden structure is a vignette that might not have a happy ending.  The doors at the opening were badly damaged in a terrific storm a few years ago and making new ones will be easier than repairing the old ones.

On top of that, in recent months I’ve made the acquaintance of a gifted Amish blacksmith who recently moved to Shangri-la and am giving him one of my smelting furnaces so together we can set up a larger foundry in his shop.  That endeavor will require its own set of postings, although I must admit that I have never asked him about photographing there and am not familiar with Amish custom in that regard.

Soon the Don’s Barn blog will regularly feature even more metal work, including detailed inventory of my foundry equipment, supplies, and processes.

Beginning probably next week I will relate the account of recreating some metal moldings and medallions for use in the conservation/restoration of a late 19th century cabinet that was missing its base along with the cast metal moldings and fittings.  I do not think I have told that tale here before (I’m at almost 1500 postings but much of that is not easily searchable, much less rememberable) , but if I did you get to see it again.

Workbench Wednesday – Romastonian Low Workbench 2

With my former planing beam cut almost all the way through using my trusty 10-inch circular saw I was left with sawing the last inch of thickness by hand.  Grabbing my equally trusty ancient 3-1/2 t.p.i. handsaw I made short work of the separation, getting almost 1-1/2 inches of cut per stroke.

I then made a nuisance mistake by cutting off the wrong end of the timbers I was only going to make a six-foot bench).  I should have cut of the end with the wainey edges, but instead I cut off the nice crisp end.  So now I had to take a few minutes to plane flat the rounded edge and glue on a new piece in order to make it square.

That I accomplished by just sawing off and hand planing the excess.


With the pieces separated I dove in with my scrub plane to get everything more or less planar by eye.  The beam had a bit of wind in it which became exaggerated (doubled) by the splitting.  Once the mating surfaces were flat-ish, or at least fitted each other nicely,  I got out my fave toothing plane and got it mated for real, ready for the, er, mating.  In this instance I used PVA, in part because I did not know the final environment for the bench but really because I had not prepared hot hide glue in advance and thus had none ready to go when I was determined to execute the glue-up.

It is really comforting and confirming when the squeeze-out is uniform through the length and breadth of the joint.

Kindle Case #2, Part 1

In recent years Mrs. Barn had been traveling to the West Coast several times a year to attend to her dad in his failing health.  Normally she would not even carry any luggage beyond a small carry-on bag, so she left her laptop at home and just took her small Kindle.  After making my prototype Kindle case last year I decided she needed a nice case to protect her smaller Kindle during her travels, so it was on my agenda for Christmas.  I got it done just in time, but then we had to postpone our family Christmas for three months due to a variety of circumstances, not the least were my mother’s funeral, my father-in-law’s death and funeral, my son-in-law’s inadvertent exposure to someone with the ‘Rona, my daughter’s need for self-quarantining for work travel…

As with the first case I started by making my own veneer-core plywood using the abundant ash veneer from my stash using West System epoxy as the binder, under the dead weight of a stack of fire bricks.  I am becoming even more smitten with this type of sheet good and may try to figure out how to make larger panels to employ in other projects.  I have used Baltic birch plywood as my “go to” for years, and still rely on it a fair bit.  But the veneer-core plywood is just something special.  I guess I’m gong to have to make a large veneer press to make it happen.

Another Tantalizing Clue (H.O. Studley’s Vises?)

My friend Justin sent me another picture, this time from the 1882 Boston Directory.  Very exciting!

Is this where Studley got his bench vises?

The hunt is afoot.