Roubo 2 as Baseball


Now that Roubo 2 is winging its way to the desktops of the LAP magicians I wanted to take a minute to reprise our work thus far.  That 5-inch thick stack of folders next to my laptop is the version Chris Schwarz will be working his way through in the coming days.  Yes, it really is that big.

I hope to have a bound version of the submitted draft at the local chapter meetings of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers the next two Saturdays; the Virginia Chapter is meeting at the Leesburg, Virginia, the following Saturday is the Chesapeake Chapter at the Woodworker’s Club in Rockville, Maryland.

Even before Roubo on Marquetry was in the production pipeline in early 2013, we were hard at work on Roubo on Furniture Making.  By May of 2011 we began assembling translated sections, with editing and rewriting as time allowed.  Now we find ourselves on the cusp of the editorial phase, and for an abbreviated peek behind the curtain, here are the innings of labor for a project like this.

1st Inning – Michele creates a transliteration from the original text.

2nd Inning – Don chops up all the Plates into individual figures and plugs them into the transliteration; Don engages in in-depth review, editing, and rewriting of the transliteration to make it comprehensible to a contemporary world

3rd Inning – Philippe and Michele review Don’s edits and returns the sections to Don with copious edit tracking

4th Inning – Don reviews the edits and incorporates them into the manuscript, then forwards it on to external readers

5th Inning – Don and Michele sit together at the dining table and Don reads sections aloud while Michele follows along in the original French.  These sessions, usually four hours because that is all the longer I can read out loud, have been astonishingly helpful in catching typesetting errors, syntax, word choice, and overall literary flow.

6th Inning – Don revises the manuscript sections based on the notes from our read-out-loud sessions combined with any comments from the outside readers, and sends them along to Lost Art Press

7th Inning -  Lost Art Press edits the thing; Don reviews the edits

8th Inning  – Wesley designs the books, Don reviews the galley proofs

9th Inning – the book gets manufatured and distributed

And that is where we are right now only thirty-six short months since beginning in earnest, in the bottom of the sixth.

Go ahead, write a book.  I dare you.


Thought For The Day

As we commemorate the national day of funding government(s), generally argued as a “necessary evil,” it is worth reflecting on the thoughts on the matter from the First Founding Dad.

Government is not reason; it is not eloquent; it is force. Like fire, it is a dangerous servant and a fearful master. — attributed to George Washington

As someone who unleashed deadly force against American citizens in The Whiskey Rebellion, I’d guess old George knew exactly what he was talking about.

A Banner Day

It’s a big day around here as the first sections of the Roubo 2 manuscript were submitted for editorial review by the magicians at Lost Art Press.  It is worth noting that after reading this material perhaps a dozen times, I still find it engages, educates, and interests me.  This is a work about which we are very pleased.  I think you will be pleased too.


Thanks to things we learned during the creation of the first volume, To Make As Perfectly As Possible: Roubo On Marquetry, our working pattern is fundamentally different from a document traffic flow plan.  This manuscript, while almost twice as long as the first one, is taking less than half the time.

Now we treat each Plate and its accompanying text as a stand-alone document.  So in the end I will not be submitting one big book manuscript; I will instead be submitting 99 documents.  I’ll let Chris and Wesley melt them together into the whole.  Some of these sections are brief – the shortest is two pages – while others are several dozen pages.  On average they are about 10 pages long, so yes indeed, the working manuscript is more than 900 pages long.


I will sit down with Michele next week for our penultimate oral reading session, with the final one probably in a fortnight.  I am also laboring on the essays and photographic enhancements for the book, but as of right now Chris has something to sink his teeth, er, red pen, into.

Watch out Henry O. Studley, I’m coming for you!

Coolest Machine Ever!


While touring the Krohn Conservatory in Cincinnati last week we encountered, well I encountered, “machine lust.”  The staff was constructing a new exhibit in one of the conservatory halls, and there was a young fellow using this machine.  Given the tasks awaiting me at the homestead over the coming years of morphing fully into my emergent status as an Appalachian American, where the main crop is rocks, it seems a perfect fit.  That, and a bush hog.  Yep, I think one of these is nearly obligatory.

Now if I can persuade the CFO…

Lights, Camera …

At the clap of the audio/video synchronizer we were off and running.


With director David Thiel, videographers Ric and Al behind the cameras we maintained a breakneck pace for two days in filming the video “Historic Transparent Finishes” for the multimedia division of Popular Woodworking.  Thanks to their professionalism and some preparations by me we had only two “second takes” in the two days; one of them was to fix a wiggling work bench on the very first segment.

The world of finishing, even transparent finishing, even historic transparent finishing, is simply too big to cover in a single video.  My first proposal was for an eight-hour video, which caused David to take a big gulp until he saw that I was actually projecting a two-hour video for a small section of the larger body of material.


The video is actually a fairly narrow scope as I focused by discussing and demonstrating only wax and shellac finishes over hand planed wood.  Starting with rough sawn lumber and finishing with glistening, shimmering, and tactile delights possible with planes, scrapers, polissoirs, brushes, and pads.  No oil/resin varnishes, no coloration, no paints, no gilding.  Just simple  and easy (? straightforward at least).IMG_5464

We worked from a detailed outline I had prepared for David, and we did very little out-of-sequence shooting, and then only when it was the only way to get everything done in a timely manner.  We were even so efficient that we added three or four vignettes that I had not included in the outline.


One involved the burnishing and varnishing a ball-and-claw leg (thanks Glen Huey for letting me work on one you had laying around) exploring the magic of polished cow horn and filbert mop brushes, which make the finish application so easy it is almost embarrassing.  Add an opening, a closing, and some PR snippets and we were done by suppertime of the second day.

As we wrapped up I think it was Ric who said, “Good job.  And it was even interesting.” (Did I detect a hint of surprise in his voice?)  Of course it was interesting.  It was wood finishing!

I was a bit of a zombie the next two days as my wife and I toured Cincinnati and then drove back home to the mountains of the Allegheny Highlands.  She says I was just recovering from an adrenalin rush from being “on” for two straight days, and she might be right.  I don’t particularly like excitement.

I hope to see a rough cut this week, as Ric said editing it was a piece of cake since the initial work was so clean and linear.  I understand the release is sometime around August, so stay tuned.  I’m sure it would make a great Christmas gift for your thirty or forty closest friends.

Two Parts Roubo, One Part Moxon?

It was more than a week into Spring, and being this Spring the sun rose to reveal an inch of icy snow coating everything the morning we were to visit the incomparable Conner Prairie historic complex, one of the nation’s premier enterprises of historic reenacting and interpretation.   Once the slop was scraped from my truck we were on our way; one advantage was that the bitter cold kept the crowd small and we had the place nearly to ourselves.


One of the highlights was the timber frame barn in the Conner homestead.  The main cross-beam is a gargantuan oak timber more than 12” x 24” x 40 feet long (the historic carpenters there figure the tree trunk was more than eight feet in girth) and the longitudinal mid-rafter beam was an 8×8 perhaps 70 feet long.


I especially enjoyed our time in the carpenter’s shop, where my wife and I were the only visitors.  This allowed for a lengthy conversation with the proprietor about tools, wood, and their lathe.  He showed it to me and allowed me a turn.


It is a magnificent shop-built machine with a 300-pound flywheel that can get away from you fast!  Since I am a head taller than “Mr. McLure” it was very awkward for me, but I could see one of these fitting into the fabric of The Barn.


In the center of the one end was the impressive work bench, which had been built in the shop in years past.  A copy of no specific documented model, it is instead a combination from a historically accurate vocabulary. 


It seems to be about two parts Roubo with one part of Moxon and a dash of Nicholson.  The six-inch-square oak legs are capped by a four-inch slab top, and the fixed deadman is stout as well.  There is no real woodworker in America who would not be delighted to have this beast in their workspace.  I know I would.

If you are going near the Indianapolis area, take a peek.

A Visit With A Multifaceted Autodidact

Recently I spent two days in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, with Team Abraham of Benchcrafted, the brilliant folks who have spawned a revolution in woodworking vises.  Father John Abraham and his younger brother Jameel have become some of my favorite people in recent years, and time with them is always a pleasure.


This trip was mostly with Jameel.  At one point last year three of the four polymaths I know were with me in the same room; Jameel, Narayan Nayar, and the owner of the Studley Tool Cabinet.  My fourth polymath friend is my former colleague Mel Wachowiak at the Smithsonian.  I find myself enriched and challenged by each and every interaction with these men.



Jameel (and Father John) and I had some business to conduct, some of which you may know about already, and some which will be made known to you in the coming weeks.  Part of our time was spent with Jameel squiring me around the countryside to visit a machine shop, a foundry, and a patternmaker.  At the final stop he pretty much had to drag me out so we could get back to Cedar Rapids for dinner as the patternmaker and I were swapping tales from the pattern shop.  Downtown Dubuque is chock full of vintage factory buildings, especially woodworking factories as the city was once the largest millwork center in the country.


Most of you know Jameel for his exquisite craftsmanship in wood and creative insights.  But there is a much deeper presence here.  Perhaps the most awe-inspiring moments of the visit were when Jameel showed us his fine art, executed as spiritual devotion for the small chapel currently pastored by Father John, and their dad Father Raphael before him.


While I am of a dramatically different liturgical tradition, at the foundation we share the same language in our comprehension of the temporal and the eternal.


The works speak for themselves, and redound on him favorably in demonstrating the honest piety and Orthodox spiritual worldview of a humble  man on whom remarkable gifts have been bestowed.


Like I said, he is a polymath.

*Not* Buyers Remorse


I have never suffered much from the pangs of “buyer’s remorse.”  Perhaps it is a result of me being such a studious financial choice-maker, but the truth is that my spending interests are fairly narrow, relieving me from a lot of this risk.  There are simply a lot of areas of contemporary life where I make no outlay.  No tobacco.  Virtually no alcohol.  I do not tend towards gastronomic excesses (other than bitter chocolate).  Fashion?  Right; since I have a lumberjack’s store and a shoe store bookmarked, I spend almost sixty seconds a year buying my wardrobe, and  then get only what I want.  Luxury goods?  Pshaw.  Indulgent vacations to exotic places?  To me this sounds like something akin to Dante’s Seventh Circle of Hell.

The two areas where I do often purchase extravagantly are books and tools.  Addiction therein is too strong a word, probably.  Since books always contain useful information, even if they do not possess the snippet I was searching for I recognize their ability to contribute to my breadth and depth of knowledge.  Tools?  Since they have the inherent character to increase my skills and capacity for production, I have never regretted buying a tool, even if it is surpassed by a tool more capable than the previous one.

Which brings me to the item of this post – a beautiful ebony and boxwood scrub plane I did NOT buy recently.  You see, I am more inclined towards “Didn’t Buy It” remorse.

That miniature set of playing cards made from engraved ivory, housed in a carved tortoiseshell box.

The 5 1/2 acres next door.

That ’64 Chevelle SS, all original with 30,000 honest-to-goodness little-old-lady miles.

This ebony plane might be close to that camp.  On our way from Kansas City en route to, eventually, Cincinnati recently we stopped at an isolated antique mall, and there it was.  A classic horned scrub plane, identical in form to my beech model resting on the shelf.  Only this one had a body of a SOLID BLOCK OF GABOON EBONY, with the horn of carved boxwood.  At $120 the price was more than fair.  But the fact is I did not NEED it, so I passed it by.  (But I did buy a NOS Stevie Ray Vaughan-style felt Stetson for $35 in the original box, which I gave back to the antique mall as space was too tight in the truck.)


Over time this ebony plane may take its place alongside the ivory and tortoiseshell playing card ensemble, the ’64 Chevelle, the acreage next door.  But in the end I decided that the one I had was perfectly serviceable, and got back into the truck and hit the road.

No, I will not tell you where it was just in case I change my mind.


Since I announced the expansion of the polissoir line about six weeks ago, word has gotten around and stuff’s a-poppin’!  It really does help to have enthusiastic support but it is quite a shock to wake up and find your email box stuffed with requests for information about them.



There I was , smoothly sailing along with five or ten orders a week, with a buffer of a month’s inventory at that pace.


In the blink of an eye my inventory was purchased, with multiple quantities in line behind the initial orders.  Fortunately I was able to pick up another three dozen last weekend and expect to get another few dozen within a fortnight.  I am a bit surprised at the popularity of the large 2″ polissoir, but perhaps I should not be.  It gets a lot of spectacular work done in a hurry.  I expect to have all the orders filled in about three weeks.

A few things have emerged from this recent chapter.

1.  I need to blog about the structure and nature of a good polissoir.

2.  I’m thinking about some new polissoir styles to compliment the ones already extant.

3.  I need to blog about the properties, technology, and use of natural waxes; beeswax, shellac wax, and carnauba.

4.  I need to blog about preparing and tuning up a polissoir.

5.  I need to blog about using the polissoir in greater detail, especially how it fits with combined finishing strategies.

Will do.


Greatest Hits (well, some of them)

During my recent trip to the Midwest for a variety of projects, including teaching the Parquetry Workshop for the Kansas City Woodworker’s Guild I was asked to present a public lecture at their facility Friday.  At their request, I reflected on the final decade in my career as Senior Furniture Conservator at the nation’s attic.  I tend not to obsess about the past, but it was a pleasant reminder of what a wonderful run I had there for almost three decades.  It was indeed an honor and privilege to contribute to the longevity of the aggregate cultural memory.

There was no way to include everything I did over a ten year span, but there were a number of projects about which I was especially pleased.  Ironically this particular menu included mostly projects for clients outside the Institution. The enthusiastic audience endured my fond reminiscences for almost two hours, then kept me captive with their queries for another hour before we all departed for the evening.  The KCWWG guys did seem to appreciate my 14-hour day on their behalf, since I was busy setting up the workshop before 8AM and wrapped up the evening’s festivities just before 10PM. In addition to the giant Chinese picture frame, which I included in the talk, and the Chinese pavilion model, which I did not include, I discussed these projects.  This posting is a necessarily brief account, mostly just the “Before” and “After” pictures; you will have to fill in the blanks rom your imagination or listen to me give a similar presentation some time somewhere.


First up was the artifact known as The Roosevelt Globe as it was Teddy Roosevelt’s when he was in Washington.  It currently reside sin the ceremonial Office of The Vice President.  The globe has suffered spoke damage during the fire at the Old Executive Office Building just before Christmas 2007.  The request for my services came directly from the Office of the Vice President of the United States (yes, my “client” was Dick Cheney, although i did not deal with him directly), not normally in my chain of reporting but our government relations office thought it would be a good idea for me to say “Yes.”


Here is a picture of the globe after I finished conserving it.


Next up was a cabinet by the French-born 19th century New York cabinetmaker Alexander Roux.   A gift to a Smithsonian museum, it needed a new base fabricated to reflect the original base — the original base had rotted off and been replaced poorly — so the project included  high-level woodworking and also designing and fabricating new bronze mounts that I cast in my home foundry.


This is the cabinet now on display in Washington DC.

Untitled-1 copy

A project prototype was the design and construction of minimally intrusive upholstery for this Victorian frame, which clearly needed a little TLC.

Untitled-2 copy

In the end we achieved a fully functional but also fully removable upholstery treatment that is a feast for the eyes and benign for the frame.  I hope to post the article about this one in the “Writings” section soon.


Another interesting project for a non-Institutional client was the finishing of a replica of the Daniel Webster Desk in the US Senate. Here is the original on the floor of the Senate, festooned with several of my sample-color panels.


The Senate cabinet shop built a remarkable copy of this desk, but requested the Senate Majority Leader to  invite me to execute the finishing of it.  I accepted in the invitation. and here is the result.


The final project I presented was conserving The Mace of the House of Representatives.  Next time you watch C-SPAN note it on the left side of the television screen.  Once again my client was extra-institutional, in this case The Speaker of the House.  C-SPAN made a segment for a documentary (the segment is in the second part), so everything was under the scrutiny of the camera.



After it was finished, I was photographed with it (as was my entire family) and I had the opportunity to shake the hand of The Speaker.  It’s pretty hard to top that one.

Like I said, it was a pretty remarkable three-decade-long run.