Slip Sliding Away

Among the flaming chainsaws I am juggling at the moment, by far the weightiest is my interpretive rendition of HO Studley’s workbench I am fabricating for the upcoming exhibit of the Studley Tool Chest and its companion workbench, now less than two months away.  The purposes of this element of the exhibit are basically two-fold; to demonstrate the manner in which Studley built his bench top, and to have some place to hang the half-dozen piano-maker’s vises (which you will be allowed to play with).  I realize that not everyone is as interested in these as am I.  Heck, outside of Jameel Abraham, nobody is as interested in these as am I. Why do these vises capture my imagination so? Why is peanut butter and mayonnaise my favorite sandwich? Some things are just chalked up to the vagaries of the cosmos.


I’d blogged earlier about my frustrations with the African “Mahogany,” and in return heard from my friend Rob in Lawrence, Kansas, with encouragement.  He had encountered the same problem, and instructed me on how to overcome it.  I will write soon about my adaptation of his advise –use an ultra sharp high angle smoother and take infinitesimally light cuts — in an upcoming post, but for now all I was wanting was to get the slab workably flat.


For that I continued working with my newly sharpened toothing plane, which was doing its job admirably.  Still, the process was not without problems. I had the slab clamped to the sawhorses in the corners and worked regionally.  The issue at this point was the floor.  Yes, my southern yellow pine flooring has become “polished” through foot traffic, and at times the entire assembly of slab and sawhorses skidded across the floor. After extensive exasperation with this, I grabbed some of the open webbed non-skid padding I used under my sharpening stones, or when sanding on the bench or something like that, cut it up and tossed a piece under each foot of the sawhorses.

Problem solved. Next?


I then got the slab on edge clamped to my planing beam with a new pair of holdfasts from Tools For Working Wood (they are fabulous and I will order three or four more pairs) and worked the long edges, which will eventually receive the edging similar to Studley’s.


Sample Board Partying – Liming


One of the dominant aesthetics in the interior design world of my early days in the furniture trade in Palm Beach County, Florida, was the lightening or even whitening of wood furniture and paneling, presumably to reflect the bright sunniness that was numbingly constant outside, especially in the winter when those with the financial means escaped the cold, grim climes of (mostly) New England.  This was manifest in what decorators called “pickled” finishes for wood surfaces.  During my recent luncheon presentation in Palm Beach, one of the topics my hosts requested was to address this one.

Traditionally this was applied over either oak or cypress, and I recall finishing what seemed to be acres of it.  In fact the “whitening” of these woods was accomplished by two unrelated techniques.

One technique involves the deposition of white material into the grain of the wood, and the other requires the deposition of a thin uniform layer of white translucence over the entire surface.  Though I executed both techniques on both oak and cypress, you will see from the results that one technique worked well for one wood, and the other, the other.

“Liming” of wood requires the deposition of, well, lime onto the wood, or more precisely, into the wood.  In these samples I planed and scraped the panels, then lightly scrubbed them with a brass brush to wallow out the grain.  In the case of oak, it resulted in the emphasis of the ring-porous nature of the wood, while with the cypress it created a muddy, unremarkable effect.


Once the surface was ready I took some hydrated lime from the hardware store and prepared some very lean gesso from the lime, water, and about 2-3% 315 gws glue.  I first soaked overnight and cooked the glue in the water, then added powdered lime to the desired consistency.


This was brushed onto the surface, making sure to work it down into the grain, and allowed to dry completely.


Since the gesso was very lean, I was able to remove the excess gesso, that is the gesso not down in the grain, with an abrasive pad rather than the coarse burlap of days gone by.


Following that I applied a single coating of paste wax, and when that was hard I buffed it with a piece of clean cloth.  This is a nerve wracking step the first time you do it as the paste wax saturates the lime deposit, making it disappear.  Never fear, as the solvent in the paste wax flashes off, the white will slowly emerge again.  The effect in oak is dramatic.


For cypress, the presentation is fairly undistinguished.


Fortunately, there is a technique that works wonderfully on cypress.

Stay tuned.



Conserving a c.1720 Italian Tortoiseshell Mirror – Cleaning


Once I finished with documenting and photographing the mirror frame, with special attention given to the areas of fracture and delaminated tortoiseshell, I began the process of cleaning it.


Like a legion of its brethren, this mirror had undergone a longstanding and typical process of being oiled periodically in order to spruce-up the appearance. In this particular instance, I believe the oil used was olive oil. Unfortunately, this process also contaminates every presentation surface, and if there are any cracks through which the oil can wick, the gluing margins as well. Equally unfortunate is that oiling tortoiseshell provides at best a temporary luster, while producing a long-lasting gooey residue that adheres airborne particles to the surface.


To address this I cleaned the entire surface of the mirror frame three times with naphtha on soft disposable shop towel pieces, until I was satisfied that the surfaces were clean. Somewhat more challenging was the incursion of the oil underneath the areas of lifted tortoiseshell. For these I not only needed to dissolve the oil but the transfer it to a spongy material in order to imbibe the oil into the sponge.



Once again I used the blue paper shop towels, cutting small pieces to gently slide into the openings of the fractured and lifted tortoiseshell with a thin spatula. Once in place, I used a dropper to wick naphtha into the paper sponge and let that wick up to the end, underneath the delaminated tortoiseshell, contacting, dissolving, and transferring the oil into the disposable sponge.


After a couple iterations of this, with two or three hours of contact each time, I let it dry thoroughly and tested one area and found it to be adequately cleaned in order to proceed.

Sample Board Partying – Before the “Finish,” Fuming and Polissoir Burnishing

As I presented my sample boards at the luncheon banquet on my recent trip to Florida, I began with two simple methods to enhance and modify the wood surface itself, even prior to beginning the application of any finish materials.


The first, and a very popular once again, was the coloration of white oak through the application of ammonia.  In the first sample I simply brushed on liquid ammonia and left it to dry.  The coloration is about what I expected, with the slight blotchiness and shallow penetration that would be the result of a light liquid application.  The depth of penetration from the single wetting with ammonia was about 1/16″

A second and similar sample was that of white oak exposed to ammonia vapors.  In this instance I prepared the six oak samples and placed them standing upright in a circle around a coffee cup warmer, on which I placed a half pint of full-strength hardware store ammonia.  I turned on the coffee cup warmer to heat and vaporize fully the ammonia and placed a plastic bucket upside-down over the lot, and left it for twelve hours.  I neutralized the ammonia with a light swabbing of white vinegar and left them to air out for a few hours, but there was no noticeable odor.

The result was the sumptuous almost-mocha coloration we have come to expect as the base for a lot of Craftsman furniture.  An application of a couple coats of deep red garnet shellac would have yielded a magnificent dark reddish brown finish.  I left the samples in their “native” state to make sure that the audience could see it in the raw.  Just to see how effective the fuming was, I sawed a sample in half, and the entire 1-inch cross section was the same fumed color.


As a special treat I showed a set of samples that I did not prepare other than to cut them to size.  These were pieces of “bog oak” from a crib dam on the Rappahannock River that had been submerged for nearly a century-and-a-half.  The coloration and luster of these pieces as truly spectacular, and I cannot wait to make some furniture from the pieces I have.


A final “pre-finishing” step was, not surprisingly, burnishing with a straw polissoir.  I lightly scraped the entire surface, then burnished one half of it.  I demonstrated this one at the luncheon, bringing the mahogany surface to a desirable sheen in just a few seconds.  I also noticed that these samples drew continual attention (caressing?) during my presentation, even after I had moved on to other topics.

After that we got down to the serious business of selecting and using a variety of finishing materials

Caught Sleeping While on Duty

I’ was looking through the 5.500 photos in my “Studley” file and came across this amusing one.  Evidently I was waiting for the videotaping setup to get ready when we were making the documentary, and just… dozed…  off…


Current Conservation Treatment — c. 1720 Italian Tortoiseshell Mirror Frames


I’m currently working on the first of a pair of matching 5-1/2 foot tall mirrors which have suffered some pretty extensive delamination of the tortoiseshell veneer.


One of the most critical issues for artifacts like this is to get them safely from Point A (the client’s home) to Point B (my studio).  For large planar artifacts like this I always construct a litter to which the artifact will be lashed so 1) I don’t have to handle the big clumsy thing any more than necessary, and 2) provide a safe housing for the artifact in transit.


My long time woodworking pal Tom was able to help me get the mirror down off the wall and into the litter easily.  The litter had clean foam pad/slats onto which the mirror was laid, and once in place blocking was glued to the slats to lock the mirror in place.


Once the blocks were set (I used hot melt glue) I added loose battens to the top of the mirror, directly in line with the slats underneath it.  This allowed for gentle restraints without adding any undue stress to the 300-year old engraved glass.

mirror frame

Using some upholstery webbing I had, I draped it over the battens and screwed it to the frame of the litter, snug but not tight.

c IMG_8238

One the packing was complete, we went straight out the front door and into the rear of the van  and a half hour later it was resting comfortably in my basement studio at my daughter’s house.

Stat tuned.


There’s A Party Going On! (part 1)

Several months ago I received an invitation from a South Florida custom millwork and fabrication shop to speak at a luncheon banquet celebrating their 25th anniversary.  At first I was ambivalent about the invitation as I didn’t know the folks, but Mrs. Barn was very enthusiastic about the prospect of a trip to the warm sunny climes at the tail end of a brutal winter in the mountains.  As my correspondence continued with my host and the themes emerged for the presentation, I too warmed to the idea.  By the time we plowed through the snow on our way out of town I was really looking forward to it.


The audience was designers, architects, and contractors, and I did my best to turn them into historic finishing enthusiasts.  As I told them at the beginning, “My task is to show you a door, and open it just a little bit so you can see inside there’s a party going on.  And the name of the place behind the door?  The Finishing Room!”  They were very receptive.


In the weeks leading up to the event I made dozens of sample boards so that every table had a complete set to fondle and admire as I talked about them.


In coming posts I will walk you through the samples I made.


It was great fun and reminded me how much I love woodfinishing, and the delight I will take over the next three or four years while crafting my gigantic Historic Finisher’s Handbook.

Thanks AWC and Catie Q for the invitation, you guys were great hosts and I hope to see you again!  (and Mrs. Barn loved basking in the warmth and sunshine).  I think late winter trips to Florida may become part of the routine.

WIA 2015 (repost from PopWood)

Woodworking in America 2015: Some Sessions to Whet Your Appetite

A box full of vintage marking gauges for sale in Patrick Leach's Marketplace booth at Woodworking in America.

Over the weekend, I edited the full Woodworking in America 2015 site, which will go live later this week (registration is scheduled to open at the end of the month).

I’ve already released the names of all of this year’s expert instructors; below you’ll find one session title and description from almost every one of them (in no particular order).

Don Williams
Keynote Address (at Saturday morning breakfast)
The Studley Tool Cabinet. Get a behind the scenes and inside-the-cabinet look at one of the most iconic tool collections in woodworking. Don and his team had unprecedented access as they worked on the book “Virtuoso: The Tool Cabinet and Workbench of Henry O. Studley.” You’ll hear his stories (it was an amazing journey to even discover where it was), see hundreds of gorgeous pictures by Narayan Nayar of the chest and its contents, and learn what Don has been able to discover about the man behind this stunning piece of work.

Tom Fidgen
The Kerfing Plane & Resawing by Hand. Resawing by hand is a skill every hand-tool woodworker should know – and there are several ways to go about it. Tom Fidgen shares techniques and tools that lead to success: a kerfing plane (that he developed) and the traditional frame-saw approach. With his expert instruction, you’ll soon be sawing wafer-thin pieces suitable for veneer or just cutting thick panels down to perfect size.

Jarrod Stone Dahl
Shrink Boxes. A “shrink box” is an ancient type of container that predates cooperage. The box body is hollowed from green timber, and after cutting a rebate (rabbet) in the base, a dry bottom piece is added. When the green body shrinks, it binds around the dry base. In this session, after sharing the history and photos of surviving period boxes he’s studied, Jarrod Stone Dahl will show you how to make this fun and fascinating historical form. While the technique is simple, you’ll find it offers great freedom with design and decoration.

Christopher Schwarz
Building Staked Furniture: Reviving an almost-forgotten furniture form. For hundreds of years, when you needed a chair, stool, desk or table you built it using a “staked” furniture joint – essentially a conical mortise-and-tenon joint that is back-wedged. With the rise of machinery and the professional furniture-making class, this joint has disappeared – except in some chair joints. In this session, Chris will teach you all about the mechanics of this joint and how to hugely simplify the geometry involved using only your eyeball and a square – no math. And you’ll get to see how this joint can be used for a wide variety of projects.

W. Patrick Edwards
Protein Glues Explained. W. Patrick Edwards, maker of Old Brown Glue, knows his adhesives. And in this modern word of PVA and two-part epoxies, he still swears by traditional protein glue. Patrick will share his more than 40 years of professional experience working with bone, hide, fish, horse and rabbit-skin glues, and teach you why and when they remain an excellent choice, along with how to use them.

Roy Underhill
Combination Planes. The 1884 Stanley No. 45 “Combination Plane” and 1897 No. 55 “Universal Plane” were developed to replace an entire rack of wooden moulding, rabbet and dado planes. And they sure do look cool – like a woodworker’s steampunk Swiss Army Plane – but do they work? Roy Underhill puts these fancy (and sometimes fussy) planes through their paces and shows you the benefits and shortfalls of each

Phil Lowe
Inlay & Bandings. Phil Lowe shares traditional and contemporary techniques for making and installing inlay and bandings (commonly found on Federal furniture, among other styles). From scratchstocks to routers, you’ll discover myriad approaches for adding signature decorative details to your work.

Alfred Sharp
Design Inspiration for & from Period Work. In this session, Alf Sharp discusses “historical awareness” – part an investigation of the original sources and inspirations for the 17th- through 19th-century furniture styles and pieces that remain popular today – particularly with woodworkers! You’ll be surprised and inspired yourself – whether you’re a furniture designer or build period reproductions (or both!).

Marc Adams
Doors & Drawers. Marc Adams takes the fear out of making and fitting doors and drawers – essential components in so many fine furniture builds. You’ll learn techniques to guarantee success, as well as options for door hinges and drawer runners, and how to fit and install both. With Marc’s approaches, you’ll soon be building doors and drawers like a pro.

Vic Tesolin
Minimalist Woodworking. As the title suggests, “Minimalist Woodworking” is the idea that you don’t need hundreds of square feet of space or thousands of dollars worth of gear. What you do need is the desire to make something with your own two hands. You might be surprised at what you can accomplish with about 50 square feet and some hand tools. Vic Tesolin talks about his own small shop and how he has made it efficient – despite it’s 170-square-foot size, and gives you solid ideas about how to make the most of your tool budget and space – no matter how small they may be.

Jeff Miller
Bent Laminations. If you’ve seen Jeff Miller’s award-winning work, you know the man knows his curves – they’re a prominent feature of his signature Arch Table and rocking chair. In this session, Jeff shows you how he creates the curves in his work using bent laminations, including a discussion of stock selection and prep, various tool approaches, myriad considerations when making bending forms, what glues to use and why, and how to go about it. You’ll learn what you need to know to begin incorporating laminated curves in your own work.

Mark Harrell
Demystifying the Traditional Backsaw. When is a vintage handsaw worth saving and how do you bring it back to life? Mark Harrell gives you the answers, start to finish. He’ll teach you how to identify good candidates for restoration, then lead you through the process from disassembly to cleaning to handle work to reassembly and retensioning to truing up the saw and sharpening it. Plus, Mark shares the “continuum of a toothline,” to help you learn what saw gets sharpened how, and why.

David Marks
Gilding Vessels. The gilding processes David Marks introduces in this session can be applied to any surface that will accept paint. First he’ll discuss surface preparation and show you examples of projects in various stages. Then, you’ll see how to apply “gilder’s size” to the surface and the techniques for applying genuine silver leaf. In addition, you’ll learn how to apply copper leaf and dutch metal (composition gold) to your work to create dramatic patterns and effects.

Mike Siemsen
Workholding: With & Without a Vise. Mike Siemsen knows workholding – heck, he’s built a bench using 5-gallon buckets as a bench on which to build it. In this session, he’ll show you how to hold your work solidly on almost any surface. Sure, he’ll show you how to make typical woodworking vises such as a face vise and end vise work even better, but he’ll also give you solutions for when those vises don’t work. Or for when you have no vises. Plus, he’ll share strategies for holding round and curved work.

Scott Meek
3D Shapes with Rasps. Scott Meek wields rasps on an almost-daily basis as he shapes his sculptural wooden bench planes, and as a result, he’s a master at using the tool. With just a few tools, he can quickly create sinuous and fluid shapes that will blow your mind. In this session, he discusses tool selection and shows you the different uses for various rasps – then he shares his “secrets” by showing you how he uses them. With Scott’s instruction and a little time at the bench, you’ll soon be creating perfect sinuous shapes in your own work.

Deneb Puchalski
Joinery Planes. Joinery planes are some of the easiest hand tools to use – once you get them sharp and set up. In this session, Deneb Puchalski shows you how to get a keen edge on the cutters for rabbets, skew-rabbets, plows, routers, dado planes and their nickers. Some of these irons are odd shaped – such as the router’s L-shaped cutter – but can be sharpened easily once you know a few tricks. You’ll also learn to deal with grinding and honing skewed blades, which must be sharpened perfectly or they won’t work. And once the irons are sharp, using the tools is a snap. Deneb shows you how – and shows what these powerful planes can do in your shop.

Will Neptune
Carved Elements for Period Furniture. Eighteenth-century furniture often relies on carved embellishments to articulate form and lead the viewer’s eye around the object. Common designs were developed to be carved efficiently and carving still requires a systematic approach. In this session, Will Neptune will present several designs, and share strategies for designing patterns that relate the gouge sweep to the work, to help you make a set of parts that match. You’ll learn about several common carvings, from pattern making and layout through the carving process. You’ll also discover how simpler carvings, including a shell on a cabriole leg and waterleaf on a Duncan Phyfe leg are a good way to learn the basic steps, and how those basics can be developed to handle more challenging forms including ball-and-claw feet and an acanthus leaf.

Nick Lieurance
Cool Kitchen Cabinet Hardware. If you want to build your own kitchen cabinets but are overwhelmed by such a large project and the array of choices and decisions, this session will help. Nick Lieurance, online education manager for Popular Woodworking, spent 12 years building and designing custom cabinetry. To start, he’ll share with you his expert tips for online research tools, appliance specs and dimensions…and then get to the fun part: deciding from among the array of cool kitchen cabinet hardware (drawer slides, hinges, organizational hardware and more — all the cool new innovations!).

James Hamilton
Make Your Own Woodworking Machines. Who needs expensive woodworking machinery? This session takes jig making to a whole new level! James Hamilton (a.k.a. Stumpy Nubs) will show you how to make clever and precise woodworking machinery, tools and jigs in your own shop. From homemade band saws to unique sliding router tables, his designs are about innovation as much as saving money. Jim’s philosophy is, why buy it when you can make it yourself – and often make it even better. You’ll learn some of the secrets to designing accurate jigs and how homemade tools can open up a whole new world of woodworking in your shop!

Donna Hill
Advanced SketchUp. If you know the basics of the three-dimensional modeling program SketchUp but want to expand your knowledge to complex shapes and tricky joinery, in this session, you’ll learn how. Donna Hill, the project illustrator for Popular Woodworking Magazine, shows you how to create flowing curves, dovetails, moulding details and more.

Dave Jeske
Care, Feeding & Use of Marking Knives. The first tool ever offered by Dave Jeske of Blue Spruce Toolworks was a marking knife, on which he founded his successful tool-making business. In this session, Dave disusses the differences among various forms of marking knives (spear point, single bevel, striking knife and more), how to sharpen them and how to keep them performing like new. Plus, you’ll learn tips and tricks for wielding a marking knife like a master.

Kevin Drake
How the Body Turns. In this session, Kevin Glen Drake, founder of Glen-Drake Toolworks, will drill down on how the body functions behind the lathe, why “catches” and other common problems happen and – most important – how to overcome them. Kevin’s favorite turning tool is the skew chisel, and he’ll explain the subtle differences between flat skews, round skews and oval skews during this session. Kevin believes that understanding how tools work is the key to using them successfully, so you will leave this session with much to think about.

Megan Fitzpatrick
How to Make a Magazine – And How You Can Help. In this session, Megan discusses the changing world of publishing (and Popular Woodworking), and how we strive to make print and eMedia work together to create solid woodworking content “across channels.” Plus, she shares with you how to we decide what goes into every issue, what it’s like to work with us on an article, video or online education – and how you can be a part of it.

— Megan Fitzpatrick

Saturday’s Presentation at SAPFM Tidewater Chapter

Saturday I will be heading down to the Virginia Tidewater Chapter of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers.  My topic(s) for the day will revolve around my ongoing curiosity about historic finishes, including a trial run of a session on making a new finish look old.  This will also be the theme of my demonstrations at the SAPFM mid-year meeting in Knoxville in June.

Hope to see you there.

Here’s the announcement on the Saturday shindig.


We are looking forward to a great SAPFM Tidewater chapter meeting on March 14th at Somerton Ridge Hardwoods, near Suffolk. The Highlights are:
DON WILLIAMS  –The authority on period furniture finishes.
WILLIAM DUFFIELD — Presenting his “Bench top bench” –( you’ll all want to make one)
CHRIS VICKERS — Hardwood lumber inventory and specials — ALSO Lunch!
So that Chris, our host, can make plans for our BBQ lunch, he needs to know how many people will be attending. So please respond ASAP, if you haven’t,  so we can give him a head count. Also, Chris has 2  Specials available and needs to know how many might be interested—4/4 curly maple packs,100-200 bf @ $3.70/ bf; and African Mahogany in 100-150 bf bundles — $4.85 for 4/4 and $5.00 for 8/4. Let us know of your interest in these as well.
Please arrive between 8:30 and 8:45 as we will start promptly at 9:00 am.
                                        THE AGENDA
9:00    Welcome and housekeeping notes
9:15   Finishes used in the period
9:45   Level of build and gloss desired in the period on different types of pieces

10:30           Break
10:45  How period finishes were applied on different surfaces (brushed/padded/rubbed?)
11:15  New discoveries about period use of waxes — applied under or over finishes? How applied?
12:00       BBQ Lunch
1:00   The Bench top bench –it’s evolution and improvements — how to build
2:30   How to recreate a 200 year old looking  finish today?
3:00   DEMO of same
4:00   Tour Somerton Ridges Hardwood inventory
4:30 – 5:30  Lumber and finishing supply sales
This will be a great learning opportunity for us all!!  We are looking forward to seeing everyone there,

Parquetry Tutorial – Completion

With the applied parquetry solidly glued down and stable, the final steps revolve around getting that surface flat and smooth.  This is necessary since we started out with sawn veneers, which by definition will have some variations in thickness.



Since the grain directions run in multiple directions, the tool of preference for gross flattening in smoothing has been for over 200 years a toothing plane. A modern option includes a so-called “Japanese” rasp which is comprised of numerous hacksaw blades configured into a surfacing tool.  Using this approach, the rough and irregular surface can be rendered into a flat but not perfectly smooth surface.


Following the toother or rasp comes the card scraper, either hand-held or handled, or even a finely tuned smoothing plane (I actually find my low-angled Stanley block plane to wrok perfectly for this) to yield a flat, smooth surface ready for whatever finishing regime you choose.


And, you are done!

In closing I want to thank Rob Young of the Kansas City Woodworker’s Guild for requesting and encouraging me to compile this series of blog posts to help explain the steps we were executing during the workshop I taught there.  Thanks Rob!

Over the next couple of weeks I will be combining this long series of blog posts into a single tutorial which I will post in the “Writings” section of the web site, and will announce that addition to the archive here.