“Make A Gragg Chair” Video Continued

A couple weeks ago we had two excellent days of videoing for my Make A Gragg Chair video.  As my pal MikeM observed, doing video slows everything down by at least three-fold.

We are now to the point of actually assembling the pile of bentwood pieces into a chair, beginning with the sides of the chair in an assembly jig (after attaching the side rungs via mortising them into the legs) and then starting to fit the cross elements.

One thing is for sure, it’s pretty important to have a large number of simple spring clamps and temporary bracing to keep everything together.

This is a really exciting project for me, and my earlier projections are falling by the wayside regarding the length and detail of the final product.  I’m sorta guessing this might be in the 10-12 hour range once we get all finished.

I am also getting a better sense of how to create a six-day workshop for making Gragg chairs.  I just might be able to pull it off.  When the video is finished I’m going to embark on a focused exercise to see if it is truly possible.

Stay tuned.

Workbench Wednesday – #18 (2018) Bob’s Tricked Out Nicholson Completed

With the basic bench being fabricated it was time to work on the “add-ons” for Bob’s Nicholson gunsmithing bench.  In truth this was a thinly disguised exercise in preparing for an upcoming workshop I was teaching in Arkansas.  In short, it was all about threading and fabricating wood screw based vises, including a mobile Moxon vise and a twin-screw face vise for the bench.

My starting point was 1) buying a 1-1/2″ Beale wood threading kit, and 2) a case of 1-1/2″ store-bought dowel stock from a home center.  My initial effort with the threader revealed that the off-the-shelf dowel stock was inadequate for the task and I impregnated the screw stock with diluted epoxy to give a cleaner finished surface after the threads were cut.

After threading the dowels I made a bunch of handles from scrap SYP construction lumber.  All tolled for Bob’s workbench and the workshop workbenches I made over 50 vise screws.

Then I threaded a bunch of the female fittings using the tap provided with the Beale kit.

In the end I had a bench with lots of clamping/work stations.  This has served as my model for Nicholson benches ever since.

Combating Ignorance (My Own)

A couple months ago I had a “crisis”(?) with the power system for the barn.  I made it through most of the winter just fine, invariably shutting down the system on my way down for supper and turning it back on in the morning to save the power that would have kept the system up overnight.  Suddenly the power accrual fell off the cliff and I really got concerned.  A day that should have been inputting 300-400 watts into the system was instead producing 70, or 50, or even 20.  Since I had a generator wired into the system last year I was not at risk of being without power while working but the dysfunction was not insignificant despite the fact that I seemingly had enough power to work in the shop all day.

I trouble shot every aspect of the system I knew, even getting so desperate as to READ THE INSTRUCTION MANUAL (even my pal BillR who is an EE and MS Robotics guy says the system product information is almost impenetrable).  In desperation I corresponded with Rich, the EE who sold me the system, and BillR, who installed the solar components.  They too were scratching their heads about the situation.

Then at about the same time they both had a suggestion: make sure the Dump Load switch is turned on.   The Dump Load is a resistance coil to “dump” any excess electrons once the batteries were charged to full capacity to prevent them from being damaged by over-charging.

Yup, that was the ticket.  Apparently during one of the evening shut-downs I absent-mindedly (or at least inadvertently) threw the Dump Load switch to “off” and left it there.  The Dump Load switch is right next to the switches for the inverters.  With the Dump Load off the system would literally only accept the trickle necessary to keep the batteries topped off.  So, when I saw the system first thing in the morning and last thing in the evening, where no meaningful consumption was ongoing, the system had told itself to choke off any wattage input from the solar panels to protect the batteries.  During the day when I was using electricity the system would have shown an input equal to my usage but I would not have seen that.

In the moments following my turning the Dump Load back on I literally let out a whoop as the input went from 20 watts to almost a kilowatt because throwing that switch told the system to go full bore.

So I didn’t really have any kind of crisis, other than the one in my own mind due to the fact that I did not understand fully the intricacies of the power system, even after all these years.

Good thing ignorance is curable.

A Superb SAPFM Chapter Meeting

Last month I had the delightful experience of attending a superb Blue Ridge Chapter meeting for the Society of American Period Furniture Makers held in Fredericksburg, Virginia, organized by my friend Steve Dietrich and his wife Barb (if you are not yet a member of SAPFM, why not?).

The topic was the newly reconstructed childhood home of GeoWashington, Ferry Farm, just outside of Fredericksburg, under the auspices of The George Washington Foundation.  Or, to put it more precisely, the topic was and the presentations were about the inspired program of replicating the furniture for the house.  Since the written inventories were all that documented the house furnishings the Foundation commissioned dozens of pieces “of a type” that would have been probable to the household, pieces from Williamsburg, Fredericksburg, Richmond, etc.  Several of the woodworkers who created the replicas were on-hand to describe and demonstrate their processes of making, then were later in attendance as we toured the home.  Literally every piece of furniture in the house was made in the style and manner of what would have been found there in 1750.  I will post about the house and furnishes themselves soon.

I apologize for the pictures, I was just taking them from my seat in the hall.

Among the presenters and presentations were Calvin and Ben Hobbs discussing the dozen dining chairs they made, a project with the logistical complications of being fabricated in North Carolina but carved in Kansas.

Kaare Loftheim presented on behalf of Brian Weldy about the diminutive tea table made at the Williamsburg Anthony Hay cabinet shop.

Richmond furniture maker Reid Beverly discussed the trials of fabricating a complex upright secretaire with boodles of compartments made from ultra thin SYP stock, and the frustrations of carving southern yellow pine.  He passed around a model in tulip poplar of the feet that were carved for the cabinet.

Another Williamsburg piece was this built-in corner cabinet from the joiner’s shop.

It was great to see some younger makers there as well.  One of them made this desk,

and another this drop leaf table.  Their work was superb.

Jeff Hedley and Steve Hamilton assembled their chest of drawers right in front of our eyes.

Wrapping up the morning(!) session Steve Dietrich covered the seven pieces he built, including several rope beds brightly painted.

Congratulations to The George Washington Foundation for such an inspired strategy (and the resources to pull it off), to the makers of the faithful representations of furniture making in the era, and Steve and Barb for a terrific weekend.

Workshop Teaser – Make A Set of Roubo Squares

Every participant will begin with a slab of brass which we will cut on the table saw to yield the preferred number of graduated squares.

Once these have been cut and the corners cleaned up, they will be laid out for the graduated nesting sizes.

Ogees are cut and filed into the ends, and all the detailing is finished in preparation for the silver soldering of the shoe on the outside of the beam.

If this workshop interests you, drop me a line via the Comments or Contact functions of the site.  It will be June 20-22, and the tuition + materials is $425.  You will leave with a completed set of squares.


Other workshops at the Barn this summer are:

Historic Finishing

Make A Roubo Shoulder Knife

Make A Ripple Molding Machine

Workbench Wednesday – #18 (2018), Bob’s Tricked Out Nicholson

It’s not my own bench but demonstrates a developmental step in the making of Nicholson benches at the Barn.

My friend Bob has many and varied skills that I draw on frequently.  At least once a year he comes over to fell trees for firewood, having been a timberman virtually all of his life.  I am happy to cut up the trees once they are down but am not fully confident of bringing them down where they should be (i.e. not on top of me).

Bob is also a gunsmith and firearms instructor (I will be getting some advanced training from him next month) and I’ve visited his workshop several times.  In my visits I noticed a decided lack of workbench assets there so last spring I built him a tricked out Nicholson for use on guns stocks and such.  He had some space limitations so it was a custom built 6-foot unit.

The basic bench was little different than what I’ve built before.  To this base I added a twin-screw face vise on the front apron, then added a bench top Moxon vise to be moved wherever he needed it on the top.  In fact, building this bench was the practice that let me work out all the kinks for the class I taught in Arkansas last summer.

At the end of the first day working on the bench I had it up in its feet and was ready to turn my attentions to working on the vise screws with my new Bealle threader.

But for the first day I just built it the way I do them all with the apron projecting slightly above the top battens so I could hand-plane everything nice and even.

Next week I will focus on incorporating wooden screws vises into the bench.  It will be the final installment of “looking backwards” in the bench making adventures at the barn, but never fear, there are a half-dozen new iterations coming down the pike.

In A World Before Sawmills

I  was utterly captivated by this short documentary of Norse woodsmen fashioning eight forty-foot rafters from a single tree trunk, using only axes and wedges fashioned after nearly-millennium-old archaeological discoveries.

I’m guessing these guys could hold their own in a wrist wrestling competition.

It sure makes my splitting and riving for making Gragg chairs pretty insignificant.

Come To Papa: New Treasures For The Shellac Archive

Being a long time shellacophile in the Age of Ebay I browse that site’s holdings periodically for shellac-related items of interest.  As a result I own a Zinsser money clip, several generations of sales and technical brochures, a book or two, and several old timey shellac bottles and cans.  Recently my visits to ebay for this purpose have dropped off considerably, coming now only to once every month or two instead of a couple times a week.  I’m just too busy to spend that time, and frankly have not found anything worth buying in a few years.

That all changed a couple weeks ago my pal TimP sent me a note indicating the availability of these three treasure troves, bound compilations of research monographs and related materials from the three gravitational centers of the Shellaciverse: The Indian Lac Research Institute; The London Shellac Research Bureau; and the Shellac Research Bureau, Polytechnic Institute of Brooklyn.

There was a “Buy it now” option so of course, I bought it now.  It was my moral duty.  Earlier this week the hefty package arrived here in the wilderness and I eagerly opened it to see if it was solid gold or simply dross.  Each volume is several hundred pages of documents comprising dozens of monographs, technical notes, and other publications.  A quick glance indicates that almost half of this is new to me so it constitutes a substantial amazing addition to the archive.

Thanks TimP!

It will take some time, perhaps even needing to wait until the winter reading season, but I will get through the books and digitize them for inclusion into my electronic version of the archive.

Note to self: resume posting publications to The Shellac Archive!

PS  With the arrival of Spring like a freight train, some recent eye surgery (my 21st), a little travel, and a heavy video production schedule I simply haven’t had much time nor energy to blog lately.

Workbench Wednesday – #17 (2018) Full Size Nicholson

For our penultimate offering in the “looking back” portion of this series I offer for your consideration a full-size Nicholson.  This workbench was primarily an exercise in, “I wonder…” as in, “I wonder how fast I can build a complete basic bench.” This approach to seeing how much time it would take to build the basic workbench was predicated on leaving the full tricking out for a subsequent session.  I found the answer to be about 4 hours, not counting the time for obtaining the lumber from over the mountains.

Notwithstanding my deep connection to Roubo benches I have come to see the Nicholson as a preferable option for many woodworkers.  It is exceedingly fast and easy to build, needing only a small table saw (or even a hand-held circular saw with a Speed Square for crosscutting and a rip fence on the saw base) , battery drill with a box of decking screws, and hand saw and hand plane of your choosing to make.

As (almost) always I began with clear southern yellow pine 2x12x24′ construction lumber selected from the inventory of Virginia Frame in Fishersville VA.  They gladly cut the 24-footers into 8-foot sections for me.  Once home I ripped then crosscut two of the boards in half for stock to fabricate the legs and the cross battens for the top boards to rest on.

The assembly itself was so straightforward I need not even discuss it in any detail.  With my drill, framing square and the decking screws it was up on its feet in no time.  I made the bench with a double apron on the front side in order to provide 3″ of thickness for holdfast holes.  I dimensioned the backing apron to be at the right height for the battens, and the off cut served as the support for the battens on the rear apron.  The double thickness of battens and top boards serves the same function of capturing the holdfasts.

With my 3/4″ hole drilling jig I can go back and put holes whenever and wherever I need them.  But for now it was just a basic, fully functional full-sized (8-foot) workbench that could last several generations of craftsmen.

All the “tricking out” features would come on the final bench of this part of the series, #18, Bob’s bench for gunsmithing.

(Truth in advertising — when I ramped up the production of Mel’s Wax over in my work space I purloined this workbench from the classroom, and last week I build another one to take its place.  So maybe this posting is about Opus 17 and Opus 19.)

Rat Patrol

Spring comes to us so quickly and late that it is inevitably a frenzied season of activity.  It seems that no sooner does the snow stop than we have to start mowing twice a week.  And Mrs. Barn’s cabin fever breaks into a session of manic gardening that ends only when the harvest is done and the preserves are put up.

After three years of successful gardening last year was the tough one for Mrs. Barn as the big rats, a/k/a “deer”, finally discovered the tender goodies there and mowed them down.  Over and over again, regardless of how many fences or other dissuasions we installed.

This year we decided to get serious and installed an electric fence in accordance with all the instruction our friends and neighbors provided.  When we bought the system at the local feed-and-seed I requested an electric fence system that would not just discourage the deer but would provide enough current to kill and barbecue them in one fell swoop.  Alas the new system only shocks them.  A little bit.

The set-up preferred by locals is to target the vegetarian predators where their noses are.  Thus the three levels of electric tape are at bunny nose height, ground hog nose height, and deer nose height.  That big gap in between has us skeptical, but we were told repeatedly that this approach will work.

It has been successful up to this point, and in fact we have not seen any deer in the neighborhood of the garden since it went up three weeks ago.  They are around the homestead but steering clear of the front yard.  Prior to the electric fence we had a mama and her fawns taking up residence, and at one point over the winter I actually found them sleeping in the flower bed adjacent to the front porch.  Often when looking out the windows of the barn I could see up to a dozen grazing on the hill above the cabin.

But now?  None!  We are hoping for the trend to continue.  Plus, the garden looks so much better with much of the cobbled together fencing removed.  I will even dismantle most of the hoop houses, leaving only one or two to be draped with screen or plastic sheeting over the winter as needed.

It’s a win-win situation.  If I could get the barbecue function it would be a win-win-win.