For me the great honor at Working Wood in the 18th Century was being asked to serve as the after dinner speaker. Kaare had asked me to work with the topic “sometimes the old ways are the best ways” to which I gladly complied. Of course I provided my own peculiar spin on the topic, but everyone seemed to laugh in all the right places so I guess it went well.
Of course the highlight of the evening was the scrumptious chocolate cheesecake awaiting me at my place on completion of the chat.
I got a lot of very positive feedback on the talk, and was even asked to summarize part of it as an article in next year’s American Period Furniture. That section of greatest interest was a list of ten “assignments” I gave to the audience to stretch their handworking boundaries. For some in the audience, perhaps even most, this was simple encouragement and validation, for others it was a legitimate challenge.
I will blog about each of those assignments individually over the next fortnight or so, but here is the list:
- Restore an old tool to wondrous functionality
- Make a new tool and incorporate it into your bench work
- Learn to sharpen. Really. Everything
- Incorporate one (then all) of these traditional tools into your work — spokeshave, drawknife, scratch stock, toothing plane, froe
- Saw and prepare veneers by hand
- Learn to prepare, modify, and manipulate and use hot hide glue. Then use it.
- Execute a decorative painted surface
- Make from scratch, from stock you prepare yourself, one of the following — parquetry, floral marquetry, Boulle-work, a Federal paterae
- Prepare a surface without the benefit of sandpaper, then apply a finish not using a spray gun, polyurinate, or cellulose nitrate
- Make a piece of furniture entirely without power tools, beginning with a piece of firewood or similar
In my hands this morning…
I am not displeased.
Although I have attended the Colonial Williamsburg Working Wood in the 18th Century conference many times, this year was my first as a speaker. I was asked to present the topic “Wax Finishes” which I did. Alas, my time slot was only 45 minutes, which in retrospect pretty much everyone agreed was too short by some logarithmic value. Still I did my best to rip through the basics at breakneck speed.
As with virtually every finishing talk I give I began by covering my “Six Rules for Perfect Finishing.”
I then blew through the topics of surface prep with a scraper and then a polissoir. Truly this step has revolutionized my understanding and practice for finishing.
Then came the application of block beeswax as a grain filler and final finish, worked into the surface via vigorous rubbing with the polissoir, followed by scraping to remove any excess, and finally by buffing with a flannel.
I showed, all too quickly, the incorporation of both resin flour and powdered colorants to the beeswax grain fillers to impart either hardness or coloration.
Finally I approached the problem of voluptuous and carved surfaces, employing the boxwood burnishing stick and the polissoir, with impressive results given the few seconds I had in hand.
I got excellent and encouraging feedback, and the CW folks must have liked what they saw because I have been invited to return in the fall for three days of in-house hands-on training for the cabinetmakers, gunsmiths, and housewrights on the topic of historic finishing.
I have long argued that we are living in two simultaneous Golden Ages, that of furniture making and that of tool making. Never before in human history has a culture produced more superb furniture than we are right now, it’s just that most of the furniture is being made avocationally rather than vocationally, which is not to disregard the exquisite furniture being made by people who do it for a living. It’s just that there are so many more “makers driven by passion” than those driven by income, a ratio I would conclude is far north of 100:1.
The Golden Age of Tool Making is a bit different in that the purveyors for those particular narcotics in the marketplace are simultaneously driven by both passion and income. Consider the upcoming Handworks event, where scores of professional woodworking tool makers will interact with thousands of woodworkers and tool aficionados, deep in the heart of the Iowa cornfields. I am honored to count many of these toolmakers among my friends and acquaintances.
I am sure there are cranky toolmakers working under the nostrum of secrecy, but thus far I have yet to run into any of them. My experience is that they are delighted that you are interested, and inevitably they will fill you with more information than you can digest at any one time. They must understand this, as most of them have web pages that are archives of definitive and dispositive documents telling you almost everything you ever wanted to know about whatever it is that they make or do. I keep several dozen of their sites bookmarked and visit them as often as I allow myself, knowing full well that the first click can result in an entire evening lost in pursuit of knowing more.
Occasionally one strikes my fancy or is so perfectly timed to a particular need that I find myself talking to myself in celebration. Recently I have been doing some things with saws, some of which may eventually leak out into this blog, but most of which has to do with tuning up the saws that I already have. With that in mind I was delighted to see a new (to me at least) offering over at Bad Axe on the care and feeding of vintage back saws. I am currently awaiting the fullness of time to get to a couple (four? five?) of them hanging on my wall, and this page will no doubt serve as a valued resource once I get to that point.
In the service of full disclosure I should say that I have two Bad Axe back saws that I purchased from them, and have communicated with Mark Harrell fairly extensively on my two 4-foot late-18th Century frame saws, tools I use surprisingly often. Someday I might show up on Mark’s doorstep with them in hand, and ask for a sharpening refresher tutorial.
Ted Boscani’s crew from the CW Joiner’s Shop (I think at one time they were known as the housewrights) were the final in-house presenters as they had a Four Ring Circus in operation making a “table chair.” I think in some circles this piece is known as “a monk’s chair.”
While Ted was demonstrating some of the joinery from the underside of the flip-top, most particularly the cutting of the sliding dovetail into which the hinging braces would be inserted, the apprentices were all working on the same bench on the opposite side of the stage fabricating the elements that were assembled into the chair’s base. Their congenial sharing of a bench tweaked my self-indulgence of working on, in a typical day, anywhere from 6-8 different work benches in my own space. I admit, I suffer under an embarrassment of riches.
Finally, after 90 very engaging and entertaining minutes, the table was assembled. While I have my doubts about the interests and abilities of most of those in attendance to fabricate any of the chairs from earlier demonstrations, I can definitely see this fitting into the ken of just about everyone there.
If you have not already seen Konrad Sauer’s update on the restoration of the 1968 Volvo P1800 I disposed of in his direction, give it a look. The car, of which there were only about 125,000 produced over a 13 year period, was made famous in the early 60s British television series “The Saint” starring the utra-cool Roger Moore.
Here’s just one of the dozens of pics.
In addition to serving as the Master of Ceremonies for the Working Wood in the 18th Century event, Anthony Hay shop master Kaare Loftheim took to the stage to show us the developments of the corner chair made up the road in the Walker shop near Fredericksburg. This iconic chair form, perhaps most notable for the thunder mug contained underneath the upholstered slip seat, provided inspiration for many other chairmakers of the period. Maybe while they were sitting… oh, never mind.
Kaare was particularly struck by the stylistic variations of the form within the same shop. He spent considerable time pointing out the salient details from the version of the chair he was replicating in black walnut.
For the on-stage demonstration Kaare did the layout and carving in basswood so it would proceed more quickly and we could get his points in a hurry.
I am pretty sure that “working in a highly detailed artistic and technical exercise while an audience watches the results a 100x magnification” fits at least some definition of fearlessness.
Most of the structural creation had been accomplished prior to the event, but it still had to fit together properly. It did.
Prior to the last year or so I was only barely acquainted with Kaare personally, and it has been a true delight to get to know him better over that time and I look forward to the next time our paths cross.
Anthony Hay cabinet shop journeyman Bill Pavlak bit off the challenge of making a chair illustrated in Chippendale’s Director. Given the vagaries of historic images when compared to the structure of chairs, it was indeed something to wrestle with.
Bill engaged in one of the most innovative didactic exercises I’ve seen as he walked us through the evolution of the Chippendale chair by fabricating a display form on which he could attach full scale depictions for each of the major evolutionary steps in the design heritage. I found this to be a brilliant approach that should be employed everywhere for anyone interested in the subject.
Since much of the character of the chair is contained in the carvings, that is where Bill spent his time.
I must admit that I missed some of Bill’s presentation as I was 1) talking to someone out in the vestibule about some SAPFM bidnez, and 2) snuck out to go with my wife and some friends to an organ recital at the nearby Wren Chapel on the campus of the College of William and Mary. Sorry Bill, no disrespect intended.
In the next four postings I will be highlighting the contributions by the CW craftsmen to the Working Wood in the 18th Century gathering. They work under the burdensome (?) expectation of excellence on our part, as for years they have not only put on the show as the impresarios but are expected to be stellar in their on-stage performances. It’s a lot of weight on their shoulders, and they pull it off every time! You can tell they are comfortable with audiences, I don’t mind folks watching me work, but the contant interruptions they endure must be maddening. It disrupts any work flow and extends a project’s timeline by a logarithmic factor.
First up of the Colonialista soloists was Brian Weldy, demonstrating the steps to designing and building a late Baroque (aka “Queen Anne”) chair in walnut. As with all the presentations I found much to be learned from the project, although it is unlikely I will ever build one. Nevertheless Brian’s dealing with the sumptuously curvilinear form was instructive.
His layout of the serpentine center splat was particularly of interest to me as I have a pair of 16th Century Chinese horseshoe chairs on my bucket list.
He called on Kaare to provide a second pair of hands for the assembly of the chair seat rail and legs. I was fascinated by the wooden blocks left on the serpentine seat rail to provide striking anf clampning surfaces. These would be carved off once the assembly was completed. I thought it was an ingeniuos and efficient solution to a problem. Maybe everyone else already knew it, but it is a technique now residing firmly in the memory bank.
With the chair assembled Brian addressed the seat construction and lofting, and his time was done.
I’ll interrupt my jaunt through the CW confab to mention some new things in the mail.
First off is the catalog from the Marc Adams School of Woodworking which includes this page describing the two classes I will be teaching this fall, Parquetry and Historic Finishing.
Yesterday saw the arrival of the new Popular Woodworking with some intriguing contents.
In addition to an excellent article on bench chisels from The Schwarz Hisownself there is a wonderful piece by my pal Jameel Abraham on making and using plywood. Solid.
And immediately subsequent to Jameel is my latest article, which was about the most fun writing I have ever had.
To top it all off I received a sample of some shellac wax from the producer in India. It is excellent and I am going shortly to the bank to make the bank-to-bank transfer to order several hundred pounds. This steady supply will allow us to begin manufacturing Mel’s Wax shortly. Stay tuned.