Musings

Finishing Workshop @ CW

Immediately in the aftermath of my frustratingly brief presentation at the last annual Working Wood in the 18th Century at Colonial Williamsburg, I received two invitations from Hay Shop Master Kaare Loftheim to return.

The first of these was for a two-day closed workshop for CW artisans last month where I would present demonstrations and hands-on exercises for my approach to historic finishing.  I was delighted to be there, as craftsmen from the Anthony Hay Shop, the gunsmith, the housewrights and joiners, and the wheelwright shops packed into the Hay shop for two days of intense work on transparent finishes.  Normally I like to make it a three day event, but two days was all they had so we worked with it.

Over the next several posts I will recount the exercises that are my normal syllabus.

Evolution of a Space and Project Concept

The finished fourth floor was fairly late addition to the spatial configuration of the barn.  Originally I was content to leave it open all the way to the roof peak, providing almost 30 feet of soaring space from the main floor.

About 3-1/2 years ago Mrs. Barn suggested that I go ahead and finish off the entirety of the fourth floor instead of leaving it as some cobbled together staging for high work.  She being the smartest woman I know, I followed that advice.

I used the space for a subsequent Groopstock gathering but ever since it had served only as a place to put junk for which I could not find another home.  Ironically the completion of the floor deck made the space inside the barn seem even larger than before.

With the evolving ideas for undertaking video as a teaching tool, completing the space became a priority whose fulfillment was fairly straightforward.  One day with John and another by myself was all it took.

The video enterprise is less simple from a business perspective.  My very tight content model provides for professional production at a comparatively modest cost, but it is not free.  Even though I do not necessarily need to derive substantial revenue from video, it’s just a bit too expensive for me to treat it as a hobby to create any more than an occasional clip, and my vision of providing substantive learning resources was a fair bit more than that.  I am still mulling over a number of models for how to move forward with the project from a financial perspective.  They are by no means an exhaustive survey, mostly because my perspective on this is so limited.

The first option, and the one apparently favored by some woodworkers posting video on line, is to create product with essentially no production value or scripting, and simply give it all away via Youtube or Vimeo.  In some cases this works magnificently, but others, not so much.  Since I am committed to doing this first-rate if I do it at all, this was not something I gave any real consideration.  I might create short videos on occasion as free content that is not the route for fulfilling the objectives I have in mind.

Second is the option of trying to find advertisers or sponsors for the web site as a whole and/or the videos in particular.  I find advertising footprints on the web to be aggravating, and since my subject matter is so arcane it is probably not a likely avenue for me.

Third might be the option of placing the videos behind a subscription paywall available for members only.  Frankly I do not know enough about the technology and psychology involved, and need to converse with video bloggers who have trod this path.  I suspect that having a subscriber base renders one a complete slave to those subscribers who want more and more and more content.  Yesterday.  I subscribe to (and pay for) a couple news-ish podcasts, and while I appreciate and value the content it still sorta rubs me the wrong way for reasons I cannot fully identify.  I only hope it is not some incipient residue from living in an entitlement society.

Fourth, given the structure and content I am noodling for the videos, I am finding the Pay Per View concept to resonate most strongly with me.  I am envisioning a series of periodic videos produced at my own pace — about a dozen topics thus far — that are perhaps 90 to 120 minutes long, divided into quarter-hour-ish chapters.  Perhaps each chapter could be downloaded for 99 cents and the entire continuous video for $6.99-$9.99.  I’m pretty certain that this model would require teasers to be on Youtube and Vimeo.

Given my unfamiliarity with a lot of the attendant technology and marketing for these types of ventures, I am sure there are a multitude of creative ideas along these lines and I look forward to pushing back the boundaries of my own ignorance.

If you have any productive morsels to threw into the stew pot, let me know here to start the conversation.

Not Exactly MGM…

Mrs. Barn calls it ADD, I call it Hyper-curiosity.  Whatever it is, it means that sometimes I have a tough time turning my brain off, which in turn has an ancillary side effect of insomnia.  And, an inability to concentrate fully when I’m watching a movie or such (tonight it’s an Eastwood bullet-fest — obviously Mrs. Barn is out of town) and I usually have a note pad nearby to capture my fragmented musings.  A few of these and I have an idea, a few ideas and I have  concept, and a concept usually turns into a project of some sort.

Here are some landmarks on the conceptual map that is taking shape for one possible future project for The Barn based on observations, whimsy, and experience.  Consider the following:

  1. I’ve had the amazing opportunity over a great career spanning almost five decades that enabled aggressive learning and allowed/required creative, interdisciplinary  problem solving
  2. I retired five years ago with plenty of fuel left in the tank.  Since then I’ve published three books (with at least five more manuscripts in the pipeline, maybe even as many as a dozen if I get back to writing fiction), filmed three videos, and created a unique exhibit.
  3. Now freed from the immediacy of most deadlines (I’m still writing a ton, but the deadlines of the Roubo and Studley books were imminent and the Studley exhibit deadline was inflexible) and recovered from two serious injuries, I can now let my mind wander and creative juices flow unfettered

4. I have a big barn in a beautiful setting and have been encouraged to organize workshops to pass on what I learned over the years.  Those who have attended the workshops give me great feedback about the experience and the setting.

5. But, most folks are unwilling to come to The Barn for workshops, for what ever reason; distance, remoteness, time, topic.  Last summer two of the four workshops I had scheduled were cancelled due to lack of interest, this year it was three of five scheduled workshops cancelled.  I will probably never cease offering them, maybe just a couple every summer, but it’s pretty clear workshops at The Barn are likely not a big part of the equation going forward..

6. I still enjoy greatly transmitting to willing learners the stuff taking up space between my ears and energizing my hands.

7. I go places to teach occasionally, but my aversion to travel makes this an unlikely major component of my future plans.  Plus, I generally expect hosts/classes to compensate me similarly to conservation clients, and that is a deal breaker a lot of the time.  Think of it as the intersection between Opportunity Costs and Comparative Advantage.

8. I am comfortable speaking to audiences, whether the audience is people or cameras.  I hope my previous videos confirm that self-assessment.

9. A talented (and eager) young videographer has returned home to the hills after honing his craft at college and in commercial work.  Given that about 39,614 guys are out there making woodworking videos, some with negative production value or informational organization, I’m thinking there may be some fertile territory for our collaboration given his expertise and my idiosyncratic interests.

10. The cavernous fourth floor of The Barn ( 18′ x 38′ with 17′ cathedral ceiling) served mostly as an attic for the past few years.

With those things simmering in the pot, I have decided to turn the fourth floor into a video studio.  Mostly that involved cleaning out the stuff being stored there, doing a bit of painting, and finishing the wiring.  If nothing comes of this, at least I got the attic cleaned, painted, and wired.

Stay tuned.

More Ripple Molding Success

While I was fussing with the Roubo bench, John was in the adjacent space being utterly productive in tuning up the Winterthur ripple molding machine.  His success was such that he was able to concentrate on running samples with a variety of the cutters that my long time friend Cor van Horne made when he built the machine.

Magnifique!

Our plan is for John and me to feature and demonstrate this machine at the upcoming Working Wood in the 18th Century conference at Colonial Williamsburg in early 2018.

Solving the Sticking Legs

As we left our intrepid adventure, all four legs of the FORP workbench were bound in place, unable to move fore or aft.  The effort to seat them with a hydraulic bottle jack and the weight of the building was inadequate but that episode opened an avenue for contemplation.  Namely, how about constructing a frame to capture both the feet of the legs and the hydraulic jack against the slab top?

Brilliant! sez I, and I set about making one such device from oak 6x6s and framing 2x4s.  I placed the lower 6×6 cross piece underneath the feet at one end of the bench and captured the bottle jack with the other 6×6 above the slab.  Good concept, poor execution.  The corners were pinned with 1/4″ lag bolts, which almost immediately bent to such a degree that the unit was not functional.

For the next iteration I ripped a pile of surplus 3/4″ CDX plywood into 5″ wide strips, the fashioned them into a more robust frame what was three pieces for the stiles and seven pieces for the beams, all glued and screwed with four 1/2″ carriage bolts holding each corner together.

I held my breath as I maneuvered the bench and the frame to their respective locations, placed the bottle jack directly over one of the legs  with a metal bar at the top to transfer the force to the frame and started pumping the lever arm.  The results were almost immediate and immensely gratifying as I worked my way around the bench from leg to leg.  With each new stroke of the handle the legs would be driven into the mortises about 3/16.”  In about 30 minutes I had all four legs seated and a huge note of thanks for the person who invented the portable hydraulic jack.

At “peak compression” I noted that even the seven-layer beam deflected almost a half inch due to the force.

Finally the bench was on its feet, with zero wobble and clearly no need for glue in the joints.  I installed the stretchers and the shelf, and having already completed the game of Tetris required to move it where it was going and the six steps of moving other things to make it happen, including four other workbenches to new locations,  with two 8-foot workbenches being hoisted to the fourth floor, and the 450 lb. FORP bench slid easily to its new home.

I will wedge the through-tenons next week and true the top next spring after it goes through the winter in its new, heated home.  I have not yet decided what to do about spacing the holdfast holes, or installing the planing stop and leg vise.

Stay tuned.  At least I now own a killer hydraulic press frame.

When The Barn Isn’t Heavy Enough

Getting back into the shop after harvesting juncus I was anticipating installing the legs on the French Oak Roubo Project workbench after having it wait on me for more than fours years.  The joinery was all done, the repairs completed, and all looked well.  The first few whacks on the bottom of the legs (the bench was upside down) produced pleasing results, and we flipped the bench over the finish driving them home from the top.

A few good moments of movement, then, nothing.  No mount of persuasion would budge the legs any more than about halfway in.  Even with my 12 lb. sledge nothing was moving.  On any of the four legs.  So I tried driving them back out to fiddle with the joint shoulders.  Nothing happened.  No matter how hard I beat on it.  A cold clammy sweat began prickling me all over.

Then a stroke of genius came down.  How about if I used a hydraulic bottle jack and placed it under the bridge between the two balconies with a 6×6 post filling the excess space?  I practically dislocated something patting myself on the back for that one.

The first attempts revealed the propensity for the jack force to lift up the bridge beams.  No big deal, I just cut 4×4 spacers to fit between the top of the bridge beams and the barn frame, essentially bring the entire weight of the barn into the equation.

I began to have some results as I levered the 12-ton jack and could hear and see the legs creeping into their mortises.  Then I started hearing creaks from places far away, and rapidly backed off when I realized that the process was literally inflicting enough force to potentially tear the barn apart.

Back to the drawing board.

Harvesting Juncus

In Roubo’s description of the finishing processes and materials included in L’art du Menuisier (and thus our To Make As Perfectly As Possible translation) he used the word “juncus” when referring to the fibrous plant from which the polissoirs were made.  At the time we had competing dictionary definitions and identifiers, “rush,” “grass,” and “straw” all showed up in one dictionary or another, and in the end I decided to simply use the word “grass” if I recall correctly.

Yannick Chastang, like my Roubo Project collaborator Philippe Lafargue, was trained in the full multi-year program at Ecole Boulle in Paris, chided me that Roubo chose the word “juncus” on purpose and I should have as well, at least in concert with the word “rush.”  Fair enough, but in retrospect since the word Juncus refers to a genus with over 300 species of grassy rushes I cannot beat myself up too much for that editorial decision.

I was talking about this to Mrs. Barn one day, she being a botanist/mycologist by training, and she said something like, “Well, you are in luck since we have Juncus effusus growing around the pond.”  She took me outside and sure enough, we have a number of fairly immature clumps at the shore of our pond.  When Daniel the stonemason was here building the hand-knapped dry-stack wall a few months ago he mentioned that he had loads of juncus growing around his pound and I was welcome to harvest as much as I wanted.

As a break from our activities during ManWeek John and I took the morning an went to Daniel’s place to harvest soft rush, or juncus.  We first spent a minute ogling his greenhouse.  Mrs. Barn will be most impressed with it when we visit again.

Then we headed to the pond and there was indeed a multitude of soft rushes ringing one end of it.  In less than an hour of harvesting we had the back seat of the Envoy completely filled.

Back at the barn we sorted and arranged the rushes to dry in the sun before moving them inside a few days later.

Yannick avers that polissoirs made from these fibers have a very different feel and performance than the ones I get made from sorghum broom straw.  After this material gets fully dry and I make some Juncus polissoirs I will be able to make my own determination on that.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile In The Next Room: Tuning Up The Ripple Molding Machine

While I was occupied with the Roubo bench slab in the center hall of the barn John was a dozen feet away in the classroom tinkering with the Winterthur ripple molding cutter.  When we gathered earlier as a group we identified a number of modifications that might serve to transform it into a reliable, precision machine.  I ordered all the materials and supplies we thought we needed for this undertaking so everything was ready to go for John to dive in to making these modifications a reality.

As a moment of review, the ripple molding machine is simply a contoured scraper being drawn across a length of wood, with either the scraper or the workpiece being undulated by some sort of linear pattern.  In short, a ripple molding is the result of controlled chatter.

In the case of this machine it is the cutter that remains fixed relative to the length of the frame, but which undulates up-and-down via a horizontal “follower” rod affixed to the cutterhead frame, pressing down on the pattern running the length of the machine frame.  We found in our earlier efforts that either the pattern or the follower ere being degraded and even destroyed by the very process of creating the moldings.

I do not know how this problem was dealt with historically, but for our applications we decided to replace the extant follower rod with a new rod and tiny roller bearings to instead ride along the pattern, transferring the up-and-down impulse without friction to the cutterhead.  John spent extensive time retrofitting the cutterhead to accommodate this modification without damaging or changing irrevocably the machine as it was presented to me.

After installing the new follower system John reported to me with a grand smile that it as a perfect solution to the problem, and would guide our design considerations as we move forward with new machines in both our futures.

 

 

Completing Workbench Mortises (a semi-misadventure)

When I last left the oak Roubo bench 4+ years ago it was still quite  ways from being done (one of the great benefits of building a bench a la David Baron is that it can get done in a week).  The leg tenons were all cut, but only two of the dovetailed mortises and none of the rectangular mortises, so clearly a lot of drilling and chopping was in store.  There was nothing exceptional about the task or process other than it required flipping the top a couple of times to get the job done.  The last two dovetailed open mortises took about an hour to knock out.

Drilling and chopping the closed mortises went smoothly.  For three of the four.  And the fourth?  Grrrrr!  For some inexplicable reason I switched from a Forstner-style bit to a long auger bit for my drill, and it went astray.  Not just astray but bound tighter than a drum and would not move forward or backward (a theme that was not yet fully played out).  After a lot of fussing and fuming I was eventually forced to drive it through the other face using my sledge hammer.  Sheer brute force.  I was reminded of my late friend Mel Wachowiak’s quip, “With enough force you can pull he tail off a living cow.”  Or drive a 7/8 auger bit through an inch of solid oak.

This blew out a chunk of the face adjacent to the mortise, leaving me less cheery than you might expect, my anger being tempered only by the fact that all this damage took place on the underside of the slab. An hour later I had knitted together all the splintered wood and glued it back in place to leave overnight.  In the end it was a patience-expanding experience.

The good news is that the repaired place (epoxy and shavings filled) held up perfectly when chopping the mortise in that area.  The repair felt just like the adjacent wood and held a nice crisp corner with no chipping or fracture.

So now the mortises were all done and seemed to provide a nice snug fit, and I was looking forward to driving the legs home in the morning.

Oh, about that…

Virtuosity At A Whole Different Scale

My acquaintance Bill Robertson, maker of astonishing miniatures, is featured in a new TED Talk.  Watch, and prepare to be astounded.