Musings

Bloggus Disruptus

Between travel for the recent annual summer meeting of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers, which captivated me, and leaving my computer power cord in the motel room, I have hit a kink in blogging.  It will resume once the power cord arrives.

(from my kindle )

Historic Finishing Day 1

 

Last week was my almost-annual workshop in Historic Finishing, three days spent introducing the notions of systematic work with shellac and beeswax.  This year I had three students which allowed for a lot of great fellowship and one-on-one instruction and problem solving.

It began with a discussion of the strategy of finishing I developed many years past, emphasizing the Six Simple Rules for Perfect Finishing.  As always my goal is to not only teach and inform, but to change attitudes.  Usually woodworkers are indifferent at best and terrified at worst to finishing, and again this year I saw the students leave with a whole new level of confidence.  I cannot say they departed with my own mindset of looking forward to any finishing task, but at least they were no longer fearful of it.

After the opening lecture they got to working on the first of a dozen exercises I had devised for them.  This one was brushing shellac on a large panel, building up about a dozen coats in three application sessions, or “innings.”  Using only a one-inch brush this exercise develops excellent hand skills at applying a finish evenly over a very large area, and lays the foundation for some Day 3 exercises.

We then moved on to the means of preparing surfaces in general (the initial large panel exercise has to fall a bit out of order since it required three sessions to complete the applications; the start of Day 1, the end of Day 1, and the start of Day 2).  Thus much of the day was spent building up Popeye-like forearms, a/k/a using a polissoir.

I also demonstrated the use of a pumice block for smoothing wood.  This was a very common procedure in ancient days, an analog to our own use of sandpaper.

Preparing panels with the polissoirs and then a polissoirs-plus-cold-beeswax occupied much of that afternoon, followed by a light sanding of the large panel and re-application of the 2-pound shellac from the morning.

And thus endeth Day 1.

“It Is A-live,” er, It Is A Gragg Chair!

In our most recent video session the Gragg chair really began to take shape as the front and rear seat rails and the crest rail tied together the sides, and the bent seat/back units were laid in place to begin that joinery.

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More to come as soon as we can synchronize our schedules.

Finally, The Chinking

The culmination of the cabin work was the application of the new chinking.  The restoration crew mixed their own on site, a mélange of lime, cement, and sand.  Forty-plus yeas of experience has led them down this path, and I was in no position to second-guess them.

With the foam insulation in place (it will remain a high performance flexible foam in perpetuity since it will be encased in the wall, protected by the UV light that turns it into rigid powder) topped over by nailed-on metal screen lath was ready to be impregnated with the cement mixture.

Once again I was delighted to have turned the project over to someone else.  Their fortitude and skill to do this kind of work at height in direct sunlight was impressive.  I ain’t a’ skeert of heights, but the going up and down just wears me out.

The result is the cabin has never looked better.  The only thing left to do on the project is the replacement of a small damaged log section next to the chimney, a final step that will be completed next week.

Now to start saving for new windows for next summer.  I can almost hardly wait for winter to get here so we can see how effective all of this work has been.

Ancient-ish Dutch Sawmill

I think my first direct interaction with Chris Schwarz was in response to his invitation to speak at Woodworking in America near Chicago ten years ago.  The topic he asked me to present was on the transition from strictly hand powered craftsmanship to machine power in woodworking,  One of the things that gave him the most satisfaction/validation was that the primary source history pushed the use of machinery for wood processing much farther back than many in the audience had previously considered.

In that vein I was delighted to stumble across this video recently, showing a reconstructed Dutch wind-powered sawmill that is in service now.  The technology, however, goes back several centuries, I believe the crankshaft technology is from the late 1500s.  This commercial sawmill is a replica of one from the mid 1600s.  It is certain that much older water-powered up-and-down sawmills existed, maybe even several centuries earlier.

Handworks 2020 – Be There Or Be (out of) Square

The Abraham boys at Benchcrafted just went live with the announcement of the next Handworks event in the wilds of central Iowa.  If you did not attend the previous iterations it is difficult to describe it concisely.  Think of Woodstock without the music or dope or other nihilistic hedonism; just multitudes of hand-tool enthusiasts and the hand tools that power them.

Stay tuned as more information with be forthcoming.  Suffice to say if you go, I will see you there.  September 4/5, 2020, Amana, Iowa.

Ready For Class

Historic Woodfinishing workshop starts in an hour or so and I’m rarin’ to go.

the classroom is all set

some show-n-tell

my ultra-high-tech syllabus

Filling The Log Voids

Once the clean-out was complete and the underlying surfaces borated it was time for the space between the logs to be filled, which was itself a two-step process.  In the first step the voids were filled with spray foam insulation to seal the spaces from air infiltration.  This step alone should make a huge difference in the coming winter.  It is my ardent desire that the new chinking, along with the insulating and sealing of the crawlspace will reduce the need for firewood substantially.

Once the spray foam insulation had firmed up it was trimmed and the chinking lath applied over it.  This was tedious and time consuming work as the stainless steel mesh had to be cut to fit the opening precisely, then nailed in place every couple inches or so.

With the lath done all that was left was to apply the cement-based chinking itself with careful troweling to finish the task.  I had gone back and forth between wanting traditional cement based chinking and newer silicone based synthetics, but Tim the contractor has been using the cement based system for about forty years with great success, so that is the path we took.

In the end we thought the job looked terrific and would perform excellently as all the steps leading up to completion were conscientiously and skillfully executed.  I am especially pleased to get chinking with a fitted undercut so it does not act like a rain gutter on the side of the house as had been the case with the previous chinking.

It is nice to be here long enough to finally connect with the network of craftsmen here.  In such an insular community it is a slow process, but we are getting there.  And for this project all we had to do was find the right crew and sign the check (which was more than the cost of my first house!).

We are hoping that the big project for next summer will be the replacing of all the windows to install new high efficiency ones.  But for now, the cabin has never looked better and was never more weather-tight.

 

There’s just one little area of repair to complete this week, but overall we are mighty pleased.

 

Eau de Payreee, c.Roubo

Whenever I am working on a project and encounter an impasse I do not stop working, I simply work on something else for a time until I can get back in the groove for the original undertaking.  Such has been the case with A Period Finisher’s Manual, which has turned out to be much more of a grind than I was expecting.  Even when taking a break from APFM and blogging I do not necessarily stop writing, I simply write about something else.  Recently that “something” has been some fiction projects, one being some dalliances into Christological fiction regarding Joshua bar Joseph the young craftsman, and another being a panoramic thriller in which the Paris of Roubo’s time is a prime setting.  In researching that topic I began reading David Garrioch’s The Making of Revolutionary Paris.  Though not especially pertinent (yet) to my story line I found this passage compelling.  In it, Garrioch is describing the city’s odors that blind beggars used for navigational aids.

They cannot see and do not heed the summer sun shining on the tall whitewashed houses that makes the eastbound coachmen squint under their broad-brimmed hats.  Nor do they see the flowers in pots on upper-story window ledges, the washing hanging on long rods projecting from the upper windows, or the colors of the cloth displayed for sale outside the innumerable drapers’ shops in the rue de St-Honore.  But they are sensitive, more than other city dwellers, to the fragrances of apples and pears of many varieties (many that the twentieth century does not know) , of apricots and peaches in season: to the reek of freshwater fish that has been too long out of the water; to the odor of different cheeses — Brie and fresh or dried goat cheese.  The street sellers display these and other  produce on tables wherever there is space to set up a portable stall.  For the blind the smells are signposts, markers not only of the seasons but also of the urban landscape.  They recognize the pervasive sweetness of cherries on the summer air or the garden smell of fresh cabbages in winter, marking the stall of the woman who sells fruits or vegetables at the gateway of the Feuillants monastery in the rue de St-Honore near the Place Vendome.  The aroma of roasting meat from a rotisseur in a familiar street, the smell of stale beer at the door of a tavern, the sudden stench of urine at the entrance of certain narrow alleyways; these are the landmarks by which the sightless navigate.

In the early eighteenth century there was no escape anywhere in Paris from the pungency of horse droppings or the foulness of canine or human excrement.  Like human body odor, it was ever-present but normally unremarked.  Some quarters, though, were distinguished by other, more particular smells.  The central market — les Halles — was unmistakable, with its olfactory cocktails of fruit, vegetables, grain, cheese, and bread.  “It is common knowledge,” wrote an eighteenth century critic, that “the whole quarter of the Halles is inconvenienced by the fetid odor of the herb market and the fish market: add to that the excrement, and the steaming sweat of an infinite number of bests of burden.”  Even when the market was over the odors lingered.  The stink of fish bathed the arc of streets from the rue de la Cossonnerie to the rue de Montorgueil and St-Eustache.  To the south, rotting herbs and vegetables polluted rue de la Langerie, th rue St-Honore, the rue aux Fers.  Worse exhalations rose from the neighboring Cimetiere des Innocents, from the huge pits where only a sprinkling of lime covered a top layer of bodies already beginning to decompose.  In the summer only the hardiest inhabitants overlooking the cemetery dared open their windows.

Other neighborhoods had different smells to contend with.  Around the river end of the rue St-Denis were streets here the passers-by were overwhelmed by the smell or drying blood: “it cakes under your feet, and your shoes are red.”  The beasts once killed, the tallow-melting houses near the slaughterhouses produced even fouler and more pervasive odor.  Through the archway under the Grand Chatelet prison and along the quais of the city center the air was heavy (especially in the summer) from the effluent of the great sewers that oozed into the Seine between the Pont Notre-Dame and the Pont-au-Change.  Even in the otherwise pleasant gardens of the Tuileries, a witness tells us, “the terraces .. become unapproachable because of the stink that came from them … .  All the city’s defecators lined up beneath the yew hedge and relieved themselves.”

Ahh, Paris, the city of romance.

Cleaning A Brazed/Soldered Joint (Making Roubo Squares sidebar)

I use some version of the following techniques for cleaning the interior corners of a soldered/brazed joint such as that created at the shoe-and-beam joint for the Roubo squares.  If my brazing technique is on its game this only takes a couple minutes from start to finish.  If not, more minutes.  Actually, were I a better metalsmith there would be no cleanup at all, but this is the kind of joint I usually have after the torch work.

My first step is to clean the excess solder with a half-round Vixen file, which is the metalworking version of a float.  I lay the flat side of the file down flat on the workpiece and press the edge between the flat and half-round sides into the joint to remove any excess.  Then I repeat it on the other flat face.

Once any excess solder is cleaned off I strike the joint with a diamond shaped burin, or engraver, to establish a nice clean corner.  The spatial circumstance of the task does not allow for me to hold the burin properly, I just hold it sorta like a paring chisel.

Finally I find the halfway angle for a triangle fie and undercut the joint ever so slightly for an elegantly clean look.

After that I’ve got a nice surface ready for polishing with a light abrasive to make it finished.  Once I get the edges finished this one will be ready to go.