Musings

Gragg Chair Fabrication Completed

It might have been the hottest week of the summer, well over 100 degrees in the attic where I am doing all the Gragg chair project (admittedly only about 85 outside) but finally the construction is complete.  Now it was time to move on to sculpting all the edges and profiles of the elements.

Virtually every single component was ovalled, tapered, smoothed, and shaped to add the elegance that this chair deserved.  Even in its raw state immediately after final assembly it is a thing of beauty, after a the surfaces are sculpted it is sublime.  The primary weapon for much of this process is a spokeshave, or more properly, a whole selection of spokeshaves I’ve assembled over the past 45 years.  The main workhorse of the stable is the tiny patternmaker’s spokeshave I made In 1979, if I recall correctly.   It is the tool closest to the hammer head.  Another favorite is the “pig’s ear” spokeshave I probably got at a Martin Donnelly auction but I cannot remember precisely.

Systematically I went over every element, shaping them to be a harmonious whole.

Shaping the triangular glue blocks imparted tremendous elegance, and a few final touches made it ready for paint.

Opposite Ends of the Spectrum

While reading the profile of my long time friend and fellow Lost Art Press author Joshua Klein I was reminded of his small (tiny?) workshop when I visited him for the first time many years ago.  This in turn caused me to continue my reflection on the blessings of my own work space where I have a generous space for virtually each of my undertakings, roughly 6500-7000 s.f available to me.  AS I wrote recently, there will come a time when life in the hinterlands will likely become too challenging for us as we eventually approach our dotage, and the cabin and barn will be in the rear view mirror.

Though I pray that day is still long over the horizon I remain cognizant of the need to one day be constrained in my shop footprint.  When we eventually build our geezer-friendly final home I expect my shop space will be limited to a 10×15 shed, perhaps with a four-foot wide lean-to storage shed on three sides.  As I ruminate on that distant eventuality I find myself looking to see what other folks are doing with tiny spaces for shops.

I stumbled across this shop tour recently.  To say it is the opposite end of the spectrum from my current locale would be a gross understatement, but I found it immensely engaging nonetheless.

Improving/Making A Curved Fishtail Gouge

One of the challenges when building Gragg chairs is that the short seat slats are half-blind dovetailed into the front and rear seat rails (well, the front of the continuous slat are too, but it is mor difficult for these ones).  As a practical matter this can only occur after the chair has been mostly assembled, so the work is in tight and awkward quarters.  I generally cut the mortise shoulders of the dovetails as deeply as I can to make waste removal as easy as possible with a narrow dovetail chisel, but then I have to remove the remaining waste very carefully so as not to damage the joint fitting.


A tool that is extremely helpful in this undertaking is a custom-made curved flat fishtail gouge.  I tried store-bought curved flat fishtails and although the are fine tools but they do not flare enough to be particularly useful.  Instead I took a 1/2″ curved flat fishtail and ground away the shoulders to make their flare much more pronounced, and that works just fine.   It allows me to reach way into the interior corners of the dovetail mortise and get them clean.

Still, it does make for a mighty long work session.

I have enough trouble keeping the joint shoulders intact without creating additional hurdles to jump.  At this pint of the project that light at the end of the tunnel is getting brighter.

Veneer Repair Video – Part 7

I just realized that I had some more episodes of this initial, free, video. In this one I cut out the fitted patch with a jeweler’s saw on a bench pin or sawing platform.  If I recall correctly, it was below freezing that day in the attic studio.

 




Stoopid Pencil Tricks

I’m certain I am not even the millionth person to transform a pencil into at tracing gauge, but it is a tool that I use whenever I am making the intermediate seat slats for the Gragg chair, transferring the shape from the steam bent unified bottom/back slats.

I prefer to start with a carpenter’s pencil, saw it in half length-wise, then shave off most of one side with a utility knife.

Then I plane it flat with a block plane to reveal fully the graphite core.

To keep the open graphite from smearing all over everything I simply place some transparent tape over it and burnish it to make it perfectly intimate with that surface, then trim the excess tape.  That way I can not only handle the new tool but place it directly on a surface to be traced without contaminating that surface.  I make the tip sharpened, leaving the graphite/tape side flat and beveling the other three facets and place the tape side against whatever contour I am trying to trace, transferring the shape onto the workpiece being made to fit that shape.

Yup, when fabricating the seat of a Gragg chair the most important tool was free and required almost five full minutes to modify.

Connections

Mrs. Barn and I often listen to audio books when traveling, and recently we heard a story in which on-line gaming was an element.  Truth be told I cannot see the attraction for such things, even board games hold little interest for me, and that’s with the other players sitting right beside me.  The notion of playing a game with strangers over the interwebz simply strikes me as bizarre, even though a family friend actually earns money playing on-line games as people pay to watch him play.  I guess this is no weirder than paying to watch baseball or something similar (although one of the surprises in recent years has been he ease with which not watching sports television has become manifest since moving to the mountains. Even when in a place where televised sports is available I find that a quarter of football or a few innings of baseball is about all I can take.  And of course pro basketball is dreck now.)

But really, how much stranger is compewder game playing than browsing for news, instruction, or contact with people I have never met and am unlikely ever to cross IRL?  (I just learned that acronym).  Yes, the web allows us to make and maintain contacts we would otherwise never encounter.

As I have written previously I connected with and have been corresponding for some time now with woodworker and tool maker Rob Hanson, whose Paradise CA home and shop were reduced to ashes in last year’s catastrophic wildfires.  Since the physical assets of his business were completely obliterated and I have accumulated a stash of surplus tools, I have been packaging and sending him tools.  Almost none are new, but none are junk either.  They can be put to work to help him rebuild his family’s lives.

Recently Rob returned to visit his former home and wrote this to me.

The cleanup work in Paradise is nearly complete. There have been hordes of dump trucks on the roads all over the area hauling the refuse away, some 6,000,000 tons of debris had to be removed.  Driving out there was somewhat surreal because everything looks extremely different than it used to, and what once was a very lush and green forested area is now dead. There are literally thousands and I would venture to guess tens of thousands if not many many more dead trees everywhere.

Mentally, It’s kind of like being held in a holding cell and each time they bring you out you see something different. Of course while you’re in the holding cell your life is continuing on in a new vein, but every so often you get to go look at your old life, and it’s just a snapshot of what’s going on in your old life for a moment. So your last memory of everything being normal is you know, you had your home in your shop and all your stuff in your yard and your life was happy and everything was set up the way you wanted it.
The next snapshot is that everything is burnt to an absolute, blacksmith Forge Crisp, and you see that a couple of times completely soggy with rain and rust is on everything that has been burned, and everything else is just ashes. And then you finally see it completely excavated and cleaned up and stuffed in dump trucks and gone. What’s left behind has remnants of things that you recognize before the most part it looks like the moon, with spray on hydrotreat grass seed everywhere. Nothing is manicured anymore, and weeds where they have never been before are everywhere.
Got that?  Six million tons of debris!  Now that is compelling IRL.  And if yu follow the news from there you know that the rebuilding efforts face monumental changes, not the least being mny of the local water sources have been thoroughly contaminated, and the complete utility infrastructure need to be rebuilt.
It is a rare day when I do not reflect on the travails of Rob’s family and the tens of thousands like them, while the poltroons in public office wail and gnash their teeth over plastic straws.   I think it was Mark Twain who said something like, “America has no native criminal class, except for politicians.”
I’m sending another box of tools to Rob this week.
You should too.

A Tale of Fun With Hefty Silver Soldering – Infill Mallet 1

 

Of all the tools I’ve encountered that have seduced me Henry Studley’s infill mallet ranks at the top of the list.  To continue the unenviable task of keeping my probably ADD self amused I decided to play with making something similar, a project I could work on intermittently while some glue or paint was drying, or when I needed a distraction while I cogitate.  For the raw material I ordered 1/4″ wall thickness right-angle brass stock from McMaster Carr to serve as my starting point.  Since this was more a “proof of concept” exercise, the concept being proven being the silver soldering of very heavy stock, it seemed like a sensible approach.  Perhaps for a “proof of concept” exercise I should have started with aluminum rather than brass, but that’s where I started nevertheless.

With the measurements in-hand I chopped the requisite segments and set up a soldering set-up on my heat-work station (I think I will probably write a series of posts about setting up such a work station yourself as I hope you will all follow me down this rabbit trail).  My strategy was to simply overlap the two sections with each other as shown and fire up the torch.  Even though I could/would only do one seam at a time I slathered generous dollops of paste flux on both interfacial surfaces.

After heating the entire mass I concentrated on the seam joint and introduced the silver solder on the inside corner of the seam and let the torch heat draw the solder through the joint.

It worked perfectly.

Stay tuned.

Mel’s Wax on Instagram

My friend LenR posted this in his Instagram page, featuring his use of Mel’s Wax.  It is much appreciated, and prompts me to think seriously about how to market this remarkable product.  At this point I am selling about one unit per month, when in reality I should be moving it by the case load.  I’ll be turning my attention in this direction imminently.   I’m definitely interested in ramping up production, but refuse to sub it out and am not really interested in wholesaling it.  Those might be two intractable problems with my plan.

Any thoughts?

Rethinking, or, “State of the Barn Address”

 

It’s been almost thirteen years since the skeleton of the barn was erected, nine years since it was outfitted with the first of more than a dozen workbenches, and over six years since the first blog post.  Now safely ensconced in my 65th year, lately I’ve been contemplating the entire enterprise, reflecting on how blessed I have been and continue to be.  Whether it is good news or bad news, after serious consideration I have no plans to change the fundamental structure of activity on the homestead for several more years, but at some point life in the mountains will simply become too physically taxing and the barn and cabin will be in my rear-view mirror.  Until then, however, it is still full(?) speed ahead with a big smile on my face, albeit not necessarily in the exact same direction nor the exact same speed.  I’m working just as hard as I did when I was 30, but the output is demonstrably less.   My Mom is 102 and lucid so I’ve got to think about another forty years of engagement and productivity.

Here is a sketch of what future activities might look like.  No telling if it is accurate.

Conservation Projects

Early on I maintained a fairly vibrant furniture and decorative arts conservation practice but have no plans to continue much of that except for specific projects and clients.  Yes, I will continue to work with the private collection of tortoiseshell boxes that I’ve been working on for more than a decade.  Recently I was approached to collaborate on a couple high profile on-site projects and if those move forward, fine. I love it but at this point I’ve got other things I want to do on the priority list.  And I want to truly perfect my artificial tortoisehell.  And I want to explore new uses of materials in furniture preservation.  And invent new materials, or novel uses of existing materials.   And, and, and…

Making Furniture

I make no claim as a furniture maker of any note, but I hope to concentrate on making more in the future.  I would love to maintain a small output of Gragg chairs every year, and even modify them and take them in directions Samuel Gragg never went.  I also have enough vintage mahogany for eight more Daniel Webster Desks, so perhaps there are some clients who might want one.  Only time will tell.  I’ve always had a hankering to make some furniture in the milieu of Charles Rennie Mackintosh or Alar Aalto, so maybe that becomes part of the equation.  And I have these sketches for pieces representing a collision of Roubo and Krenov while they are sitting on the porch of a Japanese temple.  And Mrs. Barn has a list of things she would like for the cabin.  And exploring parquetry more intensely.   And finally get pretty good at woodworking in general.  And, and, and…

Metal Work

I’ve always had a interest in metalworking since my boyhood when I would spend time with my Dad in his shed, melting lead weights and doing a little brazing and welding.  Many of those skills have grown fallow but I am trying to get them back and take them to new places.  My love of tool making has been rearing its lovely head in recent times and I have every intention of bringing that focus closer to the bullseye.  And part of that has to include getting my foundry back on-line.  And tuning up all my machine tools like my machinists’ lathes and mill.  And getting really good at brazing and silver soldering, maybe even welding.  And, and, and…

Finishing Adventures

I remain committed to looking both backwards and forwards into the realm of finishing materials, ancient and super modern.  I truly believe Mel’s Wax to be a transformative furniture care and preservation product for which I have not yet discovered the key to marketing.  But I will keep at it because of my knowledge of its performance and my commitment to Mel’s vision for it.  And as for beeswax and shellac wax? Finishing with them may be among the oldest and simplest methods, but they can be extremely difficult and I cannot pretend to have mastered them.  And what about my fascination with urushi and its non-allergenic analogs and the beautiful things I want to make from them?  And what about the fifty bazillion things I do not know about shellac?And, and and…

Writing

My plate of writing projects is full to overflowing, building on a strong foundation of completed works.  Notwithstanding my current struggles with the manuscript for A Period Finisher’s Manual, due entirely to my having too much esoteric material to include in a reasonably consumable book (really, how much solvent thermodynamics does the typical woodworker need to know?), I enjoy every minute I am writing even when it is driving me crazy.  I’d better because my collaborator Michele Pagan is one full book ahead of me in the Roubo Series.  And there are two or three more volumes after that one.  And some day I need to finish the almost-completed manuscript for A Furniture Conservation Primer created with a colleague while at the SI and thus will be necessarily distributed for free via the web site.  And what about my treatise on the technology and preservation of ivory and tortoiseshell?  And the dozen mystery/thriller novels I have already plotted out?  And who knows how many short stories about the life of First Century craftsman Joshua BarJoseph?  And, and, and…

Web

My first of almost 1,200 web posts went up six-and-a-half years ago, which I understand in the world of hobbyist blogging, where blogs come and go like the tides, puts me as some sort of  Methuselah.  But certainly not in the same class as The Accidental Woodworker, who has been blogging daily for even longer IIRC.  Ralph, I tip my hat to you, sir.

I once thought the web site/blog would be a useful portal for soliloquies about my projects and things I’ve learned over a long and rewarding career, but now I am not so sure.  A while back I decided to make a concerted effort to blog at least five times a week for a year, and I think I came pretty close.  Surely this would increase my web traffic!  Well, not so much.  At the end of this effort my web traffic was 2% lower than when it began.  Despite fairly consistent blogging my visitorship has dropped by almost half over the past four-plus years.    So I just scratch my head.  I’m not whining, but instead recognizing that the flock who is interested in my musings is shrinking, not growing.  Oh well.  This is not a good or bad thing, it is just a thing, helpful in me making decisions about priorities.  I have no plans to really change anything about the blog, we’ll just wait and see where it goes.  When I am not somewhere else, with someone else, or doing something else, I will blog.

Recently I was chatting with someone who informed me that web sites and blogs are now passe and the currency du jour is the unholy trio of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter.  Given that and my antipathy towards the latter two it is likely that I will undertake the former at some near date (yes, I know the relationship between Instagram and Stalkerbook) .  Something inside me rebels at the notion of validating the post-literate world, however.  Still, the economic treatise presented by Larry the Liquidator is not only dramatic but accurate.  Even the Professional Refinisher’s Group is moving forward, transitioning from a moderated email forum to a private Facebook Group, which will leave me behind.  But they will survive without me and I intend to maintain contact with that circle of fellowship regardless.

Trouble is, I am by temperament a bizarre mélange of buggy whip maker and hardline “emergent order” Hayekian.  Hmmm.  Not really sure how that works out.

Workshops

Integral to my vision for the barn was to have it be a place of learning.  As the facility was coming together, whenever I spoke to any kind of woodworking gathering the verbal response was overwhelmingly enthusiastic.  The reality that unfolded was anything but.  I now realize that my vision was a faulty one and the enthusiasm was superficial.  Quite bluntly, almost no one wants to come to such an isolated location where local amenities are practically nonexistent, to spend a few days engaging in subjects I want to teach.  Fair enough, the barn is too remote and my topics are too arcane.  Like I said before, this is not a good thing or a bad thing, but just an instructive  thing to add to the equation.

As a result and in recognition of reality I plan to deemphasize workshops at the barn, perhaps even eliminating them altogether, notwithstanding that I created dedicated spaces for the undertaking.  Should a small group of enthusiasts approach me with the request to teach them, I will do so.  That is precisely what a quartet of guys have done for next June.  And, I might do an occasional blockbuster-type workshop (a Gragg chair class would be such an example, if that ever occurs; I had thought a ripple molding machine class might be such an event, but with zero response…), or I might travel a bit to teach but otherwise that part of the portfolio is likely to close.  Not definitely, but likely.

Videos

Hence my transition to teaching via video.  If I cannot get folks to come here perhaps my best strategy is to go to them.  I have a multitude of ideas (more than twenty full-length [>30 mins.]video concepts on the list) and a brilliant local collaborator to work with.  I am committed to this path to the degree that I have the time, energy, and resources.

Further I have decided that making shorter, self-produced and thus less polished “shop technique videos” might be a useful undertaking to post on donsbarn.com, youtube or Vimeo.  I will explore this avenue in the coming weeks and months.

The Homestead

With several buildings, several gardens, and a power system to maintain and improve there is never a shortage of things to do here on the homestead.  I want to build/expand more garden capacity for Mrs. Barn to spend time doing the thing she loves best.  And fruit and nut orchards.  And I want to finish creating a rifle scope for shooters like me who have lost most of the vision in their dominant eye.  And another hydro turbine downstream from the current one.

And, and, and that’s all I’ve got to say on the subject.

That is The State of the Barn Address, 2019.  To quote one of Mel’s favorite songs, “The future’s so bright I gotta wear shades.”  Yes it is.  I am living the dream.

More Pixels Captured

The Gragg chair is coming together and the process is being captured by the brilliant videographer Chris Swecker.  As a newbie to woodworking he is finding it immensely entertaining to watch a real chair emerging from a standing tree.

Here are a few moments in a recent day of work.  It really is looking like the final product will be more than a dozen hours long, as I remain convinced that the viewer would rather have redundancy rather than omissions.

One thing is for sure.  I need a haircut.