Musings

Interpreting A Desk – The Templates

Many, many months ago I was commissioned by a client who asked me to create an interpretation of an early 19th Century desk.  I approached the original artifact caretakers, requesting a set of the drawings I knew had been made for that artifact.  My request was declined, so my first task was to derive a working set of designs based mostly on images from the web.

About the time I was set to begin work on this project I crossed paths with an angry wheelbarrow, and the resultant broken hip left me out of action for many months.  One thing I could do was sit at my laptop and noodle up some templates.  I started with the images from the web and the handful of measurements that were also on-line and got to work.  My importing the pictures into Photoshop and distorting them I got something resembling “face on” images for the critical elevations.  Still, some was spitballing at this point with details to be resolved at a later time.

By importing these manipulated Photoshop images into a vector drawing program, in my case CorelDraw, I was able to ascertain the various measurements and contours I needed for the construction templates.  If I was either younger or more computerily cognizant I would have use SketchUp, which I believe can do most of this processing almost automatically, but at this point in my life I am trying to forget computer applications, not learn new ones.

Should you be in a place to need construction details, measurements and proportions based solely on photographs it is best to have images where the camera is square to the desired face of the furniture, at point zero on both X and Y axes, with the longest possible distance from the object .  From there it is a piece of cake to get the details darned near perfect, provided you have at least one or two firm dimensions known.  At some point upcoming I will write bout the best way to capture the images with an eye towards creating drawings, but I have not written that missive yet.

For this project I was able to derive all the dimensional and profile details I needed, so soon enough I was off to the bench.  Working in the manner to which I was accustomed from my time in the pattern shop I drew out the detailed drawing at full scale on a sheet of clean plywood.  Once I was satisfied with the results it was time to get started with the building.

But first I needed to gather the necessary lumber.  Stay tuned.

No Comments Needed From This Papa

E.D.C.

One of my interests for some time has been “Every Day Carry” practices and even forums on-line discussing the stuff we have on us every day, with a special emphasis on emergency situations.  I find the ingenious creativity in manifesting the ideas to be captivating sometimes, and over-the-top zombie apocalypse silly at other times.   The current issue of Backwoods Home magazine, one of the two or three periodicals I take these days, had a feature article on the subject that prompted me to reflect on my E.D.C. in the shop.  Since pretty much everything I need is within reach or a few steps at most, the inventory is much, much smaller than when I worked in Mordor and my tactical vest was packed to the gills.

 

This is what I carry virtually every day, all day long when in the shop.

First off is my Victorinox Spirit multi-tool, which I carry any time I have pants on, whether in the shop or not.  Over the years I have owned and used a couple dozen multi-tools and this one is the best I’ve owned, hands down.  Certainly pricier than the $10 knock-offs at the Dollar General, but I use mine hard every day with nary a complaint from me or it.

Next is my DelVe square from Woodpeckers, invented by my friend Tom Delvechio.  Simply the perfect layout tool for the hip pocket.  I bought an extra one just in case this one gets lost or stolen.

An antique folding two-foot boxwood rule is my newest addition to the ensemble, and I just love its utility and compactness.  I picked it up for not much money at a tailgating session at MJD Tools one summer and it has been part of the kit ever since.

A 6″ Starrett machinist’s rule has been in my carry tool kit for as long as I can remember.  They never go bad nor out of fashion.

Finally, the only thing I did not have in the picture was an LED flashlight, probably because I just forgot to pull it out of my pocket.  My favorite value in this tool category is the Ozark Trail pocket flashlight that I buy in the camping section of Wally World.  I have several, and they perform admirably and seem almost indestructible.  I make use of a small flashlight usually several times a day.

That’s it.  Even in my own workshop, I have tools in my pockets all the time.

The Cusp of Autumn

With the walnuts raining down and the their leaves yellowing, and the sound of chain saws off in the distance, we are definitely moving from the cusp of autumn to the reality of it.  Last week my dear friend Bob came over to bring down several dozen tons of trees for me to prepare, mostly for next winter and perhaps the one after that.  We already have more than half of what we need for this coming winter but I really want to get way ahead of future demands.  The local tradition is to enter every winter with two years’ worth of firewood in hand, and that is my goal as well.  Our objective for this cut was to select several trees that were either damaged or in the wrong place (I am trying to establish a cleared path to the southwest of the barn so I will no longer lose winter sun at 3PM), get them on the ground for me to work with, and emerged unscathed ourselves.  In two hours we accomplished all of the above.

Working with Bob is a great learning experience as he has been felling large timbers ever since he was a boy.  I am fine with cutting it up once it hits the ground, but I’ve heard there is unending paperwork if you drop a twenty ton tree on yourself so I defer to him in this enterprise.  He stands at the base of the tree looking at its trunk and crown, judging both the direction it would like to fall and the degree to which that trajectory can be altered.  Then he sets to work, back notching then felling the tree.  In every instance of the two dozen trees we (and by “we” I mean “he”) dropped it came down exactly where he wanted it to come down.

Now it is up to me to cut them into short bolts, process them with the hydraulic splitter, and stack them to season.  Starting next week I will begin filling the firewood crib and the front porch with a mountain of BTUs.

The most beautiful sound in the depths of winter is when Mrs. Barn remarks, “Hmm, kinda warm in here, isn’t it?”

To Mordor and Back

A couple weeks ago I ventured into the barbarous climes of Mordor to deliver the workbench to the Library of Congress Book Conservation group.  If the traffic and multitude of high-dollar construction projects are any indication, the travails of the provinces are not being felt in the capital city.  In fact it looks like a boom town that has four trillion of our dollars at its disposal every year.  And since we apparently are not motivated enough to demand that they stop spending those four trillion dollars every year on us, that trend line will remain unchanged.

The logistics of getting into a secured facility (and in Mordor virtually every facility is secured) is a challenge.  It turned out that the most efficient way to get the workbench into LC was for me to drop it off at the curb in front, with LC staff taking delivery of it there.  Once I parked and rejoined them we were able to get through the security checkpoint and proceed to the conservation lab.  Admittedly, I felt under dressed with my Victorinox Spirit muti-tool sitting in the van outside.

The path to the final home for the workbench was uneventful, and the crew there was delighted to get their new tool.  Particularly pleased were the petite members of the staff, many of whom wrote me a “Thank You” note for taking their physiques into consideration when fabricating the variable height configuration of the bench.

The bench fit perfectly into the tiny Tool Room space they have, and after I spent a little time explaining its features it was given some tryouts almost immediately.

And then I escaped before the Dark Eye poisoned my heart any more.

My Latest

The newest PopWood arrived int he mail recently and it contains my latest article for them.  If the topic interests you, I hope you will join me at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking where my workshop on parquetry will revolve around making and using these jigs.

Precious Time

As we run-up this week to nuptials for Younger Daughter we were blessed with a visit from her last weekend. Much of the time she spent with Mrs. Barn doing wedding-y stuff, but she spent a few hours in the shop with me turning a bowl.  The wood for this bowl came from a plum tree in the Maryland house yard that died of natural causes some years ago (she remembers climbing the tree as a tyke), and I harvested the wood and set it aside for something special.  This definitely fits the description.

I had in recent months found the faceplate for the lathe and ordered a threaded insert from Woodcraft so it could be put to work.  Before she arrived I mounted the piece on the faceplate and roughed it round (she is not yet experienced enough to bring a really rough piece to round comfortably).  The lathe is a bit high for her, so in the early stages she was most comfortable with the scraper tucked in the armpit.  I will be building a lower base in the coming weeks.

I gave her only a few pointers as she developed the outer shape she wanted.

Before long she had the outer surface defined and embarked on an initial sanding and polishing.

With the base established and the shape determined it was time to remove the faceplate in favor of the small bowl chuck and get started excavating the interior.

Soon she was in pretty deep.

We stopped for the night, but on returning the next day she refined the shape and surface.

To be sure the watchful papa bear was never far from the action.  The working height was just plain awkward for her but she hung in there without complaint.

After the final shaping she moved to sanding and then polishing with beeswax melted into the surface, buffed with a linen rag while turning.  She particularly liked my method of placing a dry sponge between the hand and the sandpaper, it allows greater vigor with less heat.

And here it is, an heirloom with a priceless memory attached.  In all likelihood it was our final private time together with her as Miss Barndaughter until those moments just before I walk her down the aisle, and it was a precious treasure.

Doggone, something must’ve flown into my eye…

 

Historic Finishing Workshop – Part 2

With the foundation laid for good finishing it was time to move on to undulating surfaces, the kind of finishing that gives many woodworkers fits and nightmares.  Fortunately it is no more complicated or straightforward than finishing plain flat surfaces.  It’s all about surface prep, varnish prep, and tool selection.

Switching to the “carver’s model” polissoir the surfaces were burnished in preparation for varnishing.

Then, on to applying the varnish.  The true key to success is the right brush, a fine bristle watercolor “Filbert” with a rounded tip.

The Filbert allows for tremendously good “drape” of the bristles around the surface, not sqeegeing off varnish with the resulting runs like you might get with a square tip brush.

A few applications of the shellac varnish to these surfaces and they were ready to set aside, to be burnished with steel wool and waxed later on.

Next we revisited the luan panels we had started the day before, undertaking a light scraping with disposable razor blades followed by a brief but vigorous rubbing with 0000 steel wool.  I have found scraping to be not only historically accurate (obviously not with modern disposable razor blades, but the concept and practice are still the same) but now to be an integral component in my finishing process.

Then another inning of shellac application, followed at the end of the day by the third and final inning.  By then the surface was beginning to get some sparkle.

One last exercise was to finish a raised panel door.  I do not recall where these came from but they have served me well in this regard for many moons.  Again, a few applications of shellac followed by rubbing out with steel wool and paste wax yielded a luxuriant surface.

The large panels were rubbed out the third morning with steel wool and wax, and buffed with soft cloth.  The result was, as one participant said, “The best looking piece of luan ever!”

By mid-day on Sunday the party started breaking up, but the students left with a new confidence and a sharpened set of skills.  Folks may be reluctant to come to The Barn on White Run because of its remote location, but once here they always love it and go home with more knowledge and skill than they arrived with.  That’s not a bad outcome.

Historic Finishing Workshop

I recently hosted and taught a “Historic Finishes” workshop at the barn, with five attendees from around the country and my long-time friend DaveR as a teaching collaborator.  The objectives were to help the students overcome any hesitancy about finishing by learning new habits and techniques, and the results of the exercises indicate success.

Our first exercise was the one that was most time sensitive in that it required three inning of finishing over two days, which was pushing the technology  a tad.  Fortunately the weather was cooperative.  The task at hand was to take an essentially unprepared 24″ x 48″ panel of luan from Lowes to see what could be done with it, some well-prepared shellac varnish, and  good brush.  After a brief scuff sanding with 220 they began to lay down the 1-1/2 pound shellac as I have taught multitudes before them.  The purpose is of exercise to overcome the trepidation in applying shellac spirit varnish.

Next came the grain-filling of some solid mahogany panels with molten beeswax as the foundation for pad polishing.  This was how they did it in the old days, and it is still my preferred technique.  The wax was melted in using a tacking iron (I cannot believe I did not get any more of this on camera), then scraping off the excess and buffing it out with linen.

Even at this point the results are impressive and in some circumstances the finishing would be called complete.

DaveR came on stage next to introduce pad spirit-varnish polishing, sometimes known as “French” polishing,

All eyes were glued to Dave as he walked through the process of this technique which has garnered much (undeserved?) mystical reverence.

He demonstrated the process of making a good pad, or “rubber,” which can last a finisher for decades, and before long they all set to making their own.

And the padding began.

And continued.

Before long we were seeing some mighty fine sheen.

It was time to introduce the newest tool in the contemporary finisher’s kit, the polissoir.  Everyone got their own brand new one that needed to be tuned up on a piece of fine sandpaper.

And out to work, first over bare scraped wood, then in concert with beeswax that had been scrubbed on to the surface.

Again, the final results were immediate and gratifying.

Up next, brushing carvings and other undulating surfaces.

Ze Whale, She Been Birthed! (repost from LAP)

First Look: Deluxe ‘Roubo on Furniture’

ktb-roubo-IMG_8794

After an astonishing amount of work from people on two continents – not to mention hundreds of thousands of dollars of investment – a surprise showed up at the front door today.

It was a FedEx driver in a big truck. Sign this, he said. And then five boxes were sitting on the front step. Inside were the first copies of the deluxe version of “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture.” It’s the biggest (physical and mental) thing we’ve ever published at Lost Art Press. It’s also the most expensive book we’ve ever made (and probably ever will make).

The book is now sitting in front of me, and I’m still a bit bewildered. It’s like our deluxe edition of “Roubo on Marquetry” (now sold out) but more than twice as thick.

I’ll have more to report on the book as we get it into the mail to all the customers who ordered pre-publication copies. And we’ll definitely have copies to show off at the next open day on Saturday, Sept. 9.

— Christopher Schwarz, christophermschwarz.com

P.S. FYI, this book is available for worldwide delivery. Choose “Outside USA” when checking out and we’ll contact you about the actual delivery charges to your address.