Firing Up the Hydropower

Now that the last extended hard freezes are over for this winter past, we may still get a number of frosts, I decided to get the hydropower system up and running.  I walked the water line the other day all the way to the top, and am delighted to report that for the first winter since installing the system eight(!) years ago I had zero freeze damage to the line.  The amount had been diminishing every year as I was getting more knowledgeable about things, but this year there was none.

That is not to say that there was no damage to the water line over the winter.  There were two breaks to the line, both caused by falling trees.

With them repaired quickly from pipe inventory I bought a long time ago in anticipation that there would be ongoing maintenance and repair, I  waited for the pipe cement to harden then switched the valves and can now just barely hear the whine of the water turbine in the distant background.  One of my goals for this year is to make a properly massive turbine house to muffle the sound.

Interestingly, I had not missed the hydropower electricity at all as the solar panels were providing all I needed, including four hours on the power planer the other day.


I appreciate magnificent artistry regardless of the medium or context, and thanks to RichardB for forwarding this video of Romanian egg painting to me.  I was spellbound.


@Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print #238

Today’s offering is another of Roubo’s many Valentine’s Cards to Geometry and layout, “How to Draw a Full-scale Pattern of the Curve of a Seat.”  Without the use of digital calculators and computerized plotters it was necessary to compose an x-y exercise in order to obtain curvilinear shapes from which the patterns and templates for sinuous forms could be derived.  Deriving the text for these plates was a bear, but the images themselves are elegant in a spare, modernist sorta way.  I particularly enjoy seeing lines from the construct being shown outside the boundaries of the image.

The print has a crisp plate mark and is in excellent condition, with one very minor stain near the upper right corner, and was been removed from the First Edition bound volume with comparative care.

It was both drawn and engraved by Roubo.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Benches for Handworks 1, 2, 3

That’s one guy, two workbenches, in three days.

With Handworks barreling down the calendar at breakneck speed I knew I needed to get at least one workbench out to Amana since the space I would be occupying was just an empty square of real estate in the Festhalle.  Plus I had lurking in the back of mind an observation and an unrelated goal.

The first was that the guys who came to the workbench-building workshop last fall found that the system for making the workbench allowed the legs to be installed after relocation home, and de-installed as needed.  Second, I did want to make a workbench to donate to the Library of Congress rare book conservation group.

The self-evident answer was to make a couple of laminated Roubo benches.  Simple, easy, and interruptible while in-progress.   I had to do all the work around the other things going on on the homestead and in the shop, and in the end it took me about 15 hours working alone.

On Day One I spent the morning ripping a stack of 8-foot 2×12 SYP lumber into the pieces I  needed for both the tops and legs.  Normally I do not miss my 3hp Unisaw sitting in the basement of the barn, not yet wired into the electrical system, but this certainly was one of those times.  My smallish 9-inch saw works for about 95% of my needs but this one was at the limit.

Since I now keep my rolling planer stand in the basement I loaded everything into the pickup and drove to the back side of the barn.  I spent most of the afternoon planing all four sides of the lumber to remove the ripples from the industrial sawmill and get the lumber ready for gluing.

I loaded everything back into the truck and hauled it back up to the second (main) floor and brought it in.

A second set of hands would have definitely cut the time for these tasks by at least 1/3, but it was just me.  On to the glue-up.

@Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print #234

Today’s offering in the l’Art du Menuisier First Edition inventory I will have at Handworks 2017 is Plate 234, “The Manner of Determining the Desired Centers for All Kinds of Seats.”

In the days prior to CAD/CAM computer programs, i.e. 7th Grade Drafting Class with Mr. Teft for me, the ability to use geometric constructions to lay out your projects was integral to their fulfillment.  Back in Roubo’s day this included intricate and sometimes arcane exercises of which Plate 234 is one.  A cursory browse through the Book of Plates reveals that this was to Roubo what Price Theory is to me; something that keeps us awake at night and our brains perilously close to hyperdrive in contemplation; he included around five dozen of these exercises in l’Art du Menuisier.

The print has a crisp plate mark and is in excellent condition, notwithstanding a bit of a jagged left edge from the original assault of barbarism when extracting the page from the First Edition bound volume.  It was both drawn and engraved by Roubo.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling this print at Handworks on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.


Exciting Piano-maker’s Vise Discovery

Through my explorations of all things Henry O. Studley many mysteries have made themselves known, like details of his personal, financial, and craft life.  Another one that I have made known as far and wide as I can has to do with the art form of piano-maker’s vises, which based on my observations are uniform in concept and performance but individual and slightly idiosyncratic in their construction details.

I am truly delighted to have contributed t the growing interest in the question and have been contacted many times over the past few years with folks regaling me with their own speculations and discoveries themselves.  (Such contacts, if serious, are always welcome).

Here is one such communique from last week, which I present to you as completely as I can while respecting the privacy of the correspondent.

You may recall that a) we spoke briefly during your trip to New
England when you were researching vises, and b) that about a year and a
half ago, I found & acquired a piano maker’s bench in Worcester.

I have been rebuilding the bench, and writing about it on

I am aware, both through your work (book) and conversations with **** ******, that to date, none of the vises found have had any maker’s mark
on them. As I cleaned and repainted my vises, I did not find any such
marks either; only some numbers stamped on some of the parts. I had not
yet removed or cleaned the back plates, though, until this week.

The other day, while cleaning & measuring the plate for the front vise,
I found a number stamped on one long edge, & gave it little thought.
Yesterday, though, I was working with the tail vise plate, and out of
curiosity looked to see whether I’d find a number on that as well – and
instead, what I found was a maker’s mark! This was stamped along what
was the bottom edge of the plate, which was covered in rust, grime and
paint drips. I then checked the other edge of the other plate, and sure
enough, there it was, though this time it was on the top edge, and more
obscured by dents & dings, as well as the rust, etc.

The maker is J.S. Wheeler of Worcester, MA. Wheeler was a maker of
machinery, mostly for metal working, and was known for it’s metal
planers – which makes some sense, as we both have noted that these vises
were machined on planers.

Anyway, thought you’d like to know, and would love to hear your thoughts.



This is indeed exciting news to me, and revives my hope that more Studley-type information will continue to flow my way.  On a related subject I got another recent email from a friend who was discussing the possibility of acquiring a reciprocal metal planer himself.

Finally I will note with a bit of irony that this growing body of information and an enthusiastic cadre of acquisition probably means the only way I will round out my set is to get off my kiester and get underway with making them with Jameel.

@ Handworks 2017 – Roubo Print 224

The next print in the l’Art du Menuisier First Edition inventory I will have at Handworks 2017 is Plate 224, “Many Types of Folding Stools and Their Development/Variations.”  I find prints of this type to be particularly charming as the copper intaglio plate and the page were not aligned when they went through the roller press, resulting in an image that is askew.  This phenomenon is not uncommon and gives further proof that this was a hand printed image on hand-made paper.

The print is in excellent condition.  It was drawn by Roubo and engraved by artist Pierre-Gabriel Berthault, whose name appears frequently underneath the images of l’Art du Menuisier.


A Ripple-y Day

Last month my long time acquaintance RichardB organized another field trip to JerryR’s shop and examine again the ripple molding cutter his dad Irv made a jillion years ago.  Both Irv and Jerry made/make exquisite clocks and incorporate(d) the moldings into their designs.


A selection of the moldings Kurt made on his machine.

Jerry’s sample board.

The catalyst for this gathering was the visit of KurtN who has built his own version of such a machine and was, like me, continuing research on the topic.  We were also joined by tool historian and collector extrordinaire BobR for a grand day of fellowship and exploring the elegance of craft technology.

I found it useful to once again spend time with the machine, as it was extremely helpful in formulating and refining the strategy for the upcoming gathering to manufacture a ripple molding machine at The Barn late next month.  In fact we have enough folks coming that we might try to divide into two working groups to make two machines.

Here’s a gallery of the day.

Jerry’s machine features a traveling cutter head carriage with free weights on it to to provide the downward cutting/scraping force.

I could not tell if the up-and-down patterns were made from Delrin, HDPE, nylon or whatever.

The machine is set up to cut up-and-down patterns and side-to-side patterns. I hope we can incorporate the same features when we make ours next month.

The underside of the carriage with the cutting iron, fashioned in this case from an old file.

The electric worm drive motive power was a feature I definitely expect to incorporate into ours, although for demonstration purposes we may make it hand-powered as well.

We took a few minutes to tour another shop building Jerry has set up to document his family’s woodworking over the past several generations.  Yes, that is a ten-foot Moravian style workbench.

A collection of mantle clocks Irv and Jerry made, with copious ripple moldings.


Some of Jerry’s recent and current work.

Stay tuned.


Handworks 2017 Countdown – Original Roubo Print # 222

As I blogged earlier I will be selling many original First Edition 1772/1774 Roubo l’art du Menuisier prints at the upcoming Handworks 2017.    I bought these prints at an auction featuring a huge inventory from an antiquarian bibliophile who had mutilated scores of exquisite ancient books by cutting out the print images from the bindings. As unfortunate as this act of barbarism was, it did bring these masterpieces to the marketplace.

The only other option for me to examine them closely would have been to purchase a complete set of First Edition l’art du Menuisier for perhaps $10-15k or travel to Ft. Mitchell KY to see Chris Schwarz’ excellent set.  Since the latter remains an option to me for the foreseeable future, I’m jettisoning most of mine.

If you have ever wanted to own a genuine piece of Rouboiana, this is your chance.   I will be selling my prints to Handworks attendees on a first-come basis, with terms being cash, check, or Paypal if you have a smart phone and can do that at the time of the transaction.

Roubo was the draftsman for all the prints, and the engraver for a large number of them.  All these were hand-printed intaglio prints on hand made rag paper, almost certainly personally overseen by Roubo himself.

This is the first of the prints which I will be presenting in the order of their print numbers,  Plate 222, “Illustrations of Many Ancient Chairs.”  This image of chairs from the 7th Century through the 15th Century was both drawn and engraved by Roubo himself.  The print is one of the rougher of those I purchase, with the left edge being pretty irregular as the removal from the binding was, shall we say, inelegant, and the page itself stained especially around the perimeter, reflected in the price of $100.

If you have any questions about this print you can contact me here.

Sharpening the Itty Bitties

I’m nearing the tail end of a long term project involving in part the sawing and preparing, and ultimately using, mahogany crotch veneers.  Given my skill is not yet Roubo-esque I sawed the veneers to a fat 1/8″ because I had no room for error, in other word I would have to begin all over again with another piece of lumber if I could not get this to work out right.

The weight of the veneer made it a delight to work with, that is until I had to thin it down to the final thickness.

Working squirrely wood like this is less amusing than you might think.  The grain was so wild I came down to only two real options; aggressive toothing plane work, which I did plenty of, or using a handled luthier’s palm plane.  This latter step was immensely helpful once I got the tool tuned up.  It reminded me of a lesson from the foundry pattern shop; to really hog off material in a hurry, use a small convex spokeshave that is sharper than sharp.

The tool in question was probably cobbled together but had real possibilities.  The iron was adequate for nibbling at straight grain wood, but needed to be upgraded considerably in the sharp department.  Given that the iron was barely larger than my pinkie fingernail I spent a couple minutes trolling in the shop for help.

Then I found the perfect tool, my jeweler’s hand held vise.  With the tiny iron securely held in its jaws I could sharpen it effortlessly just like it was a narrow iron four inches long.  Piece of cake.

It sharpened to a brilliant mirror and uber sharp cutting in literally three or four minutes.

Putting it to hard work was a pleasure.  It hogged off stock like a pro, and all it took afterward was some time with one of my toothing planes to get it ready for application.

And all because I went shopping for just the right holding device in my own toolbox, allowing me to get the teeny iron sharper than sharp..