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Finisher’s Retreat Weekend for SAPFM-VA Chapter


One of the things I have enjoyed hosting in the past is a Finisher’s Retreat Weekend for the two regional chapters of the Society of American Period Furniture Makers in which I am involved, the Chesapeake Chapter and the Virginia Chapter.


The plan is for about a dozen participants to bring one of those projects they have been building all winter to The Barn for a weekend of fellowship and hands-on traditional finishing.  There aren’t really any presentations or lessons, it’s just the crew of us working together to move forward with the most important part of the project!  I’m joined by my long time friend Dave Reeves who is a wonderful finisher to help us navigate the path to beautiful finishing as he will be demonstrating and providing hands-on instruction in pad polishing while I concentrate on burnishing and brushing.


This year it’s the Virginia Chapter’s turn, and we will be gathering in the mountains for three days of varnishing on May 30 – June 1, 2014.


For more information and registration please contact Bob Mustain at  I believe that as with any SAPFM Chapter event, it is open to all SAPFM members nationwide.

Workshop at the Barn – Boulle Marquetry


Boullework is the method of composing either pictorial or filigree marquetry employing metal sheet, usually brass, pewter or copper, with veneers of tortoiseshell.  Tortoiseshell is now a proscribed material after the CITES Treaty of 1975.  Instead we will make our own “tordonshell,” a convincing artificial material I invented for just this purpose, to make a pair of small marquetry panels, one the negative of the other.  Some projects may instead use ivory planks for either the metal sheet or the tortoiseshell.


This three-day workshop will be limited to six participants, and will take place October 2-4, 2014, with a registration of $375.

Workshop at The Barn – Making Parquetry Panels

247The historic technique of marquetry — the application of veneers in a decorative manner — is so huge that several course opportunities will barely touch the surface.  The techniques taught and practiced in the class are exercises based in great part on my own experience and the research done in producing To Make as Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Marquetry based on  L’Art du Menuisier, the monumental 18th century Parisian woodworking treatise by A. J. Roubo, and other historical ante-types documented by other scholars.


Starting with slabs of lumber we’ll make a parquetry and banded panel guided by Roubo’s Plates 286 and 287.  We will saw our own veneer (mostly with a power band saw but if you are really motivated we can try my several veneer frame saws) and construct the necessary sawing and planing templates needed for the project.



This workshop is limited to six students and will be three days long, July 18-20, 2014, with a registration of $375.  A tool and supply list will be sent to all participants in advance of the event.




Laws, Sausage…

…and book manuscripts.  Three things you probably do not want to see being made.  Here is a screen capture of how I spend large chunks of every day these days reviewing hundreds of pages of To Make As Perfectly As Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making.



Upcoming Workshops – A Week of Plane Making with Tod Herrli

I am especially pleased to announce a week-long hands-on tutorial from renowned plane maker Tod Herrli this coming August.  I was first introduced to Tod when I bought his plane-making video almost fifteen years ago.  It is perhaps the best instructional video I have ever watched on any subject. cpmdisk

The seven days will be split into two interconnected workshops, the first three days (August 11-13) being “Making a Matched Pair of Hollow-and-Round Planes,” with the subsequent four-day session (August 14-17) on “Advanced Side Escapement Plane Making.”

herrli2 flattened

If this interests you, drop me a line.

Sensory Overload vs. Sensory Perception

I am in no way “anti-machine.”  I have them.  I like them, especially the ones that work well (I will write later this week about two old gems rediscovered).  But, I am not bound by them.

Since I am increasingly tool-challenged, or more precisely machine-challenged back here in the burbs while moving more of my capacity to The Barn, I am by necessity turing to alternative processes.  This imposes a certain innovative “simplicity” on my working regimen, causing me to reflect on Chris Schwarz’ accounts of Ghandi-izing his shop through tool divestment (my characterization, not his), which in turn makes me recall (in the pinball machine that is my brain) a comment by a Ghandi lieutenant while the latter was leading the rebellion against the British through his mimicry of an ascetic lifestyle.  The expense of maintaining a phoney simplicity in the midst of a modernizing industrial economy — then and now — was exceedingly expensive, prompting the aide to remark, “If the Mahatma’s life gets any simpler, he may bankrupt the nation.”

That is certainly a roundabout way to introduce the topic of sensory perceptions made possible through the use of simple(?), non-mechanized processes in the shop.  While working by hand (mostly) the window trim in the bedroom, I have mused the following (musings made possible by the ability to put part of the brain in neutral while doing repetitive hand work, whereas machine work requires constant hyper-attention.  You can remove a digit or limb with hand tools, but you have to work at it pretty hard.  With machines?  All it takes is a moment of inattention.)


Consider the following sensory observations.

Aural – when working with machinery, my hearing sense is dulled to almost nothing due to wearing the  protective muffs or ear plugs.  When working by hand, not only is there not the exhausting whine of the machine and the sense of isolation imposed by the protection, you can both enjoy the aural surroundings, like listening to music, podcasts, or simply enjoying the relative silence, there is the added delight of the sound of a well-tuned tool fashioning the wooden component.  Further, these sounds are vital feedback to the work itself.

Touch – When using machines I often wear gloves to keep from picking up splinters.  Not while using the table saw, but certainly in material handling attendant to mass processing.  Even if not wearing the gloves, I get little useful information from my sense of touch while working with machines.  Conversely, my fingertips are a non-stop feedback loop when holding a hand tool.

Smell and Taste – When working by hand, the gentle aromas, or even cloying stink, of the wood is released through the shaving or sawing with sharp tools.  Whether I enjoy these fragrances, I can at least notice them.  With machines, alongside my hearing protection I generally wear respiratory protection because the waste product is fundamentally different and must be dealt with more aggressively.  Ultra fine sanding or power-sawing dust can be aspired efficiently, while a plane shaving requires a lot more effort to breathe in.  Even with a protective particle mask, many an evening after machine work is spend blowing brown goo out of your nose.  I cannot recall any tales of someone needing to evacuate a nice curly shaving from their head orifices, but my experiences are definitely finite.  And the bitter taste of cypress dust in the mouth takes a lot of expectoration to purge from the taste buds.


Sight – A lot of this is the result of the amount of money Blue Cross/Blue Shield and I have invested in my very “at risk” eyeballs.  When using machines, I wrap those puppies behind layers of isolating protection.  Not so much as to obscure my work and make it more dangerous, but certainly enough to remove any sense of visual intimacy.  Further, when using machines I cannot observe the work occurring, I can only observe the result.  By hand?  A totally different game.  I can actually see what is going on, in part because I have a different protective set-up (polycarbonate safety glasses vs. goggles and full coverage face shield), I can observe the edge of the tool on the work piece, and the rate of the work is slow enough to actually observe.

Just some cogitations on a snowy day.

Upcoming Demonstrations at The Highland Maple Festival

The Highland Maple Festival -sugar water drip by Devonia Gutshal Rexrode

One of the annual highlights out in the mountains, well, to be honest THE annual highlight, is the Highland Maple Festival over the two weekends in the middle of March when the maple sap is flowing freely and the county of 2,200 residents is joined by about 50,000 of their closest friends.  In addition to maple buckwheat pancakes and the incomparable maple doughnuts there are lots of craft and art vendors from one end of town to the other.


I will once again be demonstrating old-time woodworking at my pal David Blanchard’s furniture making and restoration shop across the street from the courthouse.  David is also a local elected public official, but I hope and pray he recovers from this wickedness before much longer.


I’ve been demonstrating at David’s for several Festivals, and have not made up my mind about what I will be doing this time.  In the past I have steam bent Gragg chair parts, taught sharpening, assembled parquetry, and cut joinery.


I have the new (since last year) Tod Herrli small window sash plane so I just might make some doors for a cabinet.

herrli2 flattened

So, if you are in the neighborhood, drop by and say high.

Dramatic Reading day 1


This afternoon will be the first time that Michele and I sit down at the dining table and work together in person to simultaneously review completed sections ofTo Make As Perfectly as Possible: Roubo on Furniture Making.  I will conduct the dramatic reading from the completed English manuscript, the sections that have thus far endured nine rounds of translating, editing, and review, while Michele follows along with the original pages from 1774.  Thus far we have 155 pages of manuscript that fit this description.  Our working manuscript is 820 pages long!

This is hardly a whimsical endeavor as we note each and every deviation and correction, which including typographical, syntax, and typesetting notations numbers sometimes in the thousands per chapter.  Afterwards I will enter every correction, before it is ready for Chris Schwarz’ red pen.

Just didn’t want you to think we were slacking.  Even without this, my typical day includes reviews of hundreds of pages of manuscript edits from a half dozen collaborators and reviewers.

Groopstock 8


I am in the final stages of nailing down the details for the upcoming schedule of events at The Barn on White Run and will post a complete schedule in a few days, but I thought you might be interested in the ones that are set in stone.  I’ll post about them in the coming days.


The week of June 23-27, 2014, will be the 8th in-the-flesh assembly of the Professional Refinisher’s Group, a spirited on-line forum of furniture restorers where I have been a participant for more than 10 years.  We have gathered at the barn twice before, along with meetings in Topeka KS, Rosemount MN, and Atlanta over the years.  Participation at what the organizer’s light-heartedly refer to as “DonCamp” is limited to Group members, with lectures, demonstrations, and hands-on programming occurring side-by-side with fellowship and tip-swapping.  In addition to getting your brains crammed with useful information applicable in the shop tomorrow, a highlight is the Thursday night meatfest with me fixing slabs of my scrumptious BBQ ribs and another hearty fellow grilling a passel of handmade brats fresh from Wisconsin.  Lethargy ensues within an hour or so.


For reminiscences of the previous gatherings you can see some things here, more information about joining the forum, which we lovingly call “Groop” you can check it out at their web site, and as the the event itself, drop an email to to find out more.



Teaching Moments


This past weekend I was in Ft. Lauderdale, Florida, participating for the eighth time (over five years) as an artifact reviewer for the “Saving Our Treasures” program” of the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American Heritage and Culture.  Even though I am retired from SI they asked me to come back as a contributor, and since I have always enjoyed working with those colleagues I asked my wife about it.  I am not especially a “people person” and do not like to travel, so I was somewhat ambivalent.  Her response was enthusiastic.  “Are you kidding?  A trip to South Florida in January?  I’d say ‘Yes’!”  So off we went.

In these events local residents are encouraged to bring in a few of their family treasures to get preservation and historical information about them.  We did not provide any value assessments or appraisals, with only one exception this weekend when we advised one guest to insure a painting for substantially more value than he was considering.

My fellow reviewers and I always enjoy these teaching opportunities, helping folks understand their artifacts, and the histories around them.  This appears to be also true for both the guests and the younger museum staff, many of whom are just beginning their careers and seem to enjoy listening in on the conversations between the visitors and the old coots like me who have in some cases been looking at artifacts for most of a half century.  My role is to provide whatever technical information about the artifacts I can discern using my standard toolkit of a headloop or surgical binocular , ruler, and a UV-vis flashlight  – what they are and what they are made of, what their general manufacturing technology was, what condition they are in, and how to best preserve them.

The line-up of fellow artifactualists makes for a delightful weekend of artifact-looking and interactions, and I am pretty much assigned almost any kind of three-dimensional artifacts to examine.  Coins, china, icons, dolls, cameras, furniture, paintings, ivories, plastics, jewelry, lamps, clocks, etc.  One of the most unusual things I saw this weekend was an early electric iron, not in itself especially compelling.  But, get this – the iron was a 250-volt unit!  I’d never even heard of a 250-volt electrical grid, and could provide little if any historical-technological context for it.  But there it was.


The furniture for the weekend was pretty scarce, but in this instance the very best was saved for last as a guest has two pieces of handmade furniture from Jamaica that had passed down through many generations.  One chair was a hand-made side chair fashioned to mimic a standard c.1900 mail-order-catalog purchase, complete with detailed hand carved designs to imitate die-stamped embossing.  It was peculiar to find a chair that from every gross feature could have come from the Sears catalog of 1890, yet was indisputably hand made.


A second chair from the same guest was a simple, true mahogany “church chair” containing all the marks of hand-making rendered by every step of the making process; saw kerf chatter on the underside of the seat slab from the original timbering, layout lines for the off-set tenons and mortises, draw pins, scratch beading, the whole works.

It put a terrific exclamation point to the whole experience.  Thanks NMAAHC folks for the invite.

As an aside, we found an amazing restaurant near the beach in Deerfield Beach, Florida.  If you are in the neighborhood and have a hankering for the best Mexican food ever, go to the Casa Maya Grill.  You will not be sorry.