Archive: » 2016 » September

Some Amazing Bekko (Japanese Tortoiseshell) Work

As someone with a longstanding interest in working with tortoiseshell I found this video entrancing as it follows a craftsman creating some uber-hipster spectacles.  If I understood Japanese my enjoyment would be all the greater.

I especially delighted in the demonstrations of sawing, scraping, and filing the tortoiseshell into some trend-setting spectacles, and most particularly the use of heated plates to achieve shell welding.

This additional video profile of the same craftsman making a different pair of spectacle frames, with some additional coverage of sea turtle conservation.

Finally this half hour walks us through the creating of various objets d’art, concentrating on some hairpieces.

I wonder from whence came the raw material.  Inasmuch as there has been a prohibition in the commerce of tortoiseshell harvesting, is all this tortoiseshell the remnants of pre-ban inventory?  I know this reality was fundamental to me inventing my own tortoiseshell substitute.

Back to regular blogging in a few days, resuming my reports from WIA.

Aspiring to the Exquisite

I’m off my blogging game for a bit (more about that later) but while noodling around the interweb I came across these two inspiring videos.

The first is planemaker Konrad Sauer’s presentation to a 2013 design conference, the second is a nearly wordless exposition on making nonpareil shotguns.

Report From WIA – Planemakerpalooza

The primary emphasis class-wise for my weekend at WIA 2016 was attending the three sessions on infill planemaking with the tag team of Raney Nelson and Konrad Sauer, two guys pretty much at the top of that particular food chain.  The first and second sessions completed my schedule for Friday, and the third one was first thing Sunday morning.


The format and length of the three sessions en toto allowed for a complete and cogent exegesis on infill plane-making from A to Z.  One of the two presenters took the lead for each segment, but the other one chimed in when the moment was right.  The interplay between these two creative giants was a thing to behold.


The always resplendent Raney started us with an exposition on the attendant geometry and engineering of creating wood shavings and the resultant flat, smooth surface.  (you can see that I did not choose well for my vista)  His emphasis on good cutting with a plane being much dependent on all the plane’s parts fitting perfectly was not wasted on the audience, and I am betting there is much taking down and refitting of planes ongoing now.


Konrad then walked us through the complete process of designing entirely new plane designs, beginning with the initial thumbnail sketches.  It is terrific that he was trained as a graphic artist who worked in the advertising field as he could work efficiently and explain the process to us.



He showed us both one-off designs and those that were part of a graduated series.


The final of the three sessions was a down and dirty practical tutorial on the fabrication process for infill planes including material selection, sawing, filing, hammering, sharpening, riveting, threading, and any other topics raised by the attendees.  The sessions were a near perfect embodiment of what WIA is; it was both highly informative and profoundly inspirational.

Will I become a custom infill planemaker competing with Raney and Konrad?


Will I undertake infill plane making some day soon?

Bet the house on it.

Report From WIA – A Silent Clap of Thunder

For several years I have been a friendly collaborator of Lee Marshal and Brian Meek of Knew Concepts Saws.  I am on the same wavelength as these guys, and that should make at least one of us pretty nervous.  By “friendly collaborator” I mean that we exchange ideas with varying frequency, mine usually some degree of outlandishness, and they make magic happen in their prototype shop.  This magic eventually becomes part of the market, and the saws they have created and manufactured thus far have all been game changers.
WIA 2016 proved that such a trajectory continues.


Flash back to 2012.  Not long before I departed the Smithsonian Brian came to visit me and continue a conversation that had been underway for a while, namely the idea of creating a viable benchtop alternative to the full-scale marquetry chevalet.   I had built one, of a sort, and showed it to Brian as a launching point for his and Lee’s creative and ingenious minds to chew on for a while.
Coming from the jewelry arts (Brian) and aerospace engineering/fabrication (Lee) with my incessant encouragement they saw this new world of marquetry and its requisite saws as a fertile area for their exploration.  I have long felt that the traditionalist approach of requiring a lawn tractor sized (and priced) sawing tool, the chevalet — exquisite and high-performance though it be — was an insurmountable hurdle for the broader popularizing of marquetry.  In my opinion an alternative needed to be created for marquetry to get beyond the several dozen practitioners of traditional techniques and make it into the mainstream vocabulary of the several hundred thousand woodworking shops across the country.
I believe they have succeeded.
In the subdued din of the WIA Marketplace I encountered the working concept prototype whose gestation was several years, and as I worked with the tool I felt, more than heard, a thunderclap.  Everything that had been was now no more.  I always knew that Knew Concepts Saws would come up with a compelling and new concept for such a sawing machine, but this was so ingenious that I had not even contemplated this as a working prototype.
Literally within two minutes I could feel my decades’ worth of muscle memory being augmented by a new way of working, leveraging those skills to a whole new place.  To say I was hooked would be an understatement in the extreme.
I stood and shook Lee’s hand warmly in congratulation, and placed my order for one immediately.  He gently reminded me with his chuckling smile that they did not yet even have a manufacturing prototype yet and all I was seeing was the physical  manifestation of their conceptual noodling.  Manufacturing was still a ways off.  They are working on getting it to market as soon as is humanly possible, and no amount of cajoling could make it happen any faster.  Never mind, I told him, put me on the list.
I must not have been unique because in yesterday’s email Lee told me that several other WIA attendees are “on that list.”
I truly believe this tool will lead to a vibrant and expanding presence of marquetry within the firmament of the ongoing traditional tool/craft Renaissance, and that the ultra-fine fretsaw work that had been the preserve of us “specials” will become part of the vocabulary for both replicators of the past and creators of the future.
Thank you Brian and Lee, for once again making aKnew the world of precision contour sawing.
(Full Disclosure – I have and will continue to engage with tool designers any time they think I have something to add to the conversation.  Unless they are jerks.)

Report From WIA – Urban Lumber Harvesting


My first session at WIA 2016 was Matt Cremona‘s presentation of what I would call “urban timbering.”  I missed the first couple of minutes (it was an 8.30AM start after all, so really…) but he made reference on several occasions throughout the talk that he was obtaining large, sometimes huge, tree trunks for free as mature or overly-mature trees were felled in city parks or from neighborhoods.  As Matt said when you get the tree for free you have a fair bit of flexibility in processing it.



It was a lot of work requiring some creative engineering to get the tree trunks moved and sawn, but it was pretty inspiring in a low-tech sorta way, and he addressed a multitude of issues ranging from the sawing machines employed, he mostly uses chainsaw mills, to the debris that can be found buried inside the log.  He indicated that his experience has been wonderfully uneventful regarding this latter problem.   As he said, there is something special when you see a piece of furniture you made from lumber you harvested and sawed yourself.


I found this talk really motivating since I have a friend nearby who is retiring and moving, and oh by the way, he has a bandsaw mill he is unlikely to take with him.  And I’ve got 60+ acres of forest behind the barn.   Hmmm.

Can a wood worker ever have too much wood inventory?  So little time, so many trees.

Report From WIA – I Came Bearing Gifts

About six months ago I was able to purchase at auction a number of Plates from a First Edition l’ Art du Menuisier Vol. III, c. 1772.  These had been cut out of a bound First Edition volume by some barbarian in the past, presumably so that they could be sold individually as “art prints.”  While I DO NOT recommend this practice it did allow for me to get my hands on some primo illustrations that I would have never been able to obtain otherwise.  Did I mention that these mutilated books were First Editions?


The image that started it all.

My purpose for making the purchase was three-fold.  First, there were a number of the plates that I wanted as they were the inspiration for my involvement in the project, including the very Plate whose text that I first asked Michele to translate.  Second there were a number of Plates that would serve as excellent mementos as gifts for my Roubo collaborators.  Third I wanted to have some inventory of original Roubo to sell, which I will do perhaps at Handworks next May.


For the recent WIA I had two of these Plates in-hand as gifts.  These were easy enough; of course the Plate of “The German Workbench” was destined for The Schwarz Hisownself, and the page of the hand-operated printing press belonged in the possession of book designer extraordinaire Wesley Tanner. (sorry about the pic with the eyes closed, Wesley.)


All I’m waiting for now is for Megan to pick hers out.


Upcoming Presentation – Washington Woodworker’s Guild


I’ll be giving a demonstration at the monthly meeting of the Washington Woodworker’s Guild the evening of October 18.  The probably topic is French style parquetry.  You can find more info on the Guild’s web site link above.

Report From WIA – Crucible Tools

This was going to be the year wherein I fulfilled my promise to eliminate travel from my diet.  Included in this promise was the intention to accept fewer speaking invitations and to avoid travels to events where I was not a speaker.  It has worked out well thus far, including my plans to remain at the Appalachian Shangri-La during Woodworking in America 2016.  I held fast to that commitment until there was a weird convergence of cosmic forces, those being 1) the completed review of the page proofs for With All The Precision Possible – Roubo on Furniture Making two days before WIA was to commence (Michele and I had a two-hour phone session covering the last dozen pages we had in-hand) and that physical ring binder needed to be returned to Lost Art Press, and 2) the announcement about a month ago that the new tool-making enterprise from John Hoffman, Raney Nelson, and Chris Schwarz was having its inaugural shindig at the LAP World Headquarters the night before and just down the street from Woodworking in America.


So at a fairly late date I decided to drive to Covington KY for the Crucible Tools soiree and drop off the R2 binder.  As I was discussing this with Mrs. Barn my initial posture was to drive to Covington last Thursday for that evening’s Crucible Tools premier and manuscript drop-off, spend the night and do a walk-through of the WIA Marketplace the following morning then drive back home.  Being a well-grounded and brilliant woman, Mrs. Barn’s initial response to this proposition was something like, and I may be paraphasing, “Don’t be stupid.  You always gripe about not getting to see anything at WIA because you are presenting; just go for the whole thing and enjoy it.”  So I did.   Ya just gotta keep a girl that wise around.


The Thursday evening Crucible Tools open house was a grand time of fellowship and celebration of the hand tool renaissance we are now experiencing.


Crucible had their first two tools on display in top of Chris’ new Roman work bench, which were met with great enthusiasm all around.


The place was packed and some local videographers premiered an episode for a series on “people who make stuff” featuring our three heroes.


A great time was had by all.  I did not stay until the bitter end as I was tired from the all-day drive, and went to my hotel room to sleep.

Upcoming Presentation on the Studley Ensemble


On the evening of October 10 I will be regaling the DC Chapter of the Piano Technician’s Guild with tales of the HO Studley Tool Cabinet and Workbench at the Steinway Gallery in Bethesda MD.  If you have any interest in attending you may contact the evening’s organizer here.

Emmert K1 Testimonial 6,287 (and that’s just from me)

Sometimes you just gotta have a vise that allows you to put the entire desk writing box in it in order to plane the thick hand-sawn veneered side panels.  Enter the Emmert K1.


I have pretty much every clamping accouterments or configuration known to man, but the one I use every day all day long is this one.  If you’ve never used one, do not start now.  You will be black-and-blue from kicking yourself for not having one before.

Besides, I haven’t bought all the ones I want yet.