Archive: » 2019 » April

Rat Patrol

Spring comes to us so quickly and late that it is inevitably a frenzied season of activity.  It seems that no sooner does the snow stop than we have to start mowing twice a week.  And Mrs. Barn’s cabin fever breaks into a session of manic gardening that ends only when the harvest is done and the preserves are put up.

After three years of successful gardening last year was the tough one for Mrs. Barn as the big rats, a/k/a “deer”, finally discovered the tender goodies there and mowed them down.  Over and over again, regardless of how many fences or other dissuasions we installed.

This year we decided to get serious and installed an electric fence in accordance with all the instruction our friends and neighbors provided.  When we bought the system at the local feed-and-seed I requested an electric fence system that would not just discourage the deer but would provide enough current to kill and barbecue them in one fell swoop.  Alas the new system only shocks them.  A little bit.

The set-up preferred by locals is to target the vegetarian predators where their noses are.  Thus the three levels of electric tape are at bunny nose height, ground hog nose height, and deer nose height.  That big gap in between has us skeptical, but we were told repeatedly that this approach will work.

It has been successful up to this point, and in fact we have not seen any deer in the neighborhood of the garden since it went up three weeks ago.  They are around the homestead but steering clear of the front yard.  Prior to the electric fence we had a mama and her fawns taking up residence, and at one point over the winter I actually found them sleeping in the flower bed adjacent to the front porch.  Often when looking out the windows of the barn I could see up to a dozen grazing on the hill above the cabin.

But now?  None!  We are hoping for the trend to continue.  Plus, the garden looks so much better with much of the cobbled together fencing removed.  I will even dismantle most of the hoop houses, leaving only one or two to be draped with screen or plastic sheeting over the winter as needed.

It’s a win-win situation.  If I could get the barbecue function it would be a win-win-win.

And It Only Took A Year

It was a year ago that I snapped off a drill bit and embedded its raggedy shaft into my thumb below the base of the fingernail (“X” marks the spot).  Aside from the pain and embarrassment, and yes you can be embarrassed even when you are alone, I had to deal with the whole “coming apart” of the nail and its subcutaneous tissue.

But with careful attention and tending the damaged nail slowly sloughed off and new tissue grew out.  As it grew it was sorta rumpled, but eventually the regeneration was complete and just a couple days ago the final damage was trimmed away leaving a healthy and morphologically sound nail behind with no permanent damage.

I never cease to marvel at the amazing structures The Creator devised for us to live inside.

Gragg Chair Video Production Resumes

It was an exciting day in the Attic Studio of the Barn on White Run as we finally returned to working on recoding the video of making a Gragg chair.  We began the day with a pile of individual steam bent parts, and ended with some assembled side units.  It is not “precision” work but it is very fussy to compile a completed unit from a bunch curvy pieces that each seem to have a mind of its own.  I placed particular emphasis on the areas where I executed compensations for the flaws in the original design.

Tomorrow the adventure continues as I show the beginnings of a 3D chair that has nothing square about it.

If all goes according to plan the “principal filming” for the fabrication phase will be done in about two weeks (see how I went all Hollywood there?), with painted decoration and the special added video feature to add on.

PS  – we are thinking that the final video will be in the 6-8 hour range; I would rather err on the side of more information and demonstration rather than less.

Workbench Wednesday – #16 (2018) Full-Size Laminated Roubo, Part 2

With the top made and soon flattened it was time to turn my attentions to the legs, leg vise, and planning stop.

I built the legs from the stock prepared and thicknessed the same as the top laminae to assure perfect fits of the leg joints.  The only real “craftsmanship” involved was cutting the dovetailed tenons on the face of the leg top.

For the leg vise I recycled an old wooden screw leg vise I had in my inventory, I often buy old wooden vise screws to keep around precisely for moments like these.  I inset the screw nut into the verso of the front left leg.

Before long the completed base was up on its feet, or in this case, upside-down on its feet, after first trimming the legs to length and removing the superfluous projecting center “tenon” from the bottom, an artifact of the original assembly concept.

The final task was to make and install a planing stop, which was itself a modified version of the traditional Roubo projecting stop.  I added a serrated-edge steel plate to the top of the stop to bite hard into the workpiece.

And with that the bench was complete, I think with about 40 hours of work in it.  It worked well for my presentation at Colonial Williamsburg, and now resides in the classroom of the barn.

With really only one more “looking backwards” workbench to showcase on Workbench Wednesdays, the feature will become even more irregular as it will occur only to chronicle new benches, of which there are four in the works.

Stay tuned


Ilex Revisited

In my recent post about harvesting some holly that our friends had cut down next to their house I mentioned the size of ilex trees in the mid-Atlantic region.  Here are a couple pictures from the yard of our daughter’s house near Mordor.  The first one is fairly typical of holly trees in the yard, of which there are a couple dozen on the property (you can see another in the background).

The larger tree is about our biggest one although we have another that is at least close in size if not greater.  I cannot even get my long arms around it.

Whenever we sell the house, I’m thinking one of these trees will suffer a fatal wound.  There’s a lot of banded inlay in this trunk.

Indiana Williams and the Temple of Lost Shellac Research


Many years ago I contacted the archivist of the Brooklyn Polytechnic Institution to glean their holdings of a renowned body of research conducted there before and during WW II under the auspices of the famed coatings chemist William Howlett Gardner.  In the precedent to that war much of the shellac research internationally was moved to Brooklyn to continue in safety.  (Imagine a time when shellac was considered such a vital strategic material that research into it needed to be protected!)

The archivist, a gracious and knowledgeable woman nearing the end of her long and distinguished career of shepherding the scholarship records of the university, told me a fascinating and heartbreaking story.

At some point in the not-too-distant past a new university official of some sort had determined that the study of natural materials was a waste of time and that 100% of the future research would be about synthetic materials.  As a result, there would be no need to keep records from past research into naturally derived materials by the chemists and chemical engineers.  So, he ordered the library and archives to purge their holdings of all the records pertaining to some of the most insightful historic shellac research.

Thus my phone conversations with the archivist were bittersweet as it turned out I possessed more of their original research than they did.  At her request I sent her a box of photocopies of the university’s own research.  And with that, our interactions were completed.

Or so I thought.

A year or so later I got a phone call from the excited archivist with a great discovery.  In reconstructing the events of the past, she had this tale to tell.

When the order was given to purge the library/archives holdings of the shellac research, the task was probably given to some of the university’s students working during the summer or some such arrangement.  Apparently, at least one of that cohort figured that hand-carrying all that material up the basement stairs and navigating the warren of the archives was too much bother, so he/she simply moved them from one place in the basement to another place where it would not be noticed.  Completely by caprice while searching for something unrelated, the archivist stumbled across a small pile of the original research from three generations ago.

Immediately I scheduled a trip to Gotham to peruse the findings, after first arranging for a friend’s sister (coincidentally also an archivist) to escort me through the terrifying (to me) jungle of humanity and subways that is New York City.

Sure enough, the archivist presented me with a small stack of original theses and research reports by the students of the sainted Professor Gardner.  Part of the exercise was disorienting in a way as I could hardly imagine an institution of higher learning actually having dozens of students engaged in original or confirmational research on shellac.  The archivist arranged for me to browse and photograph all the documents she had, and I have re-discovered these digital images in my own compewder as a result of migrating them from the old laptop to the new one.

Once I get these files edited and formatted they will become part of the Shellac Archive, whose presence should begin growing again now that I have the older, actually working template for WordPress on this laptop.

Stay tuned.

Veneer Repair Video Episode 6

Our adventure continues, notwithstanding some technical glitches on my end (a self-flattering version of “I forgot how to do this!”) Actually the new WordPress template is a pain in the kiester, but fortunately Webmeister Tim managed to restore the previous version.  That is the best explanation I have for why it took months to get the next one posted.  I was simply too stoopid/ignorant/technophobic/compewderily iliterate to figure out how to do it in the “new and improved” platform template, and also why my blogging had declined.  It was just too miserable trying to figure it out.  At this point I have almost negative interest in learning new skills, I’m just trying to keep my existing skills intact.

Crossing my fingers hard.  It worked for me in the “preview” and I am hoping it works for you.

In this episode I cover the process of matching the veneer being used for the repair to the veneer that remains adjacent to the loss.


PS – Spring has sprung so video production resumes next week!


If your conscience is pricked feel free to click on the “Donate” button, any proceeds from which will go toward enhancing the rapidity of new video production. Future videos will also be available for purchase one section at a time (perhaps $0.99 – $1.99 per segment depending on the video) or $15(?) for the complete product. I am still noodling that and working out the logistics with Webmaster Tim. If this interests a large enough audience I hope to produce three or four 2-hour-ish videos per year. If not, maybe one or two at the most, one being more likely. In which case it will take me almost twenty years to get through the list I have already.



The Metaphysics of Lost Socks, Revisited

A comment on the original post reminded me of a humorous story.

In fact I have followed Sylvain’s strategy for many years and restricted my everyday sock inventory to a couple dozen pairs of gray insulated socks of the lumberjack variety. While they are not all identical in every way they are definitely close enough to pass muster most of the time.

Which brings me to the story.

Late in my tenure at the Smithsonian I was charged with the task of installing and de-installing an exhibit of a solid red sandalwood 1/5 scale model of one of the pavilions from the Forbidden City in Beijing. This project continued even after my departure so I was on board as a contractor for three or four more venues before the tour ended (the logistics and assembly were such that I was the only one who knew fully how it went together and came apart). At one point the pavilion was being installed in Flushing, Queens NY. In order to complete the project I recruited a number of friends to work with me as we assembled the almost-thousand pieces of the one-ton 3D jigsaw puzzle.

The specs for the exhibit required the hosts to construct a raised carpeted platform for the model. At the commencement of the installation I reminded my compatriots that we were in a museum space, and that there was a code of etiquette to follow in the situation. Part of that protocol was that we would not be wearing our shoes up on the platform. So, when the time came we all doffed our shoes and flitted around in our stocking feet.

As the assembly of the 10-foot x 10-foot x 10-foot model was nearing its conclusion the host institution had arranged for press visits for me to be interviewed for a story in the coming weekend art section. When the reporter arrived we were all deep in the work with a couple of us, me included, pretty much inside the bowels of the model so she stood observing us work while I extricated myself from the inside.

And her first question? “What’s with all the gray socks?”

It turned out that every one of us had the same sartorial strategy of wearing insulated gray socks, and she was bewildered by it. All she could see was a group of middle aged men writhing around the platform, each wearing nearly identical thermal gray socks. We assured her with straightest possible faces that these were the uniforms of our rank as master artifact caretakers. I’m not sure if she bought it, but we all had a great time as the ice was broken.

All because of identical gray socks.

The Metaphysics of Lost Socks

One of the undeniable truths of the cosmos is that if you own  pair of socks for long enough, one of them will disappear into some alternate universe that is accessed only through a worm hole masquerading as a dryer vent hose.  (A second undeniable truth, below, is the follow-up to the first truth.)  When this missing-sock episode happens to you, like me you will probably wait some seemingly interminable period awaiting for the return of the sock.  Then comes the day you mournfully dispose of the remaining sock.  It is only at that point that the original missing sock suddenly navigates its way back through the worm hole and suddenly you once again have an un-mated sock.

Admit it, you know this is the truth.

Given the unified synthesis of metaphysics there is an inexorably linked correlated truth.  And that is the metaphysical certitude I am banking on right now.

My workhorse camera in the shop is a Canon G16.  Sometime in the last few weeks I misplaced the battery charger; it is simply not in any of the usual places I might keep it.  At the moment the camera hangs forlornly in its usual place.

In keeping with the modified Law of Lost Socks I ordered a replacement battery charger from ebay, knowing that the day after the new one arrives the “lost” one will navigate its way back from the Place of Upside Down Things.  The arrival of the new charger will be Tuesday, I expect to find the old one on Wednesday.  Then I’ll have two, so one will live in the barn and one will live in the cabin.

A Reader’s Adventures With Gelatin Molds

I got this note recently, and it encouraged me immensely. This is the fellow who planted the seed in the first place in some correspondence going back to last autumn. We have continued to communicate with our respective tinkering with the process.

Hi Don,

I’ve been meaning to follow up with you on my experimentation with the gelatin molds.

In short, at least for now, I’ve changed my expectations for the gelatin mold. I have had excellent results but have changed my goal of utilizing the gelatin mold for “mass” production. Rather, I think these molds work well for making a few casts.

While the gelatin may not last for years like a silicone or urethane rubber mold, it’s key advantage is that it can be melted down after use and reused. Given the cost of quality silicon and urethane this is noteworthy.

I ended up with a basic formula of 2 parts liquid hide glue to 1 part glycerin (by volume). I bought some hardener but haven’t used it.

I enlisted the help of my 6 year old daughter. We started with making a mold of a quarter and then making a cast in chocolate.

Then during Valentine’s Day she made a clay sculpture and then we made another chocolate cast

Then I moved on to a simple wood carving. The gelatin mold worked well here. Unfortunately I seem to have deleted the picture of the cast. Detail replication still very high.

I have kept my recycled gelatin mold material in my refrigerator for about 3-4 months and there has been no sign of spoilage.

More experimentation to come. I’ll keep you posted on the results.