Archive: » 2021 » January

Replica Studley Infill Mallet Castings

I was recently alerted to the ongoing project by foundryman Bill Martley to replicate the shell castings for the beloved mallet of Henry O. Studley.  Well, beloved to me at least.  Bill and I corresponded and I ordered the raw castings in his original alloy, a red-ish bronze.  You can tell the coloration difference between Bill’s castings and the brass shells I have worked on in the past.

The castings are quite nice and I am working through finishing them to make myself a mallet or six.  The amazing thing is that Bill got the pattern really close to the original, without even having access to the Studley book!  He said he was relying on pictures I posted on this blog.  I sent him a copy of the book as part of our transaction, so he can move forward with the definitive information in-hand.

Bill has been selling these rough castings through his Instagram page, mystic_pickers.  If you are interested in acquiring one of the rough castings from Bill you can contact him directly through the Instagram page.  If there are hiccups let me know and I will check with him to see if he wants me to post his contact information here.

Since the color of the alloy is wrong for me I have ordered two addition sets of castings from Bill with yellower alloys to see how they look and work.

At the same time I have been tinkering with my patterns for casting the mallet shells myself, just because.  (I am determined that 2021 will be a year of metal casting at The Barn with several projects in the pipeline)  Once I get the patterns to a point where I am satisfied I will cast them in both silicon bronze and brass in the barn.  Since I have the detailed information based on my many examinations and with the blessing of Mister Stewart I am confident that the end point will be successfully achieved.  (Let’s just keep it between ourselves, but my ultimate goal is to have finished “authorized” mallet replicas for sale at Handworks 2021.)

I’ll be recounting the project from my end as things proceed and I hope you will enjoy the ride.

Treasure in Atlanta

I was contacted by a long-time friend in Atlanta, who had a tool-collector friend who died recently.  He sent me these pictures of some of the tools for sale.

He told me yesterday that there is also a large quantity of vintage Honduras Mahogany lumber, some of which is oversized, and a quantity of veneers old and new.  My friend IS NOT a woodworker so he could not provide detailed information or assessment.  If you have any interest in pursuing this acquisition please drop me either an email or a Comment and I will pas your information along to my friend or get his permission for you to contact him.

A Tough Season (not woodworking)

Last week as we were preparing to head south on our two-day drive to attend my mother’s memorial service, we received the word that Mrs. Barn’s father, who had been declining, had reached a precipitous state.  At first we thought she would deliver me and then jump on a plane immediately, but as events unfolded she was able to remain though the glorious celebration of her life and her Redeemer (a very moving homily on the 23rd Psalm) and then we delivered Mrs. Barn to the airport early Sunday morning.  (On top of all this my son-in-law’s grandmother is gravely ill as well.)

Yesterday I arrived back in Mordor, the epicenter of the nation tearing itself apart and The Imperial City currently an armed encampment, and this morning got the word that my father-in-law died late last night with Mrs. Barn at his bedside, holding his hand.  He was a man of astounding gifts and was literally a mechanical savant from his earliest years, when even then he was renowned as the boy who could repair farm machinery with no instruction.  That gift remained throughout his life as a mechanical engineer.  Several times I have witnessed him touching the casing of a malfunctioning machine or appliance and say, “Yeah, I know what the problem is.”  And he would fix it.  Based solely on the vibrations.  I am not kidding.

At the moment it appears I might be jumping on a plane soon myself if there is a scheduled celebration of his life (nothing is certain in the land of Commissar Newsom), and there are likely going to be considerable disruptions to life for the immediate future.  I will do my best to keep plugging away on all the projects I can accomplish with my compewder, and perhaps get some posts finished in advance.

Stay tuned.

Farewell, Richard.  Though parted for a time, we will see you again soon enough in Paradise.  Thanks Be To God, from Whom all blessings flow.

A Permanent Home For Serial # 001 (maybe…)

Going back many years I was an enthusiastic supporter of the concept of a vertical marquetry saw as an alternative to a horizontal chevalet, a machine I never got the hang of.  I’m not sure if I was the first person to raise the concept to Knew Concepts but certainly I was in there early with encouragement and specific concept and design ideas.  The development of the tool took many years and trips down many rabbit trails, not the least of which was the passing of our beloved friend Lee Marshall from Knew and the transition to Brian’s sole leadership and all the logistical and legal details that entailed.

Then came the day several months ago when the very first unit rolled off the assembly line and shortly thereafter arrived on my doorstep.  I assembled and used it just enough to get the sense of the tool, then put it away since I had so many other things in my pile of things to get done.  Well, I am finally returning to the tool.  The first thing was to find a permanent (?) home for it in the workshop.  At the moment that location is the end of my oldest and dearest friend in the shop, my Emmert workbench.

Time will tell if this is the final resting place for this magnificent machine, but for now it is working just fine.

Door Days

One of the foci for shop projects for this winter will be a series of projects addressing the “door” needs around the place.

This will begin with the completion of fashioning the doors for Mrs. Barn’s small clothes cabinet I built a couple years ago.  I’ve had the vintage chestnut lumber picked out ever since the cabinet was made, but somehow that task never percolated to the top of the pile.

I’ve also got another eight doors to make for the book cases in the balcony library.  Again, I’ve had all the stock prepared awaiting assembly, and now is the time for that to happen.  I’ve not observed any mouse damage to the books yet, but given enough time it would occur.

Finally, I need to replace the double-plastic-sheet doors to the workshop.  They do a surprisingly good job but the time has come for real doors with real insulated glass.

Once all of these jobs get done I will turn my attention to the door(s) into the machine shop/foundry.  These doors were damaged long ago during a fierce wind and will be replaced by  a configuration still to be determined.  At the moment I am leaning toward a single door with a removable glazed wall alongside it.

Stay tuned.


Decades ago I discovered the benefits of keeping a stash of emory boards at-hand in the shop.  Bought at the local pharmacy I found these little tools to be a magnificent solution to any number ot abrading and shaping problems.  Unfortunately, like a great many products over the years these have become too cheezy to really be the workhorses they used to be.

So, as I have posted previously, I make my own.  One of my beginning-of-year habits is to make a new set of abrasive sticks, gluing sheets of sandpaper to tongue depressors with a spray adhesive and then cutting them apart into a pile of useful tools.  (I really don’t need any posts about my New Year’s regimen of sharpening routine edge tools, do I?)

This year I did something a little different and expanded the variety of sticks.  In addition to the typical pairing I’ve been using for a long time, a coarse side and a medium side of aluminum oxide abrasive, I added finer stearated silicon carbide papers into the mix.  These options created their own issues, as I found the adhesion to be not as robust as with the AlOx paper.  Using a small roller, made by and given to me many years ago by my pal MikeM, I found that pressing the edges worked well, plus I discovered the need to embed the sticks while the spray adhesive was still soaking wet.

I wound up making three different sets of abrasive sticks.  The specs for each was detrmined by the abrasive sheets I had on the shelf.

The first set was pretty similar to ones I’ve made  the past, this time with 60-grit and 100-grit sandpaper.  I think that the 60-grit side will be less useful than I originally thought, but that could be because the product itself is pretty cheap and the abrasive particles spall off with first contact to the substrate.  Next time I will aim for 80 and 120-grits.

Next up are the sticks using SiC papers, 150-grit and 220-grit papers.  I’ve not made this combination before and think it will be a very satisfactory one.

Finally I went utra fine, with 400-grit and 600-grit together.  We’ll see how useful these are in the coming days.

I’m now set up with this year’s inventory of abrasive sticks.  Well, we’ll see if this lasts my usual full year since there are now so many different options.



Brand New From The Pantheon (not woodworking)

My pantheon of female singers has changed little over the decades.  Jennifer Warnes staked her position at the top of the heap almost forty years, which she has never relinquished.  Eva Cassidy joined her near the pinnacle perhaps 25 years ago when I first heard a CD that a friend loaned me.  She has the voice of an angel, and her stylistic instincts were nearly flawless.  Sting once remarked that after he heard her rendition of “Fields of Gold” he would cease to perform his own song.

While noodling through some videos on youtube over the weekend I noticed this brand new documentary about Eva’s performance at Blues Alley, the renowned Mordor jazz club.  It was thrilling, poignant, and heartbreaking all at once as within the year she cancer would kill her at the age of 33, the current age of our oldest daughter.  Heartbreaking.

Our Venn Diagram circles almost overlapped.  She was living only a few miles away from us just outside The Imperial City and performed often in places we knew and frequented, most notably the outdoor stage deep in the woods of the environmental foundation where Mrs. Barn worked for many years later on.  We even had a number of mutual acquaintances and friends.  But during the pinnacle of her output we were buried deep in the worlds of raising children, remodeling a house and building a career, so our social/musical ventures were few and far between.

The friend who loaned me the CD in the first place was a family member of the owner of Blues Alley, so the connections to Eva Cassidy were close to being one degree of separation.  Plus, Eva worked in a famed local plant nursery, and if you know nothing else about Mrs. Barn it is that she is a girl of the dirt through-and-through, and would have certainly patronized that nursery along with almost every other one within driving distance.  Could she have encountered Eva Cassidy during one of her trips there?   Who knows.

Nevertheless I never met Eva and only discovered her music after she had died.  As soon as I did I acquired all of her albums that were available.  I’m not someone enslaved by regrets, but doggone I coulda, shoulda, woulda gone to see her had I only known.


New Year’s Ritual

I believe that in some (many?) craft cultures it is a New Year’s tradition to bring all of the components of the tool kit up to snuff.  For the past several years, at least since relocating to Shangri-la, I have been dong some of the same thing and will spend this week so engaged.  Throughout the year I toss everything that needs major rehab into a box on the shelf awaiting the beginning of the year for attention.  Obviously this would not include anything truly critical to ongoing activities, that would be dealt with immediately by necessity.

This year there is an equal proportion of tools-to-be-made compared to tools needing a tune-up.  This includes a batch of infill mallet heads I sourced recently, another plow plane iron re-purposing, a new (to me) iron to be fitted into my infill smoother and a new wedge made for it, a new tool holder for my patternmakers’ gouges, and some tools being transformed from one thing into another like some gouges I bought for the explicit intent of turning them from out-cannel into in-cannel, etc.

And of course, this is a week that gives freedom to my “re-arrangeritis” impulses, not that I have much restraint in that area to start with..

It is going to be a very fun week in the shop.

Geetar Club

One of the aspects to living in a locale so isolated as Shangri-la is that it is populated by folks who are at the very least comfortable with isolation; for the “born here’s” it is simply the life they have always known, for many of the “come here’s” it is the life they actively sought.  If you cannot tolerate isolation, you leave.  I can speak truth to this, for about 99% of the time my only in-person contact is Mrs. Barn.  Going to the Post Office or feed-and-seed-co-op hardware store a few minutes a week hardly describes a life of social interactions — “social distancing” describes every day ending in “Y” out here —  and during this season of psychosis our only regular time of interaction beyond ourselves is at church.  (I am increasingly convinced that functionally Covid-19, while deadly to a miniscule slice of the population pie, is more of a psychological experiment in repression than a public health crisis; I will believe it is a catastrophic pandemic when the elites act like it is one rather than jetting about for vacations in Cancun or group dinners at fancy restaurants and when politicians and gubmint employees rather than small businesses lose their incomes.)

One of the things in which I have been long interested is finding other woodworkers here for fellowship and collaboration.  They are around but like me they mostly stick to themselves.  I’ve had some success in finding and interacting with gunsmiths, blacksmiths, metalsmiths, this smith and that smith, but thus far the woodsmiths have kept to themselves.  In recent months this has begun to thaw as one retired “come here” with whom I am on a local Board revealed he is a luthier, and lo and behold there is suddenly a critical mass of luthiery-ish practitioners in the county.  One is a newly arrived pastor/amateur musicologist, another is an actual full-time guitar maker who moved here recently and has a small studio in town.  (When your region’s largest metropolis has fewer than 200 people…)  Together we are in the gestational phase of starting a woodworking club with just the four of us working in my studio, the only space any of us has that would be amenable to the enterprise — plenty of workbenches in a heated work space.  I think the plan is for us to gather weekly to work on individual projects as our schedules allow.

Since I am in fact the only one of us four who has never built a guitar from scratch I will be the main hindrance to the overall performance level.  Still my enthusiasm for the effort is high, and not too surprisingly I expect to bring my own peculiar approaches to building a dreadnaught six-string guitar.  Eventually I will build a hammered dulcimer for Mrs. Barn, who has expressed a strong desire for one ever since listening to the pastor/musicologist play his at a local music program.   She never reads this blog so I will be able to maintain the secret surprise until it is finished.

Stay tuned.