Archive: » 2021 » December

Getting Ready for Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Pedal (?) Power

So, I’ve got this ancient 1930s era scroll/jigsaw, a Boice Crane Model 900.  It is to my mind the tool form against which all others are measured.  Acquiring it was my introduction to Tall Tom, my woodworking pal of lo these many years.  He was at a community yard sale selling tools and carved walking sticks and had a small vintage Delta scroll saw at his booth.  I checked it out and decided to pick it up on my return trip after browsing the yard.

It was, of course, gone when I did return.  I engaged the seller (Tom) in conversation.  He mentioned that he had another one back at the shop but it was too heavy to haul to a flea market, so we arranged for me to come see it at his shop.  In the end we agreed to a trade; I would give him some turning lessons and he would give me the scroll saw.  Little did I know that for many years I would be found in his shop on Wednesday evenings, and that he would make several trips with me to the barn (the picture is from 2011).

I am determined to get this saw rejuvenated and outfitted for marquetry work.  Since I have a large wooden wheel I made for a treadle lathe, why not combine the two and make the Boice Crane something akin to a Barnes Velocipede Saw on steroids?  If it works out it would be a superb marquetry saw.

So that is what I will try to do.

Aural Delight (not even close to woodworking)

I recently took a deep dive into the guts of my nearly non-take-apart-able Sony 300 CD changer to see why it was not working.  I suspected that it was something like a broken drive belt, and sure enough found that the core of the mechanical system was (?)/were (?) a pair of utterly wimpy rubber drive belts.   Interestingly when I did a web search for this device model the first thing that popped up was “replacement drive belts” so this problem is apparently endemic to the device.  New belts are on order and will be installed as soon as the circumstances allow.

Since it has been a pretty long time since I was able to use the changer and listen to the music housed within, reviewing the contents was almost like Christmas all over again.  There was a lotta great stuff in there, perhaps nothing more better (!) than a CD I burned combining two early albums from America’s greatest rock band ever, Little Feat.  An offshoot of The Mothers of Invention, Feat had an amazing run in their early days cranking out masterpiece after masterpiece of southern funk/improvisational jazz/gritty folk/plain old rock; Little Feat (1971), Sailin’ Shoes (1972), Dixie Chicken (1973), Feats Don’t Fail Me Now (1974), Time Loves A Hero (1977), Waiting For Columbus (1978), Down on the Farm (1979), all of which I have on vinyl and most on CD.  I cannot think of any American band having a better decade than that one.

“Day at the Dog Races” is premium stuff and perhaps my favorite Feat tune.  The instrumental is muscular and intricate, with an interwoven rhythmic character wherein several seemingly unrelated rhythm strands eventually come to be unified just before the final crescendo.  The complexity of the song is exactly what I would expect from music coming out of the Orbit of Zappa.  Regardless of your musical tastes I think you can give it a listen and appreciate it.


Final Christmas Mailing for Polissoirs etc.

My final trip to the Post Office before Christmas will be tomorrow morning, so if you wanted to send polissoirs, videos or wax as Christmas gifts, better get your order in tonight.  I normally send out orders once a week, but this time of year I go to the PO every day, ending tomorrow until after the First.

Winter Projects (and well beyond) – Harvesting Watts

Though I have been exceedingly pleased with my latest iteration of the hydropower capturing basin, a/k/a “Rubbermaid tub with a window screen” and its attendant weir flow sluice eliminating 99% of any debris build-up, a recent trip up the hill has revealed a fundamental shortcoming to the system — it cannot withstand a bear (?) attack.  The plastic tub-and-screen assembly was, to put it technically, knocked all whomperjawed.  The problem was temporarily resolved but now that it is winter and the system is mothballed for the season, the time has come for a more robust response to the travails of life here where there are plenty of big critters.

I’m thinking of fabricating a more robust wooden basin from some of my exquisite c.1840 cypress, designed along the same lines as the plastic tub and its screening feature but with the addition of long horizontal cleats on the underside of the box.  That way I can restrain the entire unit under a thousand pounds of rocks.  And it the megafauna tears that one up?  Hmmm.

I may also try to “straighten” the hydro line to allow year-round operation.  since water will flow in a contained line well below zero degrees F, there is no conceptual reason I cannot operate it here all the time.

Gotta noodle that one.

Plus, it is time to get going on the second water turbine that absolutely positively can run year-round.

Stay tuned.


Recently I learned that Fred Schindler died.  This picture is us from 2013.  I recount my earlier faulty conclusion about his demise here.

I have always considered him not only a dear life-long friend but my greatest mentor in the finishing/restoration trade as he hired me when I was 18 (?) and I worked for him off-and-on for five years (the “off” of that was when I moved to attend college).  He said he always appreciated the fact that when I asked him for a job and he asked me what I could do, I replied, “I know how to sand and sweep the floor.”  (I learned over time that guys asking for work would promise the moon regarding their abilities, always falsely.)  I could do a little more than that after two years as a “scratch and dent man” but did not want to over promise my abilities, which were nowhere up to the standards of his shop.  I knew of Schindler & Son because one of the furniture stores I had worked for used them for special custom finishing projects.

As far as I know Fred was pretty much self-taught but he was the best finisher I ever saw when it came to matching a new surface to an old one.  And the business had plenty of old surfaces to work on, as probably the premier antique restorers for old money Palm Beach clients including Charles and Jayne Wrightsman whose collection of classical French furnishings was unparalleled. The business was so successful that the shop phone number was unlisted.  The velocity of projects there was mind-numbing in retrospect; I probably restored/refinished a couple hundred antiques a year while working there.  Conversely, while at SI I generally conserved a piece or two, maybe three or four, every year.  The wealth of that experience at Schindler & Son formed a foundation for all my work ever since.

While Fred was selfless in transferring his knowledge and skills, his father Fernand (“Pop”) was a bit pricklier and reticent but even he and I formed a close bond.  Being the victim of good upbringing, I treated Pop with respect and admiration, and he reciprocated by teaching more about marquetry and furniture making (especially ancient French Furniture) than I can even fully comprehend.  Pop was retired by the time I came on the scene, but he showed up for a couple hours almost every day, guiding me through scores of restoration projects.

My regard for this father-and-son team is such that one of the Roubo books is dedicated to them.

With Fred’s death I have been recalling three other great work-related mentors of mine — Frank Tautzenberger, a curmudgeonly Hungarian immigrant who seemed about 200 years old and operated the warehouse corner repair shop in the first furniture store I ever worked and shuffled around in bedroom slippers making damage disappear; John Kuzma, the master of the foundry pattern shop who taught me about the meaning of precision; and Bert van Zelst, my long-time unit director at SI who showed me what disciplined curiosity looked like.  Each of them imparted an unspeakable wealth of knowledge and insight, and oh the stories I could tell…  Perhaps another day.

When I contemplate my own role as a mentor to other craftsmen and measure it against what these men did to for me, alas I come up short.

Farewell for now Fred, I will see you soon enough in Paradise.

‘Tis That Season…

… wherein I listen to my favorite performance of The Messiah at least a couple times a day.  I would listen to it more but do not know how to create and download an mp3 to put on my venerable pocket player.  Anyone know how to do that?

Were I ever to question the existence of The Divine this piece of music and the sublime alto Delphine Galou would draw me back to orthodoxy.  (I am so enamored by her voice I once considered taking Mrs. Barn to New York City (!) to see her in concert.  I have only been to New York City (!) twice for something resembling pleasure, once to review the Shellac Research Archive at Brooklyn Polytechnic and once to see the Roentgen Exhibit at the Met.  So, Miss Galou  ranks up there with shellac history and one of the greatest furniture makers who ever lived.  Just thinking about going to New York City (!) now gives me the shakes.)

This spare and virtouso performance of The Messiah is simply flawless to my tastes.  Performances by huge choirs and orchestras strike me as bloated and do not appeal to me as much.

Prior to discovering this version by a historic music company from Prague (?) my favorite was the 1966 version by the Robert Shaw Chorale, presented as a chamber music piece with only a couple dozen voices and roughly an equal number of musicians.  Magnificent.  I’ve had that one on vinyl for nearly 50 years.  Time to get out the turntable and maybe listen to this and the other 3,000 albums I’ve got.

Winter Projects (and way beyond) – Doors

This winter will be the one during which I begin to address the door issue in the barn.

For the past 13 years the entrance into my studio space has been delineated by a pair of doors comprised of nice wooden frames with double plastic sheets, shower curtains actually, that have performed surprisingly well.  But, the time has come to install proper insulated doors. Given the odd size of the doorways, determined by unalterable features of the original post-and-beam structure, the two doors into my studio space will need to be custom made.

The standard entry door to the first floor/basement was framed in about two hours if I recall correctly, needing to fit a compression fit jamb using only the things I had on hand one Sunday afternoon before heading back to Mordor.  What I had on hand was some scrap white pine joist stock and a tube of construction adhesive, along with a salvaged insulated door.  Years later this haphazard installation has become decrepit to the point where a good blast of wind or even a curious bear could take it down.

The garage-door opening of the first floor/basement was filled with a pair of four-foot-wide doors I made from 2x, plywood and with insulated glass inserts.  Within a year of their installation (the photo was taken at the completion of the original installation) a howling windstorm caused irreparable damage to them (we get serious hurricane-strength (!) windstorms every year or so out in the holler) and ever since they have just been screwed shut with plastic sheeting covering the entire section from the inside.  One thing has been made clear as a result, namely that I simply did not need a garage door-style access to the inside space as a matter of regular activity.  I’m thinking of building a pair of panels, one screwed in place as an insulated wall and the other openable as a door to allow me to wheel my smelting furnace cart in and out as my foundry work progresses.

Workshop Wednesday – A Slight Detour

My ongoing project to complete “The Ultimate Portable Workbench” takes a back seat to my revisiting a existing workstation in the shop this week.

A recent learning experience led me to re-think my salvaged Sjoberg bench that serves as my “fine work” station for almost everything un-woodworking-ish, like engraving, checkering, fine metalwork, etc.  During Thanksgiving week my son-in-law and I had the opportunity to attend a workshop on reloading ammunition, which involves a lot of press work.  The Sjoberg was simply inadequate for those particular tasks even though I do a lot of other gun work there.  But, could it be modified to work for reloading?

I am happy to report that the answer was, “Yes.”

At issue was the shallowness of the workbench top and the difficulty, read: impossibility, of attaching some presses to the edge of said top as required by the processes involved.  A simple add-on solved both problems in one swell foop.

I had a scrap of butcher block benchtop material that fit the cutaway configuration of the bench top almost perfectly.  All I needed was to create a way to affix it solidly to the existing bench yet make it removable for more routine work.

I accomplished this through the addition of a couple simple elements to the underside of the slab so that one end could be captured by the face vise and the other end by the end vise.

Putting the new appendage in place and tightening the vise screws and viola’, the new feature is darned near perfect for the tasks.  It suits me so well I may wind up leaving it in place most of the time.

Installing it and de-installing takes upwards of seven seconds per operation.

Winter Projects (and well beyond)

As I approach the nine-year (!) anniversary of my “retirement” (three weeks from today) and subsequent escape from Mordor, I recall the friends and contemporaries who have also retired and reflect on how well we have done with our new life patterns.  Those who were ready to retire but were not ready to be retired have struggled to find their footing in this new terrain, while those who were ready to be retired with a full slate of activities ready-to-go have fared pretty well.

Since my official date of retirement came in between Christmas and New Year’s my retirement party was scheduled for nearly a month after the fact.  Much to my delight was the character of the event; the celebration was understated (I forbade there to be any remarks from my “superiors”), plus there was a huge carrot cake, my favorite from our local bakery Gerard’s in Oxon Hill MD, Mrs. Barn and both Barndottirs were in attendance as was a huge contingent of friends and colleagues past and present.

One of them asked me, “So Don, how long did it take you to get used to being retired?”

I replied, “I was used to it by the time I walked out the front door on the last day.”  This truth reflected the fact that I “retired” with a huge menu of productive things to do and the time/energy/means to get them done.

That has never changed, well, in truth the energy level has backed off a bit.  But still I have a huge agenda of things to get done, and so for the next couple of months I will blog frequently about projects on my list for the coming winter and probably several winters (and summers) yet to come.  Some of the projects are evergreen.

One thing has not diminished in the least, my desire to learn new things and adopt new skills and refine old ones.

Just in case you were worried that I had nothing to do but loaf around.

Stay tuned.

Hey Myrtle!

A few weeks ago we were visiting our daughter in Maryland and she and I spent some time trimming back a crepe myrtle tree that had grown to the point that it was banging against the side of the house near her second floor bedroom.

The episode caused me to reflect on planting the tree sapling as part of composing a Japanese garden 25(?) years ago.  Though that particular gardening bug did not really take hold of me in practice I maintain a continued fascination with Japanese gardens and visit them whenever I can, but all the stuff I planted and installed way back then is still there.  Even the bamboo, alas.

When felling the sections of the now-giant crepe myrtle — I have never really figured out if it is a shrubbish tree or a tree-ish shrub, I guess it depends on the growing conditions and those at this location must be superb as the two crepe myrtles there have grown to be taller than a two-story house– I noted that some of the branches were the size of my thigh, certainly large enough to harvest for lumber, most particularly for carved spoons and such.  I have never used crepe myrtle wood for anything except brush fires in the burn barrel, but perhaps now is the time to experiment.  My only hesitancy is that I have noticed a contact dermatitis inflammation almost every time I trim the trees which makes me wonder if its sap is an allergen or toxin especially given my reaction to urushiol, the allergen in poison ivy/oak/sumac and the basis for oriental lacquerwork.

Gotta check that issue out.  I’ll let you know what I find out.