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Handworks 2023

If you follow this or any other woodworking blog you might already know that Handworks 2023 is on the calendar!

The event-to-end-all-woodworking-tool-events will be taking place the Friday and Saturday of Labor Day Weekend, and unless something catastrophic happens in the meantime I will be there in a booth with my trusty compatriot Ripplin’ John.

I’ll have plenty of my wares to sell — polissoirs, beeswax, shellac wax, videos, First Edition Roubo engravings, etc. — so I hope you will make the trip and stop on by.  I think John can be persuaded to bring his Roubo Ripple Molding Machine.

The event itself is the largest (to my knowledge) celebration of woodworking hand tools on this planet.  Previous iterations of the event have garnered crowds of several thousand tool geeks from around the globe gawking and trying out (and buying) sublime tools.   My own weakness is the booth of Slav the File Meister.  I have yet to resist the temptation to enhance my inventory of files and rasps from amongst his dozen display tables of the new-old-stock wares he has for sale.

I know Amana has undergone some spatial reprogramming since the first Handworks ten years ago(!) so I’m not too sure what it will be like this year, but there will almost certainly be several venues scattered about through the tiny village.

See you in Amana!

Splittin’ Away On The Firewood Pile

Pretty much every day that is not inclement here on the homestead sees at least a few hours of firewood splitting and stacking, banking the inventory of BTUs for the coming winter(s).  With the splitting and stacking of most of the mountain I started with I’m almost to the point of needing to head up the hill in the 4WD S10 (220,000 miles) with my chainsaw and log handling devices to gather several more pickup loads of sawn bolts.

By the time I get the last two 48″ x 42″ pallets piled 6-feet high like the others we’ll be well set for next winter, especially once the new insulated windows actually arrive and get installed replacing every window in the cabin.

It’s just part of the perpetual routine in my life of ease, living the dream in the hinterlands.  If you are contemplating the life of a recluse on a remote homestead, your hobby and passion better be living the life of a recluse on a remote homestead.

Another Studleyphile Heard From

When the Studley tool cabinet book came out eight (!) years ago I had two great mutually exclusive hopes.  The first was that a new wealth of information about Studley would come flooding in.  The second was that the research I and my collaborators unearthed was pretty much all there was knowable about H.O.  It turned out the second was the correct one, in the intervening years not a single useful datum has come my way.  Sigh.  Or celebration.

On the other hand, the interest in Studley’s tool cabinet and tools has grown to the point where replicas of his tools are being made and, even more impressively, replicas of his entire cabinet and its contents have been fabricated and assembled.

The latest of these is by Fred Armbruster, who intersected with my pal Ripplin’ John at a Rose Engine Lathe get together, and at John’s behest forwarded some photos of his own Studley creation.  It is spectacular, as is Jim Moon’s recreation I wrote about in PopWood.  Fred’s is every bit as deserving of praise and admiration, and I look forward to the time when I can see it in the flesh and shake his hand.

Well done, Fred.  Simply magnificent!

Agenda 2023

While I do not undertake New Year’s Resolutions, and am not particularly orderly, I am an inveterate list maker.  MY EDC includes a pocket notepad and writing tool in addition to my Victorinox multi-tool and pocket flashlight, and that notepad is annotated several times a day.  Stuff to make, stuff to buy, chores to do, ideas to remember for later contemplation and writing, etc.  In the shop my list is really big, usually a 24″ x 48″ piece of white paneling (which needs to be replaced because I needed the original for another task) but for now I am using a page from my flip chart easel.

Not resolutions, just reminders.

The Ghost of Samuel Gragg Comes A’Callin’



2023 is shaping up as a pretty Graggtastic year in the shop.  I am in the home stretch of the copious pinstriping for one chair to be delivered.  A second client’s chair is fabricated but I have not yet begun the painting, and a third chair is about half built.


Then last week I was contacted by someone who has a Gragg chair with a broken arm, and based on the images they sent it just *might* be ONLY THE THIRD ORIGINAL, COMPLETE  ELASTIC ARM CHAIR known to exist!

There is the completely overpainted chair at the SI that I kept in my conservation lab for almost two decades, trying unsuccessfully to persuade the curator to allow me to remove the overpaint.

Then there is the beauty at the Carnegie in Pittsburgh, and the heavily restored one in Baltimore.  Unfortunately at the moment I cannot find my overall photos of the BMA chair but I have a large folder of detail shots.  As I understand it the Baltimore chair was missing some elements that were newly fabricated and integrated to make a whole chair.

This newest chair has a tricky repair to be made to the arm, and the putative client inquired about me making a new chair to make a pair with the old one.

On top of all of this excitement there are several new Gragg-ish projects on the drawing board.  Without revealing all the cards, consider that 1) we have a new grandson, and 2) the front porch of our Shangri-la cabin is rocking-chair-tastic.

Finally, I’m at long last seeing the light at the end of the tunnel for the “Build A Gragg Chair” video set.  Whether that light is sunshine or an oncoming train I cannot yet be certain, but I remain hopeful.  At the moment I am estimating the series to be more than a dozen half-hour-ish episodes, and Webmeister Tim and I are noodling the mechanism for the on-line offering.  I’ve had one faithful donor sending me a small contribution every month (THANK YOU JimF!), but we need to come up with a system for processing the $1.99(?)/episode charge without viewers crawling up my back as the episodes are released.  One approach I will almost certainly NOT take is a subscription model.  I’ve spoken to some subscription-based content creators and they are unanimous in their regret.  No matter how much content they create, their subscribers want more, and more often.   I want no part of that.

Now the only thing left in the equation is the resolution to the question, “Why am I not as energetic and productive in my 68th year as I was in my 28th?”

‘Tis a mystery.  Who knows, if I can solve that problem, I may even want to offer another Gragg chair workshop if there is interest.

(Re)Making A Parquetry Veneer Saw II

Remaking the Japanese mortising saw into a premium veneer saw was straightforward, but, as in the case of any instance where you must first break apart a perfectly functonal quality tool to do so, gave me pause.  I thought about it long and hard, even going to the extreme of ordering a duplicate tool.  In the unlikely case where the “remaking” went south I would still have the original capability.

The mortising saw business end did a great job at the cutting, but the long neck made the saw somewhat floppy and unwieldy for repeated and routine veneer work like the hundreds of cuts I will be making for the tool cabinet parquetry.  Somehow that floppy neck had to be dispensed with.  Once I settled on a simple strategy it was, like I said, straightforward.

I began by removing the bindings and set screw from the handle, which I then split along the blade tang with a sharp rap on a Sloyd knife.

The handle, being paulownia, cleaved instantly and cleanly, releasing the entirety of the metal blade.

Re-housing the tang to “remove” most of the floppy neck was a piece of cake.  Using the tang itself as the template I marked then excavated a pocket of the exact dimensions of it so the two halves of the handle could be reassembled to incorporate it.  I cleaned the tang and abraded it lightly, then reassembled the unit in the new configuration with epoxy.

To hold things steady until the epoxy set I wrapped the handled with some elastic tape and left it for two days.

Removing the tape revealed a now-perfect parquetry cutting saw.  Now all I need is a perfect set of sawing templates.

Stay tuned.

Too Much Space, Too Much Stuff

I’m not one to make New Years’ Resolutions.  I figure I either have the interest, temperament, and commitment to do something on its own or I do not.  (Mrs. Barn can absolutely confirm that I cannot be bullied, browbeaten, or guilted in to doing anything I do not want to do, no matter who gets offended.)  Making a statement about some goal at some arbitrary date on the calendar strikes me as nonsensical.  (It is sort of analogous to my apparent indifference to Christmas and Easter as religious commemorations despite being a devout Christian.  If I am a Believer, then incorporating the essence of the Incarnation of The Word and Resurrection of The Redeemer are part of my permanent personal makeup or they are not.)  Notwithstanding any “New Years’ Resolution,” in recent and future months, I have been/will continue to focus on a surmountable problem with the barn.  Actually, it is two interrelated problems, intertwined with a personal foible.

  1.  The barn is too big.
  2.  There is too much stuff in it.
  3.  I am not by natural disposition an orderly person.

The fact that I have so much space at my disposal (roughly 7,000 s.f. plus a 600 s.f. lumber storage barn just down the hill) there is no real constraint on my inventory of things.  Thus, the natural devolution of the barn’s contents is pretty much inevitable.  I find myself spending too much time trying to manage all the stuff inside these walls and am undertaking a low-intensity review of all those contents to decide which are integral and which are superfluous to being productive at the work bench or writing chair.

Not sexy, hardly compelling blogging, but an ongoing undercurrent until I can get to the point where I spend a lot more time being productive – making furniture, historic craft exercises, writing books and short stories – than I do “straightening up.”  Fortunately, I have some models for this undertaking.  My dear friends MikeM and MartinO are living examples of how to do this, how to manage too much stuff in too little space.  I will do my best to invoke their spatial genius as I pull this all together.

I have too much to do to pursue any other path.