Archive: » 2023 » July

Inspiration, or, Pictures From A (Real) Exhibition

We were recently blessed with another visit from our dear friends, Mr. & Mrs. Ripplin’John.  They spent several days with us at the cabin and in the barn, and one of the days we took a day trip to Richmond to tour the Virginia Museum of Fine Art, a mid-sized treasure in the museum firmament.  John is working his way through an MFA with an emphasis on decorative metal-and-wood objects, and the VMFA has a simply fantastic collection of Faberge along with a wonderful collection of 20th Century furniture.

These two remarkable pieces were only two of many hundreds from the Faberge and related decorative metal objects.  My fascination with the collection and the ambient light levels discouraged me from taking many pictures in these galleries.

There were several captivating vignettes/galleries of Art Nouveau furniture, including this eye popping but hopelessly impractical chair by Carlo Bugatti, uncle of the car designer.

Just around the corner from that chair was this bedroom suite (I cannot remember at this moment whether it was from Galle or Marjorelle),

and this “office” or parlor set by an artist whose name does not come to mind at the moment.  In fact the entire collection is an expertly assembled compilation of all the familiar names, but as I sit here I cannot instantly recall all of them.

Out in the hallway were these spectacular objects, including a bust by the incomparable Alphonse Mucha and the figurine lamp that is so vibrant you can almost sense the wind billowing the fabric around the model, a la Cyd Charisse in Singing in the Rain.


On the other side of the hallway were many more galleries with equally spectacular furniture and accessories.

This Ruhlmann cabinet is every bit breathtaking as you would expect.

One of the pieces evoked a bittersweet memory.  Several years ago Mrs. Barn and I were at an outdoor auction and I saw one of these Stickley box chairs from across the parking lot, and I took off like a bird dog.  My first thought was, “I hope I’m the only person who knows what this is.”  (The chair was in literally “as new” condition, and I say that like almost never, as though someone bought it a hundred years ago and then put it in the closet ever since.  I mean it was in perfect, original condition.  *Every part* of it, except for the feet which were sitting in a mud puddle at the time.)  My second thought was, “Given that this is a ‘cash only’ auction, how much money did we bring?”  In the end the second consideration was moot (~$1500) as the sale price was close to $8000, which answers the first question.

As a total Mackintosh fan-boy I absolutely loved this ensemble of a fireplace surround, a diminutive shelf clock, and several of his chairs.  This chair was my favorite.

A grand day for sure, and I can recommend the museum especially for its furniture collections.  Plus, there is no admission fee!

Roubo T-Shirts

At last week’s Introduction to Historic Woodfinishing my “I Roll With Roubo” shirt got some admiring comments, so I thought I would post it again here.  You can get your own at

My first Roubo shirt was a gift from the designer Jonathan Szczepanski, I like it so much I bought two more.  I have no other connection to the enterprise.


Salvaging(?) 151

Given my possession of a full case (~3 gallons) of 151 proof grain alcohol, useless for much of anything but cleaning brushes, I decided to try to salvage it if possible.

Mixing some varnish with pure 151 was the obvious place to start.  I mixed up a pint of the shellac lemon resin as normal for a 190 mix, then let it sit for several days to see if it would go into solution.

It did not.

I next added some 190 to the pseudosolution, estimating that a proportional addition would result in a roughly proportional increase in the proof/solubility parameter.  By that metric I was able to achieve complete solvation around the 170 proof level.  A couple days at that level and I had a container of shellac varnish.

I brushed it onto a sample panel with vaguely successful results.  The first application, in particular, had simply horrible brush-feel, and the result was not promising.

But, with stubborn determination I applied another half dozen coats in a two hour period, and two days later it had fused into something resembling a finish.  It would not have been an acceptable surface for a typical finishing project, but I charged ahead to see what, if anything, could be resultant from taking the exercise to completion.

With the brushed out surface cured for a few days, I scraped it over half of the panel surface, then detailed it with my “go to” step of rubbing it with Liberon 0000 steel wool and paste wax, then buffing the surface after a couple hours.

The end result was not awful.  It doesn’t mean that I’ll be using much 151 proof grain alcohol in varnish making, but its’s good to know that I could use it if I really needed to.

Aiming for Amana

With my final teaching for the year now completed (more about that in a coming post) and the yardwork slowly tapering off, I am very much looking forward to returning to the shop pretty much full-time in the near future.

One of the targeted activities is prepping for Handworks in Amana, Iowa, over the Labor Day weekend.  If you have any interest in handtool woodworking, you would find it sorta like a cross between Woodstock and a San Fransisco open air drug market, but for tools.

Weighing and packaging 2-lb bags of #1 Lemon shellac flour. Ask me the story about this some time.

A tub o’ “gold dust.”

Yesterday while putting away my supplies and workpieces from the Introduction to Historic Woodworking workshop I soon pivoted to packaging up a quantity of my #1 Lemon Shellac flour for resale there.  I’d had a bag on the bench to get some packaged for the workshop, and it was easier just to repackage the rest rather than haul it back downstairs.  I will ask Mrs. Barn to do her thing with melting and casting the beeswax bars, I’ll make another several batches of shellac wax and my Blend 31 bars, my polissoir-maker is working diligently to get me enough inventory for Amana…

Workshop Prep

For the past three weeks I’ve been spending all my available shop time preparing for next week’s Introduction to Historic Woodfinishing workshop over the mountains at Joshua Farnsworth’s Wood and Shop school.  If you have ever traveled to teach a workshop you know how involved it can be to assemble and pack all the requisite supplies and syllabus exercises for each student, all the more complicated since you won’t be “at home” and could go into the next room for anything you forgot to have set out.

Workpieces for a dozen exercises, brushes, resins, waxes, polissoirs, solvents, abrasives, scrapers, rags of a dozen different types, cases of jars, etc,, etc., etc.  I have not counted them precisely but at this point I would guess I am closing in on 20 bins of materials.  Were I so inclined I could create a giant artistic collage in the driveway and crank up Set The Controls For The Heart of The Sun.  Unless you are of a certain vintage that last reference is probably just gibberish.

While I have made headway in my battles to find acceptable and affordable plywood to use as exercise workpieces, not great but better (good plywood for class exercises would raise the per-pupil materials cost to well over $200 instead of the ~$75 it is now) so instead this time I grabbed some pieces of mahogany and cherry from my stashes of “pieces too small to really make stuff from” and resawed and planed them so each student could have at least some of each.  Pad polishing on inferior plywood just doesn’t cut it.

Tomorrow after church I will load my pickup to the gunwales and head back into civilization to set up, then begin teaching at 9AM Monday.

I Want These

This is the most astounding demonstration of tortoiseshell welding I’ve ever seen.

Oh, and I want a pair of these spectacles, notwithstanding the cost (gotta be at least a couple grand) or legality (proscribed within the USA).

This one is cool, too.

I see these videos have been around for a while, so apparently the YouTube algorithm is getting to be more on my wavelength.  I’m not sure if that is encouraging or horrifying.

Winston Smith, call your office.

A Milestone of Sorts

Since my first post, 10-1/2 years ago, I’ve managed to create and upload 1,733 offerings to the blogosphere.  For almost all of those entries I have allowed comments to be made by you the readers.   Unfortunately, the robots and well-wishers from around the globe also post comments, mostly about how great the blog is, how great their counterfeit Gucci handbags, watches, sports jerseys, etc., are, and oh by the way, do I want a Russian/Ukranian/ Cambodian/ Malaysian mail-order bride?  Now, I love the people of Russia, Ukraine, Cambodia, and Malaysia as much as the next guy, but…

The number of these heartfelt and generous offers in the aggregate is well in excess of 100,000.  It warms my heart as you can imagine.   Admittedly, I cannot dispositively confirm the content of many/most of these offers because they are in Cyrillic, Arabic, Cambodian, Korean, or Greek alphabets, none of which I read, or in the standard Western alphabet but composed in a language I do not understand.  My filter works pretty well but since a couple of my commenters’ contributions always end up in the Junk/Spam file regardless of how I make the settings, so I always have to scan the Junk/Spam folders to make sure there are no legit comments there.

But my post about grain alcohol garnered several real replies, which brings the total number of honest-to-goodness comments to 800 over the life of

Let the celebration begin!

Quoting Homer Simpson…

“D’oh!”  Followed immediately by a forehead smack.

Last spring while visiting my brother in The Free State of Florida, where liquor stores sell 190 proof grain alcohol (locally even West Virginia[!] has become a nanny state that will not sell 190 at retail stores), we moseyed up to the corner liquor store so I could get a case.  I grabbed a 1.75L jug of Everclear 190 and told the clerk I wanted, along with another whole case, which he dutifully loaded up for me.

During the recent Historic Woodfinishing workshop at the barn I opened the case and to my very great distress discovered that the knucklead clerk and the inattentive customer provided me with 7 liters of 151 proof of grain alcohol, useful for nothing much at all.  At best it is really expensive brush cleaner, although a recent trip to the hardware store revealed that denatured solvent alcohol is running $25+ per gallon.  That stuff really is suitable only for cleaning brushes.

Maybe I can figure out how to use this stuff for some varnish making,

Stay tuned.


Comme Si, Comme Sa

Six weeks ago I had, according to Blue Cross/Blue Shield, my 23rd eye operation.  Fortunately, like a few of them this one was laser work, as the doc was opening up the pressure port on the rear wall of my eyeball, to facilitate lower intraocular pressures made necessary by my advanced glaucoma.  (They say you cannot feel ocular laser oblation.  “They” do not tell the truth.)

Yesterday was my follow-up appointment.  Unfortunately one of the other doctors in the clinic was sick so my waiting time was four hours.  I didn’t really have an option as we were 2-1/2 hours from Shangri-la.  Anyway, the particulars of the post-op evaluation were exceedingly good.  My eye pressure was reduced by more than 20% (this was the second iteration of this procedure, so the benefit was compounded), and even more remarkable, my vision had improved by one full line on the chart.  Still, while the acuity was increased the clarity did not.  The best analogy I can make is that in my dominant eye the vision is like looking at a scoreboard after evening fog moves in.  I can still make out the numbers but the overall effect is pretty hazy.

All in all, not a bad day.

Captivating (Although It Could Just Be Me)

I am a sucker for anything to do with artisanal brush-making, and this one on fabricating urushi lacquering brushes had me from the get-go.

The only way it coulda been better if there was another one. Oh wait, there is.

And another…

In fact, in the year-plus since I really browsed deep into urushi videos on youtube there is a whole new inventory of them, including these really cool ones about lacquer brushes.