Amana Action Report

Beginning even before “Starting Time” we were inundated with a constant stream of visitors and the booth (the cracks in the barn door opening was soon breached by boomer sooners, who were eventually told to get out until 10 AM).  I was working one aisle, John the other, and engagement was spirited.

As I alluded in previous posts I had decided to give two 45-60-minute demonstrations of taking a parquetry panel from the rough to glossy, including the preparation and use of the  polissoir.  Each of the four demos was well attended — 15-20, which was all about the capacity of my 10′ x 10′ booth — with the observers arriving early and staying until the end.   The 11AM demos were focused on cold beeswax finishing with true French polishing (wax and water), while the 3PM demos were all about molten beeswax followed by spirit varnish pad polishing.

Not much more to say or show visually, we were engaged with the flowing audience non-stop through the day, and we did not catch our breath and sit on out stools until 4.50, ten minutes before closing.

Awaiting show time Saturday morning.

Our booth was a perfect location for the Roy Show, but he stood exactly behind the post in the center of the frame.

The only difference in Day 2 was the huge crowd at the beginning of the day as the doors were opened at 9.30 in advance of the presentation by Roy Underhill.  The rest of the day Saturday was much like Friday, with the only difference being that each of us were able to do an hour long walkabout to visit all the other venues and toolmakers.  I’ll show some pics from my walkabout next time.

Amana – Festhalle Setup

Early on I had decided to incorporate demonstrations to the program at Handworks, and in order to have something on which to demonstrate I made a set of parquetry panels.


I’d begun these some weeks before, you can follow their development in my earlier post about Bandsaw Parquetry.  One of the points I was trying to get across was the importance of surface preparation so I was going to start with some surfaces that REALLY needed preparations.

Finally, after two weeks of assembling stuff to go, two days of playing TETRAS loading, unloading, and reloading the truck full to the brim, off we were.  After two long days of driving, we got to Cedar Rapids for a good night’s sleep before heading down to Amana for the Handworks set-up.  I wish I could’ve said confidently that I prepped thoroughly and tied up all the loose ends but the odds were near 100% that several hours into the set-up or Handworks itself I would remember something I left behind.

John and I showed up bright and early for setting up, the building opened at 9AM and we were there around 9.15.  I think we were the first booth to be completely set up

Here is a walk around the Festhalle during the set up time.  Upcoming posts will document other spaces and activities for Handworks.

I was in my usual spot, on the center row near the Lie-Nielson booth up on the stage, and between Jeff Hamilton in front and Gary Blum to my rear, with Matt Bickford across the aisle on one side and Patrick Leach on the other.  I took the picture of the main space from the stage, where L-N set up very late in the day.  While they were working on their display Tom Lie-Nielson stopped by and we had a nice long chat.

My setup took only a couple hours, leaving lots of time to visit with friends from years past.  I especially cherished the time with the Bickfords, folks who are definitely on my wavelength.

Across on aisle were Matt Bickford and a chairmaker I did not know (there were actually a lot of exhibitors and tool makers I did not know),

and across the other aisle was Patrick Leach’s seductive vintage tool emporium.  Amazingly enough, I escaped the weekend without buying a single tool.

Immediately behind/adjacent to me was Gary Blum with his innovative workbenches and accessories, and hand planes.

Konrad Sauer was just down the way with his spectacularly high-performance planes,

then Lost Art Press.  I think Gramercy Tools was between them but had not set up when I was walking about.

Benchcrafted was the booth greeting the visitors immediately on entry.  It makes sense, they’re the ones who pulled the whole event together.

Back in the corner was innovative genius Jeff Miller who was showing off this device that hollowed out bowls.  It was the coolest thing I saw at the event.  Over his shoulders you can see the Lee Valley booth, but they had not begun setting up yet.

Rounding out the Festhalle setups from that time was Ron Brese, closest to Benchworks at the other end of the center row.

With the rest of the day free we had a chance to go visit all the other booths in the three other venues, although some of the booths were not ready until late in the day or even the next morning.

We were girding our loins for a wild couple of days starting at 10AM the next morning.

Historic Woodfinishing Workshop – Day 2

Day 2 began with scraping the large panels with razor blades to get them really smooth, followed by a final “inning” of 5 or 6 coats of shellac varnish, giving a total application of about 15 coats.  These were then set aside for final rub-out at the conclusion of Day 3.

We then moved on to brushing a few coats of varnish on turnings and embossed moldings to introduce the notion of using an oval tip brush on undulating surfaces.  The right tool makes all the difference.

Smaller panels were varnished in preparation for further exercises; the plywood panel was for water/wax polishing (we never got to that one since we ran out of time) and the mahogany panel was for spirit varnish pad polishing.

The final event of the day was applying, scraping, and buffing a molten beeswax foundation to these solid cherry panels in preparation for subsequent pad polishing.  Prior to the advent of plaster-like grain fillers in the late 19th century, beeswax was the grain filler for almost all glossy finishes.

It might not sound like much but these activities did fill the whole day.

Thus endeth Day 2.

Copal Varnish (repost from Steve Voigt)

My friend, planemaker Steve Voigt, has joined me in the rabbit hole of historic varnishes.  His latest adventure is about making copal varnish, and you can follow it at his blog.

Highly recommended.

Making Copal Varnishes



Another Woodfinishing Workshop in the Books – Day 1`

I recently had the great opportunity to teach my 3-day Introduction to Historic Woodfinishing workshop at Joshua Farnsworth’s Wood and Shop school.  I have probably taught this class twenty or thirty times, having settled on a base syllabus long ago but continuing to tweak it a smidge every so often.  I’ll post it in one of the upcoming blogs once I can figure out how to make a screen capture image.

The first day is mostly consumed with my (in?)famous exercise of finishing a 24″ x 48″ piece of birch plywood with a 1-inch brush, beginning the day’s activities with five or six coats of 1-1/2 lb shellac.  (sorry, I forgot to take pics of this step)

This is followed in short order with exercises in using pumice blocks to “sand” the surfaces, polissoirs to burnish the surface, and a generous application of molten beeswax.

Late in the afternoon the big panels are sanded lightly to remove any fuzz or debris, followed by another five or six coats of the same shellac.

The day was completed with some wax scraping, partly in preparation for processes yet to come.

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.

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.

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.


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.

Pictures From An Exhibition (of Wood Finishing)

One of the problems(?) of teaching workshops is that I often get so involved that I fail to take adequate pictures of the goings on.  In the case of the recent wood finishing workshop at the barn I failed to take a single picture, but student Pat took some with her phone and forwarded them on to me.  So, with gratitude to her I present them to you.

Like almost all those who encounter my collection of shellacs, she was captivated.  How could you not be?

One of my demonstrations was cold rubbing wax onto undulating surfaces, then dispersing said wax by melting it with a hair dryer and buffing it with a rag.  (Historically the wax melting would have been accomplished by passing a hot iron over the surface) The result is, to my senses, a pleasing one.

Here is her walnut panel in the early stages of pad polishing, a/k/a/ “French polishing.”  The molten wax grain filling has been completed and the first pass of a loaded shellac pad has been applied.

One of the most effective exercises in the workshop is building up an excellent shellac finish on a 24″ x 48″ plywood panel with a 1″ brush, then polishing out each quarter with differing abrasive/wax regimens.