The Starting Point

While undertaking some recent reorganization of my basement workshop in Elderbarndottir’s former house (she got married in November and moved to her husband’s house) I came across this nostalgic and beat-up picture from early 1977, hiding behind one of the shelving units.  This French secretaire was my first really high-profile/high-value furniture restoration project at Schindler & Son of the Palm Beaches, where I started working in late 1974.  Unfortunately I did not take any detailed pictures of projects at this point of my career – had this happened once I was a museum conservator the project would have been documented with hundreds of photographic images to go along with the written reports.  I probably took a picture or two of the interior, it was spectacular.  Bat that was almost 50years ago and cannot recall that detail.

Somewhere I have a picture of a Riesener cabinet from the same client, but that picture has not turned up yet.

Prior to this I did a lot of run-of-the-mill restoration for “ordinary” antiques along with a boatload of custom finishing and refinishing; before Schindler’s I was a “scratch and dent man” at a couple of furniture stores.

This project arrived in pieces in the back of Ambassador So-and-so’s Mercedes station wagon.  The secretaire bore the inventory stamp of the Chateau de Saint Cloud.  It should come as no surprise that the culture from which the word bureaucrat is derived should be punctilious about household inventories, but there you have it.

Over a period of a couple weeks, I reassembled it and made repairs to the rosewood and tulipwood veneers, then finally a couple of days of shellac pad polishing.  “Pop” Schindler came almost every day to watch and guide me, it was on this project that he introduced me to hot hide glue.

This was a seed for my fascination with exquisite European furniture, especially of the French variety (along with our company’s work at the Wrightsman estate in Palm Beach and their furniture collection), and was truly the acorn from which my fascination with Roubo sprouted.  It was also the prompting for me to embark down the career path of conservation; I entered that stream in 1981 at Winterthur Museum while I was a student in college.

Workbench Wednesday – Tim’s Walnut Bench Finale

Our plan from the beginning of Tim’s bench-building visit was to fabricate what was essentially a kit, since everything had to fit as individual pieces into his compact station wagon for the trip home.

Our final day together was spent sorta assembling the bench to make sure it fit together the way we wanted.  Since it was a split-top Roubo, we could each work on one half of it at different work stations.  This was Tim’s first big woodworking project so I let him do much of the work.


In the end we screwed some temporary cleats to the underside of the slabs in order to get it up on its feet, and mounted Tim’s piano maker’s vise for the obligatory pictures.

The rest of the work, installing the stretchers and cross battens and trimming the legs to length, will be accomplished by Tim once he gets back home.

We made exact measurements prior to beginning the construction so it all fit into his little station wagon, just barely clearing the rear hatch and dashboard.

And with that he was on the road back home to work on completing the bench as time allows.

NB – Tim has been making steady progress but the terminus has not yet arrived.

Featured and Hacked

During Handworks 2023 I was able to chat with Youtoobers Rex Krueger and James Wright about their channels (I am a subscriber to both and you should too).  They were very encouraging about my ideas for producing less formal at-the-workbench videos.

Yesterday James’ video featured polissoirs prominently and was an enjoyable romp through the various techniques underneath the umbrella of French Polishing.  My only correction to the content would be that my wax blends are beeswax and shellac wax, not beeswax and shellac.  But certainly the effort was earnest and almost entirely on the mark.  Well done and thank you, James.

Coincidentally(?) while James was steering people toward this web site, the web site itself was partially hacked.  Not the content, but rather the search and redirect from the Dark Star, a/k/a Google.  Late yesterday afternoon I began getting emails and texts telling me that trying to get to this site from Google resulted in the searchers being deposited in a gaming/gambling site.  I contacted Webmeister Tim who got right on it and had the situation resolved as soon as he got home to his computer.  Still, it made for a restless night as I wondered how deep the intrusion was.

Is it any wonder that I have long considered compewder hacking to be a capital offense.  I am not kidding.  And yes, I know what “capital offense” means and implies.


Workbench Wednesday – Tim’s Walnut Bench 3

Chopping mortises and fitting tenons.

I am fairly confident that had Roubo’s contemporaries owned Shinto rasps, they would’ve used them That’s my story and I am sticking to it.

That is all we did, all day.  That, and listen to music.

Then, with the gentlest taps possible we put the pieces together for the rear half.

Since the whole thing had to be disassembled for the trip home we made little effort to get it, well, all together.  We did just enough to know that it could go together once it got there.


Workbench Wednesday – Tim’s Walnut Bench Part 2

There’s actually a bit of overflow from Day 1 but this is mostly about Day 2 activities.

The regions of epoxy/sawdust fills had hardened, and then flattened with a variety of tools like Surform, Auriou, and Vixen files and rasps.

We started off by spacing the legs on the top.  This was easy enough as Tim was going to use his sublime Studleyesque piano-maker’s vise as the tail vise for the bench (of all the piano makers’ vises I’ve seen it is the closest one to Studley’s).  We set that in place and laid out the leg joints accordingly to be symmetrical.

Tim was so taken with this German horned toothing plane I made sure to send it home with him. I liked it a lot too, but I have another dozen toothing planes.  Still, if I find another one like that one…

Since I do not possess the industrial scale machines to flatten and square the slabs we had to do all that by hand.  Our goal was not to accomplish pristine smooth slabs but rather get them square, flat and true, at least in the regions of the joinery.  For the most part this was done with scrub and toothing planes, the final surfacing will be done by Tim next spring after the bench has been up on its feet through the winter.

Once again, with timbers this massive the Roubo winding sticks were worth their weight in gold.  This started out with a wind of ~1/8″ and is now just a whisper from finished.


Once the first slab was trued we really got to work.  I did the layout for the joints and cut the dovetail shoulders, demonstrated the first mortise and dovetail and Tim got to work on them while I worked on the other slab.

This is a favorite picture of two stout fellows hard at work during the hottest week of the decade, music blaring throughout the atmosphere.

Up next: fitting joints.

Workbench Wednesday – Tim’s Walnut Bench Day 2

[Sorry, I forgot to post this yesterday — DCW]

With the overnight gluing of the leg and stretcher elements successful, we undertook their preparation for the joint cutting to come.

My little 4″ Makita jointer/planer combination was a priceless jewel in the process, squaring and flattening the edges.

We dragged my beloved Ryobi lunchbox planer out into the driveway to true all four edges, saving the planer shavings for use later in the day.

Tim set to work cutting all the elements to approximate length, cleaning up the ends so we could start cutting the double-tenon ends.

With one end established I laid out the three sections of the top joints, two tenons and one central open mortise.

The lines of the mortises were cut on the bandsaw.

The waste material was removed with mallet, chisel, and brute force.  My technique is to drive down along the base of the joint, then split out a half inch of waste at a time from the end grain.

While Tim was working on the open mortises I cut the dovetails on the outer corners.

It was then time to turn our attentions to the one corner of the slabs that needed to be built up due to the wain edge of the slab.

I sized the area with a diluted solution of West System epoxy thinned with alcohol for greater penetration.

I made a coffer out of a box and taped it in place.

With that corner “face up” we had a perfect form to fill the void.

I mixed some West System epoxy and thinned it with alcohol, then saturated a pile of planer shavings to make a fill material which was stuffed into the void.

One final drizzling of the thinned epoxy and a last sprinkle of shavings completed that task and it was left to harden overnight.

Thus endeth Day 2.

Webmeister Tim’s Workbench – Day 1


I first met Webmeister Tim during my research for the H.O. Studley tool cabinet book, probably around 2012 or 2013.  I got an email from a fellow who said, “Hey, I think I’ve got a vise like the ones you are talking about.”  I arranged to meet him in person at a diner in southern Maine and sure enough, he had a vise much like the ones about which I had been waxing ecstatic.  Tim was a wood turner but not yet a full-spectrum woodworker, so he allowed me to borrow his vise to study, and eventually, to display in the 2015 exhibit that coincided with Handworks 2015.  Of all the piano-lakers’ vises I’ve seen his is the closest to Studley’s.

Our agreement was that he would come and get it, “Whenever.”

Well, after more than a decade of long-distance friendship, including dozens of phone calls relating to the business of the website, which he now steers, “Whenever” finally occurred last month.  Finally aligning the stars of our respective lives, he was able to come to Shangri-la and spend a week with us in the Virginia hinterlands.  It was truly a great time of fellowship and productive work together.

Our focus for the week was to build him a heritage workbench that would last the rest of his life and probably any eventual grandchildren and great-grandchildren as well.  The raw material for the bench was my slabbed black walnut, the style of the bench a split-top Roubo.

I worked him really hard during the week, beginning with hand sawing the almost 5″ thick slabs to length.

There were a couple of regions of the slabs needing attention, so we saturated them with diluted West System epoxy and walnut sawdust, followed by a top sprinkling of sawdust on top to provide a good surface for final finishing when it got to that point.

I did not have slab stock for the legs and stretchers, so we had to laminate them from black walnut cut from the same tree and some vintage stock I had in my lumber barn.  For the newer stock we ran them through my little Ryobi 10″ planer that has been serving me well for about 35 years.

For the vintage stock from my barn, they had been planed eons ago so all they needed was a quick scrubbing with a wire brush to remove any debris and freshen up the surfaces for gluing.

Then glued-up they were with T3 to accommodate any situation the bench might find itself in the future.

Thus endeth Day One of the Great Webmeister Tim Bench Build.


For the past week I’ve been undertaking a deep clean/archaeology of the barn required by the upcoming Historic Finishing workshop.  Given that I’ve only had one workshop in the classroom in the past four years, the disarray was considerable given that I do not possess the tidiness gene.  In part it has been like Christmas as I discovered a lot of things I knew I had but could not put my hands on, including the machete Mrs. Barn had requested for some of her heavier weeding.

Today the 1952 tune “Twisted” by Annie Ross, written for and first performed by Lambert, Henricks and Ross, was running through my mind.

The reason?  A piece of I tree that featured in the first Roubo book a dozen years ago.  To illustrate the sawing methods described in L’Art du Menuisier I made both a saw and saw bench in a similar configuration to those Roubo illustrated, then my friend Craig and I photographed ourselves sawing the trunk of a plum tree that had died in the back yard a few years previous, and the harvested trunk had been air drying under cover for several years ever since.

Well, I came across one of the half trunks today and was quite startled at the degree to which it had twisted in the years since.  It was almost three inches out-of-plane.  At the time we finished, the saw plane was straight, or at least as straight as we could make it.

Wood can be fickle.


Workbench Wednesday: A Slab for Tim

When my friend Sam, a restoration carpenter, bought a portable sawmill he volunteered to practice on the walnut logs from the tree my pal Bob and I felled a few years ago (as a lifelong logger/timberman Bob did all the felling with great expertise, I did the watching and cleaning up after).  Though the walnut tree was a beauty, it was a beauty that cast an impenetrable shadow on one of Mrs. Barn’s prized gardening locations.

Nix one walnut tree.

For the last eighteen months the sawn walnut has been sitting in the middle of the large room on the main floor of the barn, awaiting the next chapter in its journey.  That journey will come to fruition later this summer as Webmeister Tim will be coming to the barn for a week-long visit and our project for the time will be building him a workbench.  He is a turner moving into hand tool bench work so we need to make sure he has a proper bench.

Although the slabs resultant from that felling and milling are not fully dried — the traditional rule of thumb was “one year per inch,” which means another couple of years to reach “air dry” — I think that they are far enough along that trajectory to allow us to move forward with making his bench.

NB: here in the mountains there are old-time timbermen who swear by a different rule for seasoning wood.  For them, the time is “one year for the first inch, two more years for the second inch, three more years for the third inch,” and so on.  By that measure these four-inch-plus slabs need at least another half-decade to be “air dried.”  However, given the structure and features of a slab-top bench I think it is safe to proceed.

To get to that point I am prepping the thick walnut slab stock.  Since I had to rip edges of the slabs in place I dusted off my 10″ Milwaukee portable circular saw for the first time since I can remember.

Sawing from one face only the saw got to within about 3/4-inch of a through-and-through cut so I finished up with my venerable rip saw.

I wound up with two beautiful half-slabs, en toto ~21″ x 4-1/2″ x 84″.  I’ll leave them alone now until Tim comes and we can move forward, depending on the details he wants for the bench.  I don’t have any machinery to handle something like these so there will be plenty of hand work from this point on.

In the meantime I am thinking about slabbing the white oak timbers that have been sitting outside the barn for several years.  The smaller one on top of the pile is 8″ x 15″ x  102″.  The bigger ones are a full 10″ x 15″ x 125″.

Stay tuned on that one.

Back At It (Roubo)

After a hiatus Michele and I are back at the Roubo grindstone.  We are now looking forward to two or three or four years of near-constant work.   Notwithstanding any reservations, we are determined to bring our final three sections of this monumental project to conclusion.  Admittedly, if the ongoing social and political exploration of the boundaries of decadence brings about the ultimate collapse of Western Civilization, and the interwebz with it, that could be a serious glitch.  As long as we can communicate easily between locations in the Virginia mountains, northern Vermont, and southern France, we will charge ahead.

In the aggregate, these three final sections — interior carpentry (windows, doors, stairs and floors); garden carpentry (surprising amounts on discussion of carving and design principles); and carriages (perhaps the coolest content of the whole encyclopedia) — are roughly 20% larger than Roubo on Marquetry and Roubo on Furniture combined.  LAP has indicated they want the whole pile all at once, so we are about to go “radio silent” for this portion of our working lives.  I expect to post approximately zero times over the next couple years on this project.

At the moment my task is to photograph the text pages from my Leonce Laget facsimile set, then to crop and reformat those pages before sending them along to Michele to work from.  At that point our well-established process will play out.

  1.  text page images to Michele
  2. rough first draft translation back to Don for heavy editing and workshop-friendly annotations and ancillary content
  3. round-robin between Michele and Don until we are both satisfied with the completed draft
  4. completed draft translation and text page images sent off to Philippe (note to self, contact Philippe; he is now living back in France)
  5. send “final” draft to LAP, to begin the round robin with them.

Unless there is a compelling reason, there is no need for me to blog any more about this until we are much nearer the finish line.