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The Barn on White Run

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Where modern craft meets the past.
Updated: 58 min 25 sec ago

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Making Sandpaper

Mon, 10/16/2017 - 4:50pm

In preparing for the sessions at The Anthony Hay Shop of CW I decided at the last minute to toss in the materials needed to make sandpaper, not knowing whitener or not there would be any interest.  It turned out that a lot of the participants were indeed interested, and several told me a very common question from the visiting public was some variation of, “Did they have sandpaper in the old days?”

So I’m glad I had what was needed.

We started with moderate weight rag paper, albeit machine made, not hand cast (maybe next time).

Wetting the paper both sides relaxed it so it would pucker less when the hot glue was applied to one side.

We were using 135 gws glue since it had plenty of adhesion properties plus was much more flexible than higher grades, making it more usable since it would not fracture when bent.

Once the glue has been on the paper long enough such that it is tacky but not wet, the surface is sprinkled with fine frit, the ground glass that was often used as the abrasive for some ancient sandpapers (hence the common terminology of “glass paper”).  You want the glue tacky enough to adhere the frit, but not wet enough to soak into it and turn it into a big chunk on the surface.

The glued sheet with frit is shaken or brushed so that the frit covers the whole surface, and the piece is set aside.  Once the glue has hardened adequately the excess frit is brushed or shaken off and the sheet is allowed to dry fully.

And voila’, you have a genuine new piece of antique sandpaper about 180 grit.

 

 

 

 

 

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Grain Filling 2

Thu, 10/12/2017 - 3:57pm

“Cold wax” grain filling with a rush polisher was integral to the finishing practices of the ancients.  It was primarily used to finish solid wood cabinetry as opposed to the hot wax method, which was generally restricted to fancier work like marquetry.

The process is so simple that there is almost no explaining to do.  The precursor step is to plane, scrape, and in some rare instances scour the wood with abrasives like sharkskin, glass paper, or horsetail rush.  Then,  the wood surface is scrubbed with  a block of beeswax until there is a generous, but not continuous, deposit.

Taking the fiber polisher in-hand the surface is rubbed with as much pressure and vigor for as long as you can manage, first working at a slight angle to the grain, then its opposite angle, then finally with the grain.  The friction developed at the point of contact between the tip of the polisher and the wood generates enough heat to turn the wax buttery and presses it down into the grain, filling it.

In some instances, as I had them do in this exercise, the surface is sprinkled with a colorant, usually powdered pigment or resin that has been ground into a fine flour.  In this case I had them use some raw umber pigment to accentuate the technique (in the real world the colorant would be selected to best fit the coloration of the wood).

When finished any excess wax would be scraped off then the surface buffed with linen and wool rags until there is a uniform gloss.

For most plain solid wood furniture and cabinetry, this actually sufficed as the finished surface and nothing more would be done.  You can see the resulting surface at the upper left corner of this sample board.

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Grain Filling 1

Wed, 10/11/2017 - 6:55am

One of the aspects of  finishing that has occupied the interests of woodworkers for centuries has been the quest for executing a smooth and glossy surface.  Part and parcel of that effort has been to diminish the texture of the wood itself, hence the need for grain filling.  Its importance and vagaries were such that I have introduced two disparate exercises into my teaching, both of which were pretty explicitly described in the historical literature.  As done by the ancients, the quest for a non-contaminating grain filler with both enough hardness and flexibility to fulfill the task led them to employ purified beeswax as the backbone for the fill material.

The first exercise was to prepare the base for spirit varnish pad polishing, sometimes known in our vernacular as “French polishing.”  In this instance the objective is to flow molten beeswax onto the surface, then scrape off any excess in readying for the pad polishing.  Historically they would have used a tool similar to a roofers’ soldering iron, albeit a bit more flattened at the end such that it resembles more closely something like our modern electric tacking iron.

 

 

So that is what I use.  First the molten wax is drizzled onto the surface by rubbing the hot iron against the block of beeswax, followed by working the iron over the entire surface.

When the entire surface has been saturated with molten wax, the heel of the iron is used to squeegee off any excess and the piece is allowed to cool.  Then using a scraper sans burr, the surface is cleaned fully down to the wood fibers.  Historically this scraper would have been steel or brass, but equally viable now is a piece of plexiglass with a nicely prepared edge.

With a final buffing with a piece of coarse linen or something similar, the end result is a surface ready for the spirit varnish pad polishing to come.

Book Signing at LAP Storefront

Tue, 10/10/2017 - 5:34pm

 

I’ve decided to trek to Covington KY this coming Saturday to sign Roubo and Studley books at the Lost Art Press storefront open-house (and pick up my own copies of the Deluxe version of the new Roubo volume).  I should be there from mid-morning through mid-afternoon if you want me to sign your book.

Actually, I’ll be there even if you don’t want me to sign your book.

Finishing Workshop @CW – Surface Prep With a Fiber Bundle

Mon, 10/09/2017 - 4:26pm

The hurdle of working out-of-order on some exercises was one the CW folks had no problem with, an accommodation I credit to their being interrupted almost minute-by-minute when the shops are open.  Apparently the concept of continuity is nearly irrelevant for much of their work.  I am particularly impressed with their ability to work in in such a crowded, dimly lit space.  I know I was having trouble photographing them.

One of the concepts I was trying to persuade them to incorporate into their work protocol was burnishing the surfaces with a bound bundle of plant fibers, a recent addition to my tool kit as a result of copying some of Roubo’s techniques employing a tool he called a polissoir.  The same tool is known across the globe, going back several centuries in the Orient and certainly known in Occidental workshops for almost as long, making it a perfect fit for their interpretation of the English mid-18th Century Anthony Hay Shop in Williamsburg.

I had plenty of sorghum polishers in hand so everyone got their own to prep and use.

As is always the case the results were impressive as the tips were prepped with a sheet of fine abrasive paper, and then the raw hand-planed surfaces rubbed with the smoothed bundle.

BTW, one of the videos I am thinking of shooting is titled The Compleat Polissoir, which will be a much more in-depth exposition on the topic than I addressed in my earlier video.

The prepped polissoirs were employed later on as we explored the role of wax grain filling.

Finishing Workshop @ CW – Brushing Exercise

Sun, 10/08/2017 - 6:29pm

The syllabus for a two or three day workshop is necessarily limited to those practices that can be accomplished within that time frame, excluding anything dealing with oil-based finishes.  Accordingly I restrict the materials covered to include only spirit varnishes and wax.

The first exercise begun is applying a premium brushed finish with shellac.  Since I have scads of it we used Lemon #1 shellac dissolved in either 190 proof grain alcohol or premium alcohol blends (I am testing a custom blend solvent sample from a proprietary manufacturer based on my input, and thus far it is looking good.)  We mixed our solution with the general proportions of one part powdered resin to two parts solvent, which yields a roughly 2 pound cut.

My technique of brushing includes a surprisingly small brush applying the varnish in sections arranged in a serpentine pattern over the complete surface, blending the margins of each sector along the way.  A detailed verbal description would take several paragraphs if not pages, you’ll just have to see me do it some time.  When done, if the starting point is not wet, repeat the application process until the starting point is still wet when you get to the end of the application.  I call this unit “one inning” of finishing,  which can be as many as a half dozen consecutive applications depending on the situation, and a complete brushed shellac finish usually takes three or four innings to get to the sublime.

Given the schedule for this workshop, the first inning was at the beginning of Day 1.

A light sanding of the first inning and the application of the second inning at the end of Day 1,  (note the wetness being ascertained via direct touch; if the surface is tacky, do it again.  If it is wet, you are done.)

 

and the second light sanding and the third inning at the beginning of Day 2.

With this approach we were able to get a great foundation of a hand-rubbed surface that glowed at the end of the workshop.

Stay tuned.

Finishing Workshop @ CW

Fri, 10/06/2017 - 3:33pm

Immediately in the aftermath of my frustratingly brief presentation at the last annual Working Wood in the 18th Century at Colonial Williamsburg, I received two invitations from Hay Shop Master Kaare Loftheim to return.

The first of these was for a two-day closed workshop for CW artisans last month where I would present demonstrations and hands-on exercises for my approach to historic finishing.  I was delighted to be there, as craftsmen from the Anthony Hay Shop, the gunsmith, the housewrights and joiners, and the wheelwright shops packed into the Hay shop for two days of intense work on transparent finishes.  Normally I like to make it a three day event, but two days was all they had so we worked with it.

Over the next several posts I will recount the exercises that are my normal syllabus.

Evolution of a Space and Project Concept

Mon, 10/02/2017 - 5:59am

The finished fourth floor was fairly late addition to the spatial configuration of the barn.  Originally I was content to leave it open all the way to the roof peak, providing almost 30 feet of soaring space from the main floor.

About 3-1/2 years ago Mrs. Barn suggested that I go ahead and finish off the entirety of the fourth floor instead of leaving it as some cobbled together staging for high work.  She being the smartest woman I know, I followed that advice.

I used the space for a subsequent Groopstock gathering but ever since it had served only as a place to put junk for which I could not find another home.  Ironically the completion of the floor deck made the space inside the barn seem even larger than before.

With the evolving ideas for undertaking video as a teaching tool, completing the space became a priority whose fulfillment was fairly straightforward.  One day with John and another by myself was all it took.

The video enterprise is less simple from a business perspective.  My very tight content model provides for professional production at a comparatively modest cost, but it is not free.  Even though I do not necessarily need to derive substantial revenue from video, it’s just a bit too expensive for me to treat it as a hobby to create any more than an occasional clip, and my vision of providing substantive learning resources was a fair bit more than that.  I am still mulling over a number of models for how to move forward with the project from a financial perspective.  They are by no means an exhaustive survey, mostly because my perspective on this is so limited.

The first option, and the one apparently favored by some woodworkers posting video on line, is to create product with essentially no production value or scripting, and simply give it all away via Youtube or Vimeo.  In some cases this works magnificently, but others, not so much.  Since I am committed to doing this first-rate if I do it at all, this was not something I gave any real consideration.  I might create short videos on occasion as free content that is not the route for fulfilling the objectives I have in mind.

Second is the option of trying to find advertisers or sponsors for the web site as a whole and/or the videos in particular.  I find advertising footprints on the web to be aggravating, and since my subject matter is so arcane it is probably not a likely avenue for me.

Third might be the option of placing the videos behind a subscription paywall available for members only.  Frankly I do not know enough about the technology and psychology involved, and need to converse with video bloggers who have trod this path.  I suspect that having a subscriber base renders one a complete slave to those subscribers who want more and more and more content.  Yesterday.  I subscribe to (and pay for) a couple news-ish podcasts, and while I appreciate and value the content it still sorta rubs me the wrong way for reasons I cannot fully identify.  I only hope it is not some incipient residue from living in an entitlement society.

Fourth, given the structure and content I am noodling for the videos, I am finding the Pay Per View concept to resonate most strongly with me.  I am envisioning a series of periodic videos produced at my own pace — about a dozen topics thus far — that are perhaps 90 to 120 minutes long, divided into quarter-hour-ish chapters.  Perhaps each chapter could be downloaded for 99 cents and the entire continuous video for $6.99-$9.99.  I’m pretty certain that this model would require teasers to be on Youtube and Vimeo.

Given my unfamiliarity with a lot of the attendant technology and marketing for these types of ventures, I am sure there are a multitude of creative ideas along these lines and I look forward to pushing back the boundaries of my own ignorance.

If you have any productive morsels to threw into the stew pot, let me know here to start the conversation.

Not Exactly MGM…

Fri, 09/29/2017 - 7:09pm

Mrs. Barn calls it ADD, I call it Hyper-curiosity.  Whatever it is, it means that sometimes I have a tough time turning my brain off, which in turn has an ancillary side effect of insomnia.  And, an inability to concentrate fully when I’m watching a movie or such (tonight it’s an Eastwood bullet-fest — obviously Mrs. Barn is out of town) and I usually have a note pad nearby to capture my fragmented musings.  A few of these and I have an idea, a few ideas and I have  concept, and a concept usually turns into a project of some sort.

Here are some landmarks on the conceptual map that is taking shape for one possible future project for The Barn based on observations, whimsy, and experience.  Consider the following:

  1. I’ve had the amazing opportunity over a great career spanning almost five decades that enabled aggressive learning and allowed/required creative, interdisciplinary  problem solving
  2. I retired five years ago with plenty of fuel left in the tank.  Since then I’ve published three books (with at least five more manuscripts in the pipeline, maybe even as many as a dozen if I get back to writing fiction), filmed three videos, and created a unique exhibit.
  3. Now freed from the immediacy of most deadlines (I’m still writing a ton, but the deadlines of the Roubo and Studley books were imminent and the Studley exhibit deadline was inflexible) and recovered from two serious injuries, I can now let my mind wander and creative juices flow unfettered

4. I have a big barn in a beautiful setting and have been encouraged to organize workshops to pass on what I learned over the years.  Those who have attended the workshops give me great feedback about the experience and the setting.

5. But, most folks are unwilling to come to The Barn for workshops, for what ever reason; distance, remoteness, time, topic.  Last summer two of the four workshops I had scheduled were cancelled due to lack of interest, this year it was three of five scheduled workshops cancelled.  I will probably never cease offering them, maybe just a couple every summer, but it’s pretty clear workshops at The Barn are likely not a big part of the equation going forward..

6. I still enjoy greatly transmitting to willing learners the stuff taking up space between my ears and energizing my hands.

7. I go places to teach occasionally, but my aversion to travel makes this an unlikely major component of my future plans.  Plus, I generally expect hosts/classes to compensate me similarly to conservation clients, and that is a deal breaker a lot of the time.  Think of it as the intersection between Opportunity Costs and Comparative Advantage.

8. I am comfortable speaking to audiences, whether the audience is people or cameras.  I hope my previous videos confirm that self-assessment.

9. A talented (and eager) young videographer has returned home to the hills after honing his craft at college and in commercial work.  Given that about 39,614 guys are out there making woodworking videos, some with negative production value or informational organization, I’m thinking there may be some fertile territory for our collaboration given his expertise and my idiosyncratic interests.

10. The cavernous fourth floor of The Barn ( 18′ x 38′ with 17′ cathedral ceiling) served mostly as an attic for the past few years.

With those things simmering in the pot, I have decided to turn the fourth floor into a video studio.  Mostly that involved cleaning out the stuff being stored there, doing a bit of painting, and finishing the wiring.  If nothing comes of this, at least I got the attic cleaned, painted, and wired.

Stay tuned.

More Ripple Molding Success

Thu, 09/28/2017 - 9:38am

While I was fussing with the Roubo bench, John was in the adjacent space being utterly productive in tuning up the Winterthur ripple molding machine.  His success was such that he was able to concentrate on running samples with a variety of the cutters that my long time friend Cor van Horne made when he built the machine.

Magnifique!

Our plan is for John and me to feature and demonstrate this machine at the upcoming Working Wood in the 18th Century conference at Colonial Williamsburg in early 2018.

Solving the Sticking Legs

Wed, 09/27/2017 - 5:43pm

As we left our intrepid adventure, all four legs of the FORP workbench were bound in place, unable to move fore or aft.  The effort to seat them with a hydraulic bottle jack and the weight of the building was inadequate but that episode opened an avenue for contemplation.  Namely, how about constructing a frame to capture both the feet of the legs and the hydraulic jack against the slab top?

Brilliant! sez I, and I set about making one such device from oak 6x6s and framing 2x4s.  I placed the lower 6×6 cross piece underneath the feet at one end of the bench and captured the bottle jack with the other 6×6 above the slab.  Good concept, poor execution.  The corners were pinned with 1/4″ lag bolts, which almost immediately bent to such a degree that the unit was not functional.

For the next iteration I ripped a pile of surplus 3/4″ CDX plywood into 5″ wide strips, the fashioned them into a more robust frame what was three pieces for the stiles and seven pieces for the beams, all glued and screwed with four 1/2″ carriage bolts holding each corner together.

I held my breath as I maneuvered the bench and the frame to their respective locations, placed the bottle jack directly over one of the legs  with a metal bar at the top to transfer the force to the frame and started pumping the lever arm.  The results were almost immediate and immensely gratifying as I worked my way around the bench from leg to leg.  With each new stroke of the handle the legs would be driven into the mortises about 3/16.”  In about 30 minutes I had all four legs seated and a huge note of thanks for the person who invented the portable hydraulic jack.

At “peak compression” I noted that even the seven-layer beam deflected almost a half inch due to the force.

Finally the bench was on its feet, with zero wobble and clearly no need for glue in the joints.  I installed the stretchers and the shelf, and having already completed the game of Tetris required to move it where it was going and the six steps of moving other things to make it happen, including four other workbenches to new locations,  with two 8-foot workbenches being hoisted to the fourth floor, and the 450 lb. FORP bench slid easily to its new home.

I will wedge the through-tenons next week and true the top next spring after it goes through the winter in its new, heated home.  I have not yet decided what to do about spacing the holdfast holes, or installing the planing stop and leg vise.

Stay tuned.  At least I now own a killer hydraulic press frame.

When The Barn Isn’t Heavy Enough

Tue, 09/26/2017 - 5:40pm

Getting back into the shop after harvesting juncus I was anticipating installing the legs on the French Oak Roubo Project workbench after having it wait on me for more than fours years.  The joinery was all done, the repairs completed, and all looked well.  The first few whacks on the bottom of the legs (the bench was upside down) produced pleasing results, and we flipped the bench over the finish driving them home from the top.

A few good moments of movement, then, nothing.  No mount of persuasion would budge the legs any more than about halfway in.  Even with my 12 lb. sledge nothing was moving.  On any of the four legs.  So I tried driving them back out to fiddle with the joint shoulders.  Nothing happened.  No matter how hard I beat on it.  A cold clammy sweat began prickling me all over.

Then a stroke of genius came down.  How about if I used a hydraulic bottle jack and placed it under the bridge between the two balconies with a 6×6 post filling the excess space?  I practically dislocated something patting myself on the back for that one.

The first attempts revealed the propensity for the jack force to lift up the bridge beams.  No big deal, I just cut 4×4 spacers to fit between the top of the bridge beams and the barn frame, essentially bring the entire weight of the barn into the equation.

I began to have some results as I levered the 12-ton jack and could hear and see the legs creeping into their mortises.  Then I started hearing creaks from places far away, and rapidly backed off when I realized that the process was literally inflicting enough force to potentially tear the barn apart.

Back to the drawing board.

Harvesting Juncus

Mon, 09/25/2017 - 5:04pm

In Roubo’s description of the finishing processes and materials included in L’art du Menuisier (and thus our To Make As Perfectly As Possible translation) he used the word “juncus” when referring to the fibrous plant from which the polissoirs were made.  At the time we had competing dictionary definitions and identifiers, “rush,” “grass,” and “straw” all showed up in one dictionary or another, and in the end I decided to simply use the word “grass” if I recall correctly.

Yannick Chastang, like my Roubo Project collaborator Philippe Lafargue, was trained in the full multi-year program at Ecole Boulle in Paris, chided me that Roubo chose the word “juncus” on purpose and I should have as well, at least in concert with the word “rush.”  Fair enough, but in retrospect since the word Juncus refers to a genus with over 300 species of grassy rushes I cannot beat myself up too much for that editorial decision.

I was talking about this to Mrs. Barn one day, she being a botanist/mycologist by training, and she said something like, “Well, you are in luck since we have Juncus effusus growing around the pond.”  She took me outside and sure enough, we have a number of fairly immature clumps at the shore of our pond.  When Daniel the stonemason was here building the hand-knapped dry-stack wall a few months ago he mentioned that he had loads of juncus growing around his pound and I was welcome to harvest as much as I wanted.

As a break from our activities during ManWeek John and I took the morning an went to Daniel’s place to harvest soft rush, or juncus.  We first spent a minute ogling his greenhouse.  Mrs. Barn will be most impressed with it when we visit again.

Then we headed to the pond and there was indeed a multitude of soft rushes ringing one end of it.  In less than an hour of harvesting we had the back seat of the Envoy completely filled.

Back at the barn we sorted and arranged the rushes to dry in the sun before moving them inside a few days later.

Yannick avers that polissoirs made from these fibers have a very different feel and performance than the ones I get made from sorghum broom straw.  After this material gets fully dry and I make some Juncus polissoirs I will be able to make my own determination on that.

Stay tuned.

Meanwhile In The Next Room: Tuning Up The Ripple Molding Machine

Fri, 09/22/2017 - 8:14am

While I was occupied with the Roubo bench slab in the center hall of the barn John was a dozen feet away in the classroom tinkering with the Winterthur ripple molding cutter.  When we gathered earlier as a group we identified a number of modifications that might serve to transform it into a reliable, precision machine.  I ordered all the materials and supplies we thought we needed for this undertaking so everything was ready to go for John to dive in to making these modifications a reality.

As a moment of review, the ripple molding machine is simply a contoured scraper being drawn across a length of wood, with either the scraper or the workpiece being undulated by some sort of linear pattern.  In short, a ripple molding is the result of controlled chatter.

In the case of this machine it is the cutter that remains fixed relative to the length of the frame, but which undulates up-and-down via a horizontal “follower” rod affixed to the cutterhead frame, pressing down on the pattern running the length of the machine frame.  We found in our earlier efforts that either the pattern or the follower ere being degraded and even destroyed by the very process of creating the moldings.

I do not know how this problem was dealt with historically, but for our applications we decided to replace the extant follower rod with a new rod and tiny roller bearings to instead ride along the pattern, transferring the up-and-down impulse without friction to the cutterhead.  John spent extensive time retrofitting the cutterhead to accommodate this modification without damaging or changing irrevocably the machine as it was presented to me.

After installing the new follower system John reported to me with a grand smile that it as a perfect solution to the problem, and would guide our design considerations as we move forward with new machines in both our futures.

 

 

Completing Workbench Mortises (a semi-misadventure)

Thu, 09/21/2017 - 5:17am

When I last left the oak Roubo bench 4+ years ago it was still quite  ways from being done (one of the great benefits of building a bench a la David Baron is that it can get done in a week).  The leg tenons were all cut, but only two of the dovetailed mortises and none of the rectangular mortises, so clearly a lot of drilling and chopping was in store.  There was nothing exceptional about the task or process other than it required flipping the top a couple of times to get the job done.  The last two dovetailed open mortises took about an hour to knock out.

Drilling and chopping the closed mortises went smoothly.  For three of the four.  And the fourth?  Grrrrr!  For some inexplicable reason I switched from a Forstner-style bit to a long auger bit for my drill, and it went astray.  Not just astray but bound tighter than a drum and would not move forward or backward (a theme that was not yet fully played out).  After a lot of fussing and fuming I was eventually forced to drive it through the other face using my sledge hammer.  Sheer brute force.  I was reminded of my late friend Mel Wachowiak’s quip, “With enough force you can pull he tail off a living cow.”  Or drive a 7/8 auger bit through an inch of solid oak.

This blew out a chunk of the face adjacent to the mortise, leaving me less cheery than you might expect, my anger being tempered only by the fact that all this damage took place on the underside of the slab. An hour later I had knitted together all the splintered wood and glued it back in place to leave overnight.  In the end it was a patience-expanding experience.

The good news is that the repaired place (epoxy and shavings filled) held up perfectly when chopping the mortise in that area.  The repair felt just like the adjacent wood and held a nice crisp corner with no chipping or fracture.

So now the mortises were all done and seemed to provide a nice snug fit, and I was looking forward to driving the legs home in the morning.

Oh, about that…

Virtuosity At A Whole Different Scale

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 4:38pm

My acquaintance Bill Robertson, maker of astonishing miniatures, is featured in a new TED Talk.  Watch, and prepare to be astounded.

Repairing the Underside of the FORP Bench

Wed, 09/20/2017 - 5:15am

With a little logistical cogitation John and I, both 60-somethings and neither of us mesomorphs, managed to maneuver the 300+ pound top of the French Oak Roubo Project workbench out into the light.  Immediately I was struck by both the magnificence of the 240(?) year old white oak slab, and the waney void adjacent to a glue line on the underside of it.  I suppose at one time I was just going to leave it as-is, an admittedly foggy memory going back four years, but given that one of the leg mortises needed to go right through the flawed region I decided instead to fill it.  I could have grafted in another piece of oak but instead fell back on a tried-and-true method of repair that I have employed several times in the past as it was especially well suited for a repair of this size.

I first sized (primed) the margins of the effected area with standard West System epoxy, thinned about 25% with acetone to get deep penetration.  One of the reasons for any potential epoxy failures, whether in adhesion, consolidation or filling, is that the epoxy does not penetrate adequately to knit the entire construct together nicely.  What then often happens also is that the density differences between the high density inelastic epoxy and the less dense, much more elastic wood, may result in a fracture at their margin when they are intimately bound together in a cyclic stressful environment.  The diluted epoxy addresses the first of these problems, the filling of epoxy with large wood flakes addresses the second.

 

In this case I ran a scrap of oak through the power planer to yield the typically large shavings you would expect from the machine.  I took handfuls of these shavings and packed them down into the void that had been previously primed with the thinned epoxy.

I then drizzled un-thinned epoxy on top of the wood flakes, then sprinkled on more shavings and packed them again through some wax paper.  I let the entire fill to harden overnight.

An additional feature of fills like this is that when the volume is large enough, the exothermic reaction of the epoxy hardening causes the adhesive to actually boil in place, aerating the  fluid as it hardens, reducing further the density of the hardened fill.  This is a very good thing.

The resulting repair is much closer in density to the wood, thus reducing the risk of a system fracture at their interface, and yields a repair that can be easily smoothed with a rasp or Surform tool.

The success of the repair can be clearly seen in the edges of the mortises I drilled and pounded through the slab and the repair (next blog post).  It held together wonderfully and had working properties nearly identical to the adjacent oak.

Insect Infestation and Salvaged Lumber

Tue, 09/19/2017 - 4:47am

With our ambitious agenda awaiting us for the Man Week at the barn, our first task was to begin the Tetris game that always seems to be on tap for any type of reorganizing the shop.  The ripple molding machine was easily accessible for John but I had to move a ton of stuff to get to the FORP I workbench parts that were behind the parts for all the other workbenches that are not yet finished, and a large pile of old oak salvaged from the shack deconstruction that we were working on when I crossed paths with the cranky wheelbarrow that put me out of commission for the better part of a year.

The first thing I noticed from the pile of salvaged oak was the presence of frass in between each piece of the stack.  It might have been old frass from a no-longer-active infestation or it might not.  It was not an extreme amount but I was not going to take a chance as I was going to be making furniture for the cabin from it.

I mixed up my typical batch of insecticide with a gallon of marine anti-freeze and two 8 oz. cups of dry borate-complex powder (Disodium Octaborate Tetrahydrate), then mixed with a paint stirrer in my cordless drill.

I used a cheap garden sprayer to saturate the boards and stacked them under plastic to let it all soak in thoroughly.  After 36 hours I set them against the barn to dry, and two days later moved them inside and will put them to use when that project moves to the top of the pile.

Working Wood in the 18th Century

Mon, 09/18/2017 - 5:09am

If you’re paying attention you might know by now I will be one of the presenters at the upcoming Colonial Williamsburg annual conference Working Wood in the 18th Century, January 25-28, 2018.

I have two time slots, the first being a discussion of the acouterments of a Parisian woodworking atelier in the late 18th century, including Roubo workbenches and ripple molding machines.  If all goes well we will be demonstrating these machines, making ripple molding right there on stage.  My second session will be the concluding presentation of the conference IIRC, reviewing and demonstrating the practice of woodfinishing of the era.

I hope to see you there.  Say “Hi” if you make it.

Varnishers of The World, Unite!

The Desk Project – The Wood

Sat, 09/16/2017 - 6:27am

This post is in great part my celebration of a grand circle of friends who provided me with the wood I needed for the project.

In correspondence with the client for interpreting the c.1820 writing desk, it was clear that he wanted something made in the manner of craft technology of the period, and if at all possible, using wood of the period, or at least very old wood.  Since the task of acquiring verifiable 200 year-old mahogany was at best an iffy proposition I simply determined to find the oldest, best wood I could find.  In fact I already owned about half the wood necessary for the project thanks to my own acquisitional proclivities.

Among my inventory was a superb piece of dense, lightly figured mahogany I needed for the veneers that would wrap the box of  the desk.  It was one of the three critical pieces I needed.

The desk writing surface was a second vital component and I sent out requests to everyone I knew who might be able to supply my needs.   Before long a UPS truck bearing the piece I needed showed up in the driveway.  Then a second.  And a third.  And a fourth.  Sean, Ben, and Alf all contributed spectacular pieces to the venture.

One last look through my inventory uncovered the final piece of this particular puzzle, a wildly figure slab of flame crotch that was needed for the veneers on the outer leg elements.

But that was not the end of it.  My friend John brought  a small pile of vintage mahogany with him to the next MWTCA gathering, and I took it off his hands.  Josh emailed me about a stash he had, and delivered it to me.

Then my orthopedic surgeon told me he had a storage unit full of pre-WWI era lumber including some prized mahogany.  I loaded all that was there and headed for home.

In the end I would up with enough vintage, unused dense swietenia to make at least two additional desks and, thanks to the willingness to part with some of their holdings by my circle of friends, I probably will.

Plans done?  Check.  Wood in-hand?  Check.  Ready to dive in?  Uh-h-h-h-h.

Stay tuned.

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