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An aggregate of many different woodworking blog feeds from across the 'net all in one place! These are my favorite blogs that I read everyday...
|My Small Tribute to Roy|
In particular, Michel Jamet was involved in the ebenisterie, and Pierre Ramond directed his top students in the recreation of the marquetry surface. They are not given credit in this video, but I would like to mention their names.
The exhibition discussed the sawing of the veneers, the making of the carcase out of oak, the bronze dore mounts, the polishing and, of course the marquetry.
If you have visited the museum, you will recognize this table as one of the great masterpieces in their collection. It was made by Jean-Francois Oeben, around 1754. The top of this table slides back which opens the drawer for access. That, in itself, is a neat trick, since you do not have to move any of the stuff sitting on the top and get full access to the drawer for the writing tools inside.
The inside of the drawer is finished as elaborately as the outside of the table. I particularly love the grill and flower motif ("jeux de fond") which decorates the aprons and sides of the drawer. In this method, each of the individual flowers were cut into their respective backgrounds with conical cutting. Then the grill was laid down and, one by one, the flowers were positioned into their appropriate cavities.
The video is a very accurate representation of the Classic Method, invented by the French in the 18th century, also called "element par element" or "piece by piece."
Let me know if you have any questions.
|They Have Everything You Need!|
My advice is to travel while you are young. Too many wait until they retire and then are physically limited in the scope of travel available to them. I first went to Europe when I was 18 and travelled for three months on a bicycle, visiting 7 countries. It was the most important decision I have ever made, and I still reflect on the events of that summer, as if they were yesterday. Later, when I was in my early 40's I lived in Paris for a few years while I was a student at ecole Boulle, living most of that time in the 11th arrondissement. The city of Paris is divided into districts, called "arrondissement" which are numbered and start in the center, rotating like a spiral out to the limits of the city.
The 11th district is the historic furniture making district in Paris. It is a district which is not often visited by tourists, as it is mainly full of furniture stores, workshops and the different speciality supply shops which furnish the materials to the trade. It generally starts from the Bastille and goes to Nation, where ecole Boulle is located. I walked those streets literally thousands of times, and it became my "neighborhood."
Years ago there was a series on TV called "Barging Through France" with the host, Richard Goodwin. I just found a copy of an episode on YouTube where he explores the 11th. A highlight of this video is a visit with my dear friend, Patrick George, who supplies the most exotic materials in France for woodworkers. This is a special video, where George, in his distinctive beard, speaks English, although with a heavy accent. I think you will immediately appreciate his personality and passion for the trade which he pursues, and with the understanding that he is the 5th generation of his family to keep the business open.
Enjoy:Paris 11th Arrondissement
Mr. Goodwin ends this segment with a prophetic wish, "Let's hope the developers don't move in too soon and rip out the heart of Paris." In fact, each time I return to this district, I find fewer and fewer actual ateliers and more and more condos and upscale gift shops. Paris is changing, and modern lifestyles have little interest in ancient trades.
A good example of how this works as a specialized communication tool is the emergence of focused speciality interest group sites, like Lumberjocks. On the one hand, it provides a central discussion and information platform for thousands of woodworkers who can share their experiences and talent. But at the same time, I wonder how much work is actually being done, as these guys spend their days in front of the computer instead of standing in front of the bench.
My partner, Patrice, is spending a fair amount of time posting online lately. He cuts some marquetry, then posts. He designs some more marquetry, then posts. He does some French polish, then posts. I can't complain, as the publicity is great for business, and it is important for others to see the kind of work we do here.
Recently, he posted a wonderful series of photos which explains in detail how we made the Treasure Box. His post in Lumberjocks is much more clear than the post I made here on this blog. You should check it out and can find the link here.Patrice Lejeune Treasure Box
Also on Lumberjocks is a new club, started by Paul Miller, who lives in Vancouver and is a big supporter of marquetry. He had the idea of having a "chevalet club" where others can share their photos or questions about this unique tool. What a great way to spread the news.
You can see this thread here. Chevalet Club
I remember the first time I saw a real chevalet and realized how cool that tool was. That was nearly 40 years ago and it was virtually unknown to woodworkers in North America, except for a couple of workshops where Italian, German or French workers operated in secrecy.
Well, the secret is out!
|A Reasonable Day's Effort|
When I was a young cabinetmaker, I did not have a lot of money. Actually, I still don't have a lot of money. However, I do have a lot of clamps. I was joking with my wife today and said that if I just sold all my clamps for a dollar each, we could pay off the mortgage. Almost.
I was fairly smart back in the 1970's to invest in tools and clamps. There was a store, which was way before WalMart, Costco, or any of those "big box" stores which cover the landscape these days. It was called "Fedco" and you needed to be a member to shop there. The prices were great, and since I was employed part time as a teacher at the local colleges, I was eligible to join. Something like $25 or so, as I recall.
We bought everything there, from kitchen sinks and paint to cameras and film. One of the most important acquisitions I was able to find there was a beautiful woman in the Kitchen section, who was kind enough to become my wife. But I digress...
Each time I went there to get something, I budgeted $25 dollars on clamps. They had a neat hardware section, and the large iron "C" clamps were $3.99 each and the Jorgensen Pony clamps were not much more, depending on the size. So I always returned with 5 or 6 clamps, no matter what.
Over the years, I eventually got hundreds of clamps. One of the nice things about clamps is that they don't need sharpening, hardly ever break, and make money. I used to tell my clients that they could pay me $75 to glue their broken chair or $5 per clamp, which would actually cost more.
From time to time, other cabinet shops in my city would go out of business, due to the economy. I would show up at the sale of tools and watch as all the other woodworkers rushed to buy table saws, routers, sanders, drills, and diverse power tools. I went straight to the clamp pile and immediately staked my claim. Often they were sold as a lot for $1 each. Gee, I wonder if I could pay off my mortgage? But I digress...
The past few days I have spent some time preparing the molding for the Lecount clock. Since the grain of the molding is usually cross grain on clocks from this period, it is usual to cut the stock and glue it onto some long grain backing. I know what you are thinking. Cross grain and long grain will eventually come apart. Exactly. Take a look at any late 17th century clock or cabinet in any museum. If it hasn't been restored, there is always a gap between the edges of the short grain molding elements. That's authentic work.
The reason they used cross grain was so that the wood grain would be vertical and add a visual height to the design. It was also because they were a little crazy about doing things the most complicated way possible. Note that with a complex molding profile, and cross grain wood, you cannot use standard molding planes to make the molding. You must carve it by hand and finish off with a shaped scraper. Take a look at the first clock I made, a copy of the Tompion clock at the Metropolitan Museum. All the molding was hand carved. I earned my stripes on that job.
This clock has much more simple profiles, and the olive is contrasted with ebony molding, which will naturally be done long grain. There is no reason to use ebony short grain, since it is absolute black and you cannot see the difference. With the olive, the figure is so strong, it becomes a very decorative element.
So I cut a lot of olive into short grain elements, and used Old Brown Glue to press these onto oak sticks the proper size for each of the molding lengths. Each stick had a single clamp to pull the pieces together and individual clamps for each piece to hold them in place. Using the OBG allowed me the longer open time I needed to get everything properly positioned.
|Rolling Work Table with Clamps|
The next day I removed all the clamps and put them on my rolling work table. Just a note here about the table. I have used this table during my entire career. It is just one of the most practical "tools" in the shop. It is low and on wheels. The top is covered with a rubber linoleum which has survived 40 years of abuse, glue and chemicals. I use it to hold work while I upholster, sand, glue, finish, or clamp. Then I use it to hold all the clamps, so I can push it around as I place the clamps back on the wall. You need one of these.
|Cross Grain Molding Blanks|
It is a good day at work when you run out of clamps.
|Just Enough Clamps and Old Brown Glue|
I placed the boxwood inlay strips in their position and held them with veneer tape to the center panels. Then I squared off the edges of the rather short strips of olive wood crossbanding so they would nicely fit side to side along the edge. I taped them together with veneer tape, so that I had the entire frame of crossbanding and boxwood inlay assembled in one piece.
Then I carefully cut away this veneer "frame" from the center panels, which were already glued down in place. I warmed up some Old Brown Glue, and heated up an aluminum panel for the manual press. By brushing the OBG onto the edge of the panel, all the way around the center oysters or marquetry, depending on which part I was gluing at the time, I could then simply replace the taped "frame" of crossbanding in place and put the panel into the press, face down on newsprint. The heated aluminum caul would allow the glue to liquify and flow evenly under the veneer.
Removing the panels from the press the next day, I moistened the veneer tape and scraped it off. That exposed the nice crossbanding, inlay and oysters, which are similar to the original Lecount clock case that I saw on the internet.
Now I could add OBG to all the joints and clamp up the case on the bench. The lower box has full blind dovetails on the corners, and a dado joint on the back board edge. The side panels are also joined to the back board with a dado, and the face frame is loosely clamped in place to keep it square.
This morning I removed the clamps and, for the first time, sat the Lecount works in place, in a case which is a copy of the original long lost marquetry case, from about 1690.
|Lecount Stands Again|
It's about time...(pun intended).
|The Design Department of ASFM|
I received an interesting email recently from another furniture maker who asked me where I got the designs for my work. He said that he was an amateur and had made some pieces "in the style" of a current studio artist. That artist had threatened him with legal action and he had to take down pictures of his work to avoid trouble.
That reminded me of another incident which happened a few years ago. One of the students who had taken classes from me at ASFM had gone on to produce some amazing work. His favorite style was Ruhlman, and he made a magnificent sideboard, which was influenced by that great French artist. This student has impressed with some photos I had taken of myself standing next to my work, and decided to do the same, but dressed in a tuxedo. He printed up some postcards and was immediate served with a legal "cease and desist" letter from some attorney in New Jersey. This student lives in Southern California. The attorney was representing a well known marquetry artist who has made his living with Ruhlman copies, and, in this letter, claimed to have "trademarked" the image of an artist in a tuxedo standing next to his work. Wow.
When I searched his website, I found that he preferred jeans and shirts, like all of us guys, and no photo of him in a tuxedo could be seen. In any event, be careful not to dress too fancy when you get your photo taken.
All of this leads me to try to bring some perspective to the issue of design. We all know Sam Maloof made an iconic rocking chair. Honestly, how many hundreds of furniture makers have copied his rocker? There are several issues to consider. Sam was a professional, and master of promotion. Most of the copies are by amateurs, who just aspire to create something "Maloofian." No one seriously would value a copy of a Maloof rocker as much as the original.
The irate artist in New Jersey who made his living with Ruhlman copies has no reason to be concerned with another artist in California who also was inspired to do the same. What is that about "flattery is the sincerest form of flattery?"
As to my career, I can say that I have made exactly one original design in my life. That was the RockeTable, which I have never sold and have only made the single prototype. All the other pieces in my portfolio are either exact copies or strongly inspired by "dead" cabinetmakers who lived in other countries centuries ago. So far, their attorneys have not contacted me, thank goodness.
As to the marquetry designs for the late 17th century clocks, I have two sources to access, which are "public domain." The first is the excellent three volume set by Pierre Ramond, "Masterpieces of Marquetry," which has dozens of precise drawings of antique furniture. I have made lots of copies of these designs in a range of proportions of enlargement. I can select an element, like a flower or leaf, from this stack of drawings and place it in exactly the position I want to create a new design. The design is new, but the elements are old. I suspect period designers did the same, as many of the elements have a similar form, from one piece to another.
The second source of design is from the many pieces of period marquetry I have restored and conserved. I take thermal fax paper and make rubbings of the marquetry, which works really well, and also use tracing paper to copy elements for my archive. Some of the flowers are simply amazing, and may contain as many as 50 pieces of wood, just for one flower.
So, nothing I do is original except that I sign my work and brand it. Go ahead and feel free to copy any thing I have made. Fine with me, as long as you don't sign my name on it.
|Toothing The Groundwork|
Over the weekend I took a toothing plane and surfaced all the oak material for the clock. Then I selected some nice yew wood oyster sawn veneers, which I purchased in 1994 from Patrick George, to decorate the sides of the case. I prepared them, glued them to Kraft paper and cut the joints for them to fit together.
|Back of Panel with Mastic|
I also took some hot water and diluted the hot protein glue, then added some very fine hand sanded Cuban mahogany wood dust to make a mastic. I prefer mahogany for the mastic, as it is a fine powder and doesn't swell up in the wet glue, like some woods. It also has a very nice dark brown color.
Finally, I have all the panels ready to glue down, which I did in the press today.
|Panels Ready for Glue|
As to the copying of designs, even Chippendale stole from others!
|Not your typical "Cut List"|
I'm not very good at keeping records of my work. I guess that is because I enjoy so much the actual process of working by hand at the bench that I just don't think of taking time to photograph or record what I am doing. I go to sleep thinking about what the next steps are. I get up and walk to work visualizing my job. I start the glue pot, walk over to the bench and start working. At the end of the day, I go home and start over. I guess I still have an abundance of enthusiasm for my job, even after doing it for over 40 years.
In any rate, I have sort of decided to try to post some photos of this project, as I think it is interesting on several levels. It is the fifth tall case clock I have made in the past decade. As usual, I start building these clocks for my own house, and as usual, they get sold before I can get them home.
To start with, I gather some wood and make some notes about overall dimensions, using metric measurements. I never took wood shop and never learned about a "cut list" or "plans." I am an analog thinker, so I just imagine the job, select some nice wood from the wood pile, and start cutting. With the clock I just build the case off the back board. Starting with the lower box, which I posted earlier showing the full blind dovetails, then clamping together the middle section after that.
Everything so far is dry fit and held with clamps. The reason is that I now need to take it all apart and glue on the marquetry surface, using the press. Once the marquetry is in place, I can then glue together the case and cut the moldings. Once the lower case is assembled and the works are set on the cheeks, I can take some final measurements for the bonnet, and build that.
|Lecount born again on the bench|
Last week I got the oak case clamped up fine. This week I spent drawing the marquetry panel for the lower front box, and building the packet, cutting it out and putting it together.
I like to capture the style and use the process that was used during the last decades of the 17th century for these clocks. Typically, the design has large flowers placed all over the panel, with leaves and branches connecting them. No attention was paid as to whether the same branch had different flowers or not, and it was not supposed to be a realistic picture of nature, as was done much later in the 18th century.
The Painting in Wood process requires that all the different species of wood is placed in their proper position in the packet, in different layers, and cut at the same time as the background. The blade is at 90 degrees and leaves a gap. Inside the leaves and flowers the gap is decorative and filled with a mastic. On the outside of the elements, the gap is generally not visible, as the background is usually ebony during this period.
|Working with scraps to determine the color placement|
This process is somewhat wasteful of material, so the pieces of veneers are cut only slightly larger than the design element requires. The area between the veneers is filled with a cheap species of veneer so the layer remains flat with no voids. Usually a design with 10-20 different species can be assembled with a packet using less than 8 layers.
|Typical layers with different species in place|
Note I am using sawn veneers, as usual. These veneers are 1.5mm thick, and including the 3mm back board and 1.5mm front board, the total thickness of this packet is 13.5mm. The packet includes: 3mm back board, grease paper, full layers of ebony (background), green dyed veneer (leaves), mahogany (branches), three layers of multi species veneers, and 1.5mm front board with the design. All these layers are taped together to make a solid packet and cut on the chevalet.
Using the chevalet, I cut out all the elements and keep only the wood species I need for the design. The ebony background is then placed on a board covered with blue masking tape, face side up. Note: this is a "modern" idea that I got from Paul Schurch, a good friend and very talented artisan in this field.
|Burning the elements in hot sand, with coffee|
The individual elements are carefully burned in hot sand to create a shadow according to a drawing I made. This is the boring part, but without it the picture looks flat and lifeless. Sawn veneers take more heat and much longer in the sand to properly shadow.
|Ebony background ready to place on blue tape|
By using the blue tape to temporarily hold the background in place, I can easily assemble the picture face up, so it is much easier to follow the design. This also allows me to exchange any pieces which I think are not the best choice of material before everything is glued down.
|Front of Panel held on blue tape|
Then I make an assembly board using Kraft paper. I put hot glue on this assembly board paper and place it down on the face of the marquetry in one motion. I then put the entire panel into the press, using a layer of 10mil plastic and a 1/2" piece of wallboard (Homosote or Celutex material at Home Depot) and a plywood board to distribute the pressure.
What this does is that, since I am using sawn veneers of slightly different thicknesses, my goal is to push all the material forward into the hot glue on the Kraft paper. By pushing from the back (where the blue tape is temporarily holding everything in place, the relative softness of the wallboard reaches into all the different pieces and pushes everything forward properly.
The nice thing about the blue tape is that it comes off even after being in the press.
|Back of Panel on Kraft paper ready for mastic|
Now the panel is ready for mastic. That is the job for today.
All this is recent history, and I seem like an old guy when I talk about "when I was young..." However, this is not the world of video which I entered in 1973 when I taped my series on CBS. I had ten shows at that time, tracing the evolution of furniture design from the pilgrims to the victorians. What I remember most was the cameras. There were three cameras, each about the size of a Volkswagen, and they were on these wheeled tripods, moving slowly around the room, following the action. You didn't move too quickly, or you would miss your blocking and the operator couldn't focus fast enough to capture the information.
Talk about the dinosaur era of video.
Technology has changed all that, of course, and it is now possible to "film" using hand held cameras with natural lighting, and sound. (I wonder how long we are going to use the term "film" to talk about these digital files...)
I have done a lot of video over the years, and am trying to make these past efforts available online. I am still working on Roy Underhill to get his episode, and he assures me that, when he gets some time to put it together, that will happen.
In 2007 I worked with Graham Blackburn to shoot some material in my shop. He was very easy to work with and the result was very informative and professional. Graham has been involved in traditional woodworking as long as I have, and I have always had the deepest respect for his work. I was honored to have him in my workshop and we really enjoyed each other's company.
The result was a series of video "magazines" which were called "Woodworking...in action!!!" They were available on a subscription basis, and each issue included a long list of diverse workers and their work. I was featured in Issue 6 and Issue 8.
I had forgotten about these videos until recently. That was when I found out that Popular Woodworking had purchased them and was making them available again. I contacted the publisher, Kevin Ireland, and floated the idea of linking to my videos directly from this blog. He was very supportive and generously made it happen.
Popular Woodworking has posted my two videos on a private YouTube link, which you can access directly from this post.
Here is the link. There are two videos on "Recreating a Process" which include part one (handtools and veneer) and part two (pickers and chevalets). Just scroll down from the first video to see the second.
Be sure to thank Popular Woodworking for making these videos accessible.
So I set out to make a dovetail joint immediately to see what the challenge was and how difficult it would be. The first decision was whether to make the tails first or make the pins first. Half the people I talked to said one thing and half said the other. I really don't think it matters, and after all these years, I just do what I feel like at the time. As for the transfer of the lines, that is a question of technique and tool, which one works better for you. The best argument I have for cutting tails first is that it is easier to adjust the pins last since they are end grain.
I remember Frank Klaus on his video talking about the first time he made a drawer, and his father took it and threw it into the corner. When I completed my first "drawer" test with full dovetails and half blind dovetails, I threw it into the corner. Since I have never moved the shop in 40 years, it still sits in the corner, reminding me of my start. Here is a photo of that effort.
|First Dovetail 1969|
Next week I will be on a national television show, which the non disclosure contract I signed prevents me from naming. It is a new "reality" show on a network which is just entering the reality show genre for the first time. The show is about determining if something is real or fake.
I was asked to analyze a Civil War table and determine if it belonged to Lincoln or not. Before I went to the taping, I searched out the patent copy for the Knapp dovetail, since that distinctive dovetail was typical of the post Civil War furniture. You see, the Industrial Revolution transformed all aspects of furniture making during the mid 19th century, and creating a machine to make a dovetail was the last task that was resolved, first by Mr. Knapp, and soon after by many others. The first patent by Knapp was 1867, but the 1871 patent was the one which made him famous, and his invention was quickly adopted by factories and used on most furniture for a decade after that. I'm sure you have seen it. It is a half round shape with a pin in the center.
The instant I pulled out the drawer and pointed out the distinctive dovetail, I concluded that Mr. Lincoln did not live long enough to ever lay eyes on this table. The director stopped me and said that, since the show was an hour long, I would have to find some way to delay my conclusion and focus on other aspects of the table. That's called "leading the witness."
|Layout Is Important|
Today I started framing the carcase for my fifth tall case clock, with the period works by Daniel Lecount. I mentioned these works some time back on this blog, and now have the time to build the case. I am duplicating a case which I found online that is by Lecount, and it is like the other marquetry clocks I have built in the past.
|Small Marks Prevent Problems|
Building a tall case clock starts with the back board. That is the spine which all the other parts are attached to and it is the best place to start. Tall case clocks are rather easy to build. You have a box on the bottom, a box with a door in the middle, and a box on top which covers the works. All the rest is just surface decoration.
|Note The Mitre Edge|
Today I made the bottom box. I am using white oak for this clock. In the past I used beech, pine, tulip poplar or white oak. I do not use red oak. Just don't like it. White oak is nice, but the French oak is even better, if you can get it. I am using American white oak, since I have some left over from a recent job making a desk.
|Pins And Tails Properly Cut|
The box on the base of the clock has horizontal grain. If you use vertical grain there is a good chance it will eventually crack and spoil the marquetry. With horizontal grain, the clock just becomes slightly shorter as it ages. Less chance of cracking, in my opinion.
|Nothing To See Here|
This also allows the use of full blind dovetails in the corners of the box. Full blind dovetails are perfect for making something which is veneered. They are structural, but do not telegraph through the surface veneers as the wood moves. The corners are nicely mitred and make a clean surface for the veneer. I use thick sawn veneers which are 1.5mm thick, but even at that thickness I have seen antique furniture where the dovetail pins show under the veneer as the wood ages.
Making full blind dovetails is a neat and rewarding job. It requires careful measurements, clean cutting with sharp chisels, and good sawing technique. Actually, I find it doesn't take much longer than a regular half blind dovetail, once you do it a few times.
The really cool thing about it is that, once it is done, it is never seen again. Only the maker knows about it and there is no reason to show it off or point to it with pride. It is the perfect zen joint. It takes skill, knowledge and confidence to accomplish, and then disappears forever.
Talk about the "mysteries of the trade!"