Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Shop Night w/ Eden

Remember that tavern table Eden and I started last year? We got side tracked with other projects but eventually picked this one up again. Shop night is never as long as we'd like it to be but progress gets made slowly.


Eden was working on this project but I haven't yet figured out what it is


He told me he needed to draw plans before he did anything else

Molded edge on the stretchers


 Working out the details

 To be continued...

Saturday, April 12, 2014

"Patina" - The Workbench Glossary

*The Glossary is a new addition to the Diary. It will attempt to define and clarify technical, historical, and artistic terminology related to historic furniture conservation. Entries in the Glossary will appear in the steady stream of regular blog posts. If you have any specific words you would like to request, feel free to send me a comment or an email.



The desirable aesthetic phenomenon found on the surfaces of historic objects accrued over time from use. This often consists of surface grime and soiling, wear patterns, scratches, substrate warpage, natural fading of color, etc. It can also include texture from wood grain and tool marks.

Thursday, April 10, 2014

Mimicking Old Beams

New beams in an addition

Though most of what I work on is historic furniture, I sometimes get called into specialty finishing situations where this expertise is required. In my neighborhood this often means coloring new rough exposed timbers installed in an addition to a 100-200 year old house. Though the texture of the beams is at least 50% of the aesthetic, the color often must at least blend with the rest of the exposed beams. Often the builders apply an off-the-shelf oil stain to scrap wood to try and match the color. This is when I get a phone call.

The original frame looks like this

See… age aesthetic and patination is all about layers. No one color is going to reproduce hundreds of years of wear, soiling, abuse, etc. This patina develops unevenly and over time. In these situations, Mitch Kohanek, at the Institute, taught us to “promise low and deliver high”. It’s important to inform the client that the finished product will never fool anyone from a couple feet away. Rather, the goal is to have the beams blend in with the environment so as not to be distracting.

Orangey base color

This was achieved with three different oil stains applied unevenly to mimic age. The first stain was an orangey color applied thoroughly and evenly for base color. The second was a red umber color applied in streaks and blended with a wide brush. The third color was a dark “walnut” brown applied selectively and mottled.

Red umber 2nd stain

Final dark mottling

After drying overnight, I made a few nail holes with a hand wrought nail and applied black TransTint dye around the hole to mimic rust stains.

Brand new patinated nail hole

Ideas or comments to share? How have you achieved this effect on your projects?

Monday, April 7, 2014

Greenhouse in April

It's amazing to have a greenhouse in April in Maine.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

A Bit from the Homestead…

Inspired by 19th century silhouette portraits


The maple has been running pretty consistently finally so we've fired up our makeshift boiler. The run is definitely much later than last year but we are happy to have it. We’ll have enough to get some enjoyment out of it but not enough to carry us through a whole year. I really like sweets but laboring yourself to boil all that sap down has a healthy moderating effect on the rate of consumption.

Rough pine germination rack

We’ve got seeds started in our living room in front of the sliding glass doors. It’s exciting to watch them and see life emerging this time of year.

Grow little guys!

Finally a dignified roof!

Now that I can work outside without frostbite I got to shingling the goat shed roof. All winter we had the official state of Maine outbuilding roof: Tar paper. Pretty classy, I’d say. Needless to say, we decided to move up a little in our social echelon here on the peninsula.  Now our goats have got shingles. Whewee! Fancy stuff!

A paper template to scrutinize

I am looking to build a dining table and working on the design with Julia. Nothing is in stone yet but we  have been discussing a shaker trestle base for the wide pine top her grandfather made a long time ago. I am not sure what ever happened to the original base but we’ll being using the top for sure.

Ethiopian Yirga Cheffe roasted at Full City +

Also, with the help of a good friend of mine, David Dillon (coffee roaster, connoisseur, and barista extraordinaire), I figured out a number of modifications to make to a popcorn popper so that I can begin to roast coffee beans. I’ve wanted to roast my own coffee for many years but never got myself together to do it. Being a through and through coffeephile, I decided to take the next step into my addiction and build myself a roaster. 

Separating the heat and the fan

Here’s the quick and dirty of what I did: After separating the heating element from the fan, I have two plugs. The fan goes into the receptacle and the heat plugs into a router speed control. This gives me control over the heat during the roasting process. I also extended the chamber with a can and installed a thermometer to monitor the temperature of the bean mass. I’ve been playing around with roast profiles a little and have learned a few things. I guess if I get questions from readers about it, I can make a short video explaining more about it and about the roasting process.

Chamber extension and thermometer installed

Complete setup!

Sticks and boards are all a boy needs!

Yesterday I started working on a play house for Eden. There are no plans. It's just sort of evolving as we go. We’ll see what it becomes. We definitely are inspired by the whimsical hobbit looking houses we’ve seen on the internet. I think this project will grow a little each year but this year I am focused on giving him four walls and a door: somewhere for a little boy to hide in and imagine.

So far it looks like Mamas are allowed in the fort

I also thought I’d share a quotation I’ve discovered while preparing to teach a bible study on the epistle to the Colossians. It was an encouragement to me:

"Let us give thanks to God continually. For, it is outrageous that when we enjoy His benefaction to us in deed every single day, we do not acknowledge the favor with so much as a word; and this, when the acknowledgment confers great benefit on us. He does not need anything of ours, but we stand in need of all things from Him.
In point of fact, thanksgiving adds nothing to Him, but it brings us closer to Him. For if, when we recall the benefactions of men, we are the more warmed by affection for them; much more, when we continually bring to mind the benefits of the Master towards us, shall we be more earnest with regard to His commandments.
For this cause Paul also said, Be ye thankful. For the best preservative of any benefaction is the remembrance of the benefaction, and a continual thanksgiving for it"

- St. John Chrysostomos

Sunday, March 30, 2014

I Am Not a Woodworker


One of the most frequent misunderstandings about my professional work is that people think I am a “woodworker”. This is not the case. A professional wood worker is someone who is commissioned to create objects of wood for sale to clients. I don’t do this. 


A furniture restorer/conservator is a practitioner concerned with the preservation and restoration of historic furniture. Our goal is to stabilize the piece without leaving conspicuous “fingerprints” of treatment behind. We attempt to remain invisible in the treatment outcome. If refinishing is called for then the finish would ideally look sympathetic to the period and look as if it were “supposed” to be there, warts and all. 

 Before Treatment

After Treatment

 So what are we then? Restorer/conservators get to be involved in the treatment of finishes (making us “finishers”), wood (making us “woodworkers”), upholstery (making us “upholsterers”), cane, rush, and wicker (making us “weavers”). We also need to be fluent in furniture history (making us “historians”) and familiar with basic materials science and organic chemistry (making us “scientists”). Now no one on the planet is expert at all these things. The conservation profession, especially when practiced in a rural private practice context, demands a degree of proficiency in all these areas but not one exclusively. We are not “woodworkers” in the sense that we are not “scientists” or “historians”. We are not specialists in any of these disciplines. Rather, restoration/conservation is an interdisciplinary amalgam of all these. It is, in fact, a new discipline all together. 



This is why I ultimately chose this profession. I have always been one who has had intense interest in a myriad of things so I needed a career with serious variety that guaranteed I’d never plumb the depths. I could never settle down and do one task for the rest of my working life. 
If I was hired to build kitchen cabinets, it would take me forever. If you called me to refinish interior woodwork with lightning speed turn around, I’d struggle. If you asked me to critique the determination of paint stratigraphy analysis of a materials scientist, I’d gracefully bow out.




 So where does that leave me? What does this amalgam of skills equip me to do? I am equipped to diagnose and treat historic wooden furniture with an aim to preserve material integrity and sympathetically restore all losses so that clients and our culture may enjoy these valued artifacts of history for the longest time possible.


P.S. I imagine that someday down the road if I ever get my new studio finished and have more space to work in, I will branch out my business to include furniture making. Until that happens, I just don’t have the space. (My current space is 14’ x 17’... just enough room for a few benches, myself, and a few projects.) When Julia’s birthday is coming up and I am working on a project for her in the studio, all other projects get shut down. One day hopefully, that will change.

Monday, March 24, 2014

Rooting Out False Assumptions


“Every break, loss, mark, abrasion, or discoloration on an object had a moment of creation, and the task of the examiner is to unravel the story woven into this texture. This is a holistic task, sometimes requiring technical expertise, sometimes historical understanding or design sensitivity, but always requiring a dogged insistence that each detail under consideration be justifiable, that is, understood for what it is and how it was induced. And finally, any examination that does not question previous observations and assumptions will rarely root out false assumptions independently.”

-Michael S Podmaniczky from New England Furniture at Winterthur: Queen Anne and Chippendale Periods