Friday, October 2, 2015

Demonstrating 1790s Maine Life

This morning Julia and I are packing up the van to head out to Leonard’s Mills Living History Days. For years now, we’ve demonstrated 1790s Maine frontier life at this annual event. We usually stay in the small settler’s log cabin. That’s where Julia teaches visitors about cooking and general 18th century domestic life (which will be interesting with our newest addition this year). I always bring my portable workbench and tool chest to demonstrate period cabinetmaking. Last year I worked on Asher’s cradle/co-sleeper. This year I am going to be working on a commissioned rope bed similar to the one I built for Julia’s birthday a few years ago.

There will also be a new feature this year: we will be demonstrating a late 18th century wedding in which I will be officiating as minister. I am not really ordained and this is not an actual wedding but it should be a lot of fun because the script is pieced together from various 18th century wedding services. There will be music and period dancing lessons afterward. It will be both days at 3pm, I believe.

The Living History event is all day Saturday and Sunday. Check out the Facebook event page with directions, etc here: It looks like the forecast is shaping up to be totally rain free, which is always a blessing at this event. I always love it when I get to meet readers of The Diary so I genuinely hope to see you there.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

And the Winner is… David Taylor!

This morning the 3/8” beading plane giveaway contest is over. There were again a bunch of really great answers out there on Instagram and here on the blog. So many different facets to the issue were addressed.
Here was the contest’s question: 

Why do you believe celebrating historic furniture making by studying and recreating it is important for both woodworkers and the broader culture today?

Nathan Spalding wrote, “If we fail to understand our predecessor's methods of work…we handicap our current and future work” and Ethan from MO says it leaves us “doomed to IKEA”. Others contributed, “The old masters gave us the principles, standards and understanding of how to best use our tools." (@exoticwoodshavings) and “Learning how things work and learning how to [make] real things is the richest form of education and engagement.” (@thesallyfisher) 

Chris Hammerbach told us how we “discover that while the lives of our ancestors were different, their minds and hearts were much the same” which was aptly summarized by what @ericwrightdotgif described as “humans being human”. Overarching all this is the idea that “most people live in the hope that they will leave something greater than themselves behind” (@sledgehamner).

These are all excellent points but David Taylor’s answer hit me in just the right way as I sorted through all the responses. David wrote, We are in danger of becoming a culture and a people who have lost a connection with the past that can tie us to the future, and recreating historical pieces strengthens that tie so that we as woodworkers can help society at large retain the tenuous relationship with our ancestors and descendants alike.”

Congratulations, David. You’ve nailed it. Send me an email with your info and I’ll get drop this plane in the mail!

Thank you to all who entered. What fun!

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Quick! Giveaway this Thursday!

For those of you not following on Instagram, I thought I’d fill you in on the next giveaway. The winner will be announced this Thursday.

This one’s for a 19th century 3/8” beading plane.

Here’s this contest’s question: 

Why do you believe celebrating historic furniture making by studying and recreating it is important for both woodworkers and the broader culture today?

Rules are the same as before: Write your one sentence entry in the comment field below. There is no wrong answer. The winning one sentence response will be selected based on relevance and cogency. You’ve only got until Thursday morning to make your entry so move quick.

Here’s the mild restoration I’ve done.

So let’s hear it. What do you think? Why is understanding historic furniture making important?

Wednesday, September 23, 2015

Yale Presentation: The Turner’s Trade

All images in this post by Jessica Smolinski, Courtesy Yale University

Last Friday I traveled down to the Yale Furniture Study in Connecticut to give my presentation about historic turning. After a good seven hours on the road, I arrived in New Haven with an hour for setup. It was just enough. I was choking down the last few bites of my lunch as the attendees started coming in.

I began the presentation by comparing two 18th century chairs from the collection. I wanted to show the difference between the chair of the turner versus the chair of the cabinetmaker because, from an artisan’s perspective, turning had certain advantages over bench work. 

Inside the shop I had my portable spring pole lathe setup. I showed the features and basic operation of the lathe as well as the few tools needed. It seemed important before making shavings to talk about how turning uniquely met the values and mindset of the preindustrial world. I proposed that by exploiting Pye’s “workmanship of certainty” that the lathe offered, the turner could produce components that epitomized the regularity and perfection (roundness) that was so desired. I also pointed out that, to top it all off, it was affordable.

Then we made some shavings. In order to best demonstrate historic turning, I decided to walk through Joseph Moxon’s 17th century instructions. I read brief excerpts and demonstrated what he described. I also demonstrated several kinds of details that Moxon didn't go onto explain. It was interesting to hear it straight from the 17th century. Things like...

Cut down on your work near one end, a groove for your string to run in... the deeper you cut down the groove, the oftner will your work come about every tread" 


“By use you must habituate your self to let the edge of your tool bear upon the work when the pole and treddle comes down, and to draw it back just off the work, as the pole and treddle goes up”. He says this “withdrawing” is “a little lightly”.

I'm very appreciative for the positive feedback given. Folks seemed genuinely engaged and asked a number of good questions. I want to again thank Eric Litke for inviting me down. I look forward to another visit in the future, hopefully to present again.

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Yale, Winterthur, and Glorious Homeschooling

I’ve been able to spend some time the past few days polishing off some notes for my historic turning presentation at Yale this Friday.  It’s been great digging into period turning texts to mine their commentary. I find that there is so much information available today from folks with wildly different approaches to the same task that putting together material to present a skill can be a real burden. I’ve found it’s better to restrict my research to period texts and close my ears to modern divergent opinion. My logic is that if I’m presenting period methods, I should rely on period commentary. Simplifies the whole thing. I’m really looking forward to that presentation.

In other news, I’ve decided to reschedule my Winterthur trip to take advantage of an exciting opportunity. I was originally planning on doing my Winterthur research trip next week but after discussing the project with Charles Hummel, we both decided it would be a good idea to spend time together working on this Jonathan Fisher research when I am down there. Charlie has generously offered to spend time looking over my research to advise me. He also will be showing me his Dominy research methodology in order to shed light on Fisher. Needless to say, I didn’t hesitate for a second to reschedule this trip to accommodate Charlie’s schedule. I have moved it to November and I know it will be worth the wait.

In other news, the local paper ran a story on our house project. Read the full story here. I think it’s good that the community was told of the happy fate of this house because so many people assumed it was being demolished. Many people love this house so I’m glad the paper wanted to run this story.

Speaking of the house, I have to tell you a funny story from today… Eden went to his home school group today and the kids all presented something from their summer. Julia told me many kids talked about their stuffed animals and other “super important” kid stuff. What did Eden talk about? Nails. That’s right. He brought several examples of wrought, cut, and round nails and explained the difference between them to his peers. Pretty impressive for a six year old!

Saturday, September 12, 2015

Deep Throat Clamping

Conservation treatment is about problem solving. “Every object is unique and so are its problems” was the mantra my mentor Mitch Kohanek drilled into us at school. Because of the peculiarities of original construction, the uniqueness of the damage, and the specifics of future client usage needs, conservators are constantly presented with scenarios that demand creative solutions. I would go as far as to say that the ability to adapt and invent is one of the most important skills an emerging conservator can develop.

Not uncommonly when patching veneer there is a need for a clamp with a long reach. There are deep throated clamps one can purchase for just this situation. Most of these max out around 12” and some of them can be awkward to fit into small areas. One would need to have a bunch of every sort of available deep throated clamp in order to cover your bases in the studio. Or you get creative.

This is my simple solution to deep throat clamping loose veneer. Take two sticks, a block thicker (maybe twice as thick) than the board you will be clamping, a small bar clamp, and a rigid clamping caul of your choosing (I like Plexiglas). Once the glue is worked into the lifted veneer, wipe the excess squeeze out glue and place the caul over the repair. Place the block at the back of the sticks and slide the “jaws” onto the caul. Once in place, simply use the bar clamp to clamp the jaws as far in as it can reach. If your block is thick enough, the jaws will make contact only on the caul. If it is touching the whole way, get a thicker block or slide the block forward.

Notice it only makes contact at the caul

The reasons I like this method are as follows:

1. It’s infinitely adaptable to each unique scenario.
2. I can achieve a longer reach than commercially available clamps.
3. It’s cheap. (Hey, I’ve got a young family to feed.)

Below is a video clip demonstrating a 16” reach. Notice the only contact is on the caul. And, yes, it’s way more than enough pressure for veneer patching.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Rare and Popular Support!

That’s right…  I’ve got more sponsors! RareWoods.US and Popular Woodworking have been added to the growing list of Mortise & Tenon Magazine Sponsors!

RareWoods.US is an exotic wood internet store run by woodworker Travis Knapp. I got some time to talk with Travis at the Lie-Nielsen Open House and was impressed with the way he runs it. Ordering a stick of wood over the internet can be frustrating. How can you be sure what you’re getting is the right piece for the task at hand? Knapp’s experience as a woodworker is a great boon when it comes to selecting the piece specifically for your project. If you need a small amount of exotic wood, I recommend you contact Travis here:

In case you’re wondering, when Megan Fitzpatrick sends you an email titled “If it’s not too weird…” it’s okay to open it. It's not weird to have another woodworking media source sponsor M&T. Megan and I have been discussing our publications and we are in full agreement that Popular Woodworking and Mortise & Tenon are compliments, not competitors. Their magazine and books are great and so are their videos. If you haven’t signed up for the monthly access to the videos, go do it. It’s a really good deal: full access to everything for $20/month? Awesome.

I’m honored to gain the support of these businesses and, as always, I fully endorse what they’re doing. Check out what they have to offer. You won’t be disappointed.