Friday, January 23, 2015

Dillinger's Got it Handled


If you don’t read Zach Dillinger’s blog (shame on you) then I recommend heading over to check out his recent post on fitting tanged chisels with 18th century octagonal handles. This is my favorite way of handling the chisels I periodically pick up second hand. At the moment, I have a small pile of them waiting. I don’t have much to add to what Zach has written except maybe these two things: 


1. I size the hole so that with hand pressure the bolster is about ¼” away from being fully set into the handle. Then I drive the tang in by burying the chisel’s edge into a scrap of hardwood and gently hammering the handle down onto it. I make sure I have extra length on the stock to account for hammer damage. 

A wedge helps

2. Once you have two tapers, work holding becomes a little hairy. For the last two tapers, I simply add a wedge in the vise to make up for the lost material. No problems that way.

I prefer patina to fresh wood

I applied dyes, shellac, and pigments to give this handle some character. If you are interested in this kind of finishing, you may want to watch out for my looking glass article this summer. In it I go over how to achieve this patination simply and quickly. More details on that later.


Wednesday, January 21, 2015

A Long Story Short

Asher in the hospital

Things have been a little crazy here lately. Not long after the New Year, Asher started throwing up. A lot. All the time. The doctors were just keeping an eye on him for over a week until he lost a full pound. At that point it was time to take action. It turns out he had pyloric stenosis – basically a tightening of the opening from the stomach to small intestine. Long story short he went in for surgery. That’s nerve wracking stuff for a five week old to go through. Surgery went well and Asher is back to his normal self. We are so thankful.

 Asher back to himself

Sample molding for looking glass

To pass time at the hospital I did some writing. I spent time on an article that will be published this summer. It details the making of a period looking glass that I made for Julia for Christmas. Today I finished the photography for the article and this evening I put the finishing touches on the manuscript. It’s rare these days to have something done so far ahead of schedule.

Working on the manuscript

 Rather nice veneer, no?

I am thankful that things in the studio are in full swing. Having a decent backlog after time off is a good thing. I have been privileged to book some nice pieces for this winter and I look forward to getting to them.

Monday, January 12, 2015

On Reading Well

Last night I finished reading “The Refinement of America: Persons, Houses, Cities” by Richard Bushman. As I closed the book for the last time, I couldn't help but think about how valuable good books are to my work. It is so easy to perpetuate myth and hyperbole when thinking about history. Even though we may have been taught better, the nuances of historical actuality are too often missed. To remedy this, a well-conceived book is ballast for our thoughts about our ancestors, what they did, and why they did it. It takes an exceptional author to be able to compellingly lay out a historical narrative in a way that highlights obvious points of contact to the lives of a diversified audience. That is history done well.

The key to building a worthy library is found in the Bibliography in the back of every good book you own. This section reveals the scholarship the author is relying on. Look those books up. Buy them. Read them and their bibliographies. Then read those books and their bibliographies. And on it goes. You may feel overwhelmed for a while but it is not long before you begin to see certain sources cited over and over again. This is a good sign. Those are the ones that might be worth taking a closer look at.

Really good exhibition catalogs put out by major museums are usually a sure bet. These can be pricey but are almost always worth it. Top-drawer up-to-date scholarship is not always expensive, though. My library consists mostly of used books. While cost is not the decisive factor in book selection, most used books are cheap. There are a handful of used book stores online. Try AbeBooks or Amazon for starters.

Annotated for future reference

Pay close attention to good scholars: highlight in your books. Underline. Annotate. Use whatever markings that will help you digest the text. Unless you are trying to amass a pristine collection for sale someday, use your books like tools. There is something about the physical motion of highlighting that seems to facilitate the learning process. It sticks better that way. Beyond the benefits of first time comprehension, I later find that merely flipping through pages scanning highlighted portions with my eyes instantly brings back the content of what I read. This is a great way to go back six months later and quickly brush up on important topics. If you don’t highlight, the only other alternative is rereading every word again.

For really important books, I will actually go back through the book again and annotate the highlighted sections of the text. This may seem overkill, but when there is a book I have to go back to over and over in my research, this is a big time saver.

So read much but make sure you read well. Retention and revisitation are the two goals for reading well.

Any other tips you have to contribute?

Wednesday, January 7, 2015

Some People Go to the Gym


I've never been much of an athlete. I always preferred creating art to running laps. But what if the creative process was a workout in itself? Some people go to the gym for exercise. Others spend a few hours ripping 12/4 lumber in order to build a bed. After all that, I feel great.




Tuesday, January 6, 2015

A Slow, Steady Stream

Fly rail repair

Now that Christmas and the New Year have come and gone I am settling into the winter work schedule. Summer is always so scattered with appointments, lectures, and events but winter is hunkering down time. It’s usually a slow, steady stream of miscellaneous repairs in solitude. It’s also when I do my research and writing. I look forward to this time of year. Being self-employed, it’s the closest thing I get to a steady schedule.

Refinished desk

Plant stand ring fracture

 New bun foot turned on my pole lathe

Turned a new bun foot for a china cabinet. The cabinet's bottom was sagging over the years so the long expanse needed some more support. Been working on my turning skills. I still rely on sandpaper for cleanup and wish I was more efficient. We'll get this pole lathe thing figured out one of these days.

Lots of gluing as well

  New foot installed
 Repairing worn drawers

 A sweet little desk on frame that needed structural work.

I love this work. Building is fun but there is a deep satisfaction that comes with restoring a 200 year old artifact. (A kind I don't get from building.) I love the variety of skills involved in conservation work. One minute you are sleuthing around for evidence of construction methodology, the next you are testing the solubility of an undesirable film on a historic surface, and then you find yourself planing flush a grafted component. This is a good job for someone as divergently interested as myself. I have a hard time doing one thing for a long time.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Men at Work


The past couple days I’ve been busy making molding, gluing stuff, etc…


Eden and Garbanzo have been busy with heavy machinery…


and Asher’s been busy staring at things.

What’s a Mama to do with all this industrious male energy?

Tuesday, December 30, 2014

Authentic Period Furniture Making


I put up some info on my website about the recent launch of my furniture making efforts. I've begun taking commissions for building vernacular period furniture completely by hand. Here's the new page:

The page will be tweaked and updated periodically but this is a start. It is at least a way for folks to see my making philosophy as well as a few pictures of the process. Though my web design capabilities are limited, let me know if you have any suggestions. I appreciate your feedback. Thanks.