Wednesday, October 9, 2013

A Visit from the Don of Dons

Imagine for a moment the final authority in your area of interest or career. You know the guy they refer to as 'inimitable'? The guy that people try to sit next to at events for a chance to glean a few drops of wisdom? The one you look up to finding yourself asking, "What would ___ do in this situation?"

For me, this is Donald Williams, recently retired senior furniture conservator at the Smithsonian's Museum conservation Institute. Don was there in the beginning of the development of this profession. He has trained many of the "top drawer" furniture conservators in the country and developed many of his own conservation techniques and genius solutions for some of the most valuable wooden objects in our museums. He truly is the Don of dons, the lord of solvation.

This week Julia and I had the honor of hosting Don at our house for a few days. He has posted a little about the visit at his blog here: Don's Barn

These few days spent with him were such a blessing to us. We found ourselves to be cut from the same cloth. We had a great few days of discussion on a wide variety of topics. We found ourselves almost finishing each other's sentences. It was delightful.

While he was here, I made sure to take Don to both the Hull's Cove Tool Barn and the Liberty Tool Company. Don didn't seem to find much of what was on his list. I however found a handful of items I had been waiting to pick up. I got a decent antique saw vise, a nice 19th Century 10" carcass saw, and a Miller's Falls eggbeater to replace the off brand junk one I've been using. There were also a few antique bits and chisels I found.

We made time to stop at the Jonathan Fisher House. Brad Emerson gave us a private tour. This was great for me because I am interested in pursuing research on this prolific 18th/19th century figure of the eastern frontier. A number of people have studied him for his painting, his agricultural information, etc. No one has focused on Fisher as a cabinetmaker. He made lots of furniture to supplement his pastoral wages. There is furniture at the house museum with attribution of varying degrees of certainty. I plan to look deeper into this as well as to examine his extant tool chest. (Not at the house.)

Don seemed almost as excited about the story's potential as I am. He really pushed me to pursue this research.

All in all the trip was too short. We had an excellent time. Eden loved looking at Don's plethora of flashlights, Julia loved discourse about Sally Fallon and natural living, and me... I of course loved the talk of the trade. To top it off, our spiritual fellowship with Don was sweet.

We can't wait for his visit next year. We are already making plans. Thanks, Don. We cherish friendships like this one.


  1. I envy your having a nearby company specializing in older, harder to find tools. I sometimes get lucky here or there at a flea market but that's about it.

    1. Bill,

      I will never take it for granted. Promise.

  2. Sounds like a great time Joshua. Don's a great guy. I'm lucky enough to be in the same SAPFM chapter as he is and he graced my shop with a visit and a nice shop warming gift while I was finishing the interior trim.

    I can only imagine how exciting it was for you having a giant in your particular field stay with you for a few days. Just another example of the great relationships you can forge through woodworking.

    1. Truly. Speaking of people I'd love to meet up with someday... I've got connect with you soon. I'd love to see your beautiful shop in person. Don told me he thought it was really nice. Or if you're in the mood for Vacationland, let me know and we'll meet up on my stomping grounds.

  3. Oh, really nice centre bits and eggbeater too. (and carcass saw and vise)