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.

Friday, December 26, 2014

This is Not a Toy

 Christmas morning

The gift was a hit. At 6:30 on Christmas morning, Eden and I sat on the couch analyzing the gifts under the tree. Mostly, Eden was baffled at what “the big box” was. As he peeled the layers off, he excitedly exclaimed its identity, “It’s a workbench!” We set up immediately to try it out. Sawing, planing, and shaving: all were accomplished with ease on Eden’s first “real” woodworking bench. This is no toy… This is a fully functional working tool. It will be great for our shop nights together because he has too long spent time with inadequate work holding or makeshift bench scenarios. Now he can build anything I can build right at his own bench.

For the non-woodworking readers, this is based on a bench design from Andre Roubo, an 18th century French cabinetmaker who wrote a book detailing woodworking methods and tools in 1769. Eden’s version is obviously quite petite compared to the original. It’s made of pine milled from my property. The bench’s base was worked and assembled green (ie. wet) and was drawbored. This means there is not a drop of glue in this bench. All the joints are mechanically locked with wooden pins. As the wood fully dries the joints will only get tighter.

The vise on the front is a leg vise with a wooden screw I made from 8/4 soft maple. I turned the stock to size on the lathe and then used Garrett Wade’s 1 ½ “Wood Threader” to cut the threads. It’s a pretty slick operation. The vise works without any hiccups.

I also ordered a pair of Gramercy holdfasts for the bench which will be one of the most important features for him as he has a really hard time manipulating clamps. (Who doesn’t?) Holdfasts are so easy a five year old can use them. The planing stop is a wooden dowel notched at the top (like a wooden dog). I am a big believer in toothed planing stops but I think that may be a little dangerous for Eden at this point. To offset the inconvenience of not having metal teeth to bite into the wood, he is able to make use of a doe’s foot. This arrangement seems to work fine for now. We’ll see how things go for him. I may need to make a few modifications to fine tune it for his work.

Woodworking Waldo style

As family came over throughout the day’s festivities, he ran to the door and announced, “Gramma (etc.), I got a workbench!” and rushed in to demonstrate its use (especially in conjunction with his new #3 Stanley plane). I’m glad he likes it. This will make shop night even more fun.

Tuesday, December 23, 2014

Shhhhh! Don't Tell Eden!

I have been working on Eden's Christmas gift periodically over the past few weeks. I feel like I can't totally share it on the blog until Eden sees it but I thought I would give a few sneak peaks of it. I imagine most hand tool woodworkers will be able to surmise what it is. Am I right? I will post more after Christmas...

Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Cabinetmaker’s Success

“…a cabinetmaker’s success depended on many variables such as his available capital, labor force, suppliers, and access to markets. More fundamentally, he needed training, skill, and creative intuition to be able to conceive, replicate, or adapt designs to his particular intentions and to translate them into finished objects using his available materials and technology. In particular, he needed intimate knowledge of the physical characteristics and woodworking properties of the entire repertoire of woods available to him… In selecting wood for a particular purpose, he had to confirm its soundness (avoiding rotten areas, knots, or other imperfections), determine the direction of its grain, and evaluate the potential structural effects of its natural movement. Any miscalculation could undermine the integrity and attractiveness of his finished product.”

Monday, December 15, 2014

"Amalgamation" - The Workbench Glossary



[uh-mal-guh-mey-shuh n]

Amalgamation is a restorative procedure in which solvent is directly applied to a degraded film finish with the objective of reintegrating the separated fragments. This treatment is commonly performed on historic ‘spirit varnishes’ (such as shellac) where the finish is padded with an alcohol. The treatment can be effective at mitigating fissures or alligatoring while concurrently restoring optical saturation.

Macro photography of a fissured coating on oak substrate

Application of solvent with a pad

BEFORE - Alligatored Finish

AFTER - Finish Amalgamated

Saturday, December 13, 2014

Paternity Leave on the Wane

I've been loving being home with Julia and boys this first week after Asher’s birth. Julia and the little one are resting up well alternating ad infinitum between nursing and sleeping. Eden and I have been taking care of things around the house. Fortunately our friends and family are inordinately generous in their meal provisions so we have been eating very well. This is good because I think we would quickly run out of variety if it were up to me to prepare meals. There’s only so much grilled cheese a wife can take!

Julia and I have been working out other transitions in daily life. Julia makes our food from scratch so this takes a lot of her time. She routinely makes our yogurt, bread, and cheese along with all meal preparations from our stored garden vegetables. (We usually have enough veggies to last the whole year.) Looks like I might be taking some of this over. It has been a couple years since I baked sourdough by myself and since that time Julia has modified the process since talking with some baker friends of ours. She has taught me the changes and I baked a couple loaves the other day. I am delighted to take over this chore.  It is such a satisfying undertaking to guide the interaction between the wild yeasts in the air, the flour, the water, temperature, humidity, etc. It is all so complex and mesmerizing to watch.

As much fun as we have been having, for some reason bills keep showing up in our mailbox. (Don’t they know we just had a baby!?) It’s great to be self-employed and flexible to take time off but there is only so much flex a young family has when they aren't insulated from financial concerns by a trust fund. So as much as possible, during times Eden is being watched by another helper, I slip away to the studio to try and get some projects out the door.

I just started a low post bedstead commission this week. I think I am on the cusp of marketing myself as a furniture maker in addition to a conservator. I envision the vast majority of my projects to be conservation work (my first love) but I may now begin taking commissions for non-electrified hand tool furniture making projects as well. I am seriously considering this hand tool only niche market because I really enjoy working “by hand” and really dislike working with electric machines. Besides the working environment, I have to confess disappointment when I see very elegant period reproductions only to look underneath and see perfectly uniform machined components. It seems to me that since the dial caliper was introduced to woodworkers, our ideas about precision have radically changed. I am not interested in flawless studio furniture with all components perfectly uniform. I love the visual diversity working from rough lumber to final buff by hand affords. I know scoffers abound but I’ll dip my toes into this market and we’ll see how it goes.

Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Out Into The Open


If you’ve been following along here for any length of time, you are well aware of my interest in the furniture making of Jonathan Fisher. I’ve written about him here and here on the blog, I have given lectures on the man’s work, and I have told and retold the story many times to folks I meet. This past year I’ve gotten a variety of opportunities to share his story but in the next week or so the story will receive a broader audience. The Society of American Period Furniture Makers is publishing my first article on the Fisher story in their annual journal. If you are not yet a member, click here to find out more. There are, as always, some real heavy-hitters writing this year so I feel honored to be included in the 2015 American Period Furniture lineup.

I see my article, From Head, Heart, and Hand: The Furniture Making of Jonathan Fisher, as an introduction to Fisher’s productive efforts by highlighting some of the main themes of his story. In the article, I discuss his background, tool acquisition, shop setup, a few examples of pieces he made, and I begin to touch on how his view of manual skills related to his intellectual studies and religious devotion. Basically, this article is the seed form of the book I am writing. I look forward to exploring in the book all of these aspects in much more thorough detail. I’ll also have room to touch on so many other things I hoped to discuss in the SAPFM article.

If you read the article, drop me a line. I look forward to your feedback as it will help me construct my book manuscript into something fascinating and intelligible... it’s always good to bounce your work off someone else. It makes me think of the words of the 20th century poet-philosopher, W.T. Pooh, when he said, “When you are a Bear of Very Little Brain, and you Think of Things, you find sometimes that a Thing which seemed very Thingish inside you is quite different when it gets out into the open and has other people looking at it.”

So check it out and let me know if it seems "Thingish" to you.

Sunday, December 7, 2014

Asher Sylvan Klein


Asher Sylvan Klein
Born 12/6/14 at 3:02am
8 lbs .5 oz

Today Julia, Eden, and I are celebrating the safe and happy arrival of our new baby, Asher.

This pregnancy had been stressful for us because of years of struggle to have another baby as well as the complicating reality that this one was breech and decidedly not flipping over. For those of you unfamiliar, breech (head up, butt down) position of the baby presents a few more complications for delivery that require thoughtfulness. Though we had our hearts set on home birth, we ultimately decided that that because of the excellent midwives at our hospital and their respect for our desires in the birth we would have the baby naturally at the hospital. This way there was back-up help just in case of complications. The decision was a hard one for us but it ultimately worked out beautifully.
Julia had been laboring the past three weeks making slow progress. Though it was a tedious edge of your seat time, we eventually found peace in the waiting time. 


This past Friday morning, Julia woke up with contractions that were unlike those of the past few weeks. These were strong and forced her to pause and catch her breath. Eden played at a friend’s house all morning while I wrapped a few things up at the studio. We felt pretty confident baby was on the move.

That afternoon and evening Julia and I spent sitting, reading, and working through her contractions.  Around 8 pm, it was time to make a move. We arrived at the hospital and Julia was 5 cm dilated. With the help and support of our doula, Pam, we had the lights low, everything very quiet, and the birth tub full. Julia spent the majority of the time laboring in the tub.


Around 1 am, things were getting close to pushing time and we made our way to the OR. Unfortunately, in order to utilize the last minute “just in case” tools, Julia needed to deliver in the OR. Everyone was great and very respectful of the peacefulness we needed for the birth. Even in this unfamiliar environment and under the watching eyes of a handful of strangers, Julia did an amazing job moving to whatever position she felt she needed and concentrated focusing inward. Afterward, the whole staff remarked at how well Julia embraced the contractions and kept her head as labor got more intense.  I think they were impressed... I know I was.


The pushing stage lasted a total of two hours. It was pretty amazing seeing that little butt crowning. After a while, the legs popped out and shortly thereafter the rest slipped out in one contraction. We had a happy healthy delivery at 3:02 am.  Eden was the first one to see the little guy. The look on his face was priceless. He was wide eyed and only half committed to smiling. When asked what he thought of his little brother, all he could muster was, “Good.”


All vitals checked out perfect and we went home that afternoon. It was wonderful to be home and rest together. Eden is so proud to be a big brother and Mama and I are obviously smitten.

Names are significant to us. Eden’s full name is Eden Rivers Klein.  Eden is an obvious reference to the garden of Eden but the word means “pleasure”. Rivers is a reference to Ps 36:7-8 How precious is Your lovingkindness, O God! Therefore the children of men put their trust under the shadow of Your wings. They are abundantly satisfied with the fullness of Your house, And You give them drink from the river of Your pleasures.


Asher is Hebrew for “blessed” or “happy” and Sylvan means “wood” or “forest”.  In Scripture, names are often not only descriptive but also benedictory. Right alongside our first born child of “pleasure” we want #2 to be a “blessed and happy” one. We chose Sylvan as a middle name because it means “wood”. The preindustrial world was made of wood. It is hard to come up with a material so fundamental and ubiquitous in the manmade world as timber. The reason for this is that wood is strong for structure and yet easy to work. It is our prayer that our “blessed” one will be strong yet easily worked in the hands of the Master.


We are home resting now enjoying our family and celebrating God’s goodness and grace toward us in these times. Thank you for your prayers and love, friends. We received a lot of positive encouragement and notes from you and we want you to know not one was overlooked. May the God of blessing and pleasure return to you the kindness you extended to us.

Thursday, December 4, 2014

Making a Wooden Ladder

  I made a ladder this fall. I bought two 10’ 2x4s and drilled some holes...



I planed the lumber mill stamps off while I was at it.


Got some maple from our firewood pile riven for rung stock...

Once cut to length, I marked the hole size on the rung ends with the forstner bit.

Then shaved down to the line with my drawknife.

Once the ends were fit, I planed and shaved down their bellies.

Did final clean up with a spokeshave

All the rungs cleaned up

Hammering the rungs in.

It took serious mallet power to drive them in.

Then I wedged them.


And now it's a ladder.