Sunday, May 31, 2015

When the Plaster Clouds Have Settled

I stopped over at the house this afternoon to pick something up and couldn’t help but take pictures of the beautiful stillness (because the plaster clouds have settled). Thanks to a number of hardworking friends, incredible progress has been made this week. Here are some shots from my visit this afternoon. I trust you’ll forgive my unabashed candor but… this is totally fun stuff.

Thursday, May 28, 2015

The Biggest Restoration Job I’ve Ever Done

Julia and I bought our property three years ago with the mind to build our own house with our own hands. We talked about the idea of building new but also were hoping we could find an historic home that needed salvation from demolition. We had been casually inquiring about a few places and kept our eyes peeled for a good local candidate for restoration but this spring our vision came to a new clarity.

We found a 200 year old cape which has been vacant for 35 years. This old homestead of a local family has been cherished by the community all these years. It is in need of serious cosmetic and foundation work but is otherwise sound. Julia and I fell in love with it and decided to pursue the family about restoring it.

The Federal Parlor

The Greek Revival Parlor

This house just narrowly escaped a bulldozer because, thankfully, the family was willing to negotiate with us crazy kids from Sedgwick rather than have it leveled. We will be carefully disassembling it and labeling every piece, thoroughly documenting and diagramming everything. Once the trim, flooring, doors, studs, frame, staircase, etc are disassembled, we will be storing it for a few years until we can get ourselves organized to put it up to replace the manufactured house on our property. 

This is the most extreme version of historical preservation but there really is not much hope for the house besides this strategy. The current stone foundation is caving in, the first floor joists and sills are rotted away, and the place is in general disarray. Restoring it on onsite would be an outrageous investment. We will need to do some frame repairs and restore the original elements that have been Victorianized. (Like the front doors, kitchen, middle room, etc.) We plan to return it to original as close as we can decipher. 

The house has to be all packed up and off site by July 31st so I will be hiring some help. I’ll be out there at least three days a week with a crew of friends. I also have hired a house restoration specialist who will be advising and guiding us through the process. We are really excited about this house. It perfectly suits us and we hope we will be able to give this gem a new life.

The corner posts were hewed out so that they would have nice tidy corners in the room

I think it goes without saying you can expect more about this to follow...

Friday, May 22, 2015

In Portsmouth with Gerry Ward and Portland with Tim Manney

Sometimes you just gotta get away to clear your head and my drive down to New Hampshire and back yesterday was a much needed time of silent contemplation. I had a total of about 8 hours to think through all of the various jobs and responsibilities in my life presently. I’m so glad I had it.

Yesterday morning, I arrived in Portsmouth to meet with Gerald W. R. Ward, one of the nation’s most erudite decorative arts curators. Gerry and I got coffee and talked for a couple hours about furniture, museum culture, historic research, etc. Gerry is not only knowledgeable, but he is generous to share his knowledge. To be perfectly honest, each time I do an interview I‘m nervous about keeping the conversation alive and open. Any journalist will tell you there is an art to interviewing… one that I’m only learning. Fortunately, Gerry (and all the other interviewees so far) were the easy ones to interview. He’s not just part of academia so that he needs only to communicate with other academics. Because he loves the public educational aspect of his museum work, Gerry is an experienced communicator of ideas.

The interview was great and I’m looking forward to you all reading it. I really do think this is a part of furniture more woodworkers would benefit to be familiar with and I hope this is the gateway drug that leads them down the dark path toward scholarly literature.

On my way back up I stopped at the shop of the ingenious Tim Manney in Portland, ME. Tim and I have had contact only through digital means until yesterday and I’m so glad I was able to stop this time. Tim’s singular vision to make high quality precision reamers and adzes is admirable. I always have been awed by his workmanship so I am especially excited about a new adze prototype he showed me. But I’ll let him be the one to reveal the details on that. Stay tuned for that one! Some woodworkers can be a bit asocial and isolationist. Not Manney. Tim is a true gentleman. We had a great time chatting and I look forward to the future path-crossing or collaboration we may be able to do.

Thursday, May 21, 2015

The Magazine I Always Wanted to Read

The magazine launch has gone well and there’s been a good amount of interest so far. Right now, I and a handful of top drawer authors are working on the articles. There is a lot of coordination with this kind of collaborative project so it’s very different from the blog in that way. Takes a little getting used to.

In about half an hour I’m hopping in the car to make my way down to Portsmouth, NH to interview one of the premier scholars of historic American furniture. It has been my observation that there is a tremendous gap between today’s woodworkers and decorative arts scholars. Many of the woodworkers I know read scholarly writings regularly but that’s about where the connection ends. It seems to me that few makers have a good understanding of museum philosophies, curatorial responsibilities, and how furniture fits into that context. I would like to change that with this interview. What does a curator do exactly? What documents do you study to come to conclusions about a furniture maker’s life story 200 years ago? What about the future of cultural preservation?

It should be a wonderful time. I’m excited to share this content with you all. Honestly, Mortise and Tenon is the magazine I’ve always wanted to read. A blend of period practice tutorials, sound scholarship, and a minimal ad-free aesthetic. An annual that’s 130 pages of body copy? It’s more like a book than a magazine. Yes, Issue One is looking pretty exciting.

Sunday, May 17, 2015

Take a Load Off

I used to be part of a religious movement that did not view weekly Sabbath taking as a privilege Christians ought to enjoy. If you felt like working after the church service, you could go for it. Burn yourself out! Always looking to capitalize on “free” time, this pattern took a toll on Julia and I and we were exhausted all the time. We were running on all cylinders but only 75% efficiency seven days a week. As we got deeper into exhaustion, our patience thinned and bickering and arguing would surface. It was very unhealthy.

It wasn’t until six or so years ago, when we joined a new church that we saw the beauty of weekly Sabbath taking. Nowadays, after church (which is an hour drive from our house) we come home to do absolutely nothing. All day. That’s right… our family starts each week with a day of total rest. We don’t make strict legalistic regulations about this, though, because piano recitals, fun gardening, etc come up. The point is to relax and enjoy the day. If we feel like we “ought” to be doing a certain job, that may be a good indication to go take a nap in the shade instead. (At this point, Julia contributes in full disclosure, “You should tell them we let the house go insane. We don’t even do the dishes!”)

This lounging, napping, and family socializing prepares us for six days of hard work juggling house work, gardening, home schooling, the boy’s community activities, teaching piano lessons, serving in the church, furniture restoration, Fisher research, and the magazine. We make our own yogurt, bake our own bread, roast our coffee, brew our beer, and tend to the chickens and goats.

Maybe you see why we love Sundays.

Someone asked us recently how we do all the stuff we do without burning out. Sabbath, that’s how. I’m fully aware that not all of the readers here are Christians. But I don’t think you need to be in order to see the glory of this rest one day, work six system. With all sincerity, I recommend you take a load off.  Sanctify one day a week to resting from your work. Whatever material responsibilities you feel the burden of during the week, resolve to let go for a day. Besides keeping you sane, I promise you will be more productive the other six days.

Thursday, May 14, 2015

1808 Potty Talk

I try my best to avoid potty talk and poop jokes here on the Diary because I wanna keep this place family friendly. Sometimes, though, we gotta be honest about this crap.

What kind of toilet do you have? Does yours have satinwood and mahogany veneer? Do you have a john with French feet? Well the Pierce family from Dorchester, MA did. This commode which is inscribed with the date 1808 came into my studio not long ago. One foot had broken off (surprise, surprise), some veneer was missing, and the top had a split in it. It was not a huge job but as I was working on it I couldn’t help but marvel at how delicately this thing was constructed. Those tiny little feet were tasked with bearing the weight of many a sitter over the years.

I think if I were designing such a thing, I would choose a more stout base arrangement. I mean... the stakes are pretty high, no? Can you imagine that thing giving way when you were using it? Yikes.

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

No Bite!

I’ve said before that toothed planing stops are vastly superior over their toothless brethren. The difference in grip is tremendous. If you have never used one before do yourself a favor and screw a sawplate to the top of your stop. It will be an epiphany for you.

One of reasons some folks are apprehensive about bearing some teeth is because they worry about leaving marks in the endgrain of their stock. In practice, this issue is inconsequential 99% of the time because I plane to thickness before cutting to length. Simple as that.

In the 1% of cases where I need to plane the face grain on a piece that is already cut to length, I don’t fret. The solution is stupid simple. Grab a piece from the scrap bin (Don’t all good shop tips start that way?) and shove it into the teeth as a barrier for your workpiece. Yes, you no longer have the benefit of the teeth biting into your stock but for these rare circumstances, you just have to plane more attentively.