Friday, August 27, 2010

Chair Wars

This chair and I do not get along. I want it to be a chair. It wants to be a pile of sticks. I have a customer who also wants it to be a chair. The problem is the seat, obviously.

Its an English Windsor chair with an elm seat and yew turnings. The yew, as is typical, is brittle and bug eaten. So when my client, who is of Yeti genes, sits in this chair likes its an Eames easy chair, it protests by snapping its spindles.

The disfigured seat contorts the spindles, so they are not easily repaired. This time I let the spindles be where they wanted to be and drilled new holes for the pair on the right side. It seems much sturdier and happier. Take that Yeti!

Monday, August 23, 2010

Turning Ten

I was recently asked to make ten balusters to match the white one seen at right in the photo. Given that I rarely say no to work, particularly in this economic climate, I agreed. Some shops possess a duplicating lathe, where you first make a template of the turning that you want, then run a guide pin along the template, while a cutting bit cuts out the shape on the blank. Easy. You can crank out identical turnings all day long.

To me that's too much like factory work and void of the skill required to to produce multiple similar turnings. Notice that I didn't say identical. They are not, nor do they need to be. Take a look at any antique Windsor chair. As you view the overall chair you see four legs all the same. A closer inspection will reveal variations in the legs. Sometimes subtle, other times significant. Yet, it doesn't distract from the overall composition.

Anyway, turning is a lot of fun, so why let a machine do it. And for you smart alec's that noticed the center turning is a little fat, you're right. So did I fix it or leave it? What would you do?

Saturday, August 21, 2010

Too Many Clamps?

Cliche you think. If you have done any woodworking or even know a woodworker you have no doubt heard the line "you can never have too many clamps." There is a good reason for this. The photo above shows two 8-foot long glue-ups for turning blanks. Thirty-two clamps in use. If I didn't have the clamps I would have to glue over two days, losing valuable time. Since I make a living at this, that's an important consideration. So, stock up!

Friday, August 20, 2010

Pencil Carving Virtuoso

A friend sent me a series of photos of the work of an accomplished carver working in a rather unconventional medium. I don't know to whom I should give credit, but if this is your work and you happen to be reading this blog (unlikely ), let me know and I'll be sure to give you the credit you deserve. I'll also thank you for putting a smile on my face today. See the remainder of the photos here.

N.B. Well I've been informed these sculptures are the work of Dalton Ghetti of Connecticut. Thanks Mike.

Monday, August 16, 2010

Constructing a Tray Table Part 1

Shown above is a Regency style tray table that I recently made for a client. He provided the tray and I designed and built the table. I have done quite a number of these over the years. It seems to be a very popular way to display and use a decorated tray.

The antique trays that I see are typically mid- to late nineteenth century, made of papier mache, and wonderfully decorated with paint, gold leaf and mother of pearl. In the twentieth century they began to make the trays of metal. These decorated metal items are known as toleware.

The tables are most often black, but sometimes red, picked out with gold. The legs are lathe-turned and have a nice little turn-out at the bottom, reminiscent of a french foot found on many Hepplewhite case pieces.

I start by making a template of the tray by tracing the actual tray. Then using a flat washer of the right size, I run the washer around the tray with a pencil in the hole giving me a 1/4" offset from the tray perimeter. This results in a slightly larger frame than the tray, which protects the fragile edges.

I stack laminate two rectangles of 3/4" poplar and when the glue drys lay on the template. Cut the outer shape using a band saw or jig saw and clean up to the line with spokeshave, rasps and sandpaper.

I figure out the required width of the frame, based on the width of the flat perimeter of the tray, and scribe that dimension on the frame.

All that's left is to cut the inside shape; this must be done with the jig saw. This can be left unfinished, right from the saw. In Part 2 I'll discuss making the legs.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Be on the Lookout

This advertisement appeared in the Barnstable (Cape Cod, Mass.) Patriot on December 19, 1929. Apparently I am not the only one who values their Windsor chairs.

Tuesday, August 10, 2010

Saws Happen

I don't collect saws. Really. I readily admit the dozens of saws that you see in the pictures are mine, but I swear I did not collect them. They just happened. You could say that I have "accumulated" them over the past thirty years. They conglomerate like dust bunnies; everywhere you look in my shop you find saws. They hang on the walls and from the rafters, they stand up in corners, and they lie on the floor in the attic.

There are panel saws, back saws, dovetail saws, gents saws, tenon saws, carcase saws, stair saws, ripsaws, crosscut saws, miter box saws, bow saws, turning saws, fret saws, and coping saws. Oh my!

The reason I have so many is that I just can't pass up a bargain. Hand saws are truly ubiquitous. Before the advent of power saws every tradesman owned at least two and every home probably had one. Fast forward to today and you find them showing up at nearly every yards sale, auction, and second hand store.

As unlikely as it may seem, I usually don't buy, but I always look. And when I find an old saw that has been well cared for and has a shapely, carved apple-wood handle and a long line of straight and well-formed teeth, a brass medallion and a strong etching on the blade of a proud manufacturer, with a price of 3 or 4 dollars, then I do buy.

Being a user and lover of old tools, I simply cannot pass up these bargains. While I may never use all of my adopted saws (I do have my favorites), at least they will be at home in a working shop and among friends.

Sunday, August 8, 2010

Four Bells

Four bells. That's quittin' time around here. I hope you ran the brief video to hear this wonderful clock. It's my shop companion these days, mostly because the noise from the fluorescent lights drives my dog nuts. And to think, that's the reason I got her.

Back to the clock. It is a Seth Thomas 30-hour Ship's Bell clock made in 1919. These early versions of the ship's bell clock featured an external bell. Later the bell was housed inside the case. I do prefer this version as it is cool to look at and I think has a better sounding bell than the later version. Because its a 30-hour clock, part of my daily routine is to wind it. But I don't mind. I like the idea that it needs my help to do its job.

So, you may be asking what's with the four bells. For centuries the passage of time on a ship was signaled by ringing a bell every half hour. An hourglass kept the time. The ship's watches are divided up into 4-hour shifts; six per day. Therefore, at the completion of the first half hour of your watch, the bell would ring once, the first hour, it would ring twice, and so on until the end of the watch which was signaled with eight bells. Because I knock off at 6:00, the bell tolls four times.

Friday, August 6, 2010

Can Opener

A lowly can opener. Hardly. This is one of my all-time favorite tools. I say that because it is simple and does its job perfectly. I use it to open paint and finish cans. But wait, there's more. You probably noticed some writing on the business end of this beauty as I did. What you find there is the manufacturers name and a Patent date. The Patent date is Nov. 7, 1933.

I am sure that there is no need to tell you this, but there is actually a Google Patents site. This site is Shangri-La for tool geeks. The place where you can really get far more than you would ever need to know about any patented tool. Ahhh, nirvana. Punching in the Patent date delivers me the details of U.S. Patent No. 1934594, Container Opener by Henry J. Edlund, Burlington, Vermont. This dude was obviously way ahead of his time. Check out the drawing below and see all it can do.

Not too long ago I lost my can opening sidekick and was rather distraught about the whole thing. I was doing a job at the local library and after I got home that evening I found that it had gone missing. I enlisted my friend Lucy, the library director to help me track it down. It was no use. It was gone. I still suspect the library maintenance man, as i did notice him lusting over it while I worked that day.

However, all hope was not lost. After searching eBay for months, one turned up. And if I have to open cans on a job site in the future, I'm using a screwdriver.

Thursday, August 5, 2010

Oh Scrap!

Scrap, waste, and off-cuts, (not Cut-Offs, those are old jeans turned into shorts) are all terms for the wood left over from a project. Some woodworkers believe that there is no such thing, that its all usable down to the dust. That may be but they must have a lot more space and organizational skills than I do. I generate serious volumes of this stuff. What you'll find in my scrap bin includes cherry, walnut, pine, mahogany, oak, and maple. A medley of the great cabinet woods.

So, what do I do with it? I burn it. Its great kindling for the nightly fires we have in the house fireplace between September and May. In the off-season I save it up for the fire season and I usually have just about enough to get us through.

Dinner guests are often heard to exclaim " you can't burn that, its beautiful." My standard response is "unless you take it home with you, its going to be burned." We have one friend who takes me up on the offer and carries it home. I suspect that after they realize there is not much that they can do with it they burn it in their fireplace.

By the way, I did not win the auction for the windsor chair. It sold for $350.00. It wasn't such a sleeper after all.

Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Auction Preview

Today I previewed Eldred's anual summer americana auction. I regularly check out the local auction houses looking for 1) sleepers, 2) damaged, repairable period antiques or 3) furniture for the wood. We might have found a sleeper.

Catalog entry No. 526 is an "Antique American Fan-Back Windsor Side Chair, circa 1790, with carved scrolled ears. Nine spindle back. Branded signature "Fletchworth" on bottom of the seat."

Using my reference library I couldn't locate a maker "Fletchworth." After finding the chair at the preview, I turned it over to check to the makers mark. What I discovered was that the brand was actually "I. Lechtworth." In the eighteenth century the "I" was actually a "J". So, I was now looking for "J. Lechtworth." Now I hit pay-dirt with my references. James Lechtworth was a windsor chairmaker in Philadelphia in the late 18th century. In fact he is credited with designing a highly ornamental slat-back chair at the turn of the nineteenth century.

This type of chair was popular prior to the revolutionary war and likely dates to 1770 - 1775.

Wish me luck.

P.S. If you bid on this chair and win, I have ways of finding you.

Monday, August 2, 2010

French Cleat

A French Cleat is a brilliant method of hanging things on a wall (in this case a small cabinet), showing no obvious means of attachment. I do not know the history of the name, but the method has been around for a very long time.

In the photo above the cabinet back is recessed, so that the cleat can be completely concealed. In other words the cabinet will sit flush against the wall. The cleat consists of two identical parts; lengths of wood with a 45 degree bevel sawn on one edge. One half of the cleat is attached to the cabinet back, and the other half is attached to the wall. They are perfectly interlocking. By making the cleat shorter than the cabinet width, when the cabinet is hung in place it can be slid back and forth until it is in the desired position.