Tuesday, January 5, 2016

Professional Rules For Success

I have learned a few things over the years.  When I started out, thinking I could easily make a living working for myself, I was optimistic and confident that everything would be easy.  The first few years included some real setbacks and quite a learning curve, but I managed to keep it together and build a foundation for a business reputation which has served me well.

I thought it might be helpful to pass on some basic rules of the business for those who expect to follow their own path to success.  I have no illusions that I am like Steve Jobs.  I never had a desire to build the richest corporation on earth.  I just want to be paid for my talents.  Work with my hands.  Enjoy the days at the bench and go home satisfied.  Simple goals.

First of all, you need to know what your talent is.  That means there must be some inner desire to accomplish a task.  Following that impulse you should read books, search the internet (not possible when I was young), visit others in the same trade, and in general gather the basic information needed to execute the job.

From that position you can look for work which you are confident you can do.  Never practice on the job.  Practice on similar work you own.  In my case, I bought broken antiques and fixed them for myself.  In essence, I became the client.  When I was satisfied, the work was done.  Later, as I worked on the property for others, I followed the same goal: do the work as if it were for me.  Never cut corners or try to hide problems.  Do it right the first time.

If you don't have time to do it right, when will you have time to do it over?

There is one important point about this idea.  Do not price it for your self.  In other words, do not lower the price because you think you would not pay that much.  Remember, you have the talent to do the work.  Your client has hired you because they can't do it themselves.  They have other talents, like making money.  What they think is a "lot" of money is probably not what you think is a "lot".

Learn which clients to avoid and which clients are important by subtle clues.  Obviously, the zip code and neighborhood provide clues, as well as the kind of car parked in the garage.  But, more importantly, listen carefully to their comments and expectations.  Try to hear what they know about the work and what they say about other work they have had.  Are they happy?  Do they have problems?  Are they complaining all the time?  Are they just looking to sue someone?

Seriously, I had one client in the beginning who exhibited all these symptoms and I ignored it.  My job was to repair a broken back on a sofa which was covered in tapestry.  It was a bad copy but I was young and needed the work.  I took the sofa to the shop, pulled back the upholstery on one side and repaired the arm.  It looked perfect and I carefully tacked back the material.  It was one of those difficult deliveries where I had to carry the sofa up a cement stairway two flights around tight landings.  No elevator access.  With some help I managed, except at one point the wood touched the stucco and left a white mark about the size of a pencil eraser.  The client was watching me the entire way.

The next thing I know he refused to pay me.  I took him to small claims court where he won and I owed him a thousand dollars.  The bill for the job was less than $250.  I thought it was a bad decision and appealed to the Supreme court (not the Federal court).  When that case arrived I met him in the hall where he was standing next to the naked frame of the sofa and a black bag full of the stuffing.  He had taken the sofa apart!  He had brought "experts" to testify that I had destroyed the valuable antique.

I knew he was a lawyer, and when I stood up to present my case, I simply said, "Your honor, this plaintiff is practicing law using me as a test case."  The judge looked at him and asked, "Are you a lawyer?"  He said, proudly, "Yes!"  The judge said, "Then I will settle this case in your behalf.  Judgment is for the plaintiff in the amount of one dollar."

I paid him the dollar.  Lesson learned.

When pricing new work, be honest to yourself about how long it will really take.  Use increments like hours, half-days, weeks or months to create a price, using the hourly rate you need to survive.  Include a percentage of surplus time for your profit.  Not much.  Just in case.

I like to compare my hourly rate with that of a Mercedes mechanic.  Their rate is clearly posted in the shop and most of my clients have Mercedes.  They expect to pay that rate to have their car fixed.  They usually do not complain if I charge the same rate.

If you charge a proper rate for your time, include basic materials in the rate.  In my profession the cost of materials is small compared to the time.  Sand paper,  stains and finishes, glue, screws, wood and other materials represent a small percentage of the total bill.  I pay the tax when I buy the materials and I simply charge a labor rate for the job.  That way there is no tax to the customer.

Of course, if the job requires some special material which is expensive, I add for that.  For example, horsehair is costly, so I add that, as well as the final fabric, which is normally supplied by the client.

I always discuss in exact detail what the job requires with the client.  I take the time to explain carefully each step, essentially teaching them how to do it them selves.  After that lecture, they are happy to pay me to do it.

If the project is valuable, I insist gently that they visit my workshop.  I explain that they should know where the work will be done and what kind of a worker they are trusting with their object.  Quite often they don't want to take the time and just trust me, but I still recommend it.  Once they see my work shop they are clients for life.

Unless the job is quite expensive, I do not take deposits or payment in advance.  I need the motivation to do the work and get paid.  I tell them to pay me when they are satisfied.  If they are not satisfied, don't pay me.  I have seen jobs which were ruined by poor workers, and when I ask the client what they did, they always say, "I just paid them."  That is wrong, but people are too embarrassed to say that they are not satisfied.  By telling them not to pay me if they are not happy, I eliminate that concern.

I get paid in full upon delivery.  I accept cash, check or all credit cards.  It is a business.

Give a conservative time frame.  Normally I put on the invoice something like "2-4 weeks" or "6-8 weeks" or another date which we can agree to.  Establishing a working deadline notifies the client when to expect it back and when to pay me.  If I am earlier, fine.  The most serious problem in my business is when pieces sit around for a year or more.  That is never profitable and just bad business.

The invoice is a contract between the client and the worker.  It must clearly define the details of the job and the price.  If you do more work then on the invoice fine.  The price doesn't change.  Never do less than the agreed work.  Pay attention to small details and listen to what the client wants.  If you see a scratch ask them if that bothers them.  If not, why worry about it?  If they point out a small defect, note it on the invoice so that you can repair it.  It might not bother you but they will instantly look for it when you deliver the job, since it is a problem for them.

Pay attention to the placement of the furniture in the home.  If a highly polished table is directly in front of the window, every imperfection will be seen.  Charge more to do a perfect job.  If the rest of the furniture in the house has a dull waxed finish, recommend the same.  Try to restore the object, within reason, to meet both the expectations of the client as well as respecting the original intentions of the maker.

I do not charge for delivery within 150 miles, and I do not charge for estimates or written proposals.  I consider that part of the business service.  If I do not get the work, that is a learning experience.  However, I always get the work.  As far as deliveries, I can bundle most of my deliveries into one day a week and do them all at the same time.

Buy a good delivery truck, which is enclosed, like a van or Sprinter.  Buy lots of moving blankets.  Wrap the furniture carefully in blankets and tie securely.  You do not want to be responsible for causing damage.  Your job is to repair the damage caused by other inconsiderate movers who are careless.  When I was young, I had the great idea to approach moving companies and offer my services as a repairman.  I thought they would happily pay me for a couple days of instruction to their men so that clocks, display cases, highly polished furniture, and other pieces could be moved without damage.  Even though it would mean less work for me, I was idealistically thinking that I could reduce the amount of damage to fine antiques which was happening on a regular basis.  In every case they refused.  They considered damage a "cost of business."

Imagine if your bank lost some of your money and considered it a "cost of business?"  I mean it's one thing to ask a kid with a pick up truck to move your Hepplewhite dining set, but to pay a professional company to destroy it?  I am not making this up.  I was asked to repair the top of a period dining table in Newport Beach after the moving company delivered it, placed the top carefully upside down on blankets and screwed back the pedestals.  The sheet rock screws they used were long enough to go through the pedestal braces, through the Cuban mahogany top and into the floor.  After all 12 screws were in place they realized they couldn't lift the table.  That was a fun job to restore!

Pay for insurance.  It is important to be professional.  I am insured the minute I walk into the home.  If I break it in the home I am covered.  If it breaks in my truck I am covered.  If I damage it during the restoration I am covered.  At all phases of my contact with the object I am protected.  That said, in all the years I have paid for good insurance I have never had a claim.  Still, if you consider yourself a professional you need to include the cost of insurance in your overhead.

I have already discussed in a previous post how to calculate your hourly rate.  Simply put you need to know exactly how much per day it costs you to be in business.  At the end of the year look at the total expenditures and divide by 365 to get a per diem cost.  Then you need to determine your productivity or efficiency percentage.  If you work 8 hours a day but only 4 of them are directly billable to the client then you are 50% efficient.  So if your actual overhead is $200/day and your efficiency rate is 50% you need to bill $50/hour.  Even though you are at work 8 hours you only are producing 4 hours of billable time and thus get $200.  To improve your situation you have three options: reduce your overhead, increase your productivity, or raise your hourly rate.

Notice that you must earn your overhead every day of the year.  That works if you are not sick or take weekends or vacation time off.  If you miss a day therefore you must double your billable hours the next day.  Otherwise, divide your annual cost of overhead by the actual number of days you actually work to get a different per diem goal.

I worked for many years on a schedule which was every day for three months, then a month off for travel.  Instead of 52 weekends a year, I enjoyed 3 months of travel.  Sacrificing a couple days off work a week is not so painful when you are traveling in Europe or American visiting shops and museums three times a year.

Most importantly, stay in one location, if you can.  Even better, buy your business location.  It is a great investment to own commercial property.  If you manage to pay it off, then you are set for life.  When you no longer want to work you can lease your location and live off the income.

That is my plan.  I already have paid off all my debts, including mortgage.  That is one reason I managed to survive the crash of 2008.  I just don't want to quit working.  I love my job too much.

Sunday, January 3, 2016

Life In The Past Lane

I first discovered Google Blogspot 5 years ago, while visiting other blogs that interested me.  I grew up with the early years of television and first thought it would be a great instrument for mass education.  That theory has been proven false.  It's not even a good instrument for news and facts.

On the other hand, with the widespread use of the computer and the birth of the world web, my belief that this could be the instrument for education transmission is restored.  Of course, the web is full of junk and false information, since it reflects the bulk of the world's population, which is also full of crazy people.  For good or bad, there is no real filter (yet) on the internet.

That said, when I first decided to create a blog my goal was not to promote myself but to put down in posts what I thought was valuable information.  I thought that some of my experience would be important for others to use, and in some way, push forward the craft that I love so much.

This is one reason I have not clicked on the "monetize your site" button and included advertisement on my site.  I don't like the web sites that include advertisements and I don't want to promote that concept.  Using the system to make money is exactly why television failed.  This is what gave us "lard ass" reality shows.

One great feature of blogspot is that it provides stats and analysis for me to use.  It is exciting and rewarding to realize that I have had over 300,000 page hits on 240 posts.  It is also surprising that, in addition to readers in the US, I have had significant numbers of readers in other countries.  I descending order: Canada, Russia, United Kingdom, France, Belgium, Australia, Germany, Ukraine and Poland.  Wow!  I have followers in Poland!

This site has averaged 6,000 page views per month for several years.  I guess that, in the grand scheme of things on the internet, this is not a historic number.  However, it makes me feel wanted and encourages me to continue posting as the urge presents itself.

The one feature which I cannot find on blogspot is some kind of index of the posts.  As a traditional book reader, I have always found using the index in the back of the book useful.  It allows me to look up exactly the word or term I am looking for and go to that page.  Of course this site has a "search" button, but, without knowing what the past posts contain exactly it is not easy to find what you are looking for.

Now that it has been 5 years I thought I would take some time and create my own user index.  I have compiled the most popular posts, starting in July, 2010 and up to this year.  Here is a list for you to use, if you are interested.  Each post has the date, title and number of views.  If you find what you want, then use the "search" button to read that post.  I am not going to take the time to link each post. You can do some of the work yourself.  After all, it is my blog and I can do what I want with it.

2010

7/10/10 (First post) I Love Marquetry (240 views)
7/26/10 Sawn Veneer vrs Sliced Veneer (1709)
9/7/10 Hand Tool Workshop (945)
9/28/10 When Is A Veneer Hammer Not A Veneer Hammer? (1543)
9/29/10 Marquetry For All Ages (2787)
9/30/10 ASFM Graduate Student Work (1361)
10/06/10 Working Large Marquetry Pictures (950)
10/10/10 The Assembly Board (1611)
10/17/10 Patrick George Sawing Veneer Video (1326)
11/15/10 La Multiplication Des Chevalets De Marqueterie (946)
11/18/10 What Is A Chevalet Kit? (821)

2011

4/27/11 Toothing Planes And Glue Pots (705)
5/2/11 More Toothing Plane Info (1060)
5/28/11 Veneer Tools: Saw (1722)
5/29/11 Veneer Tools: Hammer (1735)
8/28/11 Restoring Boulle (3611)
10/8/11 Typical Upholstery Project (1907)

2012

1/7/12 Why Use Reversible Glue? (1550)
2/21/12 American School of French Marquetry (1031)
10/18/12 Chevalet Anatomy Lesson (1343)
11/4/12 Typical Marquetry Restoration (2051)
11/18/12 Tambour Glue (3065)

2013

1/4/13  Why Cuban Mahogany? (3511)
2/25/13 Are Institute of Chicago Project (3512)
2/27/13 The History of The Chevalet De Marqueterie (3409)
3/19/13 Simple Things: Glue Blocks (1569)
3/30/13 Simple Things: Dovetails (1279)
4/15/13 LeCount Project (1133)
5/5/13 Paris 11th Arrondissement (1168)
6/3/13 Is It Real? (938)
7/20/13 LeCount Clock Door (1012)
8/9/13 Assembly Board Videos (1332)
8/12/13 Chicago Kitchen Job (1261)
10/1/13 We've Got Nails! (1254)
10/2/13 LeCount Ready For Adoption (1002)
10/23/13 Roubo Redux (1229)
11/23/13 The Future Of American Trades (1008)
11/25/13 The Future Of American Trades (991)
12/14/13 Got Antiques? (1881)
12/21/13 Got Ivory? Got Tortoise Shell? Got Cuban Mahogany? Dalbergia Negra? (1343)
12/27/13 Why Not Period Glue? (982)
12/31/13 Respect The Screw (943)

2014

Although I posted continuously during the year, none of the posts reached the 1000 view level.

2015

The drought continues, as I focus on my work and not the blog.  Not to say that nothing was posted that was important, just that only two posts reached earlier levels:

7/28/15 Chevalet In A Box Delivered! (1606)
9/12/15 WPE at WIA Soon (1214)

The most rewarding feedback I get from doing this blog is reading the comments.  I have always responded to the comments and this information provides me with inspiration for future posts.  I hope this effort to provide a short index of the most viewed topics will create some feedback.

I want to post information which is interesting and informative.  Let me know what you want.

Thursday, December 31, 2015

Where Have All The Antiques Gone?

Here's Looking At You Kid 2016



As I walk to work every day, I ponder the complexities of life and the simplicity of living.  It takes me about 10 minutes if I walk briskly and slightly more if I stop to look at things around me.  During that time, when I am not bothered by the appointments and responsibilities of work, I am able to do "free thinking."

Lately I have been reflecting more and more about the antique business and what I have learned over the past 46 years walking the same neighborhood and doing essentially the same work, restoring old furniture.  Today, since this is the last day of the year, I decided to sit down and put into words some of the thoughts that have occupied me over the past year.

In particular, "What has happened to the antique business?"

Last week, a good friend and highly respected appraiser in the business, sent me an article from the recent issue of the Economist, written by fellow appraser Marcus Wardell.  As I read this piece, it seemed to reinforce all the opinions I have formed during the past few years, as the business I am in has undergone significant changes.

Just this week Patrice and I were standing in the workshop, surrounded by projects, and we were discussing how, just 10 years ago, this shop was full of period 18th century pieces of the highest quality.  Today it seems to be just "old" furniture, mostly without much value.  What happened?

Sure, we still are working on Boulle surfaces and, in some cases, high end pieces.  But, there are not dozens of projects of similar quality waiting in line for our specialized attention.  We are not driving around Bel Air and Rancho Santa Fe on weekly deliveries like we did for decades.

To start out his article, Mr. Wardell notes that the Louvre des Antiquaires, located just across the street from the Louvre museum in Paris, is now in the process of closing shops and turning into a retail space for high end fashions.  He points out that, in London, all but three of the hundreds of antique shops have disappeared in the traditional "brown mile" of stores.  In New York City, Kentshire Galleries closed and sold its remaining inventory at Sotheby's.  All the top auction houses now feature much less furniture and are focusing on contemporary art, jewelry and wine.

Here, in my neighborhood, the local paper had a lead story last month which announced the end of "Antique Row" on Adams Avenue, where I first opened my store in June of 1969.  I still remember the antique dealer from the store directly across the street walking in to meet me.  In a rather cheerful tone, he asked me "What do you do for a living?"  I replied in my most confident voice, "I am an antique dealer."  His reply was simply, "Yes, but what do you do for a living?"

Now it's almost a half century later and I still wonder how I make a living at this craft.  In my defense, even though I don't have a million dollars in the bank, I do own my business location, all my tools, materials and inventory, as well as nice cars and a large home near the park.  All bought and paid for by working with my hands, and experience gained from living with antiques.

When I started out in the business you could buy real nice old furniture, in oak, walnut, rosewood and mahogany, for very little money.  I found many nice early pieces in thrift stores and used furniture stores.  With a little work cleaning and fixing small details, I could turn a quick profit, as the market for buying antiques was growing rapidly, and demand remained strong through the Bicentennial in 1976.

Today there is no demand for this early stuff at all.  Why?

Part of it is that to appreciate antiques you need a sophisticated understand of early culture, craft and historical perspective.  I am sorry to say these talents are not so common in the younger generation, who should, by all accounts, be the consumer for these items.  Rather than consume durable goods, the general attitude these days is to own disposable objects.  When they break they are just replaced.  Just look at our attitude towards electronic items, like TV's and phones.  They are expensive and last a few years.  Because the newer versions are so much better and the old ones were not designed to be repaired, they are just discarded when they break or become obsolete.

This is not environmentally sustainable.

It is true that, over centuries of collecting objects, the desire to own objects from an earlier period has gone up and down with periodic cycles of demand.  In ancient Rome the elite sought out Greek bronzes, sculptures and vases.  Again, during the Renaissance, rich young gentlemen took the Grand Tour and returned flush with valuable antiques to demonstrate their worldly experience.

With the emergence of the middle class during the Victorian Period, a large new consumer class began to spend money on early objects to decorate their homes.  Mr Wardell points out "By 1890 Paris had 300 antique shops, up from 25 in 1850...but antiques, like clothes, go in and out of style.  They boomed again in the 1950's and 1980's, when 'period rooms' in a single nostalgic style were all the rage."

When I read interior design magazines today or visit rich client's homes, all I see are simple, unassuming, plain lines, devoid of decoration or expensive materials.  Each room is designed exactly like a hotel room.  Neutral colors, basic functionality, predictable forms and function.  Nothing to challenge the senses or intellect.  Nothing to draw your attention.  In my opinion, completely boring.

Mr. Wardell continues: "Many successful decorators sell furniture lines, and therefore have a financial incentive to suggest new items.  Appreciating antiques, and knowing what to buy and at what price, takes study and training that few people have."

There is another aspect to this lack of investment in antiques which I can directly blame on the dealers themselves.  The presence of fakes, and the common practice of selling fakes and copies as "authentic" has seriously damaged the confidence of the consumer.  Too many times I have been the expert who has to explain to the owner that the expensive antique he just bought is a "pastiche" or simple fake, and that it has nothing more then decorative value.

For example, in Los Angeles many years ago I was asked by my friend, the appraiser, to provide analysis of a rather large and expensive armoire.  The client had paid $250,000 for this cabinet, which was a Louis XV television cabinet!  The dealer had taken two armoires, cut one in half down the center and attached the sides to each end of the center armoire, making a single cabinet about 8 feet wide.

We were able to get the dealer to refund the money and the cabinet was returned to the store.  Several years after that, as I was in another mansion up in the hills above LA, I mentioned this event to the client, who then exclaimed "I think you had better look at the armoire in my bedroom!"  To my surprise, it was the same cabinet, sold at the same price, by the same dealer.  Again we were able to get the dealer to refund the money and the cabinet was returned.

Soon after that event, as I drove down the street in the antique section of Los Angeles, I looked in the window of the dealer's store and there, in all its glory, stood the same cabinet waiting for the next victim.

These actions do not instill confidence in the buyer.  If only the dealer would clearly price the genuine antiques properly and identify the "decorator" pieces fairly, the buyer would be more inclined to shop.  The lure of the quick buck by these unscrupulous dealers has ruined the market.

On another point, our living habits have changed in the past generation.  Armoires which used to be popular for hiding TVs are not needed, as flat screen televisions are just screwed to the wall.  Smaller rooms in homes and condos do not work well with larger pieces of furniture.  Modern architecture does not include traditional spaces for traditional furniture.  In fact the dining room has disappeared, as we often eat in front of the TV and formal dining parties are less and less common.  Gone is the demand for sideboards and dining tables and chairs.  They are worthless these days.

There is one part of the antique market which has always been solid: the 1%.  It is a fact that the genuine object, which has been professionally conserved and includes a significant provenance will always demand a high price.  These pieces are naturally rare and the very sophisticated consumers with unlimited resources will compete for ownership and bragging rights.  As Mr. Wardell mentions: "They see antiques as 'an undervalued piece of art'."

One of the most famous antique dealers in Paris, Benjamin Steinitz, says "If you have a Picasso or Jeff Koons everyone knows what it is and that you're a success.  If you have a lovely Andre-Charles Boulle desk, people may think you have the taste of your grandmother."

When the world economy crashed in 2008, the business of antiques was hit hard.  Since the market for furniture is directly related to the health of the real estate market, buyers stopped buying.  As the market recovered in real estate it is interesting that the market for antiques failed to follow.  The reason is that there is way too much inventory.  After the crash I noticed a trend among high end antiques dealers.  Since it is not good business to put "Half Off Sale!" signs in the window of a high end shop, these dealers began quietly disposing of their unsold inventory which was in storage.  For several years the auction houses have been full of this inventory, which has returned only a fraction of its original pre-2008 value.

I have seen too many examples of clients who paid at the top the market and now are selling at the bottom of the market.  They are often forced to settle for a small fraction of their initial investment.  The demand just doesn't match the supply.  At the same time that dealers are liquidating tons of stock, the older clients are down sizing.  Since their children do not want the stuff they have collected over their life time, they are forced to either settle for a fraction of its worth or just give it away.

The market for antiques today, such as it exists, has transformed from a knowledgeable dealer in a bricks and mortar business location to an unknown person with a internet connection.  Ebay, Craig's list,1st Dibs and similar sites are now the preferred place to shop, with all the problems associated with gambling on the unknown.

As I walk to work each day these thoughts fill my mind.  But I am not discouraged or depressed.  I am always excited to come to work and enthused about the future for my craft.  I console myself with the realization that antiques have survived the test of time and will return to fashion at some point in the future.  It may take years, but I am a very patient person.  Life is a process, not a destination.

I live and work with antique furniture because it gives me comfort and pleasure.  I have never thought of "investing" in antiques for a profit.  They are not a good investment commodity, in any event, as they are not easy to sell, like stocks.  You buy them because they give you pleasure.  They are beautiful to look at and they make a home personal and stimulating to live in.  They "speak" to me, since I understand how they were made and used.  I am transported back in time to a period when quality was measured by skill and materials.

I care about the world and its finite resources.  Rare woods and materials are disappearing.  It is no longer possible to cut down huge mahogany, cherry or walnut trees, or harvest tortoise shell or ivory. Why not protect the surviving resources as they exist in antique objects?  I am the first person to support CITIES and the protection of endangered species, but I am the last person to throw a tortoise shell and ivory tea caddy that was made in 1800 away in the trash.

Collecting and restoring antiques not only preserves these early objects for the future, when they will once again be in demand, but also reduces the need for new replacement objects that have an increasing carbon footprint.  Modern furniture uses a high percentage of man-made synthetic materials and often toxic chemicals.  In addition, the manufacture and transport of these new items is causing enormous damage to the environment.

Mr. Wardell concludes his article as follows: "Today's youngsters, who are much more socially conscious, will wake up to the appeal of buying something that exists already and is handcrafted from high-quality wood, rather than something that requires a new tree to be cut down and may have been manufactured in poor working conditions."

Remember, an antique piece of furniture was made from a tree that was harvested by hand, transported by wind and water power, and made into its final shape with human effort.  You can't get more "green" than that!  Give a homeless antique shelter.  Open your home to the past.








Saturday, November 7, 2015

Two Exciting New Videos!






Treasure Box Series II
I have been away from my bench for some time, living in a cabin in Montana.  When I am there my life is completely changed.  There is a simple artesian well and all the water needs to be collected and carried into the cabin several times a day.  There is also a need to chop wood and keep the stove going, from morning to dawn, so you don't freeze this time of year.  The only concession to modern life is that we put in electricity to operate the 1950 refrigerator, and at the same time we have lights, which is a big improvement over lanterns and candles.

Then there is the outhouse, situated at a safe distance from the cabin.  Since I am now at a "certain age," I recently put a light and small electric heater in the outhouse, so that provides me with the most comfort possible.  Still, running outside in freezing cold to get there takes a bit of courage.

During my absence, Patrice was working hard on his upgraded computer to produce a video promoting our recent projects, the Treasure Box Series.  Upon completion of the Second Series of boxes, we had the good fortune to borrow back one of the First Series from a client.

Thus, we had an example of each of the Boxes to show at the same time.  Patrice and I took some time to shoot video of how each box operates and what the "secret" internal mechanisms were.

In the First Series boxes, there is a simple button and lever which releases the lid.  In the Second Series we used springs and an invisible button to release the writing surface.  This video allows us to demonstrate how each works, as well as what the internal veneer decoration looks like.

We are very proud to have produced a limited series of four copies for each design, and that all of them have found good homes.  A sincere "thank you" to our clients who support our work.



Another video I found interesting came in by email just this week.  I am excited to see that Joshua Klein is getting close to completing the first issue of his magazine, "Mortise and Tenon."  When I first heard of his efforts I immediately placed an advertisement with him promoting Old Brown Glue.

We discussed at some length his "mission statement" to combine the philosophy of furniture conservation with furniture creation and restoration, and that is close to my heart.

Mortise & Tenon Magazine from Joshua Klein on Vimeo.

I hope you enjoy these two short videos, as well as others we have posted on our YouTube channel, "3815Utah."


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Final Delivery: Treasure Box Series II

Proud Parents in Delivery Room


If you have red this blog for some time you are aware we have been working on the series of Treasure Boxes, designed to show off our marquetry skills (and make some money!).

As I recall, Treasure Box Series I started on the drawing table in November 2011 and we made 4 copies.  Three of the series had olive, kingwood and tulip wood interiors and the forth had custom trays for jewelry made of ebony and lined with parchment.  All of these boxes were sold and paid for before they were done and the last was delivered in January 2013.

Treasure Box Series I


Treasure Box Series I was 440 X 340 x 140mm in size and I am holding one in the photo above.

We immediately started designing Treasure Box Series II and by June 2013 had the final designs, which were presented to clients and, as a result, two were sold and paid for.  We had to raise the price since the design was more complicated and the box construction was more involved, with a secret release that allowed the gilt leather writing surface to open.





Treasure Box Series II with Gilt Leather Writing Surface

We used white bone from Paris for the inlay and flowers and thanks to Don Williams were able to tint it green for the leaves.  On both the boxes we used sawn Gabon ebony which we were lucky to purchase in Paris.  This pure black wood is getting very difficult to find and we have a fairly good supply at this point.  We don't know what we will do when it comes time to replace it.



Treasure Box Series II

By the time we completed polishing the second series of 4 identical boxes, they were all sold and paid for.  We are pleased that our clients are willing to support this craft at this level, as it is not cheap to do it this way and we insist on producing an object using exactly the same methods and materials as would have been used at the end of the 17th century.  We are proud that we are making the finest examples of French marquetry in this country, as these boxes demonstrate.



Treasure Box Series II Top Design


Treasure Box Series II is 410 X 340 X 100mm and Patrice is holding one in the photo above.

Patrice Lejeune has spent a lot of time documenting the process of creating these boxes on his blog and on Lumberjocks.  You can see his post here:Patrice Lejeune Blog Post: Treasure Box Series II

I would be excited to see your comments on our work.

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five SAPFM Cartouche Winners Together



Left to Right: 2013, 2008, 2005, 2011 and 2014

I just returned from the 2015 WIA in Kansas City.  It was a wonderful time with lots of expert woodworkers teaching lots of other expert woodworkers about everything.  There must have been around 20 different classrooms each with 4 or 5 different classes.

I started the day early Friday with a class on the history of marquetry and finished the day with a class on understanding protein glues.  The class rooms held around 50 people and the glue class was standing room only at the end.  Obviously more people are excited to learn about glues than something old and dusty like world marquetry.

For those of you who have not attended the annual Woodworking in America events, I strongly urge you to find time to attend next year.  Popular Woodworking magazine produces these events and it is a perfect mix of education and market place activities.

I also presented a lecture and demonstration on French Polishing, but I started out with the obvious disclaimer that it is impossible to learn it from a 2 hour talk.  In fact, I know professional polishers in Europe who have been full time polishers for over 10 years who still admit that they don't know everything about it.

After the market place closed on Saturday, it was a great opportunity for the SAPFM Cartouche winners to get together at the SAPFM booth for a photo.  What a great chance for 5 of us to stand together: Will Neptune, Al Sharp, Phil Lowe, Ben Hobbs and myself.  Funny fact: 4 of the 5 were born in the same year, 1948.  Makes you wonder what was in the milk at that time?

On Friday and Saturday the market place is an active center of tools, books, more tools, and woodworkers of all skill levels mingling around talking and buying stuff.  It is a lot of fun.  Thank goodness that I have every tool I need at this point so I am not tempted to get more.  That said, some of the planes and saws are absolutely perfect and would be very easy to bring home.

I have become fairly well known in these circles as the maker of Old Brown Glue, and I took 100 bottles to pass out for free just to promote my glue.  Last year we actually bought a booth and sold the glue, but the cost of the booth and the glue sales broke even.  So this year, instead of being tied to a booth for two days, we decided to just take the glue and make it free.  It felt good passing out glue.

It is interesting to note that one of the primary sponsors of the event was a very well known brand of polyurethane glue.  The glue which you find advertised everywhere.  The glue which cannot be removed from your skin with any solvent.  The glue which is toxic and scored a 53% strength score by independent testing at Fine Woodworking (Issue #192, August 2007, page 37) when compared to PVA Type I waterproof glue.

In the same test, I am proud to say that Old Brown Glue scored a 79% strength score.  This was the highest score for any glue which is organic and reversible.  The average breaking point in the test for Old Brown Glue was 1595 pounds where polyurethane glue broke at an average of 1164 pounds.

Thus OBG can hold 431 pounds more load than the best polyurethane glue.  Since the average male gorilla in the wild weighs 400 pounds, you can think of a standard gorilla unit as a measurement of strength.  Note this is a full grown male gorilla.  We will call a gorilla unit a "G force".

In conclusion, polyurethane glue is 3G and OBG is 4G in strength.

There are 4 Gorillas in Every Bottle of OBG.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Life of a Picker or On The Road Again

I just returned from delivering a Federal card table to an old client in Dallas.  This was a table I made many years ago and always thought I would keep for myself.  It stood in the front window of the shop with the SAPFM Cartouche on top.  Now I have to make another table to fill the gap.

It has been many years since I drove East on 8.  It brought back many memories of trips I made some 40 years ago, during my early years as a collector and dealer of American furniture. I often watch the two guys on the TV these days, driving their Sprinter around the country side digging up broken bicycles and old signs.  That was my life for nearly a decade during the 1970's.

Starting in 1969, when I opened my antique business, I began regular driving trips to collect inventory and visit historic houses and museums.  Since I lived in San Diego, it was essential that I travel to the East to find bargains and inventory that I could restore and sell.  I had a Ford F250 pick up truck with a large cab over camper.  It had a bed, sink, stove and toilet, as well as two extra gas tanks.  With over 60 gallons of gas I could drive many miles before needing to stop and refill.

I would take as much cash as I could spare and drive East, nearly every month.  I must have made at least 50 trips around the country during that decade, each time taking someone to help me travel.  I took my wife, my brother, my cousin or any good friend who wanted to travel.  We had some real adventures.

My buying trips began with trips to the mid West, around Omaha, where, during that time, farms were being sold and farm house furniture was available for a song.  I could buy press back oak chairs for $5/each, oak tables for $40, roll top desks for $100 and once I bought a  dozen treadle sewing machines for $10/each.  Anything made of oak would quickly sell as soon as it was refinished, and I would take the profit and go again.

Once I stopped in Omaha at an old antique shop downtown, in a large old brick building.  This was before I upgraded to the camper, and I just had an open lumber rack on the truck.  The owner of the shop told me that he was closing and that I could have everything in the basement for $200.  I went down the stairs with a flashlight and saw tons of stuff.  More than I could possibly take.  My brother and I started loading the truck and, when we got the pile up to about 12 feet we tied it securely and took off.  It looked crazy, with tables on the roof of the cab and stuff sticking out the back of the tail gate.

At some point on our return I remember having to stop suddenly at a stop light and watching a large round oak table top slid off the roof, hit the hood and end up in the middle of the intersection.

When we crossed over the State line into Kansas, sticking to the back roads, as was our habit, we were immediately pulled over by the State Police.  My brother and I both had long hair, were barefoot and looked like hippies, which we actually were.  I was following all the traffic rules, so I thought he pulled us over because the load looked unstable.

We were treated rather roughly and he asked me for a receipt for all the items in the truck.  I said that I had bought it all with cash for $200 and had no receipt.  He said that there had been a lot of house robberies  lately and we looked suspicious.  I admitted that we probably looked suspicious, but that it was the truth.  I took some time for him to let us go.  We did not return to that part of Kansas again.

Last week, as I drove again through Los Cruces I was reminded of another time my brother and I got in trouble with the law.  The drive shaft fell out of our truck and we needed to find a repair shop.  We found a nice family business that was willing to help but they did not have the part.  They told us that we could find it in a junk yard in El Paso, but it was late so we decided to hitch a ride the next day.  My brother and I walked to the intersection of the highway and found a clean place by the side of the road to sleep.  I remember it was difficult to sleep, with the semi trucks driving by a few feet away, but we had no alternative.

About 2 in the morning we woke up with bright lights in our faces.  The local sheriff had found us and was not happy.  He told us to get out of town.  Now.  We walked to the edge of town with him driving behind us all the way, making sure we were leaving.  The next day we stood for hours with our thumbs out hoping to get a ride to El Paso, which finally happened.  Then we found the drive shaft, but the bus would not let us get on with a drive shaft, so we had to hitch back.  It took all day.

People do not easily pick up two hippies, who had slept in the dirt all night, while they are holding a 6 foot drive shaft.

The Mexican family took us in when we returned, fed us and let us sleep on their floor, even thought neither of us spoke the other's language.  After they fixed the truck we were on our way.

Probably the most interesting incident with the law happened in Wichita, Kansas.  My friend and I were loaded with antiques and returning through town after mid night, during a snow storm.  My friend had long red hair and we both were dirty and tired from a long trip.  Since it was snowing, I was driving about 10 miles an hour and thought I was the only vehicle on the road at the time.  However a State Trooper pulled up behind us and turned on his red light.

When I stopped, he asked me for my license and registration and to step out of the truck.  It was cold.  He told me to get into his car.  Then he drove away!  I had no idea what was happening and he said nothing.  We drove across town and out a dirt road into the dark.  You can imagine what I was thinking.  This is the end of the road for me.

He took me to a house, unlocked the front door and told me to go inside.  What was I supposed to do?  Then he walked me into his bedroom, where his wife was sleeping in the bed.  It was dark and he turned on the light.  His wife woke up and asked what he was doing home.  He told her that he had found an antique dealer and was going to show me some of the antiques he wanted to sell.  He then pointed his flashlight at the dresser next to the bed and asked, "What about that one?"

OMG!

During the next 15 minutes he walked me around the house, into the kids room, into the living room and in each room asking me if I wanted to buy anything.

I told him that I was returning with a full load but would certainly stop in the next trip.

Finally, he drove me back to my truck where my friend was nearly frozen.  As I got into the truck, turned on the engine and began to slowly drive off into the snow storm, he asked me, "What was that all about?  You were gone for over an hour!"

I just said, "I don't want to talk about it."  And we never returned to Wichita either.