Wednesday, November 7, 2018

50 Years A Teacher

Welcome to my World

I have had a fortunate life.  I have worked very hard to pass on the "secrets" of the trade as they have been entrusted to me by many wonderful teachers.  I am saddened that my mentors have passed on and I only have the memories of time spent at their feet.  Now it is my turn.  I firmly believe that if you leave this earth before you give away the lessons you have learned that it is a crime.

Since I was raised as a scientist in my early years, I believe in sharing all knowledge.  Only by working together in discovering facts and communicating with like minded researchers can this fragile civilization evolve.  Over the centuries men have taken secrets to their grave  and that only hurts our chances for understanding what it means to be alive.  The wonderful essence of the human race is that it thrives on information.  The next generation needs nourishment.  That is our responsibility.

When I started teaching many years ago, California provided life time certificates for teachers.  They no longer do that, for some reason.  However, I have them on the wall above my desk.  I am qualified by the state to teach the following subjects (for life!);

Physics, Mathematics, History, Philosophy, Antiques, Decorative Arts and Related Technologies, Art History and Appreciation 1-3.  I don't have any certificate but I also teach Traditional French Marquetry in my own school.

I enjoy speaking in public and giving lectures.  It gives me purpose to research and prepare a talk, and satisfaction when it is delivered.  I have lost count of the many different groups who have asked me to make a presentation, over many years.

Recently, however, I had a request to speak which gave me a special emotion.  I was part of the first freshman class at UCSD in 1967.  Although the new campus had transferred upper division students in a few years before, we were the first freshman class to complete a full 4 year curriculum.  When we stepped on campus for the first time, we were greeted by the provost, Paul Saltman.  He stood up in front of a very small group of us young freshman and said, "I know you all are here thinking you will be scientists.  I know you all are outstanding students in math, chemistry, physics and other related fields.  However, I want you to know something.  By the time you graduate from this college you will all be Renaissance Men!"

I recall the murmuring among my fellow students at the time..."We don't want to be Renaissance Men, we just want to be Scientists!"

Personally, I just wanted to keep my student deferment so I wouldn't have to go to Viet Nam.  I decided to plan my studies so that I would stay in college for 5 years.  That meant I would delay my major (Physics) and front load as many other classes as I could in my minor (History).  I signed up for music, philosophy, religion, literature, history, and any class that looked interesting.  I learned a lot, and had some fantastic instructors.

Then, in 1968 the draft was instituted and I lost my 2S deferment and received a 1A draft card.  Fortunately, the lottery number I was given was 240, so it was unlikely that I would be drafted that year.  In order to draft me the government would have to draft everyone in 1969 and then go back to pick up the remainder of the 1A students in 1968.  Each year my chances were reduced, so I changed my plans and decided to graduate in the original 4 years.

That decision was difficult.  It was not a matter of cost, since in those early years an education was not expensive.  It was a matter of taking 24 and 26 units a quarter in my Junior and Senior year with only Physics, Math and Chemistry classes.  My brain started to turn to mush.  Although I was able to get passing grades in all my classes, when it came time for finals week, I was on a different planet.  I would take a 3 hour exam in Plasma Physics, then rush across campus to take a 3 hour exam in Calculus, then the next day repeat in different subjects.

I should remind you that this was a time when there were no such things as cell phones, hand held computers, or other digital aids.  Everything I learned was Analog:  think slide rules, pencil and paper.  Many of the Calculus problems would take pages and pages of hand written work to solve.  In one case, a group of us sat in the library trying to solve a problem on a take home test.  When we turned it into the teacher in class, I was designated by the group to ask the teacher how to solve problem #2.  We had not found a solution and wondered what was the answer.

He said, "There is actually no solution to problem 2.  I just take the papers and throw them down the stairs.  The ones that go the farthest are given the highest grades."

When I graduated in 1971 the school changed its policy and decided to allow computers to be used in class.  I was an analog thinker.  I spent my time in school with either a pencil and paper or a piece of chalk and a chalkboard.  I did not want to start over and join the digital revolution, which has now completely changed education as we know it.  We now have Artificial Intelligence.

So when I was invited to speak at UCSD recently, it was an interesting mix of old memories and new environments, as the school has grown into one of the top schools in the country, many times larger than the size of the Revelle College campus I attended years ago.  In 1974 the Osher Institute was created, originally as a forum for "retired professionals" to share their experiences and knowledge.  I had no idea, as I had rarely returned to the school after graduation.

The Osher Institute asked me to speak on my work and philosophy and it gave me a chance to thank Paul Saltman for his encouragement, even though he was only a memory to those in the audience.  Here I was, a real Renaissance Man, living with the Workmanship of Risk, and demonstrating to those who attended that life can be rewarding and you can be successful working with your hands.

You may be interested in my talk.  It is an hour long.  With permission from the Osher Institute, I am posting it here:

Saturday, September 1, 2018

Message in a Bottle

As I walk to work every day at dawn, I listen to the neighborhood sounds as it begins to wake up. Fortunately the residential streets are empty, so there are no disturbing fossil fuel sounds.  But I am surrounded by the unique conversation among the birds, and entertained by their flight overhead.  Watching the birds makes me aware of the clouds, which change constantly.  The local dogs and cats talk to me as I pass, each one a friendly stranger.  Most of all, when there is a breeze I struggle to hear the sound of each leaf on the trees as they move against each other.

My journey each day is walking East into the rising sun and, at the end of the day, walking West into the setting sun.  I imagine the Earth rotating under my feet and wonder if my efforts pushing against the sidewalk actually contribute to the energy of its rotation.  The principles of physics, which I was trained in 50 years ago, suggests that force, mass and acceleration are connected.   But then I think of another person, exactly my size, moving in the opposite direction, and everything cancels out...

Kind reader, you may have noticed that I have been absent in posting on this blog this year.  For me, this year has been very busy and I have enjoyed working on large and exciting projects.  The hours of the day are connected by activities which demand my attention.  I have less and less energy for sitting in front of the keyboard and reflecting.  Today I just thought I should stop for a moment and put down what is going through my mind.

Why do I post?  Who am I talking to?  What is the meaning of it all?

I am turning 70 years old soon, and have done the same thing for the past 50 years.  When I say "the same thing" I mean exactly that.  Every day I repeat the motions of the day before.  On one hand there is a comfort in knowing what the day will bring.  On the other hand, there is excitement in approaching the different jobs that sit on my bench at work.  Life is rather easy.  I have achieved all my goals and been successful in my business.  I have good friends and a wonderful, happy family.  My clients trust me and I am able to earn an honest wage.

I have reflected before in my posts about my life.   I was born when TV was invented and went to school when a slide rule was used for calculations.  I worked in physics when IBM punch cards were the standard program, and bought one of the first CPM computers that were made.  I wonder if any kid today would know what a "C>" means?

I had a bit of television experience, when I still believed that TV could be used for educational purposes.  After Reality TV became the norm, I gave up on that idea.  Then the internet was introduced and I became excited about research and communication again.  However, the baser instincts of civilization soon realized that this was a perfect way to spread hatred and jealously.  Emails changed the construction of language into emojis and Twitter finished it off.  No one seriously thinks about what they write any more.  Grammar and spelling have been abandoned.  Coherent thinking is hard to find, and there is even some dispute among us about what a "fact" is...

I was reminded of this yesterday, when I looked at Facebook.  There are always posts which show a mathematical formula and ask "what is the answer?"  Following this post are comments about how to solve the problem, with nasty comments about who is right and who is wrong.  In the middle of this thread, one of the comments was "Just stop.  Seriously, just stop.  It's math!"

I feel that way.  Facts are facts.  Science is important.  We can evolve and improve the world if we only understand the facts, and interpret the research which science is providing.  There can be no dispute that the carbon in the atmosphere is creating greenhouse effects.  There is no future in fossil fuels or nuclear power.  There are more people on this Earth than any time before in history, and just supplying clean water and the minimum requirement of food for everyone is difficult.  People need education and, when it requires enormous debt to get a degree, the world suffers.

I am an old hippie.  I became aware in the 60's and spent a lot of my time thinking about philosophy, history and cosmology.  I still wonder about my place in the world.  How can I contribute, and what will my life change?  I know it is a simple idea, but being kind and honest is still the best way to help others.  Every person is looking for a little happiness.  Avoid personal judgement.  Help them if you can.  The reward is personal satisfaction in knowing you did the right thing.

So, this post is a modern message in a bottle.  I am sending it out into the universe, hoping that on some distant beach another person will open it and think about their place in life.  If it provides them with a positive thought or encourages them to be happy, then my job is done.

Monday, July 23, 2018

The American Chevalet

Patrick Edwards demonstrating in a museum
When Pierre Ramond published his three volume set, "Masterpieces of Marquetry," in February 1996 I was in Paris.  I did not know that his new work was out, and I stopped by the workshop at the Musee des Arts Decoratif to see what my friends were working on.  As I walked in the staff gave me a round of applause.  This was not the welcome I usually get, so I asked them what was the occasion.

They said that I was included in Volume II of his new publication, on a full page!  I had no idea.  It was amazing to consider that Pierre had included me, and I could not imagine the reason.  They handed me their copy and I read (in French):

'The perpetual transfer of techniques between continents can be illustrated by Patrick Edwards's (sic) equipment...After a training period of several months at the Ecole Boulle, this American craftsman built his personal donkey as well as a model for his hometown museum, where he is in charge of furniture restoration."

Now, to be clear, this is not exactly correct.  My French is not that good, and Pierre might have not understood me perfectly.  In fact, I built my first "donkey" around 1976, about 15 years before I was invited to ecole Boulle by Pierre.  Also, the photo in the book shows me working at the Timken Museum, in San Diego, in a small didactic gallery workshop I built for public demonstrations.  I am a furniture conservator in private practice, and, although I have worked on several projects for a variety of museums, I have never been employed as a museum conservator.

The most important aspect of this inclusion in Pierre's book is his suggestion that I was in some way responsible for the "chevalet" itself being exported from France to North America.  That is a big compliment for me.

I have been fascinated with marquetry for a long time.  When I discovered the chevalet I realized that it was an unknown tool in this country.  The original tool I saw was in a private collection of a French ebeniste in Los Angeles, and after that I met another French ebeniste working in New York.  But those were the only two people I could find who owned a real chevalet and knew how to use it.

American woodworkers love their tools and most furniture makers I know try to buy as many tools as they can.  However, none of them had such a tool, and I realized that, if it were introduced and understood, it would be adopted as the best way to cut small pieces of marquetry.

That is why I set up a gallery in a public museum, and made a video, in an effort to promote the process of cutting marquetry using such a tool.  After my experience at school in Paris I was convinced more than ever that this tool needed to be made available in my country.

So when Pierre retired from teaching in 2000 I asked his permission to open my own school in San Diego using his methods and designs.  I understood that the only way to make the chevalet popular was to instruct students in its use.  I needed to make them understand how to build a chevalet that fit their body and how to fine tune it and what it can do for them in the field of marquetry.

The First American Chevalet in Production

Since there was no such thing as a chevalet available in this country, I searched around to find a machinist that would agree to make the specialized hardware.  Then I collected all the miscellaneous bolts, screws, chains, washers and nuts to fill out the kit.  I drew up some plans and offered the hardware kit with plans for my students to build their own.

The ONLY American Chevalet in Production

The biggest problem was that most of the students were interested in cutting very small pieces of veneer, not focused on the timber framing work it required to put together such a large wood tool.

I kept selling the kits, but always hoping that I would find a person who wanted to build the tool as a business, thus making it available for the first time in this country.

Dave Clark and his CNC

A few years ago I was at a national woodworking conference in Kansas City and I met David Clark.  He was a retired woodworker and got excited about the prospects of selling American chevalets.  David and I worked together for some time to perfect the design, making it as close as possible to the best French chevalets that I knew were at ecole Boulle.

ASFM is Ready for Students

This year we achieved perfection.  I ordered 5 of the Clark & Company chevalets to install in the American School of French Marquetry.  Along side the original prototype he made, we now offer 6 different sizes of chevalets made by him in addition to the original tools which remain.

All the Wood Parts Ready to Go

Saw Frames: Hardest Part to Make

I no longer offer the hardware kits and blueprints.  I never made any profit selling them and it was always a hassle to keep parts in stock.  I connected Dave with my machinist so he can continue the quality of the hardware along with his wood parts.

Specialized Hardware
He has really spent time setting his shop up to make these tools.  They are finely fitted and sanded, ready to put together.  They all fit in a small box and, since he is located in Missouri, he is central to the country for shipping.  Each kit is custom fitted to the customer's body size and can be put together and ready to cut in a few hours, without any special tools required.

Fits in a Small Wood Box for Shipping

David Clark is located at 2429 NW Ashurst Drive, Lee's Summit, Missouri 64081.  His phone number is 913-486-0344.  His website is Dave Clark Chevalets

Email him at for information.

Sunday, April 15, 2018

Stone Age Woodworking Tools??

I have been following Christopher Schwarz's research into early woodworking benches for some time.  I admire his dedication to travel and study Medieval and Roman woodworking tools and benches to understand the history of our craft.

I have been focused during my career on the post Renaissance woodworker, so each time Christopher posts something I am fascinated by the "new" evidence he presents of "old" work.

His post today just stopped me cold.  Never in my imagination did I think that Stone Age people would make something sophisticated using stone tools!  It was normal to think of them throwing spears at mastodons or using rocks to crush bones or something primitive like that.  But to think of them making a mortise or cutting down a large tree with a stone tool?  Not possible.

Just watch this video for your self:  Stone Age Woodworking

Just one question:  When I need to sharpen my stone axe, do I use a water stone or an oil stone???

POSTSCRIPT:  If this interests you just go to YouTube and search for "Primitive Technology."

Friday, April 13, 2018

Pocket Screws

The Gimlet Tool

When dating furniture it is essential to closely examine the clues left behind by the worker and his tools.  The process of shaping and joining wood will always result in some evidence of how it was done.  Over time, newer tools were introduced, and that provides a clear dating feature for students and conservators to understand.

Today I thought I would just show a simple example for collectors who may not have noticed it before.  To me this feature is obvious, but I have been doing this for so long I just take it for granted.  I take satisfaction in knowing that I am educating clients as I point out tool marks and dating methods so that they can gain a new appreciation of what they own.

Years ago I posted on the history of the screw (search: "Respect The Screw").  Today I want to continue that thought by discussing the gimlet.

The gimlet tool was a staple of every woodworker's tool box.  It looked rather like an old fashioned cork screw, in that it had a wood handle attached to a long metal shaft with a screw tip.  Since all the screws made before 1846 were blunt it was necessary to start the hole first with a gimlet.  This would create the screw tap for the blunt screw to get started.

When pointed screws became available the gimlet lost its function and sat abandoned in the bottom of the tool box.

However, something else happened at the same time.  The gimlet tip (a pointed screw) was added to the twist bit on the drill.  Instead of the blunt spoon bit or spur bit shape the gimlet pointed twist bit became quickly popular, since the gimlet actually helped to pull the twist bit into the wood.

Post 1850 Gimlet Tip Twist Bit

One application of this new twist bit was how it changed the method for installing "pocket screws."

I am using the term "pocket screw" here knowing it is a modern term.  Today a pocket screw device is rather common among modern cabinetmakers who use it to fasten face plates to kitchen cabinets, among other uses.  It is actually a continuation of the method developed centuries ago for installing a screw on a 90 degree joint.

Before 1850 the only way to install a screw on a corner was to use a gouge chisel and carve a "U" shaped entry.  First the proper distance from the edge of the wood was marked with a scribe, depending on the size of the screw.  That would allow a flat chisel to cut into the wood, leaving a surface for the screw head.  At the same time the gouge would be used to clean out the wood allowing for the "turn screw" (the traditional name for the "screw driver") to properly reach the screw.

This is what it looks like:

Before 1850
Many workers were quite careful to make this look clean and proper, even though it was never used on outside, finished show surfaces:

This Worker was Skilled and Proud of His Work
After the gimlet bit drill became popular the method of attaching screws changed.  The drill was used to create a hole in the wood and the screw was then introduced on the edge.  It was perhaps quicker, but it made it more difficult for the screw driver to properly approach the screw.  On this photo you can see the slight marks left on the edge of the hole by my screw driver as I removed and then re attached the screw:

Note the Center Mark left by the Gimlet Point
Normally, I find this feature common on furniture made around the time of the Civil War.  Old traditional workers did not abandon their methods over night and it is possible to find the chisel method used even after the Civil War.

This is an interesting example I found on an 18th century Philadelphia walnut drop leaf table.  Although the original screws were chiseled in as usual, some later repairs were made and the new screws were let in with a gimlet bit.  Perhaps not the best method for repairing pre industrial furniture, but still this photo provides a learning experience:

Don't Do This to Period Furniture, Please.

Monday, April 9, 2018

I Have A Foot Fetish...

Walnut Philadelphia Chippendale Foot Standing on Wet Floor for Years

I just returned from several days hiking in the mountains.  I hiked a lot when I was young (50 years ago) and have decided to return to the activity again, now that I am still able.  Outdoor gear is a big business, and, as I carefully explained to my wife, since I didn't have a boat or golf clubs, it was fine to spend some money on hiking equipment.

My first purchase was some very expensive old school leather hiking boots made in Italy.  I love leather boots and this is my third pair in 50 years.  They last about 15 years on average.

As I hiked this past weekend, I would pass other hikers on the trail and each time I would look at their feet.  Their choice of boots and the condition of the boots told me all I needed to know about them.  Some were new, some were worn out.  Some were too big and some were just ridiculous and not appropriate for the trail.

My foot fetish is not limited to people.  Most of the time I look at feet on antiques.  In fact, it is always the first thing I examine when I see a new piece of furniture.

Think about it.  Something which has "stood the test of time" has been in contact with the floor for centuries.  Moving around the house.  Often drug across rough floors.  Standing in water or on wet bricks.  Attacked by insects who like to bore into the piece from the bottom.  Being kicked by human feet, or attacked by dogs.  Broken and repaired or replaced by workmen with different degrees of skill.  Being lost completely and replaced by something completely different than the original.

All of these things tell the story of the antique and help to confirm the age and origin of the object.

That is why I always turn a piece of furniture upside down and start my analysis from the bottom.

Currently I am restoring an English butler's bureau, made around 1780.  I thought the feet were interesting and would like to share their history with you so you can have a chance to see how to read the clues like I do.

Back of Bureau Showing Feet Brackets
Note the left back bracket is a different color and wood than the right.

Original Bracket after Old Repair

Replaced Bracket (19th Century) with Cut Nails
Let's look at one of the back legs more closely.  What do you see?

What Are The Clues?
The original pine back bracket was repaired with newer nails and raised up on a spacer.  It retains the original glue block with dark patina, and the original pine glue block on the right remains.  The outside leg bracket is new and held with cut nails, from the 19th century.  A more recent addition is the foot support block, with its dark oil stain, showing fresh wood at the end.

Lets look at the front foot.

Front Foot
Here it is obvious that the outside bracket is a 19th century replacement, and has a shim to fit it to the old glue block.  The front leg bracket is original and made of pine with a thick mahogany facing.  All the replacement brackets are solid mahogany, and not made with pine, as were the original feet.

Look more closely at the tool marks on the original foot.

Completely Untouched After 250 Years
Important Evidence of Original Work

Note that the patina is consistent from the front bracket to the glue block.  Note the chisel marks on the original pine block.  Note in particular how the rasp and saw marks left by the maker when he shaped the bracket foot are consistent across the glue block.

Compare with the other front foot.

Second Front Foot
Here we find evidence that some worker during the 19th century replaced the foot and glue blocks.  He used screws to attach the brackets.  He made an effort to use pine blocks for glue blocks, but the shape and construction is not like the original.

Band Saw Marks, Machine Made Screw, Cut Nails
Tool Marks Do Not Match
Since the cabinet is upside down, it is a good opportunity to look at the evidence of age on the bottom boards.  What a beautiful story they tell.

Original Bottom Boards Dovetailed Into Carcase
This Is What Human Labor Looks Like
Human Effort

You can read every pass of the scrub plane as the worker cleaned up the saw marks.  This is not a surface that would normally be seen so it is not essential to make it nice.  18th Century furniture was made in a hurry and at a low cost due to competition.  Workers did not spend extra time on surfaces which were not visible to the client.  This bottom shows the effort of a skilled cabinet maker to make a surface fairly flat and clean, and the patina of hundreds of years of household dirt and grime.

It would be nearly impossible to fake this surface.  (I said "nearly")

This bureau, which has served an unknown number of owners over the years, is still standing proudly on its four feet.  However, only two of the 8 original brackets remain from its birth.  The fact that one of these brackets has never been repaired or removed is enough to prove its origins and date it to the last quarter of the 18th century.

That shoe has survived the long and winding road.

Saturday, March 24, 2018

Eastlake Settee Upholstery

Not Enough Springs and Badly Tied

Dead Foam on Old Cotton on Plant Fibre with Original Edge

Three Days on the Bench for Structural Repairs

More Springs Added and Tied 8 Knot Italian Cord

Original Plant Fibre Edge Back in Place with Burlap

Original Hair Stuffed Arms and Back Panels Conserved

New Horsehair Added for Seat Foundation

Burlap Covers Hair

Front Edge Stitched to Hold Hair

Muslin Covers New Seat Foundation

50/50 Cotton Batting Covers Muslin

Eastlake Sette Ready for New Century of Use