Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Time Is The Only Real Commodity

Clock #7 (Left) and Clock #6 (Right) 

This past month I have not posted, as you may have noticed.  Business has returned to pre 2008 levels and I have been occupied with a lot of interesting work, arriving and departing.  Since the antiques market has hit rock bottom, I have noticed a renewed interest in clients finding and restoring old furniture.

At the same time I have been celebrating the completion of 47 years working at the bench, restoring wonderful high quality antiques.  Since I work every day of the week, every week of the year and only take time off to travel I calculate that I have been standing at that bench working with traditional hand tools and exotic materials for something like 16,000 work days.

I have been fortunate to have been healthy almost the entire time, and I have even come to work when I was sick, since I am a little obsessive/compulsive about my routine.  With any luck I still have about 10,000 more days left in this body to be able to finish all the projects I have started for myself and which wait patiently in the back of the shop.

As Hector Berlioz noted: "Le temps est un grand maitre, dit-on: le malheur est qu'il soit un maitre inhuman qui tue ses élèves."  Loosely translated: Time is a great teacher, we say: unfortunately it is not human and kills its students.

As a devote historian and builder of clocks, I have been a student of time all my life.  I know how it ends.

Speaking of clocks, I have finally started building two clocks, which have been on my "to do" list for a year.  These will be my 6th and 7th examples, and all the previous clocks have been sold.  One of these (#6) is already sold and I expect #7 to find an owner before it is finished, if the past is any indicator of what to expect.

Joseph Windmills Resting Quietly

Clock #6 is the smallest body clock I have ever made, designed after a famous clock I had the pleasure to restore years ago for a famous actress living in Los Angeles.  That clock was from the Wethersfield Collection of English Clocks and was made by Joseph Windmills, in London in 1690.
At that time I found a clock dealer in London who made her an offer of $150k to purchase it, but she turned him down.  She would rather have the clock than the money.

Wethersfield Collection Page 22

This Windmills clock is interesting and has some dramatic marquetry, using olive oyster frisage decorated with ebony and boxwood pinwheels and fans.  Very modern for the time.  It also has a very narrow body, where most clocks need a 10" swing for the pendulum, this clock only needs 9".  I searched for many months online until I found a period clock works which had the required dimensions.  I am having David Lindow make a new period engraved brass face for these works, with my name of course.

Unlike the original case, I do not have access to good aged English oak for the carcase, so I am building it out of tulip poplar, which is the best I can get locally.  After all, I choose to live in Southern California, so I need to compromise with my wood selection.  I used to use Honduras mahogany for all my secondary wood carcase construction, but those days are long past.  The only real choices I have are beech, oak and poplar.  Pine is out of the question due to cost and poor quality.

Did I hear Jorgensen Clamps Were Out of Business?

My normal method for making a tall case clock case is to dry fit the pieces together, getting all the joinery right.  Then I take it apart and press the veneer surfaces on each board, leaving the edge banding off.  After the sides and front are glued together I can add the edge banding, covering the corners and edges.  Since I am using all sawn material (1.5mm thick) there is plenty of thickness in the veneers to work with.

The oysters are purchased from Patrick George, in Paris, and sawn specifically for me.  I always get the first choice of his material, and just last month ordered another $3k worth of olive to replace material I have used.  I am designing a William and Mary chest of drawers with olive oyster marquetry for a good client in Dallas and need the best material for that project.  I am proud to say that this same client owns my first clock, a copy of the Tompion clock at the Met in New York.

Adding The Ebony and Boxwood Sawn Veneers

To produce the decoration for the door, I use a standard assembly board process.  Stretching Kraft paper over a board and building face down with hot glue lets me put together very complicated patterns with ease.

Mastic Filler Added to Back Surface of Design

After I put all the oyster pieces down, I added the ebony and boxwood pieces one at a time, carefully trimming each piece to fit with a rabbet plane.  As each element was fitted into its respective cavity on the assembly board, it was held with masking tape.  After all the ebony and boxwood pieces were set in place the masking tape was carefully removed, leaving the elements in their position.  I then used clear packing tape to hold all the pieces together, trimming around the outside for each design.  This method allowed me to lift out the entire assembly, add some hot glue and then quickly place it back in place, clamping briefly.  Removing the clear tape is the last step.

Face Side After Removal of Kraft Paper

Once all the pieces were put together on the Kraft paper, I applied mastic, as usual, making a paste of hot water, thin glue and Cuban mahogany filtered sawdust.  After this was dry, I lightly sanded the surface, cut away the Kraft paper and used Old Brown Glue to apply the entire panel to the substrate.

Door Ready to Trim to Fit Case

The next day I removed it from the press and used cold water to scrape off the paper and glue from the face.  This exposed the final pattern for the first time.

Clock Before Sanding and Finish 

The next stage of this project is to build the bonnet and get the face from David Lindow.

Thursday, March 24, 2016

American Chevalet Made In The USA!

Page 62, "Masterpieces of Marquetry" 1996

In 1990 I was hired by the Timken Museum here in Balboa Park to provide public education on the topic of French marquetry.  It was funded by the National Endowment for the Arts in conjunction with the San Francisco Legion of Honor as they were rebuilding the museum in SF and needed a place for some of the furniture while they completed construction.

It was a two year contract, and we selected 5 different French cabinets, each one illustrating a different method of marquetry.  The name of the show was "France in the 18th century, the Age of Elegance."  I provided a 10 minute video, which was nominated for an Emmy, as a documentary.  I also installed a Didactic Gallery installation, which included a chevalet, a foot operated frame saw, and all the materials and other hand tools used to make marquetry.

My job required me to lecture in the gallery twice a week for several hours, and, when I was not there the video played on a screen near the "workshop" so visitors could imagine what was involved in creating the marvelous decorative surfaces on display.  It was a great job, since my workshop is a few miles from the museum, and I could just ride my bike there, through the park and into the museum where I could change into my work clothes in the guard's room.

Immediately after this contract was finished, I was invited to attend ecole Boulle, in Paris, by Pierre Ramond.  Over the next 4 years I became good friends with many students, teachers, and museum conservators in Paris, thanks to the support of Pierre.

On one of my trips, as I walked into the conservation lab at Musee des Arts Deco, I was treated with applause.  Surprised at the reception, I asked why they were celebrating my arrival, since they had never done that before.  They simply put a copy of Volume II of Pierre's latest book, "Masterpieces of Marquetry" on the table and opened it to page 62.

Imagine my surprise to see a photo of me, sitting on my original chevalet in the Didactic Gallery at the Timken Museum.  The copy said "The perpetual transfer of techniques between continents can be illustrated by Patrick Edwards' equipment." (translated from the original French)  "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."

This was a nice compliment, even if the facts were not exactly correct.  In fact, I had spent part of 4 years "in training" at Ecole Boulle.  Also, I had built a chevalet some 15 years before I went to study there.  Finally, I was not in charge of restoration at the museum, but in charge of public education.

Still, I got the applause from my peers at the museum in Paris, and left the lab walking on air.

I am still working to introduce the chevalet to North American marquetry workers.  My efforts at the American School of French Marquetry have been rewarded by all the students who have passed through these doors, and sat on our chevalets.  Many dozens of them have purchased the hardware kits and built their own tools.

And now there is a wonderful woodworker, David Clark, who is making the wood parts for the chevalet at a good price, with excellent results.  His wood kit is designed to work with my hardware kit, and you can just order it, wait a short time, and put it together with very little effort.

I mentioned his work a few posts ago, so just scroll down to find his information, and see the results.

You can email him directly with your questions or to place your order.  Just send it to: david.chevalet@gmail.com

I want to thank him for creating a check list of the parts, and providing names and part numbers for this tool.  Now, when I communicate with anyone about the chevalet, we can use the same names for the parts and clearly understand what is going on.

Click On Picture to Enlarge

In Pierre's first book, "Marquetry", he illustrated blueprints for the tool, with his parts list.

This tool is measured to be 54cm tall.  Pierre notes in his copy that, since the workers today are much taller then they were a century ago, he suggests we add 3 to 5 cm to the plan.  Than means the typical French worker would use a tool in the size from 57 to 59cm.  Of course, Americans are generally  taller then French (my experience), so we have tools as large as 62cm here at the school.

To determine what size tool you would use, just measure (in metric centimeters) from the top of the seat to the base of your throat, while you are sitting comfortably, slightly bent forward.

Since it is absolutely essential that the tool be adjusted to cut perpendicular in both the X and Y axis, you make a test cut to check it, after initial set up or when ever it is taken apart and moved to a new location.  Here is the test cut, as shown in Pierre's book:

Move the Vertical or Horizontal Adjustment Arms until correct

The test is done with a piece of wood, like tulip poplar, which is easy to cut, and about 1/2" thick.  Note that adjustment is usually a combination of the X and Y adjustments, which can take a bit of time.  Once it is dialed in, it will be fine for a long time.  At any time that the piece you are cutting resists falling out of the packet, it might indicate a need to check the adjustment.  Doing this test with a finer blade than the one you are using for the work will increase the accuracy.

Now, for the first time in history, you can order an American Chevalet, made in the USA.  I have fulfilled Pierre's wish and transferred the "secret" technology from France to North America.

It only took 20 years!

Saturday, March 12, 2016

Little Wheels Go Round and Round

Teapoy Upside Down on the Bench
I have taken apart tens of thousands of antique pieces of furniture in my time.  One thing I hold dear is respecting original hardware.  Furniture hardware takes a beating.  Metal and wood do not live well together and are constantly at odds.

For example, how many outdoor decks have you seen with the nails sticking up?  Ever wondered how that happened?  Little elves in the middle of the night sneaking around with crowbars and lifting the nails little by little?  Same thing with wood screws.  They always are a bit loose after some time.  Do these elves also have screwdrivers?

These are the things I occupy my time with, when I am trapped in elevators, or waiting for my turn in line at some place.  I am not normal, I have been told.

Naturally, the obvious conclusion is that the wood hates the metal and wants to get rid of it, or the metal hates the wood and wants to get away.  That makes perfect sense to me as they are not from the same species.  Wood grows in nature and iron is man made.

On the other hand, perhaps the wood dimensions change as a function of humidity and, by expansion and contraction, there is a force which just pushes out the iron.  Just another thought...

In any event, when I find a screw, or hinge, or other piece of hardware which has stood the tests of time, the environment and the whims of ownership, I tend to respect it and leave it alone.  It is, after all, the absolute proof of age and cannot be faked.

If a screw is blunt and made before 1850 and has never been touched, then the antique is before 1850.  See my earlier post "Respect the Screw," for more on this topic.

Today I am posting about wheels.  I have seen a lot of wheels on furniture.  The earliest wheels were made with leather rollers, held on each side by brass washers.  Then brass wheels appeared, followed by porcelain, iron and then wood.  Each of these materials had their advantages.  The leather was soft enough and quiet but quickly developed flat spots.  The brass rolled smoothly but distorted under pressure.  The porcelain wheels were clean and added a decorative color but could be broken if sharply hit.  The iron wheels worked well, but would rust if wet.  The wood wheels were the cheapest, and depending on the species of wood, lasted for a fairly long time.

A basic problem with all these wheels on furniture is the shaft which held the wheel.  If it got bent then the height of the wheel changed, and the piece of furniture became unstable.  Most of the time, when I deliver a piece of furniture with wheels, I need to instruct the owner to take the time to rotate the wheels until the piece is level and stable on the floor.  It's frustrating.

Not until this week did I realize that there is a solution to this problem.  For the first time in my experience I found a set of wheels that were made by an unknown genius.  There is no name or patent date on these wheels, but they certainly would qualify.

I was restoring an English rosewood teapoy from around 1850.  It had never previously been repaired or restored, so I was the first person to take it apart.

You need to realize that tea and the tea service is one of the most important social habits of the English lifestyle.  It is not uncommon for the wealthy to spend a lot of money on the tea as well as the furniture and materials used in storing, mixing and drinking tea.

This teapoy has a circular lift top which contains 4 circular containers for the tea.  Two wood containers with lids, lined with lead foil, for the tea and two cut crystal containers to mix the blend for consumption.

Hand Made Cast Brass Hinge

As the circular top is rather heavy and there is only one hinge, it needs to be sturdy.  The builder reinforced the area around the hinge with custom brass plates, and the hinge itself is hand filed from thick blanks of cast brass.  Modern rolled sheet brass hinges were new at the time, as several exhibitors at the 1852 exposition included them in their display, but they were not as strong as this hinge.  It is massive.  It also shows that the brass hardware on this teapoy was made by a craftsman who understood design and engineering stresses.

Minor Veneer Damage

Look At How The Veneer Was Added
Some 40 years ago, when I was at Winterthur, during the Summer Institute of 1978, I was approached by Don Fennimore, then a curator who was a specialist in silver, but had been asked to include furniture in his duties.  He was curious if I knew why there were small cut marks under the plinth where the veneer was stuck in the corners.  I pointed out that it made sense to saw a bit deeper in the corners so you could jam the veneer into place, thus holding it secure during glue up.  It was obvious to me, as I had been doing this at work.  However, in his position, he needed to complete a stack of paperwork before he could even remove a single screw.

The pedestal is a carved spiral post in solid rosewood, and the plinth is a shaped flat platform with carved scroll feet.  The veneer is thick sawn Brazilian rosewood veneer.  As the finish had become completely opaque and black over the years, I decided to refinish it to show off the rosewood.  This wood is endangered and it is a visual pleasure to see the quality of rosewood which used to be available some 150 years ago.

Wheels and Screws Made before 1850

As the wheels were carved into sockets under the feet and all the screws had become loose I removed them.  They were original and blunt, so they will be returned to their places after the restoration.  My goal was to clean the dirt and oxidation from the wheels.

To my surprise, as I began cleaning the wheels, I found something I had never seen before.  There was a second, very small wheel, which actually served to carry the load.  This unique design allowed the primary wheel to carry the load without bending the iron shaft, thus keeping it level over time.  This system was in perfect condition on all three wheels, and after cleaning it appeared that these wheels were unchanged and unaffected from many years of use.

Big Wheels and Little Wheels Make It Work

I need to respect the craftsman who designed and built something like this, knowing that it will survive many generations.  Unfortunately, much of the human energy spent on building objects today is wasted, as nothing really is expected to survive for long.

The basic philosophy today is make it last "until the check clears."

Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Critical Analysis: Evaluating Condition and Age

"Excuse me, but do you own a Mercedes?"

We all look at objects from different perspectives.  Whether you realize it or not, your ability to gather information visually is controlled by your priorities in collecting data.

Years ago, when I was actively racing bicycles, and investing in expensive custom frames by well known frame builders, I would look at other bicycles differently than my wife, who always went with me to the races.  She would constantly ask me why one frame design was superior to another, since they all looked the same to her.  I would point out the rake in the fork, the wheelbase, the height of the bottom bracket, the relationship between the top tube length and the down tube length, and continue this lesson until her eyes glazed over and she lost interest.  To her, the paint job was most important.

On another occasion, just after a rather windy storm had blown through San Diego, I received a knock on my shop door.  Opening it, a stranger said the words no one wants to hear: "Do you own a Mercedes?"

"Yes," I replied, "Why do you ask?"

"There's a palm tree on top of it."

I mention this, since I loved that car, and I wanted it restored to pre-tree condition, so I contacted my insurance carrier.  They sent out an estimator to evaluate the damage.  The front was crushed, and I stood there watching the person take notes about the condition of the car.  As she walked around the back, she made some notes, and I asked her what that was all about since the damage was to the front.

"I need to note that the rear quarter panel has been replaced," she said.

I was incredulous, since I had examined the car when I bought it (used, of course) and had owned it for several years, and I had never noticed it.  I opened the trunk and still could not see anything.  She patiently pointed out to me small areas of work which supported her claim.  Obviously, when I bought the car I was more interested in the engine and rims than the body.  Point taken.  Had I seen the body work I could have negotiated a better price or avoided the car all together.

Moral: If your emotions are stronger than the facts, stop and take a cold shower before continuing.

Second Moral:  If your insurance gives you more than the car is worth, don't be stupid and repair the car, which is what I did...because I was emotionally attached to it.  The next time it went in for a smog test it failed.  Completely.  Had to crush it.  By law.

The reason I am writing this post is not about bikes or cars, but to demonstrate how people tend to look at things.  As a serious furniture conservator, I look at furniture differently than most people.  Collectors look at the overall style and quality.  Conservators look at condition and, in particular, repairs which have been done in the past.

It is a general rule that high quality pieces tend to live in nice homes, and responsible owners tend to pay what it takes to maintain and repair their objects.  Not always, but in general.  Thus, a very well made piece of furniture will often have very well executed repairs.

American Walnut Corner Chair

This week I picked up a nice and rare American 18th century corner chair, which had the end of the arm broken off.  First thing I did was point out to the owner that the arm had been previously broken and repaired with a dowel, so there was no "loss of value."

As I normally do I examined the object closely while it was on the bench and thought I would document some of my general observations for this post.  These are the kinds of things that you should look for, if you were interested in buying something like this, or asked to evaluate it for the prospective purchaser.  I also provide this analysis for certified appraisers, who adjust the value up or down in relation to my findings.

Corner chairs are rare, so it is important to study the examples in books and museums carefully.  In many cases the chair maker saved money by making the rear leg straight, thus saving the cost of carving another foot.  Also, triffid feet (three toed) are extremely rare and valuable, so they need to be examined to determine if they are original.

I always start with examining the object upside down.  That is where the most clues are hiding.

Let's look at the feet:

Can you guess which two feet are not original?  It appears this chair lived on a wet floor for many years, as the two original feet are completely eaten by dry rot.  The other two are either new or repairs.  In particular, note the wear patterns, as a function of either actual age or efforts to "age" the foot by the repair man.

Here is a side view of one of the feet.  The one with the nails. There is no effort to hide the repair.  New wood is carved to fit and there is a shellac stick fill on the areas where the dry rot had damaged the wood unevenly.

 Let's turn our attention to the rear leg, which could have started out as a simple straight leg.  It is standard practice with these chairs to make the three legs (sides and back) out of a single board.  That is a structural necessity.  Looking at the two side legs confirms they are original:

Front leg looks good, with old corner blocks

However,when I looked closely at the rear leg I found this:  (look very closely!)

New corner blocks are also a clue

Just a faint line where the woods join

There was a join, carefully hidden under some old "patina" but clearly a joint where the lower leg had been spliced into the upper post.  Both the corner blocks were new, and from the outside the wood grain was completely different.

Different woods

Looking at another leg, it is clear the corner block was also replaced, as there are serious cross grain scratches where the surface was aggressively leveled to match.

Be more careful than this 

Finally, looking at the lower edge of the apron we find the expected marks of the rasp, which was generally the last tool used to clean up the saw marks on these edges.  Lower edges would not necessarily be examined by the user, who rarely turned furniture upside down, so it is nice to find the evidence of traditional methods still obvious after 250 years.

Another traditional method was to chamfer the back edges of the splats, which made them appear thinner in profile then they actually were.  Here we see that work which is well done.

Nice splat.  Note the center scribe on the shoe rail.

However, under the top there is another repair, not so well hidden, but reasonably effective in keeping the chair together.

No effort to hide this repair.

Like my Mercedes, which had the rear quarter panel replaced, unknown to me, this corner chair has had the rear leg replaced, also unknown to the owner.

Saturday, March 5, 2016

It's A Gift To Be Simple

One of these days I am going to post some of the experiences I had some 30 years ago, visiting all the Shaker villages, and, at the invitation of Faith Andrews, having lunch with several of the last living Shaker sisters...those were the days!

However, as my posts tend to be lengthy and "wordy" I thought I would just post a simple thought for today.  (As the King says in the movie, "Mozart", "too many notes!)

In the past I posted my methods of vector clamping, and you can use the search box to find that.  Today I was cutting some more clamping blocks and I thought that it might be interesting to some of you, as a kind of a "Shop Tricks" feature.

I am not related to Dunn-Edwards!

Whenever I visit the paint store for stains or paint, they always hand me a bunch of stir sticks.  Even though I might actually need only one, they generously hand me a dozen or so.  My first thought was, "Hey, they are cutting down the forest to make these, so be careful how many you give out!"  But, as I approach my 7th decade on Earth, I am resigned to the fact that the majority of humans really don't think about how their actions might affect the rest of us.

Quick and Simple

So I take this handful of clean white wood sticks and cut them up at the band saw into small pieces.  This wood is nice and soft, so it makes a perfect clamping pad for any clamp.  I always keep a small box of them at the bench or wherever I do my clamping.  They last for a long time and are free.

Clamp pads in use

Another trick is to take some thicker wood and cut it into small blocks with a "V" sawn on one side.  Now, when you need to apply a clamp on the outside corner this "V" block provides a perfect clamping pad.

"V" Clamp Blocks

Just thought you would like to know.

Works Every Time

Wednesday, February 24, 2016

Protein Glues: What's The Difference?

Simple Chart: Temperature Vrs. Viscosity

I have spent my entire career as a woodworker using protein glues exclusively.  I have lectured and written lots of times trying to explain their advantages.  Features like reversibility, easy clean up, relatively low cost, quick or long open time as needed, bonding to itself, transparency to stains and finishes and, above all, no danger of working with toxic chemicals make it my first choice.  Protein glues are, by their very nature, organic.

Still, I get calls every day from woodworkers new to these adhesives asking simple questions.  Since the answers are generally the same I thought I would post a quick page for general information.

All protein glues have a common feature.  They react only to heat and moisture.  If you understand that concept then you can easily make them do what you want.  If you have a problem it is because you do not have both heat and moisture at the glue surface in the proper proportion.  If the viscosity is not right then check the heat and moisture ratio and adjust.  If the glue sets up too quickly or too slowly then consider the environment and make changes.

Consider that all antique furniture was made with protein glues, and craftsmen were often working in cold unheated workshops in winter.  So how did they manage to assemble furniture if the glue set up quickly.  Obviously, they were experienced and prepared for each operation by having all the clamps ready for the job.  Also, since the water component of the glue is the part which carries the heat, they realized that cold dry wood surfaces would quickly draw the water out of the glue and make it tack.  Therefore, they often used a hot wet rag to wipe the joint surface just prior to applying the glue.  The water molecules in the pores of the wood would prevent the glue from setting quickly, without actually diluting the glue strength.  I use this method for all large assembly projects where I need a longer open time.

Simply put: You add water to the glue and then heat it.  It sets by first cooling (which provides a tack) then by drying out (loosing moisture).  Protein glues are friendly molecules with lots of Hydrogen bonding sites so they easily hydrate and can be modified by a large number of other chemicals which can bond at these open Hydrogen sites.  Protein glues bond to protein glues, so an old joint with glue residue can be cleaned with a water wash and new glue will bond to the glue residue with both molecular and mechanical adhesion.  Synthetic glues do not do this.

Hide glue and Glue Pot

Hot Hide Glue (HHG)

There is one company left in America making hide glue: Milligan and Higgins.  Their website is www.Milligan1868.com.  You can find a lot of technical information there, and you can call them and speak with Jay Utzig, who is their chief chemist, with your questions.  He is always happy to talk about glue.  They sell wholesale only.

Hide glue is sold by "gram strength" which is determined at the factory by measuring the glue with a Bloom Gelometer.  Gram strength has nothing to do with the adhesive strength of the glue, so a higher or lower gram strength does not mean a stronger or weaker bond.  Gram strength is determined by how much force (in grams) it takes to depress a plunger a certain distance into the glue.  It ranges from a low of 50 grams to around 500.  Low gram strength glues take longer to set and are flexible and high gram glues set quickly and are brittle.

Woodworkers generally use gram strengths in three groups: 192, 222, and 251.  I have always used 192 and find it works well in general for all my uses.

Traditional Sheets of Protein Glue

It is available in sheets (traditional), pearl or granulated form.  I like the granulated as it has a larger surface area and is quicker to hydrate.  In a dry state, it has an unlimited shelf life.

HHG must be cooked and used hot.  You need a double boiler.  It doesn't matter if the double boiler is copper, stainless steel, porcelain or iron.  Just find one on Ebay and get to work.  Get a cheap hot plate, a common stainless steel meat thermometer and a glue brush.  Add cold water to the glue, wait about 15 minutes for it to gel and then heat it up to 140 degrees.  Do not heat above 160 degrees.  Keep a thin viscosity during use by adding water the same temperature as the glue.

I use HHG for all quick setting work, like rubbed joints, hammer veneering and assembling marquetry on an assembly board.  I used to use it on all furniture making and repair but now I use Liquid Hide glue for that work.

Liquid Hide Glue

Liquid Hide Glue (OBG)

When I was involved with an international marquetry conservation group in Paris in the mid 1990's I participated in research which modified HHG using Thiourea to extend the open time.  Since Thiourea is a carcinogen I did not want to work with it.  However, Urea is not toxic and the only difference between the two is a single Sulphur molecule.  I began to experiment with Urea to modify the glue and eventually was able to formulate a liquid protein glue which I named Old Brown Glue.

Franklin Industries was the first in America to manufacture a liquid hide glue some 80 years ago, and they sell it today under the name Titebond.  However they use ammonium rhodanate and dicyanodiamide as modifiers.  I was not happy with their product and when I used urea I found that the glue was much better in many ways.

Titebond glue does not need to be heated, and I think that is one of the problems.  OBG needs to be heated, by simply placing the bottle in a tub of hot water for a few minutes.  Hot liquid glue penetrates deeply into the cracks and pores of the wood and forms an amazing bond.  OBG actually works better than HHG for this reason.

OBG has a guaranteed shelf life of 18 months, and longer if refrigerated.  It can be frozen, heated and cooled as many cycles as you want without changing the quality of the glue.  It is common for me to reheat the glue dozens of times in a single working day.

You can find out more about HHG and OBG at my website www.OldBrownGlue.com.
Fish Glue
Fish Glue

For many years I purchased Colle De Poisson in Paris and brought it home for use.  I had a very unfortunate experience one time when the glue bottle and purple dye powder mixed together inside the luggage where my nice leather jacket was kept.  Everything would have been fine except the airline somehow drove a truck over my bag.  The worst part was when my wife found me at 2 am washing out my jacket in her bathtub.  That's another story...

Some time after that, as I was standing in the Paris supply house (H.M.B.) the owner asked me why I was buying fish glue.  He said it was silly, since the glue was made in North America by Norland Industries!  I stopped buying it there after that.  You can find it at Lee Valley or buy it from me.

Fish glue is normally liquid at room temperature.  We all used it in Kindergarten to glue paper together.  It was in a small glass jar with a rubber nipple top.  Some of the kids ate it.

Fish glue is used whenever wood is glued to something that is not wood, like leather, mother of pearl, ivory, brass, copper, bone, horn, tortoise shell, etc.  The reason is that fish glue has a very low sheer resistance and will allow surface materials to adjust to the wood movement during environmental changes without loosing adhesion.

Hide glues have a very high sheer resistance and will cause the wood to crack or the non wood materials to break free.

Thus, Fish glue is used for traditional Boulle materials.  The worst repairs I see on Boulle surfaces involve either nails or epoxy to hold down the surface.  That just makes it worse and my job more difficult.

Fish glue takes a long time to dry and can be easily cleaned up with cold water.  I would not use fish glue to make furniture or glue anything structural.

Rabbit Skin Glue
Rabbit Skin Glue

There are many other glues made from animal proteins.  The last one I will quickly mention is Rabbit Skin Glue.  This is diluted much more with water than HHG and used by gilders to apply gold leaf and gesso.

There is a lot more about glues to discuss.  Perhaps another time.  I will end this post and get back to work.  I hope this answers a few basic questions and serves to encourage others to explore the world of organic protein glues in their work.

You can find videos about working with these glues on our YouTube channel: 3815Utah.

There are also articles I've written which are posted on OldBrownGlue.com.  Note the article I wrote for SAPFM Journal Volume 2, "Why Not Period Glue?"  There is an excellent video on cooking and using HHG which was done years ago by Keith Cruickshank and posted on his WoodTrek's site.

Here is the video: Hot Hide Glue Video

Sunday, February 21, 2016

A Dream Realized After 20 Years

What is He Thinking Now?
I have always been able to function day to day, taking life as it comes.  It just seems easier to me not to worry about schedules and appointments too much.  Of course, I am reasonably responsible in meeting demands on my business and other social activities.  I just don't write it down on a calendar or post it on my phone with alerts.  I figure that life will prompt me to do something when the time is right.  That means I need to be sensitive to the subtle indicators around me from hour to hour.

Instead of dwelling on what I need to do this week or next, I focus my energies and dreams on the event horizon, years in the future.  For example, in 1984 I started the North Park Main Street Business Improvement District, and directed the non profit management board for the next 30 years in a prolonged effort to revitalize the historic area with new economic development.  I retired from that board in 2014 after it was obvious that North Park was a positive success.  Last week the local paper had a photo of me on the front page, under the headline: North Park Renaissance".

In the same way that I could work towards a long term goal of improving my neighborhood, I had similar goals when I started the American School of French Marquetry.  Initially I just wanted to continue the environment of creativity which I enjoyed at ecole Boulle, so I built some chevalets and set up a workshop for students to learn the French method.

Since the French method I was taught is rather specific to the Paris workshops and uses the "chevalet de marqueterie" to cut the patterns very precisely, I knew that the biggest obstacle to my students was going to be how to get this tool.  While the student was working in the school they could use the various chevalets and get a chance to find out what size tool they needed.  They also got the experience of building and sawing packets so that they could begin to appreciate the possibilities of what the tool could do.

However, it was clear that there was no general awareness of the tool in America.  It's existence was unknown.  Even in Europe, outside of the general Paris region, it was the same.  Somehow, over 3 centuries, the Parisian marquetry worker had kept it secret.

Therefore, my initial goal was just to introduce the tool to students, so that they would find out if they needed one.  Then I began to create blueprints and order hardware so that students could build their own.  Still, the problem of building a chevalet was that you needed to have timber framing skills to build it, so that you could then use it to cut microscopic elements of veneer into exotic shapes.

In spite of these problems, I have sold dozens and dozens of kits over the past 20 years.  I suspect that not all of those kits ended up as built tools.  However, even if half of them got built, that means there is now something like 50 or so in workshops around the country, where previously there was none.

During the past 20 years, as I was selling hardware kits, I had a dream that one day a woodworker would appear and be more interested in building the tool then using it.  I needed a person who had access to good timber and all the machinery required to do the work in a efficient and professional manner, and at a good price.

Those of you who take the time to read these posts will remember that I posted on Tuesday, July 28, 2015 the prototype kit supplied by Mark Hicks, of Plate 11 Workbench Company.  I had met Mark at the Woodworking in America Show and he agreed to work on making chevalet kits.  However, his business making workbenches had a large backlog of orders and he was not able to get to the chevalet project until he cleared his shop of those benches.

At the last WIA show in Kansas City I met another woodworker, David Clark, who is retired.  We discussed the possibility of him making kits and he was excited to accept the challenge.  Since he had a very well equipped workshop and plenty of time, he started immediately.

10 x 20 x 48"

Last week the first kit arrived and it was perfect!  The chevalet of my dreams!  Beautifully crafted, exact in all dimensions, and ready to put together.  Less than two hours after I opened the box I was sawing marquetry on the fully functional chevalet.  All the surfaces were nicely sanded, edges rounded, and everything pre drilled to fit my hardware kit, which I had supplied to him previously.

I have bought and sold and built these tools over the years.  When they are available, which is not often, they sell for an average of $2500.  If I build them by hand, and charged for my time, they would cost three times that price.  If I sell the kits for $500 with blueprints, the buyer needs to then buy the wood and spend the time to make them, which can take weeks, depending on the skill and tools available.

Dave has worked out the specific costs: $400 materials and $1400 labor (at $30/hour).  Amazing!

This Is How You Pack A Box!

He is located in Missouri and was able to ship my kit to San Diego for $110.  Since he is in the middle of the country, I suspect that the shipping to either coast will be about the same.  The kit arrived in a box 10 x 20 x 48" and was packed beautifully.  I was impressed with how he was able to get everything in such a small box.

Wow!  Just Wow!  

As I laid out the parts on the workbench it was clear to me that finally I have found the perfect person to supply the Made in America Chevalet.  He is starting to build up an inventory of parts so that the lead time to supply a kit is expected to be only two weeks.  He says he can build left or right handed tools, in any size for the same price of $1800 out the door (plus shipping).  He told me he needs a $400 deposit for the materials only to place an order.

Two Hours After Opening Box

His contact information is David Clark, 2429 NW Ashurst Drive, Lee's Summit, Missouri 64081 and his phone number direct is 913 486 0344.  He has created a personal email for ordering these kits, which is "david.chevalet@gmail.com".  You can contact him with any questions or to place your order.

I will reduce the price of my hardware kit to $400, since there is no need for the blueprints.  My hardware fits his wood parts perfectly.  I sell the hardware and he sells the wood.  Now a student can simply order the chevalet, wait two weeks and put it together, ready to work.

It Even Includes The Knob!

The French chevalet is no longer a secret or a dream.  This is a reality!  Dreams can come true!