Saturday, May 23, 2015

Edwards & Lejeune


Edwards & Lejeune Label


 In the history of furniture making, there are several examples of successful partnerships.  Goddard and Townsend come to mind.  (I am not making a direct comparison.  Please.  I am just pointing them out as one of the most famous examples...)

As some of you may know, I worked for nearly 4 decades absolutely alone.  I built the workshop and furnished it with rare woods and period tools.  I met with the clients, bid the jobs, did the work and delivered it when it was done.  I opened the mail, answered the phone and paid the bills.  It was exhausting but I had the energy so I did it all.

The first thing which changed in this business for me was when I convinced my wife, Kristen, to stop teaching art in High School and come to work with me.  She was able to take over all the office duties and interface with the clients very successfully.  My phone skills were basically, "Hello, I'm busy, what do you want?"  Her phone skills were very advanced and I noticed a real change in the business as the clients were happy and I was able to work at the bench without stopping every 10 minutes to answer the phone.  A real bonus was that I did not have to think about the money flow.  From time to time she would mention that we needed more money, but that was the extent of it.  What a relief.

The second change was when Patrice Lejeune was able to move to San Diego from Paris and work with me on a H1-B visa.   I had some reservations about sharing my work space with another cabinetmaker, but we hit it off immediately.  We went from working together to close friends to actual business partners.  We encourage each other, criticize each other when it is appropriate, and divide the work load according to our specific talents.


Patrice Removing Paper From Marquetry

Over the past decade Patrice and I have completed some wonderful projects.  One of the most successful has been the Treasure Box series.  The Treasure Box Series #1 sold out before we were able to finish them.  The current Treasure Box Series #2 has sold 3 of the 4 boxes and is nearly complete.  That means we only have one left.  They should be done soon, as the only thing left to do is get the leather writing surface embossed with gold and apply the French polish finish.  (Actually there is a bit of ebony and bone trim to do, but that is now much of a problem, considering all the technical problems we have solved to get this far.

These boxes are a labor of love and a tribute to our passion for creating objects which are authentic to the late 17th period in every detail.  They are, in my humble opinion, some of the best work available anywhere today.  They take nearly 2 years to make, and are certainly  worth much more than we are asking for them.  That is why it is so easy to find people willing to buy them and then wait for us to finish them.

Last week Patrice and I glued the marquetry surfaces to the lid, pressing them in the heated press.  We had to pay close attention to the orientation of the birds, as the bird on the inside of the lid needs to be upright when it is open and the bird on the outside needs to be upright when it is closed.   As we glued 8 birds to 4 lids we were both checking each other to make sure nothing went wrong.  We made a video of the process, which we will post soon.

It was a real pleasure watching Patrice wet the paper on the surface and scrape away the paper and glue to expose the marquetry for the first time.  Since we work from the back of the design, gluing the elements face down on stretched Kraft paper, we never see the finished surface until it is finally glued down to the substrate.  That is our ultimate reward for a job well done.

Removing Wet Paper and Hide Glue From The Marquetry

Here is a close up of the work.  You can see it requires quick work to remove all the paper and glue before the mastic begins to expand or the veneer elements start to lift.  Of course, working with sawn veneers which are 1.5mm thick helps.

Blue Bird of Happiness Surrounded By White Bone Flowers

 Here is the top marquetry surface, cleaned of all the paper and glue.  It needs to be sanded and scraped flat before polishing begins.  However it shows the elements of a careful and professional collaberation between two experienced craftsmen.  It begins to look like another masterpiece will be delivered soon!

Top Surface of Treasure Box Series #2



Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Student Becomes Teacher



Paul Miller and his Work


I look back on my career and realize how fortunate I have been to have met and studied under great teachers.  Not only in my physics career at UCSD but in my other studies in American Decorative Arts and related European Decorative Arts.  On both sides of the country and both sides of the ocean I have spent time with great scholars, many of whom are no longer with us.

Pierre Ramond, in particular, realized that even though I was an average worker in the field of marquetry, I had a certain talent to communicate ideas and concepts which gave me the ability to educate others.  That is why he pushed me into getting my workshop accredited by ecole Boulle and positioned to receive his students as interns for different stages of work.

Fortunately, Pierre gave me the idea to create the American School of French Marquetry so that when he retired from ecole Boulle I was able to offer his teaching process to the public.  This is significant, since as far as I can determine, there is no other school where historic French marquetry methods are taught using the "chevalet de marqueterie."

In the last 15 years, since ASFM has been operating, we have seen an amazing number of talented students pass through our doors.  Professionals and amateurs of all ages show up and spend time cutting small pieces of woods on the chevalets.  It is always a pleasure to see the results at the end of the week, when the paper is removed and the work is finally exposed.

I really enjoy teaching.  It is exciting to meet new people and be able to answer their questions.  I feel that my years of stuffing information into my brain is worth while when I can then "download" it into other inquisitive minds.  The popular idea of "play it forward" is how I perceive my job as teacher.

Thus, it is very satisfying when I hear from a person who I might have influenced in some positive way.  A good example of this is Paul Miller, who lives in the North West corner of the states.

There are a lot of professions which use wood as a medium.  People build houses, furniture, instruments, airplanes, boats, cars, tools and sculpture, to name the most obvious.  Each of these trades requires study, skill and experience to do properly.  It is not common for a specialist in one field to be able to transfer to another, but it does happen.

Paul Miller builds boats.  That is a simple statement of fact.  However, it is safe to say he is a master of boat building, judging from what I saw on his videos.  Some of you will appreciate the skill and technical difficulties involved in making a boat not only functional but at the same time a thing of beauty.  This is what Paul does.

When he came to my school just a few years ago he wanted to learn how to make marquetry.  He had never seen the tools or the French process or heard of sawn veneers.  I introduced him to the methods, showed him some books and told him to buy as much sawn veneers as he could afford, before they disappeared.

He went to Paris and broke the bank.  He set up a chevalet in both his homes and started cutting.  He created a web page on Lumberjocks called the "Chevy Club" and attracted a large following of woodworkers who were new to the "sport."  As much as I have worked to introduce the tool to Americans, he has done more.

He was fascinated with the jewel cabinet I post as the masthead of this blog.  He decided to make a version of his own and communicated on a regular basis with my partner, Patrice Lejeune, to work out the issues.  His efforts were also well documented on the Lumberjocks page.  You need to check it out.

When he finished, he hired a photographer to take his photo with the box, in exactly the same pose as I did with my work.  This photo he sent to me in a private email message, with the subject "For your eyes only."  Apparently he was not sure how I would react.  His concern was that I would somehow be insulted that he had copied me?  I am the last person on earth who wants to be placed on a pedestal.  I am just a guy who loves what he does.  That's it.  I am not even the best at what I do.  I know many others who are more skillful in this trade.  I just have a lot of passion for marquetry and furniture, good wood and old tools.  It keeps me going.

I am very flattered by his photo.  I am pleased that he has taken my advice and followed his muse.

It validates my life.

Patrick Edwards and his Work

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Study Finds No Link Between Antiques And Cancer

Modern Construction Not Determined Safe?
I have been around the block a few times, to put it simply.  I worked in the Nuclear Physics industry for many years.  You have no idea what types of dangerous materials we were exposed to and how it was considered "normal business" to be around them in the workplace.  One of the reasons I quit my job and walked out the door was personal safety.  The other, and more important, reason I decided to leave the industry is that I did not want to support further research into atomic energy if there was no honest desire to mitigate the serious problem of radioactive waste.  I am sorry to say that I do not see any real improvements to the problem over the past 40 years.

Industry is generally driven by profits.  Rarely are the safety concerns of the consumers considered in the formula unless there are restrictions imposed by governments.  For example, when I learned to drive, gasoline was filled with lead, dashboards had sharp knobs everywhere, bumpers were "decorative," and seat belts were for Nascar drivers only.  Also, smoking was encouraged by medical doctors as "safe" and "healthy" forms of recreation.

Without effective government regulation this would still be the case today, I believe.



Modern Industrial Woodworker vrs, Old Lady

So this morning I read on the front page of the New York Times about "serious" efforts by lobbyists to stop regulations limiting the use of formaldehyde in household products.  Since I am a woodworker and know a few things about chemistry, I support the ban on urea formaldehyde glues as well as other finishes and materials which contain hazardous chemicals.

These chemicals are not stable.  They decay over time and "out gas" into the surrounding environment which expose consumers to hazardous fumes.  It is amazing to me how many things modern consumers live with which are not healthy.  Fabrics, carpet, glues, finishes, paint, and plastics all contribute to a cloud of chemicals unseen or undetected by the person living in their home.

The article mentions the argument by the industrial defenders of formaldehyde use that banning it would force "millions" of workers out of a job.  How about the argument that directing these "millions" of workers to find safe alternatives would not only allow them to keep their jobs but improve the product?

I have done 45 years of research into the relationship between living with pre industrial furniture and cancer.  So far my intensive research has found no link at all between cancer and sitting in a chair upholstered with cotton, silk or wool fabric, stuffed with cotton and horsehair, and finished with shellac.  I also have found no relationship between putting my hands in animal protein glues or shellac finishes and cancer.

I will continue my research.  I expect that I will be able to study this problem for several decades.  In the meantime, my contribution to the solution remains available: Old Brown Glue.

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Modern Times

This morning as I was drinking my coffee and finishing my oatmeal (before the sun gets up),  I turned on the TV for a few minutes.  The movie channel was showing the classic "Time Machine" by H.G. Wells.  As a small boy I read every book I could find about science fiction.  My imagination was fed enormous amounts of fantastic visions of the future.  I easily anticipated flying cars, space travel, living in giant underwater cities, and time travel.

These visions were further reinforced by all the original Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Lost in Space (we all knew who the villain was), Star Trek, Time Tunnel, and even the Jetsons, who combined to provide a weekly dose of extra terrestial reality.

The movies were even better and Robbie the Robot became my iconic friend.  Forbidden Planet is still one of the most important movies I have ever seen, as it deals with the essential struggle between the ego and the id.  I must admit that when I see Robbie I see Freud.  What does that say about my early years?

My passion for science was fed directly by The Day the Earth Stood Still, the Blob, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and most significantly, the Incredible Shrinking Man.  After all, didn't the exposure to radiation cause him to continue to shrink to the size of an atom?  Of course I would study particle physics!

However, the more I studied physics and worked in the highly specialized field of technology the more I wondered about my place in the universe.  In college I spend a lot of time in philosophy classes trying to determine my cosmology and the "meaning of life."   Fortunately, that was in the 60's and there was a wide selection of "stimulants" which could be used to test reality.

At some point, a few years out of college, I decided to abandon my chosen career and consciously turn away from technology.  Instead of working to smash atoms and search for "strange" particles (pun intended), I looked to history to understand how we ended up in this situation.

I became a modern Luddite.

Furniture and craft provided me with the tangible objects of that search.  I wondered what furniture Jefferson used tin his daily life, how the Kings of Europe lived, how Napoleon influenced a global style of design and what emerging technology did to the Victorians and their furniture.

These were the thoughts in my head as I walked to work, inspired by the movie this morning.  What would I do if I had a time machine?  Backward or Forward?

(Did I mention how I loved Dr. Who??)  "It's bigger on the inside!"

Tonight is Oscar Night and last night CNN ran a long special on the history of the Academy.  During that show I saw Charlie Chaplin as he was awarded honors for his contribution to film.  Thinking about his generation and what technology has changed during the 20th century, I did some searching on the computer and found this clip.



It summarizes perfectly my belief that technology for technologies' sake is a troubling waste of time and intellect.  We need solutions to serious global issues, starting with clean water and air.  We need to focus on easing human suffering and natural food.  The time and money the world spends on weapons of destruction is about as necessary as this machine which "feeds men".


As they said in the Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man", it's a cookbook!


Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Video of Secret Drawer Action

I have had a lot of interest in these springs.  I thought an action video of the secret mechanism would help to explain how these springs work in practice.

Here is a short video I took of the original Victorian dressing box with secret drawer and the crude plywood mockup of the system we will be using in our Treasure Boxes.

Note the springs are strong enough to throw a piece of wood several inches.  You cannot get this action with normal spiral springs.  They do not have enough travel or force.

The reason I spent the money to have a professional spring company duplicate these springs is that I wanted the exact metal quality, dimensions and consistency that a company with modern equipment can produce.

I did talk with several metal artisans and realized that to produce a limited run would be expensive and the tension would vary among "hand made" springs.

I trust this very amateur video helps to understand how this system works.   Contact me if you want to get a few of these for your own projects.



Monday, February 16, 2015

Secret Springs for Secret Drawers

Victorian Dressing Box (Button At Back Edge)
I have always had a fascination for secret drawers, secret compartments, secret panels and related tricks of the trade which have been incorporated in historic furniture designs by clever people.

During the Summer Institute at Winterthur in 1978, I went out of my way to do favors for the docents who were working there.  In return, they allowed me a certain "discretion" in my efforts to examine furniture in the collection.  That meant I was allowed to actually open drawers, crawl underneath and generally handle objects (with a great deal of care.)

I spent three months at Winterthur that year and was allowed to live in my camper on the parking lot, just a few hundred yards from the museum and library.  Each day at 8:00 am I was waiting at the door for it to open and each day at 9:00 pm I was the last person to leave when it closed.

During that time I had the pleasure of spending time in each of the 115 rooms studying the furniture at my leisure.  One day I opened a slant front Chippendale desk and began to remove the usual "secret" compartments.  As I continued to explore, I found an unusual cavity which had not been opened before (as far as the docents were aware.)  Inside that compartment I found a neat $100 bill (in 1930 Monopoly money!)  Of course I replaced it and I am sure it is still there today.

During the Victorian period there were lots of things produced which used secret escapements.  Quite a few of them were lap desks.  Since these were portable and often contained letters or money which was valuable, they included catches, moveable panels and springs which would open hidden compartments.
Damaged Victorian Dressing Box
I have posted here a photo of a wonderful ebony dressing box.  This box is in rather poor condition, but includes a mirror under the lid which hides a space behind it for letters.  The trays hold the cut glass jars for the powders and make up materials.  There is room for the tools used in sewing and other crafts.
Secret Drawer Open
At the back of the box is a button in the frame.  When this button is pressed it releases a catch inside and two springs act to push the hidden drawer forward from the bottom.  This system still works perfectly after a century and a half.  It is very simple and effective.

Thus, since we are currently working on the second series of the Treasure Boxes, and designed these with a secret writing surface, it seemed like a good idea to use this method as a way of opening the trays.  We are creating a gilt leather writing tray which will hide inside the box and be pushed out from the side.  We needed a way to open the tray without a visible pull.

Brass Catch Under Drawer
The system depends on having two special springs working together.  These springs have enough force and travel to push the tray out of the box over half its length.  There is a simple piece of square brass stock which is under the tray at the back which forms the catch.  This catch hooks on a piece of brass stock that is embedded in the floor of the box.  To release the tray you will push down on the floor of the pencil tray inside the box.  This moveable floor will then depress a plunger which moves the brass stock down away from the catch.  That allows the two springs to act, pushing the tray out.

Antique Box Spring System Inside Drawer Opening
I was able to make the brass stock by hand starting with a piece of rather thick brass stock.  Using files I worked it into shape easily.

Prototype Tray System Test

Tray Pushed Open
However I needed the springs.  So I sent one of the original springs to a company in Maine, Spring Manufacturing Corporation in Tewksbury.  They were very easy to work with and sent back a quote to make the 8 springs I needed for the 4 boxes.  Their price was around $800!  They mentioned that it would be cheaper if I ordered more than 8, so I asked about how much it would cost for 50.  They said $1000.  Then I asked how much for 100 springs and they said $1200.  I guess I should have asked how much for 1000???  Perhaps at some much higher number they would pay me?  Not sure.

Brass Catch under Tray

System revealed
In any event, I ordered 100 springs to get 8.  That means I have 92 springs left over.  These are cool springs and could be adapted to a wide variety of uses in furniture, since they have a good size and can move a fair amount of material a good distance.  I expect I will be finding a lot of uses in the future for them now that I have a supply.

Got Springs?
It occured to me that I should recover some of my investment by selling these springs online.  As they cost me $12.00 each I would happily sell them for $25/pair or $120 for 10.  If you are interested in getting some, let me know.

NOTE:  I had previously said I would send these without charging for shipping as they are small and I thought it would not be a problem.  However, I already had two people who live outside USA ask for springs and have lost a bit of money due to postage.  Therefore, as I cannot afford to loose any more money, I ask you to pay the postage.   I am not asking for a profit; I just cannot keep loosing money.  I was surprised at the demand for these specialized springs.
For Sale!  $25/pair or $120 for 10 plus S+H

Talk about a niche market!  You can't get these on Amazon!  By the way, these are the same springs used by famous cabinet makers like Roentgen to operate complicated systems.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Old Friends At Work

The Third Hand, Made in Paris
One of the results of not having to move my workshop over the past 45 years is that things tend to stay around.  I suppose that, if I had to move at some time, I would need to make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.  Instead I sometimes look around the shop and see things which have been there for years and are so necessary to my work that I take them for granted.

These things are my "friends."  They are always around, waiting to help me with my work.

I thought that I should mention them in a post, so that others who do this kind of work will start thinking about adopting similar shop aids.  These are not exactly the things you will read about in woodworking books.  They are just shop fixtures or tools which are handy and normal but serve to really make life easier.

Better than the Kitchen Sink
For example, here is a disc sander that is one of my first and only "power" tools.  When I started in 1969 there was a junk shop down town where you could find everything.  I had an old kitchen sink which I did not need, so I went down there and asked the owner if I could trade the kitchen sink for a motor.  He said fine, pick one out, and I found this motor with an arbor on each end.  I took it home and made a simple plywood stand, using an old wood box as a base.  I added the 12" disc from my 1952 Shop Smith (the only other power tool I have) and put a buffing wheel on the other side.  This simple tool has been in the corner of my shop ever since, just next to the outside door, so all the dust can escape.

Always Ready to Sit On
Another "friend" is my stool.  This I found in the trash.  It has a round seat which used to be adjustable up and down.  Now it is just down since it is broken.  However, from time to time I change the wheels which wear out and it keeps working.  Every day I use it so I can rest comfortably while working on projects at a low level.  Very handy for upholstering.

Rolling Work Table
In the center or the shop is this small table.  I made it when I started my business and it has turned out to be one of the most useful fixtures in the shop.  It is a low table, with the top covered in a rubber mat.  The table is bolted together and will carry quite a load.  There are metal wheels on the legs.  I do nearly every project on top of this table, and it also helps me to move large objects around the shop without any other help.

Multi Purpose Work Stands
Another way to hold projects is with these small stands.  They are easy to move around, with the hand grip in the top.  They hold tools and materials in the tray underneath.  They are useful for standing on when I need to get to the top of things, and they are practical when I go on site to use as a work bench or tool tray.

Got Glue Blocks?
What looks like a box of wood scraps is something necessary for repairs.  I have several boxes of pieces of pine and poplar which are cut into shapes.  These are glue blocks for curved repairs.  Search this blog for "vector clamping" and you will see what I do with these.  I am sure that they have no real value but, without them, I cannot do the complicated repairs which make my payday each week.

Sorted by Species and Size
Along the wall of the shop I put this wood rack.  It is a simple set of shelves which I use to hold different wood species in small sizes and lengths.  You would be amazed at how much time I save by being able to just walk up and pick out a piece of wood for a repair using this system.

Maxwell's Paper Hammer
Perhaps the strangest tool I have found in all the years of searching is this hammer.  You would not believe it but the head of the hammer is made of paper.  I cannot find a name or maker's mark on it, but the paper is somehow impregnated with a glue which holds it together.  I have used it for 4 decades and it still is in fine shape.  From time to time I run the face of the mallet over the disc sander to clean it up, but it survives.  You cannot believe how much force I can use with this hammer and still not mark the surface of the work.

Follow The Money
This is a system I use for keeping track of the work.  I got these wire racks from somewhere and screwed them to the wall.  By using folders I can easily see what jobs are in progress and where the work priorities are.  It turns out to be a very efficient method for tracking jobs.

These are my "friends" who help me every day.  I posted this topic today as I was listening to the Beatles.  I get by with a little help from my friends.