Saturday, March 31, 2012

ASFM Student Humor

I have a lot of fun in my business. I enjoy working with fine furniture and solving challenging problems. I take pride in the results, so there is a serious side to the job. However, when I teach students in the American School of French Marquetry, I try to bring humor into the discussion, and find it extremely interesting how the different personalities respond to my approach. Sometimes it works and sometimes it dies a slow death.

Over the years, I have resorted to a few "pat" jokes (pun intended) to spice up the lecture. I admit that these are not really the kind of jokes that will earn me a television series, but, in the context of the class, they provide a kind of break in the day.

The first "joke" usually comes at the lunch break on Monday. Since the historic business community, North Park, where my business is located, has become a major attraction for excellent and upscale places to eat, I always draw a map on the chalk board and discuss the options. The closest place to eat is directly across the street from the shop, KFC. It was also one of the first places to open some 30 years ago. I should point out that the KFC is West of me and we usually have a mild ocean breeze blowing from the West. After some 30 years of the "aroma" of KFC filling the shop, I have developed an aversion to their food. So, I start out with a variation of the joke as follows: "You can eat at KFC, but don't come back to school." Then I point out all the other great places nearby.

OK, not much of a joke. I warned you.

So, since all the class I students are required to make a Boulle picture of their face, I received a portrait of the Colonel executed by a student which I now use to illustrate the bad joke. The marquetry is better than the joke.

Another "joke" is used to generalize the typical motifs found in American marquetry. Perhaps I will be accused of being an elitist, but I am not trying to be mean. I just want American artisans to expand their horizons. Think outside the box. Explore your creativity.

What I mean is that, in looking at many, many examples of marquetry, I began to realize that a majority of them had 4 essential elements: Boat, lake, tree and mountain. Patrice and I became obsessed with looking at marquetry online, watching "how to do it" videos, and looking at marquetry newsletters, to find examples. We would score them, from 1 to 4, depending on how many elements of the "required" motifs were used. For example, we would say: "It has a nice tree, big mountain and a lake, but where's the boat? I give it a 3."

Not very nice, but it makes a "joke" that I use to illustrate to my students how they can use the French methods to add more sophisticated elements to their design.

So I just received a nice card from a recent student, who enclosed his project: "Marquetry in America, a study of the relationship between the lake, the mountain, the boat and the tree." He included a note that included this disclaimer: "Not submitted for adjudication. Just for fun."

Is it me or does the boat remind you of an Italian cruise ship? Anyway, we gave it a 4.

Take life seriously, but be sure to have fun while you're living it.

Monday, March 26, 2012

Old Brown Glue at Rockler

Two weeks ago we received another order from Lee Valley in Canada for a shipment of Old Brown Glue. At the same time, we received confirmation that Rockler, in America, will proceed with distribution of our product. This is great news for us. We were involved in discussions with Rockler for several weeks, processing papers and going through the requirements for insurance, shipping, billing, MSDS data sheets, and all the other details that were required.

However, when they approved their first order the same week as the new order from Lee Valley came in, I had to go into overtime cooking. I bought another 150 lbs of protein glue, more urea and some new double boilers and went to work.

Mixing, cooking, bottling, labeling, packing, shipping, and all the little details which are required to complete such a large order took me several days. But by the end of the week, there were two shipments, neatly boxed and secured to pallets, properly labeled and ready for the pick up. What a nice feeling of satisfaction.

I am pleased that such a large segment of woodworkers have tried protein glue and take a great deal of satisfaction in knowing that my formulation of traditional hide glue is a part of so many important projects. If you haven't tried it yet, what are you waiting for?

Get it here.

Monday, March 5, 2012

Treasure Box Déjà Vu (Again?)

Patrice has been sick for a few days. Sinus headache. Not a pleasant situation, so he stayed in bed. Today he showed up, but is still not running on all cylinders. While he was home, he had a chance to read my recent posts about the box photos.

Since we worked very closely together to make the box, he was anxious to fix the problem with the photos. So, this morning he crawled into the shop and sat down at his computer and, within 10 minutes, seemed to fix the problem.

Here are his versions of the photos. This is the closest to the real thing so far. I probably have spent way too much time on this digital photography thing, but I have discovered that a lot of woodworkers who read this blog are, in fact, very talented professional photographers. I have learned a lot from their emails and comments. Thank you all.

Saturday, March 3, 2012

Treasure Box I (Encore)

I got a lot of comments on my questions about digital photography. I need to confess that, over the years, I have carried my Nikons and hundreds of rolls of film all over the museums of America and Europe, and that I am, in fact, an analog thinker. I mean, what kind of person has 18,000 slides of just furniture catalogued in conservation boxes? Each piece has a front view, 3/4 view and detail close up shot. The weird thing is that I can remember exactly where I was when I look at a shot. Talk about a strange talent...

In any event, my good friend Chuck, did some work on the photo I posted and sent this one back. Although it is still not exact, it is an improvement on the "professional" shot. Next week I will see what I can do to correct the original and post it.

Thank you to all the kind readers who sent me their opinion. I appreciate that others have found my work interesting.

Friday, March 2, 2012

Treasure Box Series I (Part D)

I am not sure about digital photography. Just not sure. I do not trust something that can be manipulated so easily. So, anyway, I paid a photographer, with a lot of expensive equipment, to take a picture of the box. I will post it here.

However, since it is made of exactly the same materials and has the same finish as the jewel box at the masthead of this post, why does it look different? Trust me, I will find out what is wrong with this picture and repost it as soon as I can get it right.

In the meantime, here is a shot of the outside and inside of the finished box. Enjoy.

Remember, I have three more just like it...

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Treasure Box Series I (Part C)

Cutting out the background, using the Classic Method is actually fun. Kind of like the homestretch run in a race. If you have done your training properly and paid attention to the basic details, the final distance in the race is an endorphin high.

We first glued newspaper to the face of the ebony veneer, so that it would hold together in the fragile areas. Then we made a packet, starting with 3mm backer board, grease paper, 4 layers of 1.5 mm ebony (paper side up) and a 1.5mm front board. On the front of the packet we glued the design, using hot protein glue. Then we taped the outside edges and nailed all the interior elements together with veneer nails.

Drilling a hole in the design, we began cutting out the pattern, following the edge of the design, going counter clockwise. That is the genius of the Classic Method. You cut all the inside elements following cutting around each in a clock wise direction. You then cut the back ground in a counter clockwise direction. By this simple change of direction, you can cut away the outside (or right side) of the line exactly each time. The result is a tight fit, without any saw kerf visible.

When the entire background is cut out, the packet is taken apart and the result is 4 identical backgrounds, ready for the pieces. To assemble the project, we have made an assembly board with Kraft paper (90gm/square meter) and set up the work table with the tray of parts, assembly board and glue pot.

Each piece of the picture is laid down into the appropriate cavity of the background, which is laid face down in hot glue on the Kraft paper. You need to be sure all the parts are well glued down, so fresh, hot glue needs to be added as the work progresses. Since all the parts are very tight fitting, it is necessary to use a special veneer knife to lever them into place. A lot of the success depends on compressing the wood elements enough to press them into place. It can be a challenge sometimes, but the results are amazing.

Since we are making 4 identical marquetry boxes, we decided to create variations in the interior fittings. The first box has sawn olive, kingwood, tulip and boxwood inside, with a secret panel for hiding treasure. I designed a brass release and lever to allow the user to open the panel. Inside this panel we put our label: "Edwards and Lejeune". The beech wood box is assembled with full blind dovetails at each corner, to prevent the joints eventually pushing up through the marquetry.

The marquetry panels are glued to the beech ground, which has been toothed properly, using Old Brown Glue. After the glue has dried, the Kraft paper is soaked with cold water, begins to dissolve, and gentle scraping removes the paper and glue from the surface. The marquetry is scraped flat and the polishing begins.

Once the hardware is cut in (lock and hinges), the box is ready to deliver. The first one is sold and we have three more.

I will post better pictures in a future post.

Treasure Box Series I (Part B)

There are several things that are essential to the French method of making marquetry. Surprisingly, the use of the chevalet is not one of them. By that I mean that there are many French workers who make great pieces and do not use the chevalet. In fact, the workshop at ecole Boulle has generally replaced the chevalet with Italian jig saws. I discussed this in an earlier post, and showed photos of the new workshop.

In my mind the essential ingredients of a French process marquetry workshop are: hot protein glue, Kraft paper and trays. Lots and lots of trays. Large trays for all the parts for the design. Smaller trays for the cutting work and tools. Cabinets to hold the trays and tables to place the trays on. It seems that most of the work building these pictures involves moving parts from one tray to another or within the same tray, using tweezers and trying not to disturb the pile. With 4 copies of sawn veneer, it is fairly easy to keep them stacked up. With 8 copies it gets more difficult, as the stacks keep falling over and mixing up.

I found a coated paper which is blue and has a low flocking surface of some kind that works great. I don't know where I got it and I don't know where you can find it, so don't ask. However, since it is blue, it is easy to see the wood on the surface, even the small elements. Also the parts seem to stay in place and not move around. I just used spray adhesive to line the trays with this paper. The larger trays are from an antique typesetting cabinet. The smaller trays are just something I made from pieces of wood with an edge frame.

So, as the pieces from each packet are cut out they are placed in the small tray, which is at the chevalet. When that is full, these pieces are then transferred to the larger tray and placed in their respective position, according to the exploded design. It is very important to keep them in exactly the proper location, because it can become confusing in a hurry as the design gets complicated.

Now, looking at the design which has been shadowed, each piece is carefully placed in hot sand in such a way as to create the desired effect. The sand is very fine and uniform and heated as much as possible. We purchased a rather expensive hot plate, made in Germany, since the hot plates made in China did not create enough heat to do the job. The sand is about 1 inch deep and heated for at least an hour or more to create the proper temperature. Do not stir up or disturb the sand, as you want to use the even heat distribution (top to bottom) to your advantage for the proper look.

Only after all the elements of the picture are properly cut out, placed in their proper position and burned in hot sand do you begin to cut the background packet.

That is another post. To be continued.