Sunday, September 21, 2014

Treasure Box Series II Progress

Treasure Box Series II Nearly Complete

The day Kristen and I left to fly to Winston Salem, Patrice finished cutting out the ebony background packet and was ready to start putting it together.

This Treasure Box is twice as difficult as the first series Treasure Box, and it includes subtle complexities that makes it even more challenging.   Patrice and I have worked together on this project for an entire year to get it to this point, and we hope to complete the project, with four identical boxes by the end of this year.  Or sooner, if possible...

After the success in selling all four of the first series, we were encouraged to start working on the next series.  I selected the original box from a web search and began working on the box construction.  You can search back in this blog to see how long ago it was that I was cutting the full blind dovetails for the corners.

We decided to do the interior in bloodwood veneer and we found a nice large and colorful bloodwood board in Oregon to cut down for the solid partitions to match.  The design includes three birds, each different.  Two are sitting in trees inside the box itself.   One is on the top outside center, surrounded by bone inlay.

Patrice refined the overall design using illustrator, which produces a line composed of very small dots.  It is essential to use a dotted line to cut the pieces properly.  That is because we are using the Classic Method to produce these boxes, and, if you have been following this blog, you realize we are "cheating."  What I mean by this is that the original box, made in the late 17th century, was made using the Painting in Wood process.  With this process, you only are able to generate one copy of the design at a time.  In order to made these boxes "affordable" we are using the Classic Method, which the French perfected in the mid 18th century, and with that process we can make multiple copies all identical.

They look like Painting in Wood, but the fit is perfect since the saw kerf is eliminated, so an expert would be able to determine that they are not "of the period."

To cut out the background for the top, Patrice had to first cut out the elliptical bone cavity around the center bird.  Then he had to take apart the package and install the bone strips in each background.  Since the four backgrounds then had to be put back into a packet absolutely perfectly, with a new design placed on the front of the packet, there had to be some way to keep the alignment of each layer without any error.  I suggested using pins which would be placed in holes that were first drilled through the first packet.  Then Patrice was able to keep the second design in the right position by locating these pins.  It worked perfectly.  Absolutely zero error.

For more about this part of the job visit Patrice's blog here:Patrice's Lumberjocks Post

So, after cutting the packet for over three days, full time, he was ready to start putting the pieces together.  We flew to Winston Salem on a Wednesday.  On Thursday night we were looking for a place to eat and walked into a crab shack around the corner from the hotel.  As we looked at the menu, we were dismayed to find everything was fried.  When the waiter arrived and asked us what we wanted, we said "anything organic and anything not fried."  He kindly said, "You are in the wrong place.  You need to go down Liberty Street on the other side of the interstate and eat at Willows."

Boy, was he right!  We ended up eating there four nights in a row and enjoyed every bite.  For example, here is the "Grilled vegetable Napoleon -layered puff pastry, with grilled asparagus, grilled portabella mushrooms, grilled artichokes and fontina cheese, finished with roasted red peppers."  I had it twice!

Excellent Food Properly Presented
So, as Kristen and I sat and enjoyed our delightful dinner together on Thursday night, I received the first photo of the marquetry that Patrice had just put together.  Kristen actually cried when she saw it and I stopped breathing for a few moments.  It was just too beautiful!  I know how the masters in the 17th century felt when they looked at their work.  One part of the brain (the technical side) focuses on the slight defects that are always present.  The other part of the brain (the artistic side) just smiles, knowing the satisfaction of a job well done.

To quickly review how we got to this point, I will briefly summarize the process we used.  After Patrice had completed the drawing, I laid out 32 different packets of sawn veneers and coded each part of the design with the appropriate wood.  The top has nearly a thousand separate pieces, and each had to have a color, keeping in mind the overall goal of making it look authentic.  I then glued each piece of the paper to the packets and fed them to Patrice, who was kept busy cutting 4 layers of each element over nearly a month of work.

He is responsible for placing each piece in hot sand to create the artistic shadow, as I no longer have the patience to do that part of the work.  It is an essential part of the process, but very tedious.  Patrice has the eye and understands exactly how the final result will look.  He did a great job.

At this point all the sides for the four boxes are assembled and all the tops are nearly ready.  The inside marquetry is done and glued down.  There is one last issue to resolve: green bone.

If you look closely at the marquetry you will see that a lot of the places where leaves should be are empty.  These spots will be filled with green bone leaves.  Also, in these places you can see small strips of ebony crossing the empty space.  These strips are "bridges" which are a feature of the Classic Method.  By leaving "bridges" in the design, the various elements of the background can remain exactly in the proper place until the worker is ready to install the proper element.  The worker just cuts out the bridge and installs the leaf, in this case.  We will do that as soon as we complete the process of dying the white bone a proper green.  Green bone elements were a very popular feature in late 17th century work.

I am so proud of this recent work that I want to show you some closeups, even though the work is not completely done.  Note you are looking at the back side of the marquetry, which is being assembled with hot glue on an assembly board which is covered in stretched Kraft paper.  When all the parts are in place, any gaps which remain will be filled with mastic.  Then we can remove the panels and finally glue them in place on the outside of our boxes.

We are very fortunate that three of these boxes have been sold and paid for.  That means that there is only one Treasure Box Series II which remains available.  It is our hope that we will find a patron who is able to purchase the last box and perhaps donate it to a museum.  We believe that this work is worthy of being in a museum where it can be enjoyed by the general public.  I think it is very important in this modern disposable world that the public has the chance to view objects which will stand the test of time.  This work is equal to that produced centuries ago, as we have been very faithful to the craft.

Saturday, September 20, 2014

Exciting WIA Week in Winston Salem

Fortunately, I had decided to arrive several days in advance of the WIA conference and stay a few days after, so Kristen and I were able to spend some quality time in old Winston Salem.  In fact, the last time I visited Winston Salem and MESDA was in 1978, during one of my several trips to visit East coast museums and historic settlements.  I am sorry it took so long for me to return.

The weather was great, in fact, with only a slight spot of rain and moderate heat.  While I was away, on the other hand, San Diego had a heat wave, with several days above 100 degrees.  Poor Patrice had to work at the bench, building the top of our Treasure Box (Series 2) while I got to wander around from place to place, thinking perhaps I should have packed a sweater.

Last year, during this time, I was teaching at Marc Adams school, and only had a short time late on Saturday to get away.  I broke several speed limits driving from the school to Cincinnati to see the WIA event.  I got there about 30 minutes before it closed, with just enough time to get my signed copies of Roubo from Chris.  As it turned out, I also had to sign a few copies, since I wrote the Forward.  The best part was that I got to have a nice dinner with Roy later that evening.

This year, I was a speaker, and presented two lectures to a rather enthusiastic and supportive audience.  The first was a talk on "Historic Marquetry Procedures,"and went through basically 500 years of the traditional methods used to create this art form.  The second was "Building and Using a Chevalet."  At the start of this lecture, I mentioned that I have been working for nearly 20 years to introduce this unique tool to woodworkers in North America.  Then I foolishly asked if anyone in the audience knew about this tool.  When nobody raised their hand, a person in the back shouted, "You haven't been very successful!"  As they always say in law school, "Never ask a question if you don't already know the answer."

I shared the lecture room with Roy Underhill, which is always an experience.  As I was setting up my talk, he was putting his things away.  They had scheduled a half hour break between speakers.  Just about the time I was ready to start, Roy had the brilliant idea to "introduce" me. You probably already know he can be theatrical, to say the least.

He said the first time we met was at the Great Salt Lake, and there was a stampede of brine shrimp.  Tim Webster was sitting in the audience, and had the quick thinking to pull out his camera and video it, posting it on YouTube soon after.  I was speechless and had to hold my tongue, while he went on and on, creating a story that was more and more amazing.  My mike was turned up to the max and when I did comment it was way too loud.  Near the end I asked him to turn down the mike, and he crawled under the screen to adjust the volume.  I thought I had a quick wit, but there is no way I can keep up with Roy when he is "on."

Here is the video: Underhill introducing Edwards

While I was having fun in the lecture hall, Kristen was in the Trade Show, where we had a booth for both the ASFM school and OBG.  She is a master of working these shows, and I am very grateful for her talent, as I usually lose my voice and patience trying to compete with the noise.

Of course, Roy had to stop by and pick up some glue...

At the end of the show, they gave away a rather expensive band saw.  I wondered if it would fit in the overhead compartment on the plane, but fortunately I was not in the contest to win it.  However, they asked all the speakers at the show to sign it.  I asked, rather incredulously, if they really want me to sign a power tool?  They insisted, so I did.  You can see my name, with the comment added 
"Use hand tools."

After the show Kristen and I went to MESDA where we had a nice tour with Daniel Ackerman.  We also enjoyed a private home tour by Tom Sears, both of which are members of SAPFM.  We had dinner with Jerome Bias, who is the joiner at Old Salem, and then visited him at work, where he demonstrated his Roubo veneer saw.

Across the hall Brian Coe was using the foot power lathe to make some turnings.  That is a rather impressive tool, made from massive pieces of oak.

All of this activity was in the Brothers House, and it was full of woodworkers from the show, having a great time sharing stories.  There was a warm sense of camaraderie and mutual friendship.

I made a promise to myself not to wait another 30 years before returning to Winston Salem.  Thanks to Megan, Don, Roy, Jerome, Daniel, Phil, Freddy, Martin, Tom, Brian, Will, and too many others to name.  You know who you are!

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Woodworking in America Calls

I am really looking forward to meeting all my good friends and woodworking peers this weekend.  I have been asked to teach a couple of classes, and my wife Kristen and I will also have a booth in the Trade Show area of the conference.

To see a list of classes click here:WIA Lectures

Our booth will be representing the American School of French Marquetry, and I hope to attract new students both to my school in San Diego, and also to Marc Adams School of Woodworking, where I will return to teach next fall.

Marc has graciously sent to the conference one of the chevalets he built for my class.  Unfortunately, the classic chevalet doesn't fit into the typical baggage requirements, so having one of his on loan is a great help.  Thank you Marc.

We are also selling bottles of Old Brown Glue at our booth.  That is assuming the TSA doesn't look at a 49 lb bag of gelled organic glue as a threat.  We included in the package the MSDS just in case.

I used to wonder at Don Weber, the "bodger of paint Lick, Kentucky," when he would stay with us.  His baggage contained a dozen razor sharp turning tools.  I guess if you look authentic, they don't mess with you.

I have had my share of interesting stops by TSA.  One I am thinking of was the time I transported 2 kilos of sand, which I paid a good price for in Paris.  This particular sand comes from Fontainebleau and is used for burning wood in marquetry.  As they ran their hands through the sand, looking for something, they finally asked me, "What is this?"  All I could say was "Sand."

But the most memorable and dramatic event was when I arrived from Paris to clear customs in Philadelphia.  I had a bag which was 50 pounds.  I had purchased a variety of traditional stains, in powder form, as well as kilos of pumice and "soie" which is a silk filtered mineral for French polishing.  At the same time, since American pewter is different than traditional French pewter, I had several sheets of 1mm thick pewter lining the sides of the bag.

So, when I was asked to open my bag for inspection, the inspector looked into a bag, lined with lead sheeting and filled with hand made brown paper kilos of different powders.  He asked me to empty the bag, and as I lifted each kilo out to place it on the table, different colored powders would leak out.  I tried as best as I could to explain why I had placed pewter on the sides of the bag, but he wasn't impressed with my knowledge of traditional marquetry and special materials.

As he reached for the telephone to call a superior my heat sank, thinking my stop over in Philadelphia was going to take longer than I had expected.  However at that same instant a 777 had just arrived and there were about 300 people rushing the gate.  He just gave up, looked at me sternly, and said, "Pack your bag and go."

I guess it does matter if you look authentic. Hope to see you in Winston Salem!