Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Another Milestone for Old Brown Glue

Old Brown Glue Hard at Work
Brian Boggs is an amazing chairmaker.  His chairs are not only beautiful but I am sure they will last a lifetime of hard use.  To say Brian is obsessive about details is an understatement.  I remember in particular one long phone conversation with him about what dimension is best for a "tight" fit.  In my analog world, the proper "tight" fit is determined by how much force is required to push the spindle into the socket.  In Brian's mind, there needs to be an exact dimension, specific to each wood species and application.  We went back and forth, and I was never able to provide him with a number.

At some point, Brian discovered the liquid animal glue I was using every day, and told me he wanted to try it for his chairs.  He found out it worked great and insisted that I start putting it into a bottle so I could sell it.  Thanks to Brian, I decided to begin selling glue and came up with the basic name, Old Brown Glue.  I reasoned that woodworkers were used to calling their synthetic glue either yellow or white, so I went with brown.

I remember when I was asked by Joel at Tools For Working Wood to supply him with the liquid hide glue as a commercial distributor.  Before that, simple word of mouth about the glue meant that we would get a phone call from time to time asking if we could sell a bottle.  I guess we were selling about 3 or 4 bottles a week, on average.  Joel suggested that we make two sizes available, a 20 oz (net weight) and a 5 ounce.  I resisted putting the glue in smaller bottles, since I used it all the time and the larger bottles were fine.

In any event, for several years, Tools For Working Wood was the only place where you could buy the glue, outside of direct sales from my business.

Then the internet took over, and people who used it wrote nice things about it.  Cabinet makers, chair makers, luthiers, and even museum conservators all commented positively and the phone calls increased dramatically.

The next phase was when Lee Valley called and placed a large order, forcing us to design labels in both French and English, as well as convincing the Canadian government that our glue was not toxic or dangerous.  As soon as we finished with the paperwork, our glue was placed in stores across Canada.

Soon after, Rockler contacted us and began stocking our glue in their stores.  Between Rockler and Lee Valley, I was cooking glue every week, filling bottles and shipping out large boxes of product.

That meant I needed a cooking space in the business, as well as a bottling place, a labeling place, and a shipping department.  At that point, there was a fairly continuous flow of glue from one end of the business to the other.

We joked about contacting Home Depot and visualized seeing our product sitting on the end isles next to the infamous Gorilla.  Yeah, right...

However, last month we were contacted by Woodcraft Supply, and they placed a very large order!  In fact, they followed up that order with two more, even larger.  Now I am cooking glue every day, going through 50 pound bags of Milligan and Higgins glue as fast as I can open them.  We are needing to order bottles and labels all the time, and the glue is everywhere.

The other day, I searched on Google for "Old Brown Glue" and found the first ad for this was on Amazon!  Woodcraft is selling our glue on Amazon!!  Check it out.

Move over Gorilla, who needs Home Depot?
Got Glue?

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Shop Tour!

Ring the Bell
The front door at my business used to have a stained glass transom window above it.  It was lovely, as it faced West and the setting sun would shine in through the glass.  My wife, Kristen made it, back in the "hippie" days and it really gave the front room class.

However, two things conspired to change that.  First of all, the transom was held in place with a chain, which allowed us to open it and let the air in.  One day that chain came loose and the window fell completely open, hitting me on the head.  Of course, I fixed it, but the bump left a mark.

The real reason was that KFC built a "restaurant" across the street, some 30 years ago, and connected their sewer line to the main line which runs directly in front of my shop.  Before KFC, my business was the first building on the end of the line, and there were no problems.  As soon as KFC began to operate, I found large quantities of "effluent" bubbling up out of my front toilet.  In fact the front room, which was full of antique furniture, had 6" of standing sewage when I arrived the next day.

Of course, KFC denied any involvement, and the city inspector accused me of putting "something" down the toilet, threatening to shut me down.  My damage claims were denied, and I had to clean up the mess.  The only good news was that KFC quietly relocated their drain to the larger commercial sewer directly in front of their store, instead of the smaller residential line in front of mine.

The city inspector determined that, since the sewer line had a very shallow slope, and that the front toilet was on a slab at ground level, it was easier for overflow to come out the toilet instead of lifting the manhole cover.  That was the news that signaled the end of the stained glass transom.

At that time there was news that a contractor in Los Angeles had laid a new basketball court improperly, and it had buckled severely and needed to be replaced.  This floor was made of 3/4" T/G hard maple, and finished with all the basketball lines and such.  The contractor had taken a saw and simply cut the floor into 12' x 8' chunks and piled them outside.  They were free for the taking.

Several of us guys (the ones with trucks) drove up there in a caravan and loaded up as much flooring as we could lift.  I remember my truck sitting on the axle, as I drove home with my headlights pointing to the sky.

Soon, I had a beautiful new hardwood floor in the front room, which raised the floor (and the toilet) over 6" (more than enough to solve the overflow problem).  The result was that I now hit my head on the transom window, which needed to be removed.  That meant I had to build a new front door, which ended up nearly 8 feet tall.
3815 Utah Street

That was over 35 years ago, and I still miss the light coming through the window.

The rest of the building has been changed and adapted to my uses over the years.  Thanks to Asa, at Fine Woodworking, I can invite you to take a tour.  This link will take you to a short presentation.

3815 Utah Street Shop Tour

I hope you enjoy it, and if you are ever in San Diego, please ring the bell and visit.

Saturday, July 5, 2014

COPE'S Patent?

Who is Mr. COPE?
I have posted several times about the importance of identifying original hardware as a primary means of authenticating antique furniture.  See my recent post on "Respect the Screw."  It is always a moment requiring thoughtful consideration as I work on antiques, whether I should remove a screw or other metal element which has never been touched before.  It is easy to x-ray furniture, and in the future, as they search more and more for period furniture which has survived, it is obvious that they will resort to x-rays to see the type of screw thread under the wood, without disturbing it.

In addition, during the 19th century, there were numerous design patents issued in several countries which are a matter of record, and it is common that the owner of the patent would mark his hardware accordingly.
Undisturbed and Original from 1825

I found it interesting that two different pieces of furniture came in for restoration at the same time, each with plate castors marked "COPE'S PATENT."  I searched briefly on the web and found lots of English Regency and early Victorian furniture with the same castors, but could find no real reference to the patent or its dates.

Marquetry Chest
The first piece which came in was purchased in France, and is a very interesting marquetry chest.  The inside is upholstered in tufted, floral fabric, and there is a large engraved key plate, which is very unusual.  The hinges which fasten the top are fixed with blunt screws dating pre 1846, but the wheels, marked "COPE" are fastened with later pointed screws, so they may not be original.  It is possible the round feet were added at some point.

In any case, it is not clear if this chest is English or Continental in origin.  The highly developed marquetry surface is a unique form of "jeux de fond" which includes a 3 dimensional pattern incorporating the cube in a grid.  Really interesting and creative.  I know of no other pattern like this in my experience, and I am dying to copy it on something.  The main veneer is Brazilian rosewood, and I suspect the chest was made around mid century.

English Rosewood Tilt Table
The next week I picked up an English Regency tilt top center table.  I was pleased to note that it had its original castors, also marked "COPE" and each fastened with original screws which were untouched.  In fact, this table is in fairly original condition, also made of rosewood, with gilt trim.  It appears to be from around 1830 or so by its style.

I wanted to post this and ask if anyone reading this has more information about these castors.  It would be great if I could find out more about Mr. Cope and his wonderful wheels.

Wednesday, July 2, 2014

I Miss Posting On My Blog

I didn't understand the lasting effect it would have on me to actually "retire" from some long term activity, like I talked about in the last post.  That was in March, when I quit all my activities in historic commercial revitalization and non profit management boards to focus full time on my business.

Now, 3 months have passed and, although I have been very busy working on exciting projects, I have not had the urge to post anything on my blog.  I realized today that it is time to get back to work on keeping the blog up to date, as I appreciate the interest it has for other woodworkers.  Most of all, I look forward to the comments and feedback I receive when a post something.  It is rewarding to know that I can share my abilities with others in such an easy and practical system.

I have just completed an article for the Society of American Furniture Makers' Journal, which will be published at the end of this year.  As the SAPFM Cartouche Award winner, I get the pleasure to see my work on the cover of the Journal, as well as contribute something inside.  I wrote articles for each of the first three volumes of the Journal, when it started, and am pleased to see it has become one of the most impressive publications on American Furniture today.  Even if you can't make the SAPFM meetings in Williamsburg, getting the Journal in the mail justifies the membership dues completely.

I guess that now that I have the Cartouche, I am on the "A" list of woodworkers.  I will be speaking at the Woodworking in America conference in Winston-Salem in September.  I see my photo placed next to Frank, Roy, Phil, Peter and others who I deeply admire and respect, and find a real satisfaction that I have been accepted into that group.  These are the intellectual philosophers and technicians in our world that have chosen woodworking as a craft life.  In my mind, they are national treasures.

My talk will address the chevalet de marquetry and historic French marquetry processes.  I speak on Friday and Saturday.  Also, I will have a booth at the Marketplace for the American School of French Marquetry and be selling Old Brown Glue, if you need it.  There will be a show special price.  I hope to see you there.

Here is the link for the WIA Show:Woodworking in America Show

Last month Asa, past editor of Fine Woodworking magazine, arrived in San Diego to judge the Design in Wood show.  He took some time to visit me at work and put together a photo tour which will be posted online in a few days.  Also, we sat down for a one hour audio interview, which went really well.  Asa is a smart guy and a good friend.  While he was here, he picked up one of the guitars that Patrice had veneered with marquetry, plugged into the amp and rocked out some serious licks.

If you want to listen to the audio podcast, here are the links.  There are two segments, each 30 minutes long.  You will find them at the last half of each of the podcasts.  The podcast starts with the editors discussing different topics and ends with the interview.  I found it amusing that the first podcast begins with a talk about dumpster diving and junk finds.  When Asa asks me how I started, I talk about living next to the city dump when I was young, and bringing home all the things I found at the dump to repair.

On this link, my part starts at 34 minutes:  Fine Woodworking Podcast Interview Part I

On this link, my part starts at 45 minutes:  Fine Woodworking Podcast Interview Part II

I will let you know as soon as the video shop tour is working.

It's good to be back.  I will post again very soon.  It makes me happy.