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.