Tuesday, September 29, 2015

Five SAPFM Cartouche Winners Together

Left to Right: 2013, 2008, 2005, 2011 and 2014

I just returned from the 2015 WIA in Kansas City.  It was a wonderful time with lots of expert woodworkers teaching lots of other expert woodworkers about everything.  There must have been around 20 different classrooms each with 4 or 5 different classes.

I started the day early Friday with a class on the history of marquetry and finished the day with a class on understanding protein glues.  The class rooms held around 50 people and the glue class was standing room only at the end.  Obviously more people are excited to learn about glues than something old and dusty like world marquetry.

For those of you who have not attended the annual Woodworking in America events, I strongly urge you to find time to attend next year.  Popular Woodworking magazine produces these events and it is a perfect mix of education and market place activities.

I also presented a lecture and demonstration on French Polishing, but I started out with the obvious disclaimer that it is impossible to learn it from a 2 hour talk.  In fact, I know professional polishers in Europe who have been full time polishers for over 10 years who still admit that they don't know everything about it.

After the market place closed on Saturday, it was a great opportunity for the SAPFM Cartouche winners to get together at the SAPFM booth for a photo.  What a great chance for 5 of us to stand together: Will Neptune, Al Sharp, Phil Lowe, Ben Hobbs and myself.  Funny fact: 4 of the 5 were born in the same year, 1948.  Makes you wonder what was in the milk at that time?

On Friday and Saturday the market place is an active center of tools, books, more tools, and woodworkers of all skill levels mingling around talking and buying stuff.  It is a lot of fun.  Thank goodness that I have every tool I need at this point so I am not tempted to get more.  That said, some of the planes and saws are absolutely perfect and would be very easy to bring home.

I have become fairly well known in these circles as the maker of Old Brown Glue, and I took 100 bottles to pass out for free just to promote my glue.  Last year we actually bought a booth and sold the glue, but the cost of the booth and the glue sales broke even.  So this year, instead of being tied to a booth for two days, we decided to just take the glue and make it free.  It felt good passing out glue.

It is interesting to note that one of the primary sponsors of the event was a very well known brand of polyurethane glue.  The glue which you find advertised everywhere.  The glue which cannot be removed from your skin with any solvent.  The glue which is toxic and scored a 53% strength score by independent testing at Fine Woodworking (Issue #192, August 2007, page 37) when compared to PVA Type I waterproof glue.

In the same test, I am proud to say that Old Brown Glue scored a 79% strength score.  This was the highest score for any glue which is organic and reversible.  The average breaking point in the test for Old Brown Glue was 1595 pounds where polyurethane glue broke at an average of 1164 pounds.

Thus OBG can hold 431 pounds more load than the best polyurethane glue.  Since the average male gorilla in the wild weighs 400 pounds, you can think of a standard gorilla unit as a measurement of strength.  Note this is a full grown male gorilla.  We will call a gorilla unit a "G force".

In conclusion, polyurethane glue is 3G and OBG is 4G in strength.

There are 4 Gorillas in Every Bottle of OBG.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

The Life of a Picker or On The Road Again

I just returned from delivering a Federal card table to an old client in Dallas.  This was a table I made many years ago and always thought I would keep for myself.  It stood in the front window of the shop with the SAPFM Cartouche on top.  Now I have to make another table to fill the gap.

It has been many years since I drove East on 8.  It brought back many memories of trips I made some 40 years ago, during my early years as a collector and dealer of American furniture. I often watch the two guys on the TV these days, driving their Sprinter around the country side digging up broken bicycles and old signs.  That was my life for nearly a decade during the 1970's.

Starting in 1969, when I opened my antique business, I began regular driving trips to collect inventory and visit historic houses and museums.  Since I lived in San Diego, it was essential that I travel to the East to find bargains and inventory that I could restore and sell.  I had a Ford F250 pick up truck with a large cab over camper.  It had a bed, sink, stove and toilet, as well as two extra gas tanks.  With over 60 gallons of gas I could drive many miles before needing to stop and refill.

I would take as much cash as I could spare and drive East, nearly every month.  I must have made at least 50 trips around the country during that decade, each time taking someone to help me travel.  I took my wife, my brother, my cousin or any good friend who wanted to travel.  We had some real adventures.

My buying trips began with trips to the mid West, around Omaha, where, during that time, farms were being sold and farm house furniture was available for a song.  I could buy press back oak chairs for $5/each, oak tables for $40, roll top desks for $100 and once I bought a  dozen treadle sewing machines for $10/each.  Anything made of oak would quickly sell as soon as it was refinished, and I would take the profit and go again.

Once I stopped in Omaha at an old antique shop downtown, in a large old brick building.  This was before I upgraded to the camper, and I just had an open lumber rack on the truck.  The owner of the shop told me that he was closing and that I could have everything in the basement for $200.  I went down the stairs with a flashlight and saw tons of stuff.  More than I could possibly take.  My brother and I started loading the truck and, when we got the pile up to about 12 feet we tied it securely and took off.  It looked crazy, with tables on the roof of the cab and stuff sticking out the back of the tail gate.

At some point on our return I remember having to stop suddenly at a stop light and watching a large round oak table top slid off the roof, hit the hood and end up in the middle of the intersection.

When we crossed over the State line into Kansas, sticking to the back roads, as was our habit, we were immediately pulled over by the State Police.  My brother and I both had long hair, were barefoot and looked like hippies, which we actually were.  I was following all the traffic rules, so I thought he pulled us over because the load looked unstable.

We were treated rather roughly and he asked me for a receipt for all the items in the truck.  I said that I had bought it all with cash for $200 and had no receipt.  He said that there had been a lot of house robberies  lately and we looked suspicious.  I admitted that we probably looked suspicious, but that it was the truth.  I took some time for him to let us go.  We did not return to that part of Kansas again.

Last week, as I drove again through Los Cruces I was reminded of another time my brother and I got in trouble with the law.  The drive shaft fell out of our truck and we needed to find a repair shop.  We found a nice family business that was willing to help but they did not have the part.  They told us that we could find it in a junk yard in El Paso, but it was late so we decided to hitch a ride the next day.  My brother and I walked to the intersection of the highway and found a clean place by the side of the road to sleep.  I remember it was difficult to sleep, with the semi trucks driving by a few feet away, but we had no alternative.

About 2 in the morning we woke up with bright lights in our faces.  The local sheriff had found us and was not happy.  He told us to get out of town.  Now.  We walked to the edge of town with him driving behind us all the way, making sure we were leaving.  The next day we stood for hours with our thumbs out hoping to get a ride to El Paso, which finally happened.  Then we found the drive shaft, but the bus would not let us get on with a drive shaft, so we had to hitch back.  It took all day.

People do not easily pick up two hippies, who had slept in the dirt all night, while they are holding a 6 foot drive shaft.

The Mexican family took us in when we returned, fed us and let us sleep on their floor, even thought neither of us spoke the other's language.  After they fixed the truck we were on our way.

Probably the most interesting incident with the law happened in Wichita, Kansas.  My friend and I were loaded with antiques and returning through town after mid night, during a snow storm.  My friend had long red hair and we both were dirty and tired from a long trip.  Since it was snowing, I was driving about 10 miles an hour and thought I was the only vehicle on the road at the time.  However a State Trooper pulled up behind us and turned on his red light.

When I stopped, he asked me for my license and registration and to step out of the truck.  It was cold.  He told me to get into his car.  Then he drove away!  I had no idea what was happening and he said nothing.  We drove across town and out a dirt road into the dark.  You can imagine what I was thinking.  This is the end of the road for me.

He took me to a house, unlocked the front door and told me to go inside.  What was I supposed to do?  Then he walked me into his bedroom, where his wife was sleeping in the bed.  It was dark and he turned on the light.  His wife woke up and asked what he was doing home.  He told her that he had found an antique dealer and was going to show me some of the antiques he wanted to sell.  He then pointed his flashlight at the dresser next to the bed and asked, "What about that one?"


During the next 15 minutes he walked me around the house, into the kids room, into the living room and in each room asking me if I wanted to buy anything.

I told him that I was returning with a full load but would certainly stop in the next trip.

Finally, he drove me back to my truck where my friend was nearly frozen.  As I got into the truck, turned on the engine and began to slowly drive off into the snow storm, he asked me, "What was that all about?  You were gone for over an hour!"

I just said, "I don't want to talk about it."  And we never returned to Wichita either.

Saturday, September 12, 2015

WPE at WIA Soon!

The Mona Lisa Smile?

Going to Kansas City: Woodworking in America 9/25-27


Historic Marquetry Processes
Class Time: Friday, 11:00a.m. - 1:00p.m. & Sunday, 8:30a.m. - 10:30a.m.
This class from W. Patrick Edwards features demonstrations and examples of historic marquetry methods including "tarsia certsonia," "tarsia geometrica," "tarsia a toppo," "tarsia a incastro" and the "Classic Method." A full discussion of each process will include numerous examples as well as a detailed list of the tools required. Specific focus will be on the two types of marquetry which are most commonly found on furniture, the "Boulle" process and "Piece by Piece."

Protein Glues Explained
Class Time: Friday, 4:00p.m. - 6:00p.m.
W. Patrick Edwards, maker of Old Brown Glue, knows his adhesives. And in this modern word of PVA and two-part epoxies, he still swears by traditional protein glue. Patrick will share his more than 40 years of professional experience working with bone, hide, fish, horse and rabbit-skin glues, and teach you why and when they remain an excellent choice, along with how to use them.

Traditional French Polishing
Class Time: Sunday, 11:00a.m. - 1:00p.m.
When done right, a traditional French Polish imparts a brilliant shine and brings out the clear colors and richness of the wood beneath. But it's a finish wrapped in mystery...no more. In this session, W. Patrick Edwards shares the steps used at Ecole Boulle in Paris – from the ingredients to how to mix them, from how to apply to rubbing out the layers. You'll learn how to create a clear, hard shine – and how to maintain and repair it should the need arise.

Friday, September 11, 2015

Abandoned Antiques

Brought Back From Dead
It seems that the market value and interest in legitimate antique furniture is officially dead.  For some reason, beyond me, people seem not to understand either history or culture enough to be concerned with saving "old" stuff.  I get the strangest calls every day that proves the absolute ignorance of the owner of furniture when they try to describe what they own.

For example, yesterday I got a phone call from a young lady who asked how much it would cost to "fix her chair."  I said I could not tell her without more information.  "Please describe it for me" I asked politely.  She said, "It is for an old person, and there are handles on the side, and it has a place to sit."  At that point I suggested that she should bring it in if possible so I could evaluate the problem.  Shortly a person showed up at my door with an aluminum walker, with a broken handle.  I said that I only work on antiques, and she said "I just called and you said to bring it in!"

On the other hand, mid century modern stuff is going for amazing prices.  I got an email with photos of an Eames chair knockoff, with a broken arm and back.  It looked like someone had tried to fix it with epoxy and screws, and badly.  I replied that I did not work on 20th century furniture, and the response was "It's worth $4800!"  (In what sane world, I thought...)

Don't get me started on what regular cars from the 1950's are selling for at auction...OMG.

So I was not surprised the other day when I took Kristen to drop off some glue shipments at the local post office.  Our neighborhood post office is next to an overpass where the homeless live, because it is behind a fast food place and they have everything they need.  Including antiques.

As we pulled into the parking space, Kristen said "Look at that rocker!"  Sitting in the grass was a childs Grecian walnut rocker with damask upholstery, a torn seat and broken arm and leg.  Even in that condition it was still providing comfort for the locals.

Since no one was currently using it, I found a way to relocate it to my trunk.  I am confident they will find a replacement in short order.  They are very resourceful.

Original Frame and Stuffing

Returning it to the bench I removed the seat and back upholstery frames and found that it still had all its original stuffing.  Even the screws were blunt and original, proving it was made around 1850, if not before.  The arm was broken but I put it back together using some of the original wood from the front leg to patch the missing piece.  The front leg was beyond repair, since it had at least a dozen nails in various positions holding the fragments together.  So I made a new front leg and re glued the frame with Old Brown Glue.

4 New Screws and 5 Old Screws

Next step is to remove the finish, add shellac and re upholster it with a nice damask.  It is exciting to realize that the rocker is only 35" tall and therefore must have been made for a child.  A very rich child.

Perfect Size for Young Adult

Close inspection revealed a maker's stamp in the top of the front rail.  Mr. J. M. Schwab would be pleased to know that his work still stands after a century and a half.

A Professional Mark

Now if I can only find someone crazy enough to appreciate "old" stuff...

Friday, September 4, 2015

WPE and ASFM return to MASW

Me Pointing To The Packet
I just returned to work from a two week teaching job in Indianapolis.  My first time at Marc Adam's school was two years ago and you might remember me posting here about that experience.

This time I was asked to teach two full weeks of French marquetry in addition to two different classes over the weekend.  It was a very rewarding time for me and I appreciate all the help that Marc and his excellent staff provided.

Marc Adams is a person with a very high energy level and his ability to organize and direct such a large and complicated school of woodworking is amazing.  As a teacher, I am provided with absolutely everything I might ask for to make my job as easy as possible.  He pays my airfare, sets me up in a nice hotel, lets me use his car, feeds me lunch and pays me a good salary.  In addition, since I could not teach the craft of French marquetry without the tools, he had his staff build 8 really fine oak chevalets, which are set up in my classroom when I arrive.

The only thing that I can complain about is that there is nothing to complain about!
Precision Work

Cutting Piece by Piece on a French Chevalet in Indianapolis
The first week I had 9 students and the school has only 8 chevalets.  It was not a real problem as I realized that one of the students had only one arm!  I have never had a student with only one arm before, but he quietly reassured me that it was not a problem for him, as he had lost his arm in an automobile accident as a young child and managed to do all kinds of woodwork projects without any difficulty.  It was an inspiration to seek him cut marquetry packets, but not on a chevalet.  He worked on a Hegner jig saw, and did quite well, I would like to say.

Stage I Project #2: The Face

Stage I Project #3: Beer Coasters
As the first week was a Stage I class working with the Boulle process, the students each completed the three normal projects: The Triptych, The Face, and The Beer Coasters.  This gives them a chance to complete three projects start to finish, which involves building the packet, cutting out the elements (in superposition), building an Assembly Board, gluing down the elements, applying mastic and cleaning up the paper on the face after the marquetry is glued down to a board.

During the second week I taught a class on Piece by Piece method, and the students made two projects.  They cut and assembled three copies of the classic first exercise, the Rose.  Then, since they were essentially done by Wednesday, they all completed another project using the Boulle method: Painting in Wood.

Painting In Wood Exercise

Cleaning off the Paper with Water

The Excitement of Seeing the Work for the First Time

Lots of Roses

During the weekend, between the French marquetry classes, I taught two different one day workshops.  The first class was on how to use protein glues to veneer a column.  It is amazing to me that so many different furniture designs in so many different countries incorporated veneered columns in their furniture during the first half of the 19th century.  At the same time, it is not at all a common element of furniture made today.  I think that veneering columns is a neat trick, and I have worked out a simple system using Old Brown Glue which works every time.

Column Ready for Cutting Seam
Since the process actually takes three days, I prepared a column the day before and demonstrated cutting the seam during the class.  Then I repeated the first step on two other columns, both straight and tapered.

Having Fun Re Gluing the Seam

At the end of the class I had three columns, in different stages of completion.

Old Brown Glue, Jig Set Up, Tools Required, and Final Results

The second day of the weekend was a lot of fun and I had a very large class.  Everyone got a wood jig and a back saw and a packet of veneer and cut out "tarsia geometrica" elements.  They all got a chance to build assembly boards and glue down variations of their design.  I think it would be a good idea to expand this topic into a full week class in the future, both at MASW and also here at ASFM.

The Cube, a classic example of "Tarsia Geometrica"

Marc asked me to return next year and I agreed to teach again in August.  The weather was great and I look forward to the experience.

If you want to see more pictures of his school, and my class, visit his site: MASW Photos

The only down side, if there were any, to teaching at Marc Adams is that I need to ship 100lbs of tools and materials.  You cannot imagine what goes through the TSA inspector's minds when they open my bags and find such strange stuff...