Sunday, November 10, 2019

Master to Master Interview

I returned to teach at Marc Adams School of Woodworking in Indianapolis recently.  I have been asked to teach there for several years now and it is starting to feel like a second home.

Marc has created the largest woodworking school in America and is celebrating 25 years in business. It is expanding every year and he continues to offer new and exciting classes with amazing teachers.

One way he supports and promotes his teachers is to ask them to sit down after class and chat for 5 minutes.    If you go to his website you can watch many different videos he has done with this casual format.   It gives you a close up view of the personalities he has developed a relationship with over the years.

Here is the video he did last year with me. Edwards and Adams

It is easy to be humble around someone as great as Marc.

Wednesday, September 4, 2019

What Was He Thinking?

Jug of Wine and a Good Pipe Makes Me Happy

This week I was contacted by a client with another late 17th century marquetry tall case English clock for restoration.  It had been in his family in New York for a century and he wanted it put back in original condition.  I have done dozens of these similar clocks in my career, and it always amazes me that I can live and work in Southern California and still be able to restore marquetry furniture from over 3 centuries ago.

I have written many posts about the history of the tall case pendulum clock.  The concept was invented in England around 1650 but the golden age for the marquetry case and brass works was during the last 20 years of the 17th century when it became essential to own such an expensive time piece.

When I began my initial examination of the marquetry, I discovered a rather unique design, which I am sure is the only one of its kind.  I did some initial cleaning of the dark finish and took some photos.  What came to light stimulated my imagination and made me want to determine the series of events that would lead to this creation.

Tall case clocks at this period were custom made for clients, and took a long time to deliver.  In some cases, the client expressed their own personal desires to have something different from their rich friends.  (Only rich people could even imagine owning a clock at that time.)

So I created a story about Mr. and Mrs. Smythe to explain what I saw in the marquetry.  How much is fiction and how much is fact I will leave it to historians to determine if the research is available...

Mr. and Mrs. Smythe have a good life.  They live in a large house and have a good income which was left by Mr. Smythe's grandfather, a landed gentleman, who died when Mr. Smythe was a young man.  So Mr. Smythe grew up rather spoiled and always got his way, no matter what.

He married well, finding a decent and intelligent wife in the church, but she had a habit of arguing with him on certain occasions.  This would always cause him to lose his temper, and even to resort to physical violence, slapping her in the face.  She was smarter than him and when he ran out of good reasons why he was right, he found that using force would end the argument.

One good day in 1692 he was visiting a wealthy neighbor in the next township and discovered that this person had just installed the latest fashion for keeping track of the time: a tall case marquetry clock.  When he inquired about its function, he was told it could keep time to within an hour a month, and that it was essential to know exactly what time it was at all hours of the day.

"Everybody should have one," his neighbor boasted.  "In a few years, if you do not know what time it is exactly, you will not be considered 'civilized'," he added, with a smug grin.

Mr. Smythe immediately ran home to inform his wife that he had decided to get such an object, no matter what the cost.

"You will do no such thing," she admonished.  "You can tell the time by looking at the sun.  Why do you need to know exactly what the time is, anyway?"  When he hesitated to answer, she asked, "Exactly how much is this going to cost?"

"None of your business," he bellowed, "It's my money and I will do what I want with it!"  He raised his hand to make his point, but she quickly turned and left the room.

Mr. Smythe went to the local clock maker's home the next day.  His name was Lewis Holland and he lived and worked in London, where he established his reputation as a master clock maker the year before, making wonderful marquetry clocks with brass dials.

"Here are some of my designs," he said, as he opened a folio of drawings.  "I like birds, animals, arabesques and flowers.  They are very popular recently and I am very much in demand."

"I like them," Mr. Smythe replied, "But I have something personal in mind.  I would like you to add images of my good wife and myself, so it will reflect our marriage to all who enter the door."

Mr. Smythe then handed a small drawing to Mr. Holland, and presented him with a good deposit to begin the work.  With ready cash in hand, Mr. Holland was in no position to complain, and he went to work.

Sometime later that year the clock was delivered and placed in the entry hall.

There is no record of what Mrs. Smythe had to say about the purchase.

What Exactly Is Going On With These Two?

Looking at Mr. Smythe, it seems he is making a rude gesture and sticking out his thumb while he reaches out and slaps Mrs. Smythe in the face.

Not a Nice Man

Looking at Mrs. Smythe, it seems she is surprised to be slapped in the face.

Perhaps a Marriage Counselor Would Help?

Sunday, July 28, 2019

The Difference Makers

New Book From Marc Adams
I have been very fortunate in my life to know many of the best woodworkers in the world.  Some have become good friends.  Others are a real inspiration to me personally.  I have learned something from each of them, and I want to believe I have provided something in return.

Since I live in Southern California and most of these artisans live either on the East Coast or in Europe, it has been necessary to leave the bench and seek them out.  I enjoy traveling and have done a good bit of it.  I do miss being at work, but when I am in the workshop of another sympathetic soul I feel that I am at home.

Marc Adams has just published his latest book, "The Difference Makers."  It was expertly put together by Christopher Schwartz at the Lost Art Press.  Very high quality product.  I strongly recommend you find a copy and support Christopher in his business, as well as investigate classes offered by Marc at his school.  My previous post listed the classes I will be offering soon.

Since I have been teaching for several years at MASW I have been able to meet new friends and other professional woodworking instructors who are gathered in one location.  Although the weather in Indianapolis cannot compare with San Diego, the intellectual environment is without equal.  Marc is always busy and personally supports his teachers, providing everything they might need to do a good job.  

And he keeps the ice cream machine working...

"The Difference Makers" is a book with stories about 30 instructors that Marc selected from the hundreds of well qualified teachers he has employed over the past quarter century.  Each chapter tells the story of that person, with personal comments from Marc, and samples of their portfolio.

Here is my chapter:

Mug Shot with Satinwood Pembroke Marquetry Table Top
Second Page:

My Early Work

Third Page:

After Paris: The Influence of Pierre Ramond

Fourth Page:

Was I Ever That Young?

As I read through the contents of this amazing collection, I am humbled and honored to be included.  I am pleased to see many of my good friends and compatriots included, and look forward to meeting others when I return to MASW in future years.

In my long career I have produced several television and video programs, instructed at dozens of adult education and institutions of higher learning, published professional articles, taught students from ecole Boulle in my workshop, held classes at Marc Adams, and enjoyed hundreds of students at my school, the American School of French Marquetry.

I am a woodworker and a teacher.  However, I think I am a better teacher than a woodworker.  I may retire some day from woodworking, but I will never retire from teaching.

Hungry young minds need to be fed to grow the future.

Saturday, July 20, 2019

New October Classes at Marc Adams

I just received the notice from Christopher Schwartz that Marc Adams' book, "The Difference Makers," is ready to ship.  I am excited  to see it and to get a chance to read about all the instructors that Marc decided to include in his book.  Over the past quarter century, Marc has worked every day to build the largest and most comprehensive woodworking trade school in the country.  He has engaged hundreds of professional artisans to teach classes, and has always provided both the teacher and the students with the support and encouragement needed to flourish.

I don't remember exactly, but it was about 10 years ago when I first started teaching there.  Marc built 8 French chevalets and each year I return for a couple weeks to teach students about traditional French marquetry.  I also have included some weekend classes, like French polishing, veneering a column, protein glues, and other topics.

For this October, I decided to offer some completely new classes on the weekends, which I hope will find interested students.  If you think you might want to meet me, now is the time to contact MASW and register for these classes.  Just go to MASW

Since I am one of the instructors Marc included in his new book, I thought it would be appropriate to discuss my career and the lessons I have learned about making a living as a wood worker in America.  Therefore, the first class I will teach this year is on Saturday, October 19 and it is called "The Business of Woodworking by Hand: 50 Years of Success with Patrick Edwards."  In this one day class I will offer detailed information about every aspect of my business, and how I have managed to make a good living working with wood, using only hand tools and traditional methods.  The key word for this class is "diverse income streams."  I will focus on how to price your work, where to find clients, managing your time, and cost effective promotion.

The next day, Sunday October 20, I will offer a class on a completely different topic: Antique furniture locks and keys.  This may be the first time a class on this topic has been offered at MASW.  I will discuss the evolution of furniture locks and keys, and how to repair them.  How to fit a missing key to a lock, as well as how to "break in" to furniture which has been locked and the key lost.

During the entire week of October 21-25 I will be teaching the French marquetry class using the traditional "chevalet de marqueterie."  This class is limited to 8 students, and you do not need any prior experience to be able to create wonderful marquetry pictures.  I will teach different methods, such as Boulle, Painting in Wood, and the Classic Method.  I studied at ecole Boulle, in Paris, under Dr. Pierre Ramond, and his book, "Marquetry" is the best textbook in the English language on the subject.  You can find a copy online, using book search engines.

My next class is on Saturday, October 26, and is a simplified variation of the traditional French polish class.  However, instead of all the trouble and fuss required to make a high gloss French polish, this class will focus on what I consider the most common method of finishing using shellac.  Nearly everything I have built or refinished over the years is just finished with brushed shellac, rubbed out with a paste wax.  It produces a nice semi gloss polish which is non toxic and easy to repair.  All you will need is a good brush, some shellac and alcohol.  There are tricks to rubbing out with a paste wax which I will demonstrate.  This is a one day demonstration lecture so all you need to do is watch and learn.

The following day, Sunday October 27, I will teach a one day class on traditional upholstery.  This will include demonstration and instruction on how to stretch jute webbing, tie springs, tack materials, and work with curled horsehair and cotton.  This class will provide you with the basics needed to make your upholstery foundation strong and comfortable.  Note that there will be no use of staples or synthetic materials, like foam.  This type is instruction is rare these days, and I think you will find it very informative.

Just before I travel to Indianapolis to teach at Marc's school, I will offer a one week class here at my workshop, the American School of French Marquetry, in San Diego.  We already have two students registered, and the class is limited to 6.   If you would like personal instruction on the traditional techniques I learned in Paris, now is the time to contact us and reserve a place.

Here is the link:American School of French Marquetry

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Climb Every Mountain

If This Is What You Wake Up To In The Morning, It Is Going To Be A Great Day!

Patrice and I have been discussing for two years what we wanted to do to celebrate the completion of the Treasure Box III project, and I have been planning for longer than that how I wanted to celebrate 50 years in business.  We decided to spend three weeks in the Andes Mountains in Peru.  Part of that trip was spent hiking the Inca trail into Machu Picchu.

Fortunately, I am in pretty good shape, and have never had any problem with altitude sickness.  I raced bicycles for 35 years and have walked to work every day for longer than that.  Patrice and I have been camping and hiking for some time, and along with our friend Anna, we are known as the "Middle Earth Tourists."  Unfortunately, Anna had to work, so we had to go without her.

On Top Of The World
Hiking along the Inca Trail is a dream of a lifetime.  Just thinking about the civilization that created cities of stone and connected them with thousands of trails, paved with rocks, which are still intact after more than 500 years of use, boggles the imagination.  Not only were they able to transport stones which weigh as much as 70 tons up and down thousands of feet of mountains, they somehow were able to fit them together as tight as I fit together small pieces of veneer.  I have no idea how they were able to do this.

The Famous Stone Of 12 Angles In Cusco
As I hiked along the stone trail, I gradually moved back in time, soaking in the sounds of the jungle and breathing the rarefied air of the mountains.  Modern problems faded away.  The spirit of the Inca philosophy took over:  Don't Steal.  Don't Lie.  Do Not Be Lazy.

Inca Trail
Along the trail we found ruin after ruin, left standing after centuries.  Each one was carefully laid out, with windows, doors, stairs, and even bathtubs with running water.

Stairway To Heaven
When we reached the Sun Gate we were able to see Machu Picchu for the first time.  It was shrouded in clouds and mist, and as the sun broke through in the early morning, it revealed itself completely.

Machu Picchu
We had perfect weather during the entire trip and were fortunate to have excellent guides who educated us about the history of the site and the culture of the Inca civilization.
Just Imagine What Life Was Like When This Was Alive With Inca Peoples
During the trip, I was drawn to the mountains, and had some wonderful dreams.

This Was The View From Camp At 14,000 Feet
Standing in the city of Machu Picchu, I felt a strong urge to create a Haiku poem about the experience.  I offer it here for others to enjoy.  We were there during the Summer solstice, June 2019, when the Milky Way lined up perfectly with the Sacred Valley.  A great time to be alive.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Celebrating 50 years in business!

Patrice Lejeune and I show our Treasure Boxes

When I started my business in June of 1969 it was because I needed furniture for my new house and it was obvious that old or antique furniture was a bargain.  You could find nice hardwood rockers, tables and chairs and other antiques in thrift stores and used furniture stores, which were nearly everywhere.

I remember the first "antique" I bought was from the used furniture store just two blocks from my house.  It was a very ornate oak parlor pump organ made around 1880.  I think I paid $125.  It did not work (as the bellows were damaged and the works were dirty).  I immediately took it apart to see how it was made.

(True fact: all my life I have taken everything apart as a first step to fix it.  Not all of these efforts proved successful...I'm thinking of carburetors in particular, where you always end up with extra parts and no place to put them.)

In any event, I was soon playing music on my pump organ, which was very loud.  The dealer who sold it to me was walking by my house and the door was open.  He was surprised to hear the organ working and made me an offer to buy it back.  I think the offer was $250.  I had doubled my money!

AND I had a lot of fun.  I thought this would be a good way to pay for college, since I was making only minimum wage working 20 hours a week in the Physics Department at UCSD.  I was able to make much more than that restoring antiques on the side.

As you may know from reading earlier posts on this blog, the physics thing did not work out and the antiques thing just kept getting more fun and more profitable. First I opened an antiques store and called it "Antique Wholesalers."  My motto was "Quality Pieces at People's Prices."  I went back and forth in my truck from San Diego to the Mid West and East Coast and bought nice things.

After about 6 months in business I lost the entire inventory to theft.  I don't want to talk about it...

I quickly opened another business and called it "Antique Refinishers."  My new motto was "Here We Save the Past for the Future."  Business was great and, after a few hurdles, my reputation started growing and I began working on finer and finer pieces of antique furniture.  I specialized in veneer and marquetry repair.

In 1991, when I met Dr. Pierre Ramond at the Getty Museum, I was ready to graduate to the next level.  He was so impressed with what I had learned on my own that he invited me to study with him at ecole Boulle, in Paris.  That changed my life.  I owe a debt of gratitude to Brian Considine, who introduced me to Dr. Ramond.

I was fortunate to have spent much of the 1990's with Dr. Ramond and other craftsmen and educators in Paris, and when he retired, I opened my school, the American School of French Marquetry.

I am responsible for introducing the French method, using the "chevalet de marqueterie," to North America, and happy to see its general acceptance.  It is a wonderful tool and you can accurately saw the finest pieces of material in comfort and with confidence.  You can order a custom chevalet from David Clark.  Chevalet Kits

Soon after I opened the school, I was contacted by Patrice Lejeune, a graduate of ecole Boulle.  He wanted to work with me, and I ended up making him a full partner.  He has an amazing talent for the craft, and an educated eye.  Most unusual, he is not offended by my personality.

Working together, we have created many wonderful pieces of furniture.  Starting in 2011 we decided to produce a series of Treasure Boxes, in a process which allowed us to make four identical boxes at the same time.

To better understand our methods, you can visit our YouTube channel: 3815utah.

Here is a short video that illustrates a typical assembly process.  This is Patrice working on the marquetry for the inside of Treasure Box II.


The inspiration for TB I came when I was searching online with Google images.  I spend a lot of time using "images" as it provides an amazing wealth of information.  I discovered a marquetry box that was made late in the 17th century and sold at Christies in Monaco for 18,000 British pounds.  I thought it was perfect and the price indicated a certain demand for such an object.

We spent the next 18 months producing 4 identical boxes with a similar construction and design.
The background for the marquetry was some wonderful absolutely black Gabon sawn ebony veneer that we obtained from J. George in Paris.  The interior was veneered in sawn olive with king wood, tulip wood and boxwood.

Treasure Box I

Interior View (secret compartment)

We were able to sell all four boxes before we had finished construction.


Encouraged by the success of the first series, we began to design TB II.  Again, Google images provided examples of marquetry that we adapted for our use.  The inclusion of birds was a goal, as we find collectors really like them.

The detail on the second series is much more complicated than the first.  Also, we included bone inlay, both white and green.  It took some research to find out exactly how to color the bone green.  I want to thank Don Williams for help in that search.

Treasure Box II

Interior (secret tray released)

Instead of a hidden compartment, we designed a system for a gilt leather writing surface to be released.  In one spot on the interior the wood is slightly flexible.  By pushing down in that spot the tray is ejected by hidden springs.

The interior is veneered with sawn bloodwood, kingwood, tulip and boxwood.  In total there are three birds on the box and marquetry on all sides.

As before, we sold all the series before construction was completed.  One was purchased by a kind client who donated it to the permanent collection of the Mingei museum, in San Diego.  That represents the first time one of our creations found its way into a museum collection, although I have participated in several different museum shows in the past.


There are several objects in the Getty museum collection that Patrice and I really appreciate.  One is the ivory and horn table attributed to Gole.  One of my students, Aaron Radelow has succeeded in making exact copies of that table, and they are wonderful.

Ivory and Horn Tables by Aaron Radelow

The other object that we admire is the marquetry coffer.  It is a basic box, resting on a gilded stand (not original?) and covered in marquetry.  We decided to use it for our inspiration and reduced the scale by 33 % to make it more manageable and salable.  We also decided to design custom made hardware and include drawers.

For the background we selected ferreol.  This wood was rare, even in the 17th century, and found in South America.  It has the density of brass and is very hard to cut.  That said, it has a wonderful chocolate brown color and really shows off the marquetry elements.  We added pewter and brass inlay to set off the border.

For this box we used nearly 50 different species of exotic hardwood sawn veneers.  I must say that I was fortunate to have purchased the bulk of my veneers in Paris during the 1990's, while I was in school.  These veneers were very expensive then and, unfortunately, are not available today.  Thus, it is essential that I use the material I have very carefully.  It cannot be replaced at any cost.

I Love Wood

Selecting the Material for Treasure Boxes

That is why making the Treasure Boxes makes sense.  These are perfect objects to show off the last of the rare woods from all parts of the world.

We immediately sold the first box to a long time client and he asked "could you make a stand?"  We had not considered that, but his suggestion was taken to heart.  We created a stand in matching material in the same late 17th century style.

Treasure Box III and Stand
Interior (three drawers, writing surface, secret compartment)
In fact, the stand itself is something that "stands on its own"  (sorry, I had to say that!)

Here's Looking at You, Kid

Louis XIV Stand
The interior of Box III has several interesting features.  The key that locks the box also serves to open the secret compartment located behind the mirror.  The front lid is released by pushing two buttons on the sides. The writing surface is covered in French silk and lifts up to reveal a tray veneered in satinwood.  Inside this tray is a small brass button.  Depressing this button allows the drawers to spring forward.

Three drawers, Silk writing surface, Secret compartment

Drawer Release System

Here is a photo of TBI, TBII, TBIII and the stand sitting in the veneer cave.

Words escape me....

As you can see, what I have learned in 50 years of business as a furniture conservator in private practice is how to convert hardwood logs into rare veneers into decorative marquetry surfaces into money.  And it all started with a pump organ...

Top View Treasure Box III

PS:  We have sold two of the boxes and stands at this point and are looking for nice homes for the rest.  I am thinking of a new motto for these boxes:  "Limited Quantities, Unlimited Quality."

Sunday, February 3, 2019

Cane If You're Able

Hand Caning Super Fine Cane Seat

When I started restoring antiques 50 years ago a good caner could make as much as 10 cents a hole!

Now, if you're not familiar with how caners charge for their skills, you need to know the difference between traditional hand caning and machine woven press cane.  Not everyone who looks at chair seats pays attention to this difference.  In fact, not everyone knows the difference between rush, splint, and natural cane seating materials.

The last post was about natural rush.  The title of that post applies to this post.  Weaving cane is not a way to make a living, even when you can charge 10 cents a hole.

To be truthful, it is a perfect job for the blind or the unemployed or the mentally ill worker.  There is something about mindless work which eases the chaos that sometimes fills the head.  I think there is a saying about "busy hands" or something which keeps kids out of trouble.

In any event, I have caned hundreds of chairs and rockers over the years, and my favorite time of the year to do this work is during baseball season.  I can sit in front of the TV and cane during the game which allows me to work and watch TV at the same time.

There are four different types of cane: hand woven, single blind, double blind, and pressed cane.

The oldest method is to drill holes in the frame around the seat, and the size of the hole and the distance between the holes determines the size of cane used.  Natural cane comes in 8 different sizes, from 1.5mm to 3.5mm in width.  It is harvested from the outside bark of rattan, which is a jungle vine in Borneo, Sumatra and Malaysia.  This plant grows amazingly fast and the vines can reach lengths of 300 feet in a short time.  The leaves are stripped off and the vine is cut by machines into different widths and lengths.

Common Cane on Side Chair

To weave a seat there are 7 steps.  The first step is to run strands from front to back.  Next is side to side, and after that front to back again.  The fourth step is where you start to weave, running side to side, over and under the two strands that are front to back.  The fifth and sixth steps are the diagonals, which need to weave over and under the vertical and horizontal strips.  The last step is to add the binder, which goes around the perimeter and covers the holes.

Neat and Clean after Binder is Done

Over the years the price has changed.  From 10 cents to 25 cents, then 50 cents a hole.  When it reached a dollar a hole, I thought it had peaked.  But today if you can find a person who knows how to do it and will charge $2.50 a hole, do it.  I have heard of workers who ask rediculous prices like $6 an hole, but seriously?

What this means is that it costs more to hand cane a chair than the chair is worth.  But, as I keep saying, money is not the most important thing in life.  I love what I do and love matters most.

Cane Changes Color When Exposed to Sunlight

The blind cane is different.  There are holes around the perimeter but they do not go through the frame.  That means the individual strands of cane need to be pegged in place, one at a time, as you weave.  Every time you pull out a peg for the new strand, it starts to fall apart.  I don't do this type of cane.  I have no love for that type of punishment.

Don't even ask about double blind cane.  That is where the blind cane is on each side of the frame, usually on the arms or backs of furniture.  I just saw a bed where double blind cane was used on both the headboard and footboard.  The owner asked me if I could do it and I just turned and ran...

Cane Seat Chairs on the Wall

Pressed cane is much easier.  In fact, pressed cane is one example where modern methods are superior to traditional methods.  Since the cane is woven by machine into a sheet, all the strands are set at the same tension.  That makes the cane last longer.  It takes real talent to hand weave cane so that all the strands are the same tension.  Kind of like weaving a tennis racket.

Pressed Cane and Spline

To replace pressed cane you need to carefully chisel out the spline, and clean the groove.  Then the new cane is soaked in hot water and put in place with new spline, like you would install window screen in the frame.  I use Old Brown Glue in the spline to secure it.

Pressed cane is usually charged by the inch, measured across the widest part.

Under normal conditions natural cane has a lifespan of around 20 to 30 years.