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.

Sunday, May 4, 2014

Life's Little Transitions

Restoring the 1929 North Park Theatre
I have had some comments from readers of this blog as to why I have not posted anything in a while.  I sincerely appreciate the support and interest my blog has earned for several years.  My desire in posting has always been to transmit my life's experiences and passion for my work to others.

I would like to explain what has been happening in my life for the past several months.

I have been involved in two full time activities during my career.  In fact, I have led two completely separate lives.  Of course, for the past 45 years I have worked every day as a furniture conservator and that is still my life.  I will continue to do my job as long as I can hold a tool.

On the other hand, for the past 30 years I have been active in another position, sitting on non profit management corporations working to restore economic activity to historic inner city commercial business districts.

Instead of being involved in some recreational sport, like golfing, sailing, biking, or swimming, my time outside the shop is spent in a business suit, sitting in meetings, negotiating with developers, activists, city staff and politicians to make things happen.  In most of these groups, I am recognized as a leader and usually sit as President of the board.  I have a talent for finding consensus among those who basically disagree.

One tactic I have found works in these situations is to closely watch the faces and body language of the board members during the meeting.  It is essential that those who are against what ever action is recommended be allowed to fully express their position, without interruption.  One of the most difficult things I find is to wait patiently as they rant and rave about how bad the idea is, and not say anything.  All the time I am watching others react to the argument and counting votes.  When they start to repeat their points, I can then stop them and ask for others to speak.

After all the negative energy is used up, it is time to work on a positive motion that will move the agenda forward.  Since all the negative points have been made, they have nothing left to add when I begin to form the motion to solve the problem.

Then the tricky part happens.  I have identified a board member who will make the proper motion in advance and I quickly add the second.  Since I hold the second, any amendments that will naturally be offered by the other side are subject to my approval.  In fact, by making the second, I hold the veto.

I always get my way.  I find it exciting and rewarding to be able to control the situation.  This is a strange personality trait I have, since I am basically not a social animal and do not feel comfortable in social situations in general.  But in a position of control as a leader of a group, I am quite happy.

30 years ago I walked the neighborhood of North Park, where my business is located.  It was an older historic district and had been abandoned by most of the retail businesses, since a major shopping center was built a few miles away in Mission Valley.  I was able to get the city to approve a Business Improvement District in North Park in 1984, and for most of the past 30 years I have served as President.

Today, North Park has diverse retail, numerous upscale restaurants and micro breweries.  Forbes named it the 13th "hippest" neighborhood in the country.  It has also been named by a men's magazine as the number 1 craft beer district.  It has become my dream district and I am fortunate to live here.

For many years we had an active North Park Redevelopment Project Area Committee that I was elected to as a business and property owner.  While sitting on that board, we were able to invest tax deferred funds to build a 4 story parking structure, restore the 1929 historic theatre, set aside 20% for low mod housing, support development and other infrastructure improvements which rebuilt the district.

I was appointed to the Small Business Advisory Board by the mayor and actively represented small business interests.  I served on the North Park Historic Board, which is active in saving the residential and commercial buildings that survive from the first quarter of the 20th century.

I was elected and served for years as the President of the San Diego Business Improvement District Council, a group unique in the country, representing 17 BIDs in the city of San Diego.  In that capacity, I was invited to speak in Los Angeles, Dallas and Philadelphia on the successes of assessment districts in restoring economic vitality to older districts.

In all these activities over the past decades, I have made friends and developed relationships with a large group of individuals, none of which were aware of my actual business.  When I was in meetings, standing around in a suit, and another member would ask for my card, I would hand them the card of my CEO, a paid staff person who would handle their questions.  I never used my position to promote my business, since it was very unlikely that the person was involved in pre industrial antiques.

So, when I turned 65 last year, I made a decision to retire.  However, I do not expect to retire from my job.  I decided to retire from my volunteer work, and over the past year stepped down from each board as my election cycle happened.  The last two board meetings I had were in March, two months ago.  I had a nice retirement party, where the mayor was kind enough to praise my efforts, the representative from Sacramento presented me with a proclamation and the business members roasted me.  It was fairly emotional, as I look back at the success and realize that one person can make a difference.

So, this is why I have been quiet for several months.  I am in a period of transition in life.  My job continues, and I have very interesting work to do, and I will begin blogging again soon about that.

But the other side of my life is over, and I now find myself looking for ways to spend that "outside time".

I think I will take up swimming and biking.  I need to loose some weight.

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

You Read It Here First

As the proposed Federal ban on ivory emerges from the dark halls of congress, more and more people are becoming concerned about how it will affect their lives and the future of any cultural object which contains ivory.  Today, the online magazine Antiques posted an insightful article which addresses this issue in some detail.

Read it here:Online Antiques Magazine: Banning Ivory
Please click on the link in this article to read the text of the ban.

Of course, I posted last December the news that this ban was being formulated, and that there was an urgent need for public input before it went too far.  However, as the Antiques article notes, only one member of the committee who worked on this proposed legislation had any connection with the market place, and that was ebay.

As the article also suggests, it may become necessary in the future, in order to sell your antique piano, that you will have to remove all the ivory keys and have them replaced with plastic.  A note of irony here, in that plastic is made from petroleum.  The logic of this is that we throw away the remains of dead elephants and replace them with the remains of dead dinosaurs!

Looking to the future, I live in a home which is full of period furniture made from Cuban mahogany.  I just purchased last week a wonderful large English Renaissance cabinet made of Brazilian rosewood.  Since both of these materials are also listed on the CITIES endangered species list, do I need to consider sending them to the landfill and buying IKEA replacements, also made with toxic chemical components?

For years I have collected early 19th century American clocks with wood works.  Naturally, all the bushings in these works are little pieces of ivory.  Should I take all the clocks apart and replace the bushings with plastic?

Last week I had a series of frantic calls from a rich client in San Francisco who was concerned about the flame retardant chemicals and petroleum based foam upholstery in her modern Italian sofa.  She wanted the modern look but asked me if I could completely replace the upholstery with jute, cotton, muslin, burlap and horsehair.  When I looked into the construction of the frame, I found it was tubular steel, like a car seat.  The only part I could keep, should I take the job, would be the iron feet.

She also told me that the use of horsehair stuffing was "illegal" in San Francisco.  I found that hard to believe, so I contacted F.P. Woll & Co., in Philadelphia, where I purchase horsehair, and asked them if they knew of anyplace in the country where horsehair is "illegal.  They laughed.

I suspect that the upholsterers in San Francisco don't really know how to work with traditional materials any more, so they just use the excuse that it is "illegal" to be able to sell their foam and staples.  Just a theory.

Where are we headed, if all the traditional materials used in the creation of wonderful works of art are lost or forbidden, only to be replaced with modern man made substitutes?

Just asking.

Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Proposed Ivory Ban

As I posted several months ago, the proposed language for a ban on ivory is being circulated through the federal process, and will appear later this year for a vote.  It is important for those affected by this legislation to have their voices heard at this time.

I have noted that several countries, including the US and China, have publicly destroyed tons of illegal ivory, in an effort to demonstrate that trafficking in this material will not be tolerated.  I support this action, to a certain degree, but wonder about its effectiveness.

It seems to me that, like international drug trade, the poaching of ivory and wholesale killing of elephants will continue, regardless of laws, as long as there is a black market.  Thus, the destruction of confiscated ivory will have little effect on eliminating the problem.

I have noted that, for the past 50 years, government agents have seized drugs and destroyed them, with no real damage to the drug trade.  Drug dealer just consider the seizure of their inventory and cash as a part of the business.  It really doesn't stop them.

There is a simple solution, which is why it probably hasn't been considered.  That solution is to stop the poachers where they are working.  Stop them in the fields where the elephants are living.  Put our energies into making it dangerous for the poachers to practice their horrible trade.

Today the New York Times ran an editorial in support of the proposed ban.  The headline was "Banning Ivory Sales in America."  The lead paragraph states that 30,000 to 35,000 elephants are killed by poachers every year.  This is unacceptable.  How many poachers are arrested each year?  The editorial doesn't mention that figure.  How much money is allocated for elephant protection?  Again, no indication of the financial commitment to protect these creatures.

The language being considered will prohibit "all commercial imports of African elephant ivory, including antiques," and it will "prohibit exports except for certified antiques.  Sales of elephant ivory across state lines will be prohibited, unless the ivory is demonstrably more than 100 years old.  And ivory sales will be prohibited within a state unless the seller can demonstrate that the ivory was lawfully imported before 1900." "People can still own ivory and pass heirlooms to descendants."

The editorial continues, suggesting that those who make their living in this evil trade will probably not worry too much about forging documents, so that makes it obvious that this legislation will not be effective, except to limit legitimate transactions.

This is a very poor solution for a very serious problem.