Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Chevalet In A Box. Delivered!

NOT from IKEA!

I had a great time last year at the Woodworking in America conference.  I am really looking forward to returning in September to the WIA at Kansas City.  I will be speaking, and probably looking as usual at tables stacked with old woodworking tools.  Also it will be a good chance to meet old friends, since I live on the extreme South West corner of the country and many of my "buddies" live on the other side of the world  (in other words, the East Coast.)

Last year I met Mark Hicks, who was showing his beautiful benches, at his booth for his business, Plate 11.  You can see his work at his website, Mark Hicks.  He lives in Missouri and builds amazing benches with all the surfaces finished by hand.

I mentioned to him that for years I had been looking for a woodworker who could supply the wooden parts to a chevalet.  I have been selling the hardware kits since 2000 but many of the students who buy the kits are not set up for "timber framing" which is essentially what building a chevalet involves.

In my experience it may take several weeks to cut out and fit all the wood parts and students just want to return home from the classes at ASFW and start cutting marquetry.  I have had dozens of students say that they would prefer to just buy a tool and get to work.

Mark was very interested in the project, so I left him with a hardware kit and a set of plans and we communicated off and on over the past year by email.  Fortunately for him, but unfortunately for me, he had a lot of orders to build benches and it took him a while to find the time to study the plans and "tool up" for the job.

A few months ago he sent me a message that he had started the prototype.  Last week it arrived in a box.  There have been a few jokes about IKEA but none of them have been worth repeating.  I should say that he builds shipping boxes and packs them better than any professional shipper I have ever seen.  You could have driven a fork lift over that box and nothing would have been scratched.

Every Thing You Need Ready To Assemble

I opened it and found a beautiful set of wood parts to make a chevalet.  Mocking them up with some hardware provided me with the confidence that I had found a perfect partner in this effort to make this tool available to a wider audience of woodworkers.

Then last week Mark arrived and spent several hours with Patrice and I discussing minor points of the elements, perfecting the prototype, which I will be sending back to Missouri.  Mark will then develop the final kit and have one on display at his booth in Kansas City.  If you ever thought you would be interested in working on one of these amazing tools, be sure to take the time to visit WIA and talk with either Mark or myself.

He will be taking orders for these kits at the show.  We will be working together on this effort, and I will supply the hardware from my workshop while he ships the wood kit from his business, located in the center of the country.  I will reduce the cost of the hardware since I do not need to supply the plans, and he is making every effort to keep the cost of the wood kit as reasonable as possible.

Prototype Chevalet

Looking at his work on this prototype, I can say that the marquetry worker who ends up with this tool will have a better chevalet than any of the tools I currently have in my school.  I expect that, once he is in full production, I will probably sell off the chevalets in my school and replace them with these new ones.  They are that good.

The American Chevalet has arrived!  It's not your father's Chevalet.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Teaching at MASW Soon

Two years ago I was invited to teach at Marc Adams' school in Indianapolis.   It turned out to be a great experience for me and I got a lot of positive feedback from the students.

As I mentioned in this blog previously, I had some reservations about asking Marc to build 8 chevalets and thus limit the class size to 8 students.  I knew this would not be profitable for him and was surprised when he agreed to take a loss in order to introduce the process of French marquetry to his students.

The down side for me was transporting two 50 lb suitcases on the flight full of materials and tools for the class.  I wonder what the TSA people thought when they scanned those bags?

Now I have confirmed my flight and return to MASW next month.  I will be there for two weeks, starting Monday, August 17.  The first week will be French marquetry, Stage I, the Boulle method.  That class is full.

Over the weekend following I will offer two different classes.  Saturday, August 22, I will demonstrate methods to veneer turnings and columns, using protein glues.  Each student will be provided with materials and glue that they can take home for further practice.  Veneering columns is a valuable part of my furniture building and I have worked for years to perfect the process.  I think you will find this interesting and by adding veneering to your turned work, open up new avenues of design.  There is still room in this class.  Here is the link: Veneering a Column

Sunday, August 23, I will be teaching about geometrical marquetry, and that class is full.  I am excited to be able to show how the French were able to do amazing things with small pieces of veneer.  Also, this class will demonstrate how to make an assembly board.

Starting Monday, August 24, I will again return to the chevalet and offer a class in Stage II marquetry, the "piece by piece" method.  There are still openings in this class.  Note that the Stage I class does not require any previous experience with working on the chevalet, as you do not have to exactly follow the lines.  By contrast, Stage II requires a bit of experience as you have to accurately follow the lines when you cut for the pieces to fit.  There are many posts on this blog which explain the difference.

However, since the class is not full, I would also accept any student who wishes to start Stage I (since the first week is full), or wishes to do an exercise in Painting in Wood, since I am able to teach all these methods simultaneously.

Here is the link for that class: Piece by Piece Marquetry Class

Finally, I am very proud of the popularity of the tool, "chevalet de marqueterie."  I was the first to introduce it to the American woodworker some 15 years ago, and it has become a recognized fixture in many workshops.  To that end, MASW is offering, for the first time, a class on building your own chevalet.  Amazing!

Obviously, you need to plan for this and I believe bring your own wood.  However, it is a wonderful opportunity to use the facilities at his school (every woodworking machine ever made).

Here is the link:  Build Your Own Chevalet

Hope to see you there.

Saturday, June 6, 2015

Television or YouTube?

My television career started early.  In 1973 I wrote and starred in a series about American Furniture for CBS.  This consisted of 10 different 30 minute shows which began with Pilgrim furniture and ended with the Arts and Crafts period.  It was called "Welcome to the Past...The History of American Furniture.

My director was pregnant during the production and was not able to direct the last 4 episodes so I guess I can also claim credit for behind the camera work as I was asked to fill in for her while I was "acting" in front of the camera.

We taped two episodes back to back every two weeks.  I was responsible for setting up the set, positioning the furniture, marking out the blocking shots and generating the "B" rolls.  There were three cameras, each the size of a Volkswagen, on rolling stands.  I had to memorize the script and end exactly at 28 minutes and 30 seconds, as the taping was live.  There were no edits.

I opened each show sitting on one of the pieces of furniture in the set and discussed the topic for a few minutes, setting the historical context.  Then I would have the director switch the feed to the "B" roll which was a series of images that lasted a few minutes.  During the "B" roll I would continue the audio, talking about each of the images, while at the same time I was moving all the furniture off the set and then placing the next few pieces in place.  From time to time you can hear me grunting and breathing heavily as I dragged something heavy by myself.

When the camera returned to the set, I was sitting comfortably in the next chair or standing behind the next table in the show.  It was a little fun and a lot of work.

After taping a show, the crew would take a half hour break.  I would change clothes and reset the set for the second show.  That meant new "B" rolls, new furniture and a completely new script.

By the way, in 1973 I had shoulder length hair, paisley shirts with high collars, and bell bottom pants...with a 30" waist.  So much has changed since then.

I was fortunate to do a lot of television over the years.  In fact I was involved with two shows which were each nominated for an emmy.  The first was under an NEA grant, working with the Timken Museum in San Diego and called "The Age Of Elegance.  France in the 18th Century."  The second was when the Mingei Museum created an exhibition comparing Japanese potters of the 19th century and their approach to their work and the Shakers during the same time.  It was called "Kindred Spirits."  I was the Shaker woodworker and talked about my relation to my tools and the process of simple perfection.

I also had the pleasure to work with Roy Underhill during one episode of the Woodwright's Shop.  That was  easily the most fun two guys can have in front of a camera.  It was a real honor to share time with an American legend and icon.

The last few years I have worked with Patrice Lejeune here at work, making short videos for YouTube.  We have a channel, 3815Utah, which is simply names after the address of the shop.  Patrice is my "French Director" and we have a lot of fun.

Usually it goes like this:  I am working, as usual.  He walks by and says casually, "that would make a great video."  I say, "Don't bother me, I am working."  Then my wife, Kristen, comes out of her office and says, "You need to document that!"

End of discussion.

Then I have to stop and "set up" the stuff for the video.  Patrice needs to set up his camera and we agree on blocking and some basic text.  Then I have to "act."

As you can see, I am never enthusiastic about my involvement.  I have perhaps the least exciting or interesting personality on screen, after all these years.  When I think I am done I am ready to go on to something else.  That is when I hear Patrice say, "Can't we do better?  Let's do it again!"

At least he includes the bloopers at the end.

Protein Glue Reversibility

Sunday, May 24, 2015

When Does A Website Become Antique?

I was born when television became available for home use for the first time.  I saw my first color television broadcast of the world series standing on the sidewalk in front of a TV store watching through the window.  The grass was a kind of vivid green.  I was impressed.

Then, years later in college, I was working in the Physics Department at UCSD when they went from the IBM computer with its stacks of punch cards and purchased a "compact" computer.  As I recall it was called a PDP 18 or something like that and cost a lot of money.  It was so small it could sit on a table!

Early  in 1980 I sold an old car and took the $1800 and bought a Kaypro CPM computer.  I thought it was neat and spent hours typing code into its 6" green screen.  When it appeared that CPM was becoming obsolete, I hoarded all the software I could find.  Now that crap is in the dump.

My wife was the one who fell in love with Apple.  To me it was just the producer of the Beatles records.  She spent so much time at the Apple store I wondered if she was having an affair.  She was, and it cost me money.

The second I touched the Mac I fell in love too.  Then she gave me the phone.  The rest is history.

However, when the Kaypro went away I no longer felt the need to keep up with computer code.  Sometime in the 1960's I had studied Fortran but that was as useful as Latin.  So, around 1990 I asked the neighbor kid to create a website for me.  I gave him my ideas and some content and he posted wpatrickedwards.com.  It was very cool for 1990.

I printed it on my business cards.  Years passed.  Nothing changed.  It became an embarrassment since it was clearly old and dated.  But like much of my clothes, I refused to throw it away and get something newer.

About 5 years ago I found blogspot and started my blog.  It was easy and fun.  I could sit down when I was inspired and post copy, photos and videos.  I got a lot of satisfaction and positive feedback.  I still do.

But the old website remained online and I wondered how and when I would decide to kill it.

Then Patrice started to get involved in website design and video production.  We made some YouTube videos together and they were a hit.  He spent long hours after work creating a replacement for my original site.  I was not much of a help, as I had already decided that it was not worth it.  He persisted.

Just recently he began converting my magazine articles to a pdf format.  I was impressed and thought it would be great to post them on my blog.  It turns out you can't do that directly.  You need to link to a website which hosts the pdf files directly from the blog.  Who knew?

So I got excited for the first time in 25 years about wpatrickedwards.com and helped him with a bit of copy.  He was able to take down my old site and post the new one this weekend.  Wow!

Please visit wpatrickedwards.com by clicking on the first link on this blog page.  Look for the videos and pdf files.  I think you will be impressed by what he has been able to accomplish.  Except for some typos and small errors in the copy it is wonderful.  Of course the typos and copy errors are because I didn't take the time to proof read it...now that's my job.

I hope you like it.  You can thank Patrice for not giving up.

Saturday, May 23, 2015

Edwards & Lejeune

Edwards & Lejeune Label

 In the history of furniture making, there are several examples of successful partnerships.  Goddard and Townsend come to mind.  (I am not making a direct comparison.  Please.  I am just pointing them out as one of the most famous examples...)

As some of you may know, I worked for nearly 4 decades absolutely alone.  I built the workshop and furnished it with rare woods and period tools.  I met with the clients, bid the jobs, did the work and delivered it when it was done.  I opened the mail, answered the phone and paid the bills.  It was exhausting but I had the energy so I did it all.

The first thing which changed in this business for me was when I convinced my wife, Kristen, to stop teaching art in High School and come to work with me.  She was able to take over all the office duties and interface with the clients very successfully.  My phone skills were basically, "Hello, I'm busy, what do you want?"  Her phone skills were very advanced and I noticed a real change in the business as the clients were happy and I was able to work at the bench without stopping every 10 minutes to answer the phone.  A real bonus was that I did not have to think about the money flow.  From time to time she would mention that we needed more money, but that was the extent of it.  What a relief.

The second change was when Patrice Lejeune was able to move to San Diego from Paris and work with me on a H1-B visa.   I had some reservations about sharing my work space with another cabinetmaker, but we hit it off immediately.  We went from working together to close friends to actual business partners.  We encourage each other, criticize each other when it is appropriate, and divide the work load according to our specific talents.

Patrice Removing Paper From Marquetry

Over the past decade Patrice and I have completed some wonderful projects.  One of the most successful has been the Treasure Box series.  The Treasure Box Series #1 sold out before we were able to finish them.  The current Treasure Box Series #2 has sold 3 of the 4 boxes and is nearly complete.  That means we only have one left.  They should be done soon, as the only thing left to do is get the leather writing surface embossed with gold and apply the French polish finish.  (Actually there is a bit of ebony and bone trim to do, but that is now much of a problem, considering all the technical problems we have solved to get this far.

UPDATE:  After I posted this I received a call from a past student (of ASFM) and good friend who expressed disappointment at not purchasing a Treasure Box Series #1 before they were gone.  She saw this post and decided that it was time to get one.  So now they are all sold.  Patrice and I are in the process of designing Series #3.  Stay tuned!  We both appreciate the support.

These boxes are a labor of love and a tribute to our passion for creating objects which are authentic to the late 17th period in every detail.  They are, in my humble opinion, some of the best work available anywhere today.  They take nearly 2 years to make, and are certainly  worth much more than we are asking for them.  That is why it is so easy to find people willing to buy them and then wait for us to finish them.

Last week Patrice and I glued the marquetry surfaces to the lid, pressing them in the heated press.  We had to pay close attention to the orientation of the birds, as the bird on the inside of the lid needs to be upright when it is open and the bird on the outside needs to be upright when it is closed.   As we glued 8 birds to 4 lids we were both checking each other to make sure nothing went wrong.  We made a video of the process, which we will post soon.

It was a real pleasure watching Patrice wet the paper on the surface and scrape away the paper and glue to expose the marquetry for the first time.  Since we work from the back of the design, gluing the elements face down on stretched Kraft paper, we never see the finished surface until it is finally glued down to the substrate.  That is our ultimate reward for a job well done.

Removing Wet Paper and Hide Glue From The Marquetry

Here is a close up of the work.  You can see it requires quick work to remove all the paper and glue before the mastic begins to expand or the veneer elements start to lift.  Of course, working with sawn veneers which are 1.5mm thick helps.

Blue Bird of Happiness Surrounded By White Bone Flowers

 Here is the top marquetry surface, cleaned of all the paper and glue.  It needs to be sanded and scraped flat before polishing begins.  However it shows the elements of a careful and professional collaberation between two experienced craftsmen.  It begins to look like another masterpiece will be delivered soon!

Top Surface of Treasure Box Series #2

Tuesday, May 12, 2015

Student Becomes Teacher

Paul Miller and his Work

I look back on my career and realize how fortunate I have been to have met and studied under great teachers.  Not only in my physics career at UCSD but in my other studies in American Decorative Arts and related European Decorative Arts.  On both sides of the country and both sides of the ocean I have spent time with great scholars, many of whom are no longer with us.

Pierre Ramond, in particular, realized that even though I was an average worker in the field of marquetry, I had a certain talent to communicate ideas and concepts which gave me the ability to educate others.  That is why he pushed me into getting my workshop accredited by ecole Boulle and positioned to receive his students as interns for different stages of work.

Fortunately, Pierre gave me the idea to create the American School of French Marquetry so that when he retired from ecole Boulle I was able to offer his teaching process to the public.  This is significant, since as far as I can determine, there is no other school where historic French marquetry methods are taught using the "chevalet de marqueterie."

In the last 15 years, since ASFM has been operating, we have seen an amazing number of talented students pass through our doors.  Professionals and amateurs of all ages show up and spend time cutting small pieces of woods on the chevalets.  It is always a pleasure to see the results at the end of the week, when the paper is removed and the work is finally exposed.

I really enjoy teaching.  It is exciting to meet new people and be able to answer their questions.  I feel that my years of stuffing information into my brain is worth while when I can then "download" it into other inquisitive minds.  The popular idea of "play it forward" is how I perceive my job as teacher.

Thus, it is very satisfying when I hear from a person who I might have influenced in some positive way.  A good example of this is Paul Miller, who lives in the North West corner of the states.

There are a lot of professions which use wood as a medium.  People build houses, furniture, instruments, airplanes, boats, cars, tools and sculpture, to name the most obvious.  Each of these trades requires study, skill and experience to do properly.  It is not common for a specialist in one field to be able to transfer to another, but it does happen.

Paul Miller builds boats.  That is a simple statement of fact.  However, it is safe to say he is a master of boat building, judging from what I saw on his videos.  Some of you will appreciate the skill and technical difficulties involved in making a boat not only functional but at the same time a thing of beauty.  This is what Paul does.

When he came to my school just a few years ago he wanted to learn how to make marquetry.  He had never seen the tools or the French process or heard of sawn veneers.  I introduced him to the methods, showed him some books and told him to buy as much sawn veneers as he could afford, before they disappeared.

He went to Paris and broke the bank.  He set up a chevalet in both his homes and started cutting.  He created a web page on Lumberjocks called the "Chevy Club" and attracted a large following of woodworkers who were new to the "sport."  As much as I have worked to introduce the tool to Americans, he has done more.

He was fascinated with the jewel cabinet I post as the masthead of this blog.  He decided to make a version of his own and communicated on a regular basis with my partner, Patrice Lejeune, to work out the issues.  His efforts were also well documented on the Lumberjocks page.  You need to check it out.

When he finished, he hired a photographer to take his photo with the box, in exactly the same pose as I did with my work.  This photo he sent to me in a private email message, with the subject "For your eyes only."  Apparently he was not sure how I would react.  His concern was that I would somehow be insulted that he had copied me?  I am the last person on earth who wants to be placed on a pedestal.  I am just a guy who loves what he does.  That's it.  I am not even the best at what I do.  I know many others who are more skillful in this trade.  I just have a lot of passion for marquetry and furniture, good wood and old tools.  It keeps me going.

I am very flattered by his photo.  I am pleased that he has taken my advice and followed his muse.

It validates my life.

Patrick Edwards and his Work

Monday, May 4, 2015

New Study Finds No Link Between Antiques And Cancer

Modern Construction Not Determined Safe?
I have been around the block a few times, to put it simply.  I worked in the Nuclear Physics industry for many years.  You have no idea what types of dangerous materials we were exposed to and how it was considered "normal business" to be around them in the workplace.  One of the reasons I quit my job and walked out the door was personal safety.  The other, and more important, reason I decided to leave the industry is that I did not want to support further research into atomic energy if there was no honest desire to mitigate the serious problem of radioactive waste.  I am sorry to say that I do not see any real improvements to the problem over the past 40 years.

Industry is generally driven by profits.  Rarely are the safety concerns of the consumers considered in the formula unless there are restrictions imposed by governments.  For example, when I learned to drive, gasoline was filled with lead, dashboards had sharp knobs everywhere, bumpers were "decorative," and seat belts were for Nascar drivers only.  Also, smoking was encouraged by medical doctors as "safe" and "healthy" forms of recreation.

Without effective government regulation this would still be the case today, I believe.

Modern Industrial Woodworker vrs, Old Lady

So this morning I read on the front page of the New York Times about "serious" efforts by lobbyists to stop regulations limiting the use of formaldehyde in household products.  Since I am a woodworker and know a few things about chemistry, I support the ban on urea formaldehyde glues as well as other finishes and materials which contain hazardous chemicals.

These chemicals are not stable.  They decay over time and "out gas" into the surrounding environment which expose consumers to hazardous fumes.  It is amazing to me how many things modern consumers live with which are not healthy.  Fabrics, carpet, glues, finishes, paint, and plastics all contribute to a cloud of chemicals unseen or undetected by the person living in their home.

The article mentions the argument by the industrial defenders of formaldehyde use that banning it would force "millions" of workers out of a job.  How about the argument that directing these "millions" of workers to find safe alternatives would not only allow them to keep their jobs but improve the product?

I have done 45 years of research into the relationship between living with pre industrial furniture and cancer.  So far my intensive research has found no link at all between cancer and sitting in a chair upholstered with cotton, silk or wool fabric, stuffed with cotton and horsehair, and finished with shellac.  I also have found no relationship between putting my hands in animal protein glues or shellac finishes and cancer.

I will continue my research.  I expect that I will be able to study this problem for several decades.  In the meantime, my contribution to the solution remains available: Old Brown Glue.