Sunday, February 22, 2015

Modern Times

This morning as I was drinking my coffee and finishing my oatmeal (before the sun gets up),  I turned on the TV for a few minutes.  The movie channel was showing the classic "Time Machine" by H.G. Wells.  As a small boy I read every book I could find about science fiction.  My imagination was fed enormous amounts of fantastic visions of the future.  I easily anticipated flying cars, space travel, living in giant underwater cities, and time travel.

These visions were further reinforced by all the original Twilight Zone, Outer Limits, Lost in Space (we all knew who the villain was), Star Trek, Time Tunnel, and even the Jetsons, who combined to provide a weekly dose of extra terrestial reality.

The movies were even better and Robbie the Robot became my iconic friend.  Forbidden Planet is still one of the most important movies I have ever seen, as it deals with the essential struggle between the ego and the id.  I must admit that when I see Robbie I see Freud.  What does that say about my early years?

My passion for science was fed directly by The Day the Earth Stood Still, the Blob, 20,000 Leagues Under the Sea, the Fly, Invasion of the Body Snatchers, The Thing, and most significantly, the Incredible Shrinking Man.  After all, didn't the exposure to radiation cause him to continue to shrink to the size of an atom?  Of course I would study particle physics!

However, the more I studied physics and worked in the highly specialized field of technology the more I wondered about my place in the universe.  In college I spend a lot of time in philosophy classes trying to determine my cosmology and the "meaning of life."   Fortunately, that was in the 60's and there was a wide selection of "stimulants" which could be used to test reality.

At some point, a few years out of college, I decided to abandon my chosen career and consciously turn away from technology.  Instead of working to smash atoms and search for "strange" particles (pun intended), I looked to history to understand how we ended up in this situation.

I became a modern Luddite.

Furniture and craft provided me with the tangible objects of that search.  I wondered what furniture Jefferson used tin his daily life, how the Kings of Europe lived, how Napoleon influenced a global style of design and what emerging technology did to the Victorians and their furniture.

These were the thoughts in my head as I walked to work, inspired by the movie this morning.  What would I do if I had a time machine?  Backward or Forward?

(Did I mention how I loved Dr. Who??)  "It's bigger on the inside!"

Tonight is Oscar Night and last night CNN ran a long special on the history of the Academy.  During that show I saw Charlie Chaplin as he was awarded honors for his contribution to film.  Thinking about his generation and what technology has changed during the 20th century, I did some searching on the computer and found this clip.

It summarizes perfectly my belief that technology for technologies' sake is a troubling waste of time and intellect.  We need solutions to serious global issues, starting with clean water and air.  We need to focus on easing human suffering and natural food.  The time and money the world spends on weapons of destruction is about as necessary as this machine which "feeds men".

As they said in the Twilight Zone episode, "To Serve Man", it's a cookbook!

Tuesday, February 17, 2015

Short Video of Secret Drawer Action

I have had a lot of interest in these springs.  I thought an action video of the secret mechanism would help to explain how these springs work in practice.

Here is a short video I took of the original Victorian dressing box with secret drawer and the crude plywood mockup of the system we will be using in our Treasure Boxes.

Note the springs are strong enough to throw a piece of wood several inches.  You cannot get this action with normal spiral springs.  They do not have enough travel or force.

The reason I spent the money to have a professional spring company duplicate these springs is that I wanted the exact metal quality, dimensions and consistency that a company with modern equipment can produce.

I did talk with several metal artisans and realized that to produce a limited run would be expensive and the tension would vary among "hand made" springs.

I trust this very amateur video helps to understand how this system works.   Contact me if you want to get a few of these for your own projects.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Secret Springs for Secret Drawers

Victorian Dressing Box (Button At Back Edge)
I have always had a fascination for secret drawers, secret compartments, secret panels and related tricks of the trade which have been incorporated in historic furniture designs by clever people.

During the Summer Institute at Winterthur in 1978, I went out of my way to do favors for the docents who were working there.  In return, they allowed me a certain "discretion" in my efforts to examine furniture in the collection.  That meant I was allowed to actually open drawers, crawl underneath and generally handle objects (with a great deal of care.)

I spent three months at Winterthur that year and was allowed to live in my camper on the parking lot, just a few hundred yards from the museum and library.  Each day at 8:00 am I was waiting at the door for it to open and each day at 9:00 pm I was the last person to leave when it closed.

During that time I had the pleasure of spending time in each of the 115 rooms studying the furniture at my leisure.  One day I opened a slant front Chippendale desk and began to remove the usual "secret" compartments.  As I continued to explore, I found an unusual cavity which had not been opened before (as far as the docents were aware.)  Inside that compartment I found a neat $100 bill (in 1930 Monopoly money!)  Of course I replaced it and I am sure it is still there today.

During the Victorian period there were lots of things produced which used secret escapements.  Quite a few of them were lap desks.  Since these were portable and often contained letters or money which was valuable, they included catches, moveable panels and springs which would open hidden compartments.
Damaged Victorian Dressing Box
I have posted here a photo of a wonderful ebony dressing box.  This box is in rather poor condition, but includes a mirror under the lid which hides a space behind it for letters.  The trays hold the cut glass jars for the powders and make up materials.  There is room for the tools used in sewing and other crafts.
Secret Drawer Open
At the back of the box is a button in the frame.  When this button is pressed it releases a catch inside and two springs act to push the hidden drawer forward from the bottom.  This system still works perfectly after a century and a half.  It is very simple and effective.

Thus, since we are currently working on the second series of the Treasure Boxes, and designed these with a secret writing surface, it seemed like a good idea to use this method as a way of opening the trays.  We are creating a gilt leather writing tray which will hide inside the box and be pushed out from the side.  We needed a way to open the tray without a visible pull.

Brass Catch Under Drawer
The system depends on having two special springs working together.  These springs have enough force and travel to push the tray out of the box over half its length.  There is a simple piece of square brass stock which is under the tray at the back which forms the catch.  This catch hooks on a piece of brass stock that is embedded in the floor of the box.  To release the tray you will push down on the floor of the pencil tray inside the box.  This moveable floor will then depress a plunger which moves the brass stock down away from the catch.  That allows the two springs to act, pushing the tray out.

Antique Box Spring System Inside Drawer Opening
I was able to make the brass stock by hand starting with a piece of rather thick brass stock.  Using files I worked it into shape easily.

Prototype Tray System Test

Tray Pushed Open
However I needed the springs.  So I sent one of the original springs to a company in Maine, Spring Manufacturing Corporation in Tewksbury.  They were very easy to work with and sent back a quote to make the 8 springs I needed for the 4 boxes.  Their price was around $800!  They mentioned that it would be cheaper if I ordered more than 8, so I asked about how much it would cost for 50.  They said $1000.  Then I asked how much for 100 springs and they said $1200.  I guess I should have asked how much for 1000???  Perhaps at some much higher number they would pay me?  Not sure.

Brass Catch under Tray

System revealed
In any event, I ordered 100 springs to get 8.  That means I have 92 springs left over.  These are cool springs and could be adapted to a wide variety of uses in furniture, since they have a good size and can move a fair amount of material a good distance.  I expect I will be finding a lot of uses in the future for them now that I have a supply.

Got Springs?
It occured to me that I should recover some of my investment by selling these springs online.  As they cost me $12.00 each I would happily sell them for $25/pair or $120 for 10.  If you are interested in getting some, let me know.

NOTE:  I had previously said I would send these without charging for shipping as they are small and I thought it would not be a problem.  However, I already had two people who live outside USA ask for springs and have lost a bit of money due to postage.  Therefore, as I cannot afford to loose any more money, I ask you to pay the postage.   I am not asking for a profit; I just cannot keep loosing money.  I was surprised at the demand for these specialized springs.
For Sale!  $25/pair or $120 for 10 plus S+H

Talk about a niche market!  You can't get these on Amazon!  By the way, these are the same springs used by famous cabinet makers like Roentgen to operate complicated systems.

Monday, February 2, 2015

Old Friends At Work

The Third Hand, Made in Paris
One of the results of not having to move my workshop over the past 45 years is that things tend to stay around.  I suppose that, if I had to move at some time, I would need to make decisions about what to keep and what to get rid of.  Instead I sometimes look around the shop and see things which have been there for years and are so necessary to my work that I take them for granted.

These things are my "friends."  They are always around, waiting to help me with my work.

I thought that I should mention them in a post, so that others who do this kind of work will start thinking about adopting similar shop aids.  These are not exactly the things you will read about in woodworking books.  They are just shop fixtures or tools which are handy and normal but serve to really make life easier.

Better than the Kitchen Sink
For example, here is a disc sander that is one of my first and only "power" tools.  When I started in 1969 there was a junk shop down town where you could find everything.  I had an old kitchen sink which I did not need, so I went down there and asked the owner if I could trade the kitchen sink for a motor.  He said fine, pick one out, and I found this motor with an arbor on each end.  I took it home and made a simple plywood stand, using an old wood box as a base.  I added the 12" disc from my 1952 Shop Smith (the only other power tool I have) and put a buffing wheel on the other side.  This simple tool has been in the corner of my shop ever since, just next to the outside door, so all the dust can escape.

Always Ready to Sit On
Another "friend" is my stool.  This I found in the trash.  It has a round seat which used to be adjustable up and down.  Now it is just down since it is broken.  However, from time to time I change the wheels which wear out and it keeps working.  Every day I use it so I can rest comfortably while working on projects at a low level.  Very handy for upholstering.

Rolling Work Table
In the center or the shop is this small table.  I made it when I started my business and it has turned out to be one of the most useful fixtures in the shop.  It is a low table, with the top covered in a rubber mat.  The table is bolted together and will carry quite a load.  There are metal wheels on the legs.  I do nearly every project on top of this table, and it also helps me to move large objects around the shop without any other help.

Multi Purpose Work Stands
Another way to hold projects is with these small stands.  They are easy to move around, with the hand grip in the top.  They hold tools and materials in the tray underneath.  They are useful for standing on when I need to get to the top of things, and they are practical when I go on site to use as a work bench or tool tray.

Got Glue Blocks?
What looks like a box of wood scraps is something necessary for repairs.  I have several boxes of pieces of pine and poplar which are cut into shapes.  These are glue blocks for curved repairs.  Search this blog for "vector clamping" and you will see what I do with these.  I am sure that they have no real value but, without them, I cannot do the complicated repairs which make my payday each week.

Sorted by Species and Size
Along the wall of the shop I put this wood rack.  It is a simple set of shelves which I use to hold different wood species in small sizes and lengths.  You would be amazed at how much time I save by being able to just walk up and pick out a piece of wood for a repair using this system.

Maxwell's Paper Hammer
Perhaps the strangest tool I have found in all the years of searching is this hammer.  You would not believe it but the head of the hammer is made of paper.  I cannot find a name or maker's mark on it, but the paper is somehow impregnated with a glue which holds it together.  I have used it for 4 decades and it still is in fine shape.  From time to time I run the face of the mallet over the disc sander to clean it up, but it survives.  You cannot believe how much force I can use with this hammer and still not mark the surface of the work.

Follow The Money
This is a system I use for keeping track of the work.  I got these wire racks from somewhere and screwed them to the wall.  By using folders I can easily see what jobs are in progress and where the work priorities are.  It turns out to be a very efficient method for tracking jobs.

These are my "friends" who help me every day.  I posted this topic today as I was listening to the Beatles.  I get by with a little help from my friends.

Saturday, January 24, 2015

More Data on Cope's Patent Castors

Mr. Cope's Patent Bed Wheels

Six months ago I posted information about some nice antique hardware,  specifically wheels marked "COPE'S PATENT".  You can find this post using the search tool; it was July 5, 2014.

Well, yesterday I finally found another example of this type of wheel, from an email sent to me by an English antique dealer.  It is amazing and wonderful how internet searches can bring people together.
He had been searching the internet to find out information and discovered my post searching for help.

Thomas Franklin wrote to me stating that he has been in the antique business for 50 years in England and had seen numerous examples of Cope's castors over his career.  He indicated that many of these pieces were from the Regency period, which makes sense, since the rosewood table I restored was exactly from that period.

As Mr. Franklin now lives in France he is finding a good supply of English furniture which the aristocracy brought over from England some 150 years ago.

He sent me photos, which I post here, of wheels which were original to a Hepplewhite bed he purchased in France.  He said the bed could not be later than 1830, and that the Cope's wheels are "definitely English."

I have seen similar wheels (not marked Cope however) on bed frames from Lannuier (Empire period) to Herter Brothers (Late Victorian period).  Most of the high end beds during the 19th century had wheels, either brass or porcelain, mounted under the frame inside the rails or foot/head boards.  These wheels allowed the rather heavy beds to be more easily moved away from the walls or around the room if necessary.

Height Adjustment Possible

Mr. Franklin notes that the wheels he has on his bed were the first he had seen with a method to adjust the height.

I am curious as to what exactly did Mr. Cope do to wheel design to gain the advantage of a patent?

Friday, January 23, 2015

Sometimes "Made in America" Just Doesn't Work

European Kraft Paper Now Available Here
I live in Southern California, so everything I see in stores must come in from China through Los Angeles.  In truth I don't ever go shopping for anything except food, but I can easily imagine a continuous line of cargo ships crossing the ocean from LA to China.  There must be enough of them that it might be possible to just walk there from ship to ship?

All my life I have preferred local and domestic production to imported.  Except cheese...

However, in my chosen profession, I have found items in France which I cannot find here.  Veneer nails for example.  Sawn veneer is another.  And, for some unknown reason, Kraft paper.

In Pierre's book there is no mention of Kraft paper or making and using an Assembly Board to make marquetry.  When I arrived at ecole Boulle for the first time and observed students working on projects building face down on stretched paper, I saw the "light bulb" over my head.

Like most marquetry workers in countries outside France, I thought you worked from the front and used either glue or veneer tape to hold everything together.  Just like others who have discovered the problems this causes, I had several projects ruined since the press put uneven pressure on the different layers of tape and allowed the thin veneer to buckle under areas where there was no pressure.  The other problems in working from the front with tape is that the work is covered up and you can't see what you are making.

Pierre did not include any information on Kraft paper since it is such a basic component of the French process.  It is simply assumed that everyone knows about it.

I have posted before on building Assembly Boards, so use the search function to research this.

The first day of class here at the American School of French Marquetry I spend time introducing students to the glue and materials used, including Kraft paper.  I can see in their expressions the doubt and surprise when I show them a piece of paper and say, "You cannot find this paper in America."

This is the minimum Order!

In Europe Kraft paper is everywhere.  If you buy fish, bread or flowers, the store merchant wraps it in Kraft paper.  If you buy a kilo of shellac or pumice stone or sandarac, it is wrapped in Kraft paper.

Kraft paper is made the old fashioned way: by layering paper pulp in solution.  I remember once in 8th grade I decided to make paper for a term paper.  I filled up my mother's washing machine with water, glue and paper pulp and made paper, including my own watermark.  I got an "A" and a good beating.

Kraft paper is shiny on one side and dull on the other.  That's one of the secrets.  The shiny side resists water and glue and the dull side absorbs water.  By wetting the shiny side it expands in all dimensions.  Gluing it to a flat board around the edges and letting it dry makes it shrink and pull tight.  All elements of the marquetry are then glued to the paper with hot hide glue, face down.  You cannot imagine the advantage this provides for working with small pieces until you try it.

The mastic is easily applied after all the pieces are in place and any unevenness of veneer thickness is sanded down flush from the back (glue side).  Finally the picture is cut away from the Assembly Board and glued to the project, with the Kraft paper on top.  After the glue is dry the Kraft paper is wetted and dissolves easily so you can remove all the paper and glue from the front.

Of course all the veneer is even and flat since it was built face down on a flat board surface.


I have imported rolls of Kraft paper from Raja in France, but there is a minimum order and the shipping costs exceed the paper costs.  That is why I sell it for $3/yard to students.

Now one of my students, Wes Highfill has spend the money to bring in several rolls.  Since he is located in the Middle States area, shipping is probably cheaper to the East Coast.  In any event he is now selling Kraft paper for $3/yard as well.  Both of us use and sell the 90gm/square meter weight.  This is best for our purpose.

Here is his blog: Kraft Paper For Sale Here

Thursday, January 22, 2015

Is Your Glue Reversible?

King Tut "Before"

I often wonder about furniture makers, both in the studio and in the factory, who choose to use glues which are "permanent".  I guess that is because in my career I have seen every possible type of damage that can occur with "normal" use of furniture.

I have also seen "unusual" damage in my time.  One case in particular was when a rather embarassed man showed up with a spindle back rocking chair.  The crest and the entire tops of all the spindles were shattered and broken in one hand and the topless rocker was in the other.  When I asked him how this had happened, he quietly replied, "I was practicing my batting swing in the living room."

I didin't believe him.

Another time there arrived at my door a wonderful curly maple Chippendale chest of drawers.  However it was neatly severed completely across the middle, leaving broken drawers and backboards in splinters.  I was told it was a "moving accident".   It was a lot of fun putting it back together.

That story I believed.  Movers can do a lot of damage.  For example, there was the triple pedestal mahogany dining table the movers put on the truck and then loaded boxes of heavy stuff on top until all the legs broke off at the same time.  What fun it is to reattach every cabriole leg on the table so it looks undamaged.

Some 30 years ago I was doing a lot of insurance claim damage and thought I should help solve the problem.  I went to several different moving companies and offered my services.  I thought if I could be paid a reasonable fee for a short course of instruction, I could teach them how not to damage antiques.  Things like knowing about card tables opening when you lift them,  removing the pendulum and weights when transporting long case clocks,  not loosing keys or finials, how to move corner cabinets, etc.  I assumed that by reducing their damage claims they would be happy to pay me for basic information.

The uniform response I got from all of them was "no".  They actually considered damage claims as a basic "cost of business" and something that was expected to happen.  It was very discouraging.

Dining tables seem to attract a lot of attention from stupid people.  Once I got a frantic call from Newport Beach and drove up there to see for myself what had happened.  This client had paid a moving company to deliver their Cuban mahogany double pedestal Georgian dining table and set it up.  The driver carefully laid out blankets on the cement and put the top of the table face down on the clean blankets.  Then he proceeded to set the pedestals in place and attach them with screws.  Each pedestal took 6 screws.  Unfortunately, the sheetrock screws he used were not only modern but 1 inch too long.  As he turned over the table in front of the client, you can imagine her response.

I managed to solve that problem with a bit of experience, a good protein glue and magic.

Another table I was asked to repair had shattered glass imbedded into the top where the chandelier had fallen on it from the ceiling.  At first the owner had assumed that the hook holding the chandelier had failed, but my investigation focused on the housekeeper.  She informed me (in confidence) that her method of cleaning the chandelier was to stand on the table and turn the fixture while wiping the glass crystals.  Eventually she unscrewed the fixture and gravity took over.

I kept her secret, she kept her job and learned a valuable lesson.

I guess my point here is that all furniture suffers damage in its lifetime.  Unless it is repaired with a glue which is reversible, there is a chance that it will not be repaired properly and could be lost.  This is one of the biggest problems I have with modern work.  Using glues and finishes which cannot easily be repaired is a death sentence.

King Tut's Beard

Today I found a news article which is not related to furniture but in fact demonstrates how important it is to use reversible glues.  Workers in Egypt were cleaning the death mask of King Tut, certainly one of the most important artifacts in history.  Imagine their surprise when the beard snapped off in their hands.  I'm sure their response was similar to the client in Newport Beach.

Instead of stopping work and researching the solution properly, one of the ladies cleaning the mask called her husband who picked up some epoxy and repaired the beard.  To make it worse, in cleaning off the epoxy residue from the joint, the surface of the gold was scratched in many places.
What Glue Would The Pharaoh Use?

Not the best solution, to say the least.  Remember the basic rule: "Do No Harm."