The Next Symposium!

We’re excited yet saddened with our preparations for the January 2015 Working Wood Symposium. This will be the first symposium since its inception in 1999 that our director, Jay Gaynor will not be present. The Working Wood Symposium was Jay’s baby, and it’s not going to be the same without him.  Jay was excited with the theme of desks and the pieces we had chosen.

Entitled ‘Desks: The Write Stuff’, the program will feature four very different desks presented by Bill, Brian, Ted and I, as well as a Seymour ladies writing desk with tambour by guest presenter Robert Millard.

Bill will be presenting the earliest piece, a Philadelphia scriptor.  The maker, Edward Evans did us the favor of stamping his name and date, 1707, on the inside of the case. Turns out that it’s the earliest dated Philadelphia case piece!  This will be an interesting exploration.

1958-468_DS99-37[2]

Ever heard of a southern block front?  Sounds like an oxymoron to me. We’ve got a beautiful example in our collection, probably by a Norfolk, Virginia maker.  Brian has been dressing out stock for his presentation of this desk.

1951-398[2]

These two pieces are quite a contrast with some of the urban English cases being made in tidewater Virginia. I’ll be looking at the Galt desk and bookcase in detail. There are some interesting structural and aesthetic refinements that we’ll be exploring.

1978-9[2]

Finishing out this century is an exquisite Seymour ladies writing desk with tambour.  The federal period is Robert Millard’s niche.  Below is a piece from Robert’s web site, americanfederalperiod.com. We’re still canvasing museums for the particular piece to present.

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And finally in contrast to all of this is a utilitarian piece, a desk on frame from the Virginia Piedmont.  Ted Boscana will take a brief look at some of the idiosyncrasies of this country piece.
1968-304[1]

As always there will be a lot of action, good food, camaraderie, tools, tours and entertainment.  The full program will be posted in a couple of weeks on the Colonial Williamsburg web site.  Till then, in the words of Jay Gaynor, “keep calm and carry on”.

Kaare

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In Memoriam Jay Gaynor

Jay Gaynor

We have lost a leading light.

Jay Gaynor, Director of Historic Trades, died suddenly yesterday morning.  Needless to say, all of us tradesmen and women here are in shock.

Jay possessed a consummate knowledge in his chosen field of historic technology.  But he wore his erudition easily.  And he encouraged us all to know more and find out more.  But not just having information was enough.  He always looked for ways to make giving that knowledge fun, interesting and very cool.

He was interested in everything, from tools to his hobby of longbow shooting.  And he was generous with his time and his knowledge.  And he had a disarming sense of humor that kept us knowing that we should be serious… but not deadly.

Probably his singular achievements, from our point of view: the 1995 award-winning exhibition Tools:  Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century with its accompanying book he co-authored with Nancy Hagedorn, all this done while he worked as Curator of Mechanical Arts for CW.

And of course, his major brainchild:  the Woodworking Symposium, held every January for the last 16 years, bringing so many of us, professionals, history buffs, and hobbyists together.

Most importantly, he expected and trusted all of us here to be professional and thorough, as employees, as artisans, as historians, as people.  That was how you earned his respect and his gratitude.

Jay was initially reluctant to take the reins of Director.  He enjoyed his work as a curator tremendously.  But as he subsequently proved, he was uniquely qualified for his position skippering this huge ship of Historic Trades, by his knowledge, his generosity and professional demeanor.  All with a light, but firm touch.

And who can forget his awful woodworker jokes sprinkled throughout each symposium session! And the requisite ceremonial removal of the necktie that signaled, “We’re on!” at the start of each one (applause every time) for the attendees.  And for us presenters, it signaled, “Here we go, oh gosh, we’re in trouble now!”

Ladies and Gentlemen, would you please rise up, drink a parting glass, and honor the man.

Thoughts and prayers for his friends and family.

Your comments and remembrances are welcome below.

The Hay Shop.

 

Posted in Shop Happenings | 18 Comments

A Simple Looking Glass Molding

The following write-up describes the making of a conventional looking glass molding that can be scaled up or down to suit the size of the frame. For better examination click on any of the images for an enlarged view.

IMG_3088

Generally I find it easier to work a molding on the edge or face of a larger piece of stock, and saw it off when done. It’s more convenient to hold in the vice or down on the bench. It always saves a lot of aggravation to make sure you have a straight reference face and square edge.

Straight stock with square edge
A beading plane (side bead) runs in the first element of this molding. It automatically registers on the edge of the stock.

Running in the side bead

Running in the side bead

The next element is the concavity of the ogee profile cut in with the appropriate round plane. ( Molding planes take the name of the molding they cut, with the exception of hollows and rounds. They take the name of the profile of the plane.) Position the plane flush with the edge of the stock. Take a light first pass using your fingers as a fence to hold the plane in position. The plane will track in that first cut. Take the necessary passes to bring the profile down to the silhouette drawn on the ends of the stock.

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Before describing the use of the hollow plane it’s important to consider the orientation of the blade to the stock of the plane. Generally the blade of the hollow cuts very little if at all at the inside edge. On the outside and open face of the plane the blade will cut.3124a
Use the outside cutting edge of the plane to lay over the round profile just inside the bead. (Notice that I’m planning in the opposite direction. This works only if the grain allows you to do so.)IMG_3096

At this point the hollow is used to bring the convex portion of the molding down till the flat just disappears.IMG_3105

Any score marks left from using the hollow can be cleaned up with a few light passes of the round. Note that I continue to use my fingers as a fence to ensure that the plane tracks flush with the edge of the stock

IMG_3109
The final element of this profile is a small cove along the inside of the molding. Create an angled chamfer (for the small round plane to ride on) using a rabbet plane. IMG_3116
Plane in the cove with a small round plane using a board to register the plane against.IMG_3122
The profile now complete, the molding can be sawn off the stock and the back side planed clean to the scribed thickness. I used the straight edge just under the low side of the molding so that it’s supported and level with the bench.IMG_3090
Important points to consider: When using hand planes, working with the grain is much more convenient. Sharp and properly adjusted planes are a must. Finally there is no substitute for practice. Enjoy the process!

IMG_3088

Here’s the finished molding applied to the frame. Carving the indented corners, and applying the fret-sawn decoration is still to come.

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Kaare

Posted in Miscellaneous Forms, Tools | 3 Comments

CONGRATULATIONS TO KAARE AND BILL

On July 8th at our Annual Trade Luncheon, Bill Pavlak and Kaare Loftheim received recognition for reaching individual milestones with Colonial Williamsburg.

Bill Pavlak achieved Journeyman status.

BILLJOURNEYMANKaare, the Anthony Hay Shop supervisor, congratulates Bill while Jay Gaynor looks on.  Bill’s “Initiation Hazing” will come later.

 Kaare Loftheim received recognition for 35 years of service.

KAARES]Which means Kaare has worked at the shop 10 years longer than the 18th century shop existed.

Anyone who has stopped by the shop will agree Kaare and Bill are tremendous assets. On a personal note, they make coming to work a pleasure.

All their bad jokes aside.

bill1_n 1986-WW-5775-21s

 

Thanks again guys and here’s to many years to come.

Brian

 

 

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My, what big feet you have…

Foot of the 1707 Philadelphia Escritoire.

Foot of the 1707 Philadelphia Escritoire.

As I begin working on the 1707 Philadelphia Escritoire (the English also call this a scriptor, if you lack confidence in your French pronunciation), I am scrambling to find material of sufficient thickness.  The case parts on this are really heavy as are the bun feet.  At 4 1/2 inches in diameter, these feet have to come out of a substantial block of walnut.  Unfortunately, our inventory of seasoned walnut only goes up to 4 inch thick stock – we are not timber framers after all.  When Hurricane Irene shoved through Williamsburg three years ago we ended up with quite a bit of walnut to be sawn and seasoned.  At the time, Mack Headley decided that we ought to have a few heavy timbers  cut and set aside for those unusual projects that come along now and then.  So out there in the stacks are some really heavy boards (8 inches square) and some less heavy, heavy boards (5 inches square).  That is good news for my feet, but you know the rule for air drying lumber: one year for every inch of thickness.  Hurricane Irene was in 2011, it is now 2014, this board is 5 inches thick, and it has been at the bottom of the stack – raised off the ground, but next to the soggy Williamsburg earth nonetheless – sucking in moisture while it is losing moisture.

Well I think we’ll be able to use one of these five inch boards, but I need to treat things a little differently than usual.  Because the feet are independent of the case itself, it should be reasonable to work them somewhat green and have them get along with the more seasoned wood in the case.  I wanted to get this stuff inside and cut up as soon as possible then do something to retard the drying somewhat.  Here are some shots of how I am handling this.

The 5" square blank was lurking in the shadows at the bottom of this stack.

The 5″ square blank was lurking in the shadows at the bottom of this stack.

Just under 5" square this board was ready for rough planing and then cutting into three lengths.

Just under 5″ square this board was ready for rough planing and then sawing to length.  I cut enough for the four feet plus one extra, just in case.  I cut this up in three lengths: two which contain enough wood for two feet and one for the extra.

I think this is nicely quartered stuff, Brian says it looks really flat sawn.  Tilt your head Brian.

I think this is nicely quartered stuff, Brian says it looks really flat sawn. Tilt your head Brian.

Blanks with two faces squared and then corners knocked off.

Blanks with two faces squared and then their corners knocked off.

I sealed the end grain with leftover seed lac varnish (the nasty stuff at the bottom of the jar with all the dregs and dross.

I sealed the end grain with leftover seed lac varnish (the nasty stuff at the bottom of the jar with all the dregs and dross).

I packed the blanks in a box with shavings.  Hopefully this will allow them to dry, but slow things down enough to reduce the risk of checking, splitting, cracking...   We'll see how they look  in a few weeks.

I packed the blanks in a box with shavings (I was lacking a period appropriate container). Hopefully this will allow them to dry, but slow things down enough to reduce the risk of checking, splitting, cracking…
We’ll see how they look in a couple of months.

In other words, I got some material that looks sound and inherently stable.  I have roughed it out and will now leave it in the shop environment to adjust.  Because there is such a big risk of checking, I took steps to reduce it (sealing the end grain and packing them in shavings). If this doesn’t work, the odds are that I will find out when I take them out of the box and not after I have turned them…I hope.

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Turning, Wood | Tagged , , , , , | 7 Comments

Did somebody sign something in Philadelphia?

Drawing, Studying, Thinking...

Drawing, Studying, Thinking…


I have spent a good portion of this Independence Day thinking about something signed in Philadelphia in the eighteenth century.  No, it’s not what you think.  It’s Edward Evans, not John Hancock et al.  It’s 1707, not 1776. It is a walnut escritoire, the earliest documented signed and dated piece of Philadelphia furniture. (Note: if you click on that last link search 1958-468 to get our curator’s write up and photos of the piece.)

An escritoire made in Philadelphia by Edward Evans in 1707.  Here it is on display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg.

An escritoire made in Philadelphia by Edward Evans in 1707. Here it is on display at the DeWitt Wallace Decorative Arts Museum at Colonial Williamsburg (accession number 1958-468).

Here's the name stamp and date on the bottom of an interior drawer.

Here’s the name stamp and date on the bottom of an interior drawer.

I will be building and presenting this piece at the next Working Wood in the Eighteenth Century Symposium.  It looks like this coming year’s theme will be desks.  We are pretty excited about this really early piece of American cabinet work and another impressive example from our collection that we’ll reveal in the coming weeks.  Outside speakers and additional pieces are still being worked out, so look out for more information soon.

I look forward to sharing many interesting details about the escritoire with you online and at the symposium.  The construction techniques, workmanship, multitude of secret compartments, and design are all pretty fascinating and a bit different from the “normal” ways of working we like to imagine existed.  For now, I need to figure this thing out and start making some sawdust and shavings.  Really, I need to figure this out – I confess, I spent two full days with this behind the scenes and still managed to miss a secret compartment!

Here is my version of the piece so far:

You gotta start somewhere...

You gotta start somewhere…

Best wishes to all of you on this day of celebration and reflection.

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Desks, Shop Happenings, Symposium | Tagged , , , , | 2 Comments

I love wood! (I mean that with sincerity and sarcasm)

You know those people who wear t-shirts with “I Love Wood” printed across the chest?  Perhaps you are one of those people – it’s okay, I’m not making fun.  Even if it is not a part of my wardrobe, I, and hopefully all woodworkers, share the sentiment.  Wood is great for a lot of reasons – of course.  The thing is, and this rarely gets expressed in t-shirt form, wood is also one of the most obstinate, frustrating, temperamental, and, well, horrible materials to work with.  Everybody knows that too.  Here is my little story about wood’s dual nature.

Back on Election Day of 2008 I began work on a pair of mahogany cradles for the 2009 Working Wood in the 18th Century Symposium (bedroom furniture was that year’s topic).  The idea was to take this beautiful piece of mahogany, 8′ x 20″ x 1 1/2″, and break it down into two 4′ lengths and then resaw each of those sections for the sides and ends of each cradle.

Here's the rough sawn mahogany board that was supposed to yield head, foot, and side boards for two cradles.  This board was well seasoned and had been in our inventory for about twenty years at this point.  Though rough in texture, it was remarkably free of cup, bow, and twist.

Here’s the rough-sawn mahogany board that was supposed to yield head, foot, and side boards for two cradles. This board was well seasoned and had been in our inventory for about twenty years at this point. Though rough in texture, it was remarkably free of cup, bow, and twist.

It took about two hours to resaw each of these four foot lengths – or roughly one half hour per foot.  We thought that was a pretty good speed – twenty inches is a lot of width to move the frame saw through and such wood is best not treated cavalierly.  This is marathon sawing, not sprinting.

Here former journeyman cabinetmaker and current joiner, David Salisbury and I resaw the first of two four foot lengths.

Here, former journeyman cabinetmaker and current joiner, David Salisbury and I resaw the first of two four foot lengths.  Notice the wedges to open up the kerf a little bit.

Almost there!  After making our way through a little over half of the board's length we flipped it end for end in the vise and started sawing from the other direction.  Things seemed to be going very well...

Almost there! After making our way through a little over half of the board’s length we flipped it end for end in the vise and started sawing from the other direction. Things seemed to be going very well…

Sometimes with resawing, as with all sawing, things start to bind as tensions in the wood reveal themselves.  We noticed a little of this with the first board and placed wedges in the kerf to open things up (as is visible in the second photo above).  The second board seemed to have a good deal more tension.  When things really start binding and the saw seems to be fighting with me, I normally assume I am doing something wrong, or, with this saw, that the other person is doing something wrong (sorry other person, but you probably blame me too).  In truth this is one of the greatest difficulties with a two-person frame saw: if the two sawyers are not completely in synch, things start binding.  When this happens we troubleshoot the problem, make corrections, and saw forth.  If no corrective measures work then we start to worry about the board being ill tempered.  We drove our wedges deeper and kept cutting.

With the sawing complete and the boards given a few days to adjust to their new thickness, I commenced to plane them flat and smooth.  Head, foot, and side boards were all coming along nicely until I learned that it wasn’t bad sawing that caused all of that binding.  It was something in the wood.  Of the four boards produced by the resawing, three were beautiful and well behaved while one was decidedly difficult.  That 4′ x 20″ x 5/8″ board developed a horrible bow, cup and twist.  I planed as best I could, but there was no way to remove these defects and keep my thickness.  Before rejecting this piece – it was pretty enough for more effort – we decided to wet and over-clamp it in an effort to bring it back in line.  (N.B., this technique deserves a full explanation in a separate post.) This worked, but after a few days the board sprung back to its deformed state.  Perhaps more water and more clamping would do the trick.  Nope.  By this point we had decided extraordinary measures were needed to make this board flat.  If damp rags and over-clamping worked on occasion, perhaps it was time to make use of that stream that runs under the shop.  In early 2009 I pulled out a nonpartisan and timely pun to make this thing conform: water boarding.

Water boarding

We saturated this board by submerging it in the stream outside the shop for a day. Surely we could make it give up the bow, cup and twist.

After a week of aggressive over-clamping we had a much flatter board.  Over another week of waiting we watched some irregularity creep back in.  At this point, I decided to make a go of it and cut out two cradle sides.  They nested together in the board in this way:

The two cradle sides nested together in the board like this.

The two cradle sides nested together in the board like this.

Most of our trouble was in the middle of this board.  Some of it got cut out, but most of it came right back after the sides were sawn apart. For reasons other than this piece of wood, I decided that one cradle was enough and went back to worrying about cutting compound angled dovetails (more on that in a future post).  These two cradle sides have kicked around the shop for the past five years and in a flurry of spring cleaning I came across them again.  Here is the cradle that I made from this beautiful piece of mahogany:

Mahogany cradle constructed by the author (2009).

Mahogany cradle constructed by the author (2009).

Here’s the cradle I didn’t make out of that same beautiful piece of mahogany:

It was not supposed to be a Bombay cradle.

It was not supposed to be a Bombay cradle.

I bet someone can explain this scientifically, but for most of us this is the nature of our chosen material, indescribably beautiful and infuriatingly difficult.  The sides of the good cradle were cut from the same section of the original board as the bad sides: they were essentially book-matched.  How could one half of that thickness stay so flat while the other went so wonky?

I don’t know, but I do know to account for surprise.  It is part of the job.

I love wood!

Cradle

Yeh, I #@$!%& love wood.

This board has problems!

Maybe something like that last sentiment should be added to the back of those t-shirts…

Bill Pavlak.

Posted in Casework, Miscellaneous Forms, Shop Happenings, Symposium, Wood | 7 Comments