Welcome to my blog which follows my furniture restoration business. Please feel free to comment at the bottom of the post, and if you would like a response please leave your email address. you can also contact me directly at info@johnmarkpower.com. And by all means, if you like something please feel free to share it.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

National Woodworking Month Woodworker Spotlight: Martin Fair

A few miles from my shop, off of  Harpers Ferry Road in Loudoun County is a shop near the top of a mountain ridge that separates "Between the Hills" from the Loudoun Valley. The shop is owned and operated by Martin Fair (pictured to the right above) who along with Stuart Orser (Pictured above left) build some of the most beautiful instruments ever created. The company is called Fairbuilt Guitar Company and a link to their website and Facebook page (which I urge you to visit) are located at the bottom of this post.

I have known Marty for about 25 years and during this time played music with him in what was once a collective groupe of musicians called the Furnace Mountain Band. As the years rolled on, Marty went off to school at the Roberto-Venn School of Luthiery in Phoenix, Arizona. When he returned, he was armed with the skills and tools of a Luthier and he has never looked back. Since then his shop and business have continued to grow and today Marty and Stuart are regularly turning out instruments with grace and beauty, not to mention great tone.

One of the first things that drew me to these instruments is Marty's command of the art of inlay. The intricate inlays that adorn the fretboards and headstocks of his instruments are flawless. Together Marty and Stu are building instruments of the highest standard and best quality as can be seen in the photos below. If you are in the market for a stringed instrument (or have one on need of repair as I often do) Fairbuilt Guitar Company should be your first stop.

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

National Woodworking Month Woodworker Spotlight: Mark Sfirri

 Todays choice in my month long homage to woodworkers is Mark Sfirri. I first read an article on Mark Sfirri several years ago in a woodworking magazine and was captivated by his novel approach to turning and furniture design. Sfirri incorporates multi-axis turning into his work, creating sculptural pieces that extend the limits and range of the lathe. In woodturning, there are generally two ways which person can turn wood, face plate turning, which creates bowls and vessels, and turning between centers. This definition in itself is very lacking and people seem to be pushing the limits in every way possible. As far as turning between centers is concerned, the basic idea is that a piece of wood is suspended between two centers, and one center is connected to a motor source which turns the wood.  A blade is then presented to the wood perpendicular to the piece producing shavings and turning the wood round. This is how table legs and bed posts are produced.

By turning a piece of wood and then resetting one of the centers so it is offset from the original axis, you can get interesting results. This practice, known as multi-axis turning, has been around for centuries and is used in producing oval handles for hammers and also what is known as a country Queen Anne  (or turned Queen Anne)leg. Mr. Sfirri uses this concept to create whimsical and often humorous turning and sculptures. Below you will find bats twisted in knots and a table that looks like it is ready to pounce. Every time I come across one of his turnings I am tempted to put down whatever I am doing and start turning!. For this reason, Mark Sfirri was one of the first people I thought of when I decided to honor woodworkers.

Sunday, April 6, 2014

National Woodworking Month Woodworker Spotlight: John Warner

 Locally, There were laddderback side chairs, arm chairs, and rockers made in Loudoun County for much of the 19th century. These chairs are commonly known as "Waterford Chairs" because many were made in Waterford, Virginia and the originator of the form, John Mount, lived and worked in Waterford. Other makers chose to repeat this form throughout the county in places like Lovettsville, Hamilton, Hillsboro, and Middleburg, VA. Common characteristics of the side chairs are two arched slats in the back and the rear posts terminate in an acorn finial.

That being said, one of the things that I find so interesting is the diversity in the the design elements in these chairs. Each maker had his own interpretation of the form and often within his own sub-form their are many variations on that form. Sometimes one design element might only be seen in one chair. It is as if these chairmakers were constantly tweaking the design in search of the perfect visual presentation. This is true in the side chairs and especially the rockers.

While each of these makers deserves his own page in this celebration of woodworking (especially Mr. Mount, the father of Waterford chairs), I chose to spotlight John Warner, who in my mind developed perfection of the Waterford chair form. While the design changes are subtle, They make for a visually and structurally superior chair.

The biographical information I have on Mr. Warner all comes from a book written by the authority on the subject, Dr. Fred Johnson Jr. called "Nineteenth Century Loudoun County, Virginia Chair Maufacturing". A link to this book can be found at the bottom of this post. According to Dr. Johnson, Mr. Warner worked as a chairmaker in Hamilton, Virginia for another chair maker and then later in a partnership. Later he moved to Ashburn, Virginia where he continued to sell and possibly make these chairs. All of this seems to have taken place in the last thirty years of the 19th century.

These chairs that Mr. Warner made appear at first glance to be much like any other chair made in the region. The key differences are both in his personal visual touches to the design of the chair and also some structural differences that played key roles in making a quality chair.

The design elements that are specific to Mr. Warner's chairs are in the back posts and the front stretcher. The back posts are the same diameter as most chairs made in Loudoun County, but the difference is that below the finial the post achieves full diameter and then quickly tapers to a smaller diameter by the time it reaches the level of the seat frame. This taper gives a visual lift to the back of the chair and seems to give move visual importance to the crest rail. The smaller diameter at the seat frame also lend itself to stem bending , which is a component of all of these chairs. Just above the seat frame, the rear posts are bent around 5 degrees to give the back a rake, making for a more comfortable chair. This bend is achieved by steaming the wood and then bending it. The smaller the diameter, the less time required for steaming. With this smaller diameter, Mr. Warner was able to facilitate steam bending while also adding visual interest to the piece.

The other visual characteristic of his chairs was the incorporation of a ornamented front stretcher below the seat. While purely decorative, this also added interest to the chair. Warner's stretchers  in general seem to be thicker allowing for a stronger chair.

Structurally speaking, His chairs were made from quality timbers that give weight and strength to the chairs. Mr. Warner also incorporated a seat frame made from boards and shaped with a draw knife. This frame used in the place of turned stretchers, was much sturdier and was also strong enough to resist warping and inward stress from the splint seat.

In general, it seems that while Mr. Warner was following an existing form, he carefully considered this form and made changes to it that were visually appealing and structurally superior to many of his contemporaries. While the changes are subtle, I find his chairs to be most desirable (and comfortable)! It is the mark of a master craftsman when one can make a piece where visual and structural design complement each other, instead of working against each other, which is so often the case. Hats off to Mr. Warner and his Hickory Splint Bottom Chairs! Below are a few photos of some of his chairs.

Saturday, April 5, 2014

National Woodworking Month Woodworker Spotlight: Binh Pho

About five years ago my cousin Tom Ronayne visited us from his home in Dublin, Ireland. Tom, an accomplished wood turner and shop teacher in Dublin, had flown over to see his family living in America and also to attend the American Association of Woodturners convention which was being held that year in Richmond, Virginia. While I considered going myself, I was bound by other commitments, which happened to also be in Richmond. It was agreed that my wife Karen and I would pick Tom up on our way back home and drive together after the conference. 

On the trip home, Tom spoke to me of this turner that had really impressed him. This turner was Binh Pho. Mr. Pho's specializes in thin walled vessels which he then decorates with airbrushing, carving, pyrography, and pierced sections. The result is wood transformed! His pieces are truly breathtaking to behold and if you are interested in his work, please follow the link to his website to view his work and read his biography. A talent like this is worth a month of appreciation on its own! below are a few examples of his work.

Mr. Pho's website: http://www.wondersofwood.net/

Friday, April 4, 2014

National Woodworking Month Woodworker Spotlight: David Esterly

About a year ago I somehow became aware of a book written by a lime wood sculptor. I think I found a review of it online. After ordering the book I was amazed by the story as well as the talent of the author, David Esterly. The book is called The Lost Carving: A Journey To The Heart Of Making

In his book, Mr. Esterly chronicles how during the 1980's, he was asked to restore a 17th century carving made by Grinling Gibbons for Hampton Court in England. The ornamental carving had been badly damaged in a fire and it was the authors task to restore the damaged carving as well as recarve lost sections of the carving. 

While the book tells this story, it also gives insight into the mind of the artist and creator. In additon, Mr. Esterly carefully considers the process of restoration and conservation. The blend of all of these concepts is what inspired me and gave meaning to the subtitle of the book. When a person takes on the challenge of restoring an item, they find themselves looking at that item from many different angles to try to get a fuller picture of the intent of the creator. I was immediately drawn to this concept as it is what I do all of the time.

The comparison between Mr. Esterly and myself stops there! This man can not only write but he can carve. A look at his website shows the incredible detail that is achieved in his carving. I was beyond words when I first viewed his work online. His carvings seem to defy what is possible with wood and dazzle the observer with their intricacy. 

 Below is a photo of his book and I urge anyone interested in art or the creation process to read it . I find that I keep buying copies of it and giving them away! I have also included several photos of his work and a link to his website. I am pleased to pay homage to such an artist and woodworker on my blog and encourage the reader to pursue this man's creations.

Thursday, April 3, 2014

National Woodworking Month Woodworker Spotlight: Herbine Hardwoods

 I found out recently that April is National Woodworking Month and, while I must admit that I thought that at first this was a gimmick to try to sell stains and tools, I thought about it and decided it would be a great opportunity to showcase some wonderful woodworking talent that I have come across in my journey as a woodworker. I have thought of a diverse group of individuals who are doing exciting things with wood that I will do my best to write about throughout the month of April.

When assembling a list in my head earlier today, I decided to start where I start with a project, the sawmill. This is where it all begins (with the exception of the forest!) and where crucial decisions are made that will influence the entire project. From wood selection and grain matching to moisture content, choosing the right wood for a piece of furniture is essential.

When I am looking to start a project, the first person I call is Rick Herbine at Herbine Hardwoods. Based in Lucketts, Virginia, Rick has been sawing logs as long as I have been involved in woodworking. Every time I go to his mill to purchase some wood I am immediately drawn to the bookmatched slabs leaning against the barn side to dry displayed side by side. To me, this is like going to an artists exhibition and some of the most fantastic figure I have seen has graced the side of Rick'sbarn.

While it is true that there are many sawmills around the area, I have always found Rick to be personable and knowledgeable about his product. As for the product, The wood that I have purchased from Rick has always been exceptional. Below are a few photos of some bookmatched slabs he has sawn. The photos were taken from his Facebook page which I have put a link to after the photos. Below that is a link to his website as well. If you are in the need for some beautiful wood, this should definitely be your first stop.

 Two bookmatched Ambrosia Maple slabs. The brown streaks in this maple surround areas where the Ambrosia beetle has bored into the wood. Whether this is a defense of the tree itself, or something that the beetle does to the wood, I am unsure, but the results are fantastic.
 Two walnut crotch bookmatched slabs.
 A second crotch bookmatched walnut set.
If you are in the need for Appalacain hardwoods either cut into boards or in natural edge slabs, give Rick a call. I am sure you will be impressed!

Tuesday, March 25, 2014

Georgian Mahogany Grandfather clock (ca. 1750)

The Completed Clock
  A recent project was the restoration of an English grandfather or longcase clock made in London ca. 1750. The case shows Rococo influence which was popular in England during the middle period of the 18th century. This particular clock case houses works by Thomas Dale of London. Below is a photo of the brass dial with silvered chapter ring and name plate followed by a close up of the name plate.

The works appear to be eight day time and strike and include a hand that recorded the passing of seconds in addition to the minute and hour hand. Below is a photo of the works.
The case itself was built from English oak veneered with fine West Indies mahogany. The mahogany was inlaid with banding made from several woods and the back of the case was made from elm. Pine was also used throughout as a secondary wood.

While I could not find working dates of Mr. Dale, the case design itself seems to be associated with the clockmakers of London, as the name plate demonstrates. In researching this clock, I found several examples of this case design an all of the examples I saw were associated with London clockmakers.

The design specifics mentioned above are mainly seen in the bonnet and the waist door. These London examples had what is refered to as a Pagoda top, with a brass sounding fret centered above the clock face. The sounding fret exhibits the strongest influence of Rococo on the entire clock and I will discuss this further later in the post.

Another  design element common to the London cases was the fluted columns flanking the clock face with stopped reeding made from brass wire. Below the bonnet, The applied molding on the waist door was common to these cases and was additionally seen in some cases on the base of the clock. In this case inlayed stringing was favored over applied molding on the base.

While none of these design element should be seen as being exclusive to London clock case manufacture, the combination of all of these design elements seems to point towards a popular style of longcase made in London during the mid 18th century. The date I ascribed to the case is a guess and the case could have easily been made earlier or later than 1750. If I had to choose, the use of Oak for the case construction would point towards an earlier date as pine was used later in the 18th century. 1750 seems to be a good compromise.

The case was very damaged when it came to the shop and beyond loose veneer, it required the repair of the decorative molding around the waist door and countless other patches and wedges. In addition, the base had separated from the waist and was only loosely attached by nails driven through the veneer. the repairs and restoration of the original finish are detailed below. I have separated the repairs into three sections to keep every thing straight.

The Base

The base of the clock had broken feet, cracks in the veneer, a warped front, and several other smaller repairs that needed to be made. In addition, the back of the base which was made of pine and separate from the waist back, had broken along an old glue line. Below are a few photos of the base once removed for the waist.

As you can see, the base's front and sides were cracked. In addition, the front board beneath the crotch mahogany veneer was warped and needed to be secured from behind. The following photos show the repairs to this section of the clock case.

these first two photos show the secondary wood beneath the mahogany feet, which were cracked. The pine board that supported the mahogany foot had rotted where it contacted the mahogany. I pared this rot away with a chisel  until I got to clean wood and then cut a patch using reclaimed pine to fill the gap, which can be seen in the following photo. After this ground was built back up, the mahogany foot was reattched.

This photo shows the case being glued including the loose back as well as the feet being glued in place.

After the case was stabilized, glue blocks were added to the interior side of the front to bring the face of the front flush and then a wedge was added to fill the crack in the front face.
This photo shows the wedges around one of the sides as well as the cavetto molding that transitions to the waist section being glued.
 This last photo shows the replacement of a glue block on the back right foot.
The Waist and Waist Door

The waist section of the clock had loose and missing veneer as well as some structural issues that needed to be addressed. The photo below shows the bottom of the waist section that fits into the bottom of the case exposed. The nails from a previous restoration were removed and the old glue was cleaned so that the two sections could be glued together again.
This photo shows the waist resting on its front and some structural repairs being made to the back and side.
The waist door was a typical tombstone shape with applied molding around the edges and inset stringing to complement the base and bonnet. The door was made from quarter sawn oak and veneered with West Indies crotch mahogany. The applied molding was then applied around the edges onto the veneer. Over time the door had warped a bit making the veneer loosen in many places. In addition, the thin molding which overhung the edges of the door had snapped and cracked in many places.

Several gluing sessions took place to glue all of the veneer down in the central part of the door. The photo below shows this as well as the curved molding being reapplied on the top of the case.
This photo shows a second, less extensive gluing session.
As stated above, the molding was cracked and broken throughout. A long section was very broken on one side with small portions missing. The same was true with the bottom section of the molding. Rather than scrapping this and making new molding, I felt that with a little work this original molding could be salvaged. Below is a photo of the damaged molding.
The first step was to remove the damaged molding and clean the old glue. Then I scored the veneer that rested below it and removed it from the door. This left the oak substrate exposed in this section. I was careful only to remove the veneer that lay under the molding and would otherwise be unseen. The photos below show these cleaned sections. Apiece of mahogany veneer rests on the door that was later used in the repair.

These fragments in the photo below are the bottom section of molding snapped into three pieces.
In the place of the veneer that I removed, I cut new veneer that I would apply to the back of the repaired molding. Instead of having the veneer lay with the direction of the grain the same as the molding, I cut it so that it would run perpendicular. This gave a bridging reinforcement to the molding much in the same way that plywood works. The sections of veneer are laid next to a piece of molding in the photo below (and yes, that is a paper cutter I used to cut the veneer that the pieces are laying on!)
This close up shows how the veneer was laid with the grain running perpendicular to the grain of the molding adding strength to the molding.
The next photo shows the long section ready to be attached to the door and then being attached to the door with the help of many small clamps. Once the glue dried this proved to be a strong repair and the molding was level with the other molding since I had removed the old venner prior to attaching the new.

The Bonnet

The bonnet had many loose areas and the top boards were completely removed and glued back in place. They were also lined on the interior with canvas to give strength to the thin boards. The photo below shows many sections being repaired. Since the glue takes a while to dry, it is important to do as much in one gluing session as possible.
A close up of the same repairs.
Another repair.
A crack in the molding that surrounds the bonnet door was stabilized with a wedge inserted with glue and then carved flush. This first photo shows the crack followed by another photo showing the wedge.

The bonnet sides were composed of four boards to allow for sidelights (allowing the works to be viewed from the side of the bonnet). These boards were veneered over with mahogany. Over the years the board shrunk and cracks developed where  the boards were joined. These were filled with wedges as seen below.
The last part of this section refers to the sounding fret. The sounding fret is a piece of pierced brass that sits above the face of the clock and allows the bell to be heard unobstructed. This particular sounding fret was cast from brass. Some can be seen cut from wood and lined on the back with silk. As I sat to write about this I opened up John Bly's Antiques Masterclass published by Millers and found a statement that described this piece and its decorative function on the clock. "The widespread appeal of the Rococo style stemmed from the fact that just one small element of it could be applied to the plainest item and thus lift it into fashionable status- a "C" scroll on a plain table, an acanthus leaf on the handle of a simple jug, or a raffle scroll on a clock face can gladden the heart of a collector scouring a boot sale today." (1)

While this clock is certainly not "the plainest item", the idea that one piece of decoration can give definition to the overall style of a piece can be seen here in full force. The cast sounding fret shows a plentiful array of scrolls and architectural elements that have a sort of asymmetrical symmetry that defined the rococo style. The break from the earlier baroque ideas of symmetry and order are clearly demonstrated and a statement of nature and its own balance that was so much admired by the artists and craftsmen of the 18th century is visible in this single piece of hardware. Nowhere else on the clock case is such sophisticated and detailed decoration seen. Likewise, the sounding fret has the effect of tying in the case to the face of the clock, which should rightfully be the focus of the entire piece. Below is a photo the sounding fret before cleaning followed by another photo of the cleaned hardware. 

The Completed Clock

These last few photos show the completed clock after the finish was restored. The original finials were missing when I received the clock so new ones were furnished by Londonderry Brasses (http://www.londonderry-brasses.com/). They were actually hand delivered with several others by the owner of the company who was passing through, and we fit different finials to the case until we found the right ones. Thanks Nancy!

The restored case
The restored base section.
A closeup of the bonnet showing the sounding fret and the finials.

These last few photos show the clock at home with the works installed.

(1) Millers John Bly's Antiques Masterclass Copyright Octopus Publishing Group Ltd. 2005