Hermit’s Journal: Day 2


Late Friday John and I arrived home after six days of backbreaking but inspiring work at the French Oak Roubo Project put on by Benchcrafted and Bo Childs of Barnesville, Ga.

It was my last scheduled trip until an indeterminate ever. If you want to see photos from this fantastic week, check out this Instagram feed.

What’s on the docket for me next? First I need to finish this workbench for a customer. (Oh, and to the commenter who suggested I’m getting rich off selling my work, I suspect you don’t do this for a living. You are more than welcome to pay my water bill this month, which would be a huge help.)

After the bench gets finished, I will dive into Lost Art Press’s three most-active books.

  1. Finish editing “Woodworker: the Charles Hayward Years.” Only 350 more pages to go! The book is all designed. I’m the problem.
  2. Complete the edit of “Woodworking in Estonia.” The book is entirely designed and just needs a final comb-over. I’m the problem.
  3. Finish laying out “The Anarchist’s Design Book.” I’ve laid out 10 of the 21 chapters. I just have to finish the beast. Again: The problem is me.

Thanks go out to Suzanne the Saucy Indexer for picking up my slack on this blog and doing a fine job. As I can eschew shaving and basic hygiene for the next year or so, I think I’ll be able to rapidly get these books done and out the door.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Charles H. Hayward at The Woodworker, The Anarchist's Design Book, Woodworking in Estonia, Workbenches | 27 Comments

How to Dye Veneers or Boards Throughout their Entire Thickness


The most frustrating part of using dye to color wood is getting it to penetrate the surface of the wood so you don’t “cut through” the color accidentally as you work or sand the finish and expose undyed wood.

This is not a modern problem. In the 18th century, A.J. Roubo wrote at length about the penetration problem and even employed a pointy-head to help him solve the problem:

Before dealing with the dyeing of wood, I consulted with Mr. Macquer, to try, if possible, to make them deeper and more beautiful than those that cabinetmakers normally use. He wished to make for himself many experiments, which did not fulfill my expectations, and which totally confirmed the idea that it is not impossible to make better dyes, but would be at least very difficult, and would demand considerable time to make them….

After the exposé of experiences that Mr. Macquer has made, it is to be believed that it is hardly possible to use chemicals for a good tint, at least we have not found the secret to make them penetrate into the wood, by means of some given preparations of the wood or of the tinctures. Or even, by making all these tinctures cold, and leaving the woods there until they are penetrated, supposing this were possible.

In the 21st century some of us have the same problem. I have been asked many times how to dye veneer or thicker woods through their entire thickness. In fact, one of the first blog entries I ever wrote was about how some guys had solved the problem by injecting dye into the tree as it grew. Check out that entry here.

I know that Marc Adams at the Marc Adams School of Woodworking has solved the problem and can dye anything any color, through and through. If you’ve ever been a student there, then you’ve seen the veneers they sell there – amazing stuff.

I don’t know how Marc does it. I’ve seen his students working at it, but I’ve never had the time to stop and inquire.

Today I dug into an old book that I finally got my hands on: “Cabinet-Maker’s Guide to the Entire Construction of Cabinet-Work” (The Technical Press Ltd., London, 1937) by Richard Bitmead. Bitmead was a professional London cabinetmaker with 25 years experience when he wrote this book. He covered the topic in this short but intriguing entry:

In the process of dyeing woods throughout their mass, the Parisian veneer merchants have led the monopoly of Europe for a number of years. Veneers or boards dyed through their entire mass of exactly the same colour throughout could not be produced except in Paris. There are a number of English woods which will take the dye and look as brilliant as any woods from France.

In selecting wood for dyeing, for every colour except black, white wood should be used, such as sycamore, beech, lime, &c. If a coloured wood be used, it neutralizes the tint, and the color will be bad. For black, use pear, cherry, beech, or soft mahogany; any of these woods will take the colours well. The first process the wood should undergo is to boil it in a solution of caustic soda (lye) and water, in the proportions of half a pound of caustic soda to five pints of water; the wood should be boiled in the solution for half an hour, and then allowed to remain in to soak for twenty-four hours. It should then be taken out and wiped well with clean deal shavings, to remove the alkali, when it will be found to have become as soft as leather and equally plastic. Then place it between boards, and put weights on the top to flatten, and let remain until dry. This treatment with caustic soda effects a clearing of the pores of the wood from all the gummy or resinous matter, and the open pores, when dry, will absorb the dye-stuffs like a sponge.

Sounds like I need to get some lye and break out the hot plate.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 10 Comments

Plate 164: “A snug little kingdom up four pair of stairs.”

Plate 164

Each time “The Book of Plates” is mentioned I pull out my copy, flip through the pages and find something new to study. Last year I had a lot of fun creating artwork using details from BoP. There was a “rabbiting” plane, a thieving crow and a dinner plate to name a few Roubo-inspired creations.

Roubo very kindly included several plates on staircase design and construction. He gave us straights, spirals and curves with each detail connecting to the next, helping us visualize the whole.

Like many travelers I want to climb and photograph staircases. Some are marvels of construction and seem to defy gravity. Others are my nemesis with risers too low or high, too dark, no handrail. Whether floating or falling down, a grand staircase is great for a dramatic entrance. A spiral staircase in a small apartment is like having your own floor-to-ceiling sculpture.

We need well-designed staircases (and their cousins, the ladders) to move us up and down in our worlds. A solid set of steps is satisfying whereas an unsteady stairway can be terrifying. The light at the top of the stairs is reassuring; the darkness at the bottom is to be avoided. Designed by Roubo, or others, we all tumble down stairs from time to time with alcohol, cats, verigo, or more cats the usual culprits. My father once observed that my mother and I seemed to be more prone to falling up stairs to which we replied, “It was a trip, just a trip! There was no falling!”


Roubo’s staircases are in Plates 162 through 170. Plate 164 is a particular favorite of mine. By following the connecting lines the builder can see and understand, from top to bottom, the construction of these stairs. As with all of Roubo’s plates considerable thought and artistic ability went into its planning and execution. We need stairs and Roubo gave us some beauties.

I’ve always thought the painting “Staircase, Doylestown” and a couple of lines from a Thackeray poem made a perfect pair. Now, I think Roubo’s “Staircase, Plate 164” partners equally well with these lines from “The Cane Bottom’d Chair”:

Away from the world and its toils and cares,

I’ve a snug little kingdom up four pair of stairs”.

“Staircase, Doylestown” (1925) by Charles Sheeler, Jr.

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in To Make as Perfectly as Possible, Roubo Translation | 4 Comments

The Baily Family of Chester County, Pennsylvannia

Queen Anne walnut secretary desk, 1747.

Queen Anne walnut secretary desk, 1747, by Joel Baily (3rd gen). 84-1/4″ high, writing height 36-1/4″, depth of desk 20-5/8″, depth of bookcase 8-3/4″.

Joel Baily of Bromham, Wiltshire, England arrived in Chester County around 1682. Nine of his descendants are listed in “Furniture and Its Makers of Chester County, Pennsylvannia” by Margaret Berwind Schiffer which spans the years 1682-1850. The Bailys are noted as cabinetmakers, joiners, turners and watchmakers. The lives of  two Bailys, Joel from the 3rd American generation and Yarnall from the 5th generation, have the most detail for review.

Joel Baily (3rd generation) signature on the drawer bottom of a Queen Anne secretary desk.

Joel Baily (3rd generation) signature on the drawer bottom of a Queen Anne secretary desk.

Joel Baily (1732-1797), of the 3rd American generation, was a cabinet maker in West Bradford township. His son, Emmor, was a watchmaker and eventually moved to Baltimore. When Joel died he left an estate valued at $3463.91, including his tools:


Yarnall Baily (1799-1862) was born in West Chester and his first known listing as a cabinetmaker or joiner was in 1824. His father was not a woodworker and we don’t know where he learned his trade.

There is a fairly continuous record of Yarnall’s advertisements from 1829 to 1848. In his 1829 ad he, “…WANTED immediately, One or two Journeymen, that will recommend themselves by their work, to whom liberal wages will be given…”

By 1834 Yarnall had moved to the southwest corner of Market and New Streets in West Chester. He emphasized his “…practical experience in the business…to the selecting of mahogany and other lumber, hardware, &c…he employs none but good workman. He has a Variety of ready made Furniture on hand and is ready to execute to order any article in his line with dispatch…Carving done for cabinetmakers heretofore.”

In the next couple of years  Yarnall advertisements put more emphasis on ready-made furniture and continues to offer carving work and turning.  A 1837 ad is for coffins:

TO THE PUBLIC, THE Subscriber being induced by his friends, and his own experience, has and intends keeping on hand, of all sizes, Coffins, so that he will be enabled to meet the wishes of those who may have the painful necessity of wanting an article of the kind…

In the following year his ad states “…his furniture is all made by men–Therefore 50 percent better, generally than that made by inexperienced boys…” All types of desks, tables, stands, bedsteads and other household furniture are available and at short notice he can make to order anything in his line as he has a number of men in his employ. Additionally, ” He keeps COFFINS of all sizes on hand, (better than when made in haste,) so that he can accommodate those who may want as they desire.”

Yarnall started his trade at a time when joiners or cabinetmakers were making custom pieces but finding the need to increase their production of ready-made pieces. Through time his ads still offer custom work but more and more emphasis is put on his ready-made stock and his ability to meet the needs of customers “from cradle to grave.” From 1839 through 1841 he advertised for experienced workers (journeymen and cabinetmakers) and apprentices.

In July 1845 Yarnall Baily sued Charles La Place for libel.  From the court documents:

“…[La Place] falsely, maliciously, unlawfully, wickedly, willfully and designedly, did write and publish, and cause to be written and published a certain false, scandalous, infamous malicious and defamatory libel of and concerning the said Yarnall Baily, in the form of an address or caution to the public, which said false, scandalous, infamous, malicious and defamatory libel in according to the tenor following to wit:   “Caution to the Public”

There is a man in your Borough that is in the habit of making poplar coffins and palming them off on poor individuals for wallnut, his name is Mr. B. …he sold a poor man a a coffin for his wife and charged him nine dollars for it wich is three times as much as the county allows the undertakers–it is true the poplar coffin was a very good imitation of wallnut, but it is honest would a man of any principle be guilty of such small business–A man that will cheat a dead woman would rob a church Steeple–Let him go on with his Rascality his conscience if he has any will be his own punishment. ” 

We don’t know how or if the “Caution to the Public” incident hurt Baily’s business.  Three years later in 1848 Baily advertised the close of his business in West Chester.


Yarnall Baily moved to Philadelphia but the only records of him in the business  directories are in 1858 and 1860. In 1858 he was listed as a Gentleman; in 1860 his listing was “patent lamps.” Between 1848 and 1858 he may have continued to work in a relative’s shop or business. It wasn’t uncommon for an older craftsman to work in a son’s or relative’s shop, however, we do know Yarnall’s only son did not become a cabinetmaker.

He may have worked for one of the Cope businesses as his daughter had married into that family. The patent lamps listed with him in the 1860 directory may have been one of the early incandescent lights that had been developed by English and Scottish inventors. The Cope family ran a Philadelphia to Liverpool packet line and this could have been a supply source for the lamps. What we do know is exactly when and how Yarnall died.

In 1862 Yarnall was the superintendent of varnishers in a munitions plant owned by Samuel Jackson. It was about a year into the Civil War and at 63 Yarnall was helping with the Union war effort. Early on the morning of March 29 there was a devasting explosion at the plant. It took several days to find all of Yarnall and all other employees killed by the blast. Below is an article from a Philadelphia newspaper and an artist’s rendition of the blast. Poor Yarnall.



Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Historical Images | 11 Comments

Mostly Big French Trees

The Oak of Fagey (1864) by Gustav Courbet

The Oak of Fagey (1864) by Gustav Courbet

After checking out the first two days of this year’s French Oak Roubo Rodeo and seeing those manly men wrestling and wrangling with massive slabs of oak I had to break out my Japanese fan to cool myself down, because Oh La La, that French Oak!

The French have a great admiration for their oak trees with the best lumber being used for wine barrels. One of the oldest of the French oak forests is the Forest of  Troncais, developed beginning in 1670 under the direction of Jean-Batiste Colbert, Minister of Finances and Secretary of State of the Navy for Louis XIV (the Sun King). The oaks were grown and managed specifically for shipbuilding. While reading about trees and boatbuilding I learned about Troncais (and there might be a future post named “Make a Boat From a Tree”).

In the Forest of Troncais.

In the Forest of Troncais.

The primary oak species in Troncais is Quercus petraea. Trees are harvested when they are around 160 to 200 years old and average about 120 feet high. Today, Troncais oaks are highly prized for wine barrels for aging cognac and Bordeaux wines. There are several other esteemed forests, also under the protection of the French government, that supply oak for wine production and other specialized uses.

If you haven’t read about FORP I held in August 2013 and the American roots of some of the oak used you can read about it here.

The Wye Oak.

The Wye Oak.

Since I live in Maryland (also known as Merlin) I must mention our famous white oak, the Wye Oak, of Talbot County on the Eastern Shore. This great old tree was 96 feet high, almost 32 feet around and watched over us for 450 years when it was brought down by high winds during a thunder storm in June 2002. The Wye was thought to be the oldest and biggest white oak in the United States.

The last big tree of note is giant Cypress, the blog of Wilbur Pan. If you have questions on Japanese tools, need book and website references, New Jersey fun facts, or need to know how to handle cheese cake with chop sticks, then giant Cypress is the place to go here. And every year on this date Wilbur has a special tribute for veterans.

Suzanne Ellison

Posted in Personal Favorites | 7 Comments

Say Hello to my Little Friend!


Day 2, fixing bench problems

Posted in Workbenches | 30 Comments

French Oak Roubo Project II


I’m down in Barnsville, Ga., this week for the French Oak Roubo Project – my final trip of the year and likely my last trip for the next couple years.

I’ll be posting daily updates on the project on my blog at Popular Woodworking Magazine. So check in there. The first entry is here.

— Christopher Schwarz

Posted in Workbenches | 18 Comments