“An artist who could not stop himself, (Hans) Wegner was busting with ideas he had to express. Although a functionalist, he was not a rational dogmatist like many of Kaare Klint’s students. His furnishings were always created with the greatest understanding of materials, construction techniques, and use. Still, his aim was not primarily the harmonious or rational form but rather the expressive and exciting design. Wegner seems to posses the knowledge that you cannot design your way out of your own time – something most of the other Modernists had difficulty facing. Therefore, his furniture is anything but timeless: Wegner designed for his era.”
— Christian Holmsted Olesen, “Wegner: Just One Good Chair” (Hatje Cantz, 2014)
For the last six months, my teaching schedule has been light – I’ve had to cancel a bunch of trips to assist with some serious medical issues in my immediate family. As an odd result, I’ve had a luxurious amount of time to design and build things.
This time has been exciting – to me at least. I’ve explored a bunch of new designs that are based on my last five years of research into early furniture. I am weirdly enthusiastic about the stuff I’m now sketching, drafting and building. I have more than a dozen new pieces I want to draft and build.
However, for the last six months I think I’ve also developed a severe case of myopia. Without feedback from students, I’ve ventured into places that are odd and difficult for them to get excited about.
So I’m at a Robert Johnson sort of crossroads. Do I continue down the weird and delightful path I’ve been traveling this year to see where it takes me? (Knowing it’s likely a dead end.) Or do I double down on the teaching and use that as a compass to guide my research and building? More workbenches. Other tool chests. Traditional appliances. Unexplored hand-tool techniques.
This is a tough question. Time to drink a double IPA and look for answers.
While teaching at The Furniture Institute of Massachusetts this week, Phil Lowe pulled out an interesting conservation (or restoration) project he was working on for a customer.
It was a footstool that was in pretty bad shape because the joints were all loose or coming apart. Or was that by design?
Lowe turned the stool over and pointed out how the four legs were attached to the top frame of the stool with snipe hinges. Then he showed how the lower stretcher simply pulled out of its dovetailed socket and was keyed in there at some point.
So it looks like the whole stool was designed to fold down.
Was it English? The turnings looked kind of English. And the entire thing was worm-eaten like old English walnut. Was it a campaign piece?
Lowe pulled up some of the horsehair and burlap stuffing and showed me a further mystery. The frame and legs were nailed together so the legs couldn’t fold. And the nails were blacksmith-made, wrought-head nails. Very early. Was the stool built to knock down? Was the nail added immediately after the maker saw that the folding wasn’t work to his or her liking? Or what?
Lowe and I looked at the piece for a good long while. Then we walked away and had a beer.
If you’ve seen a piece like this, leave a comment or let Lowe know. He’s debating how to properly conserve or restore the piece.
If you told someone you like to restore hammers, they might think you lazy. Aside from tightening the head on the handle, what else is there to do?
Today during a lull at The Furniture Institute of Massachusetts, I spied a hammer on a student’s bench and had to snatch it. It was a Bluegrass 16 oz. claw hammer. Though this hammer isn’t made anymore, the student had one that was still factory fresh – or “new old stock” as the collectors call it.
The head and handle were still covered with factory goop. So I sneaked away with the tool while the student was occupied.
Step 1: Get the goop off. Yes, it protects the hammer from rust while it is on the shelf at the store. But it is as attractive as the plastic covers on the furniture in your grandmother’s fancy “drawing room.” Lose it. Remove it with solvent or elbow solvent.
Step 2: Dress the striking face. Sand the face of the hammer to remove the rough milling marks and to ensure the face is very, very slightly bulged. (It should come made this way, but the sandpaper ensures it will be that way.)
I usually start with #150-grit and finish with #220 – at most.
After you sand the face, don’t touch it with your hands. Ever. If some numbskull touches the face, dress it (the hammer head, not the numbskull) with sandpaper. Any lubricant on the striking face encourages the face to slip off a nail head.
Some day I will count up all the tool chests that I have built and those that have been built during classes I’ve taught.
In the meantime, here’s an important thing I’ve observed when building tool chests. I can build a complete tool chest in a white pine (Eastern white or sugar pine, for example) in about 40 hours. If I make one out of poplar, a yellow pine or worse, that adds at least eight hours to the process.
Harder woods make for harder work.
This week we’re building tool chests from perfectly clear Eastern white pine at the Furniture Institute of Massachusetts. The pine (and the two dozen doughnuts) are keeping us on schedule. Never underestimate how a mild species can make your work easier.