Some people were left confused by the correction to “The Anarchist’s Workbench” I posted yesterday. And I don’t blame you – the ideas of right and wrong, correct and incorrect were being juggled furiously in the entry.
So let’s start over.
Construction lumber is usually sold in a wetter state than furniture wood. I’ve bought about four metric tons of it in my time, and it seems to come in about 14 percent to 18 percent moisture content on average. That means that as the wood dries to your shop’s equilibrium moisture content, the board is going to move a bit on you.
When wood loses moisture, the bark side of the board (the outside of the tree) tends to cup. The heart side of the board (the inside of the tree) tends to bow out. See my drawing above.
If you need to laminate the construction lumber face to face – such as gluing up four layers to make a big workbench leg – you should use the above fact to your advantage.
I glue up my legs so the heart side of one board faces the bark side of its neighbor. That way as the boards dry, they will all move in unison and keep the joints closed. Like this:
If you flip one of the boards, so the heart side faces the heart side of its neighbor, the edges of the lamination tend to open up as the boards dry. Like this:
If you glue the bark side to the bark side of its neighbor, the interior of the lamination tends to open up.
I’ve seen this happen. I’ve never seen the joint fall apart because of it, but it ain’t pretty to look at.
I hope you will forgive me for yesterday’s confusion. In the coming days I’ll correct the free pdf.
There are so many things that I admire about my spouse, Lucy, that I could easily double the size of this blog by starting a list of them. We’ve been married 29 years, have raised two fiercely intelligent women and I still love spending every waking moment with her.
One of the thousand bonds that we share has been our dedication to front-line work. Neither of us ever wanted to move into management and have remained front-line writers throughout our careers.
Lucy has been a professional journalist at several daily newspapers, a weekly business newspaper and – most recently – as a TV reporter at WCPO-TV here in Cincinnati. While many journalists burn out after about a decade of covering this miserable world, Lucy has been on the front lines for more than 31 years, covering everything from the Kentucky Legislature to crime to difficult issues of homelessness and race.
And this month, Lucy starts a new job as the host of “Cincinnati Edition” on WVXU-FM, our local National Public Radio affiliate in Cincinnati. It’s the perfect job for her. She has been an NPR nerd as long as I’ve known her, and has been a huge booster for WVXU ever since we moved to the Cincinnati area in 1996.
This new position keeps her on the front lines – she’ll have a show five times a week that focuses on local news. And yet it will allow her to use her vast perspective on the city to help listeners make sense of the news. Lucy was born here, grew up here and has long been a fiercely independent journalist. She can get almost any Democrat, Republican or Charterite on the phone for an interview with ease because she has a reputation for fairness, thoughtfulness and (this is odd for a journalist) kindness.
I can’t wait to see what she is going to do.
Why am I telling you this? Because if it weren’t for this woman, we wouldn’t have Lost Art Press. John and I call her “madame president” – and mean it. She packed boxes, sold books and – most of all – said “quit your job” when I wanted to leave Popular Woodworking Magazine and do this stupidness.
So today this blog is for Lucy, who has made the lives of thousands of people – including me – better.
Your biggest fan,
P.S. You can read the “official” story of Lucy’s new job here.
P.P.S. Don’t bother leaving a nasty comment about journalists or NPR. No one will see it.
On page 228 of “The Anarchist’s Workbench,” I printed the wrong photo. In the wrong photo (shown above), the boards in the left leg are oriented correctly to accommodate cupping and bowing of the wood. However, the caption says the boards are oriented incorrectly.
Here is how the photo should look (it’s corrected with the help of Photoshop).
The error occurred because my head sometimes experiences what I call “vapor lock.” (Though I am sure there’s a real term for this problem.) When I took this photo in 2020, I realized that I had the boards oriented wrong. So I flipped the top board and retook the photo.
Then I reminded myself all day to delete the wrong photo. Delete the wrong photo. Delete the wrong photo.
At the end of the day, I deleted the other photo. My head was convinced right was wrong and wrong was right. And my hallucination lasted through the editing process.
Working with Lost Art Press on “The Handcrafted Life of Dick Proenneke” has been another highlight of being a custodian at Dick’s cabin. It has been one more delight in choosing to work to the best of my ability.
My wife, K Schubeck, and I spent 19 summers caring for and giving tours at Dick’s cabin; the summers immediately after Dick could no longer live there. As tour guides, we met visitors so emotionally affected by arriving at Dick’s cabin that they kissed the beach, wept or spent time wandering around the cabin in a world of their own. After their initial reaction, they wanted to see everything, always wanting to know more than their time with the airplane flying service allowed. In our later years, I was asked almost daily what would happen when we were not there.
It became clear I had a responsibility to write this book. Shortly after starting to write the manuscript, the National Park Service made available a CD of 7,000 pages of Dick’s transcribed journals. Reading his journals I discovered I had not talked about dozens of handcrafted items with visitors at Dick’s cabin. I also learned that my interpretations of other items had not been completely accurate. Reading Dick’s journals opened up a whole new world, one I knew that reverent visitors would have had a deeply felt an interest to learn. Having restored Dick’s cabin, cache and woodshed along with restoring and replicating many of his handcrafted artifacts, no one held the insight into Dick’s handcraft more than myself. For each visitor with an interest in Dick’s handcraft, I knew there were others who would visit in the future, and more who would never be able to make the trip; all would be fascinated by all I knew of Dick’s handcrafted life.
Assuming the writing of this book would be a major effort and result in a voluminous manuscript, hundreds of photos and possibly illustrations, I thought it might be impossible to find a publisher to publish the book in its entirety. I thought I would likely be asked to shorten it by half. If only a shorter version could be a reality, I planned to use the money from that book’s sale to someday self-publish a few copies of my full book – a few books for the historic record. Little did I understand how unrealistic this plan actually was. I wrote the book I knew visitors to Dick’s cabin wanted to hold. Lost Art Press never hinted I revise it into anything else.
A few weeks after submitting proposals to three different publishers, Elan, my child, asked if I had made a submission to Lost Art Press. Being late 2018, I was soon reading Chris Schwarz’s blog, “You Are the Problem,” and the comments that followed. Then I read the blog, “Meet the Author: Jennie Alexander” by Kara Gebhart Uhl. With those two blogs, I knew I wanted Lost Art Press to publish my book.
Chris Schwarz first thought a book about the handcraft of Dick Proenneke was a little too far afield of LAP’s core focus, but he soon thought otherwise. An introductory phone conversation with Chris sealed my desire to work with Lost Art Press. Chris spoke of wanting everyone who worked on the book to be paid well, and that working with LAP would be a collaborative effort. I wouldn’t simply hand them the manuscript, and they’d publish the book. He spoke of using U.S.-sourced high-quality paper and a U.S. printer. And somewhere in there, he let me know it would require a lot of effort on my part.
The intent of this blog is to say “thank you” to the staff at Lost Art Press and especially to Kara Gebhart Uhl who accepted being the lead person in creating this book. Over the course of the past three years, just short of 600 emails have arrived from LAP. Likely 500 of those from Kara. I answered every one as timely as possible, but some required weeks of additional work. There were too many phone conversations with Kara to keep track of; usually when I wanted a clarification “right now.” And from the response rate I believe Kara never ends her workday even as she juggles life as a wife, mother and author. Kara edited and then reedited without complaint and never showed frustration with the task ahead.
Dick’s journaling contained a lot of misspelled words because that is how Dick wanted it written. Initially, I was not going to change any of his words because I knew it was his wish that any use of his journals hold true to what he was writing. As the manuscript started taking the form of a book, I started seeing words I thought Dick would likely appreciate having corrected and words that may have been impossible for Jeanette Mills, who transcribed all of Dick’s journals, to have deciphered. The process of what to change and what to leave as Dick wrote was ongoing throughout the process of this becoming a book. Kara was consistently understanding, engaging and questioning without directing the outcome. She was also tireless in getting sections of my own writing corrected and flowing smoothly.
In writing the manuscript, I noted places where about 350 photos or illustrations might fit. For 50 years I have been inspired by Eric Sloane’s books with his detailed illustrations. Kara, with Chris’ concurrence, suggested a mix of both photos and illustrations, which was almost too much for me to believe because that was what I had envisioned without clarity and had not spoken. I sent 1,200 photos (multiple photos for each of the 350 locations) to LAP with captions that located each within the manuscript. Kara and Chris went through all of them and made suggestions as to which photos they thought would best fit with the text, which would be best as illustrations, and which I needed higher resolutions images. I thought all of their selections were perfect.
I want to jump forward a little. Linda Watts laid out the pages of the book – the placement of the photos, illustrations and text. The single most high moment in the past few years of working with LAP was when Kara sent me the first few pages of each chapter, as Linda had designed them with photos, text, illustrations and open spaces. I was awed with Linda’s art, the craft of putting a cutout of a detail of an item over the corner of a photo of the entire handcrafted item. Linda’s design was beyond my wildest dream for the beauty of the book. Holding this book is to appreciate Linda’s amazing talent.
Elin Price provided a couple sample illustrations, each drawn from a photo and a sentence or two from me. They each required some minor adjustments to meet what I was looking for. It made me aware that if I were creating the 60 illustrations for this book, I would find it impossible to meet my expectations without much more written detail for what was being asked. I wrote 50 pages of instructions for Elin and felt awful for being so nit-picky. Of all the remaining illustrations, there may have been a couple that I ask for minor adjustments.
Upon reading the book, a friend said something like, “Years ago I had several books full of wonderful illustrations … I don’t have the books any longer but those illustrations were my favorite … you [Monroe] would know who I am talking about.” When I said, “Eric Sloane,” his face lit up. He said, “When I looked at Elin’s illustrations it brought me back to spending time enjoying the illustrations in Eric Sloane’s books.” His comments were the highest compliment anyone could bestow upon Elin’s contribution.
Brendan Gaffney accepted the challenge of creating the map. I didn’t have a vision of how to create three maps on a single page, each map is a more zoomed-in image or even that three maps on the same page was what was needed. It took a great deal of back and forth between Kara, Linda, Brendan and myself. Brendan kept producing image after image until everyone was completely satisfied. I could not be more impressed with Brendan’s map. I know it would have been a much more straightforward process if I had a clearer image going in. Brendan was the perfect person. If he was frustrated with the process, he did not let it show.
Elan Robinson, my child, was asked to create an illustration for the front of the book on very short notice just as it was going to the printer. It is now confirmed that Chris Schwarz never sleeps! Elan, Chris, Kara and I were all on the email thread throughout those last few days. Elan sometimes emailed a question to Chris very late at night from the West Coast, and I was always impressed with Chris’s almost instantaneous responses as if this was the only thing on his table.
Meghan Bates was the first person I communicated with three years ago and is now the person making sure a few books are sent my way. With zero exceptions, collaborating with each person at Lost Art Press has been a beautiful experience.
I have not communicated with Nancy Hiller but many times felt her positive and supportive presence throughout this process. I knew she was close by.
I once pushed the send button on a whole string of messages between myself and Kara, to someone it was not intended for. I heard back from the unlucky recipient of the emails but will not get into their response. When I confessed to Kara, she responded, “Oh goodness, don’t worry about this at all. We all make mistakes like this. …
“Chris recently reminded me that he and John Hoffman have a saying when anything difficult comes up with any of our books (and know that every single one of our books – even those we write ourselves – have problems): If it were easy, everyone would do it.
“This book didn’t exist before because there was no one else but you who was willing to put in all the time and effort – and deal with all its problems. But that’s part of what makes it so special.
“Someday I hope you can make the trip to Covington, Kentucky, and we’ll take you out to dinner and share the many mistakes we’ve made over the years, and the many problems we’ve encountered, but also the many joys and wonderful experiences we’ve had because we’ve forged ahead regardless.”
Collaborating with Lost Art Press has been one of those wonderful joys of my life.
It’s a photo of a cat, so you know what that means. Katherine spent a lot of time during her Christmas break making her biggest batch of Soft Wax 2.0 ever. She spent all her money on raw materials (50 lbs. of beeswax is a lot of money). And she has just put it all up for sale in her etsy store.
As you can see, Bean the three-legged shop cat (also known as Mr. Speckles and Leave the Other Cats Alone!) does not give a care about this announcement. But perhaps someday Katherine will be able to buy him a bionic leg.
Notes on the finish: This is the finish I use on my chairs. Katherine cooks it up here in the machine room using a waterless process. She then packages it in a tough glass jar with a metal screw-top lid. She applies her hand-designed label to each lid, boxes up the jars and ships them in a durable cardboard mailer. The money she makes from wax helps her make ends meet at college. Instructions for the wax are below.
Instructions for Soft Wax 2.0 Soft Wax 2.0 is a safe finish for bare wood that is incredibly easy to apply and imparts a beautiful low luster to the wood.
The finish is made by cooking raw, organic linseed oil (from the flax plant) and combining it with cosmetics-grade beeswax and a small amount of a citrus-based solvent. The result is that this finish can be applied without special safety equipment, such as a respirator. The only safety caution is to dry the rags out flat you used to apply before throwing them away. (All linseed oil generates heat as it cures, and there is a small but real chance of the rags catching fire if they are bunched up while wet.)
Soft Wax 2.0 is an ideal finish for pieces that will be touched a lot, such as chairs, turned objects and spoons. The finish does not build a film, so the wood feels like wood – not plastic. Because of this, the wax does not provide a strong barrier against water or alcohol. If you use it on countertops or a kitchen table, you will need to touch it up every once in a while. Simply add a little more Soft Wax to a deteriorated finish and the repair is done – no stripping or additional chemicals needed.
Soft Wax 2.0 is not intended to be used over a film finish (such as lacquer, shellac or varnish). It is best used on bare wood. However, you can apply it over a porous finish, such as milk paint.
APPLICATION INSTRUCTIONS (VERY IMPORTANT): Applying Soft Wax 2.0 is so easy if you follow the simple instructions. On bare wood, apply a thin coat of soft wax using a rag, applicator pad, 3M gray pad or steel wool. Allow the finish to soak in about 15 minutes. Then, with a clean rag or towel, wipe the entire surface until it feels dry. Do not leave any excess finish on the surface. If you do leave some behind, the wood will get gummy and sticky.
The finish will be dry enough to use in a couple hours. After a couple weeks, the oil will be fully cured. After that, you can add a second coat (or not). A second coat will add more sheen and a little more protection to the wood.
Soft Wax 2.0 is made in small batches in Kentucky. Each glass jar contains 8 oz. of soft wax, enough for at least two chairs.