I’m calling this a book report rather than a review, because I don’t have the gumption right now to write a proper formal review. So please forgive the relatively casual nature of what follows.
I love this book, which was recently published by Routledge. (I’m linking to the sales page at Amazon because the publisher’s ordering system has proven problematic. I am still waiting for the copy I ordered pre-publication.) The historical overview of women in woodworking is fascinating, including consideration of women picking up where men left off in wartime, and a wonderfully insightful discussion of the role played by the D.I.Y. movement in drawing women in. Earlier sections of the history include lots of information gleaned from research by Suzanne Ellison right here at Lost Art Press, a wonderful tribute to Ellison herself and to the Lost Art Press blog for publishing it. The international dimension is also noteworthy, though the book is overwhelmingly grounded in North America.
My favorite aspect of the book is the intellectual perspective that Deirde Visser brings to the subject, which she treats with welcome nuance. Many pages of my copy are covered with laudatory notes. I greatly appreciate that Visser and her colleague in the project early on, Laura Mays, saw fit to include not just art and studio furniture makers, but builders of custom work who happily refer to their workspaces as shops, and builders of buildings (albeit to a lesser extent).
The book is refreshingly free from top-down, supercilious attitude. Rather, its embrace of a diverse cross section of makers and making reflects beautifully on Visser herself. Kudos in particular to her and to the legendary Wendy Maruyana for including such gems as, “With characteristically self-effacing humor, Maruyama opened our conversation stating, ‘I’m not a great woodworker.’ She is talking about technique: ‘Making a perfect joint doesn’t come naturally to me. It’s quite a struggle, actually. So I frustrate myself because you always measure yourself up with other woodworkers and think ‘Oh fuck.’ In fact, Maruyama is perfectly capable of exemplary technique.” If you really want to invite people into a field, this is one way to do it.
It takes a strong spine to admit to imperfection in furniture making, and this in its own right is a welcome bit of iconoclasm. Furniture is made to be used, not just admired. In most cases the perfection of joinery or the attention given to finishing the back of a dresser or the underside of a table has far more to do with the maker’s conceit, or playing into widespread expectations of “quality” in the luxury furniture market (barf), than with actual durability or ability to serve the purpose for which a piece is made, which also has a bearing on who will be able to afford it. This, too, is for the underdog to point out, and women in this field have traditionally been underdogs.
I can’t imagine having to choose which makers to feature in such a project and am honestly baffled and gobsmacked to have found myself included. It’s a real honor. The sheer diversity of featured makers is admirable. So many others deserve to be included in a work of this kind, but as someone who has edited essay collections and copy edited Marc Adams’s “The Difference Makers,” I understand the need to make really tough decisions. That said, if there is one person whose absence is conspicuous in the discussion of particular women who have championed the cause of inviting women in and giving those women already in woodworking the visibility they deserve, it’s Megan Fitzpatrick, in particular during the years she worked as editor at Popular Woodworking; Megan has gone out on many a fragile limb, risking her own livelihood and fielding many an indignant comment from people who still don’t see the need to shine a light on members of specific underrepresented groups. Fitzpatrick would have fit perfectly into the part of the book that discusses efforts others have made in giving women woodworkers the recognition they’re due.
While this is by no means a formal review, I hope it’s clearly an appreciation and a strong recommendation. Thank you Deirdre Visser, Laura Mays and Phoebe Kuo, for conceiving this work. Looking back over the years in which I have been aware of this project, and the conversations I had early on about publishers with Mays, I recognize the massive investment of time and energy this book represents. I love it. What a joy!
Katherine has just posted a big batch of Soft Wax 2.0 to her etsy store. Thanks to her new Heating Mixing Filling Machine, we are able to make more wax with less waste and fewer first-degree burns (though I did stupidly touch the heating element of the machine).
In working with Katherine, I also noticed that she overfills the jars. As I was helping her, I filled each jar to the 8 ounce line.
“No dad,” she said. “I fill each one to the very top. I don’t want people to feel they are being cheated.” We then went back and filled all the jars to the very top.
So you are probably getting 9 oz. of wax. And after using her wax for awhile now, I think you can wax at least four chairs with one jar – not two, as I stated earlier.
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 (probably four chairs).
“Roubo on Furniture” is filled with insights into working wood and building furniture that are difficult or impossible to find in both old and modern woodworking books. Unlike many woodworking writers of the 18th century Roubo was a traditionally trained and practicing joiner. He interviewed fellow craftsmen from other trades to gain a deep and nuanced view of their practices. He learned to draw, so almost all of the illustrations in this book came from his hand.
In addition to the translated text and images from the original, “With All the Precision Possible: Roubo on Furniture” also includes five contemporary essays on Roubo’s writing by craftsmen Christopher Schwarz, Don Williams, Michael Mascelli, Philippe Lafargue and Jonathan Thornton.
As far as the manner of joining panels, after they have been dressed or smoothed, according to whether they are more or less thick, you begin by trimming them and making them equal width, observing to eradicate all types of sapwood, knots and splits, after which you set them up according to the different widths that they should have. You should take precaution to put the planks of a similar color together, the narrowest (which we name alaises) in the center [of the panel], and the edges of the plank that are softer [wood closer to sapwood] should be used in the groove joints [in the frame]. After they have been thus set up, you begin making the joints by cutting the grooves, then you make the tongues. After having taken the precaution to position the plank where you have made the groove against where you wish to make the tongue, to see if both of them are truly straight, then you make the tongue. When the wood is thick, you trim the back of the tongue by chamfering [it] with the half-plane [ jack plane], so that the plane [the tongue plane] is easier to push. When the wood is rough and very thick, you need two workmen in order to push it, as I said in speaking of planes of two pieces, but the more it can be done by a single workman, so much the better for the work.
It is also necessary to take care that the joints be straight on the edges of the panels and that they fit equally on each side of the groove, even when the work is just a facing [a decorative panel, not structural]. Joints thus well brought together prevent the air from penetrating and, consequently, from warping the panels.
After having made the joints with all the precautions that I spoke about previously, you glue them together; and for this, you disassemble the boards from each other, after having numbered them, so as not to confuse the panels of one panel with those of another. After this, you heat the joints so that the heat opens the pores of the wood, preparing them better to take the glue and hold on to the joints. It is necessary, however, to pay attention that the wood not be too hot because it will dry the glue too promptly and prevent it from holding. As for the glue, it cannot be too hot [in other words, the hotter the glue, the better] because the heat makes all the glue components finer and delicate [less viscous] and consequently better to penetrate in all the pores of the wood.
The glue that Joiners use is called hard glue, which is of two types, namely that of England and that of Paris. These two types of glues are made with the sinew and feet of beef that you boil and melt into gelatin, after which you mold it into sheets of 8–9 feet in length by 5–6 in width and 2–3 lines thickness. When it is completely dry and it is of a good quality, it is both hard and also fragile as glass. That from England is the best, not only because it makes half again as much profit, but also because it holds better and its color being a clear yellow means that is does not appear in the joints when they are well done. You also have the glue of Paris that is not so strong, is black and muddy and it always shows in the joints, no matter how well made.
When you wish to melt the glue, you begin by breaking it in little pieces and you put it to soak in some water for 5–6 hours, after which you melt it on a fire in a copper cauldron.
You must observe not to put [in] too much water at first because it will remove some of its quality. You must also take care to stir it up with a wooden stick while it is melting, and when it is completely melted you let it boil on a low fire so as to make it re-heat. You should never leave the glue unattended once it begins to boil because at this time the force of the heat makes it froth and boil over out of the cauldron, which you prevent by adding a little fresh water when it is ready to boil over. The glue is easy to spoil and becomes tainted while you are melting it. That is why this task is best left to one individual man.
Dry glue is sold by the pound, and woodworkers who have a lot of work take care to provision it so that it always remains dry [unspoiled]. When you wish to melt it, you should take care not to melt too much at once, that is, you must not have melted more glue than you can use in eight days, especially in the summer because it molds and loses its quality. You heat it in a copper pot, which has three feet and an iron handle. The feet should be splayed to give it a stable position, but [they should] not [be] hooked and elevated at the ends because being thus configured [the cauldron] is subject to carrying some of the hot coals with it and to making [coals] fall in the wood shavings [when moving the cauldron around the shop], which is greatly to be feared. Cabinetmakers use a double-boiler pot, in the outer chamber they put the water and the glue in the inner one. This way of heating the glue is called a bain-marie [hot bath] and is very convenient because the water being very hot maintains the heat of the glue longer, while preventing the glue from burning at the edges of the pot, Figs. 12 & 13.
When the glue is hot, you spread it on the joints with a brush made of wild boar hair, which should be more or less large according to different works. Look at Figs. 14 & 15. Then you drive the joints together with a mallet. When there are many joints [complex joinery with many joints being assembled simultaneously] and you fear ruining them with the mallet, you turn them over and hit them on the bench, lifting first one end of a panel and making it fall straight with force on the bench. Then you do the same at the other end, which you continue to do until the joints are perfectly in place. Then you put them flat on the bench where you stop them using a bar/straightedge of the full length of the panel [that is] secured with holdfast, and you tighten the whole panel with clamps or on edges with clamps and bars, which holds them all along their length and closes them. Bar clamps are iron tools which are made of a bar of iron where the end is curved in the form of a hook, which passes through another piece of iron which is called the foot of the clamp, which glides along the length of the bar according to how you judge appropriate. The end of this clamp is curved in the form of a hook, as is the other end of the bar, and is textured at the face like a rasp, so that it [will] not slip when you tighten it but it [instead] holds onto the wood.
The mortise or eye of the jaw should be as accurate as possible, especially on its width, and be made a bit slanted on the inside of the foot on the side of the hook, so that when the bar clamp is tightened, the foot will always be at a right angle to the shaft, as least as much as possible. The end of the shaft/bar is hammered back to create a ridge [is “mushroomed”] so the hook cannot get past or get lost. Like most of the regular clamps you cannot remove the moving foot, Fig. 16.
This tool serves to hold the joints for both panels and for assembled pieces. You close it by hitting on its movable foot with a mallet below the bar, and you loosen it by hitting the latter on top with the hammer, that is to say, in the opposite direction. [It operates in a manner conceptually identical to the holdfast.]
The length of the bar clamps varies from 18 thumbs up to 6 and even 8 feet in length. As for the width of the bar, it should be from 9 lines up to a thumb-and-a-half, according to the different lengths, and their thickness should be two-thirds of the width. The foot should exceed the upper part of the bar by 3–4 thumbs for the smallest, and from 6 thumbs for the largest. The iron of the bar clamp parts should be soft and without any type of welding, especially the foot, which should be forged with all the care possible.
It is good that joinery shops be well furnished with bar clamps, especially those shops with many workmen, which is very convenient for accelerating the work. There are shops where there are up to 20 lengths of bar clamps of all sorts. When the work is of such great width that one cannot close it with bar clamps, you use a marking rod of wood, which is called a notch for elongating sergeants [bar clamp extender], which is 3–4 thumbs in width by 8–9 feet in length and a thumb-and-a-half thickness at least. At one end is made a hook, made equal to the width of the wood, which serves to close the work. On the other side of its width, and in the opposite direction, are many notches placed at 12–15 thumbs from each other, in which you place the end of a bar clamp, which is tightened on the other edge of the work. You must pay attention that the notches are made at a sharp angle, so the bar clamp jaw stops there and does not come out, Fig. 17.
There is still another way to clamp panels, which is done with wooden tools called straighteners [ from the verb etreindre, or to close tightly]. They are composed of two of pieces of wood called twins of 4–5 feet in length by 4–5 thumbs in width and 2 thumbs thickness, in which [at] 6–8 thumbs from the ends is pierced a squared mortise of about a thumb-and-a-half, which is in the center of its width, and through which you pass a shaft of 8–9 thumbs in length.
In the upper part of straighteners are pierced two or three other mortises similar to the first ones through which you pass another shaft of the same shape and length as the first one, Fig. 18.
When you wish to make use of straighteners to clamp a panel, you begin by placing [the parts] between the two twins, resting the panel on the lower inserted shaft. You then press the twins together to hold the panel flat. You then insert the shaft through the mortises above and closest to the panel, and with a mallet drive in a wooden wedge between the panel and the shaft.
There must be two straighteners at least to clamp a panel, and when it is long enough, you really should make use of three. Besides, the use of these tools is excellent, because they clamp panels without damaging them, which happens sometimes with bar clamps. But still, they hold the panels very straight, and they leave you the liberty to view them from both sides, which you cannot do when the panels are laid flat on the workbench, Fig. 19.
Edit: These are once again sold out. I _think_ we’ll have more later this week. The warehouse has just entered into inventory 125 Crucible Dovetail Templates – which means most of the production and packaging processes have been worked out. Whew! (Hopefully, we’ll soon be more reliably able to keep these in stock.)