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The old planter shelf sat beside the house, baking in the sun and rusting.  Faded, looking more like the rubbish stacked upon it, the garden shelves were a step from becoming Scrapper Stan’s property.

Mom wouldn’t have it on the screened porch although it would be a perfect replacement for her time-ravaged plastic planter shelves.  She had a solution: How about some paint?

“Ace is the Place” remains true.  The same sticky oil-based Rust-Oleum of my youth is still available.  But instead of slopping it all over our rusted swing-set, we went New Hat all the way.  A set of wire brushes, half a dozen foam brushes, and half a pint of Flat Black.  Sharing the labor, they set to wire-brushing while I made a pitcher of grapefruit-crush from scratch, fresh from the tree.  While they sipped, I wire-brushed one more time.  Then all of us, to the painting!

Daub, stoke, dab, swipe.  All manner of applications.  The Rust-Oleum covered wonderfully.  Across both smooth and imperfect steel, its flat black reversing years of sun damage, the oil-based paint sticking tightly to the wrought surfaces.  One coat was nearly perfect, but an hour later we hit a few spots with another light coat.  Wow, what a transformation!  Rust-Oleum, still a winner for the professional and do-it-yourselfer alike!

Amana Woolen Mill • Iowa

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Unlimited time is chaff to the Gods.  What we crave, they suffer.  In amusing their idleness, they direct me, puppet-like, to another garage sale.  I think I’m searching for a used Lie-Nielsen #102 hand plane, but their machinations prefer otherwise.

Cold road-tripping mornings remind me of the “Old Man” comment suffered even in my 20’s.  I like a wool throw over my legs and knees to fight the chill.  Before me, in an out-of-the-way yard sale, upon the mixed textiles pile, is a nice scrap of tartan.  Wool.  Perfect size.  A few small meals extracted, but largely left untouched by moths.  Neutral smell.  Good signs, all.

We bargain the old-fashioned way.  She said eight dollars and I quickly accepted.  A small pile of worn Yankee dollars and silver pour from my hand into her jug.  I am the newest caretaker of this fine Amana wool throw.  Handcrafted in Iowa since 1855.

A perfect companion to winter mornings in the Southwest.  If that cat jumps upon my lap, I may stay here until lunch!


Superior, Arizona

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With a name like Superior, you’re thinking lush vacation getaway?  Maybe for an engineer.  It is a small mining town nestled up against the Superstition Mountains.  Sitting atop one of the largest copper resources in North America.  For the film hounds: numerous movies have been set in Superior.  For the gardeners:  Superior is home to Boyce Thompson Arboretum.  Founded in 1925, the arboretum is the largest and oldest botanical garden in Arizona. – wiki

We take a break from winter vacation to bring you a few recent snaps.  Our favorite area of Boyce Thompson Arboretum, their trail leading along the Queen Creek Riparian Area, is just past the eucalyptus grove.  With monthly rainfall 2.0″ at most, the creek bubbles near year-around, keeping the canyon a pleasure to all.

Lie-Nielsen Handtools

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When it was time to shave boxwood bushings whisker-close on an 1880s pegbox, advice was sought.  Spending other people’s money has never been a problem for my circle of advisors.  All manner of chisel manufacturers were recommended.  I settled for a couple of used Buck Bros. chisels brought back to lovely health by a pro.

Months later, I learn craftsperson Jayne Henderson had visited a Maine manufacturer recommended by my acquaintances.  Even better, a hand tool demonstration at Independence Seaport Museum, Penn’s Landing, will feature these Lie-Nielsen tools.  Perfect timing, as we want additional guidance on wood planes and sharpening techniques.

Lie-Nielsen sent their crack team of cabinet makers / salesmen to Philadelphia.  Examples, answers, explanations, it flowed with an easy pace.  Two items of immediate interest: use of a scraper, and sharpening a hand plane blade.

A scraper is a thin flat piece of steel with a sharply squared edge.  One can scrape the thinnest shavings of wood with such a tool.  The answer to my use question moved to sharpening the scraper, truing its edge.  A crowd quickly gathered as the representative covered the simple technique of producing the correct scraper edge.  Guess it was not only me wanting help!

In covering planes I might purchase for general use repairing instruments, it also came back to care of the blade.  The Lie-Nielsen honing guide is the nicest piece of sharpening equipment in the business.  After the demonstration plane had its blade sharpened, staff was removing hair-thin wisps of ribbon from a block of maple.  The wood was left mirror-smooth.  Amazing!

Their chisels?  $55 buys you the nicest wood chisel in the world.  The feel is heavenly, the machining impeccable, and the quality of the metal, unbeatable.

Luxury items or wood shop essentials?  Maybe both, but it’s a tool you’ll have the rest of your life.  I bought the scrapers.  Next big job, a Lie-Nielsen hand plane, a chisel, and sharpening tools are joining the bench!

American Style

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My favorite shoes

Good taste doesn’t cost a lot.  Great style never goes out of fashion.  Flashy is for other people.

A family friend I’d see at holidays and birthdays wore the same loafers year after year.  Plain, leather, hand-sewn.  From a respectable New England cordwainer.  His loafers developed the most wonderful patina, the soft leather fitting his stride and personality.  In the absence of a better word, they were best described as cool.  

He was of remarkable perspicacity.  A man everyone admired.  I tried to understand his cool disposition and viewpoints from the ground up.  Starting, naturally, with his taste in shoes.  His chosen manufacturer had skedaddled to foreign production, but Kenny Sherman had several options.

I balked at the price, Kenny danced a bit around the subject, but always came back to quality.  Now over eight years old, my Alden suede loafers, hand-sewn in New England, have proven to be the MOST comfortable shoes on the planet.  And value?  Even at today’s list price, divided by years owned, they’re cheap.

My depth of personality is still under review, but the concept stuck.  Well-made items last longer and provide far more enjoyment of ownership.  My kickers, closing in on a decade old?  Just getting broken in.  Cheers!

Juzek Peg Shaper

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One of the handiest items on my workbench is the Juzek peg shaper.  Nearly every violin in line exhibits peg issues.  An ill-fitted “emergency” peg, in place for decades, inexorably ruining the peg box due to ignorance, empty pockets, or economy.  Absent pegs.  No pegs.  Archaic peg hole taper.

With a peg shaper we’re able to fit a new set of pegs “from scratch” any time we choose.  Last week it almost didn’t happen, though.  What started as a routine shaving experience became a scraping.  Hardwood dust was produced with no significant reduction in peg diameter.

Upon advice from every point of the windrose, we’ve recently delved into the dark arts of metal sharpening.  Just as my forbearers scraped early bronze blades across stone, we remove the peg sharpener’s blade and scrape it across our new Gator Sharpening Stone.

Held at the manufacturer’s proscribed angle, eased by a 99.5% water mixture with natural lubricants added, a circular action was initiated.  Just like on an old Daniel Boone movie.  Three times we reinstall and test.  It works!  Also of import, we’ve learned the limitations of our small one-grit stone.  

Clyde’s Hardware Store, closing its doors forever, managed to save their last stone for me.  My first sharpening stone.  We’ll be adding to our collection in future articles, but for now, we achieve an adequate edge with the Gator.

Special thanks to Philadelphia luthier David Michie.  His customers, Academy Of Music, Curtis, and Kimmel Center musicians, bring him an endless array of stringed instruments for refurbishment and repair.  Cast-off violin pegs from these instruments soften our learning curve and now grace student violins across the Western Hemisphere.

Lancaster County Produce

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In the steel town of my parents’ childhood, life moved at a different pace.  Many people lacked a telephone.  Television was a new and rather worthless invention.  Texting?  The closest was telegraph and maybe a stock market ticker.  No “code words”?  LOL   🙂  Code words and phrases abounded, as old as the hills.  Maybe written by Moses herself.

Newlyweds jokingly said they ate a lot of apples,  referring to the Garden of Eden, Eve & Adam, and their newfound lust for apples.  But my dentist also promotes this perfect fruit, and he’s atheist.  Something about working the teeth, exercising the gum line?

Turning to his simple health advice decades ago, I’ve too decided the apple is a perfect fruit.  Portable, properly packaged, pennies a pound.  Maybe a bit more silver these days, but still a value.

Honeycrisps, newly picked, waft their scent from my fridge.  Pink Lady, Gala, Jonagold, all delectable.  Pick your favorite farmers market, find a grower, and select a few beauties of smooth unbruised skin.  Prepare for deliciousness.  Bonus:  Your sweetheart will find your close presence even tastier.  Maybe the serpent was on to something.  I’ll bet a good theologian can find reference to morning groping in the Bible, right after breakfast kisses.

Lancaster County has been shipping produce to Philadelphia since the mid-1700s.  Hands On The Earth Orchard from Lititz PA continues this tradition, weekly attending a Saturday farmers market along Walnut Street at Rittenhouse Square.

Native Americans, in what would become Pennsylvania, practiced agriculture for centuries before the arrival of Europeans. By the eleventh century, they had developed a high-yield system of slash and burn farming. Creating fields by clearing brush, and girdling and burning trees to let the sun reach the soil, they then planted beans, corn, and squash together – a method of planting that was advantageous to the crops and the people. Beans climbed up the cornstalks and fixed nitrogen in the soil that fertilized the corn and squash. The resulting network of roots and tendrils inhibited weed growth and helped to retain moisture in the soil. Beans, corn, and squash – better known to the Indians as the Three Sisters – provided a very nutritious diet that was high in amino acids, fiber, protein, and vitamins.