Christopher Payne • Photographer

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A lazy week drifting betwixt jingling bells and confetti’d ballrooms.  What came to mind?  Taking a Mulligan, to borrow from the venerable game of confidence, we would post a catchy photo-montage from the NYTimes.  Start off tracing the “Mulligan” phrase to the seventeenth century.  Distract our readers from blatant thievery and possible copyright violation.  Knock a smooth three-iron over the dogleg, coming up nicely short of the green.  Chip and putt, an easy birdie.

Upon the hallowed fairways of the Old Course At St Andrews such a phrase did not originate.  No noble and dusty lineage to Messer Mulligan.  An act of Parliament such as created their Links Trust cannot change that.    

We still have the photos to introduce.  Christopher is a photo-essayist of vision and intuition.  Here he captures the esteemed General Pencil Company of Jersey City, NJ.  Practically next to Manhattan,  its location again reminds our Mid-Atlantic staff state boundaries know no logic.  As if they were drawn by the king’s whim.

With thanks to Christopher Payne, Sam Anderson, The New York Times Magazine, and the entire population of the eastern seaboard, we bring you the General Pencil Company!

Such radical simplicity is surprisingly complicated to produce. Since 1889, the General Pencil Company has been converting huge quantities of raw materials (wax, paint, cedar planks, graphite) into products you can find, neatly boxed and labeled, in art and office-supply stores across the nation: watercolor pencils, editing pencils, sticks of charcoal, pastel chalks. Even as other factories have chased higher profit margins overseas, General Pencil has stayed put, cranking out thousands upon thousands of writing instruments in the middle of Jersey City. – Sam Anderson for The New York Times Magazine

andy weir • artemis

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Another perfect trip to a well-stocked library yields the latest by Andy Weir.  And in spoken work, great during bamboo runs for our hometown hero, Peter’s Panda Rescue.  Motoring along smooth Maryland asphalt, Rosario Dawson’s diction convincing me she is, indeed, the title character, The Martian‘s famous author has scribed yet another winner with Artemis.

The title character is ~ SPOILER ALERT ~ a 26-year-old unmarried Saudi female.  She emigrated to the moon when she was six, so lunar living is all she knows.  Smart as heck, Jazz Bashara makes MacGyver seem like an eleven-year old.

This novel has it all.  Mr. Weir’s clear understanding of lunar conditions, a familiarity with common technology and issues we’ll live with on the moon, along with the human condition in one-sixth gravity.  He explains the engineering in a way which makes it seem like we already have a city on the moon. (Wait, what is really on the other side?)  This book could easily have been written in 2218 as a story “set back in those days of chemical propulsion”.

As usual, Andy Weir got to it first.

Shawn Colvin

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Every year after Thanksgiving a shoebox is retrieved from the top shelf of a closet.  Stuffed with holiday music, I wrap presents and make soup as north winds bring Arctic chill.  Singers Gen-X’ers know not.  Bing Crosby?  Perry Como?  You’ll get blank stares.  Judy Garland singing Have Yourself A Merry Little Christmas.  Such a poignant statement she makes.  How quickly two generations forget the 1944 musical Meet Me In St. Louis which brought Judy’s performance to the world.

After I plow through the standards one CD ends up in permanent rotation.  For the remainder of the season, maybe into the New Year, Shawn Colvin’s 1998 release Holiday Songs and Lullabies is played over and over.

Vocals, instrumentation, arranging, I hate to use the word perfect.  If we could ignore the teachings of a great tile setter Only God is Perfect, now would be the time.  I discover something new with every listening.

Recorded in sweltering Austin Texas, waiting for Shawn’s baby to be born, her life and passion come through with every word and phrase.  Doug Petty’s production is a labor of genius and love.

Shawn’s recording began as a youth.  Receiving the book Lullabies & Night Songs from her parents when she was about eight.  Singing Christmas carols in four-part harmony during car rides.  All-year around.  🙂  This is an album of Shawn’s memories.

And mine also.  New faces and smells and sounds.  A foggy winter, rural mountain foothills, wolves howling at midnight.  Steamy kitchens, multi-colored tissue across the table.  Stacks of presents.  Hobbies, crafts, hours fitting century-old instruments back together.

My apologies to Ms. Colvin for presuming to sum her life and passion in two hours on a Sunday morning.  I make a second cup of coffee, listen to her CD again, and continue editing.  After two decades her recording is still new.  Still fresh.  Maybe I’ve been working on this article not for two hours, but for two decades?  The room is now quiet, my coffee cold.  Where did the time go?  Into memories born upon Shawn’s recordings?

The release’s artwork is original 1965 Maurice Sendak.  I’d share inner fold J-card images from the CD but do not want another lawsuit for copyright infringement.

The 1944 film Meet Me In St. Louis has been deemed “culturally significant” by the Library of Congress.

Photo by Michael Wilson

George H.W. Bush

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George Herbert Walker Bush  1924 – 2018

“You don’t see anybody trashing this president … Whether they agreed with him on certain policy positions or not, people respected him and liked him.” – James A. Baker III

He was that rare figure in Washington: a man without enemies — or with very few, at any rate. –  Adam Nagourney

We love this photo of the former president skydiving on his 80th birthday.  Particularly the way the Army parachute team is looking after their former Commander-In-Chief. – ed/pub

Bridgeport Brass

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Not too long ago we spent half our hours in smoking darkness.  Candles, oil lamps, then kerosene lamps followed.  Just in time for indoor plumbing to make its appearance.  After the glory of a home with a pump in the kitchen came water delivered via pipe into the residence.  Next, the most amazing of inventions, hot water showers!

With us just about the whole way, from 1865 at least, Bridgeport Brass Company supplied the tools, devices, and materials to make it happen.

This company was organized in 1865 to make brass clock movements, and later made hoop-skirt frames, kerosene parlor lamps and the first successful kerosene bicycle lamp, exhibited at the World’s Fair in Chicago, in 1893 . . . Forgotten Landmarks

A few years after The Great War local farmland was consumed by developers.  The new crop of housing sprouted faster than summer corn.  About the same time our pile of bricks was hurriedly stacked, a more ambitious heap was raised up the hill.  Three stories of cells, each to have both cold AND hot water.  The water pipe?  Brass pipe manufactured by Bridgeport Brass Company of Bridgeport, Connecticut.  Shaft-mounted roller dies had stamped a repeating trade name along the length of the pipe.  Plumrite.

Decades later discovered disconnected within wall cavities, a usefulness lost to cracked threads after its three-generation life expectancy, a few feet of Plumrite are saved from the scrap yard.

Here we have a piece of c.1928 Plumrite brass pipe in use as a pipe clamp.  Certainly lends a touch of patrician elegance to the old chap, what?  Genteel, experienced, ready to fasten together the most fractious of violin tops with good manners and charm.

Four Seasons

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We’ll have a cold wet autumn and deep snow this winter.  So the ‘old timers’ warned me.  Not sure there’s much difference between them and me, at this point.  🙂  And I’ve no particular inkling of impending doom-like weather.

But as Issac predicted and warned before the massive Storm of 1900 inundated Galveston – at one point water levels rose four feet in four seconds;  not a wave or swell, but a change in depth – so too have the learned tolled their predictions.  Which are largely coming true.

Down to 8˚ the other night, and we’re still officially mid-autumn.  Yesterday hours of drenching 40˚ rain.  Not a day to be putting in a water service.  Today a bit of clearing.  One last opportunity before the fifth ice age covers Philadelphia up to William Penn’s nose.

Democracy – 2018 –

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California is burning.  Mid-term elections seem largely forgotten.  A few candidates hang by a chad, screaming foul.  Charges fly.  Voter suppression.  Illegally handled ballots.  Racism!  Existing laws broken and court orders ignored.  Is this politics, mommy?

Politics concern the whole world around us, from what we teach in schools;  to where we send our military;  to whether we fix our roads;  to how we handle crime, poverty, addiction, mental health, and the homeless;  to whether pink slime can be included in our burgers;  to a hospital’s obligations to the uninsured.  Laws.  Products of politics.  We live by them.  Some work, some don’t.  Some bad ones need to be changed, and some good ones need to be protected.  Democracy turns on participation.  Around the world, people continue to fight for the right, as did our forbears.

So we fight to make it work.  In some areas, with clear majorities, it works quickly and efficiently.  Where razor-thin margins appear, vote counting and recounting slows.  Ballots are “found”.  Tabulation numbers shift daily.  Judicial Circuit Courts issues judgements, duly ignored.  The process slows to a crawl.

It’s a really fine mess we’ve got ourselves into, when officials cannot publicly provide voter data as mandated by law.  Hey, don’t rush them.  Provisional, mail-in, and early voting ballots are mere suggestions of citizen intent.  In the right hands, they can swing a national election!

Clearly, the honey tastes better on the other side of the fence.  Call me when it is all over.  🙂

Quaker Oats

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Over this Veterans Day weekend, swamped with keeping the boat moving forward, quill never made it to parchment.  Several half articles popped their heads above the hedge but that blasted rabbit got away every time.  Notably, Quaker Oats Instant Oatmeal was on sale;  a winter favorite, our review was imagined as steamy and satisfying … until the words MADE IN CANADA came into focus.  There’s always Heinz Catsup, but that would be too easy …. Maybe next week, the Apex Tool article will finally be finished.  And we will get the Quaker Oats angle;  our top muncher is on it.

Quaker Oats was founded in 1901 by the merger of four oat mills: The Quaker Mill Company of Ravenna, Ohio (founded 1877), which held the trademark on the Quaker name and was acquired in 1901 by Henry Parsons Crowell, who also bought the bankrupt Quaker Oat Mill Company, also in Ravenna.  

The company’s roots are in Akron, Ohio. Ferdinand Schumacher, a pioneer miller born in Hanover, Germany, in 1822, used medieval period milling techniques to manufacture oatmeal on a mass scale.  

Hands On The Earth • Apple Cider

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Romance is in the air.  A brisk windy autumn day, the Schuylkill River brown and full from upstream storms.  Clouds break up long enough for a sunny stroll to my favorite produce stand.  To my true autumnal love, fresh apple cider.

Dave tells me he can sometimes get four gallons of cider per bushel of apples.  The latest press, just a day ago, is giving him a respectable 3.7 gallons.  The pint of cider I enjoy was made with nearly four apples.  And why, Dave, is cider brown?  That’s because it oxidizes as soon as it is pressed.  The flavor is not affected a bit.  The fresh cider tastes like healthy goodness.

If you hear crunch-crunch through the leaves behind you, it may not be a prospective paramour trying to catch your glance.  They may just want to know where you got your cider.  🙂

Breakstone’s Butter

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ADVISORY:  Some images and text may be disturbing to our  celiac  readers.

Americans eat lots of butter. A hundred years ago, EIGHTEEN pounds per person per year.  Thankfully, we’re down to about six pounds per capita  *burp*  Personally, ATB staff have reduced their consumption to sub-Japanese levels, under 0.6 kg per year.  There may be easier ways to live forever, but restricted fats is not a particularly difficult path to a healthy diet.

When we do fall off the wagon, or more appropriately, jump upon the dairy wagon for a healthy dose of converted cream and salt, we reach for the best.  Breakstone’s.

  • 1882: Isaac and Joseph Breakstone (Breakstone Bros) opened a small dairy store on New York City’s Lower East Side.

The best butter?  Attractive marketing?  Hard to say.  Delicious, yes!  And the only brand to display a two-pack, a pair of quarter-pound sticks in a single carton.  Perfect for our dietary pacing.

Owned by Kraft,  manufactured by Keller’s Creamery, under license by Kraft.  Keller’s butters go back over a hundred years, so it is all a creamy mystery as to who is running the shop.  Keller’s Creamery appears to manufacture butter for many labels at its plant in Winnsboro, Texas.  Our spies report townsfolk friendly but protective of their slippery secrets.  Me, I stay away.  Lest I return to a dozen pounds a year  🙂

Eclectic Products – Eugene, Oregon

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Decades ago this penniless vagabond was huffing it across country.  One last adventure awaited just over yonder ridge.  His footfalls across the asphalt were joined by a third sound, the scrape / flwapp cadence of a detached boot sole.  He’d been advised to Goop-It, but the unfamiliar brought fear and confusion.  Goop?

In time a weekend adventurer joined the fire ring.  This camper had a pouch with everything one needs on the road.  We could suture the sole, duct tape it, or Goop it.  The Circle decided.  Goop it was.  The boot was carefully packed with flat stones.  Goop was squirted liberally between the sole and the insole and the affected area clamped together with more rock.  Some Goop squeezed out the edges like jelly from a donut but it was left as-is.

In the morning, our Weekend MacGyver was gone.  My boot, sitting by the smoldering fire ring, was unclamped, emptied of stone and scorpion, examined, yanked, poked, fitted, and pronounced good for another 10,000 miles.

Such bipedal adventures are now left to others but the experience stuck.  Goop is a quality adhesive.  No doubt the toluene and solvent naphtha play a part;  avoid confined spaces.

When a local college banquet bar triple bowl sink drip began to dampen spirits and socks, close examination revealed a mess of replacement issues.  The largest?  Budget and urgency. The sink was used only as a beer cooler,  melting ice the only use of its drain.  Instead of a Full Monty, stripping it down to bare metal and a full repipe with new components, we gave it the ‘ol college try à la MacGyver.

Buff the metal with ScotchBrite, a judicious application of Plumber’s Goop, and wait 24 hours.  Amazing results!  All three sinks filled to the brim with water, all unplugged simultaneously, and the strainers and drains lose nary a drop.  It looks like this assembly will withstand another decade of light use.

Now, it ain’t pretty. But replacing 1″ brass strainers on a copper drain, all the parts seized together, very tight access, the sink itself destined for the rubbish heap or recycler?  Replacement is definitely not cost-effective in this situation.  There is a time and place for “temporary repairs”.   Through no fault of our own we often see ‘temporary repairs’ last over a decade. 🙂


  

Bubba • Bootjack California

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It never occurred to me that Bubba might have a Christian name or a last name.  Joseph Lang  And surely he’d live forever, collecting bits and pieces of people’s lives, arranging them in his store for resale.  The social hub of Bootjack California, Bubba’s establishment anchoring one end of Main Street.

joe bubba lang.jpegWhere else could one find a twelve-foot arch-back velour couch in infant yellow, deep enough to sleep comfortably without crowded elbows?  For $20?  Clark Gable probably napped on it, and here the couch ended, for a worn Jackson.

Shelving, kitchen ware, tools of a sort, clothes.  Bubba had everything you’d need to set up house.  Apartment clean outs, estate sales, competitor’s overstock, where ever he got it always seemed a mystery as Bubba talked into his beard.  But he knew how to stand firm on his price.

Bubba left this world in May 2018, the victim of a 2:00 AM hit-and-run. Merced California police have released little information about the accident.

Harvest Moon Festival

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Coverdale Farm Preserve of Delaware Nature Society in historic Greenville finally had their festival.  It must be October again!  The perfect excuse to view crowds milling about crafts and activities – from a distance.  A good hundred yards away, by the food trucks, is a covered sound stage.  Five bluegrass and Old-Time bands are scheduled.  Chair, book, snacks, ACTION!

Every group was great but I did notice a new face.  Harrisburg native Henry Koretzky brought his 1989 Crafters of Tennessee mandolin.  It sounded like a vintage Gibson mandolin – someone had even inlayed “The Gibson” into the headstock.  A parts mandolin, its wood reportedly sourced from Gibson itself.  The real story will never be known, having died with famous Dobro player and shop owner Tut Taylor.

For the traditional sounds of Appalachian old-time, bluegrass, and early country music, I now know where to find an expert.  As well as perfect contra dance music.  The Contra Rebels, with Barb Schmid on fiddle, Todd Clewell on banjo/fiddle/guitar, and Henry Koretzky on guitar/mandolin.

Special thanks to Tater Patch for performing one of my favorite tunes, Lazy John.

Another fantastic version of Lazy John is Roger Netherton’s 2016 rendition.

D’Addario Violin Strings

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The estate sale find looked somewhat like a violin.  Except it was a jumble of dusty components which fell further apart when its chin rest was removed.  Quick work for our handy Kershaw pocket knife.  A bit of practiced slip-n-snap, the last remaining parts released their failed hide glue after a century together.

Inked with fountain pen upon the inside top, E. Guthwaite of Leeds (England) left his repair mark in 1886.  The hive buzzed that I had a French 1850-1870 Mirecourt.  Gut strings plus patterns of grime from playing along with dust from laying tell us this violin may not have been functional since about 1920.

Back apart, repairs begin anew.  Its old glue is tacky, with a sharp, astringent smell.  It is picked and scraped out of a groove along the back’s perimeter.  The ribs are reattached with fresh Behlen Hide Glue.  The neck heel looks different than usual, sporting a culvertail joint at the heel.  Odd, even uncommon?  We carve an end block to receive the dovetail and are rewarded with extra tensile strength.  The top is an issue, but we’re making a player, not a museum piece.  Joined, cleated, glued, we’re almost done.  Fingerboard dressed, polished, reattached, nut corrected, saddle soaped, bridge finalized, and we find used but serviceable D’Addario Kaplan strings on our windowsill for testing.

Superb!  At a gig, Steve cannot put her down for a full four hours, grinning like a kid as the tone opens up.  Chance favors the fortunate and lucky, as its set-up receives raves – although he says it feels more German and Italian than French.  But there was so much immigration and resettling after Napoléon Bonaparte.

Now for the final bit of finish.  A wipe of varnish here, pegs to trim and polish, a composite tailpiece for student trial.  Off with our used tester strings.  We’re going with adult fare, a D’Addario Helicore H310 offering.  Without knowing what the final owner will want, we choose a dependable string far higher in quality than most students will get.  Two or three times more expensive than economy strings, maybe half the cost or a little more than strings a professional might favor.  We’ve taken the high road of serious string choice.  

Fit as a fiddle.  Her voice is back after a century of slumber.  D’Addario is doing the talking.

All D’Addario strings are designed, engineered and manufactured in the USA to the most stringent quality controls in the industry.D’Addario 

Harvest Festivals

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Under cover of darkness, a quarterly division of Earth’s orbit passed the dotted line.  We officially cross into the season of crunchy leaves and spiced cider.  Sleeping late on weekend mornings under cozy blankets.  Comfortable evenings with darkness falling appropriately early, without the Federal Government fiddling with our clocks.

The Autumnal Equinox has again arrived, more quickly this year then last.  My niece at seven laid out her hypothesis on this.  It involves percentage of time lived.  A year is longer when you are seven – 1/7th of your life.  A year is shorter, say, 1/50th of your life, a few decades later.

Never one to pass up a marketing opportunity, this first day of autumn brings the season of the harvest festival.  No matter that the Harvest Moon is weeks away.  A time of ripe apples, perfect root vegetables, and late season corn.  Steamy days of sterilizing jars, vats of vinegar, pickling everything edible.

Support the local economy.  Spend money at your local harvest festival.  Continue traditions thousands of years old.  Exercise your Neolithic Revolution DNA.  Consume extra calories for a good cause.  Heck, even eat like a panda if you want.  It only comes once a year.  🙂

Lie-Nielsen Bevel Edge Chisels

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Behind many ten minute successes lie hours of preparation.  According to my dentist during a little buffing after a $200 smear of white Bondo.  Lately, at the secretive Luthier Laboratories, pushing boundaries past conventional instrument repair, we’ve found those preparation-to-execution numbers to be a bit skewed.

In this case, hours and hours were spent converting this “Sold For Parts” French violin into a viable instrument.  As we near the final cavelletti, hands and clamps in piaffe and pirouette, this early 19th century Mirecourt nears a milestone.  Sound post and tone tap, the first in 120+ years we surmise (the repairs of 1886 were never completed).

At every step, to poke, prod, shave, raise, lower, scrape, and in general convince the parts to obey,  our Lie-Nielsen ⅜” chisel is there to assist.  An extension of my fingers but with enhanced fingernails.   A2 Tool Steel, hardened to Rockwell 60-62, cryogenically treated and double tempered.

Our mortised end block holds us up no longer.  After this Mirecourt skipped the entire last century, we’ll soon be having a conversation.  Talk about dropping out!  Welcome back!

 

Yosemite National Park

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A million, two million years ago, glaciers come and go.  Between the glaciers is a lake.  After the last set of glaciers depart a few thousand years ago, Miwok settle.  Yos s e’meti (Central Miwok) originally referred to the Indian tribe that lived in Yosemite Valley.  Yosemite means literally “those who kill”.Daniel E. Anderson 

Naturally, an Army composed of European settlers kick out the Native American rabble and take the Valley for their own.  From them, the Federal government seize control, give it to California, then eventually acquire it back.

Currently one of the most visited parks in the country, Yosemite Valley nearly reverted into a lake in 2006.  Ferguson Slide came within feet of burying the Merced River’s exit from the valley.  Nature is fragile that way.  When The Big One hits and San Francisco drops forty feet, California’s Central Valley may return to inland sea.  The Sierra Foothills will become beachfront property.

Appreciate it while you can.  As Louis Prima famously sang in 1949, Enjoy Yourself (It’s Later Thank You Think)  🙂

Photos by Bill King, naturalist, explorer, and local guide

Violin Maker’s Plane

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Waiting for the “right job” to come up was taking forever.  I’d been wanting this compact manganese bronze hand plane upon first sight online, and began rationalizing the purchase as a ‘deserved’ luxury item after handling one at a Lie-Lielsen Hand Tool Event® a year ago.  

Opportunity came in the form of a mid-19th century French-made Sébastien Kloz violin.  She wanted a little nip and tuck fitting back into her old clothes.  With chisel and file, it could have been done.  But for precision, and in a far more civilized manner, she wants the Lie-Nielsen Violin Maker’s Plane.  Perfect results, as anticipated!  Depth of cut adjustment was exact and did not ‘creep’ after tightening.  You spend more for quality, but you get more satisfaction.  Long after the price tag is forgotten.

At about the same time, a Depression-era Antonio Stradivari copy  – probably a copy, but one never knows – came knocking for a bit of fingerboard thinning.  The Stanley Handyman again, at 9-1/4″, or the Lie-Nielsen 101, at 3-7/16″?  The USA-made vintage Stanley performs admirably but is a bit top-heavy and too big.  The Lie-Nielsen 101 finished the job with perfect control, but is a bit too small for shaping a 4/4 violin ebony fingerboard.  Maybe a Goldilocks Plane exists, juuuuust right.  The Lie-Nielsen 102?

Where the Lie-Nielsen came through with presidential prowess?  Cutting a tiny bevel along the edges of the fingerboard.  I forgot to put them in when the nut and strings were off, but the 101 is perfectly suited for close, delicate work.  Since the nut was already glued, a gentle swipe with my Lie-Nielsen scraper seamlessly finished up the last bit of bevel.

Beecher’s Handmade Cheese

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With inflamed shoulders and wrists, hobbling upon bug-bitten ankles, we  conclude an excellent late-summer pickin’ session under the old oak tree.  The creamery crowds seem more appreciative in the evenings;  we played for them far past sundown.  A time of crickets, moonglow, and private ice cream consumption.

With a return drive through miles of farmland, missing dinner (and lunch!) is no joke.  As usual, a sack meal awaits in the truck.  One Honeycrisp (Malus pumila) apple, some multi-grain sourdough bread, and a nice wedge of cheese, sliced off our chunk of Beecher’s.

My tailgate sack dinner in the dark becomes a top hat affair.  With the complexity and punch of Beecher’s, every mouthful is the pleasure of a banquet.  

Cheese is one of the better discoveries in history.  Big business makes it by the ten-ton.  But real cheese?  A whole new ball game.  Like the first time I tasted carrots fresh from the soil or spring water from the hill.  Hearing true silence of a New Mexico desert.  Artisan-made cheese opens the senses to another reality.

Trader Joe’s giant open-air merchandiser is a great way to explore cheeses.  That’s where the Beecher’s Flagship was discovered – great job on the labeling and logo!

We’d been thinking of a cheese article for some time.  Peter Sallis, voice of Wallace and Gromit, passed in June.  This famous claymation series opened our eyes to varieties and passions associated with cheeses.  We wanted to note his contributions to society.  The English take their cheese seriously!  When we come up with an angle, we’ll have more about  Peter.

For now, a message from Kurt Beecher Dammeier:  By starting with fresh, pure milk from local farms and applying the traditional methods used by cheese makers for thousands of years, our cheeses are free of artificial ingredients making them just as delicious as the milk they are made from. – Beecher’s

All Summer Long

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Summers come and summers go.  The Rockdale Boys made it to our local county park.  Debbie Durant never sounded finer.  The Zona saw continues trimming violin bushing pegs closer than a dime.  A pile of late 19th century built-in drawers junked near Penn campus?  We grabbed a stack of drawer bottoms.

John-Anthony dropped off his 1935 Bacon & Day Silver Bell plectrum banjo for peg fitting and an ebony buff.  John is a true trade musician, performing swing music of 1920s and 1930s on a period instrument.  Solo.

A mid-19th century Mirecourt violin made the table.  In a box.  In six or seven pieces.  We may get it back together without forgetting any of the parts.

More USA-made Juzek tools are en route.  A cello peg hole reamer and peg shaver.  We’ll be ready for the next onslaught of performing arts high school cellos.  Five sound posts, eight bridges, and all two dozen of the instruments seem to have something wrong with the pegs.

Fresh hide glue, alignment and clamping, a bit of planing and scraping, the occasional epoxy wood filler, listening to the Beach Boys wind up my summer with their summer hits.  Written when Kennedy, Khrushchev, and Castro were dancing their can-can across the northern Caribbean.

Catch a wave and you’re sitting on top of the world . . . 

After the failed U.S. attempt to overthrow the Castro regime in Cuba with the Bay of Pigs invasion, and while the Kennedy administration planned Operation Mongoose, in July 1962 Soviet premier Nikita Khrushchev reached a secret agreement with Cuban premier Fidel Castro to place Soviet nuclear missiles in Cuba to deter any future invasion attempt.  – Office of the Historian

Daylight Savings Time

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Sunrise has galloped to 6:08AM while sunset drops to a milestone, 8:00pm straight.  Squeezed from both directions, the “Fall Back” date of November 4th will find my home well stocked with teas, crackers, and fine hardback novels.  Peaceful nighttime activities, reading early in bed, will come an hour sooner, thanks to Benny F.

While Benjamin floated the idea via a witty “letter” to the Journal of Paris in 1784, it had been around far far longer.  My ancestors were whipped into the fields as the first mistle thrush and woodlark began their songs (about 4am, barely time for a cup of ale and a crust).  Even the Egyptians knew the best time for dragging 30 ton stone blocks were the hours before the sun was a cubit above the Bolbitinic.

We’re having a cool morning.  Seasonal sunlight changes have increased my appetite, as Mo’Nature suggests I bank carbs and fats.  I shall be mindful over the next four months not to take her message too closely to heart *munch munch burp*

Why do the changes not follow autumnal & vernal equinoctes?  The Naval Observatory sets the dates.  Something to do with a vigorous party schedule?  The Veep’, our “man of letters” and regular contributor to ATB, will know.  His residence is on the Navel Observatory grounds, and he knows everybody.  Stay tuned for an update!

Bowers Tool Company

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Waking up to a beautiful 71˚ but 93% humidity, the chances of writing a coherent review today are slim.  In a flash it will be both 93˚F and 93% humidity.  Welcome to The Philadelphia Summer.

All is not lost.  Little thought is required.  The perfect article for AmericanToolbox literally fell into our drafts folder.  In my search for a light machinist hammer, I discovered the Carrollton Texas company of Nelson Bowers.  Mr Bowers has a great philosophy.  Save Time and Money: Buy it Once, Buy it Right.  Everything he sells is quality.  We have built partnerships with 21+ domestic manufactures bringing together a wide array of tools from Automotive to Gunsmithing, HVAC, Aviation and more.  Bowers Tool

Carrollton Texas, the heartland.  Not too far from some of my favorite camping spots.  Home of the famous graphic artist Kadin Betts, God rest his soul.  We’ve added a stop on our next road trip.  Coming soon, on American Toolbox.

Cutting Tools – Pliers – Sockets & Socket Sets – Automotive – Punches & Chisels – Screwdrivers & Nutdrivers – Hex Key – L Wrenches – Hex & Torx Fastener Tools – Levels & Measuring Tools – Rethreading Tools: Files, Taps, Dies – Drill Bits & Accessories – Abrasives – Hammers & Hatchets – Tool Organization – HVAC: Heating, Ventilation, & AC – Wrenches – Gunsmith Tools – Cutting Tools, Snips – Pry Bars – Farrier Tools – Hardware – Air Tools & Accessories

Lakeside Manufacturing

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Lakeside 311 Utility Cart

The backbone of any professional practice is accessibility. Your tools within easy reach.  American Toolbox auxiliaries have discovered firsthand how important organization and mobility can be.  Rolling in and out of performing arts schools across the nation, we triage, dismantle, repair, and restore stringed instruments – and the occasional desk chair.  Scheduled maintenance, emergency service, vanity buff-ups.  You name it, we’ve been asked to do it.

The job gets done.  It will now be a little easier.  A near-vintage stainless steel utility cart has been donated to the cause!  🙂  Manufactured in the 1970s by the venerable Milwaukee Wisconsin firm Lakeside Manufacturing, our new cart still functions perfectly!  Casters solid, roller bearings smoothly turning all four wheels any direction we require.  We’ll be the Poster Luthiers at the next Orchestral Directors Bongo Banquet!

Lakeside has been producing durable products for over 70 years.  Now that you know the name, you’ll recognize the distinctive “L” on their products.  Found in all of the better practices and corporate parks across America.

How did we clean this basement rescue?  Powerful water hose across all surfaces.  Air dry 90%, old towel on the remainder.  Silicone spray into the caster directional bearings, spin, wipe excess.  Light wipe of all surfaces with silicone spray-dampened towel.  Ready for John’s plectrum banjo.  A bushing job on a 99-year-old banjo.  Trimmed with a new chisel from Lie-Nielsen.  And another story on American Toolbox.

katrina piechnik • saggar pottery

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Our local library entrance begins with a long upward-slanting sterile hallway.  Terrazzo, stone, and plaster.  All white. Glass-fronted recesses, locked against the well-heeled vandal and thief.

Two years ago we visited garden-themed mosaics displayed in this same hall.  Today, the spotlight falls back to pottery.  Americans love their crafts.  So important in colonial America, the tradition of turning clay and glaze into objects of beauty and utility remains vibrant.

Katrina Piechnik is a local instructor, practicing a centuries-old skill of saggar pottery.  Packing materials against pottery as it is fired to produce color and texture. From her creativity another generation of artisans are born, thrive, and continue.  She opens our imagination.

Borrowed from UpInSmokePottery.com, a partial list of colorants:
Copper Carbonate – greens, blues, maroons, reds
Copper Sulfate – greens, blues, maroons, reds
Cobalt Carbonate – blues
Ferric Chloride – reds, yellows, oranges
Steel wool – blues, grays, pinks
Banana peels – greens, grays
Copper wire – can be red, black, blue, green, whites, depending on wire, thickness, and temperature of the fire
Sawdust – black, gray, blue-gray,
Cow pies – depends on what it ate; blacks, yellows, greens, grays, browns
Bacon Grease – brown/greens
Sodium Chloride – Orange, yellows, salmon, peach, gold
Coffee Grounds – browns, greens, blues
Nails – Neat blue/gray dots with halos
Leaves – brown/greens
Grass clippings – brown/greens
Red Iron Oxide – browns, maroons, rust

Juzek Bridge Jig

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With a bridge firmly grasped in my hand and a small rectangle of 220 grit scratch cloth carefully laid on the supine violin, I move a delicate piece of carved maple upon the paper, sanding the feet into the curved shape of the violin top.  Sometimes one foot wants a little more off than the other.  I compensate.  Tradition says the rear is to be 90˚ to the top.  The front appears pitched, as it is cut to 87˚.  Christmas Day we worked upon a beautiful mid-1960s German violin set up by a Reading shop.  Their luthier’s trademark?  He set up the right angled side forward.  A second bridge in the case from the same shop was identically cut.  Further reading indicates bridge orientation has no bearing on sound though tradition (and superstition) reign.

We work in fractions of a millimeter.  Fairly precise work.  Five seconds, about one distracted thought away from disaster.  No speakerphone calls, please.  Cello bridges, there is more room for error.  But getting the bridge shaped to sit plumb on the cello top?  A bit more work.

After doing a few by eye, I lust for an edge.  A third hand.  A bridge jig.  When the right job came in, we turned, naturally, to Juzek, the American manufacturer of fine luthier tools.  Off to the Performing Arts high school for summer session with a dozen cellos.  Juzek again turns out a valedictorian performance.  Our cello bridge feet come out square and plumb.  Quite the time saver!

That other tool?  A leg spreader.  Not used with violin bridges but for the cello bridge, quite necessary.  The leg spreader simulates what happens to the cello bridge when the pressure of the strings are upon it.

Manual Woodworkers & Weavers

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SINCE 1932, if you can visualize it, they can make it.  When the Frank Lloyd Wright organization wanted to reproduce their Waterlilies Art Glass as a tapestry throw, they turned to MWW, Inc.  You’d think custom woven would be expensive?  This is what MWW does, they do it efficiently, beautifully, and the product ends up priced to be bought, not languish on bookstore shelves.  From Hendersonville, North Carolina, MWW brings textile, home decor, and gift solutions throughout America and across the globe!


Vintage Surefire Flashlight

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It does not take much to become ‘vintage’.  Happened to me, in fact.  🙂  But my flashlight is only a decade old, I nearly react!

When purchased, it was the latest & greatest; LED was just coming out.  Dozens of batteries later, my E2E is now on its third lamp assembly.  An “outdated” incandescent bulb.  No, there is no LED we can retrofit into your Executive E2E flashlight.  But when it comes to indestructible, Surefire got it right.  This flashlight is first in, last out, in drenching, freezing, and steaming conditions.  Vibration, drops, dust, nothing stops it from extricating me from the really fine mess I’m invariably in.

Its two CR123 batteries provide decent runtime.  I often prefer intermittent light via its tail cap switch, stretching battery life (at the expense of bulb life?).  This flashlight compliments my LED headlamp.  And a backup LED lamp, the Titan, on a lanyard.  All Surefire.  Because when crawling into the unknown, you must have reliability and ruggedness.  Tools you can count on.  Surefire.

Taliesin West

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So much information in 90 minutes.  I was not taking notes.  It was more like watching a movie.  The life of a visionary.  His home, workspace, thoughts, time.

There are no pictures on the walls.  A smile from our guide.  Yes, Mr. Wright thought the architecture, the wall itself, was art enough.  Expansion, contraction.  Counterpoint.  Music in geometry.  6th Century poet.  Welsh ancestors.  So much information, flowing like water.

Frank Lloyd Wright practiced his trade up until his last year (d.1959), leaving several projects to his apprentices.  Five of those apprentices still live onsite in dorms built when Taliesin West (pronounced “Tally-essen”) was the western hub of Mr. Wright’s practice.  This is where he worked six months a year.  Where everyone lived.  If you take a 2-week or 2-month course of study at the School of Architecture at Taliesin, this is where you will live.  Heck, go full boat.  The comprehensive program towards a professional Master of Architecture (M.Arch).  Have a family?  No problem.  Onsite apartments for the husband (or wife) and kids are available.

I took the basic Insights Tour.  The first tour of their new 8:45am time slot on a Friday.  A perfect May day in the desert.  Bees enjoying the spray from tumbling water.  A heck of an informed, passionate tour guide.  The eastern horizon dropping below the sun, just as Mr. Wright saw it.  The surrounding few hundred acres looks just as it did in FLW’s time.  Beyond, much new construction.  Viewing the Papago Mountains and Camelback, power lines obstruct our view.  What would Frank have said?  He did say, actually.

Of the nearby power lines, which so disturbed Wright that he wrote to President Truman requesting that they be placed underground. When Truman refused, saying it would create a precedent, Wright replied: “I have been creating precedents all my life.” – from an article by Thomas Swick, South Florida Sun-Sentinel

 

Thirstystone Coasters

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The ubiquitous beverage coaster.  Tossed with abandon as kids, set liberally about the newlywed’s new furniture.  Their use tends to lose urgency as my go-to table begins taking on the characteristics of my wooden floor.

In climates with near-zero atmospheric humidity to condense, yonder glass of iced sun tea with mint still rests upon a handsome coaster.  Decorative, maybe protecting … something.  Maybe from habit?

Made in the Southwest, cores of solid sandstone are cut to discs of this absorbent rock.  Then shaped and polished.  Natural cork backing and any logo or design you choose.  Painted and packaged in Gainesville, Texas.  

The perfect gift.  An unopened boxed set discovered at an out-of-the-way thrift store?  Definite collector’s item.  Stock up!  You’ll be retiring in style!

Sweet Springs, Missouri

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Smiles   Horses thudding along the old Pony Express from Socorro.  Northward I roll to happy honking horns and wide Kansas smiles.  Inching my velocity up to the speed limit, a Man Of Purpose, intent on beating dusk.  To the joy of traffic backed up behind me.  But there was so much to see!  Miles and miles of prairie, cattle, wheat, everything!

Monarch Highway   Motoring southward, I recall grasslands preserved for butterflies and the generous Kansas rest stop welcome, “Camping Permitted”.  This would be a rare planned stop amid our freewheeling northward meander in search of “what was”.  Road & wind are our only influences.  Stretching out for sleep fits in there as well.

The horizon has yanked itself up above the sun but the birds don’t know it yet. With plenty of light, we roll to a far spot, change into night duds (jeans, fleece top, bandana), and off to a soft spot under the trees.  Only a couple of rough blankets and a cushion, but it is heaven!  Dozing off to darkening skies, birds chirping … fading … fading … And wake up at first light, a solid unbroken eight hours of sleep!  Far better than any motel room, and 100% cheaper!  Where’s the tip jar?  We owe nature a fat one for lulling us with her perfect Kansas breezes!

The sun rises faster   Barely an hour into our morning I notice the Missouri sun seems awfully high in the sky.  Time zones aside, surrounded by farmland, I can see why a farmer gets up so early.  It is work from sun-up until sun-down; gotta leverage every minute.

The sun also reminds me of another issue:  hunger and thirst.  Sweet Springs is the first exit after I think of caffeine, so we take it.  Eschewing service station coffee, we delve southward and find Downtown.  Wow!  Jackpot!  Sweet Springs, platted in 1838.  We park by the Old City Hall c.1891 and smell food.  Right up the block, a business for all occasions.  The de facto City Hall, maybe?  🙂

Sausage, milk, flour, butter   Sausage gravy on biscuits made from scratch every day is a favorite, Parrish tells me.  A perfect start.  Last Chance Saloon is regular stop from here on out!

Individual Time   Grudgingly we re-enter the Interstate.  Missouri rolls by.  Windows down, crops and soil smell familiar.  Long walks amid barns and fields as a kid.  Driving Down The Highway.  Without radio, plenty of time to think.  New ideas.  Hmmmmm  Individual time:  I decide when I want it to be 5am, Noon, 9pm, whatever.  My clock is my own and computers figure out how to mesh my life with the world.  New songs.  New plans for new trips.  Missouri farmland smells like childhood.  Innocence.  Imagination.

 

Desert Botanical Garden

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What visit to the Southwest would be complete without soaking in native flora and fauna?  Whenever within earshot of the Papago Mountains, I motor into the adjacent Desert Botanical Gardens.  An early morning visit in late May sees perfect Phoenix weather ~ 80˚ with single digit humidity.  Past 10am, past 90˚ … Water Sunscreen Hat – Protect Thy Skin.  Dusk, 98˚ and 6% humidity. The Garden is Eden for members-only.

With thousands of plant species and individual plants totaling many times that (scientific records are kept on all of the thousands of individual plants), DBG is a destination botanical garden.  While we love lulling beneath the pines of The Arboretum At Flagstaff, DBG is a scholar’s garden, accredited by the American Alliance of Museums (1983).

Viewing Garden images from the 1950s, one remarks how much it looks the same today.  A great vision, born in the 1930s, preserved and expanded by countless individuals with a passion to conserve the beautiful desert environment.

Jim Sudal Ceramic Design

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Returning to Jim Sudal‘s pottery gallery in Old Town Scottsdale, we find a fresh line of creation.  Pine trees in his signature style, his mastery of line and movement, across bowls.  And vases.  Candle holders and more!  We immediately recall parking the RV beneath towering pines of The Arboretum at Flagstaff.  The sight and sound of these towering creatures.  As Jim intended.  (See The American Road Trip)  Thanks for bringing it back, Jim!

His new design was created to adorn a wedding gift to friends marrying in Flagstaff.  So, the very pines I imagined were the inspiration for the new motif?  Yes!  Naturally, everyone wanted a copy.  The agaves are not gone, nor pushed aside.  Complemented?  Naturally!

JIM SUDAL CERAMIC DESIGN

Kansas Grasslands

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The prairie is an ocean on which no oar is dipped.

One in a continuing series of Road Trip essays . . . Taking a diagonal cue from the atlas, we look at I-35 thru Kansas en route to our intended two-lane destination, US-400 / US-54.  And discover the Monarch Highway.  Not asphalt, grasslands. The I-35 as Monarch Highway initiative is an example of a recent coordinated effort across six states – Texas, Oklahoma, Kansas, Missouri, Iowa, Minnesota – to provide habitat for the rapidly declining monarch butterfly.NWF

Camping is permitted.  Next time we’re entertaining area stretches of two-lane  relaxation, we’ll plan to pull in closer to dusk.  A piece of rough linen as sleeping cocoon with a seat cushion for our noggin, and we’ll slumber under the stars ’till dawn.  On part of the original prairie.

Kansas was a pleasure.  Kingman Kansas deserved more time.  Taco Delite in Pratt, locally owned and surrounded by chain fast food, Six Thumbs Up !!!  Grassland to the horizon dotted with cattle.  Wheat!  Corn, soybeans, milo, hay.  And of course oil, pronounced awwwlllllll, with a capital $$$$ at the end  🙂 

We continue 2-lane magic upon US-60 into New Mexico and Arizona, rediscovering Ira’s Bar and finally stopping for a perfect enchilada-stype burro in Globe, Arizona.

U J Ramelson

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Micro Woodcarving Tools

Since 1937 U.J. Ramelson of Newark, New Jersey, has been satisfying a niche unassaulted by cheap copies.  They make perfectly engineered micro-chisels at a reasonable price.  Good steel, reliable handles.  East to sharpen, easy to customize.

The prize-winning carved mallard decoy?  That amazing dollhouse display in the church basement?  Lifelike figurines for your nieces and nephews?  Ramelson likely had a hand ~ in giving you a hand.

While most instrument makers may consider a ½” or possibly a ⅜” chisel as small as they’d require, these Ramelsons are made far smaller.  My 2.0mm and 3.0mm sets have proven themselves, scraping and shaving me out of a jam, adding just the bit of grace for which customers look.

RO-ARK Leather

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Romance, Arkansas  From the beginning Man has used animal hides to improve his life.  The Art of Tanning is developed.  Jerkins, leggings, boots, gloves, satchels, and iPhone cases quickly follow.  The best of crafters are elusive.  These crafters bridge income disparities, turn trade to hobby and back again, set down needle and thread when returning to a previous career or duty.  Full-time production shops?  Not the same as a one- or two- person operation.  When you find a stand-out product, stock up for a lifetime of gift-giving!

A year back we covered the work of Michael Hicks Design, when they created the perfect minimalist wallet.  A business card case which accommodates my DL & CC, CIA ident’, and all-hours White House Pass.  Very handy bit of stitching, thin as a whisker.  Now a year old, hardly broken in at all!

With growing nephews sprouting like summer corn, I figure to start them out right in their early teens, and present another favorite after college.  Stack’o’leather, please, Mike!

Ro-Ark Leather obliged and made me eleven different bifold card cases.  I chose seven.  The fun is just beginning.  I’ll get the two boys to choose their favorites in turn.  Years down the roads, these adolescent decisions will come back to them as milestone gifts.

Lenox Saw Blades

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In the food services industry, you never know what you’ll run into.  Standard tradespeople avoid working on restaurant equipment.  Those few specialty service companies have huge service fees (the local branch of a national company bills $174 for the first ½ hour, $104/hr after that, invoiced in ¼ hour increments).

Specifications are always changing, equipment gets handed down through subsequent owners with no service manuals, identifying plates are obliterated by heat and abrasion and cleaning agents.  At death, you’re left with a hulk of smoldering stainless steel, a few greasy bent knobs, and frantic kitchen staff winging it with other equipment.  The restaurant owner, upon seeing just the material cost of new components (which will not mate up with his existing components), asks hopefully, Can it be repaired?

When the original manufacturer went out of business, they politely left behind a zero-database for others to maintain their commercial kitchen equipment.  A Bricks-N-Mortar shop promised OEM replacement parts.  But the Infrared Element for Brian’s essential cheese melter came in a wee bit on the big side.  The appliance’s I/R element mounting shelf will require discrete modification.

My metal nipper is lent to the big church job up the street.  Grinder with thin cut-off wheel?  Mmmmm, maybe too much dust.  I’m thinking jigsaw.  Lowes has the blades.  And would’dga lookit that!  Made in USA, both the Lexox and the DeWalt.  

Most of the small blades seem to be USA origin, or USA/Swiss with global components.  A few packs of Asian remain, but their reputation seems entrenched:  they are cheap and burn out far too quickly.

I went with a 5-pack of 24 t.p.i. Lenox over two 2-packs of the Dewalt in 18 tpi and 24 tpi, figuring 18 teeth per inch is more than I want for thin metal.  Two blades later, I’m back to fitting the I/R burner into place.  In short order, Brian’s cheese melter, mounted above his main grill, is again toasting meatball mozzarella grinders and nachos.  Yummm!

Craftsman Hook And Pick Set

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Yorke violin daddario kaplan.jpgWhile purchasing another Asian-made Craftsman 5-pc. mini-pliers set – can’t have too many of these! –  I spied this Hook And Pick Set.  Craftsman, guaranteed for life, padded handles, just the right length.  Length for what?  I did not know yet.

Sometimes nudging a violin sound post wants a thin strong piece of steel with a tip of peculiar shape.  These picks had those attributes and more.  They arrived with my sturdy mini needle-nose pliers, package contents noted, then drawered unopened.  I was pleased to see the Made In USA logo.  It meant the steel tips would probably not bend out of shape upon first use.

Finally, the right job.  All my gear is packed for a luthier skills exhibition in Omaha and Olivia’s violin is making an emergency pit stop.  Wow, Hercules must have cranked her chinrest onto the violin body.  The turn bolts turn not, bending my make-shift turn-key.  A right angle hook from the Craftsman set is perfect.

Its tip handles the job without complaint, bending, or chipping.  Of note, the pick tip would not insert far enough through the turn bolt hole to scrape the violin ribs if one worked without care.  All situations are different. Gouge fine wood in haste, repair at leisure.  These are rugged tools for delicate jobs.  Further inquiry reveals a range of Craftsman hook and pick sets for all occasions.

The 4-pc hook and pick set with cushioned grip handles comes with four instruments, a straight pick, a hook pick, a 90 degree pick and a complex pick. – Sears Craftsman 41634

Stuarts Draft, Virginia

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Amid a cacophony of tectonic activity there lies a valley of peace and tranquility.  Prosperity, jobs, and amazing opportunities for outdoor types.  Nestled here amid the Allegheny, Appalachian, and Blue Ridge Mountains,  NIBCO manufactures world-class copper plumbing fittings.

Brian’s sports bar in University City is a hopping success.  Near three colleges, it is de facto dorm room to scholars and athletes alike.  But by the northern battery of beer taps, what is that smell?  The beer tray indirect trap had issues.  Nothing the right plumbing can’t fix.  Brian will tell you, for great food, it starts with quality ingredients.  Likewise, for plumbing parts, I turn to the leaders. NIBCO.

With the right fittings and tools, Brian’s longstanding issue disappears.  After a little all-purpose cleaner mixed 50/50 with hot water and a heavy scrub pad, his floor tiles are back to Union Specification. 

The fittings came to me from the supply house in pristine condition.  Blessedly with no gooey stickers affixed.  Deeply and proudly stamped NIBCO.  Country of origin?  A call to NIBCO’s general number immediately connected me with Susan, who zapped me onward.  In a flash, Jem in Technical Support looked up the fittings, confirmed origin, right as I was viewing the Stuarts Draft article on NIBCO’s webpage.  Sunday morning calls to area businesses confirm the vibe:  Stuarts Draft is a great place to live, work, and raise a family.

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter

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A typical love story.  The small town girl loved the idea of a big city.  A city filled with arts and liberal thinking and culture and men.  She moved herself across country.  From the hot arid Southwest to the Ice Capital of the Mid-Atlantic States.  Two items did not make the trip:  1] heavy winter coat, non-existent back home, and 2] satisfyingly thick blanket for comfortable sleeping (same reason).

With negative percentile body fat, her blanket had to be the best a department store within walking distance could offer.  Wanamakers?  Precise provenance is blurred in a haze of Philadelphia smog.  But a thick attractive comforter was purchased.  Durable, with excellent stitching, it probably cost a week’s salary.

Philadelphia is a cruel mistress.  Some are taken to her bosom, nurtured, and blossom to fulfillment.  Others, disillusioned, return home, leaving coats, boots, and blankets for other’s hopes and dreams.  In time, the comforter was inherited and stored.

While I’ve never been a blanket guy, barely wanting even a sheet on cold nights, advancing age means thinning blood.  The abandoned Laura Ashley comforter found new purpose.  What a lifesaver it turned out to be this frigid April!

Now in its majority, the stitching remains tight.  Its strong fabric is a little faded but wearing gracefully.  

Whether enjoying your comforter trdelník-style or indulging full-court burrito, the vintage Laura Ashley makes every dreaming session a Top Hat affair.

Laura Ashley USA is headquartered in Fort Mill, SC.  Revman International made my comforter decades ago for Laura Ashley.  They continue to provide quality merchandise Laura Ashley customers want. 

Vintage Laura Ashley Comforter   74″ x 86″   5.7 pounds.

Irwin Taps & Dies

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A box of cheap spool clamps unearthed at the closing violin shop seemed a deal.  Spring clamps and forty pounds of lead bar were getting me only so far.  Centenarian violins streaming to my luthier table deserve better.  Proper violin spool clamps it would be!

After every full face lift, a violin top is reunited with its body with 33 spool clamps about the perimeter.  Quickly installed, as hot hide glue cools quickly.  Adjusted, glue cleaned from seams, ribs, and behind clamps, but in general, they stay tight on the violin for a good hour or so.

My clamps were arthritic.  Or constipated?  Binding issues prevented spools from moving freely upon their shafts.  I’d wrestle with one, make it work, maybe have better luck with the next.  Eventually I was back to vintage Pony spring clamps and lead bars.

Winter brings time for the fisherman to repair nets.  Likewise, the luthier may catch a break to refurbish tools.  After the triplets were off my table, I closely examined the clamps.  Some shafts were threaded a bit haphazardly.  There was glue in the threads.  Spools were mis-drilled.  Hmmmm . . . one man’s trash is another mans . . .

Clyde’s Hardware Store had a complete display of tapping tools in neat order, being overlooked by the casual weekend tinkerer.  I found the correct die head, ¼” x 20 (threads per inch), and with a wire brush and Liquid Wrench Silicone Spray, went to work.  Disassembling each spool clamp, wire-brushing its threads clean, sometimes running the die head all the way down the shaft, tidying up the threads.  Occasionally drilling the spool’s hole a tad wider.  Thirsty work, indeed!

Fifty clamps refurbished, enough for several ongoing projects.  With the right tools, restoration work made easy.

Editor’s note:  Irwin Industrial Tools makes their products all over the world and are currently owned by Stanley Black & Decker.  Irwin’s most identifiable product are Vise-Grips.  In 2008, Irwin announced the closing of its DeWitt, Nebraska plant, ending 80 years of American production for Vise-Grips, citing a necessity to move production to China “to keep the Vise-Grip name competitive.”

Today, this Easter Sunday morning, I visited a Lowe’s Home Improvement store.  Within the tool aisles, examining Irwin products, most were made in Asia, China primarily.  Most, but not all.  The taps and dies are still USA production.

The USA-made Radiator Specialty’s Liquid Wrench, used on the threads? Since 1941 Liquid Wrench® has been making premium lubricating, penetrating and protecting products for people who know that their choice of tools can make all the difference.  rscbrands

Lie-Nielsen Scraper

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More information please.  From cross country, a clear polite request.  Her gentle Oklahoma accent could not mask underlying confusion.  Even Aunt Flo knew I was using my chisel the wrong way.  Time to change the conversation!

For several years violins have been coming across the table.  In common with many?  A misfitted fingerboard.  Askew, misshapen, wrongly sized, they were permitted a challenged existence because I lacked tools and knowledge.  One day I scraped away a blemish upon the ebony and discovered . . . 

Ebony shaves nicely.  It scrapes even better.  With some lost cause violins on hand, I experimented with the sharpest edge I had, the side of my freshly honed Buck Bros. chisel.  After a month of chisel abuse, the tool-sharpening guy was incredulous, cursing in his native manner.  I knew it was bad from his furrowed brow, disrespect for his sharpened edges.  Enough of my luthiery antics!  Doing the unthinkable, I consult an expert.  And found the right scraping tool was only a few dollars away.

Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event folks were in town, had the scrapers, allowed me hands-on examination, and provided sacrificial hardwoods – which I reduced to scrapings.  They demonstrated sharpening and honing.  For less than a Jackson, a pair of Lie-Nielsen scrapers in two gauges, delivered to my door.

We now achieve Top Hat performances, thinning new fingerboards by plane and scraping a smooth correct radius.  The fun part?  A final scraping of the neck / fingerboard seam.  Two woods meeting so closely together, they feel like one.  After a bit of love and caressing.  From Lie-Nielsen.

RUST-OLEUM

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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. http://explorepahistory.com

Gator Finishing • Fairborn Ohio

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All good things come to an end.  A proverb of glorious filler to any article!  🙂  Dropped into conversation to make the speaker sound insightful and connected.  A bumper guard which comes out on auto-pilot while trying to think up something more cogent.

Today it refers to a hardware store up the street, nearly within wrist-rocket range.  A 5 minute uphill huff on bicycle.  Clyde’s Home Supplies is closing.  While Sam Clyde doesn’t look it, he is 72, and feels every year.  I’m gently informed He may not look as old as he is as you’re gotten older?   Hmmmmm  ..  ciphering that one out, I think she is saying I’m getting older.

With his Ace Hardware store now offering 60% off, we’re stocking up.  Lots of plumbing and electrical fittings, sheets of sand paper.  And there, on a high shelf, the last sharpening stone they have.  Gator Finishing.  The same brand as the black oxide sandpaper I use.  Calling me.  It’s finally time to learn how to put an edge on my knife.

With a few old blades handy for ruination, I cannot do too much damage with such a small stone.  What I think will happen?  I’ll correct the edge on a chisel a few times, then go speak with the old guy from southern Italy.  More properly, I’ll stand mute, and catch every other word of his barrage.  Then invest in a larger stone.  Big things have small beginnings.

Micro Mesh Abrasive Pads

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The ideal violin neck is subjective.  It changes as you grow, develop, and mature.  Perfect today is old hat tomorrow.  The neck itself moves, as does the fingerboard.  Not as quickly as our tastes but more like a painting of a slow tortoise.

The fingerboard is shaped with a radius across it’s width.  The other direction, parallel with the strings, looks flat.  But it is actually curved.  String height is so low on a violin that without longitudinal concavity – the fingerboard’s scoop – vibrating strings would buzz against the fingerboard.

When a favored fiddler’s favorite fingerboard appeared beyond flat, clearly convex along its length, it was time to learn the art of the scoop.  After chipping up a few natty practice fingerboards, I tried a good one.  It was easier.  Quality wood shaves more cleanly.  “Scraping” of the fingerboard was performed.  Seemingly random, together the strokes produced a concave surface to the fingerboard.  Nearly flat along the high E edge.  Visually pronounced along the low G.  Gradations in between.  Finally, comparison of the newly scooped violin fingerboard with my Products Engineering Corporation straight edge.  Convex no more.  Just the right amount of concavity. 

After the scraping comes the sanding.  Dusty thirsty work with multiple grits of scratch cloth.  220, 320, 400, 600, 800, 1,000.  The glossy finish I want?  The easy way is to dump sealer over it, a thick polymer coating.  But tradition prefers bare wood.  We scraped and sanded the old sealer off the fingerboard during the scooping.  The reshaped wood now prefers special attention.  The musician wants skin-smooth wood under their fingertips.  A natural shine is wanted.

Micro Mesh makes it easy.  With products developed for fine art restoration, our slat of century-old ebony is no challenge.  Working up through the colored grits, the wood begins gleaming at about 6,000 grit.  But do we stop?  No!  All the way to 12,000 grit, buffing like the best Park Avenue manicurist.  The wood shines!

We started using Micro Mesh Buffing Sticks a few years back, touching up a bit of mandolin here and there.  Then discovered an ebony violin nut can be made to shine.  After a few more fingerboard refurbishments, we’re sold on Micro Mesh.  Fingerboard sealers we’ll save for fretted instruments.  All of our fine stringed instrument fingerboards are going out the door bare wood shining.  Sparkling like Eve’s smile ≈≈≈