Craftsman / Artist

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.

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!

 

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.

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

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.