Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Sleeping in a Rice Bed?

My favorite secondhand building materials place came through again, and most unexpectedly; we were shopping for a mailbox but couldn't pass by this four-poster bed frame. It was nicely carved and the price of $300 had been dropped to $150.  We both stopped with an "Ooooh!" of admiration.

We dithered for a while -- no, wait, that's not true. I dithered. Dave was ready to get it but left the final decision to me, as I'd be the one doing the work of refinishing it. I knew it was well worth the asking price; it was solid wood, mahogany probably. The finish was scraped and worn. With a little work, it would be a beautiful piece.

But did I want to do that work?

Then a clerk came by and told us all beds were on sale at 50% off the lowest marked price. So that meant the bed was selling for only $75. Load it up, boys -- we're taking it home.

It doesn't look too impressive here, in the garage with a shelf of horse blankets behind it, but that's because the corner posts are in sections and the upper halves are removed. See that nice inlay work around the edge? And those post are hand carved!

Behold the hand carved post! If you are observant, this picture gives a clear indication of "not as old as you might think". I didn't see it at first, but once I learned more about our bed, it was obvious. See the black flecks spattered on the finish? That's called "flyspecking" and it's been a popular technique for the last 75 years or so to make an item look older. It's gross to think about, but somewhere in history, a carpenter thought, "All the stuff I'm building looks too new. If only I could make it look like it had been around for years with flies pooping on it. Then I bet people would buy it!" and that carpenter was right. You'll never look at your grandma's china cabinet the same way, will you?

Fortunately for me, those flyspecks come right off with the old finish. Faux flyspecks are for chumps; I want the real thing! (Actually, no, I do not want any fly poop anywhere, ever.)

Here's the before-and-after of stripping off the old finish. Once everything is naked, I'll use mahogany stain and a coat of tung oil to finish.

The finials are a separate piece, which is nice since one of them had broken at a thin point and been clumsily and crookedly repaired with what felt like rubber cement. Yuck! I peeled and scraped off all the old glue --completely forgetting to take a "before" picture because I was in the zone. A little wood glue and some filler, sand when dry, and you'd never know there was a fracture.

So wait-- I can hear you asking, What's this about a rice bed?

Of course you know I was doing research on this bed as soon as we got it home. I looked up "bed with wheat carving" on Google, and learned that the carving actually portrays rice, not wheat. Rice was a popular crop in the southern states -- who knew? -- along with tobacco, and so rice became a common motif for furniture in the 1800s, most particularly on bed frames which were called "Rice Beds".

Because of the flyspecking, I knew this bed wasn't from the 1800s, but Rice Beds are still made to this day. I looked at all kinds of pictures to find the exact pattern and style of ours, and I'm quite confident that ours was made in the 70s by Councill. They are still in business and have a reputation as one of the finest furniture makers in America. Ours doesn't look exactly like their latest catalog item, but it's a perfect match for ones I've found on furniture auction and resale sites. Original retail price: $5000 to $7000.

Not a bad bargain for $75.

Stay tuned for the full "after" pictures. It'll be a while, but it'll be worth it!

Monday, May 15, 2017

Leather Quickie!

I have a stethoscope and veterinary thermometer in my grooming tote as part of my first aid kit. Up until last week, I kept my 'scope in a sock to keep it clean and somewhat protected. Then I got bored one night and in an amazingly short amount of time I made a nice little leather case -- and practiced my leather carving skills at the same time. It was so quick, I didn't get any in-process pictures taken, except one before I stitched the edges and one after.

Before lacing around the edge.
The whole project is just a square of leather folded over like a book, leaving one inch as a "spine". I cut in and tooled a commercial design of a flower and horse head, and then did a background of stamped basketweave and a half-round camo border. I left the back plain; no need to get overly ambitious. A few yards of 1/8" leather lacing made a nice finish for the raw edge, and also stitched in a heavy-duty zipper around the three sides.

If I had wanted to get super fancy, I could have glued in a shearling lining, and some elastic loops or similar to hold my scope and thermometer in place, but I think it's perfectly acceptable the way it is. And much better than a sock.

The lacing completed. Oh my goodness, it's so blurry.  Well. you get the idea, anyway.

Sunday, March 26, 2017

Imp's Birthday

It's not every year your horse turns 20, and I felt like Imp deserved more than just an extra carrot or apple on his big day (though of course he'll get those, too!) so I decided it was time to make a special gift -- and learn a new skill at the same time.

I've been making stuff from leather for a few years, and I have a growing set of leather stamps that I've used to create designs on some of the things I make. But I've always admired the way some folks carve flowers, leaves, and other pictures on to leather -- Sheridan carving is one name for it. I watched a few videos on YouTube that made it look easy and I already had the tools, so I hauled out my box of leather pieces and made some beginner efforts.

There on the left, you see my first scribbles and scratches. It was pretty ghastly. I tried sharpening my knife again --really well, this time, not just a few passes -- and it helped a little. By the next evening, with a little more practice, I managed the sample on the right. It;s a huge improvement, but still pretty awful compared to what it should be.  But those guys in the YouTube videos have a couple decades of experience so I'm not gonna be too hard on myself. This is perfectly good for only a few hours practice.

I picked out a design and some lettering and transferred it to my prepared leather. Cutting it in with my swivel knife took about an hour and my hand was cramped. I grip way too tight when I concentrate. I have real problems with spirals and tight corners, and this design was full of them, but I so liked the look of it that I decided I'd go for it. So here it is, all cut in. From a distance, it's not too shabby!

Now, I have to bevel the edges to give it that look of depth. In the professional videos, the guy just  scooted his beveler along between taps of his mallet, so smooth and easy and pretty. Mine hopped and bucked and went astray a few times, and again, I was probably gripping too tight and trying to hard to work it along. My beveling is the perfect match for the "wrong" example I saw in a book; all bumpy and uneven. Alas!

It took me about two hours to get the beveling done, and the shading around the letters. Doesn't that font look like it should say "Holy Bible"? But it's a very typical example and one of the only lettering templates I had in my collection. It looks awesome.

A little bit of shading and some various stamps used here and there, and I'm satisfied with my work. It's doesn't look too awful. In fact, from a barn aisle viewing distance of about five feet, it looks pretty darn good. Especially if you squint.

I painted Imp's name in black dye, and then put on a coat of "Light Brown" that turned out pretty darn dark. I should have maybe not done the second coat. Oh well. Rich dark color makes it look expensive and professional. Right? Sure.

Cut to fit and nailed to a scrap of cedar with some fancy upholstery tacks, and I've made pretty much the nicest stall sign I've ever seen. I'm sure Imp will give a snort of delight when I hang it on his stall tomorrow.

Happy 20th Birthday, Imp! 

Sunday, February 5, 2017

A Clean Machine. Sort of.

A quick wipe with a damp rag to take off the top layer of dust didn't go far to improving the old girl's looks, alas.

I was pretty sure that Gojo would melt away most of the dirt, though it meant being careful around the decorative decals. So I slathered that on and let it sit for about twenty minutes. Unfortunately, when I wiped it off, nothing had changed. There was a layer of dried gummy dirt that would not budge. I tried rubbing it with oil, I tried automotive bug and tar remover, I tried castile soap and a soft toothbrush, I tried 409 -- nothing was working! What was the deal? What was this stuff, and how was it resisting all the usual tried-and-true cleaning methods? Finally I tried straight 70% isopropyl alcohol -- rubbing alcohol from the supermarket. And it worked! It also wanted to take the decals off, so I had to work carefully around them, removing as much dirt as I could without stripping the gold and color from the decoration.

The greenish-brown nastiness I was taking off was something I had seen before -- smoke residue. I imagined the machine set up in a room with a wood-burning stove, a man with a pipe, a 1970's two-pack-a-day chainsmoker-- over a century, I suppose it was possible that this sort of gunk could accumulate.

Then I looked at the condition of the cabinet, with it's water-damaged veneer, rippled and cracking, and I thought maybe there was a house fire. This machine could tell some stories, I bet! 

I stripped off the metal parts and scrubbed off the residue and rust as best I could. A little spritz of solvent degreaser on the works underneath and a wipe with a lint-free cloth got that cleaned up nicely. I oiled the parts and then added a dab of heavy duty silicone lubricant if things still seemed a bit tight. 

She won't win any beauty contests. There's decal damage from wear (and I admit there's a place or two where I scrubbed a little too aggressively) and there are places where rust has damaged the finish, but she's clean, and once I give her a coat of carnuba wax, she'll look okay. She shows her age and history, and there's nothing wrong with that; she's earned it!

This is me, trying all kinds of crazy stuff to clean various parts. If you look in the middle of the machine there, right under the decals, you can see a metal part that's kinda rounded. That's a little device that helps set the thread tension. It was all wiggly-jiggly and loose, so I took it off to see what the issue was. I couldn't see any way to tighten it, so I got my owner's manual out. No info there. So I checked out a treadle website I knew was reputable, and there I read the horrifying news: 'Don't disassemble the White tension system! This assembly rarely gives trouble and shouldn't be messed with. Reassembly and calibration requires a tool you don't have -- because you have to make it yourself.'

Good heavens! Had I just wrecked this machine? I got up and walked away from my work to take a few deep breaths.

Then I had a drink of water.

Then I went to bed.

By the next night, I had talked my courage back up. The part was obviously not working as intended even before I had taken it off. I had not broken the machine-- it had already been that way, and if I couldn't put it right, that was not my fault. But maybe I could fix it. I am nothing if not creative. Shoot, making a tool? That sounded right up my alley. I rolled up my sleeves and took off the face plate.

I had to really read carefully to decipher what the author was describing, but once I got a good look at it, I could see immediately what the problem was, and it was just a matter of using a screwdriver and a needle-nose pliers to tuck a piece into place. I got the face plate  back on and gave the handwheel a little turn. Nothing fell off, there were no screeching noises or clunks, and everything seemed to move as it should.


It was time to put the machine back into the cabinet and she how she works. I cut a new belt from an old leather rein, made a few adjustments to get the length just right, and gave the handwheel a turn --

Okay, I'm trying to load a video from my phone. I hope this works....

If the technology worked, you should be seeing a video of that beat up machine running swift and smooth, making the tiniest, evenest stitches ever. I didn't even have to adjust the tension (something I spent two days messing with on my New Home machine, Julia, when I got her) and I'm beyond pleased with the results. Hooray for not breaking the tension system!

Now to get to work on refinishing the cabinet!

Friday, January 6, 2017

A New Beginning

About a month ago, I saw a treadle machine at my favorite thrift shop. It was in terrible shape: the head was black with filth and all the silver parts were rusty. The wood veneer on the cabinet was warped and rippled with water damage, and the whole thing had been sloppily painted over with cream-colored paint on the body and black paint sprinkled with glitter for the top. I ached for the noble, purposeful machine it once was, now reduced to a tatty has-been. Then I saw the price tag --$159.

One hundred and fifty-nine dollars!

I called over a clerk. "People buy something like this for two reasons; they want to use it for sewing, or for decoration. As it stands now, this piece is neither useful nor decorative without a lot of work. This machine in good condition might be worth what you're asking, but as it is? You're asking far too much."

She was chewing gum. "I'll let the manager know," she said.

As I walked away, I knew she wasn't going to say anything. I bet they get people saying things like that all the time. I've worked in retail. I'm sure I was coffee break conversation that day, greatly exaggerated to look foolish, duh duh duhhhh.

I saw it sitting there-- sometimes open to show the grimy machine, sometimes closed-- for a few weeks before I tried again. I asked another clerk what happens to the furniture items that don't sell. Sometimes they get donated, sometimes hauled to the dump or recycling center. I saw a bleak future for the treadle.

The day before Christmas, I saw that someone had tied a red ribbon on the spool spindle, and there was a tiny fake potted evergreen tree sitting on the open cabinet lid. Somehow this made me feel even worse about the machine's prospects.

The best I could hope for was a half-price day, when all the tags of a certain color are marked down. But even that would only drop the price to $80-- still far too much. I collared another clerk and asked to speak to the manager of the day. (Yeah, I don't understand how that works, either, but hey, I don't work there, so...) She arrived, and I once again began my pitch about the two reasons, how age plus dirt does not equal value, the amount of work needed to make this thing useful or decorative. She was working hard at looking interested, I'll give her that. "Could I make an offer?" I asked. She shrugged. I handed her my business card. "If no one buys it and it's headed to the dump, I will pay $25. Please call me."

"Yeah, okay." She pocketed my card and I left knowing she was not going to call me. I was just a weird lady who didn't want to pay full price for something.

Sometimes the shop has 99 cent days, when all the tags of a certain color are marked down. It's the last effort to clear them out before they are culled. I wasn't sure if furniture was included in that sale, but I decided that was my opportunity. So I waited and checked and watched for that sale day.

Then about a week ago, I stopped by the thrift shop to see if it was 99¢ day for green tags so I could spring that sorry-looking treadle. This guy comes over after watching me for a minute. "I've seen you here looking at this a couple times now," he says.

"I'm keeping an eye on it," I explain. "I want it, but not at the asking price."

He watches me open up the machine. "How much would you pay?" He asks.

"I think $25 is fair, but that's way less than the tag."

He turns over the tag. $159. "This tag? This tag is wrong." He takes out a sales pad. "That's supposed to say $59." He smiles. "Oh-- and green tags are half off. That makes it $29.50."

"What." I am stunned.

"Shall I write it up?" He winks at me.

"Wow, that's--"

"A neat way to start a new year? I agree."

So I brought her home.