wood & textile designs

Mid-Century Desk: Day IV

Scraping the desk

Scraping the desk

The end is near for me…in terms of scraping, that is.

I am nearly finished removing every last bit of finish from the surface. The thing that I enjoy most about this method of finish removal, other than the fabulously smooth surface that it leaves, is the darker tones left behind in the grain. Because this desk is oak it is turning out really beautifully. All of the long, open pores of the grain are stained a dark mahogany color, while the rest of the surface returns to it’s original light-sand tone. Even though this method is time consuming, it leaves little to be desired from the finished surface.

You can see in the photo above my ingenious short-term solution to my lack of sawhorses. I’m using a small shelving unit and the Wood Book to prop up the legs for a little extra support as I work on them.

It isn’t possible to tell in this photo that the underside of the desk is completely rough, unfinished lumber. What’s more, the center board of the table top even has a very drastic cup on the underside, which would have reduced the overall thickness of the table top by about 1/4″ or more, had it been properly planed. I am so fascinated by furniture like this.

When I was in school, if myself or my peers had attempted to leave a part of a piece of furniture so wholly unfinished we would have been severely reprimanded for our laziness, our grades would have dropped, and we would have had terrible critiques, or “roasts,” as we liked to call them. However, in earlier furniture making, such techniques were common to save labor costs. In fact, the introduction of fringe into upholstered furniture was simply a tool for covering up the areas left undone, and wasn’t originally decorative, so much as it was necessary. Even in very wealthy upper-middle class drawing rooms in the 1800’s, all of the upholstered chairs were usually left completely unfinished on the backs (as in no fabric, no padding, etc.) to save costs. A table or desk like this one, which is so simple and undecorated, would most certainly have been left unfinished on the bottom. Who needed to see that, let alone use it?

I have also discovered that this piece was at one time painted some kind of white or light gray, in what I believe to have been milk paint. In certain areas there is still paint lodged into deeper grain openings, and you can tell from this that it was applied and then removed before the existing varnish was painted on. Whoever applied the varnish decided that – just as the original builder(s) had not cared before them – they also didn’t care about the underside of the piece, and as such left behind a patchy band of white paint along the edges. Due to the discoloration and the poor condition of the varnish, we can hazard a guess that this was done at least a couple of decades ago.

All of these elements tell a story, and although I will never know exactly what this piece has been though, I can start to build a loose history as I discover these different clues.


my dream apron has arrived

A few months ago I was at a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event in Houston, TX at Clark Kellogg’s furniture shop. Among the guest demonstrators at this event was Jason Thigpen of Texas Heritage Woodworks. Jason makes beautiful and useful things, using mostly canvas and leather; tool rolls, aprons, and even chairs!

While at the event we got to talking about his work, and I tried on a few of the aprons that he had on display. To my dismay, not even the smallest of the smalls that he had hidden away at his booth would synch up enough to fit well at my waist, and not only that, they were all at least 8″ too big! Needless to say, I gave him a little ribbing about his supply… How was he supposed to cater to female woodworkers like myself (or slender male woodworkers, for that matter – cough – John Parkinson) with such limited sizes available? And those colors?! Khaki, green, beige, brown…yawn!

But, because he is a decent sort, Jason didn’t take my comments to heart, and instead he offered to make me a custom apron, not only in the correct size, but in whatever color I wanted (within the options available to him)! The result of his efforts are this fabulous piece of work:

Try not to be too jealous - you can order one, too!

Try not to be too jealous – you can order one, too!

My first (and quite possibly my last) personal shop apron, and everything about it is perfect: the vibrant color of the durable canvas, the size of the custom-fitted pockets (the little one in the middle of the bottom is for my special tack-remover – every upholsterer’s steadfast companion), the duel hammer-holsters (one on each hip, like a “gun-slinger”), the thin, yet extremely strong leather straps. Not to mention the hand-peened copper rivets that hold the whole gorgeous contraption together.

The straps that hold the apron on give just the right about of support, without being bulky or constricting.

The straps that hold the apron on give just the right about of support, without being bulky or constricting.

I challenged Jason to make me the perfect apron to match my studio – not to mention my personality and style! I have never, ever before been able to find an apron that fit me even half as well as this one does. As those of you who work with your hands know, it is extremely important to make sure that your protective gear fits as well as it can – no loose ends wanted! And the less bulk, the better, when you are moving around non-stop.

Well, Texas Heritage Woodworks, I am not disappointed! This beautiful apron is, quite literally, everything I was hoping it would be. Today will be my first day trying it out in the shop, and I can’t wait to take her for a spin!

I tip my fascinator to you, Jason Thigpen, and give you one of those polite, dainty claps, where just the tips of my fingers (with the nails painted a perfectly matching turquoise) hit the palm of my opposite hand.

Mid-Century Desk: Day I

Brett found this desk at a yard sale only a few neighborhoods away, and liked it so much that he paid a grand total of $45 for it. He sometimes feels a bit regretful for paying so much for it up front; it is our policy to pay as little as possible for the pieces I work on – free is ideal. The less we pay for them up front, the more reasonably I am able to price them when I’m finished working on them, while still earning a livable wage. Under normal circumstances, $45 would be considered far to much to pay up front for anything, unless it was a very special mirror, or sofa; something larger and harder to find in excellent condition.

Although this desk is not in what I would call “excellent condition,” I am attached to this simple, sturdy piece, and am glad that he went with his gut on this when it told him to just buy the damn thing.

The day it came off the truck.

The day it came off the truck.

The heinously generic glides that came off the desk.

The heinously generic glides that came off the desk.

I try to preserve as much of the original piece as possible, when it is appropriate. These glides were of mediocre quality when they were new, plus they were installed off-center, and they have obviously been kicked around a bit over the years. They had to go, end of story.

The original drawer pull, front view.

The original drawer pull, front view.

With the drawer pull, I was a bit more fortunate. I like this little teardrop pull so much, I might even decide to keep it for something else later on. Maybe not, though. Can’t say “no” to free hardware in good condition either way. This item has the original manufacturer’s stamp on the back side of it, although I have been unable to track down any real record of the company.

The back of the drawer pull with the manufacturer's stamp.

The back of the drawer pull with the manufacturer’s stamp.



The only mention of it was on another blog (which also seems to be about restoration, of a sort), and appeared this time on a gentleman’s shave brush.

Photos of the shaving brush from the blog mentioned above.

There are two interesting pieces of information that this brush provides:

1. The brush is missing the part of the stamp that says “1710.”
2. The brush has additional text that is missing from the drawer pull: “.CHICAGO.”

Because the stamps are otherwise identical, down to the typeface and scale, I can reasonably conclude that my drawer pull originated from Chicago, IL. The blogger who restored the brush to the left was working on it in Barcelona, Spain, but claims that it came from Kalamazoo, MI.

There is a mention of the date 1953 on an eBay search result for similar shaving brushes, though it is a bit vague on the details of how that date was acquired (there are none). From there the trail runs cold.

It is doubtful that I will find much more information about this desk then what little has come from the drawer pull. One of the things I love about restoring older pieces of furniture is the mystery, and the stories: Who did it belong to before me? Where did it live? Where and when was it built, and by whom? These are questions that I rarely find the answers to, but I still enjoy sleuthing as much as I can in between bouts of making sawdust.

Regardless of the desk’s past, I am now working toward it’s future!

this was going to be a post about hand scrapers…

Ilsa von Schtup, Duchess of Canterbury, lounging on the tabletop I was trying to scrape.

Ilsa von Schtup, Duchess of Canterbury, lounging on the tabletop I was trying to scrape.

…but then, my cat decided it would be about her.

Who needs another post about hand scrapers anyways? They’re great. Use them. I’m sure if you Google it, you will see why.

Incidentally, hand scrapers are what I am using to remove the old finish from the mid-century desk I’m working on this up-coming week. Thought I’d take them for a little spin tonight, just to make sure they were the right tool for the job, as I was planning out my week in my planner. Now my planner says “Use hand scrapers on desk” on tomorrow’s page. 🙂

#studioproject2015 is finished!

The old space, pre-studio.

BEFORE: The old space, pre-studio.

The new space!

AFTER: The new space!

On March 30th, 2015, I wrote a post titled Goodbye, Cow Tank!, which we can say was the exact beginning of my studio make-over. Since then I have been working at least every week, and sometimes everyday, to revamp my little corner of the basement and make myself a space that I truly want to work in. And here it is.

Remember when I promised it would be (and I quote) “Fresh to Death”…?

Not to ‘toot my own horn’, but I think I can say with confidence that the space now has a little more, shall we say: pizzaz, than it did before. Wouldn’t you agree?

Part of my reference library, which is filled with many of my favorite books.

Part of my reference library, which is filled with many of my favorite books.

My library smells of rich mahogany and leather bound books. It also contains my favorite lamp, a collection of my grandmother’s knitting needles, which rest in a broken Blue & White teapot that I found in the forest near my parent’s house many years ago, and an intricately carved, velvet lined cigar box that I bought at a church yard sale for 25 cents in Bar Harbor when I was 20, which now contains my supply of random and mismatched buttons.

My desk, and Stink the Cat

My desk, and Stink the Cat

The desk, which you may remember from this post, this post, and this post, is looking almost as at-home as Stink the Cat does in this beautiful basement space. I threw in one the orange chairs for some temporary use, although the studio won’t be it’s permanent home.

Also pictured to the right; my finishing shelves. The little bookcase, which is a super cool piece in it’s own right (each of the shelves are hinged on the back and fold up, allowing the sides – also hinged – to fold in on top of them, making the whole piece lay flat) now contains almost all of the items that I may need for finishing a piece. I’ve got a good collection of Danish oil, Milk Paint, paint samples, spray paint, etc.

Some of my sewing essentials.

Some of my sewing essentials.

To the left of my sewing desk lives the selection of items pictured above. The book on the bottom of the stack is an anthology of contemporary shoe design, and the one second up is an antique volume about a lady’s trip to Japan, complete with old photographs of the things she saw on her adventures, as well as her first person interpretation of the world around her; Japan, Korea and Formosa, by Eunice Tietjens (copywrite 1924).

Some of my tools in their new home.

Some of my tools in their new home.

My Mini Screwdriver collection.

My Mini Screwdriver collection.

For some reason, items that are smaller than they normally are have always brought me joy. My Mini Screwdriver Collection is just an example of this silly attachment to miniature things, which also happens in this case to be extremely useful.

These come in handy all the time when working on old furniture. Especially when working with old hardware, it isn’t uncommon to find screws that may as well belong on jewelry they are so small.

I bought several of these at Liberty Tool in Liberty, ME. For those of you who have never been there, or ever even heard of the place – which is extremely likely, considering how ridiculously far out of the way it is – you should make every effort to go as soon as you possibly can. Located in an old 4-story general store, Liberty Tool is chock full of every type of awesome thing you could imagine and, as the name would suggest, they have one of the most amazing collections of antique tools that I have ever seen.

My favorite selection of items and tools that I use most often in the shop.

My favorite selection of items and tools that I use most often in the shop.

The selection of items above should seem pretty familiar to anyone who works in a shop on a semi-regular basis.

My friend Liz came over last night to see the new space. She is a woodworker, and graduated from the same BFA program as me. She walked right up to this part of the shop and started listing off items: “Ear protection, steel wool, dirty rags, clean rags, a collection of various gloves…” The gang’s all there.

It took 74 days, from start to finish, for this project to come to completion. Next week will be my first official week of working on furniture in the new space. It feels so good to sit here with my bare feet on the newly painted floor, looking around me at all of my favorite things, and to know that I did all of this (mostly by myself), with my bare hands.

I must take this moment to say a special thank you to my partner, Brett, who tirelessly helped me with this effort. Not only did he complete certain steps himself – like installing the new windows and filling the cracks in the foundation – he has been so completely and utterly supportive of me while I struggled through this endeavor. His support of the project has been valuable enough, but his support of me and the work that I do is unparalleled, and I know that I would not be nearly as far along without his constant and unwavering faith in me. Thank you, Brett.

Thank you also to Liz, Charlie, and Anthony, for help with specific areas of the project (like struggling to get a 300 gallon oil tank up a narrow flight of stairs). You guys are awesome!

Floor Design: Laying Tape

Woa-oh here she comes... (Hall & Oats implied)

Woa-oh here she comes… (Hall & Oates implied)

On Instagram: @k_willa

When I was in Houston, Texas for a Lie-Nielsen Hand Tool Event, I was chatting with all the guys at the show about the different social media platforms available, and how we each use them to help get our work out there.

Clark Kellogg (@clark_kellogg), who is an amazing furniture designer and maker, and at whose shop the event was being hosted, was giving me a little bit of a hard time about my Instagram account being private. How do you expect people to see your work and follow you if they have to request it, he wanted to know. He pointed out that he feels like a creeper when he requests to follow someone that he doesn’t know, or even doesn’t know that well.

My reasons for having a private account were really just that: I didn’t want any creepers checking out my life. After I got home though, I thought more about what Clark was saying and I decided to go public.

Before I went public I had 144 followers. I now have 157 and counting. Even when they don’t decide to follow me, people I’ve never heard of and will never meet check out my work every day.

Instagram is a much less formal way to show off the things I’m working on, but also it’s where I share the things I see everyday, whether they be at my house or elsewhere. I share updates about our little urban homestead, my studio, home remodeling projects, my pets, etc.

My adorable dog, Beatrix Le Chien, in a typical pose

My adorable dog, Beatrix Le Chien, in a typical pose

I have always taken a lot of pictures. In fact (althought this wasn’t publicly announced in my BFA post), I originally started going to MECA for photography before I got sucked into the black hole of woodworking. My last cell phone, when it gave up the ghost (i.e.: when I dropped it for the one millionth time and the screen finally shattered), had over 15,000 photographs stored on it. That is not an exaggeration.

So, for those of you on Instagram, check out @k_willa for more frequent – and less rambling – posts!

Monday Madness

Another crazy weekend of gardening, come and gone. I don’t know why I always think I’m going to get other things done during the weekend…it just never happens.

This weekend we: planted more corn, strawberries, cabbage, peppers, and spinach, weeded both gardens, trellised more raspberries, mowed the lawn, added another perennial flower bed, organized the shed and the greenhouse. We also had friends over on Sunday morning for breakfast, with bacon, sausage and eggs raised by my parents at Wild Acres in Vermont, and fresh greens and breakfast radish sauté picked from our garden that same morning.

Today I was finally able to seal the leak downstairs. That damn thing kept seeping out water, even until this morning, which set back the plans a little bit. The Dry Lock won’t take long to set, and in the meantime I have a quick Home Depot trip to make for more screws and washers to install the final sheet of pegboard. Once that’s done there is no reason why the floor can’t be painted white for the final time.

The white floor paint should be dry by tomorrow, which would allow me to mark out, tape off, and paint the additional design on the floor. If all goes well, I could be making work in my studio before the end of the week. The studio space still wouldn’t be finished yet, but it would be enough to get going in.


Progress is easier to see when you can look at the photos side by side. This image should be read left to right.


Urban Oasis Farm

Urban Oasis Farm, our little homestead, is really booming this spring! Our gardens are looking fabulous. We’ve even had people stopping their cars out front of our house to shout some encouragement, or honk their horns in excitement! Everything is so lush and green; it looks fantastic.

This is Scarlet O-Hara; my favorite chicken. Her siblings are: Big Red, Petunia, Lil' Blackie, Pica, Cheetah-Face, Princess Di, Daenerys Targaryen, and Helen Keller

This is Scarlet O-Hara; my favorite chicken. Her siblings are: Big Red, Petunia, Lil’ Blackie, Pica, Cheetah-Face, Princess Di, Daenerys Targaryen, and Helen Keller

Our chicks are all in that awkward and ugly phase where they start to loose their baby tufts and real feathers start to come in. Of course for Scarlet the Silkie, pictured above, that just means that she loses her adorable baby fluff for even more adorable adult fluff. I can’t wait to see how she’ll grow up!

Our front yard garden, looking lush

Our front yard garden, looking lush

Our Front Yard Garden is ringed on the left by our driveway, by the sidewalk along it’s front, and by our front walkway on the right. Into that little space we managed to fit 26 different varieties of edible plant, including a peat bog containing blueberries, cranberries and strawberries. The trellis that frames the outer edge of the garden is planted on both sides; on the front with beans (green, yellow and purple), and on the inside with peas, in both Snap and Sweet variations. Eventually these plants will climb the trellis and create a living fence that not only provides food, but gives our property more privacy from the street.

Industrious Pea vine

Industrious Pea vine

French Breakfast Radish, practically exploding from the earth

French Breakfast Radish, practically exploding from the earth

In one of the central beds of the Front Yard Garden we have planted turnips and the little guys pictured above: French Breakfast Radishes. Brett and I have been picking these and eating them raw for two weeks now! They are so spicy! Tonight I’m going to pull a few bunches and distribute them to the neighbors. They would go well in a summer salad.

Berries ripening on the bush

Berries ripening on the bush

This year we are growing approximately 54 variety of edible plant (I may have missed a few) on a combined 1/20th of an acre. This number also doesn’t account for the wild edible plants that grow in the field behind our house, which there are many of. As I said, 26 of these are in our front yard alone. Another 8 reside in the bed on the other side of our front walkway, which follows our property boarder along the right side of our house.

The view from our back deck, with the garden on the right

The view from our back deck, with the garden on the right

The other 40 varieties are housed in the Back Yard Garden, the Herb Garden, and the Greenhouse (which is just out of frame on the lower right of the photo above). In the back field beyond there are raspberries, black raspberries, blackberries, quince, elderberry, and so on…

Our home is located only 10 minutes outside the city, and we have every convenience we could want within a very short drive, or phone call, and yet we have this amazing growth and lush greenery surrounding us on all sides. This is where the name Urban Oasis Farm came from. When I’m home, I truly feel that this is a little oasis, offering hope and life even while it remains surrounded by ugliness, noise and concrete.